Friday, April 29, 2011

Are you an SSA member?

Don't forget that the Secular Student Alliance board elections are tomorrow! You have until 5pm EST on April 30th to get your ballot in. And if you're still not sure who to vote for, a chat with all of the candidates and current board members will be going on from 3 to 5pm EST. Just click the "Voting" tab after you log in for a link to the chatroom!

Regardless if you're a member or not...what sort of things would you like to see the SSA focus on in the future? Feel free to discuss below.

I must crush PZ...for the children!

Come on, you know you're Team GHJJ - root for the underdogs!


Five awesome atheist bloggers are competing to see who can raise the most money to support Camp Quest!

Since one of those bloggers is the indomitable PZ Myers of Pharyngula, we have made two teams in order to make this competition more fair.

Team 1: Greta Christina of Greta Christina's Blog, Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist, Jen McCreight of Blag Hag, and JT Eberhard of Zerowing21.

Team 2: PZ Myers of Pharyngula.

The first team to raise $5,000 for Camp Quest, or the team that has raised the most by June 1, 2011 will win!

What will the winning team receive? Bragging rights. Pure and simple.

You can help your favorite team win by donating through ChipIn to support the team of your choice. Early reports think PZ has this sewn up, so if you like underdogs, give to this ChipIn and help his competition. Or you can make help make the pharyngulation complete by supporting PZ's ChipIn.

All contestants and contributors receive: the knowledge that they have supported a fantastic program for freethinking families and their children.

Read more in the post below about why you should support Camp Quest!
Camp Quest is an absolutely fabulous program for the children of freethinkers. If you want to help the future of secularism (and give me bragging rights), please consider a donation!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gingrich's nightmare is my dream

From Politico:

Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer breakfast, Newt Gingrich on Wednesday warned Catholics that Europe’s “crisis of secularism” — spawning a “government-favored culture to replace Christianity” — has seized the United States.

“The American elites are guided by their desire to emulate the European elites and, as a result, anti-religious values and principles are coming to dominate the academic, news media and judicial class in America,” he said in Washington.

Gingrich lashed out against the “secular pressures” that have led scientific publications to replace Anno Domini (A.D.) with the Common Era (C.E.), banned school prayer and struck out “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.


Aaaanndddd the problem is what exactly? Sounds fabulous to me!

Religious paranoia that they're losing the battle: a sure sign the secular movement is doing something right.

Speaking of speaking...

One of the new speaking events I've added recently is Mensa's Annual Gathering in Portland, OR. I was invited by the Mensa Atheists, who apparently have at least one of my blog readers as a member (hello!).

I'm pretty excited to give my Creation Museum talk to an audience that isn't explicitly atheistic or skeptical. They'll probably have heard less about it than a room full of atheists, and I'm curious to see how they'll react.

But I'm also excited to poke around a non-godless conference for a change. It looks so wonderfully eclectic. My talk is at the same time as "How to Create a Successful YouTube Channel," "Ireland and the Grail, or: Yes, Sophie, 'The Da Vinci Code' is Wrong!," "Near Death Experiences 101," and "Space Vanguard: How Some of Us Are Preparing for a Brighter Future." And that's not even the oddest stuff - you should really skim the program if you have the time.

Maybe I'll be able to get some good ideas on how to improve our atheist conferences. I was told that Mensa AG has a 24 hour game room and that speakers can get free booze all day in a hospitality room. Are you listening, TAM and Skepticon?!

I'm now on the Center for Inquiry's speaker's bureau!

Which means...well, it doesn't really mean anything new - I still probably would have spoken to your group if you asked. But now I'm in a database that people can skim for new speakers, so maybe some new people will find me!

Because, you know, I'm not already busy with a bunch of speaking events. There are five more future events that aren't on that schedule yet because the details haven't been completely worked out. Oi.

People ask me how I can do this while being in grad school. Answer: I have no freaking clue.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is there going to be Boobquake 2?

Today is the one year anniversary of boobquake, an accidental internet meme that I created at this blog. I'm not going to retell the story since it already has a Wikipedia article, which is also evidence of how viral it went (that, and being mentioned on the Colbert Report).

I've heard the question hundreds of times by now. "Is there going be Boobquake 2?" This is almost always followed by a quip about "increasing sample size," with the person grinning about how clever they think they are for thinking that one up. While I've answered the question hundreds of times by now, let me answer it one last time to make it crystal clear:

NO.

I'm tempted to leave it at that, but I'll take the moment to explain why the streets are not being flooded with immodestly dressed women today (at least, not more than usual).

1. The hypothesis is no longer testable.

Sedighi, an Iranian cleric, originally claimed that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes. The whole purpose of boobquake was to be a humorous lesson in skepticism - that when someone makes claims, we should test them. But Sedighi clarified his statement a month later:

"Some ask why (more) earthquakes and storms don't occur in the Western world, which suffers from the slime of homosexuality, the slime of promiscuity and has plunged up to the neck" in immorality, he said.

"Who says they don't occur? Storms take place in the U.S. and other parts of the world. We don't say committing sin is the entire reason but it's one of the reasons," he said.

But, he said, "sometimes, God tests a nation. ... (God says) if believers sin, We slap them because We love them and give them calamity in order to stop their bad deeds."

"And those who have provoked God's wrath, He allows them (to commit sins) so that they go to the bottom of hell," Sedighi said.

So basically, sinning doesn't actually correlate precisely with natural disasters, and God will hold off on striking sinful nations so he can send even more people to hell. There's no longer any sort of cause and effect - God just willy nilly kills people. His claim is now unfalsifiable. Increasing the "sample size" would not matter.

