The Amazing Randi Lecture

Homeopathy?  Magnet Therapy?  Dowsing?  Orbs?  Astrology?

James Randi lectures on these and related subjects for the new millennium

When: Saturday, September 29th 7pm
Where: Unitarian Universalist Church Main St. Montpelier, VT
Cost: There is no charge to attend


I began my three hour drive to Vermont around 11 am Saturday, September 29th.  I was lucky to have a beautiful day and the leaves were just starting to turn their autumnal colors. 

Jeff W. put out flags to mark his drive and house (and even so, I knocked on the wrong door).  His condo is gorgeous, modern, filled with Randi paraphernalia, the Holy Grail bunny, dipping birds, hand boilers (one of which I wrapped for Jeff’s son’s upcoming birthday, using an Easter Island statue shaped tape holder) and food for carnivores and herbivores.  Jeff himself is open and inviting; a friendly gadget geek. 

I started meeting people from the forum: Mattfn (thanks for The Amazing Meeting stories/info), kittynh, nova land, John H, Rebecca (Watson, and skeptical rogue from Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, who looks like my younger sister, not that Rebecca and I look alike, she looks like my sister in the ways that my sister and I don’t look anyone still following this?  Am I still following this?), Lucy, Phil (who lives only one town over from me), mumchup, etc.  It was wonderful to put faces with “written voices”.  Everyone was laid back and there was an obvious comradery built on long term posting and gatherings. 

At one point, Rebecca was on the computer in the kitchen checking the webcam pictures (the entire house, with the exception of the bathrooms I was told, was live) and in the JREF chat with Jeff W, who was on his computer upstairs.  Jeff W told me that this was common and at another party there had been about six people sitting around his living room with their laptops in the chat room.  All I can say is, “wow.” 

Jeff was in a bit of a panic as he could not get a hold of Randi (his cell was off and Jeff did not have the cell number for those chaffering Randi from the airport, the Beadys). 

All turned out well as the Beadys arrived with Randi.  I have to admit here to bordering on “geeking out.”  I was getting to meet the “Santa of Science” so to speak.   Again there was a familiarity with those who had been to lectures and meetings before.  Randi (in a dark blue suit with an incredibly vibrant orange tie) greeted everyone with either a hug or firm handshake and was doing some slight of hand tricks within two minutes. 

Group pictures were taken; thanks to Rebecca for handling my “older than her” camera and making sure I actually got in some photos.  Mr. Randi complimented me on my necklace and in a moment of “fan” bravery I asked if I could give him a hug.  He was very gracious and indulged me (a surprisingly strong hugger for someone who had very serious health issues just a little over year ago).

Rebecca carried the kitchen laptop/webcam to Randi and he and the Bad Astronomer Phil Plait got to share a few live and in color moments.                                        

Jeff W’s kids and a friend arrived and Randi had a few more tricks up his sleeve (or on his lapel as they involved his pigasus pin) for them. 

Beady and I had a nice conversation about how I found out about Randi and skepticism (thanks Penn & Teller).  He had some nice advise on authors and learning critical thinking.        

I was lucky enough to get to ride with the Beadys and Randi from Jeff W’s to the Church.  We stopped off at a cider mill (I picked up some maple syrup for Gram and a coloring book for my nephew Nathan).  Both the Beadys and Randi had great stories on their work and woo-woo.  As I was still a little awe struck (better to be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt) I decided to just listen and keep my comments to a minimum (if my friend Ken is reading this I am sure he is having hard time imagining that). 

Arrived at the Church and helped with set up.  Between 50-70 people came.  The lecture began with a short video of some clips of Randi’s past exploits (over Niagra Falls in a straight jacket, the Carson Show, with Penn & Teller, etc).  Mr. Randi himself was engaging, smooth, relaxed, funny, educational and entertaining.  He had one liners for those audience incidents (at one point a woman stepped out to the bathroom and as she left the hall through the door near the stage Randi glanced her way and said “It gets better”), tricks and sleight of hand to accent points and debunk psychic abilities, and handled questions from the audience with grace and patience.

