Holiday photos

Three sets of photos I took last month.

Three sets of photos I took recently:

First, snowy Vancouver! There was a nice dump of snow just a few days before I was scheduled to fly back East, and I was delighted. Hey, I wouldn’t need to go anywhere to enjoy a white Christmas! On the winter solstice I walked around the West End snapping some pictures. Everything was so beautiful!

More here

The trip to Ottawa was… interesting. I got to the airport a bit too late to check in, which meant they rescheduled me to a flight later that afternoon (hey, it could have been worse!), connecting through Montreal—where I’d have to spend the night, flying on to Ottawa early the next morning. Oy. It would have been faster to drive to Ottawa—though maybe not in all this snow, I guess.

Still, it was my bad, so I’m not complaining. Too much. And I had fun in Ottawa; in addition to seeing my brand-new nephew, I continued the theme of “tourist in my home town” by visiting the Diefenbunker (never been before) as well as the National Art Gallery (haven’t been in ages).

(And though I did take a photo of the first-level concourse, I only realised later that the ceiling is actually itself a temporary exhibit. So it’s not going online.)

More here

Also, last Saturday I took a few lovely photos of Blue Mountain Park in the fog. Eerily beautiful!

More here

That was 2013

And that was an interesting year. A year of new beginnings in some ways, but also false starts. Definitely a learning experience.

And that was an interesting year. A year of new beginnings in some ways, but also false starts. Definitely a learning experience.

The main thing I did in 2013 was going freelance. I’d been thinking about it for months, and finally took the plunge in February. In the short term, I’d been working on a web site in my off hours, and it was burning me out. If I could work on it full-time, I reasoned, I’d be less stressed, and have more time to work on other projects I really enjoyed.

Which… didn’t quite work out as I planned. First, my time management skills were somewhat lacking, and working 100% on my own meant I was responsible for every aspect of my business, as well as my personal life. Second, I was unprepared for how isolating working from home would be. Third, though I was reluctant to admit it, I don’t really have the temperament for freelancing. I needed to be someone way more outgoing and confident, schmoozing and getting contracts. I did do some of that, but not nearly enough.

In the end, though work did pick up somewhat near the end (mostly through referrals from colleagues), I just wasn’t making enough money. So when my old boss offered me my job back, I said yes. Had to think about it, though. Part of me wanted to keep trying, that stopping now would feel like failure… but I had to face reality: I just wasn’t ready. Best to write those 9 months off as a learning experience. It was not wasted time, and it was not a failure.

But what now? Well, I’m not giving up on the freelance experience completely: I’ve still got a few little side projects, and who knows? In a few years, once I’ve polished my skills (not just development, but all relevant skills) and beefed up my network, I may give it another shot. But if/when it happens I’ll definitely be better prepared.

But though money was tight, since my schedule was more flexible I traveled more for gay volleyball tournaments: Ottawa in mid March, Calgary on Easter weekend, Regina for Thanksgiving. Okay, Ottawa wasn’t exactly terra incognita, but I hadn’t been to Ottawa U in ages, and it kind of felt new, y’know? But overall, it felt great to visit brand new places. It’s been way too long since I’ve traveled anywhere except to visit family over the holidays. There’s a whole wide world waiting for me!

And a few more new things this year:

Dyeing my hair for Pride. And since it was my first time, and Pride, I naturally had to go all out and dye it ALL THE COLOURS. But the really awesome thing? Those selfies were the first photos of myself in ages that I was really happy with. Usually I’m awkward and shy around cameras, but there I was smiling and curious about my new look. Huh. Maybe I should dye my hair more often!

A week later when I had to meet a client. So that was potentially a little awkward, but nobody said anything. And a week after that, I decided to chop it all off. The colours were fading, I was getting a little shaggy, and I’d always kind of wanted to try the skinhead look but then always chickened out at the stylist. But now I had a razor with removable heads, so I took care of it myself!

And eventually I grew it back a bit. The skinhead look’s not for me after all, but I’m enjoying having ultra-short hair.

A couple months before at Northern Voice, I got up on stage with Dave Olson for his ending talk-slash-fireside-chat. When he asked for volunteers to join him I was all, “What the hell, YOLO” and went right up. I’d expected more hesitation on my part (or probably even just staying in my seat) but it was surprisingly easy. Telling a cute guy I think he’s cute? Really hard. Being on stage (when I’m not the centre of attention, at least)? Apparently not that hard.

