Saturday Storytime: In the Dark

I like melancholy music, the songs that take the sadness and push it outside on a strong breath. This story by Ian Nichols, though…well, I’ll be thinking about that for a bit.

I’m not walking there, Morgan tells himself under the stars, under the new Moon. It’s the beer that’s walking there, the feet in their heavy boots, the shoulders in the jacket and the hands that dig coal out of rock all day, that make their way down the hill path. It’s dangerous, that path, if you don’t know where the old mine shafts and sink holes are. A man could fall in and never be seen again. That would be a terrible thing to happen to a gypsy boy who strayed off the path. Terrible thing, it would be.

Be a good fellow, the beer in Morgan’s brain says, and warn the gypsy. Take him over and show him the old pit. Explain how strangers can miss the path and fall down, down to the old bones of the earth. Never be seen again. Not by any girl with bright eyes and a smile that’s a promise. Not by any girl. Best to warn the gypsy before he makes a mistake.

The pony’s there, and there’s a little fire in the old grate of the hut. Morgan can see the glow of it against the dark, dark field. See the way it makes the old pit-head a puzzle against the dark without lightening it one bit. Morgan knows that puzzle, played in it as a lad and heard the stories his da told about how men were lost there, down in the dark where nothing should be but coal. Stories about how it was shut down when no man would go down there. Oh, it’s deep as death, that shaft. He’ll have to tell that gypsy boy about it, show him how dangerous it might be. He goes to push open the door.

The music starts, and it’s a black, black song the gypsy sings. It’s in no language Morgan knows in his head, but in his blood, in the marrow of him, he knows that song. It’s cold wind and sad death, lovers parted and hard pain. It’s a song that shouldn’t be sung in this dark field, with that deep shaft nearby, a shaft where there’s a sighing of something hungry for sad dreams. A rustling comes from the shaft that could be coal dust falling down, down into the earth. It could be flakes of rust from old machines or punk from perished pit props, but Morgan thinks it isn’t. Morgan thinks a beast is rising to feed on the dark dreams in this song the gypsy boy sings.

The rotting door near shatters under Morgan’s hand as he bursts into the little hut.

“God, man; what do you think you’re doing?” he says. The beer’s all gone from his brain now. There’s no room for it past the fear.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: In the Dark

Atheists Talk: Grant Steves on Ethics, Science, or Religion

Ethics, Science, or Religion – Which Has the Answer?

“If God does not exist, anything is permitted,” concludes Ivan Karamazov, a character in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov. “Anything is permitted” – leads to ethics. What is the right thing to do? How has evolution influenced our ethical behavior? Has religion influenced our behavior? Are our values defined by our culture or our biology? As emotions develop, how do they help form our morality and values?”

“Ethics, Science, or Religion – Which Has the Answer?” These questions will be addressed in this program. This is a follow up to the talk Grant gave to the Minnesota Atheists meeting last November 20, 2011.

Grant is a former Board member of MNA and a past chairperson. He served as host for the Minnesota Atheists television show Atheists Talk and has been interviewed on the Minnesota Atheists radio show. He has contributed articles and reviewed books for the Minnesota Atheists newsletter. In the past, he has lectured on cults and fundamentalism. Grant has also delivered speeches at the Day of Reason. Grant holds a Doctorate in Theology, is a retired public school educator, debate coach.

The two bibliography lists below will give the listener more background and understanding of the extensive topics of ethics, science and religion.

Ethics and Morality

  1. Audi, Robert Moral Value and Human Diversity 2007
  2. Casebeer, William D. Natural Ethical Facts 2003
  3. Churchland, Patricia Braintrust 2011
  4. De Waal, Frans Primates and Philosophers 2006
  5. Gazzaniga, Michael S The Ethical Brain 2006
  6. Harris, Sam The Moral Landscape 2010
  7. Hauser, Marc D. Moral Minds 2006
  8. Hoffman, Martin Empathy and Moral Development 2000
  9. Holloway, Richard Godless Morality 2002
  10. James, Scott M. An Introduction to Evolutionary Ethics 2011
  11. Joyce, Richard The Evolution of Morality 2006
  12. Levy, Neil What Makes us Moral? 2004
  13. Singer, Peter The Expanding Circle 1981
  14. Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter Morality 2009
  15. Thompson, Paul Issues in Evolutionary Ethics 1995
  16. Wielenber, Erik J. Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe 2005


