Gordon and Kelley’s Yet Unnamed YouTube Channel Series

I always forget that I can write about things on this blog for some reason. Occasionally I’ll just be like ‘OH YEAH I HAVE A THING WHERE I CAN WRITE ABOUT THINGS’ because I’m really smart like that. Anyway, Gordon Maples and I have started a YouTube Channel Series that is Yet Unnamed (we’ve temporarily gone with the name Secular Start Up – if you are reading this, feel free to offer some suggestions). It’s a video series dedicated to offering advice to student leaders (generally of the secular varity, but apparently we offer advice that could be useful to many a group) on how to run their group. So far we’re covered the process of starting a secular group and how to table. Next week, Gordon and I are tackling how to run meetings and picking meeting topics, then the basics of planning an event – more specifically, how to communiciate with your executive board.

Gordon and I are both alumni of relatively strong and well-known Secular Student Alliance affiliates, which I suppose is why we feel like we’re qualified to talk about these topics. Eventually we’ll have some guests on to talk about topics like media, charity, and service. It’s been pretty fun so far. We’re trying to make it as helpful as possible, so if you have any suggestions, feel more than free to let us know! Most videos shouldn’t go longer than about 30 minutes – though the one above does last about 38 minutes.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to tweet us (@ramenneedles for me and @SouthernHeathen for Gordon) with the hashtag #HelpMeAtheists. We’d actually like to see other people than us using it at some point. Pass on the word, etc. :D


Young Adult Literature and the Representation of Women

I was on a panel at FTBConscience with Ashley Miller talking about Young Adult literature and, more specifically, representation of women and minorities in young adult literature. It was really fun and I hope that I can do something like that again – I thought an hour was going to be ridiculously long, but in retrospect it feels too short to really cover everything I think we wanted to. It was at least a start! :)

I think Young Adult literature is really important. Harry Potter is what somewhat let adults start reading books aimed at younger readers, but I think Hunger Games is what made it cool. It’s also really difficult to decide what constitutes ‘young adult literature’ since it’s apparently a somewhat recent phenomenon and because 55% of those who read literature supposedly devoted to young adults are over the age of 18. I could get into the history of ‘young adulthood’ as a concept (since that itself is relatively recent) and how past ‘young adult literature (Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye) was written with an adult audience in mind, but that’s for another post/possibly a panel.

Regardless, there are some common themes among young adult literature. Most obviously, YA literature features an adolescent or teenager as the protagonist instead of a child or adult. These books are most often ‘coming of age’ stories and the audience the author is writing for is generally younger. It seems to be that some people scoff at the concept of ‘YA literature’ saying that it isn’t really literature nor will it STAND THE TEST OF TIME and that may be true, but so what? I don’t see many adults going around telling people “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK IT IS SO GOOD OMIGOSH”. YA lit inspires a sort of enthusiasm about books that has made reading cool. (I personally have always found reading cool, but then again, I was the girl wearing Harry Potter shirts in fifth grade, so take my opinion with a grain of salt!)

Not only does it inspire enthusiasm and make authors absolute rockstars (see: John Green and his terrifying tumblr fandom), but it is also a whole collection of literature that is unafraid to try new things. The term ‘young adult literature’ is inherently undefined and changing, for its constituent terms ‘young adult’ and ‘literature’ are dynamic, changing as culture and society — which provide their context — change. People my age grew up in what could possibly be the golden era of YA lit and they’re certainly going to continue to read those kind of stories. They’re interesting, relatable and dynamic. While YA lit of the 50s was realistic, angsty, and sometimes violent, YA lit of today has a different tone. We don’t hate characters of books today like we hate the whininess of Holden Caulfield. The angst reflects today’s teenagers and the ways authors are telling stories has changed so much.

I like it. It’s so much easier to get through our novels today. I love gushing to friends about a great novel I just finished. They don’t have to be boring or fluff – they can reflect issues with PTSD, rape, cancer, death and so many other subjects in touching and brilliant ways. It says a lot about a genre of novels meant for ‘young adults’ when more than half of the ones reading them are… not young adults.

