At James Randi’s The Amazing Meeting this year, my friend and fellow astronomer Pamela Gay made a speech that covers a lot of ground, but essentially boils down to two ideas: do great things, and don’t let the bastards grind you down.
The JREF put the video of her talk on YouTube, and it’s simply fantastic.
She also paraphrased it for a post on her blog that’s well worth your time to read: Make the World Better.
There’s lots I could add, but there’s no real reason to. Just watch this, and be happy there are people like Pamela out there in the world.
Now go out and make the world better.
Today is James Randi’s birthday, so happy birthday, O Amazing One!
It’s hard to believe that I’ve known that guy for over 8 years now. When I wrote my first book, my editor said we needed blurbs for the cover (the "This book cured my warts!" kind of thing), and we could use someone who was a big skeptic. Naturally I thought of Randi. I sent him a note, he agreed happily, and sent a great quote that immediately went on the back cover of the book. Shortly after that he invited me to talk at the very first Amaz!ng Meeting, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Randi is formidable, and as Carl Sagan said, "We may not always agree with Randi, but we ignore him at our peril." Sagan was a pretty smart guy.
Randi’s a pretty smart guy too, and does a lot of good for the world. Now, I’m not saying he’s 900 years old and wise, but the resemblance to Yoda can sometimes be uncanny…
I love pictures of Earth from space, but there’s something especially thrilling when it’s some place you can easily recognize instantly. Like, say, the boot heel of Italy at night:
Sigh. Così bella! [Click to empeninsulate.]
This picture was taken by an astronaut on board the International Space Station. There’s not a lot of science to be done necessarily with pictures like this, but sometimes it’s OK just to gawk at pretty pictures from space.
And come to think of it… not that I recognized it, but just to the left of the top of the heel is Bari, a town I spent a day in while cruising with the Center for Inquiry. CfI sponsors many cruises to help raise funds, so keep an ear open for them. The JREF does things like this sometimes, too.
Italy is lovely from the ground, but, like the rest of the planet, literally takes on a new dimension from space.
Image credit: NASA
The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has just opened registration for its annual skeptical extravaganza, The Amaz!ng Meeting!
TAM is arguably the world’s premier critical thinking conference, and certainly one of the most fun. I’m always torn between listening to the speakers and gathering with the friends I’ve made over the years — and meeting new ones. It’s fair to say the audience is a major reason to attend TAM.
The theme this year is "TAM 9 from Outer Space", and it’s obvious why with speakers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Pamela Gay (one of my favorite people on this planet), Bill Nye (The Science Guy), and hey, me. And the list keeps going: Carol Tavris (who gave a very popular talk last year at TAM), Jennifer Michael Hecht, Penn & Teller, Jennifer Ouellette, PZ Myers, Genie Scott, anime artist (and totally cool chick) Sara Mayhew, and, of course, the Amazing One himself, James Randi. The list goes on and on, so go check it out!
Did I mention the MC this year is the one and only George Hrab? Yeah. Awesome.
Also, as usual, there will be a ton of workshops, panels, and other extracurricular activities. I can’t stress enough how much of a blast this meeting is. It’ll be July 14 – 17, 2011 at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Registration is now open. I hope to see you there!
Last week, I did a live video chat/webcast with Andrew Shaner of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, where I took questions from a chat room and talked about topics ranging from the Moon Hoax to global warming to tides to other planets to science fiction to Dyson spheres. More stuff than that even. It was a lot of fun answering people’s questions off-the-cuff.
The entire webcast is now online for your viewing and listening pleasure. Andrew does lots of these webcasts and other outreach projects about the Moon, so take a look at what they’re doing at LPI!
Although I’m no longer President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, I’m still a strong supporter! They are continuing the fight against unreason, and have been venturing quite strongly in the field of education, something I endorse whole-heartedly. So I’m very pleased to let y’all know about the 2010 Season of Reason donation drive. This annual drive means a lot to the JREF, which is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization (tax-deductible, folks!).
Even better, an anonymous and very generous donor has offered to match all donations up to $100,000! So every buck you give does double duty.
And even better even better, when you donate $100 or more (or pledge to give an ongoing $25/month or more) you’ll get a cool tree ornament designed by Surly Amy — which is hanging from my tree in Chez BA in a place of honor:
[Yeah, I have Enterprise-D and Klingon Bird of Prey ornaments -- they light up, too, and it's perfectly OK for you to seethe in jealousy of my awesomeness.]
So if you’re looking for a year-end deduction, or just want to do a good deed, then please donate what you can. Make this a true Season of Reason.
Before I gave my TAM 8 talk — now known as the "Don’t Be a Dick" speech — I was more nervous than I had been before a public speaking engagement since high school. Watching the video, I’m surprised that I appeared so composed. I was sweating bullets up there, and had an emotional catch in my throat several times that wasn’t so obvious in the video.
After the video, my friend Pamela Gay was waiting off stage for me. She had given an impassioned talk about "science evangelism" literally minutes before I took the stage, and I could tell she was warmly received. I’m not speaking out of school when I say she was more than a little concerned talking at a skeptic conference; as an active Christian she knew she’d receive the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism… and she did, during the meeting and since. Having her support me after my talk meant the world to me.
As we left the auditorium and went out into the hall, someone beckoned to me. I went over, and they told me that an old friend wanted very much to talk to me. Down the corridor I saw Kitty*, indeed an old friend and someone very active in the skeptical community in general and the JREF community specifically. As I approached her, to my distress, I saw she had been crying. Read More
[Note: As is obvious by the title, the article below contains mildly NSFW language.]
In July, I spoke at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 in Las Vegas. Sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation, it’s the largest meeting of critical thinkers and skeptics in the world. Unlike my usual talks about the abuse of science that I had given at previous TAMs, this time I wanted to tackle a much thornier issue: how we skeptics argue with believers of various stripes.
My first point was that we must keep in mind our goal. If it’s to change the hearts and minds of people across the world, then at least as important as what we say is how we say it. And my second point was pretty simple… but you’ll get to it around 24 minutes in. It’s obvious enough.
Here’s the video. The whole thing is about a half hour long.
I’ll admit I was pretty nervous about this talk, as I was basically telling people to be nicer. It’s hard for some people to hear a message like that, and I knew there would be backlash. There was. I have heard from quite a few people about the talk, as you might expect. They fell into three basic categories: some agreeing with me, others saying being dick has its place, and still others who misinterpreted what I was saying.
While I was at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8, attendee Scott Carnegie (from the Winnipeg Skeptics) grabbed a moment with me to ask me which of the ways the world might end would look coolest from the ground. Here’s what I said:
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be able to actually see a comet in the sky, and know that in some amount of time, months say, it will 100% for sure and for real hit the Earth. What would happen? Riots? Panic? Or acceptance? Probably disbelief until the last minute, and then panic.
Yikes. Good thing there’s nothing out there so far that can hit us. But that day may yet come… and I hope by then we have a space program in place that can take care of it.
I love me some of the Captain! Captain Disillusion, that is. He’s just created a new skeptical video, this time in 3D!
YouTube doesn’t allow 3D videos to be embedded yet, but here’s the link to it, and you can watch the 2D version below.
I hear that Captain Disillusion will be at TAM 8, but he may be disguised as a mere mortal. I will never give away his secret identity — we superheroes stick together — but if you go, maybe you’ll run into him. He’ll be the one with length, depth, and width.