Saturday, 23 October 2010

TAM London Blog: No. 8 - Kirby your activism

(2.30 pm, 16th October, TAM venue, Edgeware Road, London )

Hello again. Another massive break between blog reports about TAM London speakers where there was no actual break between the talks themselves. I feel like I'm introducing an element of discontinuity where there was none. In a way, this makes me like a very very low-key Time Lord. Interestingly, I live within a few minutes walk of a number of Doctor Who locations, and the official Doctor Who exhibition is in the cinema/restaurant complex down the road. You should go there some time, it's actually much smaller than it looks from the outside. It's a bit like and anti-TARDIS, in a way.

Anyway, back to the talks.

We were first treated to a quick talk by Karen James, who told us all about the ongoing Beagle project. It's a very inspirational project, which you can read all about in the links I just put down. Basically, it's a project to rebuild the famous Beagle, the ship that carried Charles Darwin across the world, and re-make the original journey, during which he invented evolution. I've always loved the way that, before Darwin, the world was only 6000 years old and everything that existed had always been that way and dinosaur bones were put there as a joke by a deity who, despite having infinite knowledge, infinite space and infinite power with which to put these things to good use, clearly has a low boredom threshold so amuses himself by burying the remains of monsters for the sole purpose of confusing some of his more curious apes.

Flippancy aside, it's a wonderful project and quite inspiring when you think about it. There was talk about an incident where an astronaut on the International Space Station voluntarily got involved and ended up speaking to a group of Brazilian School children. That's either an incredible account of the inspirational actions that people do in order to promote and further the wonder of Science, or the absolute mother of all wrong numbers. Either way is cool for me.

It's a great scheme, and I do think it's worth the time and effort that's being put into it. Although Karen did say that they were needing a £100,000 donation to complete all their aims. I genuinely expected the hat to be passed around at this point. It's a ridiculous sum to ask people to cough up at a moments notice, but then I was persistently surprised by how many people were able/willing to put up the £200+ entry fee for the conference. It was amazing that so many people were at the meeting, to be honest. Maybe that's why it's called that?

(Just a note, I also tweeted during the talk that I was surprised that the Beagle was docking in Pembrokeshire, seeing as they don't have evolution there. This was of course a stupid joke, as we all know that Pembrokeshire has lots of evolution; the place is riddled with Neanderthals)

The next talk was by Paula Kirby. This was one of the best talks, as far as I'm concerned, because it was simultaneously baffling, amusing and terrifying. It was essentially a run-down of the actions, aims and views of the UK Christian Party. They are, in the loosest sense of the word, a political party that wants to, um, further the values of Christianity in UK society. I say 'um' because, as someone raised in a nominally Christian environment, I don't recognise any of them. They include:

- Opposition to all forms of equality apart from those that favour devout Christians, which sort of undermines the whole concept of 'equality' when you think about it.

- Abolition of CCTV cameras and other forms of social control measures, and replacing them with bands of roving street Pastors (an idea which I actually quite like, as I'd want to see what happens when they have to 'control' a clash of Cardiff and Millwall football fans. Do the spiritually enlightening qualities of the Bible prevent it from causing damage when forcefully inserted into various orifices?)

- A complete crack down on teachers in general as they are somehow linked to the sexual corruption of children.

- Free speech for Christians only. And only 'proper' ones. None of these liberal types, they may as well be sodomising minors while smearing chocolate Koran's over their oiled torsos as far as the Christian party are concerned.

- The promotion of Christian love and compassion via the use of oppression and death (e.g. they support the death penalty and nuclear weapons, which makes sense when you consider that without the death penalty Christianity wouldn't exist, and a mushroom cloud does look slightly like a cross).
I don't really recognise this aspect of Christianity. Presumably it's based on the gospel according to Saint Psychopath. it seems that the Christian party has no chance of being elected, but the fact that they exist at all and seem to be entitled to respect and consideration is still a worrying fact. There was also some discussion of why the majority of Christians don't oppose or resist these despotic bastards, and why Christianity gets an easier ride of it in UK society than other religions. It was very interesting and thought provoking, to the point where I don't want to sully it by making crap jokes about it. Kudos Kirby, an exemplary talk from an interesting person.

The final part of this section, before lunch, was the panel discussion. This was delivered by the holy trinity of the skeptical society (inappropriate religious overtones very much intended), Dr Evan Harris, David Allen Green (a.k.a. Jack of Kent) and Dr Simon Singh. All the brief introductory talks they did were very good, but unfortunately I didn't see much of the discussion as I had to run outside and re-charge my iron-age Nokia to continue my twitter stream. It's a shame really, I doubt anyone was actually reading them but seeing as I had a press pass I felt duty bound to continue it. It was quite enjoyable, like the on-line equivalent of a tramp shouting in the street at cars; pointless but strangely cathartic.
I did learn several interesting things though. Dr Evan Harris really doesn't like singing, like he did at the Science is Vital rally (I was there, remember?), but this may have effectively combated the Science cuts. It's like a WMD, only to be used when absolutely necessary. David Allen Green showed us that, although lawyers are widely disliked and regarded as untrustworthy, if they have a Birmingham accent this completely offsets the clich├ęs and makes them likable again.

Simon Singh is possibly one of the most respected and popular people in the scientific community. And rightly so. I'm biased of course, as he actually wanted to speak to me r.e. my Science is Vital talk and to offer me help with my scientific promotions. He also announced the launch of the Nightingale Collaboration, an organisation designed to help coordinate and streamline sceptical activism activities. Read about it, it's well good.

I was outside for this bit though, so missed most of it. Bet it was fun though. Then there was a coffee break. I've been to many conferences all across the country, and there appears to be one rule which unties them all; the coffee is always shit. It does the job though, and if you have to make enough coffee for nearly a thousand people in a very short space of time, quality is bound to suffer.

Unless this was a subtle reminder of how nonsensical homeopathic claims are? Seems a bit unnecessary though, seeing as how everyone there had forked out £200+ to be there. You wouldn't do that if you were still 'undecided', surely? But then maybe that's just me.

Email: Humourology (at)
Twitter: @garwboy


skepticCanary said...

I remember some people being a little bit against the Kirby speech, they thought the Christian Party was an irrelevance. Persnoally, I though hers was the most rousing speech of the whole weekend.

Anonymous said...

More please! I like your take on stuff. New reader, will get round to an ID thing soon.
You amuse me.

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