Countdown to FtBCon2!

If you think you’ve heard some scrambling as you’ve read FreethoughtBlogs in the last few days, it’s because we’re getting all the administrative structure in place for FtBCon(science)2 this weekend. The schedule is here and just about complete, minus those last-minute, “Wait, what time did you have the down for? In what time zone?” kinds of snarls. We’ll have those sorted out in the next day so you can make your plans.

How do you attend FtBCon2? You can reach all the information you need through our main conference page. The schedule and the chat room are both linked at the top of the right column. The schedule page for each session will contain a link to the Google Event page on which the hangout is being hosted. If you open that page, the video feed should auto-load when it starts (reload if it doesn’t).

Once again, the Pharyngula chat room will be open during the conference for people to ask their questions. The moderators will identify themselves for each session as they start and collection questions for the panelists or speakers. Some moderators may also watch the #FtBCon hashtag on Twitter, but that’s not guaranteed. They’ll tell you at the start of the session.

As ever, the videos for each session will stay available on the Event page, and all videos will be collected in a playlist at the end of the conference for convenience. Even if you can’t watch live, or if you want to see two sessions that are scheduled opposite each other, you don’t have to miss anything.

Saturday Storytime: The Innocence of a Place

I admit to having a weakness for gothic horror, though the overwrought emotionality of much of it makes me giggle when I take a step back. That made finding this story by Margaret Ronald all the better. It shares much of the sensibility of gothic horror without overselling anything.

Ibbotson’s record picks up the next morning, after two fathers came by hoping to help their daughters. Ibbotson’s uncle seems to have reassured them that Wilbraham was taking care of the girls, and given the state of the river at the time, it’s understandable that the fathers decided to wait it out. Ibbotson herself continued to watch through her telescope off and on as the rain continued.

I can certainly sympathize; even though the rain here is hardly as bad and the risk of flood practically nonexistent on the new fill, after a while one does start looking for any distraction. The sound of the rain is monotonous but not unpleasant; what is mildly disturbing is how the rain on the glass changes the quality of the light, turning it from gray to an undersea green. It is sometimes easy to believe that my entire apartment is beneath the water somewhere, submerged deep under sky and stone.

I find distraction in writing up my notes—as Ibbotson did, later on in life.  I wonder if she, too, discovered inconsistencies as she went along, if she found the drumming of rain as conducive to a meditative state. Surely that would explain her time in Kansas; surely that would mark yet another similarity between us.

At the time, though, Ibbotson found a different sort of distraction in pointing her telescope at Wilbraham’s house, where despite the rain a strange game appeared to be in progress. As Ibbotson puts it:

Three or four girls stand at the doorway, then one runs outside. Sometimes the others run to catch her; sometimes they hold on to the doorframe as if it were an anchor, and it must be Mr. Wilbraham or Miss Farles who runs after. They or the girls catch their friend & pull her back into the house. First Cassie Garlin, then Beatrice Silber, then Victoria Bahn. And now Cassie again; she has nearly made it to the water, but Miss Farles has pulled her back, dragging her heels in the mud.

This has happened six times in the last hour. Once Miss Farles herself kept running past Sadie & Mr. Wilbraham had to grab her around the waist and carry both her and Sadie back to the house. I think if it had not been Sadie, who is the smallest at Braxton, he would have lost one of them.

It is as if they seek something in the water, but they fear to leave the house and fear to let their schoolmates leave.

Keep reading.

“First Amendment Journalism”, Jamila Bey on Atheists Talk

Jamila Bey is familiar to atheists as a charismatic, entertaining, and insightful speaker on the social and political issues that face atheists, and particularly atheists of color. Professionally, she’s a journalist with a long career in both old and new media. She’s been a beat reporter and freelance writer. She spent ten years as an editor and producer for National Public Radio. And for the past several years, she’s hosted the Sex Politics, and Religion Hour (SPAR with Jamila Bey) on Voice of Russia radio.

Now she’s looking to do something different. She’s been running an Indigogo campaign to fund a year-long series of reports on the challenges our First Amendment faces across the country.

Join us this Sunday as we talk to Jamila Bey about her work and why atheists and other underrepresented groups need an independent media.

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.

Geeks Without God on Atheists Talk

Atheism is becoming easier to talk about; we’re meeting more people who identify as atheist, we’re forming suppport groups via social media, we’re seeing more positive representations of atheism and nonbelief in popular media. And because we’re talking about atheism more, we’re beginning to notice atheism intersecting with other areas of our culture. Geeks Without God is a podcast with one foot in the atheist community and the other firmly planed in geekdom. The weekly podcast is hosted by three local comedians – Tim Wick, Molly Glover and Nick Glover. All three take part in local science fiction/fantasy conventions, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and various comedic and acting groups in the Twin Cities. And of course, they’re all raging atheists.

