OMFG True Blood

I know some of you are fans like me. Discuss in comments. I’ll put my thoughts down there as to not accidentally spoil the episode for those of you who haven’t watched it yet. But beware, the comments will include spoilers!

New York meet up!

A bunch of my readers expressed interest in doing a little blogger pub night thing while I’m visiting New York City, so here’s the info:

Monday, August 23rd
7:00 pm
The Gibson
108 Bedford Ave. at N. 11th St.,
Brooklyn, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

Sorry if you can’t make it on the 23rd, but that’s the night that worked for the most people. If you’re planning on coming, please leave a comment here. RSVPing isn’t required, but it’ll help me get an idea of how many seats to round up!

Thanks Chris & Erin for figuring out the location!

Best atheist sex toy ever

I did leave out one highlight from my St. Louis trip because it was so awesome that it deserved a post of its own. I received what could very well be the Most Hilariously Creative Atheist Gift Ever:Me: *pulling gift out of bag* Oh, cute, a Flying Spaghetti Monster! …*thinking* Wait, what is it attached to? Is this a blind fold? …There’s more in the bag…
Me: …*look of confusion*
Everyone else: *looks of extreme amusement*

I’m now the proud owner of a Flying Spaghetti Monster bondage set.

Seriously, I’m not sure if this level of awesomeness can be topped. The St. Louis Skeptics have set the bar pretty damn high when it comes to creative godless gifts. I’m afraid to challenge future groups I visit to try and top this… but I’m not going to discourage them either.

Thanks for the awesome gift, St. Louis Skeptics, especially Claire, who I believe was the one who made it (if I’m wrong, please correct me! All your names started blurring together by 3am!). I think this is definitely a untapped niche market. Get cracking on that Atheist Sex Toy Etsy Shop!

Back from St. Louis!

Speaking at the St. Louis Skeptics in the Pub was a ton of fun last night! It was awesome meeting everyone, and I hope everyone enjoyed my talk. Thanks to the Skeptical Society of St. Louis for inviting me, especially Mike for organizing it and Shelley and Andrea for letting me couch surf! And thanks to my readers who came out to see me – it’s always great talking to you guys, and I’m flattered that some of you even drove a couple hours to get there.

Some random thoughts from the trip:

  • The St. Louis arch is a lot huger than I thought!
  • There are a ton of butterflies in Illinois. I discovered this because I hit about one a minute during my 5 hour drive each way – my car is riddled with the remnants of the massacre. It was even more morbid when I hit two in the middle of a little mating ritual. Court each other in the middle of the highway isn’t exactly the best way to increase your fitness, butterflies.
  • I visited the “Skeptical Palace,” the house of two members of the Skeptical Society. Oh my goodness. I should have taken photos – this place is my dream house. So eclectic and full random biological specimens, scary little medicine bottles from the turn of the century, religious kitsch, and a podium from a Christian church that they use for their debate nights. Win. Oh, and they had the most adorable kitten. Best way to win over a guest – throw kittens at them.

Quote of the night, during discussion on weird porn:
Guy 1: That’s nothing, I once saw anthropomorphic pterodactyl porn.
Gal: Oh man, I’ve seen that one!!
Guy 1: Where he’s standing and flapping his wings while getting a blow job from the girl?
Guy 2: Is the girl a pterodactyl too?
Guy 1: No.
Guy 2: Well, then that’s just sick.

I love Skeptics so much.

St. Louis people, don’t forget to stop by!

This is just a general reminder that I’ll be in St. Louis tonight speaking at Skeptics in the Pub about boobquake! It should be fun, and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone there. Event information can be found here. Don’t forget to stop by and say hello!

If you can’t make my talk, you can still stop by for a drink later. Or maybe if everyone’s lucky, I’ll have a drink before. Will probably make my presentation more interesting, especially if they have Strongbow. I love Strongbow.Like, really really love Strongbow. Especially when they appear in glasses twice the size that I’m expecting.

No genetic testing project for UC Berkeley freshmen

The University of California Berkeley was planning an innovative and somewhat controversial “common freshman experience” for its incoming class. Rather than forcing everyone to read some book no one really likes written by their professor (*cough*Purdue*cough*), they decided to let freshmen voluntarily be tested for various benign yet interesting genetic traits. It’s purpose was to start dialogue on the future of genetic testing and personalized genomics.

