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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 »

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 »

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