I thought everyone could use a little good news for a change

My labwork is finally starting to work after months of troubleshooting and more months of planning! This is the first positive feedback I’ve had in grad school since I passed my general exam a year ago!

I’ve had my first straight week where I’ve felt “okay” instead of the crippling hopelessness, worthlessness, anhedonia and despair of severe depression!

I’m home with my family to celebrate my mom’s birthday and also get to hang out with my best friend that I’ve known since first grade!

But most of all…

My mom’s cancer marker levels are officially in the normal range and she only has three more chemotherapy sessions left!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Covering my ass

Well, Famous Skeptic is vaguely threatening to sue me. Since Famous Skeptic is rich and I am poor, and since my two sources are too terrified to openly speak out again him (I wonder why), I have removed the part of my previous post that refers to him so I don’t go bankrupt with legal fees.

I still hope official organizations with the power and resources to look into this will investigate the situation.

EDIT: Ken at Popehat is helping me figure out the legality of this issue.

EDIT 2: I’m speaking with my sources to attempt to prepare a considerably more specific and detailed post, but I’m not sure if they will be willing to make that commitment, even anonymously. I have been offered pro bono legal help and Ken from Popehat is committed to helping me.

Alien vs. Wizards, directed by my subconscious

I feel lucky that I frequently have very vivid, detailed dreams, sometimes to the point that I can lucid dream. The other night I had a particularly amazing one:

I was trying to survive an alien invasion, darting from place to place to find a safe spot to hunker down. During that process, I was somehow able to arm myself. In my left hand I wielded a plasma pistol from X-Com, and in the right I had a Harry Potter wand. As I shot aliens with my left, I cast spells with my right. And yes, I mean Dream Jen was actually casting legitimate Harry Potter spells. Most of the time I was screaming Protego to create a barrier to reflect incoming laser beams, and when I had a chance to go on the offense I used Incendio to set the aliens on fire. Mostly because Dream Jen couldn’t remember any other spells (in retrospect, it’s amazing I remembered any in a freaking dream). When I shouted to Dream Boyfriend (who was also shooting plasma at aliens) to help me remember other spell names, he reminded me he wasn’t a Harry Potter fanatic like me and how the hell should he know any names. When things started getting hairy, I Avada Kedavra’d as many aliens as I could, while explaining that in this case using the worst Unforgivable Curse was morally justifiable because COME ON ALIEN INVASION.

I then tweeted this dream. Someone chimed in that my brain was pitching an idea for a film. I dubbed it Alien vs. Wizards and declared it should be made.

Twitter delivered. My dream had been retroactively fulfilled: apparently the BBC already has a TV series called Wizards vs. Aliens.

Sometimes the world is a wonderful place. A wonderful place where we wonder what would happen if wizards had to fight off alien invasions.

The sexual harassment floodgate has opened, and I add my own trickle

Prompted by the recent admissions from women in the skeptic movement about sexual harassment and the lack of proper response from CFI and JREF, others are opening up. Sasha at More than Men talks about his experience at Dragon*Con with DJ Grothe, President of JREF (emphasis mine):

I had admired his work on Point of Inquiry and when he became president of the JREF I thought it would be a great thing. When I got a chance to meet him that year I was excited. We encountered one another at a Skepchick party (one that had to be moved to the lobby because of noise complaints as soon as it started). He was drunk, but it was a social occasion and I’d had a couple cocktails as well. No big deal. I was fairly surprised though, when DJ turned to me and said that the reason everyone loved the Skepchicks was because they “want pussy”. That seemed to be a rather dismissive and insultingly sexist way to dismiss the work of your professional colleagues (not to mention the people whose booze you were at that moment drinking.

I’m embarrassed to say that at the time I was still a bit fame-struck and too shocked to really process it. I didn’t do what I should have done, and told him how rude, insulting, and unprofessional it was to say something like that, even while drunk. Even in a casual social setting. But then it got more bizarre and incredible. I’m a tall guy, chubby (fat, honestly) and bearded. If I were gay I would definitely be a bear. This was discussed and DJ then made an hilarious horrendous “joke” about how I should pay him a visit down in Los Angeles so that he could drug me and let some of his friends have some fun with me. You know, in other words so that I could be gang raped.

Wow. What the actual fuck. I don’t care if you are drunk or at a party – when the hell is that ever okay to say, especially to a complete stranger? At a work related social event?!

EDIT: Part of this post has been removed for reasons described here.

Two prominent skeptic women share stories of sexual harassment and assault

Get out your hard hats and run to the nearest drama bunker, because the floodgates have been opened.

