Monday, June 30, 2008

Pirate Sighting #2
Skully's 15 Minutes Begins....NOW!
Semantics... so you think you are agnostic? Think again.

One of the things I enjoy about listening to the Non-Prophets is that they share a similar definition of atheism as I do, which is simply one who rejects theistic claims. I also agree with them that any claim that one can know the non-existence of a god (or gods) is a ridiculous assertion of a negative position that few rational atheists would actually take.

Because the word atheist has been so well demonized, I think it is time to reclaim the term and apply it to this broader sense.
My last photo of Skully, I promise…

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Great fun was had today at Seattle’s Pride Parade with fellow Seattle Atheists. In full pirate gear, we helped to spread the pasta gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I was pleasantly amused about how many spectators were in on the joke and how many actively approached the FSM, requesting to be touched by it’s noodley appendage. Ramen, brother!

More Photos here…
Skully the Impaled Pigeon

I have named him Skully, and for the past year or so I have witnessed his slow decomposition on the gondola spikes at my morning bus stop at 5th and Jackson. It amazes me that there is still enough tissue to bind his frail skeleton together and I suspect that is only a matter of time before his little pigeon head falls off onto a waiting commuter below.

Outside of the scientific and skeptic community, TAM6 and some of the names I mentioned in my first post may seem obscure. Most folks know Penn & Teller and Adam Savage (from Mythbusters). A few others might recognize Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson from his work on PBS.

The Amazing Meeting is basically an annual gathering of skeptics preaching the scientific method, understanding and using critical thinking skills, and maintaining a naturalistic world view. It was nice to be with large group of folks who don’t easily accept the existence of ghost, alien visitations, ESP and other ridiculous pseudoscience & supernatural beliefs. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was a praise thrown around quite a bit.

I know this all sounds a little preachy, but we live in culture in which over half do not believe, or seriously question, evolution. According to a recent poll in Newsweek, when given a multiple choice quiz, 25% of Americans managed not to correctly answer that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Scientific literacy in this country is an embarrassment, and it drives me batty at times. It was nice to attend the conference to remind myself that there are other rational people out there, and lots of them.

Finally, I was 13 when I saw James “the Amazing” Randi, on prime time television, demonstrate the use of critical thinking and scientific of controls to dispel the so-called physic abilities of a young man claiming to move the pages of a phone book using only his mind (he was blowing). As I mentioned, I credit Randi with planting the seeds of rationalism early on. So, going to The sixth annual Amazing Meeting (TAM6), and getting to meet James Randi in his later years, was a pretty big deal for me.

Friday, June 27, 2008

On the Subject of Atheist Activism

“… what we need to do is to stick out elbows out more and push and make room for ourselves in the big political and social community of the United States, so that we also have got a voice of how the country runs, and how the government runs… a voice in just our local communities, and right now we don’t have that”
PZ Myers - speaking on the PodCast Point of Inquiry

Thursday, June 26, 2008

As you can imagine, the Amazing Meeting was...wait for it... quite simply amazing!

I don’t think that I could summarize it much better than Phil Plait, but here it goes...

* I was geeking out big time during the Thursday evening reception as most of the speakers were present. What a pleasure it was to see science blog writers Phil Plait and PZ Myers in the same room together. Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson made a late showing but proved to be both charming and engaging in person.
* Friday’s lecture schedule was so full that I could have gone home that evening fully satisfied.
* The day started with a live taping of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe… which was very cool.
* Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson… Awesome!!! Truly an inspiring keynote presentation about his own brain droppings (George Carlin would have been proud). His presentation ran long, but we did not want it to end. He received a well deserved standing ovation from my fellow attendees.
* Australian Skeptic Richard Saunders spoke of spoon bending (he is the chief spoon bender of his organization), his invention of the origami Pigasus, and other skeptic ventures from the land down under.
* Penn & Teller – Always fun, but they do tend to get a bit extreme with their Libertarian rants. And yes, Teller does in fact talk.
* Singer, songwriter, George Hrab gave a brief performance.
* PZ Myers spoke about bats.
* The conference day ended with a panel Q&A discussion.
* Dinner with the SGU cast was so crowded that we were forced to sit at a table just outside of the inner circle. They are a great group of folks that made themselves accessible to their fan base. I also got to meet another skeptical podcaster, Brian Dunning and his wife.
* Sacred cow! Saturday was also quite busy.
* The day started with a live taping of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe… which was very cool.
* Dr. Michael Shermer managed to keep his Libertarian rants to a minimum while discussing the thesis of an upcoming book which escapes me at the moment – but CT brain scans were involved.
* Sharon Begley, senior editor for Newsweek gave a depressing talk about the science illiteracy in this country and the media’s role with irresponsibly reporting BS pseudoscience (get use to it, she says, it is not going away).
* Derek & Swoopy from Skepticality gave a brief presentation.
* Dr. Steve Novella gave a great talk
* Phil Plait --- Awesome!! He spoke mostly of the things in our own solar system that puzzles Science today. "we don’t know". He is also a lifelong fan of James Randi and takes inspiration from Carl Sagan. I had the pleasure to speak with him a few times during the conference and I can say that he is a super-nice guy.
* Adam Savage has OCD – also a super-nice guy.
* We bent spoons with Dr. Richard Wiseman (the guy behind the color changing card trick). Look for the future youtube video!
* Was out to 4 am at the Flamingo Bar (damn you Jay Novella!)
* Sunday morning was pretty much about recovering (damn you again Jay Novella). But the world of pseudoscience was not far from the conference meeting room. While waiting at the gate for my flight home, I was flipping through the local Sunday newspaper. In an article about the dilemma of dealing with aging zoo animals, it was mentioned that the zoo in San Antonio was treating its arthritic tapir with acupuncture. Ugggg.

Of course, I did get to shake hands with James Randi. Overall, It was pretty much a gush fest for Randi with him receiving two awards during the event. At 79, it us unclear how many more TAMs he has left in him, so it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to thank him for helping to instill a naturalistic world view in me at such an early age.

The conference was sooo much fun. TAM7 dates were announced (07-12 July, 2009) and I can’t wait to attend again. With only 900 attendees this year, TAM7 should easily top 1000! Hope to see you there!