Getting Fun Again

Late Saturday afternoon, we were arguing about armed revolution, and I was grinning my head off. (I have a minor interest in the topic.) Sunday morning, talking plans and projects, I thought to myself, “You know, this movement could get fun again.”

Me listening to Sikivu Hutchinson at the end of Secular Social Justice. Photo by Alix Jules. Used with permission.

Me listening to Sikivu Hutchinson at the end of Secular Social Justice. Photo by Alix Jules. Used with permission.

It’s hard for me to talk about the value of a conference like Secular Social Justice. We need space for these topics, yes. We need to hear from these activists both about the problems they’re grappling with and about the solutions they’re finding, yes. We need to put this vigorous humanism center stage in a movement where even the humanists have centered atheism, yes.

More than that, though, we need to come together sometimes in places where we’re not having to justify any of that. We need to spend our energy on each other and our work and our dreams. We need to be where our voices drown out all hostile chatter instead of it happening the other way around. We need the time and the space and the energy to concentrate on each other.

There aren’t many places in the atheist and humanist movement where I see that happen on this scale. It happened at the first Women in Secularism conference, where what happened on stage was only the smallest part. Nearly five years later, we’re in a different movement, one where women are approaching 50% of conference speakers, anti-harassment policies are standard, and even Richard Dawkins faces significant consequences for targeting feminists. [Read more…]

Mock the Movie: Tarantella Edition

The tarantella is a dance, supposedly with its origin in a spider bite. Tarantella is also a spider woman, according to Mesa of Lost Women. You can tell by those things on her fingers. And by the dancing, which isn’t anything like a tarantella, but why invest in new words when you can grab some old ones and call the whole thing “ethnic”?

This one is available on YouTube. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The Spy Who Never Grew Up

If you’ve read here for any length of time, it will be no surprise to you that I love to see stories grow and change, like this from Sarah Rees Brennan.

The submarine drifted to a stop not far from the island, the periscope breaking the surface of the water like the lifted nose of an inquisitive pointer dog. After a few minutes, a man emerged from the submarine and got into a boat, one not at all like the children’s boats arrayed on the shore.

When the boat sliced through water to white sand, the man stepped out of it.

They had given him a number, and taken away his name. Unfortunately for him, his number was 69.

This was a subject of many tasteless jokes in the Service, but nobody would have known that from 69’s serious face and his extremely dapper black suit.

He took a few purposeful steps along the shore to the forest, then looked down. Under his feet, and under a layer of the black grease of age and filth were pebbles like jewels, and children’s toys, and human bones.

There was a barely perceptible shift in the air before his face, but the men and women in Her Majesty’s Secret Service are extremely highly trained. 69 looked up.

The boy before him was beautiful in a slightly terrible way, like a kiss with no innocence in it.

More to the point, he was holding a sword as if he knew how to use it, and floating about a yard above the ground.

“Dark and sinister suit,” said the boy. “Have at thee.”

“I am afraid I do not have time to indulge you,” 69 said. “I am here on a mission from her Majesty.”

“Ah,” said the boy, tilting his chin. “I know it well.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The Majesty,” the boy said, waving his sword vaguely. “Belonging to… her. I know all about it.”

“Her Majesty the Queen,” 69 said with a trifle more emphasis than was necessary.

“I knew that,” the boy informed him.

“She feels that the Service has a need for a man—”

The boy hissed like a vampire exposed to the sunlight, lifting his free arm as if to protect himself from the word. Man.

“Excuse me. A boy of your special talents,” 69 said smoothly. He had been raised in diplomatic circles.

The boy spun around in a circle, like a ballerina with a sword in zero gravity.

“My talents are special! So awfully special!”

“Indeed,” said 69. His countenance remained unchanged. 69 was very highly trained, and also a gifted amateur poker player. “And the Queen needs—someone of such talents for a job.”

The boy started to laugh, a high lovely laugh that wavered between a baby’s gurgle and the peal of bells. It did not sound quite sane.

“A job?” he asked. “Make a man of me, will you? Oh no, oh no. You sailed your boat to the wrong shore.” He made a quick, deadly gesture with his small sword to the island around them, the dark stones and trees with branches like bared claws. “This is no place for men.”

“So I see,” said 69. “And I see there is nobody here who would be brave enough to risk all for her Her Majesty’s sake: nobody who is enough of a patriot to die for their country.”

Peter was not entirely sure what a patriot was, but he would have scorned to betray this fact. He did not even acknowledge it to himself, really: Peter’s thoughts always moved like a stone on water, skipping and skimming along the surface until they hit a certain spot.

69 had turned towards the sea, but he was not entirely surprised when a sword landed, light as a very sharp butterfly’s wing, on his shoulder.

