Find Me at CONvergence!

Oh, goodness. CONvergence is just one day out, and it’s going to be a busy weekend. In addition to the FtB party room in the evenings (plus set-up and tear-down), I’m on six official CONvergence panels and running a salon in the FtB room on the side because we all decided we just weren’t doing enough already. Or something like that.

So here’s where you can find me talking at con. You’ll also find me at the Caribou Coffee next to the main conference hotel every morning, but I probably won’t be talking much at that point. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: What We’re Having

Time travel stories are tricky. As this story by Nathaniel Lee demonstrates, they’re tricky even when you sort out all the potential paradoxes.

I wondered about the bacon all day. Eventually I went and bought the package anyway, put it in the fridge. I want to do right by you, Frankie, even if I’m crazy and it means I’m wasting five bucks. I don’t want you to have cooked imaginary bacon.


Grilled Cheese, Turkey, and Tomato Sandwiches on Sourdough

That was when I was sure of it. The tomatoes had been in the fruit bowl for a week already and you kept saying we had to do something with them before they went bad.

(They were okay, Frankie. You didn’t need to worry. Maybe a little squishy, but that could have been the whole pan-­frying thing.)

Anyway, the point is, the sandwiches were there, butter­-hot and smelling like purified joy, but so were the tomatoes, still in their bowl. It wasn’t the right day for pan-­frying anyway. You only make sandwiches on your day off, when I’ll be up by afternoon and we can have a little time together before my next shift, because they’re no good once you let them get cold.

(Except they are good, Frankie, I don’t tell you that enough. Even if they were frozen they’d be good.)

So that was that. Today wasn’t your day off, so they weren’t today’s sandwiches.

They were tomorrow’s.


Beef Stroganoff, Same as Yesterday

I kind of enjoyed having tomorrow’s food. It felt special. It was like having a window on you when you didn’t know I was looking. I think about you a lot, Frankie, even if I’m quiet when we’re together. I like to know what you’re thinking about. Mostly I feel like I don’t. That’s why I’ll take whatever advantage I can get.

You never seemed to notice, Frankie. I’m not sure why. You ate those meals, too.

Didn’t you?

(Well, obviously the stroganoff, but honestly, why did you make so much of it? I swear that week lasted a year.)

Maybe you did, but you ate them at the right time, with the right version of me responding to your actual notes and e-­mails and not whatever you’d said the day before or what I thought you might say tomorrow. A lot of times I feel like I’m talking to you a day late anyway, even when we manage to get into the same room at the same time. (I try, Frankie, I really do, but I’m always so tired and half the time I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’m not good at techie stuff. You just kind of assume I’m keeping up with you.)

Maybe it wasn’t the skillet that was out of synch. Maybe it was us.

Keep reading.

“From Eternity to Here,” Bruce Gerencser on Atheists Talk

Independent Baptist Preachers can be feisty types.  They even maintain their ‘tude after they become atheists.  Bruce Gerencser started over eight churches, pastored at eight and was a preacher for over twenty five years.  Now Bruce is a humanist and agnostic blogger.  Join us as we find out about his life as a preacher and how he left religion.  Bruce blogs at “The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser; One Man’s Journey from Eternity to Here.”

Related Links:

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I Might Be a Little Excited

Here’s why.

Skepticon 8 text logo with a rainbow gradient.

That’s right. I’m speaking at Skepticon this November!

I might be a little excited. I might have answered the invitation to speak in approximately 5 milliseconds and with exclamation points. I might have worn my Skepticon t-shirt yesterday in honor of the official announcement. I might be a little overwhelmed by the group of people I’m appearing with.

Just a little excited, you understand.

Apply for Secular Women Work Scholarships Now!

If you’ve been waiting to apply for a scholarship for the Secular Women Work conference, this August 21-23 in Minneapolis, now’s your chance. Regular and student-priced tickets are also available for sale through Minnesota Atheists. Expect lots of interesting news (more speaker announcements!) soon.

From the SWW site:

Secular Women Work is committed to making the conference an accessible space, particularly for those from resource-limited settings. Scholarships include paid conference registration and a travel stipend, where available. Despite being a small, first year conference, we have a selection of scholarships available. [Read more…]

Diet, Skeptics, and Getting It Wrong

This was the first essay I delivered to my patrons this past Friday. If you want to support more work like this, you can sign up here.

There’s a constant tension in skepticism between the desire to educate and the desire to tear down. This isn’t necessarily a tension between people. Both impulses exist in most of the skeptics I know. Nor does it seem to matter whether those people are connected to organized skepticism or simply proud members of the broader reality-based community.

The tension is to be expected. We need both impulses to be effective. We need to give people good information in accessible ways, and we need to limit the harm purveyors of bad information can do. Different behaviors for different goals. Simple, right? Well, no.

We frequently run into problems when we apply one of these impulses to the wrong target. This usually happens in the form of tearing down the people we want to educate for a host of reasons. The fundamental attribution error means we’re more likely to see people’s decisions as personal flaws, leading to both frustration with them as people and losing faith in our ability to educate them. The Curse of Knowledge means that we, as people educated on a topic, have a very hard time putting ourselves in the place of someone with less information. Tearing people down is approximately infinitely easier than educating them, particularly when we’re frustrated. And unfortunately, tearing people down all too often results in us feeling better about ourselves.

