Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why biologists shouldn't be poets

Three Ninjas: what is it that proteins do?
Three Ninjas: they react w/ enzymes or something?
Three Ninjas: and proteins need to folded in a very specific way to interact with the right enzyme?
Three Ninjas: i all mixed up?
Me: enzymes are proteins
Three Ninjas: oh
Me: Proteins do...everything
Three Ninjas: but if two people are an amazingly good fit for one another you could say they are like
Three Ninjas: proteins
Three Ninjas: folded just the right way
Three Ninjas: to
Three Ninjas: do something
Three Ninjas: ???
Me: there are enzymes that react with things, or structural things that hold the cell together, or things that act as signals, or things that regulate how other proteins are made or how much of them are made
Me: Well
Me: An enzyme binds a substrate
Me: Which is usually not a protein, but can be
Me: if you want to get really tecnical, an enzyme and a substrate that are an amazingly good fit would actually be really bad
Me: That's what toxins are
Me: They bind to enzymes better than the right substrate
Me: So much better that they never unbind
Three Ninjas: i think that may not be the metaphor i'm looking for.
Me: So the enzyme is put out of commission
Me: Enzymes work in that they bind briefly, do something to the substrate, and then release it
Me: :P
Me: #overanalyzation
Three Ninjas: but proteins have to be folded into a very complex and specific shape to do their job though right?
Me: Yes
Jason J Brunet: GOOD ENOUGH
Me: rofl
Me: Goddamn musicians
Three Ninjas: :-)

And of course I think scientists can be equally good at creative pursuits (heck, I'm an artist too!). We just make very nerdy, scientifically accurate metaphors. Here, have a haiku:

Our love's like poison
inhibiting an enzyme
I only want you.

...You should see the ode to fruit fly breeding I wrote for my creative writing class.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Goddamnit, Ohio

Yep, my rage isn't directed at Indiana for once. The Ohio House of Representatives approved three anti-abortion bills yesterday.
The most controversial piece of legislation, known as the "heartbeat" bill, would prohibit the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Another ban targets late-term abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and the third bill would restrict insurance coverage for abortions.

The heartbeat bill, which still would require the Senate's approval, would give Ohio one of the most restrictive laws against abortion in the country. Heartbeats from inside a womb can be detected as early as six weeks of gestation. The bill does not have an exception for rape or incest.
Six. Weeks. Some people are just figuring out they're pregnant then, let alone having the time to make the decision to have an abortion, find a place to go, take off time from work to travel there... There's no sugar coating this. This is Ohio's attempt to outlaw abortion outright. And having no exceptions for rape or incest is just despicable.

Ohioans, don't let this pass in the Senate. Write, email, and call your senators now and support a woman's right to choose.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Help a godless nerdy Seattleite!

You may remember my friend Jason, better known as his musical persona Three Ninjas. I've linked to his music before, since he frequently does nerd-core rap with skeptical, godless themes. That's in addition to electronica and...hell if I know what to call it, I'm not a music person. But it's badass.

How badass is it? It's so badass that 20/20 is coming to Seattle to film him doing a show Wednesday night. And it would be awesome if his show was filled with other skeptical, godless nerds. So if you're not doing anything, come to the Skylark Cafe in West Seattle at 9pm. I'll be there!

Here are some of my favorite Three Ninja songs! See if you can catch my cameos:

Monday, June 27, 2011

How big are the health benefits of circumcision?

When Dan had me on as a guest of the Savage Lovecast, one of the questions I fielded was on circumcision. I knew that circumcision had been shown to reduce HIV infection rates in at least one study, but I also knew the reduction wasn't that huge. And frankly, that's all I knew about the research, so I didn't want to assert any more. I hadn't read the paper, so for all I knew, it could have it's flaws.

Turns out it does. PZ explains:

Now Salon has followed up with an article that suggests that circumcision may actually have some health benefits. I am not impressed. They cite a couple of incomplete epidemiological studies in African populations for HIV infection, and they come up with some astounding figures: a 50-60% reduction in infection rates. Wow, with that kind of advantage…sign me up.

However, these are deeply flawed studies. None of them were completed: they all abandoned the protocol and stopped the research as soon as preliminary results gave them positive values. This is like shooting craps and announcing that all your dice throws were practice…until you get a good roll, and then, yeah, that was the real deal. That one counts.

