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Jul 19 2014

Saturday Storytime: Chopin’s Eyes

I’m not usually a fan of the Victorian propensity to romanticize illness, but this story from Lara Elena Donnelly does things a little differently.

George courts Chopin like a terrier down a rabbit’s hole, teeth bared, tongue dripping. He flees, but every so often turns to look over his shoulder with liquid, changeable eyes. She lives for those glances, drawn into flashing moments when he is less than human and more than prey.

In early autumn, she corners him playing in the parlor, at a house party. George crosses the room, thick carpet quieting her riding boots. He does not notice her; his dark head is inclined towards the keys. The air in the room is electric. George swallows against a thickness in her throat, holds fast to a small sound trembling in her larynx. She dares not break the silence.

Kneeling by the bench like a postulant, she lays her cheek against his leg. He starts; his notes go sour, and the charged atmosphere dissipates. He holds his artist’s hands up high as if he is afraid to touch her, even to shoo her away.

“Madame Sand—”

“Angel,” she says. “You are an angel, sent from God. Please, don’t stop.”

But he does not begin again. He closes his hands—soft, cool, uncalloused—over hers and lifts them from his knee. “Please, madame. This is most improper. Most distracting.” He coughs with his mouth closed, wincing against the sharp convulsion. “Please.”

“Please,” she repeats, breathless. “Yes. Please. Go on.”

When she does not leave him, he sighs at her stubbornness and slides his fingertips between the black ridges of the sharps and flats and plays: a single dark note that fades, then builds into furls of triplets and sixteenths.

George, with her cheek still pressed against him, feels the change in his body, the sudden strength in the long, lean muscles of his thigh. He is fevered, and where she touches him she can feel currents moving, sliding like a great cat through a shadowed jungle. Her hands climb the contours of the piano leg, skip from the varnished wood to the give of Chopin’s flesh, grasp at him as the music swells. He is hard with need beneath the soft summer wool of his trousers, but ignores her in favor of his impromptu.

Chopin’s left hand strokes the lower octaves. His right climbs in rolling arcs towards the high reaches of the keyboard. George has made love to many men in her life, but never experienced ecstasy like this. Her orgasm crescendoes, and she sinks back into her body, dizzy and prickling with sweat.

The piece finishes with a gentle undulation and chord that is little more than a suggestion of sound. Chopin lifts his hands from the keys and looks down at George. He seems surprised to find her there, surprised to find himself at the piano. He draws breaths to speak. It catches somewhere behind his breastbone and he doubles in on himself, wracked with coughing.

George pulls his mouth to hers and kisses him, seeking mysteries in the darkness of his mouth. She does not find them. His breath is sharp with the iron tang of tubercular blood. Nevertheless, she knows what she has seen: something lives within him, uses him, and she wants it.

Keep reading.

Jul 18 2014

What “We” Want

No, we don’t want the same thing. I don’t want what you want.

  • I don’t want my arguments to rely on dressing my opponents’ arguments up in a cheap wig and a sneer because I can’t call them ridiculous when they stand on their own.
  • I don’t want to build a sense of superiority on disagreeing with positions that have only been handed to me through a game of shouty, anti-feminist telephone.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people or organizations who sweep me under the rug when the time comes to justify their support.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people who rely on volume to carry their arguments.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people who get so emotional when faced with feminism that their spelling, capitalization, and ability to make less-than-laughable analogies go to pot.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people so desperate to discredit feminism that they have to quote mine and misrepresent people’s positions.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of anyone in such need of validation for their positions that they appreciate the support of the slime pit.
  • I don’t want to benefit from the work of generations while telling the world that I’m not a part of what they’ve done.
  • I don’t want to feel so helpless I throw my hands up at YouTube or Twitter harassment because that’s just the way the internet is.
  • I don’t want to have to make myself look brave by suggesting that people who have stood fast in the face of years of harassment are “pussies”.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me conflate caring that people are treated well with weakness.
  • I don’t want to be held up as a “good one” by people who are pretty awful themselves.
  • I don’t want to spread misrepresentations and poor arguments that get used to justify the harassment of others.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me ask people to support me without question or criticism.
  • I don’t want people to support my organization because I guilt them into it rather than because I’ve made a good argument that it works in their interest.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me argue to someone that our mere shared identity is a good way of evaluating how well I work in their interest.
  • I don’t want my success to be dependent on men who try to sell me on sex appeal instead of on my abilities.
  • I don’t want my success to be dependent on organizations that will throw me under the bus the moment I disagree in public with one of their big guys.

