Thursday, April 30, 2009

We need an Atheist Jonas Brothers?

PZ wants to know where the teeny bopper atheist songs are? Look no further. If I could sing better than Rock Band karaoke I'd make a video. If anyone with talent wants to sing it, be my guest:

To the tune of the Jonas Brother's SOS (yes I have the song and had to listen to it over and over again to do this, shut up, it's addictive)


Told you I made dinner plans
For you and me and someone else
Have you met my noodley friend?
Well I'm done
With pretending to be apart of your

Oohh this is the FSM.
Please don’t you condemn
Makes as much sense as God
It's true
He made the mountain for you
And the midgit too

See the decline of pirates on this graph?
Cause global warming – now don’t laugh
Better believe I've been
Touched by his appendage

So this is where the story ends
Linking you to
Well I'm done with texting
Learn something about evolution

Oohh this is the FSM.
Please don’t you condemn
Makes as much sense as God
It's true
He made the mountain for you
And the midgit too

See the decline of pirates on this graph?
Cause global warming – now don’t laugh
Better believe I've been
Touched by his appendage

Next time I see you
Don’t tell me I’m going to hell
Because I don’t believe in it LOL

Oohh this is the FSM.
Please don’t you condemn
Makes as much sense as God
It's true
He made the mountain for you
And the midgit too

Oohh this is the FSM.
Please don’t you condemn
Makes as much sense as God
It's true
He made the mountain for you
And the midgit too

See the decline of pirates on this graph?
Cause global warming – now don’t laugh
Better believe I've been
Touched by his appendage

His appendage

His noodley appendage

Swine flu? Kill the piggies!

Whenever you have outbreaks of mysterious, potentially deadly diseases, it's extremely important to stay rational and not overreact. For example, you can see Egypt's extremely logical decision to slaughter all 300,000 of its pigs.


Aside from the obvious point that we have human to human transmission now, so new infection from pigs isn't exactly the problem...but how do they think actively slaughtering all of their pigs is actually going to reduce contact with pigs? Doesn't the act of slaughtering actually increase contact with pigs? Since you kind of need to touch them in order to chop them up and all?

I feel bad that so many animals are going to die because a government decides to overreact about a situation. Yes, they would have eventually been killed for food anyway. And the government is still allowing the farmers to sell the pork meat...but is anyone going to actually buy it? Look at the economics of the issue - it's all about supply and demand (the one thing I remember from AP Econ!). Suddenly there's going to be insane amount of pork in the market, with very low demand. 90% of Egypt is Muslim and can't eat pork anyway, the other 10% are probably silly enough to think you can get swine flu from eating pork or will probably just be sick of eating pork for every meal of the day. These farmers are going to have to give the stuff away. Not only is it a waste of piggie life, but it's a waste of money to the farmers.

I wonder if the decision has any direct ties to religion. Maybe an extremely Muslim nation doesn't care as much about killing a dirty animal they can't eat and that's only raised by the non-Muslim minority.

I also wonder if this means bacon will be on sale. That would be about the only perk of this whole swine flu scare. Mmmm bacon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yay real life

Just as a warning, blog posts may be a little sparse the next couple of days. I have papers to review and answer questions about for genetics, physics homework, papers to review for extra credit in psychology, and a giant ass programming project that I haven't really worked on yet. On top of that, I'm getting sick. My throat is sore and my left tonsil has started turning delightful colors, and I pretty much feel like crap. Hooray. I'll let you know if I start oinking.

I was going to scan some doodles for you, but my scanner has apparently decided to die, so no fun doodles for you. Sorry.

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go attempt to trudge through my homework. Now I know why they call it "Dead Week."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Looks like I'm definitely going to be a TA next semester! It's exciting and a bit frightening at the same time. Both of my parents are retired teachers, so I've always been curious to do some teaching of my own. I really enjoy explaining biological concepts to people, and I feel like I'm good at telling what's confusing people. I figure this will be great experience since I'll probably have to do it in grad school, and hopefully I'll love it like I think I would. Otherwise I may have to rethink my life goal of professor-dom. Or I can be one of those jerk professors who are all about research and begrudgingly teach classes, but that's kind of sad.

The class is the Cell Structure and Function Laboratory. Hell yeah, doesn't that sound fascinating? It's the fall sophomore lab everyone is required to take. I didn't want to teach the little freshmen who knew absolutely nothing, and this class was actually pretty good when I took it. It's also not too mentally strenuous. Basically you set up your gel, sit around while your gel is running, and then interpret your gel. Oh, and a lot of stuff with hemoglobin and peroxidase isoenzymes. Exciting stuff.

I just hope I'm a good TA. I don't want to be the jerk or the confused one who comes off as being really stupid. I want to be the cool TA, the one that actually remembers your name and jokes with you and is useful. Oi. And then the fear settles in that I'm being trusted with a new generation of scientists... As long as I don't spill ethidium bromide all over them, I'm probably okay.

Natural Sexuality

"Alright everybody, quiet down, we're going to get started," grumbled Lion. He glared at the menagerie in front of him, squawking and snorting away obliviously. "I SAID QUIET!" he roared. The crowd was silenced and turned wide-eyed to the speaker. "Ahem. Thank you. I'd like to welcome all of you to the second meeting of the Animal Association of Family Values. First off-"

"Wait a second," piped Bear, "who the heck voted you king of the jungle?"

Tarsier rolled his eyes, which was quite spectacular and frightening to those around him. "Maybe if you weren't hibernating through our last meeting..."

"Enough, enough," grumbled Lion. Everything always took ten times longer at inter-species meetings. "Let's just get down to business, shall we? The topic for today is humans - or Homo sapiens - and their-" he paused to sneer distastefully- "unnatural "heterosexual monogamy" business."

"Oh come on," whined Albatross, "are we still going on about that? There are plenty of examples of monogamy across the animal kingdom. 90% of birds are monogamous!"

Bear whispered under his breath, "Only 3% of mammals."

Albatross huffed. "You mammalists! Really."

"Oh come on, Albatross," said Lion. "We all know that's not entirely true. Only a tiny fraction of birds are actually sexually monogamous. You guys just can't help getting some on the side. And wasn't there even a new study that lesbian child rearing pairs are highly prevalent in Albatross?"

"...Maybe," Albatross blushed, sinking back into the crowd.

"Anyway," continued Lion, "it has become apparent to the Association that this human deviancy is out of control. It's simply not natural compared to the mating habits of the rest of the animal kingdom. Well-" he corrected, feeling Albatross's glare, "it's not the majority at least. And we all know the most common habits are the best. And even if it is found in other animals, that doesn't make it right! Look at how quickly they're out breeding us! The resources they waste on frivolous wedding ceremonies! The anguish they cause themselves feeling like they're forced to stay with their partner for a lifetime! Why, we're doing them a favor to point out the error in their ways."

Bear grumbled. "So what do you suggest we actually do about it?"

Lion stroked his mane proudly. He already saw this question coming. "Well, first we should define what exactly it is we find natural. That way the humans know how to act properly. For example, polygyny is the most common mating system in vertebrates. I have to mate with my many lionesses thousands of times a week, whether they like it or not. Humans? Once a week, maybe if they're lucky, and with only one female!"

"Woah there," piped Marmoset. "What about polyandry? Us girls are allowed multiple mates too!"

"Please," huffed Dwarf Mongoose. "Why are we talking like everyone should get the chance to mate, anyway? Only the dominants should reproduce! I don't even let my subordinate females ovulate!"

Bonobo grabbed Marmoset and Mongoose in a big hug. "Can't we all just get along? I mean, we have sex regardless of gender to solve disputes! Doesn't that sound great?"

Tarsier sneered. "Maybe if you hippies would have watched your cousin a little closer we wouldn't be having this discussion!"

"Now, now," muttered Lion, trying to regain order as it looked like Bonobo was about to burst into tears. "Maybe we shouldn't just focus on mating systems. Like, what's with all this step parenting business? They should kill all the previous cubs - er, children - when they start a relationship!"

"Ha!" laughed Praying Mantis. "Just kill the children? Why, the women should kill the male! What a good meal they're missing out on, letting all that meat go to waste. They only need him for his sperm anyway! So illogical."

Lion frowned nervously. "Well, I don't know about that-"

"Pshh, why need men at all?" said Whiptail Lizard. "Parthenogenesis works perfectly fine for us!"

Tarsier rolled his eyes again. "Who invited the feminists?"

"Why is it always about females anyway?" piped Seahorse, floating in a small pool for the aquatic animals. The Animal Association of Family Values didn't discriminate across taxa. "Males should be the ones who give birth! Female birth is just weird."

"Yeah, but only if they keep their young on their back," said Giant Water Bug.

"Or in their stomach," croaked Platypus Frog, burping up a tadpole.