Maybe I’ll get into the problems of representation and what Ashley and I actually covered in the panel some other time. I just wanted to get my thoughts about YA lit out first. :)

Conservative Charleston Group Considers Action over ‘Controversial’ Book… for College Students

As an undergraduate, I attended the University of South Carolina. During the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, we were assigned to read Persepolis, a fantastic graphic novel that is both a coming of age story as well as a first hand response to the changes in Iran. I actually read it before I was assigned to read it, and I definitely recommend it. I was excited to read it again in anticipation of college.

Many universities have Freshman Year Reading Experience (FYRE) books as part of their curriculum for University 101 or similar introduction to college courses (I was a Peer Leader and co-taught a U101 course during my senior year). They generally choose a book that talks about life changes or highlights diversity. Generally, the books they choose (at least at USC) are great. They’re also, as Persepolis is, no stranger to controversy and the possibility of being ‘banned’ in classrooms.

This year, College of Charleston freshmen have been assigned Fun Home by Allison Bechdel (best known for the Bechdel Test, but also a cartoonist). Fun Home is a graphic novel where Bechdel describes her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and owner of a funeral home; the trial he faced over his dealings with young boys; his possible suicide; and her own coming out as a lesbian. Palmetto Family, a Focus of the Family affiliate, is also considering ‘taking action’ because of how ‘controversial’ it is for innocent, naive, young freshmen in college.

Oran Smith, president and chief operating officer of Palmetto Family, said he has “a strong concern” about the book. “I found it very close to pornography,” he said, “way over the top.”

After emailing 10000 supporters, they are waiting for a response before ‘taking action’, saying they’re not sure yet what action the group might take. “We don’t think this book should be banned in America,” he said. “We don’t think it should be burned. It’s just not appropriate for college freshmen.”

It strikes me as strange that Mr. Smith deems this an inappropriate for college freshmen. A majority of these students are 18 and many more will be turning 18 over the course of the next year. They are, legally, adults and should theoretically begin making their own decisions and getting out into the world. It also highly likely that at least some of these students’ peers are LGBT. Is this book inappropriate for them?

Oran Smith also questioned whether a public university should be purchasing this book and paying for a visit by the author with state money. I will say that most universities that employ FYRE do this. Considering it comes out of the students tuition and they will be directly benefitting from it, I see no problem with this. We have Carolina Productions on campus that brings many speakers each year, often at an excess of $30000. Does he have a problem with this as well? (Probably, especially if he doesn’t agree with the speakers)

Bechdel says that her book has been assigned to many college students before, previously without complaint. Pornography is meant to cause sexual arousal in readers, she said, which is clearly not the intent of her book. It drags to light family secrets, which all families have, and freshmen are at an age where they begin to realize these secrets and are figuring out how to react to them. Ultimately this book is appropriate for freshmen because it deals with questions of identity, including, “Who am I and how do I fit in?”

To the College of Charleston’s credit, they aren’t planning on changing the book selection. Associate Provost Lynne Ford said the book was selected by a committee made up of faculty members, administrators, staff and students. The group solicits recommendations for books from the campus community and the public. “The book,” she said, “will help students to learn that they are not unique. Our experience is shared by millions.”

With the Palmetto Family group’s outrage and threat to potentially take action, it seems all they have managed to do was add this book to my hold list at the library.

Student Loan Rates Set to Double on Monday – WHY IS NO ONE ELSE FREAKING OUT?

Apologies for not posting a crochet pattern yesterday – I couldn’t find my orange yarn to finish the one I have planned, but that just means it’ll be extra ready for next Thursday.

However, crocheting isn’t what I’m writing about today. I’m writing about how absolutely broke I am going to be for the rest of forever, but that isn’t exactly news so moving on…

On July 1st (hey, that’s THIS COMING MONDAY), federal student loans interest rates will double from 3.4% to 6.8% due to the inability of Republicans and Democrats to come to a compromise. Just for an idea for as to how high (slash unfair) this is, that is nine times the rate set for big banks to borrow money from the Fed. Elizabeth Warren has proposed a bill, the Bank on Student Loans Fairness Act, would set the student loans interest rate at the same rate as big banks, 0.75%.

Considering students are not corporations or rich donors, the likelihood of this passing is low. Republicans and private colleges won’t be profitting obscenely off of these rates, so I’m not optimistic. Lawmakers say a deal is still possible after the July 4 recess. But if they don’t agree on a plan soon, 7 million students expected to take out new Stafford loans could be stuck with a much bigger bill when they start paying the money back. Even if they do come to a compromise, it still won’t be before the rates double on Monday.

