Saturday Storytime: The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society

I treasure fantasies of manners when I find them. Science fiction of manners is far more rare these days, but this story by Henry Lien certainly qualifies. It was nominated for this year’s Nebula Awards.

Mrs. Howland-Thorpe vs. Mrs. Fleming, Battle One
In Which Mrs. Howland-Thorpe Loses Her Seating
At Supper Four Seats from Mrs. Vanderbilt and Blames That Italienne Creature, Mrs. Fleming.
Mrs. Fleming Prevails.

     Good sense advises that it is not prudent to make war against the garden of a lady of breeding and society with words, moles and voles, or combustibles, for she shall grow cross and vengeful.

Mrs. Honoria Orrington Howland-Thorpe came of family of no particular distinction. The Orringtons had once begun to build some beginning towards a fortune in whaling but that was gone now and long ago, after the carcass of one specimen was left too long unbutchered on the dock and the foetid gases growing in its belly as it decayed caused it to explode all over the street, resulting in a series of lawsuits that were small in value but legion in number and unending in appearance, which eventually reduced the Orrington business and family name to nothing worth noting. They were now far from among the first families in Boston. They saw in Honoria, possessed of an unearthly beauty and famed for her complexion, the last great hope of their line and did all in their power to send her to Farmington for the finishing of her education, though it caused them to have to repair to a house in the Fens to pay for it. Honoria made good return on the investment and married Tiberius Howland-Thorpe, as much for his railway fortune as for his relations, and thought well of the placement, although looking at his features produced in her a state of mild but constant irritation that continued without cease for the next 50 years. Together, they managed to keep themselves on the invitation list to sup at Marble House with Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt and her husband each summer at Newport.

Mrs. Cecilia Contarini Fleming was a great beauty of foreign extraction. She was the last of a noble Italian family that could trace its lineage back to ancient Etruscan lines but whose prospects had grown more modest with each successive generation. She married Patrick Fleming, an industrialist of humble origins who made his fortune importing combustibles from the Orient and selling them to interests who employed them in the laying of railways and the hollowing of mines. Mrs. Fleming had been among the first women to study at Newnham College at Cambridge and had followed her education not with the customary Grand Tour Abroad, for, being an Italienne, she was from abroad, but with several years in Japan studying lacquerie, gardening, and poetry, and then a brief tour traveling with missionaries in Africa. She could dance, sew, sing, play the pianoforte, draw, paint, compose poetry, compose music, ride, fence, perform archery, and read and speak Greek, Latin, Italian, French, English, and Japonais. Continue reading “Saturday Storytime: The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society”

Saturday Storytime: The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society

TBT: “Consent Is Hard”

A repost, because people never do stop bringing this up.

There’s some interesting conversation going on in the comments on my post, “An MRA Speaks on Rape.” It’s interesting not for how it starts–which is the typical fretting about potential edge cases in consent–but because of where it goes from there.

It started with the standard misdirection:

Wel I have some reservations against calling “having sex with an intoxicated person” rape. Does that mean that if both persons were intoxicated they raped each other?

Photo of a red cocktail in a rocks glass on a white bar napkin. A lime wedge and cranberry seeds float at the top.
“The Normandy at The Normandy” by Ben Zvan, used with permission

I pointed out that that wasn’t what was being discussed. It is, after all, a very different thing to say that one may be too intoxicated to effectively give or withhold consent (as federal definitions of rape do) and that no one who is intoxicated can consent to sex. Someone else wasn’t keen on me keeping the thread on topic, however:

Given the numbers of people who go home together after meeting at bars or clubs or parties or other places serving alcohol–given the number of people who go out to such places in order to meet someone–and the countless stages of intoxication, and of comparative intoxication, of visible intoxication, questions of who’s buying the drinks, what each person’s goals are–of all the conversations to cut short with simplistic and sometimes unkind responses, this is not one.

I think that there are questions in there to be fleshed out. Because that’s the kind of statement that sounds good and solid, and can block a further conversation if it’s not deconstructed. I’d have looked into it.

Declaring an area crystal clear does not in fact, get rid of that obnoxious blurriness.

A number of commenters made excellent points, and they’re all well worth reading, but I just want to say this up front: If you find the topic of consent to be difficult to sort out, you’re going at sex wrong. Continue reading “TBT: “Consent Is Hard””

TBT: “Consent Is Hard”

“Growing Up Humanist” on The Humanist Hour

This week, we’re hearing from several young Humanists about the difference Humanism makes in their lives.

Today’s American adolescent Humanists aren’t the first generation of young people to be raised in a nonreligious philosophy. They are the largest in modern times, however, and the demographic shift in the U.S. means the generations that follow will likely be even larger. That means it’s time for us to pay attention to the challenges and opportunities faced by teenaged Humanists.

