Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

Maxing Out the Wilderness

IMG_4297One sunny (slightly smoky) Sunday in August of 2018, a grumble of Atheists* set out to explore the howling wilderness that surrounds Mancos State Park. OK, it’s not an actually ‘howling’…nor is it an actual HIKE START‘wilderness’ per se, but there are many trees, it’s pretty and it’s full of interesting things to see and learn about. Towards that end, our little group made sure to pack along our own Max Macpherson…a man who seems to know each rock and plant in the forest, personally, and by name. I was first introduced to Max’s formidable and encyclopedic knowledge of Southwest flora when he, Wray Boswell and I were teamed up to de-clutter our stretch of Coal Bank Pass during one of DS&A annual road cleanups. road clean upWe’d pick up a piece of trash and then, before moving on, Max would exclaim over a bedraggled bush, or a gaudy red berry or small blue flower, telling us the various medicinal uses for the plants by Native Americans or how the berry is vital to the subsistence of bears but not palatable to humans. It was a fascinating and dizzying display of outdoor lore which made the experience very enjoyable and memorable. Since then, I’ve been anxious to have Max share his deep understanding of folk wisdom with the rest of the group.  GROUP ON TRAIL

So, Carolyn and I were delighted when Max agreed to head a party of hikers on a jaunt around his home stomping grounds on the west side of the La Platas. We departed on a trail near the Transfer camp ground and soon were dropping 300’ down a rocky slope…we stopped every 10 yards or so to enthuse over a cluster of stems or a browned flower (it was well-past the prime wild flower season), marveling as Max delivered a master’s course in local flora and fauna. GROUP EXAMINES PLANTSEven if you took notes, you couldn’t keep up with Max’s output! We all agreed that if we could retain just one or two of the facts that zinged past us at a dizzying clip we’d be satisfied.

MAX SHOWS FLOWERMax pointed out ‘osha’, formerly known to us as ‘that raggedy-assed sort of fern-y looking plant’. Well, it turns out that osha (Ligusticum porteri for you purists) is useful as a treatment for flu, bronchitis and sore throat! Who knew? (As it turns out, the Native Americans did)! See those pretty red berries? They are chokecherries, aka ‘bitter berries. Aptly named, I am told; I abstained from trying them myself. But apparently bears love ‘em…and how do we know that? Because of the piles of bear scat on the trail heaped with chokecherry pits, that’s how. Those little blue berries growing in abundance all around us on the trail are ‘serviceberries’…sweet and beloved by humans and bears alike. Those big gouges on the aspen trees are signs of elk rasping their lower teeth on the bark (did you know that elk don’t have upper teeth in the front?). The smaller scratches on many of the aspens along the trail BEAR CLAW MARKS ON ASPENturn out to be claw marks from young bears who climb up the trees to avoid interactions with nosy Atheists and other clueless humans ambling through the bears’ home…you can see the indentations made by the ‘thumb’ and other ‘fingers’ as the cubs clawed their way up out of harm’s way. Have you ever sniffed a Ponderosa Pine? Next time you see one in the bright sunshine, go ahead and take a deep whiff. Is that vanilla you smell? Or is it butterscotch? Our group was divided on the issue, but united in our amazement of this odd quirk of Nature. That yellow flower? That’s cinquefoil (pronounced SINK-eh-foil), useful as an astringent or, if you mix it with honey, use it as a cough medicine. We couldn’t walk ten feet without encountering a new wonder. But until Max pointed them out, we walked heedlessly right past all these natural curiosities.CINQUEFOIL FG

The outing lasted about three hours, covering 2.2 miles of trail out-and-back. Outbound, we lost 300’ and gained 200’; we reversed that on the return. All agree that Max is a treasure – an affable amalgamation of Mark Trail/Smoky the Bear/Marlin Perkins (that last is a reference for the over-60 crowd – remember Wild Kingdom?).

MAX

If you missed out this time, we can hope to persuade Max to reprise his role as nature guide next year when the wild flowers are in season. Carolyn and I want to RSVP for that future expedition right now. Thanks for sharing, Max!

 

*A ‘grumble’ is the term given (by me) to any gathering of more than three Atheists. Also known as a ‘grouse’ or ‘challenge’ of Atheists. If you have a nomination for the noun that describes a gathering of Atheists, I’d like to hear it…this is not a settled issue.

