Saturday, January 30, 2010

PZ Myers!

Well, I actually cut band rehearsal on Thursday night. This is almost unheard of for me. The only times I've ever missed rehearsal, I was either ill or in England. I did have what I consider a really good reason, though. PZ Myers was speaking just down the road at Sierra College!!!

Author of the blog Pharyngula, PZ Myers is one of the top science bloggers AND one of the top two atheist bloggers (the other being the much "friendlier" Hemant Mehta). The Sierra College stop wrapped up a whirlwind eight day speaking tour of mostly Northern California for him that included UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and Stanford. I'm not sure how Sierra College managed to rate a stop, but I'd like to thank the Freethinkers of Sierra College for hosting.

His blog may be strident and snarky, particularly about religious insanity, but in person he really is very soft-spoken and polite. He gave a very interesting talk about creationist's sometimes seemingly deliberate misunderstanding of evolution and the differences in the ways creationists (including intelligent design advocates) and scientists get their points across to the general public.

During the question and answer period after the talk, a creationist in the audience actually identified himself and asked questions. I felt kind of sorry for him. His hands and voice were shaking. It must have been awful feeling as though he were the only theist (he wasn't, actually) completely surrounded by a sea of atheists. Oh, wait. I know exactly how that feels, as I'm sure did all of the other atheists in the audience.

Part of the exchange between PZ and the creationist went something like this:
Theist: Blah, blah, blah, ontological argument, blah, blah (Ok, so now maybe I'm being a little snarky. Oops)
PZ: [reasoned and rational explanation of the ontological argument and why it is based on circular, fallacious arguments]
Theist: No it's not!
PZ: [reasoned and rational explanation...need actual evidence]
Theist: No it doesn't!

PZ is well known for going out for drinks after he gives a talk, and Thursday was no exception. About 30 people met afterwards at a local brew pub (including the theist, surprisingly!), and guess who somehow managed to snag a seat right next to PZ! I'm not quite sure how that happened... Unfortunately, all I had was my phone, which doesn't take the best photos.

Thanks to Brett for taking the picture!

I got the opportunity to tell PZ that, when I first started an "atheist" blog, as I said in this post, my mother was very concerned that religious nutcases would shoot me or burn crosses in our front yard. I told her that there were other far more prominent atheists out there (meaning PZ, among others. Especially PZ) and I would be way down on the list. He's of the opinion that you just can't live your life in fear, and the vast majority of theists of any religion are decent people. It's only a very small percentage of the most radical theists who are actually dangerous.

The famous Crocoduck tie. There were two made, and the other belongs to Richard Dawkins (there are now knock-offs you can find on the internet). I really wish I'd remembered my camera...

PZ was recently interviewed by, so you can see how soft-spoken he really is:

Friday, January 22, 2010

I wish I were still that naive

I'm thinking about learning to scuba dive, and for some reason this has triggered some memories from when I was a lifeguard at a swim club for four summers in high school. Well, I was only actually a lifeguard for three summers, because after they hired me, we all found out that, even though I was completely certified, since I was only 15 I was too young the first summer.  So they put me to work as the Gatekeeper (no Keymaster jokes!) keeping out the hoi polloi (of which, if I remember correctly, my family was part, because we didn't live in the right part of Benicia and couldn't join). One of my jobs was to answer the phone, which happened to be a pay phone in the clubhouse. Most of the time it was questions such as, "When do you open?" and "How do we join?," but one day:

Me: Southampton Swim Club, may I help you?

Him: I'd like to [redacted] and [redacted]

Me: (thinking) I must not have heard that correctly
I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you. Could you repeat that?

Him: (louder) I'd like to [redacted] and [redacted]

Me: I can't have heard that right. It doesn't make sense.
I'm sorry, but it's really loud in here. I still couldn't hear you.


Me: Ok, that's what I thought he said.
(long pause)......Um...we don't have a pool table here.

Him: OH, FORGET IT! (click)

As I turned away from the phone and started walking back through the clubhouse,  I bumped into the chairwoman of the board who had recently hired me. I must have looked confused, because she asked me what happened.  I relayed the conversation to her, and was startled when she burst out laughing so hard that she actually couldn't speak for a minute or two.  By this time I was REALLY confused.  When she finally was able to get control of herself, she wiped away tears, put her arm around my shoulders, and said, "Honey, you just had an obscene phone call!"  Then she told me to stay innocent for as long as possible.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Non-Believers Giving Aid

The Richard Dawkins Foundation has set up a site for non-believers to donate money for Hatian relief. One hundred percent of the money donated will go to Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross.

According to a tweet by Michael Shermer, the site raised over $50,000 in less than 24 hours (of course, being a skeptic myself, I'd like to see where he got the information).  
Update: Over $124,000 in 24 hours. 
Update again: According to PZ Myers, over $150,000 in 24 hours. Currently at over $180,000.

I don't care where you donate, but please donate. The situation in Haiti is critical.

Update: Poodles reminds us not to forget about the non-human animals caught up in the devastation...

