Sunday, May 31, 2009

Oh old board games

So I went home this weekend to see family and friends. Whenever my friend Mike and I get together, for some unholy reason we play Trivial Pursuit (the most aptly named board game ever). It usually starts off fun, but ends in me throwing pieces after I've missed my wedge question for Sports & Leisure or Entertainment for the 15th time. Though this time was special - I couldn't find our new version of the game, so we had to settle for my parents' ancient 1981 version. Just to give you some perspective on how hard that is for us, I was born in 1987, Russia was the USSR, and you have to differentiate between East and West Germany.

But what was the worst category? Science and Nature. Usually that's my go-to subject, but the questions were so ridiculous I had to write some of them down. My four favorites:

Q: What's the only mammal that can't fly that can fly?
Me: ...Are you kidding me?
A: Man
Mike: That sounds more like a joke than a trivia question.

Q: What sign of the zodiac falls between Nov 22 and Dec 21?
Me: What the hell?!?!?! Why is there an astrology question in SCIENCE and NATURE?!
A: Sagittarius (Unfortunately I knew it anyway, I was a big astrology buff back in the day...I know, we all have our shortcomings)
And then we proceeded to get FIVE MORE astrology questions throughout the game. I can only imagine how many there were total.

Q: Name the three Kingdoms of nature.
Me: Three?? Aren't there like, five kingdoms? Damnit, old game.
Mike: Well, what are the five?
Me: Um...animals, plants, fungi, protists, and bacteria or whatever. Hm...what three would they say in 1981... I'm going to say Animals, plants, and bacteria.
A: Animal, vegetable, mineral
Me: What the hell?! Mineral isn't even a living thing! (And upon further inspection, the five kingdoms were developed in 1969, so screw you Trivial Pursuit)

Q: What's considered the most highly specialized mammal?
Me: ...Well technically each mammal is highly specialized for the particular niche it evolved in. What the hell is this even asking?
A: The whale
Me: I hate this game

In conclusion, don't play old versions of Trivial Pursuit unless you want to be frustrated, or you want a unique outlook on how far we've come in science in the last 30 years. Or you want to watch your scientist friends throw mini tantrums.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Judge refuses to dismiss National Day of Prayer case

From AP (short enough that I'll just copy and paste the whole thing):
"MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit that claims the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled this week the case brought by the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation can move forward with discovery.

A federal law sets the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray.

Crabb says the nation's largest group of atheists and agnostics faces a heavy burden in proving the tradition violates the separation of church and state. But she says it should have an opportunity to do so.

The Obama administration and National Day of Prayer Task Force filed motions to dismiss the case, but Crabb rejected them as premature."

Great to see that a judge is at least willing to hear the case. We obviously haven't won anything yet, but it's a first step. I don't see how you could possibly interpret a federal law proclaming a day of prayer as constitutional. It scares me a bit that the Obama administration was one of the groups trying to dismiss the case. Anyone know anything more about that? If that's true, shame on you, Obama administration. They keep doing more and more stuf that makes me uneasy...

Human FOXP2 in Chimps - Ethical or not?

Jerry Coyne, one of my favorite evolutionary biologists who blogs over at Why Evolution is True, talked about the mouse FOXP2 experiment I mentioned the other day. He definitely took a bit of the wind out of my sails, since I had gotten pretty excited, but he's probably more realistic than I am about this thing. However, one thing got to me:
"Of course the definitive experiment, swapping a human or chimp gene with the copy from the other species, and observing the result, is unethical."
Noooooo! There goes my experiment.

But seriously. Forgive me if I'm just being a naive young scientist - I am but a lowly undergrad - but why would one argue that doing this experiment with a chimp would be unethical? He states it like it's such an obvious black and white issue - "Of course" it's unethical. But I would be more inclined to view it as a gray area. It's highly unlikely we'd create apes who run around speaking French ala Michael Crichton's Next. Many more genes than FOXP2 control the various brain and throat structures associated with human speech for us to see this happen.

Do we just have some special connection with chimps because they're our cousins? If so it seems like we're applying the Scala Naturae to our ideas of what's okay to experiment on and what's not (one of my big pet peeves). Fruit flies and mice are just lowly creatures, but a chimpanzee is too close to the "perfection" of humans to fiddle with. I know we experiement on chimpanzees - but why are those studies okay, yet this one wouldn't be?

I'm not necessarily defending my half-joking experiment of sticking FOXP2 in chimps and seeing what happens. I'm just honestly curious what people think and the reasoning behind these ethics. There's no "Ethics in Science 101" class we're all required to take (though there should be), so I love talking about this kind of stuff. What do you think? Is putting the human gene for "speech" into chimpanzees going too far? Where do we draw the line?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Evolving Robot Behavior

Yet another reason why science is freaking amazing. Swiss scientists have a population of robots, and they're watching their behavior evolve. Each robot had LEDs and photodetectors, and its habitat consists of battery-charging "food" zones, and battery-draining "poison" zones. Their programming is initially random, and after they've traveled around their habitat a certain amount of time, the scientists turn them off and select the robots with the highest battery life. The programming from these robots gets combined and is used in the next generation.

Repeated enough times, and you start seeing trends. The robots "learn" to approach the food and stay away from the poison. Not only that, but you see the emergence of cheaters and helpers. Cheaters lure robots to the poison, only to go eat the food now that the other robots are busy being poisoned. And the helpers go stand by the poison and warn other robots with their blinky lights to not come near it.

How freaking cool is that? I for one welcome our new robot overlords. I just hope the equilibrium frequency for cheaters stays low.

Mice given human speech gene

Man, science is so cool. Stuff like this is why I'm a geneticist. The FOXP2 gene is considered the "language gene" in humans. People who have nonfunctional versions of the gene have a hard time controlling the fine movements in the face needed for forming words, and their areas of the brain associated with language are less active. FOXP2 is found throughout the animal kingdom and is associated with vocalization and song learning. It is also highly conserved - except in humans. While mice and chimpanzees have the same version of the gene, humans have two non synonymous mutations - that is, two different amino acids.

So what did these scientists do? They stuck the human version of FOXP2 into mice to see what would happen. No, the mice didn't start talking like Mickey, but they showed changes in brain structure that is associated with human speech and had different ultrasonic vocalizations. Unfortunately we're not fluent in Mouseish, so we don't know if these mouse pups are suddenly speaking at a Shakespearean level, but it's still pretty neat.

This is especially exciting because we kept coming back to this topic in my Eukaryotic genetics class. Our professor was telling us the above information about FOXP2. "What if you put a human FOXP2 in a chimpanzee?" a student asked. "I wonder what would happen." Half of the class's eyes twinkled with mad scientist glee (the half that will be researchers, not med students I assume). Our professor sort of laughed nervously. "I don't know, have fun getting an ethics committee to accept that." I turned to one of my friends and mouthed, presumably with an evil grin, "I'm gonna do it!!" and it turned into a running joke for the class. She's the one who sent me the article. We haven't been scooped quite yet, but almost!! I better get crackin' on my talking chimp.

Wikipedia bans Church of Scientology

People using IP addressed owned by the Church of Scientology will no longer be able to edit Wikipedia articles. Apparently members of the church have kept trying to edit articles to be pro-Scientology, which goes against Wikipedia's neutrality rules.

Ha.

Seriously though, Scientology creeps me out big time. It's scary how much they try to control and censor anyone talking about their organization. People like to point out how it's just a cult, but really, it's not that much different than other religions - they're just cults that have somehow become socially acceptable. Hopefully Scientology never reaches that point, but you never know...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

And Japan fills in for Jennifer

I'm lacking inspiration at the moment - sorry folks. I'd like to blame the drugs, but I'm done with them and actually feeling great. I'm going home for the weekend, so maybe driving through rural Indiana will inspire me. Until then here are some videos from Japan that scare me and make me laugh at the same time:





Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is a battle ever too hard to even bother?

I mentioned a couple of days ago that our student group was going to start fighting religious aspects of our public university's graduation program (I didn't get many comments, so I'm going to assume you all just sort of passively agreed with me). I sent out an email to our club for feedback, and I received a lot of great advice on who to contact, various things to consider, etc. Most of the feedback was positive and contained the humble comment that this was going to be a difficult battle. I'm fully aware of that, especially knowing Purdue. It's an extremely conservative university, and it...well, generally ignores any student activism that takes place about its policies.

But I received one email that was a bit of a downer from a staff member at Purdue (who I know to be an atheist activist). He said the Provost would surely politely blow us off, promising to look into it but never speaking to us again. I thought, yeah, so what? I know it's going to be difficult and we'll have to deal with bureaucratic bullshit, but we know what to do. He then told me to not even bother, and to spend the club's efforts doing projects we could actually succeed at.

Well boo on him.

