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Apr 18 2012

Now you know what I did last week: a quick review of the Global Atheist Convention 2012

Right now, in my bleary, jet-lagged state, I thought it would be a good moment to scribble down what I found most memorable about the Global Atheist Convention.

  • First and foremost, the attendees. It’s an unfortunate characteristic of conference organization that the speakers get all the attention…but of course, they’d be nothing without someone to listen and occasionally shout back. I had the best time outside the conference, talking to all those swarms of jubilant godless folk.

  • Christopher Hitchens. He’s gone, but both Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss gave excellent testimonials. And the very best is this video, Hitchens distilled down to his sharpest, most acerbic self.

  • The organizers. Whoa, but this conference was smoooth — everything on time, we speakers were pampered and tended and delivered on stage professionally, the conference center was lovely, and there wasn’t a hitch in sight (and no Hitch, either, but not their fault). I’d be interested to hear the attendees perspective, but I don’t think this was an event where they felt neglected or bored either.

  • The humor. This has become a signature of atheist conventions: we don’t have hymns, we don’t have a liturgy, but we do have comedy (which sometimes misfires horribly — bitter misogyny is not funny — but OK, exploring the boundaries will sometimes lead to failure). Our godless future is apparently going to have us laughing a lot.

  • The protesters. We had a couple of Christian groups and one Muslim group appear outside the conference hall with microphones and amplifiers, at which time they howled at us. Note, they did not talk with us — it was all top-of-the-lungs screaming about how much they loved Jesus and how much they wanted to decapitate Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They came off as desperate, stupid, and pathetic…thank you very much!

  • The weirdness. This is a combination of the attendees and humor: Australians are a wild and crazy lot. So yes, Martin Pribble and I had a hug-off.

  • Profit! OK, this was a little odd; I didn’t find as much time to do podcasts with rational Australians as I’d have liked, but I got collared by one persistent fellow with a professional video rig and a cameraman and taken aside for about an hour of solid recording in an interview. Afterwards, I signed a release and he gave me a great big wad of cash, to my complete surprise — so much cash that all my incidental expenses for this trip were covered, and I came home with a nice bit of extra money. Weird. And then later I was informed that my interviewer was a Seventh Day Adventist and creationist, so you can expect that interview to come out in little edited dribs and drabs in the future. It felt like Expelled all over again.

    It was kind of silly, too: I would probably have given a sharper, pithier interview if I’d known what it was about. At least I was able to pass on warnings to other speakers at the conference afterwards.

  • Australia. We did find time for a little sight-seeing: a museum, the zoo, the aquarium. It’s a lovely continent. I wish plate tectonics would hurry up and send it a little closer to us, though — it’s far too far away.

  • I had an interesting evening with Stedman and Cannold. What can I say that’s pleasant about Stedman? He’s a very, very nice guy, and he would be an excellent liaison to the religious community if only he’d stand up for secularism rather than this interfaith bullshit, which simply panders to wacky people with ridiculous beliefs.

    I have to say, though, that my highlight of that evening debate was the after-party at Embiggen Books. Now that is a bookstore; I wish they were all that good. Imagine a bookstore with all the New Age dross and religious self-help wankerism swept away, and all that was left was the intelligent stuff. That’s Embiggen Books.

  • The future. I am optimistic. We keep growing, the people are happy and ambitious. We are going to win. You’re all going to the next GAC (the organizers, I’m sure, don’t even want to think about that right now), which will be even bigger, right?

39 comments

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  1. 1
    Matt Penfold

    I can remember my brother being upset when Embiggen books moved to Melbourne from the Sunshine Coast. Living in Brisbane as he does, it made a nice trip to drive up to Noosaville, have some lunch and visit the bookshop.

  2. 2
    w00dview

    Wow, Embiggen books looks like my dream shop. So much stuff I want to read there! If I ever make it to Australia again that’s one place I should check out. Good find, PZ.

    Oh and if you ever go to Australia again, make your way to Wilsons Promontory National Park at the most southerly tip of Victoria. One of the most beautiful places I ever had the pleasure of seeing. One of the highlights was hearing a chorus of frogs that sounded eerily similar to the Seinfeld theme tune! Could not see what species it was, so can’t be much use for identification purposes unfortunately.

  3. 3
    Glen Davidson

    It felt like Expelled all over again.

