Saturday Storytime: Hunger: A Confession

Dale Bailey recently noted that this story took him far less time to finish than his work typically does. It doesn’t seem to have hurt this piece of classical horror in the least.

So that was my life—interminable days of boredom, torturous insomniac nights. It was the worst summer of my life, with nothing to look forward to but a brand new school come the fall. That’s why I found myself poking around in the basement about a week after we moved in. Nobody had bothered to unpack—nobody had bothered to do much of anything all summer—and I was hoping to find my old teddy bear in one of the boxes.

Mr. Fuzzy had seen better days—after six years of hard use, he literally had no hair, not a single solitary tuft—and I’d only recently broken the habit of dragging him around with me everywhere I went. I knew there’d be a price to pay for backsliding—Jeremy had been riding me about Mr. Fuzzy for a year—but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I’d just finished rescuing him from a box of loose Legos and Jeremy’s old Star Wars action figures when I noticed a bundle of rags stuffed under the furnace. I wasn’t inclined to spend any more time than necessary in the basement—it smelled funny and the light slanting through the high dirty windows had a hazy greenish quality, like a pond you wouldn’t want to swim in—but I found myself dragging Mr. Fuzzy over toward the furnace all the same.

Somebody had jammed the bundle in there good, and when it came loose, clicking metallically, it toppled me back on my butt. I stood, brushing my seat off with one hand, Mr. Fuzzy momentarily forgotten. I squatted to examine the bundle, a mass of grease-stained rags tied off with brown twine. The whole thing was only a couple feet long.

I loosened the knot and pulled one end of the twine. The bundle unwrapped itself, spilling a handful of rusty, foot-long skewers across the floor. There were half a dozen of them, all of them with these big metal caps. I shook the rag. A scalpel tumbled out, and then a bunch of other crap, every bit of it as rusty as the skewers. A big old hammer with a wooden head and a wicked-looking carving knife and one of those tapered metal rods butchers use to sharpen knives. Last of all a set of ivory-handled flatware.

I reached down and picked up the fork.

That’s when I heard the stairs creak behind me.

“Mom’s gonna kill you,” Jeremy said.

Keep reading.

“Think: Why You Should Question Everything”, Guy P. Harrison on Atheists Talk

Author Guy P. Harrison, honored guest of Atheists Talk, returns once again to discuss science, skepticism and critical thinking. His recently released book, Think: Why You Should Question Everything, is an easy to read work, accessible to learners of all ages and experience. In the book he defines what skepticism is and isn’t and devotes an entire chapter to the concept of evidence. Harrison challenges readers to explore the differences between beliefs and believers, science and superstition, skepticism and intelligence, and simply, to think.

We hope you’ll join us this Sunday for the interview.

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.

Puppies, the New Accuracy?

When I talked about the reaction to Skepticon’s handling of the threat that happened there, I mentioned that Sharon Hill of Doubtful News claimed not to have received a response from Skepticon. I also linked to Skepticon’s original response and their response to her and noted that she hadn’t asked any questions of them that I could find. I called her tweet claiming a lack of response “blatantly untrue.”

In response, she could have pointed out that I’d missed something. (Having looked again for any questions that had gone unanswered, I don’t think I did, but there could have been private correspondence.) She could have apologized for saying something poorly in 140 characters and clarified what she meant. She did neither.

Instead, I found this in my Twitter mentions last night.

Screen cap of tweet from Sharon Hill (@IDoubtIt). Text: I think @szvan and the #blockbot folks have issues; they need to look at cute puppies.    OK, I'm done now.The puppy also made no statement about Skepticon. On the upside, it also managed to avoid argument ad hominem and suggesting that discussing the accuracy of claims indicates mental illness.

Yay, skepticism?