  1. Atran, Scott In Gods We Trust 2002
  2. Bellah, Robert Religion in Human Evolution 2011
  3. Boyer, Pascal Religion Explained 2001
  4. De Vries, Jan The Study of Religion 1967
  5. Eller, Jack David Introducing Anthropology of Religion 2007
  6. Guthrie, Stewart Faces in the Clouds 1993
  7. Kirkpatrick, Lee Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion 2005
  8. Pals, Daniel L. Eight Theories of Religion 2006
  9. Pyysiainen, Ilkka How Religion Works 2003
  10. Saler, Benson Conceptualizing Religion 2000
  11. Stark,Rodeny and Roger Finke Acts of Faith 2000
  12. Wallace, Anthony Religion: An Anthropological View 1966
  13. Wilson, David Sloan Darwin’s Cathedral 2003

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: Grant Steves on Ethics, Science, or Religion

I Like This Lindsay Guy

The first time I talked to Ron Lindsay was when he called in to Atheists Talk while I was talking to Melody Hensley about the Women in Secularism conference. Neither Melody nor I had any idea he’d be calling, but he thought it was important to tell everyone that CFI strongly supported the conference for a number of reasons. Given the pushback to the announcement of the conference, this was both important and particularly welcome.

He made CFI’s support every bit as clear when he spoke at the conference itself. This wasn’t a project he’d just greenlighted then looked on from afar. Ron was clear that CFI had much to offer secular women and would benefit much by their participation. While he was speaking to a friendly audience, it was once again refreshing to see this understanding treated as an obvious, though reasoned, fact.

When I contact the CFI Management Committee about anti-harassment policies, Ron responded himself. Once again, his response was both welcoming and deeply professional. The same goes for CFI’s making the policy available to interested parties through More Than Men before CFI was ready to post it, although I understand the pdf provided didn’t come from Ron directly.

Now Ron’s done it again in releasing the CFI policy. Ron has written a great post on why he feels such a policy is needed and how the CFI policy was shaped by the mission and the concerns of the organization. Once again, it is welcoming, focused, and highly professional.

I know (!) the last month or so has been rough for some people in our movements. I know that dealing with a vocal and hostile minority is wearing. I know it’s tiring to explain the same basic things over and over. I know it’s difficult to deal with indifference or condemnation from people who claim to be on our side. I know that some people have felt like giving up and going to find someplace else to spend their time and energy.

I really hope that all these people have stuck around at least this long. I hope they’re paying attention as the leaders in our movements make these changes. I hope they’ve seen American Atheists responsiveness in creating their policy. I hope they read Ron’s post. I hope they understand that the future of our movements lies with these people–men and women–who are working together to make strong organizations that are welcoming to all.

That, after all, is what makes all this strain worth it.

I Like This Lindsay Guy

The Big News of the Day

Well, in the U.S. as a whole, it was the SCOTUS decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. Here, though, it is the debut of Secular Woman, “the first national membership organization dedicated exclusively to advancing the interests of atheist, humanist and other non-religious women.” This ambitious organization is the project of several experienced secular activists.

All in all, this looks like a very promising start. Consider joining up. Yes, guys. That means you too.

Or at least follow them on Twitter and decide whether you like what you see.


The Big News of the Day

Is Cyberstalking Abuse?

Hemant has a post from Todd Stiefel up today. It’s about Todd’s concerns with the way anti-harassment policies are shaking out. Mostly he’s concerned that they are focusing on the negative. He makes what I think are some reasonable suggestions and one I am pretty sure we as a movement simply aren’t grown up enough to handle.

