More on Shermer, PZ, and Michael Nugent

Ashley to Michael: I'm asking whether it's unreasonable for someone to feel uncomfortable when you say it's wrong to call Shermer a rapist.  Michael to Ashley: That's a question I haven't heard before. I don't know. I'll think about it and get back to you. Capped from Damion Reinhardt's Storify

I wanted to respond at length to both Michael Nugent, who I’ve spoken with over Twitter, and to many commenters who agree with him in the previous post and on Twitter.

I don’t have a problem with Michael Nugent’s distaste for PZ’s tone.  I don’t agree in general, though like Nugent, I found PZ to be lacking in his posts about Dawkin’s childhood sex abuse and Robin Williams’ suicide.  PZ has always been a pit bull, and it generally gives his posts clarity and humor, both of which I appreciate.  But, I don’t really care if you hate that, that’s fine, to each his own.

I also don’t really have a problem with Atheist Ireland’s dissociation with PZ.  Again, freedom of association, to each their own.  I do think that, while they’ve made an exhaustive list of why they don’t like his tone, they’ve failed entirely to even try to make a case as to why an American blogger’s tone has any relevance to the work they are doing.  I’m not sure what harm PZ has actually caused to Atheist Ireland, beyond making Michael Nugent very unhappy. Why Atheist Ireland’s agenda includes breaking up with bloggers is beyond me.

The problem I have with Michael Nugent fundamentally boils down to his 9/17/14 blog post in which he equivalizes his complaints about PZ’s tone in his posts to PZ agreeing to post a firsthand account of rape in which the victim names her rapist.  This post by Nugent is in response to a lengthy, in-depth article by well-respected journalist Mark Oppenheimer, known for his work at the New York Times, in which Oppenheimer details multiple accusations of misbehavior on the part of Michael Shermer.

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The Background of Atheist Ireland’s Breakup with PZ: It’s about Michael Shermer

Edits from earlier versions: Two major edits from information sent to me via Twitter by people who were, I think, trying to be hostile, but who I appreciate sending me the information. Ron Lindsay did not ask Rebecca Watson to take down her post, he asked her to reword it and the link to his post has been reworded to reflect that; this was a misremembrance on my part. The second is that I added screencaps and reworded the description of the Slymepit to be more accurate. The inaccuracy previously was the suggestion that they stalked people’s hospitals, which seems to be a game of telephone garbled interpretation I heard of an event that is linked to, in which they took PZ’s hospitalization as an opportunity to make up STD rumors about him. While I did have 2 editors fact check the post, they missed these, as did I.

Mixed Rape Finals - Members of FtB judging a rape; unauthorized photoshop of Brian Engler's original photo

I’m not entirely sure if the joke is that we’re judging our own rapes or a rape we’ve witnessed.

So in recent days, there’s been a bit of drama in the atheist movement over Atheist Ireland and PZ Myers that I’ve spent a bit of time trying to fully understand the background of.  Since I spent all the time getting a big picture overview, I thought other people might like to have access to it as well.  I don’t regularly follow any of the main players’ blogs, and I’ve been ill for the last 8 months, so I haven’t regularly followed anything during that time.  That said, the tl;dr version of the story is that it’s about Michael Shermer, and the longer version follows.  It’s not convoluted, it’s just happened over a long period of time.

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Terry Pratchett aten’t dead

Death is good at his jobI’ve nothing profound to say about the death of my favorite author and one of my favorite human beings now that I’ve stopped crying enough to type, but I’ll try. Terry Pratchett had an immense influence on my own writing style, including some bad habits, and on my humanistic philosophy, including some opinions on exclamation points. His death feels like losing a friend, a mentor, and a family member.

Selfishly, I mourn the future stories of dozens of characters that I loved and now feel a little bit lost to me too: Esme Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, Tiffany Aching, the Patrician, and Archchancellor Ridcully are just a few that I feel I’ve lost.

I’ve had two Pratchett quotes up on Facebook for the decade I’ve been on it, so I’m glad that I celebrated him while he was alive and might somehow have been able to appreciate it. But perhaps I’ll share one more now. *Leans in conspiratorially.*

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”

Leelah Alcorn and Being a Parent to Trans Teens

Drawing by Leelah Alcorn

Leelah was a talented artist

I was recently on the Scott Sloan show on 700WLW in Ohio to talk about Leelah Alcorn and how parents should deal with their children revealing that they are trans.  This is a pretty big deal for me — it’s a nationally syndicated show that reaches a huge audience.  Sloan misgenders Leelah a couple times in the intro, but I get the sense from this, and other things that I’ve listened to, that he’s someone who’s more or less on the right side of the issue and trying to make it palatable to what he senses Middle America to be.  For those who don’t know, Leelah Alcorn was a trans teen who killed herself last month in response to being isolated from her friends, forced into Christian therapy that was meant to make her be cisgender, and denied the ability to start to transition.

