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Aug 06 2013

My Muslim Facebook Friends

muslimfbI admit that I am fairly wanton in my acceptance of Facebook friends.  Since it’s my primary mode of communication and sharing with my friends and followers, I’m happy to pretty much accept anyone who isn’t harassing me.  More hits on my blog, more attention to me, etc.

While the vast majority of strangers who friend request me are atheists, I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting a lot of requests from strangers who are Muslims.  No other religious denomination, just Islam.  I didn’t think too much of it — they could be people who were curious about what I was saying or maybe were in the closet atheists in inhospitable areas or they were trying to convert me.  All of which were OK with me.  I did a little digging and discovered that these people have friended en masse a lot of other atheists that I am friends with.

The weird thing is that none of them really comment on my page or engage with anything I say.  I guess they just want their posts to show up in my News Feed, but I am pretty heavy with my “Don’t Show Me Posts” powers, so a lot of people disappear soon after friending me.  Yesterday I got a friend request from someone with over 100 friends in common with me and today she showed up in my News Feed:

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Uzma Rathore: I don’t want to come across as harsh but i request those of you who are Islamophobics to kindly remove yourselves from my friends list as being a practicing Muslim, i won’t allow anyone to disrespect my religion. I removed a particular individual from my friends list just now due to the same reason. Cheers.

What’s she doing going around friending all these atheists if she’s just going to tell us to unfriend her.  MAKES NO SENSE.

So, strangers, why are you friending me?

EDIT: Apparently asking why she friended so many atheists is islamophobic hate speech.  Fascinating.

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I have absolutely no idea how many atheistic Islamophobic mad hatters i have added to my friend’s list out of sheer ignorance since i don’t deem it necessary to confirm individual religious beliefs prior to sending out friend requests but i am getting negative vibes about this whole thing. I just removed two women from my friend’s list who were propagating religious hate speech on my wall notwithstanding my persistent requests to not disrespect my religion. I wonder how some people can be so unreasonably adamant !

Jul 31 2013

Zealot by Reza Aslan: A Review

There are a lot of narratives around this book.  Reza Aslan says mean things about atheists, Reza Aslan doesn’t have the credentials he says he has, Reza Aslan was mistreated abominably by Fox News, Reza Aslan is Muslim and that taints his ability to see clearly on the history of Jesus.  The thing is, none of these are about the book itself.  So I decided that I would read it.

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There are a couple things you should know about my background here.  I am trained in historical methods, I have read most of the popularly available books about the history of Jesus and the New Testament written in the last decade, and I love the history of religions.  I am also an atheist.  My particular brand of atheism, as Christopher Hitchens would say, is very much a Protestant one, an Episcopal one at that.  There was no sturm und drang and little in the way of imposing dogma in my upbringing, I had possibly the least contentious relationship one can have with their religion while also not believing in it or understanding the point of it.

Unlike some, my particular atheism has no investment in the idea that a Jesus of some sort did or did not exist, and so no suspension of disbelief is necessary for me to accept the premise of the book.  Aslan doesn’t really address the question of Jesus’ existence, partially because it’s not really much of a controversy among historians.  Even if you don’t believe in a historical Jesus, however, it’s possible to read the book as a thought exercise.  Liberal Christians will also be able to reconcile the figure presented with their faith, to some extent.  Fundamentalists and Catholics, however, wouldn’t be able to do so, especially believers in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The story is basically as follows:

Jesus was a poor man from the tiny town of Nazareth who witnessed his homeland of Galilee impoverished, enslaved, and mistreated by Roman occupiers.  Around the age of 30, he became a disciple of John the Baptist, by far the more famous of the two at the time.  When John the Baptist was executed, Jesus struck out on his own with a message primarily aimed at overthrowing the Temple and the Roman Occupiers — he was attempting to radically reform Judaism and free the state of Israel.  He was killed for sedition against Rome.

