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The AAI meeting in Cologne

Hey, I’m leaving Germany. I spent my morning and early afternoon hanging out with lovely smart people, as I’ve been doing all week — Taslima Nasreen, Michael Nugent, Rebecca Watson, Leo Igwe, and all the good attendees who’d come out to Köln for the AAI meeting. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon riding trains to get to the Düsseldorf airport (let me just say that civilized countries have rail networks painlessly linking their cities. Hint, hint, America). And now I’m waiting for my evening flight to Reflavik.

Now about the meeting…

It was a fine weekend, but there were a few awkwardnesses. There was no wireless at the venue (I was told it was broken and couldn’t be fixed in time), and access at the hotel was very flaky. You may have noticed that there was little new material here this weekend— and I also wasn’t able to live-blog or tweet what was going on. I just kind of relaxed and let the meeting flow over me, which was fine for me, but unfortunate that modern conferences use twitter to allow fast real-time reporting from an event, which helps build interest.

Another small problem: some of the talks were in German (I don’t object–it’s Germany!), but the language of the talks wasn’t clearly labeled. That meant that all the barbarous mono-lingual people fled the room at any hint the next speaker was native German. I think most of us experienced at least once the uncomfortable situation of finding ourselves in the auditorium with an enthusiastic speaker lecturing away in what was pure gobbledygook to ourselves — I imagine this is how a biologist would feel if he stumbled into a physics lecture– and trust me, no one would want to experience that twice.

It meant I missed what looked like very good talks, from their titles. It wouldn’t take much to fix it — I did attend one lecture by Prof. Bergmeier, in German, and he provided a handout with a rough translation of his text, organized by his slides. That’s all it took to make his talk comprehensible to us benighted foreigners. (He talked about how the medieval church was a huge drain on the resources of Europe, very interesting stuff. Note to meeting organizers: historians have a lot to contribute to atheist meetings. Invite more!)

The venue was just about perfect.  It was held in a nice European theater: the big auditorium, with good acoustics, was upstairs, and the ground floor was a restaurant/bar. You could start drinking beer at 9am (I didn’t) and you could get drinks any time. It was a lovely environment for schmoozing.

Stars of the show were: Taslima, who quietly described the indignities and difficulties she fought her way out of as a Bengali woman; Leo Igwe, who so passionately talked about African injustice (about the Catholic church, he shouted, “ANY SUPERNATURALLY-INFORMED ORGANIZATION IS PART OF THE PROBLEM!” Yes!); and Rebecca Watson, who really let her anger out at the assholes who make excuses for the abuse of women.

It’s been a great weekend. You shoulda been there. Or even any more local Freethought event. If you haven’t gone to one, know this: to be among a group of  happy enthusiastic rational people who reject supernatural events is a wonderfully invigorating experience. It is so weird to be sitting here now, feeling exhausted and jet-lagged, yet also feeling totally buzzed on a community-driven intellectual high. You have to try it — it’s like the best drug ever.

Comments

  1. says

    I spent my morning and early afternoon hanging out with lovely smart people, as I’ve been doing all week — Taslima Nasreen, Michael Nugent, Rebecca Watson, Leo Igwe…

    I want to hang out with all of those people! Right now!!

  2. Raiko says

    I can’t quite imagine what it must have been like for you and other non-bilingual speakers at the event, but it personally confuses me that the EUROPEAN Atheist Convention had so much German in it and that the IBKA as the “INTERNATIONALER Bund konfessionsloster Atheisten” has a German name, despite the association with the AAI.

