New FIshnet Story: “The Truth Hurts”

Fishnet logoFishnet has a new story up! The online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing, Fishnet, has a new story up for you to enjoy. It’s titled The Truth Hurts, by Mark Pritchard, and here’s the teaser:

Kenny stood rapt for a few minutes, watching Tiffany get it on both ends. It was only when Con pulled out and shot his load across Tiffany’s face that he stopped it. Sex was one thing, but the come shot had lowered it to the level of porn, and good Mormon boys don’t watch porn.

To read more, read the rest of the story. Not for anyone under 18. Also, please be aware: This story contains content that some people may find disturbing, such as non-consent, borderline consent, seriously bodily harm, or incest. If you’re not interested in reading stories with this type of content, please don’t read this one. If you are — have fun!

Humanist Symposium #41

Hs-logo4Hello, and welcome to the Humanist Symposium #41!

I originally had all sorts of plans to come up with some brilliantly witty theme for the Symposium. But due to an unexpected scheduling conflict, you’re going to have to settle for the “I Just Got Back From Netroots Nation Half An Hour Ago After Four Days Of Intense Conferencing And Four Hours Of Sleep And Have No Energy To Create Anything Other Than A Collection Of Links With Brief Descriptions And Money Quotes” edition. (No pictures this time. Sorry. I just don’t have it in me. I have, however, divided the Symposium into three broad categories: Meta-Atheism: Atheist Organizing and the Atheist Movement; Responding to Religion; and Humanist Living/ Philosophy.) Enjoy!

META-ATHEISM: ATHEIST ORGANIZING AND THE ATHEIST MOVEMENT

Cubik’s Rube at Cubik’s Rube presents Isms, in my opinion, are not good. On sexism in the atheist/ skeptical movement… and what is and is not an appropriate way for men to respond when it’s pointed out. Specifically, a response to the TAM/ Skepchick kerfuffle.

Money quote: “But fuck, if women are feeling shut out by a male-dominated atmosphere, and the numbers are there to back them up, don’t start whining about how whiny they’re getting. Don’t let your first response to a potentially legitimate complaint — made in as calm and reasoned and generous a manner as you could ask for, lodged by a demographic that consists of half the population of the planet and who have a history of being beaten down by the other half — be to tell them to shut up because they’re wrong to feel the way they do. That should not be where you instinctively, immediately go to when someone’s not happy with the way things are.”

(Rare editorial note to Cubik’s Rube from the Symposium hostess: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. And to readers: If there’s only one piece from this Symposium that you read, make it this one. This is really important stuff for the atheist movement to get, and to get now, while our movement is still in its early stages and we have time to prevent it from getting entrenched.)

Paul Fidalgo at Secularism Examiner presents Nonbelievers will get called out for fudging the numbers. Why we have to be honest about the number of atheists in America and in the world, and not exaggerate those numbers — for pragmatic reasons, and because respect for truth and evidence is a central part of the humanist philosophy.

Money quote: “As proponents of rationalism, we have to deal with reality on its own terms, not as we would like it to be. Stop telling people that nonbelievers make up 15% of the country, because we don’t — or if we do, not enough of us are telling pollsters when they ask. Our honesty and our adherence to facts are our greatest strengths. To leave gaping holes like this only makes us easy targets for our enemies to nail us where it hurts.”

vjack at Atheist Revolution presents Organizing Atheists: The MoveOn.org Model. Using MoveOn as a model for how the nascent, still- disorganized, herding- cats atheist movement could be turned into a political powerhouse.

Money quote: “Just imagine the next time some jackass pundit or politician engages in anti-atheist bigotry. Action alerts go out to members via email, petitions are circulated, letters are written, calls are made, press releases go out to news agencies. And instead of every damn blogger, forum host, Twitter user, etc. having to do it themselves without necessarily knowing what others are doing, it is done from this sort of organization. Imagine the clout of a Pharyngula multiplied several times over! That is what we’re talking about here.”

Jennifurret at Blag Hag presents Atheism is boring. On whether atheism offers not only meaning but engagement with the world… and on people who join the atheist movement without understanding atheism and atheist philosophy.

Money quote: “I’d like to pretend this isn’t happening, but there are more and more ‘atheists’ who can’t give you a single logical argument why they don’t believe in God — not because those arguments don’t exist, but because they haven’t given it any thought.”

Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism presents Getting a Philosophy Under Your Feet. Why it’s important for the atheist movement to promote, not only disbelief in God, but a solid, positive humanist philosophy of life that can help get atheists through difficult times. Using the conversion story of evangelist pastor Dave Schmelzer as a cautionary tale.

Money quote: “In effect, Schmelzer fell for two illusions, one right after the other. First, he bought into our capitalist, consumer-driven society’s message that happiness is achieved through acquiring money and possessions. He found out for himself that this was a false ethic, but then fell right into a second trap, the religious message that happiness is achieved only through worshipping God. Atheist though he was, what he was lacking was a real philosophy of his own. Without a solid ethic under his feet to ground him, he fell prey to one false creed after another, like a leaf being blown around by the wind.”

RESPONDING TO RELIGION

Michael Fridman at a Nadder presents One Law to Rule Them All. In political discussion of religious issues one thing that’s often missed is how offensive it is to treat members of religious communities as having different rights — this goes against everything humanism and human rights stand for and has been slipping into news stories unchallenged a bit too often.

Money quote: “So the Sudanese authorities broke even their own boundaries for Sharia law. Big surprise. But the report seems to imply that if only the government left the non-Muslims alone (and only lashed Muslim women) it would be better. No it wouldn’t. The above quotes just underscore how offensive it is to have two laws in the same country depending on what family you’re born into.”

Greg Laden at Greg Laden’s Blog presents What to do if you accidentally end up with a roommate who is religious? The assumption that people are religious is our society’s default assumption… and flouting this assumption, simply by coming out as an atheist, can be disruptive and upsetting to believers. In a good way.

Money quote: “The truth is that when the Atheist World and the Religious World overlap or interact in the United States, the Atheist World is expected to give sway, make the excuses, back off, or shut up.”

PhillyChief at You Made Me Say It! presents How about valuing human life as a fellow human? Why empathy is a more solid foundation for morality than adherence to religious tenets… with the recent shootings at the Pennsylvania health club being Exhibit A.