And I almost forgot another first: volunteering for the Vancouver Men’s Chorus Christmas show. I’ve been going to all their concerts for the last couple of years, but this time I procrastinated just a little too long, and they sold out in record time. I moaned about it on Twitter, and the VMC Twitter account replied, asking if I wanted to volunteer. Well, of course I said yes, and it so happened that the two night they still needed volunteers for were the two nights I was available!

And it was tons of fun. I got to see the show twice, wear funky masks, meet some new people and meet up with friends in the chorus. Plus, I helped sell raffle tickets which meant going up to talk to strangers. I was flashing back—just a little—to having to sell those chocolate bars and calendars and things in cub scouts, but I really enjoyed it. I’m still not terribly outgoing, so this was good social practice. Most interestingly, I wasn’t the shyest volunteer there! So that was some interesting perspective right there…

So that was the year’s highlights. It might not seem like a lot, and part of me worries I should have done more, and greater things. Maybe. But you know what? I’ll just enjoy the victories. And look forward to many more in the coming year.

The Culture Crawl: Hungry for inspiration

This blog post has been percolating in my brain ever since the East Side Culture Crawl a week ago. This year I revisited 1000 Parker Street and the Mergatroid Building, both excellent choices if you want to catch lots of studios in a short time. Also, it turns out, excellent choices if you want to enjoy delicious mini-donuts and peppermint hot chocolate, provided by friendly vendors outside. How long have they been there? I don’t remember them from the last time I was at 1000 Parker…

Anyway, I did more than enjoy a lot of artwork. See, in the last few weeks, I’ve taken up drawing again. That’s been an on-and-off hobby of mine; I have absolutely no natural talent for it, but I enjoy taking up a pencil and doodling whatever my hand wants to doodle. And I realise I want to practice this more regularly, see where it takes me. So I think part of me was looking for inspiration at the Crawl, some clue to help me figure out what would work for me. Maybe that’s the wrong approach—I need to find my own way, especially if I’m just starting out, or I’d just be aping other people. And it’s hard to avoid comparing myself to these excellent artists—just as I do with my web development career (the thing that pays the bills) I have to balance having something to strive for and being intimidated by superior talents.

Still, it was instructive. Some artwork resonated more with me, and this may be a clue as to what my own art will become. My favourite artist this year was Arleigh Wood. I love her subject matter, mostly quiet beachscapes it seems, but it’s her signature style that I find most attractive. There’s just something about the muted colours and rich textures, contrasted with startling touches of gold leaf… It’s something to chew on, at least. I know the answers will come.

Thanksgiving in Regina

So a friend of mine invited me to the Golden Crown volleyball tournament, and it was tons of fun. I’d never been to Regina (or Saskatchewan, for that matter), and was looking forward to visiting someplace new. Before this year, I really hadn’t done much of that—but that’s changing, and gay volleyball tournaments are a great excuse to expand my horizons.

Over two weeks late, but it took me a while to get around to sorting through the hundreds of photos I took.

So a friend of mine invited me to the Golden Crown volleyball tournament, and it was tons of fun. I’d never been to Regina (or Saskatchewan, for that matter), and was looking forward to visiting someplace new. Before this year, I really hadn’t done much of that—but that’s changing, and gay volleyball tournaments are a great excuse to expand my horizons.

Regina is a lovely town, with super-friendly people and super-hot university students. I didn’t know many people there and my introvert side was acting up, which was kind of annoying, but I managed to have fun and socialise, even go out dancing at the gay club. Yes, there’s just one. It looks like it’s managed by a non-profit—probably because a for-profit club wouldn’t survive in a town this size; but according to its Facebook page that does make it the only GLBT community-owned club in Canada, which is pretty awesome. It reminds me of Club 318 (I think that was its name) in Ottawa, back in the day, except that only took place every second Friday at the Lisgar Street community centre. I wonder if that’s still going on?