 

The above photos were taken by me and Beth Jones…here are some more of Beth’s photos from our day in the wilderness!

 

A rare sighting….a Grumble of Atheists on the hoof!
Fir or pine? It’s all in the needles…soft needles = fir
No climbing bear cubs in sight
Sammy the Neurotic Semi-Wonder Dog, Carolyn and Max
Time out to enjoy the view
The View

Amazing Offer for DS&A Members Only!

You are a critical thinker…your synapses are firing and your thoughts are constantly bubbling up. Within you, dear member, are stories that only you can tell. Well, here’s your chance!

Now you, too, can join the few, the proud – The DS&A Bloggers! Yes, the prestige, the prominence and exalted status of being an Atheist Blogger can be yours at no cost, save for an hour or two of your time bathed in the comforting, healthy glow of your computer screen! Imagine how proud your extended family will be when you tell them that you are an Atheist Person of Influence!

  • Do you think global climate change is a liberal hoax? Or is it an existential threat?
  • Did you enjoy an awesome vacation, or can you recommend a beautiful sight-seeing drive?
  • Do you have a favorite restaurant? Or recipe? Or kitchen gadget?
  • Do you think the free press really IS ‘the enemy of the people’?
  • How would you defend your love of baby-back ribs to a passionate Vegan?
  • What was it like to march in the Durango Pride Parade?
  • Do you have a pet-peeve, a life-hack, or an anecdote about raising your three-year-old?
  • What is it like to run for public office in LaPlata County?
  • What’s up with the Humane Society and what was it like there during the recent fires?
  • Do you have an idea for a DS&A float for next year’s Snowdown Parade?
  • Maybe you’ve had an interesting career. Or are looking for a new one. Or have started on your third. Do tell.
  • Do you think Alex Jones is a menace to society or the victim of a vast, left-wing conspiracy?
  • What’s up with the Durango dating scene?
  • Tell us the secret of your green thumb (we won’t tell).
  • What led you to become an ‘out’ Atheist? How has this affected your life?
  • Review a book you’ve enjoyed. Comment on a movie or entertainment trend
  • Tell the world how you can be both Atheist and a Moral Person
  • Do you want to try street epistemology?

Let it – anything and everything – all out on our blog*!

Whether you are:

  • leaning left or leaning right, politically,
  • grandparents or are currently trying to raise your family or are an independent single,
  • hard at work or basking in retirement,
  • a scientist, a full-time mom/dad, a researcher, a teacher, in the medical field, an artist, an entrepreneur, lawyer, doctor, butcher, baker, candlestick maker…

…whether you consider yourself a ‘writer’ or not, why not share some of your Life experience, opinions and observations with the rest of the group? Our “Member’s Blog” is the perfect place to share knowledge and exchange thoughts and ideas with other open minded people who, like you, are eager to learn new things great and small.

If members will share some of their personal insights and experiences, our website will become a great place to learn about each other, helping to create bonds between members and strengthening DS&A. It will also display the wide diversity of our membership to visitors and invite them to join up and take part in the on-going conversation. At least, that’s the hope. But it will only work if you participate! Literally anything that’s important to you is important to the rest of us!

Send your contribution, of any length and on any topic*, to:

durangoskepticsandatheists@gmail.com.

Your essay will be posted exactly as submitted barring any of the usual no-noes of civilized discourse.

Of course, please feel free to comment on existing blog posts too! Thank you, in advance, for sharing with the rest of us and for helping us grow Durango Skeptics and Atheists!

 

*To clarify an apparent confusion: Atheists are humans and any human activity is an ‘atheist’ activity…any topic is an ‘atheist’ topic

Bringing Home the Bacon (and Onions): A Politics-Free Monograph From Our Kitchen

Carolyn and I have a symbiotic relationship, perfected over decades of wedded bliss, when it comes to chores like grocery shopping, cooking and house cleaning. She hates shopping/cooking and I am an inveterate slob who can’t seem to keep his area neat. But I don’t mind shopping for groceries because I can buy whatever catches my eye, including the occasional (forbidden) bag of jelly beans or a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies. So, happily for Carolyn, I enjoy projects and hobbies that follow a step-by-step process which takes something raw and transforms it into something useful, interesting or edible. Back in the day, I built a full-blown color darkroom to support my insatiable photography habit. I also like to build models to display on my train layouts which are under perpetual construction having taken over our garage. (Who says, “Only God can make a tree”? I’ve made dozens and dozens!) And then there’s cooking. I enjoy cooking. It’s especially fun if I have an appreciative audience like my wife of 45 years (although, honestly, she’d applaud if I served dry breakfast cereal for dinner…Carolyn REALLY hates meal preparation!). And (this is the best part), I can walk away after creating an epic disaster in the kitchen and Carolyn cleans it all up! What could be better?