2. There are plenty of other unskeptical things to poke fun at.

Sedighi isn't the only person on the planet to make ludicrous claims. Why obsess over a stupid comment someone made a year ago, instead of keeping an eye out for new ridiculous superstitions? People are saying crazy stuff every day. So much more can be accomplished.

Not to mention, I think a lot of people liked boobquake because it happened to be poking fun at a Middle Eastern Muslim. White people and/or Christians have just as wacky of beliefs, and I don't want this turning into something fueled by Islamophobia.

3. The joke is funny once.

Seriously, don't beat a dead horse.

4. I don't want to be forever just known as "boobquake girl."

It's sure to follow me around a bit - and that's fine, it certainly was a cool experience. But I have so many more accomplishments. I'm pursuing my PhD in Genome Sciences at the University of Washington. I have published research papers, and more are sure to come. I'm speaking at dozens of groups and conferences across the country about atheism. I hope to write a book some day soon, which will hopefully be the first of many.

I'm not just a boob joke.

So please, I know you think you're being witty when you ask me what I was wearing when Recent Earthquake X struck Location Z...but give it a rest. We have other skeptical battles to fight. Let's not all turn into one trick ponies.

Christian pastor molests women to expel demons

In case I haven't convinced you that feminism and atheism are natural allies on certain issues, here's a particular horrifying example. A Christian pastor in South Africa is molesting multiple women under the guise of "banishing demons." Some of the particular examples witnesses relay are so disturbing.

I just wish I knew what we could do instead of acting outraged. I guess we just have to keep up the effort of spreading skepticism and critical thinking everywhere, so frauds can't get away with molesting women under the guise of religion. Sigh.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Let's hope this is a non-issue...

But I'm wary. Every time I say that about someone's personal religious beliefs, they end up becoming an issue. The newest potential cause for drama? The University of Washington (where I go to school) finally decided on it's new President - Michael K. Young. The thing that set off red flags? He's a graduate of Brigham Young University and devout Mormon (which is probably redundant to say).

Now, I know it's entirely possible to be religious and not let your beliefs interfere with your job at a secular university. I don't expect his first act as university president to be increasing the number of Mormon missionaries that hunt you down on Red Square, or to expand the campus LDS center that's right by my building.

But when I read stuff like the following, I get a little worried:
In order to understand genuinely the world and all the things that we learn from secular sources, we should start the inquiry first from the perspective of the gospel and its basic truths. The rest of the world then begins to make much more sense. It isn't so much that secular learning necessarily confirms the truth of the gospel in every instance, though I am frequently surprised with just how often it does exactly that, but rather that we much better understand the world and everything in it when we put the secular learning in a gospel context. In other words, if one first seeks the light of Christ and inspiration from the Lord, then inquiries about matters of science, politics, economics, history, indeed, society in general, are not only entirely acceptable, but likely to lead to a better understanding of the gospel and a stronger, not weaker, testimony. If we seek first the kingdom of God, then indeed all things will be added unto it.
Ah yes...the world makes so much more sense when you start with Mormon!Jesus. I'm sure all the non-Mormon researchers certainly appreciate that sentiment.

Please let the next 4 years be perfectly boring and free of blog fodder.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Truer words have never been spoken

From a student who attended the American Atheists' National convention in Iowa this weekend:
The last thing you want to do at an atheist convention is to announce at the end of a session, “There is a provocative fundamentalist Christian protesting outside, DO NOT GO TALK TO HIM.” This means that half of the attendees will rush outside until Jesus returns.
Between crazy protesters, bar crawls with PZ, costume party dinners, and all of my godless friends being in one place, I'm really sad I didn't go. Oh well, next year!

EDIT: I wish I could read everything on this guy's shirt. I love playing the "How many horrible sinning categories apply to me?" game. If I'm under 50%, I lose.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Religion is bullshit...except for mine!

Last night I gave a talk for the Alliance of Happy Atheists at the University of Oregon. It was a lot of fun, like usual. The group of students were all awesome to talk to, the pizza was yummy, and my talk was well received (or so I was told - would an Alliance of Happy Atheists say anything negative...?).

Near the end of my talk I mention how feminists who are still religious are way more likely to believe in woo-woo spiritual stuff, like reiki, astrology, paganism, and wicca because they tend to be a lot more pro-women. But the problem with these things is that they're still bullshit, just like Christianity or Islam.

Apparently one student took offense at this because he considers himself an atheist pagan, and he didn't appreciate his beliefs being dismissively called "bullshit." During the Q&A he asked me if I saw value in any sort of spiritual beliefs. I replied that people find value in different things - that I find value in truth, so unfounded beliefs in any sort of supernatural things don't improve my life somehow. But that even if people found their lives improved by those things, it doesn't make them any less bullshit.

The back and forth went on for quite some time. He basically seemed to be rewording his question in an attempt for me to admit that other spirituality - not that of mainstream religions - is somehow awesome and deserving of a free pass. I tried to emphasize that I don't think people who believe that stuff are necessarily stupid or bad in some way, but that the beliefs are still false.

At dinner a friend of his mentioned how offended that guy was that I used the word "bullshit" and didn't respect his pagan beliefs. I always feel a twinge of guilt, because I never purposefully try to offend. But I can't feel much more than a twinge, because it's goddamn hypocritical expecting your particular wacky beliefs to get some sort of free pass. If you were lapping it up while I spent 45 minutes tearing apart Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, you don't get to put your own belief in a little bubble.

