TAM Sunday: I give a presentation to a zillion people

I got up early to get ready to see the papers, and to make sure I was there to watch everyone else’s papers because they usually aren’t crowded.  TAMmers leave in droves on Sunday before the event is over and the papers were really poorly advertised this year.  There was no program, there was no schedule that anyone had access to, our names weren’t printed anywhere, certainly our subjects weren’t printed anywhere.  It was poorly done, I have to say — we’re not headliners, but we are people who still had to pay despite the fact that we’re talking.  The least they could have done is put our names somewhere so people would know what they were listening to.

Anyway, I went to the papers.  I was fairly nervous, but it was OK, I was the last to go, so I had to sit through 6 other papers before it was my turn and, unfortunately, the paper before me ate into my time a little, so I had to shorten mine up on the fly.  Which was also fine, because I could see anything thanks to the lights reflecting off of my glasses, so I couldn’t really read my notes anyway.

It went over very well.  The presentation was about the importance of using emotion and recognizing emotion in discussions, using the failure of the LGBT side in the Prop 8 campaign as an example of how emotional messanging works.  There’s a huge tone debate in the movement at the moment, for those of you who don’t remember DBAD, because some people think that other people are too mean or confrontational.  The point of my speech was to say that emotional content is one of our most useful tools, and being a dick creates an emotional response.  It’s a useful tool in the tool box.  But most importantly, just because the movement is about logic and rationality that doesn’t mean that ignoring emotion is the right way to go about convincing others — ignoring human emotion is irrational.  Including within the movement — skeptics are not immune from being human, we should start taking that into account better when we argue.

I got a large applause when I was done, and after I left the stage a little crowd of people came over to thank me or talk with me about the issues.  It was very cool.  I was expecting some backlash — perhaps from being on the internet for too long — I thought some people would tell me that emotions have no place in rational debates or that they didn’t appreciate my assumption that everyone in the room was pro-gay rights, but the responses were great.

I was too keyed up to sit through the next presentation, especially as the World Cup Final was about to take place, so I just went into the hallway and talked to people who came up to me to say thanks about my presentation.  To pat myself on the back a little, I’m going to write some of the Twitter responses:

kefox: Great talk this morning on communicating w/emotion. Our side is smarter & really ought to be the Jedi masters of this.

Tasutari: Ashley could easily have given a full talk – good slides, good content, well presented.  Plus, there was a Joss Whedon quote.

charlesj: Ashley tells us what we need to hear, continuing from Tavris’ talk yesterday

jennifurret: Ashley nailed it on using emotions when arguing skepticism.  Sometimes you need to be a dick!

TCTheater: Ashley is kicking ass and taking names.  Excellent capstone to papers segment.

SkeptiCareBear: Propaganda bad, but lack of all emotion worse.  Good talk by Ashley.

StevenTheWonky: Ashley is kicking ass.

ArcheoWebby: A presenter that knows how to use a computer.  Nice.  Good Job Ashley.

So that was awesome.  Then I went to watch the soccer game and it was so depressing, partially because there was no food at the bar and I was starving to death while also watching the US kill themselves — I’m happy for Japan, but we lost that game because we made a lot of stupid, careless mistakes and couldn’t get shots on Target.  My heart goes out to Abby Wambach.

Then I heard the end of the diversity in skepticism panel, which I sort of lost interest in thanks to DJ seeming to think that getting conservatives and religious people in the movement should be some sort of a priority.  I’m with Jamila on the whole getting active about causes that skeptic people should be able to see are ridiculous — the war on drugs, the prison policy.

Sean Faircloth gave essentially the same speech he’d given at the SCA Summit and it went over very well.  He’s a very good cheerleader.

Then there was the closing remarks from Randi and we were done.  I ran into Randi in the hallway and thanked him for letting me speak and he said he’d heard I’d done very well.  I’m sure he was just saying that, but it was still awesome.  I went down to the Del Mar and hung out with a lot of people who were still there and then went to Penn and Teller over at the Rio.  Boy are Las Vegas cabs expensive, by the way.  We were in the first seat in the Mezzanine, which was actually excellent because it was easier to see how they were doing the tricks.  A lot of their tricks have been on their show or on other shows, but it was still a lot of fun.  And then someone in the line for cabs recognized me and thanked me for my talk, so people at the Rio cab line probably thought I was some important person.  Buahaha.

