Monday, November 1, 2010

Food for The Eagle by Adam Savage

Food for The Eagle

By Adam Savage

Delivered to the Harvard Humanist Society, April 2010

  • I want to start by saying that, to me, any discourse from me about how one can live a moral existence without religion or the church would sound improperly defensive.
    • That there's an opposite to be defended is absurd and based on a provably false premise.
    • So let's dispense with that.
  • (To be clear: I'm referring to the humanist axiom "Good without God," whereby "good" means morality.
    • It's provably false that there exists no morality outside of religion, therefore the statement sounds defensive to me.)
  • By what route does anyone come to believe what they believe?
    • We all like to imagine that it's based on a set of logical facts, but it's often a much more circuitous route.
  • For me it was pretty simple.
    • I'm actually the fourth generation in my family to have no practical use for the church, or God, or religion.
    • My children continue this trend.
Here are a few things I've learned:
  • Prayer doesn't work because someone out there is listening, it works because someone in here is listening.
    • I've paid attention.
    • I've pictured what I want to happen in my life.
    • I've meditated extensively on my family, my future, my past actions and what did and didn't work for me about them.
    • I've looked hard at problems and thought hard about their solutions.
  • See, I order my life by the same mechanism that I use to build things.
    • I cannot proceed to move tools around in the real world until my brain has a clear picture in it of what I'm building.
    • The same goes for my life.
    • I've tried to pay attention.
    • I've tried to picture the way I want things to be, and I've noticed that when I had a clear picture, things often turned out the way I wanted them to.
  • I've concluded by this that someone is paying attention—I've concluded that it's me.
    • I've noticed that if I'm paying attention to those around me, to myself, to my surroundings, then that is the very definition of empathy.
    • I've noticed that when I pay attention, I'm less selfish, I'm happier—and that the inverse holds true as well.
  • I think one of the defining moments of adulthood is the realization that nobody's going to take care of you.
    • That you have to do the heavy lifting while you're here.
    • And when you don't, well, you suffer the consequences.
    • At least I have.
    • (And in the empirical study I'm performing about interacting with the universe, I am unfortunately the only test subject I have complete access to, so my data is, as they say, self-selected.)
    • While nobody's going to take care of us, it's incumbent upon us to take care of those around us.
    • That's community.
  • The fiction of continuity and stability that your parents have painted for you is totally necessary for a growing child.
    • When you realize that it's not the way the world works, it's a chilling moment.
    • It's supremely lonely.
  • So I understand the desire for someone to be in charge.
    • (As a side note, I believe that the need for conspiracy theories is similar to the need for God.)
    • We'd all like our good and evil to be like it is in the movies: specific and horrible, easy to defeat.
    • But it's not.
    • It's banal.
  • There's a quote I love: "Evil is a little man afraid for his job."
    • I always thought some famous author said it, but I asked my 200,000 followers on Twitter today, and it turns out that Roy Scheider said it in Blue Thunder.
  • No one is in charge.
    • And, honestly, that's even cooler.
  • The idea of an ordered and elegant universe is a lovely one.
    • One worth clinging to.
    • But you don't need religion to appreciate the ordered existence.
    • It's not just an idea, it's reality.
    • We're discovering the hidden orders of the universe every day.
    • The inverse square law of gravitation is amazing.
    • Fractals, the theory of relativity, the genome: these are magnificently beautiful constructs.
  • The nearly infinite set of dominoes that have fallen into each other in order for us to be here tonight is unfathomable.
    • Truly unfathomable.
    • But it is logical.
    • We don't know all the steps in that logic, but we're learning more about it every day.
    • Learning, expanding our consciousness, singly and universally.
  • As far as I can see, the three main intolerant religions in the world aren't helping in that mission.
    • For all their talk of charity and knowledge, that they close their eyes to so much—
    • to science, to birth control education, to abuses of power by some of their leaders, to evolution as provable and therefore factual (the list is staggering)—
      • illustrates a wide scope of bigotry.
  • Now, just to be clear. If you want to believe, or find solace in believing, that someone or something set these particular dominoes in motion—
    • a cosmic finger tipping the balance and then leaving everything else to chance—
    • I can't say anything to that.
    • I don't know.
  • Though a primary mover is the most complex and thus (given Occam's razor) the least likely of all possible solutions to the particular problem of how we got here, I can't prove it true or false, and there's nothing to really discuss about it.
  • If Daniel Dennett is right—
    • that there's a human genetic need for religion—
      • then I'd like to imagine that my atheism is proof of evolutionary biology in action.
  • There may be no purpose, but its always good to have a mission.
    • And I know of one fine allegory for an excellent mission should you choose to charge yourself with one:
    • Carlos Castaneda's series of books about his training with a Yaqui indian mystic named Don Juan.
    • There's a lot of controversy about these books being represented as nonfiction.
    • But if you dispense with that representation, and instead take their stories as allegories, they're quite lovely.
  • At the end of The Eagle's Gift, Don Juan reveals to his student that there's no point to existence.
    • That we're given our brief 70-100 years of consciousness by something the mystics call The Eagle, named for it's cold, killer demeanor.
    • And when we die, the eagle gobbles our consciousness right back up again.
  • He explains that the mystics, to give thanks to the eagle for the brief bout of consciousness they're granted, attempt to widen their consciousness as much as possible.
    • This provides a particularly delicious meal for the eagle when it gobbles one up at the end of one's life.
    • And that, to me, is a fine mission.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

