“A New Vision for the SSA”, August Brunsman on Atheists Talk

The Secular Student Alliance has been supporting student groups in colleges and high schools for fifteen years. This year, they released a new vision statement that addresses some of the unique needs of a movement with leadership that graduates every few years, as well as many of the questions the broader atheist movement has been facing as a whole. They have embraced humanist ideals, civic engagement, and inclusion.

This Sunday, the SSA’s Executive Director, August Brunsman, joins us to discuss where the SSA is coming from in releasing this vision and how they intend to make it a reality.

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 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.

Saturday Storytime: How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps

After the Hugo nomination news last weekend, Saladin Ahmed asked what people thought should have been on the ballot. You could do much worse than to take heed of those recommendations. I found this story by A. Merc Rustad that way. I’m so glad I did. It’s a story that suicidal teenaged me could have very much used.

Everyone knows you can’t be in love with a robot.

I drop my plate into the automatic disposal, which thanks me for recycling. No one else waits to deposit trash, so I focus on it as I brace myself to walk back to the counter. The J-90 SRM smiles blankly at the empty front counter, waiting for the next customer.

The lunch rush is over. The air reeks of espresso and burned milk. I don’t come here because the food is good or the coffee any better. The neon violet décor is best ignored.

I practiced this in front of a wall a sixteen times over the last week. I have my script. It’s simple. “Hello, I’m Tesla. What may I call you?”

And the robot will reply:

I will say, “It’s nice to meet you.”

And the robot will reply:

I will say, “I would like to know if you’d like to go out with me when you’re off-duty, at a time of both our convenience. I’d like to get to know you better, if that’s acceptable to you.”

And the robot will reply:

“Hey, Tesla.”

The imagined conversation shuts down. I blink at the trash receptacle and look up.

My boyfriend smiles hello, his hands shoved in his jeans pockets, his shoulders hunched to make himself look smaller. At six foot five and three hundred pounds, it never helps. He’s as cuddly and mellow as a black bear in hibernation. Today he’s wearing a gray turtleneck and loafers, his windbreaker unzipped.

“Hi, Jonathan.”

I can’t ask the robot out now.

The empty feeling reappears in my chest, where it always sits when I can’t see or hear the robot.

Keep reading.

A Little Background on the Secular Policy Institute (Updated)

A few months back, organizations I’m part of started receiving invitations from the Secular Policy Institute.

The Secular Policy Insititute is the world’s biggest secular think tank, where Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, and dozens more spread secularism.

Now we’re pushing Congress and would like to list [organization] as supporting secular values!

It costs nothing. Just let us to list you as a coalition participant and you get:

— Influence our national campaign for secular values

— Weekly call on national issues

— Individual attention from our superstar thinkers for your local issues*

— Funding and support for your local secular projects

— VIP Invitation to the World Future Forum

The more we come together, the more clout we have with Congress, just like the Heritage Foundation and CATO Institute!

Call me if you’d like to chat!

Do you support secular values and can we list you?

-Johnny

Johnny Monsarrat
Alliance Director
Secular Policy Institute

“Oh, yes”, I thought, “These guys.” [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The Fisher Queen

This year, Alyssa Wong‘s first professional fiction sale was nominated for a Nebula Award. You can also read an interview with her about this story.

When we pull the nets in the next morning, they are so heavy that we have to recruit the cook to help us haul them onto the ship. There are a few tuna, bass, and even a small shark, but the bulk of it is squirming, howling mermaids. As we yank the nets onto the deck, bobbins clattering over the planks, I realize that we’ve caught something strange.

Most of the mermaids tangled in the nets are pale, with silvery tails and lithe bodies. This one is dark brown, its lower body thick, blobby, and inelegant, tapering to a blunt point instead of a single fin. Its entire body is glazed with a slimy coating, covered in spines and frondlike appendages. Rounded, skeletal pods hang from its waist, each about the size of an infant.

Worse, this fish has an uncannily human face, with a real chin and defined neck. While all of the mermaids I’d seen before had wide-set eyes on either side of their heads, this one’s eyes — huge and white, like sand dollars — are positioned on the front of its head. And unlike the other mermaids, gasping and thrashing and shrieking on the deck — there are few things worse than a mermaid’s scream — this one lies still, gills slowly pulsing.

“We got a deep-sea one,” breathes Sunan.

Ahbe crouches over the net, mouth agape. When he reaches his hand out, my father barks, “Don’t touch it!” and yanks Ahbe’s arm away. His body is tense, and when the mermaid smiles — it smiles, like a person — its jaws unhinge to reveal several rows of long, needlelike teeth.

I can’t stop staring. The mermaid has a stunted torso with short, thin arms and slight curvature where a human woman would have breasts, but no nipples. This shocks me more than it should; why would a fish have nipples? Heat rises in my face. I feel exposed, somehow, fully clothed though I am.

“Wow,” Ahbe says. His eyes are shining like he’s never seen a deep-sea mermaid before. Maybe he hasn’t. I haven’t either. “We’re gonna make a lot of money off of this one, huh?”

“If you don’t lose a hand to it,” my father replies. The other mermaids are wailing still, the last of the seawater trickling from their gills in short, sharp gasps. “Let’s bring them below. Do your best not to damage them; we need as much of the meat intact for the buyers as we can get.”

We descend on the net with ropes and hooks. The brown mermaid’s eyes are blind windows, like an anglerfish’s, but her face follows me as we move around the deck, securing the mermaids, pinning their delicate arms to their torsos so they won’t shatter their wrists in their panicked flailing. Once they’re bound, Dad and Sunan lift them and carry them down to the hold. With Ahbe packing the other fish into coolers, I draw close to the deep-sea mermaid, rope in hand.

