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Reflections on TAM 7 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Michael Strieb   

mikerandiFor several months now, this webpage has been headed by a banner advertising TAM 7. As a member of the JREF forum, I had been following the excitement surrounding the event for some time. I followed much more closely when I learned I was the fortunate recipient of a scholarship and would be attending myself.

I arrived on Thursday not quite sure what to expect. I knew I'd be overwhelmed. But I thought what would overwhelm me was going to be the experience of being in the presence of celebrities. That's what we're led to believe, that famous people are awe-inspiring. I met so many of them. I had my picture taken with Banacheck, Mac King, Penn, Phil Plait, Jamy Ian Swiss, Teller, the Great Tomsini, Captain Disillusion, and of course Randi, whom I had the pleasure of sitting next to during the entire magic show. As amazingly cool as all of that was, though, it's not what really astounded me. What has really touched my heart, what overwhelmed me, is the kindness of simple, ordinary people.

To put the significance of this into context, I need to give you some of my background. I have ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It has left me (more or less) wheelchair bound, with excessive weakness in my hands and arms. As if that weren't enough, it has also left me with a severe speaking disability. This makes daily living difficult, to say the least. The prospect of a 2,500 mile trip by myself was daunting, and seemed to court disaster. Well, disaster was not only averted, it never had a chance.

Here were people I had never met, people I had only known as anonymous nicknames on the JREF forum, and yet they took me under their wing. They arranged for me to get there, got me a place to stay, met me when I arrived, invited me to join them for dinner, pushed my wheelchair around, opened doors for me, picked up all the crap I kept dropping, took the time to sit and talk with me, waited exceedingly patiently while I struggled to scribble a sentence or two, said "It is such a pleasure to meet you", and meant it. These people, every single one who made eye contact with me and smiled, they are the reason this was an Amazing Meeting. I overslept and missed Adam Savage's talk because I was up so late the night before shooting the breeze with fellow JREFers (and it was totally worth it---sorry, Adam!). If not one single speaker showed up, it still would have been well worth it.

It occurs to me that there are those of a religious bent who have said that skeptics, particularly atheistic ones, do not have a moral code to live by. And yet I spent four days in the company of skeptics who have proven that they live by the most basic moral code of all, the one most others are based on and without which would be useless: do good things on a daily basis, be kind to other people, and enjoy the time you have to spend with them. Sure, you could add another 635 rules and regulations on top, but what it really boils down to is what I witnessed. Do good. Be kind. Enjoy life.

I went to TAM this year to hear some famous people speak. I'll be returning next year to spend time with friends.

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written by BlueCollar8theist, July 20, 2009
Thank you very much for sharing your story, I found it very inspiring!
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written by Soapy Sam, July 20, 2009
I'm sorry I missed it - and you. Hopefully next year.
Tell you THE SEKRIT:- People are nice to nice people. Niceness is viral.
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written by Squid, July 20, 2009
Having some experience with Mr. Randi and others at Dragon*Con, I can tell you that they did the same thing at Dragon*Con. My best friends has a form of gigantism, (Andre the Giant's condition) and is also wheelchair bound. Mr. Randi showed him the utmost respect and kindness and, for that, if for no other reason, I have great respect for him. He lives his life by his own moral code which shows a great love for his fellow human beings.

Squid
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written by Chris H, July 21, 2009
Brilliant post. I'll be attending my first TAM next year. Hope to see you there Michael.
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written by siddhigyrl, July 21, 2009
That's awesome, Michael! Sounds like you had a great time.

BTW, we were in Philly this past Thursday through Sunday for our AMCcon... I totally forgot to e-mail you so we could all go out for cheese steaks. smilies/sad.gif
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written by FirstTimeCaller, July 21, 2009
It's this sort of story that makes me proud to call myself a skeptic. Good company indeed.
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written by philplait@randi.org, July 21, 2009
Michael, the reason we do each TAM is for people like you - our community. We were really happy to see you there, and I personally am very glad I had a chance to say hi to you. See you next year!
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@michael, Lowly rated comment [Show]
@truth6413
written by JeffWagg, July 21, 2009
The same place chimps get theirs. Why do birds feed their young? Same answers... best explanation for observable data seems to be evolution through natural selection. Morality helps a species survive, and is propagated from generation to generation. We're awaiting a better theory.
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@jeff
written by truth6413@yahoo.com, July 21, 2009
De Sade, Max Stirner and Nietzsche would disagree with you on this, I'm sure.
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@truth6413
written by Nobby Nobbs, July 21, 2009
First of all, the article says "there are those of a religious bent who....". This is a far cry from painting all theists with the same brush. Secondly, as Jeff points out, altruism can have an evolutionary advantage.
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@nobby, Lowly rated comment [Show]
Congrats!
written by LindaRosaRN, July 21, 2009
Perhaps you should have won the TAM7 talent contest! By the way, how did that go?
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written by Kuroyume, July 21, 2009
De Sade, Max Stirner and Nietzsche would disagree with you on this, I'm sure.


