Saturday Storytime: If God Is Watching

If you’re on Twitter, you probably know Mikki Kendall as Karnythia, one of those people who can manage incisive social commentary in 140-character chunks. You may not have read her fiction, though. You should do that.

I killed a man when I was 13. Not on pur­pose or noth­ing. But he still died. Mama went over to see about Mrs. Johnson’s new baby after church, and I stayed home because I had a cold com­ing on. Mama is real par­tic­u­lar about sick peo­ple and babies, so I didn’t even ask if I could go vis­it­ing. Daddy went out fish­ing with my broth­ers, and after I got out of my church clothes I stretched out on the porch swing with a book. It was good too, all about pirates and buried trea­sure. It was a hot day, sunny, but not too bad if you were sit­ting in the shade. The breeze was blow­ing just right over Mama’s lit­tle flower gar­den, and it felt so good to sit there with the screen keep­ing the bugs out and the cool in, while I nib­bled on a slice of cake.

Our house wasn’t fancy exactly, but Daddy was always good with his hands and my uncles all knew a fair bit about build­ing because that was how they earned their money instead of farm­ing like Daddy. So when Mama wanted some­thing added onto the house they come over and do it for her. Folks said she was spoiled and I would be too since we were both the only girls in a fam­ily full of men. I don’t know about spoiled, but I was almost always happy. Daddy could grow any­thing he wanted no mat­ter how bad it might be doing for some­body else, and Mama knew about tak­ing care of sick folks and deliv­er­ing babies. Folks always needed some­thing and always had some­thing to trade if they didn’t have cash money.

I don’t know how long I was out there, but I was just get­ting to the end of my book when I heard somebody’s Model T rat­tling away. The road up to the house was longer than most, but it sounded like the car was com­ing on fast so I got up real quick and slipped in the house. Mama says that peo­ple shouldn’t be able to just walk up on us, at least not with­out us look­ing like we came from some­body, and we’re going some­where. So I took off the raggedy over­alls I had on, and put on a dress and a pair of shoes.

Mama made most of my clothes in those days, some­times dye­ing them for me so I wouldn’t be wear­ing the same thing as all the other girls who got their goods at the mer­can­tile in town. My dress that day was dark blue, with a lit­tle black flower pat­tern worked into it. It didn’t fit like it used to. Mama kept threat­en­ing to pass it on to some­one else, but I loved it so that she said I could keep it until she had time to make me a new one.

Some white man knocked on the door a few min­utes later. He was big­ger than my mama’s biggest brother, Uncle John, but not as big as my Daddy and wear­ing a shiny gray Sun­day suit and a funny look­ing white hat. He even had on shiny shoes, like a woman would wear to church if she wanted to get talked about for a month of Sun­days. He had a face like a skinned hog, all wet and red look­ing, but meaty. And he had too many teeth in his mouth. Looked like he was one of them bad sales­men that I heard peo­ple com­plain­ing about when­ever we stayed late after church and the adults would for­get that us kids were lis­ten­ing. He was grin­ning and yam­mer­ing away before I even got to the door good.

How are you today young lady? You look­ing mighty pros­per­ous on this Sun­day after­noon aren’t you?” Up close he smelled like he bathed in cologne, but not in a good way. More like per­fume over funk.

He had his hand on the door knob like he was about to pull on it, and I stared at his hand until it dropped. I can’t rightly fight, but my eyes make peo­ple think they don’t want to fight me. My broth­ers are the only excep­tion and even they don’t fight me to hurt me, just to teach me how to defend myself. Daddy says my eyes are just a darker brown than most peo­ple have ever seen, and Mama says I have eyes like her great-grandmother who was a con­jure doc­tor down in New Orleans. I don’t know which one of them is right, but most peo­ple don’t like my eyes because they’re so black they look like two holes punched in my face. At least that’s how Ms. Viola at the church describes them, and she’s been all the way to Lon­don and back so I fig­ure she knows best.

