Back from Boston

Hey, I’m home again! To Boston and back again in 30 hours is a bit much, I’m afraid—I need a nap, but work awaits me.

We did have a brief gathering of science blog fans at Darwin’s this morning: Mark (whose last name I didn’t get…he can ‘fess up in a comment),
Revere (why isn’t everyone reading his blog?),
Blake Stacey, OM, and
Denis Castaing (Proud Atheist — he even gave me a big bold button that said “Atheist and Proud”) showed up and we chatted for about an hour and a half. Good people: only the smartest read Pharyngula, of course.

That button Denis gave me actually came in very handy. There’s a group,, that frequents the gas station in Sauk Center where I always fuel up. These guys are the Minnesota equivalent of the squeegee panhandlers—they run up and tell you they have a special full service offer at the gas station, they’ll fill it up for you and check your oil and clean your windshield, and then afterwards they shake a cup at you and ask for money. They’re very annoying, especially since their organization is simply a pseudo-“hip” front for anti-abortion, anti-drug, fanatical Christian baloney. Anyway, the guy in front of the station jumped up to run to my car as I stepped out, then he saw the button (which can be read from 20 feet away), and he stopped cold with his eyes bugging out. It was as good as a poleaxe, so I’m very appreciative.

Oh, another weird story from Boston: the trip was smooth and painless, except for the cab ride from the airport into the city. Did you know they have a weird accent in Boston? This driver had it worse than most, and he may also have been partly deaf. I told him, “Charles Hotel on Bennett Street in Harvard Square”, and he shouted back “HAHVAHD SQUA!” and off we went. We got to Harvard Square just fine, but then he’s driving around … “AH CAN’T FIND STATE STREET!” I was baffled, but he’s the cabbie, he must know the city better than I do, and maybe State Street is part of the route. Then he shouts out, “SHERATON?”, and I reply, loudly and clearly, “No, the Charles Hotel. On Bennett.” “STATE STREET!”

He pulls up along another cab, and asks, “WHEAH’S STATE STREET?”, and the other driver points off in some direction away from Harvard Square. We end up driving back and forth for 20 minutes, with the driver occasionally shouting, “SHERATON? STATE STREET!” and me yelling back, “NO—CHARLES HOTEL! BENNETT!” The next time the guy pulls up alongside another cab to ask directions to “STATE STREET!”, I open my window and am hanging half out of the cab, yelling, “HELP! TELL HIM HOW TO GET TO THE CHARLES HOTEL ON BENNETT!” There was a lot of finger pointing and handwaving, and the crazy cabbie got the car close enough that I could read the signs and get him to the hotel with gestures.

To add to the insult, when we finally got there he yelled, “CHAHLES HOTEL? YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME AT THE AIRPORT THE NAME OF YOUR HOTEL!”

I didn’t tip him.

I take it there isn’t much regulation of cab drivers in Boston?

Music for evilutionists

We have some musical talent among our readers. I was sent lyrics and a link to …

BRAINY PRIMATE BLUES words and music by Bruce Woollatt

Sometimes I wonder why
we ever left Olduvai.
It’s a mystery to me
why we didn’t stay in the trees.
Well a million years ago we should have thought the whole thing through
’cause a million years have gone and we’ve got those Brainy Primate Blues.

Listen to Brainy Primate Blues here.

Another tool for informing the public?

The Wellcome Trust has published a short pamphlet to inform young students about evolution. I haven’t had a chance to look at it carefully yet, but it looks like an interesting combination of a fairly wordy presentation and lots of color and flash. You can download a pdf of Evolution: The Big Picture for yourself; would it be a useful tool to catch student’s eyes and get the basics across to them?

Out of 16 pages, 4 are dedicated to the conflict between science and religion. It doesn’t come right out and say that religion is bad, and it even makes the usual waffley about how some scientists accommodate religion in their lives, but their point-by-point comparisons of how religion and science generates ideas come down hard on religion, and they do pin the blame for the creationist antipathy to evolution on religion. It’s not exactly ferocious on the subject, but at the same time it would cause an uproar if it were distributed in US public schools, I’m afraid.

Boston morning plans

OK, I’ve decided: I’m going to be at Darwin’s on Thursday morning, around 8ish. If you’re in the area, stop on by — no obligation, though, if you’re all busy I’ll just check my mail and guzzle some coffee before heading off to the airport.

There were lots of good suggestions, but really … how could I resist a place called Darwin’s?

Piffle on parade

Time is running an online poll to discover “the most influential people of the year” — I’d urge you all to vote for Dawkins, except that when you browse the list you discover it’s a collection of pop stars, models, sports figures, and the sparse sprinkling of a few politicians and random others. It’s a collection that will depress you with its triviality and banality.

Imagine that aliens visited our planet and asked for a meeting with the most influential people on earth, the people most representative of our values, and we sent along a delegation containing Perez Hilton, Kate Moss, Brad Pitt, and Dane Cook — I’d be embarrassed. I’d be so ashamed I’m not sure I’d be able to protest too much when they announced the planet was going to be demolished to make way for a new intergalactic expressway.

Conway Morris at Baylor

This is cool: Simon Conway Morris gave a talk at Baylor, and Cody was there. Conway Morris is a smart fellow who does some very interesting work, and now I learn that he’s also a charming speaker — even though I completely disagree with his conclusions, I wish he’d come a little farther north so I could listen to him. I’d most like to hear him talk about Cambrian and pre-Cambrian paleontology, but it sounds like he’s instead lecturing specifically on the ideas where he’s most wrong, his belief in the overwhelming power of natural selection (or perhaps, design) to drive convergence. Convergence happens, of course, but Conway Morris seems to favor sifting the evidence for similarities and ignoring the differences, and divergence happens, too.

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Destination: Boston

I’m on my way to Boston for a day. A few people have written wondering if there’d be any free time to get together, and I’m afraid today is booked solid. The one possibility is tomorrow morning (Thursday), my plane leaves at 11:20, and I’ll probably just hang about in the coffeeshop nearest my hotel for a while, and if anyone wanted to join me, please do. I’m staying in the Charles Hotel on Harvard Square in Cambridge — if any Bostonians can recommend a decent coffee house with wireless access near there, I’ll be grateful, and I’ll also probably be there at 8 am on Thursday.

A brief history of disbelief

I just finished watching a copy of a three-part program that was broadcast in England three years ago — A Brief History of Disbelief, narrated by Jonathan Miller. All I can say is … wow. It’s less an advocacy of atheism than a kind of post-atheism, a historical and philosophical review of this strange, dying idea of “religion” that reveals the progressive growth of atheistic thought. It’s wonderfully dismissive. The real question isn’t how people can disbelieve, but how faith can survive and still linger on.

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