First US case of deadly MERS-CoV arrives in…my hometown in Indiana

My hometown of Munster, Indiana isn’t exactly the most exciting place in the world. As high schoolers we referred to it as Funster, precisely because it wasn’t. There don’t tend to be a lot of news stories coming out of that suburban sprawl, so I was a little surprised when I saw in the news that the first US case of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus has appeared in Munster, of all places: 


“The infected patient, a health care worker, flew April 24 from Saudi Arabia to London and then to Chicago.

The person rode a bus from Chicago to Indiana, health officials said.

On Tuesday, the patient experienced shortness of breath, coughing and fever. The person went to the Emergency Department at Community Hospital Wednesday and was admitted that day.

Because of the patient’s symptoms and recent travel, doctors tested for MERS-CoV. MERS-CoV is a viral respiratory illness which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.”

It’s a little bizarre reading this, especially since I spent a ton of time in Community Hospital over the last year because of my mom’s cancer treatment. I think I’ve also ridden the same bus from the airport in Chicago to Munster.

What’s especially eerie is that while I was most recently visiting my dad, we watched the movie Contagion, which is about a pandemic of an unknown deadly virus spreading in the US. Whenever we watch sciencey movies, my dad always asks me, “Okay, tell me if this could really happen.” Most of the time I’m rolling my eyes at scientists harvesting unobtanium or sequencing genomes  instantaneously in our current era. But this whole movie I was going “Nope, THIS COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN.”

Hopefully it’ll turn out to be nothing. Though if my hometown turns out to be ground zero for the zombie apocalypse, at least something interesting will have finally happened there.

The sacrificial atheist?

Spoiler warning: This post contains discussion about the season finale of True Blood and the movie The Ledge.
Atheists are popping up more and more in the television and movies. And like any minority group engaging in a civil rights movement – which, admit it or not, is what we’re doing – portrayals of atheists are becoming less and less stereotypical. We’re no longer nothing more than communist villains.

There are certainly stereotypical tropes about us being overly rational, cynical, heartless, selfish hedonists. Dexter, anyone? As much as I love House, he’s not exactly the poster child of atheism. But even within that show, you see another atheist (Cameron) who is un-House-like in every way. And the number of human-like atheist characters is rising – Ellie in Contact, Kurt in Glee, Malcolm in Firefly, Bones.

But I’ve been noticing something recently. I hesitate to call it a trend, since I only have two data points so far. But this came up during a panel discussion I was on at the Midwest Humanist and Freethought Conference after we had watched The Ledge. The Ledge is a thriller revolving around the romance between an atheist, Gavin, and a woman, Shana, who is married to an emotional abusive religious zealot, Joe.

I really enjoyed the movie and highly recommend it. So if you haven’t seen it, read forward at your own risk – because I’m about to give away the ending.

Joe eventually discovers the affair and puts Gavin in a situation were either he can die, or Shana dies. And surprisingly, the film doesn’t have a predictable happy ending. The police don’t find Shana at just the right time. Gavin doesn’t have some quirky trick that makes it looks like he jumped from a 30 story building. Nope, he sacrifices himself for this woman.

And during this Sunday’s season finale of True Blood, we see the same sacrificial atheist. Tara, who apparently everyone hates except me, is asked by her best friend Sookie if she thinks Gran is in heaven. Tara replies that she’s always considered herself an atheist, but if there is a heaven, Gran would be president of it. Sookie then says that she wants to grow old together with her best friend, which let me know that Tara was almost certainly dying by the end of the episode.

And would you know it, in the last minute of the show, Tara jumps in front of Sookie to save her from a point blank range shotgun blast from a crazed werewolf lady. (You know, I never realized how dumb this show sounds until I have to type out what happened). People are discussing how she’s probably going to be saved in the first 30 seconds of the new season, or turned into a vampire, or be a ghost for Lafayette to channel, or whatever…but you can’t deny she sacrificed herself for her friend when half of her head was blown clean off.

When we were discussing the Ledge, we couldn’t agree if portrayals like this were heroic or tragic. Is this showing atheists in a good light – that even though we don’t believe in heavenly rewards or the afterlife, we’re willing to give up the thing most dear to us for people we love? Or is it showing atheists as these tragic individuals who never have a happy ending?

