Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Zombies live forever...and so will you!

"Zombies live forever...and so will you!" That's the slogan I saw on the chalkboard in one of my classes today, followed by a date, time, and location. Hmm, vague yet intriguing slogan, with no identifying information? I turned to my friend Ben.

"I totally bet that's a religious group."

And after five seconds of Googling, I found out I was right. Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at Purdue is putting on the event. I have to give them props for their marketing. Humans versus Zombies (effectively a giant, nerdy, insane game of tag involving nerf guns) just got done at Purdue. It was incredibly popular, and they're working off of our zombie fascination. And the whole dishonest lack of information about what the event is really about - ah, ingenious and typical religious marketing (and not to mention, against Purdue student organization rules).

But I have to say, I'm pretty excited. I never knew that Christianity preached that we all turn into zombies when we die! Well, other than Zombie Jesus, of course. On the other hand, zombies aren't really alive, so maybe they're a tad bit confused...

Seattle, here I come!

While I alluded to it in a previous post, I still wasn't 100% sure. But now it's official - I'll be going to the University of Washington to get my PhD in the Department of Genome Sciences in the fall!

That still sounds crazy when I say it. I'm going to go get a freaking PhD. Who knew that would happen ten years ago, when I was still amazed by the simple puzzle of a Punnett square, or when I still didn't quite grasp the whole evolution thing. I've come a long way.

So come September, I will have officially escaped the Midwest. Wooooo! Though I admit, I'm nervous. I've lived in Indiana for the past 21 years (lived 5 minutes across the border in Illinois when I was an infant), and I've never lived in a big city. Purdue is only an hour and a half from my home town, so I was still close to family and retained some of my old high school friends. It's kind of terrifying knowing I'll finally be completely on my own. It's like I'm an adult or something!

If you have any tips about grad school in general, the University of Washington, or Seattle, now's a good time to let me in on all of the secrets. Or you can just use this post to celebrate along with me. Hurray!

Sex, Catholicism, and Snarky Atheists

The Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of University of Illinois has come up with a brilliant event for Good Friday:

CHAMPAIGN – For many Christians, the Friday preceding Easter Sunday is one of the holiest days of the year.

This is precisely why the student organization Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers (AAF) has chosen this day to raise awareness about the Roman Catholic Church. The group plans to set up a booth on the Quad on Good Friday and disseminate information about the Church’s policies, especially those related to contraception and HIV/AIDS. Accordingly, the group will also be distributing free condoms.

“People often regard religion, and specifically Christianity as a force for good in the world,” said Mathew Rayman, an officer from AAF. “Just over a year ago, the Pope told Africans that condoms actually help to propagate AIDS rather than prevent it. Statements like these are irresponsible and illustrate the disconnect of the Vatican hierarchy from reality.” Two thirds of the estimated 33 million people with HIV/AIDS live in Africa.

The Catholic Church has always been fundamentally opposed to contraception, and Pope Paul VI reinforced this in the 1968 doctrinal letter Humanae Vitae (Latin, “Human Life”). According to the American Red Cross, consistent and correct condom use greatly reduces the risk of contracting HIV. AAF hopes to raise public awareness of these issues and promote productive discussion.
This is an awesome idea. My only complaint is that they didn't advertise sooner, so groups like mine could have similar events. I think this is a perfect example of a good controversial event: it's sure to piss some people off, receive media coverage, and get people talking - but it also has a purpose and a very important message. It doesn't exist for the sole reason of offending.

Great idea, AAF - hope it goes well!

(Via Skeptic Money)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Overheard at Purdue

Me: *walks into Student Activities Office to fill out some forms for the Society of Non-Theists*
Guy 1: *to Guy 2, who's filling out form* Club website? Heh, put goatse.
Me: *laughs*
Guy 2: ...And this is a lesson on why you should see who's standing behind you before saying something like that.
Me: Hey, I laughed and knew what goatse was. You got lucky that I'm another internet nerd.

I later found out they were with the Improv club, which was fittingly nerdy. Goatseing administrators would be a spectacular way to end a club - unfortunately your college career would probably end along with it.

And if for some unlikely reason you have no idea what I'm talking about, please do not Google image search goatse to find out. Or if you do, make sure to videotape yourself doing so.

New Comment System!

Thanks to our new troll, I've set up a new comment system with Intense Debate. What does this mean for you guys?

1. No more trolls and spammers, yaaaay! Well, at least a reduced number, since now I can ban IP addresses and do all sorts of nifty things. Now those of you who subscribe to comments don't have to have that crap cluttering your inboxes or RSS feeds as I frantically delete them.

2. Comment threading! Yes, now instead of having to awkwardly reference people that are 15 comments above you, you can directly reply to their comment. It's like it's the year 2010 or something!

3. Comment rating. You can now upvote or downvote comments. That way if you don't want to miss some of the more awesome things that have been said, you can just sort by rating. I think that's pretty cool, especially since 90% of the time your comments are more entertaining/insightful than my original post.

There may be some bugs in the system, so email me (blaghagblog(at)gmail.com) if something isn't working out. I know I just accidentally sent someone's comment into moderation because I had "of" listed as a banned word - whoops. Ah, user error.

So, try it out! Consider this an open thread. Oh, and thank you psychotic Canadian troll for making this atheist blog even better!

EDIT: Soooo, Intense Debate was being a piece of crap. Sorry to lose the comments you guys left on the last couple of posts. I think this has been the final push I needed to switch over to Wordpress...

Boy Scouts of America owned in today's Exponent

I love reading the letters to the editor in our student newspaper. Really, it's the only thing I'll make sure to read every day, because it's always chock-full of amusing letters. For example, this young man's failed attempt to defend the Boy Scouts:
Boy Scouts organization does not discriminate

I am writing in response to Mr. Miller’s cheap shot at the Boy Scouts in his letter from Tuesday (“Hate to bear bad news, but humans have sex”). First off, it was unnecessary and childish, given that it was unrelated to the issue at hand (on which, coincidentally, I would tend to agree with you.) Secondly, the loss of funding to which you refer was politically motivated, rather than impartial.

