Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Expelled Contest

Expelled! The Movie is sponsoring a contest to see who has been the most persecuted by those evil evolutionists:

Ever sat in class and had your professor straight up challenge your intelligence for suggesting even the possibility of an intelligent design in the universe?
Tired of being labeled merely for questioning aspects of the Darwinian theory of evolution? Ever been scoffed at or ridiculed in front of your peers?
Well, here’s your opportunity to tell your story on our Website AND possibly be in the movie, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”! Tell the world some of the outrageous things your professors say about your questions.
You and your story just might be chosen by our producers to be in the film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”! Let your voice be heard!
*Only submissions that meet our above requirements will be published.

I'm not sure the designers of this contest realize that this runs both ways, since I've heard plenty of anecdotes of teachers and other students inappropriately bringing their religion into the classroom. For example, when my husband was in the Salt Lake City public school system, things got so bad that his parents sent him and his brother to a Catholic school so they could get away from the religious proseltyzing. His brother came home crying one day because his best friend said he could no longer play with him since they (my husband's family) weren't LDS.

So, if you have such an example, I'd encourage you to click on the above link and share your story with the Expelled crew. I already saw an entry by a student whose English teacher informed him that "God created the universe" when he submitted a paper on the Big Bang.

Does anyone know if Expelled features Chris Comer, the former Texas director of Science Education who was asked to resign after forwarding an announcement of a lecture given by Barbara Forrest about her experience as a witness in the Dover, PA "Intelligent Design" trial? (Gee, you'd think that the TX SBOE would be more than a little bit curious about this subject, since they would love to introduce ID in our classrooms here, but apparently they aren't.) Also, this is just a rhetorical question, since I'm almost certain they didn't mention it.


I checked the link this morning, and the contest is now over -- long before the stated closing date in the official rules (although I'm sure they had a provision that they could close the contest at any time.) You can still read the entries and see some video clips.

Friday, March 21, 2008

OMFSM! The Expelling of PZ from Expelled Hits the NYT

For the life of me, I can't understand why the producers of the movie criticized PZ for his view of the movie because he hadn't seen it, but then when he tries to see it, they kick him out?

What are they afraid of?

If their evidence is so strong, you would think they'd want to get it out there pronto!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

PZ Gets Expelled and Wins teh Internets!

It's probably bad form to blog by just linking to someone else's blog, but this incident is just awesome! And it is related directly to my post just previous to this one.

"If you can't let your opposition see your argument, it must be a piss-poor argument."

(SRI's comment when I read him PZ's post.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rock Star Biologist -- University Tour 2008, or How I Got to Meet Richard Dawkins

So Richard Dawkins came to UT Austin to talk this evening. The student group sponsoring the event was the Atheist Longhorns, led by the indomitable Sandra Sythe who booked the venue, negotiated with our Student Organizations Office, spent many hours tabling on our West Mall, and communicated with the Center For Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation (the organizations which funded the University Tour.)

The Center for Inquiry hosted a small reception (40ish) for Dawkins before the talk. We chatted briefly -- I told him that our physical anthropology professor assigned The Selfish Gene within a year or so of publication, and he asked where I'd gone to college. A couple of other people came over, and the conversation turned to politics, and one guy said, "You know, almost no one in this room could hold public office in Texas."

Dawkins asked what he meant by that, and we tried to explain the Texas Constitution. Dawkins and I both reached for our brain extensions (PDAs, etc.) to look it up on the web -- "aha" we laughed -- "a race!" -- Dawkins won because I have to use a guest ID and have to log on frequently (and every time I walk two blocks on this campus apparently -- can't wait for June and the advent of 802.1x) and he had it pulled up about the time I got logged on.

He then wanted to write it down, and I was the first one with paper (my little black moleskine book) -- Dawkins read it off his PDA, and some other guy wrote it down.

