July 13, 2008

Worcester Humanists Outing with Matthew LaClair

Greater Worcester Humanists held its third annual summer outing at the UU Church on Holden Street yesterday. The weather was fine, the food was good, and the conversation was jocular and illuminating.

photo courtesy of the Secular Student AllianceThe main event on the afternoon's agenda was a presentation by young humanist activist Matthew LaClair of Kearney, NJ. Readers may recall that LaClair was a junior in high school when he crossed paths with American History teacher and Baptist minister David Paszkiewicz, a popular teacher and full-time preacher who used the classroom as his pulpit. LaClair played excerpts from the recordings he made of Paszkiewicz's lessons as well as his statements during a meeting between LaClair, Paszkiewicz, principal Alfred Somma and superintendent Robert Mooney. His story is quite compelling, particularly in light of the maneuverings that took place by religious elements in both the academic administration and the news media after the story broke. It was too windy yesterday to record LaClair's presentation, but a similar one is available for viewing at C. Moran's Blog on the GWH website. Some of the audio recorded by LaClair can also be heard by playing the following MP3. The beginning of it is a bit muffled, so be patient. The quality improves.


Matt spoke for nearly two hours, ultimately fielding every question that came from the audience of about 50 people. I remember when I was 18 and had that kind of stamina! Well, vaguely, anyhow. It was the first time I've heard LaClair speak and I was impressed by what I heard. He was articulate and thoughtful well beyond what I'm used to experiencing from people his age. Matthew will be starting college at The New School in New York this fall and plans to major in journalism.

The Worcester Telegram and Gazette covered LaClair's talk; there's an article in this morning's edition by Bronislaus Kush in this morning's edition. It's a bit strange, though. For example, the photo that accompanies the article is not from the presentation given yesterday; it appears to be a very bad job of photoshopping that was composited from several different photographs). Most of the quotes in the article aren't real quotes but a paraphrasing of what LaClair said. The first paragraph is inaccurate as far as I recall; LaClair never said that he took the class hoping to learn about "how the founding fathers, among other things, framed the U.S. Constitution to guarantee that the government would be free of religious influences." Nor did he ever say that he "...should have guessed that he might find Mr. Paszkiewicz's course objectionable." Ironically, it seems that the article in the T&G is another example of the same sort of media bias that LaClair talked about during his presentation. Where the bit about LaClair reporting that the history teacher claimed that there were dinosaurs aboard Noah's Ark came from is beyond me; LaClair never mentioned it and it wasn't in any of the audio or video that he used in his presentation. It's worth noting that Kush has written some biased and inaccurate article in the T&G before on the subject of religion; it's not the first time his byline has appeared in this blog (see Catholic Men's Conference in Worcester Gets an Earful of Anthropic Fine-Tuning for a previous instance of Kush's reporting).

I spoke with facilitator David Niose about the possibility of having Michael Dowd give a presentation to our group next spring. David hadn't had time to go over the material I'd sent him — understandable, considering the schedule he keeps — but the outcome of our talk was positive in terms of the possibility becoming a reality. The next step in that will be to run the information by the GWH steering committee, which I'll get to over the course of the coming week.

Interestingly, one of the topics of conversation that came up at our table was that of the now-infamous Magic Cracker Kidnapping Incident. I promise that I wasn't the one who introduced it; the subject was broached by a woman whose name tag read Anne if I'm recalling correctly (and I apologize if I'm getting that wrong). This led into a broader talk about religious ritual in general, particularly as it pertains to Catholicism and Judaism and how complicated it all is. As all of the discussion of the incident in which I've been involved over the past couple of days has been in the nebulous blogosphere, I found it interesting to hear the discussion that took place in meatspace where at least half of those involved were not bloggers. It doesn't seem to make a difference, though. Everyone was agreed that Bill Donohue is a distemperate buffoon as far as I could discern. Those who knew of the fellow held that opinion of him before this latest incident, though, so this isn't exactly a surprise.

Tycho came along to the outing as well and got on well with the Humanists despite his not being human himself. He got to sample some of the fruit salad that someone brought and seemed to enjoy all the attention he got. There was one little boy there who was particularly enthused about Tycho's presence, so after a couple of hours, when Tycho had tired of riding on my shoulder and wanted to go exploring, I let him run around on the grass. The little boy followed him around and was quite focused on his behavior. At least a dozen people were brave enough to make physical contact with Tycho and everyone wanted to know to where he was native, what he ate, etc. It was a big day for Tycho and by the time the outing ended at 4:00 PM, Tycho was exhausted. He fell asleep in the car on the way home and didn't wake up when I put him back in his cage. This morning, he woke up hyper and, I think, ready to go out and explore the world some more.

It was a quite enjoyable day overall, despite the announcement that the membership fee is being increased for next year. If I can scrape the money together, though, I'll become a paid member. There's no meeting for GWH in August; the next one is on September 9, which I'll have to miss as I won't be back from fieldwork in Florida until the day after. I guess I'll see the GWH people next in October, then, when there is going to be a special surprise speaker. Who? I don't know. If I did, it wouldn't be much of a surprise. At some point next year, though, we're going to have Michael Newdow address the group.

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