Afternoon Inquisition, 12.27

Yes kids, aren’t you lucky! Due to an unforeseen emergency involving matters of national security (I’ve already said too much and I don’t want to have to kill you all), Carr2d2 needs someone to cover for her AI today.  So you get a double up from me – two Masala Afternoon Inquisitions in a row.  You may bask and revel now. Oh, and also answer the following question:

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my parents the past few weeks and it’s got me thinking about my past and my role models.  

Who are your role models?  What people, either directly or through their actions, do you think made you who you are? Why?


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. Spock, my dad, and (strange as it may sound) my nephew. Not necessarily in this order.

    Spock made me think that I should think critically and logically. Also that science can come up with the best answers available at a particular point in time.

    My dad, by example, taught me how to live life properly and respect people. Yes, he’s still a staunch Catholic today and we’ve disagreed on many things (as I’ve told you before), but he has heart and integrity. He’s not judgmental the way the Pope and one of my brothers are.

    Somehow or other, I gave my nephew enough knowledge in automotive technology (I’m only a “weekend grease monkey”) to get him REALLY going. He’s a service manager now, we’re very good friends, and the tech stuff he calls to tell me about (I won’t say about the racing) just gets my brain going in a direction different than IT and accounting does. He’s been doing that for years now.

  2. @Knurl: I forgot to say this. As far as my nephew being a role model goes, it’s “do it on the strip, or you’ll do it in jail”. ‘Nuff said.

  3. Since this is a skeptical website I’ll focus on skepticism (I don’t want to bore everyone with all of my intensely interesting characteristics :P). I know this is lame, but I’m also going to have to credit Star Trek – in particular, Gene Roddenberry for coming up with it. Also my dad. He’s an old conservative curmudgeon, but the personality for being able to skeptically consider what I read/hear/see came from him. My skepticism has been strengthened by the arguments I’ve had with him. So I guess I’d also have to give a shout out to that Calvanist guy I spent a year “debating” evolution with (quotes because his arguments consisted of that “getting sharks from tigers” nonsense). My arguments for evolution were strengthened by explorng the creationist POV and by participating with others who were defending evolution and seeing what they had to say.

  4. Oddly enough, I have to credit my music teachers. Music is not really associated with skepticism, and, truth be told, most musicians are not skeptics. And yet, a musical education teaches you that the greatest heights of human experience are all within the realm of purely human activity. Look at Tristero (ten times the composer I’ll ever be, who blogs at Digby’s place) to see how a musical background leads to skepticism. It’s all about understanding and manupulating human aspirations.

    For me, it was Randy Brugh in high school, and in college, people like David Baker, Charles Gorham, Donald Erb, and Frederick Fox. These names are really only known to the handful of people into academic musicology, but they taught me what it is to be human, to be skillful, and by extension, what it is to be real.

  5. My mother: the nicest lady in the world.

    My uncle: a true renaissance man.

    My father: an archie bunker prototype who reminded me how not to behave by example and yet how to behave as he had a heart of gold who literally gave the shirt off his back to many.

    My two closest childhood friends whom with I shared and formed my wonderfully geeky childhood.

    My grad school friend who tried like hell to ungeek me – I can fake being suave and de-boner WHEN I need to now through good clothes , but I can’t fake that attytude.

    My med school friend who was a wonderful combination of compassion and NYC kinda cool.

    My sons : for allowing me a zillion opportunities to return to my geeky roots.

    My wife: the nicest lady in the world.

  6. I couldn’t say role model, but I can credit four things for making me the skeptic I am. My father, for being the one who let me see that it’s ok to doubt, even if he went along with being Catholic (in theory). Greek mythology and the Arabian Nights for letting me see what other culture’s myths look like, so I recognized Catholic mythology as exactly that, myths. And Isaac Asimov. A few of his non-fiction books were in my grade school library, and I checked them out and read them again and again over my early childhood years, and that got me in to astronomy, and from there, other sciences. And it’s from my love of science and rational thought that my politics and skepticism stem. The funny thing was, I didn’t even notice who the author was for a long time, I had no idea who he was, and was amazed to find out later that he was a famous science fiction author, and that got me reading his other works. All good stuff, but those books on astronomy were the most important to me.

  7. Hmmm.
    Spock (logic, critical thinking, being yourself in spite of what others think),
    Sherlock Holmes (observation, deduction, logic, and staying away from drugs. As I’m sure most of you know, Holmes was a cocaine addict.),
    Carl Sagan (It’s OK to be a skeptic – really! And it can be fun! The Cosmos is a cool place, far cooler than pseudoscience because it’s all true and verified!),
    Richard Feynman (even though I’m awful at advanced math) because he showed me that you can be and have a Hell of a lot of fun and still be a world-class scientist. I quit believing the “cold fish in a lab coat” stereotype after reading “Adventures of a Curious Character.”

  8. James Burke, producer and host of Connections, for helping to feed my interest in science and history as a young kid (I still watch those old episodes today). And he led me to…

    Carl Sagan, for introducing me to astronomy, skepticism and critical thinking, and all that stuff that that QA dude above me said.

    My high-school art teacher for believing in me and helping me to get into college. Without him I’d probably still have no idea what I want to do with my life.

    Oh yes, and Star Trek too :D

  9. Unfortunately for me, Bill Burroughs Sr. and Jr. and Hunter S. Thompson.

    Charles Sheffield and pre-mind death James P. Hogan.

    Douglas Hoffstadter has been the longest running influence. Gödel, Escher, Bach is one of the greatest books ever written.

    Stuart Kauffman is why I am studying what I’m studying.

    Douglas Adams, James Burke.

