Jan 29, 2014

The Ruins of TED

A friend of mine posted a video lecture the other day by another casualty of TED's war on "pseudoscience." Above is the TEDx talk that was removed from TED's platform after its super secret science board had a go -- or perhaps it was just another Reddit feeding frenzy.

I'm not terribly surprised that they disappeared Jim Vieira's talk. It's on unacknowledged ancient monuments in New England and disputed reports of the skeletal remains of a race of giants. It's pretty outre stuff, slightly more so than the Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake talks that were deleted. Not so much more controversial that it should be treated so differently. And it was treated very differently.

I've searched the entire TED site and found no official reference to Jim Vieira or his talk. All I was able to turn up was the original announcement of that TEDx event, a complaint about the deletion, and a comment about it in the discussion thread about the Hancock and Sheldrake deletions.

During the fracas over Hancock's and Sheldrake's talks, we heard repeatedly from Chris Anderson and his various acolytes that it wasn't "censorship" and how dare anyone call it that. How could it be censorship when the videos had been reposted in an unembeddable format, padded with shaming text from TED, and offered with a time limited discussion to amuse the hoi polloi? As Anderson explained it to Hancock:

In informing us that they are about to delete our talks from the TEDx Youtube channel, TED also state in their letter: “The talks won’t simply disappear from the web. Instead, we propose to feature them in a new section of TED.com that allows for debate, in which talks are carefully framed to highlight both their provocative ideas and the problems with their arguments.”

Ooh, a "new section." But, of course, there was nothing new about it. The videos were posted on the site blog, which dates back to September of 2005. Next they moved the "debate" to TED Conversations where it was well and truly hidden. This message board isn't new either and it was definitely in existence when they deleted Vieira's talk. I know this because a member posted his query about its removal on TED Conversations.

This "naughty corner," as Sheldrake termed it, was invented for no purpose other than containing the damage of deleting authors whose following was every bit as prepared to attack TED's choices as the New Atheist scientism brigade that got the videos deleted.

I think the only thing that bothers me more than the censorious nature of TED -- its suppression of ideas that don't flatter the establishment or its well-heeled donors -- is Anderson's bald-faced bullshitting.

It's very obvious what happened. TED realized that Hancock wasn't going to back down and that he could bring the weight of a very energized fan base. Jim Vieira had, only a few short months before, accepted his deletion with a sense of resignation and clearly couldn't marshal the same kind of numbers in his defense.

Jim Vieira posted this on his Facebook after being notified of the deletion:

Censorship is alive and well. I have just been told that my TEDX talk will be taken down. At over 116,000 views it is the most watched TEDX video in the world in the last month. I imagine pressure from Anthropologists and Archaeologists led to the decision. the same professionals who have studied texts and scientific journals that have been censored of these giant skeleton reports. Alex Hrdlicka was named the Smithsonian's first curator of the Division of Physical Anthropology in 1910, before Hrdlicka's reign there were no denials of giant skeleton reports. Hrdlicka and associates purged further reports from the historical records but could not erase the thousands of accounts in the Smithsonian's own Ethnology reports, town histories, Scientific American, American Antiquarian, New York Times headlines etc... so he explained that those accounts were made by scientists not understanding human anatomy. Beyond that the fact that many of these accounts reported anatomic anomalies like double rows of teeth was never addressed. Hrdlicka believed no race existed in America before 4000 years ago and called Louis Leaky a heretic to his face. Hdrickla was a pre-Nazi eugenist who was quoted in the Science News letter V13 #353 1928 pg.21 as saying "the greatest danger before the American people today is the blending of the negro tenth of the population into the superior blood of the white race." In 1927 he endorsed a comparison of African babies with young apes. In 1937 he published findings in his American Journal of Physical Anthropology to "prove that the negro is phylogenetically a closer approach to primitive man than the white race." He viewed Native Americans and African Americans inferior to whites based on cranial measurement. Not one of my historical and documented quotes was cited as in error but nevertheless my video will be censored. I have a host of radio interviews in the next few weeks including Coast to Coast AM where I am sure this will be a hot topic. I urge others to pass this post along and contact TEDX to convey your disgust. I am working with the crew from GCTV to do an hour and a half video on this subject that won't be censored so stay tuned. Thanks for the support

Vieira never got the chance to directly challenge TED in its "new section." The video was deleted permanently, not reposted in any "naughty corner." The only place their reasons have been outlined is in this letter from the TEDx affiliate who'd invited him to speak. If you look at the comments, it got no response until the Hancock and Sheldrake fiasco. And then a number of their points were capably disputed by commenters. But open disputes are something TED would like to avoid because the next thing you know they have to cross out their entire argument with nothing to replace it.

It just shows what kind of contempt TED has for anyone outside of the establishment. They don't want to debate the ideas -- just ridicule, trivialize, and marginalize them. To debate them would assign them too much validity. But mostly, they can't debate them. Given every opportunity to have a real debate with Hancock and Sheldrake, they ran away. They didn't even politely and directly decline. They avoided and sidestepped.

