Godless Grad Student

news and reflections from an active atheist and disabled graduate student

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PRESS RELEASE: Atheist Convention to present Christopher Hitchens with prestigious award named after Richard Dawkins

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June 22, 2011

For Immediate Release

At the Atheist Alliance of America (AAA) Convention, held in
conjunction with the Texas Freethought Convention, AAA will present
the 2011 Richard Dawkins Award to Christopher Hitchens for his
outstanding contributions to freethought.  The convention, with a
theme of “From Grassroots to Global Impact”, will be held from October
7-9, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Houston, Texas.  The line-up
includes prominent speakers such as Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer,
PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott, and Victor Stenger as well as entertainment.

The Richard Dawkins Award has been presented annually since 2003 to
notable individuals for their work on behalf of promoting atheism and
freethought around the world.  Past recipients include Susan Jacoby,
Bill Maher, Penn and Teller, Julia Sweeney, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Daniel
Dennett, Ann Druyan, and James Randi.

This year, Richard Dawkins himself will present AAA’s Richard Dawkins
Award to Christopher Hitchens, who may accept in person or in absentia
as his schedule permits.

Christopher Hitchens is one of the most prolific modern writers and
exponents of atheism; he has appeared on every major news and
political television show offering opinions on political and social
issues.  He has contributed to Vanity Fair, The Nation, Slate, the New
York Times Book Review, and Atlantic Monthly, among many other
publications.  His books include Hitch 22: A Memoir, God is Not Great:
How Religion Poisons Everything, and The Missionary Position: Mother
Teresa in Theory and Practice.

Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England and educated at The Leys
School in Cambridge and Balliol College, Oxford. He holds an honors
degree in philosophy, politics and economics. Hitchens emigrated to
the United States in 1981 and became an American citizen in 2007.  In
June 2010, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Nick Lee, President of Atheist Alliance of America said, ”The Atheist
Alliance of America is proud to recognize Mr. Hitchens for his
prominent role in the public debate over the impact of religion in
modern society.”

Registration for the Atheist Alliance Convention opens on June 25th,
at www.atheistallianceamerica.org.

######
About Atheist Alliance of America

Atheist Alliance of America (AAA) seeks to coordinate the local
activities of autonomous, self-governing, and democratic member
societies in their educational, advocacy, and community-building
programs, while presenting a positive voice for the atheist and
freethought community in the United States.  AAA, resulted from a
process to separate the former Atheist Alliance International into
it’s US and international components.  As the US component, AAA will
celebrate its formal launch at the Houston convention.

www.atheistallianceamerica.org

######

Contact

Nick Lee
President, Atheist Alliance of America
201-288-2766
President@atheistallianceamerica.org

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Written by godlessgradstudent

June 22, 2011 at 9:01 am

Press Release: Godless Bus Shelter Ads along National Mall Launch New Coalition

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Godless Bus Shelter Ads along National Mall Launch New Coalition

Will Be Seen by Crowds at Jon Stewart Rally and Science Expo

For Immediate Release

(Washington DC, October 19, 2010) “Don’t Believe in God? Join the club.”

These words are part of prominent bus shelter ads near the National Mall in Washington DC that will be visible to pedestrians and drivers on Independence and Constitution Avenues for the next four weeks. Thus they will be seen by those who work in the area as well as visitors attending such Mall events as the USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo on October 23 and 24, the dueling rallies of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert on October 30, and the 35th Marine Corps Marathon on October 31 (miles 18 and 19).

The 67″x46″ bus shelter ads feature the words superimposed over an image of a blue sky and fluffy clouds. They were placed by the new Washington DC Area Coalition of Reason (Washington CoR) with $7,875 in funding from the United Coalition of Reason (United CoR).

Washington CoR is made up of 12 area groups which, according to its website, seek to “enhance the growth, visibility and acceptance of nontheists throughout the metro area” and promote “wider acceptance of a more rational view of the universe and a more compassionate view of those who live in it.” A complete list of the participating organizations and friends of the coalition can be found athttp://washington.unitedcor.org/node/7 . Members of these groups plan to march under a Coalition of Reason banner at the Jon Stewart rally on October 30.

