Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Amazing Meeting 2012, Day Five

Sunday, July 15, 2012:

Being that the sun was about to come up as I had drifted off to sleep, I didn't bother going to see the Sunday Papers, curated by Ray Hall, which featured work by Martha Keller, Ivan Alvarado, Dave Gamble, Eran Segev, Jeffrey Rosky and Christine Shellska.
` Sorry guys, but neuro-rest (a much-hyped form of rest called 'sleep') is more important, although I've found a sort of outline of the Papers on The Skeptical Abyss, which includes some of the other things that I both missed and didn't miss, for your convenience!

At 10:00 I remember coming in for The Truth About Alternative Medicine, with Steve, as well as Harriet Hall, David Gorski and Rachael Dunlop, but didn't stay long.

TAM 236 - Another panel

Instead, I found that being out in the hallway discussing where 'musk' candy flavoring comes from was far more interesting. (I'm not wrong -- it was more exciting than the panel!)
` On top of that, it would appear that Leo's sexy Swedish-British accent will grace the Skeptic Zone at some point...

[Edit: You can hear it yourself in Episode 207 at the 13:34 mark!]

Although I'd already been interviewed by Maynard for some time, we did another, very short, interview about how TAM has been going so far -- with him reading between the lines the whole way.
` Soon enough, I was back in the Ballroom at 11:15 for Carrie Poppy of Oh No, Ross and Carrie!, the podcast where Ross and Carrie go into the realm of woo and actually pretend to be the very sort of people that they study -- such as Raelians!

` This time, her lecture was:

If You Were Me: Using In-Group Language to Reach Out. It's about how to talk to people about when they are really wrong about something important -- like Ross, back when he believed in magic water (that has nothing to do with his costume, though).

TAM 238 - Oh no, it's Carrie (and Ross)

For one thing, it's easier to accept advice if the other person comes across as being part of your in-group ("us") rather than an out-group ("them").
` Ross and Carrie don't even call themselves skeptics or tell people "you're wrong". Instead, they simply ask good questions. Even if you do ask the right questions, you still may not be the right person to convince someone of something -- although, someone else may.
` Carrie used to be into magic water (a.k.a. homeopathy), but just telling her friends what she discovered about it was not the best approach. A better way is saying, "I understand why you like homeopathy, but did you know that it's not as effective as this other stuff?"

She had a video, but it wouldn't play so she explained its contents: First, the homeopathic cold remedy (a.k.a magic water) wasn't working at all; second, she overdosed on it and called a poison control person, who actually said that she wasn't in any danger because there are no ingredients in it except water; and third, the homeopathy company representative said that the remedy works in some people's opinion, even if it is not scientifically demonstrated.
` After that, Geo came up and said that the video should work now, and Carrie got everyone laughing with "Oh. You want to see it?" We didn't, but I found it on YouTube, per her suggestion -- it's basically as described, but better!

Then, up at 11:45 was Brian Dunning's lecture, Your Brain Sucks. Why? Because for some things, it's very incompetent, which can be funny. Or tragic. For example, there was this guy named Sydney who was blind, and with medical help was able to see, but since he could never really get used to seeing, even a chair was terrifying to look at, to the point where he eventually killed himself.
` When Brian called whoever can get up to the stage fastest, I realized that no one in front of me was getting up, so I ran over and he was all like, "Hi, Spoony!" As his first victim, I got to show everyone how badly I remember what the room looks like when I'm not looking at it. (Later, I got a lot of compliments about how good I was at turning around, though!)
` After me, he called up a bunch more people, and SinGar was among them, in his human guise of course. Brian got all but one of them to his answer questions wrong, just to screw with this one guy, and then taking notes on his little handheld device, presumably his results on how much the guy's brain sucked. Mua ha ha ha!

[Edit: You can watch this whole thing here -- I can't embed it -- from Geo's song to the professional witnesses of Stranger in a Strange Land, and you can see me actually there at 3:39 and OMG, I look so weird from the back!]

