tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-90563297534704950312014-10-05T01:20:20.987-05:00Masala SkepticCritical Thinking, with a little spice...Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]Blogger112125tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-14046445670923125802009-07-22T20:16:00.001-05:002009-07-22T20:18:00.901-05:00Final word on the eclipseI posted a more detailed post on my thoughts on the eclipse, superstition and the media <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=8412">here</a> on Skepchick. Enjoy!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-6877130300235493242009-07-22T09:08:00.002-05:002009-07-22T09:11:48.415-05:00Solar eclipse freaking people outAnd on the heels of the article I posted yesterday about astronomers in India throwing superstition to the winds and watching the eclipse while in mid-flight, here's the <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/07/21/india.solar.eclipse/index.html">other side of the coin</a>.<br /><blockquote>Most pregnant women hope to avoid giving birth during an eclipse.<br />"None of the expectant mothers under my treatment are willing to have deliveries on Wednesday," Shivani Sachdev Gour, a gynecologist at New Delhi's Fortis La Femme hospital, told CNN.<br />In fact, there are critically ill patients who do not want to be in the hospital on the day of the eclipse, she said.<br />"It may not cause any physical harm to the baby, but it may affect the child's overall personality," said R.K. Sharma, who describes himself as a "remedial astrologer."</blockquote><br /><br />Sigh.<br /><br />And what exactly is a 'remedial astrologer'? Was he held back a grade in Bullshit school?Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-25145348288296522262009-07-21T17:38:00.004-05:002009-07-21T17:56:02.998-05:00Where's Masala Skeptic?It has come to my attention recently that some folks actually read this blog! Or at least, have it in their RSS feeds and have been wondering where the heck I have been.<br /><br />Unfortunately, I've been very busy and any blogging time I've had, I've focused on <a href="http://www.skepchick.org/">Skepchick</a>. I have been working on several skeptical projects in conjunction with and addition to Skepchick:<br /><br /><ol><li>Just got back from <a href="http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/component/content/article/37-static/445-the-amazing-meeting-7.html">TAM 7</a> and <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?page_id=7230/">SkepchickCON</a> in Vegas and Minneapolis respectively. Both were unbelievably cool and I got to hang out with so many wonderful skepchicks, skeptics and others who I've come to know and love.</li><li>I'm working with the Atlanta Skeptics to organize a local charity event, <a href="http://www.atlantaskeptics.com/2009-star-party-a-full-moon-for-cancer/">A Full Moon for Cancer</a>, a star party hosted by Phil Plait and Pamela Gay and benefiting the American Cancer Society. </li><li>The Atlanta Skeptics are also still doing <a href="http://www.meetup.com/AtlantaSkeptics/">Skeptics in the Pub meetups</a> every month and I'm helping coordinate that.</li><li>I'm starting to get involved with the <a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=51753147667&amp;ref=ts">Southern Skeptical Society</a>, a group that hopes to become an umbrella organization for local skeptic groups in the South.</li><li>I'm still blogging semi-regularly at <a href="http://www.skepchick.org/">Skepchick</a>.<br /></li><li>Oh, yeah, and last week, I turned in my notice for a job I've had for 11 years to go work for a new, smaller company. More fun, more risk, more work, probably. :)<br /></li></ol>All this is not to make excuses, you must understand! I am absolutely loving every minute of all this. Unfortunately, it has taken my focus away from the Masala Skeptic site. It's also for you readers to know that I haven't fallen off the planet and you can find me in some way or another online. If you really want to see what I'm up to, follow me on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/masalaskeptic">Twitter</a>.<br /><br />Anyway, with all that being said and done, I'm going to try to post here a little more often. Be warned, my posts here won't be of the quality or depth of my articles on Skepchick. And they may not always be related to skepticism. I'll probably use this as a way to exercise my writing skills, post interesting links and generally babble.<br /><br />Speaking of interesting links, here's an <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/defying-folk-beliefs-indians-chase-the-darkened-sun/article1224055/">interesting piece coming out of India</a>. Astronomers and others are chasing the solar eclipse in unusual ways. And ignoring the folk beliefs about bad luck and superstition. Yay!<br /><br />Like I said, not much depth, a few links and whatever other babble is on my mind. My guess is, readership will plummet!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-70005475283084293202009-04-15T16:46:00.001-05:002009-04-15T16:47:55.166-05:00One fish, two fish, dead fish, boo fish...The Georgia Aquarium opened in 2005 and is the biggest aquarium in the world (eat it Chattanooga!). Housing over a million creatures in over eight million gallons of water, it was an immediate attraction in Georgia and across the country. In fact, it was hard to even get into the aquarium initially - for over a year, the museum was busier than an Ikea on opening day. As a local Atlantan, I am thrilled to have this cool venue in my city, particularly when the aquarium's mission is:<br /><br /><blockquote>To be an entertaining, educational, and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards, offering engaging guest experiences, and promoting the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world.</blockquote><br />Yep, science and education hand-in-hand with entertainment. Certainly this simple mission statement won't end up dripping with irony.<br /><br />Unfortunately, it appears that the Aquarium wants to focus more on the 'entertainment' part of that mission and less on the 'science and education.'<br /><br />A few months back, the aquarium opened a new exhibit of Titanic artifacts. Some of these artifacts have never been on display before but that's not important. What's important is that the exhibit is HAUNTED. You heard me <a href="http://www.ajc.com/living/content/living/stories/2008/10/27/georgia_aquarium_ghosts.html" target="_blank" rel="NOFOLLOW">HAUNTED</a>. Read more... IF YOU DARE.... oooOoooOooOooo....<br /><br />It started when museum workers started reporting "strange encounters" when in the exhibit. The museum, seeing an opportunity for <span style="TEXT-DECORATION: line-through">science</span> shameless self-promotion, decided to bring in the <a href="http://www.roswellparanormal.com/" target="_blank" rel="NOFOLLOW">Roswell Georgia Paranormal Investigators</a> to 'scientifically' investigate what was going on. I'm familiar with RGPI because my husband and some other members of the Atlanta Skeptics went on their <a href="http://themanversion.blogspot.com/2008/11/who-yall-gonna-call.html" target="_blank">Roswell Ghost Tour</a> last year. Anyway, I won't go into all the details - you can <a href="http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/visitus/titanichaunting.aspx" target="_blank" rel="NOFOLLOW">read their findings</a>here (Spoiler: it involves someone whispering "Iceberg" and "Who's there." OOoOOOoooooOOOOh!). What are the odds that people who make their money convincing people that ghosts exist and that they can track them down would find some there?<br /><br />Apparently pretty darn good. It got the attention of the 'big guns' of ghost investigation. The <a href="http://www.scifi.com/ghi/" target="_blank" rel="NOFOLLOW">Ghost Hunters</a> Sci Fi TV show decided to show up and do an <a href="http://video.scifi.com/player/?id=1082428" target="_blank" rel="NOFOLLOW">entire show</a> on the 'haunted' exhibit. It'll be on tonight.<br /><br />Last night and today, a bunch of us on Twitter sent in our opinions to the Georgia Aquarium twitter feed. You can see <a href="http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%40GeorgiaAquarium" target="_blank">all the relevant tweets here</a>but the only response we've received from them so far is <a href="http://twitter.com/GeorgiaAquarium/status/1525758790" target="_blank">this</a>:<br /><br /><blockquote>Re: Ghost Hunters, we know it isn't "hard science," just something fun to share. Not everyone believes in ghosts, but some think it's fun!</blockquote><br />Where to begin? I'm so annoyed that I could just bullet:<br /><br /><ul><br /><li>"Some think it's fun" - First of all, over 1,500 people died when the Titanic sank. Pretending there are ghosties and ghoulies running around the silverware that they left behind is an insult to them and their memories. Isn't there enough drama in this story without making it up? Not cool, people.</li><br /><li>"We know it isn't 'hard science'" - The Ghost Hunters and Paranormal investigators are looking for ghosts. They're not doing 'hard science'; they're not doing any science at all. They're running around in the dark with infrared lights and squealing when their machines go PING. They're trying to invent a story on top of the compelling real story, and they have nothing to do with science. But the Georgia Aquarium is promoting what the Ghost Hunters and RGPI are doing as science. In their explanation of their special event this week that featured the RGPIs, they say:<br /><blockquote>The Roswell Georgia Paranormal Investigators will give an overview of how their group attempts to scientifically study and document cases of authentic paranormal activity. Then, small groups will test their ghost-hunting ability as they walk through <em>Titanic Aquatic</em>, escorted by paranormal researchers.</blockquote><br />This means that they are promoting pseudoscience as real science. The problem with many of these paranormal investigators is that they tend to use the cloak of real science by using hi-tech devices and a vague semblance of scientific lingo. In actuality, they don't have a good understanding of the scientific method at all. Check out the <a href="http://www.skepticalanalysis.com/reports.html#ghosts" target="_blank">SAPS Skeptical Analysis site</a> for much more information than I can provide about the methods and missteps of various ghost hunters.</li><br /><li>I understand that getting on a syndicated cable TV show will mean additional publicity and revenue for the Georgia Aquarium. In an economy where people are staying home more and spending less, I do understand the temptation to get a quick fix like this. But if you say that ghosts are more entertaining, you imply that real science is less entertaining. In a world where we just discovered a <a href="http://www.sciam.com/gallery_directory.cfm?photo_id=B33AB931-0A75-4C6A-75914E3A5AC011A7" target="_blank">fish with an entirely transparent head</a> and eyes inside its face, I simply don't buy it. Screw ghosts - can we get to the real science?</li><br /></ul><br />Interested in speaking out?<br /><br /><ul><br /><li>Twitter to <a href="http://twitter.com/GeorgiaAquarium" target="_blank">@GeorgiaAquarium</a>.</li><br /><li>Send an email to the <a href="http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/contactUs/" target="_blank">Education department</a> of the Georgia Aquarium.</li><br /><li>Send a letter to <a href="http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/newsroom/experts/carlson.aspx" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce Carlson</a>, science officer at the Georgia Aquarium.</li><br /><li>Are you a member of the Aquarium? Call them and let them know how disappointed you are.</li><br /></ul>Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-48703746117600740332009-03-31T20:03:00.003-05:002009-03-31T20:17:34.110-05:00Zaloom UpdateA few months ago, I <a href="http://www.masala-skeptic.com/2008/11/beakmans-shadow.html">blogged about puppeteer and political satirist Paul Zaloom</a>, formerly of Beakman's World.  At the time, Paul's web site and contact information was not live but he just sent me an email letting me know that his sites are up and running now.<div><br /></div><div>So this is just a quick blog to add his sites. And to brag that effin Paul Zaloom sends me email periodically.  