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 18, 2010

How Social Psychology Can Be Used to Create an Effective Message: A Case Study

This week's Living on Earth radio show featured an interview with Robert Cialdini, the leading authority on the psychology of social influence, about how he'd worked with an environmental group to develop an extremely effective PSA promoting recycling. You can read the transcript here:

The first point discussed in the interview was perhaps not made as clear as it could have been. When Cialdini talks about "what those around us are doing," he's referring to a principle of social influence called social proof. What this means is that we tend to look at other people's behavior to decide what we should do. In the context in which he mentions it — raising awareness of global warming caused by fossil fuel use — the point is that, if the message is saying "everyone is doing it" (i.e., wasting energy), the listener's reaction, consciously or otherwise, is likely to be, "If everyone is doing it, why should I do any differently (especially if it's inconvenient)?" Instinct tells us to follow the herd, even if our intellect says otherwise. Effective messaging avoids triggering this in a way that's counterproductive.

The point here is not limited to environmental issues. The basic principles of social influence — including social proof and the other one mentioned in the interview, reciprocity, and four others — apply in all areas of human life. Activists would do well to study them carefully.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Give It Away for Nina

Nina Hartley is facing an urgent financial situation: she needs funds to pay for her recovery after upcoming surgery. The appeal follows.

Help Our Friend Nina

If you’re reading this you’re likely already a friend, or fan, of Nina’s. Thanks for taking the time to be here. She’s always made an effort to connect on the personal level with all she meets, and it’s from that personal level that I write this. If you’ve ever had a moment’s fun with any of her work there’s something real, concrete and life saving you can do for her and it won’t take much.

She is seeking funds to cover her recovery from surgery, tentatively scheduled for late January/early February 2011. Recovery will take 2-4 weeks, depending on how it goes.

As some of you already know she has fibroid tumors in her uterus. They’re genetic and are not cancer, nor will they turn into cancer, so that’s a blessing right there. However they are unsightly and are starting to cause other, negative side effects. After dealing with them for nearly twenty years the time has come for a permanent solution. She thought that nearing menopause would cause them to shrink but they show no signs of doing so. So, surgery is the next step. She’s lucky enough to have medical insurance to cover the cost of the operation. What she needs is money to cover her expenses during recovery. In twenty-six years she’s never needed help more. As an example of how easy it could be, if each of her Twitter followers donated just five dollars that
would cover everything.

Some may ask, “What about Ernest?” Her darling husband is facing his own medical crises, as well as a cut back at work. He won’t be able to help her financially, though he’d very much like to do so. He’ll be there to take care of her when she comes home from the hospital. Anything we raise here will be a big help to both of them at this difficult time.

She’s never asked for help before, and it’s hard for her to do so now, which is why I’m doing this, but this counts as an emergency. She’s been hit by the recession as badly as the next person and her reserves won’t cover what she’ll need. Her family is not in a position to help, though they would if they could. That leaves, in the words of Tennessee Williams, “the kindness of strangers.” “Strangers” being you. Of course, Nina doesn’t think of her fans as strangers, only friends she’s not yet met in person, so I like to think I’m asking her friends for help.

After all she has given me, taught me, been there for me, it is my pleasure to give back to her. If she has ever taught you anything, been there for you when nobody else understood, or just made you happy with her sweet, wonderful demeanor, please donate at least five bucks. You can help her continue to give from the depth of her being to make you happy.

Please, let’s all show her how much we love her…


Bring Courage Back to City Council

That's the slogan of Sherrie Cohen's campaign for City Council, which she officially kicked off last night. I met her last May Day, at the dedication of a memorial to the Haymarket martyrs in Southwest Philly, where she was passing out a leaflet announcing her intentions. That was the first I heard of her. The next time was at OutFest, where she had a table staffed by a supporter.

Shortly before the election I added a link here to her Twitter page, which was the closest thing to a campaign site that she had at that point. Now she has an official site at

Sherrie is the daughter of the late David Cohen, who used to be one of the most progressive Councilmembers. She has a long history of activism around economic justice, women's, and queer issues. Most recently she headed the successful Campaign to Save the Libraries.

Meeting her for the second time last night, I encouraged her to study the psychology of social influence in order to maximize her effectiveness, and signed up to be a volunteer. Just now I sent her a link to Robert Cialdini's Influence: Science and Practice. I'd have lent her my own copy of an earlier edition, but it's still on loan to Hugh Giordano.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the Wagon Again

It's been a while since I wrote about my struggle with social anxiety disorder. Partly this is because things were preoccupying me that left me little time to post about anything. But I also felt that I was backsliding, and was not eager to write about this.

