I run a pretty small blog here, so I’m always excited to see the little counter dealie up on the WordPress toolbar showing big lines to represent how many hits I’m getting. It’s a nice change of pace from the vast flatness I usually see. So, being curious, I sometimes check out where my hits are coming from. One recent source of visits has been a thread on the JREF forums, linking specifically because of my spat with Tim Farley. Here’s the relevant post:
Poster "Humes fork" saying "Tim Farley in a kerfuffle [links to my "Unskeptical Complaints" post] about Block Bot. Not surprisingly, what makes them angry is disagreement with them."
I’m not going to engage with that tired bit of mythology. I’ve dealt with variations before, and it’s repeated there without basis or substance. It’s an empty phrase, and you can judge for yourself whether or not what made me angry was “disagreement.”

But I found myself thinking about this post today, because of a Facebook post by JREF president D.J. Grothe:

There is an impressive distemper these days on the internets.
Many smart, good people that I know personally seem to fear this “call-out culture” online that is going on right now in many communities online. Folks are immobilized by a moral scare or panic that they think they are watching unfold presently. As for me, I think it all seems increasingly like some surreal science fiction imagining of some bizarre future dystopia. And so, I say:
Consensual sex — between any mature adult male or female etc. — is a human good. It is something that should be prized and promoted (would there be world peace if people just had more and better sex, ha?).
But instead I think unduly-moralistic scolds end up actively diminishing human flourishing by their sex-negativity.
And I curse the unholy alliance of the quack far-left so-called feminists: a different kind of ardent feminist than I am — and the authoritarian anti-sex rightist religionists whom I used to run with decades ago. (How the heck is it that these two equal opposites agree on so very much these days, and the two last decades, too?).
I have a disturbing answer, but it doesn’t work for a social networking or FB comment..

More accurately, my thoughts were spurred by D.J.’s response to some critical comments on that Facebook post. First, feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte posted this:

“I love consensual sex! It’s awesome. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why it’s super critical that consent exists, because when consent isn’t there, sex—and sexual behavior ranging from flirting to intercourse—stops being great and even really “sex” and starts being harassment, assault, and rape. So yea, feminists! By making consent a front and center issue, we can make sex better, more pleasurable, and more frequent—after all, nothing makes people less willing to have sex than being afraid that their right to say no won’t be respected. One question, though: Can you name some of these “feminists” that you’re talking about that oppose consensual sex? I’m pretty well-versed in feminism and don’t know any of the ones you’re talking about.”

Look at that! Not a nasty word, not an intemperate statement. It’s positively cheerful, with a genuine question at the end, looking for that thing that skeptics love above all, evidence in support of some claim. It got a whole bunch of likes, apparently more than anything else on the thread!

D.J. deleted the comment.

In response, Lance Finney posted this:

I’m curious what your commenting policy is on your wall. Earlier, I saw a comment from Amanda Marcotte that praised consent and asked you for examples of feminists that matched the description you gave in your first comment in this thread.
Did you delete her comment?
If so, why? As I recall it, there wasn’t anything abusive about her comment. If you have a policy of deleting contrary comments, what is the trigger?

Look at that, perfectly polite! A question of clarification! If there’s one thing skeptics love as much as evidence, it’s clarity and good questions!

D.J. deleted the comment and blocked Lance Finney.

So, um…who is it, again, who can’t handle disagreement? I eagerly await an answer from the JREF boards.

An unsupportable claim

I just got an e-mail from the James Randi Educational Foundation, promoting this year’s Amaz!ng Meeting. There was a time when I might have wanted to go to TAM, but that time is long past, especially since this year’s speaker lineup is a veritable who’s who of people I have no desire to hear from or be around.