    Well you know what Dembski said much later about Expelled:

    But the documentary had some weaknesses. The seven or so minutes devoted to the Nazis and their assimilation of Darwinian theory and its basis in the Holocaust seemed misplaced. Not that there isn’t a connection, but bringing up the Nazis invariably causes the temperature to rise and the train of an argument to be lost. Far better would have been to use those seven minutes to recount the record of accomplishment of intelligent design.

    [Greatest absurdity bolded by me]

    Maybe this guy will cover ID’s accomplishments. If that’s all he adds, though, it’ll just be you, PZ.

    Glen Davidson

  4. 4
    w00dview

    @ Matt Penfold
    Embiggen is in Melbourne? Great! Will make sure to go there when I’m visiting the cousins.

  5. 5
    Pteryxx

    And then later I was informed that my interviewer was a Seventh Day Adventist and creationist, so you can expect that interview to come out in little edited dribs and drabs in the future.

    Maybe he got confused about the conference, as it’s likely he was from here: Gateway Adventist Centre (GAC) at the University of Melbourne, site easily searchable.

  6. 6
    baal

    Well, at least they gave you piles of cash. That’s not all bad.

  7. 7
    Larry

    It’s a lovely continent.

    Absolutely it is, its just too large. And watch out for all the deadly critters.

    Melbourne is a wonderful city although I only had a couple of days to visit on my trip down under. Its become a real foodie town with choices from a vast variety of ethnic restaurants. Definitely on my list of places to re-visit.

  8. 8
    Matt Penfold

    Melbourne is a wonderful city although I only had a couple of days to visit on my trip down under. Its become a real foodie town with choices from a vast variety of ethnic restaurants. Definitely on my list of places to re-visit.

    One thing I like about restaurants in Australia is that apart from the top-end ones most operate a BYO for alcohol. Makes it much cheaper to eat out that in here in the UK where the mark-up on wine can be 500%!

  9. 9
    Lynna, OM

    I agree with the judgement of the referee: PZ clearly won the hug off. Pribble was buried in PZ’s tentacles and lifted off the ground.

  10. 10
    Doc Dish

    Would it be legal to add a rider to the release to the effect that the recording may not be used to misrepresent your views?

    If so you could pocket the cash AND sue them to prevent distribution of their quote-mined ‘interview’

    Perhaps you could get a stamp made up?

  11. 11
    Patricia, OM

    I got one minute into that “comedy” link. Surely that can’t be the routine he gave at the conference. Horrible.

  12. 12
    Zeno

    And then later I was informed that my interviewer was a Seventh Day Adventist and creationist

    I count it as a win. You got a wad of their cash and it more than paid for your trip. That’s money that won’t be used to advance creationist nonsense. As for whatever they do with the video: they’ll enjoy showing hacked-up bits to their fellow travelers — preaching to the choir — and it will convert approximately zero intelligent people to their anti-science cause and non-science theories. (Say “non-science” fast and it’s “nonsense.”)

  13. 13
    kamsly...

    Hitch. *raises a glass*

  14. 14
    mrcrowley

    I think this type of comedy is quite common down here in Aus and NZ. You can get away with saying c*nt on TV after certain times because c*nt doesn’t nearly come off as bad down here than up in the US. C*nt is pretty much like dick in the sense that it is rarely used to actually mean genitals, men don’t often call women it (dick or c*nt) and it is usually used as a synonym for asshole (you’re such a c*nt/dick/asshole). It’s also used in the sense “good c*nt”. I know ‘hell’ can’t be freely said on American TV when used as a ‘swear’ word but down here we use “bloody hell” on billboards, as well as “bugger”. Bugger is never used to mean sodomy like originally intended and it features in one of NZs most memorable ads of the 90s. It’s also common for women to say they “fucked” someone, not only men say it.

    “Australia/New Zealand: where you call mates c*nts and strangers mates”

    I remember going to a comedy show similar to this (not quite as derogatory) with my parents when I was about 15 or so. I can imagine it seeming like a shock to some foreigners but to me it really does seem typical of what to expect down here during the comedy season.

    Down here we are quite open about sex as we rarely have religious nutjobs protesting sex ed being taught and I know NZ has some of the highest rates of one night stands and teen pregnancy.

