I love people

I’m going to be published!!!

Yes, that warrants three exclamation marks.

You may or may not have heard of the book The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. It was released in the UK last year to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust, a UK HIV charity. Here’s a little summary of the book from Amazon:

42 atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers give their funny and serious tips for enjoying the Christmas season. Last year, Guardian journalist Ariane Sherine launched the Atheist Bus Campaign and ended up raising over GBP150,000, enough to place the advert ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ on 800 UK buses in January 2009. Now Ariane and dozens of other atheist writers, comedians and scientists are joining together to raise money for a very different cause. The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a funny, thoughtful handbook all about enjoying Christmas, from 42 of the world’s most entertaining atheists. It features everything from an atheist Christmas miracle to a guide to the best Christmas pop hits.

Well, it turns out HarperCollins is developing a US edition, and they wanted to add a couple American authors to make it more appealing to this side of the pond. And because of all the boobquake media attention, one of their editors stumbled upon my blog and said they loved my writing and sense of humor. I was asked to do a longer humor piece on atheist toys, based off of my Atheist Barbie joke! Excuse the caps lock, but:


It’s been a goal of mine to get my creative work published ever since I was a little kid. I’ve been writing fiction stories since second grade, have a novel fairly far in progress (and other ideas that are less developed), have taken creative writing classes whenever I can, and absolutely love writing (which hopefully you can tell from my blog). I always said I wanted to be published before I graduated college, and there was that nagging cynical voice in the back of my head that said it wouldn’t happen. But now due to the bizarre circumstances of an offhanded joke becoming internationally popular, my dream is literally coming true.

I can’t believe I’m going to be published in the same book as fabulous writers that I deeply respect, like Richard Dawkins, Simon Singh, AC Grayling, Phil Plait, and Ariane Sherine. And not only that, but the editor reacted so positively to my piece (which is the top secret project I’ve been working on the last week), that this will probably open a lot of doors for me.

The US edition will be released on November 2, 2010 (my birthday! What are the odds?). The Amazon page for it is a little sparse now, but you can preorder it here. If you order the editions of it that are already released, they won’t have me in it.

I didn’t think anything could top the Colbert Report…but fulfilling this dream at age 22 kind of wins.

Boobquake on the Colbert Report

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Boobquake Day Causes Earthquake
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

When I heard “Iran,” I sat up on the couch. When I heard “cleric,” I sat on the edge of my seat. When I heard “boobquake” I jumped up and down high fiving my friend. When he said my name* and showed my photograph, I started screaming and flailing and even crying a little. Yes, boobquake got covered by CNN, BBC, CBC, ABC, FOX… But I’m a 22 year old geeky liberal – being on the Colbert Report is pretty much The Best Thing Ever. My friends and professors joked about it happening, but I never thought it really would.

Following my friend’s suggestion, whenever I’m feeling down or defeated or overwhelmed, I am going to listen to Stephen Colbert saying “You go girl!” to me. Possibly on repeat. Wow.

Though Stephen did get the science a bit wrong, saying the Taiwan earthquake was proof, even though I later explained why it was not. Maybe he needs a certain young female scientist to explain it to him a little bit more on the show *wink wink nudge nudge* …Okay, maybe I shouldn’t push my luck, haha.

*My name is spelled McCreight, but pronounced McCrite. Yes, I know it doesn’t make any dense. Blame the Irish (who, ironically, also mispronounced my name in interviews).

My professor’s Holocaust story

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. On Friday our newspaper ran a piece about the upcoming Greater Lafayette Holocaust Remembrance Conference, which featured the story of one of my former professors here at Purdue. As a former student, her story was especially touching to me, but I thought all of you would enjoy it. I’ve added some more information in sparse parts, taken from here.

Anna Berkovitz had a normal childhood until 1944. Now, years later, she still has nightmares of her family being taken from their home by the Nazis.

“I was 13 years old at the time when I was taken with my family to Auschwitz, just before D-Day,” said Berkovitz, Purdue Professor Emerita of biology.

