The Astral Log http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log Wed, 11 May 2016 04:05:03 +0000 en hourly 1 The West Virginia Presidential Primary http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=757 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=757#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 04:00:19 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=757 Spend ETERNITY in West Virginia!

As you may have heard, Bernie Sanders won the presidential primary election in West Virginia. You might also be wondering why on earth a Jewish self-described democratic socialist could make headway in an small-minded, bigoted strip mine of a state that pulled for Mitt Romney in every single fucking county in 2012; where politicians routinely brag about being more conservative and more Jesus-soaked than their opponents, any concession towards environmentalism or a diversified economy is assaulted as a "war on coal," and almost every one of Sanders' financial and social policy points is unmentionable anathema.

I was born in West Virginia, I lived the first 22 years of my life there, and I feel qualified to comment about the state, its problems, and its peculiarities. The state is extremely rural and isolating. Most people regard church as their sole avenue of social interaction. People like the things that they're used to, and are extremely hostile about anything that challenges their 1950s-era preconceptions about the world. White people run the country, queers and atheists don't exist, coal seams will always be there to be mined, and you'll burn in hell if you disagree.

For decades, the Democratic Party dominated sub-national politics in the state...largely due to inertia; though also due to an older generation that remembered West Virginia's labor history and the corrosive effect that Republican policies have on human lives. Suffice to say, there's little of that generation left...and the shift in party identity among racist white conservatives that began with Nixon's Southern Strategy of 1968 has taken hold here, too. The Christian-nationalist Republican party now holds all three of West Virginia's congressional seats, the state Senate, and the House of Delegates.

Every change in West Virginia happens a little slower than in other states, though. Through the duration of the state's period of Democratic Party dominance (1932-2014), most critical elections happened at the primary level. West Virginia also has a semi-closed primary system, and changing party affiliations is cumbersome. Thus, it was advantageous for voters to register themselves as Democrats...even among staunch conservative people who would be Republican fringe in any northern state.

What this means is that many or most Democrats in West Virginia aren't liberal, and don't support the national Democratic Party. They didn't support the party in 2000, when they directly made George W. Bush President of the United States. Since 2008, every Democratic presidential primary result has been an act of spite: They voted for Hillary Clinton in 2008, when Barack Obama ran a superior campaign and was close to clinching the nomination. In 2012, almost half the state voted for a convicted felon as a protest vote for no reason other than to spite President Obama. And in 2016, they voted for Bernie Sanders.

For all his "socialist" credentials, Bernie Sanders' campaign has quite a few flaws. He responds to questions with vague generalities, not plans that can be implemented. He's done a poor job courting nonwhite voters. His view on gun safety (or the lack thereof, as people die) is a colossal blind spot. His ability to enact progressive legislation is contingent upon Democratic control of Congress, yet he refuses to raise funds for downlevel elections. He parrots right-wing talking points against his primary competitor. Six months ago, I was a Sanders fan...but over the last six months, Sanders' campaign has become so contradictory and corrosive that it's made my head spin.

As all this raged, Hillary Clinton supported Democratic congressional and state-level candidates, withstood adversity, and courted the diverse coalition that Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. She's outlined plans to support clean energy and combat anthropogenic climate change. She's also attracted more than 2.7 million votes more than Sanders, she's the stronger and most electable candidate, and is well on her way to clinching the Democratic nomination.

West Virginia Democratic-registered voters aren't voting for Sanders because they expect him or want him to be President. They're voting for him because he's the weaker and less electable candidate. They want him to lose...because they've already made up their mind and the man they want to be president is Donald Trump. They want to vote for a man who plans to track and label Muslims in a Nazi-style database. They want to vote for a man who brands Mexicans as "rapists" and yearns for a wall along the border paid out of Mexico's pocket. They want to vote for a man who incites hatred and racial violence at his rallies. They want to vote for a man who earns endorsements from white nationalists...and reciprocates by selecting white nationalists as delegates. They want to vote for the frontrunner in the Republican Party...who embraces and crystallizes every position Republicans have strove to endorse in the last 50 years, and who epitomizes everything that is insidious and evil about mankind.

