Can I Skip My Own Conference?

Center for Inquiry has just announced their second African Americans for Humanism conference, and I’m badly torn. On one hand, look at this speaker list:

  • Ronnelle Adams author of Aching and Praying
  • Jamila Bey host of “Sex Politics and Religion Hour” at Voice of Russia radio
  • Debbie Goddard director of African Americans for Humanism and director of outreach for CFI 
  • Aisha Goss deputy director at the Secular Coalition for America and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
  • Mark Hatcher founder and president of Secular Students at Howard University
  • Sikivu Hutchinson author, activist, teacher, and founder of Black Skeptics Group
  • Anti_Intellect educator, activist, essayist
  • Alix Jules activist, historian
  • Anthony Pinn author, professor at Rice University

Five of them I’ve already heard speak, and they’re all great. People have been raving about Mark Hatcher’s talk at the CFI Summit this weekend. And Anti_Intellect?! Plus, of course, the folks I don’t know are great yet.

Then there’s the other hand. That’s the weekend of the second FtBCon. So I’m already committed for that weekend.

This schedule crowding is a good sort of problem for a movement to have, right?

Handling Criticism: Understand Your Power

“Eating batteries”. That was the title of the first post on 9-year-old Martha Payne’s food blog, NeverSeconds. Her plan to take a picture of her school lunch each day as a writing prompt had been thwarted by her misbehaving camera.

Just over a week later, however, on May 8, 2012, Payne posted two pictures of her lunches. They were skimpy affairs, even for a child’s lunch. Vegetables and fruit were barely to be seen. Payne’s father, David, tweeted “My primary school daughter is blogging her £2 school lunch experiences. I’m speechless. http://neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk Please comment.”

Not only did people comment, they passed the link around. David’s tweet was retweeted more than 500 times. Though Payne also tweeted the link separately to the attention of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and a regional news site, the blog seems to have gained its popularity through “old-fashioned” internet means. People simply passed it around. In hours, David Payne and the blog were trending topics on Twitter in the UK. The blog post received 25,000 views that day. [Read more…]

You, SMBC Style

Skeptech will be held again in April 2014 (I guess I won’t save my taxes for that weekend), and to help pay for it, they’re doing something very cool.

We don’t ask for a lot, the organizers of the SkepTech conference. We’re people of simple needs; food, drink, warmth, kittens, puppies, the occasional maniacal cackle as we contemplate tossing it all and start trying to take over the world instead of trying to brainstorm at 4 AM. Our delusions of grandeur aside, we’d like to ask you for something now; your financial support as we ramp up for Skeptech 2, which will take place April 11th-13th, 2014, in Minneapolis, MN.

But wait, you ask. Why on earth should I donate to ANOTHER conference? Are there not enough of the things already? Well, we’ve got a lot of reasons why you should. You’re going to find out a lot about them over the coming weeks, in addition to a roster of speakers and panelists that we think will rock your world. We’re organizing a program of such diversity and amazingness that has rarely been seen in these fields.

Before we say too much, we would like, here and now, to offer you the first of those reasons to support us. What we are offering you today is the opportunity to bid on a digital portrait of your dashing visage, executed by the one and only Zach Weinersmith, the author and illustrator of the wildly famous [Saturday] Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic. This is an incredibly rare opportunity, not available since the days of Veláquez in the court of Philip IV, to have yourself preserved for all time, a masterpiece that future collectors will vie for to display on the walls of their own palaces. Needless to say, this is not something you’ll want to miss out on.

All proceeds of the auction will go to Skeptech to help us put on the most fabulous conference that we possibly can. You’re gonna want to be there.

Skeptech is an annual conference, organized by members and alumni of the Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists student group at the University of Minnesota (CASH), the Secular Student Alliance at St. Cloud State University (SSA@SCSU), and the Secular Student Alliance at St. Olaf College (SSASTO). It explores the intersections of science, critical thinking, and innovation in addressing some of the most pressing societal and environmental problems humanity faces today. Held at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities – a hotbed of technological research and innovation in the heart of the Twin Cities Metropolitan area – the three-day conference aims to spark ideas, foster questions, and start conversations on the role of technology in improving, and ensuring there is, tomorrow.”