They all overstate their results. That 50-60% reduction was in relative rate, in comparison across the two groups. The actual calculated protection in absolute terms conferred by circumcision was a 2% reduction in the likelihood of infection. That doesn't dazzle me, either, and given that the studies were terminated when they got their best results, I'm not persuaded.

And finally, give me a plausible mechanism for how circumcision would achieve these remarkable gains. Tell me how it is supposed to work. If it's something to do with hygiene, it seems to me that better sex and health education should have the same or better effect than lopping off bits of skin.

Again, the jury is still out. So don't be using this questionable study in the name of "science" to justify chopping off foreskin. And frankly, it would take a lot more than a 2% benefit to outweigh the concerns of autonomy in my mind. That's not even touching on the fact that most people do it thanks to religion (which is bollocks ) or "tradition" (which is also bollocks).

And while I'm against circumcision, I'm also with PZ on his final paragraph:

I also say as I always have that I oppose circumcision, think it is a pointless and petty bit of suffering to put children through and ought to be discouraged, but I also don't think it's as hideously damaging as the obsessive nuts want to claim. Also, in the context of the original post, I consider it a prime example of selfish privilege to invade discussions of female genital mutilation, which does cause serious sexual and medical problems, with demands that we pay more attention to the lesser concerns of males getting lightly scarred penises.

What he said.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The godless periodic table of elements

Ungodly News has concocted a cute custom period table featuring prominent atheists. Visit their site for the large version.
Somehow I got in there (godless element Bh, down in the lanthanides). And obviously PZ is at the top of his column, because we all know he has a more difficult time bonding with others. Or something.

A failed joke about electronegativity. My blog has hit a new low.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I'm seeing Tim Minchin tonight!

He's playing a 10 minute walk from my house. And I have tickets. Woooooo.

I have nothing to add because I just wanted to rub it in, so here's a (NSFW?) Tim Minchin song for you:

Oh, and Dan Savage interviewed Tim, and it's wonderful. How could it not be?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Context matters

Rebecca Watson recently made a video about a situation that made her feel very uncomfortable at an atheist conference.

tl;dr: At 4am after a night of drinking with conference attendees, Rebecca said she was going to bed. A man followed her to the elevator, and once in the elevator, invited her to his room. This made her very uncomfortable. To spell it out for you, a potentially inebriated man sneaking off to follow you and only propositioning you once you're alone and unable to escape sets off red flags, even if he was totally benign and had the best intentions in mind.

And this is all sort of ironic, especially since Rebecca had just given a talk on sexism and making women feel welcome.

Unfortunately, Rebecca is receiving some shittacular comments about how she's hypersensitive and oppressing male sexuality, and how men are the real victims here because they can't flirt without seeming like sex crazed rapists. I get the same sort of comments whenever I make similar observations. So I want to spell it out very clearly:

I am not anti-flirting. I am not anti-finding a significant other. I am not anti-casual sex. Hell, I'm single and incredibly interested in finding someone who's also interested in atheism and skepticism. I'm trying to flirt and find a significant other when I go to events (I plead the fifth on the casual sex part).

But context matters.

Do not come up to me right after I give a talk on communicating skepticism and tell me a perk of my presentation was that I'm easy on the eyes.*

Feel free to say I'm cute when I'm rocking my black cocktail dress at Penn Jillette's party at TAM 9.

Do not interrupt an intellectual discussion on diversity in the atheist movement with a unrelated sexual joke.*

Feel free to tell raunchy jokes when I'm having a beer at post-talk social. I'll join you.

Do not reference my looks, boobs, or sexiness when introducing me for a talk or panel, especially when you would not do so for the male participants.*

Feel free to say you think I'm attractive in casual conversation and tweets, especially if it's in addition to my intellectual accomplishment. I fangirl over people too - it's okay.

Do not make numerous comments about my looks in an intellectual blog post that happens to contain a photo of me that's not meant to be sexy.*

Feel free to comment away when I post photos from my Skepticon pinup calendar. You have the green light.

