First up this morning was a marginal breakfast. I don’t understand this — why do people put cooked fruit into things that don’t need cooked fruit. Cooked fruit is not chocolate. It does not make things better. It makes them measurably much worse. Croissants don’t need jelly on the inside. It’s gross.
George Hrab opened the conference with a brilliant song, the best part of which was the direction to make sure that any questions you direct at a speaker are actually questions, not opinions, speeches, or comments on the speaker. It was pretty funny.
Michael Shermer was first up and I literally don’t remember what he talked about. I was not awake and not that interested, so I guess it just didn’t stick.
Then there was a panel, Skepticism and TV. I got over the fact that *I* wasn’t on the panel, but I have to say it is really hard to look at these panels of old white guys and think that they’ve made the effort to get more than one point of view. When they found out Adam Savage wasn’t coming, they had the opportunity to try to get a minority or a woman on the panel, and they didn’t. Which was a shame because everyone on the panel agreed with one another and didn’t have a lot of useful advice on how to get more skepticism on TV.
Here’s the thing, when you don’t have young people talking about what’s going on, you miss stuff. If you don’t have women, or mothers, or people of color, or people from different socio-economic levels, you don’t hear about whether people are actually being exposed to skepticism on TV.
Did the old white men mention any of the children’s programming out there? No, not at all. And that’s probably the place where you see the most skepticism incorporated into fiction storylines. Look at Dora the Explorer, or any of the other investigative type shows that are aimed at kids. Those teach critical thinking and why don’t they think that that qualifies as skepticism on TV. Yes, you watch Bones or whatever and it’s absurd and not related to real critical thinking, but prime time adult television is not the only thing on TV. There’s more than the Discovery Channel.
They also talked a lot about editing and how to get around being edited in ways they don’t want to be. I’ll just say that it’s almost impossible to get by a determined editor. They’re tricksy people.
Yes, so I took some issues with that panel.
Next up was Lawrence Krauss. A few months ago, Krauss made some statements in support of his friend who was an admitted rapist of underage girls. There was a fair amount of backlash, and threats to walk out on him at TAM. If that happened, I couldn’t tell. There’s so many people in and out of the room anyway, it wouldn’t have been noticed, but also I think that elevatorgate has so overshadowed this that no one quite cared as much.
He gave a history lesson on Richard Feynman, which was OK, but I wasn’t that interested in a biography.
Then Jamy Ian Swiss led James Randi and two others in a recap of Project Alpha, which was when two magicians pretend to have Uri Gelleresque powers for several years and the lab believed them despite the fact that it was very obvious what they were doing. Embarrassing for science, but kind of hilarious for magicians. It shows how lame psychics are.
Eugenie Scott was up next, but I didn’t listen to that talk, I looked at books and walked around. I wasn’t very interested in Climate Change Denial and I was tired and wanted to move around. I’m trying to get over feeling guilty for not going to every talk, but it’s uncomfortable to sit all day.
And then it was lunch — I sat with the amazing Greta Christina and several other really cool people. Elevatorgate was the primary topic, but what I liked that we talked about was how the movement needs to be getting people in disadvantaged circumstances involved. So many people who are in the movement are there because they are the ones who can afford it. If you look at where the large populations of black people are, they are also poor places with strong religious communities. South Carolina and Mississippi have huge percentage of black people in their population, and those are places where being an atheist is not necessarily safe but more importantly, these are places where there are problems facing the community that are so much more pressing than religion. Teen Pregnancy, education, jail time. These are problems that the skeptic community should be working on, because we can’t get people to participate if they’re struggling to live. Let’s get people in better life circumstances so that they can spend time on education and learning to be scientifically literate. And it’s not just the South, of course, it’s inner city, it’s Detroit, it’s Compton.
Ok, sorry, off the soapbox.
After lunch, it was just pure uninterrupted awesomeness.
