Watching and Waiting

Sometimes you come across things that shouldn’t be ignored but about which very little can reliably be known. AJ Johnson’s lawsuit against American Atheists, along with American Atheists’ response is one of those things. So I put this here to observe the occasion.

I can’t speculate about any of it without being irresponsible. I can tell you that, of the people involved, I’ve liked everyone I’ve met, both those who are still at American Atheists and those who have left, including AJ. My liking people doesn’t mean they can’t screw up, however, or that others I haven’t met can’t screw up.

Even taking AA’s statement as a statement of facts doesn’t tell me what happened. People sometimes do their job unhappily. Performance often suffers in a hostile environment. These things don’t put me on any firmer ground.

All I can do with regard to this lawsuit is watch and wait, continue to pay attention as the case goes through discovery and litigation (or settlement), object to people drawing conclusions without facts or that are unwarranted by the facts, and know that no outcome will make me wholly happy.

Outside this lawsuit, however, I can do my small part to create a warmer atmosphere in general in the secular and skeptical movements and I can push others to do the same. That includes acknowledging that this is happening and working to make it obvious that, if this lawsuit pinpoints specific problems in American Atheists, I will push to have those fixed too.

It doesn’t seem like much to say, but I still think it’s important to say it.

The “Campaign” to Replace Ron Lindsay

By now, some of you have probably seen EllenBeth’s long post about why she left Secular Woman. It’s disturbingly full of what I will call factual inaccuracies, but I was going to let it generally slide for various reasons, even though many of the incorrect statements are about me.

One of her statements about the Secular Woman members group, however, has started making the rounds and growing in the telling. It’s bizarre, but I’ve seen people believe sillier in this whole thing, and this one has potential to do harm if believed.

When I saw all of the posts berating Ron and the letter-writing campaign to get him fired, I spoke up and wanted to know what the end-game was. What were they hoping to accomplish? I was told that perhaps either Melody or Rebecca could take his place.

EllenBeth has now published excerpted “evidence” of her claim. It’s not particularly compelling on its face, but even so, it is missing information that undercuts that claim.

First of all, there was no letter-writing campaign to get Ron fired. Secular Woman itself issued a statement that suggested they were looking for an “apology, retraction, or other followup”. One of the two letters written by a Secular Woman member and posted to their site says, “CFI will not see any support from me, monetarily or otherwise, for as long as Center for Inquiry’s CEO Dr. Ron Lindsay continues as CEO, and does not retract his statements and blog posts, and apologize for his shameful and impolitic conduct at last weekend’s Women in Secularism 2 conference”, providing a choice of requested courses of action.

Secondly, what EllenBeth actually asked was not what Charles, who wrote the letter in question, hoped to accomplish by his letter but “So, you want Ron fired? Who do you think is going to replace him?” With permission of those quoted below who weren’t already quoted by EllenBeth (names, where used, are also with permission), here’s how the answers to that question went. [Read more...]

Apologies Are Hard

They’re almost never ideal, for lots of reasons. Emotions are high. Full understanding rarely happens with the immediacy of a cartoon light bulb over someone’s head. The harm that has been done can rarely be undone simply with words. It is easy to view words as trivial.

When apologies are really, really good, people hold them up as shining examples, but this is the sort of thing that happens in the English-speaking world maybe once a year. Most apologies have the kind of faults we expect and deal with in any other communication.

With that said, I want to thank Ron Lindsay for his remarks yesterday evening on the CFI blog. They give me hope for moving forward on this, and they help me resolve the dilemma of wanting to support the good work of my friends at CFI while being unable to support the management. [Read more...]

Saturday Storytime: Draco, Draco

Tanith Lee remains one of my favorite authors for dark, decadent fantasy. This is one of her older stories.

Her name was Niemeh, or something along those lines.

She was sitting in a little lamplit cell off the hall. She wasn’t fettered, but a warrior stood guard beyond the screen, and there was no window. She had nothing to do except weave flowers together, and she was doing that, making garlands for her death procession in the evening. When Caiy saw her, his colour drained away again.

He stood and stared at her, while somebody explained he was her champion.

Though he got on my nerves, I didn’t blame him so much this time. She was about the most beautiful thing I ever hope to see. Young, obviously, and slim, but with a woman’s shape, if you have my meaning, and long hair more fair even than Caiy’s, and green eyes like sea pools and a face like one of the white flowers in her hands, and a sweet mouth.

I looked at her as she listened gravely to all they said. I remembered how in the legends it’s always the loveliest and the most gentle gets picked for the dragon’s dinner. You perceive the sense in the gentle part. A girl with a temper might start a ruckus.

When Caiy had been introduced and once more sworn by the sun to slay the dragon and so on, she thanked him. If things had been different, she would have blushed and trembled, excited by Caiy’s attention. But she was past all that. You could see, if you looked, she didn’t believe anyone could save her. But though she must have been half dead already of despair and fright, she still made space to be courteous.

Then she glanced over Caiy’s head straight at me, and she smiled so I wouldn’t feel left out.

“And who is this man?” she asked.

They all looked startled, having forgotten me. Then someone who had warts recalled I’d said I could fix him something for warts, and told her I was the apothecary.

A funny little shiver went through her then.