So Apt

This is taken from Talking Points Memo by reader SG:
One of the characteristics of privilege is that people without privilege are expected to constantly account for themselves. An African-American in a prestigious job faces accusations of "you're not really qualified; you were just hired to make a quota". A woman who is a victim of sexual assault has to convince others--sometimes, even the police--that she didn't "deserve" what she got. Gay men and lesbians advocating marriage equality have to present an image of perfect loving eternally pair-bonded couples. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ignorance is No Defense

Re: Lt. Col. Driscoll's ruling on admissible evidence for Lt. Col. Lakin's Article 32 hearing:

President Obama does not have to show his (hospital) birth certificate. He has not committed any crime. Accusations are not evidence. Suspicion is not proof.

The Courts Martial of the US military have no authority to compel the POTUS to do anything. They can't make Obama do anything. Even if they could somehow compel the POTUS to testify, this would effectively convict Obama for a crime there is no proof he committed--directly contravening the Constitution. President Obama is not the accused: LTC Lakin is the accused.

Side note: It's fascinating to see all these Birthers, who staunchly insist they are protecting the Constitution, demanding all the judges throughout the land ignore the Constitution to force Obama to show proof he is an American citizen--when there is no evidence at all he isn't.

As LTC Driscoll noted, the POTUS never gave LTC Lakin any order. The orders to go to Iraq were issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In point of fact, his orders to go to Iraq were probably issued by his Headquarters. Odds are LTC Lakin knows this, since he went to officer's school where the difference between organizational authority and direct authority were explained to him. I know it was explained to me when I went through Air Force basic training as a slick-sleeve.

All of the people from Hawaii requested to be compelled to give evidence have no bearing on LTC Lakins refusal to obey orders. They were not there when he refused to get on the plane, they were not involved in his decision. Again, accusations are not evidence, suspicion is not proof. LTC Driscoll asked LTC Lakin's defense team to give him reasons, with citations ("scholarly"), to compel such testimony; none were given.

Even if the Witnesses from Hawaii were somehow compelled to attend and testify, they still can't reveal anything about Obama's birth records. To do so would force the witnesses to break the law. And no court, civil or military is going to make a witness break any laws by violating Obama's privacy. The POTUS is not the accused.

There also seems to be some confusion--or willful ignorance--between President Obama and the office of the POTUS. Barack Obama is occupying an office; he is an elected official. The office of President maintains and confers the authority, not the person. The final authority for this Article 32 hearing is derived from the Consitution and the UCMJ, not from Barack Obama or whoever holds the office of POTUS.

