Apr 30, 2013

The Labyrinth of Warren Jeffs: Another Tour

The other day I posted a video tour of Warren Jeffs's estate conducted by Willie Jessop who recently claimed it at auction. The new video above was shot by Jim Dalrymple of Salt Lake Tribune's Polygamy Blog.

What strikes me in both these videos is the incredible devotion to secrecy and this video makes it in even more apparent. These are heavy walls within heavy walls. The doors are so thick and solid they need four hinges. Everything is practically soundproof.

As Dalrymple takes the viewer past the outer walls of the compound and through succeeding sets of walls, leading finally into the house, I have the sense of being drawn into the center of a maze -- one that leads to a central but externally obscured "rape room." This is the labyrinth of the Minotaur.

The Minotaur was a monstrous half bull, half man creature of Greek myth.

After he ascended the throne of Crete, Minos competed with his brothers to rule. Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of support (the Cretan Bull). He was to kill the bull to show honor to Poseidon, but decided to keep it instead because of its beauty. He thought Poseidon would not care if he kept the white bull and sacrificed one of his own. To punish Minos, Aphrodite made Pasiphaë, Minos' wife, fall deeply in love with the bull. Pasiphaë had the archetypal craftsman Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow, and climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The offspring was the monstrous Minotaur. Pasiphaë nursed him in his infancy, but he grew and became ferocious, being the unnatural offspring of man and beast, he had no natural source of nourishment and thus devoured man for sustenance. Minos, after getting advice from the oracle at Delphi, had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur. Its location was near Minos' palace in Knossos.

. . .

Androgeus, son of Minos, had been killed by the Athenians, who were jealous of the victories he had won at the Panathenaic festival. Others say he was killed at Marathon by the Cretan bull, his mother's former taurine lover, which Aegeus, king of Athens, had commanded him to slay. The common tradition is that Minos waged war to avenge the death of his son and won. Catullus, in his account of the Minotaur's birth,[10] refers to another version in which Athens was "compelled by the cruel plague to pay penalties for the killing of Androgeos." Aegeus must avert the plague caused by his crime by sending "young men at the same time as the best of unwed girls as a feast" to the Minotaur. Minos required that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens, drawn by lots, be sent every seventh or ninth year (some accounts say every year[11]) to be devoured by the Minotaur.

Some of the parallels are obvious. Jeffs's use and abuse of children -- girls and boys -- throughout his life is well-documented. And he apparently needed a regular supply of underage brides to sacrifice in sometimes highly ritualized sexual abuse. He was also noticeably bizarre and inappropriate from an early age, which along with frequent illness often resulted in isolation. And he was the son of the leader of FLDS.

There are other subtleties that point toward that archetype. The bull that sired the Minotaur was pure white. Jeffs required that many of the details of the compound were white. The cement used for much of the external construction is brilliant white. Even little touches like pipes and garage door opener hardware had to be hand-painted white. It's bizarre little touches like these that suggest to me a longing for purity and perfection even as he was evermore consumed by his own demons.

In the end, the Minotaur was conquered by Theseus. He was aided by Ariadne's thread which helped him find his way out after he'd slain the monster. Jeffs is dying the death of a thousand cuts as followers find their way out of his maze and tell their stories to police and in courtrooms.

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Apr 28, 2013

GE: Plug Yourself Into the Matrix

"Brilliant machines are transforming the way we work" ~  General Electric

"We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI... artificial intelligence." ~ Morpheus, The Matrix

Hey Coppertop, General Electric would like to jack you into the machine world.

Yes, GE is paying Hugo Weaving to reprise his role as Agent Smith to promote (???) the seamless integration of software and hardware that will allow medical technology to achieve omnipresence.

Bear in mind that the agents aren't just the villains in The Matrix. They represent the archontic consciousness that keeps humanity in the bondage of illusion.

So if an archvillain praises a product as an "agent of good," does it mean that product is good or evil? It's a kind of liar paradox; a vicious circularity.

Kirk: Everything Harry tells you is a lie – remember that! Everything Harry tells you is a lie!"
Mudd: "Now listen to me carefully, Norman laddie; I - am - lying!"
Norman: "You lie, but if everything you say is a lie then you must be telling the truth, but you cannot be telling the truth because everything you say is a lie... you lie, you tell the truth, you– Illogical! Illogical! Please explain! You are human! Only humans can explain their behavior! Please explain!"
Mudd: "I am not programmed to respond in that area..."

~ "I, Mudd" ~ Star Trek

Am I alone in finding something a little disturbing about a company that started by making machines that serve humanity, but grew into a massive, multinational conglomerate with tentacles in everything from energy to media to high tech, pitching itself as the Architect of The Matrix?

I'll take the red lollypop.

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Apr 27, 2013

Warren Jeffs's Estate: The Grand Tour

Willie Jessop exercised his option to put a credit bid on his former boss's auctioned property. As discussed, the former bodyguard of the currently incarcerated Warren Jeffs won a 30 million dollar settlement against the FLDS leader for his harassing apostate Jessop and damaging his business property. Thursday Jessop purchased the lavish estate and surrounding property.

Jessop’s bids of $1.1 million for a school and its surrounding land, as well as a $2.5 million bid for a parcel containing a warehouse, three homes and four other residential buildings, were entered as credit bids that will simply reduce the court’s financial judgment and were unopposed by other bidders.

