Thursday, November 20, 2014

Apocalypse of the Week 7: Wolves and Snakes and Eyjafjallajökull, Oh My!

Some end times scenarios are important not because of their modern adherents, but because of their pop-culture relevance.  With the Norse mythos’s return to people’s minds via the Thor and Avengers movies of recent memory, and the sheer cinematic splendor of the Nordic eschaton, let us examine how the pagans of Scandinavia imagined the world would end: Ragnarok.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Have Always Been So

I never liked eye contact.

I used to sit next to people and talk to them facing straight forward.  I didn’t notice that I was doing it or understand why I was doing it.  I knew that looking to the side for a conversation’s length made my neck hurt and turning my whole body was a bit crowded in those closely-spaced chairs, but it was an effort didn’t even begin to start making until sometime in high school.  People noticed, people commented, I blamed it on my neck (which was not a lie), it kept going.

I used to practice eye contact, picking people at random in crowded classrooms and just…making eye contact.  The majority of those times ended less than five seconds later with a “What the fuck are you looking at?” glare.  This was not encouraging.  Across the room it was bearable, but not for the other person, it seemed.  Up close, eye contact was overwhelming.  I remember an elementary-school dance in which making eye contact with my dance partner was so intense that I could not endure it for more than an instant and spent the whole time staring at her collarbone, the ruffles on her dress, my shoes, anything but her eyes.  And they were very pretty eyes.  Other times eye contact with someone I needed to talk to would transfix me, keeping my eyes trapped as a sense of alarm and discomfort slowly swelled in the background.

I got adept at looking at people’s cheeks, foreheads, the space just to the right or left of their heads, some other object of interest in the room, anywhere but the eyes.   Even when I made a point to look someone in the eyes at the beginning of a conversation, I would end up in all of these other places without a concerted effort as soon as I shifted focus from that specific task.

I can look at eyes.  I like looking at eyes.  Eyes are beautiful and warm and inviting and swathed in a dense web of intimacy and connection even when I’ve never seen them before.  Eyes are so much that they are too much for me when they are looking back.

I mouth my knuckles.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Apocalypse of the Week 6: The Surf Shop at the End of the World

When I was in high school, my favorite history teacher would occasionally joke that his efforts to educate the students of South Florida would be for naught, as at some point a tsunami would wipe out the east coast of North America.  He also insisted that a similar event would demolish the west coast, leading him to toy with the idea of retiring somewhere in the Alps.  The idea of tectonic activity causing a cataclysmic wave sometime in the geologic future had enough prima facie plausibility that I didn’t think about it any further.

Now I have, and as it turns out, it’s bollocks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Priorities, CFI-Ottawa, and How the Atheist Movement Failed Me

The Centre for Inquiry is the third atheist group whose events I’ve attended, after the then-new Secular Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics for Reason, Knowledge, and Science (SHAARKS) in Miami and the Humanist Association of Ottawa.  I enjoyed both sets, because I urgently needed a space in my life where being an atheist was a given and not something I had to carefully guard on pain of losing friends.  One set I had to abandon when I graduated from the University of Miami and, promptly, left town; the other I set aside because it seemed geared to an older crowd and because my preternatural awkwardness kept me from feeling at home there.

The one that stuck, the one that made me want to come back and get involved and watch the Internet for their upcoming events and eat and drink with its members in pubs—that was the Centre for Inquiry.  It was the Centre for Inquiry that seemed to hit on that magic combination of activism, public events, and community that could and did engross me.  I put effort into this organization.  I wrote web site content and provided public presentations.  Ania put far more, aggressively promoting CFI-Ottawa’s biggest venture ever despite being effectively sabotaged by CFI-Canada’s then-executive director and known MRA Justin Trottier.  We sought sponsors, cultivated relationships with other organizations, promoted other events, attended protests, designed media, and handed out flyers at Gay Pride.