I gave myself time to do the tourist thing by myself Friday afternoon and all day Monday. Everything is pretty much within walking distance, so transportation is no problem. On Friday I walked around the amazing Wascana Park, dodging all the bundled-up cyclists and joggers. Yeah, Regina is a bit chilly and overcast and hella windy—though I guess I should count my blessings, since it hadn’t actually started snowing yet. Still, the park was beautiful in its autumn finery, all soft golds and oranges. No red that I remember; I guess they don’t have maples in Regina. Which really makes you think: Canada is a big place, with many and varied ecosystems. Magpies in Calgary and Kamloops, but not Vancouver. At least 2 species of crows, in Vancouver and Ottawa. Neat. I just needed to get my feet on the ground a bit more in this big land of ours, instead of flying over it.

Two days of volleyball and partying really took it out of me, physically and emotionally, so on Monday I was happy to do the solo tourist thing again. I bade farewell to roommates (they were all driving back to Edmonton), and I set out.

My first stop was the Mosaic Stadium, home of the Roughriders, and easily visible from our hotel room. I don’t particularly care about football, but I was told I should try to get in, and take pictures from the seats—or even the field, assuming there’s no practice going on. I walked around the whole place but couldn’t find a way in, so I shrugged and went on my way.

Next was the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, located in Wascana Park (like half the city’s major landmarks, it seems). An awesome place where I learned all about Saskatchewan First Nations, geology, and wildlife both past (dinosaurs) and present. Amazingly, they had a fossilized Mosasaur skeleton, along with stuff about how Saskatchewan was mostly underwater back in the day. But I already knew that, thanks to The Oatmeal!

Megamunch the animatronic T Rex, was just the icing on the cake.

Next was the Legislature. I wasn’t sure if it’d be open for tours on a holiday, but it was! Yay! (Though the bookstore and gift shop was closed. Boo!) The handsome francophone guide took us around the foyer, to the Library with neat historical artefacts on display, the hall with Saskatchewan Order of Merit recipients, the room with portraits of past SK Premiers and even more historical artefacts and documents. And the Legislature itself, which we unfortunately were not allowed to set foot in, so we had to take pictures from the door.

And last, the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Which at first I thought was closed, but then a security guard came up and showed me the right door to use. Derp.

And then I was off to the airport! But I’m sure I’ll be back someday.

More photos here!

Hwy 1 crossing Evans Rd

Downtown Calgary

Victoria Park

Good morning

Mosasaur skeleton

Sask Legislature

Saskatchewan Legislature

Saskatchewan Legislature, from the West

Albert St


Last Friday was a first for me: I participated in a kiss-in, in front of the Russian Consulate in downtown Vancouver protesting the homophobic neanderthal shit-show developing in Russia.

Last Friday was a first for me: I participated in a kiss-in, in front of the Russian Consulate in downtown Vancouver protesting the homophobic neanderthal shit-show developing in Russia. I’d considered going even though I didn’t have a kissing buddy (::sadface::), but what really clinched it was a Facebook conversation the day before, with the protest’s organiser. My contribution was—in response to people shocked that a gay person in Russia would support Putin’s new laws and be generally right-wing and paranoid about Western culture—that the rising paranoia and fascism in Eastern Europe wasn’t too surprising to me, given that I’d already seen something of it in Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride. In hindsight, it felt both (a) overly didactic and (b) kind of negative. Which, fair enough, there’s a lot to be negative about. And also fair enough, it was informative. But I do have this tendency to spout off interesting fact(oid)s at the drop of a hat, and sometimes I need to tone it down. This, I think, was one of those times. And I could and should do more than sit on the sidelines of this particular conflict and be like the Kids in the Hall’s It’s a fact girl.

So I went to the kiss-in. And kissed a few guys, which was fun. There were quite a few news cameras present, which made me very self-conscious. Seriously, I hadn’t felt like that since my very first Pride parade, waaay back in ’93. Man, those were the days, when gays and lesbians were still kind of exotic and mainstream media weren’t even talking about bi or trans folks.

But I stayed. And though I didn’t think I’d end up on camera, seeing as I wasn’t in the front row and didn’t do that much kissing, a couple friends mentioned seeing me on the news the next day. It was a bit of a shock, but only a bit. It really was not a big deal. My fears had made mountains out of molehills.

What did this protest accomplish? Maybe nothing tangible, in the short run. But then protests rarely do. And in this era of global politics and social media, who can say where things will go in the next six months? Whatever happens, I want to be a part of it.

