Community Profile: Jet Black

How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

Essentially by accident. Most of my friends throughout life have been atheists, agnostics or apatheists (there could be a God but they don’t care) and so I have been pretty much surrounded by freethought. My real love in life though is science and this is the main path which led to these online communities: finding people who were ludicrously anti science and arguing with them. Initially I’d spend my time on Christian forums, but after a while the atmosphere became stifling, and so IIDB was mentioned to me. The community, particularly in E/C was great, with lots of very intelligent people around and so I stayed.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

Well these days you’ll find me in TalkRational, usually in the Evolution forum talking about science and stuff. I do have a few other places I haunt though to get away from things.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

Well RBH would be handy to have around. as well as being a scientist, he seems to have done everything imaginable, and I’d expect that he has some pretty mean survival skills to boot. Oolon Colluphid; brew some alcohol, give it to him and tell him that a boar over there was saying that the Earth was made in 6 days. He’s be after it like a flash and it would be dead within seconds. Hmm… someone else…. am I allowed to take someone thick to burn on cold nights?

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Ooh tricky one. I like people like Sagan, Attenborough and Asimov. While they’re freethinkers, they don’t really rub it in.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

I don’t actually know any really. I follow the philosophy of Sherlock Holmes on this one; the knowledge is essentially useless to me and so I endeavour to forget it as quickly as possible.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

The idea that without some external moral agent we would essentially be savages. Humans are essentially a pack animal, and so work on those principles of having to function within groups, and so individual action that comes at too high a cost will commonly be punished by the group as a whole. Its irritating, and comes from a real misunderstanding of the idea of “survival of the fittest”.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

FSM all the way.

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

A lot. I’m a physicist by profession, but I also do Kung Fu and go out a lot.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

It would be a kick up between Player of Games and Use of Weapons, both by Iain M Banks. For now I will settle with Player of Games. I really like the perspective of the book and the subtlety that the games are being played on so many different levels.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Even when nobody is around I won’t sing, I’m that bad….. Dancing though, I do a mean air guitar when I’ve had enough to drink, only to appropriate Queen tunes though.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

Live it to the fullest. If there’s just one thing then why not just do it?… I want to do a lot of things.

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Oh I do like a good ale. Spitfire or Black Sheep maybe. I like to try different beers, particularly from smaller breweries, rather than the big commercial ones. I don’t drink a lot though, two or three at the most.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

Nialler.

Community Profile: Oolon Colluphid

How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

Well, it was more of a drift than a discovery… I’ve been involved since sometime in 2000. I think you can blame Richard Dawkins for my online presence. Quite by chance, I got into an email discussion with my first ever pet creationist. I did alright at first, but despite a heap of pop science books, I felt a little out of my depth. So, with no internet to turn to in those days, I wrote to Dawkins, sending copies of the correspondence, a sort of ‘Help! I’m not sure what I’m doing!’ plea. And within a week I got an amazingly supportive and helpful reply, including: “People like [name] sound like they know what they are talking about, but they don’t. You do.”

My wife is heartily sick of me telling her “Richard Dawkins says I know what I’m talking about.”

Anyway, the good Professor also pointed me towards Talk Origins… and Internet Infidels. At about that time, we also went proper-internet. So, I found IIDB, used my replies to my pet creotard as the basis of some early posts (my Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes started as an email), and the rest, as they say, is history. And what a community IIDB was! So many great, intelligent and well-read people! Single Dad, Doubting Didymus, Pantera, Queen of Swords…

The thing with these communities is that you get to interact with people who, you know, use their brains. Who may well talk about the latest episode of bleedin’ Coronation Street like the bozos here at work, but who can also dismantle theist arguments with their eyes closed, and know the difference between Emmerdale and Eusthenopteron. In a word [sic], it’s mentally exhilarating and fun.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