First, some policies turn offensive words into harassment. Yes, words can amount to harassment, but we need to be careful here because “offensive” is often used as a weapon to silence dissent. There is an example anti-harassment policy on Geek Feminism Wiki that has been used as a template for several of our conferences. This includes the phrase, “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion.” This line begs the question, what constitutes offensive?

Even here, Todd is being quite reasonable. He makes a suggestion for language that he does like.

My point is that “offensive” is not equivalent to harassment and should be avoided in our policies. I much prefer the way CFI’s draft policy (PDF) addresses this point. It says, “Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, harassment based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected group status, as provided by local, state, or federal law. By way of example, abusive conduct directed at someone because of their race is prohibited,” and “Critical examination of beliefs does not, by itself, constitute harassment.”

There is nothing wrong per se with Todd’s position. My only problem is that I’m not sure we’re grown up enough to understand what abuse is. Let me explain why. Continue reading “Is Cyberstalking Abuse?”

Is Cyberstalking Abuse?


Apropos of the links on comment moderation from Monday, I offer you Sean Carroll’s beautiful comment policy (not currently in effect):

Axiom 1: This blog exists for the enjoyment of these bloggers.

This is the foremost principle to keep in mind when you are wondering why certain comments pass muster while others do not. Our blog is not a public service. We don’t get paid for it. [Update: now that we’re at Discover, we do get paid a tiny amount.] It’s not our real job. It’s just a hobby that we choose to pursue, as others pursue fly fishing or watching TV. The blog is not here for you. You do not pay any fee, in return for which you have the right to expect a certain level of service. The only obligation that we as bloggers have is — well, we don’t have any obligations at all, actually. We could decide tomorrow to devote all future posts to our favorite varieties of cheese, or to elaborately detailed discussions of our continuing health problems. Whatever we want.

The purpose of the blog is to amuse us. That’s it! Anything that does not amuse us is contrary to the spirit of the blog. Admittedly, we do hope that the blog is occasionally informative or entertaining to others, as well. But ultimately, the blog is Not About You.

This one principle should really be enough to figure out everything that needs to be figured out about comments, and the blog concept more generally. But just to be absolutely metaphysically complete, we’ll make explicit two other axioms that are generally true things about life.

I subscribe more to the “I am God” school of comment moderation for myself, which is why I have no formal policy, but this is a thing of beauty. Enjoy.

H/T: Ronja.


American Atheists Want People to Have Sex at Their Conferences

How do I know this? Dave Silverman just told me so on a conference call. “I want people to have sex at our conferences.”  This was also the conference call on which he said, “I am emphatically intolerant of harassment.”

I endorse both these statements, and I think American Atheists have done a great job of putting together a policy that is, as Dave described it, “sex-positive and harassment-negative”.

Dave was one of the first people to commit to getting a policy in place. He volunteered the information that AA would be adopting a policy within hours of the suggestion being made and without being specifically contacted on the topic. As he explained on the call, AA had already been looking at policies because there was a report of a problem at the end of the last conference. There wasn’t a process in place then to deal with it, and Dave didn’t want to be caught unprepared again. I offer big kudos to him and to AA for being proactive about this.

The majority of the call was handled by Amanda Knief, American Atheists’ Administrative Director. She’s also a lawyer, so she was prepared to respond to questions and suggestions on the spot, which she did.  Continue reading “American Atheists Want People to Have Sex at Their Conferences”

American Atheists Want People to Have Sex at Their Conferences

Congratulations on Not Harassing Anyone…This Time

Thunderf00t has a second post up on the topic of harassment policies. I don’t really care about most of it, but let’s take a look at the bit that is about the harassment policies themselves.

And maybe most pertinently, PZ explaining why his policy wouldn’t be a killjoy.

 If you want to chew on some woman’s leg, no, you don’t have to consult the conference handbook.”

“You have to fucking consult the woman.”