    For the readers of the blog, one should mention that *very spontaneously*, the organisators tried to provide brief English summaries after small sections of the German talks (where no written translation was given), but they often seemed a bit out of context or reduced what was said to a minimum, not exactly providing the gist of the previous section. I can imagine the English speakers were confused and I don’t think it was that very helpful. I do not blame them – it was spontaneous and as proper Germans we were very set upon keeping the schedule. The talks had not been made to provide for these frequent interruptions, so it was certainly quite difficult for the translators to stay on schedule (they managed!). Carsten Ferk switched to holding his talk in English instead of German, so don’t you say we Germans can’t adapt. ;)

    Altogether this was a wonderful meeting (a first for me), and I have to agree with PZ about the wonderful effect this has on the mind. I REALLY REALLY enjoyed how there was some focus on history, art and also a talk on Tibetian Buddhism and a lot of legal stuff. I certainly came out of this meeting a lot smarter.

    Also, we tortured PZ with cat pictures, so now you have to be nice to him.

  3. says

    Oh, yes, the ugly side of atheist meetings: the cultish, brainwashed swarms huddled about their iPads and smartphones going “ooooh.”

  4. kerfluffle says

    Note to meeting organizers: historians have a lot to contribute to atheist meetings. Invite more!

    Yes, please! That could push me from considering to going.

  5. Janine: History’s Greatest Monster says

    I did attend one lecture by Prof. Bergmeier, in German, and he provided a handout with a rough translation of his text, organized by his slides. That’s all it took to make his talk comprehensible to us benighted foreigners. (He talked about how the medieval church was a huge drain on the resources of Europe, very interesting stuff. Note to meeting organizers: historians have a lot to contribute to atheist meetings. Invite more!)

    I would love to read the notes.

  6. Raiko says

    Also, everyone, here are some links that popped up at the meeting:

    http://www.atheodoc.com (German Atheist Encyclopedia – sorry, we Germans now have a unique resource that most of you don’t!)

    http://who-is-hu.de (Art project featuring pictures of atheists.)

    http://wallis.frei-denken.ch/?p591 and http://www.abgott.ch/misc/?p=589 (by Valentin Abgottspon, a teacher from Switzerland who got fired without prior notice for 1) trying to enforce Swiss law against crosses in the classroom and 2) being an active member of a freethinking organization)

    Also, one of the attendees had provided a small blue booklet and a link for downloading the contents. You can find it at
    http://moraldefinition.org

    Organizations that were part of the event can be found at
    http://www.ibka.org/
    http://www.giorano-bruno-stiftung.de
    http://www.denkladen.de
    and the German bus campaign (that won an award): http://www.buskampagne.de

    and of course the Atheist Alliance International: http://www.atheistalliance.org

  7. says

    I have not been to any atheists conferences but if there were lots of historians invited I would be much more likely to attend one given the chance. I too would like to see those notes.

  8. rolak says

    but it personally confuses me that … that the IBKA as the “INTERNATIONALER Bund konfessionsloster Atheisten” has a German name

    Whatever language you choose, Raiko, it will not be understood by any reader.

    btt:

    It’s been a great weekend

    Yes! ;-)

  9. says

    Well, you know, not all Germans would be able to give out handouts in English, as many Germans don’t speak English. Maybe have a thought for the other foreigners, European or not, who probably didn’t understand a word of most lectures, despite being in Eurpoe. Portugese people? Romanian people? Moldovan people? No chance. You say it wouldn’t take a lot to fix it, but honestly, translating every speaker’s text into every other language would probably be a bit of an undertaking. Or if you were thinking of just translating the talks into English – well, although English is far more widely spoken throughout Eurpoe than other languages, I think it’s a bit much to demand that all lectures were translated for your benefit rather than for all the Spanish, Italian, French etc in the audience. One of the reasons that Americans are so unpopluar in Europe is due to their reluctance to learn other languages, and simply to swan around Europe expecting everyone else to speak THEIR language. Unfortunately, an international conference, held in Germany, is just not going to work for everyone, all the time. Unless everyone starts learning Esperanto.

  10. says

    Then I spent the rest of the afternoon riding trains to get to the Düsseldorf airport (let me just say that civilized countries have rail networks painlessly linking their cities. Hint, hint, America). And now I’m waiting for my evening flight to Reflavik.

