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Apr 05 2014

Saturday Storytime: Turnover

Y’all know who Jo Walton is, right? She’s only won just about every genre award that exists. Well, if you don’t know her, consider this story a nice little taste of her work.

“We’ll never get to the New World,” Jay said.

Just then, Il Magnifico stood up, flourished his red cape, and called the gnocchi. Kitchen workers processed out singing, carrying the flat, steaming trays, and we made a mad dash, along with everyone else in the room, to get it while it was hot.

“What do you mean?” Mei Ju asked as we stood in line. “We’ll get to the new world in a hundred and twenty-five years.”

“Indeed, saying anything different is like questioning gravity,” Genly said.

Jay laughed, and held up his hands, pale palms towards us. “Speranza will get there, sure as taxes. But we will not. We’ll be dead. If you have grandchildren, perhaps they’ll get there as old people. Your great-grandchildren will no doubt settle it. But us? No. Were our ancestors who got onto Speranza going to the New World? Were their parents who died on Earth? Were theirs who never even heard of the Starship Project? How about my ancestors dragged across the Atlantic from Africa in the hold of a slaver, were they on their way to the stars?”

The line moved forward and we moved with it. “They were in a way. Their genes were going. Our genes will get there,” Midge said.

“The only thing you care about is genes,” Genly said, grinning.

“Whereas I,” said Jay, reaching the head of the line and putting his plate out for the server to ladle the gnocchi onto it, “care nothing about genes at all.” Jay despised his parents. He hadn’t even wanted to make his Contribution, even though nobody gets to be an adult without. I’d eventually persuaded him that just as he’d give a kidney to save a life, making his Contribution was giving his genes to help some infertile or consanguineous couple after he was dead. “Maybe the genes of my poor devil slave ship ancestors will get to the New World, maybe the genes of all our ancestors back to Olduvai Gorge. But I won’t. And I’m glad I won’t.” He bowed to the server. “Grazie, mille grazie.”

He took his plate back to the table. I waited, thanked the server as she loaded mine, then followed him. “How can you be glad?” I asked him. The gnocchi were heavenly, they always are. I’ve had gnocchi elsewhere and even made them myself, but they’re nothing compared to the way they do them at Teatro del Sale. They taste the way I imagine Ambrosia would taste.

“I’m glad because I like living on Speranza,” he said. “I think life farming on the New World sounds tedious in the extreme. And I think you’d hate it even worse than I would.”

Keep reading.

Apr 04 2014

I’m Just a Bill

Two bills, technically, as of sometime today. This was introduced in the House a week or two ago. It should be introduced in the Senate today. There’s no chance it will be passed or even receive a hearing this session, but this gives us an official version to start building support around. Isn’t it pretty?

Photo of Minnesota House bill #2966, allowing atheist and humanist nonprofits that sponsor training for marriage officiants to appoint such officiants.The funny thing about this bill is that it’s very close to what we started with. That’s because another member of the House independently introduced bills to make mayors and notaries public able to officiate weddings. We support both of those bills, so we’ll work with the people pushing them rather than start anything ourselves. Those bills have received hearings, where training turned out to be an important issue for committee members. That means that temporary officiants may be a dead proposition for the time being.

Apr 03 2014

How Does This Become a Thing?

Off in a random corner of YouTube, I accidentally “discovered” mime dance. It had to be an accident, because I would never have thought this up myself. Not only did someone else think this up, but it caught on. There are thousands of these videos, and the vast majority of them appear to be religious videos. Some are several years old.

Watching them–and I’ve watched several now in fascination–I can see some continuity with the physical expressiveness of many gospel singers. I still have to wonder, though, how you move from that to the white makeup and gloves, lip syncing and dramatic literalism of mime dance. Articles and sites that talk about mime dance don’t seem to be very clear on its history. Rather they’re focused on its spread and on individual performers. I’d love to find out how it coalesced into its own form with its own traditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 02 2014

What I’m Really Doing at Skeptech

No, I’m not interviewing Rebecca Watson at Skeptech, on destroying movements or anything else. I am, however, moderating a panel at 11 on Sunday morning.