A week ago Ashley Paramore released a video detailing her sexual assault at The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas, an annual skeptical conference put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation. At the time both Ashley and I gave kudos to JREF for handling the situation well. But now two more prominent women within the skeptic movement have started speaking out, and no kudos are going to be doled out here.

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a research fellow for JREF and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, as well as a co-host on skeptical podcasts and columnist for Skeptic magazine. She recently wrote a piece for Scientific American detailing the years of sexual harassment and even sexual assault she experienced from a coworker at her previous employer (emphasis mine throughout this post):

From late 2009 onwards I made repeated requests for his personal communication to cease but these were ignored. He began manipulating the boundaries by contacting me on the pretext of it being work-related. Then came the quid pro quo harassment. He would find opportunities for me within the company and recommend me to television producers, but only if I was nicer to him. One day the company offered me an honorary position that I’d worked hard for, but he warned me that he had the power to thwart that offer. I threatened to complain to his employer, but he bragged that another woman had accused him of sexual harassment previously and her complaints were ignored. According to him, she had been declared “batshit crazy”. Then, he saw me at conferences and took every opportunity to place me in a vulnerable position. This is where the psychological abuse turned physical and he sexually assaulted me on several occasions.

It didn’t take long for people to figure out the person. Her accused harasser and assaulter is Ben Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer and host of Monster Talk. You may better remember him from his “take down” of a 4 year old girl where he insisted women like pink for evolutionary reasons, his dishonest representation of studies on eating disorders in order to support his hypothesis that the media doesn’t affect women’s body images, or his recent assertion that he is “over rape.

And the company in question was none other than the Center for Inquiry, who unfortunately did not handle the situation well according to Dr. Stollznow:

When I approached them with my accusations they appeared to be compassionate initially. I spent many hours explaining my story over the phone and days submitting evidence. Then they hired an attorney to collect the facts and I had to repeat the process. I provided access to my email account. I also devoted two days to face-to-face discussions about my ordeal. This “fact collector” also collected a lot of hearsay from my harasser, about how I’m a slut and “batshit crazy”. This tactic of the accused is so common it’s known as the “nut and slut” strategy. I soon learned that the attorney was there to protect them, not me.

Five months after I lodged my complaint I received a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications” and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly reduced the severity of my claims. When I asked for clarification and a copy of the report they treated me like a nuisance. In response to my unanswered phone calls they sent a second letter that refused to allow me to view the report because they couldn’t release it to “the public”. They assured me they were disciplining the harasser but this turned out to be a mere slap on the wrist. He was suspended, while he was on vacation overseas. They offered no apology, that would be an admission of guilt, but they thanked me for bringing this serious matter to their attention. Then they asked me to not discuss this with anyone. This confidentiality served me at first; I wanted to retain my dignity and remain professional. Then I realized that they are trying to silence me, and this silence only keeps up appearances for them and protects the harasser.

The situation has disadvantaged me greatly. I have lost a project I once worked on, I have had to disclose highly personal information to colleagues, and I don’t think that I’ll be offered work anymore from this company. Perhaps that’s for the best considering the way they have treated me. I have since discovered that this company has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record of disciplining these harassers lightly, and then closing ranks like good ol’ boys. Another colleague assured me this was better than their previous custom of simply ignoring claims of sexual harassment.

This news is especially troubling in light of CFI’s recent controversy with their CEO Ron Lindsay’s contemptuous remarks during his opening speech at the Women in Secularism 2 conference and their board of directors’ tepid non-response. The negative environment at CFI caused their Point of Inquiry podcast to jump ship and move to Mother Jones. CFI has posted a  vague reply to Dr. Stollznow’s article.

I am doubly glad that I asked to be removed from CFI’s speakers bureau (which they did, even though they never had the common courtesy to reply to my email at all or address my concerns).

CFI is not the only organization involved in Dr. Stollznow’s troubles. The assaults she described occurred at TAM. Carrie Poppy, former communication director for the JREF, has spoken out about how poorly JREF handled the situation:

1. Dr. Stollznow says that she was assaulted at the James Randi Educational Foundation’s (JREF) annual conference, The Amazing Meeting (TAM) on three separate occasions. Dr. Stollznow is a research fellow for the JREF, and is a respected speaker at TAM. The person who she says assaulted her is Ben Radford, another speaker at TAM and a long-time ally of the JREF’s. I am not speaking to the legal validity of these claims, as I have no legal expertise on the matter, but I believe Karen’s account, given the information she’s relayed to me in private, which I won’t recount here.

2. Dr. Stollznow says she made these alleged assaults known to JREF president D.J. Grothe several months ago, but according to Karen, he declined to do anything about the matter.