So, instead of serving up another political dish today, I thought I would put a few observations about cooking on the table…specifically, how to prepare two ingredients which can be prepared in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and added to recipes for great effect. I am talking lardons and caramelized onions. These are two very versatile flavor enhancers that I’ve come to rely upon.

Lardons (prep time 30 – 45 minutes). If you are like most carnivores, bacon is a prized taste-treat. But it’s a prize that comes at a cost: it’s a terrible mess to cook and the outcomes are sometimes less than stellar (I’m looking at you, flabby bacon slices!).  I am a big fan of crockpot cooking and I found a recipe for beef bourguignon (full recipe follows in another blog post) which, in turn, led me to discover ‘lardons’. Lardons (which is pronounced ‘LARD-ns’…so forget any unflattering puns you were working on)IMG_4280 are crispy, tasty bits of bacon that have more character than bacon bits, which are too dry for my taste. Cooking lardons en masse guarantees perfect bacon taste/texture and is a breeze if you take the time.  I’ve started using these little match stick sized tidbits of thick-cut bacon on all sorts of things. They top salads and pizza or can be added to vegetable dishes like steamed green beans and are essential for crab-stuffed mushrooms or dropped into scrambled eggs…there is no end to their tasty applications! I store them in the ‘fridge and just dole them out as the opportunity arises…and it arises often! Make them on a day when you are going to be puttering in the kitchen anyway and then enjoy them with no preparation fuss.

Cooking lardons is easy, but it takes some time and patience. It helps to have something else to do at the same time because there are many pauses between stirring the pot. Start with at least a pound of thick-cut bacon from the grocer’s case. It shrinks up in the process, so a pound of raw bacon produces a dismayingly small pile of cooked lardons which disappear much too quickly. IMG_4276So yesterday I worked with 3 pounds of raw bacon which produced a Mason jar’s worth of tasty bacon morsels. Begin by placing the bacon package in your freezer for 30 minutes or so. This firms the bacon up so that you can cut it into ¼” x 1” matchstick shapes. If the bacon is too soft, it’s a misery to attempt to cut. I use a large butcher knife sharpened to a razor edge, cutting through multiple pieces at a time. Transfer the pile of raw cut bacon into a large stew pot with a lid. Using a large pot instead of a fry pan contains the spatter of the cooking bacon which the clean up crew greatly appreciates. The pot’s lid is useful to direct the potent bacon fumes towards our stove’s vent. Start off with a high heat to get the cooking underway and to heat the bottom of the pot…then turn the heat down to low and let nature take its course. I set a timer for 5-minute intervals to remind me to stir the cooking bacon bits…it goes very slowly at first, but the cooking pace picks up as the bacon begins to brown. When the cooking process is nearly finished, you’ll notice that the grease startsIMG_4282 to foam and eventually the foam obscures the cooking lardons. This is your cue to watch the bacon carefully – you don’t want to overcook it, or they will become disappointingly dry bacon bits. The magic of lardons is that they have a texture of juicy/crunch, so pull them from the grease with a slotted spoon when they are brown and crispy, but before they are rendered into bits of bacon flavored charcoal. Blot with paper towels and allow them to rest for five minutes. I store mine (those that we don’t eat on the spot) in a vacuum-sealed Mason jar which then goes in the ‘fridge.

 

Caramelized Onions (prep time 45 min +/-)  Even if you don’t especially like onions, you may make an exception for the sweet, mellow, subtle flavor of caramelized onions. And not just any onions…I am talking Vidalias or Walla Walla sweets! I think you are more likely to encounter Vidalias here in Durango, Walla Wallas are common in the NW. Both are fleeting seasonal treats, so cherish them when they are available. Otherwise, use whatever generic sweet onions you can find. Standard issue onions will also work, but GIGO*.