At what point do we just sit down and shut up because doing anything would be too difficult? Because it would likely lead to failure? Even if we can't get the obnoxious "Amen" singing removed, our fight is at least symbolic. We're showing the university that we don't agree with what they're doing, and we're showing others who agree with us that they're not alone. I mean, you could have told all the Anti-Prop8 protesters to just go home, because judges obviously aren't going to be swayed by some signs (well, hopefully), but should they have? No, I don't think so.

I think this is a problem the atheist movement faces a lot mostly from the outside - people asking why we're so angry, what's the point, don't we have better things to do? It's just a bit disheartening when I hear a fellow atheist telling me "Don't bother." If we don't bother, who will? If the national government wants to institute a time for prayer in school, do we just sit back and say "Well Big Brother is too strong. No way they'd listen to us," and throw our hands up in the air? No, we try our damnedest to fight it.

I think this can all be summed up by one of my favorite quotes:
"Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy." - Albus Dumbledore
This club has waited two years building up our good reputation before attempting something that will likely piss off the campus. Now's the time to do what's right.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not Cool, California

"California high courts upholds same-sex marriage ban"

California, I am very disappointed in you. You've been moved to the list of "Very Uncool States." Yeah, I'm grouping you with the likes of Alabama and Arkansas now. How does that feel?

Sigh. At least they're letting all the marriages performed before Prop 8 remian. I can't imagine how horrible it would be to tell someone "Nope, your marriage doesn't count any more." Probably only a little worse than "Nope, you're love doesn't count enough to get married."

Grumble grumble.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tylenol 3 + Benzonatate = Crazy Iron Chef Sleep Walking

I guess the meds they put me on are extra special. I'm feeling pretty good today (only mild stuffiness and medium coughing now!) but I haven't slept well in days. Why? I've had crazy pseudo-sleep walking experiences that keep waking me up. I say pseudo-sleep walking because I'm sort of aware of what I'm doing, enough that I can remember it, but I'm like a slave to my bizarre dreams. And what have all my bizarre dreams been about?

Iron Chef.

This is what I get for watching almost nothing but the Food Network since Wednesday.

I'll basically dream about cooking some sort of recipe, then I find myself sitting up in my bed with my mind telling me to move around the room to finish cooking things. I've actually found myself molding my sheets into shapes, moving around to sit at my desk, and walking to the bathroom. The part that makes this hilarious and scary to me is that I'm conscious enough to know it's ridiculous, but I feel like I can't fight it. To give you an idea of how surreal this is, this is almost verbatim what has been going through my head:

Dream Jen: Ok you need to compare the two dishes, are they finished cooking?
Me: Two dishes? I don't see food
Dream Jen: Come on, the cuban is to your left and the hamburger is to your right.
Me: *looks at bundled up sheets to her left and right* Oh, of course.
Dream Jen: Well you better finish cooking them
Me: But..but what am I supposed to do? I don't have cooking supplies here
Dream Jen: Yes you do! Use your grill!
Me: *goes over and sits by desk and stares at it* This grill isn't working right... I think it's just a desk
Dream Jen: No, it IS a grill
Me: ..But....
Dream Jen: Why haven't you chosen the best dish yet? What are you doing?
Me: I'm so confused =(
Dream Jen: Well it's time for dessert. Go get dessert.
Me: *goes into the bathroom, where dessert is apparently held* Why am I in the bathroom? I don't need to pee.
Dream Jen: The theme is religious cookies. Grab the ones with the crosses on them.
Me: Oh, ok *grabs some toilet paper* I think I'm going to go back to bed now...
Dream Jen: No! You can't sleep until you finish your challenge! Pick the best dish!
Me: But this is just my bed sheet. Gahhh =(

Then I force myself to flatten out my entrées/sheets, sleep for two more hours, then repeat. This has happened the last two nights. Yeah, I think my mind is a little fucked up right now.

I shouldn't be too surprised, since I used to do this as a little kid. In the middle of the night I would walk into my parents bedroom and ask for random stuff, they would just say "Go back to sleep, Jennifer," I'd turn back to my room and sleep, and not remember a thing about it. My mom was always afraid I was going to sleepwalk and tumble down the stairs or something. I still occasionally do the weird sitting up in bed while still asleep thing (which I didn't realize was sleep walking for a while), mostly when I'm stressed. It was never an issue until I got my first roommate my freshman year. She saw me doing it one night and she thought I was possessed or something, ahahaha.

But yeah, usually sitting up isn't followed by a cooking competition. At least no one was sleeping next to me, or I may have tried to tenderize them.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

To the dark side!

Well, I've done it. I've finally been lured to the dark side. Maybe this was just a moment of weakness caused by the drugs - yes, yes, I'll blame them - but, well... I've joined Twitter. *sobs*

I tried to hold off for so long, knowing the last thing I needed was another internet addiction...but I guess I just couldn't help myself. Sigh. Well, as long as I'm there, why don't you follow me? I tend to have a lot of random silly thoughts, so it should be interesting to say the least.

Religion at Purdue's Graduation

Hey everyone. First I'd like to thank all of you for your well wishes. I'm still feeling crappy, but my fever is gone so that's a giant relief. I want to apologize ahead of time if my posts for the next couple of days aren't as well written/coherent/witty as normal. I've been writing emails and IMing friends, and after I reread what I wrote I think "What the hell does that even mean?" Or worse, I'll be in the middle of writing something and I'll just end up blankly staring at the screen for a while. I guess these drugs are just that good.

Anyway, onto atheisty stuff. So, Purdue's graduation ceremony ("commencement" technically) has many religious elements that our student organization is going to try to take care of. I have been to graduation for a friend and heard many identical reports from others, so that's where I'm getting my information. Purdue actually has four separate commencements divided by schools since we have way too many people to fit in Elliot Hall of Music. Each of these contain these general elements:

- A talk by a religious leader from the community. There's a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, and a Muslim. Sounds like a set up for a bad joke, eh? Anyway, each commencement gets one of these, not all four at one commencement. I'll get back to this.
- Following the talk is a "moment of reflection." Aka, prayer by another name - the vast majority of the audience prays during this time. But hey, maybe it's not meant to be religious, right?
- Following this the choir breaks out into song singing "Amen" over and over again for a couple minutes while the backdrop screen shows clouds serenely floating by. Whoops. Guess it is meant to be religious.
- Other songs the choir sings are hymns (a friend had to point this out to me, since I wasn't really listening to what they were singing).

Back to the religious leaders. The one I saw (the Muslim) wasn't too overtly religious. He did mention God a couple times at the end though and finished with "Amen" (I guess my standards for "overtly religious" are pretty low). I've been told the other speakers were similar. I haven't seen them myself - Purdue streams its commencement live online, but I could never get the stupid codec for it to work.

They're obviously picking four different faiths to try to be diverse and inclusive, but this ultimately fails. The day you graduate depends on your school, not your religion - what if you're a Muslim stuck listening to the Catholic? A Jew listening to the Muslim? I hope this wouldn't matter, but when you're trying to seem all inclusive, it doesn't help when the people actually attending only see one. More importantly, how about the students who aren't represented? It's not just atheists - I know Purdue has a fairly significant Hindu community thanks to the Engineering program. What about them? Conveniently they've chosen all the Abrahamic religions...

Though honestly, I don't think it's worth the fight to get rid of the religious leaders all together. One, knowing Purdue this would be an impossible battle. But honestly I don't mind having a religious person talk if they're saying something intelligent. If we could just enforce a rule like not explicitly mentioning God or using religious terminology, I'd be okay with that compromise. If we had a local humanist chaplain I'd suggest having them talk, but unfortunately we don't. My biggest beef is with all the "Amen" excessive singing and hymns business. That's obviously completely inappropriate. Let people have their moment of reflection, but don't beat us over the head with the message that we're supposed to be praying.

Any advice on how to go about dealing with this? I'm basically thinking a petition or letters from students/staff/alumni about how graduation should remain secular, plus a long main letter from the club explaining why this is inappropriate at a public institution. Tips on successful petitions, who to talk to, what to include in the letter, etc would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Yay hospitals

So I finally broke down and went to the hospital today. If you know me well, you know I have to be feeling pretty horrible to actually go to the doctor. I was raised by the "unless you're dying, just suck it up" method, which was fine because I was never really seriously ill as a kid (just colds and such). But once my fever hit 103 and I was continuously hacking up a lung, I thought it may be smart to go. My friend was nice enough to drive me there as I tried not to cough all over him.

While I got in almost immediately, it ended up taking almost 3 hours. Twice I sat alone in the room for 40 minutes just waiting for the next test. I wondered if they had forgotten about me a couple times, and how long a normal person would wait before wandering out into the hallway. It went oddly fast to me since I think I ended up microsleeping a bit, but I felt bad for my friend sitting out in the waiting room. I really hoped he had brought something to do.

