So, I sent my blog post yesterday to the Reason Rally essay contest and won two seats in the VIP section. Because I got here early, I actually got a seat in the front row. If you’d like to follow me, I will probably posting mostly on facebook, which you can follow, or twitter.
The essay also got posted on RichardDawkins.net. I am so stoked I might explode.
I have posted so much about the Reason Rally in the last few weeks, but I have one last thing I want to talk about: why I care so much about this event.
Many of my friends talk about this event as a rallying of the troops, a way to build morale and group identity among secular America. Plus, it’s a big party with others like us! This is important, absolutely, and I wouldn’t want to take anything away from those who are going for this reason, but it is not why I am going. I am going to demand a voice.
I came to the atheist movement in a somewhat circuitous fashion. I’ve been a non-believer since I was eight. I found my teeth in my mother’s jewelry box and, having already been quite suspicious of the entire thing, concluded that there was no Tooth Fairy and, therefore, no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, no Jesus, and no God.
I didn’t become vocal about my atheism until after reading Hitchens’ “God is Not Great”, but even though I cared deeply about secularism, it was not my primary cause. I was more interested in being an activist, and I didn’t see any opportunities for activism for secular causes. Instead, I spent my time fighting for civil rights for LGBT, women, and minorities. When I lived in California and campaigned against Prop 8, the gay marriage ban, I finally met atheists and skeptics who were fighting, actively, for political change.
Secularists need to join one another, not only to create community and acceptance, but to demand it. I am incredibly lucky that, despite being from South Carolina and the Bible Belt, my family tolerates my non-belief — mostly in the hope that I’ll get over it, but still. There are so many people I know, including those who are active locally, who cannot speak publically about their lack of belief for fear of losing their families and their jobs. There are so many people I know who have been mistreated by the religious, so many children hurt and abused because the law gives special rights to religion, and many others who feel they can never make an impact politically unless they kowtow to the Christian Fundamentalist majority in our state and our country.
Change is started, yes, by coming out of the closet, and this is a national coming out day for the non-religious, but change also comes from demanding your voice be heard politically. The public attitude towards women, minorities, and gay people has been changed by individuals demanding a voice AND by the movements demanding legislative change and support.
I could not be more excited to see Tim Minchin and Eddie Izzard, two of my favorite performers, but I am also excited to see Sean Faircloth and Herb Silverman, who have made significant legislative impacts, and to see two brave men who serve in Congress and are willing to risk the political stigma of associating with atheists. I am excited that we are not just speaking to ourselves anymore, we are speaking to the world, to the country, to the government that should be serving us.
We are going to Washington not just for ourselves, but because we absolutely have to. We have a voice and we refuse to be ignored any longer.
61. Internet, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys – Don Dillman
I had to read this for grad school. If you have a major need to understand the intricacies of how to create a survey, this is the book for you. Actually, it was fairly readable and not nearly as dry as one might expect such a book to be. There was no unnecessarily obtuse language, which has so far been quite rare in PhD World. A
62. Artemis Fowl 2: The Arctic Incident – Eoin Colfer
Like Harry Potter, the first book of this series is brilliant and the following books are slightly less transcendent, but still quite good. The difficulty of these books is that Artemis’ defining characteristic is that he’s a schemer, a not very nice guy, a baby Hans Gruber. And unlike Harry Potter, he is exceptional. So you have the double problem of how do you maintain an interest in a character who is constantly become more good and how do you keep his genius believable but still have obstacles. This book manages pretty well, but it also gets rid of so much character motivation and conflict at the end that you sense the series has to change drastically for it to work. A-
63. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
I enjoyed this book, but I can’t help but compare it to God is Not Great by Hitchens, and this is just not nearly as brilliant as that. It should be said that the two books have different primary arguments; The God Delusion is primarily about why belief in God is incorrect while God is Not Great is primarily about why belief in God is harmful. It’s a very good book, there was just nothing in it that I didn’t already know and Dawkins really reaches his heights when talking about science, not philosophy. A-
64. Artemis Fowl 3: The Eternity Code – Eoin Colfer