Money quote: “Personally, I find empathy as being the cornerstone of morality. Without the ability to understand and relate to other humans, any attempt at morality will be a futile exercise. In fact, this lack of empathy is recognized as a mental disorder and such people lacking empathy are referred to as sociopaths.”

Spanish Inquisitor at Spanish Inquisitor presents Belief. Rumination on the concept of belief… and the differences between secular and religious beliefs.

Money quote: “I used to think that all beliefs were utterly useless, unless they were supportable beliefs. I would want to see some arguable substance behind the belief. This is one of the underpinning tenets of my atheistic lack-of-belief. However, now I think it’s a little more nuanced than that.”

NeoSnowQueen at Winter Harvest presents Allegory: A Tale of Two Rationales. A glance at the way that religious people and atheists look at healing and death in an allegory.

Money quote: “The Christian will read this allegory and come to the conclusion that God is in everything. God is on a higher plane, and his plan is supreme — all we can ask for is intervention, the answer is not so important as the question. If it is in God’s will, there will be a miraculous healing, a slow healing, a resurrection, or a death. The atheist will read this allegory and come to the conclusion that God is in nothing.”

Luke Muehlhauser at Common Sense Atheism presents How to Convert Atheists. Advice to Christians on how they might convert atheists. (And in this editor’s opinion, a charmingly sneaky way to get Christians to reconsider their faith.)

Money quote: “Persuading atheists is kind of like picking up chicks. You’re 80% of the way there if you just avoid the really big mistakes that most people make. Most of what you have to do is just not be stupid.”

HUMANIST LIVING/ PHILOSOPHY

TechSkeptic at Effort Sisyphus presents Rights of Passage. On the importance of ritual even in a secular society… with a tongue- in- cheek proposal for a series of secular/ skeptical/ science- themed rituals to replace or supplement the existing ones.

Money quote: “There is a very uncelebrated milestone that 95% of us go through (78% of you english folk). Vaccinations. Why don’t we celebrate this? This is an awesome achievement over disease and death… We should be celebrating this achievement!”

Sean Prophet at Black Sun Journal presents Radical Skepticism and Gullibility: Two Sides of a Coin. On how easy it is to confuse skepticism with gullibility and sloppy thinking… and how to avoid doing so.

Money quote: “Radical Skepticism must be distinguished from the healthy kind that promotes inquiry.”

Glowing Face Man at Glowing Face Man presents How to Contribute to Society. A very different, nontraditional answer to the question, “How should I contribute to society?”

Money quote: “By far the best way to stimulate your world is to actively, joyfully participate in it. Merely by walking around outside, you provide profound cultural value. Culture is nothing more than the people in it, and without those people, it is nothing.”

(Please note: Many of the conclusions of this piece are emphatically not endorsed by the host of this carnival. However, it is sufficiently thought- provoking to merit inclusion in this Symposium.)

Andrew Bernardin at the evolving mind presents Violence Incubated at Home? Thoughts on a recent study showing that young men living at home may be more prone to violence… with thoughts on how to carefully interpret data and avoid misleading conclusions.

Money quote: “Okay, they’ve discovered a correlation, but is the link between variables causal or inertly predictive or something else?”

00FF00 at ooffoo presents Should the government make ‘Right to Die’ facilities publicly available? Ooffoo asks “Should the government make ‘Right to Die’ facilities publicly available?” and kicks off the debate by inviting two leading voices, Dignity in Dying & Care Not Killing, to contribute. But most importantly, they want to hear what you think.

Money quote: “The ‘Right to Die’ debate seems to get larger and louder daily so to foster discussion here on Ooffoo we have asked our own question.”

James Pomeroy at verywide.net presents Wheresoever We May Roam. A piece intended to inspire secular wonder in our world and in life.

Money quote: “From protean, simplest life, we arose. In infinitesimal increments, by accident and, eventually, by intentional effort, by hook and by crook even, we found ourselves standing. Here. On the good earth. On the cruel ground. On this indifferent planet. And we proclaimed our will and ourselves in tools, in rituals of birth and burial, in artistic representation. We found our meaning in these things, and by these things we created a different world, a symbolic world.”

Finally, we have my own bad self: your Humanist Symposium hostess, Greta Christina, at the cleverly- named Greta Christina’s blog, presenting A Skeptic’s View of Sexual Transcendence. In which I offer ways to look at transcendent sexual ecstasy that don’t involve any sort of belief in the supernatural. A response to the woo spirituality that’s so prevalent in the sex-positive community. (May not be safe for work, whatever that means.)

Money shot — er, money quote: “The act of sex, and the experience of sexual pleasure, connects us to every other living thing on earth. We are the cousins of everything that lives on this planet, with a common ancestor of primordial soup going back billions of years… and we are all related, not entirely but substantially, because of sex. That is awesome. That makes me want to go fuck right now, just so I can feel connected with my fish and tetrapod and primate ancestors. That is entirely made of win.”

That’s it for this edition of the Humanist Symposium. The Humanist Symposium #42 will be held at The Greenbelt on September 6. Submissions can be made through the Blog Carnival Hosting Doodad. Ta!

“God Doesn’t Have to Mean Religion”: Accomodationism and the “Church and State” Panel at Netroots Nation

In-god-we-trustIs it okay that there’s language about God in the U.S. government… since the word “God” doesn’t have to be religious?

As you may have heard on other atheist blogs (or on my own Facebook page — if you haven’t already, friend me!), there was a panel at Netroots Nation today, A New Progressive Vision for Church and State. (Or yesterday, I guess — sheesh, is it after midnight already?) Here is a summary of the panel’s thesis, proposed by panelist Bruce Ledewitz:

The old liberal vision of a total separation of religion from politics has been discredited. Despite growing secularization, a secular progressive majority is still impossible, and a new two-part approach is needed — one that first admits that there is no political wall of separation. Voters must be allowed, without criticism, to propose policies based on religious belief. But, when government speaks and acts, messages must be universal. The burden is on religious believers, therefore, to explain public references like “under God” in universal terms. For example, the word “God” can refer to the ceaseless creativity of the universe and the objective validity of human rights. Promoting and accepting religious images as universal will help heal culture-war divisions and promote the formation of a broad-based progressive coalition.

ConfusionThe reaction to this thesis around the atheosphere has been an interesting combination of outrage and baffled head-scratching. But come now, that’s not fair. That’s just a summary in the conference materials. I’m actually here at Netroots Nation; I actually attended this panel; I heard what the people on it had to say.

