Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New York Recap Part3: Best burlesque show ever

If I haven't given you enough evidence of how awesome my sister-in-law Erin is, she took me to Coney Island for a burlesque show. Not just any burlesque show... but Colonel Cornstar's Cuntry Fair. Complete with a heavy petting zoo.Yes, a farm themed burlesque show. You know it had to be awesome.

But the cherry on top was the celebrity sighting we had there. We were standing in line waiting to get in when someone walked by who looked oddly familiar. I thought maybe I was seeing things, since 1) he was way more stubbly looking than usual and 2) we had just talked about seeing celebrities not an hour before, so maybe I just had celebrities on the brain. I peered at him as he was buying a drink two feet away, and eventually poked Erin, and she confirmed.

It was Ted Allen of Chopped, Food Detectives, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy! I'm a Food Network fan and he's my favorite persona (well, tied with Alton Brown), not to mention my favorite one from the Fab Five. He was there with his boyfriend and a couple of friends. I definitely flailed with glee. By pure luck I ended up sitting about two seats away from him.

The show itself was hilarious and awesome. I loved the pig who was covered in balloons, popped them with her tail, and then jumped in a bucket of "mud." Ted Allen appeared to really get a kick out of the I Want Candy bit:



As the night went on, the skits became more bizarre and less farm themed. They included:
  • A conservative homophobic uber Christian coming out looking like Hester Prynne, stripping down as she has a crisis of faith, and then pulling fifteen feet of rainbow rope out of her vagina. If you think I'm making this up, there's a NSFW video here.
  • A "white trash" girl screwed herself with one of those long skinny spiral lollipops. Yes, literally. I have no idea why or what that had to do with the rest of the show, but it definitely got a reaction out of the audience.
  • The inspiration for all of my future nightmares. She came out wearing a terrifying clown mask and 6 inch heels, and threw squirt guns into the audience while holding a sign that said "Shoot the Freak."
Here she is:And here's Ted Allen shooting the freak:Unfortunately he was always busy with his friends or getting a picture taken with the naked Pig Girl, so I didn't get a chance to butt in and awkwardly ask for a photo. I didn't realize until later that he was also a Purdue alumni - I could have had a good intro! Ah well. The experience alone was worth it. I mean, how many people get to say they watched a burlesque show with Ted Allen?

Delightfully bizarre.

(Videos via Year in Dance, the blog of the dancer with the magical rainbow rope hiding vagina)

New York Recap Part2: SEX!

On the Friday after my photoshoot I decided to hit up a couple New York museums. First I headed over to the Museum of Sex, which a bunch of my readers suggested to me. Man, I have no idea why you guys thought I would want to go to this place. Do I look like some sex obsessed biologist to you?
...Don't answer that.

The gift shop alone was worth the visit. It included everything from sex books and sex toys, to sex themed plates to this horrifying bunny bondage mask:
I thought the Donnie Darko bunny mask was as scary as it gets. I was wrong.

The museum itself was very cool. It was a little weird going through it without a friend, because I was That One Creepy Loner Person staring at bondage get ups and famous pornos. But it was still neat. The first exhibit was all on kinks. It ranged from typical stuff like porn to stuff like balloon popping or feeder fetishes. I was particularly amused by this antique fanfiction:
I know, you'll never look at Donald Duck or Olive Oil the same way. You're welcome.

As a perfect example of why I needed a partner in crime, they had Real Dolls on display that you could touch. I was going to try it out of curiosity, but then another Creepy Loner Guy came up and rubbed at the female, and it was just creepy as hell. So, yeah, I wimped out. I regret it!
One of their special exhibits was on condoms. A lot of it was educational, so not really new to me, but I loved all the different condom cases they had on display. These three were by far my favorite (click image for larger):
For those of you who can't read it, Sarah Palin's says "When abortion is not an option," Obama's says "Use with good judgement," and McCain's says "Old but not expired." Though I like my sister-in-law's suggestion for an Obama condom - "For when hope is not enough."

The final exhibit was on animal sexuality, so I definitely spent the most time in there geeking out. It was odd reading all the information and seeing names of people that I not only recognized, but have actually met. I knew a lot of the stuff, but I learned a lot of fun facts. Did you know elephant clitorises are 17 inches when erect? Well now you do, and you can't forget that. Again, you're welcome.

I was a bit disappointed they didn't have anything on copulatory plugs, though. Who doesn't want to learn about natural chastity belts?! I'll have to send them my paper once it's published.

On the way out, I was greeted by a cute mime wearing nothing but an American flag speedo on stilts. Yay New York!
My next stop was the Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA. I absolutely loved it. I didn't research it much before going, so I was shocked by how many famous pieces were there. Persistence of Memory, Girl Before a Mirror, Christina's World, I and the Village, the Campbell Soup Cans... I was overwhelmed. I literally got goosebumps when I turned the corner and there was Starry Night.

But I also enjoyed the less traditional modern art, partially for its silliness. I mean, how can you not like Yoko Ono's wall of butts?
The best part was the young girl who was pointing at the butts giggling like crazy, trying to point it out to her mom. In French. I don't speak any French, but it was like the universal language of juvenile humor.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Arsonists strike future Tennessee Islamic Center

New York is not the only city that currently has a mosque controversy. Conservative Christian wackies in Murfreesboro, Tennessee are opposing the expansion of their local Islamic Center. Because, you know, it's just for training more terrorists and stuff. Oddly I first heard about the story from the hilarious clip The Daily Show ran on it last week.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Tennessee No Evil
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

In a not so hilarious turn of events, arsonists have set fire to the construction equipment at the site of the Islamic Center's expansion.

Hey, Conspiracy Theorists Who Think All Muslims Are Terrorists? Maybe going around setting things on fire and destroying property in an attempt to cause fear and silence a whole group of people isn't the best way to say those people are the terrorists. Just sayin'.

Despicable.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Exposed scientific dishonesty illustrates why science is so great

That title may sound counter intuitive, but give me a chance to explain.

You may have heard about the bit of academic scandal that's been happening at Harvard recently. Marc Hauser is a Professor in the Departments of Psychology, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, and Biological Anthropology. He was the leading researcher on the evolution of morality and moral behavior in primates and humans and an author of a number of books, including Moral Minds and (in progress) Evilicious: Our Evolved Taste for Being Bad.

In a somewhat amusingly ironic twist, he was found guilty of scientific misconduct, including fabrication of data that will result in several papers being retracted.

This is a very serious situation, especially since Marc Hauser was such a big name in his field. His career is effectively over, and now reseachers in the field have to rethink everything they've learned from him (and cited from him). It's even more serious for his students, whose futures are uncertain when their graduate advisor has such a black mark on his record. It's upsetting to the field of science as a whole, which does rely on a certain level of trust for practical reasons. We peer review to the best of our abilities, but you still have to hope everyone else is being honest like you since it can take time to expose problems.

It's also a little jarring to me personally. Not only will I have to reexamine what I read in one of his books that I greatly enjoyed, but I almost went to graduate school in one of the departments he teaches in. Academic scandals aren't the best way to start your graduate career.

But we have to remember this is what makes science so great. Science is not dogmatic. It's based on peer review and constant criticism. Scientists are still human and make errors, sometimes purposefully and sometimes not, so it's important to have these checks in place. Hauser was a giant in his field, but even he was not immune to scrutiny. It was his own graduate students who brought these problems to our attention at great personal risk.

