One Nation Indivisible

This Thursday, May 2, is the National Day of Prayer. It’s a day organized by largely evangelical, fundamentalist Christian groups to expressly comingle religion with the business of government. Here in Minnesota, people are bused in from all over the state for a rally in front of the capitol.

Thursday is also the Day of Reason, in which secular groups get together to keep the religious groups from being the only voices heard on that day and to remind them of the appropriate basis for legislation in a free society. Minnesota Atheists have organized Day of Reason events in the capitol rotunda for several years now.

These events have been effective at making sure dissenting voices receive media coverage on the day, but they’ve been largely ignored by legislators and the governor. We’re hoping this year will be different.

Our main speaker this year will be Blake Page, the West Point cadet who dropped out in response to pressure to help make our military an evangelical force. Our other featured speakers are also military service members who served to help uphold our Constitution and the freedoms of conscience embedded within it. This year’s theme is One Nation Indivisible.

They will speak of living and serving in a country in which some insist that acceptance of their god be the test that divides us.

The Day of Reason event is held over lunch, and it’s a great opportunity to introduce children to participation in our democratic processes. If you’d like to attend, please see our event page for details, particularly details on transportation.

I Did What Now? The Lie Machine in Action (Updated, Again)

Justin Vacula is busily whining that CFI’s policy on hostile conduct protects its conference attendees freedom to associate with each other without having that associaion disrupted by hostile elements. That’s par for the course. Normally, I wouldn’t bother to draw your attention to it (or even read it; I have plenty of evidence that Vacula understands neither the point of conferences nor the point of such policies).

However, someone pointed out to me that the lie machine is in action on this one. See this comment by Damion Reinhardt.:

First off, I’d like to state for the record that “Blonde In Tokyo” is not to reply to me or contact me in any way, as I will construe any counterarguments or words from her as attempted harassment and report her to the site mods.

Secondly, I’d like to point out that the previous paragraph is an example of a preemptive silencing tactic, designed to prevent the free flow of ideas upon which all genuine freethought is ultimately founded. Tails I win, heads, you SHUT UP AND CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!!!

Finally, I’d like to point out for the record that Hensley and Zvan solicited harassment complaints on Twitter in hopes of a preemptive ban. This has been their game plan all along.

The myopia is strong with this one. My “game plan” for Women in Secularism 2 is to say interesting things on one panel, ask interesting questions on another, meet a bunch of incredible people I currently only know online, catch up with others I only see at conferences, and conduct a little business for Minnesota Atheists and Atheists Talk. To assume that, as a speaker and a board member of a regional atheist group, my agenda would be shaped by some half-competent gadfly is to completely elide the fact that I’m a successful and active member of the secular movement who will be attending a much-anticipated conference with other successful and active members of the secular movement. That, however, is also par for the course.

This bit about soliciting harassment complaints, however, is flat-out, ahistorical nonsense. [Read more…]

A Precipitous Decline in Civility

In case you haven’t already heard, some students at Dartmouth College interrupted an evening of entertainment for prospective students with a brief protest against racism, homophobia, sexism, and rape culture on campus. This protest was met by additional racism, homophobia, sexism, and rape culture in comments posted online. The college cancelled classes for a day to address the problem.

Even if you have heard all that, what you may not have heard is that the college is now talking about punishment–of the protestors as well as those who (mostly anonymously) posted comments maintaining the hostile environment the protests were meant to address. In fact, the email sent out to students focuses on the protestors, with the college’s problems either placed on equal footing as the protests against them or even treated as an afterthought. [Emphasis added by Think Progress but useful.]

April 26, 2013
To the Dartmouth community:

As some of you know, a small group of students disrupted the Dimensions Welcome Show for prospective students on Friday, April 19, using it as a platform to protest what they say are incidents of racism, sexual assault, and homophobia on campus.

Have these incidents have been investigated by the college? If so, the college has an official opinion on them for which it should take responsibility instead of acting as though the protestors are the only people with any ideas on the matter. If not, why not? It isn’t as though these problems haven’t been well-documented for decades, and it certainly isn’t as though students’ first choice in dealing with these matters is to go complain to a bunch of high school students watching skits about campus life.

Dartmouth students have been trying to get college officials to respond to these events. Was there no previous response, or was it elided for this letter?

Following the protest, threats of bodily harm and discriminatory comments targeting the protesters and their defenders ran anonymously on various sites on the Internet.

You mean that following the protest, more of these comments appeared in a concentrated dose. This is part of the behavior that was being protested after all. This didn’t suddenly spring up because someone held a protest.

With tensions high across the Dartmouth community, Interim President Carol Folt, the Dean of the Faculty, and other senior leaders across campus agreed that the best course of action was to suspend classes on Wednesday, April 24, for a day of reflection and alternative educational programming. This decision was made to address not only the initial protest, but a precipitous decline in civility on campus over the last few months, at odds with Dartmouth’s Principles of Community.

