Saturday Storytime: The Star Maiden

io9 is helpfully making sure we don’t miss great stories from the last few months. There are plenty of good ones to choose from, but as I’m a sucker for good riffs on fairy tales and folks tales, this story from Roshani Chokshi particularly grabbed me.

I already knew what she would say. To anyone who would listen, she would tell them the tale of how she had floated down from the heavens to a secluded forest pool and how, there, my grandfather had fallen in love, captured her, and wedded her shortly thereafter.

“Your Lolo stole my dress when I was bathing,” she said matter-of-factly. “I could never fly back home. Without her dress, it is the star maiden’s curse to live out a mortal life.”

She crooned a little song before looking at my grandfather’s picture on the wall. “Salbahe,” she said, scolding the picture affectionately. “Your grandfather was very mischievous.”

When I was younger, I believed everything she said. I believed that a tikbalang slunk through coastal shantytowns, its ghost hooves crusted with sea-salt, its body twitching and hungry for virgins. I believed that a shadow in a tree meant a wakwak was preening and that its smooth-skinned witch familiar was nearby. I believed my Lola was a star-maiden who once wore a constellation in her hair and yearned to press her feet in the warm loam of the Philippines. Later, my parents would tell me that Lola had lived through the war and had lost everyone. If she chose to mask slain family members with a myth, then that was her business.

At the time, however, the one thing I couldn’t believe about my grandmother was why she stayed on Earth.

“He stole from you! Why did you stay?”

Lola shrugged. “I do not know. Perhaps I was curious. I was a foreigner, after all. The first day he saw me, he gave me a mango. I had never had a mango…it was masarap. Like eating a sun. He was a good man. And he had the most beautiful singing voice.”

Later, I would discover that things less powerful than sweet mangoes and lovely voices could grasp your heart. But at the time, I was quietly outraged. How could my grandmother—who knew a thousand ways to lull someone to sleep, who knew that the moon wore a coronet of solar flares, who knew what a star looked liked without its husk—fall for a song? Then again, perhaps I could understand. I remembered Lolo’s voice. He sang to me once when I was eight and had fallen off a bike. My head against his chest, his voice—exquisite and velvety—wrapped around us like gauze, soothing my bruised knee and scuffed elbow until I was bobbing my head with the rhythm, garbling the lyrics and trying to sing with him.

“Did you ever find it?” I pressed. “The dress?”

“Oh yes,” she said with a nonchalant wave of her hand. “He was so messy. He could not find his own nose without my help.”

“But you stayed.”

“I loved him. I still do. Mahal ko siya.”

“But he cursed you by taking your dress,” I pointed out.

“Oh anak, that is not the curse,” she said, taking my hand in hers. “The curse is to love, to be loved in return, and still have to leave.”

Keep reading.

Help Make Skepticon Happen

Is Skepticon in danger? Honestly, anything that depends on ongoing donations is always in some danger, but Skepticon really is coming up hard against their funding deadlines with a long way to go.

It’s October, which means we’re only about a month and half away from the universe’s largest (and totally FREE to attend) skeptic convention!

However, we need to ask for your help–we’re only about halfway to our fundraising goal.

Each year, our small team of volunteers work tirelessly to put together this event. Every dollar raised goes directly to making the convention happen–no one takes a salary or honorarium.

If you like Skepticon and want to help make it a reality, consider doing one of the following:

We’re sure that with your help, we’ll be able to make this year a reality.

As always, Skepticon wants to thank you, our supporters, for your continued awesomeness. We couldn’t do it without you!

One of the best things about Skepticon is that every year, it’s gotten more diverse and showcased new atheist and skeptic voices, all while continuing to grow and succeed. It is now the largest atheist and skeptic conference in the U.S. That’s worth celebrating and supporting. Won’t you help if you can?