After him it was time for Lyz Liddell at 12:15, about Unstoppable Secular Students. This has not formerly been my impression, so what makes them so unstoppable?
` Well, the number of Secular Student Alliance groups is multiplying like crazy and becoming increasingly mentioned in the press, the outreach is further, attrition is far less, they're doing more service projects, they're defending the separation of church and state, and even influencing the president's interfaith council!

TAM 239

In trying to figure out exactly what the above slide says, I found another version of this talk on YouTube, finding that the comparison section of the talk starts around 22:30 (and that it's the least boring part). I didn't see that particular slide, but I did see that the Secular Student Alliance just hit a million dollar budget this year!
` Of course, the Campus Crusade for Christ, or CRU, has a five hundred million dollar budget! Also, while SSA has one staff member per 33 groups, CRU has three staffers for each group. That's hardly fair, is it? But, as mentioned above, that's changing:
` In the past 3 years, CRU's number of groups has dropped by 500 while SSA's number of groups has increased by over 200! This would seem to be only the beginning of a trend -- oh noes for teh relijuss conservativz!

Following this was a break for lunch, but it wasn't provided by TAM. So, I went down to the Del Mar Deli (right next to the Del Mar Pub, in the hotel), and while I was waiting in line, I ran into (Oh No) Ross! I think he was one of the people to compliment me on my turning around.
` I found that the cost of a sandwich was under the amount needed to be able to pay with a debit card, so I threw in some soup as well and shared half my ginormous grilled cheese and fries with someone else (who was he, again?) who paid me half the price of the sandwich -- which was like six dollars! Sweet.

By 1:45, it was time for Christopher DiCarlo, who had came to my very second skeptic's meeting in Seattle almost a year ago, with the same talk, which is named after his book -- How To Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass (hee-haw!!). Socrates was executed for being one of these, but luckily, Christopher has only lost jobs over this -- it's tough when your students feel threatened by your diplomacy!

I wanted to record Geo singing his song for Chris, but as my camera must focus before it records, I made sure to press the button in advance of his singing -- and at that exact moment, someone walked in front of my camera (which you can also see)!
` Thus, the camera had some trouble focusing, so not only did it start recording later than I had intended, but it wound up focusing on the person walking by, and this is the result:

Sorry, Geo! My camera failed, but you were still good!

DiCarlo's book focuses on how people answer these questions: What can I know? Why am I here? What am I? How should I behave ethically? What is to come of me? Through asking these, you will find a lot about how that person ticks, their worldview, and their behavior, and that's where the fun begins!

TAM 241 - Chris DiCarlo

How can we unite people when showing them the errors of their ways, instead of getting them angry? As I recall, I didn't really stay for that one -- at least, mentally -- but I found this lecture plus more on YouTube, which you should check out!
` I like the part where the senator says that it's fine to bring handguns into a bar, and the absurdity of this is followed to its logical conclusion! Satire and comedy are a great way to pick through people's beliefs, especially if those beliefs are of a type that gives someone a high.
` Also, he has a blog called Critical Donkey, in case you're inspired to join in his discussions and read more from him.

Who is Geo singing about next?

TAM 242 - Geo playing intro

Why, it's Tim Farley at his 2:15 talk You Are The Future of Skepticism on the Internet:

TAM 243

Bombing polls and otherwise being a pest or hitting small targets is not constructive, but there are better ways to expose falsehoods online, including contributing to open-source projects such as:

The directory/catalog of all things skeptical called Skeptics on the .net,

A tool that helps one find rebuttals to web pages called Rbutr,

And, to expedite filing a complaint, it's FishBarrel,

What websites can you trust? Check out Web of Trust,

A question and answer site called Skeptic Stack Exchange,

Peer-reviewed analysis of internet content called,

Also, holy shitake mushrooms, Batman! Take a look through the Truth Goggles!!