Can I help you?” It’s my best grown up voice, and I can see him look­ing me up and down when I use it. I can’t help but cross my arms across my chest when his eyes linger on it. I can see what Mama meant about my dress being too snug to wear out in the street.

Keep reading.

“The Galapagos: A Natural History”, Henry Nicholls on Atheists Talk

Our guest this week on Atheists Talk is Henry Nicholls, a celebrated journalist, author, editor and broadcaster with specialties in evolutionary biology, conservation and history of science. He will be joining us to discuss his recently published book, The Galapagos: A Natural History

The Galapagos Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, west of their parent mainland, Ecuador. They are a beautiful paradise comprised of several islands, and are dedicated to preserving the bountiful natural wildlife contained among them. They also conjure memories of Charles Darwin’s voyage on the H.M.S Beagle, where he did so much of the research that went in to the writing of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In The Galapagos: A Natural History, Henry Nicholls explores the many roles that this collection of islands has played in our human history – from wilderness, to research spot, to tourist destination – and he explores what The Galapagos can tell us about our future.

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.

Inviting the Ladies

You may have noticed that yesterday’s linkspam post was heavy on Ophelia’s articles on the Global Secular Council. I haven’t had a lot to say about the council myself. I definitely agree with Ophelia on the diversity and basic communication problems that their launch displayed. They promise us research from big names, but their website just has a bunch of Secular Coalition for America publications and high-gloss photos of people who mostly aren’t the folks who did that work.

Will the people in the glossy photos do great work under the Global Secular Council banner? Hard to say. There are some people on that list who have done truly impressive work, but I find it a bit odd that they didn’t hold the launch of the website for the release of work from at least a few of them. I’d like to believe they had the time for that between dinner and going live. There had to at least have been work those people had done that they were willing to repurpose under the GSC banner, right?

Not as of launch, no. But maybe they’ll start producing their own content soon, something more than a blog, since that’s what they’ll need to influence government. They’ll have to produce in order to survive. [Read more…]

TBT: Exactly Wrong

This was originally published in May 2009. I may have a bit of button, easily pushed by people using simplistic (mis)understandings of behavioral psychology.

I’m always fascinated by how “common sense” works. All too often, the first part (“common”) is presumed to imply the second (“sense”) when it does no such thing. I came across a great example today.

I was having brunch with Greg and Ben after today’s radio show, when Greg mentioned someone he’d recently heard go off on an anti-open source rant. “If I have a problem, I want the person helping me to be someone I’m paying, not some bunch of teen-aged geeks–”

“What?!?” I cut Greg off. I don’t do that to people often. Really. I did not actually put my face in my hands, but I was tempted.

Okay, here’s the problem. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 5/28/2014

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

Around FtB

  • On ‘Bad Media’ and Bingeing–“It’s nice that you want to write those articles about eating disorders, and I’m all in favor. But please, let’s not talk about how bad it is that Other, Bad Media glorifies disordered behavior when all you’ll write about is the stuff that makes you skinnier.”
  • How to explain–“He’s a good person (see above about diversity), and firing the first woman editor made him look bad, so that’s why he had to attack her after he fired her. Totally makes sense.”
  • That’s not how you do it–“They’re not going to accomplish much if they’re just going to announce a set of goals on a website and then pose wisely to convince other people to go do the actual work, somehow.”
  • And now we pull down / on the lever–“This is the music Lauren played 3 minutes before each talk or panel was scheduled to start, as a signal to everyone to come in and sit down and be quiet.”
  • Tweeters can’t stop us–“So much for the beloved “secular community” eh – if we ask our “thought leaders” questions, they will blow us off as mere pesky Tweeters.”
  • People who are currently at dinner with you–“The Twitter account seemed to want to have it both ways – to sneer from a great height at talk of ‘skin color’ while still patting itself on the back for ‘working on diversity.'”
  • Viewer discretion is advised–“If you’re the type of person to flip your shit about people using trigger warnings, you might not want to read this post unless you have the resources to attack me for defending the use of trigger warnings.”
  • Masculinity, Violence, and Bandaid Solutions–“And before you call Rodger ‘crazy’: it is not actually ‘crazy’ to believe stuff that’s been shoved down your throat from birth.”