The auction, presided over by a Washington County Sheriffs deputy, lasted less than five minutes. Members of the media and many onlookers with ties to the twin communities of Hildale and Colorado City, where the FLDS church is headquartered, looked on.

Yesterday he escorted a news crew through the crisp, white, lavishly carpeted rooms, as well as the hastily remodeled "rape room." This was the massive labor of love from his followers that Jeffs promised would cause God to free him from is prison cell.

Even behind prison bars in Texas, Jeffs still leads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He ordered the Hildale compound built in 2010 while awaiting trial and has never lived in the opulent mansions built for him.

Jessop says FLDS members went broke building the compound, but did so with the promise from that “God would knock down the walls” of Jeffs’ prison cell and that “he would be living in the community by the end of the year.”

P.S. He's still in prison.

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Apr 25, 2013

Because Everyone Should See Dead Can Dance

Okay, this isn't quite as good as sitting under the stars with my beloveds for the concert of a lifetime but this I can post.

The KCRW copy is hilarious.

The Australian duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry made some of the creepiest beautiful music of the 1980s. Almost 30 years and two reunions later, the two are still at it. Watch Dead Can Dance bring its ancient ambiance to Santa Monica's Village Studios for a recording session with KCRW.

Looking through the Facebook thread, I notice that many people are very annoyed at the use of the word "creepy." The thing is... I can't agree. I read "creepiest beautiful music" and found myself nodding in agreement. Their new album is easily the most upbeat thing they've ever done. And I love it. I can play it while I'm driving and not worry about wrecking the car.

Their older stuff is indescribably dark. I love listening to it because it's like staring into the void. It strips flesh from bone. I feel that sense of awe that I imagine Rainer Maria Rilke felt when he encountered his angelic muse at Duino Castle.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

That's what it feels like to listen to Lisa Gerrard's piercing tones -- not words and yet we understand them. We somehow know what she is saying: the language of the birds.

No one can tell me that this is not a little creepy... or, at the very least, chilling:

Or this:

I think there's a reason Patton Oswalt specifically referenced This Mortal Coil's It'll End in Tears in his KFC's Famous Bowls bit.

Okay, stop right there. Can you pile all of those items into a single bowl, just kinda make 'em into a wet mound of starch that I can eat with a spoon like I'm a death row prisoner on suicide watch? Could I just have that instead?

"Um, yes, we can do that? We can also arrange those on a plate like you're an adult with dignity and self-respect. You don't have to actually eat your food out of a single bowl."

Fuck that, I'm done, I don't give a shit. Just pile all those things in a bowl. Is there a way that the bowl can play This Mortal Coil's "It'll End In Tears" album while I'm eating it at 2 in the morning in my darkened apartment, just kinda staring into the middle distance?

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that reason is best summed up by this:

Patton Oswalt has a history of depression. Perhaps listening to a lot of Lisa Gerrard isn't the best plan in his case. But I love her. Not in spite of the penetrating darkness of her music but because of it. It's like going home.

Dead Can Dance Live -- Photo: Mixelle

Lisa Gerrard Live -- Photo: Mixelle

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Apr 24, 2013

TED Finds Deepak Chopra's Lost Talk

As discussed, one of Deepak Chopra's criticisms of TED's censorship referred to his own talk, in which he rebutted Richard Dawkins in 2002. He apparently shamed Chris Anderson into retrieving it from the vault of hidden ideas. He has posted it, but in "the naughty corner" like Graham Hancock's and Rupert Sheldrake's talks. As with those, it's in an unembeddable format. It also comes complete with snark and insulting framing about its "misleading" science. But at least we get to hear it and I now have. I also forced myself to sit through the Dawkins talk he was responding to, which can be found here. It's actually titled "Militant Atheism." Wow.

Chopra's write-up on the restoration of the talk is here. His talk turns out to be mystical in orientation, arguing that where science is failing is in viewing the universe as separate from the observer. His quote of Krishnamurti thoroughly won me over.

A Christian fundamentalist was once conversing with the noted India spiritual teacher, J. Krishnamurti.

"The more I listen to you, the more convinced I am that you must be an atheist," the fundamentalist said.

"I used to be an atheist," Krishnamurti replied, "until I realized that I was God."

The fundamentalist was shocked. "Are you denying the divinity of Jesus Christ?"

Krishnamurti shrugged. "I've never denied anyone their divinity. Why would I do it to Jesus Christ?"

That the audience laughed at this anecdote while militant atheists scowled, seeing an imminent danger to sanity, reason, science, and public safety, shows how far apart two worldviews can be. But I persist in believing that an expanded science will take consciousness into account, including higher consciousness. Until it does, our common goal, to understand the nature of reality, will never be reached. A universe that we aren't participating in makes no sense, and our participation takes place at the level of consciousness, nowhere else.

And so it becomes apparent why this talk would go afoul of TED's rules, at least as they have recently defined them. It fuses "science and spirituality" -- that thing Chris Anderson can't really seem to decide if he does or doesn't want.

I could not help noticing that his talk also focuses a great deal on non-locality of consciousness, which, as discussed, seems to be the recurring theme amongst TED's targeted speakers.

