Tag Archives: commentary

Why every order should be questioned

I suggest reading this post to the end, then watching the videos and reading the links. -DM

“Think for yourself, question authority.”

These words are more than an anti-authoritarian exhortation from Timothy Leary and part of an excellent TOOL song. It’s a way of interacting with the world that helps guard against charlatans and others who would seek to manipulate you. Lately I’ve noticed more and more people saying things like, “You should always do what a police officer tells you,” or, “If he’d only followed orders everything would have been okay.” This line of thought ignores human nature when wielding authority, and it’s the sort of mindset that leads to excuses such as, “I was just following orders,” a phrase which has been used to justify some of the worst abuses in recorded history.

“The experiment requires that you go on.”

The average person will administer electric shocks to the point of killing or injuring another so long as someone in a lab coat–a perceived authority figure–encourages them using the quote above. This was shown in the early ’60s, roughly two decades after the end of World War II, when Stanley Milgram’s experiments showed that 26 out of 40 subjects would apply a 450 volt shock at the urging of someone in authority, possibly killing the other participant (who was an actor, a fact unknown to the subject administering the charge). One of the purposes of this experiment was to show why the average German citizen didn’t do more to oppose the Nazi party.

Think humanity has improved since? The experiment was repeated in the UK less than a decade ago with similar results.

Surely this is a reflection of British culture, right? Modern-day Americans are no better, as shown by NBC in 2010.


(Click here to watch the full episode on NBC’s website.)

Why is default trust of authority such a bad thing?

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. -Lord Acton

This phrase was uttered hundreds of years before the Stanford prison experiments showed that even seemingly normal people possess the capacity for great evil. We owe it to one another to ask questions and to demand accountability regardless of title or social standing. If you see someone doing wrong, do your best to oppose them. That’s how to make a difference. One person acting alone can affect change. All it takes is questioning orders you believe to be wrong, and not accepting easy answers intended to shut down that line of questioning. Freedom of speech and of the press are so important that they were included as some of the very first protections delineated in the Bill of Rights, yet in a video posted just days ago, a Detroit officer violates the first amendment rights of a journalist who’s covering a protest. His excuse? “I’m gonna enforce what my supervisors tell me what to do.” This officer could have made the choice to uphold what is unambiguously written in the constitution, but he did not.

Stated simply, it’s in humanity’s nature to obey authority. In the eyes of many asking questions is discouraged and standing out is anathema. When these attitudes combine it’s a recipe for long-term disaster, a world where saying, “I was simply following orders,” is praised until hindsight turns it to castigation. It’s a world where we spend more time talking about fictional lives endangered by the information given to Wikileaks by Chelsea Manning instead of the very real Collateral Murder video showing US forces firing on a reporter, those trying to help him, and children. It’s the type of world where police officers murder people, mostly minorities, again and again (and again and again and again and again and again) and seldom face a jury, while many excuse their actions and blame the victims.

It’s time to admit there’s an institutional problem with policing in America.

It’s a problem cameras won’t fix, because there are now several examples where cops murder or abuse people on camera, put conflicting information on an official report, but still are never charged with any crimes. How many times has this happened with no video evidence? More cameras won’t do any good if the cops can turn them off or “lose” the footage, and citizens recording the police doesn’t do much good if they turn off the camera as soon as a cop demands it. The problem goes far beyond cameras and viral Youtube videos though. Part of the problem is accepting when a local DA with close connections to the police department calls a sham Grand Jury–in which the DA defends the accused–and then pointing to the result and calling it “Justice”. Justice is a trial, a cross-examination before a jury who has been selected after the prosecutor and defense attorneys have had cause to interview and excuse them. That is why you hear protestors chanting, “No Justice, No Peace.” Another part of the problem is the media portrayal of police as heroes, when in fact they’re as fallible as you or I. Yet another facet is a police culture that glorifies violence and views every person as a potential perp, an attitude which enables departments to abuse its citizenry and then sell t-shirts joking about it or encourages a cop to wave to the camera minutes after choking a man to death because the man deprived the State of tax revenue.

So there’s nothing we can do, then?