Fig Wasp buzzed excitedly around Lion's head. "And why do humans have an age of consent? My sons will mate with my daughters before they're even born!"

"Consent?" Mallard Duck looked around confused. "What's that? You mean you don't just go around raping your females?"

Beg Bug giggled excitedly. "I do. I'll stab my junk through their abdomen if I have to! They call it "traumatic insemination," but you know they're just asking for it."

"Hell, I don't even care if they're dead, I'll still do 'em," croaked Cane Toad. Many of the animals blanched.

"You're all nuts!" cried Fungus in the back. "Why do you only have two sexes anyway? Why, some of my cousins have hundreds!"

"What the hell are you doing here, Fungus? You're not even an animal!" snarled Lion.

"Animalists!" cried Fungus, and slowly oozed away.

"Look," sighed Lion, exasperated at the animals' squabbling. "Maybe we should put this off until next month's meeting, when we've had more time to think about it. We can still agree that heterosexual monogamy is unnatural, right?"


"Alright. Let's just leave it at that for now and move on to our next topic. So our boycott of Papa John's is going well..."

Monday, April 27, 2009

The evolution of penises

Or whangs, if you'd prefer.

There's a scientifically interesting and delightfully anti-arousing article over at Scientific American with an overview of why human penises are how they are. Even if you think evolutionary psychology is a load of arm chair philosophizing bunk (which it sometimes is), you can at least extract some immature giggles from this one. And honestly, he does a decent job at pointing out some of the drawbacks and limitations of evo psych. But wait, these researchers actually did an experiment on the "semen displacement hypothesis" instead of just sitting around and thinking!
"The researchers selected several sets of prosthetic genitals from erotic novelty stores, including a realistic latex vagina sold as a masturbation pal for lonely straight men and tied off at one end to prevent leakage, and three artificial phalluses. The first latex phallus was 6.1 inches long and 1.3 inches in diameter with a coronal ridge extending approximately .20 inches from the shaft. The second phallus was the same length, but its coronal ridge extended only .12 inches from the shaft. Finally, the third phallus matched the other two in length, but lacked a coronal ridge entirely. In other words, whereas the first two phalluses closely resembled an actual human penis, varying only in the coronal ridge properties, the third (the control phallus) was the bland and headless horseman of the bunch."
"Hey honey, how is grad school going? Research okay?" "Uh...yeah, it's great, Mom." "Do anything interesting today? What exactly are you studying again?" "Um...human...behavior. Yeah." "That's nice sweetie. So when you're a doctor you can write us prescriptions, right?" "...I'm not going to be that kind of doctor, Mom."

And then he proceeds to jump off a bridge.

Anyway, it gets better:
"Next, the authors borrowed a recipe for simulated semen from another evolutionary psychologist, Todd Shackleford from Florida Atlantic University, and created several batches of seminal fluid. The recipe “consisted of .08 cups of sifted, white, unbleached flour mixed with 1.06 cups of water. This mixture was brought to a boil, simmered for 15 minutes while being stirred, and allowed to cool.”"
What did I learn during my PhD? How to make fake semen! Comes in handy more often than you'd think!
"In a controlled series of “displacement trials,” the vagina was then loaded with semen, the phalluses were inserted at varying depths (to simulate thrusting) and removed, whereupon the latex orifice was examined to determine how much semen had been displaced from it. As predicted, the two phalluses with the coronal ridges displaced significantly more semen from the vagina (each removed 91 percent) than the “headless” control (35.3 percent). Additionally, the further that the phalluses were inserted—that is to say, the deeper the thrust—the more semen was displaced. When the phallus with the more impressive coronal ridge was inserted three fourths of the way into the vagina, it removed only a third of the semen, whereas it removed nearly all of the semen when inserted completely. Shallow thrusting, simulated by the researchers inserting the artificial phallus halfway or less into the artificial vagina, failed to displace any semen at all. So if you want advice that’ll give you a leg up in the evolutionary arms race, don’t go West, young man—go deep."
Indeed, sir. Indeed.

Seriously, the idea of a bunch of grad students pumping together two sex toys filled with flour semen paste is the most ridiculous image in my mind. There's no way any human being could have done this with a straight face. I would like to see a psychological study on just how fucking awkward and hilarious that situation must have been.

I'm not sure if I would be overjoyed or mortified if my job as a grad student was to pick out suitable sex toys and then see which scoop out fake semen best. It would sure make a good bar story, at least. I'd have all the guys.

Welcome to my home, under a rock

Oi. It's probably a bad thing that I hadn't even hear of the whole "swine flu" thing until I read xkcd this morning. "Wtf is swine flu?" I asked, but had to run to class. And then the blogosphere exploded about it.

Yeaaahh, I admit it, I'm a bad college student sometimes. I was much more up on current events when I was in high school, because we'd watch the news at dinner. Now I kind of live in my little bubble. At least I know I'll eventually find out important things through my blogs, albeit a little late. Hopefully there's never a 24 hour evacuation notice for West Lafayette, or I'm doomed.

I'm just made of cooking failure lately

Last night I decided to cook one of my favorite dishes that actually has vegetables in it make up for all of the horrible things I've been eating lately. My dad's tomato asparagus pasta is delicious and really simple to make. Well, in theory. I've made it plenty of times before, but this time I accidentally added 1 Tbsp parsley and 1/4 cup oregano...instead of 1 Tbsp oregano and 1/4 cup parsley.

That is way too much fucking oregano.

It was so disgusting to attempt to eat, like munching on pure oregano, that I had to throw my pasta, veggies and all, back in the strainer and rinse it off. I know I was probably rinsing away all other sorts of seasonings and delicious juices, but it was better than oregano mulch. It's decent now, but not as delicious as usual. Sigh.

Though as a perk, it seems my original terrifying run in with the pie was mostly a fluke. I took one for the team and ate most of the pie in the name of science, and I've yet to have a similar reaction. See, this is why it's good to test your hypotheses! Otherwise I would have thrown away a perfectly good pie.

In case any of you are brave enough to try to pie yourself, here's the recipe. I promise it won't induce stomach aches as a long as you actually use unspoiled ingredients:

Jen's Dangerous Peanut Butter Pie

1 prepared chocolate cookie pie crust
About 6 heaping spoonfuls of creamy peanut butter
8 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature)
½ cup sugar
12 oz. container of Cool Whip
1 11.75 oz jar Smucker’s Hot Fudge Ice Cream Topping

In a medium bowl, mix together the peanut butter, cream cheese and sugar. Gently fold in 3 cups whipped topping. Spoon mixture into the pie shell. Using a spatula, smooth mixture to edges of pie. Place hot fudge into microwave safe bowl or glass measuring cup. Microwave for 20 seconds (or maybe longer, depending on your microwave). Spread hot fudge over pie to cover the peanut butter layer. Place in freezer for about an hour, then refrigerate afterwards. If you want to make it look fancy, just before serving, spread the remaining whipped topping over hot fudge layer, being careful not to mix the two layers, and drizzle a design with left over hot fudge.

Note: I always tend to make too much filling, so then my hot fudge wants to overflow, so either make a little less filling or pour the hot fudge in first and then the peanut butter filling on top. Or create a delicious mess like me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

As if Wikipedia wasn't addictive enough...

Micek's Tumblelog points out the fun and addictive nature of playing 6 degrees of separation using Wikipedia. The object of the game is to pick two random articles and see who can connect them using the fewest links. The game makes sense, since the nature of Wikipedia is to start looking up avacados and ending up reading about the bubonic plague. My friend and I have been playing against each other. For example:

Robert Hawkins > Pennsylvania > Lehigh University > Anthropology > Paleoanthropology > GHR von koenigswald > NG 6

For shits and giggles, let's see who can get from Avacado to Bubonic Plague in the shortest amount of steps.

EDIT: Holy crap you guys are too good. That's what happens when I don't pick truly random articles. Ok, have a challenge:

Battle of Montreal to Barangay Health Volunteers, Phillippines

Why don't astronauts float away on the moon? Heavy boots, of course!

If you're not facepalming, you should review your introductory physics book. Either way, there's an excellent summary about this particular question that really shows how little the average person understands basic scientific principles. Here's the introduction:
"About 6-7 years ago, I was in a philosophy class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (good science/engineering school) and the teaching assistant was explaining Descartes.

He was trying to show how things don't always happen the way we think they will and explained that, while a pen always falls when you drop it on Earth, it would just float away if you let go of it on the Moon. My jaw dropped a little. I blurted "What?!" Looking around the room, I saw that only my friend Mark and one other student looked confused by the TA's statement. The other 17 people just looked at me like "What's your problem?" "But a pen would fall if you dropped it on the Moon, just more slowly." I protested.

"No it wouldn't." the TA explained calmly, "because you're too far away from the Earth's gravity." Think. Think. Aha! "You saw the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, didn't you?"

I countered, "why didn't they float away?"