Talk Rational, which knocks all previous fora I’ve been involved in into a cocked hat, at least, latterly. And I’ll be talking about… evolution, probably, or something on the news, or playing some sort of word game. Which, incidentally, with mainlines being wild, requires the inevitable mandragoran skiffle: Parsons Green. Two blue tokens, and putting Octavia in knip.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

Three? Not fair. It’s made even trickier by having met quite a few for real, so it’s tempting to pick from Jet Black, Febble, Per Ahlberg, Martin B, Don Alhambra, Nialler, Missus Gumby, David B, DMB, Amen Moses, Luis Garcia…

Okay, people I’ve not met: Boro Nut for the laughs; RBH for chat and general goodwill, and Matty for beer-sodden evenings. Apologies to the several dozen others.

Actually, as it’s ‘spend your life’, it should be Matty (knows about fishing, which would be useful), and any two females of breeding age. It’s a Darwinian imperative. No point trying to rise above your genes’ tyranny when there’s a population of four.

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Richard Dawkins, Richard Dawkins and, um, Richard Dawkins. I read Selfish Gene in about ’85, back when it was his only book, Blind Watchmaker as soon as it hit paperback. His objects of focus over time have mirrored my own, from evolution, then pseudoscience and the wonder of science, and latterly that ultimate steaming pile of nonsense, god.

Also, James Randi for Flim-Flam! and philosopher Jamie Whyte, for his marvellous (and hilarious) introduction to logical fallacies, Bad Thoughts, which made me realise that philosophy isn’t all navel-gazing.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

William Cowper’s The Christian. Mephitic bollocks: “The noblest creature seen below, / Ordain’d to fill a throne above; / God gives him all He can bestow, / His kingdom of eternal love!”

Oh, I see. Well, all the stuff that ought to be least favourite, because it’s so hideous, I really like, as it’s so useful. But, probably the positively barmy (especially because of what it comes after) very last verse of the bible: Revelation 22:21, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” What a load of old toss.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

The argument from design. Because it is so superficially plausible, but actually, so monumentally ignorant (not to mention self-defeating). Though a close-run thing between that and the old ‘you can’t be good without god’, spy-in-the-sky morality malarkey.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Is that a Pascal’s Wager question? Quetzalcoatl. Though, on balance, probably the FSM. In a toss-up between the ineffable and the edible, I choose the one with the nicer sauce. That’s where the Christians went wrong, you know. Wafer, when you could have bolognese?

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

For fun, there’s books: I collect Jamesian ghost stories, and pop science, and whatever comes to hand… music: classical, especially early piano recordings (there was a god, and his name was Simon Barere), ‘classic rock’, folk, general pop-ish radio fodder, but above all, Richard Thompson (pbuh)… TV, of course, with House, Shark and Doctor Who being the three things at the moment that just have to be recorded… DVD: many a good horror. And I’m well into another Open University science short course, this time astronomy.

For money: anything. But in practice, it’s sitting in an office, moving electronic and real pieces of paper around.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

*sigh* Another impossible question. Just one, when I’ve got about 4,000 at home at last count? (I’ve even read some of them…) Nope, I refuse to play. You may have gathered I don’t ‘do’ imposed rules!

For fiction, it’d be a three-way tie between Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (so funny, so clever), Pullman’s His Dark Materials (just wow), and a Terry Pratchett, perhaps Wyrd Sisters (for the Macbeth take-offs). Or Nineteen Eighty-Four (needs no introduction). Or Love in the Time of Cholera (one long shaggy dog story). Or The Wasp Factory (gigglesome, plus one of the best horror sequences I’ve read. Teaspoon). Or Michel Faber’s fascinating Under the Skin (dark satire, completely gripping, and would turn a lesser man than I to vegetarianism). Or…

