Oil Pulling

You know what doesn’t sound like any fun at all? Rinsing my mouth with oil. For 20 minutes. First thing in the morning before I can have coffee.

A reader sent me a link to a website advocating “oil pulling”. This one was a new one for me, so I thought I’d share the skeptic’s goldmine that is oil pulling. What’s that? I haven’t told you what it is yet? It’s essentially rinsing one’s mouth with oil as part of a regular oral hygiene routine. The oil helps “pull” out toxins from your body, ya know?

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Meet the Skeptics

Earlier this month I went to a Minnesota Skeptics meetup. Drinking Skeptically takes place on the second Thursday of every month at Be’wiched Deli in downtown Minneapolis, 5pm-8pm. Afterwards some of us walk next door to Club Jager to share some drinks and more skepticy good company. Mostly it’s a chance to hang out and have fun. We share stories that relate to skepticism that we’ve read online or heard on podcasts, share announcements, upcoming events and personal projects, eat yummy food, et cetera, et cetera.

This month I asked a few of the attendees if I could chat with them about who they are, why they started coming to skeptics events and if they are working on any special projects. So, with any further ado, meet some skeptics! [Read more...]

SkepTech is This Weekend!

The past month has been super busy, but this week I’ve been even more blog-lax than my usual – my mom had to remind me that I hadn’t posted our Cross-Country Connections! I’ve been obsessed with reading and preparing for my talk at the community’s newest skeptical conference:

SkepTech Banner reads "SkepTech"

It’s being held at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and is sponsored by the peeps at Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (CASH) and the Secular Student Alliance Affiliate at St. Cloud State University (SSA@SCSU).

I’m giving a talk on the Food and Drug Administration. When I started thinking about topics to present I found myself gravitating toward my favorite skeptical topic: alternative medicine. I wanted to understand WHY, when I walk into Walgreens, do I see homeopathic preparations in the same aisle as cold medicine – you know, things that (for the most part) do what they claim they can do? Why hasn’t the FDA – a regulatory agency charged with making sure our food and drug supply is safe and efficacious - done anything about these “natural remedies”? Thanks to groups like Science-Based Medicine and CFI articles like this, I had a casual understanding of the FDA and why things like alternative medicine and dodgy “healing devices” like this are on the market, but I wanted to know more!

The title of my talk is FDA – Where Are You? and I’m scheduled for the the bright and early Sunday 9:30am time slot. But the fun actually starts on Friday evening at 5pm: There’s going to be a gaming fundraiser, some mind-reading by David Gamut, and two talks that night – Jesse Galef and Zach Weinersmith. Speaking on Saturday and Sunday is this rockstar lineup: Ben Blanchard, Greta Christina, JT Eberhard, Tim Farley, Geeks Without God, Maggie Koerth-Baker, Scott Lohman, Hemant Mehta, Brendan Murphy, PZ Myers, and Stephanie Zvan.

You can view the entire schedule and get descriptions of the panels on the SkepTech website’s schedule page.

EDIT: I’m also participating on two panels on Sunday! I’m a panelist for “Real World vs. Cyberspace Activism” and I’m moderating “The Implications of Brain Tech”.

So that’s where I’ve been. Oh, and Cross-Country Connections will be up in just a few minutes :)

Virgin Mary Pareidolia

From AsiaOne.com: 

Malaysia – Hundreds of Catholics have gathered in prayer and worship outside a Malaysian hospital after seeing an image said to resemble the Virgin Mary on one of the windows.

Those assembled Sunday maintained they can now also see an image of an adult Jesus Christ just two windows away from His mother.

Nearly 100 Catholics were still at the hospital Sunday, lighting candles, singing hymns and saying prayers. Several tourist buses added to the congestion.

Some have come from as far as Singapore, over 300 kilometers (187 miles) away, to see the image on a seventh-floor window, which they describe as a miracle.

“We believe Mary, mother of God, has a message for us, as she is looking down on us and then at a Malaysian flag. We can also see Jesus and He is also moving, they are not static,” Eunice Fernandez, who lives nearby, told AFP.

The 54-year-old housewife dismissed claims the image could be a hoax.

Ellen brought this phenomenon to our attention and we’d both like to say a few words.

Me first:

So…people in Malaysia are seeing the Virgin Mary. Even though we all know this is a water stain or something similar, I thought you might want to have a look at the miraculous revelation for yourselves. I can’t find any photos that aren’t copyright-protected so I drew one for you. If you think my version isn’t awesome enough, you can click on the image below to be taken to an original source.