Dawkins's talk starts out reasonably enough, arguing for evolution to be taught in schools. He even acknowledges that many religious leaders are fully on board with the theory of evolution and are some of its strongest proponents. So far so good. But minutes in he reverts to his characteristically nasty, insulting self.

But here I want to say something nice about creationists. It's not something I often do so listen carefully. I think they're right about one thing. I think they're right that evolution is fundamentally hostile to religion. I've already said that many individual evolutionists like the Pope are also religious but I think they're deluding themselves. I believe a true understanding of Darwinism is deeply corrosive to religious faith.

And he's off and running. Atheists are the smart people. Religious people aren't. Blah, blah, blah...

In a stunningly absurd attempt to turn creationist theory on its head, he winds up arguing the exact same thing in reverse. Creationists argue that creation is too complex not to have a designer. Silly creationists, argues Dawkins. Any creator complex enough to design all this while doing all the other things he's expected to do is inconceivable because it would compound the problem of complexity. Darwinism is simple and elegant, therefore it must be true. Creationism is too complex to be true reasons Dawkins and without a trace of irony.

Dawkins explains that his idea for stopping creationists is to "attack religion as a whole." For someone looking for simple, elegant solutions to difficult questions, such a Herculean task seems out of character.

So in a TED talk, you can't combine "science and spirituality" but apparently you can combine science and anti-spirituality. It's perfectly acceptable to verbally bludgeon people for their spiritual beliefs using the "language of science" and to "present one [anti-]spiritual view as the 'truth.'"

As I always am with Dawkins, I'm struck by how much he sounds like a religious fanatic. Here, he expresses his lack of patience with the noncommittal nature of agnosticism -- echoes of the condemnation of "lukewarm" faith I heard ad nauseum during my own flirtation with evangelical Christianity. (Revelation 3:14-17) And then of course there's the victimhood. Everybody thinks it's just fine to pick on the atheists! Atheists are marginalized, isolated, targeted. They're lonely. They're so lonely. Honestly he sounds like Bill Donohue.

I also note that he pitched his books in this lecture, albeit with wink and a nudge. And here I was given to understand that this is the ultimate no-no. Where's Al Meyers when you need him? I don't hear him calling Dawkins "sleazy."

Honestly, that this is what TED thinks is stellar enough for its main platform -- this angry, hate filled diatribe cloaked in soft-spoken, British, professorial tones -- is just another reminder that I'd rather traipse through the TED ghetto or listen to its discards. That's were the real "ideas" are spreading.

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Apr 22, 2013

Perspectives on Evil from Hancock and Levy

Graham Hancock on Good and Evil

It's hard not to be at least a little preoccupied with evil right now. There's no escape from images played over and over of the carnage in Boston. The explosions there were quickly followed by one in West Texas -- a horrible accident that was, all the same, replete with strange echoes of past violence. It was close to Waco and handled by Waco authorities... and the ATF. It was effectively a massive fertilizer bomb. (The second largest terrorist attack in US history, the Oklahoma City bombing, utilized a fertilizer bomb. It took place on the second anniversary of the Waco Siege by the ATF which also ended tragically and which, along with Ruby Ridge, was Timothy McVeigh's stated justification.)

The horror was magnified by the bungling of media organs that seem to have devolved into self-parody. In their mad quest for the big scoop, they rushed to judgment against any "dark skinned" or swarthy male who had the misfortune of being caught on camera. And somehow, they also managed to implicate Zooey Deschanel. It's a bad time to have an unusual name, apparently. For good measure, Reuters also reported the death of one George Soros in very exaggerated fashion -- nothing to do with the Boston bombing, but seriously, what is going on with the press?!

What we're witnessing is a massive freak-out and I don't really feel like participating. I've been largely avoiding media assaults on my senses. I've barely been online and when I've watched television, I've pointedly avoided most news. But in an action that I'm determined to take as a personal slight, NBC preempted "Grimm" on Friday with more of their endless, masturbatory coverage. There's simply no escape. And maybe there's an even more important message in that.

Perhaps what we should all be asking ourselves right now is what this massive eruption of the shadow is telling us about ourselves. Like many sensitives, I suspect, I felt this coming for weeks -- that "disturbance in the force" that left me cranky, tired, depleted, and somehow "out of phase" with myself and my environment. There are still aches and pains and a sensation in the center of my chest that would be hard to describe.

A while ago I posted an interview with Paul Levy on Wetiko, one of a number of Native American terms for the expression of the collective shadow. His second book on the topic, Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil, pubbed in January. I highly recommend listening to his recent interview with Christina Pratt. Links to various listening options can be found here.

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Apr 21, 2013

Of TED, Militant Atheists, and the Revenge of Woo

The controversy over TED's censorious nature just refuses to die. Over the past week, Deepak Chopra stepped into the fray and incorporated the voices of a number of credentialed scientists who aren't as easy to dismiss. Chris Anderson was forced to defend himself once again and in the very public forum of The Huffington Post. And once again, he didn't come off real well.

Chopra's initial volley can be found here. He and his co-authors -- Stuart Hameroff, Menas C. Kafatos, Rudolph E. Tanzi and Neil Theise -- took direct aim at the radical atheist contingent that seeks to suppress, not only theistic religion, but spirituality more broadly. This New Atheism, which has staked a claim on the sciences, refuses to allow any possibility of non-local consciousness to creep into discussions of science.