“Abominable Science!”, Donald Prothero on Atheists Talk

It has been a while since palaeontologist Donald Prothero visited us on Atheists Talk, and he’s been busy. We have some catching up to do. Just this summer, Prothero released two books to help us sort out good information and good science from poor information and pseudoscience. In Abominable Science!, he and Daniel Loxton sort through the nature and the quality of the evidence for and against creatures like Bigfoot and Nessie. They highlight the differences between science and pseudoscience and examine the will to believe.

In Reality Check, Prothero looks at science denialism and the topics that hit closer to home. While a belief in Nessie won’t hurt most people, denial of the scientific consensus behind childhood vaccination or global warming has a much more serious effect. Prothero lays out the motives and methods of denialists.

This Sunday, he joins us to talk about both books.

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.

Skepticon, Guns, and Policies

Friday night at Skepticon, I went to bed early. I had some sleep to make up from driving through the night to get there. I’d given blood. It seemed like a good idea. I knew I’d missed stuff, though, so I checked the hashtag shortly after getting up. Unfortunately, I found this.

Screen cap of tweet. Text provided in the post.

@EllenBethWachs: So apparently Skepticon isn’t safe. American Atheist employee receives a death threat at the end of loaded 38 #sk6

Never what you want to see. Nor is it fun to see things like this before you have any idea what’s going on.

Screen cap of tweet. Text provided in the post.

@Sc00ter: @EllenBethWachs I’m sure the anti-harassment policy at #sk6 will take care of that no problem. Be safe @davemuscato

So it was going to be one of those days. Yay. But first to find out what had happened to Dave. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The Jackal’s Wedding

Vajra Chandrasekera lives in Sri Lanka but prefers to write in English. His speculative poetry has won him a Rhysling Award.

That was the day she first tried putting her paws aside for hands. Father didn’t like that, either, he sighed from his corner of the burrow. His glade magic was strong, but unlike hers. He could not change. Or perhaps he just refused to.

“The glade magic is a curse for sons,” Father would say. “Only for sons, my daughter.”

She didn’t understand why he called it a curse when it was so powerful. He made weather mild, food plentiful: voles, squirrels, even hares. She had just cracked a lizard open, noisily slurping it, when she smelled Tien approaching.

He was not the first treasure hunter to find the glade. Anyone except Jack could enter or leave. But Father’s magic hid the treasure from strangers, and kept them from bringing harm to the glade. She had no fear of him.

But Tien wasn’t interested in treasure. He offered Jack cooked meat from his pack. She tore into the richness of it, overwhelmed by the spices. Tien stroked her neck and her ears flattened in pleasure.

“Stay away from him,” Father told her later, but he always said that. “The last human who was my friend was a king. He got me stuck here looking after his shitty shiny rocks for a thousand seasons. Why do you think I refuse to make sons?”

Jack rolled her eyes. The glade magic let him hold back monsoons and blow out forest fires. It was a gift, not a curse.

Keep reading.

Handling Criticism: Beware the Legal Option

In October 2000, American McGee’s Alice came out to a good bit of fanfare. In the dark video game, Alice Liddell has gone down the dark rabbit hole of madness after losing her family in a house fire. Using her vorpal blade and other weapons derived from Wonderland and the land behind the looking glass, she bloodily battles elements of her own psyche for control of her mind. The game was so successful that in 2003, McGee announced a sequel of sorts, to feature Dorothy Gale in her own twisted adventures in Oz.

Due to financial difficulties, the game was never made, but the announcement was enough to set off the guys at Penny Arcade, the webcomic dealing primarily with the video game industry. On April 14, 2003, they released a comic lampooning McGee’s destruction of childhood innocence. The single-panel comic presented itself as an ad for American McGee’s Strawberry Shortcake. Strawberry Shortcake’s friend Plum Pudding, now looking quite grown up in a corset and thigh-high stockings, was shown on her hands and knees, while Strawberry Shortcake sat on top of her, similarly attired, brandishing a riding crop she’d obviously been using on her friend. Custard the kitten sat in the background, now a panther with bloody jowls.