I lean toward the former. As much as I don’t want all of my atheist characters meeting untimely fates, I think it means something to give up your life when you’re certain no afterlife is soon to follow. It shows that we do care about other people and have greater value and purpose in our lives, even if it’s not handed down from a supernatural being. And I think it’s the first step to portraying atheists as real people – and soon enough we won’t have to keep dying to prove that point.

But again, not everyone agreed. What do you think? Do you know of any other atheist characters that fit or fight this trend?

"Easy A" is not destroying the atheist symbol

I like the blog Atheist Revolution, but I think Vjack may have missed the boat this time:

Look at the trailer for the upcoming film, “Easy A” and imagine what this could do to the meaning of a favorite atheist symbol. If this ends up being a hit, people will likely mistake our symbol some sort of odd promotion of the film. Admittedly, almost nobody outside the atheist community seems to recognize this symbol, but now they might assume we are die hard fans of this flick.

Here’s the trailer for “Easy A”:


Vjack makes it clear that he knows the scarlet A stood for adulterer long before atheists chose to use it as our symbol… so then what’s the problem? We co opted it because it was a symbol of religious persecution. If this movie helps publicize that, then good for it! The general public is way more accepting of sexual promiscuity than atheism anyway – it doesn’t exactly hurt our cause to be associated with it. Hell, we already are.

From the trailer alone, I’m actually kind of excited about this movie. Taking a dig at judgemental religious people? A strong willed female standing up for sexual women at her own risk? And doing that because it’s the right thing to do, not just for personal gain? I’m having a geekgasm over the possibility of feminist teen movie!

This is post 17 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Five Movies

Jerry Coyne and PZ did it, so I might as well hop on the bandwagon. Here what I consider my five favorite movies, ones that I could watch over and over again:

Clerks: I like Kevin Smith, even though his movies can be hit or miss, but Clerks is more than just an entertaining movie to me. I first watched it when I 15, and I think it was a catalyst in developing my more perverted, dark sense of humor. Sex stopped being such a taboo topic for me. Between the sex jokes, nerd humor, and bizarre parts, it’s pretty much a perfect comedy to me.

Contact: I know people love to make fun of this movie, but I still love it. When I was little, I liked it for two reasons: 1) It was about outer space (which I was obsessed with at the time), and 2) Deciphering the alien message was basically figuring out a bunch of neat puzzles. But now that I’m older, I like it for totally different reasons. The main character is a strong female scientist who loves searching for the truth – how can I not love that? Then there’s the whole atheism/religion discussion, especially in terms of science and politics… And while Ellie gets a love interest, she’s still independent enough to follow her dreams first and not feel obligated to be tied down by a man. How many movie romances have that?

Hero: I’m usually not into the whole Chinese running around having battles thing, but this movie is so much more than that. I love the storytelling nature of the movie, and can’t really say more than that without giving away a major part of the plot. But more of all, I love it because it’s so goddamn beautiful. The way they use color makes it seem like you’re watching a living painting. Hero makes the artist in me very happy!

Pulp Fiction: It’s Pulp Fiction. What more is there to say? I love this dark sort of humor.

Y Tu Mama Tambien: This movie is so brilliantly complex. One minute you think it’s a comedy, the next you find yourself going quiet at a heart wrenching scene – but they meld it together perfectly. On top of that you have social commentary on class differences in Mexico that’s really eye opening. Oh, and did I mention that it’s really erotic? I mean, this movie is hot. I accidentally watched this for the first time on a first date, and boy was that awkward. One of the final scenes doesn’t show you anything past kissing, and I still think it’s the sexiest scene I’ve ever seen.

What would your five be?

Popped my Star Wars cherry

I have a very important announcement to make.

I just watched Star Wars: A New Hope for the very first time. That’s right, ever. Previously I had only seen very small clips, though I knew the whole plot thanks to being surrounded by nerds. I also have never seen Episodes 5 and 6.

The worst part? I’ve seen the new trilogy.