And I can tell you that my reaction — and the reaction of a whole lot of other people attending this panel — was somewhere between outrage and baffled head-scratching.

I mean — what? It’s okay for the government to endorse God
 because God isn’t necessarily a religious concept? It’s okay for the government to endorse God
 because we can define God in a way that includes atheism?

Huh?

Okay. I’ll try to be fair here. I’ll try to not go straight for the snark. Having now heard a more detailed explanation of this idea than the quick- and- dirty summary, I’ll try to take Ledewitz’s thesis seriously. I don’t promise to succeed… but I’ll try.

Pledge_of_allegianceLedewitz — who is an atheist, I want to make that clear up front — basically says that no, government can’t establish a religion, and it can’t even establish that it thinks religion of any kind is better than no religion. But “God” can be defined very abstractly and philosophically: as, say, the universal essence of goodness and justice. And while the government can’t establish religion, it can — and does — express views on philosophical questions. So if we define “God” as a philosophical concept and not a religious one, that makes it okay for the government to — for instance — put the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, or spend $100,000 to engrave the words “In God We Trust” on the Capitol Visitor Center, or display the Ten Commandments in city halls. It’s not really endorsing religion. It’s just endorsing God.

So. Here’s my first response to that.

?!?!?!?!?

(That’s my best attempt to depict a blend of outrage and baffled head-scratching. If I had a way to depict “incoherent gibbering and waving my hands in the air like a crazy person,” I’d do that instead.)

Humpty-dumptyAre you fucking kidding me? You can define “God” in a way that isn’t religious? God and gods is the whole freaking foundation of religion. It’s practically the definition of it. And you can define “God” in a way that doesn’t exclude atheists? Do you know what “atheist” even means? Let me spell it out. A-theist. No God. This isn’t Alice in Wonderland; you can’t just make words mean whatever you choose them to mean. (As Jesse Galef of the Secular Coalition of America, who was also at the panel, pointed out on Friendly Atheist.)

Now here’s my serious, un-snarky response. (Much of which I said during the Q&A at the panel. Did you really think I could go to this thing and keep my mouth shut?)

First. Let’s say that we can re-define God to mean something way more vague and philosophical than 99% of the people who use the word understand it to mean. Let’s say you define God to mean the infinite creativity of the universe, or the universal and objective essence of goodness and justice, or something.

UniverseSo what? As an atheist, I don’t believe in that, either. I believe that if the astronomers are right, the universe is eventually going to run out of steam; and I believe that goodness and justice are concepts generated by our human brains after millions of years of evolution as social animals: more or less universal across humanity, but certainly not generated from a higher source. I believe in an entirely physical, non-supernatural world, guided by the physical laws of cause and effect. Period.

Does that mean that I’m not included in “One nation, under God”? Why should that make me a second class citizen?

Ledewitz’s response to this was that, even if I don’t agree with this “Justice is a universal concept” statement, it is a philosophical statement and not a religious one, and the government is entitled to make it. But I’m not buying it. Again I have to come back to what seems like a blindingly obvious point: It’s God. For fuck’s sake. You can’t make God not be a religious concept just by saying that it doesn’t have to be defined that way, simply so you can avoid painful conversations and difficult political fights. (More on that in a bit.) Yes, believers have lots of different understandings of what “God” means; but 99% of people who use the word understand it to mean some version of “a supernatural being who created the world and/or intervenes in it.” I don’t believe I have to sit here and try to explain why “God” is, by its very definition, a religious concept.

Rights of manSecond: To say, “when we say ‘God,’ we’re including whatever the heck it is that atheists believe,” is like saying, “When we say ‘man’ or ‘men,’ of course we’re also including women.” It’s patronizing. It’s dismissive. It’s relegating us to second-class citizenship, while pretending that if you close your eyes and pretend real hard then that’s not really what you’re doing. (Kudos to Ingrid for coming up with this argument.) Again: Yes, believers have lots of different understandings of what the word “God” means. But whatever you think it means, atheists don’t believe in it. Again — by definition. A-theist. No God. If God is in official government language and documents, then atheists, by definition, are being left out of it.

TenCommandmentsAustinStateCapitolBesides, I completely fail to see how this argument is a defense of the Ten Commandments being displayed in government buildings. The Ten Commandments don’t just refer to some nebulous generic God that can be defined almost any way you want it to. The Ten Commandments refer to a very specific God: the God who demands that we have no other Gods before him, that we not take his name in vain, that we not make any graven images, that we keep the Sabbath holy. Even if you buy the argument that the God in “In God we trust” doesn’t have to be a religious God… how is the God of the Ten Commandments anything other than the God of very specific religious beliefs?

And as Witold “Vic” Walczak of the ACLU pointed out (he was one of the panelists: there were four panelists, two of whom were vehemently opposed to Ledewitz’s proposal):

This approach is deeply dismissive and insulting of religious believers. As much as it is of atheists, and in some ways more so. It basically says to believers, “One of your most treasured beliefs about the very nature of the Universe? Your government is defining it as just this vague philosophical concept about creativity or goodness or something.” Isn’t it more respectful to say, “You can believe whatever you want to about God — and your government is going to stay the hell out of it”?

Furthermore — again, as Vic pointed out:

One nation under godThe insertion of God into government language does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of a concerted attempt by the hard Christian right to turn our country into a theocracy. It is part of a concerted attempt by the hard Christian right to shove their religion down everyone else’s throat
 and to do it using the government that supposedly belongs to all of us. We can’t take this question out of its political context. We can talk all we want to about how “God” can mean a nebulous philosophical concept of creativity and goodness… but that sure as shit isn’t what the religious right means by it.

(Quick tangent: Vic was one of the people working on the Dover case about creationism in the public schools. I was gobsmacked to even be in the same room with him. Did you ever know that you’re my hero?)

Now, I will say this: As priorities go, this isn’t a high one for me. I care a whole lot more about health care reform and global warming than I do about whether the Pledge of Allegiance has the words “Under God” in it. Even on the list of atheist and “separation of church and state” issues, this one isn’t that high for me. Creationism in the schools, theocracy in the U.S. military, job and adoption discrimination against atheists, threats and violence against atheist activists… I’m a lot more worried about that stuff than I am about the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s completely legitimate to say, “This is wrong, but it isn’t where should be focusing our energy right now.”

