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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 »

Jul 05 2014

Saturday Storytime: Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome

Y’all probably know who John Scalzi is. What you may not know is that he has a prequel of sorts for his new novel Lock In available to read online. It’s worth it.

It was clear this wasn’t the H5N1 variant so we started breaking it down to see what we had. What we had was a virus that had a widely variable but long incubation period—that’s the time between when you get the virus and when you start showing symptoms—but a short latency period, meaning the time between when you catch the virus and can start spreading it to other people. Long incubation plus short latency means there’s a fairly large window for subclinical infection—people infecting each other before they feel sick themselves.

So that’s what happened here. The Haden’s virus is transmissible by air, which makes it easy to catch. By the time the International Epidemiological Conference winter meeting had adjourned, roughly eighty percent of the thousand or so attendees had been infected. They had been in close contact and breathing in each other’s air the entire three days. And then when they dispersed they traveled back to several hundred points of origin on six separate continents, traveling in airplanes packed with other people. From a virus’ point of view, you couldn’t have asked for a more optimal transmission pattern.

Now, that’s optimal for the virus. It’s not optimal for us. When it came to the Haden’s virus, by the time we knew what we were dealing with, we also knew that it had potentially already spread to millions and possibly billions of people. What we didn’t know was how serious this new virus would be. We had half of New York throwing up in ER rooms, but we didn’t know how long it would take for the virus to resolve itself, and for the body’s own systems to beat it.

We did know we didn’t have a vaccine. The Haden’s virus initially presented like an influenza virus, but when we started looking at it we realized we really were looking at something new, so the sort of antivirals we use for flu—the neuraminidase and M2 inhibitors—weren’t necessarily going to have the same effect on Haden’s.

So no matter what, we were in for a rough time.

Keep reading.

Jul 03 2014

TBT: Al Franken, Comic

This was originally posted in June 2008. It seems appropriate to revisit it now, six years later, when he’s up for reelection after his first term as senator. Just a comic, my ass.

I was on another blog this morning where someone was disparaging Al Franken as “this comic.” I’m crossposting my response here, because…

I’m getting tired of this “just a comic” trope. Being a successful comic, which Franken is, requires a number of talents useful to a politician. It requires you to be able to communicate to a broad range of people. It requires you to look through things that are “supposed to” be to see what is. It requires an ability keep your audience on your side while making them uncomfortable.

Now, sure, a comedian can take all that and never apply it beyond battle-of-the-sexes jokes. Maybe I don’t want that comedian to be a politician. But that isn’t what Franken has done. Have you read Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them or his other political books? Franken used his talents to dissect the conservative policy machine when almost no one else was doing it. He could have just taken potshots at personalities, but instead, he combined the potshots with substantial information on why those policies are based on bunk and actively hurtful.

So when someone dismisses Franken as a comic, I have to wonder. Have they paid no attention to Franken, or are they shilling for the other team and expecting that I’m too dumb to notice they don’t have any better arguments?

Jul 03 2014

How to Moderate a Panel

So you’re thinking about running a session for FtBCon, but you haven’t moderated a panel discussion before. Or you ran one, but you didn’t feel that you knew quite how to make it go the way you wanted it to. We’re here to help.

Graphic of call for proposals. All information included in the link above the image.

Moderating a panel discussion, like most complex skills, looks effortless when done by someone with experience. It’s easy to underestimate how much work it is until you’re the person expected to keep things moving, on topic, interesting, and interactive all at once. Here’s a guide to make it easier when you find yourself in that position with no idea what to do. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 02 2014

The Reading List, 7/2/2014

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.

Around FtB

  • What actually happened at Edinburgh Central Mosque–”A religious ban on bacon from shared secular space would have me up in arms. But one doesn’t have to accept religious doctrine to see desecrating private houses of worship as an intimidation tactic; look at how the Nazis went about it.”
  • How I learned to stop worrying and love their #ListeningToMenFace–”After laughing my way through the first few dozen entries I saw, the sheer weight of numbers began to wear me down. Had it become, I asked myself, something of a misandrist parade?”
  • Flirting At Conferences–”It is selfish pigge behavior to expect other people to suffer for your social ineptness, and that expectation itself is exactly a symptom of what ails you.”
  • My zombie story–”The zombie plague was a dud. When the first cases emerged, scattered around the globe, everyone knew exactly how to put them down: destroy the brain.”

The Wider Web

Jul 01 2014

Between Now and November 4

So you’re upset about yesterday’s Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision that says your company can have a religion, and if it does, its religious rights trump your rights to affordable medical care. Good. You should be upset. You should be upset about most of the rulings the Supreme Court has been putting out over the last several years and this year in particular.

What are you going to do about it?

You can’t change the makeup of the court without illegal and arguably immoral actions, but this is not an acceptable situation. How are you going to change it?
Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 30 2014

Start Your CONvergence Early with Quiz-O-Tron

Will you be in the Twin Cities Wednesday evening, just waiting for CONvergence and SkepchickCon to start? Come on down to the Bryant-Lake Bowl for Quiz-O-Tron. Rebecca Watson explains.

You know you’ve got a good show going when the professional birder on stage continually threatens to steal the show from the professional comedians. Quiz-O-Tron will be a great show, and the BLB is a great place to grab a meal. Plus, if all that’s not enough to pull you into the theater, proceeds from the show help pay to bring scientists and skeptics into town for SkepchickCon.

Jun 30 2014

Mock the Movie Postponed

Due to the holiday weekend and the timing of SkepchickCon, Mock the Movie is postponed until the second Wednesday this month. Catch us next week when we offer you a little Rowdy Roddy Piper. That’s worth waiting for, right?

Jun 29 2014

The Reading List, 6/29/2014

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.

Around FtB

The Wider Web

Jun 28 2014

Congratulations, Richard Dawkins

Dear Professor Dawkins, congratulations on your new intellectual peer group–the slime pit.

For those of you not yet in the loop, on Tuesday, Dawkins suggested that “Shakespeare Schubert Darwin Einstein” should be the people chosen to represent humanity to hypothetical alien intelligences. At the time, he did suggest that other people would have other opinions and even suggested he would be interested in hearing them. On Thursday, however, when someone tweeted at him that they didn’t want humanity represented by “only old white guys”, Dawkins turned around and asked “”Old white guys”? Who then would you choose as a better poet than Shakespeare, better scientist than Einstein . . . etc ?”

After Dawkins moved his recommendations up the ladder from personal choices to “the best”, the following conversation occurred.

Read the rest of this entry »

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