That isn’t how the suspension of classes was originally communicated to the campus. It was originally talked about as a response to the threats received by the protestors, not as a response to the protest.

This unusual and serious action to suspend classes for a day was prompted by concern that the dialogue on campus had reached a point that threatened to compromise the level of shared respect necessary for an academic community to thrive.

There is no dialogue. Pretending there is no problem is not a dialogue. Threats are not part of a dialogue. “Leave if you don’t like it” is not part of a dialogue. All of those shut one voice out in favor of another. That leaves you with a monologue.

The faculty and administration together determined that a pause to examine how the climate on campus can be improved was necessary. This was an important exercise that the Board supports. It is also important to note that there will be an opportunity for faculty to hold the classes that were missed as a result of Wednesday’s events.

Neither the disregard for the Dimensions Welcome Show nor the online threats that followed represent what we stand for as a community.

It’s terribly sad that the board of trustees of the college would disavow protests aimed at halting that “precipitous decline in civility on campus” by seeing that no student is kept from their opportunity to learn by racism, homophobia, sexism, or rape culture. Those students are working to make a better Dartmouth. A board that forgets that in the face of bad publicity caused by a common enemy (the people who made the threats) should take a good look at itself.

Suggesting that the protestors “disregarded” the show at which they protested, however, is just silly. If it were considered an unimportant event, no one would bother to interrupt it with a protest.

Putting both events on the same footing is grossly insulting.

As Interim President Folt indicated Wednesday in her remarks in front of Dartmouth Hall, the administration is following established policies and procedures with regard to any possible disciplinary action in both cases. As in every case regarding a disciplinary investigation, this process is confidential and respects the privacy of our students.

Hey, students, know who protested at the show? Well, they’re going to get some kind of punishment if we can figure out how to make it happen. You can rest comfortably knowing that even if we never tell you the specifics.

Those anonymous people who left the threats? Well, they’re anonymous, you see, and their threats were left on a site we don’t control. Don’t ask us what’s going to happen to them because it’s confidential. Good luck figuring out whether you’re still going to school with people who think rape and death are appropriate punishments for protesting!

Dartmouth is not unique in the challenges it faces concerning campus climate and student life. We aspire to lead in responding to these challenges.

You’re playing catch-up at best. It doesn’t matter what you tell us you want to do. You need to do it before anyone have the least bit of faith in that.

The Trustees and I are committed to addressing and supporting efforts necessary to resolve these issues, improving the campus climate and strengthening the institution. The Board’s Committee on Student Affairs is working with senior leaders and consulting with outside professionals to make progress on this front.

You’ve been consulting for how long? How many students will come and go from Dartmouth while all this consultation goes on? “Consulting” isn’t a get-out-of-action-free card. You have to show results. You have to lead instead of just aspiring.

If you don’t, your students will just find new and creative ways and places to protest your inaction. Other students will use those same tired old “uncivil” ways to try to shut the protestors up. And the rest of us will continue to point out that you’ve been failing by the same means for several years now.

Saturday Storytime: The Siren

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam has reviewed more stories than she’s published, but I’m not sure that will continue to be the case for long.

The song came again at midnight; it seeped in through the windows of Jen’s room and filled the pillow beneath her head with hot air. She woke. The trance of the song had little hold. Now it only reminded Jen of Mina’s face marred by tears, bloated and red.

She followed the song to the pool. Mina stood at its edge. At first Jen thought she was alone. Then she saw the chaos of bubbles breaking the still pool surface. Her mother. Jen dove.

Under the water Jen made out the form of her mother’s body, the hair around her head an underwater mane. She was smiling. Jen hadn’t seen her mother look so serene for years, not since the news of Jen’s father’s death, delivered to them at three in the afternoon by an officer at their door: out boating by himself, unsure of the nature of the accident, and was he in any way unhappy with his life? Not that we know of, Jen had said. Her mother stood silent in the background.

Part of Jen didn’t want to disturb her mother, but then the other part of her, the part that wouldn’t know what to do with such a huge home and no family to fill it, grabbed hold of her waist. In the water Sam was light, but once they broke the surface Jen found herself straining against the song; her arms felt as though they might break, but she was able to heave Sam from the water and lay her limp body on the concrete.

Jen didn’t know CPR, but she thought she could imitate what she’d seen in the movies. Her interlaced hands placed on her mother’s chest, she pumped like her hands were a heart all their own, once, twice. She remembered the lips, that she should breathe into her mother’s lips, so she leaned down and breathed a breath into her. Sam reeked of chlorine.

“Stop. You’ll hurt her.” Mina touched Jen’s head, the hair hanging like seaweed. “Let me.”

