Holiday snaps, northern Virginia

Here are some nonacademic highlights of my trip to Virginia, where I visited my sister, brother-in-law, and their “pet”:

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, we visited Frying Pan Farm Park in Fairfax County, a working farm that’s also open to the public (admission is free).  Fortunately, it was lambing and pigging (?) season, so there were plenty of baby animals to pet.  I’m not sure whether this action is Talmudically prohibited:


Lots o’ lambs, too:

Twin lambs were born only two hours before our visit, and were still wet. Here’s mom and one of them inspecting the afterbirth:


What is a farm without a barn cat? Here’s a tough-looking customer:

But he proved to be a cupcake, staying around for petting, scratching, and purring:

I finally got to go through some of my possessions that were in my mother’s care when she died.  Two of them were notable.  The first is the very album I was listening to at the moment I became an atheist.  Jeremy Manier explained in an article from the Chicago Tribune, reprinted at the Dawkins site:

One of the more colorful scientific de-conversion stories comes from Jerry Coyne, a professor of genetics and evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. It happened in 1967 when Coyne, then 17, was listening for the first time to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album while lying on his parents’ couch in Alexandria, Va. [JAC: it was ARLINGTON, Virginia].

Suddenly Coyne began to shake and sweat. For reasons he still doesn’t understand, it dawned on him at that moment that there was no God, and he wasn’t going anywhere when he died. His casual Judaism seemed to wash away as the album played on. The crisis lasted about 30 minutes, he says, and when it was over, he had left religion behind for good. He went on to study how new species evolve, and found the Darwinian view of nature perfectly in tune with his abandonment of faith.

The good news is that my mother saved the album!  So here it is, a witness—indeed, perhaps even a cause—of my youthful godlessness:

And the ultimate souvenir of childhood, my bronzed baby shoes!  Do people even do this any more?

Finally, I found a LOLzy photo of my two uncles (my mother’s brothers) taken some years ago.   Uncle Bernie and Uncle Moe were partners in the auto-parts business in Pittsburgh, where they made a fortune.  Here they are on the links (Moe’s wearing the convict pants).  This photo makes me giggle, for it seems to be a poster for Jews Who Have Made It.

62 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Giggle is right! White shirt, white shorts, white shoes and black socks!

    • Hempenstein
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      You go to golf with the socks you have, apparently. That looks like a Rolls grille on that golf cart, too – Oy!

      • Christian
        Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        Well, he did say they made a fortune in auto-parts business ;)

  2. Dominic
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    Awwwww… so sweet – the little shoes! I had sort of imagined a two year old Jerry Coyne running around with cowboy boots!

    • Dominic
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      PS Cannot stand later period Beatles but I love the shirt!

  3. Blondin
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Hmmm. That photo of your uncles reminds me of some Seinfeld relatives.

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Snap! I was just thinking it needs Jerry Stiller screaming about something just out of the frame.

  4. Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    “It happened in 1967 when Coyne, then 17, was listening for the first time to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album …”

    So, the Beatles really were bigger than Jesus/Moses/God!

    • Jack van Beverningk
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      They still are. For obvious reasons.

      • daveau
        Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Uh, ’cause they really existed?

  5. Kevin Alexander
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    So, I guess at your house at least the Beatles really were more popular than Jesus.

    • Christian
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      I think Jesus wasn’t really that popular in his house for quite obvious reasons ;)

  6. Gregory James
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Sgt. Pepper’s? Couldn’t it have been the Stones “Their Satanic Majesties Request” instead?

  7. Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Well, there’s no questioning the brilliance of Sgt. Pepper, but I’m at a loss to think of anything particular to that work that would trigger a sudden insight of rationalism.

    On the other hand, that certainly would be a superb way to do it — to be listening to something so powerful, so beautiful, while coming to your senses.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      The end of Götterdämmerung would be appropriate.
      :)

  8. Matt Bowman
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Was your de-conversion really a singular event?

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this REALLY intrigues me! As much as the born-agains more often than not point to single moments of reverie/transport, I’ve never before now heard of such a discrete conversion-to-atheism moment.

