Your Chance to Put Words in My Mouth

First of all, I’m speaking at River City Reason Fest in September. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s a new conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s the weekend of September 19 and 20, and the lineup is worth traveling to see. The speakers I do know, I enjoy. Those I don’t sound intriguing.

It’s also the weekend before my birthday, so I’ll be taking the opportunity to celebrate with people I don’t get to see often enough, like Greta and PZ.

One thing I don’t know yet about the weekend is what I’ll be speaking about. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: An Evolutionary Myth

One of the things I really appreciate about current trends in F&SF publishing is the amount of translated work being published from Asia. Take, for example, this Korean story about transformation from Bo-Young Kim.

The tiger laughed . . . human laughter. “What’s so piteous about me?”

“If you can speak human languages, it means you have a human mind; and if you have a human mind, you once were human, despite your present, animal form. I don’t how you came to take the shape of a beast, but it’s sad, isn’t it? How could it not be pitiful, to lose that original form which you inherited from your parents?”

“What does original form mean, anyway? Ought every creature to spend its whole life as a newborn infant?” the tiger quipped. “You say you were born in a human form, but your ancestors were once bears and tigers, snakes and fishes, and birds and plants. Now you fight to hang onto this human shape, but ultimately you’ll realize the effort is pointless. What’s so precious about dying in the same form you were born into? I might look like an animal, but I chose this form: I wanted to fill my belly with the work of my own two hands . . . and this form is the result.”

I had nothing to offer in reply.

“Do you know that in the old days,” it continued, “it took aeons for creatures to change from one form to another; that it took many ten-thousands of aeons for any kind of differentiation at all to develop. Things aren’t better or worse now—it’s just that a different kind of adaptation is necessary these days. Nature chooses its survivors without considering good, or evil, or superior, or inferior. Even the human form is just a single means of survival chosen by nature. Humans are frailer than rabbits, when they’re not in a group or deprived of their tools! A pathetic weakling like you . . . pitying me? How insolent!”

The tiger bared its razor-sharp fangs at me, its wrath apparent, so I shut my eyes and tensed in anticipation of the coming attack . . . but as long as I waited, it didn’t slash open my throat. When I dared to open my eyes, I found the tiger quietly watching me.

“Say it,” the creature finally said.

“Say what?”

“What is it you want?”

“I don’t want anything,” I said. “I just don’t want to be discovered by anyone. I want to live and die without anyone finding me.”

The tiger said, “You should become a bug, then. Since you can’t get over this fixation on people, it’d be best to become a maggot or a fly. Or . . . how about a worm? Worms enrich the soil. You’d be more useful to people that way, than whatever it is you are right now.”

Though every single word he spoke dripped with insult, I couldn’t think of any suitable rejoinder to offer him.

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Why Washington County Is Status Quo for Atheist Marriage Officiants

On May 4, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of Atheists for Human Rights as moot. The suit was filed when a marriage officiant certified by AFHR had their filing of that certificate rejected by Washington County on the basis that atheists were not among the groups authorized as marriage officiants under Minnesota law. Ericksen dismissed the suit when Washington County reversed its decision and declared it should have accepted AFHR’s certificate at the start.

Washington County’s decision is being lauded as a victory and a step forward for atheist marriage officiants. However, while this is an unequivocal victory, it is a victory for the status quo. It isn’t progress. Understanding the difference takes some background, both on the current situation for atheist marriage officiants and on what AFHR hoped to accomplish with their lawsuit. It also helps to be familiar with the judge’s order.

If you’ve followed me as a writer or Minnesota Atheists as a group, you’ll know that we aim to change the law on marriage officiants. We’ve been working with state legislators to come up with acceptable language that would allow atheist and secular humanist nonprofits to certify their own trained marriage officiants and see the state recognize marriages performed by these officiants as legal.

While we’ve been going through this process, AFHR has taken a different tack. [Read more…]

Religion as an Introduction to Privilege

This is another of the sessions from FtBCon3. Lyz Liddell of the Secular Student Alliance gives a great primer here on privilege, and she does it in a context that movement atheists should generally be able to understand. The talk is titled, “Identifying and Addressing Christian Privilege in Intersectional Spaces”.

I think it’s not a coincidence that just a couple months later, the SSA announced it was working to address privilege more generally. If you’d like more information on where their focus will be and how they mean to get there, I interviewed August Brunsman on Atheists Talk on that topic a few weeks ago.

Saturday Storytime: Sun’s East, Moon’s West

“Strong” female protagonists are all well and good, but sometimes I prefer the relentlessly practical ones, as in this story from Merrie Haskell.

Time passed swiftly in the bear’s castle; winter turned to spring. I had time to practice my swordcraft, for there was an armory, and time to practice my riding, for there was a stable. As for my night duties, the bear was a gentler lover than my husband.