    It’s just the type of comedy you get here. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a women comedian to say similar things about men, we take it in stride as good humour. I get that it can be quite offensive to women and as a man I’m in no position to judge what’s acceptable for you or not, but I don’t see there being a successful feminist movement where the word c*nt slowly becauses more and more socially unacceptable when all the men will be wondering why women still get to say dick. Obviously, it’s a flawed argument but try convincing the population that.

    Just to reiterate; I don’t condone this kind of comedy. I’m just saying it is quite common down here.

  15. 15
    echidna

    mcrowley,
    This was a routine that Jefferies does in the USA, I believe.
    I don’t acccept that this is typical Australian comedy, except perhaps among footballers, who do not really know how to get out of the misogynist culture they are in. He lacked the self-deprecation, the raised eyebrows or crooked smile that would cue his audience in that he was taking the piss.

    That aside, the audience were there to be welcomed to the GAC, rather than to see any particular comedian. Jeffries seemed to be playing to a crowd which would revel in machismo, which his audience was not.

  16. 16
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    @mrcrowley, no, it’s not. Don’t confuse bad language with misogyny. (Even the c-word. Yes, Stella Young went there. Cripple, she said!) Jeffries is all but unknown in Australia, and seems to be making his career in the US. Australian humour is usually much more about punching up than punching down.

  17. 17
    desertfroglet

    You can get away with saying c*nt on TV after certain times because c*nt doesn’t nearly come off as bad down here than up in the US.

    MrCrowley, how often have you heard the word ‘cunt’ on free-to-air Australian television? And in what programs?

  18. 18
    crocswsocks

    That’s bullshit, PZ. Hitch isn’t “gone,” he’s only dead.

  19. 19
    Dr Caveman

    Misogynistic crap aside, Jim Jeffries had a few good moments with his analogy of god being the obnoxious drunk at a party, and muslims (mozzies) being very much into a guy named Allan. I had a good laugh.

  20. 20
    MG Myers

    I thought that the Global Atheist Convention was fantastic! Kudos to the organizers and others who worked hard to make the convention such a big success!

  21. 21
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    desertfroglet asked:

    MrCrowley, how often have you heard the word ‘cunt’ on free-to-air Australian television? And in what programs?

    Actually, I’ve heard it a couple of times on US cable shows that are shown on free-to-air here like Deadwood and Dexter.

  22. 22
    echidna

    I thought that the Global Atheist Convention was fantastic! Kudos to the organizers and others who worked hard to make the convention such a big success!

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Mary. It was lovely to meet you.

  23. 23
    Philip Legge

    Hi Mary,

    I’ll echo echidna by saying it was great to meet you, and I’m glad you had a happy (if altogether too brief) time of it down under.

  24. 24
  25. 25
    Amblebury

    *Waves like a giddy fool at the people she met*

    It was so good – and such fun – I don’t know what to highlight. I’ll go with Eugenie Scott’s talk, just because immediately afterwards my seventeen-year-old daughter said, “I want to be like her.”

  26. 26
    Amblebury

    The catering? Really, really impressive. There was one no-dairy eater and one vegetarian in our party, so the catering for a vegan diet, (the combination of the two often ends up that way) was very good, from our perspective.

  27. 27
    rorschach

    The catering? Really, really impressive.

    If they had thought of the non-vegans too, it could have been really really really impressive. Srsly, bread rolls with pumpkin slices ?

  28. 28
    martypribble

    PZ was much less squishy than I thought he’d be… and he had less arms… But I must say he squirmed out of my grip like an octopus through a keyhole. What having no bones and all.

    In all seriousness, thanks PZ for being such a great sport, and for your great talk, it was inspiring, as per usual. Hope to see all the GAC folks again soon.

    Peace

    Marty

  29. 29
    Kylie Sturgess

    That was the weirdest thing I ever had to be a judge of – in case anyone is wondering who the puzzled woman who has to moderate the ‘hug off’ is.

    My back-stage (co-MC) view of what the convention was like is going to feature at Token Skeptic, later tonight. I don’t know if the other co-MC, Lawrence Leung, has a blog, but if he does, I’ll post a link there too.

  30. 30
    madmaxine

    You fired me right the hell up at that conference. I’m so happy I was able to make it. I perceived it as being a very smoothly run operation. I kind of wish we had more down time to chat with other attendees, though.

    The best part of the conference was seeing so many women and so many “kids (people under 30). In Seattle, the conferences are worth going to, but are mainly older, white men. The crowd in Melbourne was refreshingly diverse and multicultural as well.