No, there are many things we can do! Amidst all this seemingly abysmal news there is a positive takeaway: many of the people in the Milgram experiment (and subsequent offshoots) expressed distress at their actions. There are also examples of police speaking out against their own (although it does not usually end well). Most of us have some sort of conscience. Even people who don’t are usually observed by those who do. If you see something wrong, at the very least record it. Report it to anyone who will listen. Go to the media, post it online, stand on a street corner holding a sign if you have to. Hold authority figures accountable, and to higher standards than those who don’t wield the same power. If someone abuses their authority they should lose it, not be shielded from consequences. Get involved locally. Call police stations that abuse their citizenry and demand answers. Don’t rely on mass media for your information (because they often distort or outright misreport the facts); instead be the media (or network with those who are).

A healthy skepticism of those in authority helps ensure a free society. All it takes is asking, “Why?” It’s a good start, anyway.

“He committed two felonies: he was black, and he was running.” – Racism and Law Enforcement

No, the quote in the title of this post isn’t about Michael Brown

A parent's nightmare

A parent’s nightmare

Although Michael Brown’s tragic story and the subsequent events in Ferguson, MO are the most recent manifestations of this pervasive and long-standing attitude among those in law enforcement. A couple months ago I (unfortunately) spent some time with a former deputy. This person related a story about the time they shot a black man while on duty. While telling the story this person was laughing and showed zero remorse, noting, “He committed two felonies: he was black, and he was running.” The person then went on to talk about cuffing a black inmate to a large drain in the floor of a jail cell and leaving him there for several hours, and how there were cameras in the jail but all the cops knew where the blind spots were so they could rough up inmates without getting caught.

Never trust law enforcement

Always be on your guard and record any encounters with police if you can, because if it’s your word against theirs you’ll lose every time. Think I’m being paranoid? Time and time again (and again, and again, and again [<- text is followed by graphic video showing man being tasered to death in police custody; don’t watch it unless you have a strong stomach]… ok I’ll stop now since the point should be clear) we’ve seen police assault or kill innocent people, often with no charges or consequences after the fact. Before anyone says, “Not all cops are bad,” I suggest that anyone who witnesses this sort of behavior and covers for it is a bad person. If individual cops wish to be considered good then they need to start actively working against those who are breaking the law, abusing the authority of their positions, and murdering unarmed citizens. I will start to believe good cops actually exist when they show up in Ferguson, MO from neighboring towns, counties, and states–in uniform–and stand against the barbaric, twisted fucks who are currently terrorizing an entire community in the name of “law enforcement”. Until then, film the police, document everything, and continue to demand they be held accountable for their actions.

Badges don’t grant extra rights.

A better name for christianity

Colbert on the 'Christian Nation'

Courtney posted this quote on facebook earlier today. I’ve seen it before, but it got me thinking: why aren’t some American Christians more Christ-like? Despite being an atheist, I think I have a fairly decent understanding of the moral teachings of Jesus. Last year I compiled a new version of the Jefferson Bible in updated English, which included a lot of reading of the first four books of the New Testament in the Christian Bible, also known as the Gospels.

Each of the first four books paint a slightly (or vastly, in the case of John) different picture of a man (or God, though in some accounts he makes far fewer references to divinity) named Jesus. I’m not religious and haven’t been for a long time, but if you aren’t familiar with the story you can read it for free online. Start at the beginning of Matthew and keep going to the end of John if that’s your thing. If you are familiar with the story, you should read my re-creation of Jefferson’s work (available for free at NewJeffersonBible.com), because it paints a very rare picture of Jesus as a person.

I’d be interested to see someone take only the words of Jesus and list them in order, Matthew through John. None of the exposition, none of the descriptions, just the words attributed to Jesus in the Christian Bible. I would imagine it’s quite different from modern American Christianity in a number of fundamental ways. So, based on this, I propose a new name for the current batch of American evangelicals loudly proclaiming their own righteousness: Paulists. There are a few Catholic orders that use the same name, but in this case that’s an added bonus because many evangelicals don’t see Catholics as “real” Christians and will hopefully work harder to avoid the distinction.

Who is Paul? Well look, I’m no historian. Wikipedia has an article about the guy. The tl;dr is that Paul was originally Saul. He hated the early Christians and persecuted them fervently. He supposedly had a vision while traveling to Damascus in which a bright light appeared and he heard the voice of Jesus, who said Saul was being a bit of a prick. Jesus then made him blind (because who doesn’t love a major trauma?) and apparently sent another guy to gather up the bumbling blind Saul. When the guy appeared, Saul regained his sight and realized he was wrong, Jesus was the bee’s knees, and he changed his name to Paul and started spreading this story around to everyone who’d listen. That’s a paraphrase of the story, you can read it yourself if you want all the specifics. Acts 9:1-19.