If you ask very nicely, you might even persuade him to draw you in a salacious posture, just to stick it to the now-defunct Comics Code Authority. Don’t know what I’m talking about? This is why you don’t want to miss Skeptech.

Saturday Storytime: Velvet Fields

Anne McCaffery is best remembered for her Pern books, but she wrote extensively in several other universes as well. She also produced the occasional one-off short story.

So, suppressing our pervasive sense of trespassing, we moved into the abandoned dwellings, careful not to make any irreparable changes to accommodate our equipment. In fact, the only sophisticated nonindigenous equipment that I, as colony commissioner, permitted within any city was the plastisteel Comtower. I ordered the spaceport constructed beyond a low range of foothills on the rather scrubby plain at some distance from my headquarters city. An old riverbed proved an acceptable road for moving cargo to and from the port, and no one really objected to the distance. It would be far better not to offend our landlords with the dirt and chaos of outer-space commerce close to their pretty city.

We pastured the cattle in neatly separated velvet fields. Martin Chavez worried when close inspection disclosed that each velvet field was underpinned by its own ten-meter-thick foundation of ancient, rock-hard clay. Those same foundations housed what seemed to be a deep irrigation system.

I did ask Martin Chavez to investigate the curious absence of herbivores from a planet so perfectly suited to them. He had catalogued several types of omnivores, a wide variety of fowl, and a plethora of fishes. He did discover some fossil remains of herbivores, but nothing more recent than traces comparable to those of our Pleistocene epoch.

He therefore was forced to conclude—and submitted in a voluminous report with numerous comparisons to nearby galactic examples—that some catastrophes, perhaps the same that had wiped out the humanoids, had eliminated herbivores at an earlier stage.

Whatever the disaster had been—bacterial, viral, or something more esoteric—it did not recur to plague us. We thrived on the planet. The first children, conceived under the bluish alien sun, were born just after we had shipped our first year’s surplus offworld. Life settled into a pleasant seasonal routine: The beef, sheep, horses, kine, even the windoers of Grace’s World imported on an experimental basis, multiplied on the velvet fields. The centenarian crops from half a dozen worlds gave us abundant yields. We had some failures, of course, with inedible or grotesque ergotic mutations, but not enough to be worth more than a minor Chavezian thesis in the record and the shrug of the pioneering farmer. If a colonist is eating well, living comfortably, with leisure time for his kids and time off with his wife on the languid southern seas, he puts up with minor failures and irritations. Even with the omnipresent guilt of trespassing.

I was not the only one who never felt entirely at ease in the pretty cities. But, as I rationalized the intermittent twinges of conscience, it would have been ridiculous to build facilities when empty accommodations were already available, despite their obstinate refusal to work no matter how Dunlapil tried to energize them. Still, we managed fine and gradually came to ignore the anomalies we had never fully explored, settling down to make our gardens and our families grow.

The tenth year was just beginning, with surprising warmth, when Martin Chavez called a meeting with me and Dunlapil. Chavez had even convened it on a Restday, which was annoying as well as unusual.

Keep reading.

“Deliverance at Hand”, James Zimmerman on Atheists Talk

When a Jehovah’s Witness has doubts about the faith or how the doctrine of their faith fits in with a fact that they have learned about the natural world, a fact that seems to contradict the doctrine of their society, they are encouraged to do “research.” For them, research is a matter of poring over the literature of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in order to find a way to reconcile the natural world with the teachings of the Society. When a Circuit Overseer suggested that James and Jennifer Zimmerman carry out research on a subject in order to help rebuild their enthusiasm for Jehovah and The Truth, they agreed that digging into the “facts” of Noah’s Ark and the Flood would be a good project for both of them to work on together.

This turned out to be a mistake by the church, because James and Jennifer carried out their research a bit too enthusiastically. They discovered that the flood could not have been global, but more importantly, their research led to an agnosticism and a realization that the people who have “The Truth” did not, in fact, have the truth.

Deliverance at Hand!: The Redemption of a Devout Jehovah’s Witness is James Zimmerman’s new book on his experiences in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and leaving them behind. This book is just out and available for purchase through Amazon and Barnes and Noble as either e-book or in paperback. However, if you purchase the book in hardcopy through Minnesota Atheists a portion of the sale will benefit our organization.

