Saturday Storytime: The Game of Smash and Recovery

Strange Horizons is approaching the end of this year’s funding drive, with just a couple of days left. As a reward for hitting one of their funding targets, they’ve published this story from Kelly Link. Like much of her work, it is alien and familiar, transformative and, yes, painful.

If Anat did not have Oscar, then who in this world would there be to love? The Handmaids will do whatever Anat asks of them, but they are built to inspire not love but fear. They are made for speed, for combat, for unwavering obedience. When they have no task, nothing better to do, they take one another to pieces, swap parts, remake themselves into more and more ridiculous weapons. They look at Anat as if one day they will do the same to her, if only she will ask.

There are the vampires. They flock after Oscar and Anat whenever they go down to Home. Oscar likes to speculate on whether the vampires came to Home deliberately, as did Oscar, and Oscar and Anat’s parents, although of course Anat was not born yet. Perhaps the vampires were marooned here long ago in some crash. Or are they natives of Home? It seems unlikely that the vampires’ ancestors were the ones who built the warehouses of Home, who went out into space and returned with the spoils that the warehouses now contain. Perhaps they are a parasite species, accidental passengers left behind when their host species abandoned Home for good. If, that is, the Warehouse Builders have abandoned Home for good. What a surprise, should they come home.

Like Oscar and Anat, the vampires are scavengers, able to breathe the thin soup of Home’s atmosphere. But the vampires’ lustrous and glistening eyes, their jellied skin, are so sensitive to light they go about the surface cloaked and hooded, complaining in their hoarse voices. The vampires sustain themselves on various things, organic, inert, hostile, long hidden, that they discover in Home’s storehouses, but have a peculiar interest in the siblings. No doubt they would eat Oscar and Anat if the opportunity were to present itself, but in the meantime they are content to trail after, sing, play small pranks, make small grimaces of—pleasure? appeasement? threat displays?—that show off arrays of jaws, armies of teeth. It disconcerts. No one could ever love a vampire, except, perhaps, when Anat, who long ago lost all fear, watches them go swooping, sail-winged, away and over the horizon beneath Home’s scatter of mismatched moons.

On the occasion of her birthday, Oscar presents Anat with a gift from their parents. These gifts come from Oscar, of course. They are the gifts that the one who loves you, and knows you, gives to you not only out of love but out of knowing. Anat knows in her heart that their parents love her too, and that one day they will come home and there will be a reunion much better than any birthday. One day their parents will not only love Anat, but know her too. And she will know them. Anat dreads this reunion as much as she craves it. What will her life be like when everything changes? She has studied recordings of them. She does not look like them, although Oscar does. She doesn’t remember her parents, although Oscar does. She does not miss them. Does Oscar? Of course he does. What Oscar is to Anat, their parents must be to Oscar. Except: Oscar will never leave. Anat has made him promise.

The living quarters of the Bucket are cramped. The Handmaids take up a certain percentage of available space no matter how they contort themselves. On the other hand, the Handmaids are excellent housekeepers. They tend the algae wall, gather honey and the honeycomb and partition off new hives when the bees swarm. They patch up networks, teach old systems new tricks when there is nothing better to do. The shitter is now quite charming! The Get Clean rains down water on your head, bubbles it out of the walls, and then the floor drinks it up, cycles it faster than you can blink, and there it all goes down and out and so on for as long as you like, and never gets cold. There is, in fact, very little that Oscar and Anat are needed for on board the Bucket. There is so much that is needful to do on Home.

For Anat’s birthday, the Handmaids have decorated all of the walls of The Bucket with hairy, waving clumps of luminous algae. They have made a cake. Inedible, of course, but quite beautiful. Almost the size of Anat herself, and in fact it somewhat resembles Anat, if Anat were a Handmaid and not Anat. Sleek and armored and very fast. They have to chase the cake around the room and then hold it until Oscar finds the panel in its side. There are a series of brightly colored wires, and because it’s Anat’s birthday, she gets to decide which one to cut. Cut the wrong one, and what will happen? The Handmaids seem very excited. But then, Anat knows how Handmaids think. She locates the second, smaller panel, the one equipped with a simple switch. The cake makes an angry fizzing noise when Anat turns it off. Perhaps Anat and Oscar can take it down to Home and let the vampires have it.