At the American Humanist Association’s annual conference in Chicago this May, AHA convened a panel of familiar names. At least the last names of the panelists were familiar. This was a new set of humanists, however, the teenaged children of Humanist leaders and other longtime Humanists. They came together to discuss the challenges of being a religious minority among their peers, charting their own paths, and finding ways to live up to their humanitarian ideals. We’re sharing audio from that panel this week.

Due to time constraints, part of the Q&A session for this panel is not included in the podcast. You can watch the entire panel on AHA’s YouTube channel.

You can listen to the podcast here.

“Growing Up Humanist” on The Humanist Hour

5 Things That Don’t Make You Right on the Internet

I wrote this post for Patreon patrons ages ago, playing with formats. I could update at least one section, but then I’d look less like a prophet. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

It’s true that not everyone on the internet spends all their time arguing. It’s just that the people who do argue online spend so much time and so many words at it that it drowns out almost everything else. Cat pictures manage to rise above but only because cats have trained us not to argue with them.

Of course, we can’t just argue. Arguing as a genial pastime is apparently one of those social activities that require face-to-face interaction. Online, we have to win. We have to be right, and we have to make other people acknowledge that we’re right.

That, however, is not so easy on the internet, where anyone can cut and paste any old nonsense to keep an argument going until you start to think that camping on the Arctic tundra sounds like a nice vacation. Gish Gallops, links to irrelevant pay-walled articles, and long-discredited assertions of fact–all get in the way of declaring our victories even when we’ve managed to earn them.

So what do we do when good arguments don’t do the trick? We make stuff up. We pick out behaviors that sometimes go along with being terribly, horribly wrong, then we claim that anyone doing them has lost the argument.

That may work when all we really need is a reason to step away from the computer and get some sleep. It’s a terrible idea if we have any interest in getting to the bottom of a disagreement. Unfortunately, once we’ve come to some agreement on these made-up “rules”, many of us act as though we believe they determine the truth of an argument.

Here are five common arbitrary internet rules on winning that don’t actually make us right online. Continue reading “5 Things That Don’t Make You Right on the Internet”

5 Things That Don’t Make You Right on the Internet

Saturday Storytime: La beauté sans virtu

I don’t often repeat authors for Saturday Storytime, but oh, I do like what Genevieve Valentine does when she’s writing about fashion. Though, maybe, “like” is not quite always the right word.

The Old Baroque Concert Hall is on the edge of town, and only the House of Centifolia’s long history and Rhea’s name could get anyone from the industry crowd to come out this far.

The runway snakes across most of the derelict space, weaving back in on itself in a pattern that came to Rhea in a dream—it reminded her of the journey through life, and of the detox trip she took to Austria.

The narrow walkway crosses itself at different sloping elevations to mimic the mountain trails; the oily pool sliding beneath it all reflects the muted tones of this season’s collection, and pays homage to the foot-buckets of cold and hot water in the Austrian spa that drained lipids and negative thoughts from the body.

With thirty-five looks in the fall collection and six points of varying heights across which the meandering runway connects—“It’s more of a maze than a trail,” Rhea explains to potential choreographers, “it’s very spiritual”—the timing has to be precise, but there are only two windows in which the girls are available to practice: once during the fitting the day before, and once mere hours before the show.

Three of the models have to be fired for having scheduled another show the day before this one, which makes them traitors to the House (you don’t book something else without permission, rookie mistake, Rhea cuts them so fast one of them gets thrown out of a cab), and the three alternates have to be called up and fitted. It means six hours of all the girls standing in the unheated warehouse, loose-limbed and pliant as they’re ordered to be for fittings, while assistants yank them in and out of outfits and take snapshots until the new assignments emerge and they’re allowed to go rehearse.

The choreographer—he has a name, but no one dares use it when speaking of him, lest he appear before they’ve corrected their posture—thinks carefully for a long time. Continue reading “Saturday Storytime: La beauté sans virtu”

Saturday Storytime: La beauté sans virtu

TBT: About Those HPV Vaccines

This is a repost from several years ago. If you read my post from earlier this week, you know I dealt with some medical trauma related to HPV. This touches on the aftermath of that. I don’t remember writing it, though that’s not unheard of for something this old. More remarkable is that it contains a link to me writing about the bleeds that occurred after my surgery. I should remember that. I don’t. It’s fascinating to see the spots that memory has tweaked or erased in the intervening years.

Go get them for your kids who are in the appropriate age range. Tell people you know who have kids in that age range that these are important. That’s all. Just help deal a major blow to the most pernicious forms of this virus.


Photo of cells stained light and dark blue for viewing. One cluster of cells has large dark blue centers.
“High-grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion of Cervix, ThinPrep” by Ed Uthman, CC BY 2.0

Yesterday I had an appointment to get a Pap smear. This is a routine appointment for most women. It isn’t for me. It was a six-month follow-up to my last test (clear), which was a follow-up to my surgery for extensive precancerous lesions last November.

