22 Old White Men

Oh wait, that’s not the name of this list; it’s actually called The 25 Most Influential Living Atheists. But when you skim through, my title seems a bit more accurate.

The only influential female atheists you could think of were Jennifer Michael Hecht, Barbara Forest, and Susan Blackmore? Really? I mean, they’re excellent, and I’m happy they made the list – but only three women?

It’s especially annoying when about 8 of the men on the list aren’t even known for being outspoken atheist activists – they’re just scientists who’s research may help convince people that the world is a bit more godless, or may take a dig at theism every once in a while. If that’s how you want to define influential, fine. But the list explicitly says that it’s looking for people who “actively encourage others to disbelieve in God.” That ranks them ahead of people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Susan Jacoby, Valerie Tarico, Debbie Goddard, etc…?

Not to mention I haven’t even heard of a couple men on the list. Yep, definitely influential if someone very active in the atheist movement has never heard of you.

And no non-white people? I already mentioned Ali and Goddard, but how do you forget Hemant Mehta? He’s certainly influential.

At least this is on some random website. If this list appeared within the atheist community after all of the discussion we’ve been having over the last couple years, I may just give up hope of people getting it.

Skeptical Valentines

If you and your significant other consider this “your song”…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeZMIgheZro&fs=1&hl=en_US]

…then here’s a great idea for a Valentine’s Day gift! Katie Hartman and other Skepticon volunteers are selling handmade skepticism-themed Valentine’s cards to raise money for Skepticon 4. There are a bunch of choices, ranging from nerdy to blasphemous:I’m kind of hoping The Trophy Wife gives PZ the one that says “You’ll do until PZ Myers is single” for irony’s sake. Or PZ could get that for his wife, and… yeah, I have no idea what that would even mean. Maybe not the best idea.

(Via JT’s blog)

Gay rights are to blame for massive bird deaths

Everyone around here should know by now that any disturbance in the natural world is a direct result of God agreeing with the political agenda of the religious right. Here’s yet another example: the recent massive bird deaths are all because of DADT being repealed!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V17WGTvPHGg&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Cindy Jacobs is obviously wrong. Birds aren’t dying because Americans made progress in gay rights! Birds are dying because they’re so gay! With your lesbian albatrosses, and gay penguins (who got a book deal to corrupt our youth, no less)… There are so many examples of homosexual behavior in birds that Wikipedia has a list devoted to it!

No wonder why god struck them down. It’s just unnatural.

EA Sports Active 2 is a tool of Satan

DDR was getting a little tedious to play every single day. And while it’s good cardio, it doesn’t really work out any other parts of my body. That’s why I was all excited when my package came in today containing EA Sports Active 2. I could, you know, go to the gym or something, but I’m a hermit with a PS3, so why not.

With the hokey opening sequence and mind numbingly simple initial explanations, I assumed this game must be made for old people who are trying to get in shape using their kid’s video game console. Based on that observation, I thought it would be perfectly fine for a young adult who’s been playing DDR for a week to start on Medium instead of Easy.

Holy fuck.

I only made it through half of my work out before quitting because my legs were cramping up and I felt like I was going to vomit. That’s including watching minute long tutorials before each exercise. And by watching, I mean flopping onto my couch like a beached whale and frantically pressing the “Show Tutorial Again” button.

No one should have to do mountain climbers followed by bent arm side planks.

The salt in the wound was having the game tell me I only burned 55 calories, despite the fact that all of my muscles burned and I felt like I was about to die. Maybe it was supposed to make me vomit. That would certainly get rid of some calories.

Fuck you game.

EDIT: 20 minutes have gone by, and I still feel like heaving. I’m having flashbacks to middle school gym class… Except my legs hurt so much I don’t know if I’d be able to dash to the toilet in time.

Holy crap

I’m going to be speaking at the same event as Richard Dawkins.