Some people are using this as a chance to pooh-pooh the whole field of evolutionary psychology. I'm sure it's only a matter of time for creationists like Ken Ham to squeal with glee and twist the facts for their own "Never trust science!!!" agenda. But I really don't think this is quite so tragic. Isn't it good to know that we still expose bad science, even when we may have political reasons to not? Would we rather have evolutionary psychology trucking on without criticism, or get the fraudulent data out in the open? I'd be more concerned with the field if it was just being swept under the table. While it's sad such dishonesty occured, I'm happy to know that we can still sniff it out, correct it, and punish those who perpetuate it.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic (I know, unusual for me). But I think it's good to use this as an example of why science is the best way of exploring the world around us: Because when our findings are wrong, we'll admit it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

New York Recap Part1

I saw a ton of interesting and silly things during my trip to New York, so it would be a shame not to share it. So here are some of the highlights, with lots of photos!

The hotel I stayed in the first night was super fancy. At least, super fancy to a poor college student. But I liked it because it had a particular geeky bent to it, since it was in an old "Chemists' Club" building. Beakers for glasses! Petri dish for the soap holder! Wooo!It also was a wonderful location - just a couple blocks from Grand Central Terminal, The New York Public Library, and Times Square. I figured I would go check out Times Square since it was a Wednesday night, rather than an insane weekend visit. My sister-in-law pleaded that I check out the new Pop-Tart Store that everyone has been talking about, and try the disgusting-yet-intriguing sounding Pop-Tart Sushi.The idea of Pop-Tart having it's own store is kind of odd. I mean, I'll eat Pop-Tarts occasionally...but they're just Pop-Tarts. They're not even all that good. To have a whole store decorated like a Pop-Tart LSD rave was just weird.

But I did order one piece of the "Pop-Tart Sushi," which was Raspberry, Blueberry, and Wildberry Pop-Tarts mushed up together and held together with a fruit roll-up. If you think that sounds weird, just see how it looks:It was hard to put that thing in my mouth, it was so disgusting looking. It looked like a piece of fruity salami that had been pooped out by a unicorn. The flavor was okay - vaguely fruity - but the consistancy was gross. It was this gritty yet soft texture, like someone had chewed up a Pop-Tart, spit it out, and formed it into a nice little wedge. Thankfully it was only 75 cents.

I then wandered to the heart of Times Square. All the lights were kind of cool, but I don't know why it's such a big draw. It's basically just a lot of flashy advertisements, with the occasional weird person on the street.
Though my "favorite" weird thing was the Times Square Elmo. It was something out of a nightmare movie. The outfit was super old and dirty, like Elmo had been rolling around in the gutter. Something about the matted fur and human fingers sticking out of holes in the glove was unsettling. What was more unsettling was the parents who still let their children run up and hug Nasty Elmo. Eeewww.
I stopped in a couple random stores to pass the time. The coolest was definitely the Lego Store, where they had amazing Lego sculptures and individual lego pieces in every color.
This is totally different from the Pop-Tart store because Legoes, unlike Pop-Tarts, are super awesome. Just to clarify that.

I didn't spend too much time exploring that night since I was tired from my flight and needed my beauty rest for the photo shoot. I was tempted to get a last minute ticket for Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party, but ended up being too cheap. I did get to see an awesome sunset before turning in.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Douchey women ask for raises

...Wait, what?Yes, because your vagina has to smell minty fresh before you dare do serious business. Oh, and don't forget to eat. Or be on time. Or think about what you're going to say. Those things may just be important, in case you were too worried about your smelly vagina to remember.

...I hate women-targeted advertisements, in case you couldn't tell.

Oh, and ladies? Douching is bad for you. Don't do it.

(Via BoingBoing)

My big photoshoot!

The photoshoot was completely surreal.

I'm not sure what I'm really supposed to say other than that, but I'll try. The day started with us young feminists being shipped to our photo shoot location in Queens. I believe our age range was 27 to 17 - imagine doing this before your senior year of high school! At first we were a little confused when our van stopped in front of what looked to be a creepy abandoned warehouse. But man, it was awesome on the inside.
It was very rustic, with tons of odd antique props - suitcases, bird cages, old chairs, pillars, chandeliers, and tons of mirrors. It was a very artsy place. Later my sister-in-law informed me that that area of Queens is frequently used for photoshoots and movies - the more you know.We had breakfast and chatted a bit before we're sent off to get ready. My first destination was makeup. I was a little nervous when his first question was "Sooo, how do you usually do your makeup?" since my answer was "I don't," but it went fine. He kept it fairly natural looking, though it did look good. Still not good enough for me to go through that every morning, though - especially since it would take me ten times longer than him.
The makeup set up!

Then I had to get my wardrobe. I basically told the guy in charge to just pick stuff out he thought he'd look good on me, since I have absolutely no sense of fashion. Knowing me, I would have done best picking the opposite of what I originally wanted to pick. Throughout the course of the day I kept changing my outfit depending on what the photographer thought was best for the shot, and I actually ended up in something pretty tame. One of the coordinators even commented that she would have liked to see more skin on me - sorry guys.
The shoot set up. The mirror area is what we were all standing in front of.

My hair also kept changing through the day. First it was down, then behind the ears, and then finally pulled back in a pony tail. Hearing all these fashion people say how I looked best with it back made me a bit annoyed with myself at having cut it short not long ago. Boo.
What it looked like from our point of view.

Some funny observations:
  • A bunch of feminists wearing body shapers. That's all I need to say.
  • They didn't have any shoes in my size that weren't heels. Since I was too tall for the heels, they just ended up cutting off the back of my shoes for me to waddle around in. Fashion secret!
  • Half of our jokes were about being crazy sex obsessed third wavers. Yay being around feminists who can poke fun at ourselves!
  • Everyone was tweeting and fiddling with their smart phones the whole time. Oh bloggers. We joked the shoot should be of all of us tweeting, but we couldn't convince the photographer.
It took about 6 hours for all 10 women to get "processed," and the actual shoot took about a half hour. Oh fashion. I do have a better respect for it now. There were so many details that went into it that I never thought of, especially for a group shot. And everyone was super friendly to work with, which was especially nice since none of us had done this before. We weren't exactly professional models, so guidance and patience was definitely appreciated. It was pretty awesome hanging out with fellow young feminists all day!
Some of the feminists. I ended up looking nothing like that by the end of the day.

I'm not sure exactly what else to say, but if you have any specific questions about the day, I'll try to answer them in the comments. The interview and photo will be in the November issue of More Magazine, which comes out late October - I'll be sure to remind all of you!

Yep, my life is official surreal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stephen Colbert called me "smoking hot"

I thought it couldn't get any better than having a piece on me. I was wrong.Some context:

I got in line for the show with Nikki (my now Favorite Blog Reader for giving me a ticket) at 4:30. We were assigned tickets, and I was number 42. Yes, I think it was fate:
We were let into the lobby at 5:30, where we waited until they were ready to seat us. Thankfully they had old Colbert clips playing so it wasn't totally boring. Around 6:30 they seated us, and I had a great seat. You can see me when they pan to the audience - I'm in the middle section five rows back wearing a bright blue shirt. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any photos or have him autograph anything.

Before the show they had a stand up comedian as a warm up act, letting us know when to go extra crazy and to warm us up. Colbert then ran out, and we were able to do a Q&A session with him out of character, which was amazing. We were told to ask him anything random, or even comment on something if we didn't have a question. Or as he said, "Now's your chance to ask me something so I can redeem myself."