“From Apostle to Apostate”, Catherine Dunphy on Atheists Talk

The road from being a devoted believer to becoming atheist can be a hard one. It is even harder for those who have devoted their lives to sharing those beliefs with others. In her new book, From Apostle to Apostate: The Story of the Clergy Project, Catherine Dunphy talks about the special challenges facing nonbelievers whose former faith led them to the priesthood. Along the way, she also tells her own story, from former seminarian to executive director of an organization helping people like her.

This Sunday, Dunphy joins us to talk about her book and the work of the Clergy Project.

Related Links:

[Read more…]

Beyond Blasphemy to Rights

International Blasphemy Day has always been intended to highlight the fact that religions are sometimes afforded more rights than people. The traditional observation of the day–public blasphemy–can be a good way to do that. It isn’t hard to blaspheme. Depending on your background, it can feel freeing and fun. And yet it is sobering to realize that those small, silly blasphemies can be punishable by fines, imprisonment, and even death in many parts of the world.

International Blasphemy Day has drawn eyes to the cause of religious freedom, but it hasn’t always done more. This year, it can.

For the past several months, the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy has been lobbying members of the U.S. House of Representatives to co-sponsor or support a new resolution that calls for the repeal of blasphemy laws around the world. We’ve also been lobbying members of the Senate to introduce a companion resolution. So far, the resolution has gained only one additional co-sponsor in the House, and has still not been proposed in the Senate.

Today, on International Blasphemy Rights Day, you have a chance to make the critical difference, and help us get this resolution through. 

H. Res 290, which was proposed by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) and currently has nine co-sponsors, would promote the right to free expression in several important ways.

  • It reaffirms U.S. support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion;
  • It outlines that the solutions to blasphemy-related violence are increased education, outreach, and counter-speech; and
  • It calls upon the President and the State Department to make the repeal of blasphemy laws a key component in U.S. relations with countries that have them.

The passage of H. Res 290 would send a strong signal to the more than 50 countries with blasphemy laws that the U.S. rejects such law s and that they must be repealed.

That’s where you come in. You can stand up for the rights of all people, religious and nonreligious, to express their views on religion by using our pre-written form to contact your members of Congress today and tell them to co-sponsor, sponsor, or support H. Res 290!

If you’re in the U.S., CFI is making it easy for you to go beyond International Blasphemy Day to defend international blasphemy rights. If you click through to their post, they’ll make it very easy for you to contact your Representative and both your Senators to urge them to support this bill or a companion bill in the Senate. They make it about as easy as blasphemy itself, in fact.

This year, let’s step our celebrations up a little so we have more to celebrate next year.

Protecting a Patient’s Right to Know

If you’ve seen me talk about Catholic health care in the U.S. before, you know that there are a number of things that piss me off. You also know that one of the top items on this list is that Catholic health services prevent patients from making informed choices about their health or giving informed consent to their health care providers.

Not only do these facilities maintain a list of directives where they will substitute their “moral” judgment for evidence-based standards of care, but they won’t tell you that they do so. They won’t disclose all your treatment options, and they won’t tell you when a safer option than the one they’re recommending exists. They have decided in all their heavenly wisdom that it is better to keep you in the dark than run the risk that you’ll seek these treatments elsewhere.

American Atheists has just made me very happy by announcing a plan to change that. [Read more…]

The Breakfast Club, Updated

A user-made Someecard with a woman in early Victorian dress. Text in the post.

If The Breakfast Club took place today, all those kids would just be silently texting about their shitty Saturday and never make friends with each other.

This has been going around Facebook the past few days. I’ve seen it from friends my age who use social media almost as an afterthought to their busy lives. There’s nothing wrong with that usage, of course, but it’s not mere coincidence that this is who is sharing it. They’re the people who least value social media and are, therefore, most likely to get it wrong. Let’s talk about how.

First off, let me note that The Breakfast Club was an idealistic fantasy when it came out. Having been a teenager in the 80s, I can tell you from experience that it took more than temporary isolation from the outside to break down the social defense mechanisms that kept kids from bonding across class and tribe.

Yes, even the unhappy kids. In fact, it was often the kids who were the most unhappy who clung hardest to their tribal affiliations. Adding stress wasn’t going to change that. The movie was an escape fantasy aimed at kids who’d suffered from tribalism, but it was just that–a fantasy.

So if we were going to update The Breakfast Club for today’s social media landscape, we’d be looking at the best of all possible outcomes, just as John Hughes did. That’s good, because otherwise, we’d already be running into problems with the premise that kids would be allowed to bring their cell phones to detention. Instead, we’ll just suspend that bit of disbelief.

Once we do that, here’s a taste of what a modern Breakfast Club would look like, social media and all. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 9/28/2015

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.

  • “An individual who you’d think would be the first gone — not last surviving — due to physical disability. Here was a game presenting Max and saying ‘He survives.’ The subtle message, vital message that goes unsaid is the next part: ‘And so can you’.” Read more.
  • “Once we are speaking passionately on a wide range of issues from an atheist perspective, I think we’ll find people will have a lot more sympathy for our current pet causes. We should be the ones on the cutting edge of social justice, encouraging people to look beyond the moral horizon.” Read more.
  • “The next time I went in, when they asked if I wanted Plan B, I said yes. When they asked me how many I wanted, I said as many as they could spare, please, which was three packets.” Read more.
  • “Unfortunately, it’s not the first time that the scientific creativity of a person of color has been mistaken for a threat. In fact, Kiera Wilmot, a 19-year-old model and mechanical engineering major at Florida Polytechnic University, is well-acquainted with the feeling.” Read more.
  • “But if your work is your passion, then it won’t matter so much that it doesn’t pay that well…right? If your work is your passion, you might want to miss your kid’s sports game or musical performance so that you could stay a few hours late and keep working. And if you want to, surely it’s not too much to expect you to.” Read more.
  • “When it comes to gender, we need to do the same: we learn what we can. We accept that even if we don’t have a strong sense of our own gender, others do. That the human mind is the most fantastically complex object in the known universe, and every single one is different in ways that maybe none of us will ever imagine.” Read more.
  • “In July, the pro-life Center for Medical Progress secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they obtain tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research. Since then, investigators said there have been nine criminal or suspicious incidents across the country, CBS News has learned.” Read more.
  • “Not only does trying to live in Yellowland harm you physically, it changes how you interact with your environment and it impairs your judgment. You forget what’s normal and start seeing the enemy everywhere.” Read more.
  • “Then the girl who should not have been born took what few belongings she could carry and went out into the forest, not knowing that her brothers hated her with all their hearts.” Read more.
  • “Whatever the causes, this is an underappreciated but critically important trend for the future of the Roman Catholic church.” Read more.
  • “And thus part of the reason why the British are so ready to believe Lord Ashcroft’s story, aside from the fact that Ashcroft is a top-tier Establishment figure in a country with absurdly plaintiff-friendly libel laws, is that Cameron’s ideological training is already well understood by the public.” Read more.
  • “The tragic queer narrative? Widely available. Very, very, very common. Arguably more common than positive depictions of queer characters and relationships. Books by LGBTQ authors with LGBTQ protagonists who are not tragic queers? Much less common and much harder to find.” Read more.
  • “And yes some anti-choice activists will say that they just needed a representative image, but if your plan is a ‘sting’ video you actually have to show the supposedly illegal thing you are trying to catch people doing. You can’t say we need to close the beach for shark attacks because you are sure they are happening and then offer a woman with her leg bitten by a dog as proxy.” Read more.
  • “All Makers have to start somewhere. Many of us begin by disassembling consumer products. Sometimes we re-build them into new projects or enclosures, as Ahmed did. Sometimes, as was the case when I started Making as a kid, the disassembled products don’t survive their vivisection, and they never work again.” Read more.
  • “The decision published Tuesday reverses an order for Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to hand over 200 pages of psychiatric, medical and dental records related to Amy Archer Gilligan, widely considered to be the inspiration for the Joseph Kesselring play and Frank Capra film titled ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.'” Read more.

