Saturday, February 13, 2010

The cold truth about PZ Myers

Not exactly TMZ on PZ

While on tour in the Golden State, PZ Myers was resilient enough despite minor jet-lag to hoist a few brews after his talks. Smiting ignorance and prejudice can be dry work.

I tagged along to two of the post-presentation chat sessions. The chosen venue after the Sacramento City College talk was the Fox & Goose, which bills itself as a “public house” in the British style. (That's right: a “pub.”) It was a slow evening when we dropped in. PZ and a dozen other people gathered around some shoved-together tables and kicked back for some casual conversation. (No, we did not array ourselves in the manner of Da Vinci's “Last Supper.”)

During the course of that colloquy, PZ off-handedly made two shocking revelations. The first was his youthful rebellion against his father's carefully mapped-out plans for PZ's life. PZ, you see, was destined to be a ... refrigerator repairman.

You can easily imagine his father's horror when PZ threw it all over in favor of going to college. Even worse, PZ became a hardcore academic, ending up as a tenured professor. While it seems that his family eventually became reconciled to PZ's academic bent, his father never quite understood why PZ tossed over a sure thing like major appliance repair for the uncertainties of university life. Instead of associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, PZ could have been Refrigerator Repairman—but it was not to be.

All habitu├ęs of Pharyngula know that PZ is a prodigious writer (except, perhaps, for the book he is always supposedly finishing up). It's not surprising to learn that he is also a prodigious reader. Of course, we know this because we see his reading as the grist for his blog's mill. However, there's more to it than that. PZ is a big fan of science fiction author Iain M. Banks. In fact, he's also a big fan of Iain Banks, this latter being the name that Banks uses for his non-sf novels.

I lean toward the Culture novels myself, my favorite Banks work being The Player of Games, one of the few books I have read multiple times. PZ expressed a fondness for the semi-notorious Wasp Factory and its sociopathic protagonist. My Simon & Schuster paperback copy of The Wasp Factory includes on its back cover such paeans as “One of the top 100 novels of the century” and such slams as “A literary equivalent of the nastiest brand of juvenile delinquent.” I rather admire the cheekiness of running negative comments among the usual positive blurbs.

(Shocking revelation of my own: My copy of The Wasp Factory is brand new. Despite an assiduous search through my bookcases, I find no trace of the white-covered edition I see so clearly in my mind. And paging through the new copy leaves me befuddled, since the story seems only vaguely familiar. Have I forgotten it or have I never read it? Both are hard to believe. The book is now on my “read soon” stack and I'll see whether Frank's nefarious adventures ring a bell.)

PZ and I were not the only Banks fans present. One of the other attendees offered his opinion that Banks wrote scenes that were impossible to turn into movies. (An attempt to turn The Player of Games into a film foundered several years ago.) PZ disagreed. He suggested that the scene with the Eaters in Consider Phlebas would make for a very nice horror movie.

He's probably right, but you wouldn't want to be munching popcorn during that episode (“we are the Eaters, the Eaters of ashes, the Eaters of filth”).

The venue for the post-talk gathering after PZ's Sierra College presentation was BJ's Restaurant & Brewery in Roseville. The contrast with the Fox & Goose was dramatic. BJ's was crowded with patrons and PZ was accompanied by a much larger entourage. Long tables were pushed together to make enough space for the dozens of people in the party.

I got to sit close enough to PZ where I was able to get his autograph (like the geeky fanboy that I am). He observed that we carried closely matched Moleskine pocket notebooks, including the same quadrille rule (no mere lined paper for us science types!). He also complimented me on having neater handwriting than his, but PZ also pointed out that he takes notes in multiple colors and has a Moleskine customized with the Seed Media Group logo. Point to PZ.

I was suitably abashed, of course.

Creationist Robert O'Brien eventually showed up and was wedged into a tight space next to a cadre of Sierra College students. He got to hear them explain to me how Sierra College differed from the neighboring American River College. The recently ousted right-wing ARC student government had campaigned with a strong anti-gay plank in its platform, pandering to the homophobia of its Slavic immigrant base. The candidates ran a fearmongering campaign that claimed that militant gay activists were trying to take over the student government.

“At Sierra College,” said one of the students, “that's exactly what we did!”

I congratulated them on realizing the worst fears of the local bloc of right-wing, anti-gay, creationist extremists.

The anti-gay O'Brien did look a little uncomfortable, although I have to give him credit for a good poker face.

PZ's phone rang later in the evening. He saw that it was the Trophy WifeTM and dutifully said he had to take the call. After he chatted with her about his connections for his trip to the United Kingdom, PZ's companions all yelled out a greeting to his distant spouse.

We were heard in Minnesota.

24 comments:

llewelly said...

Zeno, thanks so much for your hard work tracking the conspiracy to DENY GOD, burn bibles, and lead good Christians away from GOD'S TRUTH. It's vital that we know what evil deeds these foul militant hooligans are plotting.


May the LORD be with you.

jrberg said...