Rainbow Racing Stripes

Today was a first for me: I got my hair dyed. And then I thought, what the hell, let’s dye it ALL THE COLOURS. So, in honour of Pride and especially our lovely rainbow crosswalks, I got myself all 8 colours of the Pride rainbow.

Incidentally, this is the first time in a long while I’ve felt really happy with how pictures of myself looked. I guess all I needed was different hair colour?

Northern Voice 2013, Part 2: Bigger on the Inside

No, this post isn’t about TARDISes, but about stories and the art of storytelling. Neil Gaiman wrote (in Sandman, I think) that everybody has worlds of stories in them, no matter how mundane and small they seem on the outside.

No, this post isn’t about TARDISes, but about stories and the art of storytelling. Neil Gaiman wrote (in Sandman, I think) that everybody has worlds of stories in them, no matter how mundane and small they seem on the outside.

Theresa Lalonde: #story

Theresa Lalonde loves stories. Listening to other people’s struggles and how they’re navigating this difficult world, creates a sense of connection and gets her own creative juices going.

The real gift of a good storyteller is to respect the people whose stories you’re sharing. You have to make them feel that they’ve’ve been heard. Her motto is “Everybody else is more interesting than me”. Which sparked a bit of discussion—no, it shouldn’t be taken literally to mean you’re the least interesting person on the planet. A good storyteller has to be an interesting person, to properly reflect other people. But when you’re in storytelling mode, you’re not supposed to take centre stage yourself. Let other people be the stars.

There are stories everywhere, it’s just a question of watching out for them. Theresa told the of Fraserview Cemetery, where the paupers’ graves hold three people deep, and are recycled every 40 years. But the names are still there, and you can find out their stories.

(She might have told the story of one such pauper, but I don’t have it in my notes. The mention of cemetery names might have got me thinking about this amazing Vlogbrothers video, which led to this even more amazing video, and if that’s not the perfect illustration of Theresa’s point, I don’t know what is.)

She also dispensed some more practical advice: use the “zoom-in” factor, to focus on small details of a story thereby making it more immediate and personal. Also, need to overcome the fear of the blank canvas? Dirty it up, scrawl some doodles and/or nonsense words, that’ll dirty it up and get you ready for the real work.


Friday afternoon was the photowalk, hosted by Vivian McMaster. For some reason this was the first ever photowalk I’ve been on. I think last year the weather was too bad, and in previous years… I guess there were interesting talks going on at the same time.

Anyway, Vivienne took a bunch of us around Vanier Park, offering a few tips on thinking outside the box: trying different angles, different perspectives, wave your camera around and capture the motion blurs. I took a number of photos and I’ve decided to post them all, even the out-of-focus ones, even the repetitive ones, without any self-censorship. It’s liberating, and intriguing. There are actually some nice shots in there… And here they are.

Near the end a couple of us were chatting and I mentioned how I’m a very left-brain person, and how sometimes I doodle to work out my right brain. They suggested doodling with my off hand to really give my right hemisphere a workout. Sounds like a good idea!

Dave Olson: Vancouver: The Untold Stories

What can you say about DaveO that hasn’t already been said? He’s smart, hilarious, and insightful as hell. I won’t go into too much detail his talk because (a) I couldn’t do it justice, and (b) I wasn’t taking notes at all (more on that below). Partly it was about the roots of today’s social media in much older technologies (home-printed zines, CB radio—a recurring theme, he talked about that one in a previous NV), the history of Vancouver’s music scene (complete with tickets and posters), and tips on finding stories.

Basically: get out of your comfort zone, and find weird things. And you don’t even have to look that hard, either. The weirdness is all around, from a street in North Vancouver named after one of the Group of Seven who lived in Kits for a bit and kick-started Vancouver’s art scene, to anecdotes of bands playing in long-gone clubs, every block in the city is crammed with stories that just need a little digging.

DaveO did some of the work for us, too. He had a couple of large envelopes from which the audience could pick out cards with names to start from. I picked Frederick Varley (the aforementioned Group of Seven artist). I was a bit relieved, since it seemed easier than digging up dirt about old Gastown clubs and whatnot, but maybe not. Who knows what this’ll lead to?

One last point about the talk: at the start Dave invited a few audience members to come up on stage and handle some of the props (posters, records) while he sat in his comfy chair and babbled on. So I went up, sat by the fire and put a couple old records on.

