CFI’s Policy, SSA’s Press, and Cromm’s Doom – Happy Caturday, Everyone!

I haz a happee. And it’s not just because I spent all last night and this morning in bed with science, although taking some time to devour a book on random bits of science and reading some nummy posts was excellent. So was having a purring felid curled up with me. But I iz happee for moar reasons!

The Center for Inquiry adopted a very strong hostile conduct/harassment policy for conferences. I know there’s probably only two of you who didn’t already know, but I wanted to do a happy dance anyway. Also, I think Ron Lindsay’s post on it was superb. He gives the reasons why CfI went this route:

A primary objective of our policy is to ensure that everyone at our conferences — speakers, attendees, and staff — will feel safe and at ease and be able to participate fully in all conference-related events. Intimidation and harassment prevent this objective from being achieved, so such conduct should be prohibited.

This is why we have embedded our harassment policy within the context of an overall prohibition on hostile conduct. We seek to prohibit any abusive conduct “that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with another person’s ability to enjoy and participate in the conference, including social events related to the conference.”

He assures us free speech is alive and well:

We expect to have the same wide-ranging, vigorous debates that we have traditionally enjoyed at our conferences. In any event, CFI’s policy expressly states that “critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment.”

You can still flirt safely – as long as you’re not a crude jackass about it:

It is not our intention to prohibit flirting or a polite expression of interest in another person. For example, without more, the question, “Would you be interested in having a drink later?” would not be considered harassment.

But one-time expressions of interest/invitations to an encounter could be inappropriate under the policy, which is why inserting the word “repeated” in the policy would be unwise. To take a crude example (those with delicate sensibilities can skip ahead), asking someone “Wouldn’t you like to bury your head in my crotch and suck my dick?” could constitute harassment, even if it is said only once and accompanied by no other action.

(Note to the clueless: even if you’ve practiced your pick-up line and you’ve got it down to a suave art, I’d refrain from using it on someone you haven’t conversed with first, someone who has mentioned they’re not interested in being propositioned, or someone you’ve cornered. This will not only help you avoid running afoul of the policy, but will also increase your chances of sexy fun times.)

Sexy fun times are still on the table with willing partners:

CFI has no opposition to consensual sex among adults; indeed, this organization has long championed the right of individuals to engage in such conduct, and has protested restrictions on such conduct based on religious dogma. CFI’s policy does not interfere with consensual sex. It’s unwelcome sexual attention that is prohibited, not welcome sexual attention.

And there are other points that should assure all but the terminally dense among us that yes, you can have a policy that strictly forbids harassment and hostile conduct, and have fun, and possibly even sex! ZOMG, amirite?

I have one quibble: I’d like to see them add “gender identity” to the list of things you can’t harass people for. That seems to be a huge blind spot with a lot of policies. No, it’s not covered by the word “gender.” We’ve got plenty of trans* folks who can help them with the appropriate language.

Aside from that, I likes it, and can add one more set of conferences to the list of those that are sensible and fun.

In other news, I’d like to point out that our very own JT Eberhard has made it to the pages of the Washington Post. Go, JT! He’s got a lovely post up introducing the other folks who make it possible for secular high school students to form atheist clubs, even in the face of opposition from religious administrators who’d much prefer we icky atheists crawl back into the closet and slam the door behind us. One thing the explosion of atheist clubs in high schools and colleges is saying is that atheists are out, proud, and intend to stay that way. People like JT work their asses off to ensure secular students get a chance to enjoy the same benefits as their religious classmates. It’s nice to see their efforts recognized in the pages of the Post – and the story got picked up by the Charlotte Observer, too! With increased visibility could very well come increased acceptance. The SSA and the students who organize these clubs are amazing, courageous people, and it’s good to know they’ve got a champion like JT fighting for them.

I will, of course, be asking for JT’s autograph when we finally meet in meatspace.

These two items have made for a very happee Caturday indeed. And, just in case you weren’t already a happee pile o’ mush, I have one of the best ever cute cat photos for ye:

Image courtesy

You know, people like PZ will probably never admit this out loud, but that image has got to tug at their heart strings.

Alas, we must end on a sad note. Sad for our good friend and sworn enemy Crommunist, who in the past has been known to lob a few shells our way. Hostilities died down, and I believe I know why: his forces have been sleeping with the enemy. I haz proof:

It turns out his “damning evidence” of cats coming to the other side was just footage of spies learning the canine language so they could turn dogs into moles. I’m so sorry, Cromm. This must be devastating for you. I guess in the end you’ll have to fall back on otters – oh. Dear.

