One reader's rave

"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

Help the Honey Badgers in their fight for freedom of speech and thought!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Five Brave Bitter Cold for Vigil Against Violence

Four people joined me for the Vigil Against Violence that I organized Monday in observance of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Two of these came in response to the email announcement I sent to the Green Party of Philadelphia's discussion list (among others), and the Industrial Workers of the World list to which the first person forwarded it; someone who works at Penn saw one of the flyers I posted there (among other places) and brought a friend along.

This turnout isn't bad at all considering the short (maybe three days') notice and frigid weather; I look forward to something bigger next year, when I'll start the planning earlier.

Pictured here are Charles Sherrouse (left) and yours truly.

Eric Hamell

P.S. The location for the vigil was chosen in response to the atrocious ruling by Judge Theresa Carr Deni a couple months ago. Her courtroom is in City Hall.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Vigil Against Violence

Vigil Against Violence:
Respect Sex Workers' Human Rights

December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex
Workers. Join SWEET (Sex Workers are Entitled to Equal Treatment) on Monday for a
candlelight vigil to honor and mourn the sex workers who have died
this year and raise awareness of the violence faced by their community.
Current and former sex workers, friends, and allies all welcome.

Monday December 17th 5-7pm
On the steps on the west side of City Hall, facing 15th and Market Streets.
Wear red or bring a red umbrella.

For more info about December 17th:

This seems particularly timely in light of the recent outrageous ruling
by Judge Theresa Carr Deni, reducing charges from rape to "theft of services" in
the case of a sex worker forced at gunpoint to have unprotected sex
with multiple partners. She works in room 284 of City Hall.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

$pread magazine sent me the following message:

December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex
Workers. Join $pread and SWANK (Sex Worker Action New yorK) on Monday for a
candlelight vigil to honor and mourn the sex workers who have died
this year and raise awareness of the violence faced by our community.

Current and former sex workers, friends and allies all welcome.

Monday December 17th
On the steps of Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, New
York, NY

Wear red or bring a red umbrella

For more info about December 17th:

This seems particularly timely in light of the recent outrageous ruling in Philadelphia, reducing charges from rape to "theft of services" in the case of a sex worker forced at gunpoint to have unprotected sex with multiple partners.

Also upcoming:

Dr. Ted Daeschler, who discovered the transititonal fossil Tiktaalik, will be addressing the Delaware Valley chapter of Mensa 8pm Friday at the Police Administration Building, 750 Race St., at an event that will be free and open to the public. I'll probably be somewhere else, but it sounds fascinating.

On Tuesday the 18th at 9pm, PBS will be premiering An Unreasonable Man, the excellent documentary about Ralph Nader.

Eric Hamell

Call for Art Work for ICSA 2008 Conference

The International Cultic Studies Association sent me this announcement. --Eric

If you are an ex-member of a cult or high demand organization, The Phoenix Project, presented in cooperation with the International Cultic Studies Association, is pleased to invite you to participate in our next annual exhibit, scheduled for the last weekend of June 2008, at the ICSA Conference in Philadelphia , PA. This call for work is for those works of art that are related to the cult, or high demand organization experience.

You are invited to submit proposals of your visual art, drama, dance, music, video, or literary works that illustrate the world of the cult survivor, including the previous (group) world, healing or recovery, or aspects of the time of transition from the cult or high-demand organization.

Creations may be in any art form, including but not limited to: literary (such as poetry, drama, short story, or other writings), music of any kind, dance, and the visual arts (such as paintings, drawings, collage, sculpture, fiber arts, photography, film, video, or multi-media).

If desired, this work may be presented anonymously, through another presenter.

We hope that not only will this exhibit illuminate the reality of life in a high-demand organization or cult, and of its effects on individuals, but that it will provide an empowering experience for participating artists, who will have the opportunity to tell their own stories in their own ways.

For more information, please e-mail Phoenix Project Director and Coordinator Diana Pletts at:

We look forward to considering your artwork for this event, and hope that you will consider working with us in this presentation of ex-cult member artwork.

Please pass this announcement on. Thank you.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Stop Education Censorship

The Philadelphia Public Record last week ran a sensationalist story about an effort to have a sex education book for people ages ten and older banned from the state's schools and libraries. I immediately borrowed a copy so I could respond in an informed fashion. Here's the letter I just sent the Record:

The fractured logic of those campaigning against the book It's Perfectly Normal was evident right from the Public Record's front-page photo, which showed a sign saying the book is "not even allowed in prisons." "Not even"? Since when are prisons known for their liberal library policies?

One woman religious was quoted as saying the book is "laced with pornographic cartoons." Webster's defines pornography as "matter depicting erotic activity and intended to cause sexual excitement." Having just read the book (tenth anniversary edition, 2004), I can attest that out of eighty-nine pages, it contains exactly four cartoons depicting erotic activity (not in any detail) and exactly zero intended to cause sexual excitement. If they excited Sister Paula Beierschmitt inadvertently, this is probably just an example of the adage, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

Let's compare what's said about the book with what the book itself says. Beierschmitt: It "demeans human values." It's Perfectly Normal: "It's important to respect other people's feelings about slang and dirty words or dirty jokes."

Maria Merlino: "Promotes sexual activity at an early age without emotional maturity." It's Perfectly Normal: "Waiting to have sex until one is old enough to take good care of a baby makes good sense. The surest way not to become pregnant is to abstain."

Merlino again: "An injustice to girls, demeaning them in every way." It's Perfectly Normal: "Sharing between two people who care about each other always means having respect for each other's feelings and wishes. This includes respecting each other's right to say 'No!' to any kind of sexual activity -- at any time and for any reason."

Why are the critics' descriptions so far from the reality? Perhaps because they don't know much about childhood education. Here's what some of those who do say:

"Notable Children's Book" -- American Library Association
"Blue Ribbon Winner" -- Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Reading Magic Award Winner" -- Parenting
"Best Book of the Year" -- School Library Journal
"A family-friendly guide" -- Child

Case closed!

If you live in Pennsylvania, you can counter this obscurantist campaign by writing your state legislators at You can write the Record at

Eric Hamell

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Time to get that electric car!

Turns out, it'll only cost you about a thousand dollars. Read how it works in this story I heard this morning. --E.

Cassendre Xavier Singing Next Friday

Go hear the lady with the beautiful voice! Friday the 14th, 8 pm at the Metropolitan Bakery, 4013 Walnut St. $8.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My First Filk Song to Be Published Next Year

I recently submitted my song "Trinity," which I wrote about three years ago, to Contata to be included in their songbook. It's based on Lois McMaster Bujold's novel The Curse of Chalion and sung to the tune of "Yesterday":

Sainthood's not what it's cracked up to be
Thought I'd save Iselle and then be free
But the Lady had some plans for me

I am thrice the man I used to be
Have a demon and a ghost to tea
Now I believe theology

Why She holds Dondo I don't know
But it's to be
Tried to die a champ
Now I'm cramped with trinity

Sainthood's not what it's cracked up to be
Thought I'd save Iselle and then be free
But the Lady has more plans for me
(Closing hum should be groaned while holding one's stomach)


Thursday, 6 Dec: 7:30pm at Penn's Christian Association, 118 S. 37th St. -- Performance of a one-woman play about Jeannette Rankin, first female member of Congress and sole dissenter from the declaration of war on Japan.

Saturday the 8th: At noon there will be a demonstration on the west side of City Hall calling for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Friday the 14th: The Philadelphia Science Fiction Society will hear a talk by John Scalzi. Program starts at 9pm and is free and open to the public.