We stuck around through the protracted process of getting Justin Trottier removed from his management role in the national organization, and then his de facto replacement Michael Payton, both for what seemed to veer madly from sheer incompetence to active antipathy toward CFI-Ottawa and its events.  We stuck around through the growing pains of an organization still finding its voice and its priorities. Like so many other corners of the atheosphere, the Centre for Inquiry still had to decide whether it would be an inclusive and welcoming space for people marginalized elsewhere for reasons other than their atheism, or whether it would perpetuate the same inequalities and claim reason and science as their justification.  It looked, for all intents and purposes, to be an enthusiastic CFI-Ottawa executive body against a complacent membership and a complacent-at-best national organization, and that was a battle we could win.

That’s when I began noticing cracks.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Shifty Lines 15: The British Isles

Earlier this year, after more than a year of anticipation, the people of Scotland held a vote to determine whether their country would become independent from the United Kingdom.  That vote was unambiguously in favor of remaining part of Britain, with pro-union majorities in nearly every county, but it revealed deep divisions within Scottish society and between Scotland and its hegemonic neighbor, England.  Indeed, the histories of the various parts of the island group best known as the British Isles are surprisingly different, leading to persistent divisions that, in the past and into the future, define nations.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Apocalypse of the Week 5: Death by Comet Farts

This eschaton is a bit different than the previous ones, in that it has more in common with the recent anti-vaccine malarkey than it does with the religious apocalypse scenarios I’ve explored previously.

In the late 1800s, astronomers performing spectral analysis on comet tails revealed that the tail of Haley’s comet contains hydrogen cyanide.  Since the Earth periodically passes through the tail of Haley’s comet, and would next do so in 1910, newspapers did the responsible thing and claimed that the world would soon be drenched in deadly cyanide gas.  The story soon grew into a full-on end-of-the-world panic, with a run on anti-cyanide pills (often fraudulent) that Carl Sagan famously took on his show “Cosmos.”

Since then, a few things have happened.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I Am an Atheist and I Voted

I am an atheist, and I voted.

I am an atheist, and I voted absentee in Florida’s 2014 general election.

I am a long, long way from Florida right now, and I quite expect to remain so long-term.  I’m in a field where half of the positions are unambiguously terrible and the other half assume that one can migrate thousands of miles every few years for the privilege of working in it.  The luxury my parents enjoyed of being able to pick a place based on such prosaic concerns as “family” or “weather” has been systematically denied to young academics in general and my generation in particular, and that means that, even if I wanted to live in a place with Florida’s farce of a political scene, I will likely never have that privilege.  If South Florida is even still above ground by then.

I voted absentee even before I left Florida, because I refuse to enter a church for any reason other than admiring old architecture or otherwise expanding my educational horizons.  I voted absentee this time because, even if I put down roots somewhere else, another state, another country, another continent, voting matters.  What happens in Florida affects people who matter to me, and I am going to vote to improve their lot even if they go out of their way to damage it.  But even if I didn’t have those connections, those friends and family who make my Florida vote personally relevant, Florida matters to everyone.  The way that the American political system is structured and Florida’s demographics combine to make sure that the outcome of this specific 19.55 million people has massively outsized importance in determining American national elections, and the outcome of American elections changes the world.

I will vote in Florida as long as I possibly can, as long as Florida is my legal US residence, as long as the US’s weird rules about income earned abroad don’t make this privilege eventually cost me thousands of dollars, as long as it keeps on apparently not mattering that the address on my voter registration, despite several attempts at correction, remains the address of the Miami-Dade Department of Elections, where I strongly suspect no one actually lives.

I am an atheist, and I voted because an alarming fraction of Miami and Miami-Dade County and Florida and the United States of America does not know its own history and votes against healthcare for all, against secularism, against justice, against equality, against its own future, and the only way to make sure they do not get the burnt-out husk of Christofascist dystopia they pine for is for me and the many people like me to make sure that they do not vote unopposed.

I am an atheist, and I voted because the freedom to choose when to be or not be pregnant, when to have or not have sex, when to have or not have one’s behavior circumscribed by religion—those are questions that religions tell people to be wrong about, and I want my country to be right.

I am an atheist, and I voted because I want the transcendent beauty of Florida’s coral reefs and River of Grass and curious birds and relic reptiles and charmingly hotheaded mangrove crabs to still be there when my offspring ask their father what it was like growing up in a place where walking the dog shirtless in December is normal and South American parrots are invasive species.

