Pah-tee with Pinkah, and a new symbol of secularism

As I noted yesterday, Steve Pinker was here on campus giving a talk on his new book: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined.  It was the George and Marie Andros Lecture, a fancy endowed gig, and the Adroses (Androsi?) were both in attendance; George is a cardiovascular surgeon who was once here but retired and moved to Los Angeles.

When I noted that I was going to pah-tee with Pinkah, some of you petulant and skeptical readers responded, “Pictures or it didn’t happen!”.  But would I lie to you?  Well, if you want proof, here are the pictures—and a bit of commentary. There’s a nice surprise at the end.

I went early, for I knew it would be crowded, as it indeed was: standing room only, so people (contra fire regulations) were sitting in the aisles. On my way to the venue—the room where I taught introductory evolution—I saw this figure from behind. It could be only one person.  The hair! The hair!

Walking enlarged

Natty as always, Pinker was clad in a black leather jacket, an impeccable suit (his lecturing garb), and a unique set of footwear (you know where I’m going here).

He spent about 10 minutes looking over his slides, very intently, as people filed in. I went about 25 minutes early to get a good seat.

Intent

The lecture was, as we’ve come to expect from Steve, superb. Wonderfully organized, with slides that were concise and not busy, and a comprehensive presentation of the data on violence, the explanations for why it’s declined, both proximal and “ultimate”, and the lessons one can draw from the decline.  I was amazed he could do this in an hour.  Of course he spoke in full paragraphs, with no “umms” or “errs.”

There was time for only three questions at the end, which is sad because Steve excels at Q&A. The first one was good: if violence has declined, why are we more worried about it these days? (Two examples are how parents won’t let their kids play outside anymore, and the universal fear of flying induced by terrorism.) His response was good: although violence has declined, it’s broadcast more widely due to social media, and so we’re more aware of it. Too, the news doesn’t play up the decline in violence. As Steve said, “No reporter is shown standing in Belgium and saying, ‘Well, we haven’t had any wars here for 70 years.”  Also, he argued, humans tend to be risk-averse, so that, when they are thinking about, say, their kids, they concentrate on the numerator in the “violent incidents/all opportunities” fraction. When taking a car rather than a plane, they think about a plane crash that killed 300 people, but cars are far more dangerous; it’s just that no car crash kills 300 people.

I have to say that I am appalled at how closely parents monitor their kids these days. When I was a kid I’d just get on my bike and ride away from home for hours, or go long distances to play and meet friends. That doesn’t happen any more, and yet the incidence of violence to children, and kidnapping, is much lower now than when I was young. I would have greatly chafed at not being allowed to roam freely as a child.

After the talk we repaired for dinner to the Smart Museum, the University of Chicago’s art museum, which had some new exhibits, including a whole series of salacious photographs (I declined to photograph Steve in front of a giant penis photo). Steve, like Andros and me, is an avid photographer, and you can find a selection of his photos on his website.

On arriving at the Museum, we found a lovely table set for the small group of us. I quickly downed two glasses of Pouilly-Fuisse and toured the galleries, but not before photographing the table.

Table

Before dinner, we took a tour of the museum. There were lots of pictures of naked people, including a nude woman with vegetables all over her body, and a movie of a man fondling his paternal apparatus, but I found this falcon sculpture, from Egypt (made shortly before the Christian era) far more inspiring:

Falcon

Time for dinner! We all had placecards and a menu; I was seated at the end of the table so I had a good view, as well as amiable dinner companions. Here’s the list of upcoming noms and my placecard (click to enlarge):

Menu

The first course was butternut squash soup with Granny Smith apples and snipped chives. It was superb, especially with the Pouilly-Fuisse (I later moved on to the Bordeaux, though I prefer white with fish):

Soup

Next: A large chunk of beautifully cooked Alaskan halibut served with green peppercorn sauce, wild mushrooms, and what they called “sea beans,” which I gather is some kind of seaweed (it was delicious). Does anybody know what that is?:

Halibut

Dessert: a poached pear with strawberries and dark chocolate sauce, served with one of those chocolate-filled stick thingies. By this time I’d had quite a bit of wine and was feeling expansive:

Strawberries

The dinner in full swing. I didn’t get to meet everyone, so I can’t give all names. To Steve’s right is Mrs. Andros, one of the donors of the lecture series, and to her right is Conrad Gilliam, the Dean for Research at the University of Chicago and one of the committee who, under the Andros’s advisement, selected Steve as this year’s lecturer.

table full

After dinner Steve and I repaired to my office for a bit more libation. As real guys, we decided to eschew wine and have a few brewskis. And, as real guys tend to do when they get together and let their hair down (the latter task impossible for Pinker), we talked about free will, multiverses, theology—you know, the stuff guys always talk about over a few beers—and boots!

For Steve has taken to wearing cowboy boots, which he quite likes for their looks and the way they change your gait. (The cowboy boot expert Jennifer June says they make you “walk like you mean it”.) I was, of course, enormously pleased to see this, and showed Steve my own ostrich-belly boots, which he admired.

Steve was wearing a pair of caiman boots that he acquired in Texas, and I made him pose with them in my office.  He’s a neophyte with boots (I think he has only a handful of pairs), so, as owner of more than 100, I gave him some tips.

Talking to Steve, particularly when you’re tired and a bit tipsy, is an intense experience. He, too, was tired, but his brain was fully engaged. It’s like having a conversation with two people at once: that’s how fast you have to think.  Pinker has two conversational characteristics that I much admire: he seems to retain everything he’s ever learned or written, and he is fast on his feet, able to recall relevant data or references on the spot. His fund of knowledge seems inexhaustible, and if you want to feel intellectually slow, have a chat with him! But it was great fun.

And—his boots:

Place

I now proffer the suggestion that atheists adopt cowboy boots as their official footwear. It’s time to reclaim this unique American dress item from the rednecks, Republicans, goddies, and evolution-deniers who have monopolized them!

As Steve’s limo was late, we spent another 20 minutes sitting on the curb waiting for the car. There I found that he’s on sabbatical, finishing his next book, which will be on writing and appear next year. He and Rebecca Goldstein are at Dartmouth, where Rebecca has a visiting faculty position for a year.  I expressed amazement that Steve could turn out books so fast (apparently he doesn’t revise as anally as I do, as my prose for books and article isn’t readable until after a dozen revisions, whereas he seems to write nearly first draft), and Steve claimed, in return, that he could never write stuff on a website as fast as I do (this is always first draft with just a tad of revision thereafter).

I took the opportunity to ask Steve what book he was proudest of. His answer was immediate: How the Mind Works (1997), as he said that it contained a lot of his thinking about the brain, and ideas that he considered novel. He was only 43 when he wrote it.