Though the oddest part was that it was just sort of alright. I mean, some parts were funny, some parts were dated, and some parts were just terrible. I guess it’s different watching it without the childhood memories and attachment. Luke has effectively no reaction to seeing the horrifically charred bodies of the two people who raised him for eighteen years, but the spooky disintegration of Obi Wan leaves him screaming and upset? What the hell, Luke? You’ve known him for only a couple hours, and all he did was give you super vague advice about the Force!

Ok, I’m going to shut up now before I make you guys want to stone me even more. Will watch the other Episodes later!

Sarah Jessica Parker = Toblerone?!?

I have just one thing to say about the Oscars.What the hell is Sarah Jessica Parker wearing? A gold tube with exploding foil at the top? Is she a candy bar wrapper or something? I mean, I’m not Ms. Fashionable, but what the hell?

Mmmmm Toblerone. Delicious, but not a good fashion inspiration.

Other than that, I have nothing to say. I watched the Oscars for about 20 minutes just because my roommate had it on. I usually don’t give a damn about them, but this year I’m especially apathetic since I hadn’t seen a single film that was up for Best Picture – yep, not even Up or Avatar. I blame that on the fact that I’ve been single for most of the past year, and I think I only watch movies on dates.

…And before I start contemplating how sad that is, I’m going to go to bed. Will post about my Stanford trip tomorrow!

Chemical Party

Chemists don’t get enough love around here, probably because organic chemistry broke my soul two years ago. But here’s a fun nerdy chemistry video for all of you:


It’s a tad old, but I hadn’t seen it, so maybe it’s new to some of you too. Enjoy!

Sherlock Holmes too gay? Is that even possible?

Robert Downey Jr., sexy sexy man and star of the new Sherlock Holmes movie, was recently on Letterman and made the following statements:

Letterman: “Now, from what I recall, there was always the suggestion that there was a different level of relationship between Sherlock and Dr. Watson.”
Downey: “You mean that they were homos…”
Letterman: [Laughs.] “Well…”
Downey: “That is what you’re saying?”
Letterman: “In a manner of speaking, yes…that they were closer than just out solving crimes. It’s sort of touched on in the film, but he has a fiancee, so we’re not certain. Is that right?”
Downey: “She could be a beard. Who knows?”
Paul Shaffer: “What are they, complete screamers? Is that what you’re saying?”
Downey: “Why don’t we observe the clip and let the audience decide if he just happens to be a very butch homosexual. Which there are many. And I’m proud to know certain of them.”

If anyone saw Sherlock Holmes, you can’t deny the occasional homoerotic subtext. I admit my Gay Subtext Dial is turned up higher than most, and I can titter girlishly at almost anything, but some things in this movie were just blatant. Holmes’s jealousy over Watson’s sudden new fiancee. The constant couple-like bickering. Holmes’s devilish sounding “Don’t get too excited” as he’s digging through Watson’s pocket.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the movie.

And needless to say, others did not.

The US copyright holder, Andrea, Plunkett, has threatened to withdraw permission for a sequel if Holmes and Watson become gayer.

She told Total Film: “I hope this is just an example of Mr Downey’s black sense of humour. It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future.

“I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books.”

Oh boo.

Is it really not in the spirit of the books? People have been contemplating Holmes’s sexuality for a long while now. He’s attached at the hip to Watson, shows varying levels of fear, disdain, and disinterest in women…and the late 19th century wasn’t exactly a time where one hopped around flamboyantly and wore their homosexuality on their sleeve, so his actions are in alignment with closeted homosexual behavior. It’s personally reasonable to take that sort of interpretation.

And you just know when someone starts with the effective “I’m not a homophobe, but” that they’re about to say something stupid. Renee sums up my sentiment nicely:

When we watch a Sherlock Holmes movie, is it really that disturbing to have the character portrayed as gay? He is not going to whip out his penis like some twinki xxx star instead of a magnify glass to solve crime. It is just a facet of his life, in the same way that it would be a part of heterosexual mans life. Honestly, the hand wringing and whining over teh gay really needs to end. We need to acknowledge that gay men and women are a part of every single society and as such, portrayals of them should be considered acceptable.

And for the people who think that gaying up Holmes would scare people away from the box office…well, I’ve already talked about that. With much fangirling and drool.

