Luckily, the episode did not disappoint. Right off, the gang of Gavin Schofield, Janis Bennion, and Alex Dennerly sound more poised and comfortable. The timing and comfort that comes with more practice was clearly evident. The sound quality was improved, although the show needs some sort of sign off tune. The episode just sort of ended with a tag of technical difficulties Bennion was having with her VOIP feed where we now know how Janis would sound if she were a Cylon.
It seemed to me that Bennion and Stevens stole the episode. This was especially true during the guest rant segment where Stevens discussed the politics of ghost hunting, which is nothing like the politics of dancing. (I doubt my editor will get the joke.) Stevens discussed how when she initially starting ghost hunting (a term she dislikes), she was more on the believer end of the activity. However, once she started to look at the activity with a greater rational and skeptical mindset, her former comrades in hunting basically turned against her. Some people were not just critical of her, but also threatening. She shared how one person informed her that they would come and kick down her door if she did not apologize or recant her newfound position. Stevens' rant was masterful and on the one hand disheartening on how bullish people can be to others. I suppose there must be a sense of betrayal. On the other hand, it also goes to show what a tough nut is Stevens, and that despite such pressures sometimes folks "see the light."
There was a discussion mainly between Bennion and Stevens about how non-rational ghost hunters can frighten people who dwell in an alleged haunted house and can cause real harm. Instead of looking objectively at certain phenomenon and trying to deduce what is going on with closed doors opening and bumps and creeks of unknown origin, many ghost hunters jump right into trying to contact the dead and pick up electromagnetic signals of ghosts. It was some powerful stuff.
The Gang also discussed how god men can makes coconuts appear to move on their own as well as to burst into flames upon command for an audience. How on British television Natureopaths distanced themselves from their fellow alt med kin in an effort to spin their crap-based medicine into integrative medicine. The sleazy world of scientology was discussed on how Scientology gets around the British value added tax despite not being a recognized church in England by connecting itself to the Scientology gang in Australia where they do enjoy tax free status.
All in all, I rather enjoyed this show. I will endeavor to cover it more often. Now I have to catch up on my Amateur Scientist, Irreligiosophy, Skepticality, et al.
Going back to an old regular show, The Skeptic Zone podcast was part travelogue from Australia to Las Vegas for Jo Benhamu, Dr. Dunlop, and Richard Saunders journey to TAM 8. If you don't know what TAM stands for then you are reading the wrong blog. See the entries by Karl to get an excellent feel for it. The show was also part Think Tank gathering with special Tankee Kylie Sturgess.
Anyway, I just want to hit upon a few highlights of the episode that struck me.
First off, the gang traveling to Las Vegas somehow got through customs and to their connecting flight in LAX in two hours. I've been to LAX about ten years ago on such a international flight, and unless LAX has undergone a major redesign, they must have sprinted from terminal to terminal. I am impressed.
The other thing that struck me was how amazed they were that Las Vegas Casinos lacked fish tanks and aquariums. I've been to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, an indian reservation casino, and the local casino and I never recall one fish tank. Perhaps in Australian casinos and Sea World are combined. It always amazes me about the little quirks outsiders pick up from what I consider just regular culture.
The gang discussed Saunders sacking out at improper times during past TAMs including during the recording of an SGU episode. We learned that the United States immigration service sucks since it has Dr. Dunlop on a watch list since she was refused entry into the United States years ago at the New York State/Ontario Border at Niagara Falls because she decided not to pay the $7 tourist entrance fee. Now Dr. Dunlop has to get a Visa as well as a passport to journey across the fruited plains and amber fields of America. The gang discussed Sturgess' recent attendance at various vaccination lectures, which she post on her blog.* The group discussed with Maynard the "No Agenda" podcast with conspiracy minded Adam Curry and tech journalist curmudgeon John C. Dvorak. I have never listened to the show personally but I do listen to Dvorak quite a lot as he is a guest on This Week in Tech. Everyone makes fun of Curry and his notions that would make Karl's brain implode. I never thought I would hear Curry and Brain Dunning compared, but I swear it happens. We also hear Maynard discuss his days as a D.J. when he boasts of not having a set playlist (oh I long for those days) and he would play The Smiths next to say Kylie Minogue or Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. I used to do the same when I D.J. the four hour summer shift in College (WZBT FM Gettysburg College, Gettysburg PA "your road to new music.") That was a goofy college station, but I love to play ABBA's "S.O.S." next to Frank Sinatra "Summer Wind" followed by Nirvana. Anyway, speaking of old blue eyes, Maynard shared that you can call Frank's elderly widowed sister-in-law who lives in Las Vegas and allegedly is listed in the phone book. Maynard apparently would call her weekly on his radioshow.
All in all, I am not sure how skeptically educational the episode was this week, but it was great fun. I enjoyed it a great deal. For entertainment download the Zone, and for a thoughtful discussion on the unfortunate personal tension that can exist between believers and skeptics download Just Skeptics.
*I encourage the reader to vote for Kylie's Podblack Cat blog in a science blog contest. Here is the link. There are other fine blogs on the list, but I would suggest that not only is Sturgess an excellent reporter for the Skeptic Zone, produce her own distinguished Token Skeptic podcast, but she is also a damn fine blogger.