That mouth opens, and I swear — I swear to god, or gods, or whatever is out there — a word hisses out: “L¯uk¯s¯aw.”

I drop the rope and stumble away. Ahbe’s at my side in an instant. “Shit! Lily, did it hurt you?” He grabs my hands, turning my arms over. “Did you get bitten?”

The pods at her waist clatter and air whistles between her teeth. She is laughing at me as they bind her and drag her down to the hold. “L¯uk¯s¯aw. L¯uk¯s¯aw. L¯uk¯s¯aw.”

Daughter.

My belly burns. I can’t stop shaking.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Breath of War

Aliette de Bodard has been featured here before. This time, it’s a story that’s been nominated for a Nebula Award.

Rechan watched her niece from a distance. The discussion was getting animated and Akanlam’s hand gestures more and more frantic. “Help me up,” she said to Mau.

The stonewoman winced. “You shouldn’t—”

“I’ve spent a lifetime doing what I shouldn’t,” Rechan said; and after a while Mau held out a hand, which she used to haul herself up. The stonewoman’s skin was lamsinh—the same almost otherworldly translucency, the same coolness as the stone; the fingers painstakingly carved with an amount of detail that hadn’t been accessible to Rechan’s generation. Mau was Akanlam’s breath-sibling; and Akanlam had put into her carving the same intensity she always put in her art. Unlike most stonemen, nothing in her looked quite human, but there was a power and a flow in the least of Mau’s features that made her seem to radiate energy, even when sitting still.

“What is going on here?” Rechan asked, as she got closer.

Akanlam looked up, her face red. “He says the nearest repair point is two days down.”

Rechan took in the herder: craggy face, a reflection of the worn rocks around them; a spring in his step that told her he wasn’t as old as he looked. “Good day, younger brother,” she said.

“Good day, elder sister.” The herder nodded to her. “I was telling the younger aunt here—you have to go down.”

Rechan shook her head. “Going down isn’t an option. We have to get to the plateaux.”

The herder winced. “It’s been many years since city folks came this way.”

“I know,” Rechan said, and waited for the herder to discourage her. She’d gotten used to that game. But, to her surprise, he didn’t.

“Exhalation?” he asked. “There are simpler ways.”

“I know,” Rechan said. He’d mistaken Mau as her breath-sibling and not Akanlam’s—an easy mistake to make, for in her late stage of pregnancy, having a breath-sibling at hand would be crucial. “But it’s not exhalation. She’s not my breath-sibling; she’s hers.”

The herder looked from her to Mau and then back to Akanlam. “How far along are you?” he asked.

Too far along; that was the truth. She’d waited too long, hoping a solution would present itself; that she wouldn’t need to go back into the mountains. A mistake; hope had never gotten her anywhere. “Eight months and a half,” Rechan said, and heard the herder’s sharp intake of breath. “My breath-sibling is in the mountains.” Which was… true, in a way.

The herder grimaced again, and looked at the bulge of her belly. “I can radio the nearest village,” he said, finally. “They might have an aircar, or something you can borrow, provided you return it.”

Rechan nodded, forcing her lips upwards into a smile. “Perfect. Thank you, younger brother.”

Keep reading.

“The Ten Ways Heaven Would be Hell”, Valerie Tarico on Atheists Talk

Believers sacrifice so much of their worldly lives in order to get to Heaven and to avoid Hell.  What if they get there, after forswearing Sex and Drug and Rock and Roll in this mortal life only to find that Heaven is Hell except with angels instead of demons?  Dr. Valerie Tarico has examined the ten ways that popular conceptions of Heaven would, in reality, be Hell and spelled them out in a blog post.

Dr. Tarico is a pyschologist who is a former evangelical and returns to our show this Sunday for a Hellish look at Heaven.

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 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.

On Friends and Allies

Greg Epstein has written a post on the topic of men’s unmet needs for intimate friendships and emotional support. The parts of the post that are about the topic are good. The phenomenon has been observed for a while, but he presents research that systematically confirms the observations.

However, Epstein’s post takes a dive off the rails when he tries to use this research to explain a lack of gender parity at the Harvard Humanist Hub and, by extension, in atheist spaces in general. [Read more…]

Religion and Atheism in Geek Spaces

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago about religion and codes of conduct for geek spaces. Geek spaces are unusual in the U.S. in that they lean toward majority-nonbeliever populations without explicitly being organized around a lack of religious belief. This can create some unusual dynamics that organizers might want to consider, one of which my friend was trying to figure out how to deal with. I’m sharing the outcome of me thinking about this, reading up on prior discussions, and talking with other friends here as a framework for others thinking these questions through.

The first thing to remember in spaces where a minority becomes a majority is that, while the power structures that exist outside these spaces may be attenuated within them, they don’t disappear. To use an example people are familiar with, men may unconsciously expect and even be allowed to disproportionately interrupt and talk over women even in feminist spaces. Their words may carry more weight. We carry the habits of a lifetime with us even into groups that are created to oppose them.

Those of us who are involved in organized atheism see proofs of this all the time. It’s trivial to find atheists telling atheist activists–in activist spaces—that they need to demonstrate more respect for the phenomenon of belief or religious tradition or the role that religion plays in society. Though atheists themselves, these people have internalized the demands of religious power and impose them on others.

If the concerns of the dominant religion can intrude into explicitly atheist spaces, they will intrude into spaces that are incidentally majority-atheist. They will continue to be found in geek spaces.  [Read more…]