"Because they were wearing heavy boots." he responded, as if this made perfect sense (remember, this is a Philosophy TA who's had plenty of logic classes)."
I had a similar experience when I was taking Sex, Gender, and Sexology my freshman year. It was a graduate level class offered through the Health and Kinesiology department. I'm pretty sure I was the only freshman foolish enough to take a grad level class, but it sounded so awesome that I couldn't resist (and it was). I was also the only biologist in the class of 70 people - most people were in psychology, sociology, anthropology, or history.

We were talking about the possible biological causes of homosexuality, and our professor mentioned how there is probably a genetic component. One of the outspoken anthropology PhD students raised her hand.

"Well that's obviously wrong," she said. "A gene is either on or off, and we know people aren't either straight or gay. There's a continuum."

A shot up my hand. "Um, that's not how genetics works. You can have multiple genes effecting one trait, or different levels of regulation. That's how you can get continuous traits like height or skin color. You're not just tall or short."

Her friend smiled and gave her the You Just Got Owned By a Freshman look.

Add this to my friend's Anthropology TA who was convinced DNA was made up of proteins, and you can see why my opinion of Anthropology is a little shaky.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The racial double standard

It really irks me when people say we're "post-racial" or "colorblind" now that Obama is president, because it's obviously not true. If you need convincing, here's a good example:
"As a black father and adopted white daughter, Mark Riding and Katie O'Dea-Smith are a sight at best surprising, and at worst so perplexing that people feel compelled to respond. Like the time at a Pocono Mountains flea market when Riding scolded Katie, attracting so many sharp glares that he and his wife, Terri, 37, and also African-American, thought "we might be lynched." And the time when well-intentioned shoppers followed Mark and Katie out of the mall to make sure she wasn't being kidnapped. Or when would-be heroes come up to Katie in the cereal aisle and ask, "Are you OK?"—even though Terri is standing right there."
Why is it okay for white couples to adopt children of different race, but not vice-versa? White couples seem "humanitarian," while black couples are mistaken for kidnappers. People glorify Angelina Jolie and her Gotta-Adopt-'Em-All strategy, but what if Tyra Banks did this with different races from underprivileged places around the world? ...Ok, Tyra's a horrible example since she's full of crazy, and the idea of entrusting her with multiple children scares me. But I digress. There's a part of me that hopes beyond hope that this can be chalked up to statistics. That is, there are far more white couples adopting black children than black couples adopting white children, so people see it as an anomaly. Unfortunately, I think that's just wishful thinking. I'm pretty sure the dirty looks wouldn't go away even if the adoption rates evened out.

Christian Websites

I'm not sure what's worse. Seizure inducing websites that look like they were made in the 90's, or the most extreme, intense, James-Bond like Flash-happy websites.

Neither seem to make me want to convert to Christianity much.

Speaking of crappy Christian websites, I skimmed through the Westboro Baptist Church's upcoming hate mongering sites. Apparently May 17th they'll be in South Bend, IN protesting Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame:
"Notre Dame Commencment - Obama Hates you, take U 2 Hell! E Angela Blvd & N Notre Dame Ave How appropriate that the biggest pedophile mill in the whole entire world would have Beast Obama speaking at their 2009 Commencement. We will be outside with some good words on our signs. No need to try to hide from the words, little spoiled figs."
Yes, take that you little spoiled figs!

I'm actually kind of jealous. Maybe before I graduate we can do something so scandalous that they'll come picket us. It almost seems like a badge of honor!

Oh drunk people

This week is Grand Prix week at Purdue, which is basically a week long excuse to party and binge drink 24/7, culminating in a go-kart race. Being the defective college student that I am, I fail to see the appeal in these activities. I plan to hide in my apartment as long as possible, since I may just accidentally get drunk from stepping outside into the alcohol-infused air.

My fellow students, though, take this very seriously. Yesterday as I rode the bus to my 1 PM class, people were already outside drinking beers and partying. I guess I should be happy that it was at least after noon. Maybe I'm just secretly jealous because while they're partying away, I was sitting in the basement of LILY learning signaling cascades associated with cancer...naahhh, what I was doing was more interesting.

The funniest part is that they've set up barricades all around the bars in Chauncey, narrowing the street from 3 lanes to 2:
They claim it's because of the smoking ban, and now more people smoke outside the bars. Yeah. Totally not for the exponential increase in drunk people who like to stumble out into the road and dart in front of your car. They do this anyway, but now there'll be ten times as many of them.

And yes, I think I'm a curmudgeonly old woman at heart. Good thing I don't have a lawn, or I'd probably be yelling at people to get off it.

Pepsi: Funding the evil Homosexual Agenda

I always knew there was a reason why I prefer Pepsi over Coke.

The American Family Association (which you know must be awesome because it has "Family" in its name and has a big Jesus fish behind its logo) is organizing a boycott of PepsiCo. Why? Because Pepsi is supporting the evil homosexual agenda! What sort of vile things has Pepsi done? From
  • Pepsi gave a total of $1,000,000 to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to promote the homosexual lifestyle in the workplace.
  • Both HRC and PFLAG supported efforts in California to defeat Proposition 8 which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. HRC, which received $500,000 from Pepsi, gave $2.3 million to defeat Proposition 8.
  • Pepsi requires employees to attend sexual orientation and gender diversity training where the employees are taught to accept homosexuality.
  • Pepsi is a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Oh no! The horror! How disgusting! Why, pretty soon Pepsi will be injecting its products with soy (which obviously makes you gay), and it'll be the Gaypocalypse!

You don't believe me? Look at these horrible, horrible commercials and shows Pepsi are supporting:

See, Pepsi turned him gay! Noooooooo!

It's perfectly fine for three dozen women to drool over a hot guy, but once you add a single guy from Queer Eye it becomes the work of the devil!

And there's not even any Pepsi in the next one, it's just a show they sponsor:

Oh, heaven forbid, two guys making out, funny awkward discussion about sex. I've never seen that with a heterosexual couple on a tv show!

Well, I really must be doomed. I've drank so much Pepsi over the years that I must just be ready to burst at the seems with gayness. Sorry guys, but after I finish the 2 liter in my fridge, I'm going for the boobies only.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

TMI time!

I had my annual womanly check up today. I find it quite depressing that that's the most action that I've gotten in months. A two and a half year long relationship with constant sex suddenly ending sucks ass. It sucks more ass when you're still living with your ex, and he's doing his new girlfriend who you have classes with because you're the same major. Yay!

...Yeah, sorry, I'll try to keep real life drama to a minimum. Had a couple Strongbows (friend got her PhD, celebration ensued, woo) and I'm sleepy. Three drinks also leads to sexual frustration. Sexual frustration and drinks lead to revealing blog posts that I will possibly regret in the morning. Oh well!

I am now going to cuddle with my pillow and dream of non-deadly pie, professors who want me for grad school, and sexy men (or a combination of the three?)

Pie Update: Slice #2

Ate a piece of pie with lunch today. A dangerous experiment, since I had class two hours later. Didn't experience much past stomach gurgling and a couple burps. Was the first time a fluke? Have I biased my results by willing myself to eat the delicious pie without getting sick?

I think further testing is required. Maybe I should have someone else eat a slice as a control...but that would involve less pie for me. Hmmmm. A scientific conundrum.
Good, or evil? The world may never know.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Officer elections

The results of the Society of Non-Theists' officer elections tonight can be summed up by my friend:

"We now have three attractive women as our officers. By the way, the contracts you all signed include mandatory matching leather outfits. What, you didn't know about those? Club attendance will skyrocket!"

But it's sort of true. We're like an atheist chick super heroine squad. We even have one brunette, one red-head, and one blond. Move aside, Powerpuff Girls!

EDIT: Apparently our hair combinations are a TV trope. Woohoo!

The Great Grad School Search

In a couple of weeks, I will officially be a senior in college - which means it is time for me to Freak Out.

I'm 99.99% sure I want to go to grad school for my PhD, but that's about all I know. I've been doing research in a lab for the last two and a half years (wow, it's been that long?) and I absolutely love it. My main problem is that I find so many different things fascinating, that I have a horrible time picking a single topic that I will be focusing on for 3 to 7 years (hopefully closer to 3). If you ask me my interests, I'll say genetics, evolution, and sex - preferably studying humans, but I'm willing to make exceptions. But if you know much about biology, that doesn't narrow it down much.

And it seems the way to go about grad school hunting when you're a go-getting undergrad like myself is to look more at individual professors instead of general programs. It's not just about going to Harvard or UCLA - these schools are generally great at everything. You want to pick a specific research topic that you love - they're all wonderful schools for genetics, but only Professor Jones at Suchandsuch University studies the gene regulation of sweat glands in wildebeest. So, this is kind of a problem when you're like me and you love everything. And of course there isn't some giant database of every researcher and all of their specific interests. There's no "What professor should you work with?" Facebook quiz (oh god, thankfully).