She was so young and so pretty. If I’d been Caiy I’d have stopped spouting rubbish about the dragon. I’d have found some way to lay out the whole village, and grabbed her, and gone. But that would have been a stupid thing to do too. I’ve enough of the old blood to know about such matters. She was the sacrifice and she was resigned to it; more, she didn’t dream she could be anything else. I’ve come across rumours, here and there, of girls, men too, chosen to die, who escaped. But the fate stays on them. Hide them securely miles off, across water, beyond tall hills, still they feel the geas weigh like lead upon their souls. They kill themselves in the end, or go mad. And this girl, this Niemeh, you could see it in her. No, I would never have abducted her. It would have been no use. She was convinced she must die, as if she’d seen it written in light on a stone, and maybe she had.

She returned to her garlands, and Caiy, tense as a bowstring, led us back to the hall.

Meat was roasting and more drink came out and more talk came out. You can kill anything as often as you like, that way.

It wasn’t a bad feast, as such up-country things go. But all through the shouts and toasts and guzzlings, I kept thinking of her in her cell behind the screen, hearing the clamour and aware of this evening’s sunset, and how it would be to die … as she would have to. I didn’t begin to grasp how she could bear it.

By late afternoon they were mostly sleeping it off, only Caiy had had the sense to go and sweat the drink out with soldiers’ exercises in the yard, before a group of sozzled admirers of all sexes.

When someone touched my shoulder, I thought it was warty after his cure, but no. It was the guard from the girl’s cell, who said very low, “She says she wants to speak to you. Will you come, now?”

I got up and went with him. I had a spinning minute, wondering if perhaps she didn’t believe she must die after all, and would appeal to me to save her. But in my heart of hearts I guessed it wasn’t that.

Keep reading.

“Skepticism 101″, Michael Shermer on Atheists Talk

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University and Chapman University.

Dr. Shermer is a lecturer, he debates proponents of psuedoscience and religious apologists, and he has numerous new, television, film and radio appearances to his credit. He is the author of 17 books, including Why People Believe Weird Things, Denying History, The Science of Good and Evil, Why Darwin Matters, The Mind of the Market, and his most recent book, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.

This Sunday Dr. Shermer joins Atheists Talk to discuss his course Skepticism 101: How to Think Like a Scientist. This course is part of The Great Courses series, an online educational resource with the mission “to ignite the passion for lifelong learning by offering great courses taught by great professors.” With Skepticism 101, Dr. Shermer seeks to help learners use rational thought and scientific perspective to critically evaluate claims and to better understand this universe in which we find ourselves.

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 [email protected] 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.

Why Paula Deen Matters

By now, you probably know that Paula Deen, Food Network star, has been let go after details of a deposition she gave in a sexual harassment lawsuit were given to the press. In that deposition, Deen admitted to using sexist and racist slurs, sexist slurs more recently than racist.

Some of the reaction to this has been brilliantly painful, such as the Twitter activity on the #paulasbestdishes hashtag. Some of it has been merely painful, such as the defenses of her by her fans on Facebook.

Some of it is probably well intentioned but badly misses the mark. The perennial example of this sort of thing is the person who thinks the best way to denigrate Deen is by talking about her weight. Other people suggest that Deen was already a joke before the deposition, a person who would deep fry a ball of fat to give it extra flavor or someone with [gasp] a Southern accent.*

I get what comments like these are trying to do. [Read more...]

You Agree to Help Create a Space

It’s time for a bit of good news.

Several months ago, I wrote about an organization in crisis that isn’t part of the skeptical or secular movements. Readercon had a crisis of management over the treatment of a serial sexual harasser that led to general uproar in the F&SF community and eventually to board resignations. The new board then committed to creating a new set of policies and procedures for their event.

A little over a week ago, the team responsible released their new code of conduct, policies and procedures documents. I kind of love them. This is my very favorite part, right up front in the code of conduct:

By attending Readercon in any capacity, you agree to help create a space that is and feels as safe as possible by respecting other people’s physical and social boundaries.

It really encapsulates the whole of what these policies should be. Yes, I’ve seen organizations say similar things, but not quite so concisely. (Score one for organizing around literacy.) [Read more...]

What I’m Doing About That

Funny story #1: There’s been some talk lately about how to better unite atheists and humanists in Minnesota, how to bring us all together on our common causes. August Berkshire wrote a post a few months ago about combining Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota. There are reasons to not simply set up a Coalition of Reason, or it would have happened already.

As I was preparing for the Women in Secularism conference, I decided to talk to a few of the chapter leaders there about what it would take to set up CFI-MN and what doing that would offer us. After all, we also have a local skeptic group that could use some support.

Nothing may have come of the idea even if I thought it was good and presented it to our board when I got back, but I was planning to ask. That, of course, didn’t happen. [Read more...]

What I Have to Say About That

When faced with so little substance, Twitter really seems the appropriate medium.

There was a problem with the blakbirdpie shortcode

“We are unhappy with the controversy, so we’re going to pretend it never happened.” Wow. MT @center4inquiry: http://bit.ly/15cDp2C

There was a problem with the blakbirdpie shortcode

“We’ve realized we can offer no leadership on these issues, so we’re giving up.” MT @center4inquiry: http://bit.ly/15cDp2C

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

“Decisions are HARD, y’all.” MT @center4inquiry: http://bit.ly/15cDp2C

Ah, professionalism.