Life doesn't suck :)</div><div><br /></div><div>Check out Paul at <a href="http://www.zaloom.com/">his web site</a>, <a href="http://www.beakmanlive.com/">Beakman Live</a> or <a href="http://www.dantefilm.com/">at the site for his film, Dante's Inferno</a>! Remember, parents - Zaloom's Beakman's Live show is great for kids - his other stuff tends to be adult-only so be wary :)</div>Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-25523985879261110312009-03-21T18:28:00.001-05:002009-03-21T18:29:47.053-05:00Yay Science!I've spent the past couple of days in and out of hospitals and dealing with surgeons, doctors and nurses. A few months ago, my husband's doctor <a href="http://themanversion.blogspot.com/2009/02/brief-history-of-cancer.html" target="_blank">discovered a cyst on his thyroid</a> that was 'suspicious for papillary carcinoma' and he needed to have the gland removed. You can read more about his adventures on <a href="http://themanversion.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">his blog</a> - he does a much better job of describing it all than I would. But as I was sitting in his hospital room late the other night, watching him recover from getting his throat sliced open, it occurred to me that the people out there who are anti-science and anti-medicine are complete assholes.<br /><br />I know this is not news to anyone on this blog. But experiencing a medical procedure this close up really gives you a better understanding of how freaking lucky we all are because of science. There seems to be a general vibe in the media, movies and popular culture that science is dangerous and technology is bad. People tell us that we should back away from new media and new technology because these things are somehow de-humanizing. To those people, I say "Fuck off" and here's why.<br /><br />Let's forget for a moment the incredible amount of technology and science that led to the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. Let's just focus on the procedure and hospital process itself.<br /><br />In less than 48 hours, Christian went from having his throat sliced open to walking about, eating normally and resting comfortably at home. Here are some of the things that allowed this 'miracle of science' to have occured:<br /><ol><br /> <li>The <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germ_theory_of_disease" target="_blank">germ theory of disease</a>. Until it was proposed that tiny, invisible creatures were running all over us and could be the cause of disease and infection, doctors and surgeons didn't worry about hygiene and sterilization. Today, the hospital has an entire system in place to maintain a sterile environment in the surgery itself and to keep risk of infection to a minimum.</li><br /> <li>Sutures. Christian had his <a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_7h-GXHufU3I/ScOJzLez4HI/AAAAAAAAADM/azv0XKhIP5M/s1600-h/photo-764224.jpg" target="_blank">THROAT SLICED OPEN</a>. Seriously, he has a wound across his neck and they sewed it up with some stuff that will just dissolve over time; no painful removal of stitches and minimal scarring. He has some pain from the wound itself but that's honestly been the least of his problems (the most pain was from the intibation tube down his throat during surgery).</li><br /> <li>Pain medication. When he woke up he was in some pretty severe pain and his recovery would have been significantly prolonged and much harder without pain medication. He got all sorts of drugs, including morphine, loratab and some incredible stuff that made him feel better when the morphine wasn't making a dent in his pain. </li><br /></ol><br />It also occurred to me that there are a million tiny technologies to be grateful for:<br /><ol><br /> <li>Bendy straws. It sounds silly, but when you have a wound in your neck, being able to drink without looking down is a big freaking deal.</li><br /> <li>Crocs, NurseMates and the other brand name shoes that keep the nursing staff more comfortable and able to stay on their feet longer and be less cranky. The nursing staff was fantastic, probably not just because of their shoes but isn't it nice to have technology to make their daily lives easier?</li><br /> <li>Adjustable beds and chairs. We could move his head up, down, forward and backwards, whatever we needed to get him into the right position to eat, sleep, breath better etc. (My only complaint was that the bed was too short for his 6'6" frame). And I got a fairly comfy recliner that I slept in overnight, which allowed me to be a lot less cranky in the morning.</li><br /> <li>Blackberry, cell phone, wi-fi and laptop technology that allowed me to keep all our friends and family updated (more than they probably wanted!) about what was going on during the surgery and recovery. Plus, IM, email, chat, Twitter, Facebook and text messages that all allowed for different methods to communicate. Suck it <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=6458#comment-55392" target="_blank">Sam Ogden</a>, I'm OK with having options! :)</li><br /></ol><br />Ok, you get my point, right? Technology and science rocks. Every minute and penny that people spend on bad science, pseudoscience, 'alternative' medicine and plain old bullshit is time and money that could be inventing the next bendy straw! Think of the opportunity cost of that plus, the time and energy that us skeptics spend debunking and arguing and trying to portray the truth about these idiots and the bad information they spread.<br /><br />But, when we were up most of the night, watching late night TV and trying to get some rest, we both noticed that pseudoscience is alive and well. Every other commercial was homeopathy, Kevin Trudeau or herbal supplements. The assholes are alive and well. There's much work to do. I take solace in the fact that the science and technology has progressed so much in spite of them. Maybe there's hope for this war after all. If nothing else, we'll probably live longer. :)Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-90553119627292428312009-02-14T13:24:00.001-05:002009-02-14T13:25:52.894-05:00Panties for PeaceYes, it's Valentine's Day. As <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=5984" target="_blank">we found out yesterday</a>, some people have pretty strong feelings about this holiday. But there are few who care as much about this holiday as this guy:<br /><br /><img class="alignleft" src="http://www.sahilonline.org/news/imp_files/pramod_mutalik.jpg" alt="" width="300" /><br /><br />What's up with scowly guy? His name is Pramod Mutalik and he's the chief of a right-wing Hindu group called Sri Ram Sene (Lord Ram's Army). The group believes that Valentine's Day is 'un-Indian.' They are threatening to <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/4447238/Hindu-extremists-will-attack-Valentines-Day-couples.html" target="_blank">attack any Indian couples celebrating Valentine's Day</a>. That's right, if you celebrate a holiday that is about love and intimacy, they want to beat the snot out of you.<br /><br />The group members consider themselves the caretakers of Indian culture, which of course means their own, very specific definition of what Indian culture is. They want to get back down to good old-fashioned Hindu values, by threatening to attack or <a href="http://www.indianexpress.com/news/well-upload-pics-of-obscene-couples-ram-s.../423170/" target="_blank">expose couples showing affection in public</a>. In Pramod's words:<br /><blockquote>Valentine's Day is definitely not Indian culture. We will not allow celebration of that day in any form.</blockquote><br />What an old softy. He's not kidding. Last week, members of the Sri Ram Sene <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/09/world/asia/09india.html?ref=world" target="_blank">launched an attack</a> on a bar in Mangalore, in India. Women were attacked for being in the bar, men were attacked for taking women to the bar. Parts of the incident were captured and are on <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SSl2SOT57o" target="_blank">YouTube</a>.<br /><br />But wait! There's more to the story. And it involves pink underwear. <br /><br />There are those who agree with the SRS, but there has also been a huge amount of outrage expressed in India over the attack. Lord Ram's Army remains unabashed. They believe that they are in a cultural war for the identify of the country and that their tactics are fully justified. From SRS general secretary V.K. Rajesh:<br /><blockquote>"We are not against love. But we are against loose morals we see among the younger generation who are blindly aping the West. And we will not spare these people and we will take whatever action is needed within the law."</blockquote><br />Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell V.K. that assault is not technically within the law. Several of the attackers were arrested but released on bail a week or so later. They continued to make threats against couples seen celebrating Valentine's Day, including threatening to force couples to marry (it's unclear how they were going to accomplish this. One can only assume they had a fleet of ugly bridesmaid's dresses, drunk uncles and 80's music on standby).<br /><br />But the authorities aren't taking any chances on that either. Yesterday, police <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gTZXFEHmRT4tpSftD2bzDZxcn0Sw" target="_blank">rounded up almost 100 of the activists</a> and took them into custody as a preventative measure.<br /><blockquote>The detentions follow calls by federal Home Minister Palaniappan Chidamabaram urging Karnataka's Hindu nationalist administration to take "preventive and punitive" action to ensure law and order in the state.</blockquote><br />So I guess they're within the law now, literally. But there's more.<br /><br />My favorite part of the story is how a group of Indian women is responding to the SRS with a very traditional Indian approach. Gandhi first introduced the concept of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyagraha" target="_blank">Satyagraha</a> or nonviolent resistance during the British occupation of India. Gandhi broke British laws by hand-spinning his own cloth and walking to the sea to make salt. The <a href="http://www.thepinkchaddicampaign.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women</a> is sending Pramod Mutalik pink underwear. In large quantities. Called the Pink Chaddi campaign, they are asking their supporters to send them pink chaddis (Hindi slang for knickers) which they will then forward en masse to SRS. After all, all armies need the basic necessities, right? The group is also encouraging women to go to pubs on Valentine's Day. Founder Nisha Susan says:<br /><blockquote>People have signed up to drop chaddis at collection points in their cities, which will be sent to Bangalore. Those who have signed up also plan to go to pubs with their partners or friends on V-Day. Most of the members don’t drink and some haven’t ever visited a pub, but the spirit is to band together against moral policing and curbs on women’s freedom.</blockquote><br />Awesome. So, no matter how you feel about Valentine's Day, I encourage you to join the <a href="http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=49641698651" target="_blank">Facebook</a> group and send some knickers to Pramod. Or a Valentine's Day card or a box of chocolate. Or even better, go to a bar and raise a toast to the Pink Chaddis. Best. Protest. Ever.Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-85049735885465329212009-02-04T21:09:00.001-05:002009-02-04T21:11:04.400-05:00Atlanta Skepticamp This Weekend!Attention my fellow Atlantans (and others in the vicinity)! The <a href="http://www.atlantaskeptics.com/" target="_blank">Atlanta Skeptics</a> are putting together our first ever <a href="http://barcamp.org/AtlantaSkeptiCampFeb2009" target="_blank">Skepticamp</a> this weekend! What is a Skepticamp, you ask? Modelled after BarCamp and started in Colorado, Skepticamp is an 'un-conference' - a gathering where the content is provided by the participants. Each participant gives a talk, leads a discussion or volunteers in some way. We've been extremely lucky to have support from various skeptical organizations and a really amazing response. So much so that we had to extend the event from one day to two. I hope you can join us!<br /><br />And if you're not in the Atlanta area, make sure you'll check to see if there are other Skepticamps planned in your area - there are <a href="http://barcamp.org/SkeptiCamp" target="_blank">plans underway</a> for events in Arizona, Ohio, New York, Washington, Colorado and British Columbia!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-39969879181358946432008-12-24T23:11:00.002-05:002008-12-24T23:12:56.197-05:00A Skeptic's Carol<blockquote>"You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.