Image courtesy Cute!

Well, perhaps that’s just a single deserter, I’m sure it’s an aberration – oh. Well. Nevermind.

I’m sorry, Cromm. I’m so sorry. Still. At least you’ve got a good start on the cat ballads. I’m sure your feline overlords will consider this, along with your ability to open canned food, adequate service.

Secular Woman Launches

First came American Atheists adopting a Code of Conduct, and now Secular Woman has launched. It’s been a good week!

I had no idea Secular Woman was in the works (shows how dialed in I am, right?), but this is wonderful. I’ve read over their mission statement and values, and this looks like the kind of thing women in this movement need: a coalition of secular women who can address issues that disproportionately impact women. Especially when it comes to health and reproductive issues, we need a strong secular organization that can focus attention on Religious Right shenanigans. There are just too many politicians out there fueled by a base whose idea of proper women combines domestic servant with incubator, they’re passing odious laws, and they’re trying to take us back to a very dark age. There’s all manner of other idiocy to deal with. It will be nice to have a central organization that can fight this dumbfuckery from a secular woman’s perspective.

They’re also keeping a list of organizations that have adopted harassment policies. If your organization is one of those, get that information submitted!

If you’ve got a local group of godless ladies, let them know.

And watch for the speaker’s list to grow.

There’s all sorts of excellent stuff there. Check out the site, and if you’ve got $20, join up! I certainly intend to, once I’ve got extra cash.

Hell, you may even see me pop up on that list of speakers someday. I can talk about, y’know, stuff. And wave around shiny rocks. (I’ll wave around shiny rocks no matter what I’m talking about, so if you’re in to geology, come hear me even if my talk’s about caring for homicidal felids without supernatural assistance.)

If you’ve got something to say, and you’ve joined up, get your name on that list so we might end up speaking at the same conference! One with, mind you, a harassment policy.

Nurse Froggy Helps Preston Convalesce

Prepare for the squee! Reader Jes has got it for you:

One morning while checking the cat kennels at the clinic where I work, I discovered a small frog in one of the kennels, curled up next to/under a sleeping cat.

Froggy nursing Preston. Image courtesy Jes.

If there’s anything guaranteed to melt me into a puddle of goo, it’s this. I mean, seriously. Froggy and kitteh sleeping together. If that isn’t adorable, nothing is.

It certainly found itself a warm, safe place to sleep.

Preston’s nurse close-up. Image courtesy Jes.

It reminds me of one of those service animals in hospitals who hang round the patients and aid their healing with the power of cute.

This has almost got me heading to the pet store to acquire a frog. I’m relatively certain Misha wouldn’t try to munch it. I think she’d find it fascinating for all of ten minutes, then ignore it for the rest of its life. She’s been an indoor cat for so long she doesn’t understand the whole hunting thing – she’ll occasionally stalk birds as long as there’s a window between her and them, but get her outside, and she freaks out if they get too close. Small crawly things don’t interest her for long. She won’t even eat insects, which is unfortunate, since she insists on me leaving the door open in the summertime.

What is it about frogs? I understand cats – they’re soft, they’re cuddly, they purr, they play. Of course we love them. But frogs? They’re cool and slightly moist. They don’t cuddle (unless you’re a convalescing cat, in which case, they do cuddle, apparently). They’re bald. And yet they also make us squee. Combine cats and frogs, and you’ve got squee squared.

Thank you, Jes!

New(ish) at Rosetta Stones: Sunset Crater

Yes, this is a repost. No, I wasn’t able to write up our next installment of Mount St. Helens yum. But at least I gave you esplodey things! And some of you may never ever have seen this post before. Even for those who have, the pictures have been prettied up, so it’ll be all fresh and lovely. Enjoy!

I’m going to go beg my uterus to stop hurting me now… ow.

Ooo, Geo-Sites Meme!

Right, I’m in. I won’t win, but I can certainly enjoy playing the game – and so can a good number of you, I suspect. Callan Bentley just finished reading a review copy of 101 American Geo-Sites You’ve Gotta See, which seems like a damned fine book for getting people interested in geology. I likes it.

Let’s see what I have seen. Places I’ve visited are in bold.