There were two moments that gave a few people hesitation.  Twice, instead of using the stairs, Mr. Randi jumped down from the small stage (“At 79 I shouldn’t be doing that; actually at 78 I shouldn’t have been doing that either”).  I think everyone who knew of Randi’s recent health issues almost had to call for oxygen themselves at those moments.   

After the lecture, about fifteen of us went to a local restaurant just a few doors down from the Church (The New England Culinary Institute Bar & Grille I believe).  We had a small but elegant room filled with wine reserved.  It was a nice group conversation, with everyone discussing magic and magicians they have seen/known and Randi doing a couple of tricks (one of which, as I was only about two feet from him, left me thinking 1) after watching Penn & Teller for almost a year I should know that, no matter if the magician is getting naked, never, never take your eyes off their hands, and 2) “Oh my goodness, I am so stupid.  How do I have enough brain power to remember to breath?”). 

Upon completion of the delightful dinner, I said goodbye to the super Beadys and Randi, who was kind enough to indulge me in another hug (one of my friends said that if I went to The Amazing Meeting I would be like a crack addict with $20,000 in on a street corner in downtown Detroit: Penn & Teller, Randi, the rest of the Skeptic Rogues from The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast, Phil Plait, etc; I’d just be a mumbling mess and I said, no, I’d just be a hug harlot).  I rode back to Jeff W’s with the terrific hamradioguy.  The party was very reminiscent of community theatre cast parties, with its own special flavor of course: video games involving sewer marauding bunnies (which Rebecca annihilated: it must be a vegetarian thing), two lovely voiced sisters, Rebecca on guitar, amazingly carved pumpkin of jack o lantern Randi (and one of the Boston Red Sox) and presumably hot tub antics (of which I remain agnostic).

Hamradioguy was generous enough to allow me the use of his guest room for the night.  Unfortunately he got an emergency call soon after arriving back at his house (ah, the life of a volunteer firefighter; no good deed goes unpunished...or maybe it’s no rest for the wicked...things that make you go hmmm....;-).  In the morning, I had a wonderful breakfast with hamradioguy, a friend of his and his friend’s daughter (who has the same name as my great grandmother who lived in Morrisville, I wonder if it’s a Vermont name).  Hamradioguy also snagged me a flyer for the Randi event.  After getting a picture of the famous ladder truck, I was on my way home (lucky enough again to have a beautiful day for the ride).

I had the pictures developed immediately of course.  My thanks to whomever grabbed my camera and got a shot of my hugging Randi.  Beady: I understand why your friend held your hands to your side at the wedding you told me about.  I have the pictures in a collage frame (and have doubles to hang at work).  The flyer is also framed (perhaps someday I will see Randi again and ask him to autograph it).     

This was a great ending to my birthday week off.  I’ve met some splendid people, with whom I hope to share more good times in the future, and gotten to meet a new hero of mine (it’s a happiness when our geniuses are also nice people). 

Arsenic & Old Lady Teatime 1/3

I live with my Grandmother in the house I grew up in (fourteen rooms). My younger sister is here with us as well, sort of, she sleeps here, runs up the electric bill, the phone bill, etc. 

My grandmother wanted the sills around the windows and doors outside on the first floor porch to be painted. The porches doesn't go all the way around the house so the windows in back never get painted any more (everyone is afraid of heights so even if we had a ladder long enough, unless the house is on fire and we're escaping down it, no one would get on the ladder). 

Now paint gives me a massive headache (I am prone to migraines) but I figured it's outside and only the sills. I grabbed the brushes and paint and went to work this morning at about 9 am so as to beat the heat (it was already 80). 

The paint looked like vanilla pudding. My granfather Cappy must have bought that stuff a decade before he died seven years ago (he's the only one who would paint around the windows that need a ladder). I'm kind of amazed it didn't have a set of pre-eyes floating in it, or maybe the early stages of the spaghetti god thing. 

I was able to get most of the work done without any damage, except for the cellar door. Left a streak of white on the rust door. 


How is this about Gram? 