It was a lovely evening, and I’m grateful to not only Steve, but the Andros family, the organizing committee, and the woman (whose name, unfortunately, I can’t remember) who organized the logistics, including the wonderful dinner. The quality of food was much higher than one usually gets at a University event, and of course the company was first rate.

And—how often do I get to combine secularism, boots, and food in one post?

ADDENDUM:

I asked Steve to sign my copy of WEIT that’s already been signed by everyone at the Moving Naturalism Forward conference, as well as Kelly Houle, who illuminated some of the book with her art, and Ben Goren, who added a genuine pawprint from his cat Baihu. Everyone has said a few words about naturalism in their autograph, and here’s Steve’s. He says it’s a bit of linguistic fun, and I guess he’s showing the phylogeny of his names.  I’m surprised that “Pinker” groups with “Arthur,” but what do I know:

P1040678

And an example of some of the illustration added to the book by Kelly Houle. We’ll auction off the book on eBay soon; all proceeds will go to Doctors without Borders.

Illumination

164 Comments

  1. TJR
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Although the risk of violence to children has probably decreased, the risk of RTA (road traffic accidents) might not have done.

    Last time I looked, UK figures showed deaths of people in cars still decreasing, but deaths of pedestrians and cyclists still increasing.

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      Air travel is (literally, using the statistics, 10,000 times more safe than driving a car (in the US).

    • Kevin
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      In America, cause of death:
      1:6 Heart disease
      1:7 Cancer
      1:28 Stroke
      1:88 Motor Vehicle
      1:112 Self-harm
      1:130 Accidental poisoning
      1:171 Falls
      1:303 Car occupant
      1:306 Firearm assault
      1:649 Pedestrian
      1:770 Motorcycle
      1:1123 Drowning
      1:1177 Fire
      1:4717 Cyclist

      Pedestrians are not too bad, but they did not improve much recently (last ten years). Cyclists did improve, not sure why…better awareness? Overall, violence does not cause death anymore.

      cf. http://www.nsc.org/Documents/Injury_Facts/Injury_Facts_2011_w.pdf

      • John Taylor
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        More helmet use?

  2. Lurker111
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but potato soup with Italian sausage followed by pasta in a nice marinara sauce sounds much more filling. ;)

  3. Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    And—how often do I get to combine secularism, boots, and food in one post?

    I’m still waiting for the post “Does Puss in Boots have Free Will?”

    • Sastra
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      +1

      That made me laugh.

    • Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Or, is Puss-in-Boots a hep cat (with free will)?

      /@

      • Filippo
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Well, if any sentient creature has free will, it is a cat.

  4. eric
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    [audience question] if violence has declined, why are we more worried about it these days?….

    …Also, he argued, humans tend to be risk-averse, so that, when they are thinking about, say, their kids, they concentrate on the numerator in the “violent incidents/all opportunities” fraction.

    While both are true, I can think of a good reason for current parents to be more worried even in the face of less violence; modern technology and mobility allow the (admittedly fewer per capita) predators to more effectively target vulnerable kids. Thus, being “the most vulnerable kid around” is a worse position than it was 50-100 year ago, despite the lower per capita crime.

    Here’s an analogy. You’ve got a regular cheetah stalking a 100 pack of gazelle. As a regular cheetah, his selection of vulnerable candidates is pretty good but nothnig like perfect. Compare that to a cheetah stalking a 10,000 pack of gazelle…but this cheetah has the magical power of knowing with 99% certainty when any given gazelle is off-guard and vulnerable. Now, there might be far fewer cheetahs per gazelle in the second case, but its also true that you really don’t want to be that one off-guard and vulnerable gazelle. You’ll rightly fear those moments of vulnerability more, because the predator is better and finding you in just that moment.

    In modern societies, with the abililty to hide in crowds, surveille patterns of movement and get away rapidly (at least for several hours/days) is the equivalent of giving that predator a much much better chance of finding and successfully taking the ‘most vulnerable’ pack member.

    • Paul S
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Curious, I’d like to see some study information on this. My oft wrong intuition leads me to think it is more difficult than has been previously, precisely due to the amount of surveillance available.
      There is the issue of current technology which inundates us with events as they happen, no matter where it happens. Years ago you wouldn’t here of a kidnapping that happened in a different city much less a different country, unless it was a very high profile event.

      • eric
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        As a counterpoint, I’d agree that modern surveillance will make it easier to catch the perpetrator after the fact. That, however, does not factor much into parental decision-making. A hundred years ago, the predator across town could not know if/when the kids were out playing; he needed direct eyeball surveillance to figure it out. When he did, a snatch n’ run on horseback would be slow, difficult, and obvious as it was occurring. Today, Pinker’s point is that the ratio of good to bad people is much much better. Okay, I can see that. But a single predator’s net can extend as far as he can monetarily afford it to, and it is much easier to unobtrusively take a child (if they are unchaperoned).

        I have no stastistics on this. I’m not trying to say that such fears are proven or demonstrated to be rational. They may very well be rational and the risk to kids may in fact be lower. But I AM trying to say that the situation is a lot more complex than just “lower per capita predators, ergo lower risk.” That logic assumes random victim selection, when as far as we can tell, selection is anything but random.

      • eric
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Here’s another way to think about it. I believe that Pinker says there are less assaults per capita. You and I probably accept that, yes? I do, anyway.

        Does that mean that your risk of assault if you regularly and consistently jog alone at night through a wooded path in the middle of a city is lower? Well, maybe not. That’s still pretty risky behavior, because the remaining assaults may be concentrated around such events.

        Likewise with unchaperoned children. Maybe the overall risk of harm to children has gone down. But maybe at the same time, the risk has been concentrated around specific circumstances. If that’s the case, parents would be justified in keeping their kids out of those circumstances, the same way you would think it perfectly rational in today’s “low violence” society to jog with a partner, or during daylight, or along busy streets.

        • Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

          I think Pinker would say that there are fewer assaults per capita … ;-)

          /@

          • Dominic
            Posted October 31, 2013 at 2:07 am | Permalink

            :)

            • Dominic
              Posted October 31, 2013 at 2:08 am | Permalink

              Ped-Ant…

              • Diane G.
                Posted October 31, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

                Good one! (Might get him arrested in the UK, though, eh?)

              • Posted October 31, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

                It’s not illegal to have a foot fetish …

                /@

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

          Makes sense to me.

    • Posted October 31, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

      Your point about technology is true. Some parents post on the net photos of their kids, photos taken with devices such as cellphones or digital cameras with GPS capability. Along with captions such as “Billy on our backyard swing”, a predator can easily locate said child. Parents should turn off their GPS function, if they want to use such devices for photos!

