Not Your Sacrifice for Redemption

Yes, I’m tired of the endless discussion around Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis too. Nonetheless, it turns out I still have something to say on the topic.

I’ve noted elsewhere that I disagree with the charges of hypocrisy over Davis’s prior marriages and adultery.

Here I meant misguided in the sense that I don’t believe that the forgiveness of a deity is worth much or that we can look outside the people we’ve wronged (including ourselves) for meaningful forgiveness, but this is also misguided in another very important way. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 9/10/2015

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.

  • “And yet…I still need community. Badly. I need community when my friends and family reject me based on what, to me, are clearly fairy tales. And I know that’s a vulnerable thing to say, but I also know I am not the only one.  Believe it or not, there are atheists of many different backgrounds who struggle a lot with their atheism, and it’s not because they secretly think God exists.” Read more.
  • “One RH-related project we’ve been working on and are launching soon is one that focuses on the issue of abortion, which is currently illegal in the Philippines. We want to start a discussion on this taboo topic to dispel the myths and misconceptions surrounding something that affects many: despite being illegal, there were over 500,000 abortions in 2008. We’re aiming for decriminalization first, but eventually, legalization in some cases (currently, there is no exception even to save the life of the mother).” Read more.
  • “These topics can include; leaving religion, atheism, skepticism, art, poetry readings, (your own) book readings, how-to workshops and DIY workshops, feminism, activism, crafting, science, community building and other such empowering subjects. If you have an idea, pitch it to me!” Read more.
  • “Whether you like it or not, whether you realise it or not, your life is tangibly better because of fat women who live unapologetically, who wedge the gates of acceptance open wider every day. I fight for you in your capacity as a woman who wants to be more than just a body. I fight for you in your capacity as a woman whose body is scrutinised and policed every moment of your life.” Read more.
  • “Legal historian Paul Finkelman (Albany Law) has made a compelling case against the label ‘compromise’ to describe the legislative packages that avoided disunion in the antebellum era.1 In particular, Finkelman has dissected and analyzed the deals struck in 1850. Instead of the ‘Compromise of 1850,’ which implies that both North and South gave and received equally in the bargains over slavery, the legislation should be called the ‘Appeasement of 1850.'” Read more.
  • “As a doctor who has an interest in physiology, this stuff sounds really cool. But it is just a tiny study, with no clinical significance of any kind. To be clinically significant, it would have to be a much larger study, it would need a control group of subjects who did not get exercise or vitamin C, and it would have to measure a clinically relevant outcome, something like blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes–something that would tell us if the findings can help real patients.” Read more.
  • “Debates about the condition aside, Boehringer Ingelheim, the company that originally developed flibanserin, and Sprout, which acquired the drug in 2012, tested the drug in clinical trials in which 1,227 women diagnosed with HSDD received the now-approved 100-milligram dose at bedtime. After 24 weeks of treatment, 43 to 60 percent of patients saw an improvement of about nine to 14 percent over placebo, which translated to an additional 0.5 to one satisfying sexual experience per month.” Read more.

Secular Women Work at Skepticon!

Cross-posted from the Secular Women Work site.

Skepticon has just announced that it’s open for workshop proposals for this year.

Workshops are held on the Friday day of Skepticon from 10:00am until 4:00pm.

Click here to fill out our application form to be a workshopper at Skepticon 8!

That’s not all! We’re excited to announce that we will be partnering with the amazing women over at Secular Woman Work to bring you an entire track of workshops presented by even more awesome ladies! Want to be a part of their exclusive workshop track? Drop them a line at: to get in on what is sure to be our best workshop lineup yet.

Oh, hey. What’s that? Yes, Secular Women Work will be organizing a set of workshops at Skepticon. That means hands-on practical skill-building and group discussions sharing solutions to common activist problems–all brought to you by experienced activists who are women or genderqueer. There’s a lot of experience and skill in this movement, and we want to celebrate it by putting it to work making us all better activists.

Who will you see presenting in the Secular Women Work track at Skepticon? What topics will be covered? Frankly, we don’t know yet. We don’t know who will be there. We don’t know what their strengths are. What we do know is that there is never any shortage of talent at Skepticon, nor any shortage of generosity. We pledge to find you skilled activists who will deliver well-structured workshops for you to learn from.

(If you happen to be one of those activists with an idea for a topic, and you’ll be at Skepticon on Friday, please use the Secular Women Work email above to let us know. Even if you’ve never put together a workshop before, please contact us. We helped more than one presenter at our conference structure their workshop, and they all went well.)