<br /><br />"I don't." said Scrooge.<br /><br />"What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?"<br /><br />"I don't know," said Scrooge.<br /><br />"Why do you doubt your senses?"<br /><br />"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"<br /><br />- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol</blockquote><br />I love this story. It's one of my favorite Christmas traditions to watch various versions of this - <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104940/" target="_blank">A Muppet Christmas Carol</a>, Bill Murray's <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096061/" target="_blank">Scrooged</a>, and the <a href="http://www.shakespearetavern.com/" target="_blank">Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern's</a> Dickensian narration of A Christmas Carol. I went to that last one this week and it was during the piece of dialog above that it dawned on me. Scrooge was a skeptic! I leaned over and whispered this minor epiphany to my husband who responded "That's what most people think of when they think of skeptics, I'll bet."<br /><br />And that got me thinking some more. So Scrooge was a skeptic. He didn't believe in ghosts, even when confronted with them, realizing that human senses could play tricks. But to say that all skeptics are, as Dickens describes old Ebenezer:<br /><blockquote>... a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.</blockquote>Oh no no no, my friends. Not so. You all probably know this already but I think it needs to be said. Calling all skeptics Scrooge is sort of an argument ad hominem. Or maybe a bad syllogism. Scrooge was a skeptic. Scrooge was mean and cold-hearted. Therefore, all skeptics are mean and cold-hearted. (Moreover, he stopped beinga big ol' bastard when he stopped being a skeptic.)<br /><br />I see very few Scrooges in the skeptical community. And it is a community. People debate whether it should be called a movement or a way of thinking or an activity, but you can't deny we're a community. It's comprised of some of the kindest, funniest, smartest and noblest people I've ever known. But we're all skeptics. We need evidence.<br /><br />Here are some of my favorite examples from the year gone by about what skeptics are and what we do:<br /><br /><strong>We worry about our children and our future</strong><br /><br />When education is at risk around the country and around the world, skeptics are there to be the voice of reason. We worry when creationists are <a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/11/01/louisiana-doomed/" target="_blank">elected into state government</a>, <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/who_votes_for_these_gomers.php" target="_blank">concerned that science program</a>s everywhere will suffer. And we continue to be vigilant as <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=4408" target="_blank">school boards question teaching evolution</a> time and time again.<br /><br /><strong>We work to help our fellow man (and woman)</strong><br /><br />Skeptical groups <a href="http://www.acahf.org.au/" target="_blank">around</a> the <a href="http://www.indianrationalists.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">world</a> spend time, money and energy <a href="http://www.radfordbooks.com/" target="_blank">debunking the myths</a> and publicising the truth about <a href="http://www.simonsingh.net/" target="_blank">pseudoscience</a> that will <a href="http://www.badscience.net/" target="_blank">hurt people</a>. Others try to demonstrate the dangers of pseudoscience through <a href="http://www.whatstheharm.net/" target="_blank">research and reason</a>. Overall, we worry about strangers and friends alike, who can fall prey to misinformation and fraud.<br /><br /><strong>We fight for human freedoms</strong><br /><br />When, in the midst of a world-changing election, basic human freedom was stripped away from homosexuals in California, Florida and Arkansas, the skeptical community spoke out and continues to speak out. We <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=4156" target="_blank">demonstrated</a>, we <a href="http://friendlyatheist.com/6971/other-reactions-to-rick-warren/" target="_blank">posted</a> and we <a href="http://www.amateurscientist.org/2008_11_01_archive.html" target="_blank">podcasted </a>in support of gay rights and we will continue to do so. Because freedom for only some means freedom for none. We get that.<br /><br /><strong>We take care of each other</strong><br /><br />When our dear friend and all around cool skeptic <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=2131" target="_blank">Robert Lancaster suffered a stroke</a> this year, we all did our best to support him. Some donated money, others donated time, others sent well wishes and messages of support in the hopes of a speedy recovery. Some of the people who supported him had never even met Robert, but knew him through the <a href="http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=120873" target="_blank">JREF forums</a> or the work he did against <a href="http://www.stopsylvia.com/" target="_blank">Sylvia Browne</a>.<br /><br />When we found out his <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=4118" target="_blank">site URL had been taken over</a> by squatters, folks on the JREF forum fell over themselves to remedy the problem.<br /><br /><strong>We love to laugh, to socialize and to meet new people</strong><br /><br />Ohhh the parties. 2008 was quite the year for parties. One and a half <a href="http://randi.org/site/index.php/amazing-meeting.html" target="_blank">Amaz!ng Meetings</a>plus an Amaz!ng Adventure to the <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=3036" target="_blank">Galapagos</a>! <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=2653" target="_blank">Dragon*Con</a>! Skepchicks in <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=1847" target="_blank">New York</a> and <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=4654" target="_blank">California</a>! Oh the people we met and the parties we threw. Plus, Skeptics in the Pub and Drinking Skeptically <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?page_id=1062/" target="_blank">events</a> have popped up all over the place. People are realizing that being a skeptic isn't about staying home and eating gruel. Oh no, not when there's beer to be drunk and friends to be made.<br /><br /><strong>We celebrate Christmas in our own, unique ways</strong><br /><br />Whether we're believers or not, most of us find a way to appreciate the spirit of the Christmas season. We shop, we give gifts, we think about our families, our friends and the people closest to us. We celebrate the traditions we want to, we <a href="http://minnesotaindependent.com/20980/religious-right-watch-the-war-on-christmas" target="_blank">laugh at folks</a> who <a href="http://skepchick.org/teen/?p=560" target="_blank">take the season too seriously</a> and we try to live our lives with generosity, peace and goodwill.<br /><br />So, my skeptical friends, if you do get called a Skeptical Scrooge this Christmas, I'd say people must be referring to the Scrooge at the end of the story:<br /><blockquote>Scrooge was better than his word...He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.</blockquote><br />Merry Christmas ya'll! Have some 'nog and eat a cookie. You deserve it.Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-16367276110123623732008-12-03T09:36:00.005-05:002008-12-03T11:04:16.327-05:00Why "Twilight" is hurting AmericaLast night was date night. My husband and I decided to have dinner and watch a movie - just a fun way to break up the work week. Over Thanksgiving, my 13-year old niece had ordered me to go see <a title="Don't see this movie" href="http://www.twilightthemovie.com/" target="_blank">Twilight</a> because "It's awesome" and "Edward is hot." So, I figured I'd keep my promise and go see it. From what I had heard, this was a teen vampire movie consisting mainly of the lead characters looking meaningfully at each other and brooding about their immortality or lack thereof. And everyone knows, mocking a silly movie is one of the foundations of an excellent date night.<br /><br /><img alt="The Broody Bunch" src="http://filmonic.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/twilight1.jpg" width="300" /><br /><br />The next thing I knew, it was 11 p.m. and I was so pissed off I couldn't get to sleep without writing this. This movie is just plain evil. And not because of the vampires. Let me explain. And yes, there are spoilers. Sorry. Join me as I walk you through all the blood-sucking fun. Or maybe just sucking...<br /><br />For those of you living under a rock or not in the presence of pre-teen girls for the past few months, <a href="http://www.twilightthemovie.com/" target="_blank">Twilight</a> is the latest series of fantasy books. It centers around a teenage vampire who falls in love with a human girl in high school. <a href="http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/" target="_blank">Stephenie Meyer</a>, the author, is being hailed as the next <a href="http://www.jkrowling.com/" target="_blank">J.K. Rowling</a>. Now, I haven't read the books so this review is based solely on the first movie. Here we go.<br /><br />We start out with Bella, our would-be heroine, leaving her mom and stepfather to go live with her father in Forks, Washington. We don't really know much about Bella but that's OK because her personality really doesn't factor into the movie at all. On her first day, Bella meets Edward. Edward is pale and ripped and clearly interested in her because as soon as he sees her, he retches and leaves class. He then disappears for several days, leaving Bella to do nothing but swoon and wonder what she could have done to offend him.<br /><br />When he finally comes back, he starts toying with her - one day being friendly, the next day blowing her off. Bella puts up with this ... presumably because he's totally dreamy. This goes on for a little while and teen angst isn't all that surprising in a teen movie, so let's fast forward.<br /><br />Bella slowly discovers that Edward is vampire. She learns this because he saves her from a car accident (demonstrating his strength) and then from a group of thugs in the street. She confronts him, he admits to it and tells her he's a dangerous monster who can never be with her.<br /><br />They then proceed to date.<br /><br />Let me pause here to caveat this review: I understand that this is a story of teen romance. I therefore expect some amount of angst to factor in. And maybe I'm spoiled by the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermione_Granger" target="_blank">Hermione Grangers</a> and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eowyn" target="_blank">Eowyns</a> of the past few years. But I've come to expect more from female characters. It really bothers me that this movie depicts a girl who falls in love within days and then proceeds to spend the rest of the movie supressing everything about herself for this boy. And the worst part is that this is considered as a 'happy ending' for her.<br /><br />The boy, in turn, never even shows any level of interest in Bella as anything more than physically attractive. He follows her around because he feels 'protective' of her. This works out well when she's being attacked, but she doesn't consider it even a little creepy that he's following her, sneaking into her room at night and WATCHING HER SLEEP.<br /><br />Bella never makes any attempt to stand up for herself. The day she's attacked (and subsequently rescued by Edward), her father gives her a can of pepper spray to protect herself. She rolls her eyes and laughs at him, saying she doesn't need it. Never mind that hours earlier, she was in danger of being raped. She has a boy to protect her now, so she doesn't have to worry about it.<br /><br />But protection and safety comes with a price. Edward is constantly on the edge of control. His attraction to Bella means that he wants to consume her (literally). So, when they finally kiss, Edward has to stop, pull himself away and stay back. So, Bella has to suppress her own sexuality for him as well. Because, of course, sex is bad and can lead to the guy going into an frenzy and losing control. "I can't lose control around you," Edward says. And of course, that means he has to keep control at all times. Of himself and of her.