Keep reading.

“Carl Sagan Day 2015”, Travis Peterson on Atheists Talk

Carl Sagan was an accomplished astronomer and cosmologist, and is well-known and loved for his work as a science popularizer and communicator. He contributed to the body of work that explains the greenhouse effect and its role in the temperature of Venus. He helped lend credibility to the search for extraterrestrial life, and produced work with CETI – Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Dr. Sagan was the presenter and co-writer of the inspirational television series, Cosmos. He was a skeptic and educator of critical thinking, and his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark has helped laypeople to gain a greater understanding of the scientific method and rational inquiry.

November 14th is Carl Sagan Day and to celebrate we’ll discuss Carl Sagan’s contributions and achievements. Travis Peterson is an organizer for the Minnesota Skeptics and a fan of Carl Sagan’s works and legacy. Join us on Sunday to talk about space, critical thought, Cosmos, Contact and “billions and billions” of other topics (okay, not quite that many).

Related Links:

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Four Ways Women Made It Easy for You to Code

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.

Computer programming is one of those fascinating fields in which we got to watch work become less pink collar over time. It started as women’s work because the prestige was thought to be in hardware engineering, not “computing”, which was really just dressed-up math. (Yes, World War II required governments to recognize the math skills of their female citizens, just like they required the U.S. to recognize the skills of its black citizens.)

Then, as women developed the field of programming, the private sector started to understand just how much work it would be possible to get computers to do. Programmers gained status and pay and–over the course of a couple of decades–the idea that the work should be done by men. Women have always continued to program, particularly in government service, but they came to be seen as anomalies instead of the people who defined the field.

Before that could happen, however, women led the way to making programming practical and accessible. In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, here are four ways they did it. And no, Ada Lovelace isn’t even on the list, as awesome as she was, because it’s easy these days to find out more about her. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 10/11/2015

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.

  • “Bistline wrote that FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs would use ‘the FLDS Church’s voicemail system to alert families that the harvest would begin.’ A 15-year-old girl wrote that she worked the farm for three years, beginning when she was 10. She testified she was not paid for any of her work.” Read more.
  • “Atheism can motivate terrible crimes, just like religion can. This is a thing we have to get used to.  Atheists are so used to being exceptional, to being smarter and less criminal than other Americans, that the fact that someone was an atheist and did a bad thing seems to be exceedingly difficult for us to understand.” Read more.
  • “The general plot is the playwright’s own, but his characters are the historical figures I unearthed, and snippets of the dialogue they speak appear in the archival evidence presented in my book.” Read more.
  • “Bad reviews of businesses have typically gone viral because those businesses have acted in discriminatory or otherwise unfair ways, but people have gone viral for things as innocuous (and irrelevant to normal people who have shit to do besides stalking people they don’t like) as speaking at a feminist rally, being a bad date, or simply existing.” Read more.
  • “Skepticon strives to create a yearly event that is accessible for as many attendees as possible. This year, we’re hoping to take that mission a step further” Read more.
  • “Charamsa, flanked by his Catalan boyfriend Eduardo and wearing his priest’s collar, told a news conference in Rome he had been compelled to speak out against what he said was the hypocrisy and paranoia that shapes the Church’s attitude to sexual minorities.” Read more.

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Saturday Storytime: The Sisters’ Line

If you’ve known me for a while, you have some idea of my love for nonsense. I have an inordinate fondness for things that make no sense whatsoever and refuse to justify themselves but still, somehow, work. This story from Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer is a delightful bit of nonsense.

Becky squats and gets both her hands underneath the overhead rack in a perfect weight lifter position. She frowns, her tiny biceps bulge (I feel a moment of envy at how ripped she is) and she lifts the rack to the height of her armpits and pushes it up against the driver’s controls. The rack shifts and bends under her pressure and then slides easily, perfectly marrying to the control panel and turning into a series of buttons and one long lever.


“I’m building,” says Becky, primly.

I press my hand against my head. If the parts are malleable and contain as many hidden pockets as the letters, the variables are infinite. How will I piece it together if even the pieces lie to me? I brace myself against the console and try not to throw up. How much of my train is a lie?

“Bulgaria,” says Becky. “Belarus. Beirut. Boston. Beijing. Birmingham. Berlin.”