Everything is fair game.

And dude? I reel it in a fair amount when I give presentations. Make sure someone brings smelling salts if you ever listen to a hot-blooded firebrand like PZ or JT.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Good Friday, Friday

I love blasphemy:



(Via Skepchick)

I love my Dad

Here's his reaction to finding out the city council where he and my mom live are praying to Jesus:
It has come to my attention that the Constitution is being threatened in Lady Lake, Florida. For you who have never heard of Lady Lake, it is part of a retirement development known as The Villages. The average inhabitant is about 70+ years old. It's a great place if you love golf and living an active lifestyle. However, it should be no surprise that it's prime tea-bag party area. The local newspaper's favorite columnist is Ollie North, a convicted felon. It also should come as no surprise that the local city council starts every meeting with a secular prayer. The city council says its' prayer is not meant to favor any one religion, in spite of the fact that they usually end with, "in Jesus' name we pray". They also claim they are doing nothing illegal, since the meeting doesn't officially start until the prayer is completed.

Although I am not surprised by this development, since most of the residences are gun nuts, religious zealots, and war mongers, but I have found that there are also some sane people. I play tennis with a group of guys who are surprisingly liberal. Recently, they asked my opinion on Huckabee for President, and I issued a disclaimer that I was an atheist and I considered all right wing religious politicians as the vanguard for the American Taliban. Instead of stoning me, they wanted to know more about my opinions. I told them, When I am King, people will be able to express their religious beliefs freely in church and their home, but will have to keep their mouth zipped in public. There will be no tax deductions for churches and you will no longer be able to run for office claiming God told you to do it. Everyone knows there is only one god -- The Golf God -- and he has plenty of bad golf swings in The Villages to keep him/her busy without taking on politics.
I'm becoming convinced that snark is a heritable trait. Quick, someone do a genetic analysis!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I bitch about Indiana, but...

...women have it much worse elsewhere. From Butterflies and Wheels:

Nine years after the gang rape, Mai’s struggle for justice ended with the court ordering five of the six accused to be freed. A distraught Mai, who has won international acclaim for her bravery in a deeply chauvinistic society, said that the release of the men had put her life in danger.

It was such a pretty story. Her 12-year-old brother was accused, falsely, of having sex with a woman from another clan. To punish the brother, the village “elders” sitting as a tribal “court” decided Mai should be gang-raped, and so she was. 14 men were accused of carrying out the “sentence.” Only one has been found guilty.

“I am scared these 13 people will come back to my village and harm me and my family,” Mai said, in her remote home in the south of Punjab province. “I have lost faith in the courts and now I am leaving my case to the court of God. I am sure God will punish those who molested me.”

Mai has started a school for girls and a non-governmental organisation that promotes women’s education. She vowed that she would not flee her village, and would continue with her work.

This is one of those very few times I'll say "If only there was a God."

Despair and hope in Indiana

The bad news first:

Indiana is on the way to becoming the first state to prohibit Medicaid patients from visiting Planned Parenthood clinics after the Senate today approved a bill that would cut off taxpayer money to the Planned Parenthood of Indiana because it performs abortions.

"The taxpayers will no longer fund an organization that provides abortion as part of their services that they give to the public," said Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, who introduced the bill for the sponsor, Sen. Pat Miller.

The Senate voted 13 to 35 to approve HB1210, a wide-ranging abortion bill that would cut off federal taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

The bill also sets 20 weeks as the cut-off when a woman can no longer seek an abortion. The current cut-off is viability, which a doctor determines, usually around 24 weeks. It codifies into law the idea that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks and it requires doctors to tell women seeking abortions certain information, such as that abortion is linked to infertility.

Aka, lie and harm thousands of women in the process. Good going, Indiana!

If you'd like a small respite from the rage, I'd like to direct you to this delightful feminist rant by a 10 year old girl from Avon, IN. A small glimmer of hope that Indiana doesn't suck the intelligence and independence out of everyone. But at the same time, a sad reminder of the kind of misogynistic environment this little girl is growing up in.

A long time ago I knew a very similar little girl - she moved away from that backwards state the moment she could.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hey Dad...

Did you know your city council is unconstitutionally supporting Jebus and wasting taxpayer's time with prayer? I know how much you like writing letters to the editor - now may be a good time.

At the very least, Bill Calhoun may be a godless golfing buddy for you. Well, that's assuming everyone in Lady Lake, FL golfs, which is a pretty fair assumption.

Weird when these things hit close to home.

Sexiness & blogging - a lose-lose situation?

Months ago I was approached by JT Eberhard who asked me if I wanted to pose for their 2011 Skepticon pin-up calendar. It's one of the fun fundraising techniques they have to keep Skepticon free. I would be posing alongside other outspoken atheists like Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson, and PZ Myers.

JT stressed I could pose however I wanted, however clothed I wanted - something sexy and fun doesn't require nudity. I joked that I would do it if I could be Miss December 2012 because of the destructive nature of my boobs. I even used it as my April Fool's Day joke this year.

