The Reading List, 12/31/2015

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

The Reading List, 12/31/2015

Best of 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve done a year-end review of my writing, but this year feels like the right time. I’ve written less here than usual, having done more activism off the blog, but I’ve also written more pieces I’m proud of on their own, not just for how they’ve shifted the conversations we’re having about important things, than I have in years. So here are some the posts you may not want to miss from 2015.

Power and ‘Political Correctness’“–“Institutions with decades of practice and journalists with professional training in the exercise of their power cannot or do not manage any better than that. This makes it ridiculous to point to the missteps of individuals who are new to power as indicative of broad failings of the group to which these people belong. Doing so is a basic exercise in essentialism, the fundamental attribution error occasionally leavened with racism or sexism.”

Family Matters: How Geek Communities Turn Dysfunctional“–“Unfortunately, many of the problems of these spaces are the problems of family as well. We pressure each other to conform to the way ‘we’ do things, whether our traditions are helpful or harmful. People play favorites, both in relatively harmless and grossly toxic ways. Abuse is perpetrated, both among peers and across inequities of position and resources. We protect the family as a unit over the individuals who make it what it is.

Right Where Dr. A Pinched“–“Again, other people disagree with you, both about it being cute and about it being intimidating. You’re trying to speak for a generation (or two) of women whose opinions you haven’t done the basics to assess. If you want to say, ‘I and the other women who didn’t find it objectionable didn’t find it objectionable’, go ahead. It’s a much, much weaker statement and meaningless as an argument, but it at least has the benefit of being true.”

Religion and Atheism in Geek Spaces“–“As someone who spends a lot of time on atheist activism, I often find majority-atheist geek spaces more relaxing than atheist-activist spaces. They feel less like work, and I have a lot of friends who either aren’t atheists or aren’t activists. I have an admitted interest in keeping these spaces functioning for their original purposes. As someone who pursues atheist activism as social justice, I also have an interest in making sure atheists don’t cause the same problems for others that we’ve faced as a religious minority.” Continue reading “Best of 2015”

Best of 2015

The Reading List, 12/29/2015

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

The Reading List, 12/29/2015

Saturday Storytime: The House that Made the Sixteen Loops of Time

I try to notice new names when I’m reading for this feature. One of the glories of the current F&SF short story market is that it’s big enough to give us a chance to discover new authors. Still, even when I find someone new to me, it’s rarely a first sale. This story from Tamsyn Muir is an exception.

Daniel, though, had bore up well. He’d only once really lost his temper, when her kitchen parsley bit his fingers: “Why can’t you have a normal house instead of—this stupid, temperamental Disney shack,” he’d snapped. “And the water pressure is terrible.” For five weeks neither of his cellphones got reception there and Danny banged all the doors.

But with Daniel, any annoyance he demonstrated was usually awkwardness, and under the staid curtness of his day-to-day Chartered Stockbroker face he liked chinchillas as well as laptops. They were two people who understood each other completely: She understood his irritability, his privacy, his inability to be serious with her when he was serious all day with everyone else. He understood just about everything with her, including a lot of things she wished he didn’t. They were as devoted to each other as two people could be, and every lunchtime when he was at his office desk and she was marking university papers they would ring up to ask what the other was eating. Accepting her magical house was a small issue.

Anyway, anything 14 Arden Lane did never lasted; when the house felt it had made its point, it stopped. Usually. One of the chinchillas had been purple forever.

Now that she was forty-two Rosamund Tilly could tell when the build-ups were reaching explosion point. The ivy trellises around the house would be taut and trembling, the pretty crazy-paved path curling inward trying to claw the long grass verge. Even the dust would smell like firework smoke as she dragged a cloth haphazardly over her collections of glass cats. Years ago a build-up had made her accidentally wipe off her youngest daughter’s eyebrows, and Snowdrop had gone around with her fringe brushed down and full of bitter complaints. Her tweenage feelings had been further hurt by her mother finding it hilarious, but the point was underscored: Rosamund Tilly really couldn’t control what happened or when.

Thursday week the house made her hiccup a butterfly, and at that point she knew there was going to be a problem. 14 Arden Lane was of late empty and lonely now that it had lost the children and most of the chinchillas, and the house would sullenly take it out on her in sometimes vicious ways. Just a month ago great snakelike twists of wormy mud slithered out the kitchen sink, coiling over her dishes and bending her forks, and that had made Dr. Tilly remember the crabs.