  5. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    There I was reading the article… I saw the picture if the falcon and thought “Wow! This would make good symbol for secularism. Soaring aspirations coupled with supreme vigilance.”

    Then I read further. Boots. Not so much.

    • Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      You can’t wear falcons on your feet.

      And this comment is a bit of a downer.

      • teacupoftheapocalypse
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        Ah, but you can wear falcons on your feet: http://goo.gl/LAlDHT :)

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Even growing up in Texas, I only had a couple of pairs of cowboy boots, and those I only wore kicker dancing (I’d wear anything if called for for a date). I think even at an early age I didn’t especially like being associated with the redneck crowd who seemed the most fond of the boots (ditto for cowboy hats). I liked the boots and the hats, just not the crowd who made the most show of wearing them. While it’s an awfully large uphill battle, what with being outnumbered at least 20 to 1, the idea of claiming cowboy boots for secularism is appealing. It would be fun, at some future date, to see some obvious goddie in boots and say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were an atheist”, and watch them squirm when you explain that all the atheists are wearing cowboy boots these days.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

          And our official song/dance could be the Cotton-Eyed Joe! The audience response part is perfect for skepticism!

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      Yay boots!

      • Matt G
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        I am a lifelong atheist, and long-time lover of cowboy boots. I have perhaps a dozen pair. All atheists should hop on this train.

  6. Lianne Byram
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t get any better than that! Lucky guy :)

  7. Benjamin
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    The food looks delicious.

    The ‘sea beans’ you were served are a plant called samphire, which grows wild by the coast here in the UK.

    I really like the name ‘sea beans’ though.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Sea beans sounds like the name of a racing horse.

      • Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Well, that takes the biscuit…

        /@

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

          You’re always a smart cookie!

          • boggy
            Posted October 31, 2013 at 1:05 am | Permalink

            Sea beans is Salicornia, a plant growing in marshy areas close to the sea but is not a seaweed. It is also known as glasswort as it was burnt in large quantities to produce soda lime used in glass manufacture.

            • religionenslaves
              Posted October 31, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

              In the UK it goes under the name of samphire. It looks attractive but I do not find it particularly appetizing. Perhaps it is a problem of perception: it looks as if it should taste amazing with its deep green and brilliance, but alas, it does not.

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted November 2, 2013 at 3:24 am | Permalink

                It grows around saltlakes in Australian deserts, and makes a moist and tasty snack in that context.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

          You win the cigar.

          • Posted October 31, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            Yes, but is it just a cigar?

            b&

  8. Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    The ‘sea beans’ is almost certainly Salicornia, known over here in the UK as marsh samphire (its proper name, obviously) as it grows on salt sea marshes near the coast, especially in Norfolk where it’s highly prized. (So much so that its collectors don’t divulge their best areas for harvesting it).

    • Dominic
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      I had it picked fresh from the Medway estuary many many years ago when on holiday on a Thames sailing barge.

    • Occam
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      If the ‘sea beans’ are indeed Salicornia, they form a nice loop with the frontispiece dedicated to Richard Lewontin and illuminated with the pendentives of San Marco:
      Several species of Salicornia (and a number of other halophyte genera as well) used to be known as glasswort or saltwort.
      Glasswort is a giveaway: Salicornia was an essential source for the soda ash (basically, sodium carbonate) used as a flux in the fabrication of Venetian glass and cristallo.

      (Normally I wouln’t dare intervene on matters botanical, but the last job I finished involved the compositional chemistry of one of the early ‘forrest glass huts’ north of the Alps that produced not just ‘wood ash’, i.e. potash, glass, but also the first imitations à la façon de Venise.)

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        We have the most fascinating posters here!

    • Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      I’ve eaten samphire picked fresh from the mangrove forest at St. Kilda, South Australia. I’ve never seen it served cooked before.

      /@

  9. Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Theology, multiverses, etc is “guy stuff?” I didn’t know you were such a sexist, misogynistic, chauvinist. The attack squad will be out in full force, I expect. If I understand what you meant by that, you are saying that women are stupid, incapable of thinking about deep subjects, and belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.
    /sarcasm off/

    • Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      “guy stuff” no way. This “gal” discussed free will with her male companion, yesterday, while driving to work.

      • Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        Oy vey! I made a joke that misfired. Of course those things are not guy stuff: real guy stuff is talking about women, booze and sports! I’ve fixed it so that I don’t get eviscerated for being sarcastic.

  10. JBlilie
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Lucky you! Wow, that looked like a fun evening all around!

    • Lynn Austin (Ottawa)
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Sub

  11. Dominic
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Sounds like a grand evening.

    You can see his RI lecture on the same topic, along with many other lectures by for example Richard Dawkins, here

    http://richannel.org/collections

  12. stephen
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Those sea beans are a species of the Salicornia genus,I cannot be certain which, but they look like what is known here -England- as marsh samphire ( Salicornia europaea). There are various,similar North American species. It’s very good with fish, I used to serve it with scallops…

    • Dominic
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      I foresee a queue forming at the door of your kitchen…!

    • Hempenstein
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      What does salicornia pertain to? I have a succulent with a sorta segmented, stick-like form called Drunkard’s Dream, aka Hatiora salicornioides, which I see has been renamed Rhipsalis salicornioides.

  13. schneideman
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Samphire

    Alex

    Alex Schneideman

    alex@asph.co.uk +44 7909 964 534

    http://www.alexschneideman.net

    >

  14. Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I would have thought that {Stephen, Arthur} would have formed the clade.

    • µ
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      The character matrix is:

      Steven
      Arthur
      Pinker

      It must be the shared character “r” at the end of Arthur and Pinker that unites these two taxa into one clade, whereas the second-to-last “e” in both Steven and Pinker are convergent. Pinker may be able to explain why “r” is given more weight than “e” in this phylogenetic reconstruction (some Bayesian prior?).

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted November 2, 2013 at 3:29 am | Permalink

        Pinker is a linguist, not a phylogeneticist, so I think the tree diagram is not a phylogeny but about structural grammar. I gave up linguistic aspirations for phylogenetics many years ago, so don’t understand precisely what it means.

  15. Dominic
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Is there a Eldrege/Gouldian spandrels joke in the image with the Dick Lewontin dedication?

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted November 2, 2013 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      Spandrels are a joke, aren’t they?

  16. gbjames
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I like the idea of taking cowboy boots back from the Republican/TeaParty/Redneck types.

    That is the reason I fly a US flag on my house every day (along with a flag of some other part of the world… which keeps the neighbors wondering).