At the concentration camp, Berkovitz and her family faced grim odds of survival. Six hundred thousand Hungarian Jews entered the camp between May and September of 1944. In just three months, 500,000 were killed.

“The killing machine was so effective that names were not even taken when we arrived.”

Berkovitz’s grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousin and probably her father were among the victims of the genocide conducted by the Nazis.

Her survival, as Berkovitz says, can only be accounted for by a series of miracles. …

Anna and Elizabeth were taken to Camp-C in Birkenau. To this day Anna ponders how she survived six months of brutal treatment, harsh conditions, starvation and disease there.

In November 1944, Anna and Elizabeth were transferred to a slave labor camp near Magdeburg, Germany, where they were put to work in an underground ammunition factory. Ten days prior to the end of World War II, they were liberated by the Swedish Red Cross and taken to Sweden, where they spent three months in a sanatorium recovering from malnutrition and physical and emotional traumas. …

This year, Berkovitz will be attending the conference, but participating in these events brings personal pain.

“It’s very difficult for me … to me it’s just like it happened yesterday, so I don’t need a conference to remember.”

Still, Berkovitz recognizes and even asserts the necessity of the conference and sees participating as a duty.

“I think I owe it to the people who died to be remembered.”

Berkovitz’s story does not end in Sweden; rather, her rescue from tyranny marks the start of a new journey that defies the unthinkable trauma of the Holocaust.

In Sweden, Berkovitz maintains that she suffered from no depression or bitterness and looked forward to the future.

“I could have lived my life as a victim, but I did not,” she said. …

In April 1946, Anna and Elizabeth emigrated to the United States. They arrived in Los Angeles pennyless and not speaking English. In order to resume her schooling, Anna worked as an au-pair for several years. During this time she completed four years of high school and four years of college, graduating from U.C.L.A. in January 1952 with a B.S. degree in bacteriology and with Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude honors. While working as a laboratory technician, Anna met Leonard Berkovitz, who was then a post-doctoral fellow at Caltech. They were married in June 1953, and their sons Dan and Kenneth were born in 1956 and 1960, respectively. During this period Anna worked part time in various cancer research laboratories.

In 1962 Leonard accepted a position at Purdue University, and the family moved to West Lafayette, Indiana. When Kenneth was in kindergarten, Anna decided to continue her formal education. She was accepted as a graduate student in the biology department at Purdue University. She was working on her Ph.D. thesis when, in 1967, she was asked to take a temporary teaching position to fill an unexpected vacancy in the department. This temporary position turned into a lifetime career of teaching, and while Anna never obtained her Ph.D., she earned a tenured position from which she retired in 2003 as Professor Emerita in Biology.

Anna’s efforts as a teacher, her dedication to her students and to the discipline were amply recognized by her students, colleagues and the administration. She was selected by the students as one of the Top Ten Outstanding Teachers in the School of Science 14 times, she received the Murphy Award, the top recognition of teaching excellence by the University, and was given the Chiscon Award for outstanding teaching performance by the Biology department. Anna was elected to the Teaching Academy at Purdue and her name is in the Purdue Book of Great Teachers.

In her retirement Anna has more time to travel, attend theater, to be active in her Temple, and to winter in California. But, what she most enjoys is still interacting with young people, be it her own five grandchildren or students at the University. She currently participates in the University Honors Program, where she developed a new course, “The New Genetics – New Perspectives, New Dilemmas,” which she teaches in the Fall semesters. …

Marveling at her accomplishments for the time – raising a family while entering a competitive career field as woman when it was rare – Berkovitz attributes much of her drive to a belief that humanity was good. Only a small group of evil was responsible for her painful experiences.

“Unfortunately, now I see that there are still evil groups of people in the world killing or wanting to kill innocent people just because they are different from what they are,” she said. …

Though Berkovitz’s story is one of inspiration, she still bears emotional scars.

“I have recurring nightmares that I’m told that I have to pack up and leave home … that’s part of me; that’s part of my existence.”

