Repost: Garbage Statistics

This may not be the post you’re looking for from the title. It’s an old, odd look at how my brain works, though. It amused me, so I’m reposting it.

Literally. We have a corner lot in the city, with plantings where a lot of people would have lawn, so lots of trash gets blown into our yard and stays for a while. One of the rites of spring is my own personal neighborhood cleanup. I started right after work, and here’s a little rundown of what I found.

  • Greatest decrease, prior year to current year: cigarette butts, down 30%
  • Greatest decrease in item size: cigarette butts, 97% smoked fully

Either the recession and increased taxes are making cigarettes less appealing, or the winter weather, coldest it’s been in several years, is keeping smokers inside.

  • Most frequent item: still cigarette butts (~30)
  • Greatest increase: Styrofoam cups, up 50%
  • Largest item, volume: FedEx envelope (1)

No clothes this year. That usually takes this category.

  • Greatest overall volume: advertising newspapers (4), all sopping wet
  • Greatest single dimension: unspooled cassette tape (4 feet)
  • Most personally disgusting: cigar mouth pieces (2)
  • Most generally disgusting: chewed gum with teeth prints (2)
  • Most obsessive: bus transfer, torn into pieces 1 cm. by 1.5 cm.
  • Saddest item: beads from a piece of kids jewelry with the shiny half worn off (2)
  • Item most likely to make it into a story: broken 2008 Mickey Mouse Christmas ornament (1)
  • Most impossible to gather: pieces of windshield glass from the car that hit the tree two feet inside our fence (100s)
  • Nicest surprise: temperature (79F)
  • Most welcome sight: active earthworms (2)
  • Smallest ratio: energy to ambition (1 hour:infinite)
  • Total volume: 1 medium shopping bag
  • Percent complete: 33%

Back at it this weekend. Then I can trim the lilacs and dispose of the brush pile and pull grass and rearrange the ferns and the hardy geraniums and…whew! Yeah, I’ll be at this a while.

Repost: Garbage Statistics

“Appignani Humanist Legal Center”, David Niose & Monica Miller on The Humanist Hour

This week, we’re bringing some of the news out of AHA’s annual conference for everyone.

Blue Happy Humanist logo with headphones and a microphone.
This year, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center celebrates a decade of service. The center provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of religious and secular minorities by directly challenging clear violations of the Establishment Clause and seeking equal rights for humanists, atheists and other freethinkers. Through a combination of staff and pro bono attorneys, the center engages in amicus activity, litigation, and other legal advocacy.

This May, at the American Humanist Association’s annual conference, David Niose, legal director for the center, and Monica Miller, senior counsel, spoke about the center. They talked about its victories and challenges, and the cases in front of it today.

You can listen to the podcast here.

“Appignani Humanist Legal Center”, David Niose & Monica Miller on The Humanist Hour

About that “Arc of the Moral Universe”

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Did you know the original was part of a sermon?

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just.[^1] Ere long all America will tremble.

Theodore Parker was an abolitionist who published those words in 1853. His words were popular at the time, but we know them through Martin Luther King Jr., who quoted a paraphrase that had been attributed to Parker. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” King, of course, was also a minister.

It shouldn’t be any surprise then that the sentiment is ultimately a religious one. In fact, we should perhaps twig to this from the paraphrase, or even from the phrase “moral universe”. The idea that the universe has inherent moral qualities hasn’t been demonstrated. The impetus to view it that way is religious or at least is one of the impetuses to religion.

Yet I hear nonreligious people and skeptics use the phrase all the time. It’s used to energize activists and to comfort people in danger of burnout. Far more rare are statements or essays that question the idea even in its particulars. We even have a book with a title borrowed from the phrase arguing for the premise.

Yes, the book argues that nonreligious forces–science in particular1–are what bend the arc and that religion has the capability to reverse it. Yes, that book and many of the other uses of King’s quotation are referring to a metaphorical moral universe rather than the supernatural one of Parker’s original words. However, the directionality and inevitability of the quotation are generally accepted, if sometimes hedged.

If we don’t allow religion to dominate, our world will become more just. If we keep fighting, we will achieve more justice for more people.

The problem, of course, is that this isn’t necessarily true. Continue reading “About that “Arc of the Moral Universe””

About that “Arc of the Moral Universe”

CONvergence 2016 Schedule

Coming to CONvergence this weekend? Want to see me talk about things? Here’s where you can find me.