    It isn’t that I’m all that much of a flag-waver. I just can’t stand how the left/liberal/progressive side of the spectrum let’s the conservatives “own” the symbol.

    • gbjames
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      and sub

    • Larry Gay
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      I don’t like flags because it reminds me of Nazis who loved their flags. But I like the idea of flying two flags.

      • gbjames
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        They also ate vegetables.

        That’s why I fly them. My small contribution to de-fusing the link between the flags and the right wing. (I’m a way left of center sort of fellow.)

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          I like this idea.

          • Reginald Selkirk
            Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            Eating vegetables?

    • Kevin
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      That is most excellent. I should fly a flag at my house too.

      I agree about stealing stuff back (metaphorically speaking). On occasion I play bluegrass and there is a growing number of people who are atheists among that crowd and it drives the rest of them mad…like someone is pulling jebus from their world.

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        I have to say that it’s something I like about JC, that he has fairly well reclaimed a number of things in my mind. Boots, for example, were very strongly associated in my mind with conservative rednecks, from my personal experience, so it actually took me a little while to get my head around JC’s fondness for them. Almost single handedly he’s changed my perception of cowboy boots. I also appreciate his concern with manners, old music, squirrels, and cats. While I’m personally not frightened off by full-body tattooed trans-gender Marxist atheists, or whatever kind of image of a radical person one might have, there is something pleasing about JC’s concern with lots of sweet an ordinary things that even my fundie family would appreciate. It throws into sharp relief the deepest conceit and most harmful lie of religion, that all nice and good things flow from it.

        • Morg
          Posted October 31, 2013 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          U’r talkin about Jesus Christ, aren’ t you?

          • gluonspring
            Posted October 31, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

            Of course. Jesus is a big cat fan. Everyone knows this.

            Actually, every time I mention our host here I sort of struggle to decide how to address him. Lots of people say “Jerry”, but some people here actually know him personally so I don’t know if that’s the norm or actual personal familiarity. I don’t know him personally and so I feel a little presumptuous using his first name. It feels stilted and silly to say Dr. Coyne, of course. So I tend to vacillate between using initials and just “Coyne”.

            • Posted October 31, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

              “Jerry” is fine (more fine if you’ve commented a couple of times), as is “our host” or “Professor Ceiling Cat.” I don’t like “Coyne,” as it’s usually associated with opprobrium!

              • gluonspring
                Posted October 31, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

                Thanks, Professor Ceiling Cat.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted November 2, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

                Must be an english thing, I consider last name usage neutral. As in references.

                But, as gluonspring says, thanks for sharing!

  17. Barry
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    In 1916 a ship headed to the war relief efforts in Belgium and France was sunk off the coast of New York. Its cargo contained a large stock of canned green beans (mostly grown in Kansas). From time to time a can will wash ashore, and is picked up to be sold at outrageous prices under the new label “Sea Beans”. What are they like anyway?

  18. Jolo
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    I have just started wearing cowboy boots again, I have worn them off and on for years. I think cowboy boots would be a great symbol (and annoy people).

    • Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      You’d have to allow the option of Wellies for those in wetter countries than cowboy land.

  19. Michael Day
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I find it deeply comforting to see that you, too, have a pile of “stuff” in the corner of your office.

  20. Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    At first, I thought the only thing missing to make it complete was a cat — and there was Baihu, albeit indirectly!

    I like the idea of boots as the official footwear of secularism…but there are practical difficulties here for me. For one, I almost never wear long pants, only shorts — and I rather suspect that boots should not be worn with shorts. For another, I almost never wear formal clothing…and, when I do, it’s almost always a tuxedo because I’m on stage. I don’t think boots are appropriate footwear for a tuxedo, though I suppose I could be worng.

    Any suggestions for alternatives for those of us in casual warm climates?

    b&

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Straw cowboy hat?

      I never owned a cowboy hat of any sort growing up in Texas, but when I moved to California I got a straw cowboy hat just for the affectation. I thought the straw hat went well with my own ubiquitous shorts. I doubt I ever wore it with long pants, come to think of it. The goddies, rednecks, and others who like the cowboy attire tend to wear felt hats, and tend to consider only felt hats to be true cowboy hats, so it’s not optimal from the standpoint of reclaiming a symbol for secularism. I just don’t see felt hats working with shorts so much, though, and besides they are kind of hot. So maybe a straw hat would work as a compromise.

      P.S. This is exactly what I looked like in my hat: http://i500.listal.com/image/1687020/500full.jpg

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Actually, doing a little more research I think that straw hats are more accepted as “real cowboy hats” than I thought. Maybe it was just the people I knew personally who thought poorly of them.

      • Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        It’s a thought, but I never was into hats. And I don’t think they’d be physically compatible with a cat on my shoulders….

        b&

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          I’m not much of a hat person either, other than winter toboggans I don’t think I’ve ever owned any other hats, not even baseball caps. I started wearing my straw hat just as kind of silly fun to a few picnics an other occasions where I knew friends might comment on the Texan with a cowboy hat and I’d get to explain that in 25 years in Texas I never owned one, that it took moving to California for me to get a hat. After a while, though, I grew fond of the hat and found myself wearing it frequently. So you never know, these things can grow on you. You can buy cheap ones for, like, $10-$15 at Target in the summer here in CA, so it’s a pretty low investment accessory to have on hand. Or not. It’s just a thought.

          Maybe atheist events should encourage full cowboy attire, even if you don’t wear the stuff daily, so that all the photo-ops of atheists look like a cowboy gathering. ;-)

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Oh, and cowboy boots with shorts is common in women’s fashion but, alas, not so much in mens.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted November 2, 2013 at 4:49 am | Permalink

        Why am I thinking of Rule 35 now?

    • krzysztof1
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      I used to play violin in an orchestra in the midlands of the U.S. There was another guy who wore cowboy boots all the time, and would wear them with his tux. I guess I thought that was improper, because I complained to the symphony office, and they agreed that he should wear standard dress shoes. I’m not sure that it would be such a big deal for me these days. After all, it WAS kind of a cattle town. . . .

      • Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        Yeah, I don’t think I’d get any complaints if I wore boots in any of the groups I play with…but I’m not sure how well any of the pants I currently have would fit with boots. Plus, that’d be the only time I’d wear anything that would be vaguely boot-compatible….

        b&

    • darrelle
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      The colors and the extent and style of decoration of boots is hugely variable. I think the right boots could look very nice with a Tuxedo, though it would definitely be outside of the norm.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Boots would go well with kimonos. And kimonos would be my vote for the official attire of secularism.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      A big cowboy bob belt buckle! :)

    • Filippo
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      As regards boots to wear with a tuxedo, I suggest a pair of plain black eel skin boots with a more-or-less medium toe, and the sole “flush” with the perimeter of the eel skin. (I don’t know that I can be more precise with my description.) Looks purty good in my opinion. You probably won’t be able to get a “flush” sole when you buy them new, but the shoe shop can accomplish it when it’s time to resole them. At least the above is my experience.

