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 (FreeMumia.com), Journalists for Mumia (Abu-Jamal-News.com), and Educators for Mumia (EmajOnline.com) have initiated a media-activist campaign urging people to write The Today Show at today@msnbc.com 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 (http://www.abu-jamal-news.com/pr/TodayShow.doc), accompanied by an extensive informational press pack (http://www.abu-jamal-news.com/pr/PressPackNov07.pdf) 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.

Sincerely,
The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (FreeMumia.com)
Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal (Abu-Jamal-News.com)
Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EmajOnline.com)


SAMPLE LETTER


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 Abu-Jamal-News.com) 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: hbjournalist@gmail.com).

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: http://www.abu-jamal-news.com/pr/PressPackNov07.pdf

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.

Sincerely,

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: www.kucinichtv.com.

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 www.kucinichtv.com) 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! http://jsnouff.com/kristin/leighwood/

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.

Sincerely,
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: http://www.10questions.com/?search=AIasgrRm_SQ&l=ccforum&ans=quest&all=1&men
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
www.foavc.org
http://foavc.org

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).

Eric

Monday, November 05, 2007

Prudery Preempts Peace

Yesterday I sent the following message to inquiries@un.org. The UN's own account of the incident can be read here: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=24514&Cr=sri&Cr1=haiti. 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.

Sincerely,
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

http://www.flickr.com/photos/17756552@N08/1879546253/

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:
http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/NewsItem?appNum=1&newsItemID=1000699&wosid=ncbbbuuPx2oDfaovNtRTjg

It also got coverage in both of Philadelphia's major newspapers:
http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/20071031_Phila__Bar_slams_judge_in_rape_case.html/hp/news_update/20071031_Phila__Bar_slams_judge_in_rape_case.html
http://www.philly.com/dailynews/local/20071031_Jill_Porter___Phila__Bar_rips_judge_who_nixed_rape_of_hooker.html/local/20071031_Jill_Porter___Phila__Bar_rips_judge_who_nixed_rape_of_hooker.html
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: no.on.deni@gmail.com.
***************************************************************************************************************************************************************
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 no.on.deni@gmail.com.
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 Dalton@duannemorris.com and Executive Director Kenneth Shear at kshear@philabar.org.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************************
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 no.on.deni@gmail.com