He was one of dozens of miracle workers with remarkably similar stories, distinguishable mostly by the fact that, after his execution, his message was carried on by his surviving family and followers, particularly his brother James and, later, Paul. The reason Christianity lasted was because Paul changed it drastically from being a critique of Judaism to being a totally new religion, one that Jesus’ brother James did not approve of.  James was killed, as were his followers with the destruction of Jerusalem, meaning that the head of the church changed from being someone who knew the Nazarene and lived in his culture to being foreigners who’d only heard secondhand tales.  Christianity is Paul’s reimagining of historical Jesus, a sort of fanfiction version — the Fifty Shades of Grey to Jesus’ Twilight.

The book is not really new in terms of the history it offers, but it is the most readable history of first century Jerusalem that I’ve come across.  If you are only mildly interested in the subject or the subject is totally new to you, I cannot emphasize enough how fun it was to read.

Aslan goes to great lengths to reassure readers that the possibility of a divine Jesus still exists within this story, sometimes to the point of annoying this reader, but he also makes a good point about the difference between what modern people accept as history and what ancient people did and the difference between facts and truth.  Since the scientific revolution, facts and truth have become more or less synonymous to many people, but the stories told of Jesus were meant to reveal truth about him rather than be facts.  In the same way that parables are understood to be lessons about the real world, even if they didn’t happen.

Read an excerpt here.

Jul 29 2013

Tonight at 7PM: The Ashley F Miller Show Episode 6

Join me, annalise fonza, and Yasmin Nair as we discuss:

Politics: The Anthony Weiner Scandal
Media: “Orange is the New Black”
Guest Choice: Prison in America

The YouTube link will appear shortly before 7PM EST.

This is filmed in front of a live internet audience — if you’ve got input feel free to get in touch before or during the show by commenting here, on youtube, or on the event page.

It will also be edited and released as a podcast.

Podcast website: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/webpage

Jul 23 2013

Women Protagonists in YA: A List and Resources

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This is a work in progress, any feedback from the audience/readers will be incorporated into the list.  I am especially interested in finding any good works about female friendship.  Here is a wonderful tumblr devoted to diversity in YA.  Here is a wonderfully comprehensive list of protagonists of color in YA and another specifically looking at SF and fantasy.

Akata Witch - Nnedi Okorafor

I cannot recommend this book enough.  It deals with being an outsider on multiple levels — because of looks, because of talents, because of being a girl in a patriarchal society, and because of culture.  It’s about an albino girl in Nigeria, who was born in America and spent years there before being brought back to Nigeria with her family.  She discovers that she has magic powers.  Imagine Harry Potter, but based entirely on Nigerian culture.  I’ve not read Nnedi Okorafor’s other work, but I am going to as soon as I can.  The beautiful art above is from the cover of this novel.

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

While this book does have a love triangle in it, it is otherwise a fantastic dystopian novel with a female lead.  Katniss is smart and driven by her desire to help her family and herself.  She can be quite selfish and uninterested in the feelings of others.  These flaws make her far more interesting than many women in YA novels and far from a passive participant in the events.  She is also written with olive skin and dark hair, which many interpret as being a person of color but, at the very least, is resistant to the blonde haired, blue eyed tradition.

His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman

These books are really fascinating from an atheist perspective, but also just a really good fantasy story.  The lead character is a pre-pubescent girl who is an expert liar.  Her journey is fascinating.  The book is also notable for the importance and fundamental goodness of the Gyptian people (based on Gypsies) to the storyline.

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

This is an incredible book about a girl who is outcast from her high school because she called the cops when she was at a party.  She called the cops because she had been raped, but she is unable to talk about it.  In fact, she doesn’t speak much at all.  The book is about her coping with what happened to her and learning to be herself again.  It was made into a completely watchable movie starring Kristen Stewart pre-Twilight.

Princess Academy – Shannon Hale

I am a sucker for books about princesses, especially if they’re princesses who buck the trend and do something totally unusual like have opinions and fight battles and refuse to get married.  The lead character of this book is a young woman who feels like an outcast and, in the end, does not want the prince and doesn’t get him.  The book is really about the importance of education for women and the role of one’s home and family.