Admittedly, this is only for new loans that are taken out, which technically means I’d be safe. However, this also means that a significant chunk of my peer group would seriously reconsider graduate school – in many ways, more essential to finding a job in this economic market. A lot of positions expect a master’s degree for an entry level position.

Student loans in particular are difficult. Their saving grace is that they generally have a lower interest rate than a private loan, and subsidized loans don’t accrue interest while you’re in school. You also have a six month grace period once you are out of school. However, with those ‘perks’ come some serious problems. Thanks to Republicans, you cannot bankrupt your student loans, nor can you refinance them. You have to pay back student loans, even if you never finish your education. They also don’t consider student loans as ‘debt’ when applying for medical assitance.

Before 1976, all education loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy. That year, the bankruptcy code was altered so loans made by the government or a non-profit college or university could not be discharged during the first five years of repayment. They could, however, be discharged if they had been in repayment for five years or if the borrower experienced “undue hardship.” Then, the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984 made it so all private student loans were excepted from discharge too.

The price of education has risen exponentially since the 1970s, and while there are scholarships, pell grants, and other financial aid, it still doesn’t cover everything needed. Often times, the parents can’t help or won’t help either. Students in debt today with $10,000, $20,000 or even over $100,000 will be paying off student loans for the rest of their lives. Federal and private student loan debt surpassed credit card debt for the first time in 2010 and hit over $1 trillion. Student debt is higher than it has ever been and with this increase in the interest rate, it’s only going to get worse. And for what? A bachelor’s degree today seems to hardly say anything in the job market. It is expected that you have one.

Why would Congress want to screw over a generation that is in the process of (trying to) get into the work force and become productive members of society who will vote? That is going to end up screwing them over as well.

I’m not particularly optimistic about Elizabeth Warren’s bill passing, but if you want to do something, you can call your senator and see if he or she supports Elizabeth Warren (or at least voice your opinion and ask them to)!

Crochet Thursday: Louise’s Hat

So, I’m a big fan of Bob’s Burgers, which is a show on Fox that stars a man named Bob who owns a burger restaurant and his family. His daughter, Louise, always wear a pink bunny eared hat. There’s actually an episode revolving around Louise having a bully who steals her hat and how she fights to get it back. She’s somewhat terrifying. But! Here’s the pattern.

photo (8)

*it hasn’t been tested, so I’m not sure how well it works out yet.

Worsted Weight Yarn in Pink (I used Hobby Lobby’s ‘I love this Yarn’)
Yarn Needle
H Hook
Pipe Cleaners

Stitches/Abbreviations Used
sc – single crochet
dc – double crochet
hdc dec – half double crochet decrease
inc – increase (two dc in one stitch)
hdc – half double crochet
sl st – slip stitch
ch – chain
*repeat around what is in the asterisks*

Ears (Make Two)
1. sl st, ch 2, then 6 sc into first st
2. inc around (12)
3-6. sc around (12)
7. *sc, inc* (18)
8-19. sc around (18)
20. *5 sc, inc* (21)
21-26. sc around (21)
27. *5 sc, invdec* (18)
28-32. sc around (18)
33. *4sc, invdec* (15)
34-37. sc around (15)
Finish off.

1. Either magic ring, then 12 dc or ch 4 then 12 dc into 3rd ch from hook. Pull tight. Sl st to join.
2. Inc around (24), sl st to join
3. *dc in next stitch, then inc* (36) sl st to join.
4. *dc in next two stitches, then inc* (48) sl st to join
5. *dc in next three stitches, then inc* (60) sl st to join
6. dc around
7. *dc in next four stitches, then inc* (72) sl st to join.
I usually stop increasing at this row because I like my hats a little snug. My head is 21 inches around, so if it’s snug on me and you have a bigger head, you might want to do another row ;)
8 (optional). *dc in next five stitches, then inc* (84) sl st to join.
9. Continue dc around until hat reaches desired length. I typically stop when it covers the tip top of my ears.
10. *hdc around*

Put the hat on your head and mark the width of how wide you’d like the ear flaps to be. Mine start about nine stitches on each side from the seam at the back of the hat.