Do not follow me around the Skepchick party insisting that I drink your bottle of whiskey, after repeated "No thank you"s.*

Feel free to approach me or offer me a drink if you're okay with the chance that I may not be interested. Sometimes I am!

And finally - if you miscalculate the context of the situation, if you accidentally make someone uncomfortable, if you come off as a creep but you really just had a brainfart and said something incredibly stupid and unintentionally demeaning - it's okay. It happens. We're human. It doesn't mean you're an evil misogynistic beast, even if we publicly discuss it so others can learn from your mistake.

But recognize said mistake, apologize, and learn from it.

*Yes, all of these "Do not"s have actually happened

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Picking on myself

I couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was checking out UW's mental health clinic, mainly because I wanted to facepalm at the Traditional Chinese Medicine/acupuncturist screener. I wanted to explain why I was going, for two main reasons:
  1. I don't want people to worry about me, especially since it's not that bad. I know I concerned a lot of people, including some who emailed me personally, so I wanted to let them know I was okay.
  2. Mental health has a lot of stigma attached to it because people are so embarrassed to admit anything is wrong. And frankly, it's silly. We don't tease or shame people for having bronchitis or cystic fibrosis or other physical ailments. And hell, mental health is still physical - the brain is an organ, not some disembodied spiritual puppet master. If we don't mock people for being deficient in insulin, we shouldn't mock them for being deficient in serotonin.
I was especially motivated by JT Eberhard's bravery in so openly discussing his struggles with anorexia on his blog. So I want to do my part in breaking down that stigma, and talk about why I was going.

I don't pick on myself. I pick at myself.

Dermatillomania, Compulsive Skin Picking, BFRB (Body-focused Repetitive Behavior). There are a lot of names for it, mainly because it's only recently being recognized, and no one knows quite how to categorize it. It's part of the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Spectrum along with classical OCD, anorexia, body dysmorphic disorder, hypochondria, and Tourette's. It's very closely related to the more well known trichotillomania, which is compulsive hair pulling. But instead of plucking hairs, I peel at the skin on my fingertips and lips.

It was weird when I finally realized there was a term for what I've been doing since I was a little kid. But it was even weirder when I read the description of the disorder. It was like a stranger has been secretly spying on me when I read this article:
What I am referring to is not the kind of little bits of rough nail or cuticle that everyone picks at or bites from time to time, nor is it the occasional blemish that people might squeeze or pick. These nail-biters continually bite their nails past the nail bed and their cuticles until they bleed and are constantly walking around with red, sore, and sometimes infected fingers. Those who pick their skin compulsively have their faces and bodies covered, at times, with red sores and scabs known as acne excoria, a self-inflicted skin disorder that resembles acne. The smallest pimple or blemish must be opened and picked at or squeezed, either with the fingers or another implement such as tweezers, needles, pins, toothpicks, etc. Numerous scars are often the result.
It's funny. These particular examples sound gross and extreme to me because they're not my particular tick. But what's become normal for me is probably bizarre to all of you. I pick at the skin on the pads of my thumbs and fingers, and at my lips. It starts with a bit of dead skin that many people would pick off. But my problem is I can't stop. You know how little kids like to put glue on their hands, let it dry, and then peel it all off? It's the same fun - except I'm pulling off skin that's not ready to come off.

Sometimes I go too deep, or go too far, and I'll bleed. The result is bright red, scarred thumbs that look miserable and hurt to bend, or bruised and chapped lips that I perpetually blame on the weather. It's clear that it's a compulsion. You'd think the first time I made myself bleed I'd stop, right? But I've done it probably hundreds of times, and most of the time I can't even stop while I'm bleeding - the job has to be "finished" until everything that can be removed is.

Why? The article gets it right again:
Another similarity between these problems and trichotillomania is that they seem to happen when people are in one of two modes. Some do it in an automatic way, as if they are in a trance and not really thinking about what they are doing. Usually, they are involved in some other activity at the same time such as reading, talking on the phone, working at the computer, watching TV, etc. For others, the deliberate picking or biting is their main activity at the time, and they will frequently interrupt other activities to engage in it.