The reason I wouldn’t have gone to TAM in the past is mostly because of the cost. I go to comic and geek conventions pretty frequently, and I realize that TAM is a different sort of beast–more like a professional conference–but the difference in cost has always been kind of staggering to me. Just to attend TAM for the four-day event is $475 this year, without any of the workshops, dinners, or extra bells and whistles. If I wanted to spend the same amount of time at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the “TAM” of the comic/geek culture world, I’d be spending $150. For a convention that’s closer to home (and likely closer to the attendance size of something like TAM) like the Chicago Comic-Con, I’d pay $90.

Comic conventions finance their tickets by having vendors pay to set up booths, and the goal is to have people come, see panels and presentations, and spend their money on the convention floor, and hopefully everyone makes a profit except the attendees, who leave with various goods that they didn’t have before. TAM, apparently, doesn’t work quite the same way. Certainly there’s a greater focus on panels and speeches, but one would think they could defray some of that $475 by having a few more vendor tables set up. Doesn’t everyone have a book to sell?

Again, I digress. It seems my perception of TAM’s cost as being excessive isn’t an uncommon one, hence at least one of the points in this e-mail, “Six Reasons Not to Miss TAM 2013.” To whit:

6. TAM 2013 is actually cheaper than any other skeptic conference when hotel, travel, and meals are factored in. Hotel rates for similar conferences range from $150-200 per night, while our TAM group rates go as low as $45 a night! But the group rates end tomorrow, so book your hotel room right now with JREF’s group code AMA0707!

The thing that stuck out to me there is this claim: “TAM 2013 is actually cheaper than any other skeptic conference when hotel, travel, and meals are factored in.” I hope the JREF won’t mind when I say that I’m a bit skeptical about that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that such a claim is absolute, transparent, unsupportable bunk.

I immediately thought of Skepticon, a skeptic/atheist conference I actually do want to attend. Skepticon not only typically has speakers I want to hear and is within driving distance, but it’s also free to attend. The other costs to go would have to be pretty exorbitant to end up more than TAM’s $475+.

So I decided to do the skeptical thing: I crunched the numbers. All the information here is from quick searches of available websites, TAM’s information, and my situation. It’s going to be different for everyone, but they sent the claim to me, so it should be as true for me as for anyone else, right?

For TAM, I searched for a round-trip flight from Chicago to Las Vegas. I figured I’d give TAM the benefit of not including the cost for me to drive into O’Hare (I’d prefer Midway, but the prices were considerably higher). The cheapest ticket I could find for the duration of TAM was $372. Changing the dates around a little–leaving a day later, arriving a day earlier, etc.–didn’t produce much difference. No telling if that’s before tax or after, or whatever.

I’ll take JREF’s word on hotels, that I could find one for $45 per night. Assuming I stay three nights (11th, 12th, 13th) and leave from the convention on the 14th, that’s $135.

We’ll ignore food and other incidentals. I’m sure both Vegas and Springfield have their share of cheap eateries. The price to beat is…$982.

For Skepticon, it’s within driving distance for me, though it’s a long drive. Going by a very low estimate of my admittedly fairly efficient car’s gas mileage (35 mpg–it’s usually more like 37), and assuming a fairly high average fuel price of $4.00 per gallon, it’d cost me $54.29 to make the trip there, so about $108.57 round trip.

There are lots of lodging options in Springfield. The hotel associated with Skepticon’s convention center would be $139/night, and I’m still assuming 3 nights. That would put me at $417 for lodging, but I could probably do better. If I didn’t mind going someplace a little less fancy, and I don’t, I could get a room within five miles of the Expo Center for $53/night at the Days Inn, according to Expedia. That would translate to $159 total. Let’s split the difference, and say I wanted to get a room at the DoubleTree right near the convention center. $109/night translates to $327 total.

TAM Total: $982
Skepticon Total: $436 (rounded up)

Unless food and transportation around Vegas is dirt cheap compared to Springfield, MO, the claim is refuted, and exposed for the ridiculous bit of hyperbole it is.

