Prepare to rage

More in the vein of “keep your legs closed, ladies”:

Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the contraception hearings taking place in the House of Representatives, taking particular aim at Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke who testified about the importance of contraception coverage for the women at religiously affiliated organizations — like law students at Jesuit schools such as herself. Limbaugh’s take on the issue:

“What does it say….that she essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right?It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the tax payers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? The pimps.”

In her testimony, Fluke was talking about hormonal contraception, and specifically about the medical reasons for having hormonal contraception beyond preventing pregnancies.

Audio here. I’ve got nothin’, folks. Just remember thousands millions of people agree with this misogynist asshole, and they vote.

Those radical, offensive atheists!

Are you sitting down? Got some smelling salts available near by? Prepared to clutch your pearls? Well then take a look at this horrible bus ad the NEPA Freethought Society wanted to run in Pennsylvania!

Awful, right? That’s why the ad was rejected outright by the bus company:

Jim Smith, the advertising contact at COLTS, said that the reason for refusal — appealing to the very questionable and vague advertising policyof COLTS — was that COLTS does not accept ads which could be deemed controversial or otherwise spark public debate.

The ironic part? This ad was created specifically to be as inoffensive as possible, inspired by this idea from Richard Wade:

In the continuing debate over the benefits and drawbacks of “in your face” atheist billboards versus “soft sell” atheist billboards, the assertion that the religious public will claim that they’re “offended” whether the message is strident or mild is frequently put forward.

As a good skeptic, I thought that perhaps this proposition should be put to a test. So in a half-serious, half-lighthearted spirit, I propose that we try displaying billboards that are truly innocuous, so that the only thing that might provoke “offense” would be the word “atheist” in the billboard sponsor’s name. Then we would see if the claim is true that “our mere existence is what offends them.”

So yes, it’s not just controversial to say that the claims made by religions are false. It’s not just controversial to say that atheists can be moral. It’s controversial to say the word “atheist” because our existence implicitly says that we think the religious beliefs of others are wrong.

(Via Friendly Atheist)

And thus begins round two of insanity

It’s grad student recruitment weekend again, which means I’ll be running around like a chicken with my head cut off for the next couple of days. Hopefully this time my car won’t die a spectacular moldy death.

Consider this an open thread.

The Reason Rally is one month away!

The Reason Rally – the largest gathering of atheists, humanists, and secularists in history – is just one month away. On March 24, I’ll be in Washington DC to march on the Mall with my fellow heathens, including:

  • Jessica Ahlquist
  • Jamila Bey
  • Greta Christina
  • Lawrence Krauss
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Hemant Mehta
  • PZ Myers
  • Taslima Nasrin
  • Paul Provenza
  • James Randi
  • Adam Savage
  • Michael Shermer
  • A hugely famous comedian who I’m dying to announce but can’t yet!

…and more! With entertainment by:

  • Rational Warrior
  • Tim Minchin
  • Bad Religion

Don’t have the money? The event is FREE! Still don’t have the money? We’re doing everything we can to make the Reason Rally as cheap as possible. We’re offering 50% discounts on bus rides to DC, have a room share program on the website, and have discounts at a number of hotels in the area.

Are you a student and have negative amounts of money? I sympathize, but there’s still hope! If you’re part of a Secular Student Alliance affiliate group, your group can apply for funding from the SSA to attend the rally! No more excuses!

Not only is the rally going to be a blast, but there will be other fun activities going on. What fun activities, you ask? Well, other than laughing at the inevitable fundy protestors that will show up… A post-rally celebration with Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist and the bloggers of Freethought Blogs! Woooo! Exclamation marks!!!!

Can you tell I’m excited? I can’t help it – the Secular Student Alliance is one of the sponsoring organizations, and I’m their representative to the rally. That means I’ve been spending months helping to make sure the programming looks good and the event runs smoothly, along with the reps from the other sponsoring orgs.

I know some people just can’t make it. We have busy schedules, small budgets, and physical limitations. I totally understand. But at the very least, please spread the word. Tell all of your friends and family members who may be interested, even if they’re not already a part of the atheist movement. Especially if they’re not already part of the atheist movement. Plaster this all over Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and what have you. We don’t want a  piddly amount of people show up and Fox News to laugh at us.

So, come to meet me as I’m mulling around the crowd.

Come to show America that non-theists are a voting block that exists.

Come to give Rick Santorum a heart attack by showing that yes, secularism IS trying to take over our government.

But most of all, come to have fun.

Grad school update

As I’ve been talking with non-academic friends and family, I’ve realized that not many people understand what actually happens in grad school. I also realized that I don’t talk about it a lot on my blog. I guess it’s one of those things where after doing something all day long, I don’t exactly want to come home and write about it. But I’m in an interesting stage of my grad school career, so I thought I’d fill you in.

I’m currently in the second year of my PhD program. PhD programs in the biological sciences are similar but not identical, so what I say here doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. For example, my program has first year rotations. We spend fall, winter, and spring quarters doing research projects in different labs. This is to give us exposure to different types of research that we may not have experienced before, and to figure out if the personality of the lab is a good fit for us.

And yes, labs have very distinct personalities. Some expect you to be there 9 to 5, others don’t care when or if you’re physically there as long as you get work done. Some PIs (Principal Investigator – the professor who runs the lab) micromanage, others can be impossible to get a hold of. Some labs are close knit and do lots of social activities together, and others are more distant. These are all things you have to take into consideration in addition to the research, because you actually want to be happy for the next four years.

After your rotation, you pick a lab. With programs that don’t do rotations, you join a lab immediately.