My major point is that when children need medical care that their parents don’t believe in, the state intervenes to ensure that those children get the care that they need.  Jehovah’s Witness parents don’t get to deny their children blood transfusions, parents that believe in homeopathy don’t get to deny their children chemotherapy.  We don’t prosecute those parents for child abuse, unless the child dies from medical neglect, but we also don’t let them destroy their children because of their personal beliefs in unscientific nonsense that will lead to the deaths of their children.

When parents deny proper care to children who aren’t cisgender, they are contributing to a state in which that child is guaranteed to suffer and may die.  Suicide is the third most common cause of death for teens, but it’s even more common for transgender youth.  In cases like Leelah Alcorn’s, it is often predictable and can be preventable.  41% of those who identify as trans will attempt suicide in their life and that number jumps much higher, into the 70-80% or higher, if they are mistreated by their family, are denied the ability to get medical treatment, are out as a teen, and suffer from depression or other mental health conditions, as Leelah was and did.  The national average for suicide attempts, by the way, is around 5%.  For LGB people, it’s 10-20%.

Charlie Hebdo, the attack on the NAACP, and racism

There have been a lot of accusations of racism thrown around in regards to the work of Charlie Hebdo and the media coverage (or lack thereof) around the domestic terrorist incident at the NAACP in Colorado and I want to tease out some of these ideas that I’ve seen.

1. Accusation: Media coverage of Charlie Hebdo and not the NAACP is racist

The idea here is that the media covered Charlie Hebdo because the villains were people of color and the dead were white, while the NAACP is an organization for people of color that was attacked by a white person.  The media thinks people are more likely to respond to narratives where the heroes are white, even if they are French.

I think this accusation is wrongheaded for a number of reasons.

1. No one died in the NAACP attack, 12 people died in France.

2. One of the more compelling stories to come out of France is the story of the Muslim police officer who was killed defending Charlie Hebdo against the terrorists.

3. The villains are organized and have been established villains in popular imagination.

4. Most importantly, the victims are other members of the media.  It cannot be overstated how much the media latches onto stories of the media being victimized.  This bias in the media is the most mundane one, and one that rarely gets talked about over the left vs right bias.

2. Accusation: The media not covering and being slow to cover the NAACP domestic terrorism is racist

When you separate it from the comparison to Charlie Hebdo and just note that the media has been a bit reluctant to pick up the story, then yeah, I think this is a reasonable complaint.  This is a big deal and should be big news.  It does seem to be picking up a bit now.

3. Accusation: Charlie Hebdo made racist cartoons

Ehhh, this is complicated.  Of course it is, isn’t everything?  A lot of the commentary around these cartoons has been, in my opinion, very shallow, both in the accusations of racism and the defense from racism.  I think everyone is, of course, welcome to their opinion, this is not a personal criticism of any individual.

Political cartoons are almost always kind of racist the moment you put people of color in them.  Not putting any people of color people in them would also be pretty racist.  This is because caricature relies heavily on stereotype to get messages across quickly — all communication does, but political cartoons do even more extremely.  Now, show a bunch of edgy political cartoons to people who don’t understand the language on the cartoons or the culture that produced the cartoons and ask them how racist those cartoons are?  Yeah, they’re going to think they’re really racist.  None of that, by the way, relieves cartoonists of the responsibility to make not racist cartoons.  That said, many of the cartoons that are being called out as racist are making points against oppression of minorities or oppression within minority culture or referring to specific racist behavior of politicians or other figures.  That doesn’t make them entirely not racist, but it also makes them complicated.  They also come in the context of Charlie Hebdo being equal opportunity offenders.

However, Charlie Hebdo’s many layered context comes in the further context of France being a really awful place to live if you’re Muslim.  It’s an incredibly racist and xenophobic society.  What does that all mean?  Not any one thing, except that if you are going to read criticism of Charlie Hebdo’s interaction with race, make sure it is nuanced and culturally specific and not just, “Look at this racist cartoon.”  And just because a cartoon is racist or has racist elements, that doesn’t mean the publication or the people behind the publication were “racists.”  Finally, I personally am really hesitant to take seriously any criticism of these cartoons unless it comes from someone who is a fluent French speaker and follows French politics closely, criticism from anyone else veers perilously close to cultural imperialism for lacking enough context unless they’ve done an immense amount of research.