Tiffany Aching Series – Terry Pratchett

My reviews of Tiffany Aching books are here and here.  I love Terry Pratchett, I hope some day to write something I enjoy as much as Terry Pratchett books.  Tiffany Aching is a marvelous lead.  Her first book is the most compelling, but I really wish that someone would turn Tiffany Aching into a TV series.  It’s like a pre-teen Buffy.

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

My review from a couple years ago: Third in the Discworld series and by far my favorite of them all.  This introduces Granny Weatherwax, who is my favorite Pratchett character, followed closely by Death.  Pratchett’s greatest skill as a writer, in my opinion, is that none of his characters are particularly attractive and they all have terrible flaws, but you like them and they never get over their flaws.  People don’t become pretty, or overcome their inherent selfishness or cowardice, they’re just regular people.

Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh

This is one of my favorite books. She also seems to be on the spectrum as well — she’s very into routine and order and not good at empathizing with others.  I tried to watch the movie version again recently and was unable to get through it, so stick to the book I think.  Many people read Harriet and her friends as queer as well.  I personally see far more traits of autism than indications of any kind of sexuality.

Enchanted Forest Chronicles – Patricia C. Wrede

This is a brilliant series about a princess who doesn’t want to be a princess and has no interest in boring princes trying to rescue her.  She runs away to live with a dragon because that’s much more interesting.  And the dragons are much more into gender equality than humans, teaching some interesting lessons about the roles of men and women.

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

Despite the terrible movie, the book is actually a really good examination of societal expectations of women.  I really like Gail Carson Levine’s writing style, but her books are fairly short on people of color.

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman, and the character of Coraline is great.  The story is not my favorite, I thought The Graveyard Book, which was similar in tone, was a much better read.  If you like YA horror, however, you can’t get a much better character than Coraline.

 

On My To-Read

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Fault in Our Stars – John Green

Books by Tamora Pierce, not sure which

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

Ash – Malinda Lo

Liar – Justine Larbalestier

Chaos – Nalo Hopkinson

Half-World - Hiromi Goto

Eon – Alison Goodman

Book of 1000 Days – Shannon Hale

Jul 22 2013

Ashley talks a lot: atheism, women, minorities, pop culture

(ROY ZIMMERMAN. Also, I go first so you don’t even have to watch very long to see me)

Jul 22 2013

Tonight at 7PM: The Ashley F Miller Show Episode 5

Delicious

Delicious

I feel like 5 episodes makes it seem legit.  A show in its own right, standing on two feet.  No longer a total babe in the woods, maybe more of a toddler.

Join me, Jason Thibeault of Lousy Canuck, and Heina Dadabhoy of Skepchick as we talk:

Politics: Rape in Dubai
Media: Comic Con — women and minorities in geek culture (politics of cosplay?)
Guest Choice: FreethoughtBlogs Conference and the future of online conferences

You can RSVP to the “event” here and, when the hangout is on-air, it should send you a link of the YouTube page, or just come back here at 7 and the YouTube link will be up.

This is filmed in front of a live internet audience — if you’ve got input feel free to get in touch before or during the show by commenting here, on youtube, or on the event page.

It will also be edited and released as a podcast.

Podcast website: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/webpage

Jul 17 2013

FtBCon – Ashley’s schedule

Life is always easier when you’ve got a schedule to follow.  So here’s mine for the weekend.  I am in on 5 sessions, talking about a variety of subjects from YA lit to video games, but all to do with media and culture.  Which is good because I have a degree that makes people think I’m qualified in that.

TImes here are in EST, but if you go to the site they’ll be in CST.

FtBConscience

As of right now this is a solo talk, but I have feelers out for anyone who might want to join.  If you’re an expert on YA lit, let me know.