Of course, I know what the JREF supporters will say. “Skepticon isn’t a skeptical conference, it’s an atheist conference! There’s no comparison!” It’s a dumb distinction, and one not entirely based in fact, but one we’ve run into before. So I checked out the upcoming CSI conference, The Skeptical Toolbox, explicitly and obviously a skeptical conference put on by the organization that used to be CSICOP. Even the most wallbuildery of skeptical wall-builders can’t claim that’s some atheist-in-skeptical-clothing conference.

CSI Total: $492 round trip airplane ticket + $245 room and board + $199 registration = $936

Almost $50 less than TAM, and that includes meals! Look, I know it’s a small thing, but I kind of think that making unsupportable claims in the service of advertising for a skeptics’ conference is counterproductive. We wouldn’t accept this kind of blatant dishonesty from other services or organizations, we sure as hell shouldn’t accept it from the JREF. For shame.

How Dare You?!

This is kind of a follow-up to my post on friendship, and is likely to hit some of the same notes and indict some of the same people.

I’ve noticed recently, though I’m sure the trend has been around for some time, this tendency in skeptic/atheist circles to suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that a person has done so much for the atheist/skeptic community that it is somehow out of line to criticize them. Here’s an example I saw today, in PZ’s post about Sam Harris:

The Harris bashing going on here is just ridiculous. The man is a hero of the skepticism movement. All you people rushing to judgement should be embarrassed.

Hes admitted countless times he phrased his ideas poorly on the profiling issue (even publicly apologized on TV).

PZ, you need to take note on how well Harris defends himself against this character assassination you’ve exacerbated once again. Compare that with how you usually respond to criticism.

Remember that next time you’re getting all upset over a comedian’s joke and crying all over your keyboard and empty donut cases.

I know that I’ve seen this same kind of sentiment expressed about DJ Grothe of late (there’s one buried in this comment), and I’m pretty sure it came up a bunch about Dawkins in the whole “Dear Muslima” flap.

To put it bluntly, this kind of thinking is wrong-headed, fallacious, dangerous, and dare I say it, religious.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have role models. That would be absurd. There are always people who are better than us or more informed than us at certain things. It’s fine to look up to people; the problem comes when you begin thinking those people are somehow above you.

A further problem comes if they begin thinking the same.

Must we, scientific skeptics and rational atheists, keep learning this lesson? This is the lesson of Linus Pauling, the lesson of Ayn Rand, the lesson of Edgar Mitchell, the lesson of Bill Maher, and so on. Being brilliant, well-informed, or just right about one area or subject does not make one brilliant, well-informed, or right about everything. Expertise does not transfer.

We as skeptics and atheists spend a lot of our time arguing with people because they’re wrong about something. We argue with strangers, we argue with anonymous idiots, we argue with professional pseudoscientists and preachers who hate us, we even argue with acquaintances and coworkers.

Why would we avoid arguing with the people we care about?

Granted, James Randi and Richard Dawkins and the like are basically strangers to me. The same is true for most people and the famous role models they look up to. We feel a kinship with these people because they’ve said or written or done things that resonate with us, that we wish to live up to or emulate. That forges an emotional connection, even if it’s one-way, which boils down to (at the very least) the point that we care what they have to say. We value their thoughts and opinions enough to spend our money buying books filled with just that, or spend our time watching their videos or reading their words online.

And so when they, our heroes, say or do something that is clearly wrong, I think we have a responsibility to speak up about it. In part, it’s because there’s a cognitive dissonance in saying “I value what you have to say” and “what you have to say with regard to X is wrong/reprehensible.” In part, it’s because we recognize that there are other people who value what they have to say, but may not be informed enough to see that, on this topic, they’re dead wrong. In part, it’s because we hope that our heroes are reasonable and, when presented with evidence that contradicts their position, would change it, making them even more admirable for following the evidence. In part, it’s because we just don’t like people being wrong. In part, I think we realize that leaving the wrongness unchallenged could eventually lead to worse problems (like the ubiquity of vitamin megadosing or libertarians). And in part, I think, it’s our responsibility.

