Update on a police shooting in Milwaukee

Sylville Smith was murdered by a police officer named Dominique Heaggan-Brown on August 13th. Since then, it appears the story has largely fallen off the national radar. Heaggan-Brown was arrested last week, but not for the murder and currently faces two charges of 2nd Degree Sexual Assault and two charges of Solicitation.

For the most part, these allegations have nothing to do with the murder, except for a few highlights. Most notably, prior to his arrest he texted the following to a sergeant, believed to be a mentor-like figure for Heaggan-Brown:

Need your help big time but need to handle this the most secret and right way possible.”

Hmmm. It almost seems as if there’s an unofficial system in place for mitigating legal problems for police officers.

Also noteworthy is that Heaggan-Brown was not in hiding, fearing for his life, as the police maintained. No, he was spending time at bars and alleged to have bragged about being able to get away with murder:

Prosecutors said the man — identified as Adult Victim 1 — said Heaggan-Brown bragged about being able to do whatever he wanted without repercussions.”

All of this adds new wrinkles to the ongoing investigation. There are still many unanswered questions about what happened on the day of the shooting. In the immediate aftermath, the police and mayor claimed there was unequivocal video evidence that Sylville was armed and pointing a gun at the officer. Later, once the unrest had died down, it was admitted that the footage was “ambiguous, [and] difficult to interpret.” The video still has not been released, and won’t be until the District Attorney decides not to file charges, because of course he won’t.

It seems as if the police are not willing or able to sweep these new allegations under the rug. It could signify they’ve turned their backs on Heaggan-Brown. On the other hand, no one should be surprised if he’s not arrested for the murder. After all, he is still a police officer and part of an institution that believes they have the right to murder whomever they deem a threat.

Ancient atheism

“When life is yours, live joyously;
None can escape Death’s searching eye;
When once this frame of ours they burn,
How shall it e’er again return”

“There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world”

Sarva Darsana Samgraha by Vidyaranya [1]

When I’m fortunate enough to get out of the city, I like to take time to stare at the stars. Thanks to our scientific apparatus and educational system that explains certain scientific findings, I know that our sun is a star, same as all the stars seen in the night sky. I’ve long considered the sheer scale of the universe to be a powerful argument against a Creator. [2] Why should there be so much matter in the vast emptiness of space if humanity is the all-important center of the everything?

If I were a Scythian nomad, or an aristocratic medieval prince, or a pre-Colombian Amazonian hunter-gatherer I have little doubt I would accept whatever wisdom and knowledge I received from the culture I was born into in regards to the universe and humanity’s place in it. I would gaze at the stars and likely never conceive that they were made of the same stuff as our sun if it weren’t conventionally known. I would fully believe in the deities of the culture and that there was some form of life after death.

It’s with that in mind that I enjoy reading about the metaphysical beliefs of pre-modern peoples, especially those that are iconoclastic with regards to their time period and lay adjacent to the current scientific conception of reality. Roughly contemporary with the Pre-Socratics, a sect of philosophers in Vedic India espoused a view that is recognizably atheist from our modern perspective. [3] I’m referring to the ancient Indian school of Charvaka. I did a search on FtB and it appears no one has written about it. What follows is a brief and very broad synopsis, though every subject briefly described is deserving of far more explication. I should point out that I have a layperson’s understanding and am certainly open to those with more knowledge of Indian philosophy pointing out errors and misconceptions.