But I am adamantly opposed to the accomodationist line that we should just go along with this crap — and not only go along with it, but actively help it along — just to avoid being divisive. I understand the wish for diplomacy and forging alliances with believers, and I think that, at least sometimes, that’s both desirable and achievable. But I am not going to quietly lie down and let myself be openly treated as a second-class citizen by my own government in my own country, just so I can avoid painful conversations and difficult political fights. I’m sorry if Bruce Ledewitz is upset by the divisive culture wars over religion. But suck it up, dude. We have real differences in this country. We are not going to resolve them by pretending they don’t exist. We are not going to resolve them by letting the religious right dictate the terms of the debate. And we sure as hell are not going to resolve them by re-defining our language: by saying that black is white, war is peace, and God is not a religious concept.

P.S. I also want to say this: I was deeply surprised and gratified at how many people showed up at this panel in a state of outrage and baffled head-scratching to say, “What the hell are you talking about?” I was kind of worried that I’d be the only godless agitator in a roomful of “Why can’t we all just get along?”ers. I shouldn’t have been.

Nom, Nom, Nom: Susie Bright’s “Bitten”

BittenI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s a review of Susie Bright’s new anthology, “Bitten: Dark Erotic Stories.” And like most of my porn reviews, it’s also a dissertation on what makes good porn good… and why it works even when the erotic buttons it’s pushing aren’t yours. It’s titled Nom, Nom, Nom: Susie Bright’s “Bitten,” and here’s the teaser:

Constant readers might think that a porn anthology subtitled “Dark Erotic Stories” would hit my buttons like a five- year- old in an elevator. Constant readers, in this case, would be wrong. Yes, I like dark porn. But “dark” isn’t the only theme of “Bitten,” or even the main theme. The main theme is… I guess you’d have to say Gothic. The stories aren’t just dark: they’re serious. They’re obsessive. They’re not particularly funny. And most of them are about the supernatural.

And supernatural porn is really not my thing. (No, not because I’m an atheist.) As constant readers may know, my number one fetish in porn is believability. When I read a dirty story, I want to feel like it might really have happened, like it might really be happening right now. That’s what gives me that immediacy, that feeling of being projected headlong into someone else’s sweaty skin. So porn about magic, about incubuses, about ghosts, about sex with the devil… it doesn’t usually do it for me. (Except for the Snape fantasies. That’s different. I can’t explain why. Shut up, that’s why.)

But I found “Bitten” almost completely compelling. Like, “reading it raptly until two in the morning, then masturbating as quietly as I can because I don’t want to wake my partner but won’t be able to fall asleep with these stories in my head until I do” compelling.

Why?

Because that’s what good porn does.

To find out what I think good porn does — and why exactly I think this anthology is such an excellent example of it — read the rest of the piece. (And as always, if you’re inspired to post comments here, please consider cross-posting them to the Blowfish Blog. They like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Netroots Nation/ Brief Blog Break/ Shameless Self-Promotion Op

I’m leaving tomorrow — today, I guess, technically — to go to the Netroots Nation lefty political bloggers’ conference. I’ll blog while I’m there if I can — it’d be a little silly to go to a bloggers’ conference and not blog — but I’ll probably be pretty busy, and I may not be able to keep up my usual breakneck pace. (I’m coming back on Sunday.)

So let’s make this a Shameless Self-Promotion thread! Link us to a blog post you’ve done that you particularly like; tell us about a neat project you’re working on. Obvious commercial plugs for pharmaceuticals and such will be deleted; but if you’ve done something cool and want to brag on it, now’s the time, and here’s the place. See y’all soon!

An Open Letter to the Fat-Positive Movement

Dear Fat-Positive Movement:

Here is a fat-positive manifesto I could live with.

Feet_on_scaleWe need to make major changes in how our society views weight, fatness, and fat people. Our society has an excessively narrow definition of what constitutes an acceptable body type, and it’s a definition that is unattainable for the overwhelming majority of people. People can be healthy, happy, and attractive at a variety of sizes; the standard medical definition of a healthy weight range is almost certainly too narrow, and some evidence suggests that it may be too low. Furthermore, many popular weight loss programs are grossly unhealthy, both physically and psychologically, and are aimed, not at maintaining good health, but at an almost certainly fruitless attempt to attain the cultural ideal of beauty. And many people who try to lose weight have no earthly medical reason for doing so.

Shallow halWe demand that people be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their size. We demand an end to job discrimination based on size. We oppose the moral outrage that is commonly aimed at fat people, and the persistent media representations of fat people as objects of disgust and ridicule. And we demand an end to medical discrimination based on size: we expect doctors to treat fat people with respect; to discuss weight loss with fat people as one option among many instead of the one course of action that must be pursued before any other; and to treat non- weight- related conditions equivalently for all patients, without regard to size.

Weight loss is both very difficult and very uncommon, especially in the long term. And we don’t yet know why it’s so difficult, or why a few people are able to do it while most people are not. We therefore think it’s completely valid for a fat person to decide that weight loss isn’t where they want to put their time and energy. Many of the health risks associated with being fat diminish significantly when people eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise — even if they don’t lose weight. We therefore encourage fat people to be as healthy as they can be: to eat healthy diets and get regular vigorous exercise, even if they don’t lose weight doing so. And we encourage people who do choose to lose weight to do so in a healthy, sustainable way.

RugbyWe understand that there are health risks associated with being fat. There are health risks associated with many things — things we have control over, such as playing rugby; things we have no control over, such as carrying the breast cancer gene; and things we have limited control over to differing degrees, such as where we live. We think it is reasonable for people to decide for themselves whether they are willing to live with these risks, or whether they want to take action to reduce those risks — whether that’s by quitting rugby, having a pre-emptive mastectomy, moving, or losing weight. Both fatness and weight loss can involve health risks and loss of quality of life, and each individual must determine for themselves their own cost/benefit analysis of those risks and that quality. No person can decide that for another.

Fast food nationWe do understand that fatness is a health concern — and we think it should be treated as such, as a public health issue and not as a moral failing or a character flaw. We support social and political changes in the way our society is structured around food and exercise — changes that will improve the health of people of all sizes. We support bike lanes, cities and neighborhoods designed to be walked in, farmers’ markets, accuracy in food labeling, laws prohibiting wild and unsubstantiated claims in the advertising of weight-loss products, yada yada yada. We passionately support healthy eating and exercise programs for children, since fatness in children can cause even more long-term harm than it does in adults… and is easier to address as well, at an age when set points and eating/exercise habits are more malleable. And we oppose the American food-industrial complex’s use of psychological manipulation to sell excessive amounts of unhealthy, highly- processed, non- nutritious food, and their prioritization of profit over all other concerns.

