“Pah-tee with the Pinkah!”

The title above is how one friend reacted, using a mock Boston accent, when I mentioned that Steve Pinker will be lecturing on campus today, and I’ll be dining and quaffing with him afterwards.

If you’re on campus, or in the area, come by, as the lecture is free. (It’s in the room where I teach undergraduate evolution.) I suggest coming by early as it’s bound to be packed. As you see, he’ll be talking about his last book (not counting the new anthology), and the lectureship is an endowed and prestigious one:

Picture 6

There’s a dinner for a few of us Pinker groupies thereafter. And then, I’m told, Pinkah and I will retire somewhere to have a quiet libation, and I’ll hit him up to sign the copy of WEIT that was signed by many luminaries at the Moving Naturalism Forward conference. That copy, which you can see here, has now been illustrated and illuminated by artist Kelly Houle (“The Illuminated Origin”), so it’s a gorgeous book.  Kelly and I will be putting it on eBay for auction soon, and the proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders.  I’ll try to get a few more signatures of atheists and naturalists; if I can get Sam Harris’s, it will contain all three living Horsepersons, as well as a Nobel Laureate (Steve Weinberg), and other notable heathens.


Pah-tee on!


  1. Merilee
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Sounds great! What is that strange object to Pinkah’s left?

    • gbjames
      Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      It looks like Guinness.

      • Dominic
        Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Murphy’s is nicer I think! 😉

      • Sarah
        Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        No, the black and white object that looks like a panda wearing a mortarboard. Assuming it is not a panda wearing a small mortarboard.

        • gbjames
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          Wait… isn’t a Guinness a “black and white object”?

          (What it looks like varies depending on how many you’ve had!)

        • Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

          I think that is Professor Steve Steve, the famous panda

          • Merilee
            Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

            How have I lived this long without hearing of Prof Steve Steve?? Some minor googling brought up photos of The panda with not only our very own Prof Jerry, but also a Jimmy Carter.

  2. Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Sounds like it should be a blast!

    One thing I’d appreciate The Pinkah’s perspective on, and that’s the rapid erosion of civil liberties after 9/11, culminating in the recent revelations that the NSA is spying on everybody, including foreign heads of state. (And, if they’re spying on Merkel, that means they’re also spying on US politicians and candidates, and can therefore be assumed to have an iron grip on power.)

    How does he see this resolving? Is this just another setback like any other? Or is the NSA’s grip on power unlike any other?



    • Dominic
      Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      He is a very good speaker – I heard him at the Royal Institution last year when the book came out.

      But regarding spying, Merkel et al acted as if they were surprised – surely they were not?!

      • Paul S
        Posted October 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        I have no doubt that Merkel was surprised, not that the spying occurred, but that now everyone knows that it happens, how easy it is and the extent of the information available. To assume that the US has greater spying technology than other nations or that governments don’t spy on other nations as well as their own citizens is I think, a bit naive.

      • Posted October 29, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        I think Merkel was surprised that she personally had been targeted. That sort of thing really is above and beyond the pale.

        I think she might have also been surprised at the scale of American operations in Germany. In other eras, that type of dragnet would have been considered an act of war, and the response would have been military and no-holds-barred. Or, it’s the sort of thing that an empire would have done to one of its subject nations, and risked revolt in response.


        • mordacious1
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

          It’s not beyond the pale and if she thinks she is somehow immune, she’s very naive. German intelligence officials have told her not to use unsecured communications, she didn’t listen and now she’s shocked, OMG! The Vice Chancellor said that he just assumed that everything was tapped…smart guy.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

          Either way a bunch of us are going to be in trouble because of Five Eyes which sounds like the name of a disabled spider.

          I think Canadian politicians are hoping no one asks them anything.

          • Posted October 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

            Yeah…’cept, this time ’round, I think all of the “But everybody else does it too!” cries are falling on deaf ears.

            …and, again. What really scares the shit out of me is the fact that the NSA clearly wiretaps all US politicians. Meaning they can blackmail any of them as they wish, or they can do a Watergate to ensure the ones they want get elected. And they also tap corporations, and can do insider trading like nobody’s business. And we already know that they have no objection to such abuses of power; just look at all the operatives who spied on their girlfriends but who never suffered any consequences.

            This is a watershed moment. The status quo will change. If we’re lucky, it’ll end with the dismantling of the surveillance state. More likely, they’ll somehow consolidate their power and be more open about it. If that happens…damn, that would get fucking ugly.