[Edit: You may think I'm a skeptool myself, but I'm the 38th person on Facebook to 'Like' dBunk(r), and I wasn't able to find it on the internet until August 27th! I didn't, however, figure out what 'Rct Species' was supposed to refer to.
` In trying to find out what it is, I checked on the text version of Tim's talk on his blog, Skeptools (not sure how to link to that particular post), and it wasn't on there, so I'm still stumped.
` I only found dBunk(r) on the internet because I double-checked its name by watching Tim's talk again, on YouTube, and got some other names such as HowTru (was that article you just read?), and FactSpreaders (which currently needs to get some more damned facts to spread!).]

Tim also talked about Psychic Wayne's TV show, which had supposed photos of psychics in the corners of the screen, except they were actually stock photos and photos from Facebook! In other words, they were made-up people altogether -- and there were phone extensions on the screen to talk to these nonexistent people!

[See all this and some other cool stuff -- and Geo's TimSong -- on Tim's You Are The Future of Skepticism on the Internet, which you can watch -- conveniently enough -- on the internet!]

At 2:45 there was a panel moderated by Carrie Poppy called How Not To Be a Paranormal Investigator, featuring Randi, Banachek, Ben Radford, and instead of Karen Stollznow, it's Matthew Baxter.

TAM 244

I became bored with this, however, and went and found Jamy Ian Swiss being interviewed out in the hall:

TAM 245 - Jamy Ian Swiss interview

Mr. Deity Himself (Brian Dalton) was one of the people out there with me, watching this and chatting with various people.

TAM 246 - Brian Dalton

I guess this picture is my version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling -- Mr. Deity created me with a camera in my hand, so it's taken from that point of view. Yeah, that's right!

TAM 247 - Mr Deity!!

After a while, I became so transfixed by Jamy Ian Swiss that I curled up by the spotlight -- so as not to be an obstacle to passers-by -- and tried not to be unnerving. Here's a short clip of me being way too excited by this:

According to my notes, I came back into the Grand Ballroom when Randi was finishing up with the story about his grandfather's childhood, the details of which I've probably bungled:
` The lad had enraged his father with his stories of talking to a 'Mr Christian' on his way to school, a man who had dogs and whatnot following him on his horse -- clearly a fanciful character, no? But when the King of Denmark got married and his photo appeared on the front page of the paper, the boy said, "Dad, that's Mr. Christian!" His path to school took him near the castle where the king was riding -- ZOMG!

Then at 3:45 it was time for Sean Faircloth's talk on the Religio-Industrial Complex. All I have to say is "wow" for the whole sense of entitlement thing going on in the megachurches.

TAM 249

For example, Janet Crouch's church subsidized a mobile home for her two little dogs, among other extravagances, or what about the time Victoria and John Osteen were on a plane and, outraged that there was a small stain on the armrest, stormed the cockpit or some such.
` These ministers are using the excuse of tax-exemption to bloat their wallets, and... well, I'll let Sean tell you himself, here, because this post is going to be plenty long.

After that at 4:15, were Randi and DJ with the closing remarks, which evidently I didn't register much, nor take notes of.

TAM 250

After that, there was lots more talking in the hallway as everyone packed up shop. At the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe table, I think it was Bob Novella's girlfriend Kate who convinced me to buy an SGU drive, which is full of SGU and related stuff, and if you're lucky, bonus features such as a blooper reel!
` Gambling in Vegas, much?
` It was the only item I'd bought, and they even threw in a pen for free! (Not as cool as bonus features, though, which I didn't get.)
` At one point, I let some guy whose name I think was Shane Greenup use my phone to text Michael Lewis from the Richard Dawkins Foundation, so now I have his number on my contact list -- mua ha ha ha! Also, Kim from the RDF told me to email her the link from my blog article, which I have also done!
As the hall continued to empty out, I was talking to Dr. Rachie and Brian Dalton more (and probably Richard Saunders), as well as SinGar the goat demon (in his human guise) -- here's a hideous picture of us together looking rather worn-out!