The Washington DC campaign is also part of a national effort. Already this year there have been similar billboards and bus ads in Austin, Des Moines, Detroit, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tucson, Sacramento, St. Louis, and Seattle. Last year there were United CoR-sponsored billboard, bus, and subway ads in 20 cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Tulsa, Phoenix and San Diego.

“The point of our nationwide awareness campaign is to reach out to the millions of atheists, agnostics and humanists living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason. “Such individuals sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re flooded with traditional religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

Reaching out to the like-minded isn’t the only goal of the effort. “We also want the public to see that there are many humanists, agnostics and atheists living here as part of the community,” added Shelley Mountjoy, coordinator of Washington CoR. “We’re your friends, neighbors, coworkers and relatives. And like many people, we are leading quality lives: contributing to neighborhood and nation and living our values.”

“Being visible is important for us,” Edwords concluded, “because atheists and agnostics in our society often don’t know many people of like mind. Furthermore, if traditionally religious people can be open about their views, why shouldn’t we be open about ours?”

# # #

For hi-res images of the bus shelter ads, free for media use, see the right sidebar on this page. The exact locations of the bus shelters are as follows:

Independence Avenue, south side, 10 feet west of 12th Street, SW, facing east. This is in front of the Smithsonian Metrorail Station (Independence Avenue exit) next to the Department of Agriculture and the Knapp Memorial Arch and across the street from the Department of Energy. It doubles as a stop for the Open Top Sightseeing Bus.

Independence Avenue, south side, 90 feet west of 3rd Street, SW, facing east. This is in front of the Voice of America, across Independence from the Museum of the American Indian and across 3rd from the Department of Health and Human Services. It doubles as a stop for the 30s Metrobuses.

7th Street, east side, 30 feet south of Constitution Avenue, NW, facing north. This is next to the National Gallery of Art, across from the Sculpture Garden, catercorner from the National Archives and about a block south of the Archives-Navy Memorial Metrorail Station. It doubles as a stop for the Red Circulator Bus.

is

# # #

The Washington DC Area Coalition of Reason is a network of local groups that have joined together to increase the sense of community among like-minded people and to enhance the growth, visibility, and acceptance of nontheists throughout the Washington DC metro area.

The United Coalition of Reason is a national organization, headquartered in Washington DC, that works to raise the visibility and sense of unity among local groups in the community of reason by providing funding, expertise, and opportunities for cooperation.

# # #

For more information contact:

Shelley Mountjoy
Coordinator, Washington CoR
202-285-3298
washington.dc.cor@gmail.com
www.WashingtonCoR.org

Steve Lowe
Media Rep., Washington CoR
202-957-1781
washington.dc.cor@gmail.com
www.WashingtonCoR.org

Fred Edwords
National Director
United Coalition of Reason
202-550-9964
fredwords@unitedcor.org
UnitedCoR.org

 

I did not enjoy TAM 8… here’s why.

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TAM 8 was held in the South Point Hotel and Casino. Prior to getting on the plane, I called to make a reservation for the shuttle. At that time, I was told that all of their shuttles (airport and mall) were accessible. I also spent a good deal of time online reading about how Las Vegas (casinos) have “treated the disabled as  first class citizens even before the ADA” so I was looking forward to getting out and enjoying the city. At the airport the shuttle was marvelous and the driver was friendly…little did I know, the next time things would be so accessible would be when I boarded the shuttle to return to the airport. In the past seven years I have used a wheelchair, I’ve stayed in a number of hotels; South Point was, by far, the least accessible.

When I checked in, I was asked if I wanted a shower or bathtub… bathtub please! You have a tub bench, right? Wrong. The front desk called housekeeping and subsequently told me they did not have benches left. I asked when they anticipated having one as I was willing to go a night without a bath. She didn’t know so in the end I took the room with the shower. Logically, why would a hotel not have a shower bench for every accessible tub? No, I don’t mean every bathroom but simply every accessible bathroom. It just makes sense and not doing so would be a bit like not having enough sheets for all the beds! At the very least they could have kept track of which rooms their benches were in and how long the corresponding guests were staying. (I’ll come back to what happened when I tried to use the shower.)