Saturday Storytime: Cold Wind

It is a glorious time right now to enjoy F&SF short fiction. It is also a slightly overwhelming time, with so much out there to choose from. So it’s nice when short lists come along and help you make sure you haven’t missed stories you would enjoy, like this one from Nicola Griffith.

She came toward me, stepping around the spilt beer and dropped fries, lifting her feet high, placing them carefully, as though she wore tall heels.

I watched, unable—unwilling—to move.

And then she stood before me. I could smell her—woodland, fern, musk—and I wanted to reach, fold her down, stretch her out on the bracken, and feel the pulse flutter at her neck.

“You were watching me,” she said, and her voice sounded hoarse, as though used to a bigger throat.

“I’m . . . an anthropologist. It’s what we do.” I’ve been looking for you for a long time. I didn’t think you existed.

“What’s your name?”

I thought about that. “Onca.”

She nodded; it meant nothing to her. Her eyes were so dark. She turned up her collar. “I’ll see you, Onca. Soon, I hope.” A cold stream purled through her voice and snow blew across her eyes. Come outside, under the sky with me, they said.

I nodded. We both knew I would: she called, others followed. It’s who she was.

And then she was gone. I didn’t look out of the window. If the stories were true in this way too, I wouldn’t be able to see her, not yet.


I found her victim in the bathroom, the blind spot with no cameras. She wasn’t dead. She sat propped on the seat in a stall, jeans around her knees, head against the wall. She grinned at me foolishly. “Can’t move,” she said.

I locked the stall behind me. “Does it hurt?”


It would. I smelled blood, just a little. I bent, looked at her shirt darkening between her breasts. “Can you draw a deep breath?”

She tried. In reality it was more of a sigh. But she didn’t flinch or cough. No broken ribs.

I squatted in front of her, elbows on knees, hands dangling comfortably. She just kept smiling, head at that odd angle against the wall. In that position she couldn’t see me. I stood, straightened her head, then, because it was distracting, I leaned her on my shoulder, lifted, and pulled up her jeans. She could fasten them herself later, or not.

I squatted again, regarded her. She was still smiling, but it was a faint echo of what it had been. No longer solid. After this not much would be. “There’s a legend,” I said. “More than a dozen legends, from all over the world.” La Llorona. Or Flura. Xana, Iara, Naag Kanya . . . “She lures people with sex. Some say she takes your heart.” Sometimes literally. “But she always takes something.” I considered her. “She’s taken your spirit.”

“My . . .”

I waited, but she didn’t say any more. “Your soul.” As good a word as any. “You’re tired, I should think.”

Her smile faded, like a guttering flame. She might survive. She would never feel alive again.

I wasn’t sure she could hear me anymore. I leaned forward, unbuttoned her shirt. The bruise was swelling too quickly to be sure, but the shape cut into the broken skin—lovely skin, over firm muscle—could have been from a blow by a hoof.

“What’s your name?”

“Maria José Flores.”

“Maria, you make me hungry.” And she would have, with her spirit intact. “But not like this.” I fastened her back up and stood. Time to go.

Keep reading.

Can Inclusive Language Exclude Women?

Well, it’s come to this. A pro-choice feminist has hounded an abortion doctor and advocate on Twitter for using the phrase “pregnant person” instead of “woman” when arguing with people who are against abortion–and with people who thanked Dr. Torres for being inclusive in her language.

There were a couple of reasons given for this hounding. The first being that inclusive language erases women as being the primary recipients of abortions a la “All lives matter”. As Jason points out, that argument has problems.

The second argument given is that using inclusive language when talking about abortion obscures the sexism and misogyny that have pushed the political fight against abortion rights. This is also wrong, but I’ve seen it cropping up more frequently lately. That makes it time to deal with it. [Read more…]

Copyright and Keeping a Tune

Do you know how to sing, “Happy Birthday to You”? Are you sure? I’m a bit uncertain myself, and I’ve had a few years of choral training.

This morning, I tweeted this:

This has led to some interesting discussion on Facebook that’s worth repeating for a broader crowd, because the reasons behind this particular bit of bad singing are interesting. [Read more…]