The Wider Web

  • On Animals, Part III: A Conversation with Barbara J. King and Jessica Pierce–“The evolutionary trajectory of humans is more complicated. For one thing, we’re omnivores. This means that the contribution of meat to the diet of contemporary populations varies greatly and indeed the same was true for ancestral populations in prehistory.”
  • Reporting Rape: More On The “Proper Authorities”–“You can read the story for the rest of what the NYPD did, but I want to bold that part. This is a sworn police officer, making a statement that’s appalling not only culturally, but in its sheer, astounding legal ignorance.”
  • Nicholas Wade and race: building a scientific façade–“Practical. Simple. Wade wants us to cut up human diversity into five races not because that’s what the statistical analyses show, but because thinking about it as a gradient is hard.”
  • The Troublesome Ignorance of Nicholas Wade–“In making these assertions Wade ignores the majority of data and conclusions from anthropology, population genetics, human biology and evolutionary biology.”
  • The Case for Reparations–“Between 1882 and 1968, more black people were lynched in Mississippi than in any other state. ‘You and I know what’s the best way to keep the nigger from voting,’ blustered Theodore Bilbo, a Mississippi senator and a proud Klansman.”
  • We Are All Short Now–“There’s nothing ‘better’ about being tall. But we all behave – really, almost all of us – as though being short is bad, something to be ashamed of, and indeed, something to fudge.”
  • Fed Up with Sexual Harassment: Guest Post By Dara Norman–“After the larger meeting ended, we were chatting, and I asked who she thought I meant. She was reluctant to say so I named the person I was referring to… no not that person… I named someone else (at the same institution)… no not that person.”
  • If scientists were to make the arbitrary decision that biological race is real, can you think of a positive outcome?–“These are arbitrary decisions made by lumpers and splitters (who are first and foremost humans and who are therefore not, nor required to be, consistent in their lumping and splitting ways). These kinds of debates will never be resolved as long as someone takes the opposing side.”
  • Interview with Caroline Fiennes–“We tend to think that all charities are good, but it turns out that some are much better than others. I’m not talking about their administrative cost, but rather what they achieve.”
  • An Open Letter on Feminism In Tech–“Being nice doesn’t work. We’ve been nice. Some of us that have written down our stories here have even been paraded around by men in the industry for how nice we’ve been in trying to address the social problems in tech as a way to discredit more vocal, astutely firm feminist voices.”
  • Attorneys for North Dakota Argue Viability Begins at Conception–“In a later case, Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court said that when lawmakers are considering matters of ‘contested science,’ lawmakers are essentially free to choose a side in the scientific debate and there’s not much the courts can do about it.”
  • Islamophobia? Muslimophobia? Anti-Muslim Bigotry? A discussion between Ex-Muslims on appropriate neologisms–“During the last day or so, community members at the Ex-Muslims of North America have been having a discussion regarding the terminology we ought to use to differentiate between undue discrimination against Muslims and reasoned critique of Islam.”
  • On Paying Your Atheist Speakers–“This all mirrors a debate in larger society, where asking people to work for free has become a third rail, with good reason.”
  • Twitter Agrees to Block ‘Blasphemous’ Tweets in Pakistan–“This censorship comes as challenges to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law have become increasingly deadly, amid a flurry of arrests, killings and assassination attempts on secularists.”
  • Engraved on the Eye [free stories by Saladin Ahmed on Smashwords]–“These short stories have been nominated for the Nebula and Campbell awards, and reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy Anthologies.”
  • As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish–“‘How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it,’ asked Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, echoing remarks being made across social media.”
  • Macmillan Authors Rally Fans in Battle with Amazon–“As the news broke last weekend, several Tor/Forge authors immediately reacted to Amazon’s ceasing direct sales of their books by replacing Amazon’s links on their sites and redirecting their fans to Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.”
  • Morning coffee and an Amazon rant (Storify)–“I like the publishing industry. I live here. It’s where I keep my stuff.”
  • Why the Amazon buy buttons disappeared on my website today–“I don’t think punishing the authors and readers by delaying books, hiding search results, and playing around, is a good thing. As a result, I’ve pulled the buttons for Amazon links on my site until this is resolved to stand in solidarity with the authors at Hachette.”
  • The Cult of Positivity–“Positivity hasn’t done a damn thing to help my MS. It didn’t prevent me from getting MS, it won’t stop the progression of MS, and it won’t treat or cure my MS.”
  • I don’t want to do this anymore–” I would love for no escorts to have to bust their asses and risk their bodies and minds dealing with sometimes large hordes of protestors and fake-ass ‘counselors’.”
  • Stop Citing My 1975 ‘Global Cooling’ Article–“Now, as the author of that story, after decades of scientific advances, let me say this: while the hypotheses described in that original story seemed right at the time, climate scientists now know that they were seriously incomplete. Our climate is warming — not cooling, as the original story suggested.”
  • A brief history of the war between Reddit and Tumblr–“Likewise, subreddits like r/TumblrInAction allow Reddit users to gang up on bloggers by sending dozens or hundreds of pageviews their way—some of which may translate into hateful messages and responses. In that sense, it’s less like ‘trolling’ and more like bullying.”
  • Leaving Islam for Atheism, and Finding a Much-Needed Place Among Peers–“There are few role models for former Muslims, and although the religion’s history contains some notable skeptics, very few of them are women.”
  • Neko Case had the best response to a sexist ‘Playboy’ tweet–“DONT PEGGY OLSEN ME, MOTHERFUCKERS.”
  • The Pick-Up Artist Community’s Predictable, Horrible Response to a Mass Murder–“It is disturbing, if not surprising, that they are using these murders to reinforce their hatred of women and ‘Beta’ men, and to cement their own status at the top of the pyramid.”
  • Elliot Rodger And Men Who Hate Women–“We live in a culture that constantly devalues women in a million little different ways, and that culture has evolved to include a vast online community of men who take that devaluation to its natural conclusion: brutal, violent hatred of women.”
  • Women in Secularism Explained… by David Brooks?–“A successful panel can happen as if by magic sometimes, but I think really relies on an integration of expertise, personal experience, and articulation.”