Like the lardons, you must start with a lot of raw material to end up with a satisfying quantity of caramelized onions. I use them in every recipe that calls for cooked onions and in many recipes that don’t call for onions at all. Meatloaf, tacos, spaghetti sauce, veggie lasagna, fajitas, any stir fry, hamburgers…the list is endless. Begin with at least 6 onions and a large fry pan (or you can use the big pot trick, but the onions don’t spatter nearly as much as the bacon). Depending on the aesthetics of your recipe, dice the onions or cut them into strips – any shape will do. Melt a few TBLS of butter in the pan and add the onions in a big heap. Stir to mix with the butter. (If I am making a vegan dish I use oil instead of butter, but straight oil doesn’t seem to work quite as well. I’ve also heard of using a combination of oil and butter, but I’ve never done that). As with the lardons, start with a medium or high heat but turn it to very low as soon as the pan heats up. Stir every few minutes, don’t allow any sticking…add more butter if necessary. There is no way I know of to speed this process up…if the heat is too high, the onions will just burn. It can take the better part of an hour to complete the transformation. The trick here is to provide enough heat to caramelize the sugar in the onions without burning them. SO, a low heat, a long cooking time and frequent stirring are the keys. Eventually, the huge pile of raw onions transforms into a much smaller clump of sweet, brown, caramelized onion. Store it in the refrigerator and enjoy.

Vacuum Packing. I use our FoodSaver vacuum sealer for almost everything. The primary use is to seal prepared meals for the freezer; I always make a double recipe (or more!) when I cook and store the extra in freezer bags or in Mason jars (read on). These quickly-defrosted entrees are a gift to your future self! Or you can seal all the raw ingredients for a crockpot recipe in bags for freezer storage. I assemble multiple meals for the crockpot in an afternoon by portioning out raw ingredients into vacuum bags, freezing them for future use.  When you want to use it, just open a bag and drop the contents into the crockpot. My FoodSaver also has an adaptor that creates a vacuum in Mason jars. You’d be amazed at how things stay fresh in a vacuum-sealed Mason jar! Left over fruit salad stays fresh for days and days. Before I fire up the grill, I put raw chicken into Mason jars with marinades and vacuum seal it…the vacuum causes the chicken to absorb the marinade in just 15 minutes. The vacuum seal appliance is one of the most valued tools in our kitchen! It pays for itself quickly by preserving food which would otherwise end up unused.

Do you have a kitchen hack or favorite recipe you’d like to share? Please do! Send to  durangoskepticsandatheists@gmail.com

 

 

*Garbage In, Garbage Out

The Emergence of Ignorance as a Virtue (and the Decline of Civilization As We Know It)

By Larry Bollinger

Please note that is essay is my personal opinion. It is not the editorial opinion of the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango or its membership. I appreciate this forum for allowing me to post. Comments supporting or opposing the views expressed are welcome.

Having survived the vicissitudes and pratfalls of Life for over 67 years, I’ve accumulated quite a list of pet peeves that by now have blossomed into full-blown Gripes and Aggravations. Chief among these is the elevation of ignorance to the status of a personal virtue. It most often takes this form of “Oh, I never listen to the news! It’s just so depressing and there’s nothing I can do about it” or some similar sentiment. The listener then reflexively responds sympathetically, “You’re so smart!” or “That’s the only way to stay sane” or some such approbation. The conversationalists then part with a mutual feeling of satisfaction, having pronounced the world and the actions of its inhabitants irrelevant to their daily lives…as though events beyond their circle of family and friends won’t affect them.

Such fallacious thinking leads directly to the decline and eventual dissolution of a democratic society such as ours, which depends fundamentally on having an informed electorate. I admit that I react poorly to such comments; I hope that I respond in a helpful and friendly manner, but I doubt it. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed so often and so flippantly that it immediately sets off alarm klaxons and flashing lights on my brain’s dashboard. It panics me because we’ve started down the road to the degradation of democracy on our watch. It calls to mind the Dunning-Krueger Effect we discussed in a monthly meeting some time ago which has become a major driving force for the US electorate. (I submit that it’s valid to substitute the word ‘information’ in place of ‘ability’ in the following definition).

