Best of 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve done a year-end review of my writing, but this year feels like the right time. I’ve written less here than usual, having done more activism off the blog, but I’ve also written more pieces I’m proud of on their own, not just for how they’ve shifted the conversations we’re having about important things, than I have in years. So here are some the posts you may not want to miss from 2015.

Power and ‘Political Correctness’“–“Institutions with decades of practice and journalists with professional training in the exercise of their power cannot or do not manage any better than that. This makes it ridiculous to point to the missteps of individuals who are new to power as indicative of broad failings of the group to which these people belong. Doing so is a basic exercise in essentialism, the fundamental attribution error occasionally leavened with racism or sexism.”

Family Matters: How Geek Communities Turn Dysfunctional“–“Unfortunately, many of the problems of these spaces are the problems of family as well. We pressure each other to conform to the way ‘we’ do things, whether our traditions are helpful or harmful. People play favorites, both in relatively harmless and grossly toxic ways. Abuse is perpetrated, both among peers and across inequities of position and resources. We protect the family as a unit over the individuals who make it what it is.

Right Where Dr. A Pinched“–“Again, other people disagree with you, both about it being cute and about it being intimidating. You’re trying to speak for a generation (or two) of women whose opinions you haven’t done the basics to assess. If you want to say, ‘I and the other women who didn’t find it objectionable didn’t find it objectionable’, go ahead. It’s a much, much weaker statement and meaningless as an argument, but it at least has the benefit of being true.”

Religion and Atheism in Geek Spaces“–“As someone who spends a lot of time on atheist activism, I often find majority-atheist geek spaces more relaxing than atheist-activist spaces. They feel less like work, and I have a lot of friends who either aren’t atheists or aren’t activists. I have an admitted interest in keeping these spaces functioning for their original purposes. As someone who pursues atheist activism as social justice, I also have an interest in making sure atheists don’t cause the same problems for others that we’ve faced as a religious minority.” [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.

Within One Year

California Code of Civil Procedure section 340(c).

340. Within one year:

(c) An action for libel, slander, false imprisonment, seduction of a person below the age of legal consent, or by a depositor against a bank for the payment of a forged or raised check, or a check that bears a forged or unauthorized endorsement, or against any person who boards or feeds an animal or fowl or who engages in the practice of veterinary medicine as defined in Section 4826 of the Business and Professions Code, for that person’s neglect resulting in injury or death to an animal or fowl in the course of boarding or feeding the animal or fowl or in the course of the practice of veterinary medicine on that animal or fowl.

We wouldn’t necessarily know yet, but one way or another, it’s done.

Help Me Go to Women in Secularism 3?

Yes, despite the shenanigans at last year’s Women in Secularism conference, I very much want to attend this year’s. Why? Well, there are a few reasons.

  • Have you seen the lineup of speakers? It’s outstanding:Lauren Becker, Ophelia Benson, Lindsay Beyerstein, Soraya Chemaly, Heina Dadabhoy, Barbara Ehrenreich, Debbie Goddard, Rebecca Goldstein, Candace Gorham, Melody Hensley, Susan Jacoby, Sarah Jones, Zinnia Jones, Amanda Knief, Leighann Lord, Miri Mogilevsky, Taslima Nasreen, Katha Pollitt, Amy Davis Roth, Mandy Velez, Lindy West
  • There is no conference like Women in Secularism for the networking. Each year I’ve attended, I’ve met women doing outstanding work. We’ve forged relationships that have helped all of us accomplish more for the atheist movement and our individual atheist communities, as well as have support when we’ve needed someone outside our own communities to talk to.
  • CFI is hosting Secular Celebrant training in D.C. the day before the conference this year. Minnesota Atheists have already agreed to sponsor me for the training fee. Given our work right now to change the law in Minnesota, this training is important to me as education in the type of training other groups offer and as education for the role I’m seeking as a certified atheist wedding celebrant.

However, I’m still not working. I have an odd set of skills, and I’m very publicly an atheist activist. While I can’t be sure this last fact has been a factor, I have had odd things happen in my search, such as a recruiter who was very eager to talk to me, then didn’t return my call or email. Whatever the reason, I can’t afford this on my own this year. This is where you come in if you’d like to. I have a donation button in the side bar under “Support Almost Diamonds” and another at the bottom of this post. I’m not going through Indiegogo or one of those sites, I’m still happy to offer rewards for donations. Here are the ones that came to me off the top of my head. Please feel free to suggest others in the comments.