I just started my second week at a new job (yes, things have been a bit quiet around here as I’ve been adapting), and the strangest thing has been happening. It’s really a very good thing that I don’t have Excel at home, because I don’t want to stop working at the end of the day. Weird, I know.

What’s going on? I’m coding again. I’m coding for the first time since that Pascal class in college that assumed I had a whole bunch of background knowledge on the structure of programming languages that I didn’t have. Let me just say that any programming course–with no prerequisites–that takes a student who was doing side projects in high school Basic and leaves them wondering what everyone is talking about is poorly designed.

Luckily, programming classes have mostly improved since then. So has my knowledge of programming language structures. I didn’t study it in between. I’ve just been in the middle of enough discussions about bad code to figure out what kind of mistakes people can make. Knowing what can go wrong is a great way of understanding how things should go right.

Still, I was a little worried. I expected more headaches as I moved from heavy Excel use, only sometimes adapting existing macros for my needs, to creating macros from scratch in VBA as a way to automate processes for my new company. [Read more…]

An Easy Escape

Shelley Segal is about to release her new album on Friday (or, if you’re in the U.S. and keep a daytime schedule, while you’re sleeping Thursday night). In order to fund production, she’s been taking preorders:

Hi! Thanks for visiting my Pledge page.

I’m really excited to annouce that my third studio album (as yet unnamed) [Since named An Easy Escape.–SZ]
is recorded. I am going to be releasing it through my independent label, True Music on May 30th 2014.