Freedom of thought is going to win out, and certainly TED must be shocked by the avalanche of disapproval Anderson's letter has met with. The real grievance here isn't about intellectual freedom but the success of militant atheists at quashing anyone who disagrees with them. Their common tactic is scorn, ridicule, and contempt. The most prominent leaders, especially Richard Dawkins, refuse to debate on any serious grounds, and indeed they show almost total ignorance of the cutting-edge biology and physics that has admitted consciousness back into "good science."

Militant atheism is a social/political movement; In no way does it deserve to represent itself as scientific. . . .  Dawkins, who has a close association with TED, gave a TED talk in 2002 where he said the following:

"It may sound as if I am about to preach atheism. I want to reassure you that that's not what I am going to do. In an audience as sophisticated as this one, that would be preaching to the choir. [scattered laughter] No, what I want to urge upon you is militant atheism."

In a society where militant atheism occupies a prestigious niche, disbelief in God is widespread, but it isn't synonymous with science. In his mega-bestseller "The God Delusion," Dawkins proclaims that religion is "the root of all evil." He describes teaching children about religion as "child abuse." He spoke publically on the occasion of a papal visit to London calling for the Pope to be arrested for "crimes against humanity." To propose, as Dawkins does, that science supports such extremist views is an errant misuse of science, if not a form of pseudoscience.

The arrogance of Richard Dawkins never ceases to amaze me. Chris Anderson, though, is showing himself to be a real contender on the self-important arrogance front. In his response, he trivializes the detailed post by Chopra, et al., referring to it as "your note," and reduces it to a series of questions that weren't asked but that he'd clearly rather answer than the points posed. It's always easier to win an argument with straw men than real people with nuanced views.

Anderson, once again, manages to show that he doesn't quite know what's going on or exactly why he's excluded these particular speakers from the TED "brand." A response from Chopra that includes commentary from eighteen working scientists underscores the incoherence of his position. Physicist Theresa Bullard points out, for instance, that his response blatantly contradicts the guidelines against "pseudoscience" he's defending.

In the TED reply they say:

"Nothing would excite us more than to include talks which offer a credible contribution to understanding [consciousness] better. Such talks could use the third person language of neuroscience, the first person language of experience or spirituality. We've carried plenty of each. We're hungry for more.

Yet in their guidelines to their TEDx organizers regarding the "Red Flags" of "Pseudo-science" topics to watch out for they specifically list:
  • The neuroscience of [fill in the blank] -- not saying this will all be non-legitimate, but that it's a field where a lot of goofballs are right now
  • The fusion of science and spirituality. Be especially careful of anyone trying to prove the validity of their religious beliefs and practices by using science

As she notes, use of terms like "goofballs" also undercuts TED's credibility. It's unprofessional, it's ad hominem, and it's more than a little childish. Such name-calling, however, is de rigueur amongst the New Atheist defenders of the materialist paradigm against all comers, no matter how credible. If they're all just "goofballs," you never have to actually debate them or in any way address their arguments. You can just dismiss them.

As discussed, debate with Rupert Sheldrake is assiduously avoided -- apparently because he tends to win. In the one case where he went head to head with Dawkins, the evidence of Sheldrake having cleaned his clock ended up on the cutting room floor. One of the juicier details in Chopra's rebuttal is that his take-down of Dawkins was also hidden, in this case by TED.

I'm grateful for the even-handedness that you say TED displays in matters of atheism, religion, and science. In 2002 I spoke directly after Dawkins, mounted a vigorous riposte to his main points, and received a standing ovation. His talk appears in full at TED's website. Mine doesn't, nor can it be found with a Google search. I'd be grateful to see it restored as a gesture of TED's lack of censorship.

I'm not a huge fan of Chopra but his arguments against New Atheism and scientism are impressive.

As I've pointed out more than once, it's easy to look smart if you only argue against straw men and caricatures of religion rather than intellectuals and scientists who hold a wide range of spiritual beliefs. I am increasingly of the opinion that New Atheism and materialist science can't win on an even playing field. So they continue to demand a different standard of evidence for "extraordinary claims," effectively putting a thumb on the scale. And they refuse to debate non-materialists who might beat them. When they, usually accidentally, end up head to head with people who debate their points and win, they kick the footage down the memory hole. And now we know that TED is fully complicit in that agenda.

A recent article on Reality Sandwich by osteopath Larry Malerba explains the difference between science and scientism and how TED is participating in the suppression of important scientific and medical advances.

Science was originally conceived of as a systematic and organized method of studying and learning about the world around us and within us. Eventually, it came to mean the study of the "natural" world, where natural meant the material world of physical objects. Over time it became co-opted by persons invested in an objectivist, reductionist, mechanist worldview. Subjectivity as defined by personal experience and most forms of consciousness became taboo and unworthy of the efforts of real scientists. As such, anything other than the strictly material world was out of bounds as a subject of scientific scrutiny. Nature was thus severed from its connection to all subjective aspects of human experience.

Conventional medical science in particular has been badly hampered by this same materialistic dead end ever since. By definition, it is unable to seriously investigate emotion, thought, imagination, dreams, consciousness, bioenergetics and other factors that can have a profound effect upon health and illness, without appearing to be unscientific. The origins of this, of course, was the perceived need for medicine to distance itself from the superstitious thinking that it equated with religious doctrine. The irony is that modern medical science itself has become doctrinaire in the process.