Do read the comments; creating a constructive online community
How to we go beyond the trolls in our online spaces? Preventing malicious comments is fine, but the goal of many online communities is to exhibit robust and nuanced discussion in the comments. How do we reach this goal? What are the effective techniques used? What is the role of moderation, whether used too little, too much, or just used badly?

Panelists:
Heina Dadabhoy (of Skepchick)
Arif Hasan (of the Daily Norseman, editor in chief of Vikings Territory)
Beth Ann Erickson (of Skeptic Ink)
Miri Mogilevsky (of Freethought Blogs)

I don’t think I’ve never met Arif, but I already know there are some very different approaches to moderating comments and goals for comment sections among the panelists. That’s good. It should be an interesting discussion.

Apr 02 2014

The Reading List, 4/2/2014

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

The Wider Web

Apr 01 2014

I Like My Politicians

No, this isn’t an April Fools joke. I’m genuinely pleased with the representation I have at the local, state, and national level. Perfectly pleased? Of course not. But disappointments are pretty rare.

Take, for example, the recent release of the Secular Coalition for America report cards for the House and the Senate.

Representative Keith Ellison: A

Senator Al Franken: A

Senator Amy Klobuchar: B

I am not generally as fond of pro-business Democrat Klobuchar as I am of my more progressive elected representatives, but in this case, it only took not sponsoring a bill to go from an A to a B. There was less nonsense overall in the Senate last year.

How did I get so lucky? Well, some of it is the “luck” of living in an arty city with a huge queer population where everyone bikes everywhere as many months of the year as possible. That really only explains Ellison, though. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 01 2014

Rebecca Watson Interview at Skeptech

You might have heard me mention (oh, once or twice before) that this weekend is Skeptech. It’s a cool conference with a great set of speakers. They could still very much use some funds to make this an ongoing concern. But I’ve told you all that.

What I haven’t mentioned is that I’m playing a role on stage as well. I haven’t mentioned it because we weren’t sure it was going to happen. Rebecca Watson has graciously agreed, however, to get up early Saturday morning so we can fit one more session into the schedule. (We promised her really good coffee from Open Book, just down the road.) So the morning’s opening remarks will start at 9, and as soon as they’re done, I will interview Rebecca to get her tips on single-handedly destroying a movement.

Here are a few of the topics I expect to ask her about:

  • How did she manage to limit American Atheists to running two special capital campaigns of $100,000 and $50,000 with a 1-for-1 match, down from the multimillion-dollar campaigns with triple matches they were running just a few years ago?
  • How did she undermine the Secular Student Alliance so thoroughly that they’ve been forced to rely on unpaid, untrained interns for key positions?
  • How did she so thoroughly sap and demoralize the Center for Inquiry that they’ve stopped taking on new, important projects?
  • How did she work with Meetup.com to halt the spread of new atheist groups in the U.S.?
  • When will she be rerunning her special seminar on community dismantling that we heard such rave reviews on from D.J. Grothe, Michael Shermer, Ben Radford, and Lawrence Krauss?

So get up early on Saturday and bring your coffee. You won’t want to miss this event.

Apr 01 2014

Contraception Is a Health Issue

As is entirely unsurprising, the news out of Bartlesville today was squirmy. St. John’s Health, which is the company that owns Jane Phillips Medical Center and that was recently acquired by Ascension Health, put out an unsigned statement that read in its entirety:

Consistent with Catholic health care organizations, St. John Health System operates in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, and therefore does not approve or support contraceptive practices. However, only physicians (not institutions) are licensed to practice medicine and make medical judgments. While our physicians agree to abide by the Directives, they also have the ability to prescribe medications, including hormonal medications, in accordance with their independent professional medical judgment. This includes informing patients when they are operating under their own professional medical judgment and not on behalf of St. John Health System.

What does that mean? It means their “ethical directives” are in conflict with the law. This one in particular:

5. Catholic health care services must adopt these Directives as policy, require adherence to them within the institution as a condition for medical privileges and employment, and provide appropriate instruction regarding the Directives for administration, medical and nursing staff, and other personnel.