However, the point is this: Boy Scouts, both as an organization and as individuals, do not discriminate. You cite atheists; one of Scouting’s core values is “duty to God.” (Note that no religion is specified.) Why, then would an atheist wish to join Scouts, other than to cause trouble?

You also mention homosexuals. Let’s stop and think for a moment: Scouts spend a large amount of time in the backcountry, far from “civilization,” for lack of a better word. The only ones around are the other boys in the troop, and the adult leaders. Do we really wish to place young boys in a position where they could be taken advantage of by an older boy or adult? Of course not.

Next time you take a shot at someone, take the time to learn the facts before you open your mouth; you’ll sound smarter.

Michael Harvath, Eagle Scout
Freshman in Engineering
Hmm, did someone just slander gays and atheists in one letter? Release the hounds!

Seriously, he got obliterated today, with six different letters refuting him. Go check them out. I'm pretty sure the majority of the writers are members of the Society of Non-Theists, so props to them! Always fun to hear the rational voices of Purdue!

Wooo, atheism!

A couple of days ago I was walking with a friend to dinner. As I was crossing a busy intersection, a guy pops his head out of the passenger seat of his truck and happily screams "Woooo, atheism!" at me. I waved back, but didn't get a good look at who it was since I was trying not to get hit by cars - I assume it was a club member.

This sort of random thing happens more and more the longer I've been president of the Non-Theists, and let me tell you: It totally makes my day. More often than not, when I go to a bar or club I'll have at least someone give me a "Woooo, atheism!" high five. It's usually a club member I don't know as well (my friends don't typically greet me this way, though that would be neat), or someone who never really comes to meetings but is happy that we exist.

And it's another reason why I like having my occasional atheist t-shirt or button. I've struck up random, cool conversations waiting in lines, getting food, at the airport... It's cool having that atheist secret hand shake!

Anyone else have any little, positive atheist experiences like that? If not, get a button or something!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rejection and Acceptance

If you follow me on twitter or facebook, you'll know that I recently found out I was rejected from both Harvard and Stanford. I think it's important to blog about the process, not just for cathartic reasons, but for anyone else who might be in the same boat or thinking about applying to graduate school in the future. I waited a couple of days before typing this, because on Saturday I was still crying, wondering all of the "What if"s, and feeling melodramatically doomed about my future.

I'm feeling significantly less doomed, though my self esteem hasn't quite recovered yet. For those of you who don't know me well, I have very, very high standards for myself. Where any normal human being would be elated about their achievements, I can always come up with ways that I can do better. I know I'm a successful student because I'm so hard on myself. While I know I've accomplished some great things in college, it still never feels like enough.

And I'm my worst critic. All of my professors have been constantly telling me since freshman year how grad schools would just be dying to snatch me up, that they'll be heavily recruiting someone with such a strong record, that having more than one publication under my belt would make me a shoe-in, that I'm Harvard and Stanford material, easily. And for most of the time, I was skeptical. I knew I was a good student, but I was going to keep working hard and not get my hopes up. I'd apply, and see how it went.

And apply I did. And then I got interviews. I was flown out, wined and dined, told by department heads how my resume was ten times better than theirs when they were applying to grad school, told how other schools paled in comparison to theirs, told how they can't wait to see me in the fall. I left suddenly believing what those professors had been telling me all of those years. For a rare moment, I felt that I really was smart and hard working enough to belong in Harvard or Stanford. I felt proud of what I had accomplished, that four years of working my ass off and being passionate about science had paid off.

And then I was rejected.

If I had never gotten an interview, or if the interviews hadn't seemed like they blatantly wanted me, I wouldn't have been as upset. But instead of this being a predicted outcome, it was a ginormous let down. I know I shouldn't bitch about not getting into Harvard or Stanford, since I have been accepted to the University of Washington - which I loved and is a fabulous school in itself. It's just that for once in my life I had the amount of self esteem I should have, and it was dashed against the rocks.

I actually felt a bit worse when everyone found out, because they were so shocked. My one professor just seemed to share my disappointment, but the other (a Stanford alumni) seemed mixed between flabbergasted and mad at Stanford. My friends seem to have the reaction of "If anyone should be getting into those schools, it's Jen!" And that really makes me feel like I screwed up somehow - that the unanimous opinion is that I rock, yet I still failed somehow. Though to all of my friends and readers who tweeted at me, emailed me, commented at me, and texted me - thanks for the support. With the attention I got, you would have thought I had posted a suicide note or something (I'm not that upset, sheesh).

As for why I was rejected, you never know. Both letters can be summarized by "You're awesome, but the economy sucks, so we have no money or space and more people applied this year, sorry!" And if that's the truth, it actually makes me feel a little crappier. Any normal human being might feel relieved, but I hate it when things are out of my control. It drives me crazy that even if I had worked harder, I still would have gotten screwed over by chance.

And when it comes to grad school, there are so many variables to take into consideration. Maybe they really were only able to take a few amount of people this year, and I just happened to be the worst of the best - I should still be proud of being with such a smart group. Maybe way too many human population biologists applied, and labs had space for different types of genetics. Maybe Purdue has a crappy genetics reputation compared to other places people were coming from. Maybe I was less desirable since I haven't already worked on humans. Maybe ten people have generously donating alumni for parents. Maybe I have the interviewing skills of a troll. Maybe they found my blog and saw it as a liability (I doubt this one, since all the profs were all "Yay atheist clubs!").

You never know. And to keep my sanity, I'm trying not to dwell on it. Instead I'm reminding myself how much I did love UW when I visited, how I did get into an amazing and well respected genetics program, how awesome Seattle is, and how soon I'll be the first person in my family to get their PhD. For once, I'm trying not to dwell on how I could have done better, but be proud of what I have accomplished.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Soldier coming back home gay worse than coming back dead

I love reading letters to the editor in newspapers, because they're always the best place to find spectacular gems of ignorance. For example, let's look at a Florida resident's brilliant logic when it comes to repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell:

As a former staff sergeant, war veteran and drill instructor in the Marine Corps, I believe the repeal this law will cause living hell within the ranks of the military, and also for the moms and dads whose kids are serving. It will be heartbreaking when a son comes home and says to his parents 'I'm gay' when he didn't leave home gay.
Because that's totally how homosexuality works. It's a horrible disease that spreads to anyone hanging around queers for too long! Not, you know, biologically based behavior.