Watermark...errr...Virgin Mary

My rendition of the water stain…errr…Virgin Mary apparition in Malaysia.

I don’t have too much to say about this. The Virgin Mary doesn’t show up on walls. This is a case of pareidolia, plain and simple. Since I don’t tend to think of Mother Mary very much, she wasn’t even the first thing I saw when I laid eyes on the image. My first thought was vulva. But then that’s me.

From Ellen: 

This is just it, isn’t it, what I was talking about regarding Mary being gagged? The poor woman is reduced to communicating in code, in mildew and condensation. It’s like one of those coma victims in a horror movie who manifests a dire warnings spelled out in sans serif prickly heat on their torsos.

I guess I can squint and sort of see a figure and even a halo kind of thing. It isn’t exactly in proportion, but then neither is a lot of religious art. I fear I also see nipples and, what’s worse, it looks like the unhappy soul has bladder control issues. Perhaps she’s angling to become the spokes-apparition for a line of incontinence products. It may be the only way she gets a voice.

It’s easy to laugh. It is ridiculous to see magic in a stain. But think how desperate you have to be to find this wonderful. Certainly some of these people are desperate. They want something uplifting. They really want that miracle. You don’t convince folks to drop absurd belief systems by sneering, you do it by offering a better option. I’m thinking if they thought somebody gave a damn, they’d be more interested in looking through the glass to see what is really there, than looking at the grime on it.

Skepticon Needs HALP!

I went to Skepticon 3 back in 2010 and had a blast. It was one of the first large skepticism conferences that I had attended, and the speaker lineup was intense! BTW, that link will send you to the SK3 media page, where you can watch videos of any or all of the talks from that year.

Here’s a bit from the Skepticon website that I like:

It’s a little difficult to explain to someone who’s never attended that Skepticon is not just about the talks and panels; it’s also about the immersion, the total envelopment into a genuinely accepting (and interesting!) community. We don’t do all this just because we love to hear PZ Myers talk (though we do). We do it because events like Skepticon are front and center at the beginning of the story of how you and I — and him, and her, and them, and we — find each other.

I missed Skepticon 4 last year and started regretting it the moment my twitter stream began to fill up with tweets from the event.

scarlett_ohara

As FSM is my witness, I will NEVER miss Skepticon AGAIN!

As their tagline boasts, Skepticon is the largest FREE conference on skepticism. The organizers of Skepticon feel very strongly about keeping the conference free to attend, and thus within the reach of more people. But as we all know, it’s never free to put on a conference. Skepticon accepts donations and does other fundraising to help rent the venue and cover incidental costs, but because of the growing popularity of the event, this year’s fundraising fell short. Here’s the letter from organizer and MC Lauren Lane that was just published TODAY – one week from the start of Skepticon 5.

Dear Internet,

Let me start by first saying that I love ALL of your faces. I do.

So, as you may have heard, Skepticon is happening soon and I am so excited! WOOO!

But, here’s the thing. There’s a catch. I know, I know–there is always a catch, but this one is pretty important. Skepticon is in a bit of a tough spot. This year, we had to secure a bigger venue, and that means that it’s more expensive to put on.

If I had all the money in the world, I would put on Skepticon for free every year, but sadly (both for me and the world) that is not the case. We need donations to keep Skepticon running, especially now as we are faced with a larger obstacle than we had originally thought.

Every time I express my worry about Skepticon’s financial situation, I am faced with comments about we ‘should just start charging.’ I won’t lie to you all, doing that would make things much easier financially. If everyone who came to Skepticon gave us $5, we would easily be able to fund ourselves.

But we won’t start doing that. Ever. As far as I am concerned, as long as all of you continue to believe in and support us, then we are willing to put in the work to make this event free to attend. We want any and everyone who can make it out to Springfield freaking’ Missouri to be able to be here with us.

We want you here. We want this event to happen. We need your help.

Hearts and kisses,

Lauren

If you are able – if you treasure the spread of ideas and information and critical thought and skepticism and rationality – if you love that the organizers are doing everything in their power to keep this event free and open to the public – please join me in donating to Skepticon this year.

Click here to Donate Now

This link will take you to the “Contribute” page of Skepticon. From there click on the maroon square in the upper right corner that says “make a donation”.