For non-fiction: apart from Dawkins and co, probably Nathaniel Philbrick’s utterly brilliant In the Heart of the Sea. Not my usual fare, but an amazing read. It’s about the wrecking of the Nantucket whaleship Essex by a disgruntled (or possibly randy) sperm whale, the historical basis for Moby Dick. But that is the central action set-piece around which Philbrick weaves the history of whaling, the economics of nineteenth-century Nantucket and of spermaceti, the biology of whales, life on the ocean waves, the effects of starvation and dehydration on the human body, cannibalism, maritime navigation… all wrapped up in elegant, completely gripping prose. Read it.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Given my singing and dancing, all of them. Though I do have a tendency to go all air-guitar, and intricately whistle the guitar solos, for many a Dire Straits song. The live version of Sultans of Swing especially.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

Enjoy it, moment to moment. I’m mainly succeeding. And I’d like to see the aurora (and try to catch a glimpse of Cittàgazze).

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Hydrogen cyanide, and about 300 mg per cubic metre. *Ahem*… any decent, not too hoppy real ale; white wine, and about two bottles; or simply Bacardi and coke. Stone’s ginger wine and any old Scotch at Christmas.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

Hmmm. Per Ahlberg, I think.

Community Profile: David B

davidbHey David, thanks for being this month’s victim! So, on with the questions… How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

Shortly after I got a new computer with a modem, more years ago now than I care to remember, I web searched for atheism, and stumbled upon a discussion board called ‘The Godless Zone’ (Don’t be shy)’ and dived in. Sadly, the hosting company went belly up, and a succession of moves led to it losing a lot of membership.

Following that I came across IIDB, where I stayed until events there led me to leave. Then I looked around for somewhere I could really feel at home for some time, was led to Talk Rational.

There are a couple of things that I particularly like about message boards, one being the opportunity to learn from people better informed than myself, the other being able to interact with people of similar interests. They are somewhat lacking in small town life. While on-line communities, and also my reading of boards dedicated to ex-mormons, ex-JWs etc have not changed my atheism, they have made me a better informed atheist, and also a rather more militant one, having seen so much evidence of the harm religions can do.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

http://www.talkrational.org/index.php.

I talk about a wide variety of things, but if I have a particular bee in my bonnet it is superstition, in which I include religion, quack medicine, clairvoyance, mystical apprehension of the universe through meditation etc. This particularly because many years ago I was convinced that Transcendental Meditation was the answer to life’s problems. A long story, but wrong!

I find the science (including evolution of course) fascinating, but I learn more than I contribute to these fora.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

I’ll be strikingly unoriginal, and pick Christina – we have a lot of culture in common, back from the 60s. Dylan and Dead for instance.

Nialler, to have someone to endlessly contemplate World cricket teams to play Mars, an all time England team to lose to an all time Australian team, and other variations on that theme.

There’s so much choice, but for the third I think I’ll go for someone I don’t know as well as the other two. Rathpig. On a desert island his farming skills would come in useful, he’s a sharp guy with a broad general knowledge, and an admirable grasp of invective.

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Dennett, for one. In my youth I fell for the trap of failing to see how atheism did not lead inexorably to nihilism. Which was one of the reasons for my exploration of meditation. Reading ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’ led me to see a reality in concepts like morals, beauty, truth by viewing them as emergent processes rather than things.

Robert Carroll of http://skepdic.com/ fame. A guy who really does his homework, and reading his site has led me to understand better a lot of the traps that I fell into when I was a meditation proselytiser.

And again Hofstadter, whose somewhat speculative writings on the nature of mind I find difficult but very rewarding. Reading, and sometimes re-reading him, leads me to feel that I fail to quite grasp life, the universe and everything in a more sophisticated, better informed, way.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

There’s so many! But Matthew 10.37 ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ is in my opinion a good example of classic cultism.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

‘You can’t prove that there isn’t a god’ used as a justification to believe that there is one. So many people seems to find that Russell’s Teapot, or for that matter the IPU are not demolitions of that argument, and I find that frustrating.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

FSM, obviously! Beer fountains!

