American Atheists, David Silverman on Atheists Talk

Love him or hate him, think he’s helping movement atheism or harming it, if you’re an atheist in America, you probably have an opinion about David Silverman, president of American Atheists. Whether he’s inspiring Bill O’Reilly to say incomprehensible things about science (and becoming an internet meme in the process) or putting up billboards that disturb almost as high a percentage of atheists as Christians, Silverman demands our attention.

Listen this Sunday when Silverman joins us to talk about American Atheists’ past, present, and future. And to tell us what it really feels like to sit there listening to Bill O’Reilly.

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 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.


Memory Lane

With all the talk of sockpuppeting on Ophelia’s blog over the last couple of days, Wally Smith has, of course, been brought up in conversation. Wally Smith, for those of you who don’t remember, was the Alabama grad student who lost his position in his advisor’s lab because he allowed his antipathy for New Atheist bloggers, and a few of those bloggers in particular, to drive him to making shit up about them all over the internet. He was also the driving force behind the You’re Not Helping blog and approximately 75% of the comments on that blog under a wide variety of names.

I was feeling nostalgic. The good old days of relatively reasonable harassment, right? So I went back and looked at the YNH blog, which was preserved for posterity right before Smith got scared and deleted the thing.

Revisiting “I agree with Polly-O!” is always a joy. Aside from that, however, it turned out that what I found there was strikingly familiar. [Read more…]

Lobbying a “Necessary Evil”?

Massimo Pigliucci published a post this morning that I disagree with. That isn’t hugely unusual. I rarerly agree with everything in any post that I ready. What is unusual, however, is why I disagree with Massimo on this post. Typically, with Massimo, disagreement is a matter of having differing priorities or thinking that asking a different question would yield a more useful answer. This time, I disagree with his reasoning.

The topic is lobbying.* Massimo and Michael De Dora got into a friendly argument on Twitter on the topic, which really isn’t suited to that sort of thing. Massimo moved the argument over to the blog and laid out his position at length. Michael will respond at some point as well.

Massimo summarizes his point fairly well.

An interesting exchange ensued, during which Michael tried to convince me that lobbying is not just a necessary evil (as I readily admitted, in the specific case of non-profit / non-corporate lobbying), but a positive good for our democracy. Here is why I think he is wrong.

Massimo’s points tend to fall into two categories, neither of which I think supports the characterization of “necessary evil”. [Read more…]

That Isn’t How It Works

A while ago, Ophelia noted that Justin Vacula had uploaded a picture of most of the FtB crew at Women in Secularism to Facebook. This picture had the messages of solidarity with embattled atheists across the world that we had written out removed and replaced with “We <3 Justin”. It was a Reap Paden “creative original” that Vacula liked so much he needed to share.

Then Paden tagged some of us in the photo. Ophelia objected, and the comment thread went into overdrive.

I wasn’t in a place to untag myself, so I got a nifty little summary of those comments in my email. There was Lee Moore, neutral party extraordinaire and would-be peacemaker, saying that no one loves the people in the picture. There were Vacula and Paden being abusive because Ophelia dared to tell them to leave her alone. There was blaming her for not pre-emptively having blocked them on Facebook as though she should–of course–have known they were going to behave so spitefully. There are the usual whines about how telling someone to leave you alone is weakness or confusing the lay definition of harassment with the legal definition. There was gratuitous nastiness both before and after Ophelia had blocked Vacula.

It was such a charming, pro-social, and activist set of emails.

There was one interaction that particularly stuck out, however. [Read more…]

What Matters Determines Who Matters

Before I get into the meat of this post, I would very much like to thank Melody Hensley for putting together a lineup of speakers at Women in Secularism that was not something we’ve all heard before. Like many (if not most) who attended, I walked away from the conference with my head buzzing.

Unlike many, I was already familiar with the drive to matter, the topic of Rebecca Goldstein’s talk. Believe it or not, there are advantages to a good general education in psychology, though I still didn’t know that the idea in its current form originated with her–or in a novel, for that matter. So that part of her talk didn’t hit me as hard as it hit some people.

The part that did get the hamster wheel turning was when Goldstein pointed out that “What matters determines who matters.” Again, this isn’t a revelation, but stating in those bald terms helped to pull several unrelated lines of thought into a pattern that was easy to see.