    We do have rail service. It’s just slow and costs about the same as it does to fly. So why should I spend hundreds of dollars to take a 3 day trip from Oregon to New York than to take a 5 hour trip of the same distance?

  11. crocodoc says

    Two of the talks simply had to be German because they covered very specific topics. One contained a lot of legal expressions from German law and how they are (mis)interpreted today. The other one was on the educational desaster at German schools with mainly pupils from muslim countries, including many literal quotes from these children. Such language-focused talks cannot be translated. But I agree it should have been told what’s in English and what’s in German more clearly and English could have been used for all other talks that were in German.
    For me as a German it was an almost perfect weekend and I think all talks were worth listening to. And it was a wonderful experience to talk and drink with people that I admire – some of them for many years now – for their books or for talks and debates I have seen on youtube.
    Thanks to everyone who helped making this possible.

    Cheers, Joachim

  12. pris says

    crocodoc, I actually disagree with you about one of the talks. The one about the legal situation could have been done in english and would have been of interest for everyone, actually.

    Aside from the language issues and the terrible stage fright of the one man giving the greetings and trying his hand at translating, I really liked the weekend.

    Best thing about it: I met Leo Igwe on the train and we had to switch trains at the same station so I spent a few hours talking to him. Much fun!

    And now that I’m home, the shower I took was bliss.

  13. anotheratheist says

    I feel I have to apologize for the lack of a decent translation of a lot of the talks into English. For a conference with a such a target audience this is an absolute no-go. Also the lack of any internet access at the venue makes us look like a third world country. How embarrassing.

  14. says

    This was the first conference I’ve ever attended and it was quite nice, but I really think they should have done the whole thing in English, as it was supposed to be an European Atheist conference, and pretty much everyone can speak English (and it was spoken very extensively outside of the talks!).

    I think this issue became very clear to the organizers, and they rapidly improved the situation – going from ad-hoc translation, to prepared english handouts, to simply switching the spoken language to English – Carsten Frerk splendidly did his first english talk ever!. I don’t expect them to make the same mistake again.

    As a note: They did have a thicker handbook that included a small introduction of all speakers and their talks and also included the language the talk would be held in.

    I really loved PZ’s talk about the role of science in the Atheistic movement as a basis but not the endpoint of what we want to achieve. Specifically pointing out, that the Atheistic movement should and is starting to move beyond just “merely” loudly proclaiming the non-existence of God. Instead, it is also taking the rational and scientific approach and using it to address moral problems in the world (homophobia, misoginysm, etc).

    I’m sure somebody will point it out if I screwed up my memory of that talk ;)
    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to talk to PZ Myers personally in order to thank him for everything, as I was too occupied speaking to other great members of the Atheistic movement :)

    Thanks for the great weekend everyone!
    - Christoph, the guy with the “Pedo Pope” shirt.

  15. Lord Mawkscribbler says

    “(He talked about how the medieval church was a huge drain on the resources of Europe, very interesting stuff. Note to meeting organizers: historians have a lot to contribute to atheist meetings. Invite more!)”

    As an historian (or, rather history student) *yay*!

  16. radpumpkin says

    “And now I’m waiting for my evening flight to Reflavik.”

    Shouldn’t that be “Keflavik?” Sorry, I kinda-sorta like to pick nits…

  17. Ichthyic says

    historians have a lot to contribute to atheist meetings. Invite more!

    historians ignored mean lessons repeated.

    they should be at any meeting that has any interest at all in human society or human behavioral dynamics.

  18. Ichthyic says

    We do have rail service. It’s just slow and costs about the same as it does to fly. So why should I spend hundreds of dollars to take a 3 day trip from Oregon to New York than to take a 5 hour trip of the same distance?

    I do believe PZ is referring to local rail services, between towns in the same state in the US.

    public transpo in the vast majority of the US really, REALLY sucks.

  19. 'Tis Himself says

    Then I spent the rest of the afternoon riding trains to get to the Düsseldorf airport

    Dusseldorf is only about 30 miles/50 km from Köln. It shouldn’t have taken you “the rest of the afternoon” to ride a train that distance. Oh wait, you were riding European trains.