He turned back to meet the sight of the lovely, terrible smile.

“To die for your country,” said Peter. “Would that be an awfully big adventure?”

Keep reading.

Dawkins Goes Denialist: An Open Letter to the CFI Board

Let me start this by offering my sympathy. You have what was probably a tough decision just behind you. You have another ahead. You haven’t had much time to be comfortable that you made the right decision in between. You have no options that will please everyone or even any options that will not sadden and anger many people.

That said, I’m writing this to make sure you understand the full import of what’s ahead of you. When someone like Richard Dawkins conjures up a new storm on the internet every week or two, it’s easy to slip into the habit of thinking they’re all the same and they’ll all blow over. That isn’t the case here.

What Dawkins has done over the course of the last couple of days has ramifications for CFI that need to be considered carefully. I don’t want you to miss them. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 1/28/2016

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.

  • Do we count as real writers, too? (aka that thing about Clarion. that. thing.)“–“The point of this post– if it were to have a point, and not merely be a rambling collection of thoughts– is not that workshops are necessary to become a serious writer. The point is that for people who don’t have easy access to a support system, it feels like it’s necessary in order to break into the global SFF scene. And it shouldn’t be.
  • But many of the people speaking out the other day cannot safely ignore Gaiman. His status is such that even casual statements of his carry weight.”
  • Why aren’t there more women in the SFF section?“–“As we talked, it became clear that the fault doesn’t rest with a single source. It’s the result of a ton of decisions, each of which is probably fueled by unconscious bias and then reinforced by a feedback loop.”
  • Jordan Kushner, crusading civil rights lawyer, on trial for filming police“–“He knew his rights. No matter: Kushner was escorted out and ‘thrown over a little brick wall’ by police, he recalls, a moment that was captured on building surveillance video.”
  • Stop saying Trump has a mental disorder“–“I know it’s tempting to share something that sounds like Trump is unfit for president. But there is plenty of material we can use to explain why Trump is not presidential.”
  • Police Use of Force Project“–“We reviewed the rules governing police use of force in America’s largest city police departments to determine whether they include meaningful protections against police violence.”
  • Lost erotica of Spain reveals an overlooked feminist history (NSFW)“–“For 10 years, Zubiaurre treasure hunted and researched similar erotic materials, eventually building a visual history of early 20th century sexuality in Spain. The X-rated treasure trove illuminates the public emergence of feminism, gay love, cross dressing, psychoanalysis, masturbation, sex manuals and hardcore porn.”
  • Militants Plow New Roads At Refuge, Possibly Damaging Artifacts“–“When asked about the construction, the militant claimed that the road was already there, and that militants had only removed snow from the path. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed Thursday that not only is the road built last week by the occupiers new, but it is also within an archaeological site important to the Burns Paiute Tribe.”
  • St. Paul officer had antagonistic history with demonstrators, community groups“–“The St. Paul police sergeant widely criticized by the public, his own department, an industry group and the mayor for a Facebook comment encouraging drivers to run over marchers on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day apparently posted similar antagonistic comments three months earlier.”
  • Thinking about Disability More“–“What I want to say is ‘Because we live in a society that values our ability to labor over quality of life, I worry about being judged on my “good days”, so I carry it with me at all times whenever I leave the house.'”
  • The Texas Abortion Case, Explained“–“As a result, legal experts, as well as activists on both sides of the abortion debate, see this case as the most important in a generation. So how did we get here, to a turning point in a legal and political journey that spans four decades and will set the stage for the next generation of abortion rights — or lack thereof — in the United States?”
  • What journalists get wrong about social science, according to 20 scientists“–“As a result, journalists can often write eye-catching stories that appeal to a popular audience but miss the bigger picture. This tension may never disappear. But in an effort to bridge the gap, I recently asked a few dozen psychologists and social scientists a simple question: ‘What do journalists most often get wrong when writing about research?'”
  • [Advice] Dating & Disorders“–“Of course, the complicated thing about values is not the having them, but the figuring out which ones you have, and in what order.”
  • 5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Support the Asexual Youth in Your Life“–“Some adults who understand and acknowledge asexuality in youth end up supporting it for the wrong reasons – that is, for sex-negative reasons.”
  • Ethics For Men Online, AKA How Not To Be An Asshole“–“Nothing is more frustrating than constantly seeing powerful people, with reach and influence, spend their precious time on obviously angry jerks rather than, say, people of color who need eyes on their work and who are supporters of these influential people.”

Justice in a “Just World”

This is not the text of my Skepticon talk I gave at Skepticon with the same name, because that isn’t how I give talks. It is, however, an introduction to the same information for those who prefer their information in written form. So if you watch the video, you’ll get a slightly different experience.