 I’ll save you a trip to Wikipedia: “…the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability [information] have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability [low-information] people to recognize their lack of ability [information]; without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability [low-information]people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence…”.  In other words, low information voters already know what they know. Any intrusion of new information is unwelcome and annoying. Psychologists have found that arguing ‘the facts’ with such people just pushes them deeper into their preconceived notions. Facts in this frightening new world have become counter-productive. And our President, with little or no pushback from other members of his own party, encourages blissful ignorance by rejecting the Free Press as ‘fake news’ and most astonishingly ‘an enemy of the people’. Think about that! The Free Press, once the crown jewel of our social order, is now being torched in the dumpster fire which has replaced our former deliberative and fact-based government.

Amazingly, self-identified conservatives have come 180° from the days when anything the government said was viewed with a jaundiced eye. Now, this large group of voters seems to believe that the Trump government and the President’s tweets are the only true source of news and information…traditional journalism is vilified daily and is left to whither in this age of ‘social media’ which is driven by ‘bots and foreign provocateurs. At the same time, scientists have been forced from federal advisory panels and scientific research has been curtailed for ideological reasons. Information that used to be collected and disseminated by the federal government such as data related to climate change or vital medical data is being destroyed. https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/07/republicans-finally-kill-off-valuable-medical-database-their-donors-hate/

Why does this matter? Because in this interconnected world, nothing happens in a vacuum. The President’s gut-driven, information-free, decisions affect us all. Climate change is an existential threat which has been marginalized and ignored; indeed, decisions to extract as much oil and gas as possible will exacerbate the problems. Decisions to renege on treaties which have been hammered out over years of negotiations will affect employment, agriculture, increase the threat of nuclear annihilation and remove the US from its role as a world leader. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, these decisions can affect your prosperity, your health, the quality of your life and those of your children. None of us can afford to ignore the very real issues that confront us.

There is no alternative to being involved. I urge you to do as Carolyn and I have and subscribe to our excellent local newspaper which is our sole source of news about Durango’s city issues as well as regional issues such as the recent fires. The Durango Herald is a gem and we are responsible for preserving and nurturing this valuable regional asset. A digital subscription costs around $2.50/week which supports a team of local journalists. We also have a digital subscription to the New York Times which costs all of $15/month. Subscribing to a newspaper not only opens a window on the world for you, it’s a positive step in support of an American institution that is under direct assault by the US government and its President! Next, react to what you learn: call our US Congressional delegation and tell them what you think on the record…do this often…several times a week isn’t too much. Write letters to the Editor to express your opinion. Be vocal and become involved in an advocacy group that matches your affinities. Be sure you are registered to vote and be sure your family and neighbors are too. This is not the time for silence or timidity. Silence equals complicity in this world where our most cherished values are in danger of being subsumed by a wave of ignorance and greed. Withdrawing from the world is not an option; silence is something we cannot afford.

Why I Didn’t Make It to the Halloween Party

By Dana Fontenot

Strange night.

There is a Halloween party taking place tonight for our local atheist and skeptics group. I get dressed up and leave the house with vague directions scribbled onto a piece of paper, directions that I will not be able to see once I start driving to the party. I am repeating them in my head so I won’t get lost. It is already getting dark and I am driving alone. I admit to myself that I will probably get lost, but I am optimistic that I will eventually find the place. After trying to follow my mental directions with no luck, I choose to just use my vehicle’s GPS to find the party location, even though the host of the party specifically told us not to.

Eventually, I realize that my GPS is steering me in the wrong direction, and I decide to pull over into a small roadway so I can find a place to turn around, put on my readers, and reread the directions to the party. As I slowly turn off of the main road, I see a group of three adolescent deer in front of my vehicle. They are in the narrow dirt roadway that I am turning onto and only about 10 feet away. I notice that one of them has a thick wire around its neck, trailing behind him for 5 feet or so. It looks like some sort of fencing material. Suddenly, this poor deer panics and runs directly into the main road. It is immediately hit by a vehicle, and to witness that in such close proximity is quite unsettling.  The person driving the vehicle that hit the deer pulls over to the side of the road, about 20 yards further up the road from where I am pulled over. I take this time to reposition my vehicle, so that my headlights are pointed toward the deer, and I call my husband to admit that I am already lost. The driver gets out of his vehicle, crosses the road, and starts walking toward the deer, flashlight in hand. I can tell that it is a man by his gait, but I cannot see him well until he walks into the beam of my headlights.