    • Tim
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      I was thinking, “That’s weird, I can’t remember any singular event associated with my realization that there is no Santa Claus either.”

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        Ha! I had one of those, too. I was reading one of my parents’ books–a humor book, I recall–that said something that implied that Santa was fictitious. I must have been about six at the time. I immediately took the book to my parents and asked them if Santa was really made up. To their credit, they said “yes.” That was the end of Santa for me.

  9. Christian
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Mmmmhh… afterbirth.
    Which reminds me of the first mammal birth process I witnessed as a maybe 8yo.
    We were visiting my grandparents and my aunt (grandma’s sister) who lived close by. The latter owned some sheep and it was lambing season. I was curious so I sneaked to the stables where a sheep was giving birth.
    I already had a vague idea of the whole shebang but I wasn’t quite prepared for what was coming: the birth proved to be quite complicated and they had to “intervene” manually so the lamb could be born.
    It was quite a bloody mess and I can say that from that moment on my respect for women changed considerably.

    • Dominic
      Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink

      …but not for sheep?!

  10. Neil
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    An interesting atheist “coming out” story. Mine was similarly sudden, but at a funeral rather than Sgt. Pepper. (Maybe there is a connection–wasn’t there a graveside scene on the cover?)

    I had long given up on biblical fairy tales, but held on to an amorphous but theistic belief. Sitting in the funeral, I realized, within the space of an hour, that I was just kidding myself. Walked in a theist, walked out an atheist, and never looked back.

    I’d be interested in other’s coversion stories.

    • Christian
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Well, my deconversion story isn’t that powerful either. Coming from a liberal Lutheran background (European style) my belief in a god wasn’t that developed to begin with, bordering more on deism.
      Still had to go through the whole confirmation thingie, although I had the impression that my mother who was the driving force behind it, did it more out of tradition and because of real or imagined expectations of our relatives, some of whom were a bit more devout and not because she was really convinced of it herself.
      I slowly drifted out of theism and when I was around twenty I realized that I was an atheist and probably already had been for quite some time.

      I know, it’s not very impressive but at least I didn’t have to deal with all that emotional crap that many from more fundamentalist backgrounds had to go through.

      • JBlilie
        Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        Very, very similar to my story (right down to the Lutheranism — mine was US midwestern.)

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      Neil–guess I spoke too soon! :D

  11. Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    You’re deconversion story is more powerful than my conversion story (and they are supposed to be powerful even if you embellish, you know).

    I don’t believe they bronze baby shoes anymore. Kids now have too many shoes, which pair would they choose? The Nike’s or the Reeboks?

  12. JBlilie
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Nice Hawaiian shirt! A man after my own heart!

  13. Sigmund
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I read the gnus today, oh boy.

    • Grania
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      You win the internets today.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        AGREED!

      • Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Sigmund has a wall full of trophies. He’s the guy what did the Hitler in the bunker raving about Mooney video. Sigmund is a chronic WINNAH.

      • JBlilie
        Posted March 30, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        +2!

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      lol! nice one

      That’s a nicely preserved album cover there, but how’s the vinyl? And, most importantly, does it still have the cut-outs?

      • mbee
        Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        Well I still have mine – with the cutouts (uncut of course). Vinyl in excellent shape.

    • Christian
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      +1 ;)

  14. Insightful Ape
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Dr Coyne, are your family practicing Jews?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      No, we got it right a long time ago, so we don’t need to practice any more. :-)

      • Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        LOL

      • Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        HA! Treats for that one :-)

        Lammies and piggies! Kawa–iiiii!! (lucky)

        Love the photo of the uncles. Definitely going to have to name one of the jungle crows around here “moe”.

    • GrahamH
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      it was lambing and pigging (?) season

      farrowing

  15. sasqwatch
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    (namedrop alert) One of my more memorable events in recent history (’92) was when Greg Calbi hailed me into a mastering room saying “there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” Geoff Emerick was in there, getting ready to spin up “Band on the Run”, after flying over from Abbey Road with the original master tapes in his lap (there was no equipment left in Abbey Road that worked well enough to do the job). It’s really, really cool to have family in the recording industry.