We'll come back to this in a bit, but a few minutes latter, a woman came over and said that Richard had told her that I'd gone to UCCS -- and she was on the faculty there! We talked a bit about how the school has changed, and the only professor I remember (except for Dave Nichols, r.i.p.), Fred Coolidge, is still there. (I never had a class with him, but he went to a couple of parties @ my friends Van & Eileen's house.)

Back to the subject -- the first thing Dawkins put up on view at the lecture (once he got started -- some technical glitches held things up for at least half an hour) was the following:

Texas' Bill of Rights Section 4:
"RELIGIOUS TESTS: No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments

and then he put up the rest of it:

, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being."

which really got a hoot out of the audience -- and that was the quote he'd written down on my moleskine paper!

The auditorium held over 1,000, and it was SRO -- I have a feeling they probably had to turn some people away. Most of the questions were o.k. -- I was a bit disappointed that out of the 8 or so people who asked questions there weren't any overt theists. There was one woman who started out referencing Zeitgeist, The Movie (don't get me started on that piece of shabby scholarship), which confused Dawkins (and most of the rest of the audience) into thinking that she was into astrology.

Couple of thoughts on the content of the talk -- he's not shrill about religion, unless you think that someone disagreeing with any of your theological beliefs is, by nature of merely disagreeing, shrill. Scott doesn't share my passion for cat macros, but I don't think he's shrill for it. There's just something different about religion, isn't there.

Dawkins said that if we only got one thing out of the talk, it was that natural selection and evolution are not random. Do I care to expound on this point? Nah, not right now -- perhaps later.

One neat thing he did was to put up a mock up of a special edition of a Journal addressing the extinction of dinosaurs. The first abstract was what you'd expect from a scientific journal -- "The existence of the iridium layer in XYZ may indicate that the dinosaur extinction is due to an asteroid strike." (sloppily transcribed by me, but you know what a scientific abstract should look like.)

This was followed with the "intelligent design" or "faith based" abstracts: "It has been personally revealed to Professor Higgins that asteroids caused the dinosaur extinctions." "Professor Hughes has a deeply felt notion that asteroids caused the dinosaur extinctions." "Professor Helix has issued a fatwa against those who don't believe that asteroids caused the extinctions."

All in all, for the most part, he gave a nice display of how to gently use consciousness raising to get your point across to a world hostile to scientific thought. (I thought the Marcus Brigstocke clip on religion was a bit over the top, even thought I laugh every time I watch it.)

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Dawkins mentioned PZ Myers of Pharyngula Phame (found on scienceblogs.com) when he discussed the deceptive practices of the Expelled! movie crew.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Smart Phones? iPhone? iPod Touch? Goodbye Hipster PDA!

I've been lusting after an iPhone for a while now, and had some money socked away for it but I just couldn't justify the extra $ per month for a data plan. One weekend I had the brilliant idea that I could save a lot of money by cutting down or eliminating espresso drinks -- that resolution lasted until exactly 10:00 a.m. Monday.

When I was initially researching iPhones, smart phones, PDAs, etc., there were a couple of features I didn't care for on the iPod Touch. This weekend, I realized that I couldn't remember what my objections were, so I decided to get one and use it for a while. Certainly any inconveniences, problems, or gripes would appear within a short time, and if I decided I couldn't live with them, I would give the Touch to Scott, and get something better suited to my needs.

There were a couple of things about the iPod/iTouches that wouldn't work well with my University & College. One was that they don't support 802.1x authentication, which is what is used here; however, that problem should be taken care of with the updates coming in June. I was able to use the "guest" wifi access today at work, but I had to get special permission (easy to do) to use that and not the restricted access -- and I'll have to log in again after 11 hours.