There is also a strong commonality seen in the various purposes behind these three problems. At the most basic level, they satisfy an urge. Many report an almost uncontrollable feeling of needing to do them. Pulling, picking or biting also seem to deliver a pleasurable or relaxed sensation. When sufferers feel stressed, doing these things has a kind of soothing effect on their nervous systems, and reduces levels of stimulation. On the other hand, when they are bored or inactive, they seems to provide a needed level of stimulation to the nervous system. This probably accounts for why so many people who dislike doing them find it so hard to stop. It simply "feels good" at the time, no matter what the consequences.
If I'm stressed, I pick. If I'm bored, I pick. Sometimes I don't even realize I was doing it until the damage is done. And worse, sometimes I realize I'm doing it, and my mind is screaming "Just stop!" and I can't.

And as time goes by, it gets worse. Not in intensity, but in scope. The more I peel, the more the skin around the edge gets weak - so I then have more stuff to peel in the future. Which means what used to be a little pink spot near my thumbnail has crawled almost to the base of my thumb.

So that's why I went to get help. I want to stop before my whole hand is a scarred mess, or before I take a chunk out of my lips that won't grow back. I wanted to stop feeling ashamed when people asked what was wrong with my thumb (A paper cut? A blister? A skin disorder? Who was I kidding?). I wanted to stop freaking out about someone noticing it in a photo or when I shook their hand.

But I couldn't do it with willpower alone. And I couldn't do it with friends yelling at me to stop - that just made me feel even more terrible, which ironically would make me pick more. Though I did find a trick to stop picking at my nails - I cut them very short. Forgetting to bring nail clippers on a speaking trip is a tragedy for me.

But an unexpected upside to all of this? I get to geek out about the science behind it.

I know, always the nerd. But it's intriguing. There's a good sign this is genetic, which is also true in my family. And the hypotheses behind it are interesting:
Some have theorized that there may be that the same out-of-control grooming mechanism in the brain underlies them all. My own theory is that there may be some type of dysfunction of a brain mechanism that regulates levels of stimulation within the central nervous system, and that these behaviors represent an attempt to control these internal stimulation levels externally. People seem to pull, pick, or bite when they are either overstimulated (due to stress or excitement) or understimulated (due to boredom or inactivity). Many similar behaviors can be observed in animals who are kept in confined or unstimulating environments, or who live in stressful conditions.
The latter theory is supported by the fact that anti-depressants often successfully treat dermatillomania, though little research has been done on it yet. But if anyone ever wants a genetic sample, they know were to find me.

So, that's that. I've always been wary of putting something out there that people can use as ammunition to show how crazy I am (or atheists are, or feminists are, or evolutionists are, or...). But it's worth putting it out there to make all the other "crazy" people realize they're not alone.

And come on. If someone wanted to call me crazy, they already have plenty of wacky things I've said or done.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Wealthy, Handsome, Strong, Packing Endless Hard-Ons"

Greta Christina has a fabulous post over at AlterNet on "The Impossible Ideals Men Are Expected to Meet." It's a must-read. Not just because everything Greta writes is a must-read, but because it illustrates how sexism also hurts men. Which I've said a billion times before, but apparently not as eloquently since people still think I'm a hyper-sensitive libido castrating feminazi spider monkey.

Yeah, I didn't get the spider monkey comment either, until I did a bit of research. Apparently the spider monkey mating system consists of females approaching the males! How utterly backwards. Those goddamn feminist monkeys.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Miss USA contestants on evolution

Beauty pageants, along with Hooters restaurants, are on my list of Things I Wish Would Drop Off The Face of the Planet. They desperately attempt to market themselves as something more than a superficial patriarchython by including a talent portion ("Look, I can play the piano mediocrely!) and an interview on a hot button issue. But listen to how the contestants answer "Should evolution be taught in schools" and you'll see education and intelligence is not how you become a state representative (if you can stomach the whole video):

The thing that kills me is how many people think evolution should be taught just because people need to be exposed to different opinions. No, it should be taught because it is true. Graabbaelaelkeellele!!!

The upside to all of this? One of the few very-pro evolution contestants was the winner, with this response:
I was taught evolution in high school. I do believe in it. I’m a huge science geek. [...] I like to believe in the big bang theory and, you know, the evolution of humans throughout time.
Maybe there's some hope after all. Though I don't blame these women in particular. The US is woefully uneducated when it comes to evolution - they're just a product of our culture and terrible science standards.