  10. My lesbian 10th grad anatomy and physiology teacher. While she did not inspire me to become lesbian, she did inspire to become a scientist.

    Ray Bradbury for getting me interested in reading sci fi.

    My dad for watching all the silly 80’s sci fi shows on TV.

    My husband for teaching me how to think critically without forcing his beliefs on me.

  11. My dad, for being an outspoken atheist when it was totally un-OK.

    My mom, for talking to me openly about politics, sex, and other difficult young-person issues, and for never talking down to me.

    My husband, for being a super-smart physicist dude who always assumed I was equally intelligent, and who always seems fascinated with what I have to say, and who remains calm and rational when all around him are working themselves up into ideological tizzies

    Julia Sweeney, for “Letting Go of God,” because I feel like she IS me, only better-spoken and funnier; and because she taught me a lot about skepticism when I first heard her show

    Richard Dawkins, for “God Delusion,” need I say more?

    And all the skepchicks (and -dudes) here, because knowing this group exists makes me braver and happier

  12. My mother taught me to be good. My father taught me to be diplopatic. Frank Zappa taught me to explore. George Carlin taught me to get mad, laugh at myself, and not to take any bullshit. Andrew Trice taught me how to eat. Richard Dawkins taught me how to think. The founding fathers taught me how to stand up for something bigger than myself. Jim Henson taught me how to activate my imagination to make the world a better place. Ernest Hemingway taught me how to write. Lewis Trondheim taught me how to draw. My friends for teaching me how to drink.

  13. Walter Cronkite for the show The 21st Century which helped me look forward to the future during a time of extreme turbulence (the 60s)

    Jackie Gleason for teaching me about snarky humor which I still love.

    Mostly, my older brother Pat who was a naturally talented artist of the highest caliber who would have been a world class illustrator if only he had not been plagued with manic depression. This condition resulted in his taking of his own life 8 years ago and I miss him terribly. He was simply one of the coolest people I have ever known.

  14. As I look up at my 2008 Muhammad Ali calender, there can be only one answer.

    Donny Osmond,


    Just kidding, it’s Muhammad Ali.

  15. For science: Sagan and Feynman. Usual reasons, they made Science seem not only Awesome (in the proper sense of the word) but also accessible.

    for politics: Orwell, Lenin and Benn.

    for life stuff: Churchill. I pretty much coasted through High School and College without really doing any work but hit a rough patch in my early 20’s and wanted to pack in “The Whole Science thing” and was all ready to do so, when the night before I was going to tell my tutor I was off I had a dream inwhich he came to me (obviously it was my sub-conscious mind at work) and said:

    “Soooohm, throwing in the Towel at the first setback are you? MeerAny times, in my life, I suffered manyah setbacks MeerAnd Misfortunes, but I NeerVah giave up. MeerEye also, Failed my exams, MeerEye also Failed to succeed in my chosen profession MeerWhen I was your age. MeerhEye was a laughing stock, ErrrMong my peers until 1940. MeerEye did not give up in the face, of MeerAdversity, are you?

    For all his many manifest flaws, Churchill was not a quitter and I alway remember “his” words to me that night whenever I’m in a rough patch

  16. As far as getting into skepticism about two years ago it was Penn & Teller. They led me to Randi, Dawkins, etc, etc.

    As far as before that, I really wasted the first forty years of my life. I can trace back how but that’s like blaming being over weight on baby fat.

    I’m just not going to waste the next forty plus years.

  17. I don’t know that I have role models per se (the closest, I guess, in terms of people I seek to emulate, might be Dirk Gently), but I do have a pair of Science Heroes.

    Nikola Tesla: Because, seriously, the guy was a genius. A badass genius who lit the world not because he wanted to make a buck, but because he believed everyone deserved to have the benefits of electricity, and he had an idea for how to bring it to them.

    And then he built a giant robot and teamed up with Mark Twain to save the world from JP Morgan’s eldritch magics.

    Claude Elwood Shannon: Because, like Tesla, he made the modern world possible. He laid the groundwork for information theory and logic design, fields vital to the development of modern computing and information technology. He also dabbled in biology, too, and he has both the Shannon Theorem for characterising noisy communications channels and the Shannon Index for quantitatively expressing biodiversity named after him. And he figured out how to make computers play chess in 1950.

    So, anyway, that’s what I value in heroes or role models or what have you. I respect people who build foundations for others to expand on in the future.

  18. My mother who raised me to be intelligent, unashamed of myself and accepts me despite my occasional inability to act as a self-sufficient adult.

    And the rest of them are fictional. I feel weird idolizing real people sometimes. But I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without Anne Shirley, Buffy Summers, and former WWF/WWE Women’s Champion Lita.

  19. @russellsugden: Remember what Mr. Churchill once said: “If you’re going through Hell, whatever you do, don’t STOP!” ;-)

    I do have immense respect for Orwell and re-read 1984 every few years, just as a reminder.
    I love Penn & Teller, but they weren’t around when I was young, sad to admit.

    It sounds as if Tressa and I are of a similar age. There’s no going back – I wish there was, but…
    I made up for lost time to some extent by going back to college at 41 and getting my BS degree. If I ever hit the lottery, I’d become a professional student and not quit until I had more degrees than a thermometer. :-D I love to learn and do best in a classroom environment, though I can do well with CBT. I prefer the “give and take” of the classroom environment.

  20. My grandfather, a journalist in San Francisco, was a bit of an influence. When I was about 13 he told me that the velcro on my shoes came from the endangered Velcro animal. I felt really guilty for a few months, until I asked a teacher, then I felt really stupid. If Gramps can lie to you, don’t trust anyone!

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