After he called on a couple people, he called on me. I usually hate people who do self serving comments instead of asking a question, but I thought, fuck it. How often do I get to speak to Stephen Colbert? This is how it went (though I probably stammered through it):

Me: I just wanted to thank you for the piece you did on boobquake in April -
Colbert: I'm afraid I don't quite remember what that was. ...Wait, was that you?
Me: Yes, that was me! And having you talk about me on your show was about the most awesome thing ever.
Colbert: Remind me what it was about.
Me: An Iranian cleric said immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes, and I said we should test that scientifically. And it kind of took off like crazy, well, I guess which is why it was on your show.
Colbert: And what did you wear that day?
Me: Uh, oh, something similar to this I guess.
Colbert: Now, now, young lady, I think it was a little less than that. You do look smoking hot though.
Me: ...*die*
Colbert: And wasn't there an earthquake that day?
Me: Yes, in Taiwan. But it wasn't statistically significant!
Colbert: *pauses and smiles* Don't underestimate yourself, you look good.

And then he moved on. And the gal sitting next to me said she loved boobquake.

The show itself was absolutely hilarious. I'm sure you can look on their website, but it included the "Ground Zero Mosque," Iranian politics, social media, religious jokes, and people riding dinosaurs. It was like it was tailor made for me.

On the way out another young woman came up to me and said she loved boobquake. What she said pretty much summarizes how I feel:

Her: That's so awesome having Stephen Colbert do a piece on you. Can it get any better than that?
Me: I used to think not, but yes, it can. Stephen Colbert just called me smoking hot.
Her: ...Very true.

I can think of no better end to this New York vacation. I just can't make stuff like this up (Nikki can confirm). Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go die of glee.

Guess who's about to go see the Colbert Report live?!

...Yeah, I have nothing else to say. Just wanted to rub it in. I get to be evil like that every once in a while - it's in the Universal Blogger's Rules or something.A zillion thanks to Nikki for lending me her extra ticket, thus earning her the title of Most Awesome Blog Reader Ever.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Flying Spaghetti Monster Wedding

From formspring.me: What are the guidelines to a Flying Spagetti Monster wedding? Are the roles gender specific? Can they be substituted easily for gay/lesbian couples?

Pastafarians aren't known for being particular devout, so I'm not sure if we have any strict wedding traditions. But here are somethings you can try to do:

1. It is preferred to have the officiator dressed in full pirate regala for an occasion blessed by His Noodliness. But if you want to be accomidating of non-Pastafarians in attendence (like confused in-laws), subtle touches will do:2. If you're having a reception, you must serve at least one pasta dish. Marinara, alfredo, and pesto are all acceptable sects.

3. Don't miss an opportunity to count how many times you've been blessed by his noodly appendage. Pay the FSM homage on your wedding cake too:Pastafarians are also very GLBT friendly, so these traditions need not be limited to heterosexual couples.

Are there any other Pastafarian wedding traditions I'm forgeting? I may be out of the loop because I'm one of those Talk Like a Pirate Day/Halloween Pastafarians (I know, lazy - don't judge me for not worshipping every Friday).

Defending the rights of theists does not equal agreeing with their beliefs

Some of you seemed surprised that I defended Park51, more infamously known as the "Ground Zero Mosque," after my visit there. You commented that Islam, on average, is more violent and oppressive of women. You were shocked that I saw the latter first hand - by being told I'd be segregated at dinner and must dress modestly - and yet I still supported Park51. It seemed ironic to you that someone who's 15 minutes of fame is based on contesting the standards of modest dress would be okay with all of this. You claimed that defending Muslims' right to freedom of religion implicitly agrees with their beliefs.

For those of you who are surprised, you don't know me very well.

What makes inalienable rights like freedom of speech and religion work is when they're truly inalienable. Once you start making judgement calls on who really gets to say something or what you're allowed to believe, everyone is in trouble. It doesn't matter if something is offensive or stupid. I will defend the freedom of speech of conservatives, Neo-Nazis, and misogynists as much as it may personally pain me to do so. And I may be an atheist, but if Muslims, Mormons, or Jehova's Witnesses are having their religious freedom taken away, I'll be the first to defend them.

Why? It's simple. Who gets to make the judgment calls on what's offensive or inappropriate?What happens when one of my beliefs is being censored because popular vote deems it too controversial? Just imagine if atheism was put up to a vote in the United States. Would we still be able to have atheist books or organizations? Hopefully you see why freedom of speech and religion need to be so adamantly defended.

But again, defense does not automatically equal agreement. Nor does defense automatically equal respect. Muslims can build their community centers and mosques, but I'll still vocally say that their beliefs are wrong. Allah almost certainly does not exist. Islam is, on average, more violent than other current religions - it's like getting in a time machine and seeing Christianity in the middle ages. Islam is one of the most oppressive religions toward women, and hijabs and burkas are tools of that oppression.

But Muslims should be able to build mosques and wear burkas if they want, because censorship is never the answer. If we want to defend the rights of some minorities, we must defend the rights of all minorities. And if you're truly concerned with making Islam more progressive or having more Muslims become less religious, taking away their rights isn't exactly the best way to open up communication.

Trust me, as an atheist, I'd be very happy to see fewer mosques, churches, and temples springing up around the country... If it was because less people feel the need for organized religion and superstitious thinking, not because we fearmongered them out of organizing.

Don't forget - New York meetup tonight!

This is just a friendly reminder that the New York Blag Hag Pub Meetup Extravaganza Thingy is tonight at 7pm at the Gibson in Brooklyn. I'm looking forward to meeting all of you!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Found this oddity in SoHo

Can anyone translate it? (click image for larger photo)Part of me thinks it'll be funnier without explanation, but I'm too curious.

My visit to the "Ground Zero Mosque"

I've been doing a lot of sight seeing in New York, and one of the places I stopped by is Ground Zero. I felt compelled to visit it, like it was some sort of patriotic duty as an American. There's really not much to see, especially since all of the area is surrounded by a fence advertising the 9/11 memorial that's going to be built where the two towers used to stand. It is pretty amazing how large the area is, and how it's still pretty much just a large hole filled with cranes - I thought it would be more far along after 9 years.

While I was in the area, I decided to stop by the controversial "Ground Zero Mosque." I use quotes because 1. It's not a mosque, it's a Muslim community center that will include (amongst many other things) an area for prayer, and 2. It's not exactly near Ground Zero. We had to walk a couple blocks to get there, and then down a quiet side street. It by no means feels like it's on top of Ground Zero.

We recognized the building because there were people with signs outside. I was ready for some anti-Muslim xenophobic protests, but I was pleasantly surprised:

All of the people there were supporters of Park51 and had signs about freedom of religion. I was definitely pleasantly surprised. There were some chalkings as well:The guy with the goatee let us know that friends were welcome to dinner at 8pm, regardless if they were Muslim or not. Though he did say women would eat in a separate room, and after a quick glance at my outfit, confirmed that I was modestly dressed enough to come. We already had plans, but it was a nice offer.

It was great to know other people haven't gone totally insane in this country. I may be an atheist, but I totally support freedom of religion. Even if Park51 was nothing more than a mosque, and even if it was right next to Ground Zero, I would still defend their right to build it there. 9/11 may have been caused by Muslim religious extremists, but it wasn't representative of all Muslims. We have to remember that people of all religious beliefs, including Muslims, died in 9/11, either as victims who were in the towers or responders who were trying to save lives.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Living in "special" states

From formspring.me: What do you do to cope living in a state as backwards as Indiana? I live in KY and am about at my wits end!

Escape. Did I mention I'm super excited to be moving to Seattle in a couple weeks?

