Standing on Our Own

Now that much of the broader atheosphere is turning more generally to topics of social justice (see Jen’s distillation of the recent fundamental split and call to make the deep rifts both permanent and positive), it’s time to get back into my dialog with James Croft that got derailed a few months ago. You can see previous posts in the series here:

See also the exchange between Crommunist and James on music:

I’ll come back to some of the issues we were discussing, but there’s an issue that’s been hanging in the margins of all these conversations. I find it when I speak with those who didn’t grow up in the U.S. and particularly among those who grew up in more socialist countries (which is most of them when we’re looking at secularist immigrants I’m likely to run into).* I also find it more often among those who came to social justice before they came to atheism. I see it when I see tweets like this one from James.

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What is the issue? The assumption that of course atheists in the U.S. should just pair up with the religious as the most effective means of accomplishing social justice.

Continue reading “Standing on Our Own”

Standing on Our Own

The History of Women in Freethought

Annie Laurie Gaylor’s talk at the Women in Secularism conference in May was one of two talks that made me absolutely despair of live-tweeting it. It was just packed with too much interesting information. Eventually, I gave up and just enjoyed the talk. CFI has just posted the video, so now you can enjoy it too.

Makes me think it’s time for a new edition of Gaylor’s book, Women Without Superstition, “No Gods–No Masters”. Or at least an ebook of the original, since it’s out of print. Maybe if enough of us ask….


The History of Women in Freethought

How Failing Aan Failed Ourselves

Sometimes you just don’t find the right words until it’s too late. This is one of those times. Damnit.

I’ve been plugging the Alexander Aan petition since the Center for Inquiry posted it. (Aan, in case you’ve missed the story, is an Indonesian atheist jailed for posting about his disbelief–on Facebook.)  I didn’t write about it because I didn’t have anything to add. “I agree. That’s bad. Go sign” has never gotten much response when I tried it. Maybe I still should have.

I just passed it around when others did a good job of explaining why the petition was needed. I signed it, as much of a pain as the White House petition system is. And I watched as it spectacularly bombed, attaining only 8,000 signatures.

Now I’m watching as people try to figure out “why” this happened.

  • “Oh, signing petitions is worthless.”
  • “Oh, the system was glitchy.”
  • “Oh, Obama wouldn’t do anything in an election year.”
  • “Oh…oh…oh.”

None of those are the reason the petition gained only 8,000 signatures. The reason it ended up with so few signatures is that next to none of us signed. Around a third of the number of people required in order to put this petition in front of the president got off their asses long enough to make this happen.

Sadly, only now do I have the words to tell you why this is such a problem. Continue reading “How Failing Aan Failed Ourselves”

How Failing Aan Failed Ourselves

Motivated Research on the Wage Gap

Science is our most reliable means for learning about the world–when it’s done right. However, because science has rightly gained a good reputation in these matters, there are plenty of people who want to borrow that reputation for their own ends. It’s not hard to do. All you have to do is do science poorly.

Remember that when you hear about studies that “prove” the wage gap between the sexes isn’t due to discrimination. Bryce Covert takes apart one of these studies in The Nation.

I would love to agree with Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest Bloomberg column, in which he argues that the gender wage gap—in which women on average still make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes—is not caused by discrimination. Ponnuru argues that, rather, it’s caused by different choices women make in their career paths and family formations. Wouldn’t it be great if the gap didn’t exist because women are held back and given less, but because they simply want different things? And it’s certainly true that the fact that women are congregated in a different set of jobs and often have to leave the workforce when they have children plays a role. But even this can’t explain away the gap.

Ponnuru cites research by conservative economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth and a consulting company showing that the gap all but disappears when factors such as women working fewer hours, going part-time or taking breaks from their careers are taken into account. But the Government Accountability Office has already examined this question. The GAO tried to figure out just how much of the gap could be explained by these sorts of factors. To do so, it first performed a quantitative analysis using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative longitudinal data set. It also supplemented that work by interviewing experts, reviewing the literature and contacting employers.

What did the study find?

That was when Covert started bringing the reputable data. It was comprehensive and it was beautiful. Check it out, and save the link for the next time you run across these wage gap “studies”.

Motivated Research on the Wage Gap

Finding the Women

We talk about the need to increase the number of female speakers at our events. Aside from pointing at Jen’s list of awesome female atheists, however, we don’t do a great job of telling people how to do that. Of course, we’re not the only group having these problems. We can borrow the solutions others have discovered.

