Scoundrels With Purpose: “Leverage” and Moist von Lipwig from “Discworld”

Cast of Leverage

(Content note: Mild spoilers for Leverage and some of the later Discworld books.)

I was talking with Benny Vimes the other day about the Discworld books. I’d written that my favorite character in the Terry Pratchett Discworld books is Moist von Lipwig: he asked why, and I realized that the reason is also a big part of why I’ve been so infatuated with the TV show Leverage:

I like stories about scoundrels with a purpose.

Scoundrels in fiction can be so much fun. If you’re ever had fantasies about outwitting people, or breaking the rules and getting away with it, stories about thieves and grifters and charlatans can be massively entertaining. They’re especially fun if the characters are really good at it: it’s another version of competence porn.

But when you start really thinking about scoundrels, and the effect they have on people, the stories stop being so fun. When you rob someone, con them, defraud them, it can screw up their lives pretty badly. The Discworld books about Moist von Lipwig explore this explicitly: especially the first one, Going Postal, where Moist begins to fall in love with Adora Belle, a.k.a. Spike, and realizes she’s one of the people whose life he ruined.

Hence, scoundrels with a purpose.

The most obvious examples are the many, many versions of the Robin Hood trope, stories about robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Continue reading “Scoundrels With Purpose: “Leverage” and Moist von Lipwig from “Discworld””

Scoundrels With Purpose: “Leverage” and Moist von Lipwig from “Discworld”

Godless Perverts Book Club: “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates


Godless Perverts is starting a book club! Want to talk books with other nonbelievers interested in sexuality and social justice? Come to the very first Godless Perverts Book Club, Tuesday January 17 at Borderlands! We’ll be discussing a wide variety of books over the coming months, about sex, gender, atheism, religion, science, activism, resistance, and other topics in the Godless Perverts wheelhouse.

For our first selection, we decided to read a hefty article instead of a book, since part of the first meeting will be devoted to getting things off the ground and choosing the next book. We will be reading the Ta-Nehisi Coates article in The Atlantic, “My President Was Black.” The article addresses issues around identity politics (a.k.a. civil rights), respectability politics, and the role and functions of the President. While this is not specific to godlessness and perversion, it should lead to some good discussions regarding the current political climate, what we expect from politicians (whether friend or foe) and how we should hold politicians accountable. The article is about a 2 hour read (17000 words).

The Godless Perverts Book Club is at Borderlands Cafe, 870 Valencia St. in San Francisco. Continue reading “Godless Perverts Book Club: “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates”

Godless Perverts Book Club: “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates

Frivolous Friday: Exit Sign Novel Titles

exit sign with arrow

Ingrid and I were driving on I-5 last weekend, and I invented a road game to beguile the long hours. (It’s entirely possible that others have invented this game or similar ones, and that this is a case of convergent evolution. If you’ve ever played this game or one like it, let me know!)

The game: Exit Sign Novel Titles. Rules: When driving by highway exit signs, you pick out ones that seem like titles of novels, and come up with plot summaries.

Here are some of my favorites:

Henley Hornbeck. An adventure book for children — probably aimed at boys — about a 19th century sailor. Sort of a junior Master and Commander. It may be the first in a series: Henley Hornbeck and the Secret Island, Henley Hornbeck and the Pirate Gold.

Hilt. A mystery novel, part of a series in which all the titles are parts of murder weapons. Other books in the series: Trigger, Blade.

Wonderland Blvd. and Mountain Gate Wonderland. (IIRC, these signs came right after each other on the highway). Wonderland Blvd. is a novel set in the Haight-Ashbury in 1967, written by a Tom Robbins wanna-be. Mountain Gate Wonderland is the sequel, with the same characters a few years later living in a hippie town in the Cascade mountains.

Grenada Gazelle. A children’s book about a friendly gazelle named Grenada, and her adventures with other animals in the African plains. Other titles in the series (I obviously love coming up with serieses for this game): Ernestine Elephant, Gina Giraffe, Wanda Wildebeest.

Turntable Bay. A hip-hop act in a small coastal town becomes an overnight sensation and starts a recording label in the town, which unexpectedly becomes a locus of hip-hop culture. How will the town cope with its sudden transformation from Port Harbor to Turntable Bay? The novel explores cultural, racial, and economic tensions with both drama and humor.