Eric Hamell

Monday, November 26, 2007

ICSA to meet in Philly

I've recently learned that the International Cultic Studies Association is holding its annual meeting at Penn next year, 26 through 29 June. As I've come to realize only in the past year and a half that I once belonged to a cultic group and that it's still affecting me, the local venue makes this my top-priority event for getting to next year -- especially because such conferences include meetings especially for survivors, which I'm sure I would find quite valuable.

I'll post more info here as it becomes available.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Demand Journalistic Fairness for Mumia Abu-Jamal

I received the following message via the philly.socialists list. One of the programs mentioned, a 20/20 episode aired in 1998, had a particularly glaring example of bias: it mentioned that defense witness Veronica Jones is a prostitute -- evidently with a view to discrediting her -- while overlooking the exact same fact about "star" prosecution witness Vanessa White.

Eric Hamell

ACTION ALERT: Ensure Fairness For Mumia Abu-Jamal on NBC’s The Today Show!

On Dec. 6, NBC’s The Today Show intends to air a show about Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner’s new book “Murdered By Mumia.” According to the announcement on Michael Smerconish’s website, the show is planning to feature both Smerconish and Faulkner as guests.

The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (, Journalists for Mumia (, and Educators for Mumia ( have initiated a media-activist campaign urging people to write The Today Show at asking them to fairly present both sides of the Mumia Abu-Jamal / Daniel Faulkner case, by also featuring as guests, Linn Washington, Jr. (Philadelphia Tribune columnist and Associate Professor of Journalism at Temple University) and Dr. Suzanne Ross (Clinical Psychologist and Co-Chair of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC).

A sample letter (, accompanied by an extensive informational press pack ( has been created to use for contacting The Today Show. Please take a minute and contact them to ensure fair media coverage of this controversial and important case.

The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (
Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal (
Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (


Dear Today Show,

On December, 2007, the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal will be entering the 27th year. In the course of those years, much of the media coverage has contained pure speculation and falsehoods. Media watchdogs like FAIR.ORG have sharply criticized this coverage as being biased against Abu-Jamal.

We understand that on Dec. 6, the Today Show intends to air a show about Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner’s book “Murdered By Mumia.” Interestingly, the scheduled interview regarding the new book focusing on Mrs. Faulkner comes at a time of many startling new developments in this historic case, generating international attention.

Reflecting the international interest in this case, in 2003, Abu-Jamal was named an honorary citizen of Paris, and in 2006, the city of St. Denis named a street after him. While this was largely motivated by opposition to the death penalty, they also cited strong evidence of both an unfair trial and Abu-Jamal’s innocence.

One of these developments centers on extraordinary photos of the 1981 crime scene taken by Philadelphia-based press photographer Pedro Polakoff (viewable at that reveal manipulation of evidence, and completely contradict the prosecution’s case, including Officer James Forbes’ testimony that he properly handled both Abu-Jamal’s and Faulkner’s guns (the photos show Forbes holding both guns in his bare hand). Also the photos reveal that there were no large bullet divots or destroyed chunks of cement where Faulkner was found, which should be visible in the pavement if the prosecution’s scenario was accurate, according to which Abu-Jamal shot down at Faulkner and allegedly missed several times while Faulkner was on his back. Of particular note, this photographer twice attempted to provide these photos to the District Attorney for both the 1982 trial and the 1995 PCRA hearings, and was ignored both times.

Since his incarceration, Abu-Jamal has published six books and countless articles, and has delivered hundreds of speeches, including keynote addresses for college graduations. As a prolific writer and tenacious journalist, he has earned the respect (and support) of such notable prize-winning authors as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman, and Salman Rushdie. Just recently, he was accepted into the PEN American Center, one of the highest honors a writer can achieve. Additionally, at the time of his arrest, he was president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black Journalists, and was awarded the PEN Oakland award for outstanding journalism after the publication of his first book, Live from Death Row. Since Live, he has garnered a following of dedicated readers around the world, including scholars, college educators, and journalists. His work is, in part, testament to the dignity he has demonstrated for the past 25 years he has been on death row.

The ethical interests in balance and fairness in presenting “news” regarding the Abu-Jamal case, arguably requires providing Today Show viewers with information evidencing Mr. Abu-Jamal’s innocence and unfair trial. To represent this other side, and to provide perspectives addressing the informational needs of your viewers, I ask that you also feature experts Linn Washington, Jr. (Philadelphia Tribune columnist and Associate Professor of Journalism at Temple University) and Dr. Suzanne Ross (Clinical Psychologist and Co-Chair of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC) as guests on your Dec. 6 show (they can be contacted via Journalists for Mumia:

While Mrs. Faulkner certainly has a “story” and is entitled to her opinions, your viewers should be privy to other facts, such as the prosecution withholding key evidence, witness coercion, racist jury selection, and evidence that Judge Albert Sabo boasted about his desire to help the prosecution “fry the nigger,” as enclosed in the press packet provided here for you:

I also write to provide you with information (inclusive of material from Abu-Jamal’s lawyer) in the interests of journalistic balance, fairness and integrity. The press packet includes 1) A recent Black Commentator article by Philadelphia lawyer/journalist David A. Love describing the significance of the Polakoff photos, 2) An Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal press release about the Polakoff photos, written by Princeton University Professor Mark L. Taylor, 3) Criticism of the 1998 ABC 20/20 program about Abu-Jamal, 4) Background on the case, focusing on both the 1982 trial and 1995-97 PCRA hearings, with a focus on Abu-Jamal’s alleged “hospital confession,” ballistics evidence, and the testimony of Veronica Jones, 5) Recent police intimidation of Abu-Jamal’s supporters, including reported death threats against Sgt. DeLacy Davis, of Black Cops Against Police Brutality, and more.

Thank you for your consideration.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Initial Reflections on Richard Fraser's Article "A Letter to American Trotskyists: Too Little, Too Late"

The full title of that article, which wouldn't fit above, is "A Letter to American Trotskyists: Too Little, Too Late (Memorandum on the Problems of Building a Revolutionary Party)," and it can be read at the Marxists Internet Archive.

While there is some interesting material in here, I think the author errs in describing the factors responsible for the US Socialist Workers Party's degeneration as "[t]he substitution of Doctrine for Theory, Organization for Strategy, Tactics for Program, and the continued narrowness of social base," while downplaying the "organizational question" as "basically derivative."

He states earlier that at the SWP's founding, leader James Cannon proclaimed that it was "the one and only party" (not a direct quote, of which unfortunately Fraser provides none on this point). That was certainly a bad move, but it begs the question: why would Cannon's proclaiming it as such settle the matter? Where were the critical-minded revolutionaries in the ranks who should have questioned such an approach?

In fact, a cultic hypothesis about the character of the SWP at its founding would perfectly account for the first two substitutions Fraser mentions; it's typical of high-control groups that static doctrine replaces critical thinking (a prerequisite of scientific theory), and in turn doctrine is deployed in a way that serves to justify putting organization over all else. Narrowness of social base is also typical; most cults seek people with relatively secure incomes, since they basically exist by financially exploiting their members.

Other internal evidence from the article also supports this view. Fraser writes about one discussion at the party's Trotsky School, at which the leadership laid down the line on strategy for the black movement, "I was very uncomfortable during this discussion...and determined to get to the root of the problem, which I found could be done if you just try a little. The fallacy of the majority opinion -- although it should be obvious -- I will summarize here," and then proceeds to do so. A few paragraphs later he writes, "Later that year, when I had had time to think the thing out a bit, I made a protest of the policy to the School. I was greeted with silence."

The first question this brings to mind is, why would it take some months to "think out" something that "should be obvious"? One answer would be that organizational life was arranged so as to minimize people's time and energy to think for themselves, as described in Dennis Tourish's paper "Ideological Intransigence, Democratic Centralism, and Cultism: A Case Study from the Political Left" (published by the International Cultic Studies Association), which describes a period in the history of another Trotskyist group, the Committee for a Workers International.