Then I packed and went to bed.

Monday, I got on the airplane and swallowed my crown.  And I’m freaking out about it.  Yep.

Here comes TAM9 from Outer Space

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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.

50 Book Challenge: 36-40

Welcome to Week 34, I’m through 40 books, so doing well.  Just 10 left to meet my goal.

36. Searching for Dragons – Patricia C. Wrede

This is the second novel in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I find it interesting that the books are all written from a different character’s perspective.  It’s a neat trick, and I think it works particularly well for the children’s literature genre.  You get to see the characters you love, but since you already know how they think, you get to spend time in other people’s head as they go along.  Anyway, I highly recommend these books if you like children’s lit at all.

37. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

People are very surprised that I never have read this book and never had to in school.  Considering I grew up in the south, this is doubly surprising.  I moved around a fair amount and I think it was just assigned for one grade in one school district and another in a different one, and so I missed it by switching districts.  In any event, I watched the movie this past year at some point and I really enjoyed it, and I’d listened to some NPR stories about its fiftieth anniversary, so I bought it and read it in a night.  Fantastic book, and it made me all the more impressed with the movie.  I am not generally a fan of Southern Gothic literature, I find it oppressive and kinda icky (I know, technical term) because it’s generally so depressing and twisted.  It usually makes me want to take a scalding shower and spend the rest of my life in a heavily air-conditioned, sterilized and dehumidified bubble.  But I really liked To Kill a Mockingbird, it strangely reminded me of some of the good things about the South, not the least of which is that there are many more Atticuses now than there were then.

38. The Prop 8 Report – David Fleischer

Wow, 500 pages of analysis of the Prop 8 campaigns.  It was a lot to read, and I’m sort of including the Prop 8 decision in this too, since I did read that as well.  Basically, the lesson I got from this is that we really need to get the word out that gay marriage helps children.  The Prop 8 Proponents put out the whole “the children are gonna be destroyed” message and that alone basically lost gays the right to marry.  So, how do we educate people that gay marriage helps children?  I dunno, but it’s really important that we do so.  The fact is that there are children being raised by same sex couples and that those children would benefit from their parents being able to marry.  So, we should encourage a real discussion about children, because the facts are on our side.  And we should stop being surprised that the Anita Bryant tactic of 30 years ago still works.

39. Flim Flam! – James The Amazing Randi

I actually didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.  I love Randi, he’s a great speaker and an all around cool guy, so I thought I’d enjoy the book.  But I just didn’t find it all that interesting.  The book basically debunks a bunch of different woo things like ESP and UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle — you know, National Enquirer stuff.  And, I guess there’s a place for that and all, but I find the whole thing rather tedious.  To me this is like debunking Cinderella or Superman, I guess there are people out there who believe it, but I tend to think they’re people who just need a fairy tale of some kind in their life.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s really retarded (it’s satire!) for people to believe a lot of that stuff, but so long as they aren’t hurting anyone, I don’t really care.  Like, homeopathy, that’s something to rail against.  The Bermuda Triangle?  I just can’t be bothered.  Maybe this is why I identify more as an atheist than a skeptic.

40. The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs

Stephen Briggs has a much different reading style than Nigel Planer, and I admit I like Planer better.  Mostly because I don’t like the voices Briggs uses for the watch in this book.  He’s not bad, not at all, I’m probably just used to Planer.  I think all the rest are read by Briggs so I suppose I should get used to him.  OK, that aside, I did quite enjoy this book.  It’s about Vimes, who I like, and it has vampires fighting werewolves.  It was strangely not as funny or tongue-in-cheek as most of the Discworld books, it felt like an almost straight detective adventure novel.  The plot may be the best constructed of his books so far, though plot has never been the main reason I read his books.

TAM: For the Ladies?

Jen McCreight and PZ Myers have both posted on this — how welcome are women to skeptic events?

I want to say, before I get into some of the less flattering stuff, that I had an excellent time at TAM8 and I met a lot of really interesting, cool people, both men and women.  And many of the women there were strong, outspoken and hilarious, so even if the women are under-represented, they’re well-represented.  I say under-represented because there was a 20 guy long line to the men’s bathroom and no wait to the women’s bathroom.  If that doesn’t speak to gender ratio, what does?