But here’s the deal: I don’t think you really want any of those things either. I don’t know what you do want. I don’t know what your dream was or where you wanted making videos to take you, but it probably wasn’t getting yourself stuck in an ideological trap where you get more praise for treating others badly and know what you’re in for if you bite the hand that feeds you. Still, here you are.

Welcome to movement atheism in 2014. Good luck.

And take that silly wig and sneer off. You can do better than that.

Jul 18 2014

“Pop Culture Chemistry”, Raychelle Burks on Atheists Talk

Since we had a snafu during CONvergence, we’ve rescheduled this interview for this Sunday.

Dr. Raychelle Burks is better known as Dr. Rubidium, forensic chemist and smart alec extraordinaire and the developer of the recent (entirely hypothetical) zombie-repelling perfume. She is in the Twin Cities this weekend to participate in SkepchickCon, the science and skepticism track at science fiction and fantasy convention CONvergence. At the conference, she’ll be talking about the science of zombies, Breaking Bad, and Song of Ice and Fire.

She’s kindly agreed to get up early this Sunday and join us in the studio to talk about using fantasy and snark to hook people on the fun of science and about her crusade against chemophobia.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

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Jul 17 2014

“You’re Not Oppressed, White Atheist Dudes”

It’s the Dear Muslima of atheist progressives, so knock it off.

Not enough? Okay, we’ll do this the long way.

No, not all atheist progressives. (Do I really have to do this?) Plenty of atheist progressives manage to critique the actions and priorities of atheist organizations without suggesting that the enterprise as a whole isn’t needed because the atheist oppression white guys complain about isn’t real. It still happens, particularly among a subset of well-educated, urban, white, progressive atheists.

Oppression of people who are otherwise well able to withstand the oppression does not stop being oppression. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 15 2014

The Elided Rights of Accusers

There is a strain of thinking that I see repeated over and over as we work to change the culture around rape, as we work to see that people who bring accusations of rape don’t automatically become treated like suspects themselves, that they have equal access to institutional protections and remedies. This has been particularly evident in statements from those who oppose the White House Title IX initiatives addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

The clearest statement of this argument I’ve seen came from Joseph Cohn of FIRE in The Chronicle of Higher Education a couple of years ago, though I’ve seen it in various forms since.

Under the new standard, if it is determined that an accuser’s claims are a fraction of a percent more likely to be true than false, the accused may be subjected to discipline, including expulsion.

Unfortunately for students’ rights, a long line of institutions have adopted this low standard under federal pressure. In fact, a review of policies at 198 of the colleges ranked this year by U.S. News & World Report reveals that 30 institutions—including Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Virginia—have changed their standards of proof following OCR’s mandate.

That’s too bad, because colleges should be free to grant their students more robust due-process rights—and the federal government should not stand in their way.

This argument is generally presented in gendered terms, though it isn’t here. While this article refers to “students”, it is usually “men” standing in for those who are accused of sexual assault. Their alleged victims are in turn presumed to be women, though the women/accusers themselves are rarely mentioned in the formulation of the argument.

There are a number of possible reasons for the invisibility of these presumed female accusers. Women’s rights are often viewed as “special” rights, along with the rights of other marginalized populations, so human and civil rights arguments tend to focus on men. People these days do tend to notice when you argue for men’s rights over women’s rights and apply a bit more critical thought to an argument that does this. Talking about women as alleged victims quickly brings to mind a number of well-publicized stories that look nothing like false accusations to even unsophisticated audiences, and that doesn’t help garner sympathy for the accused.

