Guest post: The Mancunian Way

Guest post by Al Lee.

The long and fascinating history of Manchester is punctuated by moments of important scientific, technological and industrial advance, as well as radical socialist thought and revolutionary action. Engels wrote about the “grim future of capitalism and the industrial age” when viewing the dark slums and working class conditions in the city. But without those bleak and hard days of the textile-driven, inchoate Industrial Revolution, we would not have the vibrant and independent city that we know today. The grim, mill-strewn, industrial landscapes of the city’s environs were depicted by L. S. Lowry and later mirrored in the sparse, hard-edged music of Manchester band Joy Division, and the Northern sardonic wit and desolate ordinariness of the people reflected in the words of Stephen Patrick Morrissey, all artists in many ways, being true to their own working class origins.

The city and its denizens have their own unique sense of irresponsible style and language, in a similar way, as does its great rival from 38 miles away, Liverpool. A reluctance or downright refusal to conform to the ideals and ideas of the rest of the country, London notably, have driven the city and its peoples to purposefully think and act differently to the rest of society throughout recent history. The important figure of Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) was born in Moss Side, Manchester. She was an English political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. There is a history here, for sure.

The more clued-up and cool supporters of the red side of the football-supporting community renamed the place, only in half-jest, ‘The Republic of Mancunia’. A working class nod and a wink, no doubt, to the history of independent, socialist thought and perhaps even the early Northern Co-operative workers’ movements.

With true genius comes real pain and anguish. Inseparable and clashing bedfellows, the two extremes have helped to drive the great minds of troubled, technological titans such as Alan Turing, who worked for many years at the University of Manchester, and was instrumental in birthing the nascent functions of the modern programmable computer, without which I would not be able to type this piece… or you to read it for that matter.
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Tidying up

A few last notes on QED.

I was doing talk-prep at the start of the morning Saturday so I missed most of a talk on the European werewolf, but I did make it to excellent talks by Steve Jones and David Aaronovitch. (I never met either of them, alas. This event was a big success, so there were a lot of people, so it was impossible to meet everyone.) In the afternoon Richard Saunders did a great talk about being a tv skeptic and how to fake the power balance bracelet demonstration. (It’s simple. First you exert pressure on the subject in a way guaranteed to tip her over, then when she’s put on the bracelet you exert pressure on her in a way guaranteed not to tip her over.)

In the evening there was a gala dinner. (I felt like Jet-setty Glam Social Party-going Globetrotter Person, I can tell you, reflecting on the fact that the previous Saturday I was sitting between Liz Cornwell and PZ Myers, with Dan Dennett two places away and Russell Blackford across the table, at a gala dinner, and here I was the following Saturday at another gala dinner. I’m not usually Glam Globetrotter Person, to put it mildly.) There was one of those posh desserts with three parts, one part being something in a shot glass. The something was Mento Vimto, which is a Manchester specialty, a raspberry cordial type of thing. It’s really good. Well done Manchester. There was a prize-giving. There was comedy: Robin Ince and a local fella called Alun Cochrane, who’s funny as hell. Well done Manchester again.

Edzard Ernst did a talk Sunday morning. He neither likes nor approves of Prince Chahls. (I never met him either. Another alas.) (No regrets though. The event was a success. That’s the important thing!)

Maryam talked a little bit about Julian in her talk: about apologetic backing-away atheism and Julian as an example of it. Author and I exchanged some knowing looks.

Deafening applause when she finished. Geoff went up onstage and said that was the longest applause of any talk at the event. Maryam was the star of the whole thing.


Get me, I have a hand

I’m back. I had a sensational time. Here’s a photo I saw via Twitter of me telling everyone what’s what.

Update: the photo is Adam Lappin’s; he has a whole post on the talk, along with posts on many other QED talks. (No one person can have posts on all of them because there were usually two going on at once.)

It occurs to me that it may not be strictly necessary to wear one’s badge while giving a talk. Typical. One minute I forget to take it with me and have to go back to 1224 to get it, the next minute I’m wearing it in the shower. You just can’t get it right, can you Basil.

Residual respect for an enduring institution

I did an interview with Geoff Whelan of QED which is now posted.

One of the questions was

Are you dismayed when those who you would think naturally would support a strong atheist position turn their criticism against those who directly challenge religion? Is there something about free thinkers that encourages dissent? Or are we talking about Dennett’s belief in belief, in the sense that someone may realise on an intellectual level that religious belief is false but that they still have residual respect for an enduring institution? [Read more…]