Skepticon, Guns, and Policies

Friday night at Skepticon, I went to bed early. I had some sleep to make up from driving through the night to get there. I’d given blood. It seemed like a good idea. I knew I’d missed stuff, though, so I checked the hashtag shortly after getting up. Unfortunately, I found this.

Screen cap of tweet. Text provided in the post.

@EllenBethWachs: So apparently Skepticon isn’t safe. American Atheist employee receives a death threat at the end of loaded 38 #sk6

Never what you want to see. Nor is it fun to see things like this before you have any idea what’s going on.

Screen cap of tweet. Text provided in the post.

@Sc00ter: @EllenBethWachs I’m sure the anti-harassment policy at #sk6 will take care of that no problem. Be safe @davemuscato

So it was going to be one of those days. Yay. But first to find out what had happened to Dave. [Read more…]

Don’t Miss Skepticon Workshops!

If you’ll be at Skepticon tomorrow morning or early afternoon, don’t miss your chance to be part of the workshops. Skepticon added these for the first time last year. The sessions were crowded, even on Friday as many people were still traveling, and the reactions to them were so enthusiastic that I stole the idea for the Minnesota Atheists regional convention this summer–where the reactions were similarly enthusiastic.

These workshops are time for audience participation, and they allow time to be given to “niche” topics, ideas that don’t necessarily command main-stage attention. For example, there’s atheist music with Ashley Miller, Dave Muscato, JT Eberhard, and Shelley Segal. Rebecca Hensler will lead a session on how to manage grief, just before I lead a session on  handling being criticized in public. Dave Muscato will talk about becoming a professional atheist, and Amanda Knief about using your activism on your résumé. Monette Richards will lead a session on swearing as an atheist, and there are two sessions on comics.

If you think workshops are a way to kill time before the main speakers, you couldn’t be more wrong. Check out the schedule, find the ones that interest you, then plan to be there a little early. Even last year, these things filled up quickly. Now that everyone knows how good they can be, seats will go even faster.* Don’t worry, though. There’s still plenty of good stuff going on on the main stage if you can’t get into a workshop.

*Workshop rooms are small and set up to hold as many people as possible. Please be aware of accommodation issues as you’re queuing up for the sessions. Getting wheelchairs and people with limited mobility in and out of the rooms can certainly be done as long as everyone else is willing to hold back a little in the crush.

More Corroboration of Shermer Groping Incident

[Late note: This post now makes it clear that Grothe’s intervention was successful in stopping the grope from being completed, taking this incident from assault and battery to just assault. See the comments for my thoughts on why the language used likely led to an assumption otherwise. –SZ]

Someone else stepped forward to say that they’ve been aware of the incident with Shermer groping a female TAM speaker (though not at TAM) for a couple of years. It isn’t anyone you’d expect it to be.

Screen cap of Facebook comment. Text provided in the post.

Barbara A. Drescher: Okay, people. Something occurred to me this morning that is a likely reason Carrie restricted her FB account. I’m sure that someone pointed out to her how easy it is to show that what she’s doing is driving by a personal vendetta and not concern for women or victims.

It IS easy. Just think about the incident she’s leaning on (the groping — hey, we could call this “gropegate”, but DON’T), who witnessed it, when it happened, and who organized the next TAM. HINT: it wasn’t D.J. But if D.J. is a misogynist, then so is anyone else who invited Shermer after witnessing the incident. In fact, according to everything said by that camp, so is anyone who invited Shermer after HEARING about the incident.

(FTR, the alleged victim described the incident to me herself a couple of years ago; it’s not the big secret that Carrie is making it out to be. It just hasn’t shown up in a blog post with names attached.)

The comment thread is here. It is a long trip down a deep rabbit hole, particularly toward the end. What stands out to me, as jaded as I’ve gotten on this topic, is that the people commenting there think this is helping…something…somehow.

So that’s two people who have heard a witness describe the sexual assault in question and one person who says the person who was alleged to have been sexually assaulted agrees that it happened. Both the witness and the person to whom the victim spoke are what I would qualify as hostile in this case.

What more evidence do you think people will require?

Can I Skip My Own Conference?

Center for Inquiry has just announced their second African Americans for Humanism conference, and I’m badly torn. On one hand, look at this speaker list:

  • Ronnelle Adams author of Aching and Praying
  • Jamila Bey host of “Sex Politics and Religion Hour” at Voice of Russia radio
  • Debbie Goddard director of African Americans for Humanism and director of outreach for CFI 
  • Aisha Goss deputy director at the Secular Coalition for America and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
  • Mark Hatcher founder and president of Secular Students at Howard University
  • Sikivu Hutchinson author, activist, teacher, and founder of Black Skeptics Group
  • Anti_Intellect educator, activist, essayist
  • Alix Jules activist, historian
  • Anthony Pinn author, professor at Rice University

Five of them I’ve already heard speak, and they’re all great. People have been raving about Mark Hatcher’s talk at the CFI Summit this weekend. And Anti_Intellect?! Plus, of course, the folks I don’t know are great yet.