There is still a lot that needs to be done before the release. We need photos, artwork and we are going to be running print and radio campaigns for the album.

To help fund the release I am running a presale for the album here on Pledge Music and offering some fun and unique rewards.

The first thing you will receive is an acoustic video preview of one of the tracks, exclusively for pledgers.

Thanks so much for the support and for joining me for the release of my new album

Lots of love,
Shelley xx

She’s got some fun packages up for sale too. The album itself is $10 (Aus) downloaded, but there’s also an opportunity to pick up all of Shelley’s work on USB, get posters of the album art or t-shirts, and even to spring for a house party.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the first single from this album is the first studio recording of hers that I’ve heard really capture the energy she has as a live performer. If you’ve seen Shelley perform, you know that means you’re in for a treat.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this album. If you are too, go ahead and preorder. Shelley’s on her own indie label, which means she’s putting up all the money for production until she gets it back through sales. Buying the album now and downloading it on Friday means neither of you will have to wait.

On Trigger Warnings and “Scientific Arguments”

In case you haven’t noticed, the fires of the Great Trigger Warning Debate are burning high again, this time in the halls of academia. Students at UCSB have called for trigger warnings in course syllabi, prompting the New York Times to equate dissociative spells, nightmares, and anxiety attacks with “squirming”. Now, along comes Pacific Standard with an article that tells us science says we shouldn’t give sexually assaulted students with PTSD even the same consideration we give television viewers who don’t like nudity on their screens.

As the article was written by Dr. Richard J. McNally, who directs clinical training for Harvard, I didn’t expect to find fault with the science he cited. This turned out to be mostly true. I found the argument presented in the article pretty appalling, however.

On a side note before I get to the arguments: You may well have the impression that “trigger” is a concept unique to post-traumatic stress disorder. If you do, you’re not alone. I saw someone on Twitter just a few days ago suggest that a broad view of trigger warnings was somehow appropriating the experience of PTSD sufferers. Reading the article won’t disabuse you of this notion–it’s entirely a discussion of PTSD–but this isn’t true.

Think of a trigger the way you’d think of a stimulus in classical behavioral psychology. It is an event that provokes a response over which someone has very little control. Pavlov’s bell was a salivation trigger in his dogs.

Of course, we’ve moved on a good bit from strict behavioral psychology, and people aren’t dogs. “Trigger” these days describes an event to which we react in a way that is significantly but not entirely automatic or beyond our conscious control. Suppressing a reaction to a trigger requires cognitive and emotional resources, executive function, but it can be done. “Trigger” now applies to events that provoke a wider variety of maladaptive responses as well, such as bingeing in someone with eating disorders or self-hatred in someone with depression.

But on with the article.

[Read more…]