Although much of the bestselling YA literature in the last few years has featured female main characters, ofttimes the portrayal of these characters is problematic in terms of gender stereotypes and lack of minority characters. This is a discussion of the ways YA literature succeeds and fails and why it needs to change.

I feel like so underqualified to be on this panel.  I play ukulele cover songs on YouTube and love to sing karaoke.  And I’m on a panel with an actual musician with records and such.  Yep.  Imposter syndrome big time.

Join us to hear a few songs and have a casual chat with ukulelist and FtB blogger Ashley Miller, and Australian singer-songwriter Shelley Segal. In 2011 Shelley published An Atheist Album, and she has played at the Reason Rally, the American Atheist Convention, Women In Secularism and other events. Panel facilitated by Brianne Bilyeu

Jason Thibeault, Russell Glasser, Brianne Bilyeu, Ashley F. Miller, Avicenna, Tauriq Moosa.  Religion and morality systems in video games are often grossly oversimplified, to the point where choices are entirely binary and you’re often forced, as a gamer, to do things that you might otherwise find appalling, like working in service of a god or gods. How are these heady topics handled in the slowly-maturing video game industry? Who’s already doing this stuff right? How can these topics’ treatment be improved?

Jason Thibeault, Avicenna, Brianne Bilyeu, Ashley F. Miller, Rebecca Watson, Lynnea Glasser. Women make up 45% of the gamer population, a number that’s constantly climbing. And yet, female protagonists in games are few and far between — and when games are exclusively fronted by female characters, they get far less marketing budget than their equivalent male-led titles. Why?

JT Eberhard, Rebecca Watson, Heina Dadabhoy, Ashley F. Miller, Hemant Mehta, Xavier Trapp.  TV, Movies, Comic books… our popular culture is soaked in depictions of religious people, but what about atheists? How are atheists portrayed in the public sphere? How can we do better? A panel of atheists gets at the real issues.

 

 

Jul 16 2013

Weird Moments in Is This Even My Life: Rockapella

I recorded “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” on the ukulele about this time last year and somehow it’s gotten a bunch of comments that I was never alerted to.  I am really bad at following my YouTube in the first place, but I’m pretty sure that I would have noticed this alert.

Well!  The gentleman who co-wrote the song and was a member of Rockapella and went on to have a solo career, Mr. Sean Altman, friggin commented on my stupid ukulele video!

His comment is as follows:

It gives me great pleasure to be your first comment-er. Great job on my song. I’ve never heard it on uke, and it just goes to show that a catchy song translates to many styles. Let’s hope that J-Lo comes asking for permission to use it in her forthcoming Carmen flick. Yours, Sean Altman (ex-Rockapella)

7-year-old me is so stoked right now.  And since I’m pretty much still fundamentally 7, I am also so stoked right now.  WHAT IS MY LIFE

Jul 15 2013

Tonight at 7PM: The Ashley F Miller Show Episode 4

Join me, Ian Cromwell of Crommunist Manifesto, and Andrew Tripp of Considered Exclamations and More than Men as we talk:

Politics: The Zimmerman verdict

Media: Ender’s Game and the boycott

Guest choice: Representation issues in YA Lit.

You can RSVP to the “event” here and, when the hangout is on-air, it should send you a link of the YouTube page, or just come back here at 7 and the YouTube link will be up.

This is filmed in front of a live internet audience — if you’ve got input feel free to get in touch before or during the show by commenting here, on youtube, or on the event page.

It will also be edited and released as a podcast.

Podcast website: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/webpage

Podcast RSS: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/rss

Podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-ashley-f-miller-show/id666564480

Jul 12 2013

TMI Review – Softcups / Complaining about my period

Taken From Naamah_Darling's Livejournal This is a post all about uteruses and the havoc they play.  Really it’s mostly about my uterus.  So, for some people, that may be too much information and, hey, that’s fine, just stop reading.  Because I intend to pull no punches.  Maybe I’ll throw in a picture of a flower or something.  But seriously, don’t read this if you’re going to be all like, “Ew, lady parts” or “Ashley is gross.”