Whatever the reason, we cannot allow this particular argument to stand on its own. Arguments for the rights of the accused have to be considered in the context of the rights of the accusers.

Why? Because the only way to guarantee that there will never be a negative outcome for an accused innocent is to guarantee that there will always be a finding of innocence. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 13 2014

He Said/She Said at #TAM2014

I was at the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference all day yesterday, but I still had people asking me whether I was going to address the talk by Carol Tavris on rape allegations and rape culture that she gave at TAM on Friday night. The short answer is “Maybe”.

The problem is that I don’t have the talk. All I have is the tweets. They’re terrible, by and large, but most of them come from people who are already terrible on this topic. This was a talk given at a conference where the management has historically taken out extra liability insurance to deal with the risk posed by one of its keynote speakers. There’s a certain motivation for the attendees to pull out every dismissive, permissive, victim-blaming message possible from a talk on rape. The tribalism in the tweets is not subtle. I could give a talk on rape myths in front of that audience, and the Twitter feed would still be terrible.

So I’ll wait to see whether the talk is released to a general audience. If the point was to rally the troops, it may not be. And if it stays private, it can’t be used to bolster bad policy recommendations based on its credentials of having been delivered by a skeptic at a skeptic conference. If it does come out, then I’ll see what it actually says. I may write about some of the tweeted messages in the meantime, because they’re common enough to be worth addressing, but I won’t assume those were actually in Tavris’s talk itself.

So…maybe. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s the tweeted account of the talk. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 12 2014

Saturday Storytime: Blessed Are the Hungry

Apex Publishing has been bringing good science fiction and fantasy to American authors for several years with its Books of World SF series. This is a tradition Apex Magazine follows as well, as with this story from Victor Ocampo.

That afternoon they flushed San Carlos Seldran out the airlock. Everyone on Cabra Deck was required to watch, even the little ones.

Despite what old people tell you, in the vacuum of space your blood won’t boil. Your body won’t explode either. In less than a minute you’d simply die from a lack of oxygen. There wouldn’t be time to scream.

His was a humane execution — quick, clean and painless.

“The Lord preserves all who love him but all the wicked he destroys,” growled the ancient Holosonic, droning the day’s lesson with great pomp and solemnity.

My family and I watched as our former parish priest drifted away towards infinity. The void swallowed him up with a deep hunger, deep as the ever–present darkness. I wanted to close my eyes but I just couldn’t look away. None of us could. Instead we just watched him die and committed his soul quietly to Our Lady of Gliese.

The people of Cupang couldn’t let him go without a send–off. We removed our bracelets and dropped them to the floor discreetly, at random places, beneath the notice of the ever present Domini Canes. We’d made them from old cable ties and plastic bags, recycled colour against the blackest of blackness. Each one a secret funeral wreath for a good man we’d all loved and respected.

After the ceremony, mother hugged my youngest brother tightly. It was Bino’s first excommunication and he was understandably quite upset. He buried his head deeply into her bosom, sobbing quietly. We all turned away, to let my mother console him privately.

The sooner that Bino got inured to executions, the better it would be for him and the easier it would be for the rest of us. Life was hard enough as it was without the tears of a child.

Keep reading.

Jul 11 2014

About This CONvergence Thing

I’m recovering from con crud (slept until four Tuesday afternoon and still got to bed reasonably early Wednesday night, as a measure of strain on my body). Since CONvergence has been with me a few days longer than expected, I might as well write a little bit about the experience. Goodness knows I’m not getting a lot else done.

CONvergence is a strange experience for me. As I said more than once over the course of the weekend, the con crosses all my streams. I would estimate that I know 3-5% of the attendees. When more than 6,300 people attend, this means I know an awful lot of the people there, and they come from all over my life.

In addition to the huge crew of volunteers that make SkepchickCon and the FtB party room work, there’s a large local contingent of atheist and skeptic geeks who find CONvergence friendlier to their interests since more skepticism and science programming has been added. I went to college with one of the founders of CONvergence and met more through the generation of Renaissance Festival workers that they and my husband are all part of. I’ve been attending cons in the region for well over a decade, meeting regular attendees. Many of CONvergence’s year-round volunteers also come from both of these groups.