EDIT: Miss Vermont wins at everything (13:00 in):
"I think evolution should be taught in schools because not everybody necessarily has the same religious background, and it's important to have scientific facts about the world. And we do know that evolution exists, even on a small scale like with people, and with bacteria that are becoming resistant to drugs and what not. So, might as well learn about it."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Really? ಠ_ಠ

Rob Sherman is an atheist activist in Illinois most well known for trying to get "Under God" removed from the pledge of allegiance. He also just wrote a post that made me facepalm so hard that it's going to leave a mark (emphasis mine):
The lovely Hooters Girls of Springfield, Illinois, provided Dawn and Rob Sherman with a free car wash, on Thursday, to thank us for asking the State Board of Education to not force school districts around the State to implement the unconstitutional Student Prayer Act "Moment of Silence" law. The girls had asked us what had brought us to Springfield. When I told them, they all said that they agreed with Dawn and me on that subject. They then offered to wash our car for free to demonstrate their appreciation, proving that there are certain rewards to this job that you just don't get with every other line of work.
[...]Dawn and I went to the Springfield Hooters for lunch after making our presentation, that morning, at the June monthly meeting of the State Board of Education. I often eat at Hooters, either in Springfield or Bloomington, after conducting business at the Capitol. The food and service, at both locations, are always fabulous. Obviously, a sign of great management by Eric and Mike. The fact that the
food and service come with a generous helping of eye candy is merely a convenient and pleasant bonus.

Haley and Tara discuss strategy on how to wash a convertible while the top is down. Haley is the girl speaking to me. Tara is the girl with the big sponge. (What did you think I was going to say?)
That's his high school daughter Dawn in the car with him.


Sometimes it just boggles my mind how atheist activists don't realize that maybe, just maybe, they shouldn't write a whole blog post about objectifying women.

Our Flying Spaghetti Monster parade float

Today was the Fremont Solstice Parade, and the Seattle Atheists walked with their Flying Spaghetti Monster float. And I was one of the pirates operating his noodley appendage! Here are some fun photos from the event.
Photo by LeeLeFever
Photo by Philaros
Photo by decidedlyodd

And the cutest pirate of the day was:
Other than marching, the best part of the event was the naked bikeride, with all the people riding by in creative body paint. The two people painted up like Mormon missionaries (NSFW) were my favorite.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

70 year old man stoned to death for "homosexuality"

"I killed a man," Thomas allegedly told the witness. He then described how he placed batteries and rocks in a sock, and hit Seidman in the head at least 10 times. Thomas then returned to Seidman's apartment several days later and called police, saying he had discovered the body, according to court documents.

When police interviewed Thomas on Wednesday he said Seidman had been making advances toward him over a period of time. Thomas said he read in the Old Testament that homosexuals should be stoned in certain situations.
Yet another example of the terrible hatred that's found in the Bible, and what happens when it falls into the hands of the wrong people. The twisted thing is that anyone who claims to be a Biblical literalist and doesn't do stuff like this is a hypocrite. Thankfully.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The few cool places in Northwest Indiana

After that crabby last post, I feel compelled to post something positive about my trip. I really did enjoy myself. I had a great time visiting family and friends and playing lots and lots of golf. But other than that, Northwest Indiana is notoriously boring. If you ever find yourself stuck there, here are a couple places to check out:

- Three Floyds Brewpub. Great beer and even better French fries (I’m probably going to be lynched for saying that). Plus I love the quirky décor. Awesome murals and artwork everywhere, and always a bizarre B movie playing on one of the walls.

- Beer Geeks. Not as cool as Three Floyds, but still worth going if you can look past the hipster-y name and sign (broken nerdy glasses, really?). Good selection of beer, reasonable price, and murals of people like Darwin, Stephen Hawking, Spock, and Doc Brown all enjoying beer together. Randomly ran into a Secular Student Alliance affiliate leader there who I met once at last year's conference. Smaaaaaall world.

- Aurelio’s Pizza. I live in a Chicago suburb, so there’s great pizza everywhere. I’m sure Aurelio’s isn’t the best you can find, but I like it. They have a bunch of places around Chicago, but one really close to my house. It’s thin crust and has a sweet sauce that makes it really unique, which I love but not everyone does. I always make sure to get some when I come home.

