Thanks for your patience during my blog break! I was at The Amazing Meeting last week: speaking on the diversity panel,
schmoozing networking, talking deep-level strategy, drinking, giving interviews, meeting readers, getting my brain stuffed, and laughing my ass off. And because Ingrid and I haven’t had a vacation alone together in approximately 865,673 years, we took a couple of extra days after TAM: to hang out in Las Vegas, stay at the kitten hotel, eat some serious food, drink some serious cocktails, see some ridiculous shows, and generally indulge ourselves.
Throughout both TAM and the post-TAM Vegas trip, I kept thinking, “Wow. This is the best thing about this trip.” And then something else would happen, and I’d think, “No, this is the best thing.” My head is spinning with images and ideas from all of it, and there is no way I’m going to string my thoughts about it together in any coherent fashion.
So here — in no particular order, except the order they’re coming into my exhausted, overloaded, Vegas-addled brain — are some of the best things about TAM.
Best Thing About TAM #1: Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I thought I was prepared for how excellent Tyson would be. I was wrong. Brilliant, hilarious, compelling, insightful, inspiring. One of the best public speakers I’ve seen. And he was way harsher on religion than I’d expected.
Best Thing About TAM #2: Meeting and chatting with Richard Dawkins. Who said he likes my blog, said he liked its frankness and wisdom, and hugged me. Yeah. That didn’t suck.
(Context for the hug, btw: I’d just told him that reading “The God Delusion” was why I became an atheist and an atheist activist. I’d said that I’d argued my way through the entire book, and called him many very rude names during the course of it… but that before I read it, I was calling myself an agnostic and was occasionally writing about skepticism, and after I finished I was calling myself an atheist and had decided to make atheism the core of my writing career. That’s when he asked if he could hug me. I think he was genuinely touched. He also hugged Ingrid, btw. I think it was because she said she was the one who’d made me read “The God Delusion.” :-) )
And for the record: No, I don’t think Dawkins covered himself in glory over Elevatorgate. I was still tickled to meet him. In fact, one of the things I like best about the atheist/ skeptical movement is that we don’t treat our heroes as saints. We can call people out on it when they screw up… and still respect and admire the things they do that are admirable and worthy of respect.
Best Thing About TAM #3: Rebecca Watson’s Game Show and Variety Hour. I was laughing so hard I was in actual pain.
Best Thing About TAM #4: Being on the diversity panel with Jamila Bey, Debbie Goddard, Hemant Mehta, and DJ Grothe, moderated by the excellent and ever-patient Desiree Schell. It got a lot more heated than any of us had expected — the panelists kept joking beforehand about how we needed to manufacture a controversy to keep people’s interest, and we wound up with a genuine, no-joke controversy on our hands. Namely: Should the skeptic movement apply skepticism to social issues such as the drug war and abstinence-only sex education — issues that are of interest to a more diverse population that skepticism isn’t reaching as well as we could be? Or are these issues beyond the scope of skepticism, and would focusing on them constitute mission drift? (I’ll almost certainly write more about this in the near future; in the meantime, Jen McCreight did a good summary of the panel as a guest post on the Friendly Atheist TAM live-blog.) The panel was more feisty than I’d expected, and at times I found it frustrating… but I also think it moved the larger conversation in this movement forward. And I’m extremely glad that we’re no longer debating whether we need to take steps to make our movement more diverse. We seem to have mostly moved on from that, and are now debating the best ways to go about it.
Best Thing About TAM #5: Waltzing with Ingrid to John Lennon’s atheist waltz (“God”), played by Penn Jillette’s band at Jillette’s Rock & Roll, Doughnut and Bacon Party. Life really doesn’t get much better than that.
(Also awesome: The moment at the Doughnut and Bacon Party, when they played Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” and the roomful of skeptics and atheists were bellowing along to “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” I took this pic at the party, and it kind of sums up the vibe, apart from its lack of either doughnuts or bacon.)