  • $1 donation level–You will receive my thanks in a post just before the start of the conference. If you choose this level, please use the ability to add a comment with your donation to let me know what name you want to be credited under.
  • $10 donation level–You’ll receive my thanks as above. I will also produce a blog post addressing the argument of your choice. This can be a bad argument you expect I’ll refute or a good argument you think I can do justice to so you can link to it later when the topic comes up again. While you control the topic, my take on the argument will be my own. This will be delivered before the conference as long as I receive the topic by April 1. You can also use the comment function to request this, or you can email me using the email button in my sidebar.
  • $25 donation level–You’ll receive my thanks as above. I will also produce a blog post addressing the scientific paper of your choice in psychology or related topics. This is limited by my ability to access the paper, but I do have resources for that. While you control the topic, my take on the paper will be my own (with help from experts if I need it). I anticipate these will be delivered at about the rate of one per week, but it will depend on how much I have to educate myself first. First come, first served. You can also use the comment function to request this, or you can email me using the email button in my sidebar.
  • $50 donation level–You’ll receive my thanks as above. I will also produce a blog post addressing the men’s rights, anti-feminist, theist, or politically right-wing article of your choice. In other words, this is your chance to try to make my head explode, which is why it costs more. While you control the topic, my take on the paper will be my own (with help from experts if I need it). I anticipate these will also be delivered at about the rate of one per week. First come, first served. You can also use the comment function to request this, or you can email me using the email button in my sidebar.

What else might you want for donating?

It Lives

Not long ago, I mentioned that we had an ad-free subscription service in the works for FtB as a whole. Testing is now complete, and the service has had a couple of days to shake out some of the stranger problems. So if you’re interested in reading FtB without ads and are willing to pay* us a small amount ($3 for 30 days, $8 for 90 days, or $30 for 365 days) for the privilege, now’s the time to sign up. If you have problems along the way, Jason is the person to talk to.

Sadly, for me, this means going back to seeing ads. I was testing the plug-in, but now I go back to seeing the ads so I can report them when we get problematic ones.

*Yes, I’m well aware there are other technological solutions that mean you don’t have to contribute anything to the writers you read regularly in order to avoid ads. Seeing people commenting to tell other writers, “Are you silly? I don’t have to pay you for your work”, baffles me to no end. If that’s what you want to do, fine. If you can’t afford a subscription, I’m happy you have other options. But at least contribute some consideration.

So You Want to Support Almost Diamonds

People have asked in the past how they can donate to support this blog. I’ve always told them to make the donation to FtB as a whole instead. I’ve told them I make a ridiculously good living. It’s time I stop doing that. I could really use the help.

I have made a good living doing what I do, and I have enjoyed the work and the people. However, the increasing frequency and duration of the migraines that I’ve experienced over the last couple of years has cut into the amount I can work. Being able to work less has contributed to work stresses that have probably in turn contributed to the frequency of the migraines. The situation I’ve experienced over the latter half of this summer with what appears to be a very rare side effect of my migraine medication, plus some knock-on effects requiring other medication changes, hasn’t helped any. I’m doing better now, but it’s been ugly.

It’s time for me to cut that job loose, build my general fitness level back up after the last few months, and get a new job. I’m not worried about being employable, but I am worried about the delays involved in the application and interview process. There’s not much left in the way of savings, and there are one or two big bills coming due. So it’s time to stop pretending things are as they ever were and let those of you who want to and can help, help. I’ve added donation and subscription buttons to the sidebar, but here they are as well.


One note about subscriptions. FtB is currently testing an ad-free subscription plug-in for the site. As much as I’d like to be able to extend the ad-free offer to anyone who supports me directly, that can’t happen without me cutting into the revenues of the other bloggers. So if you want your money to get you an ad-free FtB, you may want to hold off.

As always, I really appreciate the support you already show this blog by reading, commenting, and sharing what I write here. If you’re not in a position to donate, please don’t feel that these things you do don’t matter. They are what makes this blog. Thank you, everyone.

Blog of the Year

This is what I woke up to this morning:

Blog of the Year
Almost Diamonds
Stephanie Zvan makes her voice heard through her blog Almost Diamonds. Her writing is consistently incredible: insightful, thorough, on point, and funny (when appropriate). Everything she writes is from an atheist, secular, intersectional feminist, and social justice perspective. This year has certainly been a busy one for social justice in the secular community. Stephanie’s posts tackle issues from multiple perspectives deconstructing and analyzing varied subject matter; her methodological and precise writing is educational, informative, and engaging.

I’m tickled, particularly to be in the company I am in the Secular Woman Membership Awards. I don’t know what to say, except thank you to everyone who thought I earned this.