<br /><br />This movie makes me sad at so many levels. But most of all, it makes me sad that thousands of teenage girls, including my niece, think this is one of the greatest movies ever. That this is how love is supposed to be. That it's romantic to subsume your entire being for a boy with a spiky haircut and awesome abs. And that the only way to attract said man is to look a certain way. Edward never fell in love with Bella's mind, her kindness or her wit. He noticed her because of how she looked and, moreso, how she smelled.<br /><br />At the end of the movie, Bella asks Edward to turn her into a vampire so she can be with him forever. Ok, probably not the best decision and it's probably for the best that Edward refuses. But even so, it is the only time she actually stands up and displays any independent thought for herself. And Edward makes another decision for her and refuses her - presumably relegating her to a life of watching herself get old while he stays young. Not to mention, no sex. (Yes, I know they get past that in later books in the series but this is about the movie and she doesn't know that at the time.)<br /><br />Twilight may seem like a harmless teenage flick. And maybe it is. Or maybe it's just another Red Riding Hood or Cinderella fairy tale created to force young women into a stereotype of how to behave, how to act and how to fall in love. Trust me people, take your kids to see <a href="http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/bolt/" target="_blank">Bolt</a> instead. All it has is <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000237/" target="_blank">scientologists</a>... :)Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-68463694889741514692008-11-03T11:54:00.001-05:002008-11-03T11:57:17.438-05:00Elections and other fun November events!On Tuesday, November 4, the United States of America will enter into a new political era. No matter what the outcome of the election, this has been one of the longest and most talked-about battles in U.S. history. Here at Skepchick, we believe there is only one appropriate way to commemorate this crucial event. Mocking it mercilessly.<br /><br />Elyse and I will be joining the folks over at <a href="http://www.amateurscientist.org/" target="_blank">Amateur Scientist</a> and other skeptical bloggers to live <a href="http://www.amateurscientist.org/2008/10/liveblogging-election.html" target="_blank">blog the election coverage on Tuesday night</a>. Every hour on the hour, we'll be checking in to provide our own special brand of commentary on where we are. You can also contribute between our hourly blogs by jumping into the chatroom that we'll have set up. Plus, Brian is promising a very special prize giveaway for one chatroom contestant. So come check it out.<br /><br />Plus, Atlanta Skeptics, make sure you come to this month's <a href="http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=16948307866" target="_blank">Skeptics in the Pub</a>. We need your help in planning the Atlanta Skepticamp and that will be the topic for this month. Details:<br /><br />Date: Saturday, November 8, 2008<br />Time: 7:00 p.m.<br />Location: <a href="http://www.manuelstavern.com/" target="_blank">Manuel's Tavern</a><br />Street: 602 N. Highland Ave<br />City/Town: Atlanta, GA<br /><br />Finally, please enjoy some photos from our Skeptical Halloween Party - the theme was <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cluckingbell/sets/72157608621824047/">come as your favorite Logical Fallacy</a>!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-75993351663323693042008-11-01T11:42:00.003-05:002008-11-02T11:46:43.131-05:00A call to all Skeptical Bloggers - StopSylvia.comI posted some time ago about Robert Lancaster, the founder of the Stop Sylvia Browne site, <a href="http://www.masala-skeptic.com/2008/08/help-robert-lancaster-and-his-family.html">being in the hospital</a>. Hoardes of well wishers are anxiously watching his recovery. Unfortunately, woo does not sleep. And sometimes they take advantage of other people's misfortune. Robert's domain Stop Sylvia Browne expired and was taken over last week. It's now full of pro-psychic garbage. And every link we've ever posted to Robert's site now points to it.<br /><br />We need to fix this. Tim Farley over at <a href="http://www.whatstheharm.net/">What's the Harm</a> has posted a <a href="http://skeptools.wordpress.com/2008/11/01/skeptics-load-your-google-bombs/">call to action</a> for anyone who has a blog or signature that uses the old URL. We need to update all our links to the new URL <a href="http://www.stopsylvia.com/">StopSylvia.com</a> and GoogleBomb this so that the old URL loses its ranking. He's got details on his site here. If you are a skeptical blogger, please take the time to do this as soon as possible!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-9960176503631314472008-11-01T11:30:00.001-05:002008-11-01T11:33:13.565-05:00Beakman's ShadowI have a confession to make: I'm a puppet geek. A Mupp-a-holic. A marionnaddict. A foam junkie. I think Jim Henson may have been one of the greatest men to ever walk this planet and I mourn his untimely passing to this day.<br /><br />It's not often that my passion for puppetry and my passion for skepticism meet. Ok, let's face it, it never happens. Or almost never.<br /><br />I am lucky enough to live in Atlanta, Georgia, home to the <a href="http://puppet.org/" target="_blank">Center for Puppetry Arts</a>. The center is a combination museum, theater, and educational facility. They do shows weekly for adults and kids and have a variety of workshops on puppetry. I've been a center member for years and I can't say enough good things about it.<br /><br />A few years ago, I caught a show by Paul Zaloom at the Center. You might remember Zaloom from the kid's show <a href="http://www.beakmansworldtv.com/" target="_blank">Beakman's World</a> back in the 80s. I grew up watching Beakman and it was the first show I'd ever seen that talked about science and the real world. It was also funny as hell.<br /><a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/beakman.jpg"><img class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-3782" style="WIDTH: 158px; HEIGHT: 258px" height="300" alt="" src="http://skepchick.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/beakman-202x300.jpg" width="202" /></a><br /><br />Zaloom isn't doing as much kids stuff anymore but he is still doing puppetry. The show I saw a few years ago was a 'found art' show. It was rated R and there were huge signs all over the theater warning that it was NOT a kids show. They were right. Zaloom's work today is a combination of political satire, activism and education, with a touch of the surreal and good old fashioned goofy for good measure. (Plus vagina jokes.) A few months ago, I got to see more of Zaloom's work, a shadow puppet show called The Mother of All Enemies, which centers around a:<br /><br /><blockquote>"queer-secular humanist-Quaker-Buddhist-agnostic Arab immigrant artist, who somehow outfoxes a horde of pursuing adversaries made up of Homeland Security, Al Qaeda, the Statue of Liberty, the Christian Ex-Gay Movement, Minutemen vigilantes, and Israeli and Syrian agents"</blockquote><br />I had to do that in quotes because there's no way to paraphrase that description and still do it justice. The show is just as strange and fabulous as you would expect. I also signed up for a workshop with Zaloom, where I got to test my imagination in creating 'found art' puppetry. I'm sure none of you will be surprised to hear that I had a hard time letting go as much as you really need to access the creativeness to turn a coat hanger into an anti-abortionist but I did ok. I also got to talk to Zaloom a little and he was cool enough to give me an interview for Skepchick - check it out below:<br /><br /><strong><em>Your first experience with entertainment was with puppetry and adult theater with a political bent. What made you decide to target a younger audience with Beakman's World?</em></strong><br /><br />Paul Zaloom: I didn't decide to target anyone. About five years before I got the job, I met a crazy, hyper New Yoika named Jay Dubin through the Quaker summer camp old boy network. We pitched my puppetry to HBO, to no avail. Five years later, he called me and said he was directing a kids' show and thought I would be perfect for the lead.<br /><br />So I auditioned for the part because they had a hard time finding a weirdo in Hollywood, a real oddball. They found a lot of what they called, "sit com dads". I ended up spilling some water during the screen test by mistake, and then I ad-libbed some nonsense, splashing around in it, and that sealed the deal. Besides, they were desperate.<br /><br />I love playing for children; they laugh at different things, and those things are not obvious. I love trying to figure out what they will find amusing.<br /><br /><strong><em>How much were you involved in the creative process of Beakman's World? Did you get to drive a lot of the content or was it mostly done by writers and you were the face of it?</em></strong><br /><br />Once I was hired, I volunteered to help conceive the show; I didn't get paid or credit for this work. I just thought it would be fun to be in on the whole thing from the ground up. So a lot of the creation of the original ideas and the formats were things I participated in; it took a few months, but I was happy to do it. I mean, I've worked all my life for little or no money, so there was no reason to stop. And once I started performing, I got paid pretty well. But I don't get paid for re-runs. Everyone thinks I'm rich because I'm on TV, but I don't get paid for those second run appearances. Just want to set the record straight.<br /><br />The writers, who were great, wrote the shows, and once a week, we would read the scripts. We ended up adding lots of visual gags on the stage while we rehearsed and shot. We were always looking for ways to make it funnier and weirder.<br /><br /><strong><em>What do you think are the key components of making science interesting to kids?</em></strong><br /><br />Humor, joy, fun, and respect and love for children. Making a connection between science and the world that children inhabit. Making them laugh, and then making them think.<br /><br /><strong><em>Do you think there are other shows that have taken up Beakman's mantle since it ended? Which ones do you like?</em></strong><br /><br />I have no idea. I don't watch television. It makes me uncomfortable. I loved Ren and Stimpy, though, but that was ages ago.<br /><br /><strong><em>How did you introduce your daughter (and now, your grandkids) to science?</em></strong><br /><br />PZ: Well, she watched the show. And I would take her for walks and teach her stuff about science, mainly the natural sciences, because that's where my interest lies. She used to call me, "Nature Dad", when I went off on some rant about impact attenuators on the highway or beaver dams. Once in the subway, I asked her what she thought some guy was doing standing on the stairs looking at the turnstiles. He was barely visible, just his head. I knew what was going on; I lived in New York for years. Just as she said she didn't know, a couple of kids hopped the turnstiles, and the plainclothes cop ran from the stairs as guys in blue came from every direction. So it helps to pay attention, and I wanted to impart that to her.<br /><br /><strong><em>Do you have advice for people who want to inspire their kids with science?</em></strong><br /><br />Simply engage your children with things that excite you or her or the both of you. If you are excited and interested in something, there's a good chance she will be, too.<br /><br /><strong><em>What inspires you?</em></strong><br /><br />Tons of things. Paintings, actually: German Expressionist paintings, Kustom Kulture, Dada...shadows I see on the way home from the gym. Patterns I see in the asphalt when I am crossing the street. African art in Kansas City at the Nelson Atkins. The Menil in Houston. Too numerous to mention. Daumier! Kandinsky? Charlie Krafft! Peter Schumann! Art is a huge inspiration.<br /><br /><strong><em>You continue to bring humor to serious political and social topics with your adult puppetry shows. Have you had any negative responses to your show?</em></strong><br /><br />Sure, there's always someone who thinks you suck. I've gotten great reviews and horrible reviews. Most people won't tell you to your face that you suck. But they have no problem posting some trash about you. I read all kinds of crap about Beakman on line that was total bullshit. But I don't care. You have to let it all roll off your back.<br /><br /><strong><em>Tell me about the shows you did in Israel and the response you received there.