Why should you trust us to find you good workshops? Here’s what people had to say about our conference last month. [Read more…]

Secular Women Work: Events on a Budget

We have some video conversion and editing to do before we can release all the talks and panels from the Secular Women Work conference. We had several people tweeting the event, though, so I am collecting and releasing Storifies of the sessions over several days.

The genesis for this panel was “How can we end Sunday with good information even if all our speakers had to catch early flights?” They didn’t, but I’m still glad we did the panel, even if it felt weird putting all the organizers on stage at once.

Still, each of the panelists had been part of the team running at least three conferences. You can’t do that without picking up knowledge worth sharing. I just hope we still made sense by that point in the weekend. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 9/8/2015

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.

  • “The reality of Ashley Madison, just like the reality of everything else about sex, was different from the image carved out during advertising strategy sessions. It’s appalling that so many people whose public identities are founded on being skeptical of the default expectations of sexuality and gender dumped that much-vaunted skepticism as soon as they saw a chance to score points on Josh Duggar or whatever other symbol of mainstream sexuality they discerned in that great Rorschach blot of data.” Read more.
  • “None of this is going down because Americans are anti-choice or opposed to the basic tenets of reproductive justice. A majority of Americans support abortion rights and oppose closing abortion clinics. A majority of Americans believe LGBT people are entitled to start families just like anyone else. A majority of Americans support the ACA’s birth control benefit.” Read more.
  • “The convenient thing about choosing your political stances based on what you believe is right is that it doesn’t really matter to me if social justice work is full of assholes. (I mean, it does, but not for the sake of this particular argument.) There are assholes everywhere.” Read more.
  • “…I also don’t think most people know what to do when they see this happening. I hardly expect 15 or so people in the vicinity approved—several were women my age. To that end, here are some things that might have helped me either feel less trapped or bring the catcalling and following to end.” Read more.
  • “Puckett said the higher wages did not cause Punch to increase prices. He also said it “has had a big impact culturally in the company.” He said that retention of employees is up, which helps them save money on hiring and training. He estimates the average worker in the front — cashiers and waiters who are often students — work about three years, while the kitchen workers average five years of employment, which is very high for this transitory industry.” Read more.
  • “For the second debate on 16 September in California, CNN is asking $200,000 (£130,000), 40 times its normal rate, for a 30-second prime-time spot. TV advertising strategists say it is hard to quantify Trump’s value to the media, or the value of non-stop free media attention to Trump’s commanding lead over the Republican field, but CNN’s ad price is a good indicator.” Read more.
  • “Johnson says when she told her U.S. History Professor Maury Wiseman that she disagreed with his assessment that Native Americans did not face Genocide – the professor said she was hijacking his class, and that she was accusing him of bigotry and racism. The professor then dismissed the class early, apologized for Johnson’s disruptions and told her she was disenrolled at the end of the class on Friday.” Read more.
  • “Here is where I get really conflicted: I think that churches should provide that space for doubters, but I don’t trust them to handle it right. And I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way.” Read more.
  • “There’s a plan in place here—the trouble is, I can’t start executing it until I’ve left Berlin, and right now I can’t afford to do that. A year ago, when I was in monetary meltdown below the bottom of my overdraft, people who read this blog came to my aid, and as a result of projects they hired me to carry out—as a translator, editor, graphic designer—I haven’t been in the red since.” Read more.

River City Reason Fest Reminder

I’m working on turning my outline into a full-fledged talk today, so now seems a good time to remind you that I’m speaking at River City Reason Fest in Winnipeg on September 19. Greta is starting the morning talking about death, and I’m ending it talking about F&SF fandom and community. In between, we have Tracie Harris and Hector Avalos. Then on Sunday morning, we get to hear from PZ.

In and among all those, we have several Canadian speakers I’m excited to hear from. We don’t get as much chance as we could here in the States, so this will be a treat for me. New speakers are always a chance to learn new things.

Who will I see there?

In Defense of “Unhealthy” Music

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Content note: When I talk about “unhealthy” music, I mean things like music expressing and embracing mental illness, stereotypes, victim-blaming, and lack of consent. I give examples and do my best to explain their appeal.

I was in high school the first time it happened. I was enjoying a piece of music and wanted to share it with a friend. “Here. Listen to this.” I handed her a cassette tape I’d already gone some way toward wearing out.

The rejection was prompt and personal. “That’s really messed up. How could you listen to that?” Her eyes told me she blamed me for her exposure to such terrible stuff.