Though seriously, I sympathize. Sometimes it can be a little maddening living somewhere that's the antithesis of your political, religious, and moral views. I think one way to stay sane is to find the other rare individuals who are suffering with you. I did it by starting my own atheist student group - maybe you could find something similar, or start your own.

Other than that...I'm not sure what to say. The internet is certainly your friend - a virtual community is better than none at all.

If you're living somewhere that tends to drive you crazy, how do you stay sane?

Friday, August 20, 2010

I get weird emails from Sigmund Freud

At least, that's what it seems like. From formspring.me:
Is it possible for me to measure the testosterone level in your blood?
Uh, it is indeed possible. Now, is it probable that I'll let some random person collect blood samples from me? Not exactly.
Would you allow us to compare your testosterone level in your blood with other women periodically? I'd like to find out how much testosterone explains the affinity to math and science.
Maybe if you were an actual laboratory doing a study for a university.
Would you admit that you have Electra Complex?
No, because Freudian analysis is bullshit.
Can I talk to your subconscious? I'd like to talk about sexual symbols in one of your paintings in the Deviantart.
I'm intrigued, but my subconscious is currently too weirded out to agree, sorry.
Can I talk to your subconscious about your semi-hidden forbidden desire for Snape-like people (cold, calculating, precise, sarcastic, and bitter) in your life?
My subconscious is amused that you think its desire for Snape is semi-hidden. And that it actually translates to the type of people I hang out with or date.

Hmm, I think I rather have questions from the dude with a bear romance problems...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I've made a horrible mistake

...I helped my dad set up a blog. It was sort of inevitable, really. One, he's retired - what else does he have to do? And two, he's opinionated - I know it's hard to believe, but McCreights tend to be. What more do you need to blog? At least he's better with computers than most 64 year olds.

Knowing his interests, it'll probably mostly be about politics, with a touch of sports and a dash of religion. And he's calling it If I Were King, based on the phrase that prefaces most of his advice on how to fix the world. Imagine if Shit My Dad Says was now dictator. It's amusing and a tad bit scary, no? He's already fixed church, men's ugly feet, congressional term limits, Tiger Woods, instant reply, and competitive eating.

I think one of the main reason he started it was to have a place where he could publicly poke fun at Teabaggers. And have a place where people actually listen, which is not necessarily true at the dinner table with me and my mom.

So go check it out and say hello! Be gentle, he's not used to this whole blogging thing. But don't be too nice - I don't want this to go to his head or something. I'm not sure if the internet is big enough for two McCreight bloggers...

SSA Fundraiser over at Friendly Atheist

Hemant wants to crush my blogathon fundraising?! How dare he! I... I... well, I guess I'll help him out. It is for a good cause (the Secular Student Alliance). And he's giving away prizes! Go check it out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Edgy Yet Friendly (video)

My talk from the Secular Student Alliance conference is now online! I talk about walking the fine line between controversial, interesting events and needlessly offending people. Enjoy!





Living in sin causes wildfires?

This is the newest example of Specific Religious Rule That's Not Particularly Morally Wrong Causes Deadly Natural Disaster:
A Russian tycoon has told 6,000 workers at his private dairy company that they'll be fired if they've ever had an abortion, or if those who are "living in sin" don't get married within two months.

Vasily Boiko, who officially changed his name to Boiko-Veliky, which means "Boiko the Great," has set a deadline of October 14 -- a Russian Orthodox Church holiday -- for any of his unmarried employees who live with a partner to get married, or get fired.

"We have about 6,000 employees, most of whom are Orthodox, and I expect them to be faithful and to repent," Boiko told Reuters last week. His order came in an internal memo to workers at Russkoye Moloko, which means "Russian milk" and whose products are sold in many Russian supermarkets.

Boiko told Ekho Moskvy radio that a woman who's had an abortion "can no longer be an employee of our company ... We don't want to work with killers," according to Reuters.

The ultimatum also comes amid Russia's worst drought and wildfires on record, in which suffocating heat and smog have doubled the normal summertime death rate in Moscow. More than 2,000 homes have been destroyed by fires, and a third of Russia's wheat crop has succumbed to the drought. The government has banned grain exports for the rest of the year, and promised subsidies to farmers and agriculture businesses like Boiko's.

The tycoon blames Russia's extreme weather this summer on what he called a lack of ample religious faith. "Such an extreme situation is punishment for the Russian people's sins," he told daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, according to The Daily Telegraph. "I need to take extreme measures including looking at the way my employees treat God."
It's a shame that these employees are going to get fired. How does he even know who's had an abortion or is living with their unmarried partner? Spy cameras? And why does it seem like so many Christians just can't grasp that concept of leaving the judging to God?

Shackingupinferno? Hm, doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Not to mention if we did a boobquake every time someone said something superstitious like this, we'd have a "holiday" every single day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

OMFG True Blood

I know some of you are fans like me. Discuss in comments. I'll put my thoughts down there as to not accidentally spoil the episode for those of you who haven't watched it yet. But beware, the comments will include spoilers!

New York meet up!

A bunch of my readers expressed interest in doing a little blogger pub night thing while I'm visiting New York City, so here's the info:

Monday, August 23rd
7:00 pm
The Gibson
108 Bedford Ave. at N. 11th St.,
Brooklyn, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

Sorry if you can't make it on the 23rd, but that's the night that worked for the most people. If you're planning on coming, please leave a comment here. RSVPing isn't required, but it'll help me get an idea of how many seats to round up!

Thanks Chris & Erin for figuring out the location!

Best atheist sex toy ever

I did leave out one highlight from my St. Louis trip because it was so awesome that it deserved a post of its own. I received what could very well be the Most Hilariously Creative Atheist Gift Ever:Me: *pulling gift out of bag* Oh, cute, a Flying Spaghetti Monster! ...*thinking* Wait, what is it attached to? Is this a blind fold? ...There's more in the bag...
Me: ...*look of confusion*
Everyone else: *looks of extreme amusement*

I'm now the proud owner of a Flying Spaghetti Monster bondage set.

Seriously, I'm not sure if this level of awesomeness can be topped. The St. Louis Skeptics have set the bar pretty damn high when it comes to creative godless gifts. I'm afraid to challenge future groups I visit to try and top this... but I'm not going to discourage them either.

Thanks for the awesome gift, St. Louis Skeptics, especially Claire, who I believe was the one who made it (if I'm wrong, please correct me! All your names started blurring together by 3am!). I think this is definitely a untapped niche market. Get cracking on that Atheist Sex Toy Etsy Shop!

Back from St. Louis!

Speaking at the St. Louis Skeptics in the Pub was a ton of fun last night! It was awesome meeting everyone, and I hope everyone enjoyed my talk. Thanks to the Skeptical Society of St. Louis for inviting me, especially Mike for organizing it and Shelley and Andrea for letting me couch surf! And thanks to my readers who came out to see me - it's always great talking to you guys, and I'm flattered that some of you even drove a couple hours to get there.

Some random thoughts from the trip:
  • The St. Louis arch is a lot huger than I thought!
  • There are a ton of butterflies in Illinois. I discovered this because I hit about one a minute during my 5 hour drive each way - my car is riddled with the remnants of the massacre. It was even more morbid when I hit two in the middle of a little mating ritual. Court each other in the middle of the highway isn't exactly the best way to increase your fitness, butterflies.
  • I visited the "Skeptical Palace," the house of two members of the Skeptical Society. Oh my goodness. I should have taken photos - this place is my dream house. So eclectic and full random biological specimens, scary little medicine bottles from the turn of the century, religious kitsch, and a podium from a Christian church that they use for their debate nights. Win. Oh, and they had the most adorable kitten. Best way to win over a guest - throw kittens at them.
Quote of the night, during discussion on weird porn:
Guy 1: That's nothing, I once saw anthropomorphic pterodactyl porn.
Gal: Oh man, I've seen that one!!
Guy 1: Where he's standing and flapping his wings while getting a blow job from the girl?
Guy 2: Is the girl a pterodactyl too?
Guy 1: No.
Guy 2: Well, then that's just sick.