            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

              Agreed. You aren’t supposed to spy on your allies….unless I guess you’re Michelle Bachman who’s okay with it. But, the Five Eye thing incriminates everyone in the Five Eye club because theoretically they would have been in on what the US was doing and may have taken part in the information gathering.

            • mordacious1
              Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

              “What really scares the shit out of me is the fact that the NSA clearly wiretaps all US politicians.”

              Um…no they don’t.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:21 am | Permalink

                Proof, please?

              • mordacious1
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 2:41 am | Permalink

                Prove that they do…

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

                In Snowden’s own words:

                Any analyst at any time can target anyone. … Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone: From you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email.

                Sourced from here:


                but you can find all sorts of hits, including even, I’m pretty sure, video of him saying it.

                Anybody they want, at any time, with no restrictions of any substance, all the way up to and including the President.

                Note that they likely don’t have somebody actively listening in in real-time…but they’re recording all of this, and those recordings are searchable.



              • mordacious1
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                NSA Director:
                “False,” Alexander said, when answering a question from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) about Snowden’s claim. “I know of no way to do that.”
                Keystone mines data. If you said: I’m going to get bombed at the White House, then your statement would go in the database because you said bomb and white house. An analyst may decide whether that statement is important. Snowden cannot say, “Today, I’m going to tap Obama’s phone”. He did not have that ability. Snowden suffers from self-importance-inflation and he’s a liar.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

                Alexander has repeatedly perjured himself before Congress, and has repeatedly after-the-fact admitted that he’s used weasel wording in Congressional testimony that actually stated the exact opposite of what he knew was truth.

                Every single one of Snowden’s claims, on the other hand, have been validated — and by the administration itself, no less.


              • mordacious1
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

                Do you really think that some analyst sitting at his desk somewhere can tap Obama’s phone? It can’t happen. Not that some agencies don’t have that ability, just not at Snowden’s level and Keystone isn’t set up to work that way. They’d have to have the phone ID # for one thing, before they could tap it. Once, btw, it gets to the level of tapping individual phones, warrants are secured.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

                Do you really think that some analyst sitting at his desk somewhere can just walk off with all the documents that Snowden did, including ones describing that they can do exactly what you’re so sure couldn’t have been done?

                And we’re waaaaaaaay past the point of the NSA even pretending to bother with warrants. They’re now even trying to get their warrantless wiretapping used as evidence in drug trials, and they’ve long since been tipping off federal and local law enforcement whenever they “just happen” to overhear something domestic in their search for tear-assists, after which the “regular” police then go out and build “clean” trails of evidence.

                If you think that politicians and business leaders are somehow magically immune from that kind of dragnet, I’ve got some prime Arizona oceanfront property for sale….


    • mordacious1
      Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Ask Merkel if the BND has ever tapped any foreign leader’s phone…

      • Merilee
        Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Good point. I think that everyone’s always been spying on everyone else and I am much less concerned about this than many other things going on in the world.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          I reject that claim based solely on the incompetence of our small country’s intelligence service aka PET. A couple years back we had a major scandal when some of their employees were trying to affect politics by translating and leaking parts of a danish book about our special forces. PET claimed that the book would jeopardize the safety of our military forces in action if it was translated to arabic and read by Islamist extremists.

          They used google translate.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted October 29, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

            Argh, my bad. It wasn’t the PET it was the danish military intelligence service.

        • FiveGreenLeafs
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          “When the White House met with Brazil’s justice minister regarding the revelations that the United States had listened in on that country’s president as well as on some of its leading businesses — like national oil company Petrobras — and responded with the “everybody spies” line, the Brazilian said: “We don’t.””

          If you believe that every country in the world hacks (or tries to) into foreign nationals and country leaders phones/electronic accounts, or are setting up Quantum/FoxAcid server systems (as reported by Bruce Schneier from Snowdens documents) for automatic exploitation on a truly massiv scale globally, I think you are seriously wrong.

          What we lose is among other thing, “social capital” in the form of “trust”, which basically is the cement that bounds societies together, and I find this quite alarming.

          If you want to see what can happen to a society that has low levels, (or that runs out of societal trust), look at for example Somalia!

          The thing with trust is also that you hardly notice it so long as it is there, it is often only when it is gone, that its importance is truly recognized.