Full stop. I’m about to get a little contentious, but it’s not as if people haven’t provided alternative narratives to established religious doctrine before. Look at how religion is used. It’s used to control people and keep them in line. Saul was already a religious guy, then this new religion comes along. The founder died and isn’t around; they say he went up to Heaven. You can bring a lot of clout to the table as far as your family and connections (Paul was a Roman citizen and had many contacts in Judaism circles, having been born into a family of Pharisees). You get in on the ground floor and get to shape the direction of this burgeoning movement. You had a vision of Jesus, after all! Who will question the things you say?

For a religion called Christianity, an awful lot of it is based on Paul. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament. The first four deal with Jesus. Thirteen of the books–more than half of the books not directly dealing with Jesus–were purportedly written by Paul. Jesus talked about the poor, Paul talked about a woman not having authority over a man. Jesus spent time with the people at the bottom of society’s ladder, Paul wrote what is the only mention of homosexuality in the New Testament. Jesus turned over the money-changing tables in the temple and fought against the religious leaders in his day, Paul became a top leader in the nascent religion formed in the name of someone who wasn’t around to contradict his teachings. It’s clear that Christianity is a misnomer. Paulism is a much more apt name. If Paulists in this country start acting more like the person they call Jesus Christ, then maybe some day they can earn the label “Christian” back.

Five lessons I learned while self-publishing my first novel

I released my first novel about three weeks ago (as if any of you who know me don’t already know that).  Holy cow. I feel as though I’ve given birth.  There’s a weakness in the core of my being, a memory of exhaustion that has seeped into every moment of the past eight months since I first began the book with, “First days were always the worst.”

Turns out the days after aren’t much easier.  It’s funny, I actually wrote that line because I was dreading beginning a novel.  What if I failed to finish?  This was an especially embarrassing thought since I told almost everyone I knew of my plan to write a novel in a month’s time for NaNoWriMo.  Even worse, what if I succeeded and everyone hated the finished product?  But I had already committed:  Updates posted and discussed on Facebook and Twitter, the news already shared with family and coworkers.  I could not back down.  I had to write a book, even if it was terrible.  For inspiration, I purchased No Plot? No Problem!, a book by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty.  Even though I had a (semblance of a) plot, I figured it couldn’t hurt to see what wisdom I could glean from the guy who came up with the idea of knocking out 50k words in 30 days.  Imagine my surprise when I found this quote near the beginning of the book:

“Even if you’re the worst writer in the world, at least you’ll have the evidence.” —Padgett Powell

Inspiration?  Hell, I had found my mantra!  I set out to write a book, and now had discovered a short phrase to repeat to myself when I was hating the words on the screen, to drive myself to continue even as I wanted to throw my work-in-progress–maybe even the whole computer–into the trash.  Am I the worst writer in the world?  I don’t think so.  I’m not the best either.  But I have a finished book, and that’s an accomplishment in itself.  Now I’ve had to switch gears from author to salesman.  I’ve never been a fan of sales.  Too political, too amoral.  To make matters worse, there’s a lot of conflicting data out there about how best to proceed as a newly self-published author, such as whether or not KDP select is worth giving Amazon exclusive rights to your ebook for 90 days, where and how to advertise your book, even arguments about different methods of ebook formatting.  I’m far from an expert on any of this stuff, and I’m still figuring out more each day, but here are 5 lessons I’ve learned the hard way while finishing my first novel.