Sometimes I wish it was more like recruiting for college sports. I could throw my resume into the mix and professors could try to snatch me up. "3.93 GPA??? Phi Beta Kappa? Publications?? Oh god, work in my lab, I have funding!"

Until the real world turns into my dream world, I guess I'll just keep searching. Does anyone have grad school hunting tips? What to do or what not to do? Mistakes you made that you wish someone would have warned you about?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Difference Between Normal People, Scientists, and Chocoholics

Alright, I had to do it:...And now that I'm embarrassed by my crappy tablet drawing skills, go check out my artwork from high school so I can redeem myself a bit.


As a poor college student, I cook by the "What's about to expire and what can I make out of it?" method. This week the ingredients were cream cheese and an unused container of cool whip. Time for a delicious peanut butter pie, I thought! I had the peanut butter, but I went to the store for the pie crust and some chocolate sauce. I've made this recipe before, and it's sooo delicious. I anxiously waited for it to solidify in the fridge before I snarfed down a (delicious) piece.


I'm pretty sure I just gave myself food poisoning.

Why would I come to that conclusion? Well, an hour later experiencing violent stomach pain resulting to running to the bathroom and being very sad (I'll spare you the details) were my main hints. I was a bit confused, since most of my ingredients were still a month away from the expiration date. That was, until I looked at the cool whip container.

Um...apparently it was supposed to be frozen this whole time. Not in the fridge. For like four months. My mind kind of didn't make the connection that it's a dairy product, since it seems more like a fake plastic filling thing than real food.

Well, that's my hypothesis at least. Being the scientist (and masochist) I am, I'll probably eat another slice tomorrow to see if it was just a fluke, or if I really am killing myself. Because the pie is just that fucking good that I will suffer through my stomach exploding for another piece.

Insert normal person vs. scientist comic here. Sigh.

I am such a biology nerd

I just got an email about the Darwin Conference they're having at the University of Chicago in October, and I'm totally pumped. Practically it's great, because it's only about a 2 hour drive from here and $20 for students, which is dirt cheap for a conference. The one in Nebraska was 90 bucks, and that was just to watch student presentations. I was a little suspicious how it could be so cheap - maybe they just have crap presenters or something - so I checked the schedule of lecturers.

Omg. Jerry Coyne? Neil Shubin?? Daniel Dennett?!? E. O. Wilson?!?! Squeeee!

I think the only other evolutionary biologist that would make me fangirl more is Dawkins (ok, PZ too), but I'm still super pumped. I am forcing someone to go to this with me. And yes, I recognize how insanely nerdy it is to get excited over an academic conference. I'm a really a proto-grad student who hasn't fully metamorphosed yet. Well, I take that back - I'm fairly certain even most grad students aren't this geeky. Maybe once I actually become a grad student, it will break my (nonexistant) soul and I'll tone it down a bit.

...Or maybe I'm just destined to be an uber-nerd.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Breaking News: Right Wing Religious Nut Jobs believe whatever they want to believe

Shocking, I know.

So, most of you have probably seen the disturbing and stupid anti-gay marriage video released a little while ago by NOM. If not, crawl out from whatever rock you've been living under, explore the internet a bit, and watch it. Stephen Colbert, in his infinite genius, created a, I mean, very serious follow up video, which is hilarious and will make you feel a little better after watching the original.

The funniest part? NOM thanked Stephen Colbert for making the parody. Not only do they think he's a conservative pretending to be a liberal pretending to be a conservative (wrap your head around that wishful thinking), but they're glad he gave them the attention. Even though, you know, he was basically calling them all either ignoramuses or hypocritical closet cases. But it's cool, because there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Oh doublethink, you are an amazing and frightening thing.

PS: I hate all of you who want me to suffer through the Ken Ham book, but I'll probably do it. What are friends for if they don't encourage us to do horrible things? Maybe I'll read a good book first to offset the nonsense.

Oh no...not another bad book

I think I've set up a horrible trend for myself. A biology grad student that I'm friends with gave me this book today, saying I'd probably appreciate the ridiculousness:
Noooooooooooooo, not Ken Ham!!! What do I do? Do I try to ignore it? Do I even bother reading it? Just skimming the book was fairly amusing, in a scary sort of way. It's full of ridiculous cartoons and illustrations, which makes sense for the target audience...ahem. I actually have good books to read...but the stupidity emanating from my backpack is calling me. Gaaah! At least the Professor and the Dominatrix was just a failed work of fiction, not a book of fiction that people actually believe to be true.

Well? Should I be masochistic again, or hide this book away and forget about it?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Is "New Atheism" White Supremacist?

Apparently someone thinks so. Since my initial response of "WTF" isn't too educated, I'm going to break down my reply.

But I’m no longer okay with atheist evangelizing. Firstly, I’m not okay with evangelizing, period. I don’t care if you’re a fundamentalist Christian, an agnostic Buddhist, or Richard Dawkins, I want you to leave me the fuck alone. You do it your way and I’ll do it mine.
You know what, once atheists start knocking on doors, trying to get schools to teach that there is no god, and threatening people with suffering and harm if they don't convert, then I'll agree with you. But atheist "evangelizing" in no where near the same as Christian (for example) evangelizing. What horrible things has Richard Dawkins done? Wrote a book that no one is forced to buy or read? Give talks that no one if forced to attend? I don't think I've seen him on a college campus with a microphone shouting "There is no god, you bloody twits!" And you know, even if he did, he has the right to do that. Just like any other person you don't agree with, you can just stop listening to them.

I’m happy to talk to politics with you, but my religious practice — which harms no one and in no way impinges on any other person’s rights — is really, really none of your business. I don’t care if the origin myth you’re peddling comes from science or from mythology. I don’t care how much history or evidence is on your side. I just want to be left in peace; I will do the same for you.

Again, once religious practices DO stop harming people and impinging on others rights, maybe we'll shut up a bit. My goal as an atheist isn't to convert people - if it doesn't affect others and it makes them happy, so be it. But while planes are still being flown into buildings, while people are being fired at work for being atheists, while myths are being taught over science to our children, while gay marriage is having a hell of a time being legalized, your beliefs become my business because you're not keeping them to yourself.

And as I said before, religious beliefs are no different than political beliefs. They don't deserve any sort of special treatment, and should receive criticism like anything else.

The big reason, though, is that atheist advocates a la Dawkins and the rest are ethnocentric, colonialist cultural supremacists. When Dawkins says that sending a kid to Sunday school is child abuse, or that reasonable, tolerant, law-abiding people who happen to be religious are enablers of violent fundamentalists, he is not merely saying that religious people should stop believing in God/gods. He is saying that they should forfeit their culture.

Um, no. First of, do you know anything about Richard Dawkins? He, like many atheists, still joyfully celebrates Christmas complete with tree and religious songs and all the same traditions and culture that he had before he was an atheist. This past Easter many people commented on all the egg finding and bunny eating and family gathering that was going on. What's the difference? We can still enjoy the culture we were raised in without cheapening it with supernatural nonsense.

The implicit claim here is that wealthy, white, Western secularism culturally neutral, the norm. And that’s bullshit. White, Western secularism is as much a subjective human culture as any other. There is no neutral. You can give up your ancestral culture, but it will be replaced. It will be replaced by white Western capitalism. This is what the atheist evangelists are advocating (or, if you prefer, advocating implicitly and spectacularly failing to disavow): assimilation.

Well, I disagree with you, but apparently since I've been implicitly advocating this all along, let me take a moment to disavow it: assimilation sucks. Culture and tradition are important. But, I have one caveat. Just because something is a tradition doesn't necessarily mean that it's good or that we have to keep doing it. For example, prayer at public high school and college graduations. If the school's principal or President argues "tradition" for keeping it, that is a giant cop-out and unwillingness to deal with separation of church and state (and not just for the sake of nonbelievers, but for minority religions as well).

Now that that's out of the way (probably not), I'm not quite sure how atheism = capitalism. I openly admit that I am woefully uneducated about anything economic, so if I'm off base here, let me know. But I know from our club, a good chunk of our members are socialists or anarchists, aka, Very Much So Not Capitalists. Our current treasurer has a hernia if anyone says anything remotely pro-capitalist. But really, I have no idea what rejecting supernatural belief has to do with economic practices anyway, so this just seems like a random stretch to me.

And I refuse. I refuse to replace Judaism with capitalism. I refuse to replace my traditional foods with McDonalds. I refuse to replace my history with the vulgar lie of pilgrims and pioneers sweeping across an empty continent. I refuse to believe the claim that wealthy white men are the most evolved, the most enlightened; I refuse to believe the claim that white culture is superior.

