Accepting Your Rights

Bora, ever the source of useful links on deconstructing the mainstream media, pointed me to Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald on Bill Moyers’s Journal. There is lots of good stuff there about the inherent conservatism (not necessarily politically, but some of that too) of the Washington press corps, but it was something else that caught my eye.

GLENN GREENWALD: I think the idea of street demonstrations is probably the most stigmatized idea in our political process. There were huge marches, for instance, prior to the Iraq war, against the war. There were hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people throughout Europe marching in the streets against the war.

And yet, the media virtually excluded those demonstrations from the narrative, because they’re threatening, and because they’re considered to be the act of unserious radicals and people who are on the fringe, and I think that in some sense, that’s reflective of the fact that that level of agitation is probably the most threatening to the people who have a vested in having the system continue unchanged.

I was reminded, as I am periodically, that our political voices are not granted to us by our political system. Our rights are not something handed to us by someone else. That may be the narrative, but it’s not the truth. The truth is much more threatening.

We won our voices by revolution. We’ve carved out every right that is recognized by demonstrating that we were willing to disrupt and even to destroy if we didn’t get them. The rare cases have been when we’ve had to destroy on any large scale, but we’ve always had to threaten convincingly.

There’s more in the transcript (and video) about some small ways to demonstrate your willingness to disrupt. We had to do it to get the election we wanted. Let’s not stop now.

Update: Bora saves me much time writing a follow-up post to go into detail on what I mean on this one. He’s very good that way.

Accepting Your Rights

Atheists Talk–Don Luce and Greg Laden

2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th year of this book “On the Origin of Species”. We’re celebrating by talking with Dr. Greg Laden, biological anthropologist, U of M. If you haven’t met Dr. Laden, you can get to know him through his nationally known blog. There you’ll find “Congo Memoirs”, his hilarious, hair raising, in-the-wild adventures while doing REAL science.

Similar to 19th century explorers Darwin and Wallace, Dr. Laden writes about tangling with the wild beasts (pythons), disease (malaria), pirates (real pirates) while deciphering how the world works–we know it as Evolution. One hundred fifty years later some of the issues are the same. Our 21st century scientist, Dr. Laden, will give us new insights into how radical the theory was, what’s new in our understanding of it and what to watch for in the future.

Also, on the first segment of the show is Don Luce, curator of exhibits at the Bell Museum of Natural History. Don will talk about the Darwin Day party on February 12th at the Museum, the multimedia presentations by U of M scientists and the exhibit of Frans Lanting’s photography.

“Atheists Talk” airs live on AM 950 KTNF in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, Sunday, February 8th, 9 to 10 a.m. CST. To stream live, go to

We welcome questions during the program at (952) 946-6205 or [email protected].

PODCASTS of past shows are available at or through iTunes.

Produced by Minnesota Atheists. Directed by Mike Haubrich. Hosted by Stephanie Zvan. Interview by Lynn Fellman.

Atheists Talk–Don Luce and Greg Laden

Or, Perhaps, News Today

All right, want to see what I’ve been working on? You can finally check it out. We’ll be tweaking it to add functionality and prettiness over the next couple of weeks, but you can get an idea while I go to bed finally.

It all started with a conversation over a couple of Leinie’s stouts (no, really, yum) and some lovely Ethiopian food. I think my exact words were, “I’m really enjoying blogging, and I think I’m writing some good stuff. I just wish there were a way that it could, I don’t know, do something.”

Hopefully, this will do something.

Presenting Quiche Moraine.

Or, Perhaps, News Today


Oh, my poor, wee bloggie. For some reason, I decided that the busy season at work was the perfect time to launch a new project. Double crunch. Whee!

Still, news tomorrow. Until then, here’s a little retro silliness for you, kilts included. Apparently, our local hodgepodge radio station played this today and cause a local stir on Facebook. What, don’t you people have this on your iPods?



Blogroll Amnesty Day

Because, really, who can resist an internet-only holiday? The idea is simple:

Celebrating Blogroll Amnesty Day is easy. You don’t have to put up a tree or a poll or buy candy or flowers, wrap presents or risk your life playing with dangerous fireworks. All you have to do is link to some smaller blogs that you like or celebrate the idea of linking or blogrolling in any way you see fit.

Fireworks would be cool, but whatever. In their place, here are five blogs that are worth checking out.

If you read the comments around here, you’ve seen Betül before. You should also be reading her blog, Counter Minds. My only complaint about the blog is that she really hasn’t talked about her research, but I guess I can understand that the last thing you’d want to do after working on your dissertation is blog on the topic. Instead, she gives us a hard look at censorship in her home country of Turkey, a good dose of rationality, and plenty of whimsy.

Another blog buddy of mine who I finally got to meet a couple of weeks ago is Lou, FCD, who blogs at Crowded Head, Cozy Bed. He has another blog that doesn’t need any amnesty from me, but I’m enjoying this one too. Politics, snark, writing, sex, science…what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Juniper Shoemaker of My Fair Scientist. If I get the opportunity, you better believe I’m going to take it, though. Even if Juniper is half as cool and thoughtful and brave as her writing (and I suspect it’s way more than half), she’s a hell of a person.

Sadly, I’m unlikely to meet Felicia Gilljam of Life Before Death anytime soon, since she lives in Sweden. For now, I’ll just have keeping enjoying her posts on science and atheism–and bees, lots of bees. It’s a hardship, I know.