And that, in conclusion, is my two cents on the West Virginia primary.

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License Plate Finds http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=754 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=754#comments Mon, 07 Mar 2016 14:00:19 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=754 Now that I've recouped some strength, what better way is there to wrap up the last weekend than to discuss the things I found? Most are tangentially related to my birthyear run, which is starting to spiral out of control.

[license plate]

As I alluded to earlier, I plugged the most embarrassing hole in my marriage equality run—Illinois—at the Peotone meet. Whether or not I'll actually finish the run in time to exhibit it this summer in Mike Pence's RFRA-cursed state is anyone's guess, but I can try...

[license plate]

And speaking of Indiana, here's a gold-colored plate intended for use on state-owned vehicles. I'm not entirely sure when this plate would have been manufactured or used; though the squared corners would appear to indicate 1973 or later. Most Indiana plates until the 1990s were made of steel; however these were aluminum as they were intended for long-term use.

I've long wondered why Indiana embossed painted rectangles in the corners of its plates for many years. It's one of the peculiar design idiosyncrasies of the midwest; alongside ideological rival Wisconsin's extraneous slots and grooves.

[license plate]

I believe that RV plates were the only Indiana non-passenger plates of the 1980s that were revalidated with stickers instead of being wastefully replaced every year. As if to reinforce the fact that there was something out of the ordinary going on, the sticker on this plate is yellow on red...a different color scheme from the passenger stickers of 1985, which were black.

[license plate]

Texas is one of those states that quietly issue dozens of arcane non-passenger classifications for every type of vehicle use imaginable. These annual "conservation" plates certainly fit that bill, and they were reportedly issued to soil conservation machinery. But it's more fun to imagine it hanging on the back of a Citicar or some other Texas-stereotype-defying transportation appliance.

I doubt more than a limited number of these were ever issued at any one time, and this specimen is in unused condition.

[license plate]

Another worthy subject for the "interesting non-pass" category: An Ohio county vehicle plate that was likely issued in the 1970s, but still in use in 1985. Horrible shape; but for a dollar, I couldn't lose.

[license plate]

I also decided to get one of those Oregon PUC permits that were once ubiquitous on the front of big rigs. 1984-85 was the last biannual issue and the last low-profile plate; measuring precisely 12 by 30.5 centimeters in dimension.

[license plate]

My most surprising find of the day was another deal in a dollar box, surrounded by uninspiring 1960s and 1970s scrap-metal fare: A 1946 Illinois fiberboard plate, made out of a soybean composition precipitated by World War II-era metal rationing concerns. Legend and lore has it that goats and other farm animals used to eat these off the bumpers, so maybe I should be content that this one has only a slight bite...

That's all for now, but there will be more someday.

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License Plate Displays... Peotone Style http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=744 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=744#comments Fri, 04 Mar 2016 14:00:44 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=744 While I debate whether or not I'll muster the patience to attend a local license plate meet again, here are some glimpses into the meat and matter of last weekend's event: The displays!

1956 license plates

One of the largest things on display was this 53-piece U.S. passenger run from 1956; the twilight era of inconsistent shapes and sizes. But there were 48 states in 1956: Where did the five extras come from? Alaska and Hawaii were both included in the run in spite of their territorial status, as was the District of Columbia (which ought to be a state, but which may never be). And West Virginia and Wisconsin were represented by two plates apiece because each design saw an equal amount of use during 1956. (Nevada could have been represented by two plates as well, but you can't win 'em all.)

California exempt plates

California exempt plates of the last 60 years, in both state (diamond-E) and local government (octagon-E) varieties. The numeric progression of these is rather haphazard, with serials in the 1980s and 1990s jumping between high and low serial blocks at random.

Tennessee license plates

A Tennessee run spanning years from 1926 to 1965; including a good sampling of the 21-year span of state-shaped plates: Good luck finding one of those that hasn't been priced in solid gold by now.