</em></strong><br /><br />I did The Mother of All Enemies in Tel Aviv at a puppet festival. The show went over really well, and I was invited to do a show on a woman's apartment roof in Jerusalem. I didn't want to do it, but when my boyfriend Greg and I got to Jerusalem, there was a bulldozer attack right near where we were. It was pretty disturbing, seeing all the troops and cops and Arabs up against the wall. So we decided I would do the show on the roof. It went over really well, which is funny, considering the fact that I am half Arab, and the Israelis clearly do not like Arabs (and vice versa). It's an amazing country; we met tons of terrific people, Arabs and Jews, but both sides are ultimately totally crazy, and they are all hell-bent on screwing everything up that they touch. Sorry to say. You should see the yarmulkes that I bought with tanks and guns and other weapons on them. Both sides really like their guns.<br /><br /><strong><em>You are an open atheist and openly gay. Which (if any) do you get more flack for? </em></strong><br /><br />I haven't gotten flack for being gay, except for the odd asshole yelling something at me from a car on Santa Monica Boulevard.<br /><br />I'm actually an agnostic; atheism is too much like a religion for me. I don't know much; I'm just a little organism in a very very big realm. I have inklings of what might be going on, and I try to remember to pursue the consciousness that I think is the place I want to be. But I don't believe in the existence or the non existence of god, and I don't really care, anyway. There are much more important things to think about, like being good and decent and kind and honest and happy as hell.<br /><br /><em><strong>Have you had issues where people come to your adult show and think it's going to be Beakman? (I know it happened in Atlanta to some degree, in spite of all the warning signs!)</strong></em><br /><br />Not that I am aware. I don't remember that I "am" Beakman. It's such a small part of my life that I usually forget. But I loved doing the part, and it was fun as hell. Many people have expectations of me that I don't meet that come from the TV show. I hate to disappoint them, but I'm me, and there's not much I'm gonna do about that at my advanced age ha ha.<br /><br /><strong><em>Do you think you'll go back to doing shows for kids?</em></strong><br /><br />I just did a live toy theater show for children with puppeteer Lynn Jeffries at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. It was great fun, but I don't think I can make a living doing such a show for kids.<br /><br /><strong><em>What's next?</em></strong><br /><br />Touring (see below). Learning ventriloquism. Making some cantastoria (story telling with pictures). Maybe a marionette show. Scotland in February. Bread and Puppet in August. Lots in between.<br /><br /><strong><em>Where can people see your work now? Are you still touring?</em></strong><br /><br />I'm touring a number of things right now:<br /><br /><ul><br /><li>The Abecedarium, a jumbo toy theater show for adults</li><br /><li>The Mother of All Enemies, a shadow puppet show about an Arab/Quaker/queer/agnostic/secular humanist/artist/ weirdo</li><br /><li>A Beakman Live! show, featuring a series of live science demos, for family audiences</li><br /></ul><br />I make a living touring, so yes, I still tour!<br /><br />Schedule will be posted on <a href="http://www.zaloom.com/">http://www.zaloom.com/</a> soon! And <a href="http://www.beakmanlive.com/">http://www.beakmanlive.com/</a>, too!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-5020388753155045602008-10-08T20:48:00.001-05:002008-10-08T20:48:49.583-05:00Atlanta Skeptics in the Pub - this weekend!Just a quick note to let you guys know I'll be at Atlanta Skeptics in the Pub this weekend. Details:<br /><br />When: Saturday, October 11, 7 p.m.<br /><br />Where: <a href="http://www.manuelstavern.com/">Manuel's Tavern</a>, 602 N. Highland Ave Atlanta, GA 30307<br /><br />I will likely be a little late because I'll be walking the <a href="http://www.active.com/donate/ltnAtlant/2286_ottlewalks" target="_blank">Light the Night</a> walk that night but I'll be there after! See you there!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-56634597883221213642008-09-24T13:40:00.004-05:002008-09-24T13:45:01.105-05:00Things to do ...Well, summer's officially over. Even here in the South, the weather is cooling and the leaves are starting to turn. The season we call 'Football' has officially begun. And, if you're like me, you find yourself looking at it all and feeling an overwhelming sense of... boredom.<br /><br />Fall is the season of change and death and I think it's natural to get a little depressed in the fall. In addition, as the weather gets colder, your outdoor options become more limited in many places in the Northern Hemisphere. (Curse you and your 'SPRING' Australia!)<br /><br />As you may know, I maintain the events calendar on Skepchick. (Got an event coming up? <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?page_id=1062/" target="_self">Submit the bugger</a>!) So, I thought I would take on the task of providing you Five Fun and Skeptical things to do to Combat Boredom this Fall.<br /><ol><br /><li>Attend a skeptical event! Oh come on, you knew I wasn't done with the plug... Seriously though, the events calendar is full of awesome stuff going on around the country and indeed the world. Just this week, I added a new <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php?ref=logo#/group.php?gid=27658914163" target="_blank">Skeptics in the Pub startup for Calgary, Alberta</a> and a meetup at the new <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/event.php?eid=40833635691" target="_blank">California Academy of Sciences</a> in San Francisco. And there's lots more. Check out the calendar or <a href="http://www.meetup.com/" target="_blank">meetup.com</a> to get the scoop, then get out there and meet some fellow skeptics. And, New Yorkers, you lucky lucky bastards... <a href="http://www.nycskeptics.org/lectures/randi" target="_blank">Randi</a> himself is going to be at the next NYC skeptics talk, plus you don't want to miss the <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=3111" target="_blank">live SGU event in Connecticut</a> in a couple of weeks. Dammit, why don't I live in New York again? Oh yeah, because I like being able to pay rent...</li><br /><li>Ok, so you've been to the calendar and realized that you live in a black hole of skepticism and there are no events in your area. What to do? Don't just sit alone in your apartment, hiding from the Mormons pounding at your door and drinking colloidal silver! Start one up! Here's a quick primer on how to start Skeptics in the Pub:<br /><ol><br /><li>Find a pub</li><br /><li>Pick a date</li><br /><li>Tell people</li><br /><li>Show up</li><br /></ol><br /></li><br />Seriously, it's that easy. We started Skeptics in the Pub almost a year ago and we had about 8 people show up (6 of whom were friends of mine that I dragged there). The past two events we had, we completely filled up the room and are out of space. In November, we're moving to a room twice the size. And we really didn't do much to kick start it. Give it a shot. You'd be surprised. Oh, and if you don't drink? Don't do it in a pub. We have groups meeting for coffee, in parks, at museums and restaurants. Teatotalling is not an excuse.<br /><li>Volunteer. One of my pet peeves is when I hear non-skeptics and theists talk about all the good that theistic organizations do. Secular organizations and skeptics do lots of volunteer work but often it isn't heard. Stay tuned for more on that topic in the upcoming months (It's a REALLY big pet peeve of mine) but for now - go do some good. There are billions of organziations looking for people to help - walks, runs, fun events where you can meet people and maybe show that skeptics aren't self-involved cynics who want to harsh the world's mellow. Look around - there are plenty of <a href="http://www.volunteermatch.org/" target="_blank">opportunities in your area</a>.</li><br /><li>Find science! Visit a <a href="http://dir.yahoo.com/Science/museums_and_exhibits/" target="_blank">museum, science center or planetarium</a>. Check out the programs in your area. Go learn something new about the world around you. If that doesn't refresh you and give you a new perspective, nothing will. </li><br /><li>Stay home, watch TV. Yes, believe it or not, I am giving you an excuse to watch TV. There are a few fun skeptical shows out there and a lot of them are starting up for the new season. Of course, <a href="http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/mythbusters/mythbusters.html" target="_blank">Mythbusters</a> can't be beat but there are other, fiction shows that display quite a lot of skepticism and science. Among my favorites: <a href="http://www.cbs.com/primetime/big_bang_theory/" target="_blank">The Big Bang Theory</a>, <a href="http://www.usanetwork.com/series/psych/" target="_blank">Psych</a> and <a href="http://www.cbs.com/primetime/how_i_met_your_mother/" target="_blank">How I Met Your Mother</a> (check out last season's finale where one of the characters refuses to believe in miracles). And starting up TONIGHT on CBS is <a href="http://www.cbs.com/primetime/the_mentalist/" target="_blank">The Mentalist</a> - a drama about a man who used to pretend to be a psychic but now uses his extremely keen powers of observation to help the police legitamately. I just watched the series premiere and I have high hopes for it. And not just because Simon Baker is 6 kinds of hot. Oh, and if you have kids, check out <a href="http://pbskids.org/sid/" target="_blank">Sid the Science Kid</a> - the new Henson show on PBCS. Hmm... I just realized that three of those shows are on CBS. Could the Survivor network be positioning itself as the Skeptical Network? Nah...</li><br /></ol><br />I sometimes find myself stuck on the Internet, reading the same things and hearing the same arguments and getting annoyed about the same stuff over and over. It's exhausting and the only solution is to tease my mind with a new challenge and activity. And so I give this challenge to you all - go forth and learn. Meet people, look at stuff, enjoy the world around you.<br /><br />And, if you have other suggestions for things to do - share them in the comments so others can do the same!<br /><br />Update: I posted this over on <a href="http://www.skepchick.org/blog">Skepchick</a> last night and immediately got a huge amount of grief for dissing fall. I remain unrepentant. Here's what I posted in response to those <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=3179#comments">comments</a>:<br /><br />I see you have all fallen into the cultural brainwashing to resolve the cognitive dissonance around this evil season. See, I grew up mostly in tropical countries so I never had to hear all the excuses for fall. Here’s the harsh truth IF YOU’RE WILLING TO HEAR IT:<br /><ol><li>Everyone talks about the wonderful fall weather. Bullshit. Do you know what ‘crisp’ means? It means COLD. Fall is winter disguised as spring. You think it’s gorgeous, not too hot, not too cold, the sun is shining. And just when you get comfortable… WHAM. A nasty chill breeze that leaves you pissed off, outside without a jacket. You can’t wear shorts or sandals outside anymore. You want nice weather? Check out spring. All the warm, none of the evil north wind.</li><li>Fall colors. Now I’m the first to admit that being in an area where the leaves change is very beautiful. Until you realize it’s just the final death throes of the world around you. And you’re in for barren, cold, desolate winter. (On an odd side note, I think I actually like trees in the winter the best - I love seeing the shape of bare trees when all the leaves are gone. It’s like their inner selves are being exposed. We should all have a season where we are forced to show the world what we are really like underneath.) But fall - that’s all distraction and camouflage to stop you from realizing it’s really just all dying for the year. And again, spring kicks fall’s ass when it comes to colors.</li><li>School starting - now I know that for a lot of you, that’s a good thing. I don’t have kids so all it means for me is traffic. @phlebas covered this already but when school starts, my 30 minute drive turns into a 50 minute drive, if I’m lucky. On a bad day, it’s an hour and a half. </li></ol><p>Oh, don’t get me wrong - there are some nice things about fall - ya’ll have mentioned several. I love Halloween and apple cider. But those things are just ways to COPE. That’s right, I said it. CANDY CORN IS A CRUTCH. Don’t believe the fall propaganda, people. It’s a season of DOOM! DOOM I TELL YOU…</p><p>Ok, maybe I had a bit too much coffee this morning. BECAUSE IT’S COLD OUT! SEE HOW THAT WORKS?!