  1. Finish the book!  Absolutely none of these tips matters if you don’t actually finish the book.  Don’t let yourself get hung up on the details.  Need to research something?  Put in a placeholder.  Stay consistent for easy searching at a later date.  I use brackets, so I would leave notes such as “[research how often the subways run in NYC]”.  One of the biggest challenges is completing the first draft.
  2. Edit.  Then edit some more.  Done editing?  No, you’re not.  Edit it again, slacker!  One of the biggest criticisms of self-published works is that they tend to be poorly edited.  This goes beyond simply checking for typos.  While a small number of typos and errors will be overlooked by many readers, especially if you have a compelling story, you need to make sure your finished manuscript is as error-free as possible.  If you’re a first-time author, your readers are much less likely to buy your future works if your first release is lackluster.
  3. Put your best foot forward.  You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?  It’s a saying because people judge books by their covers.  Whether it’s on a bookstore shelf or in search results on a website, the book cover is the first impression many people will get of you and your book.  It’s not necessarily a matter of cost, either.  I’ve seen $1000 book covers that look terrible, and some of the budget covers I’ve seen have been anywhere between acceptable and amazing.  For decent budget covers, check out Fiverr.  There are other options out there as well, which leads to the next point.  Mine was done by MW Messina.
  4. Google, as always, is your friend.  I know research can be overwhelming, especially in subjects such as these where there is so much data out there to consider.  That said, a LOT of smart people have done this before.  Some of them have even written about what worked for them.  Don’t reinvent the wheel; use their success (and their failure) as a blueprint for your own method.  Try to take the best parts of what has worked for other people and make their tactics yours.  There is nothing wrong with standing on the shoulders of giants (or even people who are just slightly taller than you).  There are a number of author forums on the internet that are full of people willing to help.  Find one you like.  I try to spend some time each day reading posts on the kboards writer forum.  William Hertling’s Indie & Small Press Book Marketing is a great primer and contains a lot of useful information.
  5. Don’t rely too much on friends.  I love my friends.  They’re wonderful folks.  I’m honored to know many people with a variety of talents.  The thing about talented people is that they’re often busy with their own projects.  Talented people are also not known for their consistent follow-through.  I’m a musician.  I’ve been the flaky artist-type person before, so I can’t fault people too much for this.  Even if money is involved, there’s a chance your friend may not give your project the priority you feel it deserves.  If you have a good working history with your friend this may not apply, but ultimately you may find it less frustrating to go with a stranger whose portfolio includes work that speaks to your vision.  It’s also easier to be demanding of a stranger than a friend, at least for me.

Again, I have barely scratched the surface of the self-publishing world, but these are the five most important lessons I’ve learned after releasing my first book.  It’s not gospel, just things that worked for me.  I hope they work for you, too.  Another great resource is Reddit.  Here’s a bookmark I use for several different writing related subreddits.  If you have other suggestions you’ve picked up along the way, please leave a comment!

The Shamosphere

I almost hesitate to link to these ridiculous losers, but I’ve recently stumbled across a group of people who call themselves wolves, real men, and refer to to their reality distortion bubble as “the manosphere”.

What is the manosphere, you ask? It’s like the blogosphere, but full of dicks.

The First Annual Manospehere Gathering

The First Annual Manospehere Gathering

This article, “The Manosphere For Dummies”, is an excellent primer. (I suggest they add “Is” to the middle of the title, just to clarify for newcomers.) The manosphere is populated by all sorts of acronyms: MRAs, MGTOWs, and PUAs, most of whom seem united in their belief that there is a repressed class in our society, and that repressed class is the heterosexual white male. And who, you may ask, is doing the oppressing? Why, females and minorities of course! Their proof? They point to things like affirmative action, feminism, and child support laws with shrill shouts of “MISANDRY!” In their narrative, heterosexual white males are majestic and mighty animals akin to wolves, and the rest of society (that is, anyone who doesn’t fall into lockstep with their positions and views) are nothing more than rabbits who hate them for their alleged power and success.

I am amused by this the most, as I’m almost certain that many of these guys would be considered mediocre at best by any reasonable metric of success. On their blogs and in their forums they shill their books to other “alphas”, create manifestos that enforce traditional gender roles (nine listed for men without a single mention of family, three listed for women that all include some mention of family), and write stories promising imminent success and exposure for their “movement”.

All of this ended up on my radar after a big bad wolf named Matt Forney wrote an absurd article about why Portland sucks for single men (hint: it doesn’t, unless you’re a whiny putz with a chip on his shoulder who thinks women owe him attention and sex). After the backlash, he wrote another article about how Alpha Males™ like him are wolves, and the beta misandrist feminist communist [insert other strawmen here] throng are haters and pathetic rabbits. Even ignoring Forney’s junk science regarding the amygdalae, the rest of his metaphor falls apart in a number of ways.

Rabbits breed like crazy, have no loyalty to their in-group (their relatives), and respond to danger by running away… just like leftists.

And like rabbits, leftists are herd creatures who think and act in lockstep.

Leftists breed like crazy? Let’s be honest: people breed like crazy, but at least those on the left tend to be strong advocates for birth control and family planning. Contrast this with people like the Duggars, religious conservatives who have popped out so many kids that family vacations must consist of a caravan of a half dozen cars, or the backwards conservative legislators who attempt to do away with funding for STI prevention and sex education. While I can’t speak for all “leftists”, I personally do not run away from danger. Sometimes life is difficult and painful. I know this at least as well as, if not better than, most. Running away does nothing to solve problems. Lastly, every movement or ideology has “me too” people in its ranks, it is not something unique to the left.

wolf-howling-full-moon

ARRROOOOOOOOO! I’m buying Forney this shirt for his birthday.

