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OCFA Conference 2010; Where I met PZ

I’ll give you all the links up front, and all the pictures at the end.

All the pictures are here.

9:20 Phil Zuckerman
10:00 Edward Tabash
10:40 Brian Dunning
11:20 William Lobdell
Lunch 12-1 with ‘Tabletalk’ table discussions
1:00 Michael Shermer
1:45 PZ Myers
2:30 Dan Barker
3:15 Stephanie Campbell
4:00 John Shook
4:45 Joe Nickell
5:30-7:15 Dinner

—–

The conference was in Costa Mesa, and I’m in Glendale, feel free to map it, suffice to say it takes about an hour fifteen to do that drive.  I decided I wasn’t going to kill myself and try to get there at 9 since I didn’t really know any of the morning speakers and I didn’t want to get up at 6AM on a Saturday.  So I got there around 10:45 and got through the whole check in thing to catch the second half of Brian Dunning’s talk.  He was talking about the Virgin of Guadalupe and I confess my interest was not sparked by the topic.  Which is just as well as it gave me time to get my bearings.

The conference was held in a community center adjacent to a local public library.  It was a smallish venue, and everything was contained within one large room.  This was a little awkward because the vendors and speakers were in the same room, so if you wanted to go look at stuff you had to do it either as quietly and unobtrusively as possible or in short bursts between speakers.

After Dunning was finished, I met up with a guy I met on Meetup.com who had said he was also going and sat up front with him.  So the first talk I sat through entirely was William Lobdell.  Lobdell is a very dynamic speaker, and I really preferred the speakers who focused on sort of broader strokes and the whys and what we can do about it, not just simple facts.  And I am always drawn to stories of how people lost their faith.

Then, it was lunch time, and I walked across the street to Quizno’s because I’m a picky eater and I doubted they were serving a sandwich I would eat.  There was a very strange homeless guy who sort of followed me and I bought him a sandwich.  Don’t tell my mother, she gets freaked out by those things.  Ran into an interesting guy, I want to say from Riverside, who was also at the conference and eating at Quizno’s.  Apparently Riverside has the biggest Atheist community like ever.

I took my sandwich back across the street and there was a seat open next to meetup guy who was sitting with PZ, but first I wanted to say hello to my twin.  There was a guy there wearing the same shirt as me, and interestingly enough he and the guy he was sitting with, lime green Alaskan, would end up being the people I sat with at dinner.  Anyway I said hello and they graciously offered me a seat but I wanted to go sit with PZ.

So I sat with PZ during lunch, which was really half over by the time I got back with my sandwich.  But it was an interesting group.  Talked about why we call evolution a theory and why changing the name to something like “law” is letting the terrorists win.  Here’s where my former math major instincts made me probably a bit too ferocious about the fact laws involve math equations and there’s no mathematical way of predicting evolution.

Post lunch and it’s Michael Shermer, the aforementioned Jonathan Pryce doppelganger with the arrogant swagger, and I can’t for the life of me remember what he talked about except that it pissed some people off.  If anyone was there and remembers, tell me?

Then it was PZ and he went out of his normal field and talked about astronomy and William Herschel.  And posed the simple answer to the days topic “Can science and religion coexist?  Yes.”  And made many many jokes about stepping all over Dan Barker’s time.  And then he talked about neanderthals and people having sex.  What I like about PZ when he speaks is that he seems like he’s going to be a stuffy non-offensive professor, but he’s someone who’s genuinely at ease with both himself and the realities of human nature.  In other words, he likes to talk about sex with neanderthals.

Dan Barker spoke and, again, his was a story of de-conversion so I found it pretty interesting.  His book has been recommended to my by Amazon but it didn’t strike me as interesting til I saw he talk.  He spoke mostly towards lawsuits, particularly the one against the National Day of Prayer.  As someone who finds the intricacies of constitutional law interesting (nerd!) I thought this was interesting.

I did not find Stephanie Campbell that interesting, not because she’s a bad speaker, but because her talk was so focused on the facts of the case of Texas Education and not about anything broader reaching.  The entire thing ended with a Vote for your School Board plea that I guess was somewhat universal, but it felt very much like a lecture.  And this is a topic, education and the south, that I find generally interesting, but I guess it was just that it was all about Texas and not about why it was happening, or the players involved, or how it impacted people.  Just the facts, ma’am.  I was also sad that there was only one woman speaker.  Where are all the ladies at?  Clearly I need a book deal so I can be invited to conferences to be snarky about religion.

John Shook surprised me and was, I thought, the most interesting and compelling speaker of the entire event.  He was so interesting that I briefly entertained the idea of sitting with him at the speakers dinner instead of PZ.  He’s a philosopher and is of the opinion that philosophy, not science, is the natural opposition to religion.  And he used a term “a-theology” as that which is most directly opposed to theology.  He recognized that the more insidious religious ideas are those that are constantly moving the goal posts, because they accept science and then turn it into religion.  Anyway, if they end up selling DVDs of this or it ends up on youtube, I’ll link to it.

