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

http://answer.pephost.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8663

Upcoming--

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
FEATURING:

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!
TO BENEFIT THE WOODHULL FREEDOM FOUNDATION AND THE DELAWARE VALLEY LEGACY FUND

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: phact.org 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 sep15.org 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.