In year 2, you’re deciding your thesis project. What the heck are you going to be researching for the next four years? What questions do you want to ask, and how are you going to investigate them? What kind of experiments are you going to do? What’s your backup plan in case everything goes horribly wrong?

For the curious, my thesis topic is the evolution of microRNA in primates. And that’s about all I can say before I publish anything, unfortunately.

The real purpose of the plan is to make sure you have some goals and guidelines and show that you can think scientifically. It’s not necessarily set in stone. If one of your research ideas just isn’t panning out, there’s no point in continuing down that road. On the flip side, if something completely unexpected and awesome pops up, you should definitely pursue it. The plan is flexible.

But again, you need to prove that you can come up with a general plan and think scientifically. The first step is forming a thesis committee. In my department, your committee has three main components:

  1. Your PI, who serves as committee chair. They’re theoretically supposed to act more as a moderator, but some professors have a problem not throwing in their 2 cents (shocking, I know).
  2. Two or more committee members who can give insight into your project. If you’re collaborating with another lab, their PI will usually be on your committee. Otherwise you try to bring in people whose expertise will help with your project. For example, I picked someone who specializes in human population genetics, in human evolution and statistics, and in classical genetics and evolution.
  3. Your Graduate School Representative (GSR). I think this is something fairly unique to the University of Washington. Your GSR is someone outside of your department who’s your advocate and makes sure your exams are conducted fairly. They can be utterly unrelated to your field if your heart desires or if you have a random professor you really like, but many people use their GSR as a way to fill a missing expertise on their committee. For example, I picked someone with a computational background.

I just formed my committee, and my next step is to have my first committee meeting (in a couple of weeks, gah). The point of committee meetings is to give an update on what you’ve done so far and what you plan to do, and for your committee to give criticism and guidance. The first committee meeting is basically a “This is what I plan to do for my thesis” overview, and your committee sends you off with 438294742 questions about your plan that you need to figure out before your…dun dun dun…General Exam.

In my department, your General Exam is in late May or early July. I like to describe it as the time where people decide whether or not to kick you out of grad school. You get two to three hours to present what you’ve accomplished so far and what you plan to do. Most of the time is spent answering questions from your committee. You’re expected not only to have a solid research plan, but to be extremely familiar with all the prior research and biological concepts relating to your project. It’s basically a 45 minute presentation that’s turned into a 3 hour oral exam. It’s accompanied by a written proposal of your project, but the general consensus is that your committee will read that 30 minutes before you exam (if they read it at all) and it’s not as important. Yes, Professors are procrastinators too.

If you have no clue what you’re talking about, are obviously unprepared, and there’s no hope for improvement, your committee can outright flunk you. You’re done with the graduate program, and if you’ve accomplished enough maybe you can leave with a Master’s degree. This is pretty rare, though. Most of the times you pass, or pass with revisions – you have to edit your written proposal or write extra information about how you’ll deal with your committee’s major concerns.

And then you go drink heavily.

So, if I haven’t been blogging as frequently, or blog even less frequently in the future, that’s why. My first committee meeting is in less than two weeks, and then I’ll be preparing for my General Exam. Which is kind of a Big Deal, in case I didn’t make that clear. I’m especially busy since I’m still trying to do some speaking events, because I’m crazy like that. …And because I can do my work on planes. Hooray for computational work!

You can now turn all dead mormons gay

Post mortem gayification here.

I mean, it’s only fair. Mitt Romney got to baptize his atheist father-in-law against his will. A random Mormon got to baptize Obama’s atheist mother against her will. Numerous Mormons have baptized holocaust victims, including Anne Frank, against their will. Their Mormon hocus pocus means as much as this gay hocus pocus, so why not?

Hm? What’s that, angry Mormons? You don’t like people magically imposing their views on the deceased in order to make a statement? Think that over.

Only in Indiana are Girl Scouts “radical”

Indiana was attempting to pass a resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts. But State Rep. Bob Morris (R, of course) took issue with the resolution (emphasis mine):

State Rep. Bob Morris (R) wants to kill a resolution honoring the Girl Scouts because they are a “radicalized organization” that promotes “homosexual lifestyles” and funds Planned Parenthood.

In a letter to his fellow Republicans on Saturday, Morris said he would refuse to support a resolution celebrating 100 years of the organization because “after talking to some well-informed constituents, I did a small amount of web-based research, and what I found is disturbing.”

The letter, obtained by the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, says that the Girl Scouts of America and the World Association of Girl Guides “have entered into a close strategic affiliation with Planned Parenthood,” though “you will not find evidence of this on the GSA/WAGGGS website—in fact, the websites of these two organizations explicitly deny funding Planned Parenthood.”

“Nonetheless, abundant evidence proves that the agenda of Planned Parenthood includes sexualizing young girls through the Girl Scouts, which is quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood,” Morris wrote. “Planned Parenthood instructional series and pamphlets are part of the core curriculum at GSA training seminars.”

He continues that the Girl Scouts also let in boys “who decide to claim a ‘transgender’ or cross-dressing life-style” and, in general, promote being gay. “Many parents are abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles,” Morris said. “In fact, the Girl Scouts education seminar girls are directed to study the example of role models. Of the fifty role models listed, only three have a briefly-mentioned religious background – all the rest are feminists, lesbians, or Communists.”

Yes, all that cookie selling and camping is really a front for the Insidious Feminazi Agenda. I wasn’t a girl scout, so I had to go through elaborate rituals when I was older to prove that I was worthy. You should have seen the amount of women I had to turn into lesbians and all of those abortions I performed. So worth it.

On a high note, not all of Indiana representatives are totally bonkers. Morris was the only representative against the resolution. Obviously all of the other reps are easily bribed with Tagalongs (the best Girl Scout cookie by far).