LTC Lakin has willingly--even eagerly--put his foot right into a bear-trap. I cannot believe his is so ignorant as not to understand the differences in organizational and direct authority, chain of command, the source of his orders, and the limited jurisdiction of a military court martial. To believe such means he must have slept through all of his classes in officer school. And I do know officers have to pass written tests for their promotions, and he must have passed them because he's a Lt. Colonel in the Army.

It would be better to believe LTC Lakins is simply pig-ignorant. Otherwise we see a crafty and cunning opportunist, who has willingly sacrificed his honor, his career, his compatriots--and his country--for the sake of some immediate gain. I would not be surprised, once this preliminary hearing is over, if LTC Lakin is given the opportunity to resign his commission rather than face a General Court Martial. I hope for his sake he takes the offer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Things Haven't Changed Much

Obama, Sovern, trustees of Columbia University found guilty.

"On Tuesday, May 18, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Obama, Michael Sovern, who was president of Columbia University during the period of time Obama supposedly attended, and the trustees of Columbia University, on all 17 counts of sedition, conspiracy, fraud and obstruction of justice."

This was done in a church, the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem. The "trial" was presided over by the pastor,  James David Manning.

I just have to put my head in my hands and ask: Do these people realize what they're doing?

Here is a gen-u-ine, deep south, 1920's kangaroo court convened in New York on a set of obviously trumped-up charges against the POTUS, Barack Obama. Waving the 10th amendent around like a protective banner, they have taken the law into their own hands and reshaped it to suit their prejudices. They definitely prove why we need a rule of law, and a judiciary system to protect us from their organized mass hysteria. I find it very significant this was convened in a church, also proving the need for the separation of church and state.

Let's be clear on this: This is not law, it is persecution. This is not justice, but a vendetta. This is not a trial, but a lynching. They are not heroes; they are vigilantes.
"On Monday, May 24, Manning announced, “We the People spoke,” and said he was assembling a coalition to hand over the verdicts to the judiciary of the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Congress, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. Attorney General.
Manning also noted, specifically for Sovern and Columbia University, he will be submitting to the New York State Bar, New York Attorney General, New York State Regents and Atlantic Schools Accreditation a demand that their license to operate an educational institution be revoked.
“Perhaps their first response will be to defend and reject."

What are they going to do when they're simply ignored? Saddle up, don white hoods, carry ropes and then gallop onto the White House, waving burning torches?


Maybe I giving this more credence than it deserves. Dr. Manning's website is looney-tunes. The first thing you see is a baptist minister dressed like the pope--it's all about the incredible and wonderful Dr. Manning. When you read his credo and plan of action it's clear he's "directed by God" to create an ant-like theocratic state. That's what I get for not checking stuff before posting my opinion.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Memories of Montgomery 1963 / 1968

You had to smell the fear. Real, palpable fear from the whites all around me. I was living in an all-white neighborhood and attending an all-white school; and everybody was worried. Worried the marches and riots would come "here."

But most of all they were scared: scared that blacks would have the same civil rights, the same legal protections enjoyed by middle-class whites. Own the same kind of homes, attend the same kind of schools, hold the same kind of jobs. Practice the same professions. You could see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices when they talked about it. It would be the end of the white race.

The history of what happened, the reasons people of color marched, the harsh reprisals against them--including torture and murder--gives the lie to the Libertarians and their opposition to civil rights.

Make no mistake: the Libertarians you see on television and on the internet, these "Tea-Partiers," are Bourgeoisie who have hijacked anarchist terminology to justify their yearnings to restore and maintain the status quo. They are not interested in freedom, they are not motivated by any belief in human dignity, but seek instead money and power. Their credo is "I'm free--too bad about you."

Libertarians oppose laws against discrimination because these laws prevent discrimination. No fancy explanations are needed. People marched in Alabama for civil rights against a system that was formed against them, economic, legal, social and political, to make them sub-human. They marched because they had no other redress. Their only hope was make enough of a stink of fear and hatred so the federal government would step in and protect them from the local governments that created the problems in the first place.

The values and principles espoused by Libertarians were not available to people of color. They had no self-determination. The private institutions and businesses Rand Paul says we had no business regulating were sheltered and protected in their discrimination by their local governments. When civil rights protesters boycotted the lunch counters, the police responded with dogs and firehoses because the businesses were losing money.