A friend told me afterwards that I was brave for going on stage. Brave? Maybe, I don’t know. I’m not usually one for the spotlight and yes, there was a little part of me that hesitated, but I made the leap without trying too hard. I guess bravery is in the eye of the beholder. Going up to talk to a cute guy? Really hard. Being on stage in front of a few hundred people, at least when I’m not the centre of attention? Apparently not that hard. Go figure.

Northern Voice 2013, Part 1: We’re on a Journey

Another amazing Northern Voice conference, this time at the HR MacMillan Space Centre. An excellent venue, and conference-goers got to visit the Museum of Vancouver for free! As a bonus, a really cool avant-garde play, which I will totally be blogging about.

Just like last year I’m writing several Northern Voice posts, each grouping related talks together.

Another amazing Northern Voice conference, this time at the HR MacMillan Space Centre. An excellent venue, and conference-goers got to visit the Museum of Vancouver for free! As a bonus, a really cool avant-garde play, which I will totally be blogging about.

Just like last year I’m writing several Northern Voice posts, each grouping related talks together.

Mark Blevis and Bob Goyetche: Podcasters Across Borders

The morning keynote speech by Mark Blevis and Bob Goyetche, recounted the history of Podcasters Across Borders from its first year in 2006, until they chose to close it down in 2012.

It was a fascinating story. I’d never heard of PAB before, not knowing anything about the podcasting scene, but I could see the parallels between it and Northern Voice. The first few years—aka the “Podeozoic Era” were apparently focused on the technology. Producing audio, editing, all the nitty-gritty details. 2009 was the transition year, named the “Jowisic Era” after Jowi Taylor, creator of the Six String Nation guitar; from then on (the “Creatious Era”, 2010–2012) the focus was much more on creativity and building community. (I’ve noticed this trend in NV as well.)

It was a great look at two very passionate people who created “a conference about journeys”, and the lessons they learned along the way:

  • About values: you must have values and be committed to them. They’re much more than goals; goals will tell you what you’re trying to achieve, but not why, nor how you got to where you are in the first place.
  • How to nurture creative spaces: for instance, having only a single track, to strengthen bonds between attendees. And they experimented with room layouts, to make the talks a bit more intimate. In 2010 they moved the conference to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from Kingston, which apparently gave the creatives the upper hand and scared off all the marketing people.
  • Choose to grow. “Look beyond the fishbowl” and don’t be afraid to experiment. You may lose attendees who expect the same things year after year, but you’ll pick up others who will grow with you.
  • Trust yourself, your instinct and your passions. A strong and safe creative space needs curators, and this was something you couldn’t organise by committee. Apparently in any arguments they had, whoever was most passionate won.

And then PAB ended, because they wanted to move forward to other projects; to do that, they had to close that chapter of their lives.

Mike Vardy: Life Changing Blogging

Okay, so this is the second slot, and already another talk about journeys? I’m sensing a theme…

Not that I’m complaining. I love listening to Mike Vardy, his nerdy shout-outs, the inspirational story of his life. From Costco employee out east, to Costco employee in PoCo, to comic, podcaster, writer and productivyist, which is totally a word now.

My take-aways:

  • You have to do, not try. Yes, I know Yoda said if first, but it bears repeating. If you’re going to go for something, you have to really commit to it, not just half-ass it and tell yourself that was good enough when/if it fails.
  • You have to work to live, not live to work. The much more laid-back West Coast lifestyle was a bit of a culture shock to him, where employees would call in sick because the weather was too nice to work. Your job is there to let you lead a fulfilling life.
  • Sometimes you have to move on. See the PAB story above. There were some projects he had to let go, in order to start something else. Because there’s no such thing as multitasking. The important thing for creatives is to be open to these kinds of shifts.
  • But if you focus, you can achieve amazing things.
  • You have to keep your integrity and care about your reputation. He doesn’t do infomercials, doesn’t shill, and in the past he quit a lifehacking site (I forget which) because his boss wanted him to write about recipes. Something about how to arrange the lettuce and the buns in a hamburger? It sounded pretty inane, anyway.