The most interesting portion of the display was the rightmost panel, which was a series of symmetrical plates belonging to a motorist from Overton County (#77) who evidently had connections! Tennessee used both county and weight class coding in this era and changed systems frequently; witnessed in the fact that the guy's number morphed from 77-77 in 1953-56 to 77-0077 in 1957 to 77-A0-77 in 1958, back to 77-0077 in 1959-61, and full circle to 77-77 again for 1962-65.

IL electric vehicle plates

What people collect demonstrates the type of people that they are, and I'd theoretically like to collect these...but Electric Vehicle plates are more difficult than hen's teeth to get; even if you live in Illinois and own an electric car.

Illinois in the year 1985

Last but not least, here's my display! The two panels were split thematically, with the left side expounding upon the idiosyncrasies of the passenger plates of 1985, and the right side cutting a swath across the non-passenger color schemes of the year. It didn't win an award, but I was happy about the way it came together.

In the future, I'd like to assemble a larger display. But I'm limited by the materials I'm easily able to find, and the length of what can fit in the back of my car. Are there any suggestions or good construction ideas out there?

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Back to License Plates Once More http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=728 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=728#comments Mon, 29 Feb 2016 14:00:03 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=728 My license plate collecting interest waxes, wanes, and shifts. I find it impossible to be enthusiastic about the license plates of a state unless I'm enthusiastic about the state...and any last vestige of enthusiasm for Wisconsin was torched and burned when my adversaries spent three times handing the state to Governor Voldemort for the kill.

It had been a very long time since I had last attended a regional plate meet...since September 2014, to be precise. But when an invitation appeared on the license plate collectors' listserv to attend "the largest MAPA meet ever" in the northern Illinois map-speck of Peotone, I figured...why not? After all, it would be a chance to get out of town, showcase a display, be around people with similar interests, and find a few things for the themed runs I've been trying to put together. Right?

This is what a plate meet looks like.

I pulled myself out of bed at a ridiculous hour (4:20 in the morning) and pointed the car in a direction somewhere between Chicago and Kankakee. The temperature hovered around the zero mark (in the sensible Celsius system), with no snow visible until I was south of the Windy City. After three and a half hours, I was there...just in time to find people rushing into the building and snapping up all the closest tables before the "official" 8 a.m. opening time had even begun.

I lugged my two-panel display out of the back of the car and set it upright so that I could free my hands and fetch something else. Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and...CRASH! The display landed face-down on the pavement. Fortunately the license plates on it were little-damaged, suggesting that my decision to overbuild the display with thick rubber washers and protruding sheet-metal screws wasn't in vain.

Andrew in Illinois

To make myself easier to spot, I had dressed in a bright green T-shirt and bright green shoelaces. I wound up back-to-back with Roy Michalik, a collector from Michigan who outdid me in both wardrobe (his was a bright pink T-shirt) and travel distance. A third collector admitted to actually driving overnight to get to Illinois from Virginia; a sleepless shot from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It wasn’t fun getting up at 4:20 in the morning, but the tenacity that other collectors have in getting to their destinations continually surprises me.

What else went on? I was able to plug the most embarrassing hole in my Marriage Equality Run (Illinois) and found a few ancillary things to work into the birthyear collection. I was tormented by an equal number of near misses; including Nebraska and Ohio plates with expirations one month off from the DOMA strike-down of June 2015 and an Iowa that was three off from containing my ALPCA number. Unfortunately, close only counts in horseshoes. It only took an hour for me to comb through all the tables and traders ("largest meet" pronouncements notwithstanding), and by lunchtime, it was over.

The silver lining of the day? I actually sold license plates at this meet; enough of them to more than offset my admission fee and travel expenses. I don't know if I'll come back to Peotone, but maybe I should dress in bright green more often.