Thursday, January 14, 2010


My parents got a new dog last week. My mother is completely enamoured. Their 17 year old Australian cattle dog, Butch, died several months ago, and my parents wanted a companion for their 12 year old and still very active border collie, Duffy. They have had Border Collies most of their married life (close to 50 years), and my mother started searching through the Border Collie rescue sites. Duffy is getting older, and has always been at the bottom of the pecking order, so she wanted to make sure he wouldn't be picked on by any new dog. One that caught her eye was a little female who had been hit by a car and had spent weeks at the vet's and months recuperating. She's only got three usable legs, and she's really still recuperating. She's possibly been a little stunted by the accident, because she's half the size of Duffy, but apparently he's being a perfect gentleman to her. My mother named her Céilidh (Caylee), which, as I said in my last post, is a Gaelic dance.
One of the first things my parents did when they got married was to get a Border Collie. Gammon was three when I was born. He was more like an older brother to me, and being a Border Collie, of course looked out for me. One day when I was a toddler, my mother looked out in the front garden, saw that I had somehow managed to open the front gate and that Gammon and I were gone. She rushed out, looked down the street, and way off in the distance there we were. Gammon was slowly walking next to me, leaning into me and herding me out of the street. Most other dogs would have bolted for freedom, but he stayed right with me. He, of course, could have stopped me from leaving at all, but he was always up for a walk.

Another time (when I was even younger), we were camping, and I crawled into an adjacent field full of cows. Cows are fairly curious, and so they all started crowding around me to have a look. Since we were in a campground, Gammon had to be chained up, but he actually became frantic, broke his chain, and flew into the middle of the cow herd, scattering cows in all directions and protecting me until my parents could get there a few seconds later (my parents really weren't nearly as careless with me as this all sounds. Really...).

When I was older, I would try and order Gammon around and I swear he would just raise one eyebrow and look at me. I could actually see him thinking, "Hmph. Like I have to do anything you say." Gammon owned, to borrow a phrase from 101 Dalmatians (the book NOT any of the lame movies), one of the keenest brains in Dogdom. He died when I was nine, and I'm not sure my parents have ever completely gotten over it. He was their first child.

After Gammon, we got a half St. Bernard half Weimeraner. She was the size of a Great Dane, and looked a lot like a giant Rhodesian Ridgeback (especially when she had her hackles up). Poor Shandy was probably very intelligent in her own way, but she could never live up to Gammon. She lived in his shadow for 15 years.

Other Border Collies they've had:
Whisky — who was found near a rest area (I think) by a friend of the family who knew of my parent's fondness for Border Collies. They thought she may have fallen out of a truck. I think my parents had her for 13 or 14 years.

Heidi — She was the sole survivor of a head on collision. Again, my parents got her because someone heard (through me, actually) that they were fond of Border Collies. She was about 11 when they got her, but she lived another 4 or so years.

Vixen — wasn't really a Border Collie, but she was a collie mix. She looked like a giant fox. She came from the Humane Society and had been kept in a basement for the first nine months of her life.

They often seem to name their dogs after food. Duffy is Plum Duff, Gammon is a cut of bacon (their cat was named Streaky - another cut of bacon), Shandygaff is a beer flavoured with ginger beer (can I just interject? - blech! I don't like beer OR ginger beer), and Whisky was Black and White Scotch.
I think they're lucky to have Ceilidh, but she's also very lucky to have them. Note - That is her tail and a chew toy, not her bad leg...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Scenes from Scotland: Edinburgh or More Photos of my Brother

Scotland is very welcomingUnless that part in Gaelic actually means Now Go Home.

We only had about three days in Scotland, so we spent most of our time in Edinburgh on and around the Royal Mile, which runs between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Holyrood Abbey, to be more specific). Holyroodhouse is the Queen's official residence in Scotland.

Of course we first had to find the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. We almost tripped over it, actually. I think every bus we took went past it. It's entirely possible we might have been breaking the law if we hadn't found it AND taken a photo.

View from Greyfriars Kirkyard.

St. Giles Cathedral. St. Giles is the patron saint of cripples (just doesn't sound PC anymore) disabled people, lepers and Edinburgh. And horses, breast feeding, mental illness, rams, forests, sterility...He was apparently a very popular saint.

St. Giles front door, the very impressive stonework of which I believe dates to a restoration done in the late 1800s. Phil managed to get in the way, of course.

Holyroodhouse gate. And Phil.

A lion, the symbol of England, holding St. George's Cross.

A unicorn, the symbol of Scotland, holding St. Andrew's Cross. And if you superimpose the crosses and add St. Patrick's Cross (British readers please bear with me for a moment — this isn't generally taught over here), you get the Union Jack (Poor old Wales is just lumped under the Cross of St. Andrew). Image snagged from Ward's Book of Days

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Royal Mile:
Edinburgh Castle

Phil and Bill. I prefer not to stand under a portcullis, myself.

The medieval seigegun, Mons Meg. And Bill. And Phil.

Do I have to even say?

The Lion and Unicorn fighting for the crown.

A view of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth (a fjord) from the castle.

And just so Lesley doesn't feel gypped:
Me eating haggis (you probably don't even want to know. But it was good) at the Royal McGregor pub on the Royal Mile, which is a tourist trap according to Mr Farty. He prefers the Worlds End pub down the street where he can get a really good Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. Also check out the photos on Mr Farty's sidebar at Better Oot Than In for better views of the entire area.
I remarked that I was posting some photos of Scotland, so my mother wants me to mention that they got another border collie yesterday (they have two now) and named her Céilidh (pronounced Cay-lee) which is a traditional Gaelic dance. She promised to send me photos.

So Bob, did it work?