Charvaka is seen as heterodox in terms of arising from the philosophical/theological framework of the Rg Veda, Upanishads, and Mahabharata but neglects to provide justifications for the teachings from those traditions. Arising during the Vedic and Epic periods in Indian history (roughly 1500-500 BCE), Charvaka is grouped spatiotemporally with Buddhism and Jainism as standing opposed to the six orthodox Hindu philosophies: Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Yoga, Samkhya, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. Unfortunately, the primary Charvaka document, the Brhaspati Sutra, dated to roughly 600 BCE, is lost. The primary evidence for its tenets come from rival sects and are preserved in writings dated a thousand years after its founding. The seventh century CE Tattvopaplavasimha by Jayarashi Bhatta is the earliest complete account, though there are arguments for and against its association with Charvaka. [4]

Samkhya and Mimamsa are both atheistic in terms of not positing a creator, but they adhere to the atman/prakrti (roughly equivalent to soul/matter) dualistic conception of the cosmos as the rest of the orthodox philosophies do, with the exception of the Advaita sub-discipline of Vedanta. Buddhism, while atheistic, has both dualistic and monist characteristics that vary by sect, but all reject the soul/atman. However, there is belief in supernatural elements like reincarnation, different dimensions inhabited by gods and demons, ghosts, etc. As far as I can tell, Charvaka is the only school of thought from that fertile philosophical time period to be both atheistic and nominally monist vis-à-vis the atman/prakrti dichotomy [5] while repudiating the fantastical elements contained in the other systems. There is no concern with breaking the karmic cycle of samsara that their contemporaries strive for, since death is final.

There is a sense of hedonic nihilism embedded within the doctrine:

“The enjoyment of heaven lies in eating delicious food, keeping company of young women, using fine clothes, perfumes, garlands, sandal paste, etc.” – Sarva Siddhanta Sangraha, by Shankara

Given the obsession of Buddhism and the orthodox Hindu traditions with suffering and the best way to cope with it, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the impoverished masses didn’t gravitate towards a hedonistic lifestyle they didn’t have access to. Moreover, the ruling classes probably weren’t likely to exploit a “religion” that didn’t advocate piety and obedience, with the promise of a better subsequent life to make up for one’s present shitty life. These could be two of the reasons why Charvaka didn’t last.

It’s wild (to me anyways) to think that during the life of Thales of Miletus in ancient Greece there were dissident proto-atheists half a continent away. I’m humbled by the the thought of early humans being able to cast aside what current atheists regard as illogical beliefs, something that’s fairly easy to do nowadays given widespread access to scientific information. I’m pretty sure if I existed in an earlier era I wouldn’t be able to do the same.

1. Most of the following information comes from A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishan and Charles Moore.

2. It turns out that our observation bubble is even larger than previously thought: http://www.space.com/34382-universe-has-10-times-more-galaxies-hubble-reveals.html

3. I’ll reductively classify atheism as the denial of a Creator coupled with a monist conception of reality (i.e. only physical reality is real).

4. The book referenced above definitively places it within the Charvaka paradigm, but the Wikipedia entry for Bhatta cites proponents of arguments against this.

5. I should note Charvaka describes the principle elements of matter as listed as air, fire, earth and water, so perhaps monist is not the best description. However, the existence of a soul/atman is explicitly denied. Consciousness is said to arise from a mixture of the aforementioned elements and ceases to exist upon the body’s dissolution. As yet another aside, Vaisheshika, while still dualistic in nature, has an atomist conception of matter/prakrti.


Colin Kaepernick, the NFL and patriotism

Colin Kaepernick is starting again for the 49ers. Let’s check in with how some fans are reacting:

Hmm, seems just a little racist, no?

Shockingly, some fans did not take it well when it was noticed that Kaepernick was blaspheming the flag by not standing for the National Anthem. Combining his protest with how shitty he was last year as well as his injury history, I was certain he was going to be cut after preseason and unofficially blacklisted, even though he is better than a majority of backup quarterbacks. [1] The obvious reason is because Kaepernick was perceived by many, from team owners, to the NFL’s corporate sponsors, to idiotic fans, to be spitting in the face of the nationalism that is interwoven in the fabric of the NFL’s marketing and propaganda. The specific flavor of nationalism on display is sickening. Or, to quote Einstein: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

There are different degrees of nationalism as one can easily see on Wikipedia, some more benign than others. My wife and I traveled to Estonia last summer. There, I got the general sense that people were proud to be Estonian. For much of the last millennium Estonians have been under the heel of foreign rule. Their national awakening began as a fuck you to Imperial Russia and ended more than a century later with the incarnation of the Republic of Estonia. To be sure, their brand of nationalism is not without its unseemly parts. I was taken aback when one of the most chill dudes I met expressed a blanket distaste for his Latvians neighbors to the south (for reference, the state of Wisconsin is bigger than Latvia and Estonia combined by about 20,000 square miles). It’s that “othering” aspect of nationalism I find so toxic, arrogant and odious.