CONvergence 2016 logo with rocketship with text "...and how do we get there?". Dates June 30 - July 3.
Gone Off the Rails: How to Moderate
Thursday June 30, 2016 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Crowne Plaza U

Sometimes, you’re on a panel that starts to go wrong: some guy starts talking over all the women in the room or the person who volunteered to moderate the panel turns out to be a blowhard. How do you fix this on the fly? And not be That Guy? Panelists: John Seavey, Sigrid Ellis (mod), Mark Oshiro, Michael Carus, Stephanie Zvan

Crowdfunding Your Way to ‘There’
Thursday June 30, 2016 5:00pm – 6:00pm
DoubleTree Atrium 4

Is crowdfunding your best bet? Which crowdfunding option should you choose? And how do you get from unknown to funded? The promise and perils of the crowdfunding journey will be explored. Panelists: Marie Porter, Anj Olsen, Chrysoula Tzavelas, Stephanie Zvan (mod), Tania Richter Continue reading “CONvergence 2016 Schedule”

CONvergence 2016 Schedule

Saturday Storytime: Bride Price

This story from S. E. Jones really didn’t go where I expected it to. I rather like the differences.

Late-1800s charcoal drawing of a young woman reading a page she's pulled out of a wooden desk. Circular vignette.
The family hall was tucked behind the children’s hospital. The road was dotted with skeletal plane trees, their leaves long since stolen by winter. Against the brick of the surrounding buildings, the hall looked odd—an Edwardian manor untouched by time.

Well. The great magical families had never been shy about protecting their own property while letting everything else burn. The blitz of World War Two had made much less of a dent in their holdings than in those of the general public. They had lost just as many buildings in the resulting public anger before they had joined the war effort, but that was the foresight of the great families—keeping themselves separate until reality forced them to participate in society.

Not that they’d learned yet—her bride price was not something anyone would be able to bid for. No, only those with magic in their blood need apply.

Kyria slipped in through the old servants’ door. Her footsteps echoed as she made her way down the corridor.

Her father would be in the ancestors’ hall. When built, it had been furnished with a throne and portraits of old men of power. Anything to make visitors feel small.

Now, the throne was gone, and the hall was divided into two meeting rooms, connected to each other by a single door. The walls were a product of the old messy feuds that came with the interbreeding between magical families. Now they just cut down on the heating bills.

Kyria made her way to the first meeting room. The portraits stared down at four chairs, each occupied by a man. One chair stood empty.

So these were her supposed suitors. Quick off the mark. That made them very rich or very poor. Either eager to cement their legacy, or desperate to start one.

Damn them all and all their legacies to hell. Continue reading “Saturday Storytime: Bride Price”

Saturday Storytime: Bride Price

“But I Don’t Live in a Swing State”

I guess there’s no better morning to write this, is there?

When I write about elections, I almost invariably get U.S. voters telling me that, sure, they agree with what I have to say, but they don’t live in a swing state1. Why do they tell me this? They say this when they’re justifying to themselves and trying to justify to me voting for an outcome they don’t want.

  • Sure, our presidential election is between a highly effective politician with some bad decisions under her belt and an ignorant, impulsive fascist, but I don’t live in a swing state.
  • Sure, women, people of color, sexual minorities, immigrants, etc. are in deep trouble if this election goes the wrong way, but I don’t live in a swing state.
  • Sure, the ascendance of the far right wing in Europe is an international crisis we need to not contribute to, but I don’t live in a swing state.

You get the idea. Continue reading ““But I Don’t Live in a Swing State””

“But I Don’t Live in a Swing State”

“Women in Secularism & Secular Woman”, Debbie Goddard and Monette Richards on The Humanist Hour

This is a special episode for The Humanist Hour, at least if round numbers appeal to you. It’s show #200. We decided to make it count.

Blue Happy Humanist logo with headphones and a microphone.
In spring of 2012, the secular movement was a different place for women. We were grossly underrepresented on stage, in print, and in the membership of our organizations. In a movement that prides itself on asking questions, the people asking why this underrepresentation was happening were being shouted down. The Center for Inquiry’s (CFI) Women in Secularism conference in Washington, D.C. was created to address these problems. The brain child of Melody Hensley, the conference featured a weekend of only women speakers, and it changed the movement.

This week, Stephanie Zvan talks to Debbie Goddard, Director of Outreach at CFI and Director of African Americans for Humanism, about the history of the conference and what people can look forward to this year. Debbie is organizing the fourth Women in Secularism conference, taking place September 23–25, 2016.

Stephanie also talks with Monette Richards, president of CFI Northeast Ohio and co-president of Secular Woman, an organization that was born at the first Women in Secularism conference. We’ll catch up on what it’s been up to, as well as its hopes and plans for the future.

You can listen to the podcast here.

“Women in Secularism & Secular Woman”, Debbie Goddard and Monette Richards on The Humanist Hour

Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier

Skepticon has just released a statement saying that Richard Carrier will not be allowed to attend their future conferences because of inappropriate behavior. They had previously stopped inviting him to speak after he displayed a pattern of pushing a staffer’s boundaries.

