Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'm off to Devon!

I'm leaving for England on Wednesday. My grandfather is turning 100 and there's a big party. With their six children, 19(?) grandchildren, various spouses and great-grandchildren, its going to be a fairly big party. Since my grandparents are pretty much housebound, we're all going to squeeze into their tiny house. We know it can be done. We did it for Grandad's 99th birthday last year.

I put a question mark next to the number of grandchildren, because I can never remember how many cousins I actually have. I'm the eldest, my brother is the second eldest, and I can remember the names of the first 7 or 8 after that, but I'm a bit fuzzy on most of the ones around my son's age and younger. It didn't help that we moved to the U.S. before they were born, so the most I've ever met any of them is 3 or 4 times. I come from a huge family, but feel as though I come from a tiny one with just my parents and my brother.

My cousin's children? Might as well forget it. I'll never remember their names. Except Poppy. She came to our wedding, and then "long-distance-dated" my son's best friend for a while.

The two cousins I feel I know best are the two daughters of my mother's youngest brother, because they've actually come over and visited for a while. Nicky (15 years younger than I am) came to stay while I was doing my thesis, so I put her to work. She got to slog through cow fields and slosh around in streams for her vacation. Gwen (3 years younger than my son - 27 years younger than me) and my Aunt Jayne fared a little better on their recent visit.

My mother mentioned the name of one of my cousins and said she was Grandad's favourite, and I almost burst into tears. I never had the chance of being Grandad's favourite (although I probably was at one point because for almost three years I was the only one).

I actually feel much closer to my aunts and uncles, although I suppose I really don't know them any better. Most of them have come to visit over the years, and my mother's youngest sister is only nine years older than I am.

My parents live ~2000 miles away and my brother lives ~2700 miles away, and it seems as though the only time we all get together nowadays is 5371 miles away. I'll be back in a couple of weeks!

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

Last night we went to Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento. Pete conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of All Hallows, one of only two Catholic parishes in the United States that have a full symphony orchestra. The other is Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

The performance was superb. The orchestra and chorus played and sang flawlessly, as far as I could tell, and Pete got us upgraded to the Conductor's booth, so we had some of the best seats in the house. Could have used a little padding, but hey. The music was so beautiful and moving, I had tears streaming down my face at the end. It was an amazing experience. I am really grateful to Pete for inviting us.

The Cathedral was built in the 1880s/1890s and has undergone a recent renovation. It is very, very pretty inside and out, and the Diocese has every right to be proud. I probably would have been much more impressed if I hadn't visited cathedrals all through England and Scotland. Unfortunately, it sort of reminded me of Aesop's jackdaw. And I didn't see any cathedrals in England with a giant (a little bit tacky?) Jesus on a cross suspended from the ceiling, which according to Wikipedia weighs 2000 lbs. I wouldn't want to be sitting under it in an earthquake. One of my friends M (I have three friends M) went to the concert too, and reminded me that a few years ago we watched from a nearby high-rise as a very brave man put gold leaf on the cross on top of the cathedral spire.

Luckily, neither Bill nor I burst into flames, even when I stuck my finger in the holy water (David sort of dared me to do it).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Conversation snippet

Friend M: I'm not going to invoke your Flying Spaghetti Monkey or whatever....

Me: (interrupting) Monster, please! Flying Spaghetti Monkey would just be silly.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Projector not your average Joe the Plumber

$275 overhead projector from Staples:

$449 overhead projector from Staples:

Do teachers even still use these?

$3 Million "overhead projector" of the type McCain keeps going on about:

Is he that stupid? Does he think we are? Has he ever even been to a planetarium?

By the way, you can donate to the Adler Planetarium to help them buy this, because what McCain leaves out of his little tirades is that it was not funded.

Hat tip to Pharyngula, Bad Astronomy, Gizmodo, and one of the other blogs I read, but I can't find the post right now.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Freethought Day

Well, yesterday I got to meet Lori Lipman Brown AND Matthew LaClair! Actually, Bill and I went to a Freethought Day fundraiser the night before and listened to them both speak, but didn't really meet them.

Freethought Day is a Celebration of Reason, Freethought and Church-State Separation held in Old Sacramento in October. It commemorates the decision 300 years ago by Governor William Phipps of the Colony of Massachusetts that spectral evidence would no longer be admissible in court, bringing an end to the Salem Witch Trials. Freethought Day is jointly put on by Atheists and Other Freethinkers of Sacramento (AOF) and the Humanist Association of the Greater Sacramento Area (HAGSA). This year, Lori Lipman Brown emceed, and Matthew was the featured speaker.

Lori is the director and lobbyist for the Secular Coalition of America. This is the national lobby representing the interests of atheists, humanists, agnostics, freethinkers and other nontheistic Americans. I mentioned this group in a previous post. She was also on The Colbert Report recently.