The text of the fake ad told us Strawberry Shortcake was “a sweet girl with a taste for PAIN.” We also learned “Her kitten, Custard, fed by a thousand corpses, seeks out a meal of flesh!” and “Strawberry’s naughty playmate Plum Pudding is the main course at this tea party!” Finally, we were invited to “Taste her in 2005”. Two rather toothy and demonic-looking strawberries completed the picture.

The comic was amusing and on-point, but it probably would have been forgotten by now, except for one thing.
[Read more…]

“50 Great Myths About Atheism”, Russell Blackford on Atheists Talk

Philosopher Russell Blackford and bioethicist Udo Schüklenk are back with another book on atheism, 50 Great Myths About Atheism. From the publisher’s description:

Tackling a host of myths and prejudices commonly leveled at atheism, this captivating volume bursts with sparkling, eloquent arguments on every page. The authors rebut claims that range from atheism being just another religion to the alleged atrocities committed in its name.

  • An accessible yet scholarly commentary on hot-button issues in the debate over religious belief

  • Teaches critical thinking skills through detailed, rational argument

  • Objectively considers each myth on its merits

  • Includes a history of atheism and its advocates, an appendix detailing atheist organizations, and an extensive bibliography

  • Explains the differences between atheism and related concepts such as agnosticism and naturalism

Russell Blackford joins us this Sunday to talk about the book.

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.

Handling Criticism: Focus on the Reasonable

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow-FtB blogger Miri found out that someone on Facebook had started a page whose title asked whether she should be murdered. On the page itself were posts advocating changes to the law so the murdering Miri would be legal and suggestions that people should tell Miri to kill herself. Miri blogs about mental health and is very open about her own experiences with depression, including contemplating suicide. The Facebook page also told people how to find Miri’s blog and her Facebook page.

A few hours later, after dozens of people reported the page to Facebook for harassment and threats, Facebook sent automated responses to everyone saying that the page met their community standards. Then the outrage, which had been directed at the page’s creator, was redirected at Facebook. People responded to the notices, quoting Facebook’s own Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Other people, remembering that it had previously taken a campaign targeting Facebook’s advertisers to get Facebook to respond to pages advocating violence against women, took to social media and started yelling about the problem instead. Miri herself tweeted, “Hey @facebook, I’m really glad to know threatening me with murder on your website fits your ‘community standards.'”

That’s when Facebook’s Chief Engineer, Mike Shaver, decided to step in. [Read more…]

Don’t Miss Skepticon Workshops!

If you’ll be at Skepticon tomorrow morning or early afternoon, don’t miss your chance to be part of the workshops. Skepticon added these for the first time last year. The sessions were crowded, even on Friday as many people were still traveling, and the reactions to them were so enthusiastic that I stole the idea for the Minnesota Atheists regional convention this summer–where the reactions were similarly enthusiastic.

These workshops are time for audience participation, and they allow time to be given to “niche” topics, ideas that don’t necessarily command main-stage attention. For example, there’s atheist music with Ashley Miller, Dave Muscato, JT Eberhard, and Shelley Segal. Rebecca Hensler will lead a session on how to manage grief, just before I lead a session on  handling being criticized in public. Dave Muscato will talk about becoming a professional atheist, and Amanda Knief about using your activism on your résumé. Monette Richards will lead a session on swearing as an atheist, and there are two sessions on comics.

If you think workshops are a way to kill time before the main speakers, you couldn’t be more wrong. Check out the schedule, find the ones that interest you, then plan to be there a little early. Even last year, these things filled up quickly. Now that everyone knows how good they can be, seats will go even faster.* Don’t worry, though. There’s still plenty of good stuff going on on the main stage if you can’t get into a workshop.

*Workshop rooms are small and set up to hold as many people as possible. Please be aware of accommodation issues as you’re queuing up for the sessions. Getting wheelchairs and people with limited mobility in and out of the rooms can certainly be done as long as everyone else is willing to hold back a little in the crush.