Preventing scars such as these in others is a duty for Berkovitz; an obligation driving her to participate in programs such as the Holocaust Remembrance Conference.

“It’s very relevant to what’s going on in the world today.”

I had Dr. Berkovitz for the Honors Genetics course (mentioned in the article) and for Human Genetics, and she was one of my favorite professors here at Purdue. You could tell she was passionate about the subject, and she did a great job of explaining genetics. In class she would encourage stimulating discussions on eugenics, genetic testing, gene patenting, and abortion.

When she overheard me telling another student about the Society of Non-Theists, she asked to be put on the mailing list and has attended all of our pro-evolution events (including my talk about the Creation Museum). From our class discussions, I could tell she shared my liberal views. She even once showed us a clip of Stephen Colbert talking about DNA, and we were the only two to giggle when he talked about Jesus burying the dinosaurs.

But in addition to being a great professor and skeptic, she was a wonderful person. She would always take time to talk to me about random articles in the news she thought I would be interested in. She encouraged me to shoot for the stars when it came to genetics. When I was still considering becoming a genetic counselor, she encouraged me to get a PhD, saying someone with my skills in genetics should be doing research or running the clinic. And when I had asked her to write me a letter of recommendation for grad school, I discovered that her husband had passed away just a week before. Seeing someone I looked up to so much distraught and crying was horrible. I quickly told her I could easily find someone else to do it, but she insisted – even when overwhelmed with grief, she wanted to help her students.

I always said that this is exactly how I want to be when I was 80 – compassionate, skeptica
l, witty, and still excited
about science. That was before I knew her history as a Holocaust survivor. To think that she became such a strong woman and wonderful scientist even through that tragedy is amazing. She’s a role model to everyone, but especially to female scientists. I can only hope to be half the woman she is when I’m 80.

Non-theist callout an insane success

I’m home from the Society of Non-Theists’ callout, eating a late dinner and drinking a much needed beer. I personally think callouts are the most stressful events to hold because they really set the precedent for the year. Can’t have people come to events if they don’t know about your club. They’re extra stressful when people keep tearing down or vandalizing your flyers, which we deal with all the time. So, how’d it go?

Holy crap. It was standing room only! We have our regular room that has 94 seats, and it’s never even been filled to capacity (well, we’ve had some larger events, but I reserve a larger room). To put this in perspective for you, our first year we had about 90 people (keep in mind we’re brand new so this is from all grade levels), second year 60 (now basically recruiting new students), and most clubs get 10 – maaaybe 40 people at a callout unless they’re huge and popular. We are now huge and popular.

And as a special side note, out of all of my stupid jokes or random ideas, the thought to go see the evangelical Porn & Popcorn night then go watch real porn got a thundering applause.

People who tear our flyers down because you’re afraid we even exist? Yeah, you’re not stopping us.

Homeless Atheist leaves Millions of Dollars to Charities

There’s a great story over at NPR about a homeless man who surprised them by leaving them $4 million dollars when he died. He had to money to live luxuriously, but instead he lived the simplest life possible:

“When Walters retired, he evidently retired from the world of material comforts. He didn’t have a car.

“He just gave up all of the material things that we think we have to have,” Belle says. “You know, I don’t know how we gauge happiness. What’s happy for you might not be happy for me. I never heard him complain.”

Evidently, among his few possessions was a radio. Hence those announcements listeners hear now and again on NPR stations.”

He also donated smaller sums of $400,000 to various non-profit organizations, including a Catholic mission where his best friend worked.

“Belle stayed with Walters when he was ill. She became his nurse and ultimately the executor of his estate — as well as one of the beneficiaries — despite fundamental differences between them.

“He was an atheist and I’m a very profound practicing Catholic, and I’d never met an atheist,” Belle says. “And that just blew my mind that somebody could not believe in the Lord.””

I really love seeing stuff like this, but especially when it involves an atheist. It’s only more proof that you don’t need to be religious to be a good, charitable, self sacrificing human being.

And an extra special bonus? He was a Purdue alumnus! Go Boilermakers for producing the occasional awesome person.