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

I read pop science books, and watch a load of science documentaries on tv. I live in a beautiful area, and enjoy walking and being out in the wonders of nature, and I also enjoy the atavistic pleasure of foraging for wild food.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

Again so many! On the pop science front, then ‘GEB’ by Hofstadter springs to mind, but outside that genre I will soon reread (yet again) ‘Bevis, the story of a boy’ which is an idealised account of the boyhood of a minor victorian writer called Richard Jefferies. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Jefferies

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Oh Gawd! ‘Dare’ by Gorillaz I suppose, though I am generally too embarrassed to dance even alone.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

There is a phenomenon that occurs under certain storm and tide conditions in my local harbour called ‘the run’, in which there is a resonance to the waves leading to the harbour filling and emptying in a matter of minutes. To the extent that I have seen the motion of the water pull a boat under by its aft mooring ropes. I have a couple of examples down on dvd already, but nothing big. I want to capture one bigger than I have yet seen on dvd.

Coming across a grove where there is a glut of prime quality chanterelles would be good, too.

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Red wine, these days. Much more than a bottle is enough to give me a hangover.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

Oolon.

Community Profile: Febble

Obscured by clouds being unavailable, Febble has kindly stepped into the breach. Thanks, Febble!

febbleHow did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

I had been an active participant in other online communities, including Daily Kos and Democratic Underground, and became embroiled in the controversy over the 2004 US presidential election – in particular, whether the exit polls, which showed Kerry ahead, indicated that the election had been massively hacked. The topic came up in the Science and Skepticism forum on IIDB, and Don Alhambra, with whom I shared a lab, roped me in. And it was such a glorious change to discover an internet community where people actually listened to evidence and argument and weighed them up, instead of coming to the conclusion they wanted and then picking the evidence to suit. Then I moved into the Evolution/Creation forum, and couldn’t believe the sheer density of scientific expertise, from so many fields, that was on tap.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

I still occasionally post at DKos and DemocraticUndeground (especially if exit polls come up), but mostly at Rants n’ Raves, and now at Talk Rational. I’m interested in biological and neuroscience topics, but also in philosophy and religion. And I can’t resist wading in when people make bad statistical arguments.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

That’s a difficult choice, but if it was a really interesting tropical island, I’d have to go for someone who knew a bit about biology. So I think I’d pick Oolon Colluphid, who isn’t a biologist as such but knows a heck of a lot of interesting stuff, and could also maybe teach me Greek if we were stuck there for long enough. And someone sane and sensible and practical who could organize shelter and rescue would be good, so I’d pick Christina Mirabilis, and she’s fun too. And then it would be good to have someone I could have interesting arguments with, which could be any one of a great many people, but I think the bottle is going to point to….His Noodly Appendage. Because he has the least tolerance for bullshit of anyone I’ve ever met.

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter. David B got me to read Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves about a year ago, and it literally changed my life. I changed from dualist to monist half-way through the book. Then I read I am a Strange Loop by Hofstadter, and found it both inspiring and moving.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

I don’t know about verse, but the story of the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians is horrible. There are more horrible stories in the bible, but religious people actually seem to think that one is uplifting somehow. I was very proud of my three year old when he was disgusted by it.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

That you need to believe in God to behave morally.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Well, I like the IPU because she is self-contradictory, being both pink and invisible. Any self-respecting deity has to both exist and be non-demonstrable.

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

I’m a post-doctoral researcher in cognitive neuroscience, investigating inhibitory control of action in ADHD, using EEG and fMRI, and computational modelling. I used to be a musician, though, so I still do some playing (what’s called “early music” – I play the viola da gamba). And we just bought a narrowboat, so I’m hoping we will be spending lots of weekends chugging along the inland waterways of England at 3 mph.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

That’s difficult, because I have so many books I love to return to. But I think I’ll pick Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I find something new to think about every time I read them, and yet the plot rattles along and keeps me turning the pages even though I know exactly what happens next.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (the entire opera). I know it by heart, because when I was a secondary school music teacher I put it on once, and memorized every part. On long journeys I sing the whole thing, arias and choruses, dances and overtures, although I feel a bit silly at traffic lights, and have to hum.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

Get the papers from my PhD published!