Him: Don't worry, I got through a lot of my book. I thought it might take a while for you to get in.
Me: Well that's good. What are you reading?
Him: ...Twilight.
Me: Nooooooooooooooo my sickness has enabled someone to read Twilight!!!

A lot of things about hospitals are kind of ridiculous. The first time I coughed they slapped one of those flu masks on me. I felt like I was in some weird post apocalyptic movie or something. I asked one of the nurses if they were standard or just for the swine flu scare, and she said they do them during flu season but they were specifically doing them for swine flu now. As cool as it would be to say you survived swine flu, I was kind of hoping it wasn't that.

They also wanted to do a chest x-ray (to make sure I hadn't literally coughed up a lung, I suppose) and they wanted to wheel me out on a bed to the x-ray room. A little odd, I thought, since I'm feverish and coughing but I can still, you know, walk, but whatever. Maybe that's just hospital protocol. So I hop on for the ride...and the x-ray room is literally across the hall. Really? Was that necessary? Though my favorite thing about being female and going to the doctor is how they ask you if you're pregnant a thousand times.

X-Ray lady: Is there any chance you may be pregnant?
Me: Probably not
X-Ray lady: Probably not? Here they marked you as "no."
Me: Well she asked if I was on birth control, and I am.
X-Ray lady: *not amused* ...Well we can do a quick pregnancy test to make sure. Do you want to?
Me, What I Wanted to Say: Honestly, it's highly unlikely that I'm pregnant. Yes, it's theoretically possible even with birth control, but you know what? If I was, I would without a doubt abort that thing. So x-ray away, you'll just be helping me out.
Me, What I Actually Said: Nah, I think I'm fine.

It's probably a good thing that she couldn't see me smirking under my flu mask.

Three hours and many (probably expensive) tests later, the nurse tells me "It's just (just?) bronchitis." You know, you think they would have just guessed that when I walked in coughing and feverish, and immediately told them that my friend had bronchitis. Sigh. Oh well. I'm still hacking to death, but now I have a slew of drugs that will hopefully kick in soon. Mmm tylenol with codeine. Maybe I'll actually be able to sleep tonight.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

There is a god, and she hates me

So in less than 48 hours I:

- got a flat tire
- developed a bad cough
- failed to get my tire fixed at Walmart
- got trapped in said Walmart for almost 2 hours
- developed a fever
- didn't sleep because of coughing and fever, even with Nyquil
- completely lost my voice
- had our water main break, so now we have to boil all of our water
- drank a glass of water before finding this out
- found out my flight to the Evolution conference in Idaho (which someone else booked for me) has a 9 hour layover in Seattle

I'm just waiting for the roof to collapse on me at this point. The fever bugs me the most. I hate the whole "I'm freezing where's the blanket, jk now I'm sweating, omg I'm freezing again, nope now I'm hot" thing. To add insult to injury, I have Katy Perry's "Hot N' Cold" stuck in my head, even though I don't think that song is supposed to be describing body temperature.

FML

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Walmartitis

Not only could Walmart not fix my tire (nail pierces the rim, apparently) and it took them 1 and a half hours to figure this out, but now I have a fever and I'm all achy. I blame extended exposure to Walmart =(

I'm going to go curl into a ball and take a nap and die now kthxbai

Trapped!

Oh god I'm trapped in Walmart for over an hour while they fix my car. Gahhh what do I do? There aren't even any good videogames on display!!! Aaaahhhh!!

Bah

Hi there, random gushing nosebleed. Man, you used to stop by all the time when I was younger, but I hadn't seen you in a while! I thought maybe you had forgotten about me. But no, you decided to stop by again - lovely. I would have preferred that you didn't wake me up at 5:30 am so I had to dart to the bathroom, but I know you're just unpredictable like that. At least I figured out you were coming before you decided to splatter yourself all over my pillow. And it's better than those times you drop in when I'm in class, or better yet, during an exam.

Grumble.

Damn you, fragile nasal capillaries in changing weather! My mom got this a lot when she was young too. I just can't wait until I reproduce and my children are running around spurting blood out of their noses too. Joy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rock Band adventures!

With House, Heroes, and ANTM over for the summer, I decided I needed a new fun distraction. I hadn't bought a new video game since Mario Kart Wii, so I decided to splurge and buy Rock Band 2. I had been debating about it forever, but now my excuse was that I have a job (moola!) and don't have any classes any more...so great idea, right?

So with the Froommate I go to pick up my Best Friend (his girlfriend, who will be my new froommate in the fall...yay confusing relationships). Me buying Rock Band 2 is a momentous and joyous occasion for all of us, especially them, since they get to reap the benefits without paying any money. As I'm pulling into her driveway, I hear a loud 'POP!'.

Me: That didn't sound good.
Froommate: No, no it didn't.

I get out of the car, and of course I have a flat tire. Thankfully Froommate has Man Training and changed the tire for me, while BF and I stood by and did our duty of supervising. Though in all honesty, we didn't think either of us would have been strong enough to do it, which is kind sad...and why I'm starting to exercise.

Me: Aren't you glad you showered before coming over?
Froommate: *sweaty greasy mess* =(
BF: Well, he shaved too, so that wasn't a waste.
Me: No, the pure manliness of changing a tire produced so much testosterone he's about to sprout a full beard!

Tire changed, we still made it to Game Stop to buy Rock Band 2, I bought him dinner as thanks, and we played for about 5 hours. Our band name is "Zinc Fingered." BF and I, both being biologists, think this about the funniest thing in the world. Froommate, a chemist, is probably wondering why zinc is such a humorous element. Oh well.

Tomorrow I get to actually...you know, work and look into finding new tires. I think my replacement isn't going to hang in there long, and I won't be surprised if it's flat in the morning. Sigh. Hooray for the real world.

This Professor business will never end, will it?

After the last cranky email I received from The Professor, I had had enough. I sent the following short email reply to him:
"I tried to explain the reasoning behind my review and even extend my apologies to you, but you chose to ignore that. I have no idea why you think I would be motivated to deliberately misrepresent your book, other than the fact that you simply cannot comprehend that you wrote something bad. These emails only expose how insecure you are, trying to cut down some random 21 year old on the internet. I suggest you take a deep breath and calm down before writing me any more emails, because you're really not doing yourself any favors acting this way.

And honestly, just because you paid some vanity publisher to publish your book doesn't mean you're any more of a professional writer than I am, nor does it mean I am unable to critique literature.

Jennifer"
I sent that on May 5th, and figured maybe this whole craziness was over since I never heard back. Maybe he took my advice on calming down before emailing me, and just was unable to calm down. Maybe I had upset him so much that this poor 80 year old man had a heart attack and died.

Me: Oh my god, I would feel so guilty. What if that happened?
Friend: Eh, I'm sure if he dropped dead one of your internet minions would forward you the obituary.
Me: Hmm, good point. *goes back to drinking their $1 long islands*

Though a note on the above quote: this insanity has become a great bar story when hanging out with my atheist friends. Anyway, I thought it was all over, but on May 15th I saw a new anonymous comment was left on "The Professor responds!":
"I read the above comments. I still love students but I don't know why. Think I'll have lunch and then start my next book to be titled "The Testicle Eaters." Or "God Likes Baloney Sanwiches." It could start with two kids walking accross the lawn behind a church and meeting a man with a long white beard (me again) eating a baloney sandwich with mayonnaise. I just posted with the friendly atheist.com. John Harrigan"
I paused as I read the ridiculous comment. The nonsensical, rambling writing style fit him, but really? God Likes Baloney Sandwiches? My friend insisted it was just some commenter trying to pull my leg, but I had never mentioned the testicle eating in the original book (yes, that is something the serial killer does). Only someone who read (or wrote) the book would know that fact. Maybe it was John Harrigan, and his subconscious was trying to admit that he's full of baloney.

I was going to let it slide, but then Hemant emailed me this funny PowerPoint Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists had made about the book (includes some hilarious things that I left out, like the testicle eating!). I figured I'd ask him if the Professor had contacted him, and he said yep, he left a long rambly comment on his post about the book. I won't copy and paste it, since it's basically his "editor's" praise of the book, but woo boy. I did find it mildly hilariously that he didn't think to delete his editor's phone number...very smart, Professor. Though please don't go calling the poor guy - the last thing we need is two upset 80 something year old men.

Will this ever end? Probably not, but I don't mind as long as 1. It keeps bringing readers to my blog 2. This poor man doesn't drop dead because of me and 3. I don't get sued (not that he'd really have a case, but I'd just like to avoid the situation). I still think John Harrigan and I could make big bucks off of "gobbler of whangs par excellence" merchandise. If only he was willing to cash in on the accidental ridiculousness of his book!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Atheist Buses Approved in South Bend

After initially being approved and then unapproved, the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign has been approved again to have its ad on buses in South Bend. It completely misses the point of advertising while Obama was in town for Notre Dame's graduation ceremony, but at least it was approved. One has to wonder if foul play was involved, though...

