James "The Amazing" Randi was nowhere near New York City when the New York Observer researched its feature, "Dinner With The Unknowers: The NYC Skeptics Break Bread," so it says something about the long shadow the guy casts that it was his picture, and not that of any of the story's subjects, which the editors selected to illustrate the piece.
Check it out here. It's a fine article, which takes a fair look at the fast-growing subculture Randi all but willed into being. (Disclaimer: I used to work for Randi. Bias aside, the subculture really is growing, and he really did all but will it into being.)
If you don't know the guy, Randi was one of the world's most well-known conjurers and escape artists in the 1950s and 60's. Randi's career took a turn for he serious in the late 60's, when he realized that the gurus of the ascendant New Age movement who wooed followers with what appeared to be supernatural feats were actually achieving their effects with standard magic tricks. So on his New York-based radio show, he offered $10,000 to anybody who could demonstrate one of these feats under conditions which precluded cheating.
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One angel investor and four decades later, that offer now stands at US $1 million, and it's offered through Randi's not-for-profit, the James Randi Educational Foundation, in downtown Fort Ladida. But the skeptical movement inspired by his assaults on global charlatanism is much, much larger than that one Foundation -- as evidenced by the Observer piece, which doesn't even mention it.
The man himself is on tour in Spain right now, talking to neurosurgeons about the human capacity for self-deception. He's 82.
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