Rock Beyond Belief just officially announced Dawkins’ participation. I was one of the first people asked to participate, and now I’m on the same lineup as people like Margaret Downey, Dale McGowan, Hemant Mehta, Eugenie Scott, and Richard freaking Dawkins. I’m honored to be a part of such an amazing lineup. I’ll try to do my best to not pee my pants from glee.

Though technically, I guess Dawkins and I were both speakers at the last TAM. At least now I’ll have a chance for him to sign my copy of the Atheist’s Guide to Christmas…which we’re both contributors too.

In moments like this, I realize how awesome my life is.

Am I officially a hippie liberal now?

In the last week I’ve received mail from The New York Times, the Sierra Club, Doctors Without Borders, Feeding America, the ACLU, some liberal anti-capitalism cell phone provider which I forget the name of Credo Mobile, and Washington Monthly (which advertises itself as part of the “vast left-wing conspiracy”).

…Is there some list of Official Liberals somewhere that all of these organizations share? Did I finally make the cut? Does voting Democrat in Washington State automatically set you up for certain spam mailers? I wonder what voting Republican gets you…

Oh well. I guess it’s more interesting than the 38975298 letters I get telling me to apply for a new credit card.

Off my ASS for the SSA – Week 1

Alright, it’s time for the first report from my weight loss competition with JT Eberhard!

Starting weight: 186.4 lbs
Current weight: 181.8 lbs
Weight loss this week: 4.6 lbs

Yay! …Okay, before anyone pops in and says “JEN! That’s not less than 2 pounds! I thought you were going to be healthy!” let me explain. The first time I weighed myself was in the afternoon after eating a big lunch and while wearing jeans. Every subsequent weighing has been in the morning before breakfast while wearing lighter pajama pants. Weight fluctuates throughout the day, and when I weigh myself in the afternoon it’s higher. Next week my weight loss should be closer to 2 lbs.

The most helpful tool I’ve had so far is using LoseIt!, a calorie counter. I’m a data geek, so I love being able to see trends in my own eating habits. I feel motivated to keep using it because I want a larger sample size! I was quickly able to see how many calories pop, beer, and even juice add to my day. I’ve been drinking a lot more water because of that.

And even a half hour of DDR every day has been really helpful. I started getting Cs on standard mode, and I’m already back to getting As on heavy. And my legs no longer feel like they’re going to fall off after just a couple songs! EA Sports Active 2 should arrive Monday, so then I’ll start working on other parts of my body.

You should also know that the stakes are somewhat higher. Phil Ferguson of Skeptic Money wanted to get in on our little competition, even though we have a week’s head start. If either JT or I can lose more weight than Phil before the end of the contest, he’ll throw in $100 to the Secular Student Alliance. And if both JT and I lose more weight than Phil, he’ll throw in $250. Unfortunately for Phil, his wife is on “Team Jen,” so he’s a bit doomed if she does a lot of the cooking.

And unfortunately for JT, some of the SSA staff is on Team Jen. Jesse sent me a hilarious photo of him “sabotaging” JT’s sandwich with mayo. No where is safe, JT. Mwahahaha.

(Remember, you can pledge here!)

How NOT to respond to the gender gap

PZ recently made a post advertising the Southern California Secular Humanist Conference. While the poster was funny, I was a little disappointed in the list of names, and simply commented:

2/15 speakers are women? :|

Do I think that the event coordinators are sexist masterminds, purposefully plotting to exclude anyone with a preponderance of X chromosomes? Of course not. But I do think organizers need to be aware of these gender gaps. Some may be caused by subconscious sexism, but many are caused by a seemingly inescapable cycle:

  • Women aren’t invited to speak at conferences…
  • So no one knows what good women speakers there are…
  • So when people go to plan conferences, all of the good speakers they think of are male.

Etc, etc, etc. One way to escape this cycle is to simply be aware of the problem, and work toward more equal representation. I’m not asking for 50% women exactly, but 13% is bordering on statistically significant from the expected distribution.