I mentioned this to a couple of my men friends.  The response: “I really don’t know any women who are creative technologists.”

But that sentence needs unpacking: “I really don’t know any women who are creative technologists.”  What does that mean?

  • Does it mean, “I don’t know any women”?
  • Does it mean, “I don’t know any women who are creative technologists in advertising”?
  • Does it mean, “I don’t know any women who are creative technologists like me”?
  • Does it mean, “I don’t know any women who are this one specific kind of creative technologist that I think they meant when they coined the term, even though lots of people call themselves creative technologists who are not that”?

So I tried something.  I said, somewhat huffily, “Don’t think of your ideal of what a creative tech is – look at the list of men who’ve been invited to be on the committee or the dais, and think of women who do what they do, or are at least as smart as they are about tech and advertising.”

A few seconds later he’d sent me the LinkedIn Profile of Christy King, the VP Digital, Technology R&D for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. So yeah, not only did he know of a woman who is a creative technologist, she does her work in a business that defines ass-kicking, and she’s in a hard-core technology role.  She just doesn’t work in an ad agency.

My initial reaction was, see was that so hard??

You want more female atheists to chose from as speakers? Stop thinking in vague terms. Think about what kinds of topics you want to address at your event.

Want someone to talk about lobbying? I’ve got just the person for you. Want someone to talk about cognitive biases, about leaving religion, about starting an organization, about evolutionary biology, about social justice, about the history of freethinking? I have no problem coming up with women who can fill all those roles. Neither will most people.

We just have to be more specific in what we want, which is easy to do.

Finding the Women

Saturday Storytime: Zero Bar

“If only,” we say. If only this one thing were different, then everything would be changed. All our problems would be solved. But that assumes that all our problems are simple things with simple causes. As this story by Tom Greene demonstrates, that isn’t always the case. Even if we avoid them, the problems don’t simply go away.

It’s because of the new school that I find out what’s been done to me. Because of sophomore biology class where we actually do things, instead of reading silently at our desks and answering the questions at the end of the chapter.

We’re studying genetic inheritance, drawing Punnett Squares of our hair and eye color for two generations back. My father’s grandparents both had brown eyes and hair. My mother’s grandparents both had brown eyes and hair. So that means that I should have. . .

I raise my hand. “Mr. Kreiger? Am I doing this right?”

He comes over and looks at my datafly. “Hmm, that’s all correct. Human eye and hair color is actually more complicated than Mendel’s peas—” He stops suddenly. I get the feeling he’s realizing something. Connecting the dots.

His eyes shift away from me. “Recessive genes can sometimes lie dormant for generations.”

My father picks me up after school and I tell him what happened. He doesn’t look at me until I get to the end and say, “So I should have brown hair and brown eyes, right?”

“Yes,” he says, “And brown skin. You have the genes for those. And from your mother’s Spanish ancestors you also have genes for green eyes, fair hair and white skin, which are actually expressed.”


“We were wondering when to tell you. It had just been approved by the FDA when you were—you know, before you were born.”

“What had been approved?”

“A way to swap—or not actually to swap out genes—they can’t do that yet. But a way to control which genes are expressed by inserting an extra piece of DNA. A ‘plasmid’.” He glances at me. “So you would have brown hair and eyes, and darker skin. But those genes were switched off.” He looks back at the road. I take a moment to figure out what to say.

“You messed with my genes? To make me look white?”

“You gotta understand, Zoe. As a parent, you want your child to have every possible advantage.”

“What advantage?”

“Demographics don’t lie. Race and poverty are still correlated for Latinos almost as strongly as for African Americans. So we do everything we can. Good nutrition. A safe neighborhood. Strong schools. So when we had the chance to do this—you understand, right?”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Zero Bar

It Isn't Enough to Feel Righteous

You also have to be right, particularly when it comes to legal doctrines like Fair Use.

If you haven’t yet, check out Jason’s post on the harassment campaign Surly Amy (Amy Davis Roth) is facing because she decided to keep her commitments to TAM then didn’t keep quiet about the shit she dealt with there. The most recent chapter of this involves a blog post by Justin Vacula. It’s one of his typically vacuous, ignore-the-point-and-complain-around-it arguments trying to suggest that creating and wearing items at a conference that are designed to hurt another conference-goer should be just fine with the conference, because…because…well, as far as I can tell, just because Vacula thinks so.