      I’ve observed certain females wearing western boots with shorts to great aesthetically pleasing effect.

    • Posted October 31, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Thanks for all the thoughts and suggestions, guys. I’ll mull them over. Next time I’m in need of fancy footwear, I’ll definitely first consider boots.

      Cheers,

      b&

  21. Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    “I have to say that I am appalled at how closely parents monitor their kids these days. When I was a kid I’d just get on my bike and ride away from home for hours, or go long distances to play and meet friends. That doesn’t happen any more, and yet the incidence of violence to children, and kidnapping, is much lower now than when I was young. I would have greatly chafed at not being allowed to roam freely as a child.”

    Is it possible that this close-monitoring is what makes violence and kidnapping much lower than before?

    • Kevin
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      The close-monitoring should have an affect. I used to go away from my mom and dad so far and for so long and I cannot imagine any parents allowing their kids to do that now.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      I’ve thought the same as jac – when I was a kid in semi-suburban Northern Virginia, I had at least 25 acres of woods beside the house where I roamed freely with my pals all day long, coming home just for feeding, usually without encouragement. Mostly we stayed relatively close to the house but roamed afar too, including crawling thru a drain made of huge stones under an earthen trestle for a railroad that was never completed in the Civil War era(!) Never once in all those years did we encounter a bogeyman of any sort. This lasted till I was in the 8th grade.

      Now that land is the site of one of the country’s premier science magnet highschools (which has been visited by many luminaries including two US Presidents; it was a regular HS when I went there, but OTOH, none other than Louis B Leakey spoke to us in our then-ordinary auditorium).

      Anyway, like Ernest Tubb sings, it was Another Story, Another Time, Another Place.

  22. krzysztof1
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I have a question about cowboy boots: If you have a pair with really nice uppers, are you supposed to wear them under the legs of your jeans, or is it permissible to tuck the jeans inside them (as Steven Pinker was doing in the photo) or (??) one side tucked in?

    • Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      I’m only gonna say this once, and everybody needs to learn: Men NEVER tuck their pants into their boots, so the tops (elaborate though they may be) are hidden when you’re standing up. Steve was merely showing his boots by raising his trouser leg.

      Women, on the other hand, are free to wear boots however they want, and often tuck pants into them. They can also wear them untucked, or with skirts or even shorts. Men don’t have that option because it looks weird for some reason

      In that respect women are lucker, for I have many pairs of boots with elaborately decorated shafts that never show. I suppose I could say, like women who wear fancy Victoria’s Secret underwear, that just knowing they’re there “makes me feel good about myself.” (But it doesn’t!)

      • krzysztof1
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        That squares with what I was told by a friend in high school! Thanks for the response; hope everyone takes it to heart.

      • Richard Olson
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        I was standing in the community park at my small home town’s 100 yr anniversary celebration, watching a parade pass on an adjacent street. A four man team harnessed to a cart jogged by, with a town character seated inside the outhouse on the cart peering out the open door, toilet paper roll in his hand. My 80 year old uncle from a nearby town served as parade entrant judge. Wearing his black felt cowboy hat, white short-sleeved dress shirt with string tie, black Bermuda shorts, and dress cowboy boots with knee-high black socks showing above the tops, he ran — well, trotted, but surprisingly swiftly — after the shithouse float, in hot pursuit with a disqualification ribbon. All part of the show except for the outfit, which was just normal hot summer wear for Uncle Russ.

        • David Duncan
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

          Running in boots? Is that even possible? I wear Cuban heeled elastic sided boots and I cab barely manage a slow trot for about 50 meters.

          • Richard Olson
            Posted October 31, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

            I wear sorta pointy but rounded, low heeled cowboy boots for motorcycle gear. It isn’t comfortable to run far or fast in them, but I managed a short sprint once when I needed to get away from a tight spot in a hurry.

            I’ve never owned a pair with what I always thought of as a stirrup heel, although a pair would have made life easier the summer in high school I got to live out a fantasy working cattle on horseback for a short-handed local stockman. Lace-up work boots worked out for me then, but then I wasn’t roping.

            Totally unfamiliar with boot technology terms, your post sent me to wiki:

            There are two basic styles of cowboy boots, western (or classic), and roper. The classic style is distinguished by a tall boot shaft, going to at least mid-calf, with an angled “cowboy” heel, usually over one inch high. A slightly lower, still angled, “walking” heel is also common. Although western boots can be customized with a wide variety of toe shapes, the classic design is a narrowed, usually pointed, toe.

            A newer design, the “roper” style, has a short boot shaft that stops above the ankle but before the middle of the calf, with a very low and squared-off “roper” heel, shaped to the sole of the boot, usually less than one inch high. Roper boots are usually made with rounded toes, but, correlating with style changes in streetwear, styles with a squared toe are seen. The roper style is also manufactured in a lace-up design which often fits better around the ankle and is less likely to slip off, but these two features also create safety issues for riding.

      • Lianne Byram
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Do they ever chafe? If so, are knee socks required too?

        • Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          Nope, not if the boots fit right. The shafts are sufficiently loose, at least in all of mine, that regular socks suffice, though you may have to wear thicker or thinner socks to ensure a comfortable fit.

          I’m talking about cowboy boots, now; I have no experience with other types.

          • Lianne Byram
            Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

            Thanks. I haven’t had a pair since my teens, but I’d be open to trying a new pair. They look great.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

              If you have a good pair of boots, no matter the type, you should be able to wear them barefoot. I often do this because I get too hot at work this time of year.

              • Lianne Byram
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                Okay, I’m sold. Next time I’m in Toronto I’m going cowboy boot shopping.

          • Filippo
            Posted October 30, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

            I once had a sky-blue pair of boot socks. But only one pair. So, I took to wearing two pairs of regular socks. They’re all white, and can be in any condition, and no one is burdened with the knowledge. I once got interrogated by a young lady about why I wore two pairs of socks. (I don’t remember how we got on the topic.) She somehow saw it as a chink in my armor; Apparently she had some need to straighten me out. I gave the best answer I could, ending with, “I don’t know what else to say about it.”

            • Lianne Byram
              Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

              I was once mocked for wearing two pairs of socks in winter for warmth. I say when it comes to socks, wear whatever works, whether the fashion police in our lives approve or not!

