February 17, 2006
Randi Update, The Big Tent, In Closing…
Table of Contents:
This Week's Swift was written by Hal Bidlack himself.
Randi's recovery continues. We have this report from Linda, who visited Randi on Thursday:
Today is a very good day!
I knew something was up when I entered the cardiac care unit and the doctors and nurses were doing high-fives at Randi’s bedside. Well, not exactly, but you get the idea. Randi is definitely on the road to recovery. He is awake, coherent, and cracking jokes, and admits he remembers almost nothing of the past 2 weeks. They are so pleased with his progress they will most likely move him to a regular room tomorrow. They’re working on his breathing exercises and he needs to get his lungs completely cleared, but they’re getting him up and sitting in a chair and they’ll try him on clear liquids later today. He’s lost a lot of muscle tone, which he’s going to have to work to rebuild, but the worst of this ordeal is definitely behind us. He still has a long recovery ahead of him, but he’s started on that road.
Yes, it’s a very good day.
Welcome to a brief non-Randi interlude for SWIFT, the weekly dose of insights and notions usually springing from the keyboard of the aforementioned bearded one. As you likely know, Mr. Randi is recovering from a bout with bypass surgery. Worry is natural, and is heightened by our respect and admiration for Mr. Randi, but happily, he is now well established on what will be a long road back to good health. But as he takes each small step his focus must remain on his own mending. Therefore, for a while, each week these columns will be under my aegis, and will be crafted each week by some of the remarkable people whom Mr. Randi has brought together.
So, this week, the column comes not from a computer in Florida, but my own in the shadow of the Colorado Rockies. In the weeks that follow, I’m honored to bring to you each week the words and wisdom of a “FOR” (Friend of Randi) until such time as Mr. Randi tells me to get the heck out of the way, he’s got a column to write. In coming weeks, look for the insights of Dr. Michael Shermer, in my view the most powerful voice (after Mr. R) in critical thinking today. Also, the extraordinary Dr. Phil Plait, of www.badastronomy.com. Phil is doing some of the most important work out there in keeping space science, rationality, and common sense at the forefront of American media. We will also hear from the greatest card magician I’ve ever seen, and a truly smart and kind fellow, Jamy Ian Swiss. We will also read the insights of a man who commands my deepest respect for his skills as an educator and scholar, as well as his ability to communicate brilliantly to audiences without saying a word, the remarkable Teller. In addition, we shall hear from folks who walk the halls of academia as well as TV studios, folks who entertain millions, and others who change minds one person at a time. Oh, the stories they will tell, oh the places they’ve been, it will be great!
I think only Mr. Randi himself will be surprised at the outpouring of respect and good wishes now cascading toward Ft. Lauderdale from all points of the compass. It has been my honor to know Mr. Randi for a number of years now. Being a part of the JREF is to be part of a community of thinkers. And, of course, we don’t always agree, but at the core of the JREF, I believe, is an instinctual quest for knowledge, for understanding, and for me, this is the most exciting thing about it. People come to the JREF not to learn about magic, though that often happens. They don’t come to the JREF to learn about physics or chemistry or statistics, though that happens as well. People come to the JREF to learn how to learn, to think about thinking. Plutarch famously wrote that the mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited. Mr. Randi brings fire. During a brief posting to the State Department, I found I hated my job. When I pondered why, I decided it was because my job did not require me to think. Rather, I spent each day monitoring the flow of huge sums of money to help people overseas. Important work, no doubt. But there was no need to think deeply, to wonder about the whys. This, I found, was most unfulfilling. I’ve never had a real conversation with Mr. Randi that did not leave me thinking about something, deeply. I love that. Now, to be fair, I must honestly report that discussions about which Taco Bell to visit were less profound than I may be portraying. But for the most part, to know Mr. Randi is to be ignited.
I still remember my very first contact with Mr. Randi. I was a faithful reader of his work (at the time, SWIFT was mailed out through something largely unknown to the younger readers of this page, called “the mail”). I had seen a commercial for an upcoming television show in which Mr. Randi was to debate supporters of the supernatural. The panel was stacked decidedly against him, and I worried it was a trap. So, with truly stunning naiveté, I send him an email warning him that he might be being set up. I warned him, with the passion that comes from not really knowing what you are talking about, that he was walking into a situation which was (gasp) biased against him! I received back a prompt email reply, of but one sentence. It read “but what if I win?” Happily, Mr. Randi did not form the obvious snap judgment about my intelligence one might think, and a long and fulfilling email exchange ensued. From that, a rich friendship not only with Mr. Randi, but with all of you. Oh, and I call him Mr. Randi, over his objections. He wants everyone to simply call him “Randi.” But I can not bring myself to do that. I was raised to treat those I respect with deference. And so he shall always be Mr. Randi to me.
Having been a part of each TAM thus far, I have marveled every year at the ease with which the participants mix. There are no barriers between the internationally renown, and those whose greatness is known only to their families and friends. I remember Professor Dawkins sitting at the back of the room, listening intently to the other speakers and offering questions, comments, and kind words. I remember Adam Savage of the MythBusters happily sitting with a group of “regular” folks, chatting excitedly about his work. I remember Julia Sweeney happily posing for a seemingly endless stream of folks wanting a picture with her. I remember a Nobel Laureate, Dr. Gell-Mann, attending the Forum’s TAM party, and I remember Phil Plait, after hearing of the loss of the Columbia, stepping up to give a powerful talk on the importance of space science and critical thinking. And I remember how lucky I am to be part of this group. And here’s the cool part: you can be part too. All you need to do is show up.
At the JREF, everyone is “regular” folks. Bad grammar, but you know what I mean. We all tend to be fans of each other. At this year’s TAM, for example, I introduced Robert Lancaster (www.stopkaz.com) to Mr. Randi. It was fun, because each was excited to meet the other. My own brother attended, who later excitedly told me of sitting next to two firefighters, and the amazing stories they exchanged. Now that I think about it, there are no “regular” people at TAM or in the JREF, rather, they are exciting collections of thinkers. The average JREFer is, by definition I think, extraordinary, with much value to bring to any discussion. Thinkers are the most interesting kind of people there are. So, perhaps Mr. Randi is the Mr. Rogers of critical thinking, because in the JREF, everyone is special.
The JREF tent is huge. The doors are always open. Even now, we have started planning for The Amaz!ng Meeting 5, to be held in 2007. We are working speakers, venues, and the thousand other details that go into such a conference. So, in the weeks ahead, please come back and read the words, evaluate the messages, and ponder the insights of our guest columnists. If you have thoughts that might make a good column, please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see if we can use them. We are all friends here. Indeed, we are FOR.
The ringmaster is healing, but the tent remains open for business. Come on in!
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© 2006 James Randi Educational Foundation
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