Because I'm a masochist, I decided to read the comments on the article. Oh boy. You know what, these don't even need my commentary. Let me show you some of the gems:
"Running scared transpo? Afraid of a law suit? I would let them sue. I would not give these idiots the time of day."

"I am appalled that we as citizens of a Christian nation are going to allow buses to have ads denouncing God. I am a veteran of a foreign war and I have seen enough crazy things in this world to let me know that there is most definitely a God. The 86% of us in this country need to tell this 14% minority to just be quiet and keep to themselves. Like the ten commandments debate on many courthouse steps; if you don't believe in God fine, but aren't the ten commandments a pretty good set of rules to live by anyways?"

"Exactly! This country and its democracy was built from Christian beliefs by Christian forefathers? Our money says, as a Nation "In God We Trust" If they don't like living in a Christian nation, then move! Don't use the Chrisian Money from the Christian nation if you're affraid some good Christian values might rub of on you. Remember God said love your neighbor. Actually the best thing we can do as Christians is to prey for those lost souls. Hopefully before they die, they will be saved."

"I agree 100% this is a sad statment to the condition of this country. We have gone from "In god we trust" to " it isn't wrong if you do not get caught" The Christian Majority need to stand up and say " this is not right""

"You can be good without God, but you will still go to Hell. Should be what it reads...... Sorry to burst the bubble."

"Thankfully we all have the right to choose our own religous preferances or none at all. Why atheists want to advertise the fact is beyond me. I don't see what they have to gain by this. Maybe it's the old "the devil made me do it" thing. Anyway, they will lose in the "end", literally."

"Atheists are stupid beyond belief.........how the hell do you think you got here..........................poof........I don't think so. The world is going to hell if you stupid people get ANY rights. God is GREAT"
And this is why we need to be vocal about our nonbelief.

By the way, there's also a poll to the right of the article asking if you think the ads should be allowed. Yes is failing miserably. I think you all know what you need to do.

(Via Friendly Atheist)

Humans vs. Animals

Many parts of this image annoy me (click for bigger version), but my biggest gripe is this quote: "Humans have long considered themselves truly unique. But it turns out that the better word from 'unique' is 'more advanced.'"

Sigh. No, "more advanced" isn't the better word. In fact, it's worse than unique. At least it's true that we're unique in that we have a certain combination of skills that other animals don't have, though I'd still argue all animals are unique. But viewing humans as more advanced than the rest of the animal kingdom is a fallacy. It goes back to the Scala Naturae, or the Great Chain of Being. This was the idea that everything in the universe could be ranked in order of how perfect or advanced it was, with God at the top and amoebas and dirt at the bottom. Mammals are better than birds, hawks are better than pigeons, trees that bear fruit we eat are better than ones we don't, etc.

But that's not how things work. Through evolution, everything has had the same amount of time on this planet to evolve. Bacteria are just as adapted to their environment as a tree or a tiger or a human. While they're less complex, I wouldn't say they're less advanced. Advanced implies that there's some end goal in mind that we're comparing them to, usually the wonderful Homo sapeins. Think of it this way. What if other animals considered themselves the most advanced, and were comparing us to them?

Dolphins: They can only hold their breath for a couple minutes? And they can't echolocate? Ha! Even bats can do that!

Ducks: They can't sleep with one half of their brain at a time? But what if a predator wants to come and eat them in the middle of the night! How will they escape if they don't keep one eye open? Man, they are goners!

Swallow: Humans can't instinctively migrate thousands of miles to a place they've never been before? They need maps and GPS, and they still get lost trying to find the Walmart that's 15 minutes away? Wow, just wow.

Clark's nutcracker: I can remember where I stored thousands of seeds across a 15 mile area over the winter, and you can't even find your car keys. Humans.

Thermus aquaticus: A toasty 160 degrees F is the perfect temperature for me. You start breaking a sweat at 90?! What a bunch of pansies!

Yeah, we wouldn't fare too well (and I could probably keep going with this list forever). There are plenty of things animals do better than us, but we don't view those traits as important because we don't necessarily need them. The environment we evolved in is different than that of a Clark's nutcracker, so we don't need that awesome of a memory. It goes both ways - Clark's nutcrackers don't need to have language or build fires or have long distance stamina. That doesn't make them less advanced - they just had different evolutionary needs.

I still think humans are special - we can't deny that we have certain traits not seen anywhere else in the animal kingdom, or the fact that we've actually developed civilization (minor point). But as a biologist, I see all creatures as special with their unique adaptation for their environment. We shouldn't judge them by human standards.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm an equal opportunity nerd offender

And for those of you who think I may have it out for Star Trek, you should know I'm almost as stupid about Star Wars. I still have yet to see the three original films in their entirety. It's one of those things where I've seen all of them through bits and pieces over about a 15 year period, but I have no concept of how they go together and I've forgotten the majority of it. To show my ignorance, I will admit the girl in the following video has a MUCH more coherent grasp on the movies than I do. Now that I've covered my bases and offended my entire readership (and lost my Geek Card), watch the hilarious video:

Star Trek & Angels and Demons

I hadn't seen a movie in theaters in ages, but I actually saw two today! Two different groups of friends wanted to go at different times. Hooray. The first one was Star Trek, so now all my geeky friends can finally stop bugging me to see it. I really liked it, but keep in mind I've never seen a second of old Star Trek episodes or movies before seeing this one. The extent of my knowledge was basically:

-Spock is supposed to be logical
-Klingons are angry and have their own language that uber-geeks learn
-The phrase "beam me up Scotty"
-The silly hand salute thing that's hard to do
-Trekkies like to go around screaming "KHHAAAANNN" for reasons I do not understand

Now that I've offended every Trekkie out there... *ahem* I'm sure someone who's expecting something in particular has their gripes with the film. I know I'm uber nitpicky when it comes to Harry Potter. But, as a Star Trek n00b, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie from an entertainment point of view. Though I have to admit, I was oddly unnerved by how sexy Zachary Quinto's Spock was. Not quite sure I'm supposed to be having those feelings about Spock, but yum. Oh, and who else thought every time Spock got annoyed he was going to start slicing peoples heads open and stealing their powers?
Noooo, not teh kitteh! Why do you need nine lives when you can never die?!?!

I also saw Angels and Demons, which I thought was pretty good. Definitely better than the DaVinci Code, but that's not saying much. Now, I know people like to harp on Dan Brown, but I genuinely enjoy his novels. He's no Shakespeare, but his plots are entertaining page turners so you can stfu if you think I'm dumb for liking them. Anyway, like I said the movie was pretty good - probably helped that I read the book years ago, so I didn't remember it well enough to be super critical. Tried not to cringe too much at all the antimatter stupidity and told myself to suspend disbelief for a bit. I really liked the idea that God sent an atheist intellectual professor (Langdon) to save all of Catholicism - how ironic.

The one thing that bugged me was that it seemed to have a big "Science and religion are compatible, and when you think they're not, that's when you have problems!" message. It's not that I just disagree with this - but the very premise of the movie seemed to disagree with it. I mean, it was anti-science Catholics versus pro-science Catholics (the Illuminati), not versus atheistic scientists. Heck, the two irreligious characters are the only ones not murdering and blowing things up - they're actually saving the day. Maybe people will get that message out of the movie instead of the one the film trying to jam down their throat.

God's Stimulus Package

I laughed when my good friend Mark told me about this, so he typed it up. Consider this a guest post of sorts:
"I hitched a ride with my roommate's dad to go home to do some Pre-calc tutoring this weekend. Money, hooray! Being that this is Indiana, there tend to be signs of a religious nature that pop up on the highways. I'm sure Jen has mentioned to you about the Jesus is Real/Hell is Real sign on I-65.

As it turns out, that isn't the only sign in that area! As we were driving up US 41, we passed a very obviously pro-life sign I hadn't ever seen before. The sign said "God's Stimulus Package" and had a picture of a box with babies in it. After the initial shock of seeing the sign, I realized it was very thought provoking.

It got me to thinking. How WOULD extra babies stimulate the economy? Extra padding for a national food store? Alternative fuel source? What do you think?"
I'm thinking a baby fighting ring - we'll need the extra entertainment when the economy completely collapses, right?

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's officially summer!

Why? While walking to lab today, I got my first cat call of the year. Woo. I don't know if there's something about warm weather that gets guys all worked up, or if it's the fact that I'm no longer wearing jackets and sweaters that hide my boobage*, but this always happens in the summer. Seriously, can someone with more testosterone than me explain this phenomenon to me? I really don't get why guys think it's so awesome to hang halfway out of their car whistling and yelling nonsensical flirtations to some random girl. I never know if I should be flattered, or if they're just doing it sarcastically to mock me...