My next thought was how familiar was the part about being greeted with silence. I had this experience more than once with the SWP. While attending a convention of its youth group, the Young Socialist Alliance, I heard someone tell approvingly of a member who'd been one semester short of a graduate degree but had dropped out so he could join immediately in the "turn to industry." I commented that this seemed silly; even if he chose not to go further with school, surely it was sensible to finish what he'd started when he was already so close. No one responded to my comment.

A couple years later, after I'd been pressured to resign but while I still considered myself a sympathizer, I attended an SWP convention where someone mentioned that in a certain branch, some members had been expelled for violating the "security" policy against using illegal drugs. As it so happened, I'd heard about this from one of those former members, who'd told me that others had violated the same policy, but were still in the group because they supported the leadership's positions. I mentioned this and was met by dead silence. I repeated myself, with the same result.

This pattern is easily understood when you realize that a high-control group maintains people's loyalty by making them very dependent on approval by the group for their self-esteem, while cutting them off from other social supports. Shunning is a tactic employed by many such groups; indeed, I experienced it myself a few years after leaving the YSA, when they "disassociated" me without explanation. Short of formal shunning, silence in response to dissent serves a similar purpose, suggesting that disassociation may follow if one continues on one's course, while immediately depriving one of the social feedback one normally depends on to know how one stands in a group.

Something I was told a few years ago by another former member, Herb Lewin, also fits this pattern. He said that he and some other members of his branch had asked someone reporting on a National Committee meeting to repeat what someone else had said or asked there (can't remember exactly since I was told this a few years ago), and that in response other members, including my parents, had started shouting, "Blackmail! Blackmail!" Herb didn't want to dwell further on this account -- this conversation was shortly after my mother's death, possibly at her memorial -- but it is hard to see how asking for such information could constitute blackmail. Of course what Herb said made me uncomfortable, and this was before I'd come to realize that the party was already a cult at the time I was in it (1978-79), let alone suspect it may have been when my parents were members and before I was even born. Because of the circumstances in which I heard this, it was easy to put out of my mind. But now it's clear how well this fits with a cultic hypothesis about the SWP from the time of its founding.

Returning to Fraser's article, he concludes it thus: "There is one thing for sure, however. Nearly every Marxist-oriented organization claims to operate on the basis of Leninism: democratic centralism. But in all cases every principle of Leninism has been turned upside-down and wrongside-out, until its basic tenets have been buried. Leninism must be re-discovered and -- if found adaptable to our problems and conditions -- adapted and used." While some may claim that there are exceptions to this statement -- and those who would do so should remember the insidious character of cultic groups, which tend to show their nasty side only to those who find reason to disagree with the leadership -- even if it's only mostly true, shouldn't this raise questions about whether Leninism is ever the optimal approach to organization?

Eric Hamell

(Yet) more misinformation on literacy

A story reported without comment this morning by Bob Bumbera on WXPN seems to be a good example of misinformation about literacy.

The headline was something like "Reading in Decline." But, if you listened carefully, that wasn't the real story. It was stated that there had been another decline in the percentage of US adults who said they'd read a book in the past year. The operative word here is "book." Books aren't the only form of written matter, and clearly other forms, such as email and web pages, are becoming increasingly important. So this statistic actually said nothing about a decline in reading, as opposed to reading of books.

Next we were informed that employers are having more trouble finding employees with adequate literacy skills. But in an increasingly information-based economy, that could simply indicate that employers' requirements are rising, rather than that workers' skills are falling.

Finally we hear one thing not subject to misinterpretation: nine-year-olds' reading scores have once again gone up, just as they have for the past several years. How does this fit with the other "facts," especially given the subtext that more computer use is responsible for allegedly declining literacy? It doesn't, of course, especially inasmuch as children and youth are the group who are getting "wired" the fastest and most easily. On the contrary, it strongly suggests that the Internet is facilitating a growth of reading skills.

This should come as no surprise, since email and text messaging have been growing at the expense of voice communication. In addition, Web surfing may easily be more addictive than book reading, because if a book starts to lose its interest there may not be another one handy to take its place; whereas, if you're bored with a particular web site, it's easy to search for others on a different topic, or with a different take on the same topic.

In short, the story reported on "The Morning Show " reflected the jeremiads of those unhappy with and uncomprehending of current trends in communication, rather than a balanced assessment of what's really happening. Not that the same pattern hasn't been seen in every preceding generation.

Eric Hamell

Saturday, November 17, 2007

QUOTE OF THE MONTH: "Socialism and Soviet socialism are the same -- like chair and electric chair." -- Aleksandr L. Zaztsev, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, director emeritus of the Institute for Research in Radio and Electronics, recipient of Hero of the Soviet Union and other honors; as quoted yesterday evening by Dr. H. Paul Shuch, executive director emeritus of the SETI League, speaking at the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention, continuing through Sunday.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kucinich Campaign Calls New Constitutional Convention Initiative

The following initiative has been announced by the Kucinich campaign. Hopefully it can be tied in to promoting awareness of Congress' dereliction in failing to call a Constitutional Convention already. --Eric

This evening (Wednesday, November 14th) at 9pm EST the campaign will hold a national town hall meeting via our new streaming media capability on the web. The address is:

This town hall meeting will provide an opportunity for the campaign to introduce the New Constitutional Convention Initiative to supporters and anyone who is concerned about the state of affairs in the United States. The New Constitutional Convention Initiative will include a series of nationally broadcast discussions (via that seek to accomplish three outcomes:

  • Outline the ongoing assaults on the Constitution. An educational component/civics lesson to clarify the intent of the framers and provide a foundation for understanding the ongoing assaults on the Constitution
  • Discuss in detail what can be done collectively and individually to restore crucial constitutional principles
  • Provide a venue which will lead to a coordinated and sustained national effort to renew the Constitution and restore accountability in government
The New Constitutional Convention Initiative will hold a national conference call each week for the next 10 weeks - culminating in a major event at the end of January. A complete list of dates, panel participants and moderators, and topics/themes for each week, will be made available in the next week and distributed to anyone interested in participating.

Either Congressman Kucinich or I will be on the call to introduce the initiative -- depending on the outcome of an expected important Congressional vote. Please pass the word and let's get this party (Constitutional Convention) started.

Best regards,
Mike Michael Klein
Campaign Manager
Kucinich for President 2008

Excerpt from New Erotic SF Is Online

Keywords: science fiction

The following message was forwarded to the phillygeek list from Leigh Wood. --Eric

I'm wrapping up my new erotica novel On The Way To New Isosceles, and we've just posted an excerpt of the first FIVE Chapters at my website!

As you can see I'm still sharing some space from Kristin Battestella, but I'm looking into getting a blogspot site going. Yahoo 360 isn't very user-friendly for a girl like me! I also share space at the
Kristin Battestella Yahoo Group. I'm shameless, I know!

Feel free to comment on On The Way To New Isosceles. Not that I like criticism, but you know when you need it! In addition to the excerpt, there are character bios and summaries online as well.

Not too much naughty to start these chapters, but just a reminder that On The Way To New Isosceles is for mature [sic; read "not prudish" -- E.] readers! Thanks!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Revolution and "Revision" in History

The other day I heard an outrageously biased piece on NPR about the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. I wrote the following in response.

Dear people,

I am dismayed by your highly ideological piece on the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

It started with the assertion that this event "led to" a dictatorship that killed millions of people. Who decides what leads to what? This is a matter of interpretation, not fact.

For instance, one might just as easily say that the Great French Revolution "led to" the Napoleonic dictatorship and wars of conquest. Yet, because it's politically fashionable to condemn the ideology of socialism and not that of democratic republicanism, people don't generally do this.

