“The Accidental Terrorist”, William Shunn on Atheists Talk

“Nineteen-year-old Bill Shunn was a man on a mission—a Mormon mission, that is, trolling for converts door-to-door a thousand miles from home. A seventh-generation Mormon, steeped since birth in the gospel according to Joseph Smith, Shunn had to place his life and writing career on hold in order to fulfill his two-year mission, and faced challenges along the way that led to the ultimate confrontation with both his spiritual and secular authorities. Now, with hard-won wisdom and compassion for his younger self, Shunn recounts the harrowing pilgrimage—rife with good intentions, noble ideals, and deep-seated insecurities—that pushed him to places stranger than any fiction. That story is ‘The Accidental Terrorist’.

Bill Shunn is a graduate from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City with a degree in computer science. Soon thereafter he began finding success as a science fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in Salon, Storyteller, Bloodstone Review, Newtown Literary, Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Science Fiction Age, Realms of Fantasy, Electric Velocipede, and various anthologies, including year’s-best collections. His work has been nominated for the Hugo Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and twice for the Nebula Award.”

Join us this Sunday as David Pacheco speaks with William Shunn about “The Accidental Terrorist”

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Getting Ready for Skepticon

Me? Oh, I’ve just been doing major fall housecleaning, preparing for Skepticon, working on behind-the-scenes FtB stuff (including FtBCon4, January 22-24!), and butchering a deer. All, you know, more or less simultaneously. This is why I laugh at whoever decided to put NaNoWriMo in November. Couldn’t they have chosen March, when cabin fever is starting to take effect?

I digress. I would share more of all this with you, but pictures of rooms with the vast majority of allergens removed aren’t exciting to anyone but me, and pictures of huge, dog-fur dust bunnies are just kind of gross. Then there was the Ziploc bag labeled “cheese” I found in the radiator in a room that hasn’t been a kitchen since at least 1999. For the record, it was empty.

More information is coming on FtBCon4 soon, though, so start thinking about what you want to propose for a panel. Yes, you.

If you’re coming to Skepticon, definitely come see me. I’m running a slightly modified version of the Ada Initiative’s impostor syndrome training as a workshop (part of the Secular Women Work track of workshops) on Friday at noon, and my talk, “Justice in a ‘Just World'” on the challenges presented to activists by just world beliefs, is on Sunday at 2 p.m.

In between, I’ll be spending a bunch of time at the Secular Woman table, where we’re announcing a new project that I proposed and am heading up. I’m excited about it, so let me explain it to you! Also see this space over the weekend for more information on the project.

And now, back to more dealing with venison. I promise, no pictures.

Saturday Storytime: Godwin’s Law

Though this story by Curtis C. Chen is about lasting ripples from World War II, it doesn’t feature quite the Hitler–or the Godwin–you know.

Michael walked to the memorial wall. The flags were as he remembered—USA on the left, CIA on the right—but the field of black stars floating above the white marble had multiplied since the last time he’d seen it. He now counted more than a hundred stars, each one representing a Company employee who had died in the line of service.

He stepped closer and looked at the Book of Honor, framed in steel and glass below the starfield. Less than half the gold sigils painted in the book’s pages had names written next to them, either in English or Runic.

Is your name in here, Linda? Are you one of these stars?

“Michael,” said a gravelly voice behind him.

Robert Denford didn’t look like he’d aged a single day since Michael left the Company. The two men shook hands coolly.

“How’ve you been?” Denford asked.

Michael glanced back at the wall. “You said it was a matter of historic importance. That’s the only reason I’m here.”

“Let’s go to the archives.”

Michael followed Denford into an elevator. Denford pushed a button.

“I hear you made deputy director,” Michael said as the doors closed.

Denford shrugged. “War is good for business.”

Before the elevator reached the basement, Denford pulled out his access talisman and opened a portal in the back wall. He and Michael stepped through the glowing circle and into a dim cave. There was no way to tell where this archive was; CIA had secret underground caches all over the world.

The two men walked down a long aisle of bookshelves that looked as if they had grown right out of the rough-hewn rock walls. Michael watched Denford pull one shelf out from the wall and unfold it into an impossibly large space. They stepped inside, and Denford parted another set of shelves.

Michael saw labels reading MIDWAY and MARSHALL ISLANDS on his way into a closet walled by what looked like multicolored curtains, but were actually floor-to-ceiling file volumes. He looked around in awe. The Company hadn’t used curtain files since—

“World War Two?” Michael asked.