Good for you! Keeping your culture is great! My Jewish atheist friends still call themselves Jewish. I'd pick yuvetsaki or pastichio or tiropita or anything delicious food from my Greek heritage over a greasy burger. I'm pretty sure most atheists don't advocate rewriting history with lies either, since we're kind of truth.

And pigs will fly to the moon and back before you hear Richard Dawkins say anything along the lines of wealthy white men being the most evolved. That's just...there are so many things wrong with that statement, I don't know where to begin. Do you know anything about evolution? The vast majority of evolutionary biologists would never make such a claim because it's undeniably false - and when some idiot does try to insinuate something racist by using biology (Watson, I'm looking at you), they get torn apart and shunned by their fellow biologists and atheists.

And I'm still not getting where this "white culture is superior" thing is coming from. Can I get a quote of Dawkins saying that, please? Because until then, I can't help but think of Christian slave owners making their slaves leave their tribal religions, or Christian missionaries today going to Africa and changing their culture, or our Christian-motivated government under Bush "freeing" Iraqis...and then all the atheists who have stood up and said This Is Bad.

If you think my attachment to my culture is a problem (even though I agree with you about every important political issue!), you’re a white supremacist.

Well, thankfully I don't think your attachment to your culture is a problem. Culture can be good! But I just hope you don't really mean that anyone who disagrees with you about the rest of your comments is a white supremacist, because that's just silly and unproductive.

Lastly, it’s another lie that religion is the problem. Yes, religious fundamentalism (like all fundamentalism) is extremely destructive, and many innocent people have been killed in the name of religion. But secular, capitalist Western “democracy” is, today, just as destructive a force. This system is literally destroying the world as we know it — just ask a polar bear.

Me: Hey Mr. Polar Bear, those shrinking ice caps sure do suck, huh?
Mr. P. Bear: Why yes, Jennifer, they do. They make me a sad panda-I mean, polar bear.
Me: But has anyone tried to help you out?
Mr. P. Bear: Well, yes! Most of the people who are trying to help are scientists, many of which are atheists. And even non-scientist atheists realize this is a huge problem because this is the only life they have!
Me: But what about the religious people?
Mr. P. Bear: Well, a lot of them think that God gave man dominion over all the plants and animals on earth, so they feel they can do whatever they want to us. And they think any sort of catastrophic end is God's plan through Armageddon, so they don't want to stop it!
Me: Well golly gee! I guess it's all the atheists faults for magically promoting capitalist democracy somehow!
Mr. P. Bear: Logically.


Now, does atheism have a hard time attracting and keeping minorities? Yes, I would say so. The movement is disproportionately white males. I know in our own club it's only about 10% female, and probably 99% white. But is this because atheists are inherently racist and sexists? I'd argue no (though there are always a couple bad seeds in any sort of group). And if I had to give my best guess why this is (which is just a guess, I admit I'm not an expert) it's that religion is such an important aspect of culture for these groups. So yes, culture is an issue to an extent...but that's because people assume (like the person above) that atheism means abandoning your culture. No! You don't have to. And even if you don't want to keep your same old traditions but you need something, more and more atheist groups are forming to fill that void.

So do I think militant atheism is white supremacist? No. But of course, I guess that makes me a white supremacist. Darn.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A BS in Biology without Evolution

If you are at least vaguely aware of the Evolution/Creationism debate, you know there's a lot of things wrong with biology education in the United States. You have rallying cries to "teach the controversy" (which doesn't exist), but thankfully those are being shot down more and more often. There are some students who will never even hear the word "evolution" throughout high school. I know in my high school freshman biology class, which every student had to take, we never mentioned the topic. Once I got to AP Bio my senior year, we covered it well, but that's only 50 students out of a school of 1400 - and those are the ones who are actually interested in biology, so they have a better chance of accepting evolution anyway! Why aren't we teaching it when we have the chance to reach everyone?

Well, even when dealing with Biology majors in college, we fail at that.

Now, I'm sure some universities do a great job at teaching evolution to their Bio majors. Obviously since I've only attended Purdue, that's the one example I have - but I'm sure their craptacular methods apply to other universities. It's especially disappointing since Purdue likes to tout itself as this big Engineering/Science Research I University, yet it can't even convince all of its Bio majors to accept evolution, not to mention other science programs here.

What's the problem? The only time evolution is taught in a class required by all Bio sub disciplines is BIOL 121. That's the introductory class you take the fall of your freshman year, and a whooping four class periods (that's less than 3.5 hours) are devoted to evolution. While it's explained well, it's still so cursory that I knew more about evolution just because I was a nerd and perused Talk Origins in high school.

Other required biology classes will briefly mention evolution, but not in a way that teaches it to a class. You can see some students rolling their eyes when a professor says something like "You can see how this could have evolved." I've had multiple students - some in the very top of the program - tell me that biology courses at Purdue have actually strengthened their faith in God and creationism. They claim that learning all the complexities of biology prove God had to have a hand in it (and then my brain subsequently explodes after hearing "Irreducibly Complex" for the bajillionth time).

Most of the Bio majors allow you to choose the official Evolution class (BIOL 580) as an elective, but that's only one of your choices out of maybe 20 to 30. And if you don't accept evolution, how likely are you to take a graduate level class about it? I think the scariest realization pops up when you look at two Bio majors in particular:

Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology:
You think this would be evolution-crazy since, you know, it's the Evolution degree, right? Well, not so much. You're required to take 580-Evolution, but that's all. The only two other evolution related classes are Evolution of Behavior and Sex & Evolution, but you can pick your classes such that you don't have to take those. They're just suggestions. They don't even include any of the human evolution courses offered through anthropology as options for your degree...and past that, I don't think there are really any other evolution courses at Purdue. I don't know about you, but it's a little unnerving that someone can get a degree with "Evolution" in the title after only taking one class.

Biology Education:
This, however, is the scariest of the two. You'd think with all our educational woes we'd desperately try to train a new generation of Biology educators who could properly teach evolution. Well, we don't. Evolution is one of 47 electives a Bio Ed major can choose, and even though there's an Education course specifically about teaching Evolution, they're not required to take it. It's not even listed as a biology elective - it would just be a general elective if you had any free time (haha, free time! What a ridiculous idea). I would think this is pretty damn important for a future biology teacher to know.

I guess this explains how you can still get rogue creationist teachers who feel that it's their duty to sabotage teaching evolution with their own beliefs, even when the curriculum is pro-evolution. You can graduate from many places with a degree in Biology and still not even have an elementary grasp of evolution. This is a Serious Problem. All the biologists and scientists who lament about our country's rejection of evolution need to put the education of Average Joe on hold for a bit and start worrying about students. Professors especially need to speak up. Now, they're not the blame - the professors who do teach evolution do a great job, and curricula are riddled with bureaucratic bullshit. But they're our best hope for having some say in the matter. So to any biology professors out there, please fight to ensure all biology majors take at least one comprehensive course in evolution. Even if most of them are bound for med school, we can't hope to educate the public until we educate our own kind first.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day of Silence

In honor of the Day of Silence tomorrow, please join me in watching this mind-numbingly stupid video made by the Illinois Family Institute and pointing out the horrible logic they employ. You know it's going to be good, because they have "Family" in their name:

Actually, I lied. I could only get to the part where the parents are duct-taping their child's mouth closed before closing the video in annoyance and disgust. Sigh.

Busy with real life

Don't have any super insightful post today, sorry. It's that time of the year when the semester is winding to an end, and all of your classes decide to go crazy at once. I'm just trying to finish my programming project (hooray for Python...) tonight so I can go to Miss Gay IU tomorrow. Fabulous drag shows >>> programming!

I also have to hurry up and start planning my trip to Fairbanks, Alaska for this summer. I won an undergraduate honorarium for the American Society of Mammalogist conference to help fund my trip there, woo! I need to actually buy the plane tickets and reserve hotel rooms and all that jazz. I also need to figure out what site seeing I want to do while I'm there, since who knows if I'll ever get the chance to go to Alaska again! I know I'm definitely going to try and see Denali, but any other suggestions? Unfortunately I'm going alone, so I'm not sure how much I want to hike around the Alaskan wilderness. I'd kind of like to avoid being mauled by bears or shot by Sarah Palin while I'm there. My advisor wants me coming back in one piece, mainly because I have a manuscript to finish, ha. I'm just kidding though - he's a great advisor. He's loning me his fancy expensive camera that has a nifty telephoto lens so I can actually do some good nature photography, and he's going to let me take off as much time as I want, basically.

So, anyone ever been to Alaska before? What are the "must see" places, preferably around Fairbanks?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fiction for Fiction

Our club had our annual controversial event, Fiction for Fiction, yesterday and today. It was originally inspired by the Smut for Smut event, but we didn't want to be quite so inflammatory (or lynched), so we toned it down a bit. It's honestly the "worst" thing we do on campus, mainly to satisfy our more outspoken members. I usually have minor panic attacks about it when planning, imagining all the religious groups on campus joining together to chuck rotten fruit at us or something. It went successfully and without produce-throwing last year (which Hemant blogged about), so we decided to do it again.
While I am also a cute atheist chick, neither of these are me. I will forever remain mildly elusive! Mwahahaha!