TAM 252 - Also known as Forrest

For a while, I had thought that Brian Dalton had said that this was the woman who played his sister in one of his most disturbing videos yet (because it's true!), What A Friend We Have In Joshie, but in fact that was Carrie Poppy, as you can see (and should!), and so my notes have confused me! Blargh!
` Now I am tormented by this -- what really happened?

TAM 253 - Brian's 'sister' in Economics video

At one point, I poked my head into the Grand Ballroom where the magicians and whatnot were discussing the JREF's Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge for later this evening:

TAM 254 - Discussing the Challenge

What are they testing this year at TAM, and why does Banachek have his arms out to the side? As I had heard, it was another one of those bracelets which is supposed to improve one's balance.
` If you're not familiar with this gimmick, I figure it's best to explain how it works -- and what could be better than a visual demonstration, featuring Dr. Rachie and Richard Saunders:

Now it's plain to see, when a subject is not wearing the bracelet, one can push them off balance, and when they are wearing the bracelet, one can push them onto balance, while at the same time having no idea that one is doing this!
` So, when the test is blinded so that, say, neither person knows whether they have the real bracelet or a fake one, the subject's ability to balance has nothing to do with which bracelet they're using -- and that's what they would be doing at TAM!
` As for the challenge in general, anyone who claims any supernatural power can agree to take a similarly-blinded test, according to their own specifications, at whatever location they choose. If they pass, they win the million dollars, which the JREF won't spend on anything else, no matter how much it is needed. Why? Because the challenge is just that big of a deal.

Back to the hallway, I met this guy named Richard Owen, who apparently stole Brian Dalton's soul. Actually, he's done more significant things -- and he must be the guy who wrote this article.

TAM 255 - Richard Owen

Unperturbed by his own soullessness, Brian continued on with his schtick:

TAM 256 - Mr Deity does his thing

By the time almost everyone had left, I discovered a white board with markers (!!!!!?) and apparently indicated that I, along with a small dromaeosaur, can make a doughtnut hole:

TAM 257 - Dinosaur I drew

There is, however, another side to this board -- it apparently even has a scrawling from a rare Catholic skeptic! This is the kind of thing where you can just stare and see what else you can surmise about the people who wrote these things, such as perhaps, a rising Legion of Daves:

TAM 258 - Other side of board

After that, I went to scrounge up some sleep in my room before the Million Dollar Challenge, and as evening approached I saw a plane coming in for a landing:

TAM 259

If you think that's hard to see, try finding it in this picture:

TAM 260

At last, it was 7:30 -- time for the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge! The first thing they showed was a clip from ABC Primetime about so-called psychics who fail tests that they themselves designed!

TAM 261 - Primetime video at Challenge

I actually found that same video on YouTube, which is so awesome that you really ought to hit the 'play' button:

What we have here is Andrew Needles, who claims that his bracelets are like Power Balance Bracelets, except that they actually work at improving people's power and balance:

TAM 262 - Jref Challenge

He was actually the third challenger in line to get onstage -- the other two evidently had cold feet. As for the test, it involves one of his bracelets versus a Placebo Band -- which come in a variety of colors. Two boxes were randomly assigned to hold either Needles' bracelet or the Placebo Band, so that no one could tell which one was which by looking at the box.
` With the bracelets inside, the boxes were again randomly mixed up in a paper bag so that no one could tell them apart, and Needles would try both of them out for any balance-enhancing properties, without taking them out of their boxes.

TAM 264

My Blogging Notebook says, "Right now Jay is up." Yes, it's Jay. The Gangliest Novella.

TAM 267

And yes, that's Richard Saunders watching them, probably wondering how long it will be until Needles fails the criteria. Especially since during the test, time seems to have slowed down to glacier-like speeds.

According to my Blogging Notebook:
Sitting next to Leonard, I've heard whispers. One guy whose name I've forgotten suggests that [Needles] is a fraud who just wants the publicity. Carlene Bues says that he's probably going to say that they need to touch the skin [in order to work]. It's going on, pretty randomly. ...
Here's my patented Nose-Cam shot -- well, not really patented, but long before TAM, I did have the idea of taking a lot of pictures and videos from this angle for humorous effect.