<br /></p>Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-40764033047535218652008-09-08T11:13:00.000-05:002008-09-08T11:14:32.823-05:00Atlanta events this monthJust a quick one to say I'll be at a few events this month - come out and play, Atlantans!<br /><br />Wednesday, Sept. 10 - <a href="http://brights.meetup.com/295/calendar/8542349/">Gwinnett: Understanding Secular Truths meetup</a>. We'll be celebrating the <a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/09/07/brian-cox-calls-em-like-he-sees-em/">world not ending</a> and discussing the topic of <a href="http://brights.meetup.com/295/calendar/8542349/"><span style="000000: ">Non-Theistic Morality. More Fun, Challenge and Fulfillment?</span></a> Details and RSVP on Meetup.<br /><br />Saturday, Sept. 13- <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/event.php?eid=25535269031">Skeptics in the Pub</a> returns and will feature Tim Farley of <a href="http://whatstheharm.net/">What's the Harm</a> as a speaker.<br /><br />Saturday, Sept. 27 - <a href="http://science.meetup.com/102/calendar/8667311/">Atlanta Science Tavern</a> - dinner and drinks followed by a group discussion about the science of dinosaur evolution led by Emory University's Dr. Anthony Martin.<br /><br />See you all there!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-3491764235629478372008-09-03T11:23:00.004-05:002008-09-03T11:31:49.035-05:00Skeptics at Dragon*ConWell, the biggest Skeptical party to ever hit my town (as far as I know) is over. I'm a little sad but also very, very excited. I'll get to that in a minute. First, a brief overview of what happened.<br /><br />For those of you who don't know, <a title="Dragon*Con Home Page" href="http://dragoncon.org/" target="_blank">Dragon*Con</a> is a huge fantasy/science-fiction convention. It's probably only second to Comicon in San Diego in size and it grows every year. This year, it took control of four full hotels and all of downtown Atlanta. For three days, the city is full of stormtroopers, Klingons and superheroes. It's geek Mardi Gras and it's fantastic. A few years back, D*C started a Science track and that, through various convolutions, led to Skeptrack. All my photos are <a href="http://flickr.com/photos/cluckingbell/sets/72157607079358684/" target="_blank">here</a> and I've put a few inline as well.<br /><br /><img height="375" alt="Skepchick Powers Activate!" src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2346/2820640510_d169815c6f.jpg?v=0" width="500" /><br /><br />Run by Derek Colanduno from <a title="Skepticality" href="http://www.skepticality.com/index.php" target="_blank">Skepticality</a>, Skeptrack was 3 days of panels and talks by a host of skeptical luminaries including <a href="http://www.randi.org/" target="_blank">James Randi</a>, <a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/" target="_blank">Phil Plait</a>, <a href="http://www.michaelshermer.com/">Michael Shermer</a>, <a href="http://www.djgrothe.com/Home.html" target="_blank">DJ Grothe</a>, <a href="http://www.stormwolf.com/">Michael Stackpole</a>, <a href="http://secular.org/" target="_blank">Lori Lipman Brown</a> and many others.<br /><br /><a href="http://www.skeptrack.org/" target="_blank">Dragon*Con Skeptrack</a>was like TAM in the midst of Ewoks. It simply isn't enough to say it was fantastic. As A.Real.Girl would say, it was made of awesome. Supersaturated in awesome until awesome was crystallizing on it.<br /><br />It's something of a blur, to be honest. Even the sober parts. I intended to blog day-by-day at the <a title="Skeptrack" href="http://www.skeptrack.org/" target="_blank">Skeptrack </a>site but I simply couldn't do it. Tracks went from 10 a.m to 11 p.m. and then there was serious skeptical partying to be done. So I can't give you a blow-by-blow account but I will tell you some of my personal highlights.<br /><br /><strong>Before the Con</strong><br /><br />The weekend before D*C, a group of us (including fabulous fellow Skepchick Carr2d2) went down to Destin, Florida and had a fantastic time in spite of the tropical storm. All those <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cluckingbell/sets/72157607079358694/" target="_blank">photos are here</a> but here's my favorite:<br /><br /><p style="30px: "><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3117/2823461966_2dc64755f0.jpg?v=0" width="250" /></p><p><strong>Serious crushes</strong><br /><br />Every time I attend a skeptical convention, I end up falling in love with the brains and brawn of someone new. This time, my two crushes were:<br /></p><ol><li><a href="http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/" target="_blank">Dr. Stephen Novella</a>. I had heard him talk at TAM and, of course, on the <a title="SGU" href="http://www.theskepticsguide.org/" target="_blank">Skeptics Guide podcast</a> before so I knew he was great. But at D*C, he did a talk on science-based medicine which just blew me away. Then he participated in the Skeptics vs. Believers debate. He has so much passion and love for skepticism and it shows clearly but at the same time, he always comes from a place of reason and logic and never seemed to get overly emotional or personal in anything he was saying, even when he was debating a guy who (from what I could tell) was explaining that he had done successful experiments on zombie mice. Novella managed to keep his cool and still be passionate and powerful in his arguments. If it had been me, I'd have reached over and throttled the guy. I heart Dr. Novella. Seriously.</li><br /><li><a href="http://www.starstryder.com/" target="_blank">Dr. Pamela Gay</a>. I had never heard her speak or, to be honest, even heard of her before this weekend. She's an astronomer, professor, and co-host of the <a href="http://www.astronomycast.com/" target="_blank">Astronomy Cast</a> podcast. She was there to talk about the <a title="IYA" href="http://www.astronomy2009.org/" target="_blank">International Year of Astronomy</a>, which is next year but she also gave a talk about consumer skepticism that was both hilarious and informative. Again, her passion and intellect caused me to develop a major girl-crush. <a href="http://flickr.com/photos/17680382@N04/2820664674/" target="_blank">And I was not alone</a>.</li><br /></ol><br /><strong>Introductions to Skepticism</strong><br /><br />Because of the format of Dragon*Con, there were quite a few people who were not self-identifying skeptics who were there to see other aspects of the con but who got an intro to Skepticism. I got to witness a few moments:<br /><br /><ol><li><strong>Alex. </strong>Alex is the 5-year-old son of a good friend of mine. He went to Phil Plait's talk about some of the ways the universe is trying to kill us (based on his new book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Death-Skies-These-Ways-World/dp/0670019976/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1220452187&amp;sr=8-1" target="_blank">Death from the Skies!</a>). The next day, he explained spaghettification to me in perfect detail. I almost wept.</li><br /><li><strong>Jason</strong>. Jason is another young friend of mine. He's in his early 20s and an aspiring actor. He had never heard of skepticism or any of the people or ideas we were discussing. On Saturday night, he joined us for drinks and ended up sitting with a bunch of skeptics, including <a href="http://secular.org/" target="_blank">Lori Lipman Brown</a> as we discussed skeptical and secular issues in government. He didn't say much and he seemed a little overwhelmed by the whole thing but at the end of the evening, he turned to me and said "What book can I read to learn more about this stuff?"</li><br /></ol><br /><br /><p style="30px: ">I think just having someone like Jason realize that skepticism and skeptical issues really do have impact in his own life was a huge win and it's one of the many reasons that we should all talk about skepticism and skeptic issues in our every day lives. Most people don't even realize how real these issues are and how applicable they are to real life. I'm going to get him a copy of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/People-Believe-Weird-Things-Pseudoscience/dp/0805070893/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1220452331&amp;sr=1-1" target="_blank">Shermer's "Why People Believe Wierd Things.</a>" Anyone have other good skeptical primer books to recommend? I like <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Quirkology-Curious-Science-Everyday-Lives/dp/0330448099/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1220452225&amp;sr=1-3" target="_blank">Wiseman's "Quirkology"</a> too.</p><strong>The Fan Girl moments</strong><br /><br />I didn't spend a lot of time at non-skeptic events but there were a few fangirl moments:<br /><br /><ol><li>Phlebas and I got to see <a href="http://www.paulandstorm.com/" target="_blank">Paul and Storm</a> perform. They were utterly hilarious. If you haven't heard of them, go check them out. </li><br /><li>I was wandering the Walk of Fame and got to see Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk and Michael Dorn chatting and laughing together. I just wanted to leap right into that group. But I didn't. Unlike when we saw most of the Battlestar Galactica cast and...</li><br /><li>Carr2d2 and I accosted much of the cast of Battlestar Galactica, were offered beer by Tahmoh Penikett (Helo) and told Edward James Olmos (Capt. Adama) that he was more awesome than Michael Hogan (Col. Ty) who was right behind him.</li><br /><li>One anti-fangirl moment, for me at least, was when I was told that Gareth David-Lloyd was right behind me. Having never watched even one second of Torchwood, I had no idea who he was. But I did get a great picture with him and Carr2d2, who did know and love him.<br /></li></ol><p style="30px: "><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3250/2819838281_0510f4bf54.jpg?v=0" width="250" /></p><br /><strong>The fantastic costumes</strong><br /><br />Dragon*Con is all about costumes and there are always the usual round of transformers, wizards and stormtroopers. I love the particularly unusual ones:<br /><br /><ol><li>I saw TWO Jareths (the Goblin King from Labyrinth) and got photos with both. Shut up. I love that movie.</li><br /><p style="30px: "><a href="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3272/2822540953_5860a7bc86.jpg?v=0"><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3272/2822540953_5860a7bc86.jpg?v=0" width="200" /></a></p><li>Rincewind, Twoflower and The Luggage! The Luggage was a remote control robot and wandered around. Fantastic.</li><br /><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3286/2823383902_7e06d5c729.jpg?v=0" width="250" /><br /><li>These Ghostbusters were fantastic because the costumes were perfection and they also had Lewis with them, colander and all.</li><br /><p style="30px: "><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3085/2823386362_7c7420b576.jpg?v=0" width="250" /></p><li>On Sunday, I saw this huge version of the Yip yip alien from Sesame Street. I wish I'd had video.</li><br /><p style="30px: "><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3228/2823391102_0a412c025a.jpg?v=0" width="200" /><br /></p><li>On Friday, I managed to get this picture which included Batman and Wolverine to send to the folks who are going nuts on my Skepchick <a title="Who would win in a fight?" href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=2481" target="_blank">Afternoon Inquisition</a> from last week.</li><br /><p style="30px: "><img alt="Batman vs Wolverine" src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3189/2822545733_e58ea84cf3.jpg?v=0" width="250" /></p><br /><p style="30px: ">It's the wrong Batman, I know. But I have no doubt this will trigger another round of comments on that thread.</p><li>Also, the Flying Spaghetti Monster itself visited the Skeptics Table. Win win win! It made up for the fact that we were right next to Fans for Christ (no kidding).</li><br /><p style="30px: "><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://lh4.ggpht.com/timfarley/SL6hg4WGz5I/AAAAAAAABag/yUyA6g14wvE/s576/DSCF1420.jpg" width="250" /></p></ol><br /><strong>The in-between times</strong><br /><br />Skeptic panels went from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. so we were pretty booked the whole weekend. But before, in between and after, we did of course, gather to drink and talk and catch up with our old friends and make new friends.