That night Danny came over from the office after a long day of chartered stockbrokering and surfed pictures of cats on his laptop as she fidgeted. “A watched pot never boils,” he said.

“Don’t give the house ideas with ‘boil,’ you animal.”

“Remember how aggressive it got when you put down new carpet, with the chimney and the goats?” He was clicking through pictures of disapproving rabbits, sitting next to her on the sofa. “I’m waiting for the day when you form a new plane of existence and your evil self replaces you, and I’ll be able to tell her by the moustache.”

“You are so flip,” said Rosamund. “Why do you have to be so flip?”

“I’m just here to look after you, Rose,” he said, and that was pretty adorable so she put her feet into his lap and prodded his computer with her socks. Daniel Tsai had long-sufferingly helped her raise two children, sixteen chinchillas and read her thesis, but he’d been obliged to: In primary school they had exchanged teal and fuschia friendship bracelets, a lifelong commitment if ever there was one. “Well? Go on and tell the house to hurry up, as the suspense is killing me.”

Rosamund Tilly folded herself into a lotus pose instead, which always gently bemused him and disgusted her two daughters. Being able to fold oneself into a lotus was a payoff from having done yoga when it wasn’t popular and being a hippie when it wasn’t fun anymore, when she’d prided herself on having the widest bellbottoms in all Hartford and fifty-six recipes involving carob. When she had moved into 14 Arden Lane she’d had carrot-coloured hair so long she could sit on it and towered three inches over Danny, who wasn’t short, so she supposed the house had liked her out of pure shock.

Her ears popped, like they did on a descending airplane. “I think something’s coming,” she said.

Danny was looking at cats again. “So’s Christmas.”

Not a lot happened, at first. There was a little tingly smell like ozone, and a sense that she’d just breathed in a lungful of water and had to spit it out. Needle-sharp shivers started at her ankles and worked their way up. She closed her eyes very tightly, and when she opened them again there was Danny, waiting, eyes crinkling a little quizzically.

“Well?” he said. “Did worlds collide?”

“Not for me,” she said, and the sensation flared briefly again: more like the shadow of a feeling than the first sharp injection of it. Her vision blurred a little, but she wasn’t sure as they hadn’t turned on all the lights in the sitting-room. The house liked it when they thought conscientiously about the environment. Dr. Tilly worried that something dreadful was about to happen.

“Well?” Danny said. “Did worlds collide?”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The House that Made the Sixteen Loops of Time

Christmas Is for Stories

There exists an argument that atheists (or more particularly anti-theists, but it’s not phrased that way) shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a Christian holiday, and if we want to celebrate a holiday, we should make our own and keep it away from the Christian cooties. More seriously, the argument is made that contribute to Christianity’s cultural hegemony by celebrating Christmas.

The group that argues this isn’t large. Tom Flynn of CFI heads it up, and most of the rest of the people carrying the torch appear to be the sort of men who think that anything that doesn’t hold their attention is automatically lesser and perhaps in need of banning for the good of society. The whole thing would be almost entirely escapable if it weren’t for Beth Presswood‘s quest to single-handedly keep the joy in Christmas for atheists.

As someone who has never had a non-secular Christmas, I find the hand-wringing over atheists celebrating Christmas puzzling. To me, Christmas is a storytelling holiday. Continue reading “Christmas Is for Stories”

Christmas Is for Stories

Coffee Kiss Cookies

Sometimes, you’re making cookies for Christmas, and you realize that your only copy of a recipe exists in notes on a piece of paper. Then you panic a little bit until you find it. Then you blog it, or at least I do.

I developed this recipe because I love Kiss cookies, but the combination of peanut butter and milk chocolate is kind of bland, particularly in the middle of holiday treats. So I decided I wanted coffee and dark chocolate instead. I’ve made them every year since. Continue reading “Coffee Kiss Cookies”