Gram is a stickler. When she wants something done, she just doesn't want it done, she wants it done her way. 

"This is the way you hold the brush. This is how the paint can should be set up near the sil. No, don't pull the brush up and down, go left to right. No, don't do the left side of the window first, it will dry faster if you do the right because it's facing up the driveway." 

So on and so forth until I say:

"Isn't it time for your arsenic and old lady tea, Gram?"

Today, not once did she come out side to "inspect" the work. Not a word. She didn't come out until I had only her door sill left and then it was only to ask if I wanted to go out to eat before I took her to her shopping. Then she went back inside (80 degrees is a lot for someone with a bad heart and dizzy spells, she's 88 years of dust in clothing old). She didn't even care about the white on the cellar door, just said she'd check to see if there was any of the rust paint left and if not she'd pick up something close.

Early tomorrow morning I will get the sills on the second front porch windows. 

Okay, I did get a spot of paint on my jeans but Gram thinks she can get it out.

August 25, 2007

Loosing My Religion 5: poetry


I once was so sure
with a child's Absolutism
that I knew what came before

I once was so sure
with a youth's Omnipotence
that I knew what came after

I once was so sure
with a young adult's Spirit
that I knew I had been wrong
but had now found out what was

Today I am not so sure
how much of my past
dictated my past
and circled around
to my present

The calls of the Faithful
have no draw for me
and although there are many roads
not one pulls me home

My Beliefs have lost the battle with my Truths
and my Truths have fallen away
I have no Absolutes
and no Omnipotence

I still have my Instinct
I still have my Reason
My Spirituality is my Humanity
and is that not the truest Answer
to the Question "Why?"

For the first time I am Faithless
For the first time I am Free

June 18, 2007

A New Kind Of Magic

First there were wizards
with cards of the future
and boards that pointed from another world

Along came the sorcerers
with their book of ways and rules
and flocks of the loudly faithful

Then there were witches
with gods and goddesses of the past
and moons of lightness and dark

They all led me through
the illusionists and mirages
where prayers and spells
become reasons and answers
inquiry is the chants of rosaries
and skepticism is the salt of the earth

Now proof is required of the magic
and questions are always asked of the magicians

June 19, 2007

Loose (loos), adjective, looser, loosest, adverb, verb, loosed, loosing:
free or released from fastening or attachment,
free from anything that binds or restrains; unfettered.

The Unicorn's Widow

The Unicorn’s Widow

Were you born with the hint of it
a nubbin
the glance of a fable
that grew with you
to become an epic

What did those school yard younglings
with their flat featureless foreheads
say when you trotted out to play

Did you spend your Sundays corralled in a pew
surrounded by eyes that whipped you with stares

Did you marry
a man who saw the woman behind the myth
or a groom who saw a bridal handle to a virgin

After galloping through almost all of life
you had it separated from you
or did you unwillingly lay down your lance

Perhaps for the first time you could see everything clearly
but could you still see yourself

Did you mourn
lost and unbalanced
the innocence and the magic taken
by a lifetime of pressure from the herd

June 14, 2007
Tressa Lee Breen

Exhibits Of Humanity

Exhibits Of Humanity

After a day of teaching by sight and silence
their stories told to those who’ll listen with more than ears
they stretch

The Soap Lady helps wash away the dust of daylight
from eternally embracing brothers
Elfin children dance their angled bebop
over cabinets filled with epics quaking with their own jig

The faces of romeos and painters yawn
as the onion headed infant skips across their slick skulls
and a single horned grand motherly woman smiles over all

Each a teller of tales
with only a small cryptic piece of paper
as a banner to herald their achievements
Their work takes more than lifetimes
and although their lessons sting
if you approach them with youthful innocence
there is beauty in the cut
like blood on glass sparkling in sunlight

During the day with lights on bright
if you’re willing you’ll hear the drawers rattle
the glass shake
and wafting through the corridors
“We are here! We are here! We are here!”

Here where a label is not a sign of prejudice
but a rite of passage
Here where all are welcome
for they are
what you will be

June 14, 2007
Tressa Lee Breen