And there, in all of his glory, stands a clown.

A clown that begins to yank a bloodied deer carcass off of the road by a long wire around its neck.

I HAD contemplated getting out of the car to talk to him, but I was dressed up as a pregnant nun. I thought that our gathering on the roadside might cause another collision, so I just left. And no, I did not find the party. I was a very discouraged nun who just wanted to go back home.

I recently had the opportunity to do something I would have never done on my own: Visit a Hindu temple to participate in a full moon fire ceremony.

Our group arrived early to Haidakhandi Universal Ashram in the midst of a crisp, cheery morning. A friendly woman with fair skin and light hair, who looked to be in her mid to late twenties, greeted us outside in front of the temple. She smiled warmly as she welcomed us to the ashram. In her hands were three items, one of which was a small container of rice. The other two items, paste-like substances, were a bright yellow and a bright red. She dabbed a bit of each on our foreheads and then stuck a few rice grains there. I believe these three items were meant to represent the qualities of clarity, beauty and abundance (but I could be remembering it wrong…..).

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Suggested Links from Atheist Activism Discussion

Thanks again to member Ben Hendry for leading the last monthly meeting discussion topic on Atheist activism.

Here is a list of the links he recommended:

-American Civil Liberties Union

-Freedom From Religion Foundation

-Foundation Beyond Belief

-American Atheists

-Atheist Voter

-The Secular Web

-The Atheist Scholar

Secular Coalition for America

-Recovering From Religion

-The Satanic Temple

-American Humanist Association

-Life After Hate

-Normalize Atheism Campaign

-The Clergy Project

 

 

About Those Amber Teething Necklaces..

A little blog post I wrote a couple of years back on amber necklaces as a solution for teething relief in babies and toddlers. I wrote this after noticing many babies wearing stylish amber necklaces around town. Investigation enused……

 

A Word About Amber Teething Necklaces….

 

baltic_amber_teething_necklace_ottawa_canada_belly_laughs_large_203941bf-83f1-4dee-9039-4158ff46abf3

Members Talk- Christianity and the Rise of Jesus Christ (Superstar) on YouTube

If you missed the last Members Talk on Christianity and Jesus, no need to fret. Thanks to member Preston Benson, we have the presentation in its entirety on our newly created Durango Skeptics and Atheists YouTube channel. Hopefully, we will add other videos to the channel as the opportunity arises.

Check it out:

 

An Evening With Richard Dawkins

Thanks to Member Robyn Baxendale for sharing this awesome experience with us.

An Evening with Richard Dawkins (aka the best night of my life!)

by Robyn Baxendale

It all started with some random guy handing me his parking pass, score! My daughter Lindsay and I then proceeded to walk along Pearl Street Mall in Boulder looking for a unique place to eat lupper (lunch + supper). On our way we stopped by the Boulder Theater to make sure we knew where to go later that evening (yep, I’m getting old) and I took the opportunity to snap a photo of Lindsay in front of the marquee.

Baxendale 01

The breakfast place Snooze tickled our fancy but they had just closed. We went back to the van and perused my phone for restaurant reviews and decided on the French bistro Brasserie Ten Ten known for their generous happy hour menu. It surely lived up to all the fuss, how could it not with cream filled mozzarella? We still had time before Dawkins so we decided to get our nails done. I’ve only had three manicures in my life, all for weddings (including my own!), Dawkins surely deserved the same attention to detail.

It was then time to head over to the theater. The line was long, snaking into the alley, and it was raining but lucky for me my jacket and pants were water resistant. Lindsay was not so fortunate (what a cruel mother I am!) The seating was general admission so we were a little apprehensive about our place in line. Should we have skipped the nail pampering and waited in line for an extra hour to guarantee choice seating?