I love Skeptics so much.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Open thread

I'm about to leave for St. Louis, and I'll be back tomorrow night. I know you guys can live without me for a day, but our last open thread was so amusing that I wanted to do it again. Not quite sure if we can top machine gun toting dinosaurs, though.

Friday, August 13, 2010

St. Louis people, don't forget to stop by!

This is just a general reminder that I'll be in St. Louis tonight speaking at Skeptics in the Pub about boobquake! It should be fun, and I'm looking forward to meeting everyone there. Event information can be found here. Don't forget to stop by and say hello!

If you can't make my talk, you can still stop by for a drink later. Or maybe if everyone's lucky, I'll have a drink before. Will probably make my presentation more interesting, especially if they have Strongbow. I love Strongbow.Like, really really love Strongbow. Especially when they appear in glasses twice the size that I'm expecting.

No genetic testing project for UC Berkeley freshmen

The University of California Berkeley was planning an innovative and somewhat controversial "common freshman experience" for its incoming class. Rather than forcing everyone to read some book no one really likes written by their professor (*cough*Purdue*cough*), they decided to let freshmen voluntarily be tested for various benign yet interesting genetic traits. It's purpose was to start dialogue on the future of genetic testing and personalized genomics.

However, the California Department of Public Health has recently decided that students are not to receive their personalized results, and only aggregate data can be presented:

“They said that we were providing students with information that could affect the treatment of disease or the evaluation of health,” said Mark Schlissel, dean of biological sciences in Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science. “We disagree with the California Department of Public Health.”

According to the department, laboratories conducting clinical testing -- which can diagnose a disease or monitor treatment -- must be licensed and have certification for reliability and accuracy. Excluded are labs running samples for research and teaching purposes, but the Department of Public Health concluded that Berkeley’s project does not fit these exemptions due to the potential for medical interpretation.

The university’s collection of genetic samples targets only three genes: metabolism of folate, tolerance of lactose and metabolism of alcohol. Jasper Rine, UC Berkeley professor of genetics, genomics and development, said the gene variants are innocuous.

“We considered all possible misuses of this information,” he said. “We decided we could manage the risk that a student could learn that they have an upset stomach when they drink milk.”

[...]“It opens up a whole lot of questions,” [Schlissel] said. “Who has the authority to tell an individual what they’re allowed to know about themselves?”

As a geneticist, this is an interesting situation to me. If I was a UC Berkeley freshman, I would be extremely disappointed. One, I'm a genetics nerd - I'd love to know what my variants were! Two, I was told I was getting personal results - maybe I wouldn't have participated if I would have known it was aggregate data. Three, this was completely voluntary and testing innocuous traits. If I want to know this about myself, I think I have to right to know.

But on the more general topic of genetic testing, we're right to be wary. Personal genomics relies a lot on incomplete data and probability. Vary rarely do you have a specific gene variant that results in a certain trait or disease 100% of the time. More likely, a certain variant will say you have a 20% more likely chance of suffering from heart disease, or 35% less chance of having diabetes. That and genomics is a very new field - you may have an allele that greatly increases your risk for a certain disease, but a researcher just hasn't discovered that yet. Does having that false sense of security negatively affect how you act?

I'm eager to get my personalized genome once I can actually afford it (so, it may not be for a while). As a geneticist, I understand how to interpret the probabilities and uncertainties, and the knowledge I get in return is worth it. But the concern is that many people who rush to sequence their genome don't understand the probabilities, and no one is there to help them. Companies will happily sequence your genome (read: Take your money), but rarely do you have a genetic counselor there to explain the results.

Is the UC Berkeley project quite as dangerous as learning about heart disease, diabetes, and Huntington's disease? Not exactly - they were testing for traits you probably would have already known about. Most of us are aware if we're somewhat lactose intolerant or not as able to metabolize alcohol (you may know it as the "Asian" alcohol flush reaction). But these are concerns I'm sure we're going to be hearing a lot more of in the future, as genetic testing becomes more and more prevalent.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

10 things society unfairly expects of men

Greta Christina's pieces are always spot-on, and these are no exception. She has two articles on stupid, unfair, and sexist things society expects of men, which can be found here and here. She has wonderful explanations for each item, but here's the short version of the list:
  1. Fight, fight, fight!
  2. Be a good husband/partner/lover -- but don't care too much what women think.
  3. Be hot to trot. Always. With anybody.
  4. Stiff upper lip.
  5. Fear of being perceived as gay.
  6. Make money.
  7. Win, win, win!
  8. Be physically strong.
  9. Fix stuff.
  10. Get it up.
I've stated many times before that sexist stereotypes hurt men as well as women (though some of my readers like to pretend I haven't). I think one of the reasons so many men are turned off by feminism is because they have the misconception that feminists are only trying to solve woman's issues and are ignoring those of men. That couldn't be anything farther from the truth. Feminists are concerned with equality between the sexes. To achieve that, we have to reduce sexism against men as well.

I suppose sometimes that's not obvious because as a woman, I feel more comfortable and informed blogging about woman's issues. That doesn't mean I'm disregarding the other side. As an analogy, I don't frequently blog about the issues of racial minorities - not because I don't think they're important, but because as a white person 1) I don't feel informed enough to do the issue justice and 2) I'm in a position of privilege so I don't have to think about racial issues all the time. But areas I'm not privileged in, namely gender and religion, are frequently on my mind, so they get turned into blog posts.

So, don't worry, guys. Not all feminists are castration fantasizing man-haters. ...You may want to avoid Thailand, though.

The Onion's religious commentary is always hilarious

"If I Hadn't Found Jesus, I'd Feel Pretty Shitty About My Crimes"

...until you remember it's funny because there's a hint of truth to what they're saying. Then it's kind of depressing. Hm.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm going to NYC for a magazine photoshoot!

Please excuse me while I get some stereotypically girly glee out of my system:

SQUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!...Okay, I'm still insanely excited, so forgive me while I flail for a post. I was contacted by More Magazine about doing an interview for their piece on "Young Feminists." More is an American woman's lifestyle magazine targeted towards the 40+ demographic (not to be confused with the UK's More! Magazine, which I've been told is a somewhat trashy fashion/gossip mag). Eleven different "up and coming" feminists under the age of 30 have each been interviewed for the special piece, including yours truly. I agreed to do the interview before I found out that they were flying us all to New York City for a professional photoshoot.

If you've hung around here for a while, you'll know I have a horrible fascination with America's Next Top Model. It's a terrible show, but something about watching girls be ridiculous and catty without personally being a part of it is extremely addictive. Not to mention some shoots do produce pretty cool photos, and watching Tyra Banks's newest insanity while screaming at the TV with my roommate is oddly fulfilling.

...I may or may not have watched all fourteen seasons.
*shifty eyes*

So finding out I'm being flown to New York for a professional photoshoot is a bit of a fantasy of mine, a fantasy I never thought would actually happen since 1) I'm not exactly fashion model material and 2) Even if I was, I really have no interest in being a professional model. But to get to do it for a day is frankly awesome.