This guy needs to learn the term “slashers”

From the New York Post (emphasis mine):

Guy Ritchie’s plan to put a gay spin on the relationship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in his new movie about the detective and his sidekick could backfire.

Robert Downey Jr, who plays Holmes, has revealed the crimebuster will sleep with and have sweaty grappling scenes with Watson, played by Jude Law, in “Sherlock Holmes,” due out Christmas Day.

“We’re two men who happen to be roommates, wrestle a lot and share a bed. It’s bad-ass,” Downey told Britain’s News of the World. Added much-in-the-news Law: “Guy wanted to make this about the relationship between Watson and Holmes. They’re both mean and complicated.”

But Michael Medved, a former Post movie critic, says Downey and Law must be joking. “There’s not a seething, bubbling hunger to see straight stars impersonating homosexuals,” Medved told us. “I think they’re just trying to generate controversy . . . They know that making Holmes and Watson homosexual will take away two-thirds of their box office. Who is going to want to see Downey Jr. and Law make out? I don’t think it would be appealing to women. Straight men don’t want to see it.

*raises hand*

This man has clearly never talked to a straight woman who wasn’t a fundamentalist or an uber-conservative. Are you shitting me? When I saw the trailer for Sherlock Holmes I flailed with girlish glee, which honestly doesn’t happen too often. But a Sherlock Holmes movie? With Robert Downey Jr.? And Jude Law? Dressed in period clothing? Bickering like an old married couple with homoerotic undertones? Fuck yeah, eye candy. I’ll happily shell out eight bucks for that.

If you could assure me Downey Jr. and Jude Law would make out, first I would cry tears of joy, then I would probably go back multiple times. As would a very large number of women (proof? go read the comments on this LJ thread). We’re the people who saw Brokeback Mountain for teh gay (actually didn’t like it, but that’s because I went for the gay, and I usually hate those kinds of movies). We’re the people who shat bricks of pure bliss when Harry Potter Book 6 essentially made Harry/Draco canon. We’re 95% of the people who read and write slash (homosexual) fanfiction – the straight gals, not the gay guys. We are more than enough to make up for the homophobes that would be scared away.

I highly doubt the movie will have anything more than homoerotic subtext, but that’s fine by me. Imagining what’s really happening it half the fun anyway. And if it wasn’t nearly 3 am, I’d have some insightful comment as to why straight women love homoeroticism, and how this mirrors men’s stereotypical love of lesbians. But it is 3 am, so I’ll just leave it at this:

Bow chicka wow wow

Star Trek & Angels and Demons

I hadn’t seen a movie in theaters in ages, but I actually saw two today! Two different groups of friends wanted to go at different times. Hooray. The first one was Star Trek, so now all my geeky friends can finally stop bugging me to see it. I really liked it, but keep in mind I’ve never seen a second of old Star Trek episodes or movies before seeing this one. The extent of my knowledge was basically:

-Spock is supposed to be logical
-Klingons are angry and have their own language that uber-geeks learn
-The phrase “beam me up Scotty”
-The silly hand salute thing that’s hard to do
-Trekkies like to go around screaming “KHHAAAANNN” for reasons I do not understand

Now that I’ve offended every Trekkie out there… *ahem* I’m sure someone who’s expecting something in particular has their gripes with the film. I know I’m uber nitpicky when it comes to Harry Potter. But, as a Star Trek n00b, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie from an entertainment point of view. Though I have to admit, I was oddly unnerved by how sexy Zachary Quinto’s Spock was. Not quite sure I’m supposed to be having those feelings about Spock, but yum. Oh, and who else thought every time Spock got annoyed he was going to start slicing peoples heads open and stealing their powers?

Noooo, not teh kitteh! Why do you need nine lives when you can never die?!?!

I also saw Angels and Demons, which I thought was pretty good. Definitely better than the DaVinci Code, but that’s not saying much. Now, I know people like to harp on Dan Brown, but I genuinely enjoy his novels. He’s no Shakespeare, but his plots are entertaining page turners so you can stfu if you think I’m dumb for liking them. Anyway, like I said the movie was pretty good – probably helped that I read the book years ago, so I didn’t remember it well enough to be super critical. Tried not to cringe too much at all the antimatter stupidity and told myself to suspend disbelief for a bit. I really liked the idea that God sent an atheist intellectual professor (Langdon) to save all of Catholicism – how ironic.