[Read more…]

#FBRape (Update)

Many of us came home from the Women in Secularism conference and worked to settle back into real life. Soraya Chemaly went home and launched an anti-rape, anti-domestic violence campaign with Women, Action & the Media (WAM). What are they working on?

Facebook has long allowed content endorsing violence against women. They claim that these pages fall under the “humor” part of their guidelines, or are expressions of “free speech.” But Facebook has proven willing to crack down on other forms of hate speech, including anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and homophobic speech, without claiming such exemptions.

When these pages are reported to Facebook as hate speech, Facebook says, “Oh, no. Those are humor pages. They stay up.” Facebook doesn’t do the same thing with pages that laugh about violence toward other demographics, but it does with those that laugh about beating, raping, and killing women.* Pages that put up content like this. (Don’t click through unless you’re sure you want to see that.) It leaves that while taking down pictures of babies breastfeeding and calling an ad highlighting the lack of link between abortion and breast cancer unacceptable “adult services” advertising.

Complaints about these uneven policies and processes made to Facebook have been ignored or the responses unhelpful. So what can be done short of closing your Facebook account and walking away from it? You can take action by talking to the advertisers whose products and services appear on those pages in support of WAM’s open letter calling for changes.

WAM have made this manageable. They’ve highlighted a few large advertisers, provided pictures of their ads in places they won’t want them, given one-click links for contacting those advertisers by Twitter, email, and Facebook. They are also tracking the status of various companies’ responses so you know, for example, whether to simply ask them to keep pressure on Facebook to change or whether you need to remind them that reporting isn’t enough when Facebook’s policy is to shrug off these complaints. All you have to do is click and go.

*Standard disclaimer about focusing on violence that targets women: Yes, men experience higher rates of violence in the U.S. than women do. Yes, I’d like to see that end too. However, men are not targeted for violence specifically because of their sex (for cissexual males), meaning that other factors than their sex have to be addressed to reduce that violence. Yes, I spend time and energy on those issues too.

Update: Hooray!

Fallen Warriors

Each year, I expect that I will have more to say about Memorial Day, but as wars drag on and technology changes, it’s remarkable how much stays the same. A repost.

One of the things that struck me in travels through Scotland and the Canadian Maritimes was the monument in every town. Most of them were tiny, just a handful of names from each war–not because few died, but because the town was that small. The memorial at Edinburgh Castle, on the other hand, is of a scale and a simplistic majesty that imposes awe, a trick more church designers would like to have up their sleeves, I imagine.

Whatever the size, most memorials are central and public and impossible to overlook. That isn’t something we do well here in the U.S. [Read more…]

“God and the Atom”, Victor Stenger on Atheists Talk

Renowned particle physicist, professor, author, skeptic and atheist activist Victor Stenger joins Atheists Talk this Sunday to discuss his recently published book, God and the Atom.

Dr. Stenger has been popularizing the science of reality for decades. He has published dozens of articles for popular magazines and peer-reviewed journals. He has written at least eleven stand-alone books, and seven of those have been published within the past decade. He popularized the phrase “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

In God and the Atom Dr. Stenger takes us on a historical journey of the concept of the atom, which starts much earlier than you might expect! Atomism – the theory that nature consists only of atoms and void – survived for centuries in the absence of direct evidence. Very recently technology was developed that definitively proved the atom’s existence. Stenger makes the case that the total absence of empirical facts and theoretical arguments to support the existence of any component to reality other than atoms and the void can be taken as proof beyond a reasonable doubt that such a component is nowhere to be found.

Please join us this Sunday as David Pacheco interviews Victor Stenger about God and the Atom.

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 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.


Saturday Storytime: Mantis Wives

Kij Johnson has been in these pages before, also for an award-nominated story. This one is up for the 2013 short story Hugos. If you like her work, she released a collection last fall.

Eventually, the mantis women discovered that killing their husbands was not inseparable from the getting of young. Before this, a wife devoured her lover piece by piece during the act of coition: the head (and its shining eyes going dim as she ate); the long green prothorax; the forelegs crisp as straws; the bitter wings. She left for last the metathorax and its pumping legs, the abdomen, and finally the phallus. Mantis women needed nutrients for their pregnancies; their lovers offered this as well as their seed.

