29 July 2009

Spotlight on Penn Jillette

Yesterday, outspoken skeptic and atheist Penn Jillette made an apheresis platelet donation to United Blood Services in Las Vegas, a charitable act he practices often.

In fact, he and Teller host a blood drive - Penn & Teller's 13 Bloody Days of Xmas - every year.

SkeptiLove asked him if there's a particular reason why he donates blood so often.

I do it because it's a good thing to do. I'm also bone marrow typed, they asked me why I wanted to get that done and I was perplexed, 'To help?' I said. I guess most people don't think about it until someone in their family needs it. I said, 'I want to help some violent crack whore with my marrow.'

Take a page from Penn's book and donate blood. You can use this helpful search site to find a blood bank near you.

Also, if you missed my Warning Radio interview when it aired live, don't worry! You it has been uploaded, and you can listen to it now.

27 July 2009

Interview with Warning Radio: Live Tonight!

Tune in to Warning Radio tonight at 9:00pm EST for a live interview with Alison where she'll be talking all about SkeptiLove and how you can help!

20 July 2009

Help From Home; Send us Your Story

Ever since TAM, I've been pretty darn sick. But every day, I have looked at SkeptiLove and wondered what to do next - where to go with the awesome support received at TAM and from the folks over at Skepticality and the GeoLogic Podcast. (Thank you, Derek, Swoopy, and George.)

Many people have written to my Facebook, and to the SkeptiLove e-mail at skeptilove@gmail.com asking how to get involved.

Well, to answer the most pressing question - yes, SkeptiLove will definitely be making an appearance at Dragon*Con, armed once again with the ECTO red wagon portable office unit (to be donated to area children after the con) and SkeptiLove launch CDs. There is not yet a definite plan for an event, but don't worry, there will be. Check back here often for information on what, precisely, that event will be. We've had some great suggestions and offers of help.

If you want to run into me directly, my talk on critical thinking and its application to real-world problems is tentatively scheduled for 1pm on Saturday during the con. I'd love to chat with anyone who is interested in SkeptiLove, so please, do stop by.

And if you feel like you can't get involved because you won't be at the con, don't worry. There are many ways to help out. One is to simply send your story to SkeptiLove and tell us what charitable acts you're engaged in. You can also keep an eye here, on SkeptiLove, as we'll be planning events that you can take part in no matter where you're located.

Another is to go out and find some that you're interested in.

Today, for instance, since I am sick and can't rush about the city gathering clothes (as I hoped I would be immediately after TAM), I donated $100 to a cause I believe in - the PetsMart spay/neuter initiative that benefits animal welfare groups where the number of strays has gotten out of control. At the moment, the charity is focusing on Texas and Los Angeles as 'problem areas.'

Having recently become a puppy owner, I greatly appreciate charitable organizations that help to keep the cost of spaying or neutering your pet at a minimum.

Nearly every cause has a web site, and nearly every web site has a donation button. So today, in lieu of any way to hit the streets and help out there, I hope that all of you will donate through your favourite site and drop me an e-mail telling me about where you put your money, and why. Your stories will be posted in the next SkeptiLove entry, and I hope there are many.

Thanks again to everyone who has shown such wonderful support, and I hope we can continue to show that church isn't what makes us care for one another.

All you need is love. Pass it on.

-- Alison

15 July 2009

SkeptiLove at TAM 7: What we accomplished

SkeptiLove's launch at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 was really something. Over two hundred launch CDs featuring love songs performed by skeptical musicians were distributed in thanks for the donations to the Three Square food drive. 

The food drive donations were dropped off today, by the way, by Sean McCabe.

We donated 142 pounds of food, and $1,656.25 to feed the hungry of southern Nevada.

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There were so many donors, it's impossible to list them all - and if I happen to forget anyone, I apologize deeply. Matt Fiore, however, donated the largest single amount of money - over $200 - and was closely followed by JC Hrubovcak. Hal Bidlack kicked us off as the very first donor. 

Michael Goudeau very kindly donated tickets to Lance Burton: Master Magician that were awarded to Fiore for his wonderful donation. 