Jennifer Michael Hecht spoke first, and she decided she was going to try to talk about everything that ever happened ever and that she would accomplish this by talking super fast. She talked a lot about the history of skepticism, which is the focus of her very excellent book Doubt, A History. She was fantastic. She talked about the movie The Road to Wellville, and said that a lot of people who go to quacks do it because, essentially, they want the attention. Though she also implied that women could get a happy ending from a chiropractor.
They had to cut her off before she was finished, and then it was time for PZ, who was hilarious. Every slide had a picture of either squid or octopi, which I feel is necessary. He was talking about the biology of aliens. I think his most interesting point was that there are several highly intelligent animals on earth that are self-aware that we still don’t know how to communicate with, yet we’re seeking out aliens.
He was awesome, and was followed by Pamela Gay, who I didn’t particularly like. Not that she wasn’t good, she was calling for more funding and emphasis on science. What I didn’t like was her criticism of the skeptic movement as scattered, as though the emphasis of everyone on the movement should be on science. The fact of the matter is that not everyone can care a lot about every cause — outrage fatigue. Science education is important, and I’m for it and happy to support it, but it’s not what I’m particularly interested in. It’s not the cause that I’m going to spend time on. That’s not because I’m scattered, it’s because my time is spent elsewhere. I appreciate her enthusiasm for the cause, but it’s not a very useful criticism.
And then it was time for the best thing I’ve ever seen ever. I can’t wait for it to be on YouTube, because I want to watch it again. It was a panel on the future of humans in space. It was moderated by Phil Plait, and had Bill Nye the Science Guy, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Pamela Gay, and Lawrence Krauss. NdGT started off real quiet and then he jumped in like a ninja and started kicking ass. He thinks that we don’t spend enough money on science and we should double NASA’s budget and do everything. The bank bailout was more money than everything we spent on NASA in its fifty year existence. Lawrence Krauss sort of poo-pooed the idea of humans in space, and Neil deGrasse Tyson bitch slapped him, with major assistance from Bill Nye.
NdGT totally dominated, and I didn’t want it to ever end. I would say it was impossible to follow, except it was Tyson himself who was following it up, so he was fine. He is a great speaker — he’s funny, he’s passionate, and he knows what he’s talking about. Once again, it was simply so amazing that it’s difficult to sum up. His focus was on stupid things that people believe that aren’t true. I told Jarrett that Bill Nye and NdGT should be in a buddy cop movie together, he tweeted it, and the Jen McCreight saw that NdGT in his talk was going to go on his Twitter feed and she quickly posted it AND he read it outloud. Hysterically funny. I want it to happen.
And when NdGT was finished, that was it for the day. I went back to my room for a while, came back up while Jennifer Michael Hecht was doing autographs. I sat in a throne-like chair beside her while she fielded people who wanted her signature on her books. It was entertaining sitting on that side of the table. After that, I went down to eat. Saw Heidi Anderson briefly and then got ready for Penn’s Party. I hung out with Jen McCreight and some people before the party and then it was time for Donuts and Bacon.
Penn has a band called the No God Band — they’re decent, and the party was essentially a concert for them. They did a lot of covers and some original songs as well. I ended up hanging with Jen some more, as well as Hemant and a few others. I saw Christina Rad briefly, and that was fun. It was really loud and I was really tired, so I ended up bailing after about an hour and a half. Then I collapsed in exhaustion because my legs could no longer hold me up.
AND THAT WAS FRIDAY!
As faithful readers of the blog will know, I am going to TAM in Las Vegas this weekend. I am currently writing from the airplane because I was bored enough to shell out the $13. It is the future.
Today, I will land around 1PM and then I’m going to go get food at Baja Fresh. I’m very excited, it’s been so long since I’ve had Baja Fresh and it’s amazing. There are workshops going on all day but I didn’t have the money to be going to all of that. Tonight Rebecca Watson is having some thing that also costs money, so I probably won’t be going. I also don’t understand what the thing is, so that doesn’t help.