Me: I don't get catcalling, like while you're driving away quickly. What's the point?
Male Friend: I think it's more about the guys in the group... guys don't do it alone
Me: Yeah, it was the passenger in a car. I just don't get it
Male Friend: Oh, so he was a Scrub. You don't want none of that.
Me: lol scrubs don't get no love from me, don't worry

*I've been told that I have "surprise boobs." Most of my shirts come up to my neck so no gratuitous cleavage, and from about September to April I'm wearing sweaters that apparently flatten me out. I've caused more than one guy to go wide eye with shock the first time they see me shirtless. This is why I don't get girls that flaunt cleavage all the time - it's so much more fun to take them by surprise! That being said, my threadless shirts are pretty tight in the chest, so I guess that shows them off a bit. You know what, I can't help that they make those shirts for skinny A cup girls... Wow, I've been a bit obsessed with boobs lately, haven't I? I can't stop talking about them! Boobs! Boobies! Breasticles! Ahhhhhh!!!

I now believe in God, and his name is Wolfram Alpha

Holy shit watch the overview of what this new site can do. It's like Google and Wikipedia had a baby genius. So...much...data! *nerdgasm*

While every other person is probably spending their weekend drinking or playing videogames or having sex, I will be entering random questions into this website. I mean, I was pretty much sold at its abilities to do integrals, but searching genomes for a certain DNA sequence? Hell yeah.

Wolfram Alpha, I love you.

Someone with reason in Bloomington, IN

Bloomington won't be defending the bus system in the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign's ACLU lawsuit.

Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan said he disagrees with the BT policy and he’s asked city government’s legal department not to represent BT in court.

“I felt strongly that the city shouldn’t be defending on this issue,” he said Thursday.

Bloomington Public Transportation Corp. operates as a separate municipal corporation, which contracts with the city of Bloomington legal department to provide legal services.

Kruzan said having city legal defend BT in court would amount to “promoting government sanctioned censorship” because the bus service gets city legal’s services at an hourly rate less than that of a private law firm, which is in essence a partial taxpayer subsidy.

Good job, Mayor Kruzan!

Also, a local Bloomington radio station, WFHB, runs a segment called "Voices in the Street" where they ask random people about a certain topic. You can hear the segment on the atheist bus ads here. It was actually pretty refreshing to listen to - the majority of people supported the ads, even if they were religious. Of course, you still got some gems like this:
"Ya’ll atheist people, ya’ll are gonna die in a burning pit of hell, eternal pit of hellfire. Good luck."
Aaannnddd this is why I don't want to go to grad school in the Midwest.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's the end of the world as we know it

My dad just called me up. Apparently our cell phone plan owed him money, and instead of going through the pain of getting rebates and crap mailed to him six weeks from now, he remembered how I mentioned being able to check email from my phone would be cool, so he added mobile internet to my cell phone plan. Now not only can I check my email, but I can check facebook, google things, wikipedia things, update my blog whenever a random thought pops in my head...

Aaaannddd all productivity for this summer has been significantly decreased. Good for you guys, though!

Just be happy I have a qwerty keyboard on my phone. If I ever do make a random phone post, it won't be in 1337 speak or full of typos.

An uncontroversial atheist ad?

You know, maybe we're being too hard on all the bus companies in Indiana who keep rejecting the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign's ad, "You Can Be Good Without God." I mean, who are we kidding? That's pretty controversial! Plenty of people think that concept is ludicrous, and an outright lie. We all know the only reason Christians don't go around killing, raping, and stealing is because of the reward of heaven and the threat of hell. Ask any Christian what they would do if they were suddenly certain that their was no God, and I'm sure they'll confidently state that they'll go on a murderous rampage and take part in drunken orgies (two of the favorite past times of atheists).

That in mind, I figured I'd try to help the bus campaign out by coming up with some uncontroversial advertisement.

"This is What Atheists Look Like (insert photo of smiling family)" Woah, way too scare-tacticy there. Atheists can be anywhere and look like normal people while secretly sacrificing goats in their basement? But who will we know to discriminate against?!

"Atheists Are Human Too" Oh wait, apparently Cardinal Cormack Murphy O'Connor thinks atheists are "not fully human" because religion is a human universal. Scratch that idea.

"Atheists Don't Eat Babies" Well, we know that's an outright lie, so that'll never fly.

"Atheists Exist" Hmmm, well, not exactly. I mean, atheists really believe in God, they just hate him, right? And all atheists will repent on their death bed, so they eventually won't be atheists anymore. And how does that little saying go? Atheists don't believe in God, so God doesn't believe in atheists? Oh ho ho, so clever!

"Look, We Don't Want to Convert Religious People, We Just Want Other Atheists to Know That They're Not Alone so Stop Freaking Out" But atheists are alone because they have God shaped hole in their heart! They're lacking Jesus! Actually, this ad is still offensive - I bet those atheists are trying to trick you into converting by getting your guard down!

Hmmm, well I'm running out of ideas now, but I'm sure we'll eventually come up with an ad that's not controversial. How about "Atheists are Ignorant Deluded Curmudgeons Bent on Sending Your Children to Hell"? That's not a controversial message in the US, so it's obviously okay to stick on a bus. Because what matters more - saying the truth, or trying not to offend people?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oh, uh, hello there

Today my friend/new roommate (The froomate? Can I refer to him as that from now on?) and I went on a quick Walmart run. He needed ingredients for his stir fry, I needed sports bras and new panties. Random combination between the two of us, I know, but what is Walmart for other than random cheap shit. Anyway, as I have two bras clutched in hand and I'm deep in thought over which panties to pick out, who randomly walks by other than our older, male Associate Dean of Students who is the head of the office for student organizations at Purdue, and personally knows me through my work as President of the Non-Theists. He waves happily and I kind of give a mortified little wave back.

Awwwkwwaaaarrrdddd.

And you know, this is why I hate shopping for underwear. I always have this fear that someone I know who I do not want to know what my panties look like is randomly going to run into me. Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive. But you know what, it's just a tad bit annoying that all the previous times I've run into him in innocuous situations he didn't know me well enough to recognize me, but now that he knows who I am, he finds me looking at panties. Curses!

More Indiana Atheist Bus drama

First, I apologize if you're getting sick of hearing about the Indiana Atheist bus campaign...but as an atheist in Indiana, it is important to me, so I'm going to keep blogging about it!

While the campaign was having trouble in Bloomington, the following ad had been approved in South Bend, home to Notre Dame:
The ads had been approved by Burkhart, the advertising agency in charge of bus ads and were supposed to go up on the TRANSPO bus system on Monday the 11th. This was a strategic move to have the ads circulating when President Obama would be in town to give his commencement speech at Notre Dame.

Key words: supposed to

At first the campaign didn't worry, because their contract includes a five day leeway for putting up the ads. But now they've heard back from Burkhart and there's a bigger problem. Burkhart has an agreement that they can approve ads for TRANSPO, but if the ad is controversial, they must show it for TRANSPO for their approval. Burkhart, apparently being a company full of reasonable human beings, did not find the add controversial, so they never sent it on to be checked. The general manager of TRANSPO read about the Indiana Atheist Bus drama in Bloomington in the newspaper and put the ads on hold. Why?
"The ad was deemed controversial not because of its content, board Chairman Chip Lewis said, but because of the media attention it got in Bloomington. The bus authority in that city declined to post the ads, which prompted a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming the atheists’ First Amendment rights to free speech were being denied. Lewis, in South Bend, said because of the hoopla downstate, Transpo officials want to be sure about posting the ads."
Ok, let me get this straight. You were originally fine with the content of the ads. You heard the media was freaking out downstate because a bus agency rejected the ads. Scared, you reject the ads yourself. ...Wait, what? How the hell is it logical to avoid controversy then to do the same exact thing that caused the initial controversy? Don't they realize that their rejection is going to cause the same response?

They're holding a meeting on Monday to approve or reject the ad. While it will be great for it to be approved, it's still crappy this is happening. It will miss President Obama and all of his media coverage, which was the #1 reason why the campaign decided to run the ads now instead of when class is in session. Even if they eventually run, it will be significantly less effective. Also, it's being put up outside of their contractual five day leeway period. Why are they even waiting until Monday, if the drama here is potentially missing Obama? Why can't they meet Thursday through Saturday (Obama's speech being on Sunday)? Is the board of directors of a bus company in South Bend, Indiana so freaking important and busy that they can't organize a meeting until Monday? Really?

Sigh. Will we ever see atheist ads in Indiana? Maybe West Lafayette will end up being the first after all.