On the other hand, the greatest period of political and cultural experimentation in Russia's history to date was during the early years of the Soviet republic. Yet, because this doesn't support the dominant ideological narrative, one rarely hears it mentioned.

A different ideological narrative might say that the Bolshevik Revolution was followed several years later by a Stalinist counterrevolution, which was in many ways supported and rewarded by Western powers and their spokespeople. For instance, the New York Times editorialized in favor of Stalin over Trotsky, and FDR followed up by normalizing diplomatic relations with Stalin's regime.

Eric Hamell

Challenge the Candidates on a Constitutional Convention

Here's an opportunity to challenge the presidential candidates on the question of an Article V convention, for which Congress has received more than enough petitions but has failed to call as constitutionally mandated. Please follow the link at the end of the message below if you're unfamiliar with the issue, then vote on the video.

Eric Hamell

Dear Friends,
As most of you know presidential candidates are being asked video questions on various issues during this campaign. The questions that are asked are determined by votes.
One of our members, Nelson Lee Walker (no relation) has posted a video question about the position of the presidential candidates on calling an Article V Convention. The link to the site is:
We would like to ask every member of FOAVC to go to this site and vote to help get this question before the presidential candidates. And we'd like to ask all of you to forward the link to all people on your mailing lists and ask them to vote to get this question asked of the candidates.
Thank you.
Bill Walker
FOAVC co-founder

Friday, November 09, 2007

The "No New Order" button

Keywords: No New Order sticker

Here's a button I commissioned from Nancy Lebovitz, "The Button Lady." Under the "No" sign is the symbol of the New Order, the puritanical, totalitarian regime depicted in Candida Royalle's film Revelations.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My calendar is up

I recently linked this blog to my Yahoo! calendar. I may still announce some events here, but this way you can easily find out what's coming up without searching through my archives for things I announced earlier (or not at all).


Monday, November 05, 2007

Prudery Preempts Peace

Yesterday I sent the following message to The UN's own account of the incident can be read here: Note that an official is quoted as saying they will try to help the "victims" even though, since they consented, there's no reason to think they regard themselves as such.

I am appalled at the UN's recent action expelling Sri Lankan peacekeepers from Haiti for mutually beneficial sexual transactions with inhabitants of that country. By what inhumane value system is indulging the puritanism of (some of) these women's compatriots judged to be more important than preventing violence?

I urge you to reverse this decision forthwith.

Eric Hamell
Philadelphia, PA, USA

Deny Deni Flier Available

Matilda O'Neill has supplied me this flier for the Deny Deni effort. Feel free to copy.

Eric Hamell

A Visit to a "Haunted" Street

Someone in a "paranormal research" group I belong to told me that the segment of Orianna Street below South is haunted. He said there was a massacre of Native Americans there and one of them put a curse on the spot. Further, he said psychics avoid it because one can be "spirited away" to Colonial times if one is there between the hours of about 10:30pm and 2am.

So I mentioned this place to some friends a few weeks ago to see if anyone wanted to go there with me. One did so, and as we approached it he told me he sometimes is psychically sensitive, but only in the company of others who have psychic ability. Out of a sense of ethical obligation, I told him about the possibility of disappearing into the pre-Revolutionary past there, but not about the massacre.

When we got to the middle of the street, he closed his eyes and walked up and down it some distance to see what he would "see" with his eyes closed. He said he saw what looked like human figures in Colonial garb, walking around oblivious to us. He speculated that they weren't ghosts, but people of a different period that was visible to him there. I saw nothing out of the ordinary, with eyes either open or closed.

After we'd left this street, we found a place to sit down and tried some thought sending on each other. I wasn't impressed with the results, but he thought I had definite psychic ability.

Only after this exercise did I tell him about the massacre at the spot we had visited. I pointed out that what he'd thought he'd seen -- people in period (European-American) dress, but no massacre or Native people -- was consistent with what I'd told him before our visit there, but not with the lore of that place in its entirety. Notwithstanding this, he continued to speculate that he was sensitive to seeing other time periods that evening.

It's worth noting here the oft-cited finding that people who say they've had psychic experiences or abilities are usually found to have more "fantasy-prone" personalities than those who don't. I must confess, however, that I don't know the criteria used to characterize someone as fantasy-prone in the first place.

Eric Hamell

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Update on Rape-Enabling Judge

The following comes from Matilda O'Neill, organizer of the Deny Deni effort.

Deny Deni!
No means no! Vote NO on November 6th!

The time is drawing near to evict Judge Teresa Carr Deni from her post in Philadelphia Municipal Court for ruling that sex workers cannot be raped.

Action from people across the globe has already had very positive results. Requests that people write to the Philadelphia Bar Association rethink their recommendation to retain Deni in the upcoming November election prompted an unprecedented investigation and statement from the PBA.

Chancellor Jane Dalton stated that Deni's "…decision in this case was based on a pre-existing bias … and reflects, in my opinion, a clear disregard of the legal definition of rape and the rule of law in this case."

She further stated, "As Chancellor, a lawyer, and a human being, I am personally offended by this unforgivable miscarriage of justice. The victim has been brutalized twice in this case: first by the assailants, and now by the court ."

You can read the full text of the PBA's statement here:

It also got coverage in both of Philadelphia's major newspapers:
It was thanks to the overwhelming response of outraged people around the world that this happened. Good work!

Now we need to get the vote out on November 6th!

Tell Deni that rape is rape and no means no! Vote NO on Judge Teresa Carr Deni's retention in the Philadelphia Municipal Court on November 6th!

If you want to help on Election Day, please get in contact:
If you want to help but cannot vote:
1) Get these bulletins out anywhere and everywhere you can! Help oust Deni from our judicial system.
2) You can write a polite letter to Judge Teresa Carr Deni's supervisor in municipal court and ask that she be transferred or removed. For more information on how to do this, contact
3) Live near Philly? Come to town for Election Day on November 6th! We need all the help we can get!
4) It's also probably worth writing to the Philadelphia Bar Association and thanking them for their swift and thoughtful action on the matter. You can reach Chancellor Jane L. Dalton at and Executive Director Kenneth Shear at

When is a rape not a rape? When the victim is a sex worker!

Did you know that in Philadelphia forcing a sex worker to have unprotected sex with multiple partners at gunpoint and without consent is not considered rape? That's right, Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni decided that based upon her occupation, the victim, a 20-year-old single mother, had consented to any and all brutality unleashed upon her. When asked whether she considered rape to be a traumatic event, Deni stated that this case "minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped."

In what reality is forcible unprotected sex by multiple people not rape? In what reality is it okay for a municipal court judge to free a violent rapist because of the judge's contempt for the victim's occupation? On November 6, 2007 help tell Judge Carr Deni that determining a case of rape is not dependant upon the victim's character, social standing, or occupation. Rape is rape and no means no. Vote NO on Deni's retention with the Municipal Court of Philadelphia.

Spread the word! No means no, vote NO on retaining Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni!

Interested in taking action against Judge Carr Deni? Contact Matilda at

Friday, October 19, 2007

Judge Thinks Sex Workers Can't Be Raped

I just saw this on the Green Party of Philadelphia's discussion list. I'll be doing whatever I can to help turn this bigot out, and will pass on anything you can do as I learn of it.

Eric Hamell

When is a rape not a rape? When the victim is a sex worker! Did you know that in Philadelphia forcing a sex worker to have unprotected sex with multiple partners at gunpoint and without consent is not considered rape? That's right, Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni decided that based upon her occupation, the victim, a 20-year-old single mother, had consented to any and all brutality unleashed upon her. When asked whether she considered rape to be a traumatic event, Deni stated that this case "minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped."

In what reality is forcible unprotected sex by multiple people not rape? In what reality is it okay for a municipal court judge to free a violent rapist because of the judge's contempt for the victim's occupation?

On November 6, 2007, help tell Judge Carr Deni that determining a case of rape is not dependant upon the victim's character, social standing, or occupation. Rape is rape and no means no. Vote NO on Deni's retention with the Municipal Court of Philadelphia. Spread the word! No means no, vote NO on retaining Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni!

Interested in taking action against Judge Carr Deni? There will be a planning meeting about this campaign on Tuesday, October 23rd. Even if you do not vote, we still need your help! Contact Matilda at mazzidly@... for more details.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I've Started a Second Blog

It's called SexFreedomAction and it's dedicated to helping people take action for sexual freedom. Visit it at

Eric Hamell

Dahr Jamail Speaking at Penn

Dahr Jamail at Penn:
Monday October 22, 7:00 PM
Logan Hall
Ground Fl. Rm 17

Come hear Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist recently returned from Iraq, speak about his experiences.

Acclaimed independent journalist Dahr Jamail has covered the Middle East for more than four years. He has reported extensively from inside Iraq, and has also reported from Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Jamail writes for the Inter Press Service, The Asia Times, and many other outlets. Jamal was one of the few Western journalists to report from Fallujah during the siege, and he will provide a rare glimpse to the Penn community of the realities on the ground in Iraq.

Jamail is the author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, from Haymarket Books. From the book jacket:

"Dahr Jamail does us a great service, by taking us past the lies of our political leaders, past the cowardice of the mainstream press, into the streets, the homes, the lives of Iraqis living under US occupation. If what he has seen could be conveyed to all Americans, this ugly war in Iraq would quickly come to an end. A superb journalist."-Howard Zinn

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Congratulate Radio Station on Open Ad Policy

The other day, while drifting up the radio dial for music, I found myself listening to a commercial for Adam & Eve's online store, This was the first time I'd heard the like on the radio, so I waited for the station ID to learn it was 96.5 FM, and at the next opportunity emailed them to congratulate them on their willingness to air it.

This is something I encourage people to remember: if you only make noise when you have a complaint, you encourage caution rather than boldness. It's important for them to hear from you when they're doing something right.

Eric Hamell

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Antiwar Rally Planned for Veterans' Day

Here's the info:

Stand Against the War!

NOVEMBER 9, 2007

Protest military recruitment at the recruitment station at BROAD STREET and CHERRY STREET from 4 PM – 6 PM.

1. Bring the troops home now! US out of Iraq and Afghanistan
2. No US or Israeli attacks on Iran
3. Military recruiters out of our schools
4. Fully fund benefits for returning veterans
5. Money for education, jobs and health care, not war

Veterans Day Organizing Committee
Sponsored By: Phila. Socialists Collective, Phila. Socialist Alternative,
Phila. International Action Center, Phila. Troops Out Now Coalition


In other news, a site has been created for the regional antiwar demonstrations being planned for 27 October. The address is I'll add a button shortly.

Eric Hamell

Support Workers' Power while Cutting Pollution

Workers at a bike factory in Thuringia, Germany have responded to the owner's plan to close the plant by occupying it. You can help them save their jobs by ordering a bike from their web site:

Eric Hamell

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Panelists Announced for Sexual Freedom Forum

Here's the updated info:

Sexual Freedom Coming to Philadelphia

Sexual Freedom Forum
Liberty, Libations & Libido
Liberty, Libations & Libido M-5:00PM Featuring....

Philadelphia's Premier Neo-Burlesque Troupe PEEK-A-BOO REVUE
Philadelphia's own ROOTS AND GROOVE

Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Forum

What IS Sexual Freedom? And, more importantly, why should I care about it? Register NOW and join a group of nationally renowned speakers and local organizers - experienced sexual freedom activists and trainers - and learn how to create social and political change. This fabulous forum offers a full day of discussions and skill- building/problem-solving sessions featuring some of the best known leaders in the social change movement.

Rebecca Fox, Director
National Coalition for LGBT Health

Jim Rea, Director
Sexual Freedom Network

Ignacio Gilberto Rivera, Founding Board Member
Queers for Economic Justice

Alexander Robinson, President and CEO
National Black Justice Coalition

Loretta Ross, National Coordinator
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective

Dr. William Stayton, Executive Director
Center for Sexuality and Religion

Terry Stone, Executive Director
National Association of LGBT Community Centers

Where & When
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Registration 9:30 am
Forum10:00 am - 4:30 pm
Holiday Inn Philadelphia
400 Arch Street Philadelphia, PA 19106

Box lunches will be provided for those who pre-register or for purchase at the event. Suggested donation: $15 to help cover costs of materials (Scholarships are available.)
To register, call 1.202.628.3333 or on the Web at

Liberty, Libations & Libido
Philadelphia's Premier Neo Burlesque Troupe Peek-A-Boo Revue
DJs Johanna Constantine Spinning Electro
& Philadelphia's own Roots and Groove
and lots of Philadelphia "Sexual Pioneers"
PLUS a silent auction featuring items to entice your libido!

Liberty - join us in celebrating sexual freedom as a fundamental human right.
Libations - political discussions, popular libations> and good company.
Libido - get your libido going with the incomparable Peek-A-Boo Revue Burlesque Show, world-famous DJ Johanna Constantine, and Philadelphia's own Roots and Groove.

Where & When
October 6th, 2007
7:30pm - 11:00pm
The Courtyard Marriott (near City Hall)
21 N Juniper St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Admission: $20
To register, call 1.202.628.3333 or on the web at

Official After Party Hosted by Pure Nightclub
1221 Saint James Street
All Attendees Receive Free Admission before Midnight

Sunday, September 30, 2007

CFI to Hold Seminar Here

The topic will be "Does God Exist? A New Survey of the Arguments Pro and Con." It will be held 12-14 October at the Doubletree Hotel Philadelphia, 237 S. Broad St. Speakers will include R. Joseph Hoffman, author of Just War and Jihad and editor of Julian's Against the Galileans; Eddie Tabash, chair of the Council for Secular Humanism's First Amendment Task Force; Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine; and Sherry Rook, coordinator of CSH's Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE).

As I can't afford the registration ($119), the most interesting news to me is the creation of the last-mentioned project, which is something I've favored for some time. I made my own little effort along those lines when I volunteered for the International Solidarity Movement in 2002 and bought a Happy Human pendant just so I could wear it while there. Disappointingly, not many people asked me what it meant.

Eric Hamell

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Pro-Porn Haiku

Keywords: poetry, pornography

More precisely, I suppose this is anti-anti-porn:

Tell someone else what's
Degrading to her. Show her
You're superior.

Eric Hamell

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Extending Puzzle Deadline

Keywords: word puzzles

I've decided to extend the deadline for solutions to a puzzle I posted on the 2nd, while publicizing it a little better. Here it is again:

Now, a word puzzle. The answer is a sentence that looks like this: "You're my _ _, _ _ _ _ _." Each underscore represents a word. The letters of one word after the comma form an abbreviation for the words before the comma, while the remainder are all the same letters, in the same numbers and the same order, as the first word before the comma. The phrase preceding the comma is listed in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Enter your solution as a comment below. I'll give the answer next week.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Marable, Fletcher to speak in Philly

This just in:

PHILADELPHIA, PA – September 14, 2007 – The Philadelphia Community Institute for Africana Studies, Inc. (PCIAS), today announces the third in a year-long series of Black Public Interest Forums to encourage and facilitate dialogue and debate on the history, progress and challenges facing the African American community in the Delaware Valley. The third forum in the series will take place Thursday, September 27, 2007, from 6 PM to 9 PM at the Good Samaritan Baptist Church, 62nd and Lansdowne Avenue. Everyone with an interest in the African American struggle for social and political justice is welcome to attend. Admission is free, although donations are encouraged and will be very much appreciated.