Scientism is an ideology that attempts to apply conventional scientific principles to fields of knowledge where it has no business being. Scientism is an exaggerated belief in the knowledge that science provides and the ability of science to use that knowledge to solve all manner of problems, human and otherwise. Hardcore scientism asserts that scientific knowledge is the only real knowledge. Only science can provide access to truth. All other forms of human inquiry and experience are not to be trusted.

. . .

In a single fit of hysteria over its precious reputation, TED has done a serious disservice to countless individuals on the cutting edge of the emerging new medical paradigm and, in the process, has gone running into the arms of the left wing fringe of medical scientism. TED may be unwittingly doing the bidding for an organized community of skeptics who are known to raise hell in calculated ways in order to press their anti-alternative medicine and anti-consciousness studies agenda. 

Meanwhile, self-proclaimed militant atheist Jerry Coyne is taking credit for influencing TED... except that he's not... except that he kinda is. He is quite sure that "woomeister" Deepak Chopra is talking about him. (Note the characteristic use of dismissive name-calling.)

I will claim, with some justification, that I am one of the “angry, noisy bloggers who promote militant atheism” who lobbied TEDx to do something about those videos. But what Chopra & Co. don’t know is that other people, who don’t fit into his pejorative category, worked behind the scenes to oppose the serious presentation of woo at TEDx. I have no idea what influence I had on the talks’ sequestration—if any.

Do you get it? He's definitely one of noisy bloggers but he has "no idea" if he had influence. He'd just like to think he did. And yet, somehow, he knows what went on behind the scenes -- those super-secret machinations that can't be revealed to plebes like Chopra or, say, me.

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Apr 14, 2013

ExTEDx West Hollywood Live Stream ~ Sunday 2:00pm ET ~ UPDATED

Apparently the whole thing is embeddable so it can be viewed from this page. If that doesn't work out, here are the direct links: ExTEDx West Hollywood and Live Stream

UPDATE: This program has been moved to a Vimeo. Details can be found here.  

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Self-Deportation from TED?

I was wondering if and when we might start hearing from the other TEDx Whitechapel speakers. In their open letter, discussed here, the Whitechapel team said that a number of the speakers were unhappy with how Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake were treated by TED, but that they had been willing to wait and see how it would all play out. I noticed on my Reality Sandwich feed this morning that at least one of them has now gone public. Charles Eisenstein wants his talk removed and is urging others who are displeased with TED's actions to request the same.

With this in mind, I have a modest proposal that I'd like to extend to anyone who has (as I have) spoken at a TED or TEDx event. I propose that we respectfully request that our videos be taken down from TED-affiliated youtube channels just as Sheldrake's and Hancock's were. One might frame this as an act in solidarity with two fellow speakers who received shabby treatment, but really, I have no ax to grind. I do not want to punish TED, or make them regret their actions, or set them up as the bad guy. It is simply this: TED says it doesn't want to implicitly endorse the views of these men by having them associated with the TED brand. By the same token, I would prefer not to implicitly endorse TED's repudiation of the realm of inquiry those two (and TEDxWestHollywood) represent, by having my "brand" associated with TED.

Pretty straightforward, really.

Eiesenstein also beautifully articulates the problem with TED's position. (read: the opinions of the super-secret "science board" and the New Atheist special interest group that now dictates TED policy)

First, there's the scientism.

It is certainly true that the work of Sheldrake, Hancock, and many of the WestHollywood speakers is far removed from mainstream scientific thinking. Part of the mythology of science is that cogent thinking equals scientific thinking, and that therefore anything that science rejects is likely founded on shoddy reasoning, poor observation, self-delusion, or perhaps outright fraud. This belief depends on two assumptions: that the Scientific Method is superior to other sources of knowledge, and that the institution of science honestly upholds and applies the Scientific Method. Granting all that, we can draw a convenient line in accepting or rejecting new ideas by asking, "Is this idea consistent with accepted science?" 

Then, there's TED's unquestioning acceptance that what's good for technology and science is good for the world.

More broadly, TED generally seems to stand for several overarching principles that are foundational to our civilization's dominant narratives: that technology is a force for good, that technological solutions exist to all our problems, that life is getting better and better. The TED presentation aesthetic communicates a can-do spirit, offering a kind of showcase for the Next Great Thing. Unsurprising, given its origin as a celebration of "technology, entertainment, and design."

. . .

The challenge to science (as an institution if not as a method) that Sheldrake, Hancock, and several of the exTEDxWestHollywood speakers pose implicates much more than science. For instance, science has often been an agent of colonialism, devaluing and replacing indigenous ways of knowing. It has been an agent of social control, celebrating as progress the transition from traditional, organic, community-based modes of interaction to those which are planned, optimized, centralized, and engineered. It has often been an agent of economic and ecological exploitation, disregarding and destroying anything it cannot or will not measure. TED's genuflection toward science (as institution), and in particular an intransigent faction within that institution, is actually a defense, however unwitting, of a primary pillar of the world as we know it.

The business of TED is business... and imperialistic ethnocentrism.

Eisenstein and his "crowd of researchers" found many talks in TED's archive that don't seem to conform with TED's newly-defined, slavish devotion to the status quo. He is therefore calling on past speakers whose talks don't  align with global corporate hegemony as a value system to leave TED willingly.