We also handed out a small flyer with a link to our website and the following explanation of our event to people:
"Religious texts may give some moral guidance, but that does not necessarily mean what they say is true. Fictional novels can contain important morals and insight into human life. You must think critically and ask questions to learn from what you’re reading. We encourage you to come to your own conclusions about what is fact and what is fiction. If you would like to investigate inconsistencies and contradictions specifically in the Bible, Koran, and Book of Mormon, is a great place to start."
The event went well again. We had about 15 books traded in, but tons of people said they would have if they had a religious book. The worst response we received was a couple of dirty looks, but they were far outweighed by the many smiles and thumbs ups. Atheists are definitely the minority at Purdue, but I think it's so refreshing for people to see an event like this instead of the usual preacher telling you why you're going to burn in hell.

I know some people poo-poo the idea of having an event that criticizes religion in any shape or form. I've stated before the importance of being able to criticize religion, just like any other idea. That's a whole other issue that I don't want to deal with right now, but it does look like we've already made someone angry. You know you've really hit a nerve when someone's blogging about you.

Do I feel bad? Maybe a little. The intent of our event isn't just to piss people off, though I know it's inevitable when you're dealing with a touchy subject. But we have a message that even many theists agree with (and told us so at the event!). Yes, "Fiction for Fiction" contains a bit of shock value, but it is an event. I don't think "Hey, You Know, Not Everything in Religious Texts Are Necessarily True, You Should Really Think Critically About What You Read and Investigate These Outside Sources" would work quite as well. But if we were just looking to upset people, we could have stuck with Smut for Smut.

Do I feel annoyed? Yes. It's obvious from this person's post that he didn't bother talking to us, taking a flyer, or even reading our signs. And you all know what I do best when I'm annoyed...that's right! Reply in an aggravated and hopefully humorous way! My comments small and in red:
Not everyone is smart, awww, I think he's referring to us... but everyone has a strong stance on about every topic. Whether it’s evolution, global warming, or religion; you always have a stance on these topics. Listening to people talk, I hear people voicing their opinion on evolution; accusing it to be either true or false based on what little knowledge they have about it. Everyday civilians comment on how global warming is a conspiracy, despite professionals swearing to it. The worst of these is religion.

Religion is one thing that none of us seem to agree on, but we still have to make our voice heard. Even if you don’t believe anything, that must also be vocalized. I completely agree! You're being so understanding! ...Wait... I saw a quintessential example of this at campus yesterday. Some opinionated enthusiasts were sitting at a booth outside of the “class of ‘50” with a sign that read, “Fiction for Fiction; trade your religious texts for fictional novels.” That was probably the most useless and offensive table set up that I’ve ever seen. Really? How about the Islamo-Fascism table about evils of Islam and how Evangelical Christianity is so much better? How about the various preachers saying everyone's going to hell if they even blink funny? How about the "Obama hearts terrorist" signs? How about the anti-affirmative action cookie sale where different races had different prices? How about the "pie a terrorist" where students dressed up as Muslims? We really top the list?

What could these people’s point possibly be? Are they saying religion is fiction? Um, yes? The fact that you're freaking out about this possibility is the whole reason why we're having the event. Because some people have never even thought about it. I would have to dumber than them not to realize that that was their point. I’m not going to come down on them for voicing their opinion, even though you are by repeatedly calling us stupid and offensive except that the entire basis of their opinion is to oppose another. This “fiction for fiction” trade is the opposition to organized religion like, for example, pro-life opposes pro- choice. The opposing parties involved in that example believe different things, which happen to be the opposite. One party didn’t form due to an opinion they held and that being the sole cause of the other party’s formation. I'm not quite sure what he's even trying to say here - that our whole purpose is to be cranky about religion because religion came first? First of, opposing someone does not mean you're automatically wrong. But if he wants to make that argument, atheism was around since the dawn of the universe, and religion is just a recent blip in time. We win, neener neener.

What is this “fiction for fiction” table’s goal? Are they trying to spread the word that religion is fake? Maybe you should have taken five seconds to find out! Nah, that would have been too hard. What would people’s reaction be if equally as zealous people went exclaiming their religion to the campus? These people are now on the same arrogance level as the bible thumpers that they oppose. Ummm...this happens all the time? And yes, we want to counteract them with a bit of reason? But does telling people to think critically and come to their own conclusions equal dogmatic teaching and threats of hellfire? I think not.

I don’t know if atheists have a holy book, but if they do, I’d like to bring it to that table. And see what fiction novel they give me in return for my fiction book. No, we don't, since atheism isn't a religion, but if you can read the sign, we do include "Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" as a religious book to be fair. We even accepted someone trading a fiction book for a copy of the Koran we had. We're pretty lenient! Anything to get people reading, and that includes learning about other religions. Heck, most atheists say reading holy books is what made them atheists!

I wonder why they didn’t just set up a table that said, “don’t talk to me, you won’t like me.” It would have gotten their point across better. Because there are plenty of people who do like us for doing this.

However, I wasn’t terribly offended. Could have fooled me. If some brainless thanks college kids think that religion is a hoax, then I’m not at all surprised. College students are probably the least religious group of individuals in our nation. Think about it in this sense; these kids are enjoying their newfound freedom that comes along with leaving home and becoming an adult. They can do whatever they want, so why would they want some greater power in charge of them? Because there's absolutely no evidence for a greater power, and some people cannot be open about their beliefs until they're away from overbearing parents. This isn't some rebellion against God...that would make as much sense as rebellion against the Tooth Fairy. We are, however, terrified that people with university level education can still believe in something as equally silly, or be offended at the idea that others don't think the same way as them.

This is just how I perceive all of this in order to not get too upset about people claiming my religion is “fiction.”
So he admits that he's just making up reasons about why he shouldn't be upset? Maybe instead he should ask himself why he's upset. Does he have doubts that he's ignoring? Has he never even thought about this before? Is he too scared that he's been believing in something that's not true all these years? It's natural to be annoyed and even afraid, but don't take it out on us. In fact, getting people to question beliefs they've taken for granted is the main point of this event. So I guess in a way, we've succeeded.

Oh well, I'm honestly not that upset. I just like replying to people. And honestly, if we made some people cranky, so be it. We've already had a bunch of new people sign up to our mailing list, including one of the campus bus drivers. Maybe we can ask her to drive our future atheist bus!

Internet addiction #573

If you need to get anything productive done today, don't click this link. If you have nothing better to do, enjoy.

Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign Pt 2

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign has officially launched with a snazzy video! Yeah, I know I mentioned it a couple days ago, but I guess I jumped the gun a bit. Man those people at IU have some kickass AV skills. Always making Purdue look bad...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sometimes, logic fails me

I like to consider myself a rational person, but I'm not perfect. Case and point, me earlier today:

"You know, I've gained a couple pounds recently. I should really try to eat healthier. Maybe I'll try cutting pop out of my diet again, that definitely worked freshman year. And I should really reduce the amount of meat I eat. It's not good for you, and it hurts the environment. I'll look up some vegetarian recipes so I can eat better."

Compare this to me ten minutes ago:

"OMG Insomnia Cookies is giving away six free cookies? Yes!! What, I need a five dollar minimum to order? Well I guess 11 cookies isn't that bad, especially when more than half of them are free. Maybe I can just spread them out and only eat one a day, that's not that bad right? Wooohooooo, the cookies are here! Om nom nom nom. Ooops, I just ate three in about twelve seconds."

What can I say, delicious cookies are my kryptonite =(

Dealing with religion in your family

Like I've said before, I don't really come from a religious family. While both of my parents went to church as children, they're both now pretty atheistic/agnostic. Both of my half-brothers were also forced to go to church by my dad's first wife, to the chagrin of my dad, but they're also not very religious now. The problem started once my brother (the younger of the two) got married.

Now, I love my in-laws - they're honestly great people. I still don't think they're very religious, as they never really bring anything up. I think they're more traditional than anything. My brother and his wife got married in a chapel, had a fairly liberal wishy-washy Christian ceremony, some of the extended in-laws go to church every Sunday, my twin nephews were baptized but no one seemed to take it super seriously...etc.

However, there is religion sneaking in, and this is where I'm concerned.

