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The Demystifying Adventures of the Amazing Randi 

Wednesday, Aug 26 2009
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It's the skeptics' willingness to say "I don't know" that makes them a mostly libertarian bunch. "We don't trust anything or anyone," a science teacher from Texas explains, "least of all the government."

Dr. Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif., says Randi has been a prominent promoter of reason and scientific method. "Part of his legacy will be the resurgence in atheism and all the debunking he's done, but one of his greatest achievements has been the reassertion of one objective truth," he says. "So many of those influenced by him just want to debunk for the sake of debunking, but Randi is better. He is a defender of the truth."

When Randi does go over to the great big nothing, it's unclear what will become of his foundation or the million-dollar challenge. The foundation's board of directors recently installed astronomer Plait as president. But Randi is the face of the organization, and he knows that fundraising and organizing conferences could suffer if he isn't there to put his name on the place.

Things are still bright, though. On the second morning of the conference, two skeptics get married onstage. The bride, Rebecca Watson of Boston, and the groom, Sid Rodriguez of London, met in Las Vegas at the Amazing Meeting three years ago. MythBusters' Savage is the ring bearer. After the wedding cake is cut, in front of 1,000 or so of the most dedicated atheists on Earth, the lucky couple takes to the floor for their first dance — to a cover of the Beach Boys' hit "God Only Knows." Everyone in the room giggles at the ironic refrain. For the last two lines, the lyrics are changed to "Randi only knows what I'd be without you ..."


Back in the dark banquet hall, everyone is ready for the results of Connie Sonne's dowsing test.

"This has to be a three," Banachek reminds the room. He flexes the envelope and pours out the playing card.

Sonne takes a deep breath.

"Connie, that is a two. You've failed."

To be thorough, Banachek asks the failed dowser to cut open the other two envelopes she picked. Both were wrong. Then Sonne cuts open the remaining envelopes to prove that all the cards are present.

By the time she's finished, the patient audience has grown restless.

After the test, in the hallway, Sonne says that, although she failed today, nothing would make her believe she doesn't have psychic powers. "I just know," she repeats. Then she says the voices she hears have simply chosen another time to unveil her skills to the world. "They haven't allowed it today. But you wait. You remember me. You will see."

Outside the banquet room, Randi feigns relief, giving his brow an exaggerated, sarcastic wipe. "Thank God the money is safe."

He says that people who lose the challenge all react the same way: "Without fail, they always have an excuse for why they couldn't do what they claimed they could."

Sure enough, once Sonne returns to Denmark, she claims Banachek had used sleight-of-hand to move the cards and protect the money.

After the test, most of the attendees head to the airport or begin long road trips home. A few skeptics linger at the bar. "The TAM parties are something of a legend," a tall, pale, bearded conferee from Seattle confesses after his third vodka, between a string of Simpsons quotes. (Asked for his name, he spits out two that end up not being his.) "Skeptics understand the chemistry of inebriation. And we're good people to have deep, meaningful conversations with. All the people here are based in reality. That's really refreshing." To punctuate his sentiments, he stands up: "Who wants another round?"

Although the future is up in the air for the Amazing Randi, what keeps him going are the men and women who approach him every day with stories of their skeptical conversions. "That means I've changed someone's life," he says. "I get emotional. I say to myself, 'Damn! That's why I'm in business.' The people here, they're going to follow me. The movement's going to go on."

Randi jokes that after he passes, his fans need not bother with grandiose gestures like establishing a museum of magic or burying him in an elaborate tomb. He has something more Amazing in mind. "I want to be cremated," he says with his signature dry, knowing charm. "And I want my ashes blown in Uri Geller's eyes."

About The Author

Michael J. Mooney

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