1. Wetumpka Crater, Alabama
2. Exit Glacier, Alaska
3. Antelope Canyon, Arizona (I lived within spitting distance but never went, how sad is that?)
4. Meteor Crater, Arizona
5. Monument Valley, Arizona (I’ve seen it from Meteor Crater, does that count?)
6. Prairie Creek Pipe, Arkansas
7. Wallace Creek, California
8. Racetrack Playa, California
9. Devils Postpile, California
10. Rancho La Brea, California
11. El Capitan, California
12. Boulder Flatirons, Colorado
13. Interstate 70 Roadcut, Colorado
14. Florissant Fossil Beds, Colorado
15. Dinosaur Trackway, Connecticut (Been to the one in Holyoke, MA, but not this)
16. Wilmington Blue Rocks, Delaware
17. Devil’s Millhopper, Florida
18. Stone Mountain, Georgia
19. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii
20. Borah Peak, Idaho
21. Menan Buttes, Idaho
22. Great Rift, Idaho
23. Valmeyer Anticline, Illinois
24. Hanging Rock Klint, Indiana (WTF, geology in Indiana?! If only I’d known then…)
25. Fort Dodge Gypsum, Iowa
26. Monument Rocks, Kansas
27. Ohio Black Shale, Kentucky
28. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
29. Four Corners Roadcut, Kentucky
30. Avery Island, Louisiana
31. Schoodic Point, Maine
32. Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
33. Purgatory Chasm, Massachusetts
34. Nonesuch Potholes, Michigan
35. Quincy Mine, Michigan
36. Grand River Ledges, Michigan
37. Sioux Quartzite, Minnesota
38. Thomson Dikes, Minnesota
39. Soudan Mine, Minnesota
40. Petrified Forest, Mississippi
41. Elephant Rocks, Missouri
42. Grassy Mountain Nonconformity, Missouri
43. Chief Mountain, Montana
44. Madison Slide, Montana
45. Butte Pluton, Montana
46. Quad Creek Quartzite, Montana
47. Ashfall Fossil Beds, Nebraska
48. Scotts Bluff, Nebraska
49. Crow Creek Marlstone, Nebraska
50. Sand Mountain, Nevada
51. Great Unconformity, Nevada
52. Flume Gorge, New Hampshire
53. Palisades Sill, New Jersey
54. White Sands, New Mexico
55. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
56. Shiprock Peak, New Mexico
57. State Line Outcrop, New Mexico
58. American Falls, New York
59. Taconic Unconformity, New York
60. Gilboa Forest, New York
61. Pilot Mountain, North Carolina
62. South Killdeer Mountain, North Dakota
63. Hueston Woods, Ohio
64. Big Rock, Ohio
65. Kelleys Island, Ohio
66. Interstate 35 Roadcut, Oklahoma
67. Mount Mazama, Oregon
68. Lava River Cave, Oregon
69. Drake’s Folly, Pennsylvania
70. Hickory Run, Pennsylvania
71. Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania
72. Beavertail Point, Rhode Island
73. Crowburg Basin, South Carolina
74. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
75. Mammoth Site, South Dakota
76. Pinnacles Overlook, South Dakota
77. Reelfoot Scarp, Tennessee
78. Enchanted Rock, Texas
79. Capitan Reef, Texas
80. Paluxy River Tracks, Texas
81. Upheaval Dome, Utah
82. Checkerboard Mesa, Utah
83. San Juan Goosenecks, Utah
84. Salina Canyon Unconformity, Utah
85. Bingham Stock, Utah
86. Whipstock Hill, Vermont
87. Great Falls, Virginia
88. Natural Bridge, Virginia
89. Millbrig Ashfall, Virginia
90. Catoctin Greenstone, Virginia
91. Mount St. Helens, Washington
92. Dry Falls, Washington
93. Seneca Rocks, West Virginia
94. Roche-A-Cri Mound, Wisconsin
95. Van Hise Rock, Wisconsin
96. Amnicon Falls, Wisconsin
97. Green River, Wyoming
98. Devils Tower, Wyoming
99. Fossil Butte, Wyoming
100. Steamboat Geyser, Wyoming
101. Specimen Ridge, Wyoming

Pretty pathetic showing, if I want to measure myself against this list. But I’ve seen some damned fine geology. I’ve been to places that certainly kick Monument Valley’s arse. And I’ve been to Fantastic Caverns in Missouri, which is certainly fantastic. Kinda wish they’d made the list.