Vollmer’s Delta. The tangled, darkly intertwined lives of the Vollmer family, whose great-great-great-grandfather, Elijah Vollmer, founded their small town in the Mississippi delta.

Siskyou Summit. A tense political thriller about global superpowers on the brink of war. Espionage, double-crossing, triple agents — you know the drill.

Sunset Hills Auction Yard. A gritty, down-to-earth set of interwoven short stories, each telling the tale of an item sold at the auction yard and the down-on-their-luck lives of the people who buy and sell them.

What plot summaries would you give these exit signs? What exit sign do you drive by every day that needs to be a novel title?

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Check out what some of the other Orbiters are doing!

Frivolous Friday: Exit Sign Novel Titles

10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O Hara in Gone with the Wind

“Well, sure, he raped her. But it’s not a big deal. Rape, shmape. All friendships and relationships have their ups and downs. They can still be friends, or get married. Heck, maybe the rape could be the start of a beautiful love story.”

Does this sound like an absurdist attempt at ghoulish humor? It’s not. This trope is all over pop culture, and has been for decades. In some stories, rapes happen while characters are friends, lovers, or married, and the relationship goes on as if little or nothing happened. In others, rapes are the beginning of a happy relationship.

Here are 10 characters in pop culture who voluntarily stayed friends, lovers, colleagues, or spouses with the people who raped or tried to rape them.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists. To read more, read the rest of the piece.

10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists

“The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life,” Available Today!

Way of the Heathen cover

My new book, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life, is available today! You can buy it, plug it on social media, and tell your friends about it! It’s available in ebook, print, and audiobook. The ebook is on Amazon/Kindle and on Smashwords, for $7.99. The print edition is at Amazon and Powell’s Books, and can be ordered or carried by pretty much any bookstore. The audiobook is at Audible. It’s being wholesaled by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, IPG, and bookstores can buy it directly from the publisher, Pitchstone Publishing.

Here’s the description, and some wonderfully flattering blurbs.


So you’re an atheist. Now what?

The way we deal with life — with love and sex, pleasure and death, reality and making stuff up — can change dramatically when we stop believing in gods, souls, and afterlives. When we leave religion — or if we never had it in the first place — where do we go?

With her unique blend of compassion and humor, thoughtfulness and snark, Greta Christina most emphatically does not propose a single path to a good atheist life. She offers questions to think about, ideas that may be useful, and encouragement to choose your own way. She addresses complex issues in an accessible, down-to-earth style, including:

Why we’re here
Sexual transcendence
The meaning of life
The meaning of death
How humanism helps with depression — except when it doesn’t
Stealing stuff from religion
Why atheism demands social justice
Different ways to be a good person

and much more.

Aimed at new and not-so-new atheists, questioning and curious believers, Christina shines a warm, fresh light on the only life we have.

“A glorious celebration.”
-Dan Barker, author of Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning

“Over the years, and through a variety of publications, Greta Christina has helped us better understand atheism and atheists. With The Way of the Heathen Greta has done it again. Greta’s hallmark insights, biting humor, and straight-talk will lead you through some of the most important issues and practices shaping what it means to be an atheist in the 21st century. But, whether you are an atheist, a theist, or something in between, this book provides ‘aha moments’ that will challenge and inspire. You really should read it. I recommend it highly.”
-Anthony B. Pinn, author of Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist Continue reading ““The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life,” Available Today!”

“The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life,” Available Today!

Frivolous Friday: Peter Pan, and Killing Fairies

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

Peter_Pan_and_Wendy_book_cover_1911 200
Okay, maybe this is a little macabre for Frivolous Friday, but it was on my mind and was making me chuckle, so I thought I’d share.

You know the bit in Peter Pan, where Peter explains that every time a child says, “I don’t believe in fairies,” somewhere a fairy falls down dead? I read this when I was a kid. And afterwards, I started to go around saying under my breath, “I don’t believe in fairies, I don’t believe in fairies, I don’t believe in fairies,” and imagining fairies dropping like flies, one by one, all over the world.