In light of the recent revelations of sexual harassment, unwelcome attention, and/or unwanted behavior from more than one prominent atheist, Skepticon would like to renew our vow to keep our attendees, speakers, volunteers, vendors, organizers, and anyone else involved in Skepticon safe at our events.

The accusations specifically against Richard Carrier are, sadly, not so surprising to the Skepticon organizers. While he was a featured speaker for many years, we stopped inviting him to speak partly because of his repeated boundary-pushing behavior, including towards someone involved in Skepticon. What has been made clear by the recent discussions is that our attendees’ well being and comfort is put at an unacceptable risk by Carrier’s presence, and so we are officially prohibiting Richard Carrier from attending any future Skepticons.

In case you missed it last week, this is the third allegation of flatly unacceptable behavior from Carrier to be made public. Continue reading “Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier”

Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier

Voting Green “on Principle”

This is an expanded version of an early-morning Facebook post from about a week ago. It got a lot of shares, some good positive comments, and some reasonable criticisms, so it seemed worth giving some extra, caffeinated time to.

When someone tells me they’re voting for Jill Stein on principle, I have to wonder what that principle is or how much people know about Stein and the Greens. I say that as someone with a history of voting Green under certain circumstances.

Photo of Jill Stein sitting behind a table in front of a beige wall, smiling.
“Jill Stein” by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

If you vote for Jill Stein, you’re voting for a candidate who has never held office above the suburban city level. She did that in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the nation, in a town that would be almost 100% white if it weren’t for students from Asia who settled locally after graduation. She has spent almost her entire political career as a lobbyist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is a far different set of skills from holding office and representing constituents.

If you vote for Jill Stein, you’re voting for the Green Party, which has chosen to throw its money and work into advertising itself through doomed runs for national and sometimes state offices over putting people in local offices where important, unglamorous work gets done. Continue reading “Voting Green “on Principle””

Voting Green “on Principle”

Saturday Storytime: Hiranyagarbha

This story from Kevin Jared Hosein is just one piece in Lightspeed Magazine‘s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Flash Fiction! issue. There’s a whole bunch more great short fiction to check out as well.

But I stop myself. I had to call Yadav to see this. So when Yadav and me come back to the spot, we come prepared, camera and all. We didn’t really know what to expect. To be honest, I thought we was gon find something similar to what happen in Brazil a few years back—where the Rio Doce was running red after a dam collapse and spill iron into her veins. Didn’t have nothing like no oil rig or ore mine set up shop anywhere near Caroni Swamp, though—didn’t matter. We just wanted to be the first to see. At least, we coulda claim that.

The water was shallow enough to wade round near the mangroves. We take a cutlass and chop a path through where the gold fluid was seeping out. The colour got deeper and deeper. I coulda see where it was coming from. I squint my eyes and bam!—a frantic fish hawk nearly knock me over. I swing my blade at it and damn near cut Yadav’s head clean off. He cussed me for five minutes straight. Wasn’t only the fish hawk was acting up, though. The herons was going mad, hopping and zipping from bough to bough, crashing into each other, colliding into the mangroves. Bubbles form where the golden pool began, surrounded by groupers, snook, catfish—all belly-up, some of them completely coated in gold. A tree boa looked down at the pool, its body looped round itself in a double-knot. Probably the only animal not joining in the cacophony.

Yadav, who was almost as loud as the birds, dwindle into silence when he laid eyes on the shimmering pool. My chest tensed up and tickled, like there was a humming in it. The pool was an unnatural gold—unnatural to the swamp and everything round it, couldn’t even tell if it was solid or liquid. Reminded me of them glutinous algal blooms you’d see in ponds near farms. Was it a sap? Leakage from some pipe we didn’t know nothing of? Maybe some radioactive mineral? It had a slight glow. Honestly, first thing I thought about when I saw it was Hiranyagarbha from the Vedas, the golden womb that was the source of all the universe.

But this thing wasn’t sacred. I wasn’t going near it, but Yadav dip his hands—his bare hands—in it. It’s warm, he say. When he pulled his fingers out, they were gold.

Your fingers arright? I ask him.

Just numb. Can’t feel much, he say.

Later in the day, the gold creep along to his palm and then his wrist. By the time morning come, it infest his entire arm. His arm wasn’t solid gold, no. It had the texture of a scab. We rush him to the hospital, but nobody know what to do except drown him in sedatives. They call a man, who then call a next man—and before we know it, had a team of university researchers and scientists standing over Yadav’s cot, fingers to lips, silently observing the golden scab as it spread to his collar. Before nightfall, it engulfed his neck and he was dead. The doc say that it collapse the cartilage in his windpipe.

Two months later, three white men fly down here to Trinidad, asking me to see the pool. They tell me that they’s from an American TV show—Paranormalists or something like that. I ain’t gone back to the pool since the time with Yadav, and sure as shit ain’t want to now. But the money they’s offering—shit, that is white people money.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Hiranyagarbha