      • Posted October 29, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        I actually don’t think they have. That’s the sort of thing that, if discovered (as it has been) causes major diplomatic incidents, with an almost ironclad guarantee of a deep chill in trade relations and a nontrivial risk of military response.

        The US could very easily wind up substantially cut off from Europe as a result of NSA operations. Japan and India as well. If that happens…economically, we’re fucked.

        At the very least, American Internet and telecommunications companies will, very soon, no longer be global in scope. Nobody — and I mean nobody trusts Google not to hand everything over to the NSA, and for the NSA to then turn around and use that as leverage against competitors or what-not.

        I honestly don’t see a way out of this that preserves even a semblance of America’s former economic dominance. The NSA has shot the country at least in the foot, maybe even in the chest. We’re big enough that we’re only just now starting to feel the hints of the pain to come from this self-inflicted wound.


        • mordacious1
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

          If it results in Europe having to defend itself without us, I wish them well. Time to divert some of that social welfare spending into national defense spending. I think Merkel is blowing hot air, she knows the consequences of a trade war with the US. She won’t go there.

          • Posted October 29, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

            Defend themselves without us against whom? Us?

            The Russians aren’t going to attack Europe; Britain and France have several hundred nukes between them, and they’re not going to let the Russians start doing what Hitler did. China’s not going to attack Europe, either; they’d have to go through Russia.

            That leaves the United States. And, frankly, I don’t lose sleep over that sort of thing; it’s just not worth it.

            And the EU is substantially bigger economically than the States these days. We’ve outsourced so much, and the EU has kept growing. The ones who, if brains prevail, won’t dare get into a trade war are the Americans.

            Remember, it’s not just Germany who we’ve been fucking over. And it’s not just our lap-bitch Britain, either. It’s the entire continent. Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the oil-rich Nordic countries…hell, if it comes to that, even Russia would join with the rest of the Europeans, and likely Japan as well. India, too. China probably wouldn’t cut us off, but they’d absolutely make us pay.

            And it’s a shame. We had it made, we really did…and then we fucked it all up, and Humpty Dumpty will never be made whole again.

            Ah, well. At least I’ve paid off my mortgage. I hope that plus some decent savings plus minimal living expenses will be enough to keep me and Baihu out of the worse of what’s to come….



            • mordacious1
              Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

              The EU couldn’t fight its way out of a wet paper bag with a claw hammer. It’s not Europe that will be directly threatened, it’s their oil sources. Right now, we shoulder the burden of defending that region (or at least the elite who own the oil) but we actually receive very little oil from there.

              Merkel will not go to the mat over this, I guarantee it (unless she’s a complete idiot, which she’s not). She’s just going to huff and puff and throw red meat to the masses…then it will blow over.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

                Again, defend against whom?

                If the Saudis or the Brazilians or whomever stopped selling oil to Europe, the sellers would be slitting their own throats. The only nation likely to conquer any of them would be the US (as we’ve repeatedly already done with others such as in Iraq). And, besides, anything that threatens European oil supplies threatens US oil supplies, so the US is going to get involved anyway.

                So, once again, unless the suggestion is that the US is going to use direct military action against the EU or their interests…who is the EU’s military threat you’re referring to?


              • mordacious1
                Posted October 30, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                There are many groups that would love to disrupt oil supplies to the West (Al-Qaeda for one). The US, since WWII, actively works so that doesn’t happen. We don’t actually get much oil from the ME (Saudi Arabia producing what we do get), so it doesn’t affect us directly, but it does affect the world supply. The EU does not have the capability at this time to ensure stability in the ME. Only the US has this ability and Merkel knows this. Remember the Camp David Accords which helped ensure relative peace in the region? I didn’t see Germany sitting at the table.

              • Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

                Erm…you do know, do you not, that the US has far and away been the most disruptive force in the middle east? We installed Hussein. We created Al Qaeda and trained bin Laden. We propped up Shah Pahlavi. We deal in arms to everybody. All we do is meddle, meddle, meddle, and then, when the blowback inevitably comes, we use that as justification to invade and kill civilians by the hundreds of thousands.

                As you note, oil is fungible. Whoever’s drilling it will sell to the highest bidder.

                And, you might not have noticed, but even the Saudis are having trouble keeping up with demand; their reserves have peaked. There’s not enough oil left in the region to be worth fighting over; you’d burn more oil in your tanks and jets and generators than you’d marginally secure.