ACLU sues over patents on breast cancer genes

The ACLU and Yeshiva University's Law school filed a lawsuit against Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation, which own the patent rights to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Those are the genes that account for most of the heritable breast cancers, which is about 5-10% of all cases. We've discussed the ethics of gene patents in many of my classes, so I'll be interested in how this case turns out. Usually most of us agree that you shouldn't be able to patent a gene that you found, and I think this is a good example why:
"Ravicher offered an analogy to describe the plaintiffs' argument, saying, "It's like saying if someone removes your eyeball ... just because you remove the eyeball and wash it off, that doesn't make the eyeball patentable. "Now if they create another eyeball out of plastic or metal, then you can patent that."

..."It's like trying to patent the moon," he said. "You didn't do anything to create it, just discovered something that already existed. You can't patent things that are publicly available, that anyone can find. You have to create something, make something, do something with the thing.""
Now, if you changed the gene somehow to have a unique function, that's different. But I really don't think you should be able to patent a gene just because you found it. It slows scientific research and makes it more difficult for doctors and patients to get affordable testing. Usually the number one argument I've heard in my classes for patents is that you spent all that time working on something, you might as well get the credit for it. But as my professor said, if you want credit, publish a peer reviewed paper on it - then everyone will know it was you.

That being said, I don't really know why the ACLU is being involved. I think their first amendment arguments are kind of weak, and that this can be overturned by patent laws alone. Maybe Yeshiva University's law school just wanted the monetary help?

What are your thoughts on gene patents?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Exercise :(

So today I went with a couple of friends to the gym. Ohhhhh boy. To give you some perspective, the last time I jogged/ran/did any sort of real physical activity was in my high school freshman gym class six years ago. Well, I played golf competitively through high school, but walking for 5 hours with a heavy bag on your back is only good for so much. It kept my weight down but I was still a weakling.

So, yeah. Today was a little rough. I'm going to predict that I'm going to be very sad when I try to get out of bed tomorrow morning and all I can do is roll onto the floor. My 15 minute walk to lab will be fun. Of course, this is exactly why I need to exercise - because I'm hideously out of shape and I've gained about 10 pounds in the last year. I know I'm still within the normal weight range for my height, and I by no means look fat, but there's this little nagging voice in my head saying "If you don't get in shape now it's all downhill from here." My friend promises me he'll make a regimen for me that will avoid my boobs. Because really, I'll be sad if the first thing to go are my D cups instead of my...well, anything else, really.

Hmmm, now that I think of it, my weight gain is perfectly correlated with a decline in sex, and the 3 pounds I've lost in the last month are...well, you understand. I guess what I really need is some sexercising. I think that's a work out regimen we can all agree on.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gah

Intelligent blog posts will be on hiatus until my brain recovers from tonight's season finale of House. As a Huddy shipper, let me summarize my current thoughts: ARRARHRJHEJBGHBEBLBEBAABRHR!!!!!11!!!1one!!!

Feel free to have spoiler filled discussion in the comments if you watched tonight.

Physics failure

So, I thought I did pretty well on my Physics (Intro Mechanics and Heat for non-phys/chem majors) final exam on Saturday. So I check my grade online, and see that I got a 12/20, which is a 60%. Shocked, I click to see the class distribution of the grades.

The mean was 6/20. The mode was 5/20, which is equivalent to guessing, since it was multiple choice with four choices per question. Only six people (including myself) got a 12/20, three people got 13/20, and no one got higher then that in a class of 390 people.

...

So at what point does it shift from the class failing to the professor failing? Because apparently he didn't do the greatest job at teaching us. I'm not incapable of learning physics - I got an A+ in it in high school, and we didn't really learn that much extra stuff in this class.

Thankfully this class is notorious for huge curving, so even though I'm sitting at a 77%, I'll probably end up having a high A. Woo boy. Can't wait for Electricity and Magnetism next semester!

Friend: I guess that's what happens when you don't have any physics, engineering, or chemistry nerds ;)
Me: Har har

I'm officially getting old

In high school my sleeping schedule was that of a stereotypical teenager - if I could (like in the summer), I'd be perfectly happy going to bed at 4 am and waking up at 1 pm every day. Coming to college I shifted more from 1 am to 10 pm, mainly because I had early classes and a summer job doing research, so no sleeping in. I've always needed at least 9 to 10 hours of sleep to be functional, I think because I just tend to sleep so horribly that I'm not getting restful sleep for a good chunk of the time.

However, I think I'm finally getting old. The past couple months I've found it physically impossible to sleep past 8:30 am, no matter how exhausted I am, when I went to bed, or if it's a weekend. I used to be able to sleep through blaring music, bright lights, and loud roommates, but now the second a ray of light slips through my blinds, I'm up. But the scary thing is that I actually feel well rested. Maybe I'm just finally starting to sleep through the night (a skill acquired by most as toddlers, but apparently not by me). I don't know what to do with myself this early in the morning. I mean, I don't even have breakfast food in my apartment - I usually just eat lunch first!

Oh well, as long as I don't get rid of my elaborate dreams, I'll be okay. Last night I dreamt that I took in two cute kittens as pets and named them Watson and Crick. I sooo wish that I could have a pet in my apartment. That will be a mental health requirement once I leave for grad school.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Boobs and Atheism

Man, I just can't stop talking about boobs lately.

Anyway, Friendly Atheist shared this idea for the "Atheist Bust Campaign" the other day:

Other than the fact that it's hard to read (should be one phrase per cup!), I personally thought it was hilarious. Bus. Bust. Har har. A play on words, plus it's a bit ridiculous - who would expect to see this on a bra if you're getting hot an heavy with some girl? What a silly way to advertise! Funny, right?
"Do we really need to objectify women to make our case? This seems pretty tasteless to me."

"I know it seems to be the consensus that anyone calling this sexist needs to “lighten up,” but I’m pretty sure this is exactly what stopped a lot of people from listening to Peta (in addition to a variety of other hypocrisies of course, but this is one reason). Objectification is bad no matter who does it, and it’s especially annoying as a feminist to see another cause I care about wanting to use it in order to reach out to nonbelievers."

"I find the ad mildly offensive and somewhat humorous, but I’d be much less annoyed if there were another ad showing off a close up of men’s filled out briefs. But then that begs the question of what exactly do a bra and briefs have to do with the message here?"

"For those of you suggesting that the users who rightfully mentioned this should just “lighten up,” I ask–do you really want atheism reflecting such narrow-minded views about gender stereotypes, too? Atheism is supposed to be a part of the movement of intelligible REASON. It’s bad enough the religious are so willing to persecute women for being even remotely sexual and the LGBT community for merely existing. Also, if you disagree that subtle forms of sexism–even sexist humor–can be harmful to women, I suggest you read up on the stereotype threat literature."
The comments for this post annoy the crap out of me. Yes, you all need to take a fucking chill pill, and that's coming from a fellow feminist. It was one joke based on a play on words. Maybe if there was a national campaign dedicated to nearly naked skeptic girls without equally nearly naked skeptic dudes, then I'd see the objectification and problem with exploiting female sexuality for advertisement. But it's not. The Richard Dawkins Foundation isn't funding it; there's no grassroots atheist boob effort. Maybe if we had been the "Atheist Class Campaign" the joke would be a booty for the "Atheist Ass Campaign." "Atheist Dunk Campaign" would be "Atheist Junk Campaign" and we could all stare at some guy's crotch. My point is, the person who made this image probably wasn't going out of their way to objectify women - bust just sounded like bus, and the idea of atheist advertisements on bras is ludicrous and funny. I hardly see how a single joke is equivalent to PETA's trashy campaigns or religious oppression of women and LGTB groups.

Are we not allowed to joke about anything sexual at all because of the fear of not being politically correct? My friends and I make jokes that uber-feminists would consider sexist, but you know what, it's about context. We're not making them because we think it's true that women are dumb or emotional or whatever - we make them because we think it's ridiculous that people actually do think that way. We're mocking people's intolerance. I don't Feminist Avenger Punch my guy friends when they jokingly tell me to get in the kitchen and make them a sammich. Why? Because I know how to take a joke. If they were the type of males who actually believed that, I wouldn't be friends with them.

This is why a lot of times I hate calling myself a feminist. I want equal pay, equal opportunities, etc, etc... Why don't we worry about the big problems instead of flipping out over a joke about a bra? Yes, we should have concerns about the objectification of women in our culture - but when it's something minor like that, I think we all need to calm the fuck down. I hate the fact that I've been told I'm not a "real feminist" because I'm not totally extreme. I had a friend once try to argue with me that shaving your legs was just conforming to the oppressive patriarchal rules, and if I disagreed with her I was just not educated enough to understand. No, I fucking like having smooth legs. It feels good. Even if it's a symbol of the higher standards of beauty women face, I really don't care. And that was an argument from someone who wears make up, and I don't wear any. Should we start a jihad against lipstick because of what it symbolically represents, or try to tackle the bigger problem of women's self image and social standards of beauty?