 TAM 268

I decided against this because it would probably have been a waste of camera space. Instead, I stuck to what works -- like getting a shot of Bob (the most-ripped Novella) across the room, playing the part of guinea pig.

TAM 271

After at least ten volunteers, Needles agrees that it just isn't working.

TAM 272

It's a bit boggling to think that the reasons Andrew Needles gives for this differ greatly from the reasons that Matt, Banachek, Richard, and practically everyone in the entire room are thinking.

TAM 273

This may explain why Jamy Ian Swiss began glowing red at that point -- meaning that he felt bad for the guy, yeah, that's it.

TAM 275

This picture must be Andrew signing the document that says "FAIL".

TAM 277

Little did Geo know, I was spying on him -- since his seat was in the same row as mine!

TAM 278 - Sitting in same row as Geo

By this point, several people lined up to ask questions -- although Greg Dorais missed the boat and had to go back to his seat. Among the remainder are SinGar and Leonard:

TAM 279 - Singar and Leo

For whatever reason, I got this photo, where Leo is waiting ominously behind that other guy -- I think his name was Sebastian?

TAM 280 - Leo at end of line

I was actually just getting my camera ready for taking some video of Leo up there -- even though it's all being recorded anyway -- but the camera simply didn't focus at all and captured nothing.
` His question addressed Needle's own admission that he couldn't tell the difference between his own bracelet and the other one. It was something like, "if you can't tell whether or not it's the placebo effect, then how do you know it works?"
` I don't remember what Andrew said in response, other than that he couldn't really answer, and that it wasn't what we were whispering about, either.

[Edit: Here's what happened. Ah, I've missed Leo's accent....]

Afterwards, Banachek and Jamy reminded us all of something important, which I forget, probably because I had my mind on other things:

TAM 281

Such as spying on Steve, the Neuro-Novella. (Not to make him sound hyped or anything.)

TAM 282 - Steve Novella watching

After the show was over, I stood around amongst the conversation and managed to ask Geo about something. He said that he'd be downstairs at the Pub, but that he had to get to the bathroom first -- well, so did I, but I decided to be a Good Little Chipmunk and not stalk him.

I was so not stalking Geo! See!? I can learn!

Instead, I went downstairs, where [Edit: as I recall, Randi was talking about how he used to put a different playing card in his pocket every day on which he had written the words "I think I will die today", but eventually it just became a waste of cards.]
` Not long after, Jamy came by for a discussion of their Unlucky Contestant: Andrew seemed utterly honest and didn't seem to realize how obviously he was pushing people one way and the other. (And, you'd think that if he knew, he would have tried to hide it, right?)

TAM 283 - James and Jamy

Shortly after that, it was back to the Del Mar Pub. I was so immersed in conversation that I didn't even take any pictures there at all. Crazy, I know!
` I got back to Gary from Sweden, who had lost his camera somehow, but at least still kicks ass (hee-haw!!) due to his ten years of jiu jitsu. Also, I got back to Greg Dorais, who told me about how good he was at cold reading at the one workshop -- surprisingly so!
` Although I had been planning to be one of the many people crowding around Geo, I wound up attached to Niels, a Danish musicologist, or, as he suggested, a neuro-musicologist, you know, to play it up. Even more, it was my idea to leave the Pub, away from Geo, and so we did, much to Gary's dismay-at-a-distance.

I wish I'd had more time for everyone! (And I hope Gary found his camera, at least!)

For food, I had some trail mix and beef jerky, and Niels had some of those Danish cardboard crackers and some delish horseradish cheddar, which he'd never seen before and so was surprised when he started eating it. Mm, cheese. Just like the moon above Vegas, which stretched out before us!