The first Geeks Without God podcast went up on iTunes on July 9th, 2012. 80 episodes later, Geeks Without God has exploded in popularity and now enjoys an international following. The podcasts regularly feature local guests, they have appeared at numerous geek and skeptical conferences to do live recordings of the podcast, and they have run fundraising campaigns to support the secular summer camp, Camp Quest. In the show’s one and a half year history, Tim, Nick and Molly have discussed comic books, leaving religion, glowing frogs, morality, Douglas Adams, Christian roleplaying games, sandwiches, separation of church and state, parenting, Pacific Rim and Ray Comfort. Among other topics.

We hope you will join us this Sunday when Tim Wick, Molly Glover and Nick Glover join Atheists Talk – live in the studio! – to discuss Geeks Without God.

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.


Toward an Independent Freethought Media

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of independent, non-profit news media. I contribute free arts coverage to the Twin Cities Daily Planet. I host Atheists Talk. I love MinnPost and The UpTake.

So why is independent news media so important? There are two big reasons in my book. The first is that there isn’t the same pressure to conform to the political agenda of corporate owners. In a de facto oligarchy like ours, this is critical. The other reason is that, without the pressure for profit, these organizations can focus on smaller audiences and stories. Rather than being all things to all people, they can cater to their niche…assuming that niche can support their work.

Jamila Bey is hoping her niche–us–can support her ambitious project. She also has the best project description I’ve seen. [Read more…]

The Good News and Bad News About Paul Graham

A couple of days ago, someone on Facebook asked me what I thought of this post by Paul Graham. My first thought was, “Who is Paul Graham, and why should I have an opinion on the piece?” Part of the answer presented itself as I read his post. Graham is one of the founders and the head of Y Combinator, the largest seed money firm for tech company start-ups, and his post was answering some unspecified charges about sexism. That’s worth paying attention to.

So I did that. Moreover, I did that without looking for the original charges of sexism. The vast majority of this was written without that knowledge, and once I did know what the to do was about, it added to my analysis, but it didn’t invalidate anything I’d already written. I’d recommend saving that link for last as you read as well. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: Jackalope Wives

The new year brought a new editor at Apex Magazine, which is frequently featured here. Lynne and Michael Thomas are moving on, and I expect good things from them wherever they end up. Joining Apex is Sigrid Ellis as editor-in-chief, whom I think you’ll find has a somewhat familiar touch. She’s worked on the magazine for quite a while and is well-prepared to take on this role. After all, she brings us this story by Ursula Vernon in her very first issue.

Now, it happened there was a young man in town who had a touch of magic on him. It had come down to him on his mother’s side, as happens now and again, and it was worse than useless.

A little magic is worse than none, for it draws the wrong sort of attention. It gave this young man feverish eyes and made him sullen. His grandmother used to tell him that it was a miracle he hadn’t been drowned as a child, and for her he’d laugh, but not for anyone else.

He was tall and slim and had dark hair and young women found him fascinating.

This sort of thing happens often enough, even with boys as mortal as dirt. There’s always one who learned how to brood early and often, and always girls who think they can heal him.

Eventually the girls learn better. Either the hurts are petty little things and they get tired of whining or the hurt’s so deep and wide that they drown in it. The smart ones heave themselves back to shore and the slower ones wake up married with a husband who lies around and suffers in their direction. It’s part of a dance as old as the jackalopes themselves.

But in this town at this time, the girls hadn’t learned and the boy hadn’t yet worn out his interest. At the dances, he leaned on the wall with his hands in his pockets and his eyes glittering. Other young men eyed him with dislike. He would slip away early, before the dance was ended, and never marked the eyes that followed him and wished that he would stay.

He himself had one thought and one thought only — to catch a jackalope wife.

They were beautiful creatures, with their long brown legs and their bodies splashed orange by the firelight. They had faces like no mortal woman and they moved like quicksilver and they played music that got down into your bones and thrummed like a sickness.

And there was one — he’d seen her. She danced farther out from the others and her horns were short and sharp as sickles. She was the last one to put on her rabbit skin when the sun came up. Long after the music had stopped, she danced to the rhythm of her own long feet on the sand.

(And now you will ask me about the musicians that played for the jackalope wives. Well, if you can find a place where they’ve been dancing, you might see something like sidewinder tracks in the dust, and more than that I cannot tell you. The desert chews its secrets right down to the bone.)

So the young man with the touch of magic watched the jackalope wife dancing and you know as well as I do what young men dream about. We will be charitable. She danced a little apart from her fellows, as he walked a little apart from his.

Perhaps he thought she might understand him. Perhaps he found her as interesting as the girls found him.

Perhaps we shouldn’t always get what we think we want.

Keep reading.

“Refusing Atheist Money”, Hemant Mehta on Atheists Talk

The end of the year is a traditional time for charitable giving and volunteering. Atheist and secular humanist groups have made great strides in the last few years on providing their members with opportunities to give both money and time as part of a community. Local community groups develop long-term relationships with community service organizations. Others choose organizations that meet specific needs at specific times. On top of that, Foundation Beyond Belief was formed in 2010 to channel and encourage humanist giving and volunteering.