  20. AshPlant says

    let me just say that civilized countries have rail networks painlessly linking their cities

    painlessly linking their cities

    painlessly

    Huh. I thought Britain was fairly civilised.

  21. christophburschka says

    Dusseldorf is only about 30 miles/50 km from Köln. It shouldn’t have taken you “the rest of the afternoon” to ride a train that distance. Oh wait, you were riding European trains.

    Well, there’s a direct connection by a regional express or inter-city express, and one via Düsseldorf central; they each go twice per hour and take under 45 minutes. That’s the schedule, of course; I’ve had delays at Cologne before.

    Regardless, that ride shouldn’t have taken much more than an hour, unless something went seriously wrong with those trains.

  22. christophburschka says

    (by “direct” I mean from Cologne central to Düsseldorf airport)

  23. Sili says

    One of the reasons that Americans are so unpopluar in Europe is due to their reluctance to learn other languages, and simply to swan around Europe expecting everyone else to speak THEIR language.

    Fuck you, too, Aidan.

    It’s all fine and dandy to organise a German conference in German, but if you put an English webpage announcing your international meeting, it’s common courtesy to spell out that the talks are not gonna be accessible to an international audience.

    You know, some of us came from outside Germany to attend.

    As for whether it’s polite to ask Germans to lecture in English*, it doesn’t really matter. There is such a thing as interpreters. The Swiss Denkfest had no trouble supplying simultaneous interpretation for the non-Teutonophones at that event.

    Oh, and the food sucked. (Bar the pastries.)

    –o–

    Dear attendees,

    I’m sorry I didn’t socialise more, but lucky for you, you didn’t miss much. ;)

  24. MG Myers says

    Raiko @ 10 – Thanks a lot for the links. And thanks to the conference sponsors and organizers for all of their support and hard work that make conferences like this possible!

    Ichthyic @ 22 – I think you’re right that PZ was referring to the local rail services in the United States. Unfortunately, the United States lacks the public transportation infrastructure of many other countries, especially outside of metro areas. If you have access to good, affordable public transportation, you are very fortunate.

  25. says

    Oh, so much regret about not being able to afford attending.
    Please, PZ, choose the einig Vaterland again soon for a visit … and somewhat nearer to Frankonia. If at all possible.
    Yeah, germany can sometimes be very self-centered … we have some difficulties understanding, that the anglophone world isnÄ’t just some qurkie addendum to the german-speaking culture. But, it will get better. Hopefully. Sometimes. Perhaps. If we de-elect the current foreign minister.

  26. Sili says

    * and they did lecture. The English speakers sounded nicely extempore, but the Germans read their papers.

    Without any slides to aid understanding. The only thing projected during most of the meeting was the conference title and logo. Very useful, actually, in case I woke up too disoriented to recall where I was after dozing off in the heat.

    –o–

    David just patted me on the back because of my grumpiness. And now he’s correcting my spelling.

    Bedtime! I guess.

  27. says

    The only public transit I have used in the US was in NYC, which is not a typical example. However, I read a lot about towns and cities around the world. For some reason I enjoy hitting up Wikipedia and reading about towns in an area. Often I read about Japanese places but once and a while I will look at the US. One thing that I often find shocking is the lack of public transit (I really like public transit, especially a fan of trains). I have come across significantly sized cities, over 100000 people, that do not have public transit. That is crazy! Or mid-sized cities that have extremely limited transit options, often not running on Sunday.

  28. Sili says

    Mary!

    Please join us in Rhinebeck this Autumn! We want to show you the sheep!

    And bunnies!

  29. billseymour says

    civilized countries have rail networks painlessly linking their cities. Hint, hint, America.

    Agreed.

    In the U.S., there are lots of cases of “you can’t get there from here.” From Morris, you’d have to drive to St. Paul where the one daily train, the Empire Builder between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, departs at 11:15PM westbound, 7:50AM eastbound. (You could also catch it in St. Cloud or Staples, but at worse times, and at smaller stations that lack checked baggage service.)