When it comes to gays in the military, it is not a question of them not being patriotic or not physically fit. Unfortunately, they are not morally fit. Their lifestyle has disqualified them to serve.

Because we don't allow anyone in the military who has ever done something wrong. I'm sure there's a test all recruits have to take that makes sure they fit the proper Christian moral ethics, which is why no one in the military has ever lied, stolen, masturbated, lustfully thought of a woman, taken the lord's name in vain, eaten lobster, gotten tattoos...

One must understand that a homosexual person does not reproduce (homosexuals recruit). When I was a young Marine, one tried to recruit me into that lifestyle. It caused panic and fear to come over me. It is not discrimination or hate speech toward the gays, it is simply saying no.

These young people will be exposed to strong sexual attractions, and some will give themselves over to it because they are young and vulnerable.

They recruit, just like any other human trait where that human can't reproduce! I knew those Tay-Sachs babies were causing other Tay-Sachs babies to be diseased. I mean, genetics, pfffffft.

Repeal the don't ask, don't tell policy and you will have the men who serve in an uproar. You will have open sex in the barracks, name calling, real threats and fighting among the troops, and even worse the violence of blanket parties. Late at night, some men will throw a blanket over a gay person and beat the life out of him. The repeal of this policy will give way to violence, no matter how much instruction is given by their leaders.

Yeah, and when all those macho, testosterone filled, heterosexual men start beating a gay man to a bloody pulp, it's totally that gay guys fault! Sheesh, don't they know heterosexuals just can't control their rage?

Also, you will have disunity on the battlefield.

Today, if my son was going into the military, I would be more concerned about him coming home a gay person than worrying about him getting wounded or killed in battle.

We are becoming a pathetic nation with no clear moral values.

RICHARD GRANT

Lakeland

That's right, son. I rather you come home in a casket than loving someone of the same sex. Better to be dead than gay.

...People like this fucking terrify me.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Don't feed the trolls

Hey everyone, this is just a friendly reminder to not feed trolls in the comments.

I'm "privileged" to now be trolled by the infamous DM/Dennis Markuze/David Mabus/nostradamus/etc, a literally insane Canadian that is fond of leaving crazed rambling and death threats on atheist blogs. Between my honors thesis, classes, and clubs, I don't have time to fiddle with a new comment moderation. So until I'm able to do that, please ignore him and I'll continue to delete his comments. I don't want threads getting derailed because you guys want to respond to him.

In other news...I dunno, consider this an open thread.

Event at Purdue: Kicking the Christian Strawman

If you're in the West Lafayette area, you may be interested in an event we're holding next week!
Kicking the Christian Strawman: What Christians are really like
Talk and Q&A w/ Rev. Jon Weyer
Wed, March 31
6:00 pm in PHYS 223
Free, Open to public

Atheists spend so much time trying to get religious people to understand them, so now it's time for us to learn a little more about Christianity. Jon has a lot of experience cooperating with atheist groups, so hopefully his talk will:
- Help us understand how Christians view the world
- Help us understand American Christianity
- Debunk stereotypes about Christianity & Christians

Rev. Jonathan Weyer is a campus minister with the CCO at The Ohio State University and an ordanied minister with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. At Ohio State, he started a group called "The Thomas Society" that seeks to honestly discuss questions about God, the nature of reality, and how people ought to live their lives. He has worked extensively with the Students for Freethought and SSA board member Ashley Paramore to create an atmosphere of cooperation and dialogue between Christians and Atheists at Ohio State. As a part of this work, they are taking service project trips to New Orleans over spring break, hosting joint group discussions, and events that including bringing Hemant Mehta to campus. He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and three kids. To relax, he likes to write novels that scare people, sometimes intentionally. Jonathan also writes the blog for the Thomas Society

Sponsored by the Society of Non-Theists
I met Jon at the Secular Student Alliance conference last summer, and he is a wonderful guy who's sure to give an interesting talk. And don't worry, this isn't some secret way for him to convert us all. At least, I don't think so...hmmm...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Popped my Star Wars cherry

I have a very important announcement to make.

I just watched Star Wars: A New Hope for the very first time. That's right, ever. Previously I had only seen very small clips, though I knew the whole plot thanks to being surrounded by nerds. I also have never seen Episodes 5 and 6.

The worst part? I've seen the new trilogy.

Though the oddest part was that it was just sort of alright. I mean, some parts were funny, some parts were dated, and some parts were just terrible. I guess it's different watching it without the childhood memories and attachment. Luke has effectively no reaction to seeing the horrifically charred bodies of the two people who raised him for eighteen years, but the spooky disintegration of Obi Wan leaves him screaming and upset? What the hell, Luke? You've known him for only a couple hours, and all he did was give you super vague advice about the Force!

Ok, I'm going to shut up now before I make you guys want to stone me even more. Will watch the other Episodes later!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Homeopathy: Now for vaginas too!

Phil over at Skeptic Money is always keeping his eye out for silly homeopathic scams. Now he's "found one just for the ladies":

There is now a “treatment” for a yeast infection. It is called Yeast Gard. It has no side effects. Actually, it has no effects. Here are the “active” ingredients: Candida albicans 28x, Candida parapsilosis 28x, Pulsatilla 28x. Since I had no idea what these things are – I had to look them up. You’re gonna love this…. (From Wikipedia)

Candida albicans is a diploid fungus (a form of yeast) and a causal agent of opportunistic oral and genital infections in humans.

Candida parapsilosis is a fungal species of the yeast family that has become a significant cause of sepsis and of wound and tissue infections in immuno-compromised patients.

The genus Pulsatilla includes about 30 species, many of which are valued for their finely-dissected leaves, solitary bell-shaped flowers, and plumed seed heads. The anthers are bright yellow and the purple bell consists of sepals.

Ah, that's lovely. Add a bunch of gel with the "memory" of yeast (aka, a bunch of gel with nothing in it) to your vagina, and your yeast infection should clear up in a couple of days! Even though your yeast infection probably would have cleared up in a couple of days if you did nothing. Ah, scams, aren't they lovely?