…Yes, it is a very short list. We don’t even have our miniature golf/go-kart place anymore. It was bulldozed to make way for a strip mall that never went up, thanks to the economy.

I hate American Airlines

I want to preemptively state: #firstworldproblems

Now that that’s out of the way…I hate American Airlines.

My flight from Chicago to Seattle was supposed to leave at 8:35 pm. We boarded the plane at the right time – and then sat at the gate for an hour and a half. We had no idea what was going on for the first hour, until finally someone made an announcement that the maintenance crew was checking something on the plane before we could go. At 10pm they said we flunked the maintenance check, and had us all get off the plane and head to another gate for a new plane. We finally took off at 11pm.

Now, I understand that shit happens. I’d rather be on a functioning plane then shuffled out on a malfunctioning one. And I won’t bitch about the three hour delay in my flight from Seattle to Chicago, since that was due to weather and out of the airline’s control.

But you’d think American would try to do something to make us a little less cranky, right? I mean, people are missing connections and getting home in the middle of the night. I had to shell out $58 for a taxi because all of the public transportation ($0 for me) was closed by the time we finally landed. I’m easy to placate. Maybe a free drink, or some pretzels. Maybe a coupon code for the ridiculously overpriced in-flight internet ($12? Really, gogoinflight? Fuck you, I don't need to blog that badly).

We got complimentary head phones if we wanted them. Whoop-di-doo. Who doesn’t have their own headphones already?

Oh well. I made it back to Seattle in one piece eventually. And I sat next to the Mayor of Tukwila on the plane, which was kind of neat. At least this happened when I was just coming home and not in a particular rush, instead of when I'm running off to speak somewhere. ...And good thing I don't believe in jinxing things.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A new godless comic book

Blag Hag reader Marjee Chmiel is working on a fantastic comic called Luci's Let Down.
Written by Marjee Chmiel and illustrated by Sandra Lanz, *Luci's Let Down* is about the alienation that creative and skilled professionals face in corporate culture, a culture that too often devalues craftsmanship and holds profits over principles. It’s also about the creation of the universe, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the other side of the canonical dispute between God and Lucifer.

As art director for God, Luci has found herself let down again and again with the tasks entrusted to her: creating life is tough stuff, and for a boss as critical and unappreciative as the Big Man himself, it’s particularly difficult to remain in the spotlight for long. Yet with this latest project, she intends to realize her vision, and ensure her place in the echelon of time-honored creators. Witty, funny, and certainly touching, *Luci’s Let Down* is a familiar story told before, but never like this.
The art is great, and I love the subtle nerdiness. There are some preview pages here.
Marjee is looking for help to pay for the printing so she can present the book at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MA and the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco this year. They're over half way to their goal - if you like the comic, you can help out here!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fabulous filler

I'm still busy golfing, eating, and sleeping, so here's my favorite Neil Patrick Harris at the Tony Awards:

Monday, June 13, 2011

The little mathematician

Nephew (almost 4 years old): What's the first number in ninety?
Me: Nine. That's why it's nine-ty.
Nephew: What's the first number in eight?
Me: There's only one number in eight, that's eight.
Nephew: What is one?
Me: ...Is that a philosophical question?

You know you've been in science too long when answering questions asked by 4 year olds becomes hard. "Why is the sky blue? Well....."

Friday, June 10, 2011

I have rotten timing

The corpse flower unfurled its stately bloom at the UW Botany greenhouse tonight and was in full splendor by 10 p.m.

The stench was just starting to stoke up -- the flower attracts pollinating insects by smelling like carrion -- and had not yet reached its full power. Said to make the eyes water, it should reach full power in the middle of the night tonight. The greenhouse is open til 11 tonight, and reopens for visitors at 8 a.m. tomorrow, when the flower will still be stinky. The scent will fade, but the bloom still be well worth a visit all week.

And is it ever. A line of admirers snaked out the door to see the flower, with people waiting half and hour and longer for their chance to come in the steamy greenhouse, and climb a step ladder to peer inside the depths of the flower's giant bloom. It's that big.