    I’ll be on that train in October; but I’ll be going all the way from Chicago to Portland, and then returning two weeks later from Seattle.

    And now I’m waiting for my evening flight to Reflavik.

    I see that radpumpkin beat me to guessing that you meant “Keflavík”, although, in a hurry to pick nits, he or she forgot the acute accent. 8-)

    When I go to Europe, I like to fly Icelandair, too, because I get to get off the plane and stretch my legs in Keflavík. I generally fly to and from Boston, which is survivable; and I’m fortunate that I can take Amtrak between there and St. Louis. How did you make it all the way to Australia!?

  30. says

    PZ, yes, and I found out that Leo is going to be there a few days ago and was floating up by the ceiling for awhile. And I met Rebecca last weekend, so I’m not complaining! Nevertheless – I would love to talk to Taslima and Rebecca and Leo and you all in one place RIGHT NOW!

  31. RahXephon, Bouncer of the De Facto Feminist Club says

    historians ignored mean lessons repeated.

    they should be at any meeting that has any interest at all in human society or human behavioral dynamics.

    Word. I think I mentioned it before but I’m also a history student, and the more I study history the more I see the same cycles of behaviors (or more specifically, mistakes) being made. Primarily by rich people who get too arrogant in screwing over everyone else, the French Revolution only being one example.

  32. dust says

    (He talked about how the medieval church was a huge drain on the resources of Europe, very interesting stuff. Note to meeting organizers: historians have a lot to contribute to atheist meetings. Invite more!)

    I would have found that interesting as well.

    I’m currently reading about the French Revolution and am finding the Church’s relationship with 18th century France to rather complex and really don’t understand it all. Would be worth it to learn more. I did like reading that after the revolution started much of the Church’s property was nationalized and sold off to pay France’s bills.

    So more history on religion would be great!

  33. rolak says

    Hi Janine: HGM, if your interest in Bergmeier’s talk isn’t already vanished, there is a quick&dirty pdf with scans of the english handout. (assuming that he has no objection)

  34. alisonstreight says

    Why did the organizers not have simultaneous translation? The Montreal conference last year did that and it worked out very well.

  35. rolak says

    /Why?/ For that you have to question the organisators (IBKA, GBS etc, see links above). If I should guess: A normal flaw of a premiere. The location had not the needed technology by default (it’s a theater in everyday life) and the need wasn’t seen in advance.
    Imho it would have been sufficient to prepare english handouts for all the german talks – and they did their best to catch up with some made on the fly, or some additional slides with english summary.

    Especially the semi-simultaneous translation of Colin Goldners talk on the disgusting details of the vajrayana-buddhism was fun to see/hear, especially the translators facial expression with the resulting content-gaps ;-)

  36. renehartmann says

    Speaking for IBKA -
    thanks for attending and for this article. We would have loved to provide translations for all of the talks. But this depends on all speakers providing us with the text or their talk in advance early enough, which is something we can’t enforce.

  37. says

    @aidanclark

    Well, you know, not all Germans would be able to give out handouts in English, as many Germans don’t speak English.

    Mhm, I assume, the number of Germans who have the necessary level of education for a conference talk but who do not speak English is about zero.

    But I admit, this is a problem in German academia, especially in the “Geisteswissenschaften”, i.e. social sciences, study of literature, history etc. As one commenter said, we tended to see the world as some weird kind of appendix, rotating around Germany.

    Things are changing, though. Back in my time when I studied EngLit, classes were held and papers were written in German. In many universities, classroom language is already English. Sooner or later there won’t be talks given in a minority language in an international context.

  38. says

    @Sili

    The Swiss Denkfest had no trouble supplying simultaneous interpretation for the non-Teutonophones at that event.