        • darrelle
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          A good quality boot of the proper size for your foot should not chafe. There is a break in period, but even that is not troublesome. Once broken in a good boot is very likely to be at the top of your list of most comfortable footware. I have / had some boots that are so comfy I typically wear them without socks at all.

          Now, Jerry seems to often buy previously owned custom boots. Those may be more likely to be less comfortable depending on how odd the original owners feet were.

          RE “break in” for boots. Supposedly in the old days people would step into the nearest watering trough, creak, pool, what have you, after donning a new pair of boots to thoroughly soak them, in order to facilitate the leather forming to their feet.

          • Lianne Byram
            Posted October 30, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

            Glad to know they’re so comfortable; that’s really important to me.

      • Xray
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Unless you’re a singing Hollywood “cowboy” .

      • µ
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        “Men NEVER tuck their pants into their boots”

        Did you really write that, Mr. iconoclast nonconformist?

        My son ALWAYS tucks his pants into his boots. He does it, I think, to walk the real walk, not only mean it. He grew up to be a man in Texas, now lives in Wisconsin. I visited there and I can tell you the women at his college are crazy about that walk. I am thinking, perhaps I should also tuck my pants into my boots.

      • Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        In Mexico (esp. outside the major urban centers), there is an unsavory side to this injunction. In places where attitudes of race, gender, and sexual orientation seem firmly rooted in the 50s, having your pants tucked into your boots is a sure sign of femininity — i.e. a male doing that is a sign of being a “maricon”. Stupid, I know.

      • David Duncan
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

        I agree tucking pants into leather boots looks naff, but what about ugg boots? Surely you’d make an exception for them.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 2, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        Men NEVER tuck their pants into their boots, so the tops (elaborate though they may be) are hidden when you’re standing up.

        depends on why you’re wearing boots :

        You’re wearing boots to keep nasty stuff you’re walking through away from your skin / clothing. I used to work deep in Guinea pig shit (and piss) and still work with drilling muds that will peel your skin. You tuck your pants into your boots, to stop the nasties from contacting the fabric and wicking it onto your skin.
        You’re wearing boots because the nasty liquid is raining down on you from on high (e.g. rain, in superabundance). You have the waterproof pants over the top of your boots to guide the fluid to ground without touching anything not waterproof.
        For sartorial elegance, wear shorts or a kilt and show the whole lot off. (Note that Scots have a very traditional answer to “what if it’s snowing?” ; you did mention that this is about men’s dressing habits.)

        You’ve never mentioned, but I am assuming that you keep your boots in a good state of waterproofness? There are some very good, very leather-friendly concoctions that do an excellent job. My uncle, when he manufactured leather, gave a general guide if you’re not familiar with local products : take the concoction that has the most unpleasant-sounding components. Calves’ foot jelly is particularly good. You probably don’t want to know what tanners put in their pits, but numerous towns banned them from working within the walls because of the smell.

  23. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    and the universal fear of flying induced by terrorism.

    Not true. My fear of flying is induced by seventeen inch wide seats.

    • Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      The seats are bad. The gate rape is worse.

      It’s a real shame, too. I love flying. Dad was a commercial pilot (light aircraft) for many years and a flight instructor at a different time for about as many years.

      General aviation is far too expensive, and the airline “experience” is horrific. That, and it’s actually no longer significantly faster to fly from Phoenix to LA than it is to drive, and even as far away as San Francisco or Denver you don’t gain all that much by flying — certainly nowhere near enough to justify the substantial expense and the limits on what you can take with you.

      b&

    • Kevin
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Egregiously expensive. I recall that after 911, many flights became ridiculously cheap for several months. How can we have those prices back without the terror?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 2, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      Similarly not true : my fear of flying is induced by my fear of falling out of the sky, crashing to the ground and dieing. (Sea is as effect as ground in this respect.)
      I’ve not been in a plane crash yet, but for the first 20 years of my career I was clocking up a serious flying incident every 4 or 5 years (engine failure while out at sea ; gearbox leaking oil into the passenger cabin ; trying to fly into the side of the rig in a fog bank ; engine failure during landing ; another gearbox “shittin’ it’s breeks” as they say in Scotland (while not taking your flying suit off and disappearing to the shower block with a bag of clean clothes). But it does nothing to diminish the expectation that the next time you take off or land, could be THE TIME.
      Actually, over the last decade, I’ve managed to avoid major in-flight incidents completely (plenty of “we’re not flying” incidents though. Grrr!) while the incident rate has been increasing slightly. (For Super Pumas, the work horse of my workhorse region ; 28 dead in the last half-decade, if I remember the numbers correctly.) But somehow, I still approach every flight as if this could be THE TIME.
      I understand Ben’s annoyance at being introduced to “gate rape”. But we’ve been putting up with it for over 30 years. Sensible precautions to counter terrorist threats have been part of British public life since the IRA got busy in the early 1970s ; the rest of Europe got more-or-less used to such things through the same time period because of the Palestinians, Baader-Meinhoff/ RAF, ETA, OAS, (the Greeks had some dangerous nutters too, but their PR obviously wasn’t as effective as the list above). The laissez-faire attitude to in-flight security in the States was an anomaly. For which you paid a price of about 1 x Troubles in one day. And there has been hysterical over-reaction since. Which slowly seems to be winding back, I hear?

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 2, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        “Which slowly seems to be winding back, I hear?”

        Not in any meaningful sense.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 3, 2013 at 4:23 am | Permalink

          Are they still bringing in more new restrictions every few months? If not, then it’s a deceleration, if not actually a reversal.
          I’m trying to remember the units for the second derivative of paranoia w.r.t time. Is it the milli-McCarty or the micro-McCarthy?

  24. Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    “When I was a kid I’d just get on my bike and ride away from home for hours, or go long distances to play and meet friends. That doesn’t happen any more, and yet the incidence of violence to children, and kidnapping, is much lower now than when I was young.

    Perhaps there’s some causation in there?

    • Lynn Austin (Ottawa)
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      As someone who worked in the area of sharing knowledge on violence prevention for 20+ years, it concerns me that many parents are worried about the wrong things. A child is much more likely to be hurt by someone known to them than a stranger. Educating children on what is acceptable behaviour and what they should be concerned about is more effective than trying to protect them from everything.

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it’s like focusing a lot of attention on the risk of mountain lion attacks and not teaching kids anything about the risks dogs can pose. Not that they should be afraid of dogs either, but just that they are vastly more likely to be harmed by a dog and are better served to be taught about that risk than wasting their time with mountain lion stories.

    • Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      perhaps, but I think point is that it’s claimed/perceived that violence is “higher” now against children when they are cloistered than when they ran free.