It’s a big PR problem, too. You know how people keep asking where the atheist women are, or claim that atheism is a club for Old White Men? It’s because they see events like this.

So how do you NOT respond to my concerns? Like the following commenter. I point them out because this type of thinking is way too common. Let me reply line by line:

Jennifurret, do you think the organizers are being sexist?

Not consciously or malevolently. Though the rest of your comment? That kind of is.

Should they seek out more women to speak?

Uh, yes. Already explained earlier in this post.

Do you have a list of such speakers you could give them?

I know you’re trying to pompously assert that it’s my duty as an Owner of Ladybits to solve this problem, and assuming that I’ve done nothing to help. But actually, yes, I do happen to have a giant list of awesome female atheists that is linked to repeatedly. Event organizers can feel free to consult it!

If you feel there need to be more women at such conferences, then by all means, go to such conferences. Get involved, write articles, get invited. I’d do it except I’m not qualified to be a woman, so you have to.

First of all, even if I was just some random commenter, this is annoying as hell. Obviously there are no qualified women to chose from already, so I should go and do the work to be at the same level as these deserving men. Thankfully this person proves my point (and makes them look like a total jackass) because I’m:

  • Involved. Board member of the Secular Student Alliance, popular atheist blogger, founder and former president of an atheist group.
  • Writing articles. Not just here, not just my popular piece on atheism at Ms. Blog, but actually published in an atheist book.
  • Getting invited. I currently have 7 upcoming speaking events, 4 of which are at conferences. I have a couple more that are potentially being worked out, one of them at a major conference.

This post isn’t to just tell this person to go shove it. It’s to illustrate how ludicrous and common this sort of thinking is. “Obviously women are underrepresented because they deserve it” is not only unhelpful, but an outright lie.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s any hope for skepticism

My friend Mark sent me to an excellent article over at National Geographic that explains all of the recent mass bird deaths people have been freaking out about. Is it the Apocalypse? Do we need to call Kirk Cameron?! Was 2012 a typo and the Mayans meant 2011?!?!

Nope. Turns out it’s normal, and the media decided to hype it up:

But the in-air bird deaths aren’t due to some apocalyptic plague or insidious experiment—they happen all the time, scientists say. The recent buzz, it seems, was mainly hatched by media hype.

At any given time there are “at least ten billion birds in North America … and there could be as much as 20 billion—and almost half die each year due to natural causes,” said ornithologist Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C.

But what causes dead birds to fall from the sky en masse? The Arkansas case points to two common culprits: loud noises and crashes.

What follows is a more in depth explanation that I, as a biologist, found interesting. I was content knowing skepticism had prevailed once again… until I made the mistake of reading the comments. Emphasis mine:

?Now that the evil media brought falling dead birds to our attention I ask why hasn’t NG ever done a documentary on this ‘common’ occurrence that apparently the general population knows nothing about? It is strange that so many of us have not witnessed birds dropping from the sky at a fireworks show. World firework competitions are held every year in my area and not one bird has died from blunt force trauma. I know wind turbines are deadly for birds and bats and solutions are being examined. I remember a robin hitting the window one day… it was stunned and it took awhile, but he eventually flew away… obviously a lucky one.

“Alfred Hitchcock knew a thing or two! Birds don’t fall from the sky! We’ve been setting off fireworks for 235 years and this has NEVER happened!!! Wake up America! This is just another government compromise for terror! Are we going to wait until PEOPLE start dropping dead in the streets? Get A grip”

“What else did she say that ya’ll aren’t printing? What’s up with this story? “Birds just die all the time, no big!!” Well, they don’t fall from the sky all the time. And our global environment isn’t poisoned all the time like it was with this gulf spill made worse by corexit. Then you’ve got cell masts and communications technology that has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and dead birds and health problems surrounding cell masts.
What’s the deal here, National Geo? I subscribe and love your articles and photos.. You’re one of the best. But printing garbage like this really makes me lose faith. I thought, Oh good! National Geographic did a story on this. Then I read it and felt very frustrated.
Birds do not fall en masse out of the sky all the time. It does not happen. Does Mr. Whatsit from the Audobahn society think we’re all stupid?
Do you?”

