CONvergence 2010: Day 3

CONvergence Day 3 – Saturday

First, the outfits!  I pulled out a bunch of things that I don’t get to wear very often – my snazzy cocktail dress, glass bead necklaces, and a black/blue bob wig that I bought for a Halloween costume years ago.  The hubby had a much more deliberate dieselpunk costume – barnstormer cap, goggles, and beige military-style dress including fancy brown army boots.


Saturday was chock-full of panels!

11:00 am – Losing My Religion
This was a huge panel, and had about 25 attendees.  Panelists included Jen M, Ted Meissner, David Walbridge, Maria Walters, PZ Myers, Carrie Iwan, Debbie Goddard, Jennifer Ouellete, Lyra Lynx and Bug Girl.  Panelists shared where they were coming from (where they were raised along the range of a heavily religious upbringing to not exposed to religion in their youth or life), and how they dealt with “outing” themselves as atheists or agnostics to family, friends and coworkers, if they chose to do so. 

It was interesting to hear the different perspectives of how “safe” people felt about identifying as atheistic at work.   On the one hand you have someone like PZ Myers – a tenured professor with the ability to be as vocal as he wants to be about his atheism.  Then you have someone like Jen M.  who has a very real fear that she might lose her job if her boss were to find out that she’s an atheist.  Some of the panelists were in the middle – it wouldn’t be the end of the world if their coworkers found out, but they treat their atheism as personal and don’t share their beliefs casually.  One audience member commented that while he didn’t personally care if he was outed, he did worry about the financial ramifications being an out atheist might have on his small-town business. 

Best lines from this session:  
From Debbie Goddard, about not being true to yourself – “It eats at your soul that doesn’t exist.”

From PZ Myers: “We have to stop sacrificing our integrity on the altar of ‘let’s get along’.”

12:30 pm – Profanity as a Fraking Function of Language
Panelists included Kelly Murphy, M.K.Melin, Hilary Moon Murphy, Rebecca Marjesdatter.  This was a somewhat academic discussion about the types, definitions, where, when and whys of profanity.  The moderator could easily have split the slides into a full semester class!  The “Whys”  of using profanity included catharsis, abuse, social bonding and intensification.  She presented a section called “English Profanity Classification”, which was split into religion-related, scatalogical, sexual referents, animal names, euphemisms, foreign language words as swears, and starting a swear but finishing with a non-swear (shhhhhh….ugar!).

The tie-in to the SciFi group came in during the second half of the talk.  We came up with a few books, shows and movies that used cursing or swearing:

Firefly – Gorram and chinese language cursing.  Gorram being a “replacement” for “Goddamn”?
Harry Potter – the kids swear in a very kid-like manner – “Damn” sounds just shocking coming from Harry Potter!  At least the first time…
Battlestar Galactica – “Frak, frakin” – Classic replacement word.
Star Trek –  Data saying “shit”
Pirates of Darkwater – “Noishatot!” – Made-up curse words.
Warner Brothers – Yosemite Sam “rashafrashin…”, Donald Duck “Sufferin’ succotash!”
DC Comics – “Bastich” – combination of “bastard” and “bitch”
Red Dwarf – “Smeg”
Frostflower and Thorn – “You don’t have the tits for that” and “Fathermilker” (A very matriarchal, female-dominated society) By the way, “fathermilker” was the one that caught the greatest number of people in the audience unaware during the entire panel. It was unexpected and could be a universal insult, a corollary to motherf****r. Before you read too much into the astrick-ing – I’m just trying to keep this entry out of the NSFW category.

The moderator said that one of her main disappointments with swearing/cursing in scifi fantasy is when authors don’t use imagination, logic or art when employing profanity.  She asked the writers in the audience to consider these factors when writing profanity into a story:

Offensiveness vs. Offendedness – who’s sending the message and who’s receiving it?  For whom is the profferred profanity intended? And how do these factors affect offensiveness and offendedness: Setting, Gender, Age, Race, Culture, Personality, Power, Class, Occupation, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Relationship.

2 pm – Women as Skeptical Activists
Panelists: Rebecca Watson, Maria Walters, Jennifer Newport, Debbie Goddard, Carrie Iwan, Pamela Gay

The main theme that came out of this panel was Role Models, Role Models, Role Models!  One of the speakers offered up the idea that while being a woman in the fields of science and skepticism may not necessarily put one at a disadvantage for hiring or promotion (although there is still a wage gap in many parts of the US), women are still in the minority. 