“Do you know what this train is for, Becky?” My voice is unpleasantly shrill. “Are you guessing at the places my sister might be?”

“Bora–Bora,” she continues, oblivious. “Bristol, but that’s an extra twenty dollars.”

“Can you take me to my sister?”

Becky’s patter suddenly stops. “Take?”

“Drive? Transport? Navigate? Operate this train?”

Becky shakes her head, bewildered.

“Becky! Are you bothering your friend?” Stacy’s playtime–is–over voice winds up through the metal housing.

“No, mummy,” pipes up Becky. “I’m boggling her.”

I squeeze my head between both hands, trying to think of a B word that means travel.

“It’s all right, Stacy.” I say, “Becky’s just showing me where she thinks some of the parts go.”

“She’s not breaking anything, is she?”

“No, it’s perfectly fine.” What can I do to buy more time, what do parents like? “Would you like to come up and see? I think you’d enjoy some of the new additions. Could I get you some tea?”

“Thanks, but we have to get dinner ready. Becky! Come down. I need you to help me with the beef and broccoli.”

“Broccoli?” says Becky. “Yay!

“Can you bus the train, Becky?” I whisper urgently as she twirls around in preparation to leave. “Broom, broom?”

Becky jumps down the ladder, ignoring me.

“Broccoli is a brassica!” she chants as she bounces into the house.

Once she is gone, the engine room feels empty and drained of color. I wonder what sort of kids my sister would have had if she’d had the chance. I would have made a good auntie. I wonder if I will ever get the chance.

I sit hunched against the wall of the engine room for a long time, trying to see what Becky saw.

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The Problem Is That I’m Not in an Institution

Well, well. This is something new. I’m used to people blaming mass shootings on mental illness because “Obviously there’s something wrong with those people.” I’m used to gross, proud ignorance of what constitutes mental illness and indignation over being asked to get it right before classing a large group as a menace to society.

What I’m not used to is a bunch of gun nuts telling us we can’t talk about gun control because we liberals were all in favor of deinstitutionalization. That’s the problem, you see. We no longer take away people’s freedom because their brains don’t work right all the time, so of course people are dying.

Nothing to do with the proliferation of guns and entitled attitudes toward them and incorrect beliefs about how they end up used. Nah, it’s because we don’t lock up all those crazies.

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“Model Patient’s Right to Know Act”, Amanda Knief on Atheists Talk

In the United States many citizens have access to regulated and safe healthcare (though expensive!). Unfortunately, more and more Americans are finding their access to vital and available services limited by the religious beliefs of their providers. We may ostensibly live in a secular society, but we’re finding that our healthcare system is become less and less so. From

Today, nearly 1 in 6 Americans is treated by a health care provider who is affiliated with more than 645 Catholic hospitals in the United States, according to the Catholic Health Association of the United States. All Catholic health care providers are encouraged to abide by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives, which affects the types and direction of treatment that men and women receive for everything from birth control to vasectomies to cancer to end-of-life care.

American Atheists is working to secure a legal right for patients to know what limits are being placed on us by our providers. By introducing the Model Patient’s Right to Know Act, they are hoping to create an environment in which we might be able to better understand our options when we’re choosing healthcare. From the American Atheist press release of the proposed legislation:

The proposed legislation would require health care providers to simply provide a list of services they will not perform for religious reason to patients, potential patients, health insurers, and state and federal grant or subsidy programs. The health care providers and insurance issues would them be requied to make that information available online for potential patients.

Join us this Sunday as we speak with Amanda Knief, National Legal and Public Policy director of American Atheists and author of the Model Patient’s Right to Know Act.

Related Links:

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The Reading List, 10/8/2015

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.