I’m hardly the first person to address this. Skeptics fairly regularly point to this problem. We tell each other it is both kinder and more effective to educate consumers first (though consumers who become evangelists are a tougher problem). It helps–for a while–but the behavior tends to revert after a time.

I want to take a different approach to the topic here. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The New Mother

Sometimes we get in the habit of thinking that science fiction is about the reach of imagination, about how far out an author’s imagination can take us. This story by Eugene Fischer, however, is a demonstration of how effective science fiction can be when the author’s imagination takes us that far in instead.

“Let’s go on the record now,” she said, and clicked on the recorder. “How long have you been aware of the spread of GDS?”

“It was first brought to my attention three months ago.”

“How did you learn about it?”

“An aide briefed me. I have my staff keep me informed about what our former colleagues in Austin are doing. Can’t lose touch with state-level needs while I’m stuck out here in D.C. It was Texas research that discovered GDS, you know. We’ve been a leader on this issue from the start.”

“I know,” said Tess, scribbling leader!! in her book and adding a wavy underline for absurd emphasis. “You’ve put language into the latest HHS funding bill that would prohibit federal funds from going to any organization that provides prenatal care for women known to have GDS. Can you explain the reasoning behind that for me?”

“Absolutely. This is a measure consistent with the track record I’ve shown my entire career. I have always promoted solid public health policy, with a special focus on women’s health issues. That’s what this new regulation is.”

“How is it in the interest of public health to deny care to pregnant women?”

“You’re looking at it completely backwards,” said Bailey. “The question is, how is it in the public interest for the government to subsidize the spread of a plague? Because that’s what we’ll be doing if we let taxpayer money go to increasing the number of cases of this disease.”

“But you’ve campaigned on child welfare. Surely this is a child welfare issue.”

Bailey nodded. “I agree. It is.”

“The how can you reconcile that with an amendment that will necessarily mean higher infant mortality.”

“There’s nothing to reconcile, Ms. Mendoza. My voting record is perfectly consistent. I’m protecting the normal, healthy children in those hospitals. We can’t risk the health of the majority of mothers and children by exposing them to a disease we’re just beginning to understand. One which, from all appearances, will warp their entire lives.” Bailey placed manicured fingers gently atop the monitor on her desk. “I could show you dozens of letters from women in Texas distraught that they or their daughters may never have the opportunity to be normal mothers now. I could show you even more from men who fear that they’ll never get to father children at all. Until we know exactly what this disease is, the situation calls for the utmost caution. If we don’t handle this correctly, it could literally be the end of mankind.”

It was nothing Tess hadn’t heard before. The tune was so familiar she could sing along if she wanted. The only difference with Bailey was a little more polish, a better memory for the talking points. It actually made her a less interesting interview than the representatives, who occasionally slipped up in interesting ways. Gale Schoening of North Carolina had distinguished women with GDS from those without by referring to the latter as “real mothers.” Matthew Hock had said outright that his constituency were “the natural-born citizens of Houston.” When Tess observed that in just twelve years the first girls born with GDS would reach voting age, he had said, “We’ll see. A lot can change in twelve years.” But aside from personal quirks, responses were so alike Tess could practically write her notes in advance. GDS is a disease. We have to protect healthy people. Men could become extinct. Think of the at-risk men.

Keep reading.

Not Yours, Not Ever

I want to bury my head in work today, to let myself grieve last night’s murders in Charleston at my own slow pace. I can’t, though. Why? Because the homicidal white supremacist whose name should be forgotten in favor of those of his victims tried to pass off some of the responsibility for his act onto me.

Sylvia Johnson, who is said to be a relative of Pinckney, said that she spoke with one of the female survivors.

“She said that he had reloaded five different times, and he just said ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,'” Johnson told WIS News.

No. You don’t get to do this. [Read more…]

She Called Abortion a “Blessing”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has announced that co-founder Anne Nicol Gaylor died last night at age 88. She ran the foundation for two and a half decades. She was “out to destroy Christianity”. She was a polemicist in the very best sense of that word. She wrote thousands of checks to fund abortions through her Women’s Medical Fund and made sure there was always someone to answer the phone when someone found themselves pregnant and desperate.

She is also, as a female atheist activist of a prior generation, always in danger of being written out of history. Yes, even having done all that.

Don’t let her be forgotten. Take a moment to celebrate a life devoted to making a difference. Read an appreciation of her life, and recognize the quotes that are used so often and attributed to her so rarely. Read her writing (including her book Abortion Is a Blessing) and share it with others.

This kind of legacy is the only form of immortality we’re offered. If anyone has earned it, Anne Nicol Gaylor certainly did.

Mock the Movie: Michael Bay Ate My Pizza, er, Childhood Edition

This Wednesday, we’re running a Mock the Movie overtime. We’re picking up in the middle of the month because Jason wanted, for some inexplicable reason, to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. More understandably, he didn’t want to be alone as everything light and silly from his childhood explodes around his head.

This is available on Netflix on a kind of sketchy ad-supported site we’ve used before to no ill effect. Just watch where you click. [Read more…]