<br /><br /><ol><li>On Thursday, we started with a pre-Dragon*Con skeptics in the pub where our local skeptics could meet up with visiting skeptics and a few of the track guests who showed up. As usual, our ATL skeptics represented and it was a lot of fun to see my local friends interact with my long-distance skeptic friends.</li><br /><p style="30px: "><a href="http://lh6.ggpht.com/timfarley/SL6fx_eMBHI/AAAAAAAABQo/ozN3WF-4Trw/s320/DSCF1207.jpg"><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://lh6.ggpht.com/timfarley/SL6fx_eMBHI/AAAAAAAABQo/ozN3WF-4Trw/s320/DSCF1207.jpg" width="250" /></a><br /></p><li>Michael Stackpole convinced me to buy purple and silver stiletto heels. Don't even get A.Real.Girl started on what he convinced her to buy.</li><br /><a href="http://lh3.ggpht.com/timfarley/SL6hD_uBnII/AAAAAAAABX4/XQnqkiS53Ao/s400/DSCF1361.jpg"><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://lh3.ggpht.com/timfarley/SL6hD_uBnII/AAAAAAAABX4/XQnqkiS53Ao/s400/DSCF1361.jpg" width="200" /></a><br /><li>On Sunday night, some of the party discovered that the chairs they were on were not entirely attached to the wall. <a title="Rollercoaster Skeptics at Dragon*Con" href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ac6E1ZCAQ0" target="_blank">This video ensued</a>, followed by my favorite: <a title="Overly Dramatic Skeptics" href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtmTPLgqcsI" target="_blank">Overly Dramatic Skeptic</a>. Yes, that's the infamous Tim Farley, showing us <a href="http://www.whatstheharm.net/" target="_blank">What's the Harm</a> in unattached sofas and being very dramatic about it too.</li><br /><li>Monday afternoon, when we were all completely sleep deprived and overly giggly (no, it wasn't just me!), we hung out after lunch and just babbled and did silly things. Someone still has the video of A.Real.Girl surfing on the dolly and singing Rock Lobster and I hope they send it to me soon!</li><br /><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="http://lh5.ggpht.com/timfarley/SL6iSHiav5I/AAAAAAAABes/TqTvEJrAcng/s576/DSCF1503.jpg" width="250" /></ol><br /><strong>Regrets</strong><br /><br />I do have a few regrets and they are all about not having enough time:<br /><br /><ol><li>I hardly got any time to hang out with several extremely cool people who were there: Brian from Amateur Scientist, the SGU guys, Alyson Smith, Jeff Wagg and many many others.</li><br /><li>I didn't have any time at the science track, which was featuring some really neat panels.</li><br /><li>I'd have liked to do more fangirl stuff, particularly with the MST3K guys around.</li><br /></ol>But overall, regrets are minimal. I'm sure I'm forgetting something but I've been rambling enough. D*C is over now and we are all trying to adjust to getting back to the real world (everyone seems dressed wrong). I'm sad that the partying is over but I think the best realization that I had this weekend was that there are more skeptics out there than I realized. Almost every session at Skeptrack was completely full or overflowing. We will definitely need a bigger room next year. Skepticism is alive and well and getting really rave reviews. Our speakers were treated like rock stars, as they should be and we're so lucky to have these amazing role models. In two weeks, we have <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/event.php?eid=25535269031" target="_blank">Skeptics in the Pub in Atlanta</a> and we're discussing putting together a <a href="http://barcamp.org/SkeptiCamp" target="_blank">Skepticamp</a>. We have the numbers to make it happen and although I'm sad that Dragon*Con is over, the next big thing in skeptical events is just around the corner. Go check the <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?page_id=1062/" target="_blank">events calendar</a>, find a meetup, get online. Make it happen. It's easier than you think.<br /><br />Cross posted at <a href="http://www.skepchick.org/">Skepchick.org</a>Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-49183889527206825552008-08-27T12:55:00.000-05:002008-08-27T12:56:06.925-05:00Dragon*Con NotesJust a quick note to say Dragon*Con starts tomorrow. For those of you unfortunate enough to not be attending, you can follow the action at the <a title="Skeptrack" href="http://www.skeptrack.org/" target="_blank">Skeptrack blog</a>. There's also a <a href="http://twitter.com/skeptrack" target="_blank">Twitter for Skeptrack</a>, plus of course, you can follow <a href="http://twitter.com/masalaskeptic" target="_blank">me</a>, <a href="http://twitter.com/carr2d2" target="_blank">Carr2d2</a> or <a href="http://twitter.com/ARealGirl">A.Real.Girl</a> via Twitter as we <span style="">gloat</span> keep you informed!<br /><br />Also, don't forget we'll be kicking off D*C with robots and beers at the <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/profile.php?v=feed&amp;id=605701612#/event.php?eid=21871759265" target="_blank">Pre-Dragon*Con Skeptics in the Pub</a> tomorrow!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-24017252840981220932008-08-19T07:01:00.000-05:002008-08-19T07:02:19.048-05:00Dragon*Con and other Southern Events - Final WarningDon't say you haven't been warned. We've been talking about it for nearly a year now and now we find <a href="http://dragoncon.org/">Dragon*Con</a> almost upon us. For those of you living under a rock, Dragon*Con is one of the largest fantasy and sci-fi conventions in the country. It's held in my own hometown of Atlanta, Georgia and this year, as if it could be made more awesome, it features an <a href="http://www.skeptrack.org/">entire track dedicated to Skepticism</a>. Randi! Phil Plait! PZ Myers! Michael Shermer! The list goes on and on! Since there will be skeptics and Skepchicks around, of course, there are lots of opportunities to come by and say hello. Here's the rundown of events the next couple of weeks:<br /><br />Skepchicks in Florida - <strong>THIS SATURDAY, August 23,</strong> Carr2d2 and I will be hosting Skepchicks in the Pub in Destin, Florida - details of where and when <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/event.php?eid=34265776356">will be posted here as soon as we have them</a>.<br /><br />Pre-Dragon*Con Skepchicks in the Pub - <strong>Thursday, August 28</strong> - Carr2d2, A and I will be there, amongst the rest of the gang of Atlanta and visiting Skeptics who may be coming in earlier. <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/event.php?eid=21871759265">Facebook has the details here</a>. At least one robot will be present!<br /><br />And, of course, Skeptrack itself - check the <a href="http://www.skeptrack.org/">site</a> and <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/event.php?eid=15035835717">Facebook</a> for details. We will all be there - come say hello!<br /><br /><strong><em>ETA: I forgot there is another Atlanta Skeptics event coming up the same weekend we're in Destin. So if you're unfortunate enough not be in Florida, go say hello to the folks at Secular Gwinnett on Saturday, August 23rd, 7 pm at Summit's Wayside Tavern in Snellville, GA.</em></strong>Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-32546782640693775442008-08-16T11:37:00.006-05:002008-11-02T10:15:26.334-05:00Help Robert Lancaster and his FamilyRobert Lancaster is a wonderful man. He is kind, gentle, funny and smart. I first encountered Robert a couple of years ago at The Amaz!ng Meeting in Las Vegas. He was doing a paper presentation in an overfilled room and was talking about his website <a href="http://stopkaz.com/">StopKaz.com.</a> Dr. Kaz deMille-Jacobsen" had been speaking at various church and community functions in Southern California, telling a made-up story of her narrow escape from death in the September 11th, 2001 attack on the North Tower of the World Trade Center, her subsequent months in a coma, and her miraculous recovery from wounds received in the attack. She spoke at Robert's mom's church and Robert decided to investigate.<br /><br />What followed was a case study in skeptical activism. He set up StopKaz.com to provide information and updates about what he had discovered. He basically shredded this woman's false credibility and effectively stopped her from taking money from more well-meaning people.<br /><br />He then turned his sights onto noted psychic <a href="http://www.stopsylvia.com/">Sylvia Browne</a>. That fight is still going although Robert has made huge strides and many of Sylvia's former followers have stopped believing her, thanks to Robert. Go to the site and see some of the stories Robert has and the detailed research he has done to debunk this woman's so-called powers.<br /><br />In the past few years, I have seen Robert at several of the JREF events and chatted with him on the JREF Forum. I consider him to be a friend and a personal hero so I was shocked and saddened to hear that he had suffered a major stroke a few weeks ago. Robert is doing OK but he has a long road ahead before he makes a recovery.<br /><br />Several of the JREF forum folks have <a href="http://www.skepticsunite.com/">put together a site</a> to collect donations to help Robert's family with the medical expenses they will encounter. If you know of Robert's work or Robert himself, you won't hesitate for a moment. Donate and help give this great man one less thing to worry about on his road to recovery. Also, check out the JREF forum thread here where his wife Susan has been <a href="http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=120873">posting about his progress</a>.Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-81195714982958260002008-08-15T08:29:00.000-05:002008-08-15T08:30:26.109-05:00Jai Hind!Today, India celebrates the 61st anniversary of its independence from British Rule. Not quite as exciting as 231 years for you Americans, but we did it with a lot fewer bullets. Since I tend to post about the things that really annoy me about India, I thought I'd dedicate some time to a few completely awesome things about it:<br /><br /><strong>1. We prove, time and again, that an individual can make a difference</strong><br /><br />Dr. Bindeswar Pathak of Sulabh International saw the plight of the Dalits (the "untouchables" or members of the lowest caste), who have no other option but to work as garbage collectors, disposing of the trash, feces and urine of the other castes. At least I hope they dispose of it. Anyhow, <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/07/14/untouchable.models/index.html">he created a program</a> where he helps these people (mostly women) learn to read, write and take on new jobs.<br /><br /><strong>2. We have a group of </strong><a href="http://www.rationalistinternational.net/"><strong>Indian Rationalists</strong></a><strong> who continue to fight the good fight</strong><br /><br />Led by Sanal Edamaruku, of <a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=1129">"Great Tantric Challenge" fame</a>, the Indian Rationalists continue to question gurus and godmen in public arenas, proving them wrong, often on National TV. Check out Edamaruku's <a href="http://www.rationalistinternational.net/article/2008/20080425/en_1.html">expose of "New Age Hypnotic Guru” Sivanand</a> in March.<br /><br />And, although I've mentioned it before, I can't say enough good things about the "Gurubusters" documentary. If you haven't seen it, go look - <a href="http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9007295896303930658&amp;pr=goog-sl">here</a>, <a href="http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=296008549267943305&amp;pr=goog-sl">here</a> and <a href="http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3472065865161868095&amp;pr=goog-sl">here</a>.<br /><br /><strong>3. We remain the world's largest democracy</strong><br /><br />We argue and fight, often to extremes. Our government is corrupt and confused. We could be a whole lot more effective if we figured out how to put our differences aside. But we also revel in our diversity and remain the world's largest democracy. Our constitution confirms that we're a secular country and we constantly fight attempts from one religion to dominate the government.<br /><br /><strong>4. We love our armed forces</strong><br /><br />One of the local airlines, SpiceJet, has announced a <a href="http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News_by_Industry/Freedom_to_Fly_scheme_announced/articleshow/3357995.cms">"Freedom to Fly"</a>program where any serving armed forces personnel get a full discount on the basic airline ticket price (paying only taxes and fees) to allow them to get home more easily and, presumably, more often. <br /><br /><strong>5. We're the underdog at the Olympics and we won!