John Biehler: How Blogging Changed My Life

This is the story of John Biehler’s adventures in the last couple years since he blogged for the 2010 Olympics and then the Paralympics: he took 6 weeks off work and blogged the hell out the events. Then got invited up to the Yukon. Then Chevy offered him an electric car to drive to SXSW in; then, a trip to Alaska

The focus here was different than Mike’s speech. It’s not so much about a lifelong journey from here to there, but more about choices that changed his life very quickly.

The main take-away for me is: seize the day. I haven’t done enough of that so far, and I need to step up my game. And also, that personal integrity doesn’t have to stop you from having fun.

Last take-away: 3D printing is fucking awesome. That’s his latest interest, and he brought a couple of his creations for us to gawk at. The future is here!

The Road to Kamloops

Oh, and I took pictures before, during and after Imagine No Religion! The weather was fine throughout and if I do say so, I took some awesome shots. I’m particularly proud of my shot of Merritt after we left it, lightly kissed by the setting sun.

Plus, the Kamloops flora and fauna. I didn’t see any magpies this time because I didn’t go on a long walk, but there was this species of tree growing by the convention centre parking lot. It had very thin leaves, of a light silvery-green colour. What kind of tree was that? My googling suggested some kind of spruce, but I don’t know anything about trees, so… All I know is, I’ve never seen one in Vancouver. They must like the drier climates.

Highway 1

Coquihalla Hwy

Coquihalla Hwy

Coquihalla Valley farm

Friday night sunset

Tree and mountains

Stopping for gas in Merritt

Oh, and a moonshot. This was pretty much the only time of day I can take photos of the moon: late enough that it’s clearly visible, but with enough light for my camera to work.

Half moon

Leaving Merritt

I think I heard one of my friends say this is the Coquihalla summit.

Coquihalla Hwy

Imagine No Religion 3, Day 2

Day 2, from DJ Grothe to Daniel Dennett

D.J. Grothe

Skepticism is about doing good by being right

That’s how D.J Grothe, President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, summarised their mission and their work. The JREF has been working to expose psychics, faith healers and other fakes for years, through the Million Dollar Challenge, as well as outreach, literature, podcasts They never engage the credulous, because they are not the bad guys. Skepticism, as Grothe reminds us, is not about some snooty elitists in a bar finding reasons why Bigfoot doesn’t exist. Psychics and fakes hurt and exploit people, usually at their most vulnerable.

And the JREF is moving into the classroom! At the JREF table in the lobby were copies of their excellent new classroom kits, designed to teach skepticism to high school kids.

William B. Davis: Living With Belief

Yes, William B. Davis, the Cigarette-Smoking Man from X-Files. He started by talking about his early life, dealing with religion. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary growing up in rural Ontario in the 50’s: learning that Jews are bad in Grade 2; having people try to save him after publicly admitting he’s not a Christian in high school… thankfully, he found other unbelievers in university.

After he became part of X-Files, people naturally assumed he believed in UFOs, but it was always just a gig to him. Still, he was curious, so he did some research, found Barry Beyerstein and CSICOP, and now he’s got arguments against UFOlogists!

But speaking of X-Files, he did also mention how Dawkins (who he greatly admires) once criticised the show for feeding paranormal beliefs. And you know, that’s one thing that bothered me too, even before I identified as a skeptic. But what could Davis do? He didn’t want to quit. In the end he decided that the show wasn’t that bad, and he didn’t really see that it increased beliefs in UFOs. Fair enough, I probably would have done the same.

He ended with criticism of Stephen Harper, and how the biggest issue of our time is climate change.

So that was interesting. A bit scattered but engaging.

Cristina Rad: The Nature of Evil

Christina (aka ZOMGitsCriss is a Romanian YouTuber, and she’s freaking hilarious. Go check out her videos now. Her talk was not about the nature of evil, that’s just a title she came up with for the schedule. No, the talk is about anti-theism. If you don’t believe it’s important to speak up, because religious beliefs are still shaping the world. A secular world may not be paradise, but at least it’d be one less excuse to oppress and discriminate.

Bottom line? Don’t be a dick. But don’t be a pussy either.

And seriously, check out her channel!

Sean Faircloth: Attack of the Theocrats

Sean Faircloth is an attorney and former Maine state senator (in his last term, he was the Majority Whip). He came to talk to us about religious fundamentalism, and how it’s a booming business. American-style religiosity is exported to countries like Uganda, and even New Zealand: it seems NZ has special religious education in the public school system. Kids of minority religions have segregated and punished for no reason. In Canada, public funding is increasingly going to right wing Christian or Muslim schools.