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Single malt whisky, preferably Islay. I don’t know about the table, but it doesn’t take much to put me out for the night.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

David B

Community Profile: Matt

mattHow did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

I found the online secular community some time around my freshman year of college, when I was in the midst of my deconversion. I believe I first discovered infidels.org and their subsequent forum through a link I found while reading various arguments on the skepticsannotatedbible.com forums.

As for “favorite thing”, I’m just glad that there exists small as they may be, bastions of sanity and reason. Living in Texas, I appreciate such communities as we are a rare breed in the general public.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

I have accounts at several fora (forums?) such as Heathen Hangout and Richard Dawkins net, but I spend 99% of my online time at RantsnRaves. A bunch of us started RnR back in May 2007, and I’ve been its sysadmin since the beginning. This means I spend way too much time dealing with behind-the-scenes issues and not enough time participating in actual interesting subjects, but it keeps me busy and I couldn’t ask for a more interesting hobby (I’m most definitely not an IT guy).

Additionally, I am addicted to roller coasters and spend time at themeparkreview.com. I’m also a gadget freak, so I keep an eye on engadget on a daily basis. I also am a Total FARKer, however I mainly lurk.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

Wow, this is a tough one. There’s a bunch of people I admire and appreciate, but all of us have eccentricities that would likely be magnified to the point were I can’t stand them. There’s just so many ways to go here: I could take three of the best and brightest scientists and engineers so that we could build some sort of vessel to escape, or I could go with one man and two women to build *cough* a new society on the very island. The latter certainly hits the spot from an evolutionary perspective.

However, if we’re all doomed to die anyway and neither of the above ideas are feasible, I’d likely go with those full of wit and rhyme so at least I’d go out happy: I’m thinking of Boro Nut and Queen of Swords. Perhaps the third will be rlogan, as he has master survival skills.

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Thomas Jefferson is the first one that comes to mind. Numerous others of the enlightenment era as well.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

If I had to pick simply one least favorite verse, it would likely be Genesis 6:17: “And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.” That’s all it takes to invalidate the Bible on moral, historical, and scientific bases, but it shows the cruel and primitive nature of such creations, and it is sad to know that modern peoples accept this verse as good.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

I hate to sound redundant, but I must echo RBH from last month: I find the “religion is necessary to be moral” argument completely annoying. I often retort with “If the only thing preventing you from turning into a mass-murdering child rapist is fear of your god, please don’t ever become an atheist”, which I think addresses the point sufficiently enough. The best argument against this, however, is how we live our lives.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

I’m a Pastafarian, however, I don’t reject the concept of a holy binary between the IPU and the FSM. They are separate, yet the same. 🙂

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

I work full time at a local community hospital in critical care. I am also taking classes part-time working towards my Masters in nursing, in order to become a Nurse Practitioner. I have a 8 month old son who I absolutely adore, and watching his growth and development is amazing. When I find time outside all of this, I am planning our next vacation, due to my aforementioned rollercoaster addiction.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

House of God by Samuel Shem, M.D.

It’s an interesting look into the psyche of medicine from a fictional standpoint. It’s aging a bit, but still very relevant.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

For starters, I don’t dance. My wife put a stop to that years ago. However, I tend to crank up and sing along to anything from The Who, Third Eye Blind, Metallica, Eve 6, or Counting Crows. I take a guilty pleasure to 80’s music and early 90’s rap.

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

Ride every roller coaster on Earth, but in doing so, see the world. I’m not particularly fond that with the exception of a vacation here and there, I’ve barely been outside of Texas let alone the U.S.