4. Accusation: Calling Charlie Hebdo cartoons racist means you don’t support free speech

No. Nope.  Incorrect.  There are a small group of people who think that the cartoons are hate speech and shouldn’t be allowed to be published, but the vast majority of people who think that the cartoons are grotesquely racist have valid reasons for doing so and are making points about complicated histories and relationships between people and media.  They are worth listening to even if you ultimately disagree with their conclusions.  And people thinking that speech is terrible doesn’t mean they want to regulate it away.  I think the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church should be allowed to say things.  I also think they are horrible.  These two things reflect totally different values that I hold independently in the same head.

5. Accusation: You can’t be racist against Muslims

Usually accompanied with “Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world.”  To which I say, “Show me one Charlie Hebdo drawing that is of someone from Indonesia.” Islam is not a race, but that really doesn’t matter, because the Western world has a racial idea of what it means to be Muslim.

Maya Angelou, Susan B. Anthony, and Ashley F. Miller together at last

Sometimes you’re doing a deep Google search on your own name and you discover new things about yourself — I discovered a Table of Contents that included me.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.09.01 PM

An article I wrote about feminism and atheism that was published in CrossCurrents last year was put into a women’s studies anthology textbook — apparently the #1 one on Amazon: Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings.  So now there is a thing about atheism and women in the most recent edition of, according to Amazon, the #1 gender studies textbook.  So hurray for atheism being included in discussions of gender in academia!

Of course, this inclusion happened last April and no one told me that it happened so…? I’m going to contact the editors of the book and talk to them to see if I can get some more information on what happened and see if I can get a copy for less than the $110 it’s going for.  I’ve asked my local library to pick up a copy and it looks like the school library has one that you can’t check out because it is required reading in a class.  I was contacted last year because my article was the required reading in that class, but I guess no one thought to mention that it was in a textbook rather than a journal.  Internet searching also reveals to me that the article has been cited in at least four academic papers and assigned in at least three courses.  That’s not bad for something that’s been published only 18 months.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 8.16.00 PM

Anyway, so Ashley F. Miller of FreethoughtBlogs is listed and included as the same kind of feminist expert must-read in a major text as Maya Angelou, Gloria SteinemEmily Dickinson, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, bell hooks, Virginia Woolf, Audre Lorde, Susan Douglas, Jessica Valenti, Barbara Ehrenreich. Also, you know, Natalie Merchant, so there’s that. And more.

Torn between being confused that no one told me it existed, to ecstatic that I am considered anywhere close to the same caliber as these other writers and thinkers, to fighting down imposter syndrome, to super stoked to include this on my resume.  Gonna go die now.  And not just from the mono.  Will update if/when I find out more information or locate the Discussion Questions!  Discussion Questions, people!

I have mono and everything is difficult

I think you misunderstand. I am not here to keep the darkness out. I am here to keep it in. – Terry Pratchett, Thud!

I haven’t been around so much.  This is because I have mono.

I assumed that if I got to 30 without getting mono it meant that I was one of most everyone who got EBV as a child and it wasn’t terribly noticeable and hooray for me.  I should have been less optimistic.

It’s amazing how much you can not do with your time. Not dissertation, not work, not volunteer, not writing blogs.

There’s a lot of drama going on around here, to which I can only say this: I didn’t know Avicenna very well, I didn’t follow their blog much either.  Much as I hate how some individuals over at Slyme Pit dehumanize some of my friends and colleagues, they did FtB a favor by finding and pointing out the plagiarism.  And if it wasn’t going to be us, it is far, far better that it was them than almost anyone else.

There is something to be said for the fact that even when two groups of people hate each other as much as FtB and SP, it took only a few hours for a legitimate wrong to be corrected once brought up.  I think that speaks to something right in the world.  Now I nap.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes Qui Custodes Custodiet

Provide Abortion: A Giving Tuesday Ask

hey2This is going to be a donation ask, but in my defense, I don’t talk about where I work that often, so let curiosity lead you to read on — Provide is the real deal. It’s really rare to be able to say that about a place, to see the sausage being made and still be able to say, no really, this place is legit. Provide works in Southern, conservative states to make abortion more accessible, specifically because they are challenging and because the culture is hard to move. We train health care and social service providers on how to refer to abortion care, often giving them some of the first accurate information on abortion they’ve ever encountered. This is a huge gap in their education — abortion is a basic healthcare need for women, nearly 1/3rd of women will have need of one in their life, but it is not treated that way for political reasons. A third of women need a service and that service is hidden behind closed doors and misinformation, even from people in health care roles.

