Thursday, May 27, 2010

O hai!

I suppose I should mention that I'm moving this blog to

If you're using an RSS reader, click here to update your feed to the new address.

(and if you're NOT using an RSS reader, come on. It's 2010. Google Reader does the job just fine.)

I've been thinking of making a move for a long while now. I was going to do Wordpress, but decided Tumblr better meets my needs, which should mean more updates for you. Yay!

See you on the flipside!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day

The last few months have seen two grassroots stunt protests against Muslim extremism: Boobquake, and now Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't, you should), you'll know that I was a bit hesitant to throw my full support behind Boobquake, despite the immense respect I have for Jen, the event's originator.

But as I thought about it, particularly after reading this persuasive post by Greta Christina, I found most of the criticisms of Boobquake to be nigh indistinguishable from the very sort of oppressive nonsense that Boobquake was in response too: e.g., women shouldn't wear revealing clothing because it will make men lose control.

So that brings up to Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, which is today! This event was started in response to the chilling effect over protests and riots over depictions of Muhhamad, the prophet of Islam. In particular, the decision by Comedy Central to censor an episode of South Park that depicted Muhammad out of fear of violent reprisal.

Again, I initially found it hard to throw my full support behind today: Comedy Central isn't a government, and it can therefore censor whatever it likes. It seemed, at first, more like "Everybody Needlessly Piss Off Muslims Day."

But then last week, Lars Vilks, one of the infamous Danish cartoonists, was attacked. This attack was caught on video (below). Then, Vilk's house was set on fire, and he was forced to go into hiding Vilks has since gone into hiding. So that he doesn't, you know, get murdered.

Over a cartoon. And not even a very good one. I'm reminded of Austin Dacey's stance on respect, and it's something I've tried to take to heart: all people are deserving of respect. It is paramount that we, especially humanists, respect people. But ideas are not deserving of respect. Ideas stand or fall on their own.

Not to overdo it on the video, but Rebecca Watson also helped win me over to EDMD.

And that's when I decided I'd participate in Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.

So, what did I do? I drew Muhammad, complete with a quote from the prophet himself:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Five Podcasts for Critical Thinkers

I listen to a lot of podcasts. They keep me company on work road trips, help pass the time when I'm in the midst of drudgery.

If you both (A) consider yourself a critical thinker, skeptic, or [fill in preferred label here] and (B) listen to podcasts, there is likely no need for me to mention shows like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe or Skepticality. Though if you don't listen to those, subscribe to those as well :)

Instead, I wanted to share a few show I listen to with a slightly less-general focus than SGU and Skepticality. Some of these might not even call themselves science or critical-thought podcasts, favoring comedy, politics, or human insight. But the hosts of all of these shows consistently apply skepticism and critical thought to their subject matter.

So, presented in no particular order...

RH Reality Cast
Website iTunes

RH Reality Cast is produced by RH Reality Check, a web resource for reproductive health, and hosted by Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte, one of my Favorite People on all of the Internets. Each week, Amanda cuts through the nonsense and addresses the real issues surrounding reproductive health, healthcare, and abortion. It is unabashedly political and unabashedly liberal, which suits me just fine.

Curiosity Aroused

This fledgling podcast so far only has six episodes under its belt, but it has swiftly risen near to the top of my favorites. Rebecca Waston, cohost of SGU and another of my Favorite People on All of the Internets, hosts Curiosity Aroused. Each episode aims to bring a critical eye to a single topic, from mainstay skeptical issues, like why vaccination is a good idea, to less obvious ones, like addressing myths about dogs.

Curiosity Aroused "feels" very different to most skeptical podcasts, in that it doesn't assume it's preaching to the choir. Rather, each episode starts with Rebecca channeling Ira Glass with an introduction or anecdote about the topic at hand. Then, contributors (many of them, Skepchicks) present one or more stories on that topic.

I really can't say enough good about this one. I love it. I'd put it right along side Radiolab, which considering that it doesn't have the weight of NPR behind it, is impressive. Oh, and speaking of Radiolab...


It's a travesty that Radiolab, out of WNYC, does not air on my local NPR station. Luckily, it's available as a podcast. Think of it like This American Life, except that each week, the theme is a topic within science. It's really difficult for me to capture what listening to Radiolab is like in type, but can't recommend it highly enough. your best bet is to just listen to an episode, and you'll be hooked immediately. Might I recommend the Parasites or the Earworms (songs, not parasites in this case) episode? Fascinating stuff.

Reasonable Doubts

There are a lot of podcasts on atheism (I've even been a guest on one), but this one is the best in my opinion. I look forward, especially, to the "counter apologetics" segment, where the very knowledgeable hosts dissect an argument from well-known religious apologists (*cough* William Lane Craig *cough*) and, I think, ably show their arguments to be less than compelling.