That being said, here's a SMBC that I like to believe was released today especially for this post:
Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go prepare myself for the upcoming feminist flame war. *crawls in her barricade*

IN Atheist Bus News Coverage

WRTV 6News of Indianapolis had a story last night about Bloomington, IN's rejection of the slogan "You Can Be Good Without Good" for being too controversial.



The lady shaking her head in disgust and saying "You can't be good without God"? Yeah, that's why we need this campaign, people. A statement we see as benign and obvious is terrifying to other people.

There's also a an article online with...dun dun dun...an internet poll! I've already emailed it to PZ, but I figured I'd post it as well. Probably the best thing (or worst, if you're anti-atheist) you can do to advertise something atheist related is have a dumb poll about it. A poll crashing at Pharyngula is way more advertisement than people ignoring it at Digg and Reddit.

What is your opinion of an advertisement rejected by Bloomington officials because its message of "You Can Be Good Without God" was deemed too controversial?

Choice Votes Percentage of 699 Votes
I agree with the advertisement and I think it should be allowed. 292 42%
I don't agree with the advertisement, but I think it should be allowed. 87 12%
I don't agree with the advertisement and I don't think it should be allowed. 287 41%
I agree with the advertisement, but I don't think it should be allowed. 23 3%
I don't know. 10 1%

Alright, off to bomb my Physics exam! Woo!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Oh Germany

Still cramming for exams (futilely, I should add), but here's a hilariously weird advertisement for a currency trading company. I can assure you this would never be seen on American TV:



(Via Gawker)

Hmm...

I woke up this morning with a blotch of black ink on my bedsheets and smeared all over my legs. Either I accidentally left a pen in my bed, or I'm slowly evolving ink squirting powers. I'm going to go with the latter.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The young exodus from religion

Both Pharyngula and Friendly Atheist have already commented on this lovely new study: Professor Robert Putnam from Harvard has found that the number of young people who have no religious affiliation has skyrocketed to 30% - 40%. Now, these aren't all necessarily atheists, but one can hope this is the first step for many of them to go down the slippery slope of Heathendom.

When I was about ten years old I confidently told my father that by the time I was 40, no one would go to church anymore. He looked at me shocked (especially since I didn’t know what church was actually for, or who Jesus/God were at the time).

“Why do you think that?” he asked. I told him everyone my age always complains about how much they hate going, so why would they keep doing it when they grow up? He chuckled at me, thinking this was a ridiculous idea, even though he himself was not religious. "We'll see," he said sarcastically.

Maybe in 19 years people will still be going to church, but I still consider this trend a victory. Take that, dad!

I also consider this a success for the atheist dating market, though I don't have to worry about that too much as an atheist chick. Though the odds are good, the goods are odd... or to quote Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, "The male to female ratio, yeah? I mean you have your veritable pick of the litter. You can choose from all kinds of guys who have no idea how to please you." (Just kidding, male readers! I <3 all of you, and I'm sure us uninhibited atheists win when it comes to being kinky in the sack)

Because two tiny triangles of fabric mark the line between sexy and slutty

Womanist Musings has a great summary of why the new development in the Miss California controversy sucks. If you desperately try to avoid tabloid style news, let me fill you in on what has happened. Miss California says she's against gay marriage during the Miss USA pageant to Perez Hilton, of all people. She loses, scandal ensues saying she lost because of her views, yadda yadda. Miss C claims she's just a good Christian girls with strong morals and all that jazz. Photos are released of a topless Miss C that she took when she was trying to become a Victoria's secret model. Both sides freak out. Conservative pageant people are pissed because you're not allowed to have any nude or semi-nude photographs. Liberal people are gleefully chuckling at her hypocrisy and are glad she'll probably lose her title.

...

There is so much Wrong floating around that I don't even know where to start. Pageants are such patriarchal stereotypical sexist bullshit to begin with that ranting about them is a waste of time, but one thing really bugs me. Let's compare the two photos, shall we?















What the hell is the big flipping difference here? It's okay for girls to parade around in skimpy bikinis so we can judge them on their sex appeal, but remove two tiny pieces of fabric and it instantly becomes slutty and bad? It's not like the right photo is hard core porn (which still shouldn't matter, but whatever, I have to fight the small battles first). I'd even say it's a pretty tasteful nude if you removed all the Dirty watermarks. It really makes me wonder what's going to happen when my generation is the politicians and businessmen of the world. There will probably be so many "scandalous" photos floating around that they won't be scandalous anymore.

"Ms. President, another topless photo has surfaced. The elderly members of the press want a statement."
"Oooh, I remember that one! That was some good tequila. Man, look how nice my boobs looked."
"Uh, they're great, Ms. President."

But you know what, okay. She signed a contract saying she didn't have any nude or semi-nude problems, and the pageant people get to make their own dumb rules. So fine, punish away. But to all the liberal people who think these rules are stupid and don't have a problem with boobies, but are just glad to get revenge on a conservative girl...shame on you. She's not the freaking Westboro Baptist Church. She said she doesn't support gay marriage, not "all fags should die in a fire" or something. People say she's a hypocrite because she's claiming to have conservative values yet has posed topless...but seriously, so what? Why are liberals forcing anti-toplessness to be a conservative value? If we want people to stop freaking out about women's boobs, we need to stop treating it like it matters. Why can't we all be accepting of teh boobies?

Maybe I'm just a softie, but I don't wish bad things upon people even if I fervently disagree with their political viewpoints. I also think boob scandals are about the most stupid thing ever (the Janet Jackson incident made my head nearly explode), so I just wish we'd stop making such a big deal out of them. Pro-boobs people unite!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I love when internet culture sneaks into real life

As I was leaving my programming exam in the computer science building tonight, I noticed they had put up a new kiosk outside. We staple flyers to these things to advertise for events and such. Student groups (including ours) have been whining for a while now that there aren't enough on campus, so I was pretty excited to see a new one. I was more excited when I read the lone flyer someone had pinned on.Wait a second, what does that say? Let's zoom in a bit:
I love internet culture so much. I should expect nothing less from computer science students, but I still love it. I feel like I'm in some secret club that only the cool kids know about. Good to know we have silly comment trolls for tangible objects.

(And I apologize for the crappy photos. Only had my camera on me, and I got out of my exam at 9 pm)

Another religious resolution wasting our congressmen's time

Via Friendly Atheist:

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) sponsored House Resolution 397 yesterday, titled "Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as "America's Spiritual Heritage Week" for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith."

Oh, you know it's going to be good. Most of the quotes are either misinformed, scary, or just plain stupid (go to Friendly Atheist for examples), but let's look at my favorite one in particular:
"Whereas in 1853, the United States Senate declared that the Founding Fathers ‘had no fear or jealousy of religion itself, nor did they wish to see us an irreligious people . . . they did not intend to spread over all the public authorities and the whole public action of the nation the dead and revolting spectacle of atheistical apathy’"
...Wow, just wow. Can a congressman seriously not see the problem with this statement? Maybe if we reword it a bit he can take a hint:

"revolting spectacle of Jewish greed"
"revolting spectacle of Islamic violence"
"revolting spectacle of Christian intolerance"
"revolting spectacle of Hindu cow worship" (okay, I kind of got nothing here)

Since when is it okay to single out a group of American citizens and call them revolting with a stereotype? If any of these other groups had been mentioned, you can be sure as hell people would be all over his ass about it. This is why we need atheist activism - not because we're on a crusade to convert people, but because we don't want to be the punching bag for religious people.

EDIT: Ok, apparently I can't read and I missed the fact that that awful phrase was written in 1853, not as a new part of the resolution. Still, it shows a lack of judgment to include it in the resolution, so I stand by my snarky comments.

Oh academia

One final down, four to go! Though this morning's was one of my easiest of the bunch - Evolution of Behavior. One of my favorite classes ever, so no need to really study, plus I only needed a 65% on the final for an A...heh. Wish I could say that about Physics. One of the amazing professors I do research for (it's a joint research project) teaches that class, and after I turned in my exam he was whispering some questions about how the project is going. Which led to this exchange:

Prof W: Have you read this book? *motions to an ancient looking book he was reading during the final called Rodent Reproduction*
Me: ...Uh, no.
Prof W: Oh, well it looks like they don't mention anything about [part of our research] here either, so [etc etc more research talk blog readers don't care about]

...This is what I simultaneously love and fear about academia. I love how there was even a remote enough chance in his mind that a lowly undergraduate like myself just happened to peruse some forty year tome on rodent reproduction, of all topics, that he would actually ask me. Okay, I have been trying to find some literature on our research, so maybe he thought I may have seen that book, but still. I get this all the time from professors, especially the "Have you read the paper by SoandSo on Obscure Research Topic?" Even if I have, by some stroke of luck, I usually can't remember the names of the authors. I consider it a success if I remember the key points from the paper at all!