    True, organizationally, this was no problem. But it was a fairly costly venture. Interpreters and equipment cost us ca. CHF 17’000.- (~ €14’000 / USD 18’000). At an early planning stage, we did suggest to the Zürich School of Interpretation that they use the Denkfest as a practice event. They did show interest but came to the conclusion that the talks would be too demanding for their students. So in the end we did have to pay market rates.

    Despite of the costs, we wanted to provide simultaneous interpretation to make the Denkfest contents accessible to as many people as possible. English only would have definitively reduced the potential to attract a sufficiently large local audience. Both our attendee survey as well as pictures of the audience taken during the talks showed that translation was used and appreciated to both English and German.

    The Denkfest had nearly twice as many attendees as the Atheist Convention, so it was easier to allow for the additional costs. (Nevertheless, ticket prices only covered about 45% of the overall Denkfest costs. The rest was covered by the Swiss Freethinkers and other sponsors.)

    So while I agree that more could have been done to make the Cologne convention better accessible for the non-German audience (ask speakers to create slides in English, provide English-language handouts), simultaneous translation may simply have been finically out of reach.

  39. Sili says

    Good point about the cost, thanks. I think most of us would have accepted an insecure professional to what we got, but I concede.

    However much we hate Powerpoint, slides would still have been great. Leo Igwe, whose emotional appeal probably was least suited it for it, still managed to show us something – and subtitle it in English.

    The prurient Buddhism extravaganza was really crap as it was. Oodles and oodles of softcore porn spoken at us, while we could enjoy a picture of a statue of tantric sex in the lotus position for 45 minutes. Some damn evidence would have been nice. As it was the whole thing sounded like an urban legend, and even the statue looked forged. According to David, evidence does float around in the Aether out there somewhere – or so the speaker told him – but I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it is from the talk alone.

    Just so as not to dump only on the Germans, Rebecca’s excellent talk was conversely very dense in data and evidence, and it would have been very nice to have had that on the screen as well.

  40. armantiede says

    I’m from the same country as Taslima’s. It’s a piece of shit Islamic shithole. I don’t understand why she is so keen on going back there where the only thing that will happen to her is that the muslims will attack and kidnap her and then skin her alive while the government laughs, claps and turns a blind eye to her plight. Somebody needs to tell the lady to forget about going back there and just move on

  41. says

    Well, you know, not all Germans would be able to give out handouts in English, as many Germans don’t speak English.

    I was at the 6th World Skeptics Congress in Berlin just over a week ago, and there the speakers managed to hold their talks in English.

    They also solved the problems with the audience not understanding English by providing simultaneous interpretation (only into German though).

    Generally it sounds like the people behind this convention might have benefitted from talking to the people holding the skeptics congress.

  42. says

    Apple’s auto-correction tricked me again. Obviously, the last sentence in my comment above should have ended with “financially out of reach”…

  43. says

    I totally agree: If you host an International event you have to either provide a translation or hold it in a language that everybody speaks and understands. If you want to have German Speakers that are not able to give a talk in English, get them for your national conference. When i attended the AAI Conference in Copenhagen two years ago i would have been very surprised, if a talk would haven been given in Danish. It is annoying if you travel to a Conference and don’t understand more than half of the talks.
    I do understand that you can’t provide a translation because it is awfully expensive. But then there is the second choice: Choose English as a conference language. I have attended many international conferences both private (i.e. skeptical or atheist) and professionally and this is the way most organizers handle this stuff. Or do a national Conference and don’t invite people from foreign countries (or at least tell them in advance that the majority of talks will be in German).

  44. julietdefarge says

    What is Prof. Bergmeier’s full name? I am really interested in his talk, and would love to see a video of it. The notes would be useful, too, as my German is pretty rusty. I need just a bit more information- like the title of his talk- to be able to try to hunt it down online.

  45. billseymour says

    @vernonbalbert #14

    [U.S. passenger rail service is] slow and costs about the same as it does to fly. So why should I spend hundreds of dollars to take a 3 day trip from Oregon to New York than to take a 5 hour trip of the same distance?