This book opens strongly but weakens as it goes. Colfer is good at having many wildly divergent stories come together perfectly for the end, something like Ocean’s 11. But part of that trick is withholding information to prevent the reader from being able to fully guess what is going on — unlike a mystery, where it’s possible to reach the conclusion on your own, it’s very action-adventure in making sure the end is a reveal. Sometimes that feels forced, and I felt like it did in this book especially. It’s difficult to write very smart characters who seem omniscient and then not have them explain how they’re two steps ahead of everyone. It’s lazy writing. B
65. Artemis fowl 4: The Opal Deception – Eoin Colfer
Artemis loses his memories at the end of the previous book which allows Colfer to make him more of a bad guy again, rather than a reluctant hero. It’s fun to watch him transform back into Hans Gruber, but the tone of this book is very different from the original. The series becomes less about outsmarting and unraveling and more about just action-adventure, relationships, and Artemis’ inner-life. B+
(The amazing photo is from this: http://digitaljournal.com/article/267416)
56. Dragon Spear – Jessica Day George
This is the final book in this series. The story follows the discovery of a land where dragon’s have enslaved humans and Creel leads the “good” dragons to rescue the humans and reform the “bad” dragons. This book was just as entertaining as the earlier ones but lacked a little bit of the funness. B
57. The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
I have never actually read a Dawkins book all the way through until now. Crazy, I know. I always found his prose less engaging than Hitchens’, but it turns out the reason I wasn’t drawn towards it was because I was reading the wrong thing. When Dawkins talks about evolution he is absolutely fascinating. Much of the science in the book seems intuitive to me, probably because I was raised in a world where the science was well established, but there were many interesting examples and Dawkins does a great job of making relatively dry concepts fun and interesting. A
58. The Ancestors Tale – Richard Dawkins
So, I went on a Dawkins thing and thought I’d follow up the previous book with another of his. I think this is a book that shows how creative someone can be in the sciences without seeming totally pretentious. There were a few times that it was a bit much, really anything written first-person from a living thing, but otherwise it was really compelling. I can see why The Selfish Gene is considered his classic work, but this is very good as well. It’s really kind of mind-blowing to spend the book thinking that, in a not insignificant way, I’m related to sponges and mushrooms and moss and jellyfish. A
59. Toward a Rhetoric of Insult – Thomas Conley
I read this book primarily in preparation for my speech at Dragon*Con. It is about the history and rhetorical uses of insults. It’s actually quite good and I incorporated a decent amount of it into my speech, much more than I expected to be able to. Some of the most interesting things he pointed out were the ways insults were important to cultures and to how people interacted. I really recommend this book if you’re at all interested in the tone debate or if you’d like to read a few good HL Mencken quotes. A
60. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer
OMG. This is like my new Harry Potter. The author describes it as “Die Hard with fairies” and that is totally what it is, except the main character is the 13 year old version of Hans Gruber. Yes, in my mind, Artemis is a tiny Alan Rickman. It’s BRILLIANT. I am so sad that I only have discovered it now. But it’s OK, because it’s good to know that there’s always something new to discover. A+
I got up early on Saturday and headed to the Del Mar bar to meet Ginger Campbell, super awesome brain and ER doctor, to watch the 3rd place World Cup match between Sweden and France. I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but Sweden ended up winning. I missed a panel about paranormal investigation and a talk by Sadie Crabtree. I fully intended to watch Sadie Crabtree, but got caught up in a conversation with Heidi Anderson in the Presenters room.
ASIDE: I am on the airplane and having a slow freak out because a crown on one of my teeth isn’t there and I have apparently swallowed it. It doesn’t hurt, I didn’t notice when it happened, but now my throat hurts. I assume I’m not going to die from swallowing a crown, right? I wish this airplane had internet so I could send out a distress signal.
Anyway, I then got a tdap vaccine because I don’t want to get whooping cough. My arm still hurts.
I got caught up in a discussion with PZ Myers and a group of guys about Elevatorgate and women in the movement. It’s always weird to be the only woman in discussion about women because you’re treated as like a representative of the whole gender. It was a good discussion though. When they realized I was giving a talk the following day, they asked if it was going to be about women in the movement and seemed disappointed when I said it wasn’t going to be. I told them that women join the movement because they care about skepticism and issues other than being a woman, I don’t want to be put in some ghetto where it’s my job to talk only about women.