Though I know realistically it's not expected of me to know all this stuff as an undergrad. Prof D, my main professor and official "boss," even said that he really enjoys working with me (I'm his first long-term undergraduate researcher) because he doesn't expect me to really know anything. So when I don't, he's pretty relaxed about it and helps me out, but when I do, he's pleasantly surprised. I think I give myself too hard of a time because I'm constantly comparing myself to grad students instead of other undergrads.

As fabulously awesome as I may be, I still have a long way to go before I develop that professor-worthy memory. I know it'll probably happen without me even noticing it. When I was doing field work with Prof W a couple of summers ago, I was amazed at how he knew the common name, scientific name, and natural history of basically every fricking plant and animal out in the desert. I didn't even realize dung beetles were in Arizona; I thought they were some exotic insect out in Africa or Asia or something (sheltered Indiana girl!). I asked him how in the world he knew all the stuff, and he just laughed sort of sheepishly. "You don't try to remember it - you just pick it up after a while." At the time I thought this sounded insane, but now that I can recognize exactly what bird singing is waking me up in the morning, I know it's happening.

Oh, and the chickadees need to simmer the fuck down in the morning. I wish there was a "fee bee fee hey no one's trying to take your territory and Jen's trying to sleep" call.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Indiana atheist bus rejected in Bloomington

From the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign:
"Bloomington was first on the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign’s list of places it hoped to run bus ads. However, the city has rejected our campaign’s slogan, ‘You Can Be Good Without God.’ This is deeply disappointing to our campaign’s members; we all love Bloomington and were very much hoping to run ads in our hometown along with many other cities.

Following their rejection of our ad’s slogan, Bloomington Transit referenced their ad policy, which currently states that they may reject any ad they feel is ‘too controversial.’

However, we are not giving up. Yesterday the ACLU of Indiana, on behalf of the campaign, filed a lawsuit against the city of Bloomington on First Amendment grounds. No campaign donations will be spent on the suit."

This is pretty disappointing. Bloomington, home to Indiana University, is one of the most liberal cities in Indiana (other than Indianapolis or the Chicago suburbs). I don't know how atheists could possibly be less controversial than "You Can Be Good Without God" - that seems like a pretty benign and obvious statement to me. The fact that it is controversial to some people is exactly why we need people reading it!

Oh well. I'll keep my fingers crossed that the one in West Lafayette goes through. Not only would it be awesome seeing that on campus, but we'd beat IU too!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Aaannddd he's still pissed at me

So, I felt like I owed the Professor a direct response, so I emailed him. It basically summaries what I said in my previous post, but let me copy and paste it here for full disclosure. Let me emphasize how I was trying to be nice with bold:

"Dr. Harrigan,

This is Jen, the author of the original nine page "diatribe" against your book. First, I'd like to thank you for linking to my blog in your email - free advertisement is always nice. Anyway, I just want to say that I honestly apologize if I originally came off as directly calling the you racist/sexist/homophobic in my blog post. I didn't believe you were actually this way: I mainly thought the book just came off the wrong way, and you failed to express your true intentions. I know I had said that to my friends before typing up my review, but I guess that disclaimer wasn't as clearly stated in the final product. I'm also sorry for any cruel spirited ad hominem attacks I may have used. At the time of writing the review, only a couple of my friends read my blog, so I didn't expect anyone (especially the author) to ever see it. Then the review hit Pharyngula (an extremely popular atheist blog, which you probably know) and exploded over the internet. I guess this is a good lesson to be careful of what you put online.

That being said, I do not apologize about my main criticisms in the book. I still stand by my opinion that it was poor writing and a bad message for promoting atheism.
I feel sort of bad that I've upset you, as that wasn't my goal. But negative reviews are to be expected when you present your work to the public - especially if you actively send out the book for people to review. Professional authors don't take every negative review as a personal insult that requires a direct individual response. No, they take the criticism and move on. Not everyone is going to like your book. If Dan Brown (I actually enjoyed the DaVinci code, by the way) spent all his time responding to critics, he would not only appear childish, but he would never get anything done. Not everything you write is going to be brilliant. I'll freely admit I've written a lot of horrible stuff before. And again, for the sake of honesty...you get a bunch of friends and family members to read your stuff, and of course most of them will say it's lovely...but they're probably either being nice, or really aren't literary experts. Maybe you should have listened to your writer friend who said she couldn't get past the sixth page.

And since it seemed you had specific questions for me, let me address the most important ones:

-When you talk about feminism and homosexuality in your email, I actually agree with you. Again, I just think your views came out the wrong way in the book. It happens. Sometimes we intend to write one thing, but people interpret it another way.
-You say I don't really address the male characters and a couple of the female characters, that I get some of my facts confused...yes, that's true. To be honest, it was for brevity's sake. My nine page "assault" was already getting long enough. I didn't think my book report was going to be graded by the author himself, so I wasn't taking perfect notes. I admit to completely missing the other black character. Either the description of him being black didn't stick in my head, or I got it confused with another character (which happened frequently, since you had way too many characters...also explains the Mickey Mouse watch).
The only part of the book I skimmed was the couple page conversation on boxing between Slane and the dominatrix, so I promise I was trying to pay attention.
-You say that you don't see any of the demeaning things about women that I'm apparently just making up. Just because you, a male, do not see it, doesn't mean it's not there. And I promise you I'm not trying to make things up. I'm honestly not one of those "rabid" feminists who takes offense at everything - I'm fairly laid back. I make off colored jokes myself. I'd be afraid what a "real" feminist would say if she read the book.
-It was not my initial goal to damn your book. I was honestly quite excited to read a fiction novel about atheism and sex - I wouldn't have opened it if I didn't want to read it. I even kept reading with the hopes that it would get better - I wanted to like it! But by the time I was mostly done, I realized that was not going to happen...and that I should at least share my experience with my friends. I've also talked to a member in a Californian atheist group who read your book, and she agreed with my review (though she read your book before reading my review). It's not just me.
-I did not have some "Writing 101" book open with a checklist of things to catch you on
. I've taken two creative writing classes, I write frequently, I've read many books about writing, and I have a lot of practice critiquing stories.
-I'm not quite sure what you expect me to think of the dildo battery thing. Hooray? I'm not offended, if that's what you think. I actually think it's quite interesting and admirable that you spent time in the shop to study people's behavior.
-I'll try to control myself and not start a diatribe against elderly teachers in the future, as apparently I'm likely to do that.

I guess you're just going to have to take my word for it when I say I wasn't trying to be mean or spiteful. I read the whole book, paid attention, and tried to write an honest review. It's up to you to decide if you want to believe me or not. I hope you don't take any of this too personally. It's silly to make enemies when we both agree on so many things.

-Jennifer, aka, "The Avenger""

Another student [Susan] from a campus atheist group also responded to him and CCed me in the email, saying she read most of the book, most of the blog entry, and most of his email, and that she basically agreed with me...and that many students at the CFI world congress agreed the book was awful. Kudos to her for sticking up for me.

Well, our esteemed Professor has replied again:

"Jen,
I don’t need writing advice from amateurs or lessons on how to take criticism. As for consulting an editor--why do you people seem blind to this--I did. Roy P. Fairfield wouldn’t have changed a word of the book. He loved it. Who is doctor/professor Fairfield? For thirteen years he was associate editor of The Humanist along with Editor Paul Kurtz, the author of Humanist Manifesto II. Kurtz wrote in Free Inquiry that his close friend Roy saw to it that the Manifesto came to life. We all owe a lot to both of them. It doesn’t seem to have dawned on you that you trashed Roy as well when you trashed my book on Amazon--inches from Roy’s praise--and by implication in your Blaghag Blog and the Pharyngula Atheism Blog. By intension or ignorance or judgment deficit or carelessness you distorted the book and made it a source of public mockery. Mistake me not, criticism I expected, any creative work--especially a book like mine that touches on radioactive subjects--gets it, some more, some less. Say my character development is poor, plot weak, syntax horrible, that’s part of the criticism game. I am talking about deliberately, for whatever reason, misrepresenting a book’s content.
Susan, try reading an e-mail before answering it.
John Harrigan"

Ouch. You know, usually I wouldn't be offended being called an amateur writer - because I am - but from this literary guru, that's a low insult. And yes sir, I do think you need to learn how to take criticism, because you're still harassing some 21 year old chick on the internet who made fun of your bad book. Boo hoo. I also like how "by intension or ignorance or judgment deficit or carelessness" I distorted his book. It's of course not his own fault for writing a steaming pile of shit!

I think my kindness towards this guy has about run out. Is it snarky email time, everyone? I'm thinking yes.