3. CFI told Dr. Stollznow that they would only be reprimanding their employee for his behavior. Dr. Stollznow let Mr. Grothe know that she felt her harassment and assault were being treated as nothing more than a grievance among friends, and Grothe responded, ” I am happy to learn from you that the CFI has responded to your complaints with the seriousness they deserve.” (see attachment 1).

4. Dr. Stollznow requested that Mr. Grothe assure her that her alleged assailant would not be at future JREF events, for her safety and the safety of others at future events. Mr. Grothe declined to ban the speaker, saying, “there are at present no such plans” to have Mr. Radford speak at a JREF event, more than a year before the next TAM, and well before speaking engagements are secured (see attachment 2).

5. Dr. Stollznow approached the JREF board, asking them to intervene in Mr. Grothe’s bizarre behavior, and make a commitment not to have the speaker in question at future JREF events. Their response: “JREF does not and will not have a blacklist” (see attachment 3).

Isn’t it comforting to know that JREF doesn’t have a blacklist, even for speakers who have sexual assault against other speakers? Those are some great morals you’re upholding there, JREF. I’m sure it has to do with “free speech” or something, right?

But that’s not the only issues JREF has. Carrie Poppy’s time there was short and ended abruptly, and she now speaks out about some of the reasons why:

 In my time at the JREF, I witnessed continuous unethical behavior, much of which I reported to the Board of Directors. I was assured on more than one occasion by James Randi that D.J. Grothe would be fired (I hear Randi denies this now, though he repeatedly promised it to another staff member as well, and that staff member and I represented the entirety of JREF full-time staff other than D.J. and his husband, Thomas), but after several months of waiting and being asked to wait, it became clear that D.J. was not going to be fired. The list of problems that I sent to the board was so long that my pasting it here would be comical at best, but it is relevant to note that although I didn’t list it, Mr. Grothe’s prejudice toward women was one undeniable factor. My predecessor, Sadie Crabtree, had warned me about D.J.’s misogyny and disrespect for women coworkers (she even advised me not to take the position, due to this issue), but I thought myself strong enough to endure it. I underestimated the degree to which such constant mistreatment can beat a person down. As I mentioned, I only lasted six months.

The final straw, for me, was that Mr. Grothe attempted to remove me as a speaker from the Women in Secularism 2 conference, going above my head (and Melody Hensley’s head) to her male boss, Ron Lindsay, and telling him that it would be bad for the JREF’s image if I attended a “feminist conference.” In defending his actions to me, D.J. told me he didn’t trust me to handle the event, saying I would be asked if he was a sexist (an unanswerable question in his mind, apparently) and that I might break down in tears crying about my own sexual assault, if the issue of rape arose. I was given no credit for the fact that I am a professional spokesperson with almost a decade of experience, that I have a successful skeptical podcast, am a published author, and that my personal assault experience makes my opinions on assault more relevant, not less. To him, I was a hysterical woman, nothing more.

This is ludicrous. I don’t even know what I could possibly say, other than this:

Thank you, Karen and Carrie. Thank you for having the bravery to come out and speak about your experiences. I wish it didn’t require bravery to do so, but sadly we’re a community that thinks the proper response to “guys, don’t do that” is years of harassment and rape threats. Thank you for speaking up, because the more people who speak up, the safer this community will be. I hope this gives the strength for others to be open about their experiences and start naming names. I know many women have come to me with similar horrible stories or specific examples of harassment from prominent speakers, but I can’t speak for them – the people who experienced it need to be the ones who speak up. And we need to create an environment where that is possible.

Thank you.

Blag Hag Grab Bag 8/7/13 – Indiana edition

Since I’ve just arrived back home in Indiana to spend a week with my family and be with my mom on her birthday, I figured a themed update is appropriate.

Weapons of mass deliciousness

Every single time I have brought Theo chocolate bars home as a gift, my bag gets flagged by the TSA and has to go through a full explosive swab down and a rescan. For chocolate. Every time.

Thanks for getting rid of all of my extra buffer time and making it so I couldn’t grab any breakfast, TSA. Time for some low blood sugar flight crankiness…at least I don’t have a middle seat.

Blag Hag Grab Bag 8/2/2013

Aka, I read a lot of interesting stuff but am too lazy to devote whole blog posts to it, so why not start yet another blog link dump?

  • Living in America Will Drive You Insane – Literally

    “A June 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have “checked out” of them. Life may or may not suck any more than it did a generation ago, but our belief in “progress” has increased expectations that life should be more satisfying, resulting in mass disappointment. For many of us, society has become increasingly alienating, isolating and insane, and earning a buck means more degrees, compliance, ass-kissing, shit-eating, and inauthenticity. So, we want to rebel. However, many of us feel hopeless about the possibility of either our own escape from societal oppression or that political activism can create societal change. So, many of us, especially young Americans, rebel by what is commonly called mental illness.”