Then there’s the other hand. That’s the weekend of the second FtBCon. So I’m already committed for that weekend.

This schedule crowding is a good sort of problem for a movement to have, right?

You, SMBC Style

Skeptech will be held again in April 2014 (I guess I won’t save my taxes for that weekend), and to help pay for it, they’re doing something very cool.

We don’t ask for a lot, the organizers of the SkepTech conference. We’re people of simple needs; food, drink, warmth, kittens, puppies, the occasional maniacal cackle as we contemplate tossing it all and start trying to take over the world instead of trying to brainstorm at 4 AM. Our delusions of grandeur aside, we’d like to ask you for something now; your financial support as we ramp up for Skeptech 2, which will take place April 11th-13th, 2014, in Minneapolis, MN.

But wait, you ask. Why on earth should I donate to ANOTHER conference? Are there not enough of the things already? Well, we’ve got a lot of reasons why you should. You’re going to find out a lot about them over the coming weeks, in addition to a roster of speakers and panelists that we think will rock your world. We’re organizing a program of such diversity and amazingness that has rarely been seen in these fields.

Before we say too much, we would like, here and now, to offer you the first of those reasons to support us. What we are offering you today is the opportunity to bid on a digital portrait of your dashing visage, executed by the one and only Zach Weinersmith, the author and illustrator of the wildly famous [Saturday] Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic. This is an incredibly rare opportunity, not available since the days of Veláquez in the court of Philip IV, to have yourself preserved for all time, a masterpiece that future collectors will vie for to display on the walls of their own palaces. Needless to say, this is not something you’ll want to miss out on.

All proceeds of the auction will go to Skeptech to help us put on the most fabulous conference that we possibly can. You’re gonna want to be there.

Skeptech is an annual conference, organized by members and alumni of the Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists student group at the University of Minnesota (CASH), the Secular Student Alliance at St. Cloud State University (SSA@SCSU), and the Secular Student Alliance at St. Olaf College (SSASTO). It explores the intersections of science, critical thinking, and innovation in addressing some of the most pressing societal and environmental problems humanity faces today. Held at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities – a hotbed of technological research and innovation in the heart of the Twin Cities Metropolitan area – the three-day conference aims to spark ideas, foster questions, and start conversations on the role of technology in improving, and ensuring there is, tomorrow.”

If you ask very nicely, you might even persuade him to draw you in a salacious posture, just to stick it to the now-defunct Comics Code Authority. Don’t know what I’m talking about? This is why you don’t want to miss Skeptech.

Dealing with Public Criticism

We’re coming up on Skepticon again soon. Not only will I be there, but I will be running another Friday workshop. This year’s topic: dealing with public criticism. You know you want to see that–or the reactions to that on the conference hashtag.

I kid, but it’s true that most people have only a rough idea how to handle criticism from friends, much less criticism that turns the public eye on them. People who handle public criticism really well are rare enough that they get our attention. Still, criticism isn’t going to stop coming from the religious, from people whose other ideas we debunk, or from each other. So we’ll take an hour and work through some of the considerations and skills needed to deal with it.

Preparing for the workshop, I found that there aren’t a lot of good resources out there on the topic. There are a bunch of link- and SEO-bait short articles. There are a couple good, longer articles aimed at businesses. There are what appear to be a couple of good chapters in Online Reputation Management for Dummies, but they aren’t comprehensive, and again, the book is mostly aimed at businesses. So between now and Skepticon, I’ll be putting a lot of my writing time and energy into doing a brain dump on the topic. If it turns out to be good, it may become something more formal after the conference.

Either way, come to Skepticon! Register if you haven’t already. Donate if you can. Donate now and double your donation through two matching grants that have have just been announced. Buy some of their custom dinosaur chocolates, perfect gifts for all those fall birthdays.

Then show up for my workshop, and we’ll talk about criticism. It’ll be fun. You’ll see.

Defending Dawkins, or How Many Standards Do We Need?

Sarah Moglia, no longer of the Secular Student Alliance and newly of Skepchick, has written a piece about how starting to work for the secular movement was the start of the end of her trust in that movement. She was hired to accompany Richard Dawkins on tour.

At this time (September of 2011), Dave Silverman was heading up the Reason Rally Committee. There was still quite a bit of planning and promotion that needed to be done, so Dave asked Richard, Elizabeth, and Sean to make videos to promote the Reason Rally. (The video Richard ended up making is still viewable.) Richard was standing behind the podium, and he asked Dave something along the lines of, “What exactly is the Reason Rally?” Dave started explaining it, and as he did, someone who was waiting in the line outside opened the door to peek inside and we could all hear a lot of noise. I rushed up the aisle and made frantic “shut the door” gestures at the people peeking inside, and they did. As I walked the ten feet back, I couldn’t hear everything Dave was saying, but I heard the name “Rebecca Watson.” Richard suddenly had a very angry look on his face and I heard him almost shout, “No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.” and then Dave immediately replied, “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” Richard huffed for a moment, Dave continued to placate him, and then he made the video.

The question has come up whether Sarah’s story should be trusted. I do trust it, and here’s why. [Read more…]