The basic causes of prejudice and bigotry have not been addressed--often not even acknowledged to this day. Libertarianism does not address those causes of fear and hatred; instead offers only an alternative based on an ideal form of Individualism. This was of no help whatsoever to King, Sutherland and the other organizers of the civil rights marches of Birmingham.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Creationism <> Evolution

I chose to reply to this letter here, as I'm tired of having to register at every website just to comment.

The full text of the letter is here. The passage in question is:
Why can't science be a way of figuring out "how God does it" instead of man thinking he is so smart? God once answered a man who questioned Him, saying (Job 38-41), "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me..."
First of all, we must address the profound ignorance embodied in this letter, the simple (and perhaps willful) failure to understand the difference between Science and Religion. Here are the definitions from the Merriam-Webster website:

  • 3 a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena.

  • 1 b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.

Science expands our knowledge through the study of natural forces.

Religion provides comfort and personal insight through the worship of a diety considered the source of all things supernatural.

  • 1 : of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
  • 2 a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature b : attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit).

The essence of the supernatural is it can't be explained by anything we know or experience. If it were natural, we could explain it readily through observation and experimentation.

In the supernatural there is nothing we can observe, measure or replicate. The supernatural has not and will not ever contribute to human knowledge.

Science was never intended to explain the creation mythology of any religion. Science is neither superior nor inferior to any system of religious belief; the two are not related in any way.

There are many who prefer to apply a religious gloss to the results of science and comfort themselves with this. But such a varnish never really explains anything significant.

  • 1 a : destitute of knowledge or education ; also : lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified b : resulting from or showing lack of knowledge or intelligence.

Ignorance means we don't know. "Dividing the light from the darkness" explains without really explaining anything. Since the forces and processes involved are divine, they are supernatural, so there is nothing to observe, measure, record or replicate. The biblical account of creation remains simply words on pages with no examples anywhere we can point to and say, "This is how it was done." The evidence for creationism does not exist: there is nothing to explain. Even after centuries of theological study, the answer is still, we don't know.

And we need explanations badly. Our studies of purely natural processes are revealing powers and forces that make any god look like a wet firecracker. Any creation mythos pales to insignificance to such processes as compressed forces suddenly expanding to the size of the universe in about a tenth of a second (the "Big Bang").

The study of Creationism squanders time, energy and resources better applied elsewhere to solve the many problems we face as living organisms, a species and as individuals.

Monday, April 12, 2010

You think the military hasn't dealt with this before?

Headline: "Tea Party Movement Spreads To Military"

These military "Oath Keepers" are swimming with sharks without a lifegaurd.

Doesn't anyone remember the Vietnam War? All those military types who suddenly became conscientious objectors? They refused their duty assignment ("Failure to Go"), were court-martialed and kicked out.

Here's how it's going to happen today. Our good NCO here is going to have a file opened on him by his First Shirt, and the first thing going into it will be a Letter of Reprimand. This will lay the groundwork for future disciplinary action.

If our NCO recieves orders for Iraq and refuses to go, he will also be Failing to Obey a Posted Order or Regulation (this is known as "Failure to Go.") His CO will then tell him to report for departure. If our NCO refuses, he is not disobeying an order from his Commander in Chief, he is disobeying an order from his direct Commanding Officer.

Our NCO is now in hot water indeed. It's no longer political; it's now very military and is called Insubordination. At this point his First Sargeant and his CO will be fed up with him, and will just want to get rid of him. We are now looking at the likely possibility of an Article 15--at least--where he will be reduced in rank, his pay deducted, and de-selected for re-enlistment. He will be relieved of his duties and given some dead-end position where he will be probably counting marbles or something equally meaningless. And all of this without fanfare.

At this point our NCO's career is over. He can mouth off all he wants, but it means nothing. He's no longer in a position to influence his subordinates--he has none--and his compatriots are going to steer clear of him like a Jonah.

His supporters outside of the military, who have little or no real political influence, will likely make him a martyr. But the folks in the military, in the Marine Corps, they will know the real story, and what our NCO really represents: Oath Breaker.