10 Hours until the Blogathon!

I’ve been itching to make a lot of different posts today, but I was selfish and decided to save them up for tomorrow’s Blogathon. It’s hard enough coming up with 49 posts – I don’t need to go and waste them hours before it starts. I have a good list of ideas accumulated, and I’m sure even more fun things will pop into my head as I go…especially once I’m more sleep deprived. I’ll be meta-blogging (aka blogging about the blogathon) on my twitter account, so go there if you want to see the most insane side of the event.

Most importantly, we’ve raised $300 for the Secular Student Alliance so far!!! You guys are awesome! Thanks to everyone who donated (especially my slightly OCD friend who made a small donation to cap the money off at a nice even number)! If you still want to pledge a donation, click here. You’ll be able to pledge up to 48 hours after Blogathon is complete, so if you want to do something like pay a dollar for every post you actually find interesting (hopefully it’ll be more than one dollar…), you can do that.

Feel free to keep sending me stories/topics/questions until about 8 am Sunday! And I’ll appreciate any comments you leave on posts – it’ll be good to know that someone’s actually reading while I’m slaving away at my computer.

I’m still crossing my fingers for a Pharyngula bump, but I’m not sure if it’ll happen (maybe he needs a couple more polite suggestions…? I dunno, I don’t want to harass PZ). Scratch that, here it is! Thank you so much, PZ! I would love to see the donation amount just skyrocket. It would definitely help offset the amount of money we’re going to be giving Ken Ham’s Creation Museum when all 200+ of us go (holy crap, what am I getting myself into?)

With that, it’s time for me to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for my blogging extravaganza! See you guys bright and early tomorrow morning!

Kiss-In Protests Mormon Bigotry

A couple days ago Pharyngula covered a story about two men who shared a kiss outside of the Mormon’s headquarters in Utah. Security guards detained the men because the formerly public plaza is now property of the LDS church, and apparently gay kissing is considered to be “offensive, indecent, obscene, lewd or disorderly speech, dress or conduct.”

First of, fuck you, LDS church.

Ahem. Thankfully there are a bunch of awesome gay people in Salt Lake City, and they decided to hold a peaceful kiss-in on the square:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOL_RujTu2k&hl=en&fs=1&]

This kind of stuff needs to happen every time gay rights takes a hit somewhere. It’s peaceful and shows that gays are normal, loving couples just like heterosexual couples. I don’t want to live in a world where it’s not cool for a gay couple to kiss in a bar, but then I have to watch a straight couple basically having sex at their table.

And yes, I guess the plaza is private property now. And even though the LDS church promised this sort of stuff wouldn’t happen, that isn’t legally binding and they can theoretically do whatever they want. But you know what, whatever tiny modicum of respect I had for the LDS church completely went out the window when they fucked over California with their ridiculous funding of Prop 8. So screw you, Mormon bigots. I hope gays make out in front of all of your temples every day until you wise up.

*end rant*

(Video via Womanist Musings)

Yay Vermont!

Vermont is the next state to legalize gay marriage, and the first do to so through the legislature instead of the courts. It was a big win too. “The vote was 23-5 to override in the state Senate and 100-49 to override in the House. Under Vermont law, two-thirds of each chamber had to vote for override.” Vermont’s not quite as much of a shock as Iowa, but still great nonetheless!

I really hope we see a snowball effect, with more and more states allowing gay marriage. I wonder if we can thank Prop 8 for getting the rest of the nation worked up enough to do something about it. Would be an ironic, lovely twist.

Gay Marriage Legalized in Iowa

Woooo! Though I’m sure you’ve heard it in a billion other places already.

Good job, Iowa. I used to lump you with all the other conservative backwards states (including my own), but you’ve proven me wrong. I take back (most of) the bad things I may have said about you. If Iowa can do this, it gives me hope that a lot of other states will soon follow suit.

As long as Indiana isn’t the last state to legalize it, I’ll be happy. I have low standards for a state with such a bad track record with homosexuality.