But all is not lost! Humanists and freethinkers can be organised as well.

If the religious right can organise for intolerance and injustice then we can organise for reason and science and compassion

Victor Stenger: The Atheistic Atom

Dr Stenger is not a very engaging speaker, I’m sorry to say. The main thrust of his talk was that atomic theories and atheism have historically gone hand-in-hand. From the early Greek philosopher who believed that the vengeful gods of stories didn’t exist (and if any gods did exist, they didn’t care about humankind) to Renaissance scientists who rediscovered their theories, to modern scientists who discovered that atoms are themselves divisible…

He went over the Standard Model quite a bit, but there was no explicit link to atheism. Is it that visualising the universe as a collection of particles interacting in quantifiable ways tends to lead to atheism? Maybe. My notes don’t say. A crash course on particle physics is not really what I signed up for.

Aron Ra: How Religion Reverses Everything

Hey look, his talk is on YouTube! The bottom line: religious fundamentalism turns everything upside down. Knowledge and progresss are disdained, ignorance is elevated, abstinence is preached but never practised (Evangelical xians have the highest divorce, teen pregnancy and abortion rates), religious people are more likely to condone torture or the death penalty, and on and on.

Also, heavy metal caused a drop in violent crime in 1981. There was a similar drop in the mid-90’s, possibly due to the availability of downloadable porn. Check it out at 22:00

Taslima Nasrin: A Woman’s Life in a Muslim Country

Dr. Nasrin is a writer who was exiled from her native Bangladesh for criticising Islamic misogyny. There are fatwas against her even in India, and her writings are banned in her native country.

(I took very few notes during her talk because it was so engrossing.)

Daniel Dennett: Non-Believing Clergy

The closing keynote speech was a whopper. Dr. Dennett talked about his work with non-believing clergy

It’s got to be a horrible situation, and Dr. Dennett was very good about making us empathise. You grow up believing that priests / ministers are all good people, doing good for others, so naturally you want to join them. But then you get to a seminary, and you have to actually question and analyse scriptures, taught by people who may be a lot more cynical and jaded than you. It’s a shock, and apparently a lot of such schools have counselors specifically to deal with crises of faith.

Even if you make it through, it’s an incredibly isolating life. Non-believing priests may think they’re the only one to doubt, probably don’t have any peers they can spill their guts to (especially not their parishioners) and in general will feel trapped in a non-believing closet. If they quit, they’re letting their flock and their own dreams down. It’s a dreadful bind.

Mind you, that’s if they make it through. Fewer and fewer prospective priests are even making it through religious schools; on top of that, fewer and fewer people are called to the priesthood; worst of all for religious authorities, fewer and fewer parents are successfully passing on their religious traditions to their children. What will happen to religious structures when they run out of people?

Dr. Dennett used an excellent analogy, that of the cell. Now, biological cells can be reduced to just a few processes and elements: a membrane, to keep the insides in and the outside out; energy consumption, to keep on living; and reproduction. Could we look at social groups in the same way? In this analogy, energy would be cash to keep the group going; the membrane would be whatever hoops one has to go through to join; and reproduction would be whatever is necessary to keep the group going or expanding.

We looked at four types of social cells: Japanese tea ceremony schools; debutante cotillion training programs; Ponzi schemes; and religion. Without going into too many details, the first two are very similar in that members pay buttloads of money for something that is supposed to enhance social status but (a) serves no actual social purpose and (b) at least for cotillions is increasingly seen as silly and irrelevant in today’s world. For the last two, people often get started without realising what they’re getting themselves into, and by the time they realise the costs it’s too late to easily quit.

And what will the world look like in a generation or two, when today’s religions have shrunk or mutated beyond recognition? Will the Vatican be reduced to a museum and gift shop? Will Mecca be a Disney subsidiary? What social structures will replace churches? Should we need to worry about it? How painful will the transition be? That’s still an open question, obviously, but we can can find clues by looking at the deeply secular parts of Western Europe and Australia: people still form relationships, and find purpose in their lives. You don’t need religion or religious social clubs to do that. The reactionary elements will fight back, of course, but that’s another story.