However, the California Department of Public Health has recently decided that students are not to receive their personalized results, and only aggregate data can be presented:

“They said that we were providing students with information that could affect the treatment of disease or the evaluation of health,” said Mark Schlissel, dean of biological sciences in Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science. “We disagree with the California Department of Public Health.”

According to the department, laboratories conducting clinical testing — which can diagnose a disease or monitor treatment — must be licensed and have certification for reliability and accuracy. Excluded are labs running samples for research and teaching purposes, but the Department of Public Health concluded that Berkeley’s project does not fit these exemptions due to the potential for medical interpretation.

The university’s collection of genetic samples targets only three genes: metabolism of folate, tolerance of lactose and metabolism of alcohol. Jasper Rine, UC Berkeley professor of genetics, genomics and development, said the gene variants are innocuous.

“We considered all possible misuses of this information,” he said. “We decided we could manage the risk that a student could learn that they have an upset stomach when they drink milk.”

[...]“It opens up a whole lot of questions,” [Schlissel] said. “Who has the authority to tell an individual what they’re allowed to know about themselves?”

As a geneticist, this is an interesting situation to me. If I was a UC Berkeley freshman, I would be extremely disappointed. One, I’m a genetics nerd – I’d love to know what my variants were! Two, I was told I was getting personal results – maybe I wouldn’t have participated if I would have known it was aggregate data. Three, this was completely voluntary and testing innocuous traits. If I want to know this about myself, I think I have to right to know.

But on the more general topic of genetic testing, we’re right to be wary. Personal genomics relies a lot on incomplete data and probability. Vary rarely do you have a specific gene variant that results in a certain trait or disease 100% of the time. More likely, a certain variant will say you have a 20% more likely chance of suffering from heart disease, or 35% less chance of having diabetes. That and genomics is a very new field – you may have an allele that greatly increases your risk for a certain disease, but a researcher just hasn’t discovered that yet. Does having that false sense of security negatively affect how you act?

I’m eager to get my personalized genome once I can actually afford it (so, it may not be for a while). As a geneticist, I understand how to interpret the probabilities and uncertainties, and the knowledge I get in return is worth it. But the concern is that many people who rush to sequence their genome don’t understand the probabilities, and no one is there to help them. Companies will happily sequence your genome (read: Take your money), but rarely do you have a genetic counselor there to explain the results.

Is the UC Berkeley project quite as dangerous as learning about heart disease, diabetes, and Huntington’s disease? Not exactly – they were testing for traits you probably would have already known about. Most of us are aware if we’re somewhat lactose intolerant or not as able to metabolize alcohol (you may know it as the “Asian” alcohol flush reaction). But these are concerns I’m sure we’re going to be hearing a lot more of in the future, as genetic testing becomes more and more prevalent.

10 things society unfairly expects of men

Greta Christina’s pieces are always spot-on, and these are no exception. She has two articles on stupid, unfair, and sexist things society expects of men, which can be found here and here. She has wonderful explanations for each item, but here’s the short version of the list:

  1. Fight, fight, fight!
  2. Be a good husband/partner/lover — but don’t care too much what women think.
  3. Be hot to trot. Always. With anybody.
  4. Stiff upper lip.
  5. Fear of being perceived as gay.
  6. Make money.
  7. Win, win, win!
  8. Be physically strong.
  9. Fix stuff.
  10. Get it up.

I’ve stated many times before that sexist stereotypes hurt men as well as women (though some of my readers like to pretend I haven’t). I think one of the reasons so many men are turned off by feminism is because they have the misconception that feminists are only trying to solve woman’s issues and are ignoring those of men. That couldn’t be anything farther from the truth. Feminists are concerned with equality between the sexes. To achieve that, we have to reduce sexism against men as well.

I suppose sometimes that’s not obvious because as a woman, I feel more comfortable and informed blogging about woman’s issues. That doesn’t mean I’m disregarding the other side. As an analogy, I don’t frequently blog about the issues of racial minorities – not because I don’t think they’re important, but because as a white person 1) I don’t feel informed enough to do the issue justice and 2) I’m in a position of privilege so I don’t have to think about racial issues all the time. But areas I’m not privileged in, namely gender and religion, are frequently on my mind, so they get turned into blog posts.