But joking aside, it's been festering in my brain for a while. Sex Positive Jen and Frustrated Blogger Jen have had the following debate on the issue:

SPJ: You should so do it! It'll be fun.
FBJ: You know you're just asking for trouble.
SPJ: But there's nothing wrong with a pin-up calendar! I'd be embracing my sexuality. And it's not objectifying women or anything - they have men too, and most of the poses are funny or smart.
FBJ: You understand that. But just think how others will react. Some feminists will use this as evidence that You're Doing It Wrong.
SPJ: I've learned not every feminist is going to agree with me.
FBJ: But worse, this will just perpetuate the misconception that you're only liked for your looks.
SPJ: Dude, I've always been the nerdy awkward girl. The idea of people only liking me for my looks is somewhat absurd. If anything, this is the first time I will get to embrace my looks! For once I can feel sexy.
FBJ: Your ridiculous self-esteem aside, people do know you as "the boobquake girl." You'll perpetuate that and have to deal with it. Do you really want more people asking you to sign your calendar than your book?
SPJ: Do I want to cover up just because of what others may say? That's wrong!
FBJ: Hmm...
SPJ: Hmm indeed.

So, I don't know what I'm going to do. But an interesting point? I don't think PZ had this thought process before he agreed. Ah, double standards and the joys of being a young female blogger.

I can be laptop-less no longer

So I'm turning to you for advice, readers! I figured that would be the smart thing to do before accidentally buying a piece of crap. I basically want a laptop that is:

- Easily portable and lightweight, but not a netbook (absurdly tiny screens make me weep)
- Cheap enough that it won't make a grad student cry
- Not a Mac (save the rants, I'm just not used to them)

Really, that's all I care about. I'm basically going to be using it for internet and word processing, so it doesn't have to be super fabulous - it's not replacing my desktop. I want it for taking notes during class, doing homework or working on presentations while traveling, and being able to waste time on the internet somewhere other than my apartment. Need to abuse those Seattle coffee shops.

I appreciate all suggestions on what to investigate or avoid!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What do you call interfaith volunteering where atheists participate?

Volunteering.

That's partially why I think the push for atheist inclusion in interfaith panels and organizations is so silly. Atheism is not a faith. In fact, it's the complete absence of faith. Therefore, it is not interfaith. Case closed.

If that simple dictionary definition wasn't enough, getting atheists involved with Interfaith This and That perpetuates the idea that atheism is just another religion, a stereotype that many atheists have grown weary of debunking. Even if you want to use the label "Humanist" instead, the core principles still remain that we are free of dogma and faith - that our values are based on reason. We can set up chaplaincies and talk about ethics until we're blue in the face, but we're still not a faith - at best we're a philosophy.

Now, I have nothing against atheists, humanists, and pastafarians doing volunteering - it helps to reduce stereotypes of atheists being cruel, unsympathetic people. And I have no problem with atheists doing these things alongside theists, because it also shows that we can temporarily put aside our differences when working toward a common goal. That we may think you're silly for believing in a zombie savior, but at least we can agree on feeding the hungry or curing diseases.

But that still doesn't make it interfaith, sorry.

You know what I do have a problem with, though? The interfaith people who say the debaters and the intellectuals need to shut up and just sing kumbaya with religion. I like Chris Stedman, but he had me raging at the last SSA conference where he made the same argument. Where we shouldn't criticize religion ever, because it's going to hurt someone's feelings, and how interfaith was so superior than those firebrand atheists. Even in an otherwise nice piece, he can't help but add:
Can we set aside intellectualizing and debating, even just for a moment, and start putting our money where other people's mouths are?
Um, no.

For one, everyone is good at different things. I don't know how many times I have to say this, but some people are good at being firebrands, and some people are good at being diplomats. There is no one right way to make progress in a movement, so stop telling people they're doing it wrong. Feel free to volunteer and be bffs with all the religious people you want. But don't tell me to shut up because I dare to criticize how someone's beliefs are harmful not just to them, but to our country and our world.

But two...right now, the "accepting" interfaith movement is full of hypocrisy. It's totally fine for religious people in the interfaith movement to disagree about things - that's the whole concept of interfaith work. But an atheist disagrees with them? Then they're just being an asshole and need to shut up. We saw this sort of reaction with Everybody Draw Mohammed Day - when the atheists stood by their values, they were the ones in the wrong. They were the ones who needed to shut up lest they offend the others in the group.

A friend of mine who's very active in getting atheists involved in interfaith says he agrees with me to an extent - but that he argues from practicality, while I'm arguing from idealism. He says atheist involvement in interfaith is just a way of sapping some resources from religion and getting our ideas out there. That we need to start setting up tax exempt Humanist chaplaincies, and get other government money that's targeted toward religious volunteering groups.

Funny. I rather uphold the separation of church and state and remove tax exempt status and government funding of religion. Maybe that's the dirtier, longer fight, but I think it's ultimately the right one.

But that's just me being an idealist.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Upcoming speaking schedule

...Yes, PZ's post reminded me that I should do this. I'm not nearly as busy as he is, but I'm still pretty sure I overbooked myself for this quarter. Yikes.

4/22/2011
Eugene, OR
Alliance of Happy Atheists at the University of Oregon
God's Lady Problem: Breaking up with abusive supernatural beings
7pm in Lawrence Hall room 177
Facebook event

5/7/2011
Kamloops, BC
Imagine No Religion Conference
Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought & CFI Okanagan
Registration required
Also featuring PZ Myers & Mr. Deity!
5/21/2011
Oakland, CA
American Atheists Rapture Regional Atheist Meet
Registration required
Also featuring Greta Christina, Mr. Deity, Matt Dillahunty & Rebecca Watson!

I'm not going to lie... the last one is a win-win situation. Most likely the rapture won't happen, and we get to go neener neener at the people who predict the end of the world. But on the minuscule chance that we do get left behind, at least I'm stuck there with a bunch of awesome people. You know the party will be great!