Turning back to America, as a nation state settled and formed by a melting pot of European peoples, an ethnocentric sense of nationalism (as in the Estonian example above) was completely unfeasible. We in America, a country whose existence necessitated genocide and was built by slavery, needed different #brands to get behind: freedom, democracy and liberty. Never mind the fact that these vague ideals have been historically unavailable to whole classes of people and remain elusive to many. Nevertheless, meaningless platitudes aside, America is in no way able to proclaim a monopoly on “freedom.” In the internet age, with widespread access to information, it should surprise no one that there are many other countries (not to mention contemporary hunter-gatherer societies) that could lay claim to being freer than us, as abstract as such a concept is.

I’m less concerned with nationalism as far as “liking where you live” or being proud of your ethnicity or citizenship than in how it’s manifested on a larger scale in terms of international relations – this is the type so prevalent in the NFL and its marketing. With regards to American foreign policy, there is little to be proud of. America has a rich, shameful history of interfering in countries that have governments they don’t like, resources they want, or markets they want access to. Much of it is completely unknown by the general football-loving public (i.e. imperialist adventures in the Pacific, the meddling in Latin America, etc.). [2] More recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have undeniably produced an ocean of human misery and destabilized wide swathes of the world with no end in sight. Any idea that the US is or ever has been a “global force for good” is laughable, and it’s an idea shoved down the throats of NFL fans ad nauseam.

The various ways the NFL intersects with nationalism are too numerous to detail here except to note that one of the more disgusting underlying themes is how the former utilizes the latter for vast profit. After 9/11, the NFL’s efforts to ramp up their preexisting patriotic fervor is best encapsulated by the following research-based quote: “[there] is strong evidence that level of involvement in masculinist sports on television is robustly associated with strong feelings of patriotism and with support for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Bush doctrine of preventive attacks.” [3]

I’m not sure there’s much of an overlap in a Venn diagram of football fans and Freethought Blog readers, so I wouldn’t think anything I’ve written is too controversial. It should be apparent by now that I am a fan of football. Blind loyalty to sports teams is about the only form of tribalism I allow myself and I loathe the omnipresent intrusions of jingoist propaganda into football. It’s no wonder the NBA is far more popular internationally while the NFL lags hopelessly behind. I’m fortunate enough to go to games once a year. As grateful as I am, I will always hate being subjected to aircraft flyovers, gargantuan flags covering the field, fabricated military family reunions, and placards on every seat that, when held up by everyone, has some bullshit tribute to American militarism. I often wonder if I’m the only one who ponders the absurdity of dipshit Americans wildly cheering Black Hawk helicopters overhead in contrast to, say, a Yemeni farmer cowering in abject terror at the sight or sound of aircraft, knowing it may be American and capable of killing them and their loved ones.

Overall, is it too much to ask for the NFL to let me watch humans bashing each other into early dementia in peace?

I purposefully neglected discussing Kaepernick’s rationale for his protest because I wanted to focus on the broader themes of nationalism and the military-football complex. [4] Suffice it to say I don’t think such themes bode well for his continued employment if he performs anything less than mediocre. I’m not very interested in whether or not millionaires are justified in symbolic activism [5] and refuse to take seriously the childishly simplistic idea of disrespect to the flag/military/country. Teams will happily employ scumbags, rapists, domestic abusers, and animal murderers so long as they’re good enough to justify the negative PR their signings entail, with their idiot fans in tow willing to excuse, deny or justify their transgressions. But will teams continue to employ an ungrateful, pissing-on-the-graves-of-veterans THUG with an afro and numerous tattoos whose best days are possibly behind him? We’ll find out in the off-season if his play continues to lag. Until then, I’ll be rooting for him, even though he has a history of destroying my beloved Packers.