OMG trying to use wordpress from this droid browser is going to make me shoot myself. FFS.
Tonight, I am insanely going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 at midnight. This is insane because it won’t start until 3AM east coast time, so I’m going to be very very tired. But how often do you get to go see the last Harry Potter the first night it comes out? Never, exactly.
Then tomorrow is filled with all sorts of stuff and I don’t even know what the schedule is. I feel somewhat guilty about that, like I should have paid more attention, but I’m going to all of it, so there’s no real point in looking into it more. Tomorrow night is Penn’s Donut Party, and I’m quite excited about that. I mean, it’s donuts and Penn Jillette, what isn’t to love? I even brought a special party dress! It, alas, doesn’t have a donut on it.
Saturday is more talks that I don’t remember who is when, the third place WWC game is that day between France and Sweden, and I honestly don’t care that much so I probably won’t watch, and then that night I get to go to a double top secret thing that is going to be awesome so you should be jealous, and also feel pretty cheated that I won’t even tell you what it is. On Sunday, I am presenting my paper at 9:50 AM. Awesome, right? There’ll only be like a thousand people in the audience, so no pressure. Then! Then then then!!! USA vs JAPAN, EPIC BRAWL 2011!
I want the US to win, but I have to say I would be really happy for Japan if they won. The team is really amazing, and it’s the first time an Asia side has gotten this far in the WWC. Plus, the whole tsunami meltdown thing. But, I want the US to win so that people will pretend to care about womens soccer for a few more days, I would find that greatly pleasing.
I am on the plane! On the plane! So bored on the plane! I’m on a plane and it’s going fast and I got a aeronautical themed pashmina afghan
Weirdly enough, George Hrab, the MC of the event, is on the same flight as me. I met him originally at the SCA summit in Washington DC where he performed and we took silly pictures and sent a message to a friend of mine who was insane jealous. Mostly because I don’t listen to the Geologic Podcast and he does, so I don’t have a terribly good knowledge of the George Hrabness. Anyway, he’s sitting behind me and threatening to throw things at me, though I think he’s so absorbed in his iPad or whatever it is that he won’t remember to do that. Plus, they don’t hand out free snacks, which is really the best thing to throw at people.
T-minus 1 hour to Las Vegas. Woooooooo!
Hopefully you’ll get lots of really boring updates from me, because I know you’re all really friggin jealous! I’m going to be hanging out with Heidi Anderson, Jenna Marie Griffith, Jen McCreight, Neil deGrasse Tyson (he will hang out with me, dammit, it will happen), and like 200 other awesome people who are awesome.
Alright, enough of this, I’m going to go back to surfing the web in an attempt to find something to write about for social axcess, I can’t find anything worth writing about.
What a crazy weekend that was. So crazy that I’m writing about it what, on Thursday? Yeah, I was tweeting, hello, busy! In fact, nothing I’m going to say here wasn’t said with worse grammar and lack of access to spell check earlier.
I landed at Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and took a cab to the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, which has a view of the Capital, assuming you can stand in exactly the right place and lean as far to your left as possible. My cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I was a little hesitant to say “CONQUERING THE WORLD WITH ATHEISM” because cab drivers have the power to not drive you anymore, and that would be unfun. So I started in easy, and then discovered that my self-proclaimed religious cabbie was totally on board with secular values and gay rights! Huzzah!
I hadn’t eaten yet, and the conference started at 1:00, which was exactly when I arrived. In the elevator I met Liz Gaston and Omar Rashid, who would become my companions over the course of the event. Because they were also awesome.
The event opened with Sean Faircloth, Woody Kaplan and Amanda Knief taking the podium in turns. I learned a lot of stats that I will now list for you, because you’re apparently reading this:
- Avg # of Staffers per House/Senate member: 18, split between home and DC
- Percent of staffer time spent with constituents: 75%
- Percent of staffers who think constituent visits are VERY persuasive: 97%
We broke down into groups after being given a rather lengthy guide to
sales lobbying for people who don’t know anything about sales lobbying. Being from SC, I got to work with Herb Silverman, who invented the SCA, and Sharon.