Now, my sister-in-law's Grandma is wonderfully nice, don't get me wrong. But Great-Grandma is definitely the most religious one of the bunch. At their baptism, she got them two little stuffed lambs that said the Lord's prayer when you poked their bellies. Christmas had some vaguely religious toy that I forget. This Easter the twins got "My First Bible," a shiny picture book. I tried to keep my eyes from bugging out too much when I saw it. My sister-in-law's aunt snatched it up gleefully and turned to a 4-year old girl there (daughter of a family friend):

Aunt: Ooooo, so have you heard the story of Adam and Eve?
Girl: (completely uninterested) No. (continues to play with her toy)
Aunt: ...Oh (horrified look at how a four year old could not have been exposed to this by now)

While they're not my kids, they are my nephews. I still feel mildly responsible for them, and I'd hate to see them indoctrinated into religion. I'm not sure what I can really do, though. I don't feel comfortable outing myself as an atheist to that part of my family, especially since I'm the boy's Godmother. I lied in a church (along with my oldest brother) that I was a good Christian and would raise the boys in a good Christian manner, because that was the better alternative than coming out (and I really didn't have much of a choice, long story). My brother and sister-in-law would probably be fine with it, since I don't think they're that religious, but I'm afraid the knowledge would spread past them.

I so want to buy them "Parenting Beyond Belief" for Christmas, but I can't without other family members seeing them opening it. Should I just be the geeky aunt who buys the boys dinosaur toys and chemistry sets and Legos? Nature documentaries and Bill Nye and stuff about the Big Bang? His Dark Materials to counteract the Chronicles of Narnia? Maybe I can try to instill scientific thinking and hope that does the trick. I don't want to indoctrinate them into atheism or anything - I just hate to see them indoctrinated at all, because children can be so impressionable.

Maybe I should worry about all of this once they're actually able to, you know, talk. And of course, who knows. Maybe by the time they can read, Richard Dawkins will come out with his long awaited sequel to the God Delusion:
You can tell I made this a while ago, because Hillary Duff is old news. Hannah Montana is the shiznit now. Or so I'm told.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Community of Churches?

So during my drive to my brother's for Easter (I wasn't driving, so no murderous road rage, promise!) we passed by the town for South Holland, IL. As I was peering out the window, I noticed their slogan on their water tower and cursed myself for not getting a photograph. But thankfully the powers of the internet have saved me once again:
In case you can't read that, it says "South Holland: Faith, Family Future." The other side of the water tower, which I couldn't find a photo of, said "A community of churches" and showed two hands clasped in prayer.

...So, separation of church and state, eh? Are towns seriously allowed to do that? Maybe the word "Faith" alone isn't too bad - while the connotation is definitely religious, you could argue the town supports faith in their children, their neighbors, their basketball team...whatever. I'll let it slide. But "A community of churches" with stereotypical Christian imagery is certainly promoting not just religion over nonreligion, but specifically Christianity. It doesn't say "A community of churches, mosques, temples, mandirs, atheistic coffee houses, etc."

Is it okay for a town to label itself like this? I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable if I lived there, being constantly reminded by a giant water tower that I'm not a part of my town's supposed virtues. What do you think?

EDIT: Here's a link to their website, which also uses the slogan.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Road rage

I came up with some interesting ideas for posts today, but they're going to have to wait. I have something far more important than the religious indoctrination of young children and the lack of separation between church and state in a small town I drove though. What could possibly more important than that, you ask? Only the most terrifying, dangerous threat to our country's safety.

Indiana drivers.

I swear that Indiana drivers are some of the worst fucking drivers in the country. Granted, I haven't visited every state, but out of the ones I've driven through, I haven't had to reconsider my belief in God just so I could start praying after I've been cut off or tailgated for the 50th time in an hour drive. The only other time I find myself yelling "motherfucker!!!" quite as much is when I'm playing Mario kart, but you know what? In Mario kart soccer moms in SUVs don't cut you off and then slow down to 65 miles per hour just to piss you off. Or if they did, you could at least fucking red shell their ass.

My drive home normally takes an hour and a half, and this time it lasted nearly three hours. I knew there was a small patch of construction, but I had driven through it two weeks ago at the same time of night, and there wasn't a soul on the road. I-65 is usually fairly empty anyway. But nooooo, today was Easter, so every Christian in the state of Indiana decides this would be a great time to drive back. I'm on the road for a measly 15 miles before I come to a complete stop. At first I'm just like, ok, that's cool, I'll jam out to my music a bit, this is probably just because of the construction, ha that trucker has "National Flash a Trucker Week" written on their bumper, oh look a cute little doggie... Which soon turns into hmm, I haven't moved an inch in the past five minutes, oooh awesome I just got to coast for ten feet, I guess I'll text message my friends because I'm not moving, joy!

Friend: do you have to go to the bathroom?
Me: ...not yet

I moved a total of four miles in a 50 minute period. Eventually I called my parents to see if there were any alternate routes. The next exit was 6 miles away, which did have an alternate route, but still didn't bode well for the mental calculations in my head. I finally make it to the actual construction, where the road had been narrowed to one lane. The speed finally picked up at that point. Oh look, I thought, a rest stop before the exit! Well that's at least nice for all the people who may need to use the bathroom after that horrible mess. Oh, whoops, it's closed. That's just too convenient. I hope all your egg casseroles are settling well with the chocolate bunnies, because there's no fucking escape.

And you know, I was actually ok up until this point. I figure there's nothing the actual drivers can do about it being narrowed to one lane, no point getting upset. But that's when people started showing their true Hoosier colors. You know what, the speed limit is 70. You shouldn't even be in the left lane unless you're passing someone, but if you are, you should at LEAST be going 75, and that's an incredibly conservative estimate. The only thing worse than someone driving the speed limit in the left lane is a fucking bipolar person who can't decide between 67 and 87. Cruise control was invented for a reason, and even if you're driving some jalopy that doesn't have it, I would think your margin of error on keeping your car going at a constant speed is a little better than +/- 10 miles per hour.

Then you get the opposite problem with people who are too lazy to lift their pinky toe to accelerate more than their cruise control for a little bit. Oh, but I am passing someone, you say! I'm just going 0.00001 miles per hour faster then them, so it's going to take me 500 hours to actually pass them, and I'll hold up traffic in the mean time! Hm, I wonder why I have a trail of 50 cars closely stacked behind me, even though there's not a car on the road in front of me? Hmmm, I guess I'll ignore that! Thank you, passive-aggressive passing bastard! How I wish I had a battling ram on my car!

Oh, and hello there Mr. Semi Truck who can't stay in your lane! I know my mother always told me to share, but I'm not quite sure I'm comfortable with sharing my lane with you. I kind of like a little more personal space when you can potentially squish me into tiny bits. I hope you don't take it personally. Oh, and the possibility that you probably haven't slept for 48 hours, and the only thing keeping you awake is Mountain Dew and uppers you stole from your kid? Totally comforting.

And to top it all off, my alignment decided this would be the best time to act up. I looked like a 3 year old who had just snorted pixie stix and grabbed a plastic steering wheel, jiggling it back and forth in order to keep the car going in a straight line. Of course, this is the best time for passive-aggressive passing bastard to decide he needs to hover next to you. Maybe I can break and he'll pass-nope, now for some ungodly reason he's slowing down. Awesome. Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Maybe I'm being too harsh blaming Indiana drivers for my woes. Yeah, you know, it's not their fault the roads were busy today. It's Jesus's fault. Fuck you, Jesus. All your being born and dying and undying and thus creating over celebrated holidays leads to fucking terrible traffic. Why don't you try to spread out your miracles into more frequent but less important occasions next time so you don't mess up transportation as much, okay?


Happy Zombie Jesus Day!

I'm leaving in a couple hours for time with my family, delicious food, and egg hunting. I'll probably be gone all day, so consider the comments an open forum if you get bored. I know not every atheist is busy celebrating something they don't believe in!

Here are my favorite memories about Easter:

- Dying Easter eggs with my grandma (who is the most amazing grandma in the world) was always the best. The traditional Greek way is to dye all the eggs red, but she'd crack out the other colors and crayons just for me. Even now that she just does the traditional eggs, she always dies one blue for me, because that's my favorite color. This is why I love the smell of vinegar, because it always reminds me of dying eggs.

- One of the fun Greek traditions is a little game you get to play with the hard boiled colored eggs. Each person takes an egg, and you get to smash the tip of your egg onto the tip of another person's. Only one egg will crack (don't ask me the physics there, just trust me). After going around the table, the last person with the uncracked egg is supposed to have good luck for a year. There always seemed to be one super egg, and we joked that my grandma was pouring concrete into some of them. I think this is supposed to represent cracking open Jesus's tomb or something, and you're supposed to say Christos Anesti (Christ has risen) while doing it, but whatever. I just like smashing other people's eggs.

- One year when I was about 7, my grandma asked me why we celebrate Easter. I of course happily answered, "Because that's when the Easter bunny comes!" Whoops. Needless to say, she wasn't too happy with my mom over the fact that I had never even heard of Jesus or God by that point. Oddly enough this is the only time I remember my grandparents explicitly mentioning religion. I wonder if they've just given up on me in that area?