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Apr 12, 2013

TED: A Postmortem... of the Censorship Debacle

The issue of TED's pulling the Hancock and Sheldrake lectures isn't dead. It's still proliferating through the mainstream press and the blogosphere. But as far as TED is concerned, it's a wrap. They allowed their two weeks of discussion on each lecture and now they'd like everyone to just move along. They declined the opportunity to debate Hancock and Sheldrake, explaining that the discussion pages would suffice. But they also refused to explain their reasoning in those discussions. TED's final summations on the deleted Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake talks a can be found here and here. If only they were satisfying.

Despite the fact that many people called on them to explain their reasons for disavowing the talks -- after crossing out their initial justification -- they never have. You can glean fairly quickly that neither summation addresses the reasons by the fact that they're virtually identical and the talks were on very different subject matter. They're perfunctory and span only a few full paragraphs addressing only two of the "questions raised" in the discussion. Of the vast number of substantive issues discussed, TED chose only to address a couple issues of policy: whether or not consigning the videos to an unembeddable format on its back pages constituted censorship and an explanation of who their science board is without revealing their super-secret identities. We're left to take their word for their number, five, and vaguely described credentials.

While TED is advised by this shadowy body of "working scientists or distinguished science journalists," it is claimed that Chris Anderson's "team" makes the final decision. None of them, however, have seen fit to make their reasoning public. Since the original debacle of Anderson's attempt at explanation which had to be  redacted, they seem to have given up on explanations entirely.

In their more recent cancellation of TEDx West Hollywood's license, no factual justification has been offered. Suzanne Taylor just got a lot of "we're not comfortable with it" and that there were complaints about some of the authors. They refused to specify which speakers and what those complaints were. They just poked around with questions about certain speakers because they were "interested to hear" what was planned. They claimed in their note to the TED community that their "decision was not based on any individual speaker, but our assessment of the overall curatorial direction of the program." How's that for vague?

In their haste to dispose of this matter, they cut short the discussion period on the license cancellation by a week, citing some sniping in the comments. There doesn't appear to have been much of a flame war. What it was specifically that made the discussion so untenable is hard to say as only a handful of comments appear to have been deleted. It is clear from what's left that a good bit of it had to do with an apparent plant -- a participant who seemed to have secret admin privileges and was inappropriately deleting comments.

As with the Sheldrake and Hancock threads, TED made no further effort to clarify its reasoning or address concerns.

A couple of the West Hollywood speakers made statements about having their credentials questioned.

Said Larry Dossey:

I’ve lectured at dozens of top-tier medical schools and hospitals all over the U.S. for two decades. Although my colleagues don’t always agree with my points of view, this is the first time my scientific credibility has ever been questioned.

My TEDx talk would have dealt with the correlations between spirituality, health, and longevity, for which there is immense evidence; and recent experimental findings that point toward a nonlocal view of consciousness for which, again, there is strong and abundant support. In view of our lack of understanding of the origins and destiny of consciousness, and considering the demographics of the TEDx followers, I thought this information would have been of considerable interest.

As a board-certified physician of internal medicine, former chief of staff of a major hospital, author of twelve books and scores of papers on these subjects published in peer-reviewed journals, a recipient of many awards, a frequent lecturer at medical schools and hospitals, and executive editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, I’d be interested in knowing from TED where I came up short.

Said Russell Targ:

In cancelling the TEDx event in West Hollywood, it appears that I was accused of "using the guise of science" to further spooky claims, (or some such). People on this blog have asked what I was going to talk about. That's easily answered. I was co-founder of a 23 year research program investigating psychic abilities at Stanford Research Institute. We were doing research and applications for the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, Air Force and Army Intelligence, NASA, and others. In this $25 million program we used "remote viewing" to find a downed Russian bomber in North Africa, for which President Carter commended us. We found a kidnapped US general in Italy, and the kidnap car that snatched Patricia Hearst. We looked in on the US hostages in Iran, and predicted the immanent release of Richard Queen, who was soon sent to Germany. We described a Russian weapons factory in Siberia, leading to a US congressional investigation about weakness in US security, etc. We published our scientific findings in Nature, The Proc. IEEE, Proc, AAAS, and Proc. American Institute of Physics. I thought a TED audience would find this recently declassified material interesting. And no physics would be harmed in my presentation.

What TED has done in not singling out any particular speaker is clever in a slippery, smarmy kind of way. It means they never have to confront the impressive credentials of speakers like Targ and Dossey and explain how such accomplished scientists aren't good enough for TED. In other words, it's a dodge.

For all TED's apparent squeamishness about what the most vocal TED defenders call "pseudoscience" -- psi research, remote viewing, spiritually tinged research -- sorting out their reasons is ironically a bit like reading tea leaves.

Their own broadly stated justifications paint a dreary picture for the future of TED as they would eliminate some of their best TED lectures past. Either this is just pure hypocrisy or this marks a tightening of TED curation that will make the product awfully dull.

There won't be much in the way of cutting edge science discussed on TED because there can be no controversy. They explain in their letter on "bad science" -- which appears to have come out last December in response to a Reddit drama much like the one that got Hancock and Sheldrake pulled -- that, basically, only established science that has reached broad consensus is to be discussed in TED talks. Here are some of their bullet points:

  • It is based on theories that are discussed and argued for by many experts in the field
  • It is backed up by experiments that have generated enough data to convince other experts of its legitimacy
  • Its proponents are secure enough to accept areas of doubt and need for further investigation
  • It does not fly in the face of the broad existing body of scientific knowledge

And the lecturers cannot have "failed to convince many mainstream scientists of its truth" or speak "dismissively of mainstream science." Never mind that some of the most important scientific theories and breakthroughs upset the establishment and are initially met a great deal of resistance.

An acceptable speaker on a science subject "works for a university and/or has a phD or other bona fide high level scientific qualification." As Rupert Sheldrake points out in the interview posted above, at about the 17 minute mark, this criteria would have eliminated Albert Einstein just as he was publishing some of his most important papers. He was only a clerk in a patent office at the time.

TED just comes off looking overly cautious and incredibly scared. The connotation of its motto "ideas worth spreading" is that the ideas would be at least a little original. But you can't do much of that without challenging the establishment. Perhaps it should change its motto to something like "ideas that have already been beaten to death."

Other criteria clearly eliminates some of TED's best lectures. For instance their warning against speakers fusing "science and spirituality" would eliminate, as I suggested before, Jill Bolte Taylor's "stroke of insight" talk. It's one of TED's most viewed lectures of all time.

As many have pointed out Elizabeth Gilbert's much viewed talk on creativity and "muses" should also be in TED's crosshairs.

TED's new-found concern over talks involving hallucinogens would remove a number of existing talks including this one by renowned artist Alex Grey. Wrote TED:

TED and TEDx are brands that are trusted in schools and in homes. We don’t want to hear from a parent whose kid went off to South America to drink ayahuasca because TED said it was OK.

We all know how easy it is for the average kid to hop a plane to South America without their parents noticing. But where Hancock emphasizes that an ayahuasca journey is a painful ordeal that no on would undertake recreationally, Grey had his life changing experience after dropping acid at a party. So obviously it's the Hancock lecture that has to go.

An open letter to Chris Anderson from Reality Sandwich's Ken Jordan offers as good a theory as any to explain TED's actions. Surmises Jordan, for TED, investigation into the non-locality of consciousness is a third rail issue.

The five people identified as problematic by TED work in different fields. Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist. Graham Hancock is a journalist who has written about archeological ruins. Larry Dossey is a doctor. Russell Targ is a physicist. Marylin Schlitz is a social anthropologist and consciousness researcher. The one subject they all have in common is a shared interest in the non-locality of consciousness, the possibility that consciousness extends beyond the brain. Each speaker has devoted many years to the rigorous study of consciousness through the lens of their respective disciplines, and they have come up with provocative results.

Through its actions, TED appears to be drawing a line around this area of investigation and marking it as forbidden territory. Is this true? In the absence of any detailed reasoning in TED's public statements, it's hard to avoid this conclusion. It would seem that, despite your statement that "TED is 100% committed to open enquiry, including challenges to orthodox thinking," that enquiry appears to not include any exploration of consciousness as a non-local phenomenon, no matter how it may be approached.

The other thing I can't help noticing is that the two TEDx conferences that invited TED's abysmally handled crack-down both had to do with challenging the existing paradigm. The TEDx Whitechapel conference that produced the Hancock and Sheldrake talks was called "Visions for Transition: Challenging existing paradigms and redefining values (for a more beautiful world)." The TEDx West Hollywood program that caused TED to pull its license is called "Brother, Can You Spare a Paradigm?" (As stated, the show will go on and a livestream will be run on April 14 for those who can't attend. More of the deets can be found here and here.)

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Of course the most obvious explanation for all of this is that TED is making a business decision. It needs to satisfy its wealthy donors and many of them are large corporations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

TEDx was clever but risky. It allowed TED to spread its brand name without paying anybody. Not paying anyone while it collects huge amounts of money seems to be what TED actually does best.

But in recent months, a series of controversies dogged the not-for-profit organisation and whose acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, leading many to question the integrity of the organisation which charges audiences several thousands of pounds to watch a speech, yet pays its speakers nothing. In 2009, TED decided to license its brand allowing anyone, around the world to stage ‘TEDx’ events.

Some of those very popular lectures I pointed out above were TEDx talks, not TED talks proper. And it's lectures like those that TED will have to eliminate in future -- exactly the ones that made TED look interesting. In the end, TED is proving itself just another establishment shill.

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Apr 4, 2013

Further Adventures in a West Memphis Courtroom -- UPDATED

Judge Victor Hill denied a motion from Pam Hicks (previously Hobbs) and John Mark Byers to see all the evidence in the murder of their sons Stevie Branch and Christopher Byers, as well as Michael Moore. Neither these two plaintiffs nor their attorney Ken Swindle seem very broken up about the decision.

The attorney for Pam Hicks and Mark Byers, the parents of two of the victims, told News Channel 3 that judge’s decision “was not a big deal.”

“They would have like to have had all the evidence. That would have been the icing on the cake. But the ending goal was answering questions,” attorney Ken Swindle said. “The primary reason the parents hired me was to find answers, and they feel like for the first time in 20 years they have answers about what happened in those woods.”