Denford tugged a cloth line, and the material poured into his hand and became a hardbound book. “This is why we’re here.”

Michael read the book cover. “Hitler’s daughter. You’re joking, right?”

“The old man wants complete discretion. That’s why I called you.”

“I’m retired,” Michael said. “You can get someone more expert to tell you, authoritatively, that this is a crock. Something the Third Reich made up to scare the Allies as a last resort.”

“So you’ve heard the stories.”

“Yeah. Nazis raping Jewish and Romani prisoners, trying to breed supernatural talents into the master race. It didn’t work.”

Denford reached into his jacket and pulled out a modern file folder, bordered in red-and-white eyes-only logograms. The symbols shifted and moved over the paper. “There’s evidence that it did.”

“If you actually had convincing proof, you’d be talking to the JIC.”

“You’re right,” Denford said. “It’s promising, but not convincing. We need someone to run it down. Quietly. The old man trusts you.”

“And no one would suspect an elderly college professor.”

Denford smiled. “Everybody fights.”

Michael took the file. “Nobody wins.”

Keep reading.

“No-Platforming” and the Cult of Bad Arguments

Last week, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper had an opinion piece published by Politics.co.uk titled, “The attack on Germaine Greer shows identity politics has become a cult”. Now, as is the case on most sites with editors, she probably didn’t write the headline, so it doesn’t get her argument quite right. She actually argues that people who recognize the gender of trans people are totalitarians trying to brainwash the rest of the world.

No, really. I’m not exaggerating. That’s her argument.

The whole thing is so transparently ridiculous that I would just point and laugh if it weren’t for two things. First, I’ve seen “reason-loving” atheists who should really know better sharing the piece. Also, yesterday’s elections here in the U.S. have given us heart-breaking example of why of one of the central prongs of Reilly-Cooper’s article is wrong. [Read more…]

Competing Models for Codes of Conduct

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.

There are plenty of reasons that discussions around codes of conduct, their goals, and what should be included in them can be frustrating. Among people talking in good faith, however, the primary reason for frustration is that people are using different theoretical frameworks for codes of conduct and they’re not making those frameworks clear. It’s obviously difficult to come to any agreement about what should be contained in a code if you don’t agree on why you have one.

So here are several common models people use when discussing codes of conduct. Hopefully, this guide will make it easier to explain where you’re coming from when advocating for a particular code and to recognize both what model someone else is using and where the strengths, weaknesses, and unspoken assumptions of that model are. [Read more…]

Mock the Movie: Superior Edition

Look, we can’t help it if Nessie likes Minnesota better than the Highlands of Scotland. We’re clearly just better. It has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of filming overseas from your production office. Nothing at all. Come mock Beyond Loch Ness (aka Loch Ness Terror) with us and see how wonderful the area is. After all, there has to be something good about this movie, right?


Yeah, that’s totes Lake Superior.

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

Building a Better Workshop

A few years ago, atheist and skeptic organizations started adding workshops to their conferences, and that was great. Workshops are hugely useful when you’re trying to become more effective, as the activist wings of both movements were, or when you’re trying to apply abstract principles to your life, as rank-and-file members of both movements were.

There were a few problems, however, because everything was new. While some presenters knew what to expect from workshops and had maybe even facilitated some before, most people didn’t. They had skills and knowledge to share, but no good idea of how to get that across in a workshop format. Nor were conference organizers clear on what they wanted or expected from their workshops.

As a result, we ended up with a few workshops and a whole lot of mini-lectures. Now, lectures can be great, and if your purpose in adding workshops to your event is to keep adding content after you’ve spent your speaker budget on the main stage, there’s no reason to stretch beyond the mini-lecture. But if your goal for workshops is to get people to change their behavior, to be more effective or to live their principles more fully, lectures can’t substitute for workshops.

Why? Because the interactive nature of workshops builds confidence at the same time it conveys information. You can walk away from a lecture thinking the information is interesting but you don’t have what it takes to apply it. You can’t do the same with a workshop where you’ve spent a good chunk of time applying your new knowledge. You know you can do it because you just did.

So now that I’ve convinced you, as an organizer or potential workshop facilitator, that you want to offer real workshops instead of mini-lectures, how do you go about it?

Read the rest at Secular Women Work, where I’m writing today.