Sundays Supplement
Website iTunes

Iszi Lawrence and Simon Dunn are two British comedians who, well...
Each week, we get out fingers inky so you don't have to. We put two of Britain's newspapers head-to-head to see which has the best supplements. So... find out which paper you should've bought, last Sunday.
Yep. It's a show about people reading the newspaper. Riveting, right? But check it out. I guarantee that you will be entertained. I eagerly await the newest SunnySup every week. Hilarious! And what's more, it occasionally features interviews (or guest hosts) like the aforementioned Rebecca Watson or Richard Wiseman. Have you ever wondered what would happen to a kitten if you put it in the Large Hadron Collider and proceeded to accelerate it to near the speed of light? Well, Iszi asks LHC physicist Brian Cox and finds out once and for all.


Now, get to listening!

I tried to highlight shows here that may not fit into the usual norm of "critical thinking" podcasts (though I suppose Reasonable Doubts does. But I already wrote the damn text, so it stays). Am I missing something amazing? Tell me in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Geeks Who Drink

Wayne The Main Brain McClainEvery Wednesday for about the last month, Piper Down, my favorite local pub (this, in part, due to its close proximity to my domicile) , has been host to Geeks Who Drink, Utah's first regular pub quiz.

If you're not familiar with a pub quiz, we form up into a team of 6 players, and compete against a barful of know-it-alls for supremacy over all and a $50 gift card.

And it's a whole lot of fun.

Each night, GWD presents 8 rounds, each round with 8 questions on a given topic. The topics range from straightforward ones like... Actually, scratch that: there are no straight-forward ones. Nearly every round is some off-the-wall topic like "Minor Star Wars character, or STD medication?" or "name the movie based on these clips of Al Pacino screaming." Hats off to the mysterious quiz writers who come up with these crazy nonsense categories each week.

If you're in SLC, be sure to come to Geeks Who Drink and join in on the fun, though don't expect to win, as that's our team's purview. We took 1st the last two weeks and we don't plan on breaking our stride. That's right: I'm boasting. How unhumble of me.

If you're not in Utah, check out to see if they're in your area as well!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fun with Data #1: The Decemberists

No one has mastered the art of storytelling in song more than the Decemberists. From operatic epics like The Tain and The Hazards of Love to sea shanties like "The Mariner's Revenge Song", Colin Meloy and the Decemberists' moody tales of half-remembered evenings in San Francisco and Victorian-era ne'er-do-wells are gorgeous and intriguing.

I discovered the Decemberists completely by accident. I saw Castaways and Cutouts in a record store. Liking the cover art and knowing that I could trust just that about anything released by the Kill Rock Stars label would be excellent, I bought it having never heard their music or even their name before.

At first, it didn't grab me. I found Colin Meloy's voice a bit off-putting, listened to it once and forgot about it. But somewhere in the back of my mind, it got me. A few weeks later, I had the melody to "Grace Cathedral Hill" (still one of my all-time favorite songs) in my head. I dug into my collection and popped C&C back into my CD player. This time, they grabbed me. And they never let go.

Okay, enough with the personal anecdote. This post is called "Fun with data"... So where is the data?

One thing fans of the Decemberists know that there are some common themes in the various tales. Just how common are these themes? Well, I decided to find out, and conducted an exhaustive search of the Decemberists' songs. Here's what I found:

Songs included are the 66 songs from the five full albums, 5 Songs and The Tain. "Past" indicates a song that identifiably takes place at least 20 years prior to the present day. "Death", "Drowning", and "Murder" are not mutually exclusive, and a single incident may be counted among all three (see: "The Rake"). Full data available for peer review prior to publication in a major academic journal. As it surely will be. Right? ... Right?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Am I still alive?

Hey everyone! Have you been wondering where I have been? Whether I'm still alive?

Well, I've god good news: I'm delighted to announce that, yes, I am indeed still alive.

"But Patrick," you say, "we miss your long screeds about why you don't understand religious moderates. And your interesting-if-a-tad-egocentric personal history series. And your in-depth analysis of off-hand pseudoscientific comments made by your coworkers. And your tales of sex toy discussions within earshot of important religious leaders. And your endless vitriol towards Glenn Beck [exhibit A, B, C, D]. And don't forget your movie reviews! Why don't you ever blog any more???"

I hate to let down my throng of, surely, countless fans. So I hereby commit to writing at least one post every day for the next thirty days. Not all of them will be amazing. I might just post a link to YouTube video (like this one). But I'm planning on a part 5 of my personal history series and finally putting down on paper (er, you know what I mean) some ideas I've had rolling around in my head for some time.

See you tomorrow!