Of course, there were the constant murmurs of how every guy wants to “bag a skepchick” and the winners of the skepchick party costume contest were the girls willing to make out with each other, but I generally accept that with just some eye-rolling.  There were comments I heard about the looks of the female speakers, but then people were making fun of James Randi and Michael Shermer’s height, so maybe that plays out.

I hang out with geeks, I like geeks, I like geek humor, and a lot of that is offensive if you’re easily offended.  And there can certainly be an air of sketchiness around some of those guys with less familiarity with social interaction, and I will say that TAM was a lot less creepy than Comic Con or Dragon*Con when it came to my average interaction with a strange dude.  People there seemed to be genuinely interested in what I had to say, and the environment seemed to be as deliberately nonsexual as possible most of the time.  Though I was occasionally asked if I was in high school, but ageism is a whole nother thing.

I was, however, really bothered by how the female psychic, Anita Ikonen, was treated and talked about.

I understand that the “other” in a skeptic convention is not going to be gender, race, or sexuality but opinion and point of view.  Someone who thinks that they have magical powers is automatically going to be the center of a fair amount of eye-rolling, derision and name-calling.  It’s natural for groups to behave that way, unfortunately, and I’m not here to say that I support the things Anita believes or even her behavior, I don’t know her that well.  But I will say that most of the insults and jeers thrown her way were all based around the fact that she was a young and attractive woman.

Someone called her, on her facebook page, a “psychic slut”.  Many people at TAM accused her of using her sexuality to her advantage, of sleeping around, of sexually getting off on attention.

I will break this down in a second, but let me make one thing very clear: No one, male or female, should ever call a woman a slut.  The intent of that word is to make a woman feel ashamed of her sexuality, to humiliate her, to make her feel degraded.  Not only does it shame the woman in question, it also makes every other woman scared of admitting to being a sexual creature.

It is the fear of being thought a slut that keeps women from accepting their own sexuality and it keeps victims of rape and molestation from feeling safe revealing that they’ve been hurt.  There is, in my opinion, no more hurtful word you can use towards a woman, it is as vile and low as the N-word.  And society uses it to keep women in their place, especially uppity women with opinions and beliefs you disagree with.

So, if you want to say this psychic woman revels in attention, fine, but you don’t get to start calling her names because you don’t like attractive women who are at home with their own sexuality.  You do that and you start driving away the skeptical women in the group.  I don’t want to be part of a group that slut-shames any woman who doesn’t agree with them, though I don’t think the majority of the skeptical group is guilty of that behavior.

I talked to Anita yesterday, I let her know I was writing this and she told me some other things that had happened to her.  She got turned away from taking pictures with a skeptic celebrity with a brusque, “I’m married,” as though she was trying to sleep with them rather than get a photo, and she was asked to send topless photos to a skeptic when they learned she was a psychic.  I know I just went off the other day on how skeptics don’t need to show a consistent face, but this behavior is completely unacceptable in any human.

The girl may be nuts, she may have HPD, she may be incredibly attention hungry for whatever reason, but that doesn’t make her a slut.  I know some people may have personal reasons to dislike her or the discord she apparently causes, but that doesn’t make her a slut.  And if you hate her, fine, and if you hate that the JREF brings her more publicity, fine, but you don’t get to go around complaining that she’s too flirtatious or that she gets all this attention just for being young and cute.  If people react to that in a way you don’t like, it’s their own fault.

This reminds me of the TDS kerfluffle.  Everyone is pissed at TDS for not hiring enough women or having enough visible women.  So, when does everyone get really vocal about it?  When TDS hires an attractive, sexualized woman.  Guess what?  Women have sex!  Women can have sex and be funny!  Olivia Munn is being punished and slut-shamed for pursuing a career in comedy because she’s not the right kind of woman.  You think that when you complain about it the only person you’re hurting is The Daily Show?  How would you feel if someone hiring you turned into an internet shit storm about how you posed in Playboy and just aren’t that funny on G4?

The feminist movement can really hurt women who aren’t the “right kind of woman”.  Women who are naturally thin (real women have curves), like to have sex (sex is men taking advantage of women), or really like clothes or barbies or the color pink.  It’s hard enough to be a woman, it’s hard enough to be different, can’t we let women be human?  Can’t we let them be sexual beings without trying to make them feel horrible about themselves?  Can’t we focus on the intellectual shit instead of petty bitchery?

