The Amazing Randi at the 2017 NECSS

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Randi with his signature skull-topped walking stick standing in front of a painting by his partner, artist Devyi Pena. This photo was used in a 2014 New York Times article.

James Randi was the keynote speaker at the 21017 North Eastern Conference on Science & Skepticism held on Friday, June 30th in New York City. I arrived a few minutes early and spoke with him before he took the stage. For anyone not familiar, he is a professional skeptic who has had a long career as a magician and an escape artist. He was a good friend to Issac Asimov, Carl Sagan and Johnny Carson, he inspired Penn & Teller to become magicians, and he was a friend and admirer of Christopher. After Hitch died, he wrote a touching tribute with We’ve Lost A Giant.  In 2014 he was the subject of the documentary An Honest Liar.  At 88 years of age, he is still going strong.




Me (Tom Casesa) with Randi before his talk.




Randi posing with a fan. Devyi is on the right (vest and white shirt).



The address took place in the ballroom of the Hotel Pennsylvania




Randi’s partner, artist Deyvi Peña.


Randi was able to meet briefly with J. DeRiso of Howard Beach, who made an appearance at the conference



Randi took the time to talk (and often) joke with everyone who wanted a signature.


Trump’s religious freedom order is a betrayal of our founding principles



There is an irony to the Trump supporters cheering the recently signed executive order which ‘promotes religious liberty‘. These people, led by Vice President Pence, believe this country isn’t religious enough, but of course, they mean not Christian enough (their particular faith). The irony is that this group of supporters, flag waving, consider themselves the ‘real Americans’ yet, as Hitchens reminded us frequently, the Founders (would they pass Trump voters’ ‘Real American’ test?) were men of the enlightenment, and they thought enough about the issues of religion and state that they went through a lot of trouble to separate the two. That’s what makes us different than the places from which the Founders fled. Hitchens explains it to the thick Ken Blackwell in this video.  Hitchens addresses the topic in Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, and of course with a broader perspective, in God is Not Great.

Trump is likely not interested in religion, but he’s a big fan of throwing bones to his base.

Great Hitchslap!

Very funny Hitchslap. My favorite part of this program from Australia, Q&A is Hitch’s response to the charge of ‘bagging and smearing’ made by Father Frank Brennen. He makes the accusation at 20:45, and I love the look on Hitch’s face at 21:07 – he is shocked and perhaps perplexed, and is preparing his sharp response which ends at about 21;30. That segment is a good clip, but the whole video is well worth watching from start to finish. He is at his best here.. there are so many smart and responses.


Sam Harris: Hitchens wouldn’t vote for Trump



Sam Harris makes a good argument – that Hitch may have been willing to overlook Hilary’s shortcomings as a Presidential candidate, providing she planned to take action on the issue that was most important to him at the time: stopping Al Queda and its surrogates (which would have included Isis). This was back in 2007. I think if Hitch were here today, he would also be very concerned about Trump’s attacks on the free press. Let’s remember that Hitch was a First Amendment absolutist. He would not like Trump’s stated goal of making it easier to sue the press.