TAM 9 Thursday

So, yesterday I arrived in Las Vegas.  It was hot, but actually less hot than it was in Columbia, SC for the last few days.  I then immediately got some Baja Fresh, because brown salsa is amazing.

Then iw went to the hotel.  I ended up hanging out with Heidi Anderson in the speakers rooms with the logic that I am speaking.  I ended up spending time with the awesome Ginger Campbell, a fellow women’s soccer fan, Elizabeth Loftus, and a guy named McGaha.

We ended up talking a lot about the ethics of the porn industry, which wasn’t what I was expecting to talk about in the speakers room.  They must keep that coolness on the DL.

Then was dinner with the SC contingent.  And then the reception.

I hung out with Jennifer Michael Hecht, Jennifer McCreight, Greta Christina, Sean Faircloth, Richard Dawkins, Jamila Bay, Debbie Goddard, Sara Mayhew, and lots of other people who didn’t have their names listed in the program.

After the reception, I went to drinking skeptically where I had a diet coke and saw some people from the SCA Summit. 

Then it was time for HP7.2!  It was amazing.  Despite the fact that it didn’t start until 3AM eastern time, I didn’t almost fall asleep once.  It did complete justice to Snape, Neville, and Mrs. Weasley.

So far, there’s been a fair amount of talk about elevatorgate, but not too much.  A few jokes, some serious conversation.  Also, there’s apparently a musical, “Menopause the Musical” – I’ve heard it’s very dry.

Here comes TAM9 from Outer Space

image

As faithful readers of the blog will know, I am going to TAM in Las Vegas this weekend.  I am currently writing from the airplane because I was bored enough to shell out the $13.  It is the future.

Today, I will land around 1PM and then I’m going to go get food at Baja Fresh.  I’m very excited, it’s been so long since I’ve had Baja Fresh and it’s amazing.  There are workshops going on all day but I didn’t have the money to be going to all of that.  Tonight Rebecca Watson is having some thing that also costs money, so I probably won’t be going. I also don’t understand what the thing is, so that doesn’t help.

OMG trying to use wordpress from this droid browser is going to make me shoot myself. FFS.

Tonight, I am insanely going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 at midnight. This is insane because it won’t start until 3AM east coast time, so I’m going to be very very tired. But how often do you get to go see the last Harry Potter the first night it comes out? Never, exactly.

Then tomorrow is filled with all sorts of stuff and I don’t even know what the schedule is. I feel somewhat guilty about that, like I should have paid more attention, but I’m going to all of it, so there’s no real point in looking into it more. Tomorrow night is Penn’s Donut Party, and I’m quite excited about that. I mean, it’s donuts and Penn Jillette, what isn’t to love? I even brought a special party dress! It, alas, doesn’t have a donut on it.

Saturday is more talks that I don’t remember who is when, the third place WWC game is that day between France and Sweden, and I honestly don’t care that much so I probably won’t watch, and then that night I get to go to a double top secret thing that is going to be awesome so you should be jealous, and also feel pretty cheated that I won’t even tell you what it is. On Sunday, I am presenting my paper at 9:50 AM. Awesome, right? There’ll only be like a thousand people in the audience, so no pressure. Then! Then then then!!! USA vs JAPAN, EPIC BRAWL 2011!

I want the US to win, but I have to say I would be really happy for Japan if they won. The team is really amazing, and it’s the first time an Asia side has gotten this far in the WWC. Plus, the whole tsunami meltdown thing. But, I want the US to win so that people will pretend to care about womens soccer for a few more days, I would find that greatly pleasing.

I am on the plane! On the plane! So bored on the plane! I’m on a plane and it’s going fast and I got a aeronautical themed pashmina afghan

Weirdly enough, George Hrab, the MC of the event, is on the same flight as me. I met him originally at the SCA summit in Washington DC where he performed and we took silly pictures and sent a message to a friend of mine who was insane jealous. Mostly because I don’t listen to the Geologic Podcast and he does, so I don’t have a terribly good knowledge of the George Hrabness. Anyway, he’s sitting behind me and threatening to throw things at me, though I think he’s so absorbed in his iPad or whatever it is that he won’t remember to do that. Plus, they don’t hand out free snacks, which is really the best thing to throw at people.

T-minus 1 hour to Las Vegas. Woooooooo!

Hopefully you’ll get lots of really boring updates from me, because I know you’re all really friggin jealous! I’m going to be hanging out with Heidi Anderson, Jenna Marie Griffith, Jen McCreight, Neil deGrasse Tyson (he will hang out with me, dammit, it will happen), and like 200 other awesome people who are awesome.