Science it works bitchesFinally: We want to base our movement on the best understanding of reality we can get. We encourage people of all sizes to base their cost/ benefit decisions about food, exercise, and weight, not on wishful thinking, but on a realistic assessment of the best hard data currently available. We support careful, rigorous, unbiased scientific research into why people come in different sizes, and why sizes vary not only from person to person but from culture to culture. We support careful, rigorous, unbiased scientific research into maintaining and improving people’s health at the size that they are. And we also support careful, rigorous, unbiased scientific research into safe, sane, effective weight loss for people who choose to pursue it. Our bodies, our right to decide.

Now. Here is a fat-positive manifesto I can’t live with:

Slashed circleWeight loss never works. Never, never, never. Virtually nobody successfully loses weight and keeps it off for the long term; the number of people who successfully lose weight and keep it off is statistically insignificant. Weight is entirely or overwhelmingly determined by genetics, and behavior and environment have virtually nothing to do with it. There are no serious health risks caused or exacerbated by being fat: health problems that appear to be caused by fatness are always really caused by something else. And if there are health problems caused by fatness, they can always be better addressed by some method other than weight loss. Even when weight loss is successful, the harm done by it — physical, psychological, or both — is terrible: so terrible that, in all cases, it completely outweighs the benefits. If weight loss happens naturally, as part of a healthy diet and exercise program, that’s fine. But nobody should ever consciously attempt to lose weight, under any circumstances. People who are attempting to lose weight, for whatever reason, even to address serious and immediate health concerns, should be actively discouraged from doing so.

In my recent discussions of weight loss here in this blog, the fat positive movement responded vociferously with this second manifesto, both in comments and in private emails. And here’s why I can’t live with it:

It is completely out of touch with reality.

Scale 2It is flatly absurd to argue that nobody ever successfully loses weight and keeps it off for the long term. Just in my life, in my not- very- large circle of immediate friends and family, I could name you a dozen or so people who have lost weight and kept it off for years. And as far as I can tell, they are not psychologically damaged: they seem to be fine and healthy (or if they’re neurotic, they’re no more neurotic than they were before they lost the weight). Yes, they’re in the minority… but it’s not an insignificant minority. It’s a big enough number for me to pay attention to. And the studies on weight loss support this: most people who try to lose weight either fail or regain it in the long run, but there are a handful of people who succeed.

Circle two arrowsThere’s a weird circularity to the arguments as well. “Weight loss never works… but when it does work, it’s harmful… but even if it would be beneficial, it doesn’t matter, because it never works.” And the arguments are rife with logical absurdities. If set points can get re-set upwards with crash diets or poor eating and exercise habits, then why can’t they be re-set downwards? If it’s okay to accidentally lose weight as a side effect of a “health at every size” food and exercise plan, then why is it so unhealthy to consciously lose weight… even if the “conscious weight loss” plan is identical to the “health at every size” plan? If weight is genetically determined and diet and exercise have nothing to do with it, then why have Americans become so much heavier in the last 50 and indeed 20 years… and why do other cultures who start eating an American diet almost immediately start putting on weight?

But this second manifesto isn’t just unrealistic, or circular, or logically absurd. It seems to be unfalsifiable as well. Here’s what I want to ask the fat-positive movement: What evidence would convince you that you were mistaken? How many people would have to successfully lose weight for you to change your mind about it never working? How long would they have to keep the weight off for you to change your mind about it not being sustainable in the long run? And what would you consider as valid evidence that they haven’t been psychologically damaged by the process?

Portable goal postsOr are you just going to keep moving the goalposts? Are you just going to make the No True Scotsman argument? Are you just going to argue that nobody successfully loses weight… and that people who do are suffering from eating disorders or other psychological damage? Or that if they seem healthy and happy, they’re psychologically scarred on the inside, or have sustained unseen but serious damage to their health that will ruin their lives in years to come? Are you going to argue that conscious lifelong attention to weight loss and weight maintenance is an eating disorder by definition? Or that the people who do sustain healthy long-term weight loss are statistical flukes and don’t count?

Is there any way that your hypothesis could be proven wrong?

Because if there isn’t, then that’s not a hypothesis. It’s an article of faith. And there’s no reason I should take it seriously.

Extreme posterIn addition, an unsettling tendency has apparently developed in the fat-positive movement: a tendency to take the most extreme positions — no matter how logically absurd or morally repugnant — simply to avoid having to concede any points whatsoever. Many fat-positive advocates insist that weight loss never, ever, ever works. Others insist that there are no health problems caused by any degree of fatness. Still others insist that even if some health problems are caused or exacerbated by fatness, weight loss is never, ever, ever the more healthy choice for anyone to make. Ever. Even if you weigh 400 pounds and have had three heart attacks
 you still shouldn’t try to lose weight. And if you’re me, if you weigh 200 pounds and are having serious mobility impairment due to knee problems and have exhausted all other treatment options for it… forget about it. It’s better to have a fourth heart attack, it’s better to gradually lose mobility over the years to the point where you can no longer climb stairs or walk more than a block, than it is to try to demonstrate that any belief of the fat-positive movement might be mistaken.

KneeI was frankly shocked at how callous most of the fat-positive advocates were about my bad knee. I was shocked at how quick they were to ignore or dismiss it. They were passionately concerned about the quality of life I might lose if I counted calories or stopped eating chocolate bars every day. But when it came to the quality of life I might lose if I could no longer dance, climb hills, climb stairs, take long walks, walk at all? Eh. Whatever. I should try exercise or physical therapy or something. Oh, I’d tried those things already? Well, whatever.

I’m going to repeat something from my first manifesto, the good manifesto. It may have gotten lost in the shuffle, and it’s important, so I’m going to call it out here:

Both fatness and weight loss can involve health risks and loss of quality of life, and each individual must determine for themselves their own cost/benefit analysis of those risks and that quality. No person can decide that for another.