Yesterday I had a long, involved conversation on Facebook about whether it was feminist to complain about your period or if it was buying into patriarchal notions of… something.  The conclusion was basically that hating your period is A-OK.  Which is good because I really hate my period.  It’s also fairly subversive to not be embarrassed of your basic bodily function, so I’m claiming it as feminist.  Look — it happens, it’s pretty gross, but it actually means my body is working, so hurray.  So take that, reviewing Softcups is my feminist FU to people who are bothered by my ladyparts.  SHAZAM.

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I take Seasonale continuously, but every 4 months or so, I suffer from breakthrough bleeding that’s pretty heavy and will only stop if I relent and have a full period.  Basically I have to make a choice between continuous bleeding that’s relatively painless but never stops or 5 days of excruciating pain and massive quantities of blood that will ultimately stem the flow.  Hooray my body.

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Supposedly the fact that I’m on birth control makes my periods not as heavy and not as painful.  I don’t remember them ever feeling worse than they do now, though, so I am skeptical of this supposed beneficial side effect.  It does mean that I have them less frequently, though, so that’s a relief.  If you’ve ever had a period then you know that the methods for taking care of them are fairly medieval — plug it up or wear some gauze.  Science has not made major advances in this field.

Ranging from ineffective to might as well shove a hand towel up there

Ranging from ineffective to might as well shove a hand towel up there

Pads are basically like wearing a diaper.  They are messy, especially if you have hair down there, and they are incredibly uncomfortable.  Then there are tampons.  If, like me, you have wildly varying days of super heavy uterine explosion and not too much going on down there, tampons can be difficult.  You have to predict your level of flow and, if you go super heavy in protection when you’re actually producing super light, it creates this crazy uncomfortable dry, scratchy vagina sensation that doesn’t go away for a while.  And I already have ridiculous sensitive, in need of hypoallergenic everything skin.  Not pleasant.  Oh, also they can kill you.

So a few years ago, I longed to branch out from my uncomfortable period solutions and tried Instead, which are now known as Softcup.  I was afraid of Diva Cups because reusing them seemed unsanitary but I was fascinated by the idea of a solution that didn’t involve absorption.  So I tried out Softcup and have never looked back.

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In addition to the plus of no dry vagina and not wearing a diaper, there are other benefits.

When I have my period, I tend to need to use the bathroom a lot.  Cramps just make everything seem to move down there.  When I wear a tampon that usually means I just have to change the tampon every time I pee.  The physics of making that not happen are difficult and unreliable and I’m a little too OCD for that.  Changing your tampon every two hours is expensive and uncomfortable and also you’re not really supposed to flush them apparently, and that’s weird too.

With Softcups I just leave it up in there for 12 hours.  Sometimes there’s some leakage when I pee or poop, but it goes back into place on its own.  The only bad thing is that it does create a little bit of internal pressure which can require a little extra pressure when expelling waste, on either side.

You can wear them when you’re being intimate — though it’s good to warn people.  And also to have a fresh one to avoid leaks.  You can wear them swimming.  They’re also great if, like me, you’ve got the problem of there is no pad or tampon strong enough to get you through a full night on your worst nights.

I also can’t feel it at all when it’s inside, which is miles better than pads or tampons.

The bad: They can leak — it’s a good idea to wear a panty liner with them, especially on heavy days.

They are hard to find.  I went to four stores in DC before finding them.  CVS carries them, but I have been to CVSs that didn’t have any in stock.  It’s terrible to be starting your period without supplies and not know where to get them.  Especially if your period is super unpredictable like mine.  There’s supposedly a reusable one, where it’s one cup per period, but I can’t find it anywhere.

Taking them out can be kind of gross — but then, if you’re following the directions with tampons or using pads, those are pretty gross too.  Your hands will probably get bloody, though you can use gloves if you like.

Here's that promised picture of a flower

Here’s that promised picture of a flower

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