And then I get to frantically finish up the quarter and have a relaxing, atheist-conference free June. I love doing this, but it's hard juggling it with grad school. To celebrate, I'm seeing Tim Minchin...twice. Wooooooo!

Now, to figure out how I'm getting to Eugene since I'm currently still sans-car keys. This may be interesting.

EDIT: OMG OMG I FOUND MY SPARE CAR KEY! IT WAS...in my car. WTF. I literally screamed "WHY WOULD I PUT YOU THERE?!?!?!" when I found it in the valet key compartment. The locksmith is my new favorite person for unlocking my car for free. Plus he was quick to unlock my apartment on Saturday. Seattle people, I highly recommend Ballard Lock & Key.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This is what they call a life lesson

It's not exactly fun when you're experiencing it, but you'll be able to look back at it ten years from now and know you learned from it.

I went on a fancy pub crawl last night with a bunch of the other grad students. The last place was a dance club, so I wanted to ditch my coat. Knowing this was potentially a bad idea in a crowded club, I took my driver's license, student ID, credit card, and phone out of my coat pockets and stashed them in my bra (yes, I can can use my boobs for storage).

Problem: I forgot I also had my keys in my coat pocket. And my coat got stolen. Goodbye, apartment, lab, and car keys.

After being the Classy Hysterically Crying Drunk Girl in The Club, my friends eventually got me into a cab and I crashed at their place. I looked like the ultimate Walk of Shame this morning, with my black cocktail dress, blistering/bleeding heels from dancing in dress shoes, hangover, and male friend's oversized jacket (since I was cold and obviously no longer had mine). I then sat in front of my house for 45 minutes until the locksmith came. I called the club to see if anyone turned anything in on the off chance someone accidentally took my coat and returned it, but no one answered and I got a defunct voicemail box.

I'm now in my apartment and I have a spare key, so that crisis is temporarily averted. But I'm still car-keyless...and I have to drive to Eugene, OR for a speaking event on Friday. Fuck.

Lesson: Don't be fucking stupid and make it easy for people to take your shit.

The stupidest part? I know this will be alright, I can replace locks, I can get a new car key, I can buy a new coat (even though I really liked that one)... but I can't replace my Venusaur keychain. I won that in a Pokemon tournament 13 years ago, and I still loved it. It's stupid to care about a little piece of beat up nerdy plastic when your keys are gone... but I'm sentimental. It's depressing losing a symbol of your childhood due to...well, not thinking like an adult.

And to add insult to injury, during the night out I got rejected by a guy I like in a pretty stupendously awkward way, and I'm worried I've ruined our friendship. When it rains, it pours.

Off my ASS for ...myself - Week 15

Starting weight: 186.4 lbs
Two weeks ago weight: 171.8 lbs
Current weight: 169.8
Weight loss past two weeks: 2.0 lbs
Total weight loss: 16.6 lbs

Getting back on track. Don't have much to add this week, except that I've gone from this:To this:Next goal*: Be able to take that last photo without sucking it in.

*Real next goal: Put on more muscle and keep up the healthy diet.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

To PZ Myers

I second your motion for this:
If there were any sense and justice in the world, the next atheist meeting I attend would be populated entirely with angry women looking to overthrow the temples of the patriarchy.
Godless Gal Smackdowncon. Who wouldn't come?!

Feel free to discuss you dream speakers and events in the comments.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm torn

On one hand, I can totally get behind the message of this public announcement:
"Seattle Public Schools has been receiving numerous questions regarding the District's policy on the celebration of religious holidays. We have a 'Religion and Religious Accommodation' policy, approved by the School Board in 1983, stating that 'no religious belief or non-belief should be promoted by the School District or its employees, and none should be disparaged.'"
On the other hand, the thing they're objecting to?
A local high school sophomore, Jessica, on a community service project was volunteering for a third-grade class at Seattle Public Schools. "At the end of the week I had an idea to fill little plastic eggs with treats and jelly beans and other candy, but I was kind of unsure how the teacher would feel about that," said Jessica, reports MyNorthwest. "She said that I could do it as long as I called this treat 'spring spheres.' I couldn't call them Easter eggs."
...Alright, I know I'm a rabid militant extremist angry atheist and all, but even this seems a bit a silly to me.

For one, they're certainly not spheres - and we wonder why math scores are so low.

But are Easter eggs even religious anymore? When I was a kid, I never really thought about spiritual dogma as I was checking under the couch - I just wanted some chocolate. Or maybe a dollar bill if I was really lucky. I think I may lump this in with singing about Santa Claus - something that maybe used to vaguely link to religion, but now is thrown around for entertainment purposes and happens to retain a historical name.

I do find it amusing that Christians are the ones flipping out about this. Pfftttt, like Easter eggs have anything to do with Christianity. Where are the angry emails from pagans?

EDIT: Apparently the Seattle Public Schools haven't been able to verify this story yet, and the radio show where it was first presented is a conservative pundit. Who smells a manufactured controversy so people can make a stink about those evil atheists taking god out of our schools? (Thanks, Liz)

Well, *my* Ask an Atheist Day was uneventful

Today was National Ask an Atheist Day. The Secular Student Union at the University of Washington had a table out on Red Square. The result? We had seven people sign up for our mailing list. Two white haired, bearded professors laughed and gave us fist bumps. One guy asked what our favorite food was.

Guess Seattle doesn't have much to ask atheists.

But Virginia Tech's day wasn't so peaceful:
Virginia Tech Police were called to the Drillfield Wednesday afternoon following a report of a student stabbing his own hand with a pen.