It also marks the second birthday in a row during which I will be waiting for more information on my health. A friend noted yesterday, “It’s not a Heisenberg cervix; you won’t alter it by looking at it. So even if it WAS bad news, that means you can enjoy your birthday without having it hang over your head.” It doesn’t exactly change the situation, but at least it made me laugh, which I needed by then.

I didn’t think the Pap was going to bother me. I thought it would be just as routine as any before last year. Some part of me had other ideas. Continue reading “TBT: About Those HPV Vaccines”

TBT: About Those HPV Vaccines

Supporting Skepticon

Skepticon 9 text logo, angular blue lettering with a drop shadow.
If you listened to this week’s episode of The Humanist Hour, you know that I support Skepticon. I’ve spoken there. I’ve run a workshop there for free each year they’ve offered them, and last year and this, I’ve been one of the organizers of a full track of panels under Secular Women Work. I’ve helped them with communications and fundraising, and I’m part of their Dino Club for monthly donors. And this year, though I can’t say more just yet, I’m helping them bring panels back to their programming. (Okay, I strong-armed them into having panels again, if you must know.)

So when I say Skepticon is worth supporting, you know I’m talking from experience. This year, Skepticon, like many other conferences and organizations after Reason Rally and before the election, is behind in its fundraising. It needs your support.

If you like Skepticon and want to help make it a reality, consider doing one of the following:

If the fact that Skepticon is changing how we run conferences for the better isn’t enough, Skepticon’s been talking about why you want to support them for the last couple of weeks. Continue reading “Supporting Skepticon”

Supporting Skepticon

“Skepticon and Rethinking Conferences”, Lauren Lane on The Humanist Hour

This week, I talked with Lauren about Skepticon’s track record of mucking about with the conference format. Pretty much everything I cut while editing this podcast was laughing.

Skepticon is an unusual conference in several ways. It started as a student-run event that survived its founders’ graduation. It’s an independent event, run as its own nonprofit organization. It’s a free conference and vows to remain that way. In any given year, roughly half its speakers are women. It’s held in a smaller city in the middle of the country in a very religious area. It attracts a younger audience on average, many of whom bring their families. It blends religious skepticism with what proponents call scientific skepticism with a minimum of friction.

In short, Skepticon meets many of the demographic and other challenges the secular and skeptical movements have identified. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s the largest annual conference in either of these movements.

This week, we talk with Skepticon co-founder and president Lauren Lane about Skepticon’s past and its future. We talk about its history of innovation, and what’s changing this year. Lauren will tell you what you can expect at this year’s Skepticon, November 11-13, 2016. We’ll also laugh rather a lot.

You can listen to the podcast here.

“Skepticon and Rethinking Conferences”, Lauren Lane on The Humanist Hour

The Illnesses We Can’t See

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. I’m posting it here now in part because there’s more nonsense going around about the HPV vaccine. We talk about bad things that happened to people who were vaccinated. We don’t talk so much about what happens to people who weren’t. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

I’ve been sick. No, really.

It’s not surprising. There’s a summer cold that’s been making the rounds. It’s been months since I was sleeping regularly (or it had been). Being allergic to grass was already putting a strain on my immune system. It was going to happen. The only surprise is that it hasn’t been worse.

Well, no. That’s not quite true. The other surprise is that part of me wanted it to be worse.

As summer colds go, it wasn’t terrible. I mean, it wasn’t great either. My face hurt from the sinus pressure. My teeth hurt from the sinus pressure. My inner ears hurt when they weren’t itching. My throat hurt. The canker sore–ugh! I slept so much, and I wanted to sleep more every minute of every day. The occasional sneezing fits made that difficult, though.

And all you could see from the outside was that the circles under my eyes were very slightly darker than usual. Even in the middle of the sleep and the Anbesol and the ibuprofen and the hot liquids, I wanted proof I could show other people that I really was sick. Not having proof, I began to feel like I was faking it. In between naps and painkillers, of course.

I know it’s silly. I shouldn’t need other people to know I’m sick in order to believe it myself. On the other hand, I’m not alone in this. And if I allow myself to think about why I feel this way, what I get are all the times I needed to be able to pull out that proof, not for myself, but for other people. Continue reading “The Illnesses We Can’t See”

The Illnesses We Can’t See

“DYIscizone: Science Engagement for Kids”, Raychelle Burks on Atheists Talk

A couple of years ago, Dr. Rubidium (forensic chemist Raychelle Burks) joined us to talk about using pop culture to teach adults about chemistry. This Sunday, she returns to the show to tell us about the DIY science zone at GeekGirlCon in Seattle.

The DIY science zone uses a combination of demonstrations and hands-on activities to bring out the scientist or science enthusiast in young science fiction fans. Dr. Rubidium will tell us what the kids can expect this October and the lengths she and other will go to in order to make a place for exploring science.

Related Links:

Continue reading ““DYIscizone: Science Engagement for Kids”, Raychelle Burks on Atheists Talk”

“DYIscizone: Science Engagement for Kids”, Raychelle Burks on Atheists Talk