                Plus, Europe is much less dependent on oil than you seem to think. France’s electricity generation is almost entirely nuclear, and Germany’s is a quarter or so green (solar and wind). A substantial portion of the remainder comes from Russian natural gas. And the region as a whole is far less dependent on the automobile than the US; they have public transit, rail, and, in many places, bicycles.

                Oil is important to Europe, yes. But nowhere near as important as it is to the US, and anything the US does in its own interests, short of actively embargoing Europe, will benefit Europe as well. Assuming anything the US does is actually of benefit….


            • FiveGreenLeafs
              Posted October 30, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

              @Ben Goren

              I fully agree with you, but I just thought I could add some info in regard to your argument below rel energy consumption/oil dependence in Europe for the Scandinavian Countries…

              Renewables part of the Primary Energy Supply, (Nordic Countries approx values)

              Iceland 85%
              Sweden 43%
              Norway 45%
              Finland 25%
              Denmark 20%

              Renewables in power production (electricity, approx values)

              Iceland 100% (Hydro+Geo)
              Sweden 52% (Hydro)
              Norway 98% (Hydro)
              Finland 25% (Hydro+Bio)
              Denmark 30% (wind+Bio)

              And for example Sweden has an ongoing plan to reduce (phase out) remaining oil (fossil) energy with approx 50% by 2020

              • Posted October 31, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                Thanks for that. It stands in stark contrast with the US.

                Indeed, I’ve got my roof covered with solar panels and I’m generating half again as much electricity as I use, with the intention of getting an electric vehicle of some sort within the next couple years. But one of the utilities (not mine) is petitioning the Corporation Commission to dramatically restructure rate schedules for solar customers in such a way that would shift most of the cost savings and profits away from the customers and to the utilities, leaving no financial reason to have solar and a huge windfall profit for the utility. If the Commission approves the request, I’ll be getting bids for battery storage systems, and I’ll pull the trigger the instant my own utility follows suit.

                …and people wonder why we’re so dependent on fossil fuels and the chaotic parts of the world where they’re extracted from….


  3. David Duncan
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “…I’ll be dining and quaffing with him afterwards.”

    Pictures and menus please, or it didn’t happen. 🙂

  4. Kurt Lewis Helf
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Jealous! Have fun!

  5. Merilee
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Me, too. I’ve heard Pinker speak in Toronto and read 3 or 4 of his books. Great speaker!

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I subconsciously read “quaffing” as “coiffing” when I saw it was Steven Pinker 🙂

    My favourite lecture of Steven Pinker’s is the one online where he talks about swear words, not only because I find the way people swear interesting and telling of the culture but also because he taught me a new one involving a cow; a friend of mine tries to find ways to use it but it’s too sweary for most situations.

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      I misread it as a different word, which caused me to do a double-take and then laugh out loud. I have a twelve year old boy’s sense of humor.

    • Merilee
      Posted October 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      That swear word lecture was the one I heard in Toronto! I’ll have to try to remember the cow joke Joe…

    • Posted October 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      You do realize, of course, that you now must divulge all the gory details?

      Here — let me help you get in the mood.



      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        Ha ha! Check out the link I added in my response to #7 below. 🙂

  7. Merilee
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Not sure why my iPad added the Joe after joke….
    Diana, can you give me a hint about the cow joke?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I wondered about the “joe” too. 🙂 The cow swear is from here, appears around 5:10-5:42, is very alliterative & hasn’t been used since 1585. Enjoy!

      • Posted October 29, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        Oh, my!

        It’s well worth watching the whole lecture, both parts one and two.

        Thanks for the link!


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, it’s a good lecture for sure!

      • Merilee
        Posted October 29, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Diana. Now I remember:-). This is pretty much the lecture i heard ( but with a less brilliant tie).

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 29, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

          🙂 Now go find reasons to use the swear!

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

            We’re about to begin a 3000 km drive home tomorrow so I’m sure there will be some driver along the way deserving of “the cow swear”:-)

  8. Diane G.
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 1:18 am | Permalink


  9. Bern N.
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    Why is everyone doing New England accents for Steven Pinker? He’s from Montreal.

  10. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted November 2, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    all three living Horsepersons,

    That calls for a tee-shirt, if ever an image did.
    Artists? Man (or woman) your pencils!

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