Invitation: A Week Away

Because work hasn’t been busy enough recently, I’m suddenly traveling for a project next week. It’s the kind of thing where I’ll either be seeing the inside of an office or the inside of my eyelids, which doesn’t leave me much time (any time) for blogging.

Normally if I knew I’m going to be this busy, I would schedule some reposts and some quick posts linking to other people’s work or opportunities to make the world a better place–the bits of what I do that involve less writing. As I was falling asleep last night, though, I had a different idea for this time around.

A lot of the people who comment here are bloggers, and even when I link to them, not nearly enough people click through. A lot of the people who comment here are thoughtful people with interesting perspectives who don’t want to deal with maintaining a blog. A lot of the people who comment here are involved in activism on local issues that could use a higher profile.

Are you one of those people? Do you want to use the eyeballs that come with being on a network while I’m up to my eyeballs in work? Use the mail icon in my sidebar and tell me what you’d like to share. It doesn’t have to be original for this. It just has to be something that should see a bigger audience.

Let’s put this “cat’s away” time to good use.

The Problem with Resisting Propaganda

…is that people get far too good at it.

Okay, so that’s a good thing for you. I know that. It’s even a good thing for me, in part. I’ve trained myself well enough that I hardly ever look at ads, much less get curious enough to click through. That saves me from a rather remarkable amount of nonsense.

What it doesn’t do is pay the bills of the sites I visit regularly.

And here’s the point where the people who are really good at resisting propaganda have already figured out what I’m saying next. Yes, I’m drawing your attention to the donation and subscription buttons over in the sidebar. What I’m not doing is telling you to give me a raise, not per se.

Money I make from writing here goes to organizations that do the ground-level work in the secular movement: Minnesota Atheists, American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Center for Inquiry, Secular Student Alliance, Secular Woman. It also goes to support conferences where people can gather as nonbelievers and feel less alone. Skepticon is the one that comes to mind, but there were others this year. I just haven’t gathered all my receipts from the last year to figure out which ones. So if I get paid more, those organizations and conferences benefit. I don’t.

I get very little of my income from writing, however, and that isn’t true for everyone. For these people, both those already blogging here and those we approach to join us, the fact that our audience is very resistant to ads makes a difference. Their audiences are no less appreciative (see the response to Greta’s request for income to tide her through the aftermath of her surgery or Avicenna’s replacement for his dead computer), but the income stream is less automatic. FtB has an incredibly low return on page views.

So if you’re one of those people who doesn’t see ads or who does nothing but scoff at them, and you have it to spare, consider clicking on those buttons. I blog because not writing is not an option, and I would do it for free, but not everyone can. If you like what you get at this site, even if you never go anywhere but my blog (Hi, Mom!), consider directly supporting the network as a whole.

Because y’all seem to be too smart to do it through ads.

Update: Please don’t suggest clicking on ads to things you don’t want to see to support us. It can actually cause us to lose our ad service if it looks like we’re trying to game the system. It’s fine if you don’t have the means to support us directly. We’re here for you too.

Tomorrow’s Skeptics Today (Update)

It’s a good time to be a good young skeptic. We’re working to make some of them heard, but a number of blog networks/group blogs are coming together to give them a platform like they’ve never had.

I’ve linked to The Heresy Club before, lots of times on Twitter and Facebook, where I do much more linking (hint). They’re an impressive, diverse bunch who manage to hold positions that are both strong and nuanced while still remaining open to debate. This network has a strong atheist bent, but the inclusion of Hayley Stevens (ghost hunter) and Rhys Morgan (anti-homeopathy activist) means the skepticism here isn’t limited to religion.

Originally organized as a group blog with space for students to blog occasionally, Skeptic Freethought has recently reorganized as a blog network. It is still very much centered on students, and it is still eager for guest posts from students who have something to say but don’t necessarily want to start a blog to say it. You’ll see familiar writers there like Dave Muscato and Ellen Lundgren. I expect they’ll grow quickly as they find out how supportive a network can be.

The Young Australian Skeptics have been around for quite a while, but more recently, they’ve been the home of The Pseudoscientists podcast and not a lot more. They’ve just changed this, however, with their relaunch yesterday. You will once again find regular, written science and skeptical content on their site.

These bloggers are the future of our movements. Go pay them some nice attention.

Update: Heh. Following this blog post and some funny chatter on Twitter, representatives from all three of the networks featured here are doing a Google hangout to talk about the current skeptical and atheist communities and about being our future. Alex has the details at The Heresy Club.