That's because in the process of suing, they were granted partial access to the evidence. The discovery process enabled them to see a letter from Bennie Guy which implicated four men. Both Guy and Billy Stewart, who was referenced in Guy's letter, were interviewed. They claim that they heard confessions from two of the men, then teenagers, who committed the murders.

If this new testimony brings Hicks and Byers any sense of closure, I must assume that means they are convinced that Terry Hobbs and his friend (lover?) David Jacoby spearheaded the murders, because that's what Stewart and Guy claim.

Byers seems quite convinced and got very aggressive with Mr. Jacoby at the courthouse last week. Hicks has speculated in the past that her ex-husband Terry Hobbs could have been responsible but had been loathe to believe it.

Their stories, which can be downloaded along with some other evidence here, tell a wild story of forbidden love, drug abuse, and a violent end for three boys who stumbled on a strange scene in the woods.

As I wrote last week, the story that unfolds in the new testimony is pretty crazy and there are some credibility issues. Stewart is a drug dealer with a record. Guy is a convicted rapist, and his conversation with L.G. Hollingsworth was a jailhouse confession. Hollingsworth died in a car accident in 2001. The fourth potential suspect Buddy Lucas, who confessed to both Stewart and Guy, is described as "slow."

That said, the major elements of the two interviews are consistent and mutually reinforcing. Both men seem genuinely aghast but felt some need at the time of the confessions to protect the child-like teenager Lucas.

Lucas was also friends with Jessie Misskelley whose confession to police implicated himself, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. It is arguably why all three were convicted but is considered by many experts to be a false confession, in part because of Misskelley's mental capacity. The same could obviously be argued regarding Lucas, although there's a key difference. Lucas confessed his own involvement, not to police after hours of grueling interrogation, but to people he knew and had some relationship with.

Lucas also gave some rather convoluted testimony to the authorities back in 1993 that implicated his friend Misskelley. It was also apparently under some duress as he said later police had "hollered" at him. He recanted it the same day and refused to testify. His conversation with prosecutor John Fogleman can also be found in the evidence packet.

The story that now unfolds from Mr. Lucas's confessions as relayed by Guy and Stewart is at least more plausible than a Satanic ritual murder that left no altar or tools or any physical evidence at all. As a narrative it, at least makes sense and provides a plausible motive. Stewart is a drug dealer but he appears to have been Hobbs's drug dealer and his eye-witness testimony of Hobbs snogging with with Jacoby and hanging out in a gay bar also bolsters the essential narrative.

Even before this turn of events, Hobbs was in the crosshairs of WM3 supporters. He even tried to sue Natalie Maines for citing the DNA evidence against him, as if she'd invented it. That didn't work out.

Now, a new movie (see above), outlines the already accumulated evidence against him. The movie has taken fair criticism for targeting Hobbs so directly.

The new documentary West of Memphis has received a lot of praise for the way it tells the story of three men who were convicted, perhaps wrongly, for the murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early '90s. "A gripping documentary," said the Guardian's review. "Compelling and comprehensive," proclaimed a New York Post article. "The film," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, "casts a hypnotic spell all its own."

But the rave reviews miss a dangerous hypocrisy at the heart of the film, which was paid for and produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, and directed by Amy Berg. In their quest to clear the names of the "West Memphis Three"—Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. who were teenagers when they were convicted for the 1993 killings—the filmmakers decide that they have found the actual murderer: Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murdered boys. And in publicly making the case against him, they perpetrate a similar sort of injustice to the one they originally set out to correct: relying on questionable evidence to prosecute in the court of public opinion.

. . .

Is this mixture of facts, conjecture, and speculation enough to prove Hobbs guilty? How much of this evidence would hold up in court? How much would withstand interrogation? How much wouldn't even be admitted in the first place? How much is reliant on faulty memories?

Unless Hobbs actually goes on trial, we won't ever know. But the filmmakers aren't answerable to a judge or jury.

The big question, though, is whether Hobbs -- let alone Jacoby and Lucas -- ever will stand trial. Because although the evidence to date is mostly circumstantial, contains inconclusive physical evidence, and includes testimony from convicted criminals, it's still a stronger case than the one that convicted Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. That conviction cost them half their lives, spent their youth, and still marks them as convicted felons.

One more tantalizing clue emerged from that West Memphis courtroom this week.

The judge said they can’t have access to all of [the evidence] since it may be needed in a future trial.

UPDATE: This was just posted to Facebook by WM3.org. They missed it last week and it hadn't come up in my google search of on Bennie Guy, either. But Mr. Guy may be cleared by DNA evidence.

Things haven't changed much in the 18 years since Bennie David Guy walked the streets of Earle, Arkansas as a free man. But, soon the now 53-year-old Guy may get that chance as he awaits parole after serving less than half of a 40 year sentence for a crime DNA evidence indicated he didn't commit, the rape of an 11-year-old girl at a motel in 1995.  That evidence was available to Crittenden County prosecutors and his defense attorney just two months after he went to prison.

"I get to looking at the evidence that's in the writ and the DNA evidence says he didn't commit the rape. His semen was not found in the victim. That it's someone...It's someone else's," said Project Innocence attorney Phillip Allen in 2008.

Bennie's brother Bobby also believes him innocent, "They sent a letter said the girl lied about it. Said it been on her conscience for so long she wanted to get it off her conscience."

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