</strong><br /><br />We won our first <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&amp;sid=aIs9_pHxhJCg">2008 gold medal</a> this week - in air rifle shooting.<br /><br />Our previous gold medals came from field hockey team, which didn't even qualify for the Beijing Games. Go Abhinav Bindra!<br /><br /><strong>6. We proved that nonviolent resistance can work.</strong><br /><br />Gandhi's concept of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyagraha">Satyagraha</a> was and still is controversial. Sam Harris, for example, has some interesting counter-arguments. But we achieved independence 61 years ago because of it and the concept of finding a non-violent way to disobey tyranny is a powerful and beautiful one.<br /><br /><strong>7. We're looking to space for answers</strong><br /><br />Yes, India has a space program. I hope all of you recovered from #4 above (realizing that India has a military and an airline named for a Spice Girl) before reading that. Our <a href="http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2006/08/71399?currentPage=1">space program</a> is small, private and has no military ambitions.<br /><blockquote>While the leaders of the free world imagine advanced weapons systems, scientists in India see space technology as a means to help the developing world.</blockquote><br /><blockquote>Not only did it bring television to the entire subcontinent in one sweep in the early 1990s, it has furthered advances in water management, land tenure, archaeology and telemedicine.</blockquote><br />Telemedicine, by the way, is basically visiting a doctor through a web cam. Awesome. The minute I can do a physical over Skype, I am there.<br /><br /><strong>8. We're bringing science education to village children</strong><br /><br />The <a href="http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/india/spreading-science-in-indias-villages-with-images_10083761.html">Agastya International Foundation</a> is bringing mobile labs to rural India to give primary school students <a href="http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/ourwork/profile_india.html">practical experience with science experiments</a>.<br /><blockquote>The lab carries over a hundred simple, low-cost experiments — most portable enough to be set up under a tree — and a teacher who will involve the students directly in discovery. They’ll step forward to help, and they’ll be urged to ask questions. They’ll see and experience scientific concepts in action. And whether the lesson shows what makes rockets fly, or how sound travels, or what makes a sunset colorful, they will remember and use what they learn</blockquote><br /><strong>9. Like it or not, we embrace technology and we do it well</strong><br /><br />According to a <a href="http://it.tmcnet.com/topics/it/articles/37077-report-tcs-infosys-wipro-become-it-megavendors-2011.htm">Gartner report</a>, three Indian IT services companies (Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Technologies and Wipro Technologies) will emerge as the next generation of IT service “megavendors," and are likely to replace the present megavendors (IBM, Accenture, and EDS) by 2011.<br /><br /><a href="http://it.tmcnet.com/topics/it/articles/37077-report-tcs-infosys-wipro-become-it-megavendors-2011.htm">According to the study</a>, Indian companies are much more than just the cheaper option:<br /><blockquote>Gartner attributes the success of India-3 to four critical competencies: process excellence, world-class HR practices, provision of high quality services at a low cost and achievement of significant and disproportionate ‘mind share’ compared to their actual size.</blockquote><br /><strong>10. We have Bollywood, baby.</strong><br /><br />We don't worry about all those complex diversions like 'plot' and 'genres.' Nope, the biggest movie maker in the world knows how to make movies. They all have pretty much the same plot and they combine all genres in one three-hour awesomepalooza. I'll leave you with this classic sample:<br /><br />So Happy Birthday India. It also happens to be my 10-year wedding anniversary today. Celebrate with me by saying something nice about someplace, someone or something that you love too!Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-68507908121534619342008-08-14T10:47:00.003-05:002008-08-14T10:54:50.559-05:00Blogger slackerI know I've been very slack about posting here. Things have been rather hectic at work and at home, unfortunately. Here's a quick post though about a couple of skeptical things coming soon:<br /><br /><ol><li><a href="http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=2048">Skepchicks meeting up in Destin</a>. One of my fellow Skepchicks, Carrie will be coming to stay with us for Dragon*Con and we're taking her and a bunch of other skeptics on a road trip out to Destin, FL. We're planning a meetup while there so let us know if you can make it!</li><li><a href="http://www.skeptrack.org/">Skeptrack at Dragon*Con</a>! I'll be volunteering, along with a lot of other folks. The skeptics track alone will be awesome - Randi, Phil Plait, PZ Meyers, the list goes on and on. Plus 3 Skepchicks in person and a lot of fun. Be there. And, oh yeah, there's a <a href="http://www.dragoncon.org/">bunch of other</a> sci-fi and fantasy folks there too...</li></ol><p>While you're waiting for me to get my act together (coming soon! Big news about my new project! Promise!) go check out the mayhem over at <a href="http://www.skepchick.org/">Skepchick</a>. There are a lot of great people posting regularly and they always have good topics to discuss. Also, don't forget about the newly-created <a href="http://www.skepchick.org/teen">Teen Skepchick</a> - our kick-ass little sister site which is making me feel old and stupid all at the same time. These girls rock.</p>Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-85076379957282831712008-08-06T12:52:00.000-05:002008-08-06T12:53:30.790-05:00Atlanta Skeptics in the Pub - this SaturdayJust a reminder that I’ll be at the ATL Skeptics in the Pub this Saturday, August 9th, at 7 p.m. in the Eagle’s Nest at Manuel’s Tavern<br /><br />Come join us! <a href="http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=16948307866">Details are here</a>.Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-42345530737731394202008-07-29T22:01:00.001-05:002008-07-29T22:02:50.204-05:00I unwillingly support your right to make stupid decisions...As a skeptic, one of the hardest things to do is watch someone make a bad decision. Of course, as a skeptic I know that 'bad' is a subjective term that is individual to me, based on my culture, upbringing, friends and various other personal biases.<br /><br />Plus, I know that freedom means that everyone gets to be free to make whatever decision they want. Even stupid people. When it hurts even more is when people use science to implement stupid decisions.<br /><br />Take, for example, <a href="http://www.abcnews.go.com/Health/Story?id=5309018&amp;page=1">this couple in India</a>. At 72, she claims to be the oldest woman in the world to give birth. She had twins after a series of fertility treatments which cost her and her husband their entire life savings. It was a very difficult pregnancy; she had to be on bed rest for a full 8 months. Delivery was no piece of cake either - the babies were born a month premature, had low birth weight, and riding full-sized rickshaws.<br /><br />The couple already had two children, so why was this pregnancy so important?<br /><br /><blockquote><a name='more'></a>For the couple, the desire to have a son was most important because they wanted to carry on the family name. They know that their son may never be able to care for them in the traditional way because of the age gap.</blockquote>This couple is basically using science to fulfill a tradition, not thinking about the welfare of their own child. Even if they do survive to raise these kids to adulthood, they can't afford to do it. They certainly can't afford two. I think I feel sorriest for the female twin. She was basically an unwanted surprise in all this.<br /><br />Unfortunately, sex discrimination is rampant in India, and it starts in the womb. It's actually illegal in India to learn the sex of an unborn child because of the high rates of abortions of female fetuses. A couple of years ago, <a href="http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673606679300/fulltext">Lancet published a study</a> which talked about low sex ratio in India. Here's a brief excerpt:<br /><blockquote><br /><p class="ja50-ce-simple-para">Prenatal sex determination followed by selective abortion of female fetuses is the most plausible explanation for the low sex ratio at birth in India. Women most clearly at risk are those who already have one or two female children. Based on conservative assumptions, the practice accounts for about 0.5 million missing female births yearly, translating over the past 2 decades into the abortion of some 10 million female fetuses.</p><br /></blockquote><br /><p class="ja50-ce-simple-para">Wow. Ok, so that's messed up. And this is with sex identification being illegal. If you're going to have a kid anyway, it shouldn't matter whether it's a girl or a boy. It shouldn't. Unfortunately, it does. Culturally, socially, financially, having a female child has a different impact in India than a male child. (There are a lot of spiders that need killing in India, I think...) And as much as I hate it, I have to agree that we have to allow those families to make their own decisions. I mean, would it really be better to force people to have a female child they didn't want?</p><br /><p class="ja50-ce-simple-para">I think the Indian government is wrong to deny people the ability to find out the sex of their child, but I'm not happy I feel that way. First, it's not working. People are still figuring it out, in spite of <a href="http://www.savegirlchild.org/legal-jurisdiction.html">hefty fines for individuals and the risk of suspension for doctors</a>. Second, before it was technologically possible to find out the sex of a baby, it was very common for parents to kill a daughter after birth. Better to abort an unwanted fetus than to murder an unwanted baby.</p><br /><p class="ja50-ce-simple-para">It's tough for me to support the 70-something couple to have twin kids that they can't afford to raise. But it's their decision to make. The other option is letting the government (or, worse, the church) decide who can be allowed to have kids.</p><br /><p class="ja50-ce-simple-para">The answer is education. Yes, it's wrong to discriminate against female children. But suppressing knowledge or denying them access to the technology to keep them and their children safe and healthy isn't the answer. Continuing education about women, about women's rights and blowing away the ancient cultural biases through knowledge is the only way this problem goes away. Plus, provide women opportunities for work outside the home. Giving women the ability to earn money serves the dual purpose of providing additional income for the family and making them more than just dowry-needing brood mares to the family. Less Ganesh, more Green, maybe?</p><br /><p class="ja50-ce-simple-para">What do you guys think? </p>Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-9056329753470495031.post-38156430366027221162008-07-22T15:09:00.004-05:002008-07-22T15:14:04.120-05:00What's the Harm Shout Out!My friend Tim Farley has an awesome site - <a href="http://www.whatstheharm.net/">What's the Harm</a> that I've talked about in the past. He's spent many months sifting through articles, sites and submissions and gathering data into a big database about the specific, real dangers of pseudoscience and false claims. <br /><br />Today, ABC News <a href="http://www.abcnews.go.com/Technology/Story?id=5420631">did a story on Tim and his site</a>. It's a pretty good read, although they were a little lightweight about it, focussing a bit too much on the vegetarian side of things.<br /><br />But it's so good to see coverage for skepticism! Yay Tim! If you haven't already, go check out the site and the next time you come across a story where someone was hurt or killed or financially impacted by pseudoscience or some other form of 'woo', send Tim a link to the info - he'll appreciate it.Mariahttp://www.blogger.com/profile/12133688778838978301[email protected]