In posting this, Vacula used one of Amy’s images–a photograph she took of one of her own pendants. He then received notice that a DMCA complaint had been lodged, presumably by Amy, covering that image. The post was reverted to draft until he could remove the image, but his vague complaining was untouched. The notice covered the image only.

Vacula complained some more, as is his right. Then he decided to take things further. Without, as far as I can tell, consulting an attorney, he filed a DMCA counter-notification. His legal reasoning appears to be nothing more than, “If I really didn’t have a right to use the image, why didn’t Amy just send me an email?” I kid you not.

There’s a little problem with this. Continue reading “It Isn't Enough to Feel Righteous”

It Isn't Enough to Feel Righteous

Atheists Talk: David Niose on "Nonbeliever Nation"

David Niose will join Atheists Talk this Sunday to discuss his new book, Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans. Niose spotlights how Humanists are fighting back against the stranglehold that the Religious Right has on our government, schools and politics. Nonbeliever Nation celebrates the advancements that Humanists have made in this country, and then urges us to go further.

David Niose is the president of the American Humanist Association, an organization devoted to advancing Humanism in the United States.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Atheists Talk: David Niose on "Nonbeliever Nation"


Thomas Edison was an ass. These days, companies will lay claim to patents on ideas developed by their employees (and other things, but that’s another story). Edison took it a step further and patented them under his own name.

That problem we have with companies lobbying to have their standards adopted by fiat? Yeah, Edison was in on that action too.

Between the two behaviors, this is why we know Edison’s name so well. He was an inventor, yes, but much of his brilliance was as a business owner.

Nikola Tesla not so much. He’s mostly an icon to geeks. You don’t see Edison in episodes of Sanctuary or conscripted to be a mad genius in movies like The Prestige. Tesla? Oh, yes, and frequently as odd as they come.

The truth is a bit more boring. Tesla was a genius, but not terribly mad. Some synesthesia, a touch of OCD, a bit of a loner, with little time for marketing himself or his ideas. Thus, while his ideas have lived on and played important roles in our lives, Tesla himself has mostly lived on in speculative fiction.

We have an opportunity to fix that. Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal has the details:

Tesla’s laboratory, Wardenclyffe, was built to provide wireless energy for the entire earth. Unfortunately, funding for the project was cut off and in 1917 the Wardenclyffe tower was demolished and the land was sold to a photographic film manufacturer. However, the land, laboratory, and foundation underneath the tower are still there and very recently went up for sale. And right now, a non-profit organization is trying to buy the property and turn it into a Nicola Tesla Museum. [Note: Inman’s post has way more fun pictures than this.]

I want to go to a Tesla Museum in his old laboratory. I want to see where the eccentric genius worked. More importantly, I want history to treat Tesla better than Edison or his other contemporaries did.

If you want the same thing and can chip in a bit, go donate.


Just Five Questions

When someone asks you to be on their podcast, listen to it first. That way, you’re prepared for any little quirks the hosts may through your way. Of course, this won’t help you if you’re recording a brand new podcast, like the one run by my old college friend, Tim Wick.

Tim is the programming contact for the SkepchickCon track at CONvergence. He’s also one of the contributors to Atheist Voices of Minnesota (as well as one of the people I refer to in my essay there). A couple of weeks before the convention, he started soliciting guests for a brand new podcast, Geeks Without God. I introduced him to Jason via Twitter, since Jason is one of the geekiest people I know.

Somehow, by the time CONvergence rolled around, I was also going to be on the same episode. Apparently Tim decided I qualify as a geek. Or he liked my live-tweeting of the ancient aliens debate. Or something. Anyway, I ended up recording what was going to be a half hour on the debate with Tim and Jason and Molly and Nick. With concrud and half a voice.

Except, when we got just over 20 minutes in, they said something like, “Oh, so we should have mentioned that we have questions. You know, like James Lipton. We ask all our guests.”


I know Tim. I don’t know Molly or Nick, but I know their work. Questions, they say.


So I answered those, and Jason answered those, and we both survived. And, a month and a half later, we have a podcast about aliens and cheeseburgers. Finally.

As much as I tease, Tim, Nick, and Molly are putting together a good podcast. They’re up to six episodes now, which is why it’s taken a month and a half to release ours. The talk about the debate is no less funny. I haven’t changed my mind about what you need to watch next. You just have five more episodes to enjoy before ours, including the one with Rebecca Watson. Yes, these folks know the power of controversy.

Check them out. Review them on iTune. Read the blog. You can even participate in the podcast. And you? You, they’ll give the five questions ahead of time. Bastards.

Just Five Questions