UPDATE (11/7/12): Skepticon is ON! From the Skepticon website:

WE DID IT!

Skepticon is fully funded for this year!

Thanks to this amazing community (who raised roundabout 7,000 in three days for this event-holy crapsticks), our speakers, bloggers, and supporters for spreading the word, and the hard work of the Skeptiteam negotiating like badasses with the venue/hotel people, we have done it.

This year is going to be totally LEGENDARY.

Magic Lube

Chris Pederson over at the Minnesota Skeptics Facebook group posted about Yoni’s Bliss, a “revolutionary homeopathic lubricating gel”.

Hoo-boy. Let’s do this.

According to the website, Yoni’s Bliss is a water-based lubricant. It also contains aloe, which they describe as “the base on which Yoni’s Bliss was created”. Aloe gel is mostly water, so that fits, but I can’t tell what percentage aloe is in the final formulation. Aloe is not an uncommon ingredient in vaginal lubricants, especially those marketed as “natural” – in this case, that seems to usually mean without glycerin, paraben and with a minimal amount of additives. I found a ton of personal anecdotes about the use of raw aloe from fresh plants as lubricant.

The Mayo Clinic describes aloe allergy in some people, but the Yoni website claims that chance of you being allergic to their product (even if you have a history of allergy!) is “minimal to non-existent”. That strikes me as pretty dismissive, but without knowing the concentration of aloe in the formulation or the incidence of aloe allergy in their target audience it’s hard to evaluate this claim.

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Rental Scam!

Hey! Somebody tried to scam me on Craigslist (shocking, I know!).

The Hubby and I are toying with the idea of moving into a bigger apartment so I browsed around on Craigslist and sent out a few emails. One response was WAY to good to be true (i.e. too cheap for what was offered). Other red flags were that she said she was in the UK and that there was no one who could show me the place. I sent back a note with some benign comments and got back this:

Before going further with anything I must tell you that for payments I will use the eBay Company, they will secure the transaction of payments. I will open a CASE ID# at eBay Company for this transaction and I will give them your full name, shipping info, phone# and indicate you as my tenant. After that, they will contact you with the payment details, and they will ask you to send them a refundable deposit, $1,400.00 in 24 hours(the money will be for the first month of rent + the security deposit). After they receive your deposit, they will notify me immediately to start the shipping of the keys and the contract. You will receive a  tracking number in max 24 hours after they receive your deposit. The keys will reach to you in 3-4 days. After you’ll receive the keys and the contract, the 14 days of inspection period will start (you’ll have 14 days to see the condo, read the contract, decide if you keep the condo or not). After the inspection you will contact them and tell your decision: TAKE THE CONDO or NOT TAKE THE CONDO! In case you’ll take it you’ll have to send them a copy of the contract signed by you and they will release the money to me, if not you’ll have to send them the contract unsigned and they will refund your money($1,400.00), the contract and the keys will be shipped back at my expenses! I will pay the shipping and you’ll have to pay the money transfer fee for the refundable deposit.

Craigslist Fraud FAQ suggests reporting scams to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center. All I have are the emails from this person. Do you guys have any suggestions for other places to report this to in Minnesota or to the federal government? I haven’t lost any money, but if the information I have can help identify a scam or apprehend a criminal I’m game to share that.

Thanks, CASH!

Last night I spoke at Coffman Memorial for the Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (CASH) meeting. If you’re in the Twin Cities area and want to learn about atheist and skeptic events, you need to join CASH’s Facebook group. They’ve hosted some truly awesome speakers like Michael Shermer, Banachek, JT Eberhard, Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, and some guy named Richard Dawkins(?). And now moi!

This was my first talk that I’ve given about atheism and blogging, and my first “full length” presentation to an atheist/skeptics group (I spoke for an hour and 15 minutes, not exactly a fillibuster, but long enough for me prattling on). You know how in Rainman Dustin Hoffman’s character was able to look at a bunch of objects and instantly know how many there were in the pile? I’m the opposite of that. I think there were maybe 20-30 people in the audience, but I could be really, really off.

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Skepticon 5 T-Shirts are (almost) here!

You know you want one.

Just click on the image below. And if you enter FtBFtW in the Special Code section you get a free gift. No, I don’t know what it is. But I’m going to find out!

T-shirts will go into production by July or whenever they reach 75 shirts ordered. So the sooner everyone orders, the sooner we all get our shirts. And FYI – last year they sold out of almost every size long before the event.

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