It means they really, really don’t want to consider reproductive health to be a medical issue. They want it to be considered only an ethical issue unless and until a pregnant person’s life is directly on the line or they can hand-wave away contraception as treatment for something else.

That doesn’t work, though. Deciding when and whether to get pregnant is an issue of physical health, of mental health, of economic health–frequently for an entire family. Prescribing contraception, administering contraception, inserting contraception, and performing surgical interventions that obviate the need for additional contraception are all health care, even if they’re done for no other purpose than birth control. They are all subject to professional medical judgment.

No church should be interfering with this medical judgment in any way. Basing their decisions on what they posit will happen once you’re dead is not health care. Your immortal soul is not on any medical school exam and with good reason.

The good news is that there are ways to push back on this stuff. I’m still doing a bunch of reading, but I’ll bring you more soon. In the meantime, know that the first step–sometimes the only step needed–is to raise a fuss. Folks in Bartlesville did that, both with the original report, and by organizing. If Ascension Health continues to try to substitute “ethical directives” for good medical care on contraception, it’s not going to happen quietly. And they’ll have help.

In the meantime, those OB-GYNs will go on and do what their professional medical judgment tells them to do, which is what they were doing already.

Mar 31 2014

Mock the Movie: Space Cowboy Edition

When I think of directors who’ve done great Akira Kurosawa adaptations, I always think of Roger Corman. Don’t you? After all, who could ever forget Battle Beyond the Stars?

This one is free on YouTube. The link should automatically skip to the start of the movie. If it doesn’t, the movie starts at 3:40. Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 30 2014

How Ethical Are These Directives?

Since I put up yesterday’s post about the Catholic hospital telling nearly all of the OB-GYNs in town that they can no longer prescribe birth control, I’ve been told that this is, in fact, illegal. Ophelia confirms that the Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Atheists are both looking into this matter. Step one, which is hard to do on a Sunday, is to confirm that Ascension Health really intended to give Bartlesville OB-GYNs this message and intends to stand by this now that it’s received some publicity–that it’s neither a miscommunication nor a “miscommunication”. I’ll update here or in a separate post as I hear more.

Meanwhile, via Mano (and Pteryxx) comes the news of a probably doomed lawsuit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over the same Ethical And Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services (pdf) that is in play in the Ascension Health situation. The impetus for the lawsuit is a case very much like Savita Halappanavar’s but not resulting in death. In this case, however, the patient was not even given enough information to ask for her miscarrying fetus to be aborted to protect her health.

While the article at ProPublica indicates that the lawsuit may not hold up, it also highlights how big a problem we’re looking at.

The ACLU and women’s groups have been voicing concern since the 1990s about the growing role of Catholic health care operations around the country and what they see as the resulting threats posed to women’s reproductive rights. Those complaints have grown louder in recent years as Catholic facilities have moved aggressively to merge with secular hospitals and reports have surfaced about the challenges – some say contortions — that doctors and nurses have sometimes had to face to comply with church teachings on abortion, birth control, and end-of-life care while fulfilling their duty to patients.

Catholic hospitals now account for about 16 percent of hospital beds in the U.S. And in eight states — including Washington, Oregon, Iowa, and Missouri — they control more than 30 percent of beds. Ten of the 25 largest health-care networks in the country are Catholic-sponsored.

That’s an awful lot of people subject to those Ethical And Religious Directives, and frequently without another reasonable choice. An awful lot of those beds are in more isolated communities like Bartlesville, making the next-nearest hospital both far away and likely to itself be a Catholic hospital. That makes this statement from the Ethical And Religious Directives even more absurd.

When the health care professional and the patient use institutional Catholic health care, they also accept its public commitment to the Church’s understanding of and witness to the dignity of the human person.

People don’t have other real options, and they’re not being asked to affirmatively make an educated choice about this matter. It’s being aggressively pushed on them and spread to more and more hospitals. Their acceptance comes not by choice but by declaration of the bishops.

So what are people “accepting” when their local hospital gets bought out or merged? Read the rest of this entry »

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