Carried in on a Litter

By Phil Plait | May 11, 2005 11:13 pm

Note added Thursday, May 12: Oops! I forgot to mention, the Eighth Skeptics Circle of blogs has been posted at Pharyngula’s place. And in keeping with my own blog entry below– nyah nyah, mine’s mentioned first!

This has been quite a week for me. Bear with me; I have a point to make, though not a terribly serious one.

First, I did a series of on-camera interviews for a telecourse I am helping edit. Basically, it’s like a TV series to accompany a well-known astronomy textbook; students watch the show to supplement the material in the book. I was hired to help edit the scripts– fact-check, add color commentary, that sort of thing.

There are many famous astronomers interviewed for the program, but sometimes we find later that there are some holes, some topics that we missed, and we need another on-camera talking head to verbiate and plug those gaps. I volunteered to do that, and we did the shots the other day. A crew consisting of the scriptwriter and the transcriber/editor/jane-of-all-trades came to my house to do the filming, and we spent a fun morning getting a bunch of interviews shot. I enjoy doing this sort of thing. It’s a bit like the blog; I get to ramble a bit, shoot off my mouth, except this time it’s on video and I can make silly faces and gesticulate a lot.

Then, that night, an interview I did for Penn and Teller‘s TV show on Showtime, called, ah, something I can’t print here and remain family friendly, finally aired. It was on the Moon Hoax, and I was worried I might look foolish, but in fact it turned out pretty well.

Then, the next day (today!) I did a radio interview. I also got an email asking me if I’d be interested in talking on TV about NASA’s upcoming Deep Impact mission. We haven’t worked that out yet, but still!

And what the heck, I’ll abandon any pretense of false modesty here and also say that I was very pleased with the feedback on my blog entry about science and why it’s cool. I wasn’t sure how it would float, and I was mildy surprised and very happy so many people liked it.

So it’s been quite a week, as I said before. This kind of stuff can easily go to one’s head.

I am not what you’d call a celebrity, really. I won’t be falsely modest, here– I loathe that sort of coyness and find it very insincere. I’m just being honest. A lot of people know about my site and all, and I’ve been on radio and TV and all that. I like to say that I’m famous among a very small group of people. My wife has a co-worker who said it much more concisely. He said I’m “secretly famous”. I love that phrase. The irony suits me.

But it’s funny- I go to skeptic meetings and such, and get treated like a celebrity. People stop me in the hall, I sign autographs in my book, things like that. It was pretty embarrassing at first, but I understand it– I still have my own heroes, and sometimes I can’t believe I get to hang out with folks like James Randi, Michael Shermer, and duh, Penn and Teller. So I understand the idea of celebrity fandom, though when I’m on the receiving end it feels… hmmm, "blasphemous" is the wrong word, but it’ll do.

I can see where some celebrities get full of themselves and lose touch with reality (cough cough J-Lo cough cough). I’m in no danger of that, but still… as a trained scientist, I have to allow for the possibility. So I have a failsafe mechanism, a tried-and-true device that will ensure I never get a big head. Are you ready? This is heady stuff:

I make sure I use scoopable cat litter for my cat, Gizmo.

And I also make sure it’s flushable. Nothing, and I mean nothing puts you back in your place like scooping redolent, fetid cat crap into a pie plate, walking it down the hall, and flushing it down the toilet. No matter how late I get home from some invited lecture, I always stop in the laundry room and scoop. I am, in the end, a slave to my cat’s somewhat inefficient digestive system.

As long as my cat is alive, I’ll stay grounded. Maybe we should make sure all our politicians have cats like mine. This country would be a better place.


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