It's very clear that when TED censors TEDx speakers, they prefer to do so quietly. Any public response from them is entirely reactive. If you're popular enough, they'll even invent whole "new sections" that are nothing but Potemkin villages propped up on sections that have existed as long as their website. And if you're as wealthy as Nick Hanauer and can afford a PR campaign, you can even shame them into posting the offending video on their main platform. But if you're a little guy, a stone mason armed with nothing but some very intriguing questions about obscured archaeological history, down the memory hole you go.

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Jan 19, 2014

The First Stone

A transgender woman in Shreveport, Louisiana put a councilman's biblical beliefs to the test and offered him the first stone. Unlike Councilman Ron Webb, Pamela Raintree seems to actually understand the Bible. As noted here, here, and here, the Bible doesn't simply condemn homosexuality. It imposes a death sentence. But like most good Christians, Webb discovered he wasn't willing to see his belief through to its natural conclusion. So far the only fundamentalist Christians that I'm aware of whose faith is that unambiguous, at least here in the States, are Pastor Worley and his congregation.

Councilman Webb inappropriately and in flagrant violation of the First Amendment invoked the Bible when he voted against a nondiscrimination ordinance in Shreveport. He was still voted down 6-to-1.

Shortly before the council voted 6-to-1 in favor of the ordinance back on December 10th, Councilman Ron Webb said, "the bible tells you homosexuals is an abomination." Webb added that he does not socialize with homosexuals and that the ordinance is a bad piece of legislation.

He refused to let the matter drop and put forth a motion to repeal said ordinance. Until this plucky transgender woman tested his faith.

Raintree brought the stone with her to the council meeting and stated, "Leviticus 20:13 states, 'If a man lie also with mankind as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death.' I brought the first stone Mr. Webb, in case that your Bible talk isn't just a smoke screen for personal prejudices."

KMSSTV.com reports that after Raintree gave her moving speech, "Webb moved to withdraw his proposal to repeal the Fairness Ordinance" and "his withdrawal motion received support and was unanimously supported."

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Jan 15, 2014

Noah, the Versificator & the Persistence of the Soul

I love Noah.  I fell hard the instant I heard his rendition of "Sexy and I Know It." He took it to pieces and brought the innate irony of the song to new heights. A round-faced, ruddy-cheeked cherub with the voice of a Delta bluesman, the boy has chops. And he keeps turning out glorious covers of good songs and bad. He elevates them all.

It occurred to me this morning as I was listening to his transformation of One Direction's "Story of My Life" just why it is that I love Noah so. I loathe One Direction, another prefab pop act designed in a board room. My daughter's twelve -- their target market -- and she knows their music insults her intelligence. Her instincts are intact. She quickly intuited that they exemplify the contempt the industry has for her. Their music is the worst kind of dreck. But there was Noah making it beautiful. So naturally I thought of Orwell's 1984.

I thought of George Winston puzzling at how the pointless entertainment churned out by a machine could be brought to life by an authentic human voice.

Under the window somebody was singing. Winston peeped out, secure in the protection of the muslin curtain. The June sun was still high in the sky, and in the sun-filled court below, a monstrous woman, solid as a Norman pillar, with brawny red forearms and a sacking apron strapped about her middle, was stumping to and fro between a washtub and a clothes line, pegging out a series of square white things which Winston recognized as babies’ diapers. Whenever her mouth was not corked with clothes pegs she was singing in a powerful contralto:

It was only an ’opeless fancy.
It passed like an Ipril dye,
But a look an’ a word an’ the dreams they stirred!
They ’ave stolen my ’eart awye!

The tune had been haunting London for weeks past. It was one of countless similar songs published for the benefit of the proles by a sub-section of the Music Department. The words of these songs were composed without any human intervention whatever on an instrument known as a versificator. But the woman sang so tunefully as to turn the dreadful rubbish into an almost pleasant sound. He could hear the woman singing and the scrape of her shoes on the flagstones, and the cries of the children in the street, and somewhere in the far distance a faint roar of traffic, and yet the room seemed curiously silent, thanks to the absence of a telescreen.

I thought of how her lovely voice reminded Smith that where there is soulfulness there is beauty and there is hope.

As he looked at the woman in her characteristic attitude, her thick arms reaching up for the line, her powerful mare-like buttocks protruded, it struck him for the first time that she was beautiful. It had never before occurred to him that the body of a woman of fifty, blown up to monstrous dimensions by childbearing, then hardened, roughened by work till it was coarse in the grain like an over-ripe turnip, could be beautiful. But it was so, and after all, he thought, why not? The solid, contourless body, like a block of granite, and the rasping red skin, bore the same relation to the body of a girl as the rose-hip to the rose. Why should the fruit be held inferior to the flower?

‘She’s beautiful,’ he murmured.

‘She’s a metre across the hips, easily,’ said Julia.

‘That is her style of beauty,’ said Winston.