The answer was simple, of course. I listened to fucked up music because I was fucked up. I was coping (or mostly not) with serious anxiety and depression and probably had minor PTSD from childhood abuse. While the pop music of the 80s had plenty of dark weirdness embedded in it, it rarely met me where I was. That took pretty, mopey boys and angry women and strange fantasists of all stripes.

It wasn’t the first time I was out of the musical loop. In fact, aside from Free to Be You and Me, I’d never been in it. Most of my peers had parents who raised them on The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, and southern rock. I mostly listened to 60s political folk music. Helen Reddy was about as mainstream as I got, unless the revivals from The Muppet Show count. Sound of Music soundtrack? No? Just me? Right.

It was the first time someone told me my musical choices were harmful, however. Or at least, it was the first time I was told that by my friends instead of some adult who wanted me off their lawn. [Read more…]

Secular Women Work: Black Nonbelievers: Past, Present, and Future

We have some video conversion and editing to do before we can release all the talks and panels from the Secular Women Work conference. We had several people tweeting the event, though, so I am collecting and releasing Storifies of the sessions over several days.

Before we set up the Kickstarter for this project, we knew we wanted someone on board who had built an organization from the ground up. Mandisa Thomas was our choice for obvious reasons. She identified a need no one else was meeting, put together a group that successfully met those needs, and has seen her organization through the normal challenges of growth and some extraordinary ones.

As it turns out, she’s also a pleasure to work with and an apparently unending source of energy, but that was a bonus for us. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 9/6/2015

I discontinued this feature last year for the amount of work, but I still want a place for these links. I’ll probably play with the format, frequency, and number of links a bit until I get something I like.

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. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The Oiran’s Song

This story from Isabel Yap comes with a trigger warning, as well it should. It is a vivid story set in the midst of many kinds of trauma. It simultaneously is as cold as the winter in which it is set and burns with a yearning as hot as the blood that is spilled.

The first few days, she does not run out of questions. She never helps with your tasks, but often comes along. When you ask her why, she replies, “I’m bored.” But no sex before dinner, or so the unspoken rule goes. She keeps up with her practice, and plays splendidly every night, so they let her do as she pleases. In many ways this matches the idleness of Yoshiwara before evening. But there are no warm baths and no parades here, no other girls for her to pinch or tease. She sits and watches you, tossing and catching her bachi or plucking her shamisen, while you walk through the forest gathering wood, or beat the soldiers’ bedsheets out in the snow, or polish their guns and swords.

The soldiers scout for the enemy, await orders from the military, loudly argue about whether to trust the French. You know that the purpose of your unit is to be light, quick, trained with foreign weapons. Eight in a unit, stealth and speed as shields. You have seen the men do their work. You have tried to do the same.

But you are clumsy with the sword, and although you are now a decent shot, holding a gun still makes you anxious. You might fire more accurately if they did not snicker every time you tried. A year ago, Kazushige was appointed your trainer by Taichou—they didn’t expect you to become one of them, but an extra set of hands and eyes was welcome.

Kazushige is one of the few who has never touched you. He still laughs at your mistakes and hesitation, still hits if you do something wrong, but when he moves your arms to position the rifle, he never grips you too hard. Sometimes you even think you like him.

The idea of liking anything is strange. Unreal. You remember Tamakoto; you remember Kaoru. As memories held apart to be revered, wondered at, they make sense; anything closer and your mind shuts off. The oiran’s shamisen makes an awful twang, and you return to the task at hand: checking that the traps set to capture wolves are still in place.

“No wolves are going to come, anyway,” the oiran says.

“How do you know?”

“Because of the oni,” she answers.

It is well known that the women of the floating world delight in storytelling. They spend years honing this skill.

“Like in the rumors? Those are lies.”

“No, they’re not,” she says. “I’ve seen one.” You glance at her, but she doesn’t meet your eyes. She strikes her shamisen, then grins so that you know she is teasing. “It frightened the hell out of me.”

You keep your mouth closed, though really you are thinking: you frighten me, and I don’t know why. Then you realize: it’s because I want to protect you, and I don’t think I can.

The trap is empty, as it has been the last several days.

“The wolves aren’t coming,” she repeats.

Someone shouts for you to start getting dinner ready. As the two of you trudge back through the snow, you think: the wolves aren’t coming; they’re already here.

Keep reading.

Also, if you like the story, consider doing as Yap asks and funding the Uncanny Magazine Kickstarter. As she notes, the publication of this story was possible because Uncanny reached all their stretch goals for their first year. They have only a few more days to reach the same level for their second year. If you want an additional incentive, I am offering two backer rewards.