My Talk from the Reason Rally – March 24, 2012

I got a chance to speak at last weekend’s Reason Rally. (It’s a shaky-cam, but I’ll update it when there’s a better source.) The full transcript is on the next page.

The bold/unbold technique makes it easier for me to read onstage.

I’ve been racking my brain these past few weeks trying to think of positive ways of talking about reason, and being reasonable, and it turns out; it’s not a simple subject. I’m a pretty non-confrontational person, I am, most of the time, the very definition of a reasonable man.

I don’t like telling people things they don’t want to hear. I want people to get along. I want people to like me. I want to find good things in people. I want to understand viewpoints that differ from mine. I want my tombstone to say: ” He was easy to work with”. I empathize.

I have children. I want to raise them in a world they can add value to, that has value for them. I want for them to feel entitled only to working hard at doing what they love, in order to be excellent at it, and to share their lives and the rewards with those that they love.

Of course, I think this is all anyone wants for their kids (or themselves). I try and inculcate them with a sense of logic about the world. Which much of the time means pointing out to them things that are absurd and ridiculous as a counterpoint, and right now there is much to point at.

I console myself with the thought that for anyone truly paying attention, for at least the last 300 years, the world has always been chock full of absurd contradictions, and has always seemed to be going down hill, and fast. I get this when I read Jefferson. Camus. Vonnegut.

I console myself with the remarkable advances in all of the sciences.

I play a scientist on tv, and I’m in awe of those that actually do it for a living.

Testable, provable, phenomena, and the predictions they allow, big and small, brought me here in front of you today. And will take me back to my family when I’m done.

They allowed me to drive to DC on a bus, type my speech on a screen, and ride to this rally on a car. Walk on shoes that support and protect me, in clothes and sunscreen that shield my pale skin from the sun. To fly on a plane home.

That plane I’ll get on only exists and stays in the air because of a million, million large and tiny tested predictions about lift, drag, material performance, physics, electricity, radio waves, wear, tear, shear, checklists, human error, machine error and redundancy. It is a miracle of engineering. It is the result of an ancient, and very human drive. A drive that makes us what we are, in all of our unique specialization.

A drive to solve problems.

Many tens of thousands of people combined their collective genius to make an impossibly fast and efficient thin inflated bubble of aluminum so stable and secure that right now you’d have to fly for several thousand years before the odds gave you an even chance of being in an accident.

Everything that we have that makes our lives possible exists because humans tested the things they found in their surroundings, made predictions based on those tests, and then improved upon them.

This is Reason: the human capacity to make sense of the world.

Here are some other things, that, like the components of that airplane, that have been tested and proven. I’m going to call them facts.


Force equals mass times acceleration.

The earth is not the center of the universe.

Man landed on the moon in 1969 and a few times thereafter.

Burning airplane fuel caused a tragic, catastrophic collapse of the twin towers in New York in 2001.

The earth is spherical . Well, not precisely round round, turns out it’s ever so slightly pear shaped.

Human industry is focusing a significant rise in the earth’s overall temperature.

The earth is over 4 billion years old.

Evolution is, quite literally, a fact of life.

Now, Those are facts. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, facts are true whether or not you believe them.

Here are some of my beliefs. They are true for me BECAUSE I believe them.

I believe that you can’t teach kids about sex by telling them not to have it.

I believe that making drugs illegal is stupid and damaging to us as a people.

I believe that If we take care of our surroundings, they will take care of us.

I believe that in every tool, there is a hammer.

I believe that People have an inalienable right to choose what to do with their own bodies.

I believe that in a community, it is our duty that we should take care of each other in times of need.

I believe that if you tell people the truth, and let them make decisions based on that, much of the time they’ll make pretty good decisions, but not all.

I believe that that which is detestable to you, you should not do to another.

I believe that while not all people are essentially good, most are trying.

I believe that rules don’t make us moral, loving each other makes us moral.

Finally, I’ve concluded, through careful empirical analysis, and much thought, that someone is looking out for me. Keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought, giving me strength to shoot for more than I might feel capable of. I believe they know everything that I do (and think) and still love me. I’ve concluded after careful consideration, that this person keeping score…

Is me.

Episode 113 – Hunger Games – 3/22/2012

On this week’s show, Will makes iced coffee, Gary fails to restrain himself, and Norm gets really hungry. All that, plus new iPad impressions, the human birdwing hoax, your questions answered, and another episode of fake outtakes. Direct link to podcast here:

Home Run, 1989

I guess you could call this a collaboration between my father and me. It’s also officially the first sculpture I ever sold.

I had a baseball. When I was 22, I moved back in with my parents (didn’t we all?) and while I was there, I set up a shop in their basement and made a lot of art. I also played a lot of pool. One of the things I did was to unravel a baseball all the way to its core and stick it in a gallon jug I bought.

My dad loved it and said I should call it “Home run” and put a sticker on it that said as such. Of course he was right, and I asked him to make the label. My dad’s handwriting always amazed me. He could be scratchy, utilitarian, or calligraphic. When I was 9, they put me in a remedial handwriting class in school because my handwriting was so crappy. It didn’t help. My dad always said to “draw” the letters, rather than write them. I’ve never gotten it.

I’ve actually done typeface design. I can see how his calligraphic line is perfect, having both a fidelity to character and to personality. It’s almost victorian in its perfection. I just can’t, for the life of me, imitate it or even replicate it. My father’s fidelity to the perfect line continues to astonish me.

In 1987, my father, my sister Kate, and I had a show called “Three Savages” in my cooperative gallery, “Points of Departure” in New York. It felt like a great culmination for the three of us to show our work together. My father was such a huge presence, such a huge influence on both my sister and I. It felt like an important moment in time.

I put this piece in that show and it sold opening night to the Lee Lorenz, longtime cartoonist, art editor of the New Yorker, and one of my father’s best friends. I’ll bet he still has it.

My father and I had another show together, at the Callan McJunkin Gallery in my dad’s hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, in 1992.