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Are roller coasters poison? If so, I was certainly “driven under the table” and beat up by riding The Boardwalk Bullet at Kemah 12 times in a row before they retracked it. I guess video games would be a poison, too, as it doesn’t take much to get me addicted to one, with the detrimental real life social deficits that accompany playing mmorpgs until 3 am, so I try to avoid them as I get too easily sucked in.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

Hmm… I’d like to read about “obscured by clouds” from RDnet.

Community Profile: RBH

RBH

RBH

How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

I flat can’t remember. I’ve been in various online communities since the 1980s (yes, my children, there were pre-Web online communities on dialup at 300 baud! :eek:), and Compuserve had a freethinkers forum even back then, IIRC. I also did some usenet and some Fidonet under different aliases back in the day.

My favorite thing about them is the people — bright, acerbic, and knowledgeable. Can’t beat that combination.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

These days on RnR, mostly in Evolution, Baby! talking about evolution. I visit Richard Dawkins’ forum once in a while. I write an occasional piece for the Panda’s Thumb, but that’s not a real-time interactive forum.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

Hmm. Depends of what “this” community is, I guess. Rathpig for one — he’s acerbic, opinionated, and different enough to be interesting but not so different as to be incomprehensible (usually). Per Ahlberg, who’d probably spend all his time chipping at rocks. I’d love to learn fossil prep from him. Octavia, on account of her expertise with whips, to fend off the bandersnatch. 😀

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

Clark Adams, former President of Internet Infidels. Robert Ingersoll — he’s still well worth reading. Christopher Hitchens, for sheer balls and acidity and for stretching the boundaries of public criticism of religion. I want to read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Infidel” soon. I expect she’ll join my list.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

Mark 10:14: “Suffer the little children to come unto me …”. It’s the beginning of the brainwashing.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

“You need God to be a moral person. Obeying God is the basis of all morals.” It implies that humans can’t be moral unless they’re under 24/7 surveillance by an omniscient psychopathic deity. That assumption, like Francis Collins does in “The Language of God,” completely ignores a large literature on the evolution of cooperation, mutualism, and altruism.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?


I’m a traditionalist: IPU (blessed be her holy hooves).

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

I allegedly run a small company that trades derivatives for a hedge fund and am on the township volunteer fire department/emergency squad. I have two big dogs who walk me at regular intervals.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

Hm. Whatever I’m currently reading? 🙂 Right now in non-fiction that’s Carroll’s “The Making of the Fittest” and Hitchens’ “The Portable Atheist.” For fiction I guess long-haul it’s “Lord of the Rings.” I’ve read it maybe 10 times over the decades. Long-haul in non-fiction it’s probably a tie between “Gods, Graves and Scholars,” which originally got me interested in archaeology more than 50 years ago (and incidentally sank Noah’s Ark for me when I was about 12), and “The Ancestor’s Tale,” which I’m also re-reading for the third time now.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Erm, I don’t dance any more, but in the shower I’ve been known to sing “Old Man River” from Showboat or “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess ’cause the bass notes reverberate so well. (I ignore the dogs’ howling — they have no taste in music. :D)

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

I’ve done a fair amount of what I have wanted to do over the years, but I’ve not yet flown in a sailplane. That I’d like to try. I’d also like to see the Taj Mahal some day. I’ve had poetry published, scientific research published in peer-reviewed professional journals, and had a glass sculpture in a curated show (the equivalent of peer review for artists), and I’d like to get a short story accepted for publication some day, too, to take care of that art. All I’ve got is a bunch of rejections so far. 😦 I’d like to go back to Andros Island in the Bahamas and dive there again. The wall dive on the Tongue of the Ocean — drifting along the reef 60 or 80 feet deep, floating above deep blue water shading into the blackness of a 6,000-foot drop-off — is magnificent.

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?


Before I decided I’d better preserve what few suffering neurons I have left, it was bourbon. And it took a lot — I had Navy training. 😀

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

I’ll nominate Matt, founding Big Daddy of RnR, as the next victim.