Lockwood’s dissatisfied with this list, and has started one of his own, focused on Oregon. If you’ve got some suggestions for an Oregon geology list, head on over and let him know. I’m going to do the same for Washington and Arizona, the two states I’ve called home. So much awesome. It’ll take a while to come up with a list of 101 for each state, and I’ll need your help. Bung your favorites into the comments, and let’s get started! Also, let us know if you tackle the task for your own state/province/other. I’ll do my best to curate a master list. We can cover the world!

Let’s take this opportunity to show each other, and other folks who might not have even considered doing some geotrekking, just how amazing this little planet is.

Barringer Meteor Crater, Arizona. Image courtesy Cujo359

Suzanne’s Citrine

I’m going to be doing a post on a magnificent bit of citrine I’ve currently got joint custody of, but this is not that post. Instead, this is me thinking of citrine and realizing I’ve had a piece sitting in a box by my bed for years, waiting for the right home. It’s one of a pair I picked up at a little shop in downtown Seattle called Raven’s Nest Treasure.

It’s going to Suzanne, who is one of my favorite people in the entire universe, and who doesn’t (yet) have enough pretty rocks lying around. We had some lovely sunshine on Sunday, so I took photos of her new delight. I figured a few of you might enjoy them as well.

Citrine and sky

Isn’t it lovely?

I will confess something to you: I never much liked citrine. I’m not a fan of oranges and yellows. I always passed it by for things like rose and smoky quartz and amethyst. Because it’s orange. Like an orange. I quite like oranges, mind, but have never been a fan of their color.

Citrine against burgundy.

So I always passed right by citrine with nary a glance, until my friend Autumn came to visit. We went to the Burke Museum, and she bolted for the citrine. She adores it.

Citrine on the side, in the sun. Enlarge this and really see the play of color within.

Have you ever had one of those moments when someone makes you see a thing you’ve never liked entirely anew? This was that moment. I saw citrine through her eyes, and it blazed out with all the colors of the sun. It was spectacular, dazzling – still orange, but a brilliant and beautiful orange.

My whole perspective on citrine changed. Justlikethat.

Citrine from a different angle.

So when I was in the Raven’s Nest a bit later, and saw citrine crystals sitting in a dish, I chose out two quite carefully. I wrapped one and kept it in a box, waiting for Autumn. But we lost touch, and it’s not seen the light of day for too long. It’s time to give this one a home. I’ll find Autumn again someday, and I’ll give her its sister. Then I’ll pick up another piece, somewhere, someday, so that there are three bits of citrine connecting three women. Symbols matter. And these are two of my favorite women in the world, with personalities as brilliant and beautiful as the sun, who make me see things in a whole new light.

Love always,


UFD Fans – Behold the Red Bird o’ Fury!

George found you something great. Go here.

That is one scary-looking bird!

For something a little cuter, go here.

Incidentally, if anyone has some Unidentified Flying Dinosaurs they’d like to see published and identified here at the cantina, please feel free to send them in! I can be reached at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com. Please put UFD in the subject line, and note where you took the photo.


A Huge Step Forward

I just got off a conference call with Amanda Knief and Dave Silverman of American Atheists. They invited me and several of my fellow FreethoughtBloggers, along with other prominent bloggers throughout the community, to discuss the harassment policy they’ve just adopted. You know what’s fantastic? Seeing an organization this large and established step up and do the right thing. That makes 11.

What really came through in that call, from my perspective, was just how sensible doing this is. Dave had a situation recently where an attendee reported harassment to him, and he realized he has nothing in place to deal with it. That’s not a great position for the head of any organization to be in.

They had been considering the adoption of a policy for about a year, and were committed to making it happen. They reviewed a number of sample policies, adjusting them to their specific needs, and will continue refining theirs as needed. They want American Atheists’ conventions to be safe, happy, and informative, where people are allowed to have fun (hell, even have sex!) as long as it’s consensual. Sexual and physical harassment won’t be tolerated: Dave is “emphatically intolerant of harassment.” Don’t pester other people, follow a few simple guidelines, and you’re good to go.