Its outlandish, Alice in Wonderland appearance is the draw, figures Doug Ewing, who with a team of greenhouse techs at the greenhouse coaxed the flower into bloom after two and a half years of dormancy.

It could be years before the flower blooms again, so see it now!
Boooooooo! I literally work right next to this greenhouse, but I'm out of town for a week! Curse my timing. And opportunity to be a geeky biologist, lost.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I'm alive!

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Tuesday was my big end of the quarter research presentation, which means Tuesday night was my post-presentation celebration, and Wednesday was my recovery from my post-presentation celebration.

And right now I'm sitting in the Seattle airport, attempting to go back home to Indiana for a week. I say attempting because my flight is already delayed two hours thanks to thunderstorms in Chicago. Ahh, the midwest.

So...posts may be a little filler-y while I'm decompressing. My brain needs to be turned off for a bit before starting up summer research. Seriously, I know I'm stressed when I'm looking forward to going back to Indiana.

Consider this an open thread. What are you up to? What neat things have you read on the internet? Is there anything that could defeat a velociraptor with machine gun arms?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Conservapedia has solved the atheist gender gap

Answer: Ponies.

Gee, thanks, Conservapedia! Now that mystery is solved, my new investigation will be why any women would consider themselves conservative when they're treated like brainless 5 year olds.

Brought to you by the same people who claimed all atheists were fat. I so wish this were a Poe.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Homeopathy for homosexuality

The Union of Catholic Physicians of Germany is offering a homeopathic therapy to "cure" homosexuality:
The religious association, which calls itself the "voice of the Catholic medical community," writes on its website that while "homosexuality is not an illness," a host of treatments are available to keep such "inclinations" at bay. Possibilities include "constitutional treatments with homeopathic tools … such as homeopathic dilutions like Platinum," "psychotherapy," and "religious counseling." Among homeopathy's controversial treatments are the prescription of "Globuli," tiny pills that consisting mostly of sugar.

[...]As for the scientific basis of the treatments offered by the UCP, Winkelmann listed "medical-psychotherapeutic, philosophical and theological literature," the "minority views of psychotherapists," the "teachings of the Catholic church, the Holy Scripture," and the "homeopathy of Samuel Hahnemann," the German physician credited with creating the practice.

When your "scientific basis" includes "philosophical and theological literature", "teachings of the Catholic church," and "the Holy Scripture," you know you're dealing with top notch research.

This is patently ridiculous on a whole number of levels. One, homosexuality isn't something that can be cured, nor is it something that should be cured. But even if you did want to cure it, pseudoscientific bunk like homeopathy is probably the least effective way to do so.

Homeopathic medicine is nothing but sugar and water. When they say it consists of dilutions of Platinum, they mean they've diluted it so many times that there probably isn't even a single molecule of Platinum left in the pill.

Though I am curious as to why they used Platinum. Usually homeopathy goes by the notion of "like cures like" - that you put something that causes your problems into the solution and keep diluting it, and then the water will "remember" those bad molecules and flush them out of your system (Yes, it's that nutty). But what does Platinum have to do with homosexuality? Maybe it was too hard to dissolve the soundtrack to Rent? Since obviously stuff like that is what makes people gay, not hard-wired biology.

Maybe I shouldn't be complaining, though. I much rather have people receiving sugar pills as treatment than being forced to attend psychologically damaging gay reprogramming camps.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I'm such a meanie!

Apparently some Savage Love listeners are in a tizzy because I called religion "silly."

Oh dear me! Pass the smelling salts! Silly? Silly? How utterly barbaric!
That religion/spirituality discussion got pretty damned dismissive. I do think it's useful - probably necessary - to be skeptical about everything (even a person's own skepticism), but I don't think person shouldn't be labeled 'silly' or 'wrong' or be dismissed outright just for being a part of a religion or for having spiritual interests or beliefs. They may very well be thinking critically about their beliefs (plenty of people do, and I certainly wish more religious people would), but STILL find those beliefs to be valid for them on a personal level and useful in their life (helping them to understand themselves, to figure out what their philosophy is about the world, to find a community of people to relate to and find support with, etc., etc.).
Dear Dan: Please don't have an atheist on your show to explain why those silly religious people are so darn stupid. There are plenty of intelligent people out there who also have religious beliefs. This show was just plain insulting.
Ugh, please don't have that hypocritical twit back on the show. She was there to challenge you on some ignorant commentary on a previous podcast, but then calls a religion "silly"; a religion of which she is admittedly ignorant.