Coffee Kiss Cookies

The Reading List, 12/23/2015

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

The Reading List, 12/23/2015

The Reading List, 12/20/2015

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

  • “The Problem With ‘Dress Professionally'”
  • “The Story Behind A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens”–“Little did they know that Carol would create not only a gigantic Christmas book market, but change the popular understanding of Christmas forever.”
  • “On Setting The ‘Universal Sex Difference’ Bar Way Too Low”–“Call us sticklers, but we don’t think you can declare human universals because the BBC did an internet survey, where only people who spoke English responded.”
  • “Planting New Farmers for the Future of Food”–“We lost that knowledge transfer. Ninety percent of people in the room at this conference are growers—but 80 to 90 percent of them had no connection to farming before they started.”
  • “Condescension Isn’t Kindness”–“Often, people think this is a kindness, that they know my heart and know that I would never give up my belief—when I didn’t give up anything in the first place.”
  • “Growing Up Arab American in DC After 9/11”–“Like I said, I was always a little weird. Still, no amount of thick skin could prepare me for the type of bullying I faced after 9/11.”
  • “Tennessee Woman Charged With Attempted Murder After Failed Self-Induced Abortion”–“‘Tennessee’s homicide law explicitly doesn’t apply to [Yocca],’ explained Farah Diaz-Tello, senior staff attorney at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, ‘but this arrest tells women that if they try to seek emergency medical assistance, they may end up behind bars. That won’t stop women from having abortions, but it will stop them from getting help.'”
  • “Fuck Imposter Syndrome.”–“I asked myself why I’m spending all my time worrying about what other people think of me, instead of focusing on what I feel. What I want. And just like that, this scary meeting transformed into something exciting.”
  • “Trump and the Good Americans who want to be entertained”–“The best show in town. The fucking privilege to be able to imagine that Trump’s campaign is nothing more than a “spectacle” for your consumption—a terrific bit of entertainment to take in with your son, like a revival of Hair, perhaps.”
  • “‘War’ Correspondence: Almost Half Of Americans Say They Prefer Secular Greetings Rather Than ‘Merry Christmas'”–“The poll found that 49 percent prefer retailers say ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Season’s Greetings’ to their customers, while 43 percent said they want businesses to wish them ‘Merry Christmas.’ In 2010, only 44 percent said they favored secular tidings while 49 percent wanted to be wished ‘Merry Christmas.'”
  • “No, Trump’s Racist Anti-Muslim Proposal is Very American”–“But the true spirit of American values has always been demonization of the other in the name of ‘democracy.’ Homilies about the U.S. moral uprightness and vaunted democratic freedoms are belied by the staggering reality of epic racial wealth gaps, deepening racial segregation and state violence.”
  • “101 Lies to Tell So You Can Stay Home and Read”–“I tasted vanilla extract and the fact that something that smells so good can taste so bad is making me question everything I know about the world.”
  • “Study: Elite scientists can hold back science”–“All this suggest there’s a ‘goliath’s shadow’ effect. People are either prevented from or afraid of challenging a leading thinker in a field. That or scientific subfields are like grown-up versions of high school cafeteria tables.”
  • “United Nations Working Group: Women in the United States, Texas Face Extreme Barriers to Basic Health Care”–“The Working Group—which visited Washington, D.C. and Texas interviewing various community leaders, elected officials, and individual women—announced their preliminary findings at a press conference in Washington, DC last Friday, noting that the U.S. in general ‘is allowing its women to lag behind international human rights standards.'”
  • “About That Wine Experiment”–“There are two levels to the inaccuracy of the popular story. The first is that several of the details that have been routinely reported are simply incorrect, having been copied from one article to another. So let’s break them down.”
  • “Why Women Don’t Apply For Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified”–“First, it’s likely that due to bias in some work environments, women do need to meet more of the qualifications to be hired than do their male counterparts. For instance, a McKinsey report found that men are often hired or promoted based on their potential, women for their experience and track record.”
  • “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”–“In a report not previously made public, Sgt. Gregg Rinta, a sex crimes supervisor with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, wrote that what happened was ‘nothing short of the victim being coerced into admitting that she lied about the rape.'” (CN: While this article gets to something like justice, the story of injustice is delivered in such a neutral tone that I had some trouble with it.)
  • “Secular Social Justice Conference 2016”–“SSJ focuses on the lived experiences, cultural context, shared struggle and social history of secular humanist people of color and their allies. The event will include panels on economic justice, feminism(s) of color, LGBTQ atheists of color, African American Humanist traditions in hip hop, racial politics and the crisis of New Atheism and much more.”
  • “Online Harassment Insurance Is Useful, But It’s Another Tax On Women For Being Women”–“However, it also falls squarely into a bucket with an infinite array of services, applications, weapons, and products that women have to pay hard-earned money for in order to ‘stay safe.’ It is just one more way that we are expected, and encouraged, to pay for violence we are subject to because we are women.”
  • “Sponsor withdraws Mizzou athlete strike proposal”–“Brattin’s decision to withdraw the legislation came as a surprise Wednesday to co-sponsor Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O’Fallon. ‘Unfortunately, it’s going to be seen as a coup by those who opposed the bill,’ Bahr told the Post-Dispatch.”
The Reading List, 12/20/2015