That responsibility has different degrees of strength. If it’s, say, an author you like who has said something stupid, then your purchase of his book, your recommending it to your friends, etc., means that you have contributed to his popularity. But if it’s, say, someone who is often chosen by the media to speak for a group that you’re part of, then they’re sometimes (de facto) speaking on your behalf. And you don’t want the general public to think that this thing they’re wrong about is generally representative of the group’s beliefs.

Because, one way or another, their wrongness makes you look wrong. You’re wrong by proxy.

And so we call out our heroes when they’re wrong because we care about them and their opinions, because we want to give them the opportunity to realize their mistake and correct it, and because we want to show clearly that we don’t share their wrongness. Phil Plait called out Carl Sagan in his first book, because Sagan was wrong about Velikovski. Phil was also involved in correcting Randi when Randi spouted off about climate change. PZ called out Sam Harris about his unfounded views regarding racial profiling, and promoted the opinions of actual experts in response. Many spoke up when anti-medicine Bill Maher was nominated for a science award. And so on and so forth. Maybe if more people had spoken more loudly and forcefully at Linus Pauling, it wouldn’t be a generally-accepted belief that Vitamin C cures colds.

What we don’t do, what we shouldn’t do, what we must not do, is say “well, these people have done so much good that we can overlook this little bit of bad.” We don’t accept that from religious believers about the role of religion in history. We don’t accept that from the Catholic Church regarding its predator priests. We don’t accept that from science, dammit. We don’t say “well, these guys have published a bunch of good papers before, let’s just let this paper slide without peer review.” We don’t say “gee, Dr. Pauling’s been right about so many things, what’s the harm in just assuming he’s right about vitamin megadosing?” We don’t say “NASA’s got a pretty good track record, so we’re just going to overlook this error in the rover program. We wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

No, dammit, we’re skeptics, we’re scientists and science enthusiasts. We pride ourselves on seeking the truth and fighting ignorance. When prominent scientists and skeptics go wrong, they’re the ones we should argue with most strongly, most fervently–because either they, prizing truth and knowledge as we do, will change their position, or we–prizing truth and knowledge–will realize that it was our own that was in error.

Or they’ll go on believing and spouting wrong things. And then we’re free to question whether they really are committed to truth and knowledge, or if they are committed to their own sense of infallible rightness. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, to realize that even your heroes (maybe even especially your heroes) can be blinded by ego, but it’s a necessary lesson to learn. It’s necessary because no one is perfectly right or perfectly insightful or perfectly skeptical or perfectly reasonable. Pobody’s nerfect, as the hat says. And sometimes we become complacent in accepting a person’s thoughts or ideas as pure unvarnished truth, and need to be shaken out of it with a glimpse of their clay feet.

Being a luminary, being a role model, being a tireless advocate, being a hero, shouldn’t shield a person from criticism. It may mean that we give them a little more benefit of the doubt to explain or clarify, but even that isn’t inexhaustible.

What it does (and should) grant them is a group of people who care what they have to say enough to explain to them why they’re wrong.

Homeopathic Question

Wouldn’t a homeopathic question actually be an answer, surrounded by so much white space that you’d have to look through dozens of screens in order to find just one pixel of one letter?

But I digress. Here’s my real question: we all know how homeopathic solutions are made (when not talking about the kooks who transmit the homeopathic-ness over the phone or the Internet): you take a substance that causes the symptoms you’re trying to cure (like cures like), dissolve it in a large amount of water, shake it all about, then repeat the last two steps until you feel Avogadro rolling in his grave. Somehow, this makes the medicine super-potent (quantum vibrations) and better than regular medicine (which only treats the symptoms…which are how you determined what substance to use in the first place. Wait a minute…).

Now, here’s where my understanding falls apart. It seems, at this point, that any homeopathic medication would have to be in liquid form, seeing as it’s just plain water. But I know you can buy homeopathic pills. What the heck are they made of?