Police were called at 1:19 p.m. by a 911 call from a witness at the scene.

Alexander M. Huppert, a freshman university studies major, then assaulted an officer who approached to check his welfare, according to a police press release. After a short struggle with the officer and several witnesses, he was taken into custody.

The incident took place near a table promoting a local version of “Ask an Atheist Day.” The student group Freethinkers at Virginia Tech sponsored the table.

Witnesses said Huppert stood near the table for nearly an hour. Approaching the table, Huppert borrowed a pen and drew a circle with a cross inside on the back of his hand.

Nicole Schrand, a senior psychology major, said Huppert then asked students at the table to stab him in the cross with the pen to “prove to us God existed.” The students declined.

“We don’t believe in assaulting people,” Schrand said. “We’re very against assaulting people.”

Huppert then asked for the pen back, a request Schrand and other students declined. Seeing another pen, Huppert grabbed it and began stabbing himself in the back of the hand.
...WTF?

To Surly Amy

I vote fail.

And that's coming from someone who's considering posing for the Skepticon 4 pinup calendar (though much more covered than my April Fool's Day post suggested - don't get too excited, people).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If 13-year old Jen could talk now

Last night Dan Savage got the following question at an event at Cornell:
Cornell professor Ritch Savin-Williams said in the New York Times that he's concerned that it's not about gay youth, but about gender-atypical kids. Is the "It Gets Better" campaign too narrowly focused?
Dan's response is spot on:
The kids who suffer the most from anti-gay bullying—the prime targets—are the gender-nonconforming kids, i.e. the sissies and the tomboys, the kids who can't pass for straight. And some of the kids who can't pass for straight are straight. Most kids who are gender nonconforming, or gender atypical, are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans, and the IGBP was created to reach out to these queer kids. But the messages at the IGBP are relevant to straight gender-atypical kids, and we know that straight-but-gender-nonconforming kids are watching the videos, commenting on them, taking hope from them, and contributing their own videos.
If I could hop in a time machine and go back 10 years, my 13 year old self would probably say something like:
Dear Mr. Savage,

I like boys, and I have a huuuuge crush on one who I think likes me back. But I'm a tomboy and I always have been. I've always hated it more than anything else when my mom tries to put me in a dress or skirt or tights. I don't get makeup even though every girl is wearing it now. I like playing video games and Pokemon cards even though I'm the only girl at the comic shop, while all the other girls just like to argue about which Spice Girl they'd be. My only friend that's not a boy is also a tomboy - I've always been "one of the guys."

And that's why everyone thinks I'm a lesbian. I don't care if people are gay, but the way they say the word hurts so much. They whisper it like I'm dirty or broken. Girls don't like changing by me in gym class, even though I'm more concerned that my underwear is dorky than what they look like in their underwear. I know it'll probably stop when I get a boyfriend (if that ever happens, sigh) but that just makes me feel worse, knowing that the kids who really are gay can't hide like that and have to put up with this forever.

But when I'm feeling down, I can watch the It Gets Better Project videos and know I'm not alone. So this big letter was to say "thank you."
And what would my 23 year old self say?

Thank you.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Quotes revealed, with context

We have a winner! Chris Hayduk-Costa matched the atheists to their quotes correctly, with the following logic:
The only statements I can see Dawkins saying (as a result of his normal speech and reading of hatemail) are 1 and 4. From reading Jen's blog for a year, I would only feel comfortable attributing 1 or 2 to her. Given the options already proven wrong (if I've gone through them properly) the above is the only answer left (assuming my assumptions hold obviously).
The answers, with context, as as follows:

1. "I feel like a prostitute!"

Said by Richard Dawkins, after finding out that 10 more students registered for the conference after finding out that they could effectively pay to have a private breakfast with him. Wish I had a recording.

2. "Now, back to buttfucking!"

Said by yours truly, after a conversation with Greta and JT about...well, buttfucking got sidetracked because JT had to make a phone call.

3. "Eat a bag of dicks!"

Said by JT Eberhard, after Greta was rubbing it in about how great being a lesbian is and how bad we have it. It was extra funny because he didn't initially realize how that particular saying related to the situation at hand.

4. "Eat shit and die!"

Said by Greta Christina, after JT and I were whining about having to wake up at 7am to go have our private fancy breakfast with Richard Dawkins.

I love how most people correctly guessed that the only plausible thing for Dawkins to say was number 1, unless he was reading hate mail. But I love more that pretty much everyone assumed Greta had to be the one talking about buttfucking. I tricked you, mwahaha!

Atheist conferences are so fun.

I just bought my genome!

Well, kinda sorta. 23andMe, one of the more popular personalized genomics companies, is having a DNA Day sale today. Usually the price to get your genome analyzed (more on this in a bit) is $199 for the kit and $9 a month for a year for their update service - where they'll rerun your data when new research comes out. But today you can get the kit for free!

I've been wanting to do this for a long time but was prohibited by the price, but this is a deal I can't pass up - so my kit is ordered. I'm prepared to muster up a lot of saliva and then still have some left over to drool over the data. Yep, not only do they give you general interpretations, but you can access the raw data - something a geneticist like me can actually have a lot of fun fiddling around with.

But before everyone runs off and buys their own kit...a warning. I honestly don't think I'd recommend 23andMe (or any other type of personalized genomics) to a non-geneticist. Not yet, at least. There are a couple reasons:

1. The technology in this area is greatly improving. They just upgraded from a 550,000 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) chip to the 1 million SNP chip. That means they're looking at a million sites in your genome that are known to be variable across humans. While that may seem like a lot, it's really just the tip of the iceberg. Pretty soon you'll be able to have your whole genome sequenced. You may want to wait to get the biggest bang for your buck.

2. Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) sort of suck, and that's what a huge chunk of their data, especially the medical stuff, is based off of. GWAS look for SNPs that are associated with a trait, usually disease. The thing is, usually an association can explain a tiny percent of cases of that disease - something like 1%, or even less. And often times that SNP doesn't always produce a certain trait - for example, having the infamous BRCA gene doesn't mean you'll get breast cancer for sure. And almost all studies are done with people of European ancestry, so if you're not, your results will likely be very inaccurate. So tl;dr, it's really wishy washy.

3. Because of that, you need to take your results with a grain of salt - which is hard for people without genetic or statistical backgrounds. And that can result in a lot of self-diagnosing that really can't replace just going and talking to your doctor and giving them a medical history.

People ask if I'm afraid I'll find out something I don't want to know - but I'm the type of person who rather know. I'm going to be honest - If I'm predisposed to some horrible disease that will kill me in my 30s, I would not be sitting in a laboratory pipetting or programming. I very much have the view that I want to live life to it's fullest, and I want to know if I have significantly less years to do so. That and I think learning more about my biology and my ancestry is worth the risk. I'm a scientist and a skeptic - what's more interesting than the truth?

I obviously won't share all of my data since much will be very personal, but definitely expect more blog posts about the subject in the future.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Match the atheist to the conference quote

Time for a match game! Our celebrity atheists are:

A. Greta Christina
B. Richard Dawkins
C. JT Eberhard
D. Jen McCreight

The quotes overheard at the American Humanist Conference and presented hilariously out of context:

1. "I feel like a prostitute!"
2. "Now, back to buttfucking!"
3. "Eat a bag of dicks!"
4. "Eat shit and die!"

Feel free to guess and discuss your reasoning in the comments. If you overheard one of the quotes, please don't spoil it for others.

...And yes, atheists are a classy bunch. Don't you wish you came now?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A practical argument for the hijab

Seen at the Seattle airport: A woman using her hijab to keep her phone wedged against her ear so she could keep her hands free.

I don't agree with the arguments from modesty, but from practicality? Hmm....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Off to Boston tomorrow!

Though I'm technically not arriving until Friday. Yay cross country flights! I leave at 2:30pm and land at 1:10am. I'll make sure to wake up my roommates as obnoxiously as possible as I bumble around our hotel room in the dark.

More importantly, why am I going to Boston? For the American Humanist Association annual conference! Wooooo!

I've heard nothing but good things about this conference from people who've attended in the past, so I'm super excited. I get to see my godless activist friends like Greta Christina, Debbie Goddard, Chris Stedman, Sharon Moss, Darrel Ray, and of course everyone from the SSA (August, Lyz, Jesse, JT, John, Shelley, and Leslie - phew, it's like we have a miniature army!). I'm also looking forward to finally meeting people I've somehow missed so far, like Margaret Downey, Elisabeth Cornwell, Greg Epstein, and Roy Zimmerman.

Oh, and I heard something about student leaders getting a special breakfast with Richard Dawkins.
What am I doing there? The SSA is having a student leadership tract, and I'm going to be on a panel about increasing diversity in the secular movement along with Greta and Debbie. Yes, we get to tell everyone how not to fail when it comes to race, gender, and sexuality. Hopefully the in-person response to suggestions isn't like the online response, or else I may be running from some pitchforks and torches.

Though I'm not going to lie...most exciting thing about this trip? I think JT and Greta and I are hunting down a place to do karaoke, and Chris Stedman promises me some gay bar birthday shenanigans.

My life is kind of awesome.

You know what else has unique human DNA like a fertilized egg?

Cancer.

Just sayin'.

Science aside of the day:
Well, and T lymphocytes. "T cells" are a type of white blood cell involved in the immune response. They're special because they undergo something called somatic recombination.

Try to remember back to high school biology. During meiosis (the formation of gametes) there's a step where Chromosome 1 from Mom and Chromosome 1 from dad can swap chunks of DNA - that's recombination. It's the reason why we have so much diversity - because you're not just getting Grandma or Grandpa's chromosome, you're getting a mix of both.

Usually this only happens when making sperm or eggs, but there's one time it occurs in non-gamete (somatic) cells - in the production of T cells. A protein called a T cell receptor recognizes antigens (foreign particles) from viruses, bacteria, parasites, and even tumor cells. But think of it - if there was just one gene coding for a T cell receptor, we'd only be able to recognize one type of antigen. That's no good - we need to be able to recognize millions!

Thankfully evolution has the answer. The T cell receptor gene has three main segments: Variable, Diverse, and Joining. There are 65 V, 27 D, and 6 J - but the cell only needs one of each! That's where somatic recombination comes in - it randomly deletes all but on of each segment, leaving the cell with a unique combination.

"But wait," cry my more mathematical readers, "that only leaves 10,530 combinations! That's not very diverse at all!" You're right! These huge structural differences make up most of the diversity, but these genes are also hypermutable - they gain mutations WAY faster than other genes. So that contributes to the diversity even more!

So, are we ready to start calling every T cell a person because it has a unique human genome? I'm not sure if my psyche can stand all the funeral's I'd be having every time I get sick.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The most logical abortion laws

We can add Alabama to the growing list of states heaping more and more restrictions on abortion - though their proposal is especially stringent. Three bills (introduced by a Republican, of course) are attempting to "redefine "person" as "any human being from the moment of fertilization or the functional equivalent thereof" — and require that all uses of the word "person" in the state constitution be accompanied by "all humans from the moment of fertilization."