I was trying to use the weekly messages from a seduction "email bootcamp" to keep me motivated, and initially it worked. But then I started to fall behind on my email. I could have made an exception for these emails and kept up with them even while lagging on the other messages, but didn't do so, due presumably to an unholy alliance of social anxiety and obsessive-compulsiveness.

When, a few weeks ago, I decided to resume the boot camp, I found the instructions to be totally over my head. They seemed to require me to already have proficiency in areas where I simply didn't, and I despaired of following them in any but the most perfunctory way, which might fulfill their letter but not their spirit.

Reflecting on this impasse led me to the feeling that this approach might be too rigidly goal-oriented for me (especially when I can't negotiate personally tailored "homework," as I could with a therapist). I also recalled someone's observation that OC people are always telling ourselves that we need to be "more self-disciplined," when actually we need just the opposite. So I decided to focus on practicing mindfulness more -- both to be more open to possibilities to start conversations with strangers, and to avoid the kind of self-talk which, even though intended to motivate me, seems often to just end up making me more anxious by raising the stakes too high.

I judged that I need to do less reading, more simply being and doing in the moment. And now there's evidence that this was a good choice. Yesterday, while standing in line at my neighborhood post office, I started a conversation with an attractive student standing behind me, in the course of which I got her email address. This was the first time in several weeks that I'd done something like this. (I'd made small talk on elevators in the interim, but never asked for contact info despite the notion that I should try to.)

An example of the different approach I was now taking is that I resisted any temptation to strategize in my head during the conversation. At those points where I had nothing to say, I simply turned away and maintained my poise without thinking about anything in particular, and when something apt occurred to me I turned back and expressed it.

Over the preceding couple days, I'd actually started unsubscriibng from several people's attraction and seduction-related newsletters which I wasn't keeping up with. I worried that this might be a manifestation of avoidance, but yesterday suggests it was in keeping with an approach that may prove to be more sustainable than my previous one.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wednesday, 15 December: Day of action for Rite Aid workers

Jobs with Justice reports there will be a national day of action 15 December for Rite Aid workers, whose benefits are under attack. I've left the following message for their CEO, who just gave himself a huge raise:

Stop attacking Rite Aid workers!

Think you have to make cuts to keep the company profitable? All right, then how about cutting your OWN salary to that of the average employee? After all, they're contributing as many hours per week as you are. So why should you be making any more than they are?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

In an earlier entry, I posted the words to my filk song "Trinity," based on Lois McMaster Bujold's fantasy novel The Curse of Chalion. Two weeks ago at Philcon, I got it recorded, and today uploaded it to my computer.

Turns out that at present, Blogger provides no way to post an audio file directly in a blog, so I'll have to find a service to host it as a podcast.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Talk on Psychology and Social Change

Lucky I learned about this — it was almost by accident. Nick Cooney will be speaking Friday on his new book, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Tell Us About Spreading Social Change at Grindcore House, a new vegan cafĂ© in South Philly:!/event.php?eid=158039280898401&index=1

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween and Election Day: The Hidden Connections

I've spent most of this weekend strolling the streets of Roxborough, leaving doorhangers for labor candidate for state representative Hugh Giordano. This has given me plenty of time to think, and today a profound insight came to me about the relationship between Halloween and Election Day.

For some years I'd noticed the temporal proximity of the two days, and certain parallels. I'd come to refer to the period they bookend as "Monster Week," because on both days we find the streets filled with scary creatures making loud noises and demanding we supplicate them -- first with candy, then with votes. But I'd figured it was just a coincidence.

But today I realized otherwise. Consider: Halloween is the one day when the dead return temporarily to the land of the living. Because of how the elections are scheduled, they only have to stay here a few more days to participate before returning home.

Can there be any doubt that this is precisely why Election Day is held when it is? There's none in my mind. It's too great a coincidence to have happened by chance.

Of course, the dead aren't allowed to vote, on the grounds that they don't have a "fixed stake" in the affairs of the living. But it shouldn't surprise us that some politicians will try to get around this when they think the dead will vote for them. The fact that they usually appear to vote as a bloc confirms this hypothesis.

Speaking of the Underworld, this also explains another observation: the fact that the dead vote in significantly higher numbers in South Philadelphia than in other parts of the city. This can be explained by the consideration that more of the South Philly dead are restless. They can't find peace until their deaths are solved -- which may never happen because nobody saw anything. If this isn't proof of paranormal activity, I don't know what is!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cultism Is About Psychological Manipulation, Not Doctrine

I've been having a discussion turning partly on this point with another atheist. You can read it here:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quote of the Month

"Where there is equality there can be sanity." -- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four, page 181 (Signet Classic edition)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Leave the Ghost, Take the Pizza

I went to Fluid again last night, where they were having a party featuring soca among other musics. I've loved soca for years, since becoming acquainted with it from the old show "Rhythms on Trade Winds" on WKDU. But this was the first time I'd been to a soca party.