Ear flaps(Make two, one on each side)
This part is definitely not perfect, but more of a guideline as to what I did.
1. With pink, sl st into st you’d like to start the flap.
2. hdc the width of the ear flap that you’d like. Mine is 14 st across, but I’d recommend 16 st.
3-6. hdc across
7. *3 hdc, hdcdec* 3 times, then 2 hdc
8. *2 hdc, hdcdec* 3 times, then 2 hdc
9. 1 hdc, hdcdec, 1hdc, hdcdec, 1hdc
10. hdcdec, hdc, finish off.

Insert two pipe cleaners into each ear and sew to hat. It *may* be better to stuff the ears a bit to make them stay up better – it depends on what you think would work better. :)

It’s a Small World

It’s not really all that common for my worlds to overlap with atheism and yarn (except when I make it when I’m doing SSAweek or just feel like making something blasphemous), but every once in awhile it does. A few months ago, I received an email in response to someone purchasing my Zombie Jesus pattern. It was out of the blue and somewhat unexpected, but really awesome to receive.

Zombie Jesus bringing people together

Thanks so much; I can’t wait to make it! I made your nyancat scarf a while back and it was a *huge* hit, so I’m hoping this one will turn out just as well.

As an aside, I have to say how cool it was to happen upon your name on the Friendly Atheist, in a small-world way. Back when I made the scarf I still believed in god and would never have let myself read an atheist blog. Now, a year and a bit later, I’m trying to figure out if I’m an atheist or if I’m agnostic, and ended up learning that the creator of the nyancat scarf pattern I love shares another interest… well, really, it’s more like I’m beginning to share yours, but hopefully you know what I mean. Love your contributions to that blog, by the way.

Who would have thought that yarn would have brought a potential atheist and me together? I also just find it neat that my name is getting recognized in different spheres and then those spheres collide. Ahhh! :D

50 Year Anniversary of Landmark Case for Separation of Church & State

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a landmark case for the separation of church and state – Abington School District Vs. Schempp. The court decided 50 years ago, in an 8-1 decision (do you think that would happen today?), that mandatory Bible reading in public schools was unconstitutional.

Justice Tom C. Clark said of this decision,

“The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality.”

At the time, it was Pennsylvania and four other states that had mandatory Bible readings with 25 allowing ‘optional’ (but let’s be real: how optional were they really?) Bible reading, and the remaining having no laws for or against Bible reading. In eleven of those states with laws supportive of Bible reading or state-sponsored prayer, the state courts had declared them unconstitutional. In the Abington school district specifically, it was mandatory that each student recite ten Bible passages and the Lord’s Prayer during homeroom. One day, Ellery Schempp (the son of the man who filed the suit, Edward Schempp) opted instead to bring a Qu’ran and read it and was immediately sent to the principal’s office. It took until five years after he graduated from high school (1963) for the court case to be ruled in his favor.

Ellery Schempp

Ellery Schempp

I actually met Ellery Schempp a few years ago at the 2010 Secular Student Alliance conference in Columbus, Ohio. He’s a fascinating and well-accomplished man. Other than being the plaintiff in a landmark case (though it was his father that filed it), he’s a physicist and still continues to be an active supporter and advocate for the separation of church and state. He’s on the speaker’s bureau for the Secular Student Alliance and on the advisory board as well. At the 2010 conference, he was awarded the Freethought Backbone Award and in 1996, he received the Religious Liberty Award from Americans United. Ellery Schempp is an upstanding man and it is wonderful having him on our side.

On a somewhat funny side note, the document of Pennsylvania that was declared unconstitutional? It’s still on the books! Of course, it’s unenforceable, but it’s still there. However, almost fifty years later, Rep. Mark Cohen(D) of Philadelphia is planning on introducing legislation to finally repeal the section. Mind you, this might be difficult in the state that mark 2012 as the Year of the Bible, October 2012 as Prayer Month, and May 3rd, 2012 as a Day of Prayer

Regardless of the nonsense that the government of Pennsylvania has done over the last year or though, thank you Ellery Schempp and family for being brave enough to stand up in a time where it was most certainly not easy to do so, and uphold the Constitution in ways that seem oddly strenuous for some members of Congress.