However, because we are atheists, our help is not always wanted. Sometimes our checks are refused. Sometimes our helping hands are turned away. We’re not always told why, but “faith” groups find themselves welcome where we’re not.

Recently, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist blog found himself on the receiving end of two of these rejections. Funds raised by his readers were declined by a park board and library board. The library chair went so far as to call Hemant’s blog “a hate group”. Hemant is also familiar with this problem as part of the board of Foundation Beyond Belief. Join us this Sunday as Hemant talks to us about atheist giving, or at least attempted atheist giving.

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.

Comparing Secular Services

The Sunday Assemblies have gotten more people than ever talking about what people want or need from their atheist and humanist organizations. They didn’t start these discussions, of course, but expanding them is good. I have been, however, struck by how many of the articles and blog posts focus on what one person does or doesn’t want from a meeting with other nonbelievers.

Here in the Twin Cities, we were approached by Sunday Assembly, and there’s been some curiosity. The moderate amount of interest wasn’t enough to draw the founders all the way out here on their tour this summer (though it is ongoing).

Back in November, for the Atheists Talk television program, I sat down with representatives from three Twin Cities groups to talk about the general concept of atheist and humanist congregations and what these groups had to offer their members. I’ll note that we have many more than three groups for nonbelievers here, but I only had three chairs to work with. I spoke with August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists and Scott Lohman, president of Humanists of Minnesota, representatives of the largest local atheist and humanist groups. I also spoke with Rev. David Bredeen, pastor at Minneapolis’s First Unitarian Society, which is unusual for a UU group in that it was founded specifically as an atheist congregation.

Things only got a little competitive.

Minnesota Nonbelievers, Your Opinions Please

Minnesota law, like most states’ laws, restrict who can “solemnize” a marriage–certify to the state that a legal marriage has occurred after whatever type of formalities are deemed appropriate. Here is Minnesota’s current list of people who can be authorized to solemnize marriages (section 517.04 of Minnesota law):

Civil marriages may be solemnized throughout the state by an individual who has attained the age of 21 years and is a judge of a court of record, a retired judge of a court of record, a court administrator, a retired court administrator with the approval of the chief judge of the judicial district, a former court commissioner who is employed by the court system or is acting pursuant to an order of the chief judge of the commissioner’s judicial district, the residential school administrators of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind, a licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination, or by any mode recognized in section 517.18. For purposes of this section, a court of record includes the Office of Administrative Hearings under section 14.48.

Section 517.18 is a list of special provisions for groups that don’t recognize their traditions (or may be at risk of the state not recognizing their traditions) under the description “a licensed or ordained minister of any religious denomination”:

Subdivision 1. Friends or Quakers. All civil marriages solemnized among the people called Friends or Quakers, in the form heretofore practiced and in use in their meetings, shall be valid and not affected by any of the foregoing provisions. The clerk of the meeting in which such civil marriage is solemnized, within one month after any such civil marriage, shall deliver a certificate of the same to the local registrar of the county where the civil marriage took place, under penalty of not more than $100. Such certificate shall be filed and recorded by the court administrator under a like penalty. If such civil marriage does not take place in such meeting, such certificate shall be signed by the parties and at least six witnesses present, and shall be filed and recorded as above provided under a like penalty.

Subd. 2. Baha’i. Civil marriages may be solemnized among members of the Baha’i faith by the chair of an incorporated local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, according to the form and usage of such society.

Subd. 3. Hindus; Muslims. Civil marriages may be solemnized among Hindus or Muslims by the person chosen by a local Hindu or Muslim association, according to the form and usage of their respective religions.

Subd. 4. American Indians. Civil marriages may be solemnized among American Indians according to the form and usage of their religion by an Indian Mide’ or holy person chosen by the parties to the civil marriage.

Subd. 5. Construction of section. Nothing in subdivisions 2 to 4 shall be construed to alter the requirements of section 517.01, 517.09 or 517.10.

Based on this law and on discussions with lawmakers, we note that there is no way for a non-religious community to be treated equally on this matter. An atheist or secular humanist could become a celebrant by working with a branch of their community identified as religious. For example, humanists have been allowed to perform marriages working through the religious branch of humanism. Ethical Societies identify as religious groups. An atheist group could potentially choose to do the same if its membership were in favor. However, an atheist group that is clear that it is not a “religious denomination” with “licensed or ordained minister[s]” is excluded under the law as it now stands.

Some members of the Minnesota Atheists board (including me) have also talked to lawmakers about options for changing this. And we heard from members and others with very strong opinions about what should be done about the situation, including doing nothing at all.

In response, we’ve put together a very short survey to find out from nonbelievers in Minnesota where they stand on the question. If that description fits you, please, take a few minutes and let us know where you stand. We have an opportunity to represent you on this issue, and we want to know what that means.