The one thing that bugged me was that it seemed to have a big “Science and religion are compatible, and when you think they’re not, that’s when you have problems!” message. It’s not that I just disagree with this – but the very premise of the movie seemed to disagree with it. I mean, it was anti-science Catholics versus pro-science Catholics (the Illuminati), not versus atheistic scientists. Heck, the two irreligious characters are the only ones not murdering and blowing things up – they’re actually saving the day. Maybe people will get that message out of the movie instead of the one the film trying to jam down their throat.

Shocker: Vatican uptight about another pointless thing

Sometimes the Vatican likes to take a break from condemning raped little girls for their abortion and sending our progress with sex education in Africa back to the dark ages. Now its focus is on the movie Angels & Demons, the prequel to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Apparently they’re gearing up for a boycott (surprise, surprise). I still wonder how people can get so upset over works of fiction…but this is the Vatican we’re talking about, and they sort of specialize in having a hard time separating reality from fantasy.

Anyway, Angels & Demons has more important things to worry about than a Vatican boycott…mainly, that the Da Vinici Code movie sucked ass. Maybe they’re just hoping there are a lot of people like me out there who loved the books (and love sticking it to the Vatican) and are willing to pay nine dollars and masochisticly subject themselves to another horrible film.

Jen watches the Watchmen

Finally saw Watchmen tonight. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m lagging a bit behind…oh well. To be completely honest, I had never even heard of Watchmen before all the advertisement and internet buzz. I had to Wikipedia it to learn that it was a originally a comic book. But before you crucify me for saying that, keep in mind that I’m female. The fact that I was in love with Batman back when it was an animated series in the 90’s is about as good at you’re going to get.

In general, I thought it was a good movie. It was cinematically beautiful, entertaining, and had great characters. The plot seemed a little slow to develop, but I’ll let it slide since I was intrigued the whole way through. Now, even though I didn’t have any fangirlish images on how the movie should compare to the comics, I have been listening to hype for over a week, and I have to say, I’m disappointed over a two things:

1. Dr. Manhattan’s blue wang. All I’ve heard is how distracting it is, omg full frontal male nudity penis !!!111!!!one! Really? Most of the time I didn’t even notice it was there. From all the hype I was expecting dramatic close ups with his schlong taking up 3/4ths of the screen. Instead I had to squint to confirm that, yes, yes that is a penis. Oddly disappointed.Oh, but boyfriend splitting into two versions of himself for a threesome? Yes plz.

2. Not enough blood and sex. Yep, you heard me right. I was expecting exploding heads continuously throughout the movie. I had psyched myself up for the sadistic crackbaby of 300 and Sin City, so I was surprised when all I got was the occasional vaporized human. Actually, I’m glad this is all I got, since I’m pretty squeemish and girly when it comes to that sort of stuff. I’m proud of myself that I only had to close my eyes during one scene (I like my hands attached, thank you)!

And I had people telling me that Watchmen was basically porn. Um, what? Have you even watched porn before, people? If anything Watchmen gave us one of the most realistic sex moments the theater has seen in a long time with fumbly-McNervouspants Nite Owl (who is my new favorite super hero. I love superdorks <3). While the later sex scene was pretty awesomely gratuitous, it still didn't live up to my expectations of "Two superheroes going on a murderous rampage while fucking each other. No, seriously, like screwing and blood just splattering everywhere and they're totally getting off on it."

…Um, whoever told me this, did we watch the same movie? …Oh, you accidentally watched Sexxxy Blood Fiends 3000 instead? Well, that makes so much more sense! Honest mistake, really. …And yes, someone did say that exact thing to me.

The fact that I can come away from the movie with such a different opinion than someone else worries me a bit. Are they just that upset by sex and violenced, or have I become unnaturally numb to all of it due to years of subjecting myself to horrible fanfiction? Am I weird for wanting more blue peen? Or more importantly, am I allowed to fangirl Nite Owl without having read the comic?