Mina tilted Sam’s head up with her fingers. She placed her lips over Sam’s and sang into her mouth. Jen pumped. She felt her mother’s body tremor, a shiver that traveled through her skin and up her neck and into her eyes. Finally she coughed the water from her lungs, and Jen rested her hand on Sam’s forehead. Mina scurried to the side, on her face a look of fright, like she didn’t know what she’d done.

Keep reading.

Secular Coalition for America, Edwina Rogers on Atheists Talk

Almost a year ago, Edwina Rogers took over as the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. It’s been an ambitious, busy year for the Secular Coalition. This Sunday, Rogers joins us to talk with Scott Lohman about what they’ve accomplished and where they’re going in the next year. They’ll also discuss the formation of the Minnesota chapter of the Secular Coalition.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Turning and Keeping the Lights On

Maggie Koerth-Baker, author of Before the Lights Go Out, joined us at SkepTech to talk about the challenges of tranporting electricity from producers to consumers. It was an entertaining talk, but it was very sobering. Our energy infrastructure is obsolete, aging, and completely unprepared to help us move away from a carbon energy economy.

I do realize that the sound quality isn’t great for these talks. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to pull the sound directly from the room’s audio system.

If you can’t listen to this, I asked Maggie at the end what we can do to help. I asked whether there was a lobbying group that worked on this issue from a sane perspective that we could support. She said there isn’t. She also said, however, that if we can raise the political will to put a price directly on the use of carbon fuels, the economists she’s talked to have said that the changes we need to make become the economically reasonable actions. What we really need to do is stop deferring the costs of our system as it runs now.

Navigating the Skeptic Social Sphere

This is another one of the SkepTech talks from a newish speaker. Ben Sweatervest Blanchard is another one of those secualr students everyone knows but hasn’t seen performing much (except in this ad).

This one would have benefitted from being a little bit longer. It wanted more specific examples and discussion of the borders of certain kinds of behavior. It did, however, manage via the Twitter wall to give everyone present a great example of how not to use social media.

I do realize that the sound quality isn’t great for these talks. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to pull the sound directly from the room’s audio system.

Satire, or Some Gun Control, Please!

I’m largely away from the internet this week, and I’m running a series of guest posts to introduce you to other bloggers and give some people without a blog home some space to be heard. Ariel has only recently started commenting but has provided an interesting perspective.

From Wikipedia: satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.

Flag gun with "Satire!" on the flag.Let me add: satire can be a formidable weapon, effective in achieving its aims, but also deadly.

When I was young, we were using it constantly. The communist regime in my country, although economically bankrupt, was still in power. On official TV (there was no other one, and no internet, mind you) the serious-looking party leaders threw thunderbolts against the “imperialist West”, while promising us a brilliant socialist future … after solving some temporary problems of course, “blown out of proportions by counterrevolutionary propaganda”. Apart from the Catholic Church, there were no officially recognized forces or organizations to counteract this dreadful tide. [Read more…]

When It’s Time to Quit

One of the best parts of student-run conferences is that they often put new faces in front of the audience. SkepTech was particularly good at this.

Brendan Murphy isn’t a stranger to secular students, but many of us haven’t had a chance to see him show his stuff on stage. For this talk, he chose an unusual topic that is still appropropriate to a skeptical activist conference: Are we doing the right thing when we tell people to hang in their and keep trying?

I’ve never felt much need to tell people to stick with something myself, but I’m not huge on the Puritan work ethic, even if you can’t tell from how I’m running my own life these days.

I do realize that the sound quality isn’t great for these talks. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to pull the sound directly from the room’s audio system.

The Benefits of Arts and Crafts

I’m largely away from the internet this week, and I’m running a series of guest posts to introduce you to other bloggers and give some people without a blog home some space to be heard. This is a guest post from Olivia, who describes herself thus:

I’m a 20 something interested in breaking into writing and editing. I love to write, and writing is the way that I sort out my thoughts and opinions. I’m interested in swing dancing, rock climbing, mental health, social justice, feminism, atheism, intersectionality, gender, religion, philosophy, ethics, politics, pop culture, geek culture, nerddom, and many other things. These will all likely be addressed in here somewhere, as well as whatever else strikes my fancy.

This post was originally published here.

Mosaic produced by author. Smiling squid has wrapped a smiling octopus in its tentacles.I am not an artsy person. Not even in the littlest slightest bit (my boyfriend may lie to you and tell you that I am. Don’t believe him. He’s biased). I’m really bad at drawing, painting, sculpting, origami…really anything that involves using my hands to make something. I used to hate it all for that very reason. When they announced an art project in school I would cringe because I knew it would be my lowest grade of the semester. But recently I have begun to be converted to the beauty of craft.

It started when I was in intensive therapy and we had art therapy every couple of weeks. [Read more…]