It was believed that mantis men would resist their deaths if permitted to choose the manner of their mating; but the women learned to turn elsewhere for nutrients after draining their husbands’ members, and yet the men lingered. And so their ladies continued to kill them, but slowly, in the fashioning of difficult arts. What else could there be between them?

The Bitter Edge: A wife may cut through her husband’s exoskeletal plates, each layer a different pattern, so that to look at a man is to see shining, hard brocade. At the deepest level are visible pieces of his core, the hint of internal parts bleeding out. He may suggest shapes.

The Eccentric Curve of His Thoughts: A wife may drill the tiniest hole into her lover’s head and insert a fine hair. She presses carefully, striving for specific results: a seizure, a novel pheromone burst, a dance that ends in self-castration. If she replaces the hair with a wasp’s narrow syringing stinger, she may blow air bubbles into his head and then he will react unpredictably. There is otherwise little he may do that will surprise her, or himself.

What is the art of the men, that they remain to die at the hands of their wives? What is the art of the wives, that they kill?

Keep reading.

“She Cut Me Off and Blocked Me”

Travis Roy, of the Great Penis Debate, dropped a comment (in moderation) on my Vacula v. Silverman post to do something that he seems to think was defending himself. I’m highlighting it here because it so perfectly captures the pettiness of the complaints that have led to years of sniping at activists in this movement.

Since this was posted I thought about commenting, mostly to address #16 Oolon’s comment.

The first comment he links to, I was addressing what Melody said directly, that people she blocked were showing up in her mentions. I argued that they were showing up someplace else (in a search perhaps). Simon, her husband, told me he would get me examples of blocked people showing up in her mentions, but he never did. I was addressing her concerns and pointing out that either there may be a technical problem with twitter that’s causing this, or that people she thought were blocked were perhaps not blocked.

As far as the second tweet he links to, yes, many women (about a dozen in the past two weeks since this has kind of come up again since WiS2) have said to me that they don’t feel like speaking out because they are worried about backlash, even if this is legit. Mallorie (who I know most people on this site probably don’t agree with) is often given as an example since Lousy Canuk mentioned her in a blog post and it did cause her some problems with potential clients asking her about it. He took her name off the post when she brought it up and that has been, overall, a very good exchange so there’s not much to go on about other than it’s an example of how these debates in the skeptical community can bleed into our professional lives.

I think you would find, if you actually talked to most of us on what people perceive as this “side” of the sexism/feminism issue are actually pretty moderate, and agree with what most of you on that “side” seem to want.

Nobody is perfect in any of this, and everybody, on all sides and in the middle have made mistakes, myself included. Painting me with some weird broad brush as kaboobie did about how I had “developed a bizarre vendetta against Surly Amy and Rebecca Watson” is very much unfair.

I haven’t talked publicly about the falling out that happened there, but in the case of Amy, what I will say is that at NECSS 3 I bought a bunch of Granite State Skeptics surly’s from her, and my wife got some others for herself and it was all very nice and pleasant and she actually gave us a discount for being such good customers. Two weeks later she cut me off and blocked me, when I emailed her to ask what was up to see what I could do it order to fix whatever I inadvertently done to upset her I got back a “never contact me again” reply, and I think I’ve pretty much kept to that, as far as I know.

I still would greatly like to repair these relationships, but I feel that they’re to far gone at this point.

It is true that I’m critical of Rebecca, Amy, and many bloggers here.. But I’m critical of everybody. I’ve been critical of DJ, Justin, Emery, and others on both sides.

Anybody is free to contact me off this comment thread if they would like to discuss further, be it email, FB, twitter, whatever. I’m more than happy to talk about it in more detail, or at TAM if you want to do it in person.

First of all, Mallorie received arguments against her position, not backlash, and she stood up and took them well. She didn’t ask Jason for changes to his post because of that. She asked for changes, months after the arguments had died down, because people were treating her argument as preapproval to sexually harass her. Go lay the blame for that with the people who defend harassers, and if you have to look in the mirror to do that, then try not to flinch.

Now for the rest of your complaints. [Read more…]