Yes, this manifesto applies to rabid weight-loss advocates: people who insist that anyone who’s even 20 pounds over the medical definition of a healthy weight should start losing immediately, even if their blood pressure and blood sugar and cholesterol and joints and exercise habits and family history of heart disease are all totally fine. But it also applies, every bit as much, to the fat-positive movement. It is not up to you to decide for me that the costs of losing weight are greater than the costs of losing my knee. It is not up to you to decide for me that the long odds against successful long-term weight loss (roughly 10 to 1) mean that my attempt to treat my bad knee by losing weight isn’t worth it. My body. My right to decide.

AlcoholLet me ask you this. If you read a post from a blogger saying that they were a heavy drinker, but it was adversely affecting their health and they’d decided to quit… would you send them comments and emails saying, “Don’t bother, it’s a waste of time and energy, the overwhelming majority of problem drinkers who try to quit eventually fail, and the ones who succeed get obsessed with it and have to go to all these meetings for the rest of their lives and aren’t any fun to be around any more, and anyway the connection between heavy drinking and poor health has been totally made up by our anti- drinking society, so instead you should just focus on being the most healthy drinker you can be”?

If not — then why would you say it to someone who’s losing weight?

And here’s the thing I’ve begun to realize about the “weight loss never works” mantra:

It’s not actually very fat-positive.

In fact, it’s actively fat-negative.

The stubborn insistence that healthy, sane, long-term weight loss is impossible — in flat denial of evidence to the contrary — seems to concede that if fat people could lose weight, then therefore they should. It’s essentially conceding that the only valid justification for being fat is that fat people have no choice. IMO, it’s a whole lot more fat-positive to say that people have the right to decide for themselves whether the difficult, time- consuming, attention- consuming, “10 to 1 odds against success” process of weight loss is something that’s worth pursuing.

I do think I see where a lot of this stuff is coming from. Our culture is powerfully biased against fat people and fatness; and even when they are being moderate and evidence- based, the fat-positive movement often gets dismissed as wackaloons, by both the medical community and the culture at large. So given that they’ve largely been ignored even when they make valid points, I can see how the movement would become increasingly insular, increasingly unwilling to listen to anyone but one another.

Greta simpsonsBut that’s no excuse. I am here today, not as an outsider, but as a fat person, and as someone who has thought of herself as both fat and fat-positive for many, many years. And I am saying to you now: It is possible to be fat-positive and still acknowledge that being fat does carry some serious health risks. It is possible to be fat-positive and still acknowledge that some people do successfully lose weight and keep it off. And it is possible to be fat-positive and still be supportive of people who are trying to lose weight. Being fat-positive doesn’t require you to treat people who disagree with you as objects of excoriation or pity. And being fat- positive doesn’t require that you deny reality.

Now, I’m sure some fat-positive advocates are going to insist that their position is reality- based, and they’re going to point to papers and books supporting this conclusion. To them, I say in advance: Yes, you can find papers and books supporting the idea that weight loss never works and is always harmful. You can also find papers and books supporting the idea that vaccines never work and are always harmful. You can find papers and books supporting the idea that global warming isn’t real, and that even if it is, it isn’t caused by human activity. You can find papers and books supporting the idea that the moon landing never happened. You can find papers and books supporting the idea that the earth is flat.

But that’s not the scientific consensus.

And as a skeptic, I need to be informed by the scientific consensus.

Scientific methodYes, the scientific consensus could be wrong. It certainly has been in the past. Scientists are fallible humans, shaped by the biases of their culture… and our culture is very strongly biased against fatness and fat people. The overwhelming scientific consensus that fatness is a major contributing factor to a whole host of serious health problems… that could be wrong. Or it could be exaggerated. Or it could be right when it comes to some health problems, wrong about others. Or it could be getting the nuance wrong: it could be right about fatness being one co-factor, but wrong about the emphasis it places on it compared to other co-factors. There are some real problems with the ways medical researchers have studied the health effects of fatness: they tend to conflate moderate overweight-ness with serious obesity, for instance, and they often don’t control for different eating and exercise habits among people of similar sizes. And an important part of the scientific method is questioning and opposition — both from inside the scientific community, and from smart laypeople outside it.

I_reject_your_reality_substitute_my_own_fridge_m_magnet-p147848655115195592qjy4_400But if the fat-positive movement wants to be a serious voice of opposition to the current scientific consensus, it needs to stop denying reality. It needs to stop with the circular reasoning, the cherry-picking of data, the “all or nothing” thinking, the taking of good ideas to ridiculous and repugnant extremes, the logical absurdities, the elaborate rationalizations, the insularity, the flat denial of simple facts that are staring them in the face. It needs to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads… even if where it leads is unpleasant or upsetting. It needs to stop with the true believerism. It needs to treat the principles of fat positivity as hypotheses that can be debated — not as articles of faith.

And I heartily wish it would do that.

Because we really, really need a sane, evidence- based, reality-based fat-positive movement.

I completely stand by my first manifesto. I think these are important issues, and I think we need a social and political movement that’s speaking out about them and is working to address them. And just speaking personally: I want and need a fat-positive movement. The smarter, more reality- based ideas of this movement have been invaluable to me: they helped keep me sane and happy as a fat person, and they taught me to think of my fat body as valuable and worth taking care of. And even when I’ve lost all the weight I plan to lose, I’m still probably going to be seen by most people as overweight. I could really use a community that supports me in my new size as much as it did in my old one.

Blackbelt in crazyBut in my years as an atheist and skeptical blogger, I have learned to tell the difference between thoughtful disagreement and close-minded true belief. I have learned to recognize denialist crazy. And as it stands now, the fat-positive movement has really started bringing the crazy. It’s moving away from being a serious voice in the social/ political/ medical worlds, and is instead becoming an insular, cultish community that only listens to itself. It has taken some very good ideas and has completely run off the rails with them. It has become utterly unconvincing to anyone who isn’t already predisposed to agree with it. Hell, it’s not even convincing to me — and I agreed with it just three months ago. I started writing about this issue, in part, to figure out what I thought about it: to think out loud, to get some new perspectives, to hear the best arguments from both sides and refine or rethink my own shifting ideas. And nothing the fat-positive advocates have said so far, in either comments or private emails, has convinced me that I’m wrong to try to lose weight. It has, instead, convinced me that the movement has gone off the deep end.

I really, really want to be part of a sane, evidence- based, reality- based fat-positive movement. But it looks like I may have to find a way to do that on my own.