Though the thing I find most amusing is that whenever someone recommends a post or article to me (like this one), 90% of the time it's about vaginas/penises/boobies/sex. Well, there's usually some sort of skeptical bent to it, or it's inane enough to need my commentary or debunking. You guys know me too well (I mean, look, I already had a "vagina" tag). Kind of love it that sex makes you think of me!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Interdisciplinary research (comic)

I love PHD Comics. Because even though I say I read it to prepare me for grad school, it's already so much like my life. For example:Let's see...

I work in the Ecological Genetics Laboratory but get paid by Genetics (and previously Howard Hughes). My Advisor is in Forestry and Natural Resources but my other Advisor is in Ecology. Officially, I'm part of Biology in Lilly Hall...even though my office* is in Pfendler Hall. Most of my classes are on molecular & cell biology, yet technically my degree is in Genetics and Ecology, Evolution, & Environmental Biology. So basically, I belong in the Biology Borg Collective.

Okay, I guess that's not too insane. But seriously, I've taken two advanced genetics classes and a tiny seminar class, and that's good enough for a degree in Genetics. That's kind of terrifying. Less microbiology, more genetics!

*Office = lab bench space that I have guarded dearly for three years and damnit who keeps moving my pipettemen and tiny tubes and tube opener?! *hoard hoard hoard*

I need your help!

At tomorrow's biweekly club meeting we're playing Creationist Bingo. It should be hilarious fun. Does anyone have suggestions for hilarious creationist youtube videos we can show of actual creationists parroting the same idiotic tripe over and over? Real creationists, not people spoofing them. I'm sure it's not hard to find, but I'm busy with school right now. Go check out the Creationist Bingo card to get an idea of what we're looking for (it shouldn't be hard, though).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dating tips for the 1938 woman

This is too good not to share. PBH3 has found an 1938 Dating Guide for single women, and it's a goldmine of unintentional hilarity. Here's an example of one of the tips:
Pssshhh, who cares about women's interests! All they do is talk about clothes anyway!

Go check it out. If it doesn't make you laugh, it'll at least make you thankful for how far we've come. If I had to live up to 1938 dating standards, I think I would end up being a lonely cat lady. I mean, how do they expect women do get through the night without passing out from drinking too much?!?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

James Randi = Dumbledore

The atheist blogosphere is overflowing with coverage about the news that James Randi has come out as gay. Like everyone else, I want to congratulate him on being brave enough to make this public. It's a bit sad that he had to wait until he was 81 to do so, but I think that really shows the progress that's being made for LGBT people.

But that's all been said before. I have something much more important to say.

James Randi totally is Dumbledore1. Both are known for their awesome magic skills
2. Kickass white beards. 'Nuff said
3. Wise, old men that many people respect
4. In charge of movements against stupidity/lies/evil
5. Excessive amount of middle names: "Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore" and "Randall James Hamilton Zwinge"
6. Both have a younger brother and younger sister
7. Gay

If only I knew if Randi had a fondness for sweets or enjoyed a good pair of socks...

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Santa stories

This is a question from formspring.me. Go ask me something!

OK so we are covered on the god side, but when/how did you figure out the more realistic things like Santa™ and the tooth fairy? And sorry of we are taking away FF time. This is kind of entertaining though.

Even though I'm a life-long atheist, I did believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, and the Easter bunny. But since my dad instilled a good sense of skepticism in me, those beliefs didn't last very long.

I loved the Easter bunny when I was little. I'm half Greek, so we usually celebrated two Easters - one for the American side of the family, and the other for the Greek side. They were usually a week or two apart, which meant I got double the Easter bunny action. There's nothing better than looking for eggs and eating a ton of chocolate.

And when I was very little, I sincerely believed in him. I remember once when I was probably six or so, I was playing upstairs in my room while all the grown ups talked downstairs. The doorbell rang, but I ignored it since I wasn't allowed to answer the door. Then about ten minutes later someone came up to told me the Easter bunny came, but I missed him since I was playing.

I was pissed. Why wouldn't they tell me?! Why wouldn't they ask him to wait?!? Could we see if he was visiting any of the houses nearby?!?! Of course I got a lot of BS answers about how little kids weren't supposed to see him, how I shouldn't worry about that and just go look for the eggs... But that started the seed of doubt in my mind. By the next year I was convinced one of my family members had rang the doorbell, and it was all an act. But since I still received lots of chocolate, I didn't really care all that much.

Everything else started to seem suspicious after that. Wasn't it interesting how the tooth fairy only knew I had lost a tooth if I told my parents about it? That one I didn't ask about, since I liked receiving money under my pillow (I was skeptical, not stupid). Santa was the same way. How could he get to all the houses in the world in one night? Or more importantly, why was his handwriting on the presents the same as my mom's?

My mom's reply? "Do you want presents or not?"

She's not exactly the best encourager of skeptical thinking, but I did want presents. We kept up the act for a while, eventually with me thanking "Santa" while winking at my mom.

My experiences are one of the reasons I think it's important for atheist families to keep perpetuating the Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny myths. By learning to work through those myths, your kids will gain a set of skeptical thinking tools that they can apply to other parts of their life. By the time someone was telling me about Jesus rising from the dead, it was so ludicrous that I couldn't believe anyone actually believed it. Thank you, Santa!

PS: And no, you're not taking away from Final Fantasy time. I'm just doing this inbetween grinding. Much...get...ultimate weapons...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My art background

This is a question from formspring.me. Go ask me something!

Have you ever had art classes or did you learn on your own? 'Cause you're pretty good!

Thank you! And the answer is both! My mother was a middle school art teacher (just retired), so I was surrounded by art my whole life. My bathroom back home is decorated by watercolor paintings I did when I was 2 years old - basically just blobs, but my mom thinks it's as good as some modern art. I was an introverted kid, so I would always sit around and draw for fun. People who knew about my artistic ability always thought my mom sat me down and trained me, but she really didn't. I was way too stubborn to listen to her then, and I mostly figured it out on my own. But if I did want advice on how to make something look better or more realistic, she was there for the tips.
Priorities - This is hanging up in my high school because it won a major award.