The last blog on today’s list is the newest, but I’ve known its writer the longest. I first met Ben Rouner when he was an angsty teenage musician. He’s ditched his teens long ago and the angst more recently, but he’s still making music and writing about it at Satellite Noise.

I hope y’all check out these blogs and enjoy them as much as I do. Happy Blogroll Amnesty Day!

Blogroll Amnesty Day

Taking Off the Act

Thursday morning, my iPod was speaking to me. In a half hour walk to work, three songs all talking about the same subject–acting.

Is there anybody in there in this self-inflicted tomb?
If you peel away the layers, is there someone in this room?

Of course, they were all talking about it because I was already thinking about it. From an email I sent earlier in the week:

I’ve never met an actor who wasn’t in character backstage as well as on. They’re just different characters. That’s what makes acting as a profession so simultaneously appealing and appalling.

Successful acting requires that you be someone else for a while. It isn’t enough to speak the lines and to make the gestures called for in the script. We’ve all seen the sort of dreadful productions that result. You don’t have to dive into the excesses of some of the method actors, but you must at least put on the mannerisms–physical and vocal–and the body language of the part.

There’s no way to do this without being affected by it. It calls for an understanding of a fictional character that few people take the time to find. The mannerisms and body language change your emotional state every time they’re rehearsed or performed. Try practicing smiling in front of a mirror until you can put a sincere-looking grin on your face on demand. Then do it again where you can’t see your reflection smiling back at you. You’ll still feel happier for doing it.

Of course, most acting isn’t about being happy.

As an actor, if you’re any good, you end up living little pieces of the lives of all of your characters. You rehearse them in a way you don’t practice being yourself. You explore them and spend time with them in a way that the world tells you is a selfish thing to do on your own. If you act, you have to enjoy being someone else. You don’t have to enjoy being yourself.

I’m a good actor.

No, my love, we can’t be friends
In fact I liked you much better
When you’d just pretend.

The days of declamation and broad emoting are gone from most stages, and the places where they still find homes are mostly in comedy. Even so, characters in modern theater and film are just a little bigger, a little simpler than any real person. Simple is seductive. People like simple.

If you act, it’s all too easy to find the right simple character for any situation. Few and far between are the people who have the time and inclination to get to know you in all your complex, contradictory glory. It’s much easier to figure out what your audience wants and to give them only that. More rewarding too. Fewer fights. More praise.

There are a few problems with this, of course. One is that everyone wants something different of you. An audience of one is very manageable. More than that, and which audience do you serve? Whom do you please, and whom do you disappoint?

Beyond that, few and far between doesn’t mean nonexistent. While you’re performing for the people who want you to be predictable and easily categorized, what happens to the others? They aren’t the sort to appreciate a shallow facade, you know. Can you act a more complex character for them? Can you drop the act entirely, and what’s there when you do?

I’ll dance for you, pose for you
Take off all my clothes for you
Speak your words, sing your song
I’m up for auction, going, gone!

When you’ve gotten used to generating your behavior from the outside, it’s very difficult to relearn how to let it come from inside again. All of the voices in your head are yours, but none of them is you. Almost everything you do has become associated with a character, a person who isn’t you. What’s left for you to build you from?

I don’t know whether it can be done while you’re still acting. I can’t imagine giving up that immediate approving feedback of individual performance while still indulging in the mass approval that is theater, but maybe someone else could do it. My process required misanthropy, solitude and a certain ruthlessness, for which, ironically, acting had prepared me beautifully.

The first step was deciding who was worthy of being my audience and ignoring (hard to do at first) or avoiding (much easier) everyone else. Whom did it please me to please? That doesn’t sound like much progress, but it was, because what it really meant was who pleased me?

It’s a question that took years to answer, and the answer changed drastically over time. This is where the ruthlessness came in. I’ve abandoned or let lapse more friendships than I really care to think about. There are only two things that reconcile me to that. One is that it was necessary. I couldn’t find another way to do what I needed to do. The other is that it was successful. These days, I mostly add friends.

I don’t avoid people much anymore either. Ironically, I’m still acting around the mass of humanity. They’re still never going to appreciate complexity and contradiction, and I’m still giving them what they want. Only now I’m doing it because it’s easier for them. And I certainly don’t do it all the time.

Now I’m willing to stop to think about what it is that I want, how I think, how I feel. Now I’m willing to risk disagreement and disapproval, even (or especially) from the people I give a damn about. I’m willing to be that geek who will stop in the middle of a sentence to try to reconcile the three tangential thoughts that just occurred to me. I’m willing to be awkward and persuasive and flirtatious and serious and sympathetic and argumentative, because all of those are who I am.

No act. Just me. And that feels pretty good.

If you peel away the armor is something underneath
If you look below for hidden treasure underneath another layer
Are you hiding underneath the skin

Taking Off the Act

Everyone Should Interview Bora

I managed another first this morning. I’ve been hosting Atheists Talk for a couple of months now, but I just did my first interview this morning. I’ve been a little nervous about doing one, because I tend to think before I talk and dead air time is, well, dead.

As it turns out, I don’t think it could have gone any better. Okay, I admit that I cheated. I interviewed Bora–about ScienceOnline’09. I had a charming guest, whom I’ve met before, talking about a subject we both know and care about. The only real challenge was making it an interview instead of continuing on with conversations we’d already started. I think we did a pretty good job with that, though.

But don’t take my word for it. You can judge for yourself with the podcast.

And kudos to Mike, who managed both “Zivkovic” and “Zvan” in one introduction before wisely moving on to using “Z” in place of both of our last names.

Everyone Should Interview Bora