The other problem was that our College uses Meeting Maker™, so I couldn't easily sync my calendar -- there are ways around that but they're a bit kludgy and involve syncing Meeting Maker ™ to iCal (or vice versa?) I asked our IT guy (who rarely, rarely has to make an appearance in our office suite other than to bring us our new Macs every few years) if there is any possiblility we could get the web based version of Meeting Maker™, or any version that could be used with the iPhone/Touch or any other smart phone or PDA, and he said, "No, we'll never get that, and our College doesn't support any calendars for any PDAs/smart phones."

This conversation was the same week that Abilene Christian University and a Christian U. in Oklahoma announced that they were GIVING all incoming students an iPhone or iPod Touch! You would think our major university could keep up with the church college world, but apparently not. (To be fair, our Communications College uses a scheduling system that syncs well with most smartphones, Blackberries, PDAs, etc.) If our college doesn't want to support my calendaring needs, they'd better stop scheduling all these fracking meetings! I need to get some of our science faculty to push for more support!

Perhaps I'd better dig the ol' Hipster PDA outta the recycling bin!

(Postscript -- the Blogger spell checker suggests I replace "iTouches" with "douches"!!!)

Friday, March 07, 2008

It's Just as Well the Judge Ruled Against the Prayer Vote at the Graduation Ceremony. . .

Why, the students could have voted for the Pastafarian prayer!

An Austin federal judge has prohibited the Round Rock school district from allowing students to vote on whether to have prayers during graduation ceremonies.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

My Night at the Caucus

The following is somewhat plagiarized from my entry at the above link.

S.R.I. and I attended the 454 precinct caucus in South Austin. Two precincts met in an elementary school cafeteria, but one precinct had only 3 people show up (there are only 75 households in that precinct.) One of the secretaries/recorders exclaimed, "This is the first caucus where I needed to use a calculator!"

It went fairly smoothly, and we were able to start not long after 7:15. 253 people signed in (and our voter cards were checked.) It took about 45 minutes for the explanations and sign in, and about half an hour to count. Had I been running the circus, I would have had people go to the sign in areas by rows, to make it more orderly, but it wasn’t that bad. We had a nice conversation with a WW II veteran about his service, and Scott shook his hand and thanked him for all he’d done for his country.

Everyone was so excited that such a large crowd showed up. One woman said, “I’ve been in this precinct for years, and this is the first time I’ve had to use a calculator!” I counted over 10 neighbors and former co-workers. About half the group left after the announcement of the count.

I believe the Obama caucus had 20 delegates and the Clinton had 15. (Anyone who had voted for someone who had fewer than 7 votes had to caucus with another candidate - there were a handful of people who had voted for Edwards, etc.) The Clintonians were able to select their delegates quicker — the Obama caucus (my group) had 28 people who wanted to be delegates, so we had to vote on which 20 would be delegates. The remaining 8 would be alternates, and then I think they tried to get another 2 alternates.

The Obama delegate wannabes each spoke briefly about why they wanted to be a delegate. It was neat to find out about some of the people in our neighborhood. One woman has a disabled or severely ill child, and has had Medicaid cut off twice — once in the middle of a hospital stay! One young man (if I heard him correctly) recently received his US citizenship, one woman was a lawyer, at least 3 were educators, including a woman who teaches a leadership glass to young girls, one man was a doctor, there were several retirees who’d lived in the neighborhood for decades, and we had an Iraq War Marine veteran and a Vietnam war veteran. Most seemed to be regular, working class folks, just like me. I’ve never been prouder to be a Democrat — these are some great peeps!

We then voted to accept the resolutions - without looking at them :( — but I think that was because everyone was tired. Scott wasn't happy about that, and he does have a point. The whole thing was over by about 10 p.m.

I've read several other caucus reports, and it seems the results were pretty mixed. Some want smoothly, but many seemed to be overwhelmed by the large turnout. One of the dorms on the UT campus which serves as a polling place had 1000 voters show up to caucus. There were reports of some precincts not being able to start until long after 7:15 p.m. (You have to wait until the last person has voted, and you can't start before 7:15.) You can read the rest at the link above, if you are interested.