Alright, enough of this, I’m going to go back to surfing the web in an attempt to find something to write about for social axcess, I can’t find anything worth writing about.

Secular Coalition for America Summit: Day 1

What a crazy weekend that was.  So crazy that I’m writing about it what, on Thursday?  Yeah, I was tweeting, hello, busy!  In fact, nothing I’m going to say here wasn’t said with worse grammar and lack of access to spell check earlier.

I landed at Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and took a cab to the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, which has a view of the Capital, assuming you can stand in exactly the right place and lean as far to your left as possible.  My cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I was a little hesitant to say “CONQUERING THE WORLD WITH ATHEISM” because cab drivers have the power to not drive you anymore, and that would be unfun.  So I started in easy, and then discovered that my self-proclaimed religious cabbie was totally on board with secular values and gay rights!  Huzzah!

I hadn’t eaten yet, and the conference started at 1:00, which was exactly when I arrived.  In the elevator I met Liz Gaston and Omar Rashid, who would become my companions over the course of the event.  Because they were also awesome.

Sean Faircloth

Sean Faircloth

The event opened with Sean Faircloth, Woody Kaplan and Amanda Knief taking the podium in turns.  I learned a lot of stats that I will now list for you, because you’re apparently reading this:

  • Avg # of Staffers per House/Senate member: 18, split between home and DC
  • Percent of staffer time spent with constituents: 75%
  • Percent of staffers who think constituent visits are VERY persuasive: 97%

We broke down into groups after being given a rather lengthy guide to sales lobbying for people who don’t know anything about sales lobbying.  Being from SC, I got to work with Herb Silverman, who invented the SCA, and Sharon.

The issues we were planning on discussing the following day were the need for Humanist Military Chaplains and HR 1179 2011, a bill which allows medical service providers refuse to provide service if their religion demands it.  The first is an easier sell, because everyone likes to help the military, the second is one that requires reframing the debate.

The reason we need Humanist Military Chaplains is not necessarily intuitive for people on the edges of the debate: who needs an atheist chaplain?  Well, if the army is going to institutionalize having counselors on the ground and then NOT train them in how to deal with the 20%+ of armed service members with no religious preference, then that’s a problem.  Humanism is a life philosophy and not actually synonymous with atheist, there’s just a large overlap.  There aren’t any, despite the fact that there are people graduated from places like Harvard with divinity degrees focusing on Humanism.

HR 1179 2011 is more of an issue of patients rights.  Doctors, Insurance, Nurses, Pharmacists, Hospitals and so on can not only refuse care that they don’t approve of, they can not tell you that they won’t do those services and not inform you that such services exist.  This includes obvious things like abortions and birth control, but also things like living wills and DNRs.  A Catholic Hospital can say it offers comprehensive female care and then not tell you most of what’s involved with comprehensive care.

I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re a Scientologist, you don’t become a Psychiatrist; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you don’t become a Doctor; and if you’re someone with a political agenda that puts church in front of saving lives, you stay the hell away from medicine.  But what do I know?

Me at SCOTUS

Equal Justice Under Law

Sorry, shaking it off.  I got to walk around DC, I wanted to see if maybe I could get into SCOTUS, but I couldn’t.  Omar took this very cool picture of me at the Supreme Court.  And then it was time for dinner.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has been my Facebook friend for a long time, but whose books I’ve never read and who I’ve never hung out with as such but is now my new favorite person, gave a speech at the dinner.  She is a proponent of Poetic Atheism, which is like Atheism, but it rhymes.  I’ll give you some quotes, grossly paraphrased:

When you know your history, you are powerful. More people in the history of humanity have not believed in God than have. (Atheism began around 600BC)

If I enjoy every day of my life I don’t worry so much about death. I mean, we barely use the life we’ve got — I dunno about you but I walk back and forth between the fridge and the computer a lot, what, I need a thousand years of it?

We were the first country founded as a secular rationalist country but we were also the first country to give the uneducated poor the vote.  They worried that the uneducated poor would elect a poor man who would redistribute all the wealth.  The uneducated poor won’t vote in a poor man, they’ll elect a stupid rich man.  This is why we need free mandatory secular education!

Nothing in science fiction, in religion, in myths is as weird as this: (points to her head) the meat thinks.  Nothing is as weird as love.

jmh

A real actual photo of JMH and a Margarita (w/salt)

George Hrab, who is Spider Jerusalem, then performed some of his atheisty songs.

Hrab

A real actual photo of George Hrab

George Hrab is of the belief that James Randi is a garden gnome.  This is undeniable.

randi

A real actual photo of James Randi

My favorite zinger was aimed at Hitchens, when Hrab was talking about an event that Hitchens was going to be at but then wasn’t actually there.

Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be there, but I guess he had to go to a scotch festival… But at least that worked out for him.

OH SNAP!  Basically what I’m saying is that George Hrab was pretty good, but he talked about his balls a lot.

After Hrab, Sean led trivia.  I had talked a rather big game before the conference, so there was some pressure to win.  Which I did quite handily, thank you very much.  With the help of Omar for “Mumford and Sons” when all I could remember was “Little Lion Man”.  We won an extra drink ticket, which I used to buy other people’s love, because people are irrationally in love with drink tickets.

After that, I went to meet George Hrab because I have a friend, Jarrett, who is a big fan.  There are all these people who really dig on podcasts and I don’t get it.  It’s like NPR but less focused, I know, I’ve been on a podcast.  He wrote a note and let me take photos and then I ended up going down and hanging out with him and Liz and some random other people in the bar downstairs.  There was an origami velociraptor involved.

georgehrab

Where the hell were you people?

Road Trip

I am about to drive to South Carolina, on Friday, from LA, which will be quite the adventure.  I’m planning on being in SC for the next couple of months, working on some various projects, and hopefully getting some writing done.  Debating pursuing more screenplays or another attempt at a novel, it’s weird though, I find LA to be not a great place for writing.  Maybe that’s not that weird.

Grand Canyon; Why I haven’t been posting

I’ve been bad about updating because I’ve spent most of my time the last few days trying to plan a road trip.  And the thing is that I’m horribly nerdy and when I decide to do something like this I have to Have A Plan.  The basic idea is that I have a three day weekend that coincides with Valentine’s Day, and neither F or I have seen the Grand Canyon, so we thought, hey, let’s go see the Grand Canyon.  But then it was like… and what else are we going to do besides drive to the Grand Canyon and back.  And I was like Hoover Dam.

And then I spent 3 days researching what sorts of things there are to do on the legs of the trip and once we got places.  Like I learned of a place called Grand Canyon West, where there’s this horrifying/tacky/awesome thing called the Skywalk, where you essentially walk out onto glass above the Grand Canyon.  Think Indiana Jones’ leap of faith, but less cool.  It’s much much closer to the Hoover Dam and Vegas, but it’s also extremely expensive and not as high up as the South Rim.  I weighed pros and cons and decided that the South Rim was the <i>real</i> Grand Canyon, so I’d better see that.

I’ve been trying to come up with things to do in Las Vegas that I wouldn’t hate, and I’ve had a few suggestions, but you’re welcome to comment here.  Keep in mind that I don’t drink, gamble, or do things where the main objective is to “have fun” rather than do something in particular.  We were thinking we might try to get some tickets to see Penn&Teller, they do the 1/2 price thing like in NYC.  The Erotic Heritage Museum looked interesting, and it’s open til midnight.  “The Chapel Theater will prominently feature Shakespeare’s erotic material. This material has not been performed in four hundred years. Be prepared to be “Bard to the Bone” and  experience Shakespeare in an entirely new fashion.”  Bard to the Bone.  Oh dear.

It also seems likely that we’ll pass through Baker which has two things that are heavily recommended by travelers.  Alien Jerky, supposedly the best jerky ever, I’m not a jerky eater, but F is.  And the Mad Greek.  I’m not necessarily sold on either, but they’re there.

Alterniraries

LA to Tusakan AZ 8 hours
(I-40)
-Drive through Joshua Tree +50 mins
-Visit Grand Canyon Caverns +1 hour (plus visiting time of probably an hour, closes at 4)
-Roadkill Cafe (off the interstate, adds only the time of visit)
NOTE: I think we wouldn’t be happy trying to get to the caverns before 4 on this leg

Tusakan AZ to Las Vegas NV 5 hours
(I-40 to 93)
-Visit Grand Canyon Caverns +1 hour (plus visiting time of probably an hour, closes at 4)
-Roadkill Cafe (off the interstate, adds only the time of visit)
-Hoover Dam (adds only time of visit, closes at 4:15)
NOTE: I think we can’t do the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon in the same day, unless we get super bored with the Grand Canyon early

Las Vegas NV to LA 4.5 hours
(I-15)
-Hoover Dam +60 minutes round trip, +30 minutes if taking 95 (closes at 4:15)
-Drive by Death Valley +2 hours
-Take 95 to I-40 +2 hours; +1:30 if driving from Hoover Dam (if we don’t go by Joshua Tree, we will have driven this stretch already)
NOTE: I’d like to see the Hoover Dam, but we will be driving over it, so if we don’t make it to a tour, I’d be fine.

The Map