I asked another woman to dance at this party, and this time she did dance with me for a bit.

When I took a break for a snack at the nearby pizza place, I noticed a handful of people down the side street Fluid is on (Kater), just hanging out at the intersection with Orianna. This really seemed anomalous because of the way I'd become acquainted with Orianna, and I had to go down and comment on it to them. They were, in fact, just hanging out and eating pizza themselves. The one who asked me the details of the purported haunt seemed surprised at the story about a massacre. She made some reference to Native American history, as if perhaps she thought she'd have heard the story already if it were true. On the other hand, she didn't seem surprised that I'd heard a cricket there a few days earlier. She said they were like car horns where she came from.

After this experience, there's not much left of the air of mystery and potential excitement the street had for me when I first visited it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Orianna Street Revisited

Coming home from Fluid the other night (the first time I've been to that club), I saw Orianna Street again, and decided to take another walk down it since it was around the right time (2:15-2:30 am) for strange happenings to purportedly happen. Unlike before I was by myself, so there was nothing scientific about this visit; clearly anything I (thought I) saw or heard could be the product of my imagination, informed by what I'd heard about the street. I was just entertaining myself this time.

As I got about halfway down the block I realized this was as far as I'd gone with the guy who'd accompanied me last time -- just a little short of an even smaller cross street, which I realized in retrospect is probably the same one Fluid is on (at Fourth). I decided that this time I'd walk the whole block.

As I approached the cross street I started hearing a cricket, and continued to hear it for a few strides after passing it. I looked around but could see no obvious source for the sound, which I assumed must come from the (SW) corner rather than the street. It being late and I having to work the next day, I didn't investigate further. Afterward, though, I thought the speed with which the chirps' volume rose and fell as I passed the south side of the cross street was so great that it must have come from the street itself, where I hadn't thought to look.

Although a cricket's chirp may seem out of place in the middle of an urban district like this, I see no need to invoke a paranormal explanation. But perhaps for people who are "fantasy-prone" and believe in such things, a seeming anomaly like this might set off their imaginations.

Then again, it may well be just a coincidence. Perhaps the cricket settled there to be close to the electro music. (Could it actually have a similar rhythm?) Or maybe the flashes from the mirror ball reminded it of starry nights in the countryside :-)

On rereading the earlier post, I realize I was a little late for the purported "window" for paranormal activity. Since I'm inclined to go to Fluid again, I can correct that next time, and maybe even incorporate it as a "venue change" into my pickup efforts.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

10,000 Stand Against Hate

Yesterday I was in New York for the march and rally for religious freedom called in response to protests of the permit for an Islamic Cultural Center a couple blocks from the World Trade Center site.

I made a sign the night before. On one side it says, "Magic Baby believers, STOP PICKING ON Magic Rock believers!" On the other, I inform the Used Tea Bags (as I like to call them -- because they're all wet) that we have this thing called the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits an established church. A number of people liked it; near the end of the event, someone took a picture of the first side, calling it the best sign she'd seen all day.

There were a number of other homemade signs, including "Atheists for religious tolerance."

It'd been a few years since the last time I came to an out-of-town demonstration -- since January '07 I think. As I've struggled with finding a way to fulfill my need to express myself politically while maintaining a strong sense of autonomy -- and, especially, avoiding association with anything too reminiscent of my past cultic involvement -- I didn't want to commit ahead of time to riding on a charter bus run by a sectarian group, which often seemed the only affordable way to get to NYC or Washington.

Fortunately, while making plans to get to the cultic studies conference in July, I became aware of how affordable the nonstop Chinatown-Chinatown buses are, and the fact that one need only arrive twenty minutes ahead to be assured of a seat. Round trip from Philly to NYC is only $20, about the same as a ticket to ride on a charter bus, even after figuring in a few extra dollars for the Metro. This knowledge freed me to save the date without having to make any commitments in advance; I just had to see if I could leave enough money in my budget to cover the cost, which I was able to do.

My new orientation meant that I was also trying to pursue the development of my interpersonal skills even at an out-of-town event like this. I made a particular effort to start conversations with attractive women; even though it seemed an outside chance, I entertained the idea that if I really hit it off with someone, I might be invited to stay overnight, and here again my new transportation option gave me the needed flexibility to take advantage of that. With this in mind I also brought a Red Bull shot with me, as I've used previously only in connection with clubbing.