Even though I didn't like to listen to her personally, she really enriched my life with art. We went to the Art Institute of Chicago nearly every year, to the point where I could have given you a tour of the exhibits by age 10. I was well versed in the history and style of most famous artists. In addition to art classes I took at school, I also took some summer classes.
Lift-off painting of Jude Law I did during my sophomore year of high school. Had no idea who he was at the time, just found a pretty magazine photograph of him.

School classes were my favorite though. I always looked forward to art, and teachers gave me a lot leeway. I was an honors student and good in most subjects, but in art I was years ahead of everyone else. Every year since first grade I had at least one piece in the Northwest Indiana art show, and I usually won at least something. Whenever there was a class project that needed an illustration, I was the go-to girl.
Oil painting and colored pencils are my favorite medium. And if you can't figure it out, I love drawing people. And yep, this one is a self portrait.

My mom was actually my art teacher from 6th through 8th grade, which was a little awkward in the beginning (especially since it took everyone forever to figure out that she was my mom!). At the time I was annoyed that she graded me tougher than the other students, but in the end it made me a better artist. My high school art teacher was wonderful too - she was so spunky and creative, and had a good mix of teaching skills and encouraging creativity. I took AP Studio Art my senior year, with a class size of one - I just sat in the corner and painted while another class was going on (by the way, I got a 5 on my exam - woot). And on top of all that, I was the Art Club President for two years. Yep, I was more of an art geek than a science nerd!
My favorite piece from AP Studio Art - Pygmalion

So how did I end up a scientist? Well, I liked genetics and art equally. My logic at the time was that art can be a hobby, but genetics kind of can't. Not to mention I like doing art my way, and I couldn't imagine doing it as a job. So here I am, a geneticist. I'm very happy with my decision, even though I don't do as much art as I would like. Regardless, that artistic ability still helps me in science. I have labmates come to me to help with figures and posters (No, do not use neon green and orange for that figure...). But more importantly, art has trained me to think creatively. You can do science without it, but to ask the innovative, cool questions you need to be able to think outside of the box. So to all those people who don't see art as a worthwhile class to have - think again!
Proof that I'm actually doing these!

I haven't updated my art much since high school, but if you want to check out my other stuff, I have an old deviantART page.

Raised without sexual guilt?

Hey everyone. I'm joining the formspring.me bandwagon, as it's a good source for blog fodder. Basically you can go here to ask me anonymous (or not anonymous) questions on anything you'd like. I won't promise to answer everything, but I'll try. Ones that I really like will become an official blog post, like the one below.

I grew up fundamentalist. I'm also naturally pervy. I lived with a lot of guilt and shame, especially regarding masturbation. What's it like not to have to live with that? Did you have any guilt at all about your normal sexual leanings?

While I grew up in a fairly secular environment, I wouldn't say my upbringing was completely guilt-free. My parents actually never had "The Talk" with me, and sexuality was just a very awkward subject. Most "sexual morals" that I learned from them came in the form of rants about other people. My dad was a special education teacher at a city school, and stories about students who ruined their life by getting pregnant were all too common. I remember sitting at the dinner table while he told us how one of his freshman girls was pregnant with her second child, and how she could never come to school because she was so busy taking care of the first. It was never explicitly said, but the message was "Don't fuck up your life by getting pregnant."

And to be honest, that's still a mantra I hold today. I never really felt guilty about sexual things I did, even when I was fooling around back in high school. I never went all the way - but not because I wanted to wait until marriage, or so that I could claim to be a "technical virgin" - I just logically knew I wasn't ready to deal with the consequences. The way I saw it, once I was 18 and away at college, I'd be able to buy birth control. And if that failed, I'd be able to get an abortion without requiring parental permission or something. Really, I just put off sex until I knew it could be my little secret.

I used to think you should only have sex with people you really love, but now I realized that's just what society was telling me I should think. I'm personally not into random hookups with strangers, but I have no problem with casual sex or friends with benefits. As long as everyone involved is on the same page and no one gets hurt, I see no problem with it.

I kind of feel bad for people who were raised in anti-sex environments. Trained guilt is insanely hard to get rid of. I really can't fathom how people feel guilty about masturbation, or sex before marriage, or multiple partners, or same sex fantasies, even when they can rationally tell themselves it's okay. It really just sort of sucks. Sometimes I'll feel a momentary twinge of guilt knowing the majority of society thinks I'm some naughty slut - but you know what? I enjoy getting some, and they can all fuck off.

And that's really how I deal with any guilt. If I'm not hurting myself or anyone else, then my sexual acts and fantasies are none of your goddamned business. Well, I'll talk about it if you're actually pro-sex - but if your goal is to judge me and make me feel bad about myself, then you're wasting your time.

March Madness!

I have a confession to make: I care a tiny amount about March Madness. Me interested in sports - shocking, right? I think going to a Big Ten school helped, because now I have a team that I can arbitrarily pledge my allegiance to and root for. Of course, Robbie Hummel got hurt and now Purdue is effectively screwed, but I'll be cheering them on anyway.

But that's not the real reason I like March Madness. For the fourth year in a row we're having a family pool: It's me, my dad, mom, brother, his wife, her brother and parents, my other brother, and his girlfriend/spouse/omg get officially married already so I know what to call you. I love it because how competitive all the guys get. My dad and brothers played college basketball, my dad coached high school basketball for 25 years, and the other guys watch it religiously, so they all actually care about the outcomes. They strategically fill out their brackets and argue over who's the best choice.

The fun part? The ladies, who always randomly fill out their brackets, usually do just as well.

I'm not trying be stereotypical with the "Men like sports and women don't" trope - that's just how my immediate family actually is. But it's always good to get to the end of the tournament and go "Huh, I'm winning? Can't believe my random guessing is as good as your calculated choices..." Ah McCreights, we love rubbing it in.