These are the points I found most important:

  • This policy will help create a safe and fun (yes, you can haz both) environment in which everyone can enjoy themselves.
  • Staff and volunteers will be trained.
  • Reporting procedures will be solidly in place for every conference, and incidents will be documented.
  • The policy applies to attendees, staff, volunteers and speakers – no one is exempt.
  • There will be consequences for violating the policy. As Dave said, “Not just don’t do this, but don’t do this or else.”
  • Victims of harassment will have their concerns taken seriously.
  • People who are engaging in inappropriate behavior will be given an opportunity to correct that behavior. It’s not “one strike and you’re out” across the board – although in some situations (such as if you assault someone) you won’t be given a second chance.
  • This is a living policy. It will evolve, adjust, and improve over time. I love this, because it tells me Amanda, Dave, and the rest of the staff at American Atheists aren’t just putting a document up for CYA and PR purposes. They really mean for harassment to be effectively addressed and stopped.

And least people believe this means the end of sexy fun times, keep in mind that nothing in this policy prevents you from having consensual fun with willing partners. Nothing. Here, let me underline that for you: nothing. Folks who are afraid the policy will make everyone turn into terrified mannequins can relax. Good times are good to go. You just have to ensure the folks you want to have fun with are on board for good times, as well.

Amanda Knief is phenomenal. She understands how harassment policies work, she understands how to effectively implement them, and since she’s a lawyer, she knows how to navigate legal minefields while protecting victims of harassment. Reports of harassment will end up in her hands, and I can’t think of better hands for them to be in. Anyone who is the target for bad behavior can feel confident, knowing she, Dave and the staff and volunteers will take care of it. Dave will be the one who makes the ultimate decisions about what happens with harassers, and believe me when I say people do not want their bad behavior reaching him. He and Amanda will be fair, but also very, very tough.

So, y’know, read the policy before you go.*

This is a huge step forward. It’s good to see an organization like American Atheists stepping up and putting policies in place that will ensure harassment is not welcome at their conferences, and is dealt with effectively when it happens.


*I’ll link to it directly once it’s live on the American Atheists site. For now, I’m linking to PZ’s post, which includes the draft we were sent. The Code of Conduct is now online. You can see the press release here.

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: LBBs the Reprise

Forgive me if you’ve already identified these. I am teh suck with Little Brown Birds. And these are too damned adorable not to post. I’ll have more interesting UFDs coming as long as the little buggers decide to cooperate.

These are from Sunday’s walk along North Creek. There were all sorts of birds around, some of which I even recognized, and I shall include them for variety’s sake.

The problem with shooting birds along the North Creek corridor is that there are so very many places for birds to hide. When the trees leaf out, you can’t see much of anything, and the birds pretty much sit within the foliage tittering at you and your wretched efforts to photograph them. Sparrows swoop overhead, too swift to catch an image of. LBBs give you a brief glimpse before popping off into the trees or deep in the tall grass, where your camera will never catch them.

But I noticed movement down by some rocks. There’s a little rivulet running through a corporate property, close to the levee, and something was down by it doing stuff. I couldn’t tell quite what. I was up on the levee, and the thing was tiny. Also, brown bird against brown rocks and brown detritus? Yeah.

Still. The camera managed a glimpse:


That’s a pretty good testament to 10x optical zoom and a good crop, ain’t it?

The wee little thing bounced over to a rock and started messing about. After a bit of observation, I suspected it was eating grass seed.


It had a seed head it was worrying away at. Very intent about it, too. And adept at catching the head and bringing it back down when it sprang back up.


Of course, all of this was hard to make out from that distance. I could barely even tell it was a bird. So I hoofed it down a side path off the levee and tried to sneak up along the bank. I’m not very sneaky. I disturbed its lunch.


It looks a tad upset. But it did let me get rather close and stayed still for a bit before flying off, so there’s that.

After it abandoned me, I continued on toward the pond by 195th Street. I quite like that pond. I’ve spent lots of time there, but it’s never been quite such a happening place as it was Sunday. Usually, I just see ducks there, but this time, as I walked by the shore, an enormous blue heron flew past in a stately manner (but not stately enough for me to bring my camera to bear) and settled in for a bit of fishing. Hidden, of course, by a thick screen of bushes. Sigh. But when I climbed the hill on the other side of the pond, I caught sight of it, and decided to try a shot, and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

Blue Heron

I cannot stress enough how glad I am that I bought a camera with 10x optical zoom. That was a very long shot.

So up the path I went, taking the bridge over the creek and haring off towards the second pond, encountering some critters of interest I shall tell you about a bit later. When I reached the second pond, I discovered the place was packed with finches.