The largest issue was the floor throughout the hotel. Keep in mind, the hotel was huge (2,200 rooms) and it was often a bit of a distance from A to B. Essentially, the floor was uneven – perhaps it could be described as wobbly in places – and often the carpet was not tight. It resembled more of a drapery than a tight floor covering. Logically, it’s probably difficult to pull the carpet tight and flat with an uneven floor!. It was difficult and exhausting to push myself and even when another person was assisting it was near impossible to keep my chair in a straight line. It was so bad that I would not be surprised if able-bodied people occasionally tripped or had issues with rolling luggage.

In the bathroom, the drain was not at the lowest part of the shower! Despite using bedsheets and towels to hold the water back, it was difficult and unsafe for me to transfer from my chair in the pond that quickly became the bathroom floor. I’m always in a bad mood after risking my safety for what should be an easy routine task. With that much water the floor stayed wet until housekeeping mopped it up; therefore creating a mess every time I returned to the bathroom to brush my teeth, etc.

Another major issue I had was the shuttle to the mall. Keep in mind, they told me the mall shuttle was accessible before I arrived. I purchased tickets to a show one night from the hotel travel agent; I even made a point of selecting a show closer to the shuttle drop off than the one I initially selected. When I went to board the shuttle there was no wheelchair lift.  The driver said I could ask the front desk and they would send a shuttle with a lift. Well, after three hours at the front desk there was still no shuttle. The most annoying part of the entire conversation was when the supervisor told me they “aren’t required to have an accessible shuttle” as if that made up for the fact that they told me it was accessible before I arrived and I would not have purchased show tickets and been excited about the show if I knew I could not take the shuttle.  Would a hotel tell you they have a pool and then, when you arrive and wonder where the pool is, state that they “aren’t required” to have a pool?  I don’t think so.

Some of my accessibility issues were specific to the conference – for instance, I hate buffets. (TAM had two buffet lunches included in registration and I attended one.) The difficulty of balancing a plate with one hand while pushing with another is bad enough when able-bodied people let you ahead of the line. However, none of the other participants were considerate in this regard – in fact a few people pushed me out of the way as the buffet line resembled a stampede of cattle. Fun. I gave up a quarter of the way through and took a space at the nearest table.

Since I run the Drinking Skeptically in Richmond, I was interested in checking out the Drinking Skeptically event at TAM but that too turned into more of a disappointment. It was essentially held in a bar that I’ll describe as a fenced-in platform. While there was a ramp, the furniture was packed in so tight I couldn’t move once I came up the ramp. I probably made it about three feet before becoming so frustrated and heading back to the room.

There were tons of other issues in the hotel. In general, I felt like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc. were an afterthought. Almost like someone went through with a checklist of requirements after construction and ignored how someone with a disability actually lives. For instance, there were large signs indicating the presence of a movie theater but when I arrived there was only an escalator. I later discovered another (significantly smaller) sign for movies on the other side of the hotel where an elevator was in fact located. I did go to a movie and bowling – both of which were highlights of the weekend. Good thing I went on a scavenger hunt for that elevator! It is common practice in such a situation for a venue to have a sign at the dominate entrance to tell people where the elevator is and I think it is downright irresponsible to send those people who have the most difficulties with mobilities searching for a way upstairs!

They did comp one night in the hotel for the inconvenience of the shuttle situation and a $25 dining credit in consideration of spending three hours at the front desk.  I did enjoy the meal but I would have preferred to see the show.

When I registered for TAM 8, I was intending to spend 2 weeks in Las Vegas. However, due to extenuating circumstances, the trip was cut to 5 days and that turned out to be a good thing. Although all the talks I did hear were great, when I have to fight so hard just to get ready and down to the conference room, I find it difficult to have a good time.  In general, I am the type of person that tries to go out of my way to make things accessible but it really became such a disappointment when I was faced with barriers turn after turn.  If only one or two problems had crept up it wouldn’t have been such a problem but it was almost a constant fight… I realize I didn’t even go into the bed being so high I almost injured myself. (EDIT: I’ve been told this line makes it sound as if I was high… I meant the bed was physically high – probably around 30 inches.  The ideal – for the disabled – is between 19 and 21 inches.)

I won’t be returning to TAM in the future – at least not if it’s held at South Point.

Written by godlessgradstudent

July 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm