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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Living Dead to Take City by Storm

At least that seems to be the common theme of a number of upcoming events:

Saturday, 31 March -- The Locked Up Conference, sponsored by Robin's Book Store, addresses this country's insane rate of incarceration.

Sunday, 1 April -- At 1:30 pm, the University Museum's "Hollywood on the Nile" film series continues with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Sunday, 8 April -- Starting at Tattooed Mom's at 8 pm, the Philly Zombie Crawl honors history's most famous zombie on His special day!

Eric Hamell

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

CCP Strike 2007: What is Really Going on Here?

CCP Strike 2007: What is Really Going on Here?

Nouveau Tech: Surely the Most Audacious Scam I've Ever Encountered

19 JANUARY: The story starts about a month ago, when I had started "de-junkifying," as my friend John would say, preparatory to moving to the new apartment. I came upon some mail I'd mislaid months earlier and never opened. One item received 21 March invited me to join the secret Nouveau Tech Society, supposedly comprising many of the most famous, rich, and "successful" people in the world. Moreover, it claimed to be based on secrets contained in a 2300-year-old manuscript that a scientist had discovered and translated, which would give me the keys to "THE MOST IMPORTANT MONEY, POWER, ROMANTIC LOVE DISCOVERY OF ALL TIME!" (their caps).

Well, it was pretty obvious this was a scam, but I was intrigued by their claim that they would send me this incredible information free of charge. I wanted to see how far they would take it before actually requiring any money or sensitive info from me. So, as per their instructions, I sent the last page of the mailing (or rather a photocopy, since I wanted to keep the original for my records), and it wasn't long before I got another mailing. This contained the booklet promised, called the Nouveau Tech Orientation Booklet. But it turned out that this was only the first of two "installments," the second being a 1000-page book called The Nouveau Tech Discovery. If I wanted that, I had to send money. Uh-huh.

Of course I wasn't going to, but here's where it got interesting: the second mailing, like the first, claimed that simply by reading the booklet, I'd benefit from secrets hidden within it, even if I didn't consciously understand them. And it specifically claimed that three major positive developments would occur for me within the following two weeks. Aha, a hypothesis I could test at no cost or risk! Of course there was a hook they were trying to catch me on: I supposedly had to send for the second book within three days, or else my "cycle of opportunity" would have passed and they wouldn't send it "at any price." Of course I couldn't, within that time frame, verify a claim that pertained to a two-week window. But since I wasn't sending $140 for an allegedly miraculous book that I would bet doesn't even exist, I just committed to taking note of any major developments, positive or negative, that occurred in that period. I'll count one: finally getting to move away from a paranoid roommate whom I frequently found unnerving. But one does not equal three, so the Nouveau Tech hypothesis is falsified.

What makes the whole thing so audacious, though, is the character of the claims made. They plainly were aimed at people who feel unlucky in life and are susceptible to magical thinking. One of the stories in the Orientation Booklet -- which was really just a bunch of narratives promoting the incredible benefits of Nouveau Tech -- had it that a man who was flying off the handle with his son was becalmed simply by touching the larger book's binding!

I drafted the above a couple months ago, but didn't have time to finish it. When I did a little web searching, I saw that thousands of pages had mentioned this group. Evidently it isn't a one-off scam, but a cult that tries to exploit people's benevolence as well as their wish for an easy answer to all their personal troubles. Amazingly, they're still sending me stuff, even though I've repeatedly missed one "last chance" after another. Of course this makes sense from their standpoint: if even a tiny fraction of gullible people send them the kind of money they're asking for, it makes up for all the postage they spend repeatedly trying to hook them.

As they keep sending more stuff, they're gradually introducing me to the cult ideology. They represent themselves as "illuminati," and call society as we generally know it "anticivilization." I'll relate more as I find the time.

Meanwhile, here in the real world, I've offered to lend some union songs I have on tape to workers striking Community College of Philadelphia, to use on their picket line. Funny how I keep finding ways to make a difference even without "Nouveau Tech illuminati secrets."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Exotic dancing is dancing (letter to the editor of *Phactum*)

WARNING: Attempting to sing without actual talent may result in hair loss.

Seen on a bumper sticker the other day, next to the face of Our Glorious Leader: "I fixed Iraq, now I'll fix Social Security."

I just sent the following to Phactum, newsletter of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking:

I was disappointed by the condescending tone in the opening sentence of your article on "No Touch" chiropractic, "'No Touching' might well be a sign in a strip joint or an art museum to protect the 'dancers' in one case, the collection in the other."

The scare quotes around "dancers" are quite unwarranted. While it may be a cinch to simply take off one's clothes, doing so in a way that is sexy and creates excitement for a prolonged period requires actual skill. That's why people pay good money to learn how to do so, as you can see here [NSFW] for instance.

In a publication devoted to critical thinking, let's remember to apply skepticism to social stereotypes too.

I also had to comment on Dr. Dan Gottlieb's show "Voices in the Family":

Having awakened partway through your program this morning, I just gave a cursory examination of the APA report on which you based the discussion. It appears to me that the reasoning on which it's based is highly tendentious. For instance, an experiment is cited in which young adults were asked to do a math test alone in a room while trying on either a sweater or a swimsuit. It was found performance was poorer while wearing the swimsuit, but only for women. The conclusion, presented as if it were plain and direct, was that media sexualization of women's bodies made them more self-conscious while scantily dressed. But this is hardly obvious. It may be that the self-consciousness was caused by the way girls are socialized to be more hesitant to expose their bodies than boys, which is less rather than more true today than in the past. (This hypothesis could be tested by using subjects brought up in a more conservative culture.)

The other studies cited all seem to have similar flaws. Often "helper" verbs like may are employed, reflecting the fact that what we have here is interpretation rather than evidence for the specific causal claims being made.

Consider an alternative interpretation: most psychologists are convinced "sexualization" of girls is bad for them because that's our culture's traditional view, and it's confirmed by clinical experience because it's parents who believe this who bring their "trashy" daughters in for treatment, with the latter's emotional problems arising from their parents' reaction to their choices. If this sounds implausible, recall that that's exactly how most psychologists were convinced that homosexuality was a mental disorder before gay activists forced them to look at Evelyn Hooker's research proving otherwise.

Eric Hamell

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sorry about the tardiness...

I know it's been too long since the last time I updated; other things have preoccupied me.

I see that Palestine Awareness Week is coming up at Penn. I'm particularly interested in making it to the talk on Thursday, the 22nd, by Huwaida Arraf, cofounder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). I volunteered with them in 2002 and it was an important experience. Emad, who commented on my last post, is one of the people I met then.

The US Green Party has launched a petition to impeach Bush and Cheney for using the Constitution as toilet paper. You can read and sign it here.