Look, I get that as a culturally Catholic atheist, you have a narrow view of the variety of religious and spiritual experiences of the rest of the world. You said that you didn't feel any pull to seek out another religion when you left Catholicism. Your guest so contemptuously surmised that only silly people with mortality anxiety could be drawn to religious practice. Some of us however, feel drawn to express the awe of the numinous, and communion with spirit/the divine/invisible friend(s).

I am really shocked that you chose to dismiss Wicca as something silly. Especially when Wicca is a sex positive, woman positive, queer positive spirituality. Wiccans aren't out at the polls trying to take away your civil rights. Wiccans aren't denying your rights to marry, adopt children. Wiccans aren't beating the shit out of trans people in a McDonalds either.

So, way to go in perpetuating more misinformation about a minority religion. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you'd shit on people who are, on the whole, supportive of all the things you believe in.
I find this incredibly amusing, as I went out of my way to be nice and diplomatic knowing I was on a sex advice podcast and not an atheist one. Let's hope they don't actually click through to my blog, or their heads will surely explode from righteous indignation.

But in case they're gluttons for punishment, here they go:

Religion - whether it's something culturally acceptable for liberals to hate on like Christianity, or a minority religion like Islam or Wicca - are all wrong. They're based on unsubstantiated claims that have no basis in reality. There is not a shred of evidence that any religions, past or present, are actually correct.

Regardless if your religion goes out of its way to oppress others, or just has private naked kissing rituals, I'm still going to point out how wrong it is. Why? Because the search for truth is important to me, and there are too many beautiful, wonderful real things in this world to be wasting our time on pointless rituals and optimistic daydreaming. It's intellectually insulting to believe in something just for community, or wonderment, or tradition, or answers about the afterlife - when it's a fucking fairy tale.

And I'm just as happy to point out when non-religious beliefs are wrong. Your bad ideas don't get a free pass because you invoke an imaginary friend or magic.

Religious people aren't necessarily stupid. Plenty of people have false beliefs - even us godless skeptics aren't perfect. But I'm willing to listen when someone points out that those beliefs are fucking stupid.

And silly.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Alright, *now* I'm motivated to learn how to ride a bike

Thanks, kid.

A video of my bike riding attempt will come sometime after this quarter is over (June 7) and I actually find free time. And, well, someone with a bike.

Over $30,000 raised for Camp Quest!

Here are the final results from our month long fundraiser for Camp Quest:
Team Awesome: $13,550.06
Team PZ: $13,016.01

Matched amounts:
Team Awesome: $1,868.73
Team PZ: $1,640.00
Total Match: $3,508.73

Grand Total Raised: $30,074.80
You guys are amazing! Thanks so much to everyone who donated and spread the word. Because of you, tons of young freethinkers will have an awesome experience this summer.

Double your impact in helping freethinking kids!

There's only a couple hours left in our Camp Quest fundraiser. Team Awesome is now ahead of Team PZ, mainly because PZ is a nefarious bastard and hoisted the white flag of defeat after Team Awesome had promised to embarrass themselves in a number of ways if they won.

But there's exciting news! Todd Stiefel of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation has pledged to match all donations in the last two hours of the drives up to $5,000 per team! That means if you donate before the competition ends at 2pm EST (11 PST), your donation is effectively doubled! That's everything above $11,681.33 for Beat PZ (aka Team Awesome) and $11,376.01 for Team PZ.

For those of you who have donated so far - thank you so much! It's amazing that we've raised over $20,000. And if you haven't donated yet, please consider donating now! All the money goes to Camp Quest, a summer camp for the children of non-religious parents that teaches critical thinking skills and science in addition to regular camp activities. And if you want a corny video where I awkwardly say what Camp Quest is about, watch this!

And honestly, I don't care which team you donate to now, as it'll be a hollow victory if we win now (goddamnit, PZ). If I were you, I'd aim for a perfect tie.

Though I kind of hate all of you who really, really, really want to see me make a fool out of myself learning how to ride a bike.