If, for instance, the pills are capsules, wouldn’t the water inside them dissolve the capsule? If the pills are some kind of geltab, what is the gel made of? And if they’re tablets of any sort, then what are they made of? It’s not like you can just dehydrate a homeopathic remedy. Or is it just that, like Zicam, none of these homeopathic pills actually follow the tenets of homeopathy? I tend to doubt that; seems like Randi would have mentioned it.

So, what do they make homeopathic pills out of?

Our First Last Supper

So, everyone else has already blogged about our Monday night mayhem, even including someone who would have only been there in spirit, if such a thing existed. I’m a little late to the game, admittedly, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks.

As I mentioned, last Monday ’roundabout 3:15, Jon and Jess climbed into my station wagon, and we barreled down the rural roads to arrive about 40 minutes before Google Maps suggested. Which put us there an hour and a half early.

After wandering around like fools for a bit, I gave UofI alum Eric a quick call, and we were soon in the right building. Along the way, I picked up a weird Christian newsletter called “Christ is Victor,” which I assumed would lead to hilarity later (it did). Now, I’m not much of a Christian, but I seem to recall Christ’s name being Jesus, not Victor. Is there another Christ I haven’t heard about? Besides Craig, I mean. Maybe Victor Christ is the one responsible for bringing Jesus back from the dead! “It took three days, Igor, but look! It’s alive! Aliiiiive!”

Once in the right building, I began an epic quest for the men’s room, meeting Ben from the Gateway Skeptics along the way. Turns out that Ben and Flavin (at least) were both attendees was an attendee of the Society of Physics Students meeting that was held at Augie a couple of years ago, so this is the second time I’ve met them him. This time was better, as I wasn’t conducting an awkward trivia contest at any time during the evening.

We decided to go find seats, and it’s a good thing we did. The place was fairly empty when we got in, which meant we were able to get seats close to the front. While going up the stairs, I noticed that we passed a guy in a black trenchcoat and hat. I can’t say I thought much of it, until he came down toward the stage and I realized that beneath the oh-so-theatrical outfit was The Amazing Randi himself. That was pretty cool.

While Randi and the techies started setting up, I was just enjoying the feeling of being in an auditorium where I could be reasonably certain that the vast majority of people around me believed the same things I did. Just in my immediate vicinity was someone wearing a Champaign-Urbana Freethinkers t-shirt and two people in the “Science: It works, bitches” t-shirt from XKCD (which I want desperately). It was tremendously liberating; someone remarked at the ease with which 80-year-old Randi hopped onto the stage, I said that it was because he knew The Secret, and we all shared a hearty laugh. I was even able to tell the “why women love Jesus” joke, out loud in a room full of people. Yeah, it’s a small and fairly childish thing, but damn if it didn’t feel good.

Not much happened until I noticed Akusai, Magus, and (though I didn’t know who he was yet) Wikinite come down the aisle. We traded introductions and handshakes, and they sat behind Jon, Jess, and me (carefully avoiding the obviously broken seat). We all talked a bit about various things: our favorite trolls, the new waves of atheist/skeptic bloggers, what we expected from the evening, and so forth.

At some point, a girl in an “Atheists, Agnostics, & Freethinkers” t-shirt sat down near our group, and joined in various conversations going on around us. She seemed nice and all, but…she was really into being an atheist and really trying hard to impress everyone with how much of an atheist she was. Yet, she seemed kind of clueless; now, I don’t expect all atheists to be active in the blogohedron or anything, but she seemed genuinely surprised by some of the really, really basic arguments and names and so on. I don’t know, I kind of got a “protest too much” vibe off her; the Action Skeptics crowd got more of a “trying to seduce someone/anyone” vibe. Both seem like valid hypotheses, but I’m not in a hurry to validate either one.