Best Thing About TAM #6: The panel discussion on “Our Future In Space,” in which the discussion about NASA funding priorities turned into a WWE-style cage match. Four scientists enter; one scientist leaves. My favorite bit was when Pamela Gay told Neil DeGrasse Tyson to shush. Several times.
Best Thing About TAM #7: Carol Tavris, co-author of “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts,” speaking about the science of cognitive dissonance and rationalization, and how we can apply it to argument and persuasion. I pretty much already knew most of the ideas in this talk… and I still had my brain re-arranged by it. I was re-writing my talk for the Secular Student Alliance in my head halfway through it.
Best Thing About TAM #8: Comedian Jamie Kilstein’s stand-up routine at Paul Provenza’s “Satiristas!” show. A rapid-fire rollercoaster of brilliance, bluntness, and shrieking hilarity, with a vibe somewhere between slam poetry and an eviscerating atheist blog rant. Meeting him was pretty awesome, too. It’s always entertaining when atheists do the fanboy/ fangirl thing at each other at the same time.
Best Thing About TAM #9: The panel discussion on placebos. My mind is now seriously re-arranged. I have to re-think everything I thought about placebos… including how to talk about them.
Best Thing About TAM #10: The TAM Fashion Mafia. There was some seriously excellent fashion at TAM. Lots of it, in fact. Ingrid and I packed for Vegas glamour and then worried that we’d be overdressed — and we so were not. Many lovely bonding moments were had with many skeptical fashionistas. (Plus I got some awesome steampunk jewelry at one of the tables. We had a running joke among the women I hung out with at TAM, about how we needed to have a TAM girls’ night to talk about shopping, fashion, and cute boys.)
Best Thing About TAM #11: The impromptu fashion show in the women’s bathroom at the Doughnut and Bacon Party. A sizable portion of the TAM Fashion Mafia happened to converge in the bathroom at the same time… and because it was the night of the Doughnut and Bacon Party, we were all dressed to the nines… and because it was the night of the Doughnut and Bacon Party, we were all tipsy enough to think that taking a group photo in the women’s bathroom would be a really good idea.
Best Thing About TAM #12: Richard Wiseman. I don’t even remember what he said now. I just remember that he was hilarious, and made us want to run out and buy all of his books.
Best Thing About TAM #13: The joke about triskaidekaphobia, and how ridiculous it is to be afraid of a number.
Best Thing About TAM #14: Richard Dawkins’ talk. Elizabeth Loftus’ talk. PZ Myers’ talk. Bill Nye’s talk. Pamela Gay’s talk. Michael Shermer’s talk. Eugenie Scott’s talk. Steven Novella’s talk. The panel on getting things done for science and skepticism. The panel on communicating skepticism. The workshop on recurring themes in medical mythology. The workshop on grassroots activism. Getting to meet Sastra — eep! (Is it silly to be star-struck about a Pharyngula commenter? If so, I don’t care.) Hanging out in the hotel hot tub at the Skeptics in the Tub party. The announcement that the Richard Dawkins Foundation would start sponsoring child care at atheist and skeptical conferences, to make them more accessible to women and lower-income folks. Meeting the woman who worked in the massage center in the spa at the hotel, who showed up in the conference hall thrilled and fascinated and gathering as many pamphlets as she could hold, who had had no idea until now that a community like this even existed. Getting to meet so many of my readers face to face. There really was a tremendous embarrassment of riches at TAM: any conference where I’m going, “Oh, yeah, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and Eugenie Scott and Michael Shermer were pretty great, too”… that’s a good time.
But it was also kind of an overwhelming time. And Ingrid and I really needed to decompress. So since we were already in Las Vegas, and since we’d been saying we wanted to go to Las Vegas ever since we’d been going out, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
So here — in no particular order, except the order they are coming into my exhausted, overloaded, Vegas-addled brain — are some of the best things about hanging out in Las Vegas after TAM was over.