He held Julia’s supple waist easily encircled by his arm. From the hip to the knee her flank was against his. Out of their bodies no child would ever come. That was the one thing they could never do. Only by word of mouth, from mind to mind, could they pass on the secret. The woman down there had no mind, she had only strong arms, a warm heart, and a fertile belly. He wondered how many children she had given birth to. It might easily be fifteen. She had had her momentary flowering, a year, perhaps, of wild-rose beauty and then she had suddenly swollen like a fertilized fruit and grown hard and red and coarse, and then her life had been laundering, scrubbing, darning, cooking, sweeping, polishing, mending, scrubbing, laundering, first for children, then for grandchildren, over thirty unbroken years. At the end of it she was still singing. The mystical reverence that he felt for her was somehow mixed up with the aspect of the pale, cloudless sky, stretching away behind the chimney-pots into interminable distance. It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same — everywhere, all over the world, hundreds of thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same — people who had never learned to think but who were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world. If there was hope, it lay in the proles! Without having read to the end of THE BOOK, he knew that that must be Goldstein’s final message. The future belonged to the proles. And could he be sure that when their time came the world they constructed would not be just as alien to him, Winston Smith, as the world of the Party? Yes, because at the least it would be a world of sanity. Where there is equality there can be sanity. Sooner or later it would happen, strength would change into consciousness. The proles were immortal, you could not doubt it when you looked at that valiant figure in the yard. In the end their awakening would come. And until that happened, though it might be a thousand years, they would stay alive against all the odds, like birds, passing on from body to body the vitality which the Party did not share and could not kill.

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Jan 12, 2014

The Artist Formerly Known as Teal Scott

On January 4, Teal Scott and Sarbdeep Singh Swan were wed.
The Artist will henceforth be known as TEAL.

There's a story in the Marine Corps, perhaps apocryphal, about something a senior officer wrote in a FITREP for one of his junior officers: "His Marines will follow him anywhere, if only out of a morbid curiosity to see what he'll do next."

TEAL has many followers. Only some of them are fans. Or so I learned when I wrote a blog post articulating my questions and concerns about the self-described "spiritual catalyst." Shortly after posting the piece, I started getting comments from some of her fans and detractors -- mostly detractors. About a month later TEAL responded to my post.

Last night on my way to the bathroom, I peered into Blake’s room and noticed that he looked incredibly distressed. [Doesn't anybody knock?]  I asked him what happened and he explained that a blogger named LaVaughn (Celestial Reflections) had dedicated a ten page itemized article slamming me for every aspect of my career and personal life that she could get her hands on.  He also explained that he was receiving e-mails from people asking me to refute her outrageous claims [Pssst. I didn't make any claims.] because they “no longer knew what to think”. [I believe what we have here is the need behind the need. Her response is an attempt at damage control.]  It was by far and away the most “anti-Teal” material we’ve encountered to date.  Blake was livid.  He wanted me to write an entire counter article to put people’s minds and hearts at rest.  But it didn’t feel good to me.  On top of the fact that many of her claims were too off base to even be worthy of address, [Did I mention that I didn't make any claims?] I could not get my energy behind the idea of dedicating time to defending myself against a random person who crawled out of the woodwork to gain popularity and attention by slandering me. [Dear God, could this woman be any more vain?]

It is profoundly out of alignment [Alignment with what?] to design an entire piece of writing around resisting someone or something, which is what this woman did.  She does so from a place of bitterness and fear and therefore pain.  I would not seek to increase her pain by attacking back to defend myself. [Aaawww. How sweet.] It seems that what people wanted from me was proof that she is wrong about what she said about me.  Proof is a difficult thing because there is ultimately no way to create solid proof that could not be refuted. [I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume that this is the real reason she won't defend herself against the many claims I didn't make. She can't.] I could refute each piece of her evidence, the same way that she is refuting mine, but what would be gained?  I will not convince her that I am good.  I would not be doing so for any other reason than my own need to be approved of by everyone.  And I do not distrust the discrimination of the people who enjoy my material.  People do not need my proof to know what is good for them or right for them personally.  What they need to do is trust themselves.  And whatever answer they receive about me, is right for them at that time. [Aahh. So I didn't so much critique TEAL as I insulted the judgment of her many, many fans. Did you hear a dog whistle? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I heard a dog whistle.] I do not wish to prove skeptics wrong.  I gain nothing by resisting skeptics.  As my fame increases, [Dear God...] there will be more and more skeptics.  I gain only by continuing to do what makes me happy and hoping that what brings me happiness, brings other people happiness.  I understand how hard it is when you distrust yourself, to navigate a world full of opposing perspectives.  When you live without self-trust, the world seems to be full of people who are out to get you.  And so, you don’t know who to trust. [I believe that should read "whom to trust" but I probably shouldn't play grammar noodge with TEAL. That game has no end.] But you can trust yourself.  And by not refuting every skeptic that comes up against me, I am in essence giving people the opportunity to consult their own feelings and their own personal truth, and thus learn to trust themselves.  It would be a great world though if the people, who were inspired to write ten pages on one person, did so from a place of loving that person.  All too often, the only people full of enough bottled up energy to write ten pages on one person, do so from a space of hating them. [Yup. I'm a hater. Haters gotta hate, yo.]