Anyone else watching the tournament? Do you actually think you're good at figuring out the winner? Is there anything else in your life that you think you have control over, but it's probably more due to chance?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

America's sex prudishness now extended to dogs

What the hell.
"Is your pet feeling left in the dirt because of his/her unsightly rear? I’ve got them covered... Rear Gear is handmade in Portland, OR and offers a cheerful solution to be-rid your favorite pet’s un-manicured back side."
Yes folks, now we can't even see our pet's buttholes. Heaven forbid we acknowledge that an animal poops, especially when we have to clean up after it. No, instead hang a gaudy attention-attracting sign on it's butt, so your virgin eyes don't have to be sullied. Seriously, what the hell? What happens when these things want to sit down? Or poop?!

Though I have to admit, this one made me chuckle a bit:
Danger! Toxic waste exit! Do not approach without pooper scooper!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ok, one more webcomic

I'm seriously trying to not spam you guys with webcomics, but this is just too perfect:Oddly enough, both of them kind of look like me (at various stages of hair length). I don't get giddy about pig fetuses, but I'll do a little dance when my primers come in.

xkcd summarizes my views on porn perfectly

xkcd shows us what porn for women should be like if feminists were in charge:Epic Win.

Well, I read the second frame as feminist sarcasm. If she was being serious and Randal Monroe was being highly ironic by also stereotyping women... nah, he's awesome, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Goodbye internet, hello Final Fantasy XIII

Hey guys! I'm on spring break! While usually that would mean I have a lot of free time to blog, unfortunately I went out and bought Final Fantasy XIII. If you don't understand what that means, you need to read this (multiple friends said they immediately thought of me):To illustrate how much of an FF addict I am, my first thought was "That's so stupid of him! You rarely use phoenix down, especially if you're a good player. He should have picked potions or something."

...Yeah, I'm a FF geek.

Anyway, some preliminary thoughts about the game for those of you who got it or are thinking about getting it (don't worry, I'm not far enough to really know spoilers yet):

1. The dialog is cheesy as hell. And I mean, cheesy compared to other FF games, even. It's like watching Final Fantasy Days of Our Lives. I almost vomited during the lovey dovey fireworks scene.

2. Making up for that is the graphics. Oh my god. I'd all HD, and the gameplay looks just as high def as the cut scenes. I'm constantly having an eyegasm.

3. Speaking of cut scenes, wow. I know FF is notorious for them, but so far I feel like there's a cut scene ever five seconds. Of course, it's so pretty that I don't really care.

4. I kind of like the new battle system. I was a little worried since I'm one of those n00bs who like turn based and active time scares me, but I think I'm getting the hang of it. It makes the battles feel a lot more real and important since you have to keep making quick decisions. The in-battle graphics are also great, it actually looks like a real fight instead of someone swinging a sword and a monster that's a mile away going "ouch."

5. The black guy is comic relief. Again. Oh, FF. Though his baby chocobo is kind of the cutest thing ever.

6. And finally, Vanille is the girliest girly girl ever. When she's running she literally skips and prances with her arms up in the air. While in a scary dungeon. Wtf. I mockingly yelled "Yaaaay!" when she was running, and then a half second later she went "Yaaaay!" She's predictably cute.

Other character: Where's your mark?
Me: *girly voice* On my butt!
Her: Teehee, here! *lifts up skirt to show the mark on her butt*
Me: ...Wow.

Alright, back to playing!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Indiana high school student sues over graduation prayer

Ah, always good to see freethinkers in Indiana! Or at the very least, young people who support the separation of church and state:
A Greenwood High School honor student who learned in class about court rulings striking down school prayer has found a real-world application -- his own graduation ceremony.

Eric Workman's lawsuit, filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, challenges the high school's practice of allowing seniors to vote on whether to have a student-led prayer at graduation.

ACLU attorney Ken Falk said allowing the vote and even having the prayer run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that found prayers at public school-sponsored events to violate the First Amendment.

"This is particularly egregious when it's coming from a student who's going to be sitting on the stage," Falk said. Workman, 18, is ranked first in his class, the lawsuit says.

Good for him! It can be difficult to deal with small religious towns in Indiana, and this kid is probably getting a lot shit for what he's doing. So I send kudos his way for helping keep church and state separated!

Of course, not everyone is as understanding...

The Rev. Shan Rutherford, pastor of Greenwood Christian Church for more than three decades, said he disagrees with the proposition that such a prayer would violate a student's rights.

"If I lived in a Muslim nation, a Hindu nation or anything else, I would expect to go along with the majority," Rutherford said. "He's trying to go with minority rule. To me, that's wrong in a democracy, one that was founded on Christian principles."

"If you don't agree, I don't think you should try to stop other people from exercising their rights."
Rev. Rutherford, I think you need to sit in on that government class Workman learned so much from.

Anyone who still claims that America was founded on Christian principles shows how little they know about our government's history, since that trope has been destroyed over and over. But worse than that is his failure to comprehend the idea of "majority rule, minority rights." Just because Christians are in the majority doesn't mean they get to have everything their way, especially when it infringes upon the rights of the minority. Removing a school prayer doesn't make it an atheist ceremony, representing a majority of Americans - it makes it a secular ceremony, representing everyone. I would be just as a against someone getting up on stage an talking about how there is no God, religion is stupid, and anyone who believes in God is deluded. That would be totally inappropriate for a public school graduation, just as a prayer would.

Ah, Christian persecution complex. Lovely, isn't it?

(Hat tip to Tom)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

No prom? Blame the gays

This story really makes me sad.
A northern Mississippi school district will not be hosting a high school prom this spring after a lesbian student sought to attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

The Itawamba County school district's board decided Wednesday to drop the prom because of what it called recent distractions but without specifically mentioning the girl's request, which was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The student, 18-year-old high school senior Constance McMillen, said the cancellation was retaliation for her efforts to bring her girlfriend, also a student, to the April 2 dance.

"A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this, so in a way it's really retaliation," McMillen told The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson. Calls to McMillen by The Associated Press late Wednesday went unanswered.

School policy requires that senior prom dates be of the opposite sex. The ACLU of Mississippi had given the district until Wednesday to change that policy, arguing that banning same-sex prom dates violated McMillen's constitutional rights.

...

