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!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Help Juliet Anderson ("Aunt Peg")!

Recently Juliet Anderson, Golden Age porn star famous for her "Aunt Peg" character, had some medical difficulties and now needs some financial help. I'm publishing this appeal, copied from her fan discussion list, in hopes that those reading this will be moved to help out someone who made such important contributions to erotic film by pioneering the portrayal of a strong female character, as well as by discovering Nina Hartley. Here's her appeal:

On March 7th, I was driving in my car and needed to pee really badly, so I raced home. I bumped into another car, then slammed into a telephone pole, then smashed into a parked car which knocked over a scooter. Thankfully no one was hurt. But my car was totaled. (I had a '96 Honda Accord). I ran into my apartment to use the bathroom. The police came and thankfully didn't cite me for leaving the scene but were required to call an for an ambulance to transport me to the hospital.

At the hospital I checked out OK physically but got hysterical and and couldn't stop crying. So they called another ambulance to take me to their mental hospital in Vallejo where I stayed for a few days. I was sent home with a "mood stabilizer" medication.

A couple weeks later, I walked to the post office and someone stole my wallet right off my body, which sent me over the edge again. I cried all the way home and had a second breakdown. Another ambulance came and took me to a Fremont hospital where I stayed six days. Again they sent me home with medication.

After a few weeks, I stopped taking the medication, as I was feeling fine. I didn't understand how important it was to stay on it, so I had a third breakdown. A well meaning friend called another ambulance, and I returned to the hospital where I remained for 2 weeks.

In the hospital I rested, ate very well, walked around the grounds, swam, attended support groups and art classes. I learned coping skills and the importance of taking my meds everyday (Depakote). This is the first time I've ever been in the hospital for a mental breakdown and it will be the last.

But now I have the bills to pay. Fortunately, my medical plan (Kaiser) paid for my hospitalization. But not the ambulances or medication. And I'm out a month's income not being able to see clients. That totals to $5,000.

If I've ever had a positive effect on your life and you've enjoyed my skills and joy being Juliet "Aunt Peg" Anderson and can help me out in my time of need I'd greatly appreciate it. Even $5 would make a difference. Thanks.

Please send to:
Juliet Anderson
2124 Kittredge Street, #103
Berkeley, CA 94704

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Laura Nails Cheating Bush"

That's the headline I saw on a tabloid recently. Conjures up an interesting picture -- just too bad some people can think of gender-bending only as a punishment!

H. L. Mencken on metaphysics (by way of the May PhACT newsletter): It is never possible for a metaphysician to state his ideas in plain English. Those ideas, with few exceptions, are inherently nonsensical, and he is forced to formulate them in a vague and unintelligible jargon. Of late some of the stars of the faculty have taken to putting them into mathematical formulae. They thus become completely incomprehensible to the layman, and gain the additional merit of being incomprehensible also to most other metaphysicians.(This might be made more current by substituting "critical theory" for "metaphysics.")

I've arranged for Kali Morgan, proprietrix of Passional Boutique, to interview independent mayoral candidate Larry West for her magazine.

Saturday morning I'll be at Renewal Presbyterian Church, 48th & Spruce Sts., to have my cheek swabbed to see whether I'm a bone marrow match for a baby with a rare disease. I passed that church every day when I was growing up in Cedar Park and attending Lea elementary and junior high school, but have never been inside it. Later that day, I'll be attending a kinky private party. Sunday I'll audition to sing in the Cheezy Chunks Variety Hour.

Other upcoming events:

Saturday, 30 June: Musicians rally in Rittenhouse Square Park from 1 to 3pm for the right to perform there without a permit.

Tuesday, 3 July: At dusk, The Horror of Party Beach will be screened at Liberty Lands Park, 3d and Wildey Sts.

Wednesday, 4 July: There will be a rally to free Mumia Abu-Jamal outside the Independence Visitors Center at 11am. From 1 to 9pm at the same location, there will be a "Philadelphia Emergency Anti-War Convention," called initially by Cindy Sheehan in response to the Democrats' failure to cut off funds for the war in Iraq.