  • “With more and more women brought up to believe that sports can be their space, too, it’s natural for them to expect a seat at the table when sports come up in conversation. And yet, 40 years after Robin Herman became the first female reporter to enter an NFL locker room, women are still fighting a war against rampant sexism in the industry, with Twitter and Facebook serving as the new frontlines.” Read more.
  • “Particularly on television, reporters used visual as well as verbal content to shape the meaning of feminism for public consumption. Negative coverage used extreme close-ups to make radical feminists appear wild-eyed and eccentric, and other stories featured multiple images of women protesting while never interviewing them on camera, making feminism into a kind of visual spectacle.” Read more.
  • “But alongside that genetic understanding, an old and pernicious assumption has crept back into the American conversation, in which aptitudes are supposedly inherited by race: certain peoples are thought to have rhythm, or intellect, or speed or charm. That’s a fast track toward the old 19th- and early 20th-century problem of ‘scientific’ racism.” Read more.
  • “Georgina sat on the bed and sang a song about being kidnapped and the home and family she feared she would never see again.  Across the hall George laid on bed his listening to her sing, and he hummed along because he couldn’t understand the words.” Read more.
  • “I voted to authorize a strike because our employers in the games industry refuse to negotiate with us at all about some very, very important issues surrounding our working conditions.” Read more.
  • “This has led some people to regard [Justice Kennedy] as a ‘moderate’ or ‘swing vote’ on these matters. Since then, however, he has yet to come across an abortion restriction he finds unconstitutional, and his opinions drip with paternalism and moral condemnation of a pregnant person in need of an abortion.” Read more.
  • “There is allegedly another employee still working at DC who allegedly assaulted a woman multiple times in his office. The woman concerned reported him multiple times to management at DC and the person who hired her, but didn’t receive the support she needed and eventually left DC altogether.” Read more.
  • “And of course, as a feminist atheist, the reproductive war against women is one of our biggest challenges. FFRF began right after Roe v. Wade, and we’ve lost so much ground since then.” Read more.
  • “So while CBO estimates that cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood would reduce spending by $520 million 10 ten years, it would also increase spending by $650 million over that period. The net effect is an increase in spending of $130 million. ” Read more.
  • “And you need to put time and effort into your culture, and into making sure that everyone feels someone has their back, they have someone they can go to. I think startups gloss over that. They think, ‘We can do that later, that’s a big-company kind of thing.’ And what I’ve learned is we should have done that from the very beginning.” Read more.
  • “‘Patients must be able to make fully informed decisions about their health care,’ said Amanda Knief, national legal and public policy director for American Atheists, and author of the bill. ‘This legislation would help patients get the information they need to navigate the increasingly complicated—and increasingly religious—health care marketplace.'” Read more.
  • “There are a lot of other factors that can be overlaid here to add some gray space: preventability, trends, definitions. Regardless, it’s clear that terrorism holds an outsized role in political debate for the demonstrated threat it poses to American citizens.” Read more.
  • “Joking about ‘Bitey the Clown’ internally, however, does not seem to follow these guidelines. A company culture where someone’s ongoing misbehavior and sexual harassment habits becomes a joke is not one where employers have made the seriousness of harassment obvious, despite their statement.” Read more.
  • “But put these two things together — Voter ID and 28 counties without a place where you can get a driver’s license — and Voter ID becomes what the Democrats always said it was. A civil rights lawsuit isn’t a probability. It’s a certainty.” Read more.
  • “Amidst conservative outrage over abortion practices and the distribution of fetal tissue at Planned Parenthood clinics — and an aggressive Congressional hearing with the organization’s president Cecile Richards this week — an alleged act of arson took place at the Thousand Oaks, California location Wednesday night.” Read more.

Advice for Lonely Potential Mass Murderers

Another college campus, another mass shooting, another bunch of people dead–including the shooter–because a young man was angry the world wasn’t giving him what he thought he deserved. As has frequently been the case, this included a romantic/sexual relationship and the admiration of his peers.

The gunman who killed nine people at an Oregon community college said in writings he left behind that everyone else was “crazy” and ranted about not having a girlfriend, a law enforcement official said Monday.

He “complained in writings about not having a girlfriend, and he seemed to feel like he was very rational while others around him were not”. In other words, he was single and felt unappreciated. He was lonely. So he shot up a college and killed himself.

I’ve been there. [Read more…]

Mock the Movie: The Price of Rights Edition

Oh, the things a studio will do to prevent the rights for a superhero movie from reverting to the comics studio that owns the characters. Like making a movie they never intend to release so they can make a different one a decade later. Like hiring Roger Corman to produce that movie.

This Wednesday, we’re watching the 1994 version of The Fantastic Four. It feels a bit unfair, because everyone was trying to make the best movie they could with the resources they hadn’t been given. It’s okay, though. We’ll still mock it.

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