My first TAM (The Amaz!ng Meeting) was a life changing experience. I went mostly to spend some time in Vegas and see Penn & Teller. What I found instead was a community of like-minded, energetic, and generous people. I ended up intimately involved with the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation), and became one of the main organizers of TAM and the JREF itself.
In time, things changed. The community fractured. The JREF changed its focus. The meaning of "skepticism" was no longer something we could all agree on, and the community collapsed. I share responsibility for this.
I left the JREF in 2010, after TAM 8, the last one I was involved with. In 2011, I went to TAM 9 (I couldn't attend the conference itself, but I was in the hotel), and found myself constantly pulled in to little bits of drama. It was not a good experience, and I haven't been back since.
But this year, I'm going. And it's for one reason: to say thank you to James "The Amazing" Randi.
Despite the fact that the community is either gone or in turmoil, despite the drama and scandals, and whatever, there is a bigger picture. And that is Randi himself. Randi has given us (the world, that is), so much, and he's asked us to come together one last time and see him. I'm going to do just that.
I've seen many of my "heroes" in the Skeptical movement fall. Some have fallen harder than I could have ever imagined. But my respect for Randi remains.
People seem to forget what an impact he's had. Watch his clip on "psychic surgery" on YouTube. Read up on how the JREF was involved with exposing dowsing rods being used to detect explosives (with predictable results.) Read the introduction to Randi's book The Faith Healers to learn Randi's true motivation for doing what he does. When I consider these things, I have to go.
I am putting aside my differences, my disappointments, and my bias to go to TAM this year. I'm asking you to do the same.
For one time, let's get together and remember that we used to be one big happy family. It may have been a dysfunctional family in the end, but it was still family and we grew and learned a lot. I think we still can, and I think that starts with dropping swords and shields and gathering around the fire for a few more stories.
It's just a weekend. If you can't afford the conference, fine. Come anyway. Spend a day in Vegas. Find me and I'l shake your hand and thank you for being there. My guess is that you'll be glad you took the chance and came.
And if not, Randi will still be glad you came. And that's worth something.
If you need a reminder of how things used to be, here's something I wrote about my first TAM many years ago.