Banachek and James Randi both sponsored magic bears in silent auctions that benefitted Ronald McDonald House. Lana Harvey and Jen Newport were the high bear bidders, at over $300 together, and got to keep the autographed bear birth certificates. They will also receive photographs of the magicians snuggling their corresponding bears.

Stephen Packard, Paul Turner, Drew Russell, Jeff Wagg, Mitch Lampert, and Jerry Jobe signed up to provide dinner for a fellow TAMgoer. 

Kitty Mervine, Kochanski, Randy Pischel, and iiwo (amongst others) helped out with the food drive by manning the JREF Forum table, collecting money, and distributing food. 

Plans for a clothing drive are moving forward, and I hope you'll check back again soon for information on how you can help, no matter where you are located. 

Thanks to everyone who donated food, time, and kindness to SkeptiLove. I wish we could list every single person here, but the help came from EVERYwhere, and I think we'd be listing a whole phone book. We proved, during TAM, that there doesn't have to be a god behind every altruistic act.

All you need is love. Pass it on.

-- Alison

07 July 2009

Rumor Has It: Nikhil Fernandes

Welcome to our new spotlight segment "Rumor Has It" where Skeptilove posts about generous individuals we hear about through the grapevine.

Nikhil Fernandes came to our attention for his work with Habitat for Humanity.

We asked him about his work, and this is what he told us:

I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity through my college for three years (including two years as a group leader). I did four week-long alternative break trips with Habitat, and one week with a college group doing Katrina relief work. We also worked on a local site near the college, and organized fundraisers for the local affiliate. The picture I'm attaching is from a trip to Scott County, Tennessee, where we built a house for a family with three children. The work involved assembling and raising the walls, putting the framework for the roof on, and laying out the roofing sheets.

Props to Nikhil for his dedication to building homes for impoverished families!

05 July 2009

Hats for Cold Heads by Kitty Mervine

I was learning to knit at around the same time I was starting up badalien.org. For years I've volunteered at several expert sites online as a "UFO expert" and have even been on Maxim satellite radio talking about UFOs several times. I found after a bit what works and what doesn't with people that feel they have been abducted by aliens. My point is to get them to consider it could be a medical problem and to seek help without belittling them or telling them they are "crazy". Many people feel a great sense of relief that they really aren't being abducted and respond well to good medical treatment.

Today a variety of people contribute to badalien.org and I try to let both sides have a say, which is controversial, but I feel that in many ways skeptics need to be educated in how an abductee feels. I rather feel my web site is a way of helping others.

(OK that's the badground on badalien which really has nothig to do with hats but whatever!)

Now, I sometimes give talks about UFOs and abductees and since I was just learning to knit I decided it would be fun to knit up a bunch of "alien protection hats"... you wear them when you sleep and you won't be abducted. I learned how to knit a hat and they are always a big hit when I speak (I give them out as prizes for my "UFO knowledge quiz" part of my talk).

I had a lot of left over bits of wool and yarn, so I made some baby sized hats. I donate clothing and even old cars to the Salvation Army in town and they had a little sign asking for knitted hats, mittens and scarves. So I started donating hats to them. (Not alien hat, just nice hats made with leftovers).

I also found the Quakers online were collecting hats for Afghanistan. They really prefer green wool since green is a lucky color in Islamic culture. One day I started a thread on the JREF forum asking for peoples bits of leftover yarn and especially green wool (it's cold in Afghanistan, and only wool hats were accepted). I got huge boxes of yarn! And several people made a point of going out and buying new green wool. It takes a very short amount of time to knit a baby or child hat, so this winter I made a LOT of hats.

I'm still making hats, and savig them up to donate to the Salvation Army this winter. It gives me something to do in the evenings while watching tv. I also still make alien hats for when I'm asked to speak!

I don't feel like a hero or anything. The people who deserve the credit are all those who bought and donated the wool! They had to pack it up and pay postage and some people even BOUGHT wool which is pretty expensive. I just get bored at night! I like to keep my hands busy.