  • Misogynist Trolls Have an Agenda, and It’s Not Lulz – Amanda Marcotte summarizes the latest twitter harassment deluge against the woman who campaigned to get Jane Austen on the ten pound note, and addresses why just ignoring the trolls doesn’t work.
  • Police Threatened to Arrest Me For Taking Their Photo Last Night – Not cool, Seattle police.
  • On Gaming’s Gay Agenda

    “The phrase I most often hear with regards to gay content that currently exists, such as the optional same-sex romances in some of BioWare’s games, is “you’re throwing it in my face”. Or “you’re shoving it down my throat”. Ignoring the ironic phrasing, the implication appears to be that the existence of such content at all is an insult or an attack— like slapping the player in the face with a dildo, it’s beyond the pale.”

  • Patent Life: How the Supreme Court Fell Short - Maggie Koerth-Baker tackles why the Supreme’s court decision to allow patenting of cDNA shows they don’t understand molecular biology. At least Scalia admitted it…
  • Portraits of Grandmas and Their Cuisine From Around the World - This is both adorable and delicious.
  • 75 Unforgettable Moments from Minnesota’s First Day of Marriage Equality – Someone’s cutting onions in here.

This is not an okay way to talk about depression and suicide

Warning – I’m about to break the hive mind and disagree with a fellow blogger.

Chris Clarke has a post up at Pharyngula “On using suicide as a rhetorical strategy.” His post is in response to Hugo Schwyzer admitting that he had just spent a week at a psych ward after he committed himself. Chris refers to this as a “passive aggressive” reference to suicide, and paints Schwyzer as an attention seeking faker. Why?

“And as a consequence, anyone who’s been subject to that kind of emotional abuse is likely to find new examples of rhetorical suicide threats like the one above supremely triggering, even if they’re made in, say, overly dramatic “I feel sorry for myself” blog posts or what have you.

[…] But if the statements are made where more than one or two people can see them, in a NYMag article or on Facebook or Tumblr or LiveJournal, the safe bet is on “abusive manipulation.

Public suicide threats, whether direct or oblique, should be presumed at first glance to be forms of emotional abuse. If they’re direct threatening statements, the best helpful response, if you can use it safely, is “do you need a ride to the hospital?” If the person’s really suffering — and again, I have personal experience with both sides of this interaction — it may either get them the help they need or put things in perspective.”

As someone who just spent months working up the courage to write what could probably be described as an overly dramatic “I feel sorry for myself” public blog post about my severe depression, this punched me right in the gut. Who are you to judge how people who are “actually” depressed or suicidal really act? Who are you to judge whose depression or suicidal tendencies are legitimate or fraud? Do you really think you can figure that out through the internet and with no psychological expertise?

I don’t defend Schwyzer’s previous actions. But policing the behavior of depressed people, trollish assholes or not, makes it harder for those with depression to be open about our illness. The stereotype of “depressed people as fakers” is a horrendously common one. No amount of qualifiers about how this doesn’t apply to people who are “actually” depressed helps, because you’re still perpetuating that stereotype.

It’s the reason it took me years to admit my depression to any of my friends, because I was terrified no one would take me seriously and would just think I was an attention whore. And you know why I had that fear? Because some of my “friends” did just that.

It’s the reason it took me another decade to seek professional help from a therapist, because they convinced me I was actually a faker who didn’t need help.

It’s the reason why I didn’t ever talk about my chronic depression when I first started blogging, because I was afraid Christians would use it as a weapon against me.

It’s the reason why it took me months of courage to talk about my depression now, because I feared my internet haters would scour my blog and twitter feed for any comment that could be interpreted as “happy” so they could label me a liar. If Chris had published this post a week ago, I may have never opened up about what has been happening to me out of fear that’s how people would view me. And I would never have experienced the relief I felt from releasing that pent up emotion and hearing all of your wonderful support.

I know Chris has experienced depression himself, but that doesn’t make his comments okay. Even though Schwyzer may be despicable for what he’s done, despicable people can also succumb to depression. Depression is soul sucking, and I wouldn’t wish it on even the worst of my enemies. So when someone admits they just came out of a psych ward – which is reflecting on something that already happened, not making a threat about the future – my instinct is to give them at least a little bit of empathy. Not to question their motives.

Abusers threatening self-harm as manipulation certainly happens, and it’s a serious issue. No one should have to just suck it up when they hear “if you leave me I’ll kill myself” or something similar. I hope someone with more training in that area (Miri?) will comment on how to deal with it, since I do not want to give uneducated advice about it. I want to be able to have that discussion without perpetuating stereotypes. So at the very least, can we not dictate what’s proper social media behavior for those with depression?