Wallace should stay dead

While I was there, one attendee went on a minute-long rant about her contempt for the poor and how much she hated the homeless and jobless people who beg for food on the streets of her city in Wisconsin: It's people like her who vote for Walker, applaud his sadistic food-stamp cuts, and measure the worth of politicians by the amount of cruelty they can inflict on "undesirable" demographics. A second collector made the point of sticking a "NOBAMA" bumper sticker prominently to the side of his trade box...a personal affront, considering that the target of his vitriol has done more to support my health and civil rights as a queer guy than any president in history. A third person was selling memorabilia from the 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace...the opportunistic Alabama asshole responsible for the quote "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Multiple cars in the parking lot were bearing obnoxious license plates emblazoned with the exclusionary "In God We Trust" slogan; whether from Indiana, Missouri, or my unwilling home state of Wisconsin. There were no Confederate flags this time, but just about all the other squares on my "angry white Christian bigot" bingo card were filled in by the end of the event.

With an atmosphere like this, I question why I bother being involved in the license plate collecting community at all.

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The Laptop Conundrum http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=716 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=716#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 18:48:22 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=716 My Dell Inspiron 2600 laptop from 2002, shown below in better times, finally died.

Dell Inspiron 2600

It was a slow and protracted demise. First, the battery stopped keeping a charge. Then, the plastic around the hinges disintegrated. The ethernet connector became loose. The power cord shorted out, requiring me to splice the bare wires together. The trackpad malfunctioned forcing me to resort to keyboard combinations.

While trying to cope with these maladies one day, I slapped the computer in frustration...and the hard drive immediately fell into the click of death. Turning it off and on generated the on-screen message "Operating System not found." For all intents and purposes, it is kaput.

This brings about a dilemma, though. What do I replace it with? Every option is a poison pill.

Another laptop old enough to run an activation-free version of Windows.

Not a very viable option since the very reason I need a laptop is to forge a link with the current world. That current world would be much better if Microsoft had been broken up in 1998, but there isn't much I can do to alter history now.

Windows XP refurb.

Windows XP is the last Microsoft operating system with an interface that can be configured out-of-the-box to be reasonably usable, with a cascading Start Menu, conventional menu placements, and no unnecessary theming. Every time I use Windows 7, I wish I could be using XP or 2000 instead. Unfortunately, Windows XP is also a ticking time bomb. "Support" for it ended over a year ago...which would be of minimal significance if not for the fact that it's bound and chained by an "activation" system linking the ability to install it or use it to the mercy of its maker. Tracking down a laptop with XP in this day and age also means dealing with seven-year-old hardware from seedy two-bit resellers with bad reviews. When hundreds of dollars are at stake, that's a tough pill to swallow.

Windows 7 32-bit refurb.

Were I to buy a Windows laptop with a post-XP OS, it would need to be the 32-bit version. Under no circumstances do I want the 64-bit version: It would eliminate my ability to run 16-bit applications or 32-bit apps with 16-bit installers, with no net benefit.

Once again, though, that means I'd be limited to refurbished offerings since OEMs have gone gung-ho for 64. The good news is that 32-bit Win7 offerings with warranties are still available from reputable OEM-connected outlets. Windows 7 will also be viable for a number of years to come; in spite of Microsoft's coerced Windows 10 downgrades, telemetry spyware "updates," and the lingering stench of the Product Activation cancer.

New MacBook.

If I'm sick and disgusted with Windows, why don't I "think different," liberate myself from the leagues of Redmond sycophants, take the most obvious option out, and buy a Mac?

Trouble is, I already did that. My iBook G4 in 2004 required a logic board replacement 3 weeks in, and I never trusted it again.

If Apple products didn't fail catastrophically and Apple still offered a laptop similar in design and capabilities to the iBook or PowerBook from ten years ago, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Unfortunately its maker has instead gone mad gluing batteries in place, soldering RAM in place, and removing useful peripheral ports and CD-ROM drives in the Jobsian pursuit of slimness and flimsiness for its own sake. The elimination of Classic and Rosetta from the software side means that I'm prevented from using a version of Microsoft Office without ribbons, activation, or DOCX filetypes, and barred from using any piece of software more than a few years old. Apple is out.