Anyway, the first speaker of the night was Nobel prize winning biologist Richard Roberts (HT to Akusai and Wikinite for the link), who while interesting, clearly didn’t win his Nobel prize in public speaking…or anthropology, or history, or psychology. It would be easy to say that I’m only drawing the comparison because of the “white-haired British biologist talking about atheism and religion” connection, but he really was like Dawkins-lite. To the point where he was saying a lot of the things that Dawkins says, or saying things that sound like what Dawkins says, and not understanding why Dawkins says those things. The most egregious mistake (on that particular front) was his mention that he thinks religious indoctrination is child abuse. He didn’t elaborate, and it was pretty clear that he was trying to echo Dawkins, but Dawkins’ contention is with religious labeling–calling children “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Jewish” or even “Atheist” children–not with parents’ rights to raise their kids to believe what they want. While I’m sure he’s got issues with that too, it’s much more morally muddy territory, and there’s no good solution to indoctrination that doesn’t remove essential parental rights.

There were other problems with his speech as well; his definition of Bipolar disorder was, in a word, wrong, and his ideas about the development of religion were overly simplistic at best. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a variant on the Courtier’s Reply (in this case, “how much have you studied religion”) and thought it was a valid criticism. On a more technical note, it’s clear that Roberts was working without notes, and while I found the brevity of his PowerPoint presentation refreshing, it was a little too brief, offering him little guidance with the points he wanted to cover (and leading him to decide on occasion “I don’t want to talk about that”). He could have done with a little more of everything, and consequently we all could have done with a little less of him. At least his anecdotes were entertaining, and it’s always nice to listen to British men talking about biology and atheism.

After Roberts, someone from the UofI Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers group gave an overly long introduction for the man who needed none, James Randi. I’m not sure entirely how much I can say about Randi’s speech; he did some neat tricks to underscore our collective assumptions and imperceptions, he did a neat bit of magic, and he brought out a nice homeopathy debunking that taught me things I didn’t know about Zicam (not actually homeopathic, that’s why it works) and HeadOn (apply directly to the trash can). He was funny, informative, terse, and incredibly sharp, and it was just an absolute joy to listen to him.

Highlights of the Randi talk: calling Montel Williams a “whore,” talking about an Israeli mentalist (“no, not that one”), talking about that Israeli mentalist, and propositioning his magic trick volunteer for coffee and dinner as if he were a shy schoolboy. Randi? Awesome.

After Randi spoke, they opened up two mics on the floor for questions. I don’t remember if this kid was first or second, but one guy–heretofore referred to as “The Preacher”–started off with (some variant of) those dreaded words “before I get to my question…” It seems to be a rule that 95% of the time, people who say “before I get to my question” are going to hog the mic talking about stupid shit that no one wants to hear for a very long time. The Preacher didn’t disappoint. He began with a lengthy, rambling story about how he was involved in a hit-and-run car accident, which he survived “by the grace of God,” and how he was so ashamed of it (so ashamed that he decided to spend five minutes telling it in excruciating detail to a roomful of people). He said we all have things we’re ashamed of, something about God, and (as nearly everyone in the room was calling for him to get to the point) finally ended with “can science prove love?”

Roberts and Randi answered in unison: “No,” then moved on to the next question. I could write a blog post parsing out a longer answer (and touching on the inanities inherent in the question), and Bronze Dog already did, but that was adequate for the time allotted. Akusai wrote a bit more to give context to the answer, and mentioned his brilliant “Someone taze him, bro” comment, but since you’ve already read his post, you already knew that.

The Preacher stood at his mic for a good long time, periodically asking “can I just finish point,” and at one point screeding* off into John 3:16. As if no one in the room, no one on stage, had heard “For God so loved the world yada yada yada” before. What is it about (certain) Christians that either makes them think that “John 3:16” is some magic convert-the-heathens incantation (see also: John 14:6, the “Sinner’s Prayer,” etc.), or that they’re the first people to ever mention it to atheists, despite its omnipresence in our Christianity-soaked culture?