    Well, yes, it’s ground transportation, so you have to have the time; but if you can make the time, it’s more comfortable and considerably less annoying and humiliating.

    On Saturday, October 13th, at 06:40, I’ll depart St. Louis for Chicago in a business-class seat (similar to what you’d expect in a business-class seat on a transatlantic flight but without the personal service), arriving a bit after noon. I’ll probably arrive at the St. Louis station around twenty minutes before departure, give or take.

    Just after 14:00, I’ll depart Chicago on the Empire Builder in a “bedroom”, which includes a private sink, toilet and shower. All meals and non-alcoholic beverages in the diner are included in the price of the ticket. The diner serves real food, not airplane fare.

    The train will split in two in Spokane with the front half, including the diner, going to Seattle, and the rear, including a lounge car/café, going to Portland. Since I’ll be headed for Portland, I’ll get a complimentary cold breakfast on the last day.

    If the train is on time, I’ll get to my meeting on Monday just in time for the morning refreshments. More likely, I’ll have an excuse for missing all of the Monday-morning administrivia.

    About two weeks later on a Friday, I’ll have a business-class seat on one of the Cascade trains to Seattle so that I can catch the eastbound Empire Builder there and have my evening meal in a proper diner. I will again have a bedroom on the Builder and a business-class seat on the Chicago-St. Louis train on Sunday night.

    I think you’re probably right about train travel in the U.S. costing roughly the same as flying. The whole trip, which I will enjoy, and will think of as a vacation, will cost me just under $2000.00, probably about the same as a first-class air fare. If I were to go coach all the way, the cost would probably be about the same as coach air fare.

    The only “security” will involve showing my ticket and a photo ID.

  46. Andy Groves says

    I also wasn’t able to live-blog or tweet what was going on. I just kind of relaxed and let the meeting flow over me, which was fine for me, but unfortunate that modern conferences use twitter to allow fast real-time reporting from an event, which helps build interest.

    I realize that I’m a total Luddite who is barely able to manage my e-mail, but are there really very many people who follow a conference in real time via Twitter? Personally, I’m happy to read a distilled and digested summary of the highlights.

  47. trinebm says

    Well, I was one of the lucky attendees to AAIs conference who understand both German and English. I heard almost all the speakers (skipped the tantric buddhist monks as it already in advance sounded a bit silly as a critique of religion), and I must say there were a LOT of interesting talks.
    And I got to meet and re-meet some wonderful skeptics, atheists, free-thinkers. I feel energized and want to do more for the movement/cause/the people, so am off to scour (sp?) websites about freethinkers all over.
    And I think the lack of wifi was really irritating. IBKA and GBF really missed an opportunity for a LOT of free advertising as it were.
    (And Sili, the food wasn’t that bad) ;-)

  48. eclipser says

    That’s exactly the high I felt after the GAC in April!! A sense of purpose, solidarity and pride. Yeah!!!

    Looking forward to the next major atheist event. I’m hooked.

  49. says

    And that’s also why I moved here. I hate cars, and the transit here actually works.

    I would actually have loved to stay for the German speakers quite simply because I needed the practice anyways, but it was fun talking to renowned atheists from all over the world.

    Even if I’m still a nobody.

  50. David Marjanović says

    Well, you know, not all Germans would be able to give out handouts in English, as many Germans don’t speak English.

    “Many”? Were there that many old East Germans in the audience? Not as far as I can tell…

    Maybe have a thought for the other foreigners, European or not, who probably didn’t understand a word of most lectures, despite being in Eurpoe. Portugese people? Romanian people? Moldovan people? No chance.

    Any of those in the audience?

    Or if you were thinking of just translating the talks into English – well, although English is far more widely spoken throughout Eurpoe than other languages, I think it’s a bit much to demand that all lectures were translated for your benefit rather than for all the Spanish, Italian, French etc in the audience.