"Just use Linux."

Pre-installed or bundled operating systems would be a moot matter if I didn't have a day job and I had the time and enthusiasm to tinker with computers for their own sake instead of using them productively as a means to an end. But I don't.

I've experimented with Linux off and on again for more than ten years, and I don't have the patience to deal with its case-sensitivity, its Byzantine file paths and multi-user emphasis, the complex rituals needed to achieve the functionality that goes for granted in Windows, or the fragmentation induced by rival distributions and desktop environments frantically trying to outdo each other with functional regressions and bad UI decisions.

"Just use BSD."

Many of the same caveats as Linux, with the added bonus that I know squat about it. Maybe someday...but that day is not any day soon.

So, that's the Laptop Conundrum I'm in now.

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Escape, Part 2 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=701 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=701#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 18:01:58 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=701 (Continued from Part 1.)

Teague Texaco

This building in the city of Vandalia falls solidly into the "roadside artifact" category: It's an old Texaco building in the Walter Teague style that was so common everywhere once upon a time ago. It's also unusual for having three service bays (most had two), and for preserving the original porcelain enamel coloring instead of being slathered over in an indifferent shade of paint.

Turnbull Plumbing Inc.

I came upon this billboard somewhere near the edge of Pike County, and felt right at home.

Superstore archesCounty Market, onetime Kroger

As a final treat of the day, while driving through Louisiana, Missouri (see what I mean about being geographically confused?) I glanced out the window and saw some familiar-looking archways on the far end of a shopping center. It turned out to be the calling card of a 1970s-era Kroger store at the opposite end of the concourse...an artifact of their long-defunct St. Louis division, no doubt. The building itself was now housing a store by the name of County Market, and had a fresh and modern renovation.

In reverse scenario from my drive the other way, the sun set on me as I crossed the bridge into Illinois...so my pictures ended there. I soon found myself driving through utter darkness looking frantically for a spot to take a diarrheic toilet break, since my lunch of the day had not gone over well.

And so ended my conference and road trip repertoire of 2015.

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Skepticon 8, Day 3: Escape http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=695 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=695#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 03:25:50 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=695 The long drive home from Skepticon passed without too much catastrophe or incident. Fortunately, I also passed a generous helping of oddities and roadside artifacts along the way...

Ruined Conoco

It seems that the canopy roof on this onetime gas station in Springfield had a little...mishap. Either that, or it lost the will to have any semblance of structural integrity. I believe it was a Conoco originally.

Reagan building

I stopped and stared when I discovered a building by the old city hall in Lebanon, Missouri with the unfortunate name "Reagan" inscribed into it. Oh well...

Insurance Hut

This is the ex-pizza Insurance Hut of Mexico, Missouri. (Yes, I was starting to feel increasingly geographically confused.)

Missouri highways

Like Wisconsin, the state of Missouri refers to secondary highways by letters rather than numbers. Usually this is fine, but once in a while this causes a truly horrible juxtaposition to result.

To be continued in part 2...

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Skepticon 8, Day 3: Success in Springfield http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=688 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=688#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 02:09:00 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=688 My third day in Springfield, Missouri began much like any other...but with a few twists.

Over breakfast, I met a pair of non-conferencegoers who asked me what Skepticon was about. So, I explained: "It's a skeptic and atheist conference with discussions about activism, community, and current events. Eight years ago, a few people decided to see if they could put on an event like that here in the heart of the Bible Belt, and it's become an annual event ever since." Surprisingly, neither of their heads burst into flame.

I returned to my hotel room to find the bill slid under my door. I loaded my things, checked out, and walked back to the convention center for another morning of scintillating dialogue.

Niki M.