TAM 287

He told me that in Denmark, the streets aren't in a grid like this because they're so many hundreds of years old. Also, although you pay 50% taxes, the cost of living isn't too much, plus your medical care is almost completely paid for, and your education is completely free, although you can only take classes that fit with your major.
` So yes, you have to pay the government half of your wages, but then you can have whatever you need as a result, and even take off a lot of paid vacation time from work!

That sounds about right to me! (Note to self: Obtain dual citizenship for the U.S. and Denmark...)

Also, the whole view on sex is way different there than here -- so, American children, avert your eyes until the next photo, and Danish children, read on. No, really:
` He says that even ten-year-olds put condoms over their heads and inflate them via their noses, just as Matt Crowley used to do as a circus freak. This got me wondering if this has something to do with northern Europeans rolling their eyes at the Jim Rose Circus.
` Also, he says that it is common for Danes to lose their virginity at around 14 or 15 years old -- and yet teen pregnancies are many times lower in Denmark than they are in the U.S. Maybe that's because they let their kids play with condoms -- apparently Danish sex ed starts in third grade!

My mom is going to Denmark on August 8, so I'll be sure to tell her all about this!

On the subject of the U.S. being utterly backwards in its sex practices, I reminded Niels that cutting off the most-innervated region of skin on the penis (the forward one) is a popular practice in the U.S. (and somewhat in Canada, where it's also a federal crime).
` I also told him of my own seemingly endless, surreal anecdotes about the attitude some people have -- that the foreskin region cannot be allowed to exist in one's own little world, or one's children's little world, or even in anatomy books, for that matter!

This is all because the idea to medicalize ritual genital cutting (in boys and girls) started in Victorian America, where people thought that playing with oneself caused all manner of illnesses. This practice became very popular during the 1940's and 50's, but then began to wane once fewer people could find a good reason to continue it, and it all but stopped among girls.
` Today, circumcision is known to do harm, but not good (unless there is actually a medical problem, which is rare), although this is difficult for people to understand if they think that because millions of Americans still do it that there must be a good reason.

Interestingly, Niels told me, Danish girls sometimes think that vigorous motion and/or lubrication is required for stimulating men manually because they get ideas about it from American movies! A foreskin, of course, is not only very sensitive and keeps the underlying surface more sensitive, but both surfaces stimulate one another, thus greatly simplifying the process.
` Which is exactly why so many people were enthusiastic about cutting it off in the Victorian Era, as well as sensitive female parts -- and a similar rationale is found in religions which make this kind of thing a requirement. Less enjoyment and sex was supposed to make people better -- but that's not how it works.

Niels just couldn't fathom such madness happening in a first-world nation and felt luckier than ever to be anatomically correct. It even made him nervous to think of being treated in a hospital in this country. I don't blame him, since foreskins have been cut off for such trivial matters as medical techs not understanding how to slide it back in order to insert a urinary catheter! Scary!

What can I say? Ignorance begets ignorance. This is one reason why reflection is essential -- har!

TAM 288

All in all, my adrenaline alone probably kept us up all night, mostly just talking on and on about Denmark and about my crazy life and science and whatever other things that are fascinating. That reminds me, I never did learn how to properly pronounce the word drøvel, which means "uvula", much to his amusement.

Spanish is so much easier to pronounce and spell than either English or Danish!

By about four or so in the morning, I finally found myself back in my room with Leonard, who was mostly asleep. I took a shower, packed most of my stuff, and got a little sleep myself -- and took this photo of the horrible, horrible sunrise that signals my official end of TAM.

TAM 289 - Back at the room

And I was just getting started! But wait, there will be more in my next post, believe it or not!

[Edit: Finally finished My Journey Home!]


  1. wow! Grand adventure. Now I must read about the preceding days.

  2. Also on Aug 6, Greg Dorais said;

    "I'm repeatedly amazed at the ginormous amount of detail in these posts. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning. :)"

    I'm amazed as well, until I realize that I was using the TAM program and my notes and photos and videos as reconstruction aids.


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