Kitty - for her hard work and time given to knitting hats for cold heads, and for her selflessness and zeal for life.

04 July 2009

TAMgoers: Need Help? Or, Have Help to Give?

SkeptiLove is aware of the state of the economy these days. We know that TAMgoers might not have as much spare money on-hand as they usually would. Many attendees are coming on scholarships, sharing rooms, and are cutting costs by not attending any of the optional activities.

Other TAMgoers have a bit of money to spare and are looking for a way to help out.

This is where SkeptiLove comes in. We are pairing TAMgoers who want to help with TAMgoers who need an extra boost to get through the weekend, and are arranging dinners.

If you are one of these people (either a helper or a helpee), please write to skeptilove@gmail.com to be paired up!

And don't fret if you're a helpee and don't like "accepting charity". The helpers are getting something out of this too - a new friend at TAM! In a sea of over 900 people, developing a close relationship right of the bat is a great thing.

And, outside of your helper and us at SkeptiLove, this will be totally anonymous for helpees.

Please do write in! Some people have already contributed, like

Paul Turner - who has an unmatched zest for helping out.

Jeff Wagg - who can be counted on in any situation.

Jason Epstein - who loves a good cause, and meeting new people.

03 July 2009

The James Randi Educational Foundation Donates, with Lots of SkeptiLove

Today, the James Randi Educational Foundation donated nearly 1,000 t-shirts to the Ft. Lauderdale non-profit organization Jack and Jill Children's Center, with much SkeptiLove.

Jack and Jill Children's Center is devoted to educating children in low-income families, and does a lot of community outreach as well.

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SkeptiLove sent this letter to accompany the donations:
Jack & Jill Children’s Center,

Hello, my name is Alison Smith, and I am the founder of a
new group called SkeptiLove, which is devoted to reporting on the generosity of
secularists, humanists, agnostics, and atheists.

We believe that it doesn’t take faith to bring individuals
together to do charitable works, and put an emphasis on kindness to our fellow
man to relieve suffering wherever we can.

Thank you for all your hard work in the education of
children from low-income families, and for accepting this clothing donation from
the James Randi Educational Foundation.

If you’d like to read more about SkeptiLove’s cause, please
feel free to visit us online at http://www.skeptilove.com.

All you need is love. Pass it on.

Alison Smith

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This donation was given by the following people at the James Randi Educational Foundation, let's thank them all:

James "The Amazing" Randi - for his tireless devotion to confronting irrationality wherever he may find it, and his ability to maintain such a strong sense of kindness and generosity in the face of anger.

Sean McCabe - for grabbing every opportunity to help his fellow man.

Jose Alvarez (famed skeptic from The Amazing Carlos Hoax) - for his eternal support to a wonderful organization, and to the people within it.

Fernando Balbuena - for adding beauty to the world with his artwork.

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02 July 2009

SkeptiLove to Launch at TAM 7

Hi, I'm Alison Smith. Three years ago, I founded a web site called Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society (SAPS) which focuses on addressing evidence presented by ghost hunters, skeptics, mediums, and other purveyors of the paranormal. Most often, the evidence seems pretty dumb to me, but, as you might figure, I'm a skeptical sort of gal.

I work for the James Randi Educational Foundation now, negotiating protocols for the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge and doing event planning and lots of other things as well. I love my job. 

But I haven't updated SAPS in a while, and I'll tell you why. It's all gone sour for me. I was recently part of a paranormal project (that was not in any way associated with the JREF, but had a bit to do with SAPS) that put me off the debunking experience. I have not, and will never be, allowed to talk about the project I'm referring to (thank you gag orders). 

It irritated me so much that I wasn't allowed to debunk my own project that I stopped writing articles for SAPS at all, and kind of stewed for a while. 

Recently, I was in Ft. Lauderdale at the JREF offices. Randi's personal assistant, Sean McCabe, was taking me to the airport and we were running early (which is kind of a rare thing for me, neat!). We ended up driving around in circles waiting for a time I could start standing in the airport and not look like a doof, and happened to pass a sign that said, simply, "Please give peanut butter. Thank you." 