Other people (at the other mic) asked more relevant questions while they cut The Preacher’s mic. That wasn’t exactly the end of his tenure at the head of that line, sadly. You almost have to admire his tenacity; he stood there for a good ten minutes or more, even after someone else took the mic away from him to ask a question. A few other theists asked questions (including the girl in front of me in line), but were generally more polite (if not more coherent) about it.

When I got to the mic, I briefly thanked both of the speakers for coming and mentioned how much I enjoyed Flim-Flam, then asked how they deal with having to answer the same questions and debunk the same things over and over, year after year, without losing hope. There were some noises of approval and understanding around the audience, so I clearly wasn’t the only person with that particular experience (obviously, since Akusai and Magus were in attendance). Randi mentioned the importance of education, and that we do make some progress. I can’t hate Roberts, for all his speech’s flaws, because his answer was more-or-less tailor-made, comparing it to education and “if you reach even one student, then it’s a success.” Like everything else he said, I have some reservations with that as well, but it was a surprisingly apt answer.

After the Q&A was done, I stuck around, thanked Dr. Roberts, and humbly asked Randi for a picture and an autograph. He very kindly obliged, though his fountain pen didn’t work (that wasn’t a joke about his age–he actually had a fountain pen) and he was forced to use a ball-point. He expressed surprise that I owned a hardcover of the book, and I mentioned that I got it on Amazon after his column talked about the problems in the Prometheus Books printing. And then this:

It’s not the best quality picture, but it’s not the picture that matters. It’s the memory of doing something I’ve dreamed of for years–something that, given average human lifespan, I doubted I would ever do. I met James Randi. How cool is that?

After the picture taking and autographing, we met back up with the various skeptics and followed a pirate treasure map toward an initially-elusive pizza restaurant called Papa Del’s. The conversation continued more or less non-stop from then until we got back to our cars at the end of the night, encompassing everything from “Preacher” (the comic series, not the microphone troll) and the current status of Spider-Man to the truth value of cake and the morality of pirated video games, among other things. And the pizza! Oh man, the pizza would have been divine, if there was such a thing. In any case, it was easily the best deep-dish I’ve ever laid tongue on.

As soon as we saw the tables at Papa Del’s, Jon suggested that we take our very own Last Supper picture, something that Jon and I do whenever we get a chance. This time, though, there were almost enough people for the whole crew.
I'm pretty sure this picture means that Magus and I fathered a line of holy descendants or something.
I got to be the big guy, by virtue of how we sat down, but I personally think it should have gone to Magus, who has a much more Jesusy look. I will maintain, however, that Jesus was an avid drinker of Mountain Dew, and that any Last Supper is made better by having a James Randi book in the middle of the table.

The whole thing was a blast. I was incredibly glad (and a little relieved) that I got along with the Action Skeptics guys as well in person as online. But I’ll talk more about that in another post. Suffice it to say that it was a fantastic experience, far better even than I’d hoped, and I hope we can do it again. I’m probably not going to WizardWorld this summer, so that leaves me with a free weekend and a little spending money. Maybe next time we can move it a little farther south, maybe bring Bronze Dog and Bob in on the action.

Anyway, I leave you with the words of Randi:
Just like on the Swift columns!

*Yes, “screeding.” I made it up, and I like it.


So, James Randi’s speaking at UIUC tomorrow, and I’m-a heading down with some friends for an evening full to the brim of skepticism. It looks like I’ll be attempting a meet-up with the Action Skeptics crew and some other blogger-types, which ought to be almost as Amazing as that certain Meeting that’s too expensive for a poor grad student to attend.

Anyway, for those folks I haven’t met in meatspace, this is roughly what I’ll look like tomorrow evening, shirt, book, and all:
That's right, first edition.
Hopefully we’ll all be able to find each other. Personally, I can’t wait. And I hope Randi’s doing some signing after the speech.