Penn is a novelist, a TV/film/stage performer, and a magician—well, more of an anti-magician. Penn runs with the Bright crowd--Michael Shermer, James Randi, Julia Sweeney, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, E.O.Wilson, and Lisa Simpson (Homer’s daughter reads Jr. Skeptic).
I met Penn while he awaited his car at the Venetian Hotel. Like a starstruck teenager, my mind turned to mush when I accosted the man. I blathered something to the effect that I admire him greatly. I think I then specifically noted that I drink only tap water, and he smiled knowingly....
Among their many performances, he and Teller produce a series on Showtime titled Bullshit that debunks superstitions of all kinds, exposing how easy it is to scam people. They usually demonstrate their point by pretending to provide some service or therapy, filming the satisfied customers. Episode after episode I would snicker at the ignorant primates who bought, praised and validated reflexology, hypnosis-recovered memories, magnetic therapy, UFO insurance, homeopathy, Feng-Shui, penis enlargement, after-life mediums, and, of course, the Bible.
But my warm sense of intellectual superiority yielded to naked shame as I saw myself in the victims of the Bottled Water craze. I watched a cast member, posing as a "water steward" in a California restaurant, present the patrons leather-bound menus from which to select waters bottled in Alaska, the Sierras, the Swiss Alps, and Antarctica. As the patrons sampled the various vintages, they readily celebrated the properties of each water--the crisp Alaskan glacier, the sweet taste of France, and the smooth Sierra rainfall. The camera then filmed the kitchen, where the steward filled all the glasses from a garden hose.
I learned that bottled water is a good idea when travelling overseas, but it's a $22 billion scam in the US. It costs anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times the cost of tap water. Unlike tap water, there is virtually no enforcement of health and cleanliness standards, nor is there flouride to prevent tooth decay. The healthiest bottled waters are bottled from tap. And the bottles themsleves pose an environmental disaster. Here's a 30 second clip from the episode for you to consider (click on the Watch Video Preview box).
Anyway, back to Vegas.... If I were thinking straight, I'd have invited Penn to speak at Kepler's. I would have interviewed him for the blog. I would have thanked him for his NPR interview, where he defended atheist ethics with a clarity of thought that I envy. In light of last week's study highlighting Atheists as the most hated minority in America (here's a disgusting example), I implore anyone suspicious of my motives to read this brief excerpt from the transcript of that interview.