As we entered the theater I overheard an employee telling some people that the balcony had a great view of the entire theater.  We headed up the stairs and low and behold found seats in the front row!Baxendale 02

Choosing the seats next to us were a pair of recent college grads and one of them offered to buy us drinks. “Umm, this is my 13 year old daughter and I’m her Mom, so no, she will not be having any Jameson in her Coke!” While he was getting our drinks we learned from his friend that an anthropology degree will get you a job as a beer line tech, good to know. Our drinks were delivered just as Dawkins was taking the stage.

Now was the moment we had all been waiting for! Dawkins was questioned for about hour by Annabelle Gurwitch of whom I was previously unaware but am now a fan. This was followed by a half hour of audience questions. I’m just going to list what Lindsay and I can recall from that time (quotes are paraphrased):

On the topic of new age hippie types Dawkins remarked, “They are pernicious but I don’t believe they are viciously pernicious.” In contrast to pernicious conservatives. Pernicious seemed to be his word of the night.

When asked by an audience member why teeth haven’t evolved to be cavity resistant Dawkins replied that he once asked his own dentist, Dr. Sharp, the same question. Dr. Sharp retired so he started seeing Dr. Tack. Dr. Tack asked Dawkins who his previous dentist was and he told him it was Dr. Sharp. Dr. Tack replied, “This couldn’t possibly be the work of Dr. Sharp. I know his work and this is not it!” But why haven’t our teeth evolved to resist cavities? We eat too much sugar! Dawkins wonders why Americans put sugar in everything, even beef stew!

People were asking Dawkins a plethora of political questions. He is an evolutionary biologist and an outspoken atheist so he was a bit perturbed that he was being asked so many questions outside of his expertise and lamented that he didn’t want to, “sit up here and be the wise old man.” That being said, when one audience member used his question time to make a political statement about the importance of getting involved in politics Dawkins chose to emphasize the point instead of brushing him off. Bravo! Dawkins then added that the squeaky wheel usually gets their way.

Dawkins believes that the arc of history bends towards justice but it’s like a saw tooth and we are on a downturn right now. Wah-wah.

He sees climate change as the most important problem we are facing right now. Not that we should ignore other problems but this is the most pressing.

Dawkins noted that our human tribes are more global now because of the internet rather than geographic as in the past. Gurwitch said that her next book was going to be about tribes versus tribalism.

A recovering Southern Baptist thanked Dawkins for opening his mind and changing his life. Dawkins said, “So many people have said that to me and I can’t tell you how much it means to me.” Applause!

Dawkins is tickled that gay marriage and marijuana were legalized around the same time in Colorado. After all, the Bible says that when a man lies with another man he shall be stoned.

Lastly, he was asked about finding meaning in life, ala Viktor Frankl. Dawkins replied that for genes it is simply about survival and propagation. As people, we create our own meaning.

It was now time for book signings. No selfies and have your book open to the title page, assembly line style. Dang. We were told to stay in our seats and we would be called up by rows. Well, seems they forgot about us lowly balcony dwellers so we just waited until we could see the end of the line. While in line we met Chauncey from Secular Hub in Denver. They have their own building and serve as a hot spot for all things secular. Check them out at: www.secularhub.org  Also while in line I was given a photo of Dawkins from CFI (Center for Inquiry) to be signed.

With these happy distractions my turn to hit the stage came as a shock. Equipped with a smile from ear to ear and a brain on auto pilot I somehow managed to get my book signed. And then this happened…Baxendale 03.jpg

Me: “Can I have a high five?” Dawkins: “What’s that? Like this?” Did he not know what a high five was or was he asking what I had said?! Either way, yay for me! I then proceeded to introduce Lindsay in the fashion of a spokes model, “Up next, the youngest member of our audience, my 13 year old daughter Lindsay!” Annabelle Gurwitch (apparently amused by my shenanigans) told Dawkins to give Lindsay a high five so that she could take a picture to post on social media. Lindsay high fived Dawkins several times and even got to hold the pose for this once in a lifetime photo op (good thing we got our nails done)!Baxendale 04

On our walk back to the car I was an ecstatic mess. I agreed that I would need to calm down before attempting to drive. After some convulsing, steering wheel shaking, and profusely praising Lindsay for having the foresight to take a video of my Dawkins high five encounter we were off.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to my husband or kids to name this the best night of my life but…this is one squeaky wheel still grinning from ear to ear. Creating my own meaning with my daughter by my side, it doesn’t get much better than this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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