I am an atheist, and I voted because I want my QUILTBAG friends and family and all of the people I left behind to have a better Florida and a better United States, because I am sick and incensed and spluttering with sad rage that their basic humanity is something that Florida refuses to understand without a goddamn court order and voting is the tool I have to try.

I am an atheist, and I voted because the people who got voted in last time turned down the Medicaid expansion that came with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and were not instantaneously transposed into prison cells with a sentence for several million murders by medical neglect, so bringing the US’s and Florida’s clusterfuck of a medical system that little bit closer to developed-world standards will have to proceed another way.

I am an atheist, and I voted because the US’s economy in general and Florida’s economy in particular depend on a massive disenfranchised, effectively enslaved class of prisoners, migrant workers, and others who are excluded from the democratic process and basic human decency, and if no one hears them, they will hear me relaying their grievances.

I am an atheist, and I voted because the legalization of marijuana (capitalist implications aside) is a massive boon to patients, recreational users, and society at large nearly on par with the repeal of Prohibition, and too many people are wrong about that.

I am an atheist, and I voted.

And next year, there will be thousands more of me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Don't Confuse My Anger for Hate

“Feminists are just a bunch of man hating bitches. They just think every cis het white male is a terrorist. There go those social justice warriors calling everyone a bad person just for existing. Jeez if you hate humanity that much just go away. Urgh, they just want everyone to be victims just like them.”

If you run in social justice circles, heck, if you’ve ever seen a social justice themed post of any kind, you will probably see some variation of the comments above. The prevailing opinion is that social justice activists hate the world because we call people on ableism, on sexism, racism, transphobia and transmisogyny, on privilege. That we see everyone as a bad person and that’s why we don’t believe that intent matters, because we think everyone is guilty. That our anger is the same thing as hate.

But that’s not the reason for the anger. We’re not angry because we hate the world. Even when we joke about hating the world, it is not actually what we feel. We are angry because we think more highly of the world. We think that human beings, that we, have the capacity to be better. And like someone who really loves someone, we want humanity to be the best them they can be.

I fight so hard, I scream, and cry, and argue, and burn myself out over and over again not because of hate but because of love. I am like a mother fighting for her child. I see all these thing trying desperately to weight down my baby, and I am fighting because I know that they can fight off these weights and become great. I fight because I truly believe that one person can change the world, and that you, every one of you, has the ability to make a difference. That you can make the world a better place. That you have it in you to change everything.

My anger when you refuse to see the things holding you back. The things that even as they make you treat others as less than worthy, as not deserving of dignity, you let the world do the same thing to you. Because when you allow yourself to believe that there is ever a reason for a person to be treated as lass than a human being, you justify every single person doing the same to you. Every time you accept that premise, you add another chain to your wrists.

I don’t hate humanity. If I did, I wouldn’t try so hard. I wouldn’t believe that you could be better. I wouldn’t sacrifice my well-being for you. 

When you see me stop trying. When you see me give up and accept things as they are. That is when you will know that I hate the world. 

Murdering a child is wrong

I can't believe this needs repeating but

Murdering a child is wrong. Always.

Murdering a child with a disability is still murder and still wrong.

Murdering a child because you can't handle them is wrong and still murder.

Autism is not an excuse for murder.

Throwing your child off a bridge is not mercy killing, it is murder.

Starving your child is murder.


If you can't understand why this is wrong then you need to not have children. If you already have children, you need to remove them from your care for their protection.

/rage quits.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Apocalypse of the Week 4: Hot, Sticky Justice

Veterans of the atheosphere might recognize Zoroastrianism as the ancient Persian religion whose Mithraic component is the best-attested antecedent for many Christian traditions, such as celebrating the birth of Jesus on 25 December.  What I didn’t know is that Zoroastrianism is a living religion, with active fire temples singing the praises of the god Ahura Mazda and a world membership of over 200,000, a surprising fraction of which live in Canada.  I can only imagine how they feel about freethinkers using their history as one of many disproofs of Christianity.  My guess?  Weirdly flattered.

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