Facepalm.  Yes this is exactly why you are killjoys to the VAST majority of civil, honest respectable folks.  IT WAS IN A BAR.  I enjoyed it, she enjoyed it (she left a comment specifically saying so, just to remove all doubt (see MyLegMYCHOICE!)), AND I NEVER HAD TO CONSULT HER, NOR APPLY FOR PERMISSION FROM THE CONFERENCE, IN ORDERS SIGNED IN TRIPLICATE SENT IN, SENT BACK AND BURIED IN SOFT PEAT FOR THREE MONTHS AND RECYCLED AS FIRELIGHTERS etc etc.  Indeed had I had to fill in the paperwork along with ‘permission to bite your leg in a horseplay photo’ form under conference interpersonal contact rule 144 b) 2, it would have probably kinda killed the moment, and neither I nor she would have got our mild thrills for the night.  It’s boys n girls have fun in bars!

Look I’ll make it simple, the point of a bar isn’t to make everyone maximally safe (indeed if it were, they would ban bars, as it would be far safer if everyone just stayed at home and did nothing), it’s to let everyone have the most amount of fun.  The reason people don’t go to bars that are maximally safe, is because they are DULL, with folks always living in fear of crossing some random rule written by  some hypersensitive pencil-necked PC jockey.  I want to go to a bar where people let their hair down a little and act like PEOPLE! Nor do I see why everyone who is happy with such bars should have to comply to your dull set of rules that would SPECIFICALLY PROHIBIT EXACTLY THE SORT OF FUN GOING ON IN THIS PICTURE.

There’s a good bit of irony in this language showing up in a post about strawmen.
Continue reading “Congratulations on Not Harassing Anyone…This Time”

Congratulations on Not Harassing Anyone…This Time

Comment Moderation: Whys and How Tos

I have a panel coming up at SkepchickCon/CONvergence talking about dealing with trolls online. Last week, I asked people to tell me what defines a troll. Commenters were pretty consistent in their baseline views, both among themselves and with the definition I use and have seen elsewhere.

This week, I’m collecting resources on moderation. What follows are a few of my go-to resources. Please add good ones I’ve missed in the comments.

If there is hope, it dies with the trolls
Chris Clarke on why comment moderation is important.

As with so many other externalized evils in this world, the people most likely to be harmed by an act of bad faith are the ones saddled with the task of minimizing the effects of that bad faith act. Who is most likely to be harmed by a comment such as the one I deleted from the spam queue last night? Well, Muslims, for starters, and people whose loves include Muslims, and people longing for justice and a cessation of racism. And there are those who find unpleasant the pissing matches that usually arise from such posts. And those who prefer not to comment when the response might be a nasty slam made in bad faith. And those of us who may not mind the provocateurs, but who would benefit from hearing the points of view of those remaining silent.

Continue reading “Comment Moderation: Whys and How Tos”

Comment Moderation: Whys and How Tos

Sexual Harassment: Definitions and Legalities

There has been some muddying of waters in the last month or so over what sexual harassment is. The most prominent of people getting it wrong was D.J. Grothe, who said on The Ardent Atheist:

“So if someone is accosted or assaulted, and to be legal about it, sexual harassment cannot happen in a public event. Right? Sexual harassment can only happen in a workplace, by definition.”

Wrong. Very wrong. So let’s straighten it out, for the record.

Sexual Harassment Defined

There is one king of sexual harassment that everyone understands. This kind is called quid pro quo (“this for that”) harassment. This is the classic “Have sex with me if you want to keep your job/get a passing grade” extortion form of harassment. Blatant, simple, easy to figure out why it’s wrong.

That isn’t the only form of sexual harassment, however. There is also the sort of sexual harassment that creates a hostile environment. This is the sort of harassment that is much more like any other kind of harassment, which should make it easier to recognize rather than less. After all, we can recognized that someone is being harassed based on the color of their skin without requiring demands that they suffer extortion.

This is where the most basic of definitions of harassment comes in: Harassment is persistent, wearing attacks that interfere with the rest of your activities.

So racial harassment is harassment received because of or focused on one’s racial identity. Disability harassment is harassment received because of or focused on one’s disabilities. And sexual harassment is harassment received because of or focused on one’s gender or sexual identity. Continue reading “Sexual Harassment: Definitions and Legalities”

Sexual Harassment: Definitions and Legalities