The featured speakers are renowned educators and activists in the African American community. Professor Manning Marable is a distinguished historian and author. Mr. Bill Fletcher is an eminent labor activist and past President of the Trans Africa Forum. Butch Cottman is our own homegrown, outspoken, and committed activist for social justice, and co-founder of the Philadelphia Community Institute for Africana Studies. The format of the program is a panel discussion, followed by a question and answer period during which members of the audience will have the opportunity to dialogue with our speakers.

Professor Marable will discuss “Empire, Racism and Resistance: Global Apartheid and the Prospects for a Democratic Future.” The talk will link the prison industrial complex in the U.S., with the war in Iraq and the dynamics of “Global Apartheid.” The talk will explain what practical steps are necessary to reverse these destructive processes.

Bill Fletcher will talk about the challenges facing Black workers and the challenges & changes facing the trade union movement and Black leadership. Butch Cottman will talk about the chaos in our lives and communities as the internal reflection of the violence, pillage and chaos our country unleashes on the world.

Muhammad Ahmad, President of PCIAS, explains, “Manning Marable, Bill Fletcher and Butch Cottman represent three of the most progressive minds of the 21st century in the African American community. And the three of them presenting on the Black peoples’ problems will be a monumental event.”

Butch Cottman, on behalf of the Board of Directors of PCIAS, states, “In the one hundred thirty odd years since the end of Reconstruction, capitalism has trained us to eat our children and insist that we call it beefsteak. Why and how should we commit ourselves to a vision and practice of hard work/protracted struggle that doesn’t unravel under the weight of frustration, cynicism, opportunism, and ultimately contempt for the oppressed?”

The Black Public Interest Forum is sponsored by the Philadelphia Community Institute for Africana Studies, Inc. and supported by The Coalition, a network of civic, social justice, educational and community organizations and activists.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tens of Thousands March Against War


19 September: 7pm at the Ethical Culture Society, 1906 S. Rittenhouse Sq., Playgrounds for Palestine is presenting Occupation 101. Requested donation is $10, $5 for students/seniors/low income; no one turned away.

24 September: 7pm at the A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave., the Philadelphia Anti-War Forum will screen The Oil Factor. Free; discussion to follow.

25 September: 6:30pm at the LAVA Zone, 4134 Lancaster Ave., the Green Party of Philadelphia will be holding its general meeting. Free and open to the public; all registered Philadelphia Greens may vote.

15 October: 7pm at the A-Space, PA-WF presents Palestine Is Still the Issue. Free; discussion to follow.

And on 6 October, this:

Sexual Freedom Forum

What IS Sexual Freedom? And, more importantly, why should I care about it? Join a group of nationally renowned speakers and local organizers - experienced sexual freedom activists and trainers - and learn how to create social and political change. Join us as we "put a face" on the issues and actions that affect all of us in today's society. This fabulous forum offers a full day of discussions and skill-building/problem-solving sessions featuring some of the best known leaders in the social change movement.

Where & When
Holiday Inn Philadelphia
400 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Saturday, October 6, 2007 Registration at 9:30 am, Forum 10:00 am - 4:30 pm
Box lunches will be served for those who pre-register. Suggested donation: $15 to help cover costs of materials. Scholarships are available. To register, call 1.202.628.3333 or on the Web at Woodhull

Liberty, Libations & Libido

Philadelphia' s Premier Neo Burlesque Troupe Peek-A-Boo Revue
DJs Johanna Constantine Spinning Electro & Philadelphia' s own Roots and Groove
and lots of Philadelphia "Sexual Pioneers" PLUS a silent auction featuring items to entice your libido!

Liberty - join us in celebrating sexual freedom as a fundamental human right.
Libations - political discussions, popular libations and good company.
Libido - get your libido going with live body art, the incomparable Peek-A-Boo Revue Burlesque Show, world-famous DJ Johanna Constantine and Philadelphia' s own Roots and Groove.

Where & When
October 6th, 2007
7:30pm - 11:00pm
The Courtyard Marriott (near City Hall) 21 N Juniper St Philadelphia, PA 19107
Admission: $20
To register, call 1.202.628.3333 or on the web at Woodhull.

Official After Party Hosted by Pure Nightclub 1221 Saint James Street
All Attendees Receive Free Admission before Midnight. www.PurePhilly. com

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Fatuousness of Cynicism

Keywords: critical thinking, skeptical tracts

OK, I stole that title from an article in Anarchy magazine several years ago; but it fits many situations, including my response to someone expressing his lack of interest in attending my upcoming Brights munch to discuss how to popularize critical thinking. This is what I wrote in reply to his pessimism:

This isn't a question that can be answered with words on paper (or a screen), but only by the experience of what works and what doesn't. But you yourself said that it's largely a matter of serendipity. Exactly: it's a matter of which memes someone gets exposed to first. My tract isn't aimed primarily at those who are already "born again"; it's aimed at those who haven't thought about the question yet, especially young people. And I intentionally designed it to give critical thinking emotional appeal, including the idea that exchanging rational criticism is a form of human solidarity, rather than being equivalent to personal attack.

I think you're underestimating the role of an authoritarian culture in teaching bad cognitive habits. Many have aptly critiqued conventional education as a system that crushes children's native curiosity out of them. (My brother jokes that the first grade is followed by the "sickened grade.") And it's an overgeneralization to say professional educators aren't interested in critical thinking. Some teachers and schools do incorporate it into the curriculum. It's the exception rather than the rule; but where it's been tried, it often has impressive results. This supports the view that the problem is mainly social/cultural rather than biological.

I recall encountering, a couple years ago, the view of one researcher, based on observation of people like the Kalahari Bushmen, that a livelihood of game tracking creates strong incentives for, precisely, the habits of hypothetico-deductive thinking that are the basis of science. (Don't remember now if this was on NPR or in Science News magazine.) This is exactly the lifestyle that we've lived for most of our evolutionary history; by comparison, civilization and social stratification, which often turn independent thought into a liability, are too recent to have had any biological impact. This fits very well with the observation that violence and repression, both within the family and the larger polity, seem much more characteristic of civilized than pre-civilized societies. (This observation doesn't apply to violence against other tribes and species, which involves different issues and can be found in abundance in human societies at all stages of cultural evolution.) If mindless conformity were really so natural to most people, we wouldn't see such extensive resort to violence to maintain it.

As I said at the beginning, only practice will show what works and what doesn't; that, rather than presuming to know what human nature is on the basis of casual or uncontrolled observation, is exactly what distinguishes the scientific spirit.

By the way, to clear one thing up: isn't "my" site; PhACT is only one of many groups I belong to. Its president, Eric Krieg, happens to share my first name, but we're not the same person.

Eric Hamell

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Come join us!

Keywords: political cults, political music, punk rock, religious cults

The other day, listening to one of my CDs more closely than before, I noticed a couple songs that are quite germane to those of us who've had experiences with abusive groups. This one pertains to the sort of group that I belonged to once, in my adolescence:

"Come Join Us"

Don't you see all the trouble that most people are in
And that they just want you for their own advantage
But I swear to you we're different from all of them
Come join us
I can tell you are lookin' for a way to live
Where truth is determined by consensus
Full of codified arbitrary directives
Come join us
All we want to have is your small mind
Turn it into one of our own kind
You can go through life adrift and alone
Desperate, desolate, on your own
But we're lookin' for a few more stalwart clones
So come join us
Come join us
Come join us

We've got spite and dedication as a vehement brew
The world hates us, well we hate them too
But you're exempted of course if you
Come join us
Independent, self-contented, revolutionary
Intellectual, brave, strong and scholarly
If you're not one of them, you're us already so
Come join us

And here's one for those whose abusers were more "spiritual":

"Spirit Shine"

Shed a tear for the criminal, give him something to believe
Light a fire for the miserable, give the darkness some meaning
Closed wounds harbor pestilence, when you lick them from within
Charity has a redolence chastity cannot rescind

Spirit shine, it's a sign
Of a troubled mind (tortured mind)
Spirit shine all the time
Can render you blind

You can take it all to heart or throw it all away
You can call it just a lark or live your life that way
You can give until you're dry and sucked of all your gleam
You can fake another cry and compromise your dream

Cling tight to the parable -- let it dominate your life
Create a God who's infallible -- give your leader some respite
Closed wounds harbor pestilence -- when you lick them from within
Rosy smiles lose their radiance -- when you take it on the chin

Both of these are from Bad Religion's album The Gray Race.