The scheduled 10 a.m. speaker was pre-empted by a traffic tie-up, so instead we were treated to a presentation by Niki M. about Reproductive Justice: Activism on the Sidewalk. Niki described at length the details of her work as a clinic escort in the Twin Cities area...helping recipients of abortion services make their way to the front doors while hordes of angry Christian fetus-fetishists stand around them and scream. She went on to discuss some of tactics used by opponents such as fake clinics designed to trick and trap pregnant people seeking abortions, and provided an overview of the organizations actively working to undermine bodily autonomy today.

Bo Bennett

Bo Bennett later followed with a lecture titled "The Psychology of Woo," and then it was high noon. Stephanie Zvan and Kavin Senapathy had yet to go on stage (and I would have loved to have seen them both), but the forces of time and distance meant that it was not to be: Getting back to Madison, Wisconsin meant a twelve-hour drive on the road, Monday was an early-rise work day, and the clock was ticking. So I bid a few quick goodbyes, and made my way out the door...happy and satisfied with my convention weekend.

How was Skepticon as an experience? In one word: Awesome. The selection of speakers was extensive, diverse, and exciting. Hundreds upon hundreds of attendees from all over the country were underfoot. The conference had a clearly-defined harassment and conduct policy, and to my delight it was enforced. Another thoughtful touch was a color-coding system for name badges, with different stickers being used to indicate peoples' different engagement and comfort levels. Apart from the untimely Mizzou Q&A and a few moments of confusion, I was very impressed by the conference and its motions toward accessibility and individual respect. And aside from the hotel room, the conference was free.

I was happy to see many people that I had met at cons in the past...including Greta and Ingrid, Stephanie, Benny, Richard Carrier (if only briefly and underwater!), and PZ. I was also pleased to meet many new people for the first time, including Kavin, Niki, Jason, Trinity, and a horde of people I chatted with but shortsightedly forgot to write down the names of. Damn!!

Comparisons between conferences are almost inevitable, and it's probably a good thing that I attended the tiny Reason Fest in Winnipeg before Skepticon 8 was a thing...because it never would have compared. Skepticon feels like the beating heart of skeptic/atheist activism at its best, and it's become the standard by which other cons are judged.

Skepticon T-shirts

Now, if only the T-shirt designs had been better. (I considered getting one, but didn't see much call in wearing an uncaptioned pink blob on a board.)

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Skepticon 8, Day 2 pt. 2: Fighting fundamentalism and... http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=674 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=674#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 06:00:45 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=674 Mary Anne Franks

Presentations in the main hall quickly resumed that afternoon, and one of the highlights was Mary Anne Franks of the University of Miami. The focus of her presentation was fighting fundamentalism...by deconstructing its features and putting ourselves within the minds of our opponents. She then extended her discussion beyond religion alone into matters of "legal fundamentalism" exercised by gun nuts and online harassers, and even touched upon the Mizzou protests...unintentionally highlighting the holes in the previous speaker's premises in the process.

Since my lunchtime had been pre-empted by Schierbecker's bitter screed, I was hungry for something huge. Food trucks were parked outside and I wasn't in the mood for pasties, so I ordered a tasty pizza. While I ate, it struck me that I still hadn't once stepped outside the premises of the hotel since coming to Springfield...Skepticon was a world within a world.

Dino

And speaking of that world...

Hiba Krisht

Hiba Krisht spoke of her experiences as an ex-Muslim from Lebanon, and went into depth about the implications of her country's long-lasting sectarian conflict and civil war. Superimposed in the background was a picture of the speaker herself, cloaked in the armaments and garb of her younger days...a reality that she escaped from upon emigration at the age of 23. At the end, an audience member gave an impassioned outcry: "What can we do about this?" Hiba's answer was both succinct and sobering: "Nothing."

Destin Sandlin

Finally, we got to see a presentation by Destin Sandlin. He was an odd choice for Skepticon: A Christian who produces YouTube videos about cats and chickens, cites Psalms 111:2 while doing so, and repeats self-deprecating comments about himself and his Alabama upbringing into oblivion. On stage, he demonstrated a backwards-steering bicycle that he used as an analogy for differences in theistic belief: Once you're used to riding one way, you can't easily ride the other. Not sure what I thought of that; though at least the physical antics were somewhat entertaining.