  1. My pessimism has proven to be premature. There are several factors, not the least is the fact that many rallied behind him, which has unfortunately culminated in a multitude of limp, brand-conscious displays by other players: http://jezebel.com/the-seattle-seahawks-said-nothing-1786503469
  2. http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/interventions.html
  3. http://matchism.org/refs/Stempel_2006_SportsInvasionIraq.pdf; A more extensive study can be found here: http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/10161/9785/FootballFlagsFlyovers.EllenRiversGambrell.5.8.15.pdf?sequence=1 
  4. I also neglected to reflect on the disgusting racism seen in the video above. My analysis: it’s bad and depressing
  5. This is a good perspective: http://deadspin.com/why-does-anyone-care-what-athletes-have-to-say-about-po-1787368964 

This (un)charming man

Prior to last Friday, I was blissfully unaware of the existence of Billy Bush. It turns out his nauseatingly sycophantic interactions with Trump in the now infamous video were only the tip of the iceberg. Look at this fucking guy:

The casual sexism would be mind-numbing if it weren’t so grotesque. I’m guessing the people that watch these shows failed to notice since it’s just “how things are” and “how men act,” instead of recoiling in disgust.

One wonders if hosting vapid talk shows is where he wanted to end up in life, as someone from an immensely powerful political dynasty. I bet he gets so much shit from his family. With every opportunity in the world at his sleazy, extraordinarily privileged fingertips, interviewing celebrities is what he chose as a career? Maybe his attachment to Trump provides a window into why. There are more videos where he can be seen gleefully interacting with Trump, his probable alpha male role model. It’s not hard to infer that Trump represents everything Bush wishes he could be. Bush merely harasses women publicly in a socially acceptable manner (until just now apparently) and can only dream of being able to enact the type of predatory sexual aggressiveness that Trump displays on a regular basis. It’s reasonable to suggest that the celebrities he interviews wouldn’t give him the time of day without his largely unearned social capital, and he knows it.

I wonder how many women were creeped out or saw him as the pitiful man-child he is. If I’m on the right track, I bet he hates being perceived as the latter. Overall, even if my brief armchair psychological analysis is wrong (not likely as I got a C- in an Intro to Psych course over a decade ago), it’s not too surprising he’s glommed onto Trump’s campaign and his brand of toxic masculinity. And I resent that now I am aware of his pathetic existence.

A belated post for Indigenous Peoples Day

My first actual post claimed that my next, non-introductory writing would discuss the murder of Sylville Smith. That was a lie. Since yesterday was Indigenous Peoples Day, what follows is more apt.


After miles and miles of flatlands, the majesty of the Rocky Mountains coming into view while driving west on Highway 2 in Montana is something I’ll never forget. Continuing west, 20 miles before reaching Glacier National Park, you pass through the town of Browning in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. That is also something I won’t forget. I didn’t know it at the time, but it is a town where the unemployment rate is 69%, per the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. [1] It wasn’t unexpected due to my remembrance of the state of disrepair most of the buildings were in and litter. The town is not very prominent in the various tourism-oriented websites for Glacier despite its proximity to the park.

The National Park Service turned 100 this past August. They are widely considered to be both good and fun. My only experience so far is with Glacier, which was both good and fun. I knew little about the history of the NPS until immediately prior to driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. At the park’s visitor center, we learned about how the Blackfeet Indians were forcibly removed from both sides of the mountains in the name of conservation. Moreover, when the Road was completed the Blackfeet were mortified by what they saw as the scarring of their sacred lands. Needless to say, that really bummed me out. But like a good American, I was able to push such thoughts out of my mind temporarily. It was not hard – Going-to-the-Sun Road is breathtakingly spectacular. After, I got out of the car, put my hand on my heart, and sang The Star Spangled Banner with tears rolling down my face.