Monday, 9 July: The Philly Brights Munch. I'm suggesting we use this meeting to discuss how we might devise a pro-critical thinking tract. No reason we should leave the field of popular propaganda to the believers.

Through Sunday, 9 September: The Please Touch Museum has an exhibit on "Dragons and Fairies: Exploring Viet Nam through Folktales." The Public Record seems to think this exhibit is only for "young children." Mundanes .

Eric Hamell

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I'm with the Banned

Today I took part in a rally in Rittenhouse Square Park to restore the right to make music there without a permit. This right was being exercised frequently until a recent incident in which one singer, Anthony Riley, was told to stop and was arrested when he refused to, spending eighteen hours in jail. A group called the Philadelphia Artists' Rights Coalition has been formed to reestablish the principle that you don't need a permit to sing in public.

Thinking Straight About Consent

I've just sent the following letter to the Philadelphia City Paper, in response to this guest commentary:

Amy Jersild's commentary is riddled with illogic.

For her own ideological convenience, she tries to squeeze the public discourse over the recent serial rape trial into a dichotomy of "bad" vs. "good" men/women. But it really shows that considerably more complex issues were considered by the jury as well as observers of the trial.

For instance, she claims that "media attention surrounding [the] case ... perpetuates the myth that accused rapists are usually monsters" because the defendant's attorney called him "a playboy, not a rapist." This is nonsense. Does Jersild doubt that a woman accused of embezzlement might be described by her advocate as "a loving mother, not a criminal"? Would anyone think this implies that one can't be both? Of course not.

That the jury didn't believe in such a dichotomy is demonstrated by the very question Jersild laments: whether one who is legally intoxicated can consent to sex. Obviously, if the defendant's character were all that mattered to them, they wouldn't have bothered to ask this.

But Jersild is too busy twisting definitions to notice. She claims the state's rape law answers the question, when its actual language is "engag[ing] in sexual intercourse with a complainant ... who is unconscious or where the person knows the complainant is unaware that the sexual intercourse is occurring." This is plainly a stronger criterion than mere intoxication, which is defined by a blood alcohol level. Everyone knows one can be "drunk" without being unconscious or unaware.

She similarly twists the issues when claiming the verdict implies that "if one consents to drinking, one consents to sexual intercourse." More nonsense. What it implies is that if one consents to ingesting alcohol or another mind-altering substance, as opposed to being given it covertly, then whatever one subsequently chooses to do is also consensual. This is only logical since, after all, that might be why one chose to ingest it in the first place. Jersild may consider this a questionable choice -- one she wouldn't make herself -- but who is she to deny it to others? And that's effectively what one does if one makes others, simply for cooperating with such choices, subject to felony prosecution.

But there's an even more blatant inconsistency here: Jersild repeatedly poses acquaintance rape as a matter of "poor judgment made poorer by substance use." Whoa! Wasn't she just suggesting that any woman who's intoxicated is incapable of consenting to sex? Then how could a man who's likewise intoxicated be responsible for subjecting her to it? Can we say "double standard"?

A female friend of long standing has described to me how, on two separate occasions, she witnessed "enthusiastically consensual" sex in a party or group dating situation, only to have the women involved complain to her the next day of how they'd been "raped." Ideologues may prefer not to know about it, but cognitive dissonance can be a powerful motive for false accusations in this area (and even more so for informal claims, which might account for the disparity between survey data and actual prosecutions). While Jersild urges women not "to abdicate responsibility for their own safety," she might also urge them to take responsibility for their own sexuality, and accept that it may sometimes take them places they hadn't expected to go.

Eric Hamell

Monday, June 18, 2007

My New Career Begins

Today I busked for the first time. I suppose I'd been doing it a bit less than an hour before my voice started to tire, and shortly after I got my first tip. Interestingly, this was while I performed my version of "Morning, Noon and Nighttime," my favorite song, which I'd put off for a while. Perhaps the feeling came through and reached someone, so to speak.