TAM: Going Dark

So, I’m leaving tomorrow morning to go to TAM. I probably won’t have much internet access beyond email, so there (probably) won’t be any updates while I’m there. I will, however, be taking notes analog style, so I’m sure there’ll be stuff to post when I get back.

So, if you’re going to TAM feel free to either e-mail me, or facebook friend me, I’ll be primarily available by text message and my phone number is on my FB or I can email it. It’s times like these that I wish I had some sort of intelligent phone machine.

The Amaz!ng Meeting

I’m going.  I gave in — what are credit cards for, right?  I’ve been obsessing over it for 2 months, I figured I must actually want to go if I still care.  I spent a lot of time debating if I wanted to go to TAM or get an iphone.  Now the trick is to resist the temptation to get an iphone too.

I’m gonna go down after work Thursday (7/8), and stay for Friday, Saturday, and hopefully enough of Sunday to see Jen McCreight from BlagHag.  I haven’t had a vacation since February.  Weirdly, I stayed at the same hotel.  Anyway, it’s been a rough six months, getting away from LA is an incredibly necessary thing.

So, if you’re also going to TAM, let me know!

Your Friendly Next Door Atheist, Please Don’t Evict Me

My apartment building has new project managers, who also happen to live next door to me. They are a very young, blonde couple with two very young blonde children. They are incredibly polite, though I do hear their baby crying all the time.

They are, of course, god-botherers, having moved in here while he goes to seminary. I feel both good and bad that my radar skills are so honed that I knew he was a seminarian long before he told me (and the rest of the apartment building) through a letter to everyone. I suppose it must be difficult being a priest because you can’t say what you do without saying what you believe, and therefore implying what you think about people who believe differently.

Perhaps it’s overly paranoid of me, but I worry that there’ll be some prejudice against me should he find out I am not into the Jeezy Creezy, and as he is in a position of authority it’s one of those :/ things. Plus his kids are cute, I’d hate for him to be like, “Stay away from the evil monster lady next door.” On the other hand, priest types are usually more interested in conversations with the non-believer than the average Christianist, I think they think it hones their skills.

Slightly related to this is something that came out about Elena Kagan recently — she supported a landlady’s right to refuse to rent to an unwed couple on religious grounds, despite the Fair Housing Act. This is one of those ideals versus real life problems — ideally people would be free to discriminate and the free market would prove that they don’t do well and no one would want to discriminate anyway, but in the real world, you have to balance rights — which is more important the right to housing or the right to discriminate? Maslow has some thoughts on this, but basically my right to resources offered to the public trumps your right to refuse me those services because you don’t like me.

Also today, the guy at the 7/11 near where I work let me get $10 in quarters. Maybe he’d have done this for anyone, but I’m going to say it’s because I’ve made a real effort to talk World Cup with the people in the 7/11, even though they can be somewhat difficult to understand, and I’m always very nice to them. I have a weird psychological need to get along well with all the people who do jobs I would hate to do.

I’m thinking about going to TAM for just one day, which would be 175 instead of 450. Have to figure out work situation first, but it could be cool. Penn&Teller have cancelled and I’d miss Adam Savage, but I would see Randi and Dawkins. And I’d get to, you know, be there.

The Internet is Amaz!ng

There is a really cool convention in Las Vegas every year hosted by James Randi, The Amaz!ng Meeting aka TAM.  It is not, however, the cheapest thing in the world.  Registration costs $450 and a room for three nights would be $250 (not really that bad), which brings it to $700 upfront costs.  Also, two days of lost work, gas, and eating out of town.  And if I had an extra $1000 I could eat dinner with James Randi and Richard Dawkins.

Obviously, I don’t have an extra thousand.  I don’t even have the first thousand to go to TAM in the first place.  Suddenly, $50 to eat dinner with PZ Myers makes him seem like kind of a cheap date.

Anyway, I was bemoaning this yesterday, being in a particularly bad mood thanks to a migraine, and Jen “inventor of Boobquake” McCreight over at Blag Hag ended up bemoaning her own inability to pay for it.  Made even worse in her case in that she was invited to speak, but JREF doesn’t cover speaker’s registration, travel, or hotel expenses.  In 8 hours, she raised $1500 dollars.  That’s insane!

Suffice to say I am jealous and astounded, probably in that order.  Because, in addition to Dawkins and Randi, who are both pretty much 10s on the awesome scale, there will also be Penn&Teller and Adam Savage, all of whom are probably 11s.