Native American bigotry, still infuriatingly widespread, was shared by such paragons of American conservation as Henry David Thoreau (“What a coarse and imperfect use Indians and hunters make of nature! No wonder that their race is so soon exterminated.”) [2] and John Muir (describing the Sierra Miwok of the Yosemite as “dirty, deadly, and lazy” and “had no right place in the landscape.”). [3] The “pristine” lands wanted by wealthy whites in places like Glacier, Yosemite and Yellowstone were anything but, being inhabited by peoples for millennia. These “savage” peoples presence marred the otherwise pure wildness in the eyes of racist whites.

There are different narratives about the minutiae of the processes of land requisition and the associated justifications for what happened. One can read accounts of different ways in which bigotry was manifested besides the more conventional actions of forced removal, from proposing the idea of leaving the natives in situ (like an Americanized proto-safari replete with actual humans), to coercing the natives to perform shows for tourists for meager wages. [4] Colonial regimes, while congratulating and hailing themselves as benevolent civilizers, have always been exceedingly willing to further humiliate the defeated. This is something the dominant imperialist cultures tend to neglect or gloss over in their self-serving hagiographies for obvious reasons.

Once the removal was complete, as par for the course with American/Native American relations, promises to let the native people use the ceded portions of the Parks for hunting and timber were eventually revoked. They were increasingly forced onto marginal surrounding lands and divorced from their traditional ways of life. With no mechanisms in place for large or small scale integration into American society, they were left on reservations to watch their social superiors visit their ancestral lands for recreation and leisure. If one attempts even the slightest amount of empathy, it sounds pretty horrible, right? From an article in Scientific American:

“In July 1929 a frail, elderly woman quietly processed acorns on the floor of the Yosemite Valley. Her weather worn face appeared thin, yet firm like crumpled paper. She was a living record of the trials her people had suffered ever since they were herded into open air prisons at the point of a bayonet. As she sat, pulling back broken shell from acorns like damaged fingernails, a curiosity-seeking tourist offered her a nickel if she would serve him. ‘No!’ she cried. ‘Not five dollars one acorn, no! White man drive my people out — my Yosemite.’ Her name was Maria Lebrado, but she had once been known as Totuya. She was the granddaughter of Chief Tanaya of the Ahwahneechee, a revered leader who had attempted to shield his tribe from harm only to witness the murder of his son and the loss of everything he held dear. Now one of the last remaining members of her tribe, Totuya had returned home in order to die.” [5]

Seriously, imagine that’s your grandmother.

Colonialism under the guise of conservation is something that has not gone away in the 21st century. As documented by Survival International, typically well thought of organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund advocate for and monetarily support state entities that expel indigenous peoples from regions of high biodiversity. For example, in Cameroon the WWF is alleged to have provided funds to so-called anti-poaching squads that forcibly evicted the native Baka. Once clear, the land is open to wealthy foreign tourists for safaris and big game hunting or, even worse, logging and mining. [6]

To stick with the above example, what follows is a short examination of two of the entities in this complex scenario.

Poaching is awful and big game hunters are despicable but for different reasons. I can understand poachers who kill as part of their livelihood. It’s horrible and devastates already endangered animal species, but if there aren’t other vocational opportunities it’s easy to see why people do this. One has to feed, clothe, and shelter their family somehow. Wealthy big game hunters who want to kill things justify it, if they do at all, by pointing to the money they’re pouring into local economies. But as Dereck Joubert of the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative says: “Hunting in the big hunting countries contributes less than 0.27% to the respective national GDP’s” as opposed to eco-tourism, which brings in far greater revenue with much less impact. [7] From a conservation perspective (because big game hunters care so much about things like that), The Humane Society in a February 2016 report found that “over the decade studied, American trophy hunters imported nearly 32,500 trophies of the Africa Big Five species…demonstrating a significant impact on these species, most of which are threatened with extinction.” [8] That number doesn’t take into account the total numbers of slain endangered animals for sport, which is easily in the millions over that time span.