House finch

Five years, I’ve lived here. Five years, I haven’t noticed a single house finch, and all of a sudden, after Trebuchet identified the first one I saw, I see them everywhere. I’ve seen them in Briar, I’ve seen them in Snoqualmie, and now right here near home. Amazing how many ubiquitous things you never see until your readers start requesting mystery birds.

House Finch II

It makes me wonder how much else I miss. Suppose I’ll find out when you lot start requesting other mysteries.

After encountering the house finches, I walked along the lawn at the edge of the pond, which is a way I’ve never gone before. It doesn’t seem right to invade the building’s grounds on a work day, but it’s some sort of school district thingy and this was a Sunday, so I figured they’d probably not mind a silly woman with a camera trying to catch birds. I was hoping for a shot at one of the red-winged blackbirds I’d been hearing, but no joy. However, I did come across what seemed like an entire flock of LBBs congregated on a patio. They hurried off into the trees when they saw me coming. One perched on top like a Christmas ornament and allowed me to get a good snap.


I can’t even begin to tell you whether that’s the same type of LBB as the first or not. LBBs are bloody difficult.

After that excitement, I caught up another part of the creek path that leads to the new bridge they put in on thirty-somethingth avenue. And standing on that bridge, I swear to you, I saw a kingfisher fishing. It wasn’t a heron – they don’t swoop out of trees and back up like that. It wasn’t an eagle or an LBB or anything else I’ve seen. But it was so far away, and so fast, I can’t be sure. And it was gone before I could try for a photo.

Another day, then.

And let me just take this opportunity to thank you. I never paid much attention to birds before you all got me in to them. Now I delight in them. I’ve come to recognize a few, and get excited when I see others, and have the occasional chat whilst one sings in my ear.

Sorry about the shaky cam. I was excited and worried it would fly away before I could record it, and the second video I shot, the camera didn’t realize we were supposed to still be focusing on the bird, so it’s all fuzzy. Ah, well. Pretty sound anyway, eh? It seemed so very happy.

Makes two of us, that does. Hopefully, now, more. You, my darlings, deserve all the happiness I can give you.

Surely We Have Some Real Threat Assessment Experts in This Community

And I’d like to hear from them. Threat assessment isn’t a simple task for the layperson. Since Dr. Blackford decided he’s the world’s expert* and has deemed the communications Ophelia received to be “not threatening,” I got curious as to whether we’ve got folks who do threat assessment for a living. You see, I did quite a bit of (informal) study on forensic psychology when I was younger. And one thing I remember actual threat assessment experts** saying is that threats are context-dependent.

For instance, if someone says they’re going to shoot me in the head, make sure my brains splatter all over the sidewalk, and then pour gasoline over the remains and set fire to them, I might become upset – if, say, that was conveyed to a third party by someone who is obsessed with me. But that graphic explanation of what will happen to me would make me giggle if some friends and I were discussing the best method for handling me should I become a zombie. Context is key, people.

But context isn’t always so crystal-clear. We saw that with the communications Ophelia received. They can be read as either a) a veiled threat to harm, b) a paranoid fan trying to help Ophelia stay safe, c) a nasty mockery, or d) something we haven’t even considered. Yet the context surrounding them is over a year of threats, animosity, and hatred aimed at her and like-minded women. That vitriol had increased to a fever pitch just before she received those emails. I can tell you that in the context of what’s been going on in this community, if I had received those communications from a person unknown to me, and this came on top of doubts I’d already had about my safety and comfort in speaking at a conference, combined with reasonable doubt as to whether the president in charge of said conference would take concerns seriously, I’d not be inclined to read them in the most flattering light. I’d be pricing Kevlar, just in case.

And I wouldn’t be wrong to do so.

Not being an expert in threat assessment, I’d have to go with my own judgment and the advice of people I trust. If some of them advised me that things looked rather hinky, and this confirmed my own feelings on the matter, I’d quite probably decide that keeping my speaking engagement wasn’t worth the risk. And if I believed, at the time, that these were genuinely threatening communications, I’d mention this fact when announcing that I was breaking the engagement.

According to Dr. Blackford, this isn’t what I should do. I have news for Dr. Blackford: his opinion in this matter would be precisely as valuable to me as my cat’s shit. He has not said anything that would give me confidence in his insight into such matters. What he has said on other matters leads me to suspect he may be full of the substance that frequently emerges from the litter box regarding this one.