As a 16 year old high school junior, Matthew secretly recorded his history teacher teaching creationism and telling kids that they would go to hell if they didn't accept Jesus Christ. He then warned the school about what the teacher was doing. The principal called him in to a meeting with the teacher (not allowing his parents in) where the teacher denied it. Matthew produced the CDs proving that he did and was lying (isn't there some sort of commandment against bearing false witness or something? Maybe that's not the same thing as out-and-out lying). The school STILL didn't do anything about it so Matthew eventually took the story to the media. When people started calling him a liar, Matthew also went public with the recording he had secretly made of the meeting with the principal and the teacher. Don't EVER mess with Matthew!

Matthew is an amazing young man, who is willing to stand up for his own and other people's rights. And he's an extremely good public speaker.

I don't know if the featured speaker is always put to work setting up. What teenage boy wouldn't jump at the chance to pound things with a sledge hammer, though?He also enthusiastically helped tear down.

It was a really windy day. This is Paul Geisert, co-founder and co-Director of The Brights, holding down the canopies while Matthew pounded the stakes in. We were a little concerned that he might be carried away. They are big canopies. Bill Potts, President of HAGSA is standing next to him. This is Mynga Futrell, the other co-founder/co-Director of The Brights. Can you tell it was chilly?It did warm up a little.Lori and Matt standing near my table. I have manned a table for Mynga several times now which displays the California approved resources that she and Paul developed for teachers teaching about religion.

I, of course, managed to get my picture taken with Lori. Since she was standing right there.Matthew speaking:
While Matthew was speaking, the crowd was actually standing room only.
Another speaker was Dr. Michael Newdow, a Sacramento lawyer and physician, who sued to have the words "under God" removed from public schools' recitals of the Pledge of Allegance. I completely agree with him. From a very young age, I have always just left it out, and nobody has ever noticed. He's got a really good singing voice, too.Some of the books at the Banned Books booth.We went out to eat (and drink) afterwards.It was a long day, but a lot of fun.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Awesome. Like, totally.

From via the Daily Kos.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Religulous review

Bill and I just came back from Bill Maher's new documentary Religulous. If you haven't heard of it, Bill Maher, who is not an atheist, but is very critical of religion, went around the world interviewing people of various religions. He was non-denominational in his disapproval. He skewered (crucified?) Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Evangelical Christianity, Creationism, Scientology, Cantheism, and some guy who believes he's descended from Jesus.

The two funniest parts were Evangelical Christian Senator Mark Pryor from Arkansas saying that you don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate, and someone's hair catching on fire. I won't say who, so it won't ruin it if you see the movie, but I will say no one was hurt. I especially liked the interviews with the priests at the Vatican who more or less said that most of the stuff in the bible was obviously all just stories, but what can you do when so many people believe them as fact? The giggling, raspberry blowing priest was actually more than a little weird.

They filmed a reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ at the Holy Land theme park in Orlando Florida, and I, like Roger Ebert, found the people clapping when Jesus fell down and was whipped and kicked by a Roman soldier to be a bit disturbing.

I was a little apprehensive going in because this town is in the mini-bible belt of California. The audience applauded at the end, which I think is a little odd, considering it's a movie. Who's going to hear? I guess they liked it, though.

On our way out, I overheard a conversation behind me.
Man: Well, that wasn't too offensive.
Woman: No, not at all.
Man: I would like to see it again. Actually, I would like to see a part two.

Considering that this town has churches on every other corner - several of them megachurches - chances are they are a somewhat religious couple.

Unfortunately, I think that most of the people who should go and see this movie won't.

Bill actually chuckled out loud in a couple of places, which he rarely does. I give it a thumbs-up, and Bill gives it 3 out of 4 stars. He subtracted a star because it wasn't Sci Fi.

Friday, October 3, 2008

But it's not even Halloween yet!

UPDATE: Hey! PZ stole the title of this post! At least his wasn't about band.

Last night I missed most of the VP debate because I had band rehearsal. Yes, I know. That's dedication. A few years ago, our Holiday[1] concert was not up to our usual standard pretty darn awful sucked because for various reasons we only rehearsed for it twice. Since then, our Director has started inserting holiday music into rehearsals earlier and earlier, which is how we ended up playing White Christmas,[2] The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), Silent Night (the Mannheim Steamroller version), and Greensleeves[3] on the second of October. I'm already getting in the spirit! I feel the urge to run out and buy presents right now! What does everyone want? Unfortunately, we've never played my favourite Christmas song - Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.[4] My mother has never liked that song for some reason, even before she became a grandma...

Thank God the FSM our Director we also rehearsed the un-Christmassy Gustav Holst's Second Suite in F for Military Band,[5] and Richard Rogers' Victory at Sea.

[1] It may be called a Holiday Concert, but the vast majority of music is Christmas music. We did play The Dradle Song one year, but I don't think that makes up for it. Lucky Christmas is now a secular holiday.
[2] Written by that famous agnostic, Irving Berlin
[3] Since when did a traditional 16th Century English folk song supposedly (but not likely) written by Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn become a Christmas favourite? What's next? O Tannembaum becoming the state song of Maryland?
[4] Actually, my favourite is really Sleighride by Leroy Anderson, which we do play.
[5] I love Holst. Maybe I'll get a bumper sticker to that effect to go with my Darwinfish, COEXIST with NASA images rather than religious symbols, Charlie Brown for Congress, and Obama/Biden ones.