Yeah, these are icons to whom I seek all worldly advice (and the Bible too!). ::head in hand::

Why do members of social primate populations not go around killing every other member? Maybe there is strength and survivability in numbers? Of course, much the same could be said of ant and bee colonies and herds of herbivorous animals. 'Moral code' is just a buzz word for a species' collective survival strategy. Note that we spend quite a bit of our time killing other humans in mass quantities (they call it 'war') but it is really mass murder by any measure. This is built-in social group survival in action at its worst. You may find nearly all skeptics and atheists do not condone war or war-like behaviors. Can that be said of *any* religion? (note: Christianity is repleat with warring, crusades, popes on parade in battle - so don't even go there).
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written by AmyD, July 21, 2009
If I had a nickel for every time I read or heard a theist spout the bit about atheists not having a moral code, I could buy fancy coffee drinks all week!
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That`s life...
written by alexthemagician, July 21, 2009
Yes, simply live and love, to feel good...
Not possible to live a normal, beautiful life without Real Humanism...


Beautiful, meaningful article, thank you...

Congratulations again for that Amazing, Magical event...


Alex, H.S.
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@truth6413
written by Nobby Nobbs, July 21, 2009
"If you dont think that Randi paints all theists with virtually the same brush, then you havent been on this site for long. He has even stated that religion is the highest form of woo."


Randi did not write this article.
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written by iiwo, July 21, 2009
Hi Nobby,

Growing up, my father had canes, and now a walker/wheelchair. It is no small undertaking performing such a trip as this with all the extra considerations that must be made (a small laundry list worth). I am excited to hear the trip was worth it! I did not meet you this time, but perhaps at a future event...?
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@nobby
written by truth6413@yahoo.com, July 22, 2009
Randi didnt write this article, of course, but its his site and he only allows articles that he agrees with. Particularly when it comes to religion and evolution.
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@truth6413
written by Nobby Nobbs, July 22, 2009
"Randi didnt write this article, of course, but its his site and he only allows articles that he agrees with. Particularly when it comes to religion and evolution."

A most unobservant comment, considering the most recent article defends members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Perhaps further debate on this issue would best be reserved for the forum?
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@nobby
written by truth6413@yahoo.com, July 22, 2009
The most recent article was not a real defense of Westboro. If you think it was, then you either didnt read the whole article or you missed the point. The writer even called them in one place, "weird Kansans". Trust me- this site may be a "skeptic" site on some levels, but it is first and foremost a liberal,atheist site. For example, why no articles exposing the biggest, most potentially costly woo at the moment: global warming. If this had a been a "conservative" subject, then Randi and his writers would have blasted it just like homeopathy.
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written by Bruno, July 24, 2009
That's the whole point, 6413. It is not disrespectful to say that religion is the highest form of woo (=irrational belief system), as long as you don't conclude from this that the religious (=humans) are bad. The reason why our planet is in such a scrape is because of the politically correct consensus that if you attack an idea, you are attacking the ones that hold it.

There's memetic advantage to identifying with an idea. A belief that tells you that you should feel hurt when someone questions it, is one that spreads better than an idea that is invites open discussion. A belief system that manages to convince everyone (even those that don't hold it) that it should at least be "respected" (because questioning it amounts to hurting the believer), reigns supreme.

Saying that we shouldn't criticize religions is to step out of the way for the ones that turn their believers into extremists.
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@bruno
written by truth6413@yahoo.com, July 24, 2009
I have never stated that we shouldnt criticize religions. But the word "religion" is very broad and needs to be put into strict context. However, I would wager that even you would "feel disrespected" if your belief system is questioned. For example- I assume you are a fervent believer in the theory of evolution. So much, in fact, that it is equal to the level of belief a religious person holds. You would say, "but evolution is a fact, not an opinion" to which I would reply "and I feel the same way about a Creator".
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written by randi, July 25, 2009
I have to wonder where people get the strange notions they express about this site... No, I don't read and accept/refuse the items that are offered. Jeff accepts any article that meets the interests of our readers, and does -- I believe -- an excellent job. How did a contribution from Michael Strieb turn into this mess? For your information, I'm in awe of Michael's courage and perseverance. He has a formidable problem and he's meeting it head-on. I'm proud to know him...

As for religion being the most advanced form of woo-woo, I reiterate my conviction on that. Surely, the notion of a deity who lives somewhere, knows and creates everything, makes disease and calamities to hand out when he/she/it is annoyed or requires entertainment -- suffering and death being high on the list -- and who burns all those who don't surrender, in a place called Hell, has to be as woo-woo as anyone can get. I won't surrender to that crapiola, now or any other time.

There. Make of that what you will...

James Randi.
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