Dr. Blackford sez, “For what it’s worth, I am an expert (or at least, to be honest, a former expert, in that I have not been in legal practice for over a decade now) on the subject of sexual harassment law and workplace misconduct in general.” Fantastic! I’m dying to know more about this brief phase of his life. Perhaps he can inform us how many incidents of workplace harassment are required before he would advise a company to adopt a harassment policy. Perhaps he would tell us what might happen to, oh, say, a convention that doesn’t take measures to prevent harassment and then gets the shit sued out of it by an attendee who is harassed and/or harmed there. Could it be possible that a harassment policy would not only protect convention attendees, but the organization itself?

Perhaps Dr. Blackford would also be so kind as to opine on just how much evidence is required of a woman to prove she was, in fact, harassed. Because, you see, he sez, “I think we should suspend judgment as to whether there was ever an Elevator Guy or a conversation in a lift in Dublin – we need more evidence as to what, if anything, took place that night…. Always be sceptical when you see claims about someone behaving badly unless you see the events with your own eyes or there is plenty of corroboration and/or testing of the evidence (via cross-examination, for example).” It sounds to me like Dr. Blackford is saying that no woman, ever, should be believed without X number of witnesses. Oh, he tries to wriggle out of that by adding that menz can totes make shit up, too (I paraphrase), but the people he’s currently busy doubting are all women who were harassed. I find his demand for evidence beyond an unreasonable doubt fascinating, as he was the very man claiming that harassment policies which disallow booth babes are “Talibanesque.” You know what else is Talibanesque, Dr. Blackford? Hint: it has to do with the reliability of women as witnesses.

After seeing Dr. Blackford’s comments on the matter, I doubt I’ll be consulting him on harassment issues for any organization I may be responsible for. And I can’t foresee using him for threat assessment in the future, but who knows? Maybe he’s actually brilliant at it. Let’s give him a chance.

Scenario A: A Love Letter

I have received a letter whose author says that the grace of my body thrills him, that my beauty is his starting point for the appreciation of all other beauty, and that he wants to feel my body and share his love with me. Should I be worried?

Scenario B: A Few Worrisome Words

I have received a communication that indicates I will be skinned, peeled, mutilated, and bombed. Should I become concerned?

Most of you already know the answers. The context of this post hints at them. You might even be wise enough to ask for context within the scenarios, because you suspect I’m being tricksy. I shall provide without making you ask.

In Scenario A, I am a 10 year-old girl getting a letter from a middle-aged man***. In Scenario B, I am a writer who has challenged another writer to a writing competition.

Let’s make it harder.

In Scenario A, I am a young woman receiving this communication from a fan.

In Scenario B, I am a blogger receiving this communication from someone who vehemently disagrees with what I said in a recent post.

It gets harder, in those instances. Perhaps not for Dr. Blackford, who would likely tell me that I should be flattered by A and laugh off B, from what I’ve seen of his commentary. But for most of us, it would become more difficult to deny those two things are potential threats. And if we suspect they may be acted upon, if we suspect that the letter writer in Scenario A will come to “share his love” (aka, rape) and the writer in Scenario B is unhinged enough to actually harm us, we will take action to mitigate those threats.

When we receive communications which, given their context, may be reasonably construed as potentially threatening, we are facing Schroedinger’s Threat. We are also facing a gamble, and the stakes are high. The probability of this Schroedinger’s Threat being a genuine one that will be acted upon may be low. But it’s not zero. Any psychiatric nurse Nurse Practitioner can tell you that a threat, whether baldly stated or merely hinted at, must be taken seriously.

And what we do when we assess the possibilities is a cost-benefit analysis in which we decide, for ourselves, whether to risk to our health and lives is worth the gamble. In some instances, we may decide it is. In some, we may decide it isn’t. We make the best choice we have with the information available to us.

In some instances, we may go so far as to hire a threat assessment professional. As Dr. Blackford and his fellow hyper-skeptics seem to lack a certain, shall we say, discernment in such matters, perhaps we should ask if anyone in the community does this sort of thing for a living?


* I have chosen Dr. Blackford as my example in this post. Alas, there are plenty of “totes not a threat!” people I could have used instead.

** People like Gavin de Becker and Dr. Park Dietz.

***This scenario was taken from Gavin de Becker’s excellent The Gift of Fear.


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