There Is No Pure in Politics

A few days ago, I posted a two-part guest post from Kelly McCullough about the necessity of voting. The first part was practical, laying out some political truths about why this country has found itself where it is today. The second part was far more direct, talking about the people voting most affects. As a nominally fertile woman, I happen to be one of those people.

Apparently, Kelly’s post wasn’t blunt enough, as I have two people who usually display relatively normal reading comprehension skills going off the rails in the comments. One of them is bragging about how he does nothing to protect my rights while telling me I’m on a “high horse” and accusing me of calling him names. The other has a list of issues I must solve for him before he’ll do anything about my rights and is saying, oh, it doesn’t matter anyway, because systemic collapse must be on its way.

So, Kelly’s post was not blunt enough. I can fix that.

You really want a name from me? Fine. Let’s go with “complicit”. Continue reading “There Is No Pure in Politics”

There Is No Pure in Politics

Saturday Storytime: This is the Hardest Thing I Do All Day

This story from Alexandra Grunberg went nowhere I expected from its beginning. It was a pleasant surprise in all the best ways.

“Wow, you literally have no idea how to have fun. Here, let me help you,” said Zach, jumping to his feet and pulling Peter up with him.

“You see that girl over there?” he asked, pointing to the far corner. Of course Peter had seen her. She was the first person Peter saw when he arrived that night.

She was the reason he always arrived ten minutes late on Tuesdays, because he knew that she left work ten minutes late and he wanted to pass by her in the parking lot. She was the reason he had bought a big book of Sudoku puzzles, because he had seen her making her own puzzles in a notebook during a D-Section employee meeting and hoped that one day she would catch him working on them. She was the reason he had started listening to classical music and researched St. Bernards, because he had overheard her telling a friend she always thought of the dog when she heard the name “Beethoven.” She was the little piece in the puzzle of his life that never quite fit, forcing in a special spot each day, a small imperfection to an otherwise unchanging routine, and therefore made it perfect.

“The one with the black hair?”

“Yes, the beautiful girl with the black hair,” laughed Zachary. “That’s Rose. The girl she’s drinking with, Kelly, well, she and I have a bit of a history, and I was just chatting with them and happened to figure out that Rose is single. Hint, hint. Maybe we should go over and talk to them.”

“Do you really think I’m so lame that I need you to set me up with someone?”

“Yes. Yes I do.”

“You can go over and talk to them,” said Peter. “I’m going to get another beer.”

“Jesus Christ, you’re making this difficult. Well, just so you know, Kelly was open to having a mini get-together back at my place after this blows over. If you’re interested, I’m sure Rose will be there. If you’re not interested, I’m making you go anyway.”

Zachary wandered off to help a couple of interns who were setting up a beer pong table. Peter walked over to the bonfire where someone had brought up three large ice coolers. The ice had already melted, but there were still plenty of cans in the lukewarm water.

Peter was surprised to see BB standing by the bonfire. Because the fire was still going strong, Peter guessed that BB had been ordered to bring up a steady supply of unusable data. But at the moment, the little guy was frozen still, his little head tilted upwards, the camera facing the night sky. He was so still, Peter worried that he had suffered some major malfunction.

A young man whose shirt had come completely undone staggered over to BB and placed his beer on the robot’s head. Peter saw the flimsy metal cave slightly under the weight. He ran over and grabbed the beer, throwing it off the roof.

“What’s your problem, dude?”

“This is expensive company property,” said Peter.

The man staggered off toward the beer pong table and BB rolled around to face Peter.

“How are you doing, BB?” asked Peter.

“I’m fine, thank you.”

Peter waited for the robot to roll out, but it did not move.

“Got some work to do?” asked Peter.

“Yes, sir.”

The robot stayed in place. Peter was worried. First the printer, then the transmitter. He hoped BB was not failing on him, too.

“What’s wrong BB?”

Peter heard that strange sound again, the small release of air as BB lifted his head to the sky.

“This is the hardest thing I do all day.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: This is the Hardest Thing I Do All Day