Saturday Storytime: Night’s Slow Poison

Ann Leckie is a Tor author whose books are published by Orbit and a bestselling, award-winning author whose books no one reads or likes. And one has to wonder whether the people saying these things, after reading this story, would think it’s all worth it.

The Jewel of Athat was mainly a cargo ship, and most spaces were narrow and cramped. Like the Outer Station, where it was docked, it was austere, its decks and bulkheads scuffed and dingy with age. Inarakhat Kels, armed, and properly masked, had already turned away one passenger, and now he stood in the passageway that led from the station to the ship, awaiting the next.

The man approached, striding as though the confined space did not constrain him. He wore a kilt and embroidered blouse. His skin was light brown, his hair dark and straight, cut short. And his eyes . . . Inarakhat Kels felt abashed. He had thought that in his years of dealing with outsiders he had lost his squeamishness at looking strangers in the face.

The man glanced over his shoulder, and cocked an eyebrow. “She was angry.” The corners of his mouth twitched in a suppressed grin.

“One regrets.” Inarakhat Kels frowned behind his mask. “Who?”

“The woman in line before me. I take it you refused to let her board?”

“She carried undeclared communication implants.” Privately, Kels suspected her of being a spy for the Radchaai, but he did not say this. “One is, of course, most sorry for her inconvenience, but . . . ”

“I’m not,” the man interrupted. “She nearly ruined my supper last night insisting that I give up my seat, since she was certain she was of a higher caste than I.”

“Did you?”

“I did not,” said the man. “I am not from Xum, nor are we anywhere near it, so why should I bow to their customs? And then this morning she shoved herself in front of me as we waited outside.” He grinned fully. “I confess myself relieved at not having to spend six months with her as a fellow passenger.”

“Ah,” Kels said, his voice noncommittal. The grin, the angle of the man’s jaw—now he understood why the eyes had affected him. But he had no time for old memories. He consulted his list. “You are Awt Emnys, from the Gerentate.” The man acknowledged this. “Your reason for visiting Ghaon?”

“My grandmother was Ghaonish,” Awt Emnys said, eyes sober that had previously been amused. “I never knew her, and no one can tell me much about her. I hope to learn more in Athat.”

Whoever she was, she had been from the Ghem agnate, Kels was certain. His eyes, his mouth, the line of his chin . . . With just a little more information, Kels could tell Awt which house his grandmother had been born in. “One wishes you good fortune in your search, Honored Awt,” he said, with a small bow he could not suppress.

Awt Emnys smiled in return, and bowed respectfully. “I thank you, Honored,” he said. “I understand I must disable any communications implants.”

“If they are re-activated during the voyage, we will take any steps necessary to preserve the safety of the ship.”

Awt’s glanced at the gun at Kels’ waist. “Of course. But is it really so dangerous?”

“About three months in,” said Kels, in his blandest voice, “we will pass the last ship that attempted to traverse the Crawl with live communications. It will be visible from the passengers’ lounge.”

Awt grinned. “I have an abiding wish to die old, in my bed. Preferably after a long and boring life tracking warehouse inventories.”

Kels allowed himself a small smile. “One wishes you success,” he said, and stepped aside, pressing against the wall so that Awt could pass him. “Your belongings will be delivered to your cabin.”

“I thank you, Honored.” Awt brushed Kels as he passed, awakening some unfamiliar emotion in him.

“Good voyage,” Kels murmured to the other man’s back, but there was no sign Awt had heard.

Keep reading.

“The Rap Guide to Religion”, Baba Brinkman on Atheists Talk

Atheists Talk is proud to welcome Baba Brinkman to the show this Sunday, November 1st, 2015. We will be speaking with Baba about his newest music album, The Rap Guide to Religion. From his website:

Why do most humans believe in a higher power? What are those beliefs good for? And once they are gone, what can replace them? Fresh from a 5-star run at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a six month off-Broadway run, this groundbreaking new work explores the various ways and means by which religion evolves in our species, leaving audiences with a new appreciation of religion, and its critics. It’s time to eff with the ineffable.

Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rap artist, writer and actor. He blends his love of the arts and academia to produce intelligent criticisms of religious dogma and celebrations of science.

Baba Brinkman earned a Master of Arts in Medieval and Renaissance English Literature and he studied human evolution and primatology with the orangutan researcher Biruté Galdikas. His thesis compared modern Hip hop freestyle battling with The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

We hope you can join us for this Sunday’s show.

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