Neither of us knew what the sign was for, but we figured giving peanut butter to people who ask for it is a good way to kill time. We stopped at the nearest gas station, bought peanut butter, and went back to the building that had the sign outside. 

It turns out that it was a Christian outreach group that was accepting food donations for impoverished families in Ft. Lauderdale. 

On the way to the airport, Sean and I talked about how skeptics, agnostics, atheists, and what-have-you don't get a whole lot of credit for charitable acts because we're awfully spread out. And, one argument some people have a tendency to go for when debating a skeptic on ethical issues is that, obviously, skeptics have no ethics. Most don't believe in God (though many do, and I'm not disregarding them, either. I have never, to my knowledge, stated my personal beliefs in an article.), and therefore they must be willing to, say, skin children if the fancy strikes.

Yet the skeptics I know are some of the most generous, charitable people I have ever met. 

So, here is your site, charitable skeptics. Let's get together and do some good for the world. Send in stories of things you're doing to make the world a better place, and we'll give you some ideas too - and organize some events that you can participate in from wherever you happen to be located. I'm looking into organizing a nationwide (or possibly even worldwide) clothing donation day, where all of us simultaneously take an article of clothing to a charitable organization.

SkeptiLove needs your stories, your photos, your ideas for events. Maybe you would like to get a group across the nation organized to take turkeys to women's shelters on Thanksgiving. Maybe you want to stand in the street and shake the hands of passing people and tell them you appreciate them. Maybe you want to teach a group of kids some magic tricks, or read to senior citizens. These are all things I'd like to work on with you. Contact me at skeptilove@gmail.com. 

To kick this site off and launch it with a bang that's so big you'll think a new universe started, SAPS, my old, non-updated organization, is hosting a food drive for Three Square at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7. You can read more on our efforts to stop hunger in Southern Nevada here

As always, SAPS will have the ECTO-III Red Wagon Portable Office Unit in tow, and after TAM, it will be donated to KinderCare of Las Vegas. 

But the really exciting part? For SkeptiLove's launch, we have an awesome giveaway for TAMgoers. At TAM, I'll be carrying around 300 copies of the SkeptiLove launch CD which features George Hrab, F. Wagg, and David Federlein. It's a really fantastic CD. I mean, freaking great. And these wonderful musicians didn't charge for the use of their music. That's right - a charitable act already!

In fact, SkeptiLove has had quite a few. I'm going to keep a running list of all the people who have given such a great amount of support, and who care about their communities, and who generously donate their time to their fellow man.

Jeff Wagg - for donating time, money, and tons of effort to the launch CDs as well as helping out with the food drive, and helping basically everyone who has ever asked.

George Hrab - for such a great recording in such little time, and for always being up to helping out for no reason at all.

F. Wagg - for his devotion to putting his talents to good use in donating a song to the cause, when he could've just as easily been playing video games instead.

David Federlein - for allowing SkeptiLove to use such a beautiful original song, and for being able to donate humour to everyone around him no matter what his own state of mind.

Paul Turner - for giving so much food to the startup of the food drive, and for his unending enthusiasm for new projects.

Fitter - for the donation of the SAPS ECTO-III portable office unit, and donation to help create the CDs - and basic willingness to help out with the financial side when things aren't looking so great.

Scott Romanowski - for the food donations for the drive at TAM, and for his eternal patience.

Kitty Mervine - for offering to help gather the food donations at TAM, and for all her kindness and support, which comes in oodles. 

Sean McCabe - for offering to help gather food donations at TAM and walk around with a tote bag full of cans strapped to his bodily person. And for the conversation that led to this idea.

Kochanski - for offering space for the SkeptiLove launch promotional materials, and for the crazy amounts of enthusiasm for the skeptical movement.

I hope to hear from a lot of people who would like to team up with SkeptiLove in the future, and I hope this grows into an awesome skeptical charity.

And if you have a Twitter account and prefer your news to come in bite-sized pieces, follow SkeptiLove at: http://www.twitter.com/SkeptiLove

All you need is love. Pass it on.

-- Alison Smith