The entire article, along with Forney’s post whining about being single in Portland, reads like the bitter screed of a person who struggles to fit into society, and instead of using that as an opportunity for reflection and self-improvement has doubled down on his stupidity, beating his chest and declaring aloud how awesome he finds himself, and asserts that the blame rests with us– the rabbits to his wolf– rather than with his own childish attitude and unreasonable expectation that people treat him like a rockstar.

One of the complaints in his article about Portland dating was that no women he “cold approached” (a pick-up artist term meaning to strike up unbidden conversation with a woman in the hopes of getting laid) cared about his stories of ditch-digging and hitch-hiking across the country. What did he expect? “Oh, Matt, listening to your stories of manly shovel-handling and mooching rides from strangers makes me need your dick. Let’s go back to my place right now.” The reason people don’t think you’re interesting is because you’re not very interesting. I’ve done all kinds of awesome things, but I don’t use that as a blunt instrument with which to beat people over the head and demand they acknowledge my special snowflake-ness.

What’s funny is that I agree with some of Forney’s points. I’ve lived in Portland for almost two years. While it’s true that some people are nice on the surface but resistant to deeper connections, I’ve also met some great people here who have become close friends. It seems Matt’s problem is that his negativity, bitter outlook on women and society, and his over-inflated sense of self-importance are the primary things he brings to the table. As with most things in life, you get out what you put in.

Ultimately, the manosphere is a shamosphere. These people aren’t warriors, heroes, or wolves, they’re bloggers whining about whiners on the internet (sort of like me, except that I’m honest about it). They care about their ethos insomuch as it results in book sales and blog views, writing reviews for books written by other “manospherians” as a way to share the wealth– in a totally capitalistic way, of course!– offered by those who need to read a book to learn how to be the Alphaiest of Alpha Males™. Despite their loud protestations that they are independent, real men, they seem to swarm in defense of one another, shill books written by other manospherians, and all have the same bald head and goateed look of petulant, powerless Lex Luthor. But, hey, he must be cool, why else would he have his youtube videos start by fading in to show him with a glass of scotch and lighting a cigarette while sitting in a plush chair?

The Ideal Alpha Male: A Pissy Lex Luthor With A Youtube Channel

Checkmate, rabbits!

Election analysis from a red state citizen

This is a guest post from a friend of mine who lives in the heart of Mormon country. For the sake of his anonymity, we’ll refer to him as Joseph Johnson.

Now that the election is over, and people have calmed down some, I want to give my opinion on why Mitt Romney lost. Before I start, I want to state that I am an independent voter. Before I voted, I researched all the candidates, and voted for two republicans in local elections. I tend to lean liberal, but am by no means a democrat. I believe a two party system is not the optimal situation, but I am also a realist. Right now, a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. While I may agree with a third party candidates views more than a Republican, or a Democrat, they have zero chance of winning a presidential election. I am glad that, on a local level, more and more third party candidates are winning. However, in a national election, a third party candidate just gives another party a better chance of winning. I would rather vote for either a Republican or Democrat that more closely resembles my viewpoint than allow a candidate that I totally disagree with to win. I voted for Barack Obama, but I do not believe that Mitt Romney is an evil person, or that he had some hidden agenda to destroy America. No candidate runs for office with the intent to do anything other than what he or she believes is right for this country. That being said, here is why I believe Mitt Romney lost the election. It all started with the Tea Party “grass roots movement.” Continue reading

I am now officially a daywalker!

Science is not just a candle in the dark, it is the spotlight that can shine light upon the darkest corners of the human mind.

Today was my first 8am day. I had a great morning. Still woke up too damn early, but I figure it will take awhile to get acclimated to waking up later. I spent some time hanging out with the dog, then walked down to the transit center and rode the light rail in to work. Standing room only made it difficult to stand there and read, but I was able to make it through a few pages of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Given the difficulty of holding a Kindle on a packed MAX, I decided that podcasts and audio books would be a good supplement to reading materials. So now, I am subscribed to the following podcasts: The Atheist Experience, The Non-Prophets, Godless Bitches, The Geologic Podcast, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Common Sense with Dan Carlin, and the Think Atheist podcast. I’ll be looking for some audio books tonight, but I’m open to any recommendations. Same goes for podcasts. Continue reading