Then, there was a panel about placebos and how and why they worked, and if it was possible to use the placebo effect intentionally and honestly. It was an interesting discussion, though I wonder if it would have been better as a presentation rather than a panel discussion.
Elizabeth Loftus then spoke about manufacturing memories and how unreliable human memories are. I found this very interesting because I’d just finished reading The Invisible Gorilla, which is about much the same thing. Or at least I think it was, but I could be manufacturing that memory too…
Richard Wiseman was up next, but I don’t remember his talk at all. Then it was lunch, where we talked about Mansplaining, Poe’s Law, and Godwin’s Law.
After lunch the magnificantly awesome Carol Tavris spoke about cognitive dissonance. Her main point was that when you’re arguing with someone you have to be careful because if you say that their beliefs or opinions are stupid they won’t be able to agree because it won’t jive with their image of themselves as smart people.
Then! Oh Then! Then it was Bill Nye the Science Guy! His talk was interesting, he was interesting, and we’re all pretty sure he is the Doctor. It’s the bow tie. After Bill, it was Richard Dawkins, who I didn’t actually think was that interesting. He talked about his new children’s book, and then about aliens. After PZ had been so entertaining on the subject Friday, Dawkins was a bit dry. But, he started taking questions and that was fairly interesting. We were all trapped in the room because there was a Chuck Norris convention at the hotel as well, and they were taking up the hallway. Dawkins, adorably, didn’t know who Chuck Norris was.
That evening I went to a presenter’s reception, and got to spend some time hanging out with a lot of awesome people who were going to be speaking, including Debbie Goddard who I had not previously spent much time with. But there was a drunk british guy from Shrewsbury who would not leave me alone. I hate wine breath. And I was not nice to him, but he kept following me. He was so annoying that every time I tried to escape and enter a new conversation, everyone who was in that conversation would leave and leave me stranded.
He also kept touching me, which I found very disconcerting. Fortunately, I was eventually rescued, and he was asked to leave, but it was pretty gross.
I was hungry, went to Steak and Shake, one of the two take out restaurants at the hotel — it took 45 minutes to get food. It was horrible. And the food was only OK as well. Then I went to bed early, so I could get up for the papers on Sunday.
So, yesterday I arrived in Las Vegas. It was hot, but actually less hot than it was in Columbia, SC for the last few days. I then immediately got some Baja Fresh, because brown salsa is amazing.
Then iw went to the hotel. I ended up hanging out with Heidi Anderson in the speakers rooms with the logic that I am speaking. I ended up spending time with the awesome Ginger Campbell, a fellow women’s soccer fan, Elizabeth Loftus, and a guy named McGaha.
We ended up talking a lot about the ethics of the porn industry, which wasn’t what I was expecting to talk about in the speakers room. They must keep that coolness on the DL.
Then was dinner with the SC contingent. And then the reception.
I hung out with Jennifer Michael Hecht, Jennifer McCreight, Greta Christina, Sean Faircloth, Richard Dawkins, Jamila Bay, Debbie Goddard, Sara Mayhew, and lots of other people who didn’t have their names listed in the program.
After the reception, I went to drinking skeptically where I had a diet coke and saw some people from the SCA Summit.
Then it was time for HP7.2! It was amazing. Despite the fact that it didn’t start until 3AM eastern time, I didn’t almost fall asleep once. It did complete justice to Snape, Neville, and Mrs. Weasley.
So far, there’s been a fair amount of talk about elevatorgate, but not too much. A few jokes, some serious conversation. Also, there’s apparently a musical, “Menopause the Musical” – I’ve heard it’s very dry.
I love Richard Dawkins. I like his books, I love watching him read his hate mail, I loved listening to him talk at TAM last year, I loved watching him smirk about everything, I loved his documentary and I just like him in general.
