Reason Rally Wrap-Up, Part 1
It's Sunday morning, and I'm writing this on the train from Washington, D.C. back to New York. I'm exhausted, washed out, and my calves are two knots of pain from all the standing and walking I've been doing these past two days. But I feel like a live wire, buzzing with energy and happiness. I'm returning home from the Reason Rally, and it was tremendous. It was everything I had anticipated and more. When the history of the atheist movement is written, this is going to go down as a defining moment.
If you were there, you know what I'm talking about. If you weren't, this is how it all happened.
Above: The Reason Rally stage being set up the day before.
The day before was sunny, bright and hot, but the Saturday of the Reason Rally was cold and foggy, with drizzling bursts of rain throughout the day. But something as mundane as a little bad weather couldn't dampen the spirits of the crowd, which filled up an entire city block's length of the National Mall with ponchos and umbrellas in tow. (If God was trying to send a flood to wash us infidels away, he couldn't muster up much. Poor guy, his powers seem to be ebbing.)
Above: The stage in the early morning of the rally.
Above: The crowds start arriving.
We congregated at the base of the Washington Monument, where the speakers took their places on the podium of a stage facing the Capitol, flanked by two giant screens showing them up close. The crowd was immense. The number I heard - supposedly given by the Park Service, although I can't confirm that - was 25,000 people. That alone would easily make it the largest atheist gathering in modern history.
But that number, impressive as it is, doesn't capture the reality. That was 25,000 people who made the trip to Washington, D.C. from across the country, and then stood in the cold and the rain for eight hours to listen to a bunch of atheists speak. (Hat tip to my friends from the Freethinkers of the University of North Dakota, who drove 26 hours (!!) to be there, and then turned around to make the same trip back again the day after. If you want a microcosm of the atheist movement, of the passion and devotion that drives us, they're living it.)
Above: The crowds swell as the rally builds to a crescendo.
There were some counter-protestors, though not very many. Just before the beginning of the rally, I was approached by three people who turned out to be from a Christian apologetics group. They tried to engage me in an argument, and though they were polite enough, I really couldn't be bothered. This was our day, our moment in the sun, and I wasn't about to waste any of it debating theology that's two millennia past its sell-by date. I do enough of that on other occasions. (Also, for future reference, guys: Asking an atheist, "What do you think is the best argument for God?" isn't going to get you far. Bad enough you tried to horn in on a day that was for us atheists; I'm not doing your job for you to boot.)
Off to the side, there were some other protesters, these ones less polite. Again, I didn't engage with any of them, but each one was the center of a dense knot of atheists shooting rhetorical cannonades at them. If they wanted an argument, they certainly got it. I'm happy to say that all the debates I witnessed, however heated, were entirely civil in spite of their obvious attempt to provoke us. That's exactly how you handle these people. Just like with the gelato scandal at Skepticon IV, I'm repeatedly shown that the atheist community knows just how to behave and how to conduct ourselves in the face of hostility.
During the rally, I tweeted that Westboro Baptist hadn't made their promised appearance, but I later found out that was wrong. There were only a handful of them, just four or five, hidden away in a strange spot behind the stage. I never saw them, and I doubt that most people knew they were there at all.
But, as I said, this was our day. Enough about the preachers! As the Reason Rally showed, their day of irrelevance is approaching sooner than they think.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.