    Thanks for the photo op at the end of the last day. I know all of you speakers were exhausted, and your time was totally appreciated. Thanks for rocking!

  31. 31
    chigau (違う)

    madmaxine
    I ♥ your ‘nym.

  32. 32
    lexie

    #14. I have lived here my entire life and have only rarely heard that word and never in a pleasant sense. I do not know where you live and your experience may be very different from mine but it is not ubiquitous everywhere in oz. As a women I am offended by it as 80% of the times I have heard it was used in a derogatorily towards women. If men take offence at other words then I would certainly consider your reasons, however I do not use that word and most of those I know who do are male.

  33. 33
    jansuchanek

    I posted this on the GAC Facebook page about 48 hours ago and was kind of surprised not to get any response or feedback. I’m going to give it another shot here.

    Fellow conventioneers,

    Same as most of you, that turned out to be a very rewarding weekend for me. At the risk of threatening the feel-good vibe here on the board during our hangover, I have a few nagging thoughts that I feel compelled to share.

    It seems like however you want to call or define our “movement”, it is real and has momentum. My concern is that we have a PR problem and what’s even worse, no one seems to realize it. We are in the business of trying to spread ideas that will benefit humanity in the longterm, but there are two steps to this process. I think we are on top of the first step and that is to agree what those ideas should be. I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate.

    But there is a very important second step and that is to do the actual spreading of the idea. That involves taking into account the nature of the brains you are spreading the idea to and not acting as if they have the same nature as yours. My feeling is that as a group we are awful at this. I think the image we projected this weekend is that we were a bunch of people that decided to get together to pat ourselves on the back about how much smarter we are than the rest of the world. I know that most of you didn’t *feel* this way, but I think that’s largely the impression we gave.

    Basically, I think we suck at marketing and it hurts us. I’m very curious to see if how many others out there have a similar feeling.

  34. 34
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    The pumpkin rolls were awesome and delicious. Pumpkin, cheese, caramelised onion, it’s great – lots of places are doing it as a pizza topping. If you don’t personally like pumpkin that way, there were still chicken salad rolls and Vietnamese rice paper rolls.

  35. 35
    andrewskegg

    PZ, it was wonderful to meet you again and even better when you purchased Aron and I lunch, but next time you might want to tell us the money was tainted beforehand. I do not like to meddle in witchcraft of this kind.

  36. 36
    scottplumer

    Sounds like a great event! I wish I could have gone. Maybe the Cleveland Skeptics will organize an event soon…

    I also just wanted to say how much I appreciate the fact that you took time out of your busy schedule, even when out of the country, to update your blog. Thank you.

  37. 37
    echidna

    Jansuchanek, I don’t share your feelings at all. But you are terribly vague and short on detail. Care to elaborate?

  38. 38
    antoniogarcia

    Thanks for coming to Australia, especially coming to the Free-thought Student Alliance’s lunch on Friday. I think you along with the fellow speakers at the convention have inspired a new generation of atheist leaders in Australia.

  39. 39
    worldslaziestbusker

    Hello Professor Myers
    I was tasked by the AFA with filming linking material for a potential DVD document of the convention. I filmed your press conference immediately prior to the interview you mentioned. I was called away to attend to a family issue, leaving the camera in the care of my colleague. Not knowing the workings of the camera, she left it running when she was asked to leave the room for the interview. The upshot is that I have what I think is the entire interview as an appendix to the footage of the press conference. This has been backed up at my end and a copy is on its way to the convention technical supervisor, so if the SDA crew comes out with refined oreation, we will be able to work out from whence it was quote mined. David Nicholls should be able to provide you with the relevant emails to get the footage from the committee end or from me directly.
    Controls. Gotta love ‘em.

    Thanks, also, for interviewing one of our volunteers for me. She did a great job and would not have talked about it without significant encouragement, and I am not ashamed of taking advantage of your good humour to bring this about. For all our outward bluster, unwarranted humility is rife in Australia and I am glad to have her contribution to the convention documented on film, albeit in the most unusual interview format of the weekend. Sorry I never got around to interviewing you. It wasn’t a snub, I swear.

    A good time was had by all except for those who were directed not to enjoy themselves by alleged divine mandate. Lovely to meet you and I hope the accidental crafty-butcher footage is of use should the SDA team go all “Expelled” on you.

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