    Seeing tears well up in Geoff’s eyes as that great sound poured out of the monitors was priceless.

    • satan augustine
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      I’m so jealous!

      • satan augustine
        Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Being in the studio with Geoff while he’s listening and emotionally reacting to the original master tapes of “Band on the Run”(THE best album by any of the former Beatles) is the stuff of dreams for me.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      I’ll never forget the moment.

      I’ll also try not to forget that putting links in messages flags it for moderation, pestering the host, who might have better things to do than being pestered. JC, JC, you’re alright by me, sanna ho sanna hey, Superstar…

  16. Grania
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Why is the canine companion in photograph 1 a scare-quotes pet?

    True, it is more Tribble than Dog by the looks of it; but surely just as sweet?

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Perhaps it is more a master of the home than a mere “pet”?

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      It is my understanding that C. familiaris is generally not a suitable topic for discussion on this Web site.

      And, while we’re (not) on this topic…does anybody else think that pretty much anybody would have a similar expression if being held in such a manner?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Grania
        Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Dunno about similar. Possibly just an expression not suitable for a nice family site such as this.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      Risking cyber-community disfavor to dare say–what an adorable “pet!”

  17. Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Do you remember which song you were listening to just before or during your deconversion experience?

  18. daveau
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    “Suddenly Coyne began to shake and sweat.”

    Clearly a sign from God…

    Late to the party (sorry, I had to do some actual work), but here goes:

    I’m shocked (along with Dominic) that those weren’t bronzed cowboy boots. Cute little farm animals. I hope you fed the cat. It is really nice of you to share your family & history. I know lots of people that the Beatles made them see God. Or was it the drugs?

  19. Sal Bro
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Widdle wammies come in a close second as cutest baby animals ever. (It’s kind of a waste that they grow up to be such dumb adults.) It looks like you had a great visit. Hopefully you got some rest in there, too.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Baby Nubian goats are obviously the first.

  20. William Widdowson
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Pigging? No. Farrowing.
    Warm regards, Bill W.

  21. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    The Sgt. Pepper’s cover was staged & photographed 44 years ago today (30th March ’67)

    I’m not surprised Sgt. Pepper acted as a catalyst for ideas that were already swirling around in your mind Jerry. If at 17 you were considering the changes about to happen in your life (college etc.), then Sgt. Pepper’s melancholy could have really grabbed you…

    She’s Leaving Home, A Day In The Life & Within You Without You were too mature for my 12yo 1967 emotions ~ I found the album extremely unsettling. I would turn myself off when it floated to my ears from just about every window in the neighbourhood

    Religious did-you-knows :-
    Lennon wanted Hitler & Jesus on the cover ~ no dice, but it does have the American comedian Lenny Bruce (born Leonard Alfred Schneider) ~ he of the Jesus electric chair quip & also it depicts a Mexican Tree Of Life clay sculpture of the Christian creation myth

  22. Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Love the pic of you and your bronzed baby shoes. And yes, they DO still do this!

    In fact, my grandmother was the mother of baby shoe bronzing…she started the whole thing!!

    http://www.americanbronzing.com is where anyone can STILL go to have their first shoes…or sneakers…bronzed.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Hey, thanx for that link. Any idea how long the development process was before they hit on a bronzing process that worked?

  23. jwthomas
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I was already an atheist by the day I first put on Sgt Pepper but listening to the album did convert me from Acapulco Gold to Owsley acid.

    • satan augustine
      Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      Hahahaha! I can actually imagine that. I however wasn’t born until a couple of years after Sgt. Pepper’s was released. Still, if it can be said that an atheist/freethinker can hold something as sacred, Sgt. Pepper would definitely be sacred to me. I cannot say that it’s the best album ever – though it’s definitely a contender – but I can say that there has never been anything else quite like it.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

        It was a paradigm changer. :D

        • Sven DiMilo
          Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

          Ringo is, after all, a renowned Kuhnian.


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