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.

A Mental Health Musical

A friend of my husband, the best man at our wedding, is a dancer and choreographer. For the last several years, he’s been working on a project for the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health that I think many readers here can appreciate.

Once upon a time, familiar fairy tales were re-imagined to show positive portrayals of children with mental health disorders to raise awareness and reduce stigma! These original hour-long musical theatre productions are performed by a talented cast of actors ages 9 – 18 both with and without mental health disorders.

Original Fidgety Fairy Tales – includes Little Red Riding Hood (AD/HD), Sleeping Handsome (depression), and Rapunzel (anxiety)  Check us out in the Minneapolis Star Tribune – “A New Take on Fairy Tales”

More Fidgety Fairy Tales - includes The Prince and the Pea (autism), Hansel and Gretel (post-traumatic stress), and The Frog Prince (collaborative problem solving)

Further Fidgety Fairy Tales – includes Goldilocks (obsessive-compulsive disorder), Boyd, Who Cried Wolf (Tourette Syndrome), and CinderEdward (bipolar disorder)  Check us out on Kare 11 - “Fairy Tales Helping Reduce Mental Illness Stigma”

Beyond Fidgety Fairy Tales - includes Jack and the Beanstalk (brain damage), Snow White (schizophrenia), and Little Mermaid (eating disorders)  Check out this video taken during one of our rehearsals:  The Real You

The group completed a fifth show this spring. These are all traveling productions, staged mostly at schools and for other children’s and community organizations. Now they want to do more.

That’s why we want lots and lots of people to get a chance to see the show. We have been booked for several performances in outstate Minnesota, but currently don’t have the funding to be able to offer public performances in the Twin Cities.

We are committed to keeping the tickets to our performances free because families of children with mental health disorders often find their resources stretched to the max.

That’s why we need YOU! For every $700, we will be able to offer a performance that is free and open to the public. Our funding goal is set at $1400, which means we would be able to do two performances. If you all pledge more than that, we will just keep scheduling performances around the Twin Cities!

The majority of the funding pays for the talent, since the group already has existing relationships with venues that will host the shows as a community service.

With just under two weeks left, the project is nearly half funded. If you’re outside of Minnesota, the rewards on offer are mostly thanks and knowing that kids will get some early, useful, destigmatizing information about mental health. If you think that’s worthwhile and have a little something to throw their way, check out the Kickstarter.

I Got It Wrong

I made a mistake, and I owe Christie Wilcox and this community an apology. When I wrote this post, I mistook being part of a set of events as they unfolded as being the same thing as having a full enough view of those events to know that I could comment on them without getting her perspective. I should not have done that. As a result, I published an account of her actions that has not fully stood up in the face of further scrutiny. For that, I am truly sorry.

There are other issues at play here, including when a pattern of nonconsensual sexual behavior becomes a community matter and how various competing interests affect that process, as well as the impact and importance of harassment that targets men, but they deserve their own consideration separate from any apology. I will be listening much and thinking much as those questions are discussed, but I don’t plan to comment on them now.

Why I Spoke

Maryn McKenna has a very good piece up at Superbug about the online science communication community (most specifically the part of the community that focuses around (is focused by?) the ScienceOnline conferences. There’s one paragraph in the post that I think I have some responsibility to respond to.

Second, there have been blog and Twitter threads emerging over the past 36 hours in which additional accusations of harassment and inappropriate behavior, not by Zivkovic, have been made public by other science writers. Some of these have been launched not by the alleged harasser or victim, but by third parties trying… something: mistaken helpfulness, malice, who knows. And there are other such conversations happening in private channels, which I know because I’m enmeshed in several. These are troubling, and potentially toxic, too. Overall, I perceive in the science blogosphere (your networks may vary) a loss of security and safety; many expressions of mutual trust, but an at least equivalent number of expressions of uncertainty.

While I’m not the only person to have said something, I appreciate McKenna’s uncertainty about my motivations. Not everyone has shown that.

McKenna also isn’t the only person to use the word “toxic” with regard to my post yesterday. [Details of that post are now redacted at the request of parties involved.] Yes, I’m looking at the criticisms. Yes, I’m considering them. As of yet, I don’t agree. Why? Because from my position, the situation was already toxic. [Read more…]