The day ended with Joe Nickell who talked about the Shroud of Turin.  PZ had just talked about it, so I was up to date on the facts.  He’s an interesting guy.  After he spoke, I talked to him when we walked over to dinner and he’s one of those guys who is determinedly open minded.  In a way where you worry that they’re too open  minded, but he’s dedicated enough to the scientific method that he seems all right.  But he doesn’t judge things as a whole, only specific incidents.  Like if a woman is possessed, he would go and look at her specifically rather than looking at possessions as a whole.  He doesn’t consider himself a debunker, but rather an investigator of supernatural claims.  It’s a fine distinction, and I’m guessing it wins him points with the people he’s investigating, but I found it interesting that he is so committed to not being dismissive of people’s bizarre claims.

And then was dinner, which I’ve already talked about, and after dinner I went home because it was a long drive and I didn’t want to spend another 50 bucks to stay for the rest of the program and not get home til one in the morning.

Phil Zuckerman asks the tough questions of other speakers

Brian Dunning on The Virgin of Guadalupe

William Lobdell on becoming atheist

This guy was super friendly

Michael Shermer

Very Angry at Michael Shermer

Alex Uzdavines introduces PZ

PZ doing something interesting with his hand

Dan Barker seems like the most impossibly nice fellow

Stephanie Campbell wishes to mess with Texas

As a survivor of Southern Public Education, I ask Stephanie a question

John Shook being very compelling

Joe Nickell knows how to say JAHYsus

Joe Nickell's reproduction of the Shroud of Turin was scary as fuck

The shot of the whole table at dinner

Me and PZ and Lime Green Alaskan and my twin and in the distance you can see Phil and Cute Blonde in Glasses

Didn't stay for this, but does it look a little Last Supper to you too?

My Dinner Date with PZ Myers

I have no camera, but I do have an iMac.  Apologies for any legibility issues, it says, “Notice: No Squid!  This is Bullshit!  PZ Myers.”

That’s the Gideon Bible what I stole and kept because it was green.  I stole it because that’s generally my MO in hotels, but I didn’t throw it away because it was green and I didn’t have a Bible to desecrate reference.  I got it signed because I had the brilliant idea at midnight when talking to a friend who was super jealous he couldn’t go.

I’ll probably do a separate post about the whole conference thing, but the dinner was really neat.  Firstly, there was someone else wearing the Squid vs. Noah shirt, and there was a very cool and interesting guy from Anchorage/Irvine/England who was wearing lime green.  I have forgotten his name.  There was also Phil Zuckerman and a cute blonde guy in glasses, who were sitting a bit down the table but occasionally joined in.

But dinner was really cool because it was basically just hanging out with some really interesting smart people who enjoyed snark.  And I learned new things about PZ.  We hit a broad range of topics but I’ll give the highlights.

We talked about his experiments with zebrafish.  Apparently fish in captivity are really dumb, and fish in the wild are really clever.  I’m not sure how much to talk about because apparently some jerkface stole something about the zebrafish experiments from PZ’s blog and published it so I don’t want to spoil anything.  Suffice to say we spent a long time talking about zebrafish and it was pretty interesting.

We talked about Neanderthals.  I asked how do we decide that Neanderthals are a different species from us since we could interbreed, to which PZ gave the witty reply that they are all dead, that’s how.  I’m fond of Neanderthals because they had red hair.

We talked about the Uncanny Valley and the creepy proportions of the Shroud of Turin.  And how the fingers look like they’re made of rubber.  Funny Alaskan said they were tentacles, and I made a jab about Onanism with tentacles for fingers and PZ drifted into a reverie for a moment or two.

I got to be directly catty about the comments in favor of the genital nicking on the part of pediatrics.  I feel often that my comments are fairly ignored over there, which isn’t that big of a deal, comments seem mostly about hearing yourself talk anyway, but it was nice to feel heard on the issue.

I found out PZ’s opinion on Andrew Sullivan (nuanced), Episcopalians (relatively OK with), men hijacking any thread about women to make it all about them and their issues (aware of), Dr. Who (for), Macs (for), Linux (against!), PZed (against!), Australians (arrogant bastards insist on saying PZed), and steak (medium).

I also got to see the cover of his upcoming book which apparently needs to be written.  I give the cover a B+.  It has tentacles, an elephant and a great deal of purple, but it doesn’t have PZ and there’s something weird about the color scheme in general.  I suggested he get a quote from Trophy Wife TM and if that happens I’m just going to go ahead and claim credit right now.

I never quite figured out what he was vaguely irritated with Michael Shermer for.  Michael Shermer, by the way, looks eerily like Jonathan Pryce and has a weird arrogant swagger to him that is both compelling and a bit unsettling.  He was super nice when I talked to him and I got his newest book, so nothing personal there, just an observation.

I also saw PZ at lunch where he said he knew what his grandmother’s face looked like when she orgasmed, made fun of Utah and Mormons, and laughed heartily at my True Stories About Atheism.  I made my mother’s friend cry when I told her I was an atheist.  Hysterically she asked, “Don’t you want to get married and have a family?!”  I told my ex-Catholic mother when she was taking me to college that I was atheist and she said, “I’m so disappointed you don’t believe you’re going to Hell.  Wait, that came out wrong.”

There was lots more and I don’t remember it right now, but if I think of it, I promise I’ll add it.  It was totally worth the money.  And not just for PZ but for the other interesting people who also wanted to have dinner with PZ.  It was all very snarky and civilized.

I forgot to ask him if he’ll do a bit appearance in Bible Con, my script making fun of Christians and atheists, if it actually gets made.

EDIT: The rest of the story: http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/ocfa-conference-2010-where-i-met-pz/

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