It didn't really dawn on me how this is a "real" photoshoot until I started getting more information. They're doing my hair and makeup. I don't even wear makeup. I don't want to be dolled up to the point where I'm unrecognizable - that would be kind of ironic for a piece on feminism - but I'm still excited. I've blogged before how one of the big reasons I don't do makeup is just because I have no idea what I'm doing, so I'm pretty stoked to see what I'll look like when someone actually does a nice job.

But reality really sank in when they asked me for my sizes and measurements because I'm going to have a wardrobe. WTF. A wardrobe! I don't know if this caused me more excitement or anxiety. I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal, and I hate clothes shopping. I've always joked that I'd love to have a professional pick out clothes for me, but then it dawned on me that I didn't even know what my sizes were.

I mean, I know how tall I am, and my shoe size... But pants? Uh, 10-ish depending on the brand? "Long" isn't a legitimate measure for length? What, you want it in inches? You think I shop somewhere nicer than Old Navy? Shirts can range from small to extra large depending on how boob friendly they are. And a dress size? The last time I bought a dress was four years ago when I was two cup sizes smaller, so who knows if that's accurate.

Anxiety aside, I know it'll be ridiculously fun. My parents are just happy to get some professional photos of me out of it. I'm going to be thinking of all the stupid ANTM in jokes and "tips" the whole time. Smeyes! Ugly pretty, not ugly ugly! Find the light! Fierce!

Vanessa (roommate and ANTM mocking buddy): I still think you need someone recording the whole thing, it'd be hilarious
Me: It would be! Unfortunately I don't have a camera crew, and I think my brother and sister-in-law actually have jobs, lol. I'll make sure to take lots of photos and recount it in its full hilarity
Vanessa: Oh darn. That's too bad because you could have used it as an application for the next season of ANTM
Me: Rofl, that would be awesome
Vanessa: Yeah, and everyone would want you to win because you'd be the token plus size girl
Me: Yeah, me and my fatty size 10 pants*, hehe
Vanessa: lol

The one downside? Three years of screaming at the TV and thinking "I can totally do that! How hard can it be?!" will finally be put to the test. Uh oh.

So, I can't wait. I'll definitely document the experience and post about it afterwards, as it's sure to be interesting. And I'll let you know when the actual magazine comes out! At the very least, you can cut out my photo and slap it on your wall so I can pretend I'm something more than a D-list internet celebrity for a day, haha.

*Yes, size 10 is considered plus size on ANTM. I wish I were joking.

"Having a baby made me an atheist"

There's an excellent article at Offbeat Mama on how having a child spurred one mom into reevaluating her religious views. It's a great read and a refreshing alternative to the typical "Witnessing the miracle of birth convinced me we had to be intelligently designed!" emotional nonsense I frequently hear. Here's just a snippet:

“Everything changes when you have a baby,” our relatives and acquaintances said, but they missed the point: everything had changed already. It was the baby, that fuzzy blur on the sonogram screen, pushing us further and further from our old world view.

We were both raised and baptized Seventh-Day Adventists. We attended church, prayed and read the Bible. We had both had doubts about religion in the past, but we had put them aside, believing that what our faith gave us was more important than the answers it couldn’t provide. When our daughter was born, though, those elusive answers began to seem more important.

I read the gospels while breastfeeding, feeling safer in the New Testament with Jesus’s reassuring compassion than in the Old Testament with its endless wars and wrath of God, but I was not reassured. Had the Bible always been so inconsistent, so violent, so sexist? Had it always needed so much adjustment to fit with my own sense of right and wrong? I tried to stretch my faith, twisting it like the rubber band I had looped through my buttonhole to give me a few more weeks in my pre-maternity jeans, but it didn’t fit. I tried to ignore my questions and doubts as I had in the past, but there was a new question I could not ignore: What am I going to teach my daughter?

For those of you who are parents, did you have similar experiences? Or general religious issues that arose when having children?

I'm coming to New York City!

I'll be in the Big Apple from Wed, August 18th to Wednesday, August 25th - yep, that's the new travel destination I hinted at earlier! I absolutely can't wait! I'll be busy with something super exciting on the 18th and 19th - you'll find the exact details why later today when I have enough time to properly squee*. This cruel teaser post is for three things:

1. What awesome things do I have to see in NYC? I've never been there before. My brother and sister-in-law live in Brooklyn and are prepared to show me neat places, but I'm still open to suggestions.

2. Since invariably someone will ask me this whenever I'm traveling...If I have any readers in/near NYC that want to meet for a pub night, now's your chance to speak up in the comments. Please let me know which nights (20th through 24th) do or do not work for you. It'll be somewhere in Brooklyn or Manhattan, depending on what works for people.

3. If anyone know how to hook me up with a ticket for the Daily Show or Colbert Report, I'll give you my undying love/immortal soul/one million internet points. Not just people with connections - tips on finding a ticket are appreciated. I'm dying to go, and I'm willing to exploit boobquake for a seat if necessary ("But Colbert Report staff, you talked about me on the show! Surely you can sneak me in? *puppy eyes*")

*If you're a friend who knows what it is, please humor me by not ruining my dramatic suspense in the comments :P

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Today's hint of male privilege

I'm currently watching Chopped on Food Network. I love FN because I like to cook and it's basically food porn, and I love Chopped because people always have to be super creative with the bizarre ingredients they give them.

But my first thought when this episode started was "Wow, all the competitors are women!"

There have been tons of episodes with all men, and never once have I thought "Wow, all the competitors are men!" Why? Because we're used to having women be underrepresented in most fields, including as professional chefs.

Just something to chew over.

...Yes that horrible pun was intentional.

Atheist donates $5,600,000 to NY Catholic schools

From Bloomberg.org:

Retired hedge fund titan Robert W. Wilson lost his faith in God years ago, yet he believes in Catholic schools and gave $5.6 million to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York this summer.

It’s the latest of many gifts from Wilson to the city’s Catholic hierarchy and educators, this one aimed at funding the Catholic Alumni Partnership, a program he founded that helps elementary schools track down their 750,000 alumni and recruit them as donors.

“Most of what the Catholic schools teach are the three Rs,” said Wilson, 83, in a phone interview, referring to reading, writing and arithmetic. “And they do it better than the union-controlled inner-city schools.”

You know what would help make those union-controlled inner-city schools do just as good of job? Giving them $5.6 million dollars. He may be concerned with the three Rs, but Catholic schools have a forth R he's forgetting about: Religious indoctrination. Gah.

Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant asks what everyone thinks about this. I'm going to have to side with the "FFFFUUUUUUUU" option.

Blog Makeover

Just to give you guys a heads up, I'm giving Blag Hag a bit of a makeover. It was getting a bit too hodge podge and cramped for me, and I wanted room for larger photos and videos. Hopefully this will look a lot more slick and organized.

If anything looks glitchy, it's because I'm tweaking it throughout the day, so please be patient. And if you have any suggestions, feel free to post them here. If you think it's fugly but have no advice on how to improve it, feel free to keep that to yourself ;P

EDIT: Whoops, Disqus commenting has been reinstalled. Sorry 'bout that. Seems to be working now, though I lost a couple of comments that you posted in this thread (I saw them at least!). It's not working on the About page anymore for some reason, but I'll see what I can do.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Strippers give church protesters a taste of their own medicine

This definitely goes down as a Win in my book (emphasis mine):

The battle that has heretofore played out in the parking lot of George's strip club - the Foxhole, a run-down, garage-like building at a Coshocton County crossroads called Newcastle - has shifted 7 miles east to Church Street.