Upcoming --

Tuesday, 19 June: 7pm, Free Library of Philadelphia central branch -- Helen Oyeyemi reads from The Opposite House, a fantasy novel.

Wednesday, 20 June: 6pm, Robin's Book Store -- Audacia Ray, editor-in-chief of $pread magazine, reads from her new book, Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing In on Internet Sexploration.

Thursday, 21 June: 7:30pm, Borders, 1 South Broad Street -- Paul Offit reads from Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases.

Friday, 22 June: 6pm, Passional Boutique, 5th and Bainbridge Sts. -- Audacia Ray (see 20 June).

Tuesday, 26 June: Dusk, Liberty Lands Park, 3rd and Wildey Sts. -- Screening of The Mummy (1932).

Eric Hamell

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sixty Demand Justice for Transwoman

That was my estimate of the attendance at a rally Thursday to demand an investigation into the death of Erika Keels. According to organizers, witnesses saw an intentional and malicious homicide, but police have described it as an accident. I could only attend for a few minutes since I was on the job, but it was clearly well-organized.

I had an experience last weekend that epitomized the "True Believer" mentality. Before the paranormal research meetup that I've been attending recently, someone made a remark impugning psychotropic drugs in a broad-brush manner. I told him I didn't think the evidence supported such a sweeping position, and he responded that it did because his mother had died after taking one.

I answered this non sequitur by saying he was free to draw his conclusion on such an unscientific basis if he wanted to, to which he reacted with outrage, "You have no right [!] to call it unscientific!" I was about to respond by saying yes I did, and reminding him of something called the First Amendment, but he continued with some remark about "heartless science" and then lectured me that "science without human values is worthless."

So I had to try and explain to him that science can't serve human values unless it uses rigorous standards of evidence, and elaborated by suggesting placebo-controlled, double-blind trials as such a standard. He claimed he'd seen "too many examples" of studies by drug companies' being biased, and I pointed out that many studies are carried out by universities too, such as the one in which I started getting paroxetine, and that I'd gotten considerable benefits from it. He said that could be the placebo effect, but I reminded him that experiments control for this effect.

So he retrenched by saying we shouldn't be "playing Russian roulette like that." When I answered, "That's why they do experiments first," he answered that he doesn't condone such experiments. "Fine, you don't have to condone them. They are voluntary," I said, to which he answered that people just do them for the money. So I pointed out that many, like myself, aren't paid to be subjects but do it in hope of getting help.

So he tried to convince me that paroxetine is dangerous, saying a woman he knew who'd done a lot of paid subject-ing knew another one who'd committed suicide after going off it. I said this sounded as if not the drug, but going off the drug had killed her. He parried that this was true of heroin too, and I had to point out the distinction that people aren't addicted to heroin before they start taking it, whereas they do have serious mental problems before going on an SSRI.

Although my interlocutor claimed repeatedly to have seen "lots" of research to support his position, he never described any -- just anecdotes. And notice his philosophical inconsistency here: he rushed to blame a drug for the woman's death instead of the depression for which it had been initially prescribed, yet invoked the placebo effect rather than acknowledge it might have benefited me. Note also that, when faced with the unanswerable fact that independent research supported the drug's benefits, he changed the subject by condemning the research on moral grounds. (Or perhaps one should say moralistic, since he would deny individual choice in the matter.) Such "skepticism of convenience" is not real skepticism at all.

Eric Hamell

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I was alarmed

to see the following headline this morning: "Putin attacks West ahead of G8 summit." Fortunately I soon realized it must have been only a conventional attack -- otherwise I'd've been incinerated by then. (And probably so would you, depending on where you're reading this from.)

Epistemology quote of the week: Why doesn't anybody ask researchers who choose sex work as their primary subject if they were sexually abused as children? And if they knew they were going to be asked that, would they be more reluctant to study the subject? -- Jo Weldon, in $pread Vol. 3 Issue 1, p. 38.