The bear took some interest in my daily activities, and often showed up to watch me exercise my borrowed swords against a variety of straw dummies.

“What are you training for?” he asked. His voice rumbled so deeply that it caused my ear bones to itch.

“For dragons,” I said.

“What does a miller’s daughter who can spin straw into gold care for dragons?” he asked.

“I kill them.”

“I see. And how do you go about it?”

I told him. I showed him the dragon claw and the dragon-scales I had carried in my pocket since my first and only battle. I explained about my grandfather the dragon-slayer and his philosophies of dragon combat. I explained also how my first and only dragon had eaten my husband’s donkey.

“After that, my husband wanted nothing more to do with me,” I said. “An unhappy marriage cannot bear the loss of a much-cherished donkey.” I stopped. The bear was looking at me strangely. “I’m boring you?”

“Not at all. I’m amused, I assure you. Go on.”

I went on, talking about the three days in the forest before he found me, all the while in the back of my mind trying to figure out how I amused him. When I wrapped up my story, he took me in his paws.

“Close your eyes, and keep them closed,” he growled to me, and scrumped with me right there, on the floor of the armory.

It seemed that day, as it always did during our matings, that his body was smaller than it appeared, and I felt more skin than fur beneath my fingers. I nearly cracked open an eye, but as if he sensed my curiosity, he growled, “Eyes closed!” and slobbered a beary kiss into my ear.

Later, as I pulled together the tattered remains of my shirt and watched him bear-waddle away, I wondered if I was just imagining him as more human when my eyes were closed.

I looked down my breasts poking through two of the four large rents in the fabric. “Alas, Lissa,” I told myself regretfully. “Human hands don’t do that to good linen. Not generally.”

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“A Pod of Podcasts,” Local Podcasters on Atheists Talk

Atheists Talk is not the only podcast in the Twin Cities for atheist and skeptics.  On this show, we’ll do a bit of cross-promotion.  Joining us live and in the studio are podcasters who have their own shows: Geeks Without God, Positively Godless, A Minnesota Trans Atheist, and Dimland Radio. We’ll find out what they say and do in their podcasts and give our listeners some new audio resources for fun, science, atheism, music, and skepticality.

After the show, join us and some of our guests for brunch at Q-Cumbers restaurant.

Our podcasting guests:

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.

They Can’t Conceive

There’s a post by Kevin Standlee that I saw linked today and rather liked. It compares fandom conventions to potluck dinners to make a point about the geek social fallacies that center around inclusion.

Everyone brings something. That means some of the food is stuff I personally like, and other stuff I hate. But that’s okay: I eat what I like, and leave the rest for those who like green bean casserole.

Somewhere along the way, we got the idea of voting among ourselves for what the best dishes were. (“Best Appetizer,” “Best Main Course,” “Best Dessert”) And we started holding this big pot-luck in different places so as to share the fun with our far-away friends who couldn’t necessarily make the trip to Our Fair City.

Well, now we’ve got people who started coming to the pot-luck, paying the share of the hall rental, and are angry that we’ve been choosing things they personally hate to eat, and have decided that they want to knock over all of the tables with food they dislike and insist that the rest of us eat that stuff that they personally like, because they say so.

[Read more…]

Make Your Code of Conduct Work for You

I haven’t featured most of my FtBCon3 sessions here, yet, and I should. There’s plenty of good content, but just looking at the list of sessions can be overwhelming for people.

Here’s the session I organized with Chelsea Du Fresne and Michael Thomas about making sure your code of conduct is something that adds to your event. We talked about creating a code that aligns with your mission and sets the tone for the event. We also talked about how codes of conduct cover more than the -isms that received the most press in the push to get these in place. [Read more…]

More Solutions for Twitter

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Women, Action, & the Media released their report today on what they learned from acting as mediators for reporting harassment on Twitter last year. You can find it in several formats. There’s the summary, the infographic, and the full report (pdf). I suggest reading the full report if you have any interest at all in online harassment. From the types of reporters to the emotional cost involved in processing the reports, it’s got a lot of good information.

If you’re going to take away just one thing, however, make it their recommendations to Twitter: [Read more…]

Atheists, Nonbelievers, and Nones, Oh, My

I’ve been digging into the statistics on atheists, nonbelievers, and “nones” lately, so the release of the latest Pew Research report on religious affiliation was inordinately exciting. (What can I say? I, geek.) The big news continues to be the growth of the religiously non-affiliated and the decline of Catholicism and Mainstream Protestantism. Bigger news in our community is the proportionally rapid growth of atheists, at 94% over the last seven years.

As usual, however, it’s worth remembering that Pew doesn’t necessarily use these words the way we would. So who are these groups? [Read more…]