You know, maybe these people have a point. Maybe being ejected from a womb is an arbitrary cutoff point for where life begins. Maybe we do have to take it back to the zygote - the initial cell formed after fertilization. After all, that zygote has the potential to eventually become a human being!

Just like how every egg has the potential to become a zygote, which is why all girls now must constantly attempt to become pregnant after their first period, and any subsequent period will be tried as murder.

And how every sperm has the potential to become a zygote, which is why now all ejaculation except for procreational purposes will be tried as mass murder (though we can downgrade wet dreams to involuntary manslaughter).

And how every ovary and testis has the potential to produce gametes, which is why now any accidents that damage them will be tried as involuntary manslaughter, but voluntary sterilization will be tried as murder.

And how every stem cell has the potential to become a gonad, which is why now all stem cell research will stop immediately, even that done on lab derived adult stem cells.

And how every nutrient you eat has the potential to become a part stem cells, which is why now eating will be illegal. Look, we solved the national obesity epidemic too!

And how many inorganic molecules have the potential to become a nutrient, which is why now moving will be illegal, lest we disturb the fate of an atom to become incorporated into a particularly delicious carbohydrate (which you can't eat, sorry).

And how stars have the potential to produce different elements, which is why... well, I'm not sure if we can do anything about supernovas, so we may have to let that slide for practical reasons.

I know pro-zygoters aren't the best at science, so hopefully this helped them understand their logic a little better. I'm a horrible human being who cares more about adult women than cells and atoms, so I'm going to keep destroying all of these potential humans and looking at photos of supernovas with awe instead of horror.

But good luck to all the pro-zygoters out there in their lifestyle! I know I had a hard time eating less junk food, let alone giving up eating and all mobility. Be sure to let us know how that goes.

'Tis a small world in biology

Today I was browsing through recent articles in Nature, looking for a potential genetics paper to present for my department's Journal Club. " "Somatic coding mutations in human induced pluripotent stem cells" catches my eye - I mean, come on, doesn't that sound absolutely fascinating? I happen to glance at the name of the first author.

"Wait...Athurva Gore? ...Who's studying biomedical engineering? Hmmmm... Is that just a more common name than I think?"

After a couple seconds of Googling, I find a photo of him and some other scientists in their native habitat (awkwardly posed in front of expensive equipment) and confirm that yes, that is my ex-boyfriend's friend that I spent a good part of undergrad hanging out with. Who I am now rediscovering while browsing genetics literature. Odd.

Congrats on the Nature paper, Athurva!

Well, if you even read this. I have no idea what the protocol is about reading friends' ex-girlfriends' blogs. Blogs before bros?

Spring has sprung

Flowering cherry trees in front of historical buildingFlowering cherry trees with brick paths cutting through grassThankfully I have a class outside of my building this quarter, or else I would have never noticed how pretty the rest of the campus has gotten.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A CRISIS!

This is serious guys. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm so torn!

The release date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is July 15... RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF TAM9!!!

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!

Friend: Oh boo hoo, you'll have to wait a couple days to see Harry Potter because you'll be in Vegas hobnobbing with famous skeptics. #firstworldproblems

I must gather some fellow skeptics to go to a midnight showing with me! Harry Potter in Vegas! Who's with me?!

Off my ASS for ...myself - Week 13

Starting weight: 186.4 lbs
Last week's weight: 170.6 lbs
Current weight: 171.8
Weight loss this week: -1.2 lbs
Total weight loss: 14.6 lbs

Weight loss... Y U NO MAKE SENSE?!?!

I was so good this week! I worked out every day, I was at or under my calorie budget...but I gained weight. Blargh.

This is what we call a plateau, folks.

Oh well. I know if I keep it up, I'll eventually break through it. Just annoying that this doesn't follow some sort of rational pattern.

On an interesting side note, I've noticed I do much better if I set my calorie intake at the rate of 1.5 lbs lost per week rather than 2.0 lbs. 1300 cal is just too low, and so I'd fail almost every day - and when I was in the mindset of failing, I'd give up and overeat since I already went over my budget. But I can easily do 1600 and be full - and often times that positive attitude will make me go a little under. Woo psychology.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Best atheist conference ever

Greta Christina has the schedule up for the Very Big Atheist Conference of 2012, which will be held in Devil's Corner, WI. I have to say, the lineup is amazing - you should check it out. I mean, Post-Diversity Panel Infuriated Smackdown and Horizontal Networking? So glad I'm a part of it.

Seriously though, go read it. I laughed my ass off.

...Is it bad that I'm disappointed this conference doesn't exist?

My Skepitcon pin-up calendar photos

I was initially hesitant when JT Eberhard asked me to be a part of the Skepticon 4 pin-up calendar, but now I'm really happy that I did it. Not only is it a great fundraiser for an awesome conference, but I'm alongside amazing women like Rebecca Watson and Greta Christina. Plus, it's sexy and artsy - like this photo from last year.I definitely had my reservations. I mean, I'm already known for my boobs, and I don't want to get pigeonholed into some sexy stereotype when I have many intellectual accomplishments. But at the same time, it's my body, and I don't want others telling me what I can do with it. If I want to pose nude, then damn it, I should be able to!

These are just the proofs - for the high quality version, you'll have to buy the calendar.
I'm not embedding them here since full nudity is NSFW, but you can check out my favorite shot here.

Be gentle!