Every weekend for the last four years, Dunfee and members of his ministry have stood watch over George's joint, taking up residence in the right of way with signs, video cameras and bullhorns in hand. They videotape customers' license plates and post them online, and they try to save the souls of anyone who comes and goes.

Now, the dancers have turned the tables, so to speak. Fed up with the tactics of Dunfee and his flock, they say they have finally accepted his constant invitation to come to church.

It's just that they've come wearing see-through shorts and toting Super Soakers.

They bring lawn chairs and - yesterday, anyway - grilled hamburgers, Monster energy drinks and corn on the cob. They sat in front of the church and waved at passing cars but largely ignored the congregation behind them.

[...]The women don't come here, after all, without their own version of religion. They bring signs with Scriptures written in neon colors:

Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing

Revelations 22:11: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still

Greg Flaig is executive director of the Ohio Owners Coalition, a group of showbar and club owners. He called the women's protest extraordinary, saying he's never heard of anything like it in the country.

George said the protest has been a long time coming. He sued the church in federal court several years ago, claiming a violation of his constitutional rights, but he lost. Now, he said, turnabout is fair play.

"When these morons go away, we'll go away," George said. "The great thing about this country is that everyone has a right to believe what they want."

Maybe next time religious groups try to be the Morality Police, they'll remember they're not the only ones allowed to hold protests...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Niece of Martin Luther King Jr. compares gay marriage to "genocide"

What a shame that a relative of a great civil rights leader would be spouting such vitriol about gays. Dr. Alveda King was one of the speakers at the National Organization for Marriage rally that just took place in Atlanta. Not to be outdone by the other hateful nonsense being peddled there, Dr. King threw in her own two cents:
"It is statistically proven that the strongest institution that guarantees procreation and continuity of the generations is marriage between one man and one woman. I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to be extinct and none of us wants to be. We don’t want genocide, we don’t want to destroy the sacred institution of marriage.”
Because marriage is only about making babies. Which is why people have to take a fertility test before receiving their marriage license. And why marriages are required to end once a woman hits menopause. And why we poke holes in the condoms of couples who don't want children.

You know what really guarantees procreation? Sex. Regardless if it occurs after you've signed some paperwork or not. If Dr. King is concerned about this, I'm sure she'll quickly add how she's all for unmarried couples having children, right? Or is she just worried that a small fraction of society showing their love for a partner of the same sex will magically turn every human being on the face of the planet gay?

Ironically, if she was really concerned with the extinction of Homo sapiens, she would be a bit more concerned about overpopulation and it's potentially disastrous effects. You know, something gay people don't usually contribute to.

I've become a bit of a world traveler lately

I didn't realize how much traveling I've done until my dad pointed it out to me the other day. Sometimes I take for granted how many awesome travel experiences I've had - not many people get to escape their country or even their state, but I've been all over the place. And by age 22!

Because I'm a nerd, here's a nice image of my travels. Red represents places I've lived, green represents places I've physically been in but didn't actually do anything special there (aka, drove through/changed flights there), and blue represents places I visited with a purpose.
Some random observations:
  • I've only lived in two states. I lived in Illinois until I turned 2, and our house was about 10 minutes from where I grew up in Indiana, so I'm not sure if that even counts. And I only went to college an hour and a half away from home.
  • I've visited five foreign countries - Mexico, the Bahamas, Greece, Italy, and Vatican City. Our plane stopped in France for a couple hours, but I'd love to go back actually do something there. Well, I'd love to go back to any part of Europe. It was awesome when I was 12, and I'm sure I'd appreciate it even more now.
  • Despite living here, apparently I avoid the rest of the Midwest like the plague. Notice the green circle of states that I have driven through to actually get somewhere cool. And the only reason I've been to Kentucky and Ohio is because awesome Secular Student Alliance stuff has happened there in the last year.
  • Going off of that, it's sort of mind boggling to me how I haven't visited some places. How have I never been to Canada? Or Wisconsin?! How the heck did I hit up Greece and Alaska before places I could drive to in a couple of hours?
  • Almost all of my domestic traveling took place not only during college, but thanks to college. The only states I had been to prior to going to college were Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Florida. For example, here's a map of the reasons why I traveled to each state. Blue is for a biology conference/field work, green is for grad school visits, red is for atheist related stuff (yes, I traveled within IL and IN for that), and purple is just for pleasure. You can see that while I enjoyed my travels, the vast majority were not just for fun and were either partially or fully funded by scholarships, my lab, universities, or blog readers (yay TAM!). I'm very lucky indeed.
  • Speaking of being very lucky, in a month my map will have to be updated again. I'll be living in Seattle, so Washington state will join the places that I have lived in. This weekend I'll be visiting St. Louis, MO, so then I will have properly "visited" it. And later this month I'll be flying to a state I've never visited before for something super exciting - but you'll find out about that soon!
Are any of you big travelers? Have you visited or lived in any especially awesome places? Where are you dying to go?

Oh, and since invariably when I talk about traveling someone asks "When are you going to visit _____?!"... Convince someone to help fund my trip and I'd be happy to come talk to your local godless group. I know, positively shocking that grad students aren't rolling in the dough. ;)

Come see me at St. Louis Skeptics in the Pub!

If I have any readers near St. Louis, MO, I'll be in town soon! This Saturday (August 14th) I'll be speaking at The Skeptical Society of St. Louis's Skeptics in the Pub about Boobquake and its aftermath. It starts at 7pm and is being held at Jack Patrick's, which is at the intersection of 10th and Olive in downtown St. Louis. We'll also be hanging around for some drinks afterward, so it should be fun!

There's a meetup.com event here. I hope to see you guys there!

My super secret spy mission to a Focus on the Family event

Friday night I embarked on a top secret mission with Hemant of Friendly Atheist (who has his thoughts on our adventure here). Hemant brought the event to my attention. Because I like him so much and I'm a bit of a masochist, I agreed to tag along. We headed to Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL for the Focus on the Family Celebrate Family Tour:If you're not familiar with FotF, you should be tipped off by the fact that "Family" is in their name. I've ranted about them here before - about them calling Harry Potter witchcraft, spreading misinformation about gay parenting, and wasting money on misleading pro-life Super Bowl ads. I'm not exactly a fan of this conservative Christian organization, but I was willing to listen for a night out of curiosity and the desire for blog fodder.

Hemant and I had some fun hyping this up in our minds. ...Okay, so it wasn't exactly a spy mission since anyone could attend and when we signed up we used our real names. Yeah, awesome spies. But I still had the Mission Impossible theme song playing through my head, and we even made up aliases. I was his wife (woo, take that fangirls!) who was trying to show my heathen husband why Christianity was so awesome. We picked 3/14 as our anniversary because we're nerds and that's the only date we could remember.

We later discovered we were terrible spies because 1) A good Christian woman would have taken her husband's last name, 2) We didn't have wedding rings, and 3) I know diddly poop about acting like a Christian. I also tried to fit in by wearing my Sunday's best, but I later realized the new Christian fashion is all about capris. Seriously, every woman there was wearing capris. I think this was just a ploy to get me into a skirt for the first time in years.
Proof for the skeptical. Also, yay Christ and his kingdom.

Hey, at least we were smart enough to take Hemant's car. My Darwin Fish, Obama sticker, and Republicans for Voldemort sticker probably would have given us away.

Anyway.