Skepti-Prom

I never attended my high school prom, but I had the option at the end of the day to go to the Skepti-Prom...a visually-stimulating ordeal with pounding music that reminded me why I don't hang out in nightclubs very often. I poked around for five minutes, then elected to spend the evening in the pool instead...ending Day 2 on a relaxing note.

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Skepticon 8, Day 2: Success and disaster http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=657 http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=657#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 02:20:09 +0000 Andrew T. http://www.andrewturnbull.net/log/?p=657 After a restful night, I managed to snag breakfast with a few acquaintances and made my way to the main conference hall. What would happen in Skepticon's second day? I was excited to find out.

Islam: A Primer for Atheists

The first speaker of the day was Muhammad Syed, who shared his knowledge and experiences (by way of Pakistan) in a presentation titled "Islam: A Primer for Atheists." Syed is the founder and president of Ex-Muslims of North America.

Following him was Fallon Fox, a transgender mixed martial artist (MMA) fighter. A tense moment came in the Q&A afterwards when some guy in a Tapout shirt prompted Fallon with a rude question about her "manhood"...and the convention organizers responded to the person with a cut-off and dismissal. I was impressed by how well and how quickly the incident was diffused.

I was ready for lunch, but I stayed seated in place: Word had gotten around that the conference organizers had made a last-minute addition to the schedule, and we would have a back-and-forth question-and-answer session about the racist incidents and surrounding protests at the University of Missouri. It was a current event of pertinent significance in the state of our conference, it made perfect sense to have a discussion about it, and I looked forward to seeing what information and engagement the next hour would bring.

The clock struck high noon, and the session got under way. It struck me that a few things were amiss: There was only one participant...a white self-described photojournalist by the name of Mark Schierbecker...and his "dialogue" turned out to be a monologue. Mark wasn't involved with the protests themselves, but shared recollections of his attempts to brazenly film them...notably, without articulating the participants' motivations or gaining confidence around them to reduce their suspicion.

He shared a sample of his footage (that came off as minutes of chaos, shedding no insight whatsoever on the situation) and spent the remainder of the hour making points of entitlement...letting loose that his objective wasn't to end the racist harassment and chancellor conduct at Mizzou prompting the protests, but rather to lobby for the firing of a Mizzou staff member who turned him away when he violated a safe space. Then...whoops! Out of time! Guess this wasn't a Q&A after all.

Fortunately, the audience wasn't silenced easily. An observer in the second row raised her hand and challenged Schierbecker's privilege and audacity in inflating his indulgences as a white journalist above years of anti-black oppression. Several others joined in, pointing out his obliviousness to privacy, the backwardness of his priorities, and the regular record of journalistic coverage being used to spin and lie about protests. On the final front, Schierbecker's reputation preceded himself: His coverage of the Mizzou protests was latched onto by Breitbart and fucking Storm Front as "evidence" that protesters were thugs, and he had done nothing to withdraw the footage or stop them from using it to their ends. I looked back near the end, and saw four or five of the people that I knew storm out of the room in disgust. I was pinned near the front, and waited through to the end. That end came with a whimper, with the disgraced photojournalist offering up "autism" as the excuse for his behavior...thus throwing people with neurological conditions under the bus. I tried rejoining my acquaintances at the lunch table afterward, but they shooed me away so they could process what they had just experienced among themselves...so I was left to cope by myself.

To their credit, the Skepticon organizers publicly apologized for this fiasco of an event, and Danielle Muscato resigned as Schierbecker's public relations manager afterward. Unfortunately the stench remained, and what was done could not be undone. It also didn't help that a pack of regressive assholes tried spinning the incident on social media afterward as a tale of how mean ol' Skepticon had supposedly bullied a pitiful, autistic boy for no reason at all.

Several of the people who were in attendance at the Q&A subsequently wrote about their experiences there. For further insight, I recommend reading the pieces by Alex Rudewell, Jason Thibeault, and Feminace.

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