The ACLU said McMillen approached school officials shortly before the memo went out because she knew same-sex dates had been banned in the past. The ACLU said district officials told McMillen she and her girlfriend wouldn't be allowed to arrive together, that she would not be allowed to wear a tuxedo, and that she and her girlfriend might be asked to leave if their presence made any other students "uncomfortable."

Alright, I know it's Mississippi, and apparently it's a small religious town, but how can a school be so fucking stupid? Don't they know this is just going to open up a can of worms? No, instead they have to stand by their "traditional values" of discrimination instead of letting a girl wear a tux and dance with another girl. Jesus Christ, people. Have a little compassion, or at least a little legal common sense.

And the fact that they canceled prom is even worse than if they just banned this student from taking a same-sex date. I think McMillen is right when she says this is punishment - those gays are to blame for prom being canceled! If only they could just be good, quiet, heterosexual girls who wore dresses. If this high school is anything like mine (or most American high schools), prom is a big fucking deal. Even I went to prom. Twice.

This makes me wonder what could have happened at my high school back in the day. Two of my close friends were lesbians who were dating each other, and they were considering going to prom together. I know there were some worries over if Munster would allow it, if they'd have to fight for it, if they'd have to drag in their parents (who are super supportive wonderful people). They would have been the first same sex couple to try it - gays went to prom, but usually with a friend for a date because they were too afraid to come out (I was actually my gay friend's beard for his senior prom). In the end, it didn't matter though - they decided that prom was lame, and they went to a Star Wars convention instead (probably a much better choice).

I really hope this school comes around and stops acting like the asshats they are. No, prom isn't some god given right to all high school students - but to revoke that privilege because of one gay couple is just wrong.

(Via BoingBoing)

Happy Birthday, Blag Hag!

Guess what?! Today is Blag Hag's first birthday! I've officially been blogging for a year. Woooooo! Let's celebrate! Crazy internet party! Yeah!

Or maybe you could just like, say what posts you liked the most in the last year. That would work too. Still think a crazy internet party would be more fun though.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Anti-Porn & Anti-Sex Worker Bingo!

Man, I wish I would have had this before I attended that Porn & Popcorn event. Would have made it a lot more tolerable to yell "Bingo!" halfway through (click for larger).
Of course, that blog entry is still getting spammy anti-porn and anti-me trolls posting from who knows where. Maybe I should just play bingo with those comments - probably could get a blackout fairly quickly.

(Hat tip to Lauren, Via Feminisnt (Warning, NSFW))

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Programming + Rap = Win

I don't know enough programming to understand any of the details, but this is still pretty cool. Two Stanford students (coincidence!) made a Rap Lyric Generator for the final project for one of their CS classes. The result? Well, I had a hard time telling the difference between the man-made rap song, and the computer generated one.

Let's play a game! Guess which of theses verses come from a real rap song, and which were generated by a computer (answers at bottom of post).
1. And I say "a yia yia yia"
Let’s get it on every time
Holler out "Your mine"
And I say "Oh oo oh oo oh oh oh oh oh
So if you willin’ you wit it then we can spend time
And I say "a yia yia yia"

2. Now first let’s call for the motherfuckin indo
Pull out your crutch and put away your pistol

3. you take pride in suckin’ a good dick
and after i nut bitch you better not spit ha ha ha ha
you’re a dirt dobbler a goop gobbler
you’ll fuck satan for the righteous dollar
so gimme some gimme some

4. can a nigga get some to go yeah baby
she got it she got it she got it
i do my thang in the club
you can do it

5. see i won’t deny it i’m a straight ridah
i got semi-autos to put holes in niggaz tryina play me
i look to my future cause my past is all behind me
yeah see the cross on my neck that just might freeze me
Of course, that's probably because rap sounds like total nonsensical gibberish to begin with... Alright, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say their hard work probably had something to do with it too. I mean, they even included a graph of "Rap Quality" (which I'm pretty sure is an oxymoron). Bad music aside, the project is still cool!

(Answers: Human, Human, Human, Computer, Computer)

Stanford summary

Let me provide you with a visual explanation of why I want to go to Stanford:
Oh my god, how could one place be so beautiful? I think I've been living in Indiana way too long.

Seriously though, I really enjoyed Stanford, and not just for the lovely weather and beautiful palm trees (but those were definite perks). The professors and students were super nice and easy to talk to, the research was really interesting, and I think it would be a good fit for me. I'll find out if I'm officially accepted later this week! The major downside is the cost of living - the cheapest apartments there are more than twice than what I'm paying now, sheesh. At least in grad school I'll actually have a pay check. If I can live off virtually nothing, I think I'll be okay even on a grad student's salary.

In addition to going through the typical interview process, I also was invited to AHA!'s meeting at Stanford. It was basically a big Q&A session where I talked about my experience blogging and a little bit about being an atheist in the midwest. I had a blast, and really enjoyed meeting the club members! Depending on my grad school decision, I might be going to those meetings a lot more often.

On Saturday we got a mini vacation, which was a lot of fun. We went to the Exploratorium, took a boat ride out to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, and ate at a yummy pub in downtown San Francisco.
Sea lions!
I had no idea that there were boat police that could actually pull over other boats. And with a mounted gun! ...I am easily amused.
Alcatraz and San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
And meeeee, just to prove I'm not just making up my adventures.

Monday, March 8, 2010

One reason to be a creationist

A friend of mine sent me this image with the comment "This is why I believe in an infallible God."Hey, but you know what? Science can bring that back! Mwahahahahahaaaaa!

...I have obviously not learned anything from Jurassic Park.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sarah Jessica Parker = Toblerone?!?

I have just one thing to say about the Oscars.What the hell is Sarah Jessica Parker wearing? A gold tube with exploding foil at the top? Is she a candy bar wrapper or something? I mean, I'm not Ms. Fashionable, but what the hell?
Mmmmm Toblerone. Delicious, but not a good fashion inspiration.

Other than that, I have nothing to say. I watched the Oscars for about 20 minutes just because my roommate had it on. I usually don't give a damn about them, but this year I'm especially apathetic since I hadn't seen a single film that was up for Best Picture - yep, not even Up or Avatar. I blame that on the fact that I've been single for most of the past year, and I think I only watch movies on dates.