I'm not going to spend time discussing certain Christian tropes that you hear all the time ("It's not about you, it's about God," "God saved me from death! ...but not from breaking my legs," etc). 1) I've discussed them before, and 2) I can discuss them later - they're not exactly specific to this particular event. So even though many things had me facepalming, I'll save them.

The event had about 1,000 people in attendance. It opened with FotF President Jim Daly sharing some personal stories and explaining the different programs that FotF organizes. FotF is known for its rabid pro-life and anti-gay marriage stances, so I was impressed by how much good they actually are doing (or at least attempting to do). I wasn't aware that FotF was so active in encouraging adoption* or providing marriage counseling (though we could debate how useful Christian counseling is over getting counseling from a psychologist...).

*(An aside on the adoption thing. Apparently one of the higher-up officials with the Colorado adoption agency, a Dr. Sharon (missed her last name), told FotF that "The best homes for these kids are Christian homes" and wished there were more of them. This may have been said in confidence, but wow. Kind of not a good thing if a government employee is viewing a certain religion as superior when deciding who gets to adopt children.)

I have to give them props for being aware of this problem - people not knowing about their good works. They mentioned it several times throughout the night, and stressed the idea that "If we want people to believe in Christianity's message, we need to show them the actual good it's doing." Again, we could debate if that message is true or not, but I'm all for Christians being less hypocritical when it comes to being moral/doing good works.

Some of the stuff he said was definitely silly though. Apparently 9 year olds are never supposed to say "no" to their parents. Yep, train your children to be good little unthinking drones! Oh, and Nick at Night is horrible television for your child to be watching. That explains why I turned out the way I did. Thanks a lot, I Love Lucy.

The main part of the program was with Dr. Emerson Eggerichs of Love and Respect Ministries and his wife Sarah (...is it bad that this makes me think of the Ministry of Love from 1984?). They mostly discussed the following quote from Ephesians 5:22-33:
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything... 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Of course, when I say "they," I mean Emerson did almost all of the talking while Sarah just sat there and looked pretty. I'm not sure why she was even there, other than so they can say "Look, we're progressive and including women in our discussions!" ...Except not really.

Emerson's main message was that this passage wasn't about submission, but about the different ways men and women communicate. He claimed women desire to be loved, and men desire to be respected. This claim was "supported" by a poll FotF did of its members - not exactly a scientific study of all men and women. During conflict, when women feel unloved they respond with disrespect, and when men feel disrespected they respond by being unloving. This starts what he refers to as the "crazy cycle" where a fight will just escalate until, apparently, someone realizes the Bible is telling them to stop.

While I appreciate the attempt to say this isn't about submission (but not some of his pot shots at feminists), it's still just replacing one stereotype about men and women with another. Great, women don't have to "submit" to men - but we're hyper emotional beings that communicate completely differently. He even referred to women as having "Pink glasses, pink hearing aids, and pink megaphones." Next time someone doesn't understand me, I'll try to put away the pink megaphone, I guess.

This part of the program got kind of old after a while - Emerson just basically repeated the same thing for an hour. But then we got to see the comedian Jeff Allen perform. He was actually really funny - we were a bit doubtful at the beginning what a "Christian comedian" would be like. Some of his jokes were about God or religion, but they were ones anyone would find amusing, even a couple of atheists.



I should say, he was really funny most of the time. At the end of his act he felt the need to lay the evangelizing on thick, and tell a serious story about how finding Christ saved his life, etc etc. It wasn't lame because it was about Jesus or Christianity - I was eating up the rest of his skit. It just...wasn't funny. His job was to be a comedian, so it just came off as totally awkward to get up on his soap box. It would have been equally awkward if a comedian started going off on how awesome atheism is without actually making any jokes.

Not to mention this was the one moment of the night someone decided to take pot shots at atheists. I made sure to take some quick notes on what I learned about myself:Yep, the whole atheists are depressed canard. It never gets old, does it?! Hemant and I decided we weren't living up to our atheist standards, and we needed to angst and shoot up heroine more. Or something like that.

There were a couple of general things that struck me as odd, from the perspective of an outsider looking in:
1. Well, feeling like such an outsider. Even though no one knew Hemant and I were a couple of atheists (I promise we were respectful through the whole thing), I still felt out of place. As someone who was not brought up in a Christian household, there are just so many cultural things I don't know about. Certain phrases or ideas seemed to elicit unanimous mumbled praise from the audience... usually the phrases that I found particularly silly or contemptible. And the way all heads instantaneously snapped down when a prayer started was just odd to someone who hasn't been trained to do those mannerisms.

Not to mention the inside Christian jokes. Apparently Lutherans are very "cerebral", and this titillated the audience. Anyone care to explain this in-joke to me?

2. FotF seems to think that any sign of interest is equivalent to winning over supporters. They'll probably love this blog post if they find it. I don't know if this is wishful thinking or purposeful spin, but it popped up a lot. For example, Daly made a comment how the former President of the National Organization for Women supported FotF's right to have a pro-life Super Bowl ad. Daly quipped with a grin, "You know something's going on," referring to her support. Yeah, an understanding of freedom of speech is going on.

Another example of this is when they mentioned how 27 non-Christian Comcast staff members were helping them film one of their events. The staff mentioned they had never heard religion discussed that way before, and asked for more information. More information does not automatically mean you converted all of those people - but that's how FotF framed it. I often ask for more information from religious people when I think they're particularly wacky, not correct.

3. The Christian Veneer. I can't get over this phenomena. Most of what FotF was saying throughout the night in terms of families and relationships with your spouse was fairly relatable and sane. It was the same sort of advice you'd hear from many secular self-help books like the typical Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus idea (as untrue as that may be).

...But then they had to go and slap Jesus all over it. Is it not enough to just love your spouse, respect their feelings, and compromise a little with them without having a Bible verse telling you to do it? Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists have the same problems and the same solutions. It's not the Bible that's giving you the answers - you're just cherry picking things from the Bible that happen to fit your solution... after you've come to it.

4. They didn't mention gay marriage at all. Hemant and I were both really disappointed. We figured with their fervent anti-gay marriage stance and the recent Prop 8 ruling that they'd be sure to say something. Nada. I guess it just wasn't the topic of the night. But if anything, I'm now convinced we need more gay marriages because of this event. I mean, the whole thing was about how marital strife comes from men and women inherently communicating differently. If it was a man communicating with a man or a woman communicating with a woman, no problem, right?!

5. All the speakers seemed genuinely nice. This shouldn't be shocking, but FotF has some platforms that are so nasty that it's sometimes hard to separate the people from the ideas. I constantly have to remind myself that Christians go out of their way to evangelize and fight for their specific morals because they truly believe in them and care about people. It may be misguided and ultimately harmful, but they're really doing it with good intentions. I'm sure any of the speakers would be great to chat with over tea... I just don't want them making any sort of laws. Nor will I stop criticizing their viewpoints just because they're trying to be nice - it just helps to know where these people are coming from when you do have to debate them.
I'm still no fan of FotF. While they've become a bit humanized to me, I still can't support most of what their organization is doing. Adoption is awesome, but not when you only think heterosexual Christians make good homes. Marriage counseling is great, but not when you assume all other religions are doomed to have failed relationships. Continuing to perpetuate myths about atheists is...well, not so hot. And hell, one of their college programs focuses on teaching students about creationism and intelligent design - it was difficult for this evolutionary biologist to not start facepalming in the middle of the event.

You know, it would be nice if people from FotF would attend some of our godless events. Maybe we could become a bit more humanized, instead of representing depression and debauchery.

...As much as I do like debauchery.