I’m not sure why I did this. I didn’t actually believe in fairies, and I certainly didn’t think I could murder them from a distance by saying words out loud. In retrospect, I think I was annoyed by how saccharine and manipulative it was. It was like, “You’re going to guilt-trip me into believing something I have no reason to believe, by telling me my non-belief will destroy it? Yeah, screw you.” But maybe I’m reading too much into this, and putting too much of my adult interpretation on it. Maybe I was just a contrarian little fuck with a thirst for power. Strike that. I know I was.

I was thinking about this because of Tony Thompson’s HI-FREAKING-LARIOUS piece about the Catholic cardinal, who apparently thinks that the acceptance of TBLG people is killing God. No, really. Tony is very excite about his newly-discovered superpower, as well he should be. And it occurred to me: This is totally like the Peter Pan thing. Every time a queer person is happy and accepted, a little bit of God dies.

Let’s all say it together: “TBLG people are awesome. TBLG people are awesome. TBLG people are awesome.” And we can imagine a little bit more of God dying, every time.

If you read Peter Pan, did you have any reaction to the “I don’t believe in fairies” bit? Or was that just me, being contrarian and power-hungry and weirdly macabre?

Frivolous Friday: Peter Pan, and Killing Fairies

Hillary Clinton and First Names

Hillary Clinton logo
Comment policy: In addition to my usual comment policy, I’m going to add this one for this post: DO NOT comment here on the election itself, or the merits and terriblenessess of the candidates. Please keep comments narrowly focused on the topic at hand. Thanks.

Tl;dr: If you’re saying “Hillary,” please also say “Bernie,” “Donald,” and “Barack.” If you’re saying “Sanders,” “Trump,” and “Obama,” say “Clinton.” Don’t call Hillary Clinton by her first name and other candidates or political figures by their last.

It’s fairly common — in many arenas, not just the political one — to call women by their first names and men by their last. And yes, this is a problem. First names imply casualness, friendliness, some degree of intimacy. Last names imply professionalism, respect, some degree of distance. Traditionally (in much U.S. culture, anyway), adults call children by their first names, while children call adults by their last.

So when people use first names for women and last names for men, it positions women as less professional. It reinforces the stereotype of women as the friendliness-makers, the doers of emotional labor, whose job it is to be nice to everyone. It treats women as less deserving of respect. To the extent that it treats women as children or childish, it’s patronizing. All of this sucks in any situation — but it especially sucks in the political world. In the political world, all of this sends the message: Women are less capable, and less fit for office. Continue reading “Hillary Clinton and First Names”

Hillary Clinton and First Names

Godless Perverts Social Club Tuesday April 5: What Do We Mean By Sex? Sex, Language, and Inclusivity

Godless Perverts Social Club Banner What is Sex

Godless Perverts are having a Social Club in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 5, 7-9 pm! We have a specific discussion topic this time: “What Do We Mean By Sex? Sex, Language, and Inclusivity.” Overly narrow definitions of sex can leave queers and kinky people out in the cold. Overly broad ones can do the same for asexual people. Religion and science have both tried to define and control sexual language, to the detriment of pretty much everyone. How can we support people’s right to self-definition, and still communicate coherently? How do we accept the ways that language evolves naturally, without letting it be controlled by the majority? Is there a difference between language and labels? Come to the Godless Perverts Social Club for a friendly and vigorous discussion of how we talk about sex.

Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. So please join us! Hang out with other nonbelievers and chat about sex, sexuality, gender, atheism, religion, science, social justice, pop culture, and more. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome.

We meet on the first Tuesday of every month at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART). (We also meet on the third Thursday of every month at Rudy’s Can’t Fail in downtown Oakland.) 7-9 pm. Admission is free, although we do ask that you buy food and/or drink at the venue if you can: Wicked Grounds has beverages, light snacks, full meals, and milkshakes made of literal awesome sauce.

Godless Perverts presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers, through performance events, panel discussions, social gatherings, media productions, and other appropriate outlets. Our events and media productions present depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities — including positive, traumatic, and complex experiences — focusing on the intersections of sexuality with atheism, materialism, skepticism, and science, as well as critical, questioning, mocking, or blasphemous views of sex and religion.