What Provide does is really different from what other abortion organizations do. The reason that I am so proud to work there is because it is situated so well at the intersection of so many concerns — class, race, gender, health, and geography — without making it about us versus them. We train people who are pro-life because our training isn’t about politics, and we have them acknowledge a professional obligation of care to their patients that is different from their own personal beliefs. There is a place for abortion politics and there are a lot of great organizations that do that work, but we’re about on the ground culture change. And we’re actually making that happen.

I am immensely proud to work for an organization that so successfully integrates intersectional feminism and harm reduction philosophy into its worldview, and I am immensely proud to work for an organization that cares about and invests resources in people who are from the South. Our trainers are people who were already local activists in the states where we work. My creative communications work means that I’ve gotten to put money into the local creative economy for video and acting and graphic design. We’ve got a UU church lady and an LGBT Youth Advocate; they didn’t hesitate to hire me despite my atheist activism and have never asked me to stop blogging and seeking attention on that front; we’re translating all our resources into Spanish and holding Spanish-language trainings. It’s really an amazing place. And it does it on a smaller budget than almost any other national abortion organization that you’ve ever heard of.

This is the link to where we’re trying to raise $5000 today for‪ #‎GivingTuesday‬. This is the cost of one of our Abortion Referrals Trainings — a day long intensive training that teaches up to 40 health care or social service workers, at no cost to them, how to do non-judgmental, accurate referrals, why they should be doing them, and allows them to ask an actual abortion provider questions about what happens when they refer someone to an abortion.

Here is a video featuring our field team from across our states that I spent about four months producing over the summer and I’m quite proud of it. If you have a minute (three minutes), check it out. And if you can donate, even a little bit, I know it’s not as aggressive a cause as atheism or politics, but it is a thing that is really making a difference in the world. And if you can’t, but think that what we do is worthwhile, maybe share what we’re doing, because a lot of people haven’t heard of us, and I think they should.

Ferguson: 5 Points We Need to Understand

Mike Brown

Mike Brown

We often hear about the cultural bubbles that we build for ourselves online, but, for better or for worse, I’ve never managed to insulate myself from the opinions of those I disagree very strongly with.  Ferguson has been no exception.  I thought it might be worth the effort to lay out, in detail, my own opinions and observations here on my blog.  This is a bit difficult because, for the most part, I would much rather promote the voices of others on this issue, particularly those voices coming out of Ferguson, but I also think that there are people that I can reach by writing about it myself.  It’s worth noting at the top, then, that I am a white, upper middle class woman who has never had any trouble with the police and never thought twice about calling the police when I was in trouble myself.  But that’s who I’d like to talk to right now, white people who aren’t afraid of the police, because I think we’re the ones who aren’t getting why people are burning buildings and cars in their own city in frustration.

I have some quibbles and questions about who exactly is burning things down, but let us assume for the sake of this discussion it is in fact residents of Ferguson behaving destructively and looting and so on and not, as rumored, militant anti-protester groups, out-of-towners, anarchists, or the KKK.

Forget, for a moment, what you know about Ferguson.  I want to talk about anger and despair.  When is the last time you got angry?  Really, really angry?  That you felt unjustly treated, that someone got something that should have been yours?  You were robbed, you were violated, you were cheated, you were mistreated, powerless to control the world around you.  Have you ever been so mad that you screamed? Threw something? Punched a wall? Got in a fight?  The last time I got angry, really properly angry like that, it was because someone had lied to me.  I was so angry I wanted to hurt something, wanted something else to hurt so I didn’t have to.  I had no power to change what had happened.  Despair and anger and powerlessness together are destructive — usually self-destructive. [Read more…]

Skepticon: Friday 4pm Classism: From Honey Boo Boo to Anderson Cooper

Are you going to Skepticon 7?  Capital!

I am hosting a workshop about class and classism on Friday — about recognizing it and how we can address it.  A class on class, if you will.  You should come.  It’s gonna be fun.

Here’s a preview of some things I may talk about:




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