Eric Hamell

City to Host Regional Peace Demonstration

I've recently gotten word that an antiwar demonstration for the mid-Atlantic region will be held in Philadelphia on 27 October. It's still in the planning stage; more details will appear here as they become available.

Also upcoming--

Thursday, 6 Sep (today!): Michael Palin is speaking at the central library, 1901 Vine St. Free.

Saturday, 8 Sep: Milton and the Devil's Party are playing at World Cafe Live at 9pm. I heard them last fall at an anti-Santorum event and will vouch for their energetic, literate music. (One of them apologized then for the fact that "our frontman's been dead for 300 years," but it didn't seem to have hurt them in the least.) And at 7pm, the Philadelphia Brights Meetup group, organized by yours truly, will be holding a munch. Be there if you're a freethinker and want to meet other freethinkers.

Saturday, 15 Sep: National antiwar demonstration in Washington. Visit for more info.

Wednesday, 19 Sep: At 9pm, the Independence Seaport Museum (211 S. Delaware Ave. aka "Christopher Columbus Boulevard") presents an outdoor screening of Blackbeard (1952). BYOB, blanket. Admission is $4, but free for those in pirate garb. May be cancelled in the event of inclement weather.

Eric Hamell

Sunday, September 02, 2007

It's a puzzle, isn't it?

Indeed it is! But first, this great T-shirt I just saw: black on red, it depicted a chimp in a Che-style hat, over the slogan "VIVA LA EVOLUCION."

Now, a word puzzle. The answer is a sentence that looks like this: "You're my _ _, _ _ _ _ _." Each underscore represents a word. The letters of one word after the comma form an abbreviation for the words before the comma, while the remainder are all the same letters, in the same numbers and the same order, as the first word before the comma. The phrase preceding the comma is listed in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

Enter your solution as a comment below. I'll give the answer next week.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Letter to NPR re: Mother Teresa

I just sent the following message to National Public Radio's All Things Considered:

I have to question your Thursday commentator's view that Mother Teresa was "the greatest saint of all time" because she maintained "trust in God" despite having no sense of his presence. To me this is comparable to the self-flagellation of some medieval religious; most people today don't regard such gratuitous masochism as admirable but see it as a kind of egotism. Yet masochism is what Mother Teresa's suffering was, since it was completely avoidable. Those of us who aren't people of faith feel no "spiritual darkness" from God's absence; belief in ourselves and our fellows is all we need, and it could have been likewise for Mother Teresa had she only chosen to be a person of reason rather than one of faith. So her suffering was self-inflicted and merits no praise; she could just as well have done all her good works without it.

Eric Hamell

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Biology Is Not Destiny

I just sent a letter to the Philadelphia City Paper in response to a pro-execution opinion column. Here it is:

Michael Washburn's Slant misrepresents the position of death penalty opponents on a number of levels.

First, he seems oblivious to the materialist understanding of racism. This views racism as not fundamentally a problem of bad attitudes, but of structural inequalities that not only have disparate impacts on "whites" and "people of color," but also serve to continually reproduce discriminatory practices — sometimes consciously racist, sometimes inadvertently so — that in turn perpetuate the material inequalities.

Washburn appeals to tradition by noting the prevalence of retribution as a theme in many cultures. He conveniently neglects that this often takes the form of cross-generational retribution, resulting in endless cycles of revenge. Moral rightness can't be decided by the mere prevalence of a custom. After all, racism, misogyny, and religious intolerance are all prevalent across many cultures too.

Washburn also assumes that calling the death penalty racist implies that only "people of color" are executed. This is an absurd dichotomy; a disparate impact doesn't have to be 100% to be real. He also ignores the fact that simulated trials have found that white juries given identical information are more likely to sentence a "black" person to death than a "white" for the same crime. Disparate impact is about how people in different color castes are treated for the same actions, not about how they commit crimes at different rates — something that's hard to tell since racial bias also acts on the level of police and prosecutorial conduct.

Apparently just for kicks, Washburn throws in a slander against Mumia Abu Jamal, claiming he initially tried to defend the shooting of Daniel Faulkner on political grounds. On the contrary, this was the prosecution's claim; Mumia has always denied shooting Faulkner. It's true enough that he said some crazy things at his original trial, being under the undue influence of the cultic MOVE organization; but that group has never advocated initiation of violence, any more than had the Black Panthers, to whom Mumia's earlier affiliation the prosecution used to convince the jury to convict him.

Last but not least, Washburn claims that human beings have a "need" for retribution and catharsis. But in reality many survivors of murder victims oppose the death penalty, while many that supported it find that rather than giving them closure, it's only delayed the process of healing from their grief. It does survivors both a disservice and a dishonor to assume that imitating the violence of the killer, whether directly or through the agency of the state, will make them better.

We humans make ourselves better, rather, not by imitating the behavior of the lower animals, but by differentiating ourselves from it.

Eric Hamell

Saturday, August 04, 2007

*Cheezy Chunks Variety Hour* cancelled

I regret to report that the producer of the Cheezy Chunks Variety Hour has had to cancel it due to personal health reasons. He hopes to be able to re-mount it in a few months, however.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

An Old Memory, Reconsidered

Today, while reading an issue of the Journal of Scientific Exploration, I recalled an incident from my childhood and started to see it in a new light.

When I was about 12, my father sometimes played a card-guessing game with me. IIRC, he would hold up a card from a face-down deck, turned away from me, and I would guess the rank and suit. Then he would show it to me. On one of these occasions I kept guessing, not the card he was holding, but the next card. This seemed to go on for 15 or 20 cards, though unfortunately we weren't keeping track.

At the time I was a believer in ESP, but at the same time understood something about scientific standards of evidence. So I realized that this experience, although remarkable, was still anecdotal and couldn't actually be considered to prove anything.

But in the past year, I've learned from my brother that he's remembered some episodes in which our father tried to hypnotize him, a skill he'd been taught by a friend he made as a teenager. Geoffrey also remembers some things that he construes as episodes in which he was trying to hypnotize our mother. And he's indicated that he believes he was successful in at least some cases with both of them.

So now I'm wondering whether this would account for my experience too. Is it possible that my father used a post-hypnotic suggestion to cause me to forget, after he told me what the next card was going to be, that he had told me — so that I would think I was getting something clairvoyantly when in reality I was simply repeating what he'd just told me? If something like this is doable, it might well be considered more plausible than either the "incredible fluke" or paranormal explanation.

In this connection, it's interesting that I don't remember having a visual impression of the cards; I just said the first one that came to my mind. That is, I was "perceiving" verbally even though the supposed information source was visual. Proponents of psi usually claim that it's normal for sensory modality to remain unaltered in anomalous information transmission.

In a related matter, the other day I decided for the first time to experience a "psychic reading," after seeing a sign advertising them for only $5. As soon thereafter as was practicable (within maybe 15 or 20 minutes), I wrote down as much of it as I could remember.