The Ethics Of Public Sex

Why dont we do it in the roadI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s one of those pieces where the title is pretty self-explanatory: it’s called The Ethics Of Public Sex, and here’s the teaser:

Is public sex ethical?

My initial reaction to the question I myself am posing is that public sex is at least borderline unethical. I think it creates a troubling situation where consent is concerned: you’re making other people be voyeurs in your sex life, when they haven’t consented to be. Even if you’re in a public place where you hope not to be seen but might well be, where you’re trying to be hidden but part of the excitement is the fear of getting caught… I’d say much the same thing. You’re deliberately taking the risk of getting caught — in other words, of forcing other people to be involved in your sex life. This was the essence of the piece I wrote last week about how parents should deal with their kids being sexual and masturbating: I said that you could be a sex-positive parent, and still teach your kids to keep their sexuality private, since not everyone wants to see them masturbate.

But I realize that this is a complex question. And like many complex questions, it’s complicated by one simple question: Where do you draw the line?

To find out what I think the complex ethical questions are regarding sex in public — and how I try to answer them — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Abstinence, Birth Control, And The Difference Between Theory And Practice

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

So how effective — really — is abstinence as a birth control method?

Bristol-palin-babyBristol Palin, Sarah Palin’s famously “unmarried and pregnant at 17 and an unmarried mother at 18″ daughter, went on a tour of the TV talk shows earlier this year, advocating — in an irony so massive I feel puny standing next to it — abstinence for teenagers.

And one of the arguments she made — with her baby on her lap — was that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy.

Now, if Bristol Palin, or anyone else, had gone on the TV talk show circuit arguing that, say, birth control pills were the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy — and they’d done so with their unplanned baby on their lap — they’d have been laughed off the stage. But people tend to see abstinence as different. People — and not just right-wing ideologues — tend to see a failure of abstinence as a failure of the people practicing it… not as a failure of the method.

So today, I want to talk about how we do — and do not — measure the effectiveness of any given method of birth control.

Many years ago, I worked as a counselor and educator at a birth control and abortion clinic. And I learned a standard way of measuring the effectiveness of any birth control method that’s absolutely crucial to this discussion. It’s this:

When you’re evaluating how effective a birth control method is, you have to look at the difference between how effective it is in theory… and how effective it is in practice. You have to look at the difference between how often women using this method would get pregnant if they used it perfectly every time… and how often women who use this method actually do get pregnant.

And the reason you have to do that is the reality of human imperfection.

Diaphragm2Example. A diaphragm is about 95% effective if it’s used perfectly every time. But humans aren’t perfect. We can, in our haste to start fucking, put the diaphragm in wrong, or not put in enough spermicidal goop, or something. And we can also, in our haste to start fucking, decide, “To hell with it, just this once let’s not bother.” A diaphragm that gets left in the nightstand drawer while its owner boffs is a diaphragm with a very good chance of, shall I say, bringing down the effectiveness rate of diaphragms. Therefore, while they’re 95% effective in theory, diaphragms are only about 85% effective in practice.

Ditto with every other birth control method. People can forget to take birth control pills; put condoms on wrong; miss their appointment to get their Depo-Provera shot. Even supposedly foolproof birth control methods have some degree of disconnect between theory and practice. (How many women with IUDs actually check the string every month like they’re supposed to? I know I don’t.)

Birth control pillsIn fact, when you’re deciding which birth control method is best, this gap between theory and practice is one of the most important things to pay attention to — whether you’re a birth control educator or just a person using birth control. For people who are highly self-motivated and organized, methods like diaphragms can work very well, and the gap between theory and practice won’t be all that wide; for people who are more impetuous or whose lives and schedules are more unpredictable, methods like the pill and the IUD, which are less likely to be used incorrectly or not at all, are generally a better choice.

Fine. So what does all this have to do with abstinence?

I bet you can see where I’m going with this.

In theory, Bristol Palin is absolutely right. In theory, abstaining from penis- in- vagina intercourse is the only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy.

But in practice?

It’s difficult to find hard numbers on this. While other birth control methods have had their practical failure rates studied extensively, abstinence hasn’t received the same attention, and most of the sources I found just said “We know it fails a lot, but we don’t know exactly how often.” But the one source that I found with hard numbers puts the “in practice” failure rate of abstinence among teens at between 26 and 86%.

That’s huge. Even the lowest number on that scale is huge. That’s one of the highest failure rates of any birth control method we know of. That ranks just above “crossing your fingers.”

Nightstand_Of all the birth control methods available, abstinence is probably the one that’s most likely to be left in the nightstand drawer. Sex is, among other things, a fundamental and powerful physical drive, deeply ingrained in us by millions of years of evolution. If your birth control method depends on your ability to just say no to sex until you’re ready to have kids… it’s a bit like having a birth control method that depends on your ability to refuse to eat. For a week. In a bakery.

So where does this idea come from that abstinence is 100% effective, even though it fails more than just about any other method of birth control?

It comes — I think — from the fact that people tend to see a failure of abstinence, not as a failure of the method, but as a failure of the people practicing it.

If you put the condom on wrong or forget to take your birth control pill, people tend to see that as a human mistake that could happen to anyone. But if you go ahead and have sex when you swore to yourself that you wouldn’t, people are more likely to see that as a personal failure, a failure of will power and self control.

Four views on free willNow, from a purely philosophical perspective, I suppose you could make that argument. I certainly wouldn’t — I consider it grossly sex-negative to think that abstaining from sex until you want kids is a reasonable thing to expect people to do. But in an abstract, “angels fucking on the head of a pin” sense, I’d be happy to debate the question of whether the failure of a birth control method that relies entirely on the free will of the people practicing it should be seen as a failure of the people or the method.

But from a practical viewpoint?

It makes no sense at all. From a practical viewpoint, if what you care about is preventing unwanted pregnancy — especially unwanted teenage pregnancy — then we need to treat abstinence like a condom that rips 26-86% of the time; like birth control pills where, out of every four packets, one to three packets is filled with placebos. We need to treat abstinence like what it is: a birth control method that results in pregnancy in 26-86% of the teenagers who practice it.

And when it comes to making sure that teenagers don’t get pregnant?

I, for one, don’t give a damn about philosophy.

I want them to not get pregnant.

(P.S. Apparently, the Obama administration agrees. The new budget eliminates funding for the conspicuously failed abstinence- only sex education programs, and re-directs it towards evidence- based programs to prevent teen pregancy. Yay!)