Wow - I've actually eaten at that BJ's in Roseville, and now it's been blessed by PZ. I am not worthy...

andy said...

heh. nice to hear that PZ's an Iain M Banks fan...

melior said...

I loved The Wasp Factory too and also remember chuckling at the juxtaposed review comments on the back cover, especially one of the fuddy-duddy know-nothing British literary critics whose quote was the single word, "Rubbish!"

UDO said...

Player of Games was AMAZING.

(x100)

DuckPhup said...

I couldn't help but notice David Weber in your reading list, in the side-bar. Great stories, those. Horatio Hornblower... with tits... in outer space.

Laurie said...

I was sitting on PZ's right at BJ's. I'm still not sure how that happened. I just become pushy after half a Long Island iced tea, I guess. I really wish I'd remembered my camera...

Guardian of the Poll said...

PZ Myers also goes around and convinces his worshippers to fornicate polls and mess them up. He would have been better off being refridgerator repairman instead of a poll fornicator.

Zeno said...

You raise an interesting point, Guardian of the Poll. I believe that there's more job security as a refrigerator repairman than in most other occupations. Surely there can't be much call for your services as a "poll guardian" since you clearly have not had much success in protecting all those meaningless on-line polls that PZ and his dutiful minions have cheerfully diddled. Have you considered a career in large appliance repair? Or perhaps dog walking. (You could clean up!)

Guardian of the Poll said...

I work with electronics. I have done some good with correcting PZ Myers' poll fornication process. I have single handedly corrected the Elections Meter evolution/creation poll that the poll fornicators messed up a few months ago.

What's better, is I would love to see someone put a fresh turd in his desk drawer only to have him find it first thing Monday morning. If he gripes about it, we'll just say the turd evolves from nothing.

Zeno are you a turd peeker?

Proving evolution is like going on a turd hunt.

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=turd%20hunt

Guardian of the Poll said...

I think PZ Myers is secretly a turd pilot when he's not practicing making stuff up (evolution).

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=turd%20pilot

Turd Pilot maybe. Poll fornicator definitely.

MikeyM said...

Don't refrigerators violate the second law of thermodynamics?

Anonymous said...

Only if their closed.

KeithB

Anonymous said...

Ahh! should be they are closed.

mythusmage said...

Some have asked, nay demanded, that PZ try enforcing a little civility in his comment threads. After Guardian of the Poll's blatherings I have to wonder why PZ doesn't go around in a motorized chair armed with M60 and a white persian cat in his lap. Professor Myers self announced goal to render extinct the species Homo annoyus deus.

I do have one small request the ask of PZ Myers; could you please remember that not everybody who disagrees with you is automatically your enemy, and that you don't know everything yourself.

doctorcrankenstein said...

Jesus. Gossip of the academic world sure is strange. You seriously had nothing better to write about than overhearing PZ at the bar?

Zeno said...

You seriously had nothing better to comment about than a small gossip post on an obscure blog?

doctorcrankenstein said...

Playing the ol' answer a question with a question game I see...

mythusmage said...

Waste my time commenting on this blog? It's my time to waste.

Zeno said...

Your time to waste? Of course, mythusmage. I never said otherwise. Waste away! You might, however, consider that your "one small request" to PZ Myers is misplaced. He has a blog where you can address him directly. I doubt he wastes much of his time perusing the comments on my blog when he has so many on his own site.

mythusmage said...

Zeno,

There are profitable time wasters, and unprofitable time wasters. Sad to say, but there are those in the Pharyngula community who render commenting in the threads there an unprofitable waste of time. For they are not interested in actually having a discussion, but in belittling their opponents.

For they have convinced themselves that everybody who disagrees with them are some vile species of bloviating procrastinator, fit only for derision. They are just as capable of disregarding evidence, when it contradicts what they believe.

"Quotes from Genesis?" you may ask. No, physical evidence; sometimes photographic evidence, but evidence that could be verified but which certain parties would rather dismiss out of hand.

I just don't see things as others do. I've learned that there is something wrong with me, a miswiring in my brain that probably developed in-utero. In other words, I have an ASD, possibly Aspergers. So I see things others miss, and miss things others see. I cannot see how my feelings are supposed to trump what the world tells me, but apparently there are a number at Pharyngula who have no trouble there, and this I'm afraid to say includes Professor PZ Myers.

So why don't I comment at Pharyngula? Because I'm tired of the abuse. I'm tired of being treated as the enemy. I'm tired of being treated as a denialist; a creationist or 9/11 Truther. I have problems, and it's possible I could be wrong, but please don't lump me in with woo addicts and lying bastards.

TMI? You asked, I answered. You really didn't want to know you shouldn't have asked.

Zeno said...

I don't see that I actually asked a question, mythusmage, but thank you for your response.

Shane said...

Went to two of PZ's lectures during his California tour, one toward the beginning at Davis and the other at Sierra which was his last stop. He looked noticeably exhausted which made for an entirely different presentation. Got to have a few drinks with PZ and Zeno after the Sierra event which made for an interesting night, most notably notebook one-up-manship.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, my experience of Professor Myers has been somewhat different. Just a message to him: You can't threaten me.

Becky