The issues we were planning on discussing the following day were the need for Humanist Military Chaplains and HR 1179 2011, a bill which allows medical service providers refuse to provide service if their religion demands it. The first is an easier sell, because everyone likes to help the military, the second is one that requires reframing the debate.
The reason we need Humanist Military Chaplains is not necessarily intuitive for people on the edges of the debate: who needs an atheist chaplain? Well, if the army is going to institutionalize having counselors on the ground and then NOT train them in how to deal with the 20%+ of armed service members with no religious preference, then that’s a problem. Humanism is a life philosophy and not actually synonymous with atheist, there’s just a large overlap. There aren’t any, despite the fact that there are people graduated from places like Harvard with divinity degrees focusing on Humanism.
HR 1179 2011 is more of an issue of patients rights. Doctors, Insurance, Nurses, Pharmacists, Hospitals and so on can not only refuse care that they don’t approve of, they can not tell you that they won’t do those services and not inform you that such services exist. This includes obvious things like abortions and birth control, but also things like living wills and DNRs. A Catholic Hospital can say it offers comprehensive female care and then not tell you most of what’s involved with comprehensive care.
I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re a Scientologist, you don’t become a Psychiatrist; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you don’t become a Doctor; and if you’re someone with a political agenda that puts church in front of saving lives, you stay the hell away from medicine. But what do I know?
Sorry, shaking it off. I got to walk around DC, I wanted to see if maybe I could get into SCOTUS, but I couldn’t. Omar took this very cool picture of me at the Supreme Court. And then it was time for dinner.
Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has been my Facebook friend for a long time, but whose books I’ve never read and who I’ve never hung out with as such but is now my new favorite person, gave a speech at the dinner. She is a proponent of Poetic Atheism, which is like Atheism, but it rhymes. I’ll give you some quotes, grossly paraphrased:
When you know your history, you are powerful. More people in the history of humanity have not believed in God than have. (Atheism began around 600BC)
If I enjoy every day of my life I don’t worry so much about death. I mean, we barely use the life we’ve got — I dunno about you but I walk back and forth between the fridge and the computer a lot, what, I need a thousand years of it?
We were the first country founded as a secular rationalist country but we were also the first country to give the uneducated poor the vote. They worried that the uneducated poor would elect a poor man who would redistribute all the wealth. The uneducated poor won’t vote in a poor man, they’ll elect a stupid rich man. This is why we need free mandatory secular education!
Nothing in science fiction, in religion, in myths is as weird as this: (points to her head) the meat thinks. Nothing is as weird as love.
George Hrab, who is Spider Jerusalem, then performed some of his atheisty songs.
George Hrab is of the belief that James Randi is a garden gnome. This is undeniable.
My favorite zinger was aimed at Hitchens, when Hrab was talking about an event that Hitchens was going to be at but then wasn’t actually there.
Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be there, but I guess he had to go to a scotch festival… But at least that worked out for him.
OH SNAP! Basically what I’m saying is that George Hrab was pretty good, but he talked about his balls a lot.
After Hrab, Sean led trivia. I had talked a rather big game before the conference, so there was some pressure to win. Which I did quite handily, thank you very much. With the help of Omar for “Mumford and Sons” when all I could remember was “Little Lion Man”. We won an extra drink ticket, which I used to buy other people’s love, because people are irrationally in love with drink tickets.
After that, I went to meet George Hrab because I have a friend, Jarrett, who is a big fan. There are all these people who really dig on podcasts and I don’t get it. It’s like NPR but less focused, I know, I’ve been on a podcast. He wrote a note and let me take photos and then I ended up going down and hanging out with him and Liz and some random other people in the bar downstairs. There was an origami velociraptor involved.