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Definitely. There was a moral panic about such things that swept the US a couple of decades ago an it affected not only the reporting, turning every local outlier case into a national news story, but also the portrayal in fiction an other parts of culture (e.g. SVU). Because we’ve had the story presented to us so vividly and so often, it is very easy to imagine your kid being snatched as he walks home from school. This salience feeds directly into the fear response an makes it hard for even parents who intellectually know better to override their feelings.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          an -> and (my ‘d’ key is failing… need a new keyboard).

      • Lynn Austin (Ottawa)
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        I agree that the perception of violence is higher now and because of it children are more cloistered even though in reality the stats are down. My point is the reality is quite different that the perception. However, violence against children is better reported these days, that with the “stranger danger” campaign of the 1980’s, and (as mentioned) the influence of the media in which one hears about every gory occurence and not necessarily with acurate detail, these are all skewing the perceptions.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

          Or….that they never get exercise because their parents drive them everywhere thinking that they will be kidnapped on the way to school. I’ve heard that there are a lot of accidents at schools because of parents being in a rush dropping kids off…I avoid driving by schools like the plague.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      I wonder about that too.

      A big difference these days is the number of two-working-parents families. When I was a kid there were usually quite a few mothers at home on any street. Nowadays some neighborhoods are like ghost towns in the daytime. We’ve sorta lost that community-looking-out-for-you thing, not to mention the potential safe-house thing. I’d say that was a factor in how ‘protective’ I was with my kids…They actually had a ton of freedom, though.

      Additionally, a lot of kids are no longer that interested in leaving the house these days, electronic entertainment being what it is.

  25. Notagod
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Sorry to see you missed the can of Applewood Smoked Bacon baked beans that was on last night’s menu – one course feeds all. :)

    Thanks for the report, it looks to have been a wonderful evening.

  26. Lynn Austin (Ottawa)
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I just want to say I really enjoyed all aspects of this post. The Pinker book is sitting next to my chair at home (only a few chapters read at this point), squash soup is a favorite, and although I don’t own any cowboy boots, I am willing to give them a try.

  27. Cliff Melick
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Guess I’ll have to join the religionists then, since I just got rid of my last 7 pairs of cowboy boots this past year. :-( Maybe the atheism in them will wear off on the person(s) who wears them next.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      It’s like a more amusing version of that Twilight Zone episode but instead of “dead man’s shoes” it would be “godless man’s boots”

  28. Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    love the boots. Any boot with a hard sole makes you walk like you mean it and I love that feeling. I find it personally much sexier to walk in those than walking in teetering high heels.

  29. Sastra
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I now proffer the suggestion that atheists adopt cowboy boots as their official footwear. It’s time to reclaim this unique American dress item from the rednecks, Republicans, goddies, and evolution-deniers who have monopolized them!

    Naw, we’ve already got atheist shoes.

    • boggy
      Posted October 31, 2013 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      Atheist shoes are made from the skin of the invisble pink unicorn.

  30. Celtic Atheist
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I’d love to hear what Steve had to say about free will.

    • Kevin
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      I agree. Pinker on free will…

    • Posted November 1, 2013 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      Me too!

  31. Ben
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Check out the excellent http://www.freerangekids.com blog. It chronicles the state of parental paranoia you’re talking about.

  32. Kurt Lewis Helf
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Steven Pinker is also a tremendous good sport. I saw him give a talk at the University of Chicago when his book ‘The Language of Thought’ came out. I remember asking a question regarding my (at that time) young children’s use of language; damned if I can remember the question or the answer though I’m sure both were impressive. The best part, though, was that when I asked him to sign the book I bought as an Xmas gift for my best friend “Merry Fucking Christmas”, since part of his lecture concerned cursing, he did it without hesitation!

  33. Robert Seidel
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    > and Steve claimed, in return, that he could never write stuff on a website as fast as I do

    I calculated that you wrote some 5000 normal bookpages in the last four years (at 300 words per page, with pasted quotes, pictures excluded). Really no reason to get an inferiority complex.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Impressed (and glad!) that you have taken the time to make that calculation.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, while driving home I, now 43, thought about how Steven Pinker wrote his book at 43. I congratulated myself that I wrote a “user story” for an agile project I’m working on. :) Yeah. I suck.

  34. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    It was the George and Marie Andros Lecture, a fancy endowed gig, and the Adroses (Androsi?)

    I’d go extra pretentious & say Androsoi as the os ending appears more Greek than Latin. :)

    Poor Pinker – you took so many candid shots of him!

    Love the food shots & the Kelly’s lovely illumination!

  35. Thanny
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I think most people who eschew flying have the same motive for doing so that I do: avoiding the TSA.

    I’ll also add that citing statistics for plane crashes versus automobile accidents is misleading. The latter is almost a proxy for measuring driving skill. If you’re a good driver, the accident rate does not describe your odds of getting into an accident when you’re behind the wheel. Likewise, if you’re a terrible driver, you are much more likely to be in an accident than the stats indicate. Short of a system of metrics describing driving ability matched to accident involvement, compared with your own measured ability, the statistics are essentially useless.

    With an airplane, however, you’re not in control of anything beyond which flight you board. I suspect those those who fear flying are influenced to a significant degree by the complete lack of influence they have on how events will play out – they’re not flying the plane or overseeing the maintenance.

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      I doubt you are correct about the reasons most people eschew flying. Having only anecdotes to relate, I’d nonetheless wager a lot that cost is the number one reason for flights-not-taken followed not terribly far behind with fear, and cumulative hassle would be a very very distant third.

      I think you’re correct that it’s hard to compare apples-to-apples with flying and driving, though you could probably get a pretty close proxy by considering only the subset of accidents that are difficult to prevent (rear end or blind-sided hits, say). Driving involves so many other unpredictable people that it seems inherently less subject to risk control than commercial air travel.

      The perception of control, whether or not the perception is accurate, is almost certainly a major aspect of the fear of flying. Chasing after the illusion of control is behind many things, from over-zealous attempts to have the perfect diet to, well, prayer.

  36. Leigh Jackson
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I agree. How the Mind Works is his best.

  37. Chris
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve not rad any of his books, but probably should.

    The only thing that I can add is that here in the UK about the only people who wear cowboy coots (apart from the Americana nuts who don’t really count) are rockers of a certain glam-ness who have 2 ways of doing it – the full glam which would be tight jeans/leather pants with boots worn on top, or the rocker of a certain age in “double denim” with jeans over the top.

    I can’t see them catching on to be honest!

    • Chris
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      *read

      *boots

      4/10, could do a lot better.