The panel discussed studies which have shown that when women are seen as role models in positions of power and respect, more girls and women do better on tests, decide to go into male-dominated professions and excel in those professions.  Also presented was the importance of introducing a woman’s perspective to help minimize “male priviledge”.  Gender bias still exists – just because we got the “big” wins – namely, the right to vote and the perception that women can do as well in business, academics and politics as men, doesn’t mean that all gender bias issues have been solved (brought up were breast-feeding in public, maternity leave, wage, employment in the “upper echeleons”).

Advice for women in the audience trying to distinguish themselves in the skeptical movement and blogging community: Find your niche!  Avoid being a generalist, be the go-to person for a certain topic. 

Pseudoscience targeted at women (pregnany, childrearing, weight loss, fertility) was briefly discussed.

3:30 pm – Evolution Mythbusters
Panelists: Ted Meissner (mod), PZ Myers, Bug Girl, Gred Laden

Favorite misconceptions:

Bug Girl – The false idea that bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly.

Greg Laden – Greg was rather winding in his answer, but I believe this was the crux of his statements:  The false idea that animal behaviors are genetic and thus subject to evolutionary forces and anything outside of this is a violation of evolutionary theory, and thus evolution is false. 

PZ Myers – The idea that all features of humaness are a product of selection, when in fact, very few are.  Again, I hope I summarized this correctly.  This led into a discussion of the human immune system, the “broken” Vitamin C gene and lactose-intolerance.

Most fascinating part of evolution:

Bug Girl – Sex!  Separation of species.

Greg Laden – The emergence of complicated systems from simple beginnings.

PZ Myers – Development, how evolution affects form by affecting development.

My favorite statements from the panel:

  • “Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution”.  An oldie, but goodie.
  • Science is more than just memorizing facts; it’s a way of thinking.
  • Regarding willful ignorance: When a creationist studen tries to disrupt the teaching of evolution, that’s not honest inquiry.
  • The “theory” of evolution is to intelligent design as the “theory” of gravity is to intelligent pushing.  This one came from an audience member sitting near me. 
  • Biggest challenges to the teaching of evolution?  Media, culture, religion.
  • ~~~~~

    Phew!  So I was pretty much done with panels after these four machine-gun style sessions.  I stopped briefly by the Seamstress Guild cabana, checked my email, facebook and blog at the hotel computers, and then went to the Dealer’s Room where I bought my first Surly-Ramics jewelry!  I found a “Science” necklace and a “Geek” hairclip for myself, and a yellow hairclip for my sister that has Darwin’s first “tree of life” diagram on the button. 


    The hubby and I went to the Masquerade at 7pm and saw all sorts of fantastic and horrific (i.e., fantasy and horror, not well-done and poorly-made!) costumes.  I like the way CONvergence does Masquerade – it’s a runway-style show and a costume competition, but there are three levels or categories: Novice, Journeyman and Master.  This way, the professional costumers can compete among themselves but present alongside the noob who gets up in a cloak and wig.  My favorite costume set was a Master-level group who presented as the entire cast of The Guild.

    Afterwards the Hubby and I had dinner at TGIFridays across the parking lot and then bummed around some of the party rooms, cabanas and CONsuite until 12pm when we went to see The Dregs – fun!  They played the classic Zombies in the Shire AND the Zombie Chicken song!  The performance was very casual and silly.  There may or may not have been a bottle containing some brown liquid that passed back and forth between band members and the audience, one of the lead singers was taking pics and posting to facebook between songs, and there was a lot of verbal bashing back and forth between the performers.  So a fantastic time was had by all. 

    Afterwards – exhaustion and home.  This ended up being our last day of CONvergence.  There was only one panel that I wanted to see on Sunday, and we decided that we didn’t care too much about closing ceremonies, so we decided to get a head start on con drop before going back to work.  It was a beautiful day, so we ended up renting a “deuce coup” at Minnehaha Falls, going to the Mall of America for some people watching and lunch, and a spending a quiet night at home with a movie (Paul Giamatti’s Cold Souls). 

    Thus endeth CONvergence 2010.


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    7 Responses to “CONvergence 2010: Day 3”

    1. bug_girl Says:

      A great summary! Thanks!

    2. jana Says:

      I love your costumes!

    3. Avery Riese Says:

      This is great! I can’t wait to see more.

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