Caught in the mix of are indigenous peoples trying merely to exist – peoples who for millennia existed with now endangered species without decimating their numbers. It’s extremely difficult to tease out the desires of the different groups of which I’ve only mentioned a couple (and could include state and local governments; international corporations; farmers; pastoralists; various crime syndicates; local warlords (depending on the country); the mosaic of human rights organizations and conservation oriented NGO’s, etc.). Such desires vary spatially and temporally, enhancing the probability for coercion, exploitation, violence, and environmental destruction. All of which is to say my short summary of the different players in this byzantine situation is entirely inadequate. Globalization has ensured that such scenarios are fraught with a multitude of diverging and antagonistic interests. Historically, in such situations, even ones that aren’t nearly as complicated such as the creation of the National Park System, native peoples lose big.

I will probably go to more National Parks. They are awesome and I recommend going. Far be it from me to tell anyone what to do, but if you go, I think one should do a little research beforehand (which I didn’t do). It’s a bummer. While I know the knowledge likely only changes the perspective in between one’s ears, I think it’s worth knowing that something so beautiful and awe-inspiring is inextricably connected to human misery. And that misery is continuing to be perpetrated on extant indigenous peoples in different contemporary contexts. In some instances, the justifications used are similar to those used in the creation of the NPS a century ago.

1. https://lmi.mt.gov/Portals/135/Publications/LMI-Pubs/LocalAreaProfiles/Reservation%20Profiles/RF13-Blackfeet.pdf

2. “Thoreau and the American Indians,” By Mark Sayre

3. “Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks,” by Mark David Spence
4. Ibid.

5. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/primate-diaries/how-john-muir-s-brand-of-conservation-led-to-the-decline-of-yosemite/

6. http://www.survivalinternational.org/campaigns/wwf

7. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/conservation-hunting-cecil-lion

8. http://www.hsi.org/assets/pdfs/report_trophy_hunting_by_the.pdf

Hi There

I’m a new blogger in these parts. In addition to working in the child welfare field,  I also am an avid bounty hunter, as can (hopefully) be seen in the picture on the left. I’ve frequented Freethought Blogs for some time now, and recently saw the call for new bloggers. And here I am.

I’ve only recently started writing out my thoughts. The catalyst was the murder of Sylville Smith. If you don’t recall, he was a few cop murders ago. My next postwill be about this, which will be a repackaging of something I wrote when it all went down.

My participation in social media/blogging is scant and I’ve only shared a few things on the internet. I avoid commenting on articles/blogs like the plague and only rarely enter into arguments  – even then it’s typically with people I know, or friends of friends. Until this point, the bulk of what I do online is share cute animal pics/videos with my wife, and like Onion articles. Going back a bit further, I had a Livejournal in the early 2000’s. God only knows the horrors lurking in the self-absorbed, sometimes depressing, sometimes shit-talking posts contained therein.

Why should you read what I have to say? I have no good answer for that. Thematically, I’m not sure what I’m going to write about. After a few posts, I’ll probably take a look back and see if I can discern some kind of theme. Until then, I will blog about stuff and things. A little of this, a little of that.

Here are some things I like:

Artists beside Morrissey/The Smiths: Nick Cave, Integrity, Jason Molina, Black Flag, Amon Amarth, Anohni/Antony and the Johnsons

Podcasts: Comedy Bang! Bang!, Hardcore History, 2 Dope Queens, Myths and Legends

Shows: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Atlanta, The Eric Andre Show, Orphan Black, Lady Dynamite, Master of None

Last 2 books read: “Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature,” by Vaclav Smil; “Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed,” by James Scott

Anyways, thanks for reading and fuck Columbus Day.