The Reading List, 5/25/2014

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

Around FtB

The Wider Web

  • What Atheist Community is For: Help Angelina Collier’s Children–“Angelina was a newcomer to the nonbeliever community, but she was definitely one of us.”
  • To pee or not to pee–“For people all over the world, the pen is mighty. But for mice, there is no pen. There is only pee.” With bonus poem.
  • Chilean activist destroys student debt records worth $500m–“There have been protests in Chile since 2011 calling for reform of the university system and for free high-quality education.”
  • The sea is full of life, but not quite that full–“There is nothing unusual whatsoever about this picture…except for that it’s based on a misconception.”
  • W Continues Fashion’s Tradition of Using ‘Exotic’ People As Props–“W magazine recently sent fashion photographer Tim Walker and supermodel Edie Campbell to Burma, where they shot an editorial that juxtaposed Campbell (so white! so chic!) against the a background of the nation’s ‘exotic’ landmarks and citizens.”
  • Dear Sudan: Stop ‘slut-shaming’ women with religious double standards–“If only the case of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim were unusual.”
  • All Ages–“Kids care about finding something in the world to relate to. Kids don’t give a care about sexual orientation, not the way adults do.”
  • Science Pseudonyms vs Science Sockpuppets–“‘He’s saying that scientists using pseudonyms is a form of misconduct!’ I thought to myself. It turns out that the story is rather more complicated – and very bizarre.”
  • Instability and Our Troublesome Inheritance–“We know conclusively, based on studies in marginal journals edited by racists, that this racial difference is largely genetic (and we have controlled for a deleterious environment by excluding poor students and poorly educated parents).”
  • What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure?–“One day nine-year-old Elaine started asking me about birth control out of the blue. I said to her, ‘Listen, I need to call your parents and ask them if it’s OK for me to talk to you about this, OK?'”
  • Editing While Female–“It was predictably awful, and I was not in the least bit surprised. Because this has happened to just about every woman I know who has dared to take up a highly visible leadership position in our great but troubled news organizations. Including me.”
  • Frustrated by Columbia’s inaction, student reports sexual assault to police–“During that time, she said, the policeman to whom she originally gave her statement was standing outside the room, actively dismissing her story to the friends she had brought to the precinct office with her for support.”
  • What Farm-to-Table Got Wrong–“Yes, I was creating a market for local emmer wheat, but I wasn’t doing anything to support the recipe behind it. Championing Klaas’s wheat and only his wheat was tantamount to treating his farm like a grocery store.”
  • long hidden dialect roundup–“So, this anthology has been available for what, 10 days? 2 weeks? Anyway, it hasn’t been long, and already Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History has sparked a rich and necessary debate about the use of dialect in fiction.”
  • Alzheimer’s Patient Killed by her Children in Exorcism–“Irena, who is believed to have been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, was unable to comprehend what was happening and the siblings, belieing that her symptoms were caused by possession, took the exorcism even further.”
  • Attorney general says racial equality threatened in subtle ways–“‘This is the work that truly matters – because policies that disenfranchise specific groups are more pernicious than hateful rants,’ Holder told the graduates at Morgan State, a historically black college.”
  • Women Don’t Fear Power. Power Fears Women.–“Both were navigating the high pressures of their professional lives while simultaneously challenging everyone’s–-their employees’, their employer’s, the media’s–-embedded notions of gendered behavior: from their ‘brusque,’ ‘pushy’ and ‘aggressive’ dispositions, speech patterns, body language, ambition, confidence and more.”
  • Forgotten Heroes Who Changed the Course of American History–“For those wondering why we remember Paul Revere’s name above all the other successful riders from the Revolution, the simple reason is because Henry Wadsworth Longfellow found that Revere rhymes with a lot of things, including ‘listen my children and you shall hear.'”
  • Curbing Online Abuse Isn’t Impossible. Here’s Where We Start–“Too often, though, we talk about online abuse like we talk about bad weather: We shake our heads, shrug, and assume there’s nothing we can do.”
  • Sex Workers Deserve Health Care, Too–“What you should be wondering is why this GiveForward page—started to raise funds to help a very sick person—is no longer live. That would be due to WePay, through which payments are processed on GiveForward.”
  • Fingernails–“A major battle the no-choice side has won is that of convincing a great many people, including many of those who support abortion rights, that abortion itself is tragic.”
  • Big Picture Lessons from an Unfortunate Tweet–“You think the Director of a major university’s atmospheric sciences program (Go Dawgs) with a BS, MS, and PHD in meteorology from a top program (Go Noles) doesn’t know that the climate changes naturally?”
  • On the Origin of White Power–“Nicholas Wade is not a racist. In his new book, A Troublesome Inheritance, the former science writer for the New York Times states this explicitly.”

“Communicating Climate Change”, Paul Douglas on Atheists Talk

Former KARE 11 weather broadcaster Paul Douglas will be our guest this Sunday. Greg Laden will interview him on his role in explaining the science of Climate Change, especially to conservative Christians. That group are among the most likely to be denialists on the effects that humans can have on rapidly, artificially and unwittingly accelerating the pace of warming. What are its effects? What can be done, if anything to slow it, if not reverse it.

We will talk about the weather, and find out whether anything can be done about it.

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.