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Live Swifting TAM: A Fiendish Pace, The Perils of Success, Vegas U-Turns, Love and Marriage, Shermer/Savage/Lancaster, a Panel, Randi’s Crazy Stamina, and Penn’s Terrifying Ethics PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Brandon K. Thorp   

 

It’s shortly after 4:00 p.m. Phil Plait is either speaking in the conference room or just finishing up, and I’m missing it to type this. I feel bad, but that’s the way it goes here—you can’t take a bathroom break without missing something.

 

TAM is a pretty remarkable thing. We were ready for record-breaking numbers we were perfectly prepared accommodate 1,000 TAMmers this year but we passed that once-unimaginable benchmark a long time ago. The registration desk ran out of badges yesterday and I got lost in Vegas trying to find more. (Random educational aside: it is possible to traverse the entire Las Vegas strip, south to north, without once finding an opportunity to take a legal U-turn.) Some notes:

 

Things happened fast in the conference room this morning. Skeptics’ Guide to The Universe was taken over by the wedding ceremony of Rebecca Watson and Sid Rodrigues. It was a lovely and heartfelt ceremony, moving both because of the couple’s obvious love and because they’d chosen TAM, of all places, as their venue. That says something, I think about the strength of the bonds that can be forged or reinforced here, and about the seriousness of this movement’s membership.

— Immediately after, the wedding party had to retire to the hallway to clear the area for Michael Shermer. Shermer’s smart, wry lecture included the use of the word “Dumbfuckistan” and set out to explain how critical thinking can do more than ruin the careers of “psychics.” It can teach us to deal compassionately and intelligently with those of differing political persuasions, or provide a strong foundation on which to build a moral code. It’s likely that most of those present knew this already, but it’s the kind of thing that can’t be said enough. If critical thinking doesn’t turn us into awesome human beings, what’s the point?

— Shermer was followed by Adam Savage, who gave a personal, funny, and deeply affecting talk on . . . Adam Savage. Good thing he’s an interesting guy.

— Savage was followed by a panel discussion led by DJ Grothe, and including Jamy Ian Swiss, Ray Hyman, Penn, Teller, and, later, Randi. Some things you may have learned at the panel: skeptical magicians do not love it when mentalists claim to achieve their effects through profound psychological insight without at least mentioning at some point that it’s all a schtick; Uri Geller is extremely unpopular; and lying is only almost always wrong. Randi told a story about assuring his dying, 90-something granddad that, yes, of course he’d meet his deceased wife in the hereafter. And why not?

— As you learned from Randi’s Welcoming Address, he’s recovering from some pretty nasty surgery. Crazily, this was apparent only last Thursday, when he arrived at the TAM gala reception in a wheelchair. Friday he spent most of his time on his feet, and today he’s barely touched the chair at all. He’s been bounding around, chatting everyone up, doing the Randi thing. It’s wild. He’s like a superhero, but hairier.

— A thought that keeps occurring to me every time I watch Penn address a crowd: This is a dude who devotes vast amounts of time to figuring out what, exactly, constitutes an ethical life. He picks carefully both his words and his targets — so carefully that I can’t imagine the process being anything other than anguishing. Penn is obviously a “good” person by most modern, post-Enlightenment standards. But he is not necessarily “nice.” In fact, it may be true that to be as “good” as Penn is, you can’t be very “nice” at all — the world contains too much, ahem, bullshit. This is a concept most of us grasp intuitively online, but in person — when we’re actually forced to call somebody on something, or be a nuisance, or to make a spectacle out of ourselves — most of us demure. Penn does not. Isn’t that cool? Do you think it has anything to do with his being, like, nine feet tall?

 


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One question, one thought
written by mattand, July 12, 2009
Thanks for the update on TAM 7. Two things spring to mind:

1. Michael Savage? The San Fran radio guy who thinks a medical condition like autism is simply kids acting up? (http://mediamatters.org/resear...05?f=h_top). Interesting choice. How does he tie into the skepticism theme?

2. I get what you're saying about Penn. Don't know if I agree, but then I'm generally not a confrontational guy. I'd like to think I'm living an ethical life, but I wonder how subjective that is. Part of me can't get behind "be an asshole when someone disagrees with someone" shtick. However, being an atheist in a primarily believing country, I have to admit it's hard to stay "nice."
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written by alfaniner, July 12, 2009
Judging by the schedule, I think he meant "Adam" Savage. And by the title, I also assume he meant to include something about Robert Lancaster's appearance and short talk.

But of course, Jeff is busy -- you can tell that from the live stream, which by the way is awesome that you are providing it this year! Trust me, it's hard to take a break even when watching it from home!
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written by ddr, July 12, 2009
I think he meant Adam Savage. Perhaps a lack of sleep.. smilies/wink.gif
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Adam Savage!
written by JeffWagg, July 12, 2009
Yes, he meant Adam Savage smilies/smiley.gif Apologies!
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No apology needed!
written by mattand, July 12, 2009
Obviously, the JREF crew are working the tails off. Plus, I could've mad the effort to think a little harder. It just hurt so much when I do!

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Spelling correx to previous post
written by mattand, July 12, 2009
That should be "made the effort" and "hurts so much". Just proves my thought-to-pain ratio, I guess...
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Take it Easy Randi
written by GusGus, July 12, 2009

Randi, please take it easy. We want you to be around a while longer. It usually takes the better part of a year to completely recover from surgery. Don't wear yourself out!
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written by Vimax, July 13, 2009
Please take good care of yourself... do not lose it yet....
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written by CJ Sevilla, July 13, 2009
I always thought of Penn as a very nice person, but when someone he believes is wrong he says so in so many words. Telling someone that they're wrong is much more kind than letting them stay wrong and not say anything just because it'd be socially awkward. Penn wants to help, be it with obscenity and yelling and nudity, which I think is more kind than you give credit for.
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@CJ
written by mattand, July 13, 2009
Actually, I should send a "Speedy Recovery" to Randi as well as Robert Lancaster. I had no Idea Randi had been in the hospital again. Hope they're both doing well.

CJ: That's an interesting way of looking at Penn's method, as it were. I've found from my own experience that loudly berating someone, even when the evidence is clearly on your side, only causes them dig deeper in their position. I have yet to convert someone to my viewpoint by calling them an effing dumbass. Maybe it's in the delivery smilies/smiley.gif
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written by CJ.Sevilla, July 14, 2009
If I were to believe something wrong or stupid (ha, "if") and I were talking to someone who could fix that, I would much more appreciate them calling me a dumbass and telling me I were wrong than be condescending and pretend I'm not being a dumbass when to them I clearly am. That's probably more my problem than anyone else's though. A person loudly berating me usually convinces me that either I'm VERY wrong, or that the person is VERY crazy, in both cases being more passionate than what's good for them, and both of which I'd like to know as soon as possible.

As in "CJ, you're an idiot for supporting Penn and his yelling at people who disagree with him. It's a stupid thing to do and you're dumb for believing so." would work on me wonderfully. Again, it's probably more my own problem than anyone else's.
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written by Zoroaster, July 15, 2009
@mattand

What? You're wishing Randi a speedy recovery? What a waste of time and electrons. Go back to your crystal healing sanctuary hippie! smilies/grin.gif
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Youths' trainer
written by rmuryango, July 21, 2009
Hey Here I am new to this website, but I'll try to get in touch, I like the JREF's vision of helping the new generation for having critical thinking on different points of view.
Raphael/Africa. smilies/smiley.gif
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