So, don’t worry, guys. Not all feminists are castration fantasizing man-haters. …You may want to avoid Thailand, though.

I’m going to NYC for a magazine photoshoot!

Please excuse me while I get some stereotypically girly glee out of my system:

SQUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!…Okay, I’m still insanely excited, so forgive me while I flail for a post. I was contacted by More Magazine about doing an interview for their piece on “Young Feminists.” More is an American woman’s lifestyle magazine targeted towards the 40+ demographic (not to be confused with the UK’s More! Magazine, which I’ve been told is a somewhat trashy fashion/gossip mag). Eleven different “up and coming” feminists under the age of 30 have each been interviewed for the special piece, including yours truly. I agreed to do the interview before I found out that they were flying us all to New York City for a professional photoshoot.

If you’ve hung around here for a while, you’ll know I have a horrible fascination with America’s Next Top Model. It’s a terrible show, but something about watching girls be ridiculous and catty without personally being a part of it is extremely addictive. Not to mention some shoots do produce pretty cool photos, and watching Tyra Banks’s newest insanity while screaming at the TV with my roommate is oddly fulfilling.

…I may or may not have watched all fourteen seasons.
*shifty eyes*

So finding out I’m being flown to New York for a professional photoshoot is a bit of a fantasy of mine, a fantasy I never thought would actually happen since 1) I’m not exactly fashion model material and 2) Even if I was, I really have no interest in being a professional model. But to get to do it for a day is frankly awesome.

It didn’t really dawn on me how this is a “real” photoshoot until I started getting more information. They’re doing my hair and makeup. I don’t even wear makeup. I don’t want to be dolled up to the point where I’m unrecognizable – that would be kind of ironic for a piece on feminism – but I’m still excited. I’ve blogged before how one of the big reasons I don’t do makeup is just because I have no idea what I’m doing, so I’m pretty stoked to see what I’ll look like when someone actually does a nice job.

But reality really sank in when they asked me for my sizes and measurements because I’m going to have a wardrobe. WTF. A wardrobe! I don’t know if this caused me more excitement or anxiety. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal, and I hate clothes shopping. I’ve always joked that I’d love to have a professional pick out clothes for me, but then it dawned on me that I didn’t even know what my sizes were.

I mean, I know how tall I am, and my shoe size… But pants? Uh, 10-ish depending on the brand? “Long” isn’t a legitimate measure for length? What, you want it in inches? You think I shop somewhere nicer than Old Navy? Shirts can range from small to extra large depending on how boob friendly they are. And a dress size? The last time I bought a dress was four years ago when I was two cup sizes smaller, so who knows if that’s accurate.

Anxiety aside, I know it’ll be ridiculously fun. My parents are just happy to get some professional photos of me out of it. I’m going to be thinking of all the stupid ANTM in jokes and “tips” the whole time. Smeyes! Ugly pretty, not ugly ugly! Find the light! Fierce!

Vanessa (roommate and ANTM mocking buddy): I still think you need someone recording the whole thing, it’d be hilarious
Me: It would be! Unfortunately I don’t have a camera crew, and I think my brother and sister-in-law actually have jobs, lol. I’ll make sure to take lots of photos and recount it in its full hilarity
Vanessa: Oh darn. That’s too bad because you could have used it as an application for the next season of ANTM
Me: Rofl, that would be awesome
Vanessa: Yeah, and everyone would want you to win because you’d be the token plus size girl
Me: Yeah, me and my fatty size 10 pants*, hehe
Vanessa: lol

The one downside? Three years of screaming at the TV and thinking “I can totally do that! How hard can it be?!” will finally be put to the test. Uh oh.

So, I can’t wait. I’ll definitely document the experience and post about it afterwards, as it’s sure to be interesting. And I’ll let you know when the actual magazine comes out! At the very least, you can cut out my photo and slap it on your wall so I can pretend I’m something more than a D-list internet celebrity for a day, haha.

*Yes, size 10 is considered plus size on ANTM. I wish I were joking.