“I been a long time leaving but I’m going to be a long time gone”
I have been gone from blogging since July, and I had planned on being gone forever (at least on this blog). Today I decided to change that, and, well . . . I am back. I can’t say for how long, and I can’t say why I was gone for such a long while. IRL can be a real bitch sometimes.
I have not logged into the SA admin page since July, and today when I got back, what did I see but 60,626 comments pending moderation! I bet that all but about 10 are spam, and I am not going to take the time to moderate and de-spamify 60k+ comments! I guess I will have to figure out a new comment system other than the WordPress native application.
[Edit] I have now changed the commenting system to Disqus. I hope that it reduces spam. We’ll see. [End Edit]
At any rate, like I said, I am back. You may be asking yourself what event brought me out of my deep slumber, but if you know me (and a few of you do), you probably have a general idea. It was the fact that the TAM 11 website went live today, with an announcement as to identity of the speakers. Having been to the last six TAMs, I think that I have enough expertise to give some comments and previews.
Let’s start with who is not coming to TAM 2013, as I think that this may be more interesting than who is coming:
Phil Plait (not coming).
Until last year, Phil was a mainstay of TAM. His “Don’t Be A Dick” talk may have been one of the greatest talks in the History of TAM. From what I heard, last year he could not make it due to a conflict with San Diego Comic Con, but this year Comic Con is the week after TAM, so that can’t be the reason. One wonders whether there has been a falling out between The Bad Astronomer and the JREF.
Adam Savage (not coming) Another strange one. Adam was a regular, a stalwart, of TAM. His talk on failure is right up there with “Don’t Be A Dick” on the excellence scale. It could be that he had a scheduling conflict, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his friendship with Rebecca Watson, who is apparently in the midst of a perpetual boycott of all things JREF and TAM-related, has something to do with it.
Pamela Gay (not coming). Another stalwart. While I thought her talk last year was a big disappointment, she has come through in the past with great presentations, and her appearance on a panel with Neil DeGrasse Tyson at TAM 9 was one of my all-time TAM highlights.
[Edit] After I posted this, I came across a Tweet by Pamela Gay addressing this situation:
So, for some reason, Pamela got the cold shoulder by the JREF this year, and it seems that she is taking it personally. Here is the “pict in the ads” that she is talking about, which is part of a photo banner rotation at the very top of the webpage for TAM 2013:
I guess I can understand her annoyance on this point, but it seems a little petty. After all, the JREF flew her to Vegas and put her up in a hotel year after year. It’s not like she was a salaryman in Tokyo in 1972 expecting employment for life.
Then there is this bitter-ish exchange:
And then Pamela gets into the bitterness a little deeper, and a TAM speaker, Barbara Drescher responds:
The answer to Barbara’s question was not to her satisfaction:
At this poing, all I can say is this: If the JREF did not invite Pamela, perhaps they also chose not to invite Phil Plait and Adam Savage. That would be interesting, and frankly not something that I object to. One of the biggest issues I have had with the TAM lineup has been the repetition of speakers year after year, and the lack of new blood. Based on my (admittedly superficial) knowledge of the situation, I do not think that Pamela has a legitimate reason to feel insulted or slighted, or to lash out at Barbara on Twitter.
Eugenie Scott (not coming). Eugenie’s talks have always been enjoyable and interesting. Too bad she is not here, especially considering some of the other “talent” that the JREF has decided to book.
So, let’s look at some, but by no means all, of the people who have been invited to speak (in no particular order).
Sara Mayhew. (sigh)
I saw her name on the TAM roster and just about vomited. Her talk last year was one of the worst examples of public speaking since Carrie Prejean appeared on Larry King. Her talk at TAM 9 was almost as bad, although I will admit that she was somewhat coherent at TAM 9. I cannot fathom why the illustrious luminaries who book the TAM speakers would even think of inviting her back–she has nothing to add to the discourse, and as far as I have been able do determine, she has never contributed anything of substance to skepticism, science, or anything other than producing a few manga comic books. Seriously, WTF were you thinking, JREF? My only hope is that they schedule her at 2:00 in the afternoon so that I can skip out and get a little nap in. Only time will tell.
Karen Stollznow (Excellent).
I am really happy about this booking. Karen is one of the best writers and thinkers in the skeptical movement today. Unlike Sara Mayhew, she has contributed a lot to skepticism, from her columns in Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer to her work on Point of Inquiry, to Monster Talk. TAM needs more speakers like Karen, and less like Sara, in this blogger’s humble opinion.
George Hrab (Good)
George is back as MC. Good choice. George has wit. He has charm. He can play guitar. He can keep things moving as an MC. I just hope he does not repeat the practice of doing singing introductions for he speaker again. That was okay as a one-off, but I would hate to see it become the norm.
Susan Jacoby (Very Good)
A good choice as keynote. Unlike Sara Mayhew (yeah, I know that I keep harping on the JREF booking her, but it is such an awful choice that it bears repeating, over and over again), Susan is a talented author and journalist who has actually contributed to skeptical thought (The Age Of American Unreason is a masterpiece, in this blogger’s opinion).
Susan Blackmore (never heard of her before).
From her bio on the TAM website, she looks qualified to give a good TAM talk (unlike someone else who I could name, but will not, in the interest of not appearing obsessive). Her Book “The Meme Machine” looks pretty interesting.
Reginald Finley (Who knows)
Talk about a blast from the past. Reginald Finley, aka the Infidel Guy, who was a pioneer in atheist podcasting, will be speaking at TAM 2013. I had not heard of him for years, since his podcast disappeared, but he always had a good gift of gab behind the microphone, so I am hopeful that this will be interesting.
Harriet Hall and Sharon Hill (hey, blogging is hard business, and I am getting fatigued, so I am combining the two).
Good, strong choices, two people who have contributed a lot to the skeptical movement, have a lot to say, and know how to say it (at this point a lesser blogger might have gone back to that old chestnut of comparing the two of them to You Know Who, but even I am getting tired of that schtick).
Massimo Polidoro and Massimo Pigliucci (Seriously, two guys named Massimo at the same skeptical conference? What are the odds of that? Considering the high level of intellect of TAM attendees, I bet some of you could calculate it for me).
And all the rest (Good)
The rest of the speakers look like a solid and stalwart bunch.
That’s it for now.