“But Is That It?” Religion, Death, and the Argument from Wishful Thinking

Folio_34v_-_Christ_in_GloryIf there’s no soul, no God, and no afterlife… then doesn’t that kind of suck? Isn’t it better to believe that death isn’t the end, and that there’s a greater purpose in life than just life itself?

I got an email recently from Allan of New Zealand, who writes:

Hi Greta. Read your site, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do With God. Very interesting. I believe a life well lived is a comfort too because loved ones who are left. Have great memories to reflect on, and of course right living means a good model is left for future generations.

But as a Christian I also believe there is nothing that beats knowing one day you will see your loved ones again, that it’s not actually the end. After all we are are born… we grow… we marry… we work… we die… and have joy and sorrow along the way but is that it?? The same cycle for our children and our children’s children… if that’s it what’s the point. One of the reason I became a Christian is because I always believed, even as a near atheist, there to be a greater purpose in life.

I have two responses to this. One is more comforting, offering meaning and hope in a world with God or an afterlife. The other is a whole lot more hard-assed… but in some ways, I think it’s a lot more important.

Sunrise_apolloThe more comforting answer is: Yes, I believe that in a world without God or an afterlife, both life and death can have meaning and hope. I’ve written about this at length: not just in the Comforting Thoughts piece, but elsewhere. I’ve written that permanence isn’t a very good measure of meaning or importance, and that brief, transitory experiences can be every bit as valuable as stone monuments. I’ve written that sometimes the most seemingly silly and trivial experiences can create the greatest meaning and joy. I’ve written that the entirely physical nature of our being doesn’t make us drown or disappear in the vastness of the universe — it connects us intimately with it. I’ve written about how even death can be seen as connecting us intimately with the universe, part of the cycle of the physical and natural world. I’ve written that thinking of death as a deadline — a serious, non- negotiable, drop- dead deadline — can give our lives motivation and focus, inspiring us to do the things that matter to us now instead of putting them off indefinitely. I’ve written that there’s no reason to think that any particular scale of size or time is more important than any other, and that the human scale has every bit as much value as the universal scale.

That’s just a sampling. And other atheists have written similar things as well. A life without God or an afterlife can still have meaning, purpose, and an intimate connection with the arc of human history and with the vastness of time and space.

So that’s my “There is so comfort and purpose in an atheist life” answer.

Now here’s my hard-assed answer.

Since when is, “I really, really want X to be true” an argument for why X is true?

“Nothing beats knowing that X is true” is not an argument for why X is true. “If X isn’t true, then what’s the point?” is not an argument for why X is true. “X gives me a sense of a greater purpose in life” is not an argument for why X is true.

Or at least, it’s not a good argument.

IcecreamThis is what Ingrid calls “the argument from wishful thinking.” And if it were made about anything else in the world, our response would either be pity or an uncontrollable fit of the giggles. If I were to argue that ice cream doesn’t have any calories, that the California economy is flourishing, that I have a six-figure book contract, that I’m going to live for a thousand years, that the Middle East is a utopia of peace and harmony, that Alan Rickman and Rachel Maddow are waiting outside my front door right now to ravish me for hours — simply because I really, really want these things to be true — nobody would consider that a good argument. Nobody would take it seriously, even for a second.

So why do people consider it a valid argument when it comes to God and religion?

Let’s take a hypothetical. Let’s suppose, for a moment, that the most extreme version of this argument is true. Let’s suppose that a world without God or an afterlife really is a shallow, joyless, hopeless, isolated void. Let’s suppose that atheists really do have nothing to offer, no tidings of comfort and joy, and that the only way to view life as having meaning and purpose is to view it through the lens of religion. (I don’t think that, obviously; but hypothetically, let’s suppose.)

That’s still not an argument for why God and the afterlife are real. It’s just adding more “really”s to the “I really, really want X to be true” argument. It just turns the argument into, “I really, really, really, REALLY want X to be true. No, you don’t understand — really. If X isn’t true, that completely blows.” And that doesn’t make the argument any more convincing.

Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17The argument from wishful thinking is completely backwards. It picks a pleasant philosophy first… and then crams reality into it, whether it fits or not. And that’s backwards. Reality comes first. Reality is more important than our opinions or wishes. It makes much more sense to look at reality first… and then find a philosophy consistent with it that we find useful and meaningful. (And then, of course, to modify that philosophy as needed when our understanding of reality changes.)

And the reality is that a belief in God, the soul, and the afterlife are just not consistent with the evidence.

Believe it or not, despite my “WTF?” tone here, I’m more sympathetic to this argument than you might imagine. I held on to spiritual beliefs for a long time, not because I thought the best evidence supported them, but because I found the idea of permanent death to be dreadfully painful. I wasn’t doing this consciously… but I was definitely doing it.

But as I wrote in Atheism and the Argument from Comfort: This is not an argument.

Fraying ropeIt is a sign of desperation.

It is a last- ditch effort to hang on to an argument that the believer knows in their heart — and that they even know in their head — has already been lost.

I mean, if your big argument for religion is, “Sure, it doesn’t make sense, but wouldn’t it be nice if it were true? Doesn’t it make our lives easier to believe that it’s true?”… then you have essentially conceded the argument. It’s not an argument for why religion is correct. It’s not even trying to be an argument for why religion is correct. It’s an argument for why it’s okay to believe something that you know is almost certainly not true, but that you can’t imagine living without.

So try to imagine living without it. Other people have. And it works. Atheists around the world have found ways to see life — this life, just this short one that we have right now — as profoundly joyful and meaningful. Many of us even find it vastly preferable to a life with religion, offering more hope, more consistency, more empowerment, and more genuine meaning. And it offers the extra comfort of knowing that our life is built on the solid rock of reality… and not on the unstable sands of wishful thinking.

Related post:
Atheism and the Argument from Comfort

Dream diary, 8/4/09: The singing alarm clock

Digital-clock-alarmI dreamed that when my alarm clock went off, instead of making a series of buzzes, it sang. Specifically, it sang about food, making suggestions about what I might eat that day. If I got up right away, it gave me a broad range of suggestions in its song; but every time I hit the snooze, the range of what it told me to eat got narrower and narrower. I hit the snooze four or five times, and it ended up just singing, “Grapes, grapes, grapes, grapes…”