Life’s not fair.

If you’re at all like me, you hear that statement in the voice of an aggrieved three-year-old child. As it turns out, that’s actually a pretty decent place to start with this topic. We’re introduced very quickly to the idea that we live in an unjust world, and we never do much come to like the idea.

Unlike most three-year-olds, however, humanity has had a lot of time to work on ways to deny the problem. And deny it we have. [Read more…]

Enough “Crazy”

There are plenty of frustrating things about this year’s presidential contests. I’ll probably write more about some of them soon. Goodness knows, I’ve been writing enough about them on social media. I should formalize my thoughts on the matter somewhere.

For today, though, I want to talk about “crazy”. I want to talk about this habit we have of looking at politicians who say things that don’t conform to reality and writing them off as “crazy”. Mostly, of course, I want to tell people to knock it off. [Read more…]

Sidewalk Shamanism

A beautiful thing happened on Saturday morning outside the clinic where I’ve been escorting.

A car with a young couple in it pulled up and parked at a meter, which is, of course, the cue for the protesters to flock. They started on the driver’s side, both because it was closest and because Saturday seemed to be a day for targeting companions over patients. (A lot of “You need to get your girlfriend out of there” and  “You are a defender of women and children.”)

They never got around to the passenger’s side, so the patient and I had a leisurely walk to the parking station. The machine gave her some trouble, taking longer than expected. Her companion and the protesters caught up to us while she was still working on paying.

As they came up, Guitar Guy–who actually made people wish he had his guitar that day, he was so obnoxious–said to the companion, “I have to ask you: Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” [Read more…]

The Reading List, 1/24/2016

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.

Saturday Storytime: Godfall

I don’t know yet how I feel about the ending of this story from Sandra Odell, but the worldbuilding hooked me so hard, I don’t care.

Tully brought the skiff in from the south. The blue mountains of Maya’s feet rose against the sky, each toe adorned with a massive gold ring inlaid with cobras crowned with lotus blossoms. By the looks of the gold and white flags, the feet had already been claimed by the Vatican. It must have galled Pope Innocent XVI to accept the UN award for the feet of a Hindu god.

The god’s legs rested to one side, knees slightly bent, thick thighs leading to the fleshy invitation of her belly. Tully couldn’t see the upper arms, but her lower right arm lay across her midriff, while the lower left arm lay flung to the side, a cosmic afterthought. Immense gold bracelets at the wrists framed the wealth of rings on both hands. Beyond her breasts would be the treasures of her shoulders and head. This looked to be a good haul. Plenty of gold and industrial grade diamonds in the rings; uranium and other heavy metals could be extracted from the bones.

A rush of wind brought the mingled smells of iron, copper, patchouli, and a special scent that was distinctly…Maya. Tully couldn’t think of any other way to label it. The think-boy who figured out a way to bottle that scent would make millions.

Marco nodded in the direction of the UN flyers patrolling the boundaries of the fall zone. “The dogs are out in force.”

Tully allowed himself a moment to admire the view of the younger man against the fore rail. Dark skin, dark hair, nice ass. Too bad Marco had signed on as a helper. Tully made it a point to never mix business with pleasure.

“They’re just doing their jobs,” he said.

Marco looked up. “How long did you say we have?”

Tully squinted at the flyers circling the distortion in the air high above Maya’s midriff. The tangle of colors, the improbable angles that echoed in his joints, made them want to bend in sympathetic symmetry. He returned his attention to the controls. Gates always made him a little queasy. “It’s still small yet. The UN says three days, maybe four.”

He eased the skiff around Maya’s toes to the tops of her feet dark with henna. Workers on the maze of scaffolding in the ankle creases watched them pass overhead. A message ping warned that the skiff had violated Canadian airspace and should depart immediately. With a slurp of coffee and an acknowledging ping, Tully turned the skiff over the ankles to Maya’s calves. The Canadians had ground-to-air missiles.

Maya had settled into the ground five, maybe ten feet. In the muggy heat, it wouldn’t take long for the god’s skin to pale to a meaty gray, then she would start to swell. And stink. It would be bad. With any luck and a returned call from Ali Bob, they’d be long gone by then.

A mob of maybe five-hundred strong milled around the Red Cross tent city set well back from Maya’s out-flung left hand. They screamed at the flyers, at Her Most Revered Corpse, at the scrapper teams plundering Maya’s remains, at the aid workers searching for survivors in the surrounding rubble of stone, steel, and shattered lives. Radio chatter claimed at least three-million dead, possibly as high as five-and-a-half million.

Keep reading.