- My parents would hide plastic eggs around the house filled with candy or quarters, which holy crap is a lot of money to a little kid! I always loved looking for them, but after a couple years I had memorized where all the good hiding spots were, so instead of an "Egg Hunt" it was more like a "Methodical Egg Retrieval." One year I was playing upstairs in my room, and they rang the door bell pretending it was the Easter bunny. "The Easter Bunny was here, you just missed him!" they said. Wow, was I pissed. Why the hell didn't they warn me the Easter bunny was here?! Didn't they think I'd want to meet him?! Couldn't they have made him wait just a minute?! These are the potential anxieties you're instilling in your children whenever you perpetuate fictional characters, haha.

See you tomorrow, the real holiday to celebrate - Half Priced Easter Candy Day!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My favorite dinner-time prayer yet

Tomorrow I'll be going to my brother's house for Easter. We're not really a religious family, so there's no big anxiety in going. We're the type of family who celebrates all the different holidays without any of the religious mumbo-jumbo attached. Christmas is always Family + Presents, and Easter is always Family + Chocolate Bunnies (Though x2, because I'm half Greek. Woohoo!). The in-laws are pretty much the same way, though they're religious enough that they occasionally go to church, and they had my nephews baptized (and I'm the Godmother...they kind of don't know I'm an atheist. Whoopsie). They do traditions, but I've never heard them talk about it or treat it too seriously.

This usually leads to great fun when it comes to the dinner time prayer, especially since my not-exactly-religious brother is seen as the new "head of the house." He's achieved greatness far beyond my dad, who's longest prayer was probably "Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub" to the chagrin of my Greek Orthodox grandparents.

This Thanksgiving was my favorite so far:

Sister-in-law: Why don't you say a prayer?
Brother: (who has had a little to drink by now) Um, sure. Give me a second. (looks very contemplative) Dear God, thank you for bringing us together today, for our health, and for this meat that we have killed and smoked. Amen.
My side of the family: (desperately tries to stifle giggles)
Sister-in-law: ...
Brother: What?
Sister-in-law: I don't know, what about our sons? (who were born premature, are fine now)
Brother: (innocently) They were part of "health."
Sister-in-law: (sigh) Really, for the meat we smoked and killed?
Brother: No, no, killed, then smoked. What you said would just be cruel.
Sister-in-law: (exasperated wife-ly look)

Now you know why I'm excited for tomorrow!

Anyone else have some classic dinner time prayers?

Bumper stickers

So before I left for my drive home, I finally attached my Darwin Fish car emblem that I had bought back on Darwin Day. It now proudly sits opposite my Obama sticker. Though I have to say, I'm a little nervous driving with it now. I know whenever I see some jerk taking up two parking spaces, or cutting someone off, or tailgating, and then I see the "Marriage = Man + Woman" or equally annoying bumper sticker staring back at me...I can't help but think "Ha, well that explains it!" I know it's a bad thing to do, but it happens. I don't want to accidentally do some crappy driving and have someone go "Ha, a heathen, well that explains it!" I'm honestly more worried about that then someone keying my car, or snapping the Darwin fish's legs off (which happened to my friend).

Of course, I've been known to care too much about what people think of me, so maybe I'm just a little crazy.

Anyone share my opinion, or have some cool bumper stickers? I need to dig around and find my Republicans for Voldemort sticker. It's here somewhere, and would make the perfect addition!

Home for the weekend

I'm home for the weekend for Easter. Ironic, I know, but my family isn't really religious at all. This is mostly an excuse to get together, gorge ourselves with delicious food, and play with my twin nephews. They're one and a half now, and I'm so excited to see them running around like crazy! My parents only live about an hour and a half away, so it's not really a long trip. Though every time I drive home, I do get to see my favorite sign that tells me I'm getting close:
Wow, thank you, road sign. You know, I've considered myself an atheist my entire life, but your gawdy, giant glory on the side of the highway has made me reconsider. Thank you.

I probably shouldn't be on the computer, since I haven't really seen my parents in months, but they're currently enthralled by the Biggest Television Event for Suburban White People Over 50 (aka, the Masters). I played competitive golf in high school, but watching it on TV is torture, ugh. No Mom, I don't care that blade of grass fell on Tiger's pants funny and gave him a grass stain. Sigh.

Well, I'm going to go be social and suffer through some golf. As an present, I'll show you what I'll see on the sign when I drive back to Purdue:
Every time I pass this I think, "Yes, and I'm currently entering it."

Mmm, nerds <3

Dilbert explains it all:
Though I have to say, I'm having a horrible track record with all the computer nerds I've dated. I hate to propagate the stereotype, but they've all had the emotional capacity of a nematode. Next time I'm aiming for a biologist.

Speaking of nerdiness, here are the classes I'm taking next semester:
- Senior Seminar in Genetics (One hour a week of discussing genetics. Woo?)
- Sex & Evolution (I've been dying to take this class since I got here, but it's only offered every other year. I'm psyched! Why do we have sex? Why do (most) species have two sexes? Weeeee!)
- General Physics 2 (Oh god, so close to being done...Sorry for all you physicists, but it's just not my thing. Now, if it was Elegant Universe kind of theoretical wacky physics, I'd be all in. But I hate doing nothing but math filled with trick questions, bah!)
- Population Genetics (This may be a mistake. I'm taking this as my "fun" elective...yeah, a 500 level graduate course. Oh boy.)
- Senior Biology Labs (Protein Expression and DNA Sequencing. Still waiting to hear back if I can get out of DNA sequencing, since I just spent a summer doing an independent research project where I was sequencing. I'll be sad if I have to do it all over again.)
- Honors Thesis Research (Still have to pick my topic with my advisor...there are too many ideas floating around now!)

The masochistic part of me still wanted to TA one of the intro biology labs to get some teaching experience before grad school, but looking at my schedule, that may be a bad idea. I guess it really depends if I get out of that one lab or not. I could still TA in the spring, but I'd sort of like to be able to put teaching experience on my resume for when I'm applying. Any thoughts? Other than the fact that I'm a giant nerd?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sperm Bank Sued for Supplying Bad Sperm

I don't have any professional training in ethics or law, but I can tell this is sure going to open up a can of worms. A 13 year old girl with Fragile X syndrome, which can lead to varying degrees of learning disability, is suing a sperm bank under product liability law. The sperm she was conceived with, which her mother bought from the bank in question, carried the genetic disorder (genetically, it's fairly easy to show it didn't come from mom).
"Donovan does not have to show that Idant was negligent, only that the sperm it provided was unsafe and caused injury. "It doesn't matter how much care was taken," says Daniel Thistle, the lawyer representing Donovan, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."
According to Wikipedia (which we know is infallible), sperm donors may be subjected to various levels of genetic testing. Does anyone know if there are laws requiring them to test for certain disorders? I'd imagine some would be a good idea to test for, especially if they're dominantly inherited and late-onset like Huntington's*. Most recessive alleles are rare enough that there's not as much reason to test - that is, the odds of two random people carrying the same allele is incredibly low. At first glance you may think it's a good idea to hold sperm banks responsible for testing. I mean, you're selling a product, and you don't want to give someone a horrible disease, right?

Well, things aren't as simple as they seem. No two sperm are identical, and errors do occur. A single point mutation that occurs at extremely high rates is the cause of the most common form of dwarfism. A one in a million occurrence isn't going to show up in any sort of genetic testing you may do on a semen sample. The same holds true for any sort of disorder that results from aberrant chromosome number (Down Syndrome, Klinefelter's Syndrome, etc).

Even family history can't always alert us to a problem. This girl's situation is the perfect example. Fragile-X is a dominant X-linked disorder, so you should be able to see it in males, right? Well, not exactly. Fragile-X is caused by having too many trinucleotide repeats, much like Huntington's. Trinucleotide repeats like to do this thing called genetic anticipation, where in every generation they expand and make more and more copies. So while daddy's repeat number (and all of his family members') may be in the "normal" range, after expansion, there may be enough repeats to cause the syndrome. The number can also vary from sperm to sperm, so there's no good way to test this.

So you can see why if she wins, this is going to set a scary precedent. Sperm banks can screen like crazy, but there's always the possibility of getting some bad sperm. It's ridiculous to think you can sue them because something turns out wrong. Anyone who's ever reproduced is taking that same risk. In fact, it's probably lower because most people don't do genetic screening unless there's reason to be afraid. Sperm bank sperm is probably a safer bet than your man. So, should you be able to sue your spouse for providing bad genetic material? I certainly don't think so, but who knows...maybe the ensuing paranoia over reproducing would help fight our overpopulation problem.

Let's hope the judge on this case has some basic understanding of genetics.

*Of course, then you get into the whole ethical debate about whether or not to notify the donor or his children if he does have Huntington's...but that's a whole other issue.