As I came upstairs she told me that the special was only for a "character reading, not future or love life." I was resolved to maintain as neutral a face as possible and not provide any feedback.

After having me write my name and birthdate, she started by saying, "Nothing's come easy to you. You've had to work hard for everything you have." This struck me as pretty off-base. Academically and intellectually, things generally came very easy to me. This did have its down side, as it contributed to my feeling alienated from my peers. Nonetheless, it's hardly consistent with what the psychic said. On the other hand, it is true that I've worked for quite modest wages, due to social anxiety that inhibited me from seeking other employment from what I had before I graduated from college, and at the same time kept me largely oblivious to my creative potential. I didn't experience this as "working hard," however, but as being stuck in a rut. I worked long hours sometimes because my boss wanted me to, but I didn't experience the work as particularly hard qualitatively.

Next she told me my parents were "symmetric" in terms of personality, and that I was like both of them. This struck me as dubious inasmuch as I don't think my parents were that similar to each other. I think I'm more like my father in some ways, such as being pretty autonomous, but we're far apart on the extravert-introvert scale. I think my mother was considerably less autonomous and less assertive.

"Half the people you know you don't really like, and the other half have nothing in common with you. Is that right?" I raised my eyebrow at that, and when she pressed the question I just shrugged. I don't think it's true at all. Most people I know I know through activities and groups I've chosen based on shared interests, such as radical politics, science and skepticism, and science fiction. I don't like all of them of course, but do like a good number and get along reasonably well with most.

"You're always worried about losing what you have so you're afraid to make a change. But a change or a move would be good for you." Notice that she's starting to prognosticate here, even though she'd said she wouldn't. It's true that I've tended to be fearful of change, at least till the last couple years, but I'm not aware of anything I've recently failed to do because of fear of losing what I have.

She also said, "I see that you've been thinking about making a change or a move, but you've been holding back." She asked "Is that right?" again, and I responded as before.

"Even when you have something good you don't enjoy it because you're afraid that something is going to go wrong." That's sometimes been true in the past, because I'm anxiety-prone. But it hasn't been true since I went on the SSRI paroxetine. Of course, the statement is likely to be true of most people who'd pay to see a fortune-teller, so this may well be something she says to everyone.

Finally, "I see that there's going to be a big gathering of the family soon." Clearly she's prognosticating here. "Big" and "soon" are vague terms, but I'll report if 5 or more of us get together within the next six months, without any initiative on my part (which I have no plans of making).

Eric Hamell

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pro-porn activist site launched

And about time!

For a while now I've maintained a Google alert for "Robert Jensen" + "readings" so I can take some sort of action to expose his hypocrisy next time he's in my neighborhood.

As a kinky, sub-leaning male, I'm most affected by the fact that his discourse denies my existence. By insisting he knows what people can consent to, he silences and "invisibilizes" us kinksters as well as sex workers.

Though he may not be as aggressive about it, unfortunately Noam Chomsky falls into this category too, given his response to learning about Hustler's content after giving them an interview. When I emailed him about this, he responded that in his view it was unquestionably degrading to women. Inasmuch as the images accompanying the interview had a spanking theme, which happens to be my biggest fetish, I take particular umbrage and doubtless will focus on that point when he comes around.

I'll post announcements of such appearances here as I learn of them, as well as on kink-related lists I'm subscribed to.

Eric Hamell

Block party to raise green for Greens

This Saturday, from 8am to 8pm, a day of fun for all ages will be held at the Wharton community center and gym at 22nd Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, a facility maintained by Lewis Harris Jr. Proceeds will benefit the center, Harris' campaign for City Commissioner and Jacinth Brown Roberts' for City Councilmember at large, and the Green Party of Philadelphia. Harris and Roberts are GPOP nominees. I'll be running the voter registration table.

Also upcoming: On Friday at 7:30, science fiction author and scholar Camille Bacon-Smith will be reading from her omnibus novel Daemon Eyes at Barnes & Noble, 1805 Walnut Street.

This just in:


Conscientious objector OSMAN MURAT ÜLKE
in danger of re-imprisonment



From October 1996-March 1999 he was repeatedly arrested, charged,
convicted and jailed for refusing conscription.

On 9 March 1999 Mr Ülke was released from military prison and
ordered to present himself again to his military unit: instead, he
went home and has since lived a semi-legal life, officially a
deserter, but not arrested.

On 24 January 2006 the European Court of Human Rights found that:
" The clandestine life amounting almost to "civil death" which
[he] had been compelled to adopt . . . constituted degrading
treatment within the meaning of Article 3 [of the Human Rights Act]."

On 13-14 February 2007 the Committee of Ministers of the Council
of Europe "deplored that the Turkish authorities had as yet taken
no individual measure to put an end to the violation found by the

On 6 June 2007 the Turkish authorities told the Council of Europe
that a draft law to prevent repeated punishment of conscientious
objectors was under way.







The 5 June 2007 INTERNATIONAL DAY OF ACTION ( - organized by the Conscientious Objection Platform (Turkey), Global Women's Strike, Greek Association of Conscientious Objectors, and Payday men's network - highlighted in particular the persecution of Osman Murat Ülke.

We called especially on anti-war organizations to recognize the contribution of COs and other refusers to the anti-war movement and to organize actions to demand recognition of their right to refuse to kill, and thus to CO status and an end to their persecution.

co-sponsored by:
German Peace Society - United War Resisters
Global Women's Strike
Greek Association of Conscientious Objectors
Payday men's network
War Resisters International

The current Chair of the Committee of Ministers is Vuk Jeremic of Serbia The UK representative is Secretary of State David Miliband MP (email The US observer at the Council is Ambassador Craig Roberts Stapleton (Fax 011 33 1 42
66 97 83). Please cc Payday, to forward to MEPs.

For information, call (US) 215-848-1120


A bumper sticker made me laugh out loud today. White on red, it said, "APS: If this sticker is blue, you're driving too fast." (If you don't get it, you may be a mundane. Hint: APS stands for American Physical Society.)

Recently I've noticed 7-11 is selling half-size hoagies as "little subbies." This tickles me no end. (Come to think, that can be taken more than one way ;-) )

Eric Hamell

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


That's how a Bulgarian paper headlined the news that five of the country's nurses, along with one Palestinian doctor, had lost only eight years of their lives being imprisoned, tortured, and threatened with death in Libya for a crime they didn't commit. Way to go, all-powerful, all-loving Supreme Being! Yay, yay, Yahweh!

Eric Hamell

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sheehan coming to Philly

On Tuesday the 24th Cindy Sheehan's Caravan for Humanity will be in town. From 1:30 to 3:30 they'll be rallying at the tombstone display by the Independence Visitors Center, on Market between 5th and 6th Streets. From 4 to 5:30 there'll be a Honk to Impeach rally on Broad Street between Arch and Vine. Participants are encouraged to wear orange to show solidarity.

Endorsers include, Brandywine Peace Community, the Bryn Mawr Peace Coalition, the International Action Center, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Main Line Citizens for Impeachment, Peace Action Pennsylvania, Grannies for Peace, the Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network, South Jersey Progressive Democrats of America, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A surprise breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence?

This was what I wondered when I saw the following sign: "STEAK DBL CHEDDAR BURGER WITH AI." But when I went inside, the Checkers personnel informed me that it was meant to read, "A1." Oh well.

gold star goes to the Philadelphia Weekly for last week's "Cultural Report Card" column. They gave the Daily News a C- for "[p]reviewing the 'lucky' day of 07/07/07 in Friday cover story. Look for future cover stories on unicorns, hobgoblins, the new Scientology building on Chestnut Street, the Eagles winning the Super Bowl and of course Friday the 13th. ('Inside: Will Jason kill you today?')"