  38. Posted October 30, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    “apparently he doesn’t revise as anally as I do, as my prose for books and article isn’t readable until after a dozen revisions. . .”
    This is reminiscent of Karl Popper & B. Russell. When Popper visited Russell, he was amazed that Russell never, or rarely, revised anything he wrote; he did his revisions in his mind, before he wrote anything. But Popper, like JC, revised and revised and revised before publishing anything – which led to monumental conflicts with editors and publishers.

  39. Filippo
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    “I have to say that I am appalled at how closely parents monitor their kids these days.”

    Consider what is expected of a teacher with a classroom of 25-30 offspring of these parents. The North Carolina General Assembly has decreed that teachers have “in loco parentis” responsibility for their young charges, K-12. I reasonably assume that this responsibility obtains in not a few states. I assume that college professors do not have a similar responsibility.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 31, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Their is a major difference though. The vast majority of college students, even freshman, are legal adults, while the vast majority of K thru K-12 students are legal minors.

  40. David Duncan
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    ‘For Steve has taken to wearing cowboy boots, which he quite likes for their looks and the way they change your gait. (The cowboy boot expert Jennifer June says they make you “walk like you mean it”.) I was, of course, enormously pleased to see this, and showed Steve my own ostrich-belly boots, which he admired.’

    I’d like to wear cowboy boots but my feet are to broad to get in to them, and I’ve tried several times. I once got a pair of zip-up boots that fit, but fell apart after a few months. My boot maker recommended elastic sided boots, so that’s what I got. Took a while to get used walking on Cuban heels.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      Most unfortunately, boot heels are a deal breaker for some of us with low back issues. :(

      • David Duncan
        Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

        I agree they aren’t good for walking long distances – I use runners for that. But I like the look and not having to do up laces. :-)

        I’ve always been fascinated by high heel women’s shoes. I just can’t figure how women can walk in them without falling over a lot more than they do. A woman I worked with said she’s more stable walking in high heels than flats. Can’t figure that.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

          1. Oh, I love the look and convenience too!

          2. Practice, practice, practice. :D (Maybe it helps to have a lower center of gravity, too.)

          • David Duncan
            Posted October 31, 2013 at 2:29 am | Permalink

            When I started wearing boots with Cuban heels I lost my balance many many times. Only rarely did I fall right over but quite often managed to avoid a fall. Eventually I got used to them but I sill lose balance once every couple of months. And Cuban heels have vastly more surface area in contact with the ground than high heels. Mystifying.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 31, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

              Ha ha that’s the smallest heel I’d wear. It’s good to have a heel like that to absorb the pounding of walking. :) Once I was wearing wedge heels in sandals and wedges will trip you sometimes because the heel surface is narrow. I twisted my ankle while opening the door to work and fell almost completely down (wearing a skirt). Sadly, someone was there to witness it but I didn’t get hurt (the advantage to wobbly ankles – sometimes they hurt you (I have plantar fasciitis because of them) but sometimes they save you (they have a good range of twist before they are injured)).

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 2, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      I’d like to wear cowboy boots but my feet are to broad to get in to them, and I’ve tried several times.

      Without going the whole hog of getting made-to-measure (at least triple the price of decent mass-production footwear), you can certainly influence this by researching your manufacturers carefully. The style of cobbler’s last on which footwear is made influences the fit of the boot/ shoe a lot. (Made-to measure footwear starts with making a pair of lasts to suit your feet, and is a large chunk of the cost of your first M2M pair. You can re-use the lasts until … your feet change.) I don’t know the appropriate names in America, but in Britain, the lasts of Continental shoe designers in general are notoriously narrow. Of the small number of British boot/ shoe manufacturers still in business, ‘Brasher’ have moderately wide fitting (Chris Brasher was the pace setter for Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile ; he knew his boots & shoes ; I often forget I’m wearing mine, they’re that comfortable. And I take years to wear a pair out.). Though most of their manufacture is now done in China, the styling and last design are still done in Britain. If you like your feet in ‘Sasquatch’ fitting, Go to Wollaston and the DocMartens people. Horrible thug-like boots (blame the customers, not the manufacturer), but a really wide last.
      I don’t know which US-ian manufacturers or brands have equivalent reputations. But someone will be able to tell you. Buy some of their retail stuff, and see how you like them.

      I once got a pair of zip-up boots that fit, but fell apart after a few months.

      Just 5 minutes before I read this comment, I was saying to the rig’s Safety officer (we share an office) how I was surprised to quite like the zip-up work boots which we both used. Once you’ve got the lacing set correctly, on and off they come in a few seconds. Very important for people like us who are on deck / in office dozens of times a shift.
      Sorry, the manufacturer’s name has rubbed off both our pairs, but it would be a European manufacturer anyway. Good zip-up boots can last years, and are fine for quite substantial walking. Waterproofing is not their strong point. Of course.
      There are solutions out there, I’m sure.

  41. Posted October 31, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Dr. C. Thanks!

  42. Posted November 1, 2013 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    I would have greatly chafed at not being allowed to roam freely as a child.

    Aha! The compatibilist sense of ‘freely': you were allowed to roam where you wanted to roam.

  43. Larry Cook
    Posted November 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    For some reason I missed this when it was first posted. I know everyone has gone on to different subjects, but I still want to take the opportunity to comment on something that has bugged me for a long time. When I first became a parent 31 years ago, the statistics for missing children began to include children who were with one parent while the other was trying to get custody or had a custody complaint. As a result it seemed as though there were far more children who had been abducted by strangers than there really were. Missing kid’s photos began appearing on milk cartons and other places and there were even television commercials, or public service spots, about missing children – I remember some that ended with an empty swing still swinging, a very sad and lonely image. I spoke to other parents at the time and many of them were appalled by my attitude that the world was far safer for our kids than they thought and it wasn’t necessary to have your eye on your child for 60 seconds out of every minute. I would challenge anyone to name a case where a child was taken out of her own backyard by a complete stranger in the middle of the day. I know it has happened, but it’s extremely rare. Anyway, those who were kids back then are today the parents who are so worried about their children. I think my generation taught them to have a level of awareness that borders on paranoia and it’s stifling to their kids. I know about the horror a parent feels when their kid is missing because I’ve experienced it. I think many parents irrationally fear that something horrific will happen to their kid if they let their guard down for an instant. I’m not advocating allowing three year old children to roam the streets. I’m only pointing out what I think the reason might be for the over-protective attitude of a lot of parents. I think it’s sad because like Jerry Coyne, I too had a lot of freedom. Even though I grew up in a very busy suburb of NYC, by the time I was 8 or 9 I was allowed to ride my bike anywhere I wanted and sometimes I’d be gone for several hours without anyone worrying. I can’t stand the idea that many children now need their parents to be the entertainment committee. I thought it was fun to be told to go outside and play.


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