But he doesn’t get what it’s like to be a woman. Not that one would expect him to have a total understanding, he is not a woman, but you would think that he’d be able to empathize just a little with women. Apparently not. Apparently if your genitals aren’t being mutilated and you’re complaining about creepy behavior from men at conferences, you’re just complaining about nothing. Wow, that’s great PR from a movement trying to get more women involved.
Have some background:
- Rebecca Watson was part of a panel about feminism.
- A stranger followed her into the elevator at four in the morning, waited for the doors to be closed, and tried to get her to go back to the room with him.
- She was creeped out majorly by this behavior. And was bothered that her talk had apparently made no difference and that her wish to go back to her room and sleep, which she said to a large room of people that included the stranger, was being ignored by someone who thought it was his right to hit on her regardless of what she wanted.
- Another female blogger, Stef McGraw, said she was overreacting.
- Rebecca Watson mentioned Stef, by name, in another panel.
- Stef then said it was abuse of power for Watson to call her out in a panel.
- A bunch of guys in the movement started protesting that if you can’t approach a stranger in the middle of the night (in an enclosed, inescapable space) then how will you ever meet anyone in the movement??? Plus, Freedom of Speech!
- PZ posted about it, which garnered much response and vitriol from various people.
- DAWKINS came into the comment thread and said basically that it was OK for guys to be creepy because some women get their genitals mutilated. That the creepy behavior was NO DIFFERENT from someone chewing gum on an elevator. Richard Dawkins said this, PZ confirmed it was actually him.
- My head exploded
Here’s some advice for guys: If a woman, particularly a complete stranger, can literally not get away from you, that’s not a good time to proposition her. If you’ve got her trapped in a small space or are between her and her escape route, don’t imply, on any level, that you’d like to do things to her body. Just don’t.
Why? Because she doesn’t know if you’re a good guy or not and she’s trapped in a space suddenly with someone who doesn’t care about how safe she feels, and in this particular case, has already intentionally ignored her stated wishes. Why on earth would she think you’re not going to ignore it when she says NO? There are lots of opportunities to express interest in ways that don’t feel incredibly dangerous to a woman — if you put yourself in her shoes and think, “Would this seem safe if I was a woman who might get raped by a strange man?” If the answer is anything but, “Yes,” DON’T DO IT.
Here is an amazing post about how not to make women feel scared shitless when you try to hit on them. Don’t act like a threat! Don’t ignore what people say! Don’t ignore body language! And don’t accuse women of complaining about meaningless crap when they’re afraid for their safety because some people have it worse!
Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity.
He’s an enemy of children, whose bodies he’s allowed to be raped and whose minds he’s encouraged to be infected with guilt. It’s embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell. And most concerned with saving the longterm reputation of the church itself.
He’s an enemy of gay people. Bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews before 1962.
He’s an enemy of women, barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties.
He’s an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.
He’s an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families they cannot feed and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty which sits ill beside the obscene wealth of the Vatican.
He’s an enemy of science. Obstructing vital stem cell research on grounds, not of true morality, but on pre-scientific superstition.
Ratzinger is even an enemy of the Queen’s own church, arrogantly dissing Anglican orders as “absolutely null and utterly void,” while at the same time shamelessly trying to poach Anglican vicars to shore up his own pitifully declining priesthood.
Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, Ratzinger is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made Catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation, and authority. His authority.
Why do I suddenly have the urge to build a giant phallus out of straw? – Tracy
The really funny thing about this debate is that I suspect the only thing anyone actually disagrees on is whether Phil Plait was clear enough in his definition of dick. Everyone thinks that being nice to people when you’re trying to change their minds is appropriate, and everyone thinks that being a funny asshole about ideas and to Kent Hovind is appropriate. It’s just that the Dick Proponents, where I’ve found myself along with PZ and Dawkins, think that Phil should have been clearer about what he thought was appropriate or not, and the Dick Haters think Phil’s point was self-evident and everyone should be able to intuit his exact meaning.
Basically the Dick Proponents would like some evidence, examples and clarifications, and the Dick Haters take it on faith that Phil meant what they think he meant. Hmm.
I agree with Greta Christina, let firebrands be firebrands, let the diplomats be diplomats.