...And before I start contemplating how sad that is, I'm going to go to bed. Will post about my Stanford trip tomorrow!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mmmm Coke with real sugar

Howdy everyone. I'm still at Stanford for my interviews - taking a quick lunch break. Sorry that I don't have any real material to blog about; I'm too busy being distracted by the absolutely beautiful campus.

Like any grad school visit, lots of delicious food is being thrown at me, including bottled Coke with real sugar. Yuuummm.

What random food do you consider a treat and wish you could have more often?



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Open forum

I'm currently in the Indy airport waiting for my flight to San Francisco. I've finally been able to keep food down, so my flight should be much more bearable than imagined (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, you haven't been following my TMI tweets).

Because I spent the last couple of days tossing my cookies instead of blogging, I don't have any material prepared for my trip to Stanford. So consider this an open post! Post links, selfishly self promote, talk abou what's on your mind, and get to know each other! And for all you lurkers, say hello!


Monday, March 1, 2010

Abortion & the value of human life

Abortion has been on my mind a lot recently. Not for personal reasons. We've been discussing it in my biomedical ethics class, though I've unfortunately missed a lot of the discussion because of my grad school visits. On top of that, Angie the Anti-Theist, a blogger I follow, has been generating a media storm because of her decision to live-tweet her abortion. I fully support what she is doing - it's sad that talking about a legal medical procedure results in shock, hate mail, and death threats.

It probably does not surprise most of you that I am extremely pro-choice. The odd thing, though, is I don't talk about it a lot. I'm always wary of getting into abortion debates, because I feel like it's one of those topics that's a lose-lose situation. No one is going to change their minds, and I'll just get cranky at the particularly stupid comments. But I also know how important it is to speak up about how I feel:

Even if you could convince me that biological human life begins at conception, I would still be pro-choice.

Emotional arguments about beating hearts and fingers and brainwaves don't affect me at all. Abortion is unfortunate, but when it is the lesser of two evils, it should be an option. The whole "when does life begin" debate is totally irrelevant to me. And why do I say that?

Because I don't think we can honestly say all human life is of equal value.

I'd love to be a perfect liberal and say that all human life has infinite value and can never be compared or weighed, but I'd be lying to myself. I'd wager that none of us treat all human beings as having equal value when it really comes down to it. For example, think of this thought experiment:

You have the choice of killing one person or killing five people. They are equivalent in every way (job, age, personality, number of family of friends, etc). Do you kill one person or five? Most of us would say to kill the one. While killing anyone is unfortunate, in this case it is best to minimize the amount of total harm done.

But let's change it up a bit. What if the one person was a loved one - one of your parents, one of your siblings, your spouse, or your best friend. Would you still kill that one person to save the other five? Most people would not. This illustrates that there is something more to our decision making process than all humans having equal value.

Maybe that's a bit subjective because of our biology - through evolution we've slowly adapted to favor kin over non-kin. And since I don't believe we should simply be the product of our biology, let's use a more telling thought experiment: how we treat age. If there was a burning building and you could only save one person, do you save the 25 year old or the 80 year old? Most people say they would save the 25 year old, with their reasoning being that the 80 year old has had time to live a long, fulfilling life.

Replace that with an fetus and a 25 year old.

If we're using a simple metric of "total years lived," you could argue the fetus would win - the 25 year old already has lived 25 years, after all. But is number of years lived the only thing we use to assign value to human life? Again, I'd argue no. If there was a burning building and you have to save one of two people of equal age, who would you save: An elementary school teacher or a brain-dead person? A charity worker or a sex offender? A cancer researcher or a grocery bagger? The President or a unemployed alcoholic?

We feel bad about making judgement calls about people's worth, but it's something we do. That grocery bagger could be a great human being - but all things being equal, we see the cancer researcher as contributing more to society. Likewise, there are other negative traits we see as detracting. These traits all have fairly subjective value - what's worse, a sex-offender or an unemployed alcoholic? - but most of us still make these judgements. I'm not at all advocating eugenics or the widespread purging of unemployed alcoholics - I'm just trying to make a point that unless your answer to those questions is "I'd flip a coin," then you don't view all human life as having equal value.

So back to abortion.

To me, a fetus is on the bottom of the totem pole. A fetus does not feel emotional pain, does not have conscious thoughts, and does not have dreams to be a big shot football player some day. It does not have friends or families that it has made intimate connections with. It does not have career or life goals. It does not fear death because it does not have the mental capacity to understand what death is. It does not have a fated trajectory in life (you can't argue that this was the person who would go on to cure cancer). And in the case of a woman seeking abortion, it will not be missed by loved ones because it is not even wanted to begin with.

And to me, these are the things that make us human and give us worth. Not heartbeats or brainwaves or unique genetic composition. If a woman decides that continuing a pregnancy will severely detrimentally affect her life, she has every right to have an abortion. She has all of these attributes, and her quality of life far outweighs the existence of insentient cells.

Yes, quality of life, not just her life itself. To me, the value of an unwanted fetus is low enough to not outweigh quality decisions. An unwanted pregnancy going to make you have to drop out of school? Quit your job? Be depressed and stressed? Feel free to choose an abortion.

Obviously not everyone is going to agree with me. There are women out there who can see four cell zygotes as God-sent little babies. And to those women I say: Great! That's why I'm pro-choice. If you don't see unwanted fetuses as parasitic clumps of cells, then don't get an abortion. But this is one of the few areas that I will concede that philosophy does trump biology - that DNA and physiology alone cannot answer this ethical issue.

Note: There are many points about abortion that I have not addressed in this post, and they will likely come up in the comments. I will probably cover them in the future.

No Gods license plate in Indiana

Indiana roads have become a little more godless thanks to Jason:

I have to say, I'm a little disappointed in him. He could have racked up a thousand irony points for putting it on our free In God We Trust license plates:
Seriously, I think these are more common than the standard plate. Makes me sad.

At least it seems Jason is living in a more liberal part of Indiana (Marion County is home to Indianapolis). If my car has survived living in West Lafayette with a Darwin Fish & Obama sticker, he should be fine.

(Via Friendly Atheist)