    Why “rather than”? All of these understand English, too, nowadays.

    the language issues and the terrible stage fright of the one man giving the greetings and trying his hand at translating

    I’m not sure if it was stage fright, but in any case his memory and his vocabulary simply weren’t up to the task of translating.

    (Plus, he simply omitted all the majorly disgusting details of the talk about Tibetan Buddhism, because he just couldn’t bear talking about that kind of thing. I’ll explain that later. – Anyway, the point of that talk was to take Tibetan Buddhism down a notch – it’s not less crazy or more harmless than other religions.)

    As a note: They did have a thicker handbook that included a small introduction of all speakers and their talks and also included the language the talk would be held in.

    In some cases, that language was changed from German to English, and that was announced only as the talk began. PZ walked out on at least two of those because of the handbook.

    The handbook also wasn’t available before we actually arrived at the conference. Every scientific conference makes the abstracts available online, at least to participants, before the meeting.

    Without any slides to aid understanding. The only thing projected during most of the meeting was the conference title and logo. Very useful, actually, in case I woke up too disoriented to recall where I was after dozing off in the heat.

    Yeah. Those weren’t conference presentations, they were fucking speeches. Shame!!!

    David just patted me on the back because of my grumpiness.

    That’s because he commented the above with “Snark, snark, snark. Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy.”

  51. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    Yeah. Those weren’t conference presentations, they were fucking speeches. Shame!!!

    I wonder whether that is because said speakers, apart from obviously not having seen many conference talks in person or online, were somewhat older, and not accustomed to the usual modern conference culture. Or is it maybe a difference between “the two cultures” in Germany? I think one can safely say that everyone in the natural sciences under the age of 200 has seen a bazillion conference-type talks, public talks, colloquiums and so on to at least get the format approximately right for such a conference, but I have no clue what the MO is in the humanities around here.

  52. corn says

    I’ve been there, too, finally managed to meet PZ (yes!) and also enjoyed the meeting very much (also, coming from Cologne I hadn’t to travel too far ;-).

    I’m providing a german summary of the meeting in my blog. This is
    day 1

    The rest is coming up asap

  53. mmghosh says

    armantiede @ 44

    There are reasons to want to return to one’s native place, you know. It’s about friends, family, culture and so forth. Also, Taslima’s writing in Bengali is much better than her writing in English, and she has a much bigger audience, there, too. Her writing is pretty much samizdat, as you must know. And therefore pretty significant – much more so than her writing in English for a western audience. Even more so than Bangladesh, it’s shameful that India has banned her, too.

  54. benfromca says

    (Note to meeting organizers: historians have a lot to contribute to atheist meetings. Invite more!)

    Here, Here! And there are a lot of sympathetic, atheist historians out there. How about Dale Martin, of Yale University, who teaches a course on Early Christian History and the New Testament. This is a Yale University course that is availabe, for free, through the OpenCourseware initiative. No thinking person could sit through this course and walk away believing that the “son of god” made an personal appearance here on Earth for the sole purpose encouraging ritual cannabalism as a pathway to eternal salvation.

  55. Raiko says

    @crocodoc

    I think most of the problem with the languages could be solved if European Atheists could have bigger conventions: There could be parallel talks in different languages. In other words – let’s spread the word, so the next conference will be so big that it’s a) cheaper for everyone and b) more useful for different European nationalities.

    @alisonstraight

    That it wasn’t possible to get simultaneous translators was actually discussed in the hallways at some point. I happened to be there: It just wasn’t an option. Of course, in the best case scenario, the conference will get so big one day that getting €5000+ worth of simultaneous translaters and the headphones to go with it will actually be an option. However, this REALLY wasn’t possible for such a small event.

    So far, however, English IS the most common ground we have here in Europe, regardless of Esperanto being simpler and easier to learn. The fact is that English is THE business language and its study is required in many European countries.

    @armantiede

    Taslima wanted to go back first of all to say goodbye to her mother and then her father – both died without seeing her. She said she would settle for the part of India where they do speak her language, but she’s been banned from India, too. She is simply homesick, I believe.