Yes, yes I do.

I was about to lament that there was no hope, but as I was writing this post, this comment appeared:

almost all of theses skeptical comments are more irrational than unexplained mass animal death. Little creatures are most susceptible to minute events. Your anecdotal evidence that “i’ve never heard of this” or “this has never happened” has zero weight in the real world of animal life. You ignore basic facts of animal life that has happened since thousands of years before your ignorance was formed and insist there must be something sinister happening.

your tinfoil hats reflecting sunlight probably kill more birds through disorientation than any of your made up fantasies.

One out of 25 people being sane is good, right? …Right?

Sometimes I wonder if there's any hope for skepticism

My friend Mark sent me to an excellent article over at National Geographic that explains all of the recent mass bird deaths people have been freaking out about. Is it the Apocalypse? Do we need to call Kirk Cameron?! Was 2012 a typo and the Mayans meant 2011?!?!

Nope. Turns out it’s normal, and the media decided to hype it up:

But the in-air bird deaths aren’t due to some apocalyptic plague or insidious experiment—they happen all the time, scientists say. The recent buzz, it seems, was mainly hatched by media hype.

At any given time there are “at least ten billion birds in North America … and there could be as much as 20 billion—and almost half die each year due to natural causes,” said ornithologist Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C.

But what causes dead birds to fall from the sky en masse? The Arkansas case points to two common culprits: loud noises and crashes.

What follows is a more in depth explanation that I, as a biologist, found interesting. I was content knowing skepticism had prevailed once again… until I made the mistake of reading the comments. Emphasis mine:

?Now that the evil media brought falling dead birds to our attention I ask why hasn’t NG ever done a documentary on this ‘common’ occurrence that apparently the general population knows nothing about? It is strange that so many of us have not witnessed birds dropping from the sky at a fireworks show. World firework competitions are held every year in my area and not one bird has died from blunt force trauma. I know wind turbines are deadly for birds and bats and solutions are being examined. I remember a robin hitting the window one day… it was stunned and it took awhile, but he eventually flew away… obviously a lucky one.

“Alfred Hitchcock knew a thing or two! Birds don’t fall from the sky! We’ve been setting off fireworks for 235 years and this has NEVER happened!!! Wake up America! This is just another government compromise for terror! Are we going to wait until PEOPLE start dropping dead in the streets? Get A grip”

“What else did she say that ya’ll aren’t printing? What’s up with this story? “Birds just die all the time, no big!!” Well, they don’t fall from the sky all the time. And our global environment isn’t poisoned all the time like it was with this gulf spill made worse by corexit. Then you’ve got cell masts and communications technology that has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and dead birds and health problems surrounding cell masts.
What’s the deal here, National Geo? I subscribe and love your articles and photos.. You’re one of the best. But printing garbage like this really makes me lose faith. I thought, Oh good! National Geographic did a story on this. Then I read it and felt very frustrated.
Birds do not fall en masse out of the sky all the time. It does not happen. Does Mr. Whatsit from the Audobahn society think we’re all stupid?
Do you?”

Yes, yes I do.

I was about to lament that there was no hope, but as I was writing this post, this comment appeared:

almost all of theses skeptical comments are more irrational than unexplained mass animal death. Little creatures are most susceptible to minute events. Your anecdotal evidence that “i’ve never heard of this” or “this has never happened” has zero weight in the real world of animal life. You ignore basic facts of animal life that has happened since thousands of years before your ignorance was formed and insist there must be something sinister happening.

your tinfoil hats reflecting sunlight probably kill more birds through disorientation than any of your made up fantasies.

One out of 25 people being sane is good, right? …Right?