Then there are the writers. At least four people I’ve been in writers groups with were at CONvergence. Two other writers groups where I know most of the members were well-represented, along with locals who aren’t in writers groups or whose groups are online. And because F&SF is a small field, these writers know all the other fiction writers there, from the guests of honor to all the writers who were guests once and keep coming back because CONvergence took good care of them and the spirit of thoughtful squee is appealing. They know the fan writers (a category that includes critics) too, because this isn’t so much a clique as an intellectual ecosystem, in which everyone creates and consumes and creates in a dialog with what they consume.

I don’t know quite all these writers, because I haven’t actively written fiction in a few years and because my own fan writing is not consistent or frequent enough to make me recognizable and because even in a four-day weekend there is only so much time to meet even very cool friends of friends, but I know a lot of them. I know so many of them that I can’t keep track of which of them are at CONvergence in any given year. We see each other serendipitously and often in passing, if at all.

This means CONvergence sees me pulled in lots of different directions, sometimes trying to manage an interruption to an interruption to an interruption, and sometimes finding myself with no dinner plans because everyone assumed I was busy elsewhere. It means spending a lot of time on the edges of social groups because I don’t have the time or attention to become central to them. It means sometimes being frustrated that I can’t spend the time I’d like with all the people at com whom I admire the hell out of.

It also means that spending a good chunk of time interacting with someone I’ve never met is a rarity. Sometimes it’s even a bit of an oddity. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 07 2014

Mock the Movie: What in the Sam Hell Edition

Sometimes, when filmmakers don’t have the money for a good script, or a good location, or good special effects, they decide to roll with it, hire a non-actor, and pretend the whole thing is supposed to be funny. Of course, that doesn’t actually make the movie funny. When this happens, you get something like Hell Comes to Frogtown.

This one is on YouTube. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 05 2014

Returning to the Scene, Or Coming Back After Harassment

This isn’t a post I wanted to write. In early April, I wrote a 900-word letter to the chairs of Wiscon 38 in hopes that, not only would I not have to write this post, but I would be able to write a much happier post instead. The letter started:

I am, of course, writing to you about Jim Frenkel.

I’m a long-time WisCon attendee, although I haven’t attended the last two years due to a scheduling conflict. I still consider WisCon one of my “home” cons even though I live in Minneapolis.

I’ve also been in the middle of the sexual harassment storm in the atheist and skeptical movements. I led the push to get policies in place for our conferences. I’ve consulted with organizations writing policies. I’ve written extensively about the topic. And I’ve both whipped up and eased anger on the topic as I felt it was appropriate and could be productive.

So when I say WisCon is headed for an internet explosion, I both know what I’m talking about and am invested in heading it off. I’ve been talking to several friends who have received their programming information, and the chatter isn’t pretty, as I’m guessing you already know. I would much rather see WisCon be an example of what to do right than end up a patch of scorched earth. To that end, I’m offering some unsolicited advice and some help to make my recommendations easier to follow if you think they have merit.

The rest of the letter consisted of three specific recommendations and a template for a statement proactively addressing the return of Jim Frenkel after a harassment complaint last year led to the sharing of additional harassment complaints* and ultimately Frenkel’s parting ways with the publishing company for which he had long been an editor. I sent the letter because friends had noticed Frenkel’s name showing up in the preliminary programming for this year. They had written to the co-chairs or to the concom (convention committee) and not been pleased with the responses they received.

So I put in hours of work on that letter and statement, covering both the possibility that they were lacking only in communication and the possibility that they hadn’t worked the decision through in an organized fashion. I did some of the work they would need to do in order to get ahead of the problem and offered to do more or to find them a person acceptable to them who would. I didn’t insist that Frenkel not be allowed to return, but I did make it clear that they would need to be able to explain their decision if he came back.

This is the response I received a few hours after I sent my email.

Stephanie,

Thank you for your input.


Piglet Evans, [email protected]
WisCon 38 co-chair

Read the rest of this entry »

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