Best Thing About Las Vegas #1: The Cosmopolitan Hotel. No shit. Las Vegas in general leaves me cold — it’s pretty much everything I loathe about American culture, distilled into one manipulative, pre-fab, oddly tedious pleasure palace. But I freaking love the Cosmopolitan. It’s an exquisite blend of elegant glamour, serious art/design, and sybaritic decadence. The decor and design is glamorous and Vegas-y, but done with real artistry and care, and with a sense of both playfulness and magnificence. (We especially loved the moving, changing, 3-D art installations in the lobby. Triple especially the ones inspired by 18th century botanical drawings, and the ones that looked like naked people trapped inside the columns.) And the food and cocktails were to die for. (Jaleo was particularly delightful, and not outrageously expensive. And I loved that the room service breakfast menu had the cocktail list right at the top… and that their cereal list included Captain Crunch.) We could have spent days in Las Vegas without leaving the hotel, and been perfectly happy. The next time we visit Vegas, we might do exactly that. No white kittens or human furniture like the ads promised… but we were not disappointed. We are so coming back.
Best Thing About Las Vegas #2: The Erotic Heritage Museum. I plan to write a whole lot more about this place in a later post. For now, I just want to say this: I absolutely loved how seamlessly and shamelessly the museum blends the sex education elements, the historical/ political elements, and the porny porny porn porn. There was no sense that the arousing elements of sex culture should be hidden, or excused, or treated any differently from the educational and political and supposedly loftier elements. And I got to meet Veronica Hart! Who works at the museum, and was greeting guests and running the cash register and generally running the place. (I would like to point out that when I met Richard Dawkins, I was able to keep my cool at least somewhat and say, “It’s a pleasure to meet you”… but when I met Veronica Hart, I totally lost my shit and gushed, “Oh my god! You’re Veronica Hart! It’s such an honor!”)
Best Thing About Las Vegas #3: The dirty Cirque du Soleil show. This was rather a mixed bag, truth to tell: the show was a mix of acrobatics and comedy/ clowning, and the comedy was obnoxiously, aggressively, cringingly bad, to the point of being nearly unbearable. But the acrobatics were freaking beautiful, and very hot indeed. Every time I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil, I’ve found it highly erotic, and I’ve always wanted them to take the obviously erotic elements of the show and just run with them. Their “Zumanity” show does exactly that — and it runs to a very good place indeed. There was a certain cheese factor, but it was mostly kept to a minimum (except for the vile comedy), and the cheese was eclipsed by the blend of acrobatic proficiency, visual artistry, and polymorphous perversity. I mean, come on. Half-naked lesbian acrobatics in a giant fishbowl of water. What’s not to like?
Best Thing About Las Vegas #4: Jabbawockeez. These are the hip-hop dance crew who won America’s Best Dance Crew the first year. They have their own Vegas show now, and when Ingrid and I found that out, we immediately put it on our list of Vegas Shows We Absolutely Had To See, Even Though It Made Our Vegas Schedule Ridiculously Overbooked. Awesome. A bit higher on the cheese factor than I might have liked — to be expected in Vegas, I suppose — and not quite the apotheosis of the art form’s potential that I’d hoped for. (I gas on a lot about how hip-hop dancing is the great new American art form, and I don’t think the show at the Monte Carlo quite lives up to that gassing.) But it was still an awfully good time, with much that was clever and inventive, and many jaw-dropping feats of power and agility, and plenty of high points indeed.
Best Thing About Las Vegas #5: Coming home. I had a ball, both at TAM and in Vegas afterwards. But I am overloaded on shiny surfaces and bright lights, and I’m thrilled to be back home, in my matte- finish San Francisco neighborhood. (Ingrid is amused, btw, by my use of the word “matte” to mean “dirty and scruffy.”)
So I’m home. Home! And this is my room. And you’re all here. And I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again. Until a week from now, when I head to the Secular Student Alliance Annual Conference. Which I fully expect to rock every bit as hard as TAM, if not harder. Hope to see you there!