Every picture tells a story...
Las Vegas, Nevada — January 13-16, 2005
James Randi has been, at various stages in my life, an inspiration, a colleague, and a friend. As a boy I remember watching him on a beloved New York children's television show, Wonderama, hosted every Sunday by Sonny Fox (and eventually taken over by magician Bob McCallister; although I was by then no longer watching the show, I did get to know Bob collegially later in life.). In the 1970s his book, The Magic of Uri Geller, radicalized my already longstanding skeptical worldview. When I helped to found the National Capital Area Skeptics in Washington, D.C. in 1987, I began to encounter him as a colleague, and since that time, we have become extremely good friends. He is an important person in my life — it would not overstate the case to call him one of my heroes — and he has helped to shape who I am.
In January of 2003, Randi's organization, the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF) hosted its first "The Amazing Meeting" conference in Florida, near the foundation's headquarters, where I hosted and performed on the opening night program. In 2004, The Amazing Meeting 2 moved to Las Vegas, where I again appeared on stage for the opening night.
In 2005, The Amazing Meeting 3 outstripped all expectations by hosting 560 registrants. This year, my friend Julia Sweeney performed her marvelous one-woman show, Letting Go of God, which is currently running in Los Angeles to critical acclaim. Instead of simply performing this year, I presented a talk, mixed with some performance, on "The Illusion of Psychic Powers," and the role of the magician in skepticism and the paranormal. I also moderated a panel about communicating critical thinking through the media, which included Penn Jillette, Teller, Julia Sweeney, Michael Shermer (of the Skeptic Society), Christopher Hitchens (the journalist), and James Randi.
All the Amazing Meetings have been terrific, but incredibly enough, they keep getting better. I believe we had about 200 people at the first one, and more than 350 at the second. The 560 number for the third was, well, amazing, and it was a grand experience. Randi attracts a rather different crowd than some other skeptical events, and this is not just a bunch of dour old men. There is an extremely broad range of age and gender, and there is a definite upbeat and fun-loving dynamic to the entire affair. I was particularly pleased to meet and spend time with Christopher Hitchens, the brilliant essayist and political provocateur. It's fair to say I was thrilled to meet Richard Dawkins, one of our greatest and most outspoken contemporary science writers and thinkers. I had the chance to join each of these men for dinner and to engage in a number of substantive conversations with both, and let me tell you, there are worse things to do in life than spend time with the great minds of your generation. I also did a bit of after-dinner close-up magic for Professor Dawkins, and it was a delight watching such a great mind find himself thoroughly fooled.
All in all, an unforgettable few days, and I'll look forward to returning next year for another truly Amazing Meeting!