Godless Perverts is committed to feminism, diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. We seek to create safe and welcoming environments for all non-believers and believing allies who are respectful of the mission, and are committed to taking positive action to achieve this. Please let the moderators or other people in charge of any event know if you encounter harassment, racism, misogyny, transphobia, or other problems at our events.

If you want to be notified about all our Godless Perverts events, sign up for our email mailing list, follow us on Twitter at @GodlessPerverts, or follow us on Facebook. You can also sign up for the Bay Area Atheists/ Agnostics/ Humanists/ Freethinkers/ Skeptics Meetup page, and be notified of all sorts of godless Bay Area events — including many Godless Perverts events. And of course, you can always visit our Website to find out what we’re up to, Hope to see you soon!

Godless Perverts Social Club Tuesday April 5: What Do We Mean By Sex? Sex, Language, and Inclusivity

Memo to Rhymer Rigby From 1992: Yes, Comics Are Literature

Are we still, in 2016, seriously considering the question of whether comics and graphics novels are a serious form of literary art?

You may have read the piece of clickbaity trolling by Rhymer Rigby, titled No Self Respecting Adult Should Buy Comic Books or Watch Superhero Movies. Niki did an exquisite rant about it in her Seriously?!? blog, in her piece titled Today in “Old Man Yells At Cloud.”  And John Scalzi took the whole thing down in one masterful tweet: “In fact, no self-respecting adult should give a shit what anyone else thinks about the entertainment they like.”

But there was one particular piece of this willfully ignorant, laughably hateful dreck that jumped out at me:

And yes, I know Persepolis started as a graphic novel – and very good it is too. But it’s an exception to the general rule that if you need to shave, you should be reading books where you have to make the pictures in your own head.

Really? Are we still, in 2016, seriously considering the question of whether comics and graphics novels are a serious form of literary art?

No. We’re not.

Maus cover
Mr. Rigby, I have a memo for you from 1992. That’s the year Maus won the Pulitzer Prize. It was the first graphic novel to do so. Maus is widely considered a watershed — not so much within the comics world itself, artists and fans had known this was an important art form long before that, but in the mainstream recognition of comics.

And Maus is very, very far from the only example of the comics form to earn and deserve respect. I have a memo for you, not just from 1992 and Maus, but from Fun Home. American Splendor. Love & Rockets. Blankets. Ghost World. Sandman. Watchmen. Why I Hate Saturn. Saga. Black Hole. Safe Area Gorazde. Barefoot Gen. Diary of a Teenage Girl. A Contract with God. American Born Chinese. Jimmy Corrigan. One Hundred Demons. Stuck Rubber Baby. My New York Diary. Akira. And yes, Persepolis, which you so casually dismissed as a fluke, an exception to the rule that you made up. Hell, I have a memo for you from Winsor McCay, from Little Nemo, from the year 1905.

There was a time when comics were considered silly and childish, and artists and fans had to fight for critical recognition. But that time is long past. That time is so far in the past, it’s old enough to drink. The list of counter-examples is so long, you could spend a lifetime reading nothing else and still not make a dent. Comics and graphic novels have had widespread critical recognition for decades. Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 19-freaking-92.

So when you start rambling about how childish comics are, you’re not making comics look foolish. You’re making yourself look foolish. You aren’t just undercutting your opinions about comics or pop culture — you’re undercutting your opinions about culture, period. You’re making yourself look willfully ignorant, willfully out-of-date, unwilling to consider the possibility that your personal aesthetic tastes do not constitute a substantive social critique. And you’re not going to be taken seriously by anyone other than the rest of the Old Men Cloud-Yelling Society.


Memo to Rhymer Rigby From 1992: Yes, Comics Are Literature

An Apology About Ableist Language

The word sorry written on a piece of paper
(Content note: ableist slurs)

So in 2010, I wrote a piece for AlterNet (two pieces, actually) about unfair gender role expectations for men. I interviewed my male friends, colleagues, and blog readers, asking them about their experiences of rigid, narrow, contradictory gender expectations, and I wrote my essays piece based on what they said. I also reposted the pieces on my own blog.

No, I’m not apologizing for that. I’m apologizing for the titles, and for some of the language I used in the content. Continue reading “An Apology About Ableist Language”

An Apology About Ableist Language