As people were leaving the rally site, I did briefly consider going to the afterparty that had been announced, but I was reluctant to because I had only a few dollars left in my budget and there might not be sufficient free food at said party if I got hungry again. Not that I couldn't have gone over budget -- borrowing against future expenses -- but it seemed ill-justified for the sake of an outside chance. Was this prudence, or avoidance? I don't know, but I intend to have more to spare next time I face a choice like that, so that I won't need to second-guess myself.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Last night I dreamt that for research purposes, I joined Geerts Wilder's party, despite neither being a Danish citizen nor sharing his views. After signing up and being shown the eco-friendly farm he somehow had inside his party's giant building, one of his cows followed me home.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Unfortunately, I don't have health insurance right now, so I can't see a therapist like I did last year. But I've found an alternative that may serve just as well.

I recently signed up to get free email newsletters from the guys behind, and it turns out these include a twelve-week "boot camp" for aspiring pickup artists. The first was not very challenging; aside from abstaining from a couple things asserted to be bad influences (porn and sappy love music), the only positive action required was something to get over a recent obsession that I'd actually already done. (I hadn't really had that much of a recent obsession.)

There was a bit more to the next message, which I read Friday. Both parts involved starting conversations with women, and the first one was pretty simple; I accomplished it yesterday with a new neighbor I encountered on the elevator of my building. The second is considerably more complex -- a sort of multi-tier "nested set" of instructions on what thing (or kind of thing) to say in response to each of several possible contingencies. I had to read it over several times before I felt prepared to attempt it.

Nonetheless I did attempt it late this afternoon, three times, in a food court. I haven't yet managed to get through the whole script (not always through my own fault), but given my past troubles with approach anxiety -- especially in that setting -- I decided to reward myself with a box of lemon herb tea on the way home. I'd been doing without an evening beverage for a while.

Even though I think I have a pretty accurate idea of the things I need to do to continue overcoming social anxiety disorder, I know from past experience that I can get frustrated easily without some external prod to keep me going. Where a therapist's "homework assignments" have sometimes played this role in the past, Jay Valens's "missions" should accomplish the same thing now.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hopefully, Tha Truth Is Not Out of Style

I just noticed some lovely lyrics on rapper Tha Truth's album Tha Miseducation of the Masses. On the track titled "Truth with a Side of Humor," he relates, "I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she left before we met." And: "My house burned down from a stress-relieving candle."

I find this reminiscent of that old gem by MC 900 Foot Jesus, "The Truth is Out of Style," which I heard was on his album Hell with the Lid Off. Anyone know where I could find a copy of that?

More on Nouveau Tech

I just noticed a comment I'd previously missed on something I'd posted a few years ago, and have made a reply. You can see it all here:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

R. I. P. $pread!

I am sorry to pass on this sad news from $pread, the magazine by and about sex workers:

Hello $pread fans. We regret to inform you that, while we expect to publish 5.4, the Crime and Punishment Issue and 6.1, the Race Issue (guest-edited by a fabulous collective of sex workers of color) by January, $pread will close its glittery doors soon after the dawn of the New Year. Once the remaining two issues have been posted, we will fulfill subscriptions for those of you who are owed them with the option of back issues, or, if you're feeling generous, a waiver to help us with closing costs. We apologize for those of you who have only recently come to know us, and to all our longtime supporters. After all these years, five all-volunteer years to be exact, we have come to the conclusion that an all-volunteer magazine is simply unsustainable in the current publishing climate. Short of a donation of $30,000, we will be unable to sustain the magazine past January.

For those of you with a hankering for $pread merchandise and back issues, make sure to go to the $pread Shop ( in the next few months. Once we print the next two issues, we will donate the materials to our outreach partners as well as lay the foundation for a physical archive, complete with all the $pread memories of yore, blemishes and all.

We hope that you will look forward to a $pread retrospective in book form, featuring highlights of our five years of publishing. We will also package a '$pread Scrapbook' for sex worker advocates looking for tips and tricks on publishing a magazine by and for people working in the sex industry. We are producing these materials in the hopes that our model will help motivate the continued movement for social justice among our many and varied communities, in the same way Danzine inspired our own publication. We also close our doors in the comfort of knowing that right now, around the world, sex worker-run and sex worker-supportive media such as ConStellation ( in Montreal, Flower in Beijing, and Red Light District Chicago ( are holding forth on the issues that matter to our communities.

$pread was motivated by the motto “Illuminating the Sex Industry.” We submit these five years of blood, sweat, and tears to you as a testament to this founding sentiment. May the struggle to end the stigma, discrimination, and violence perpetrated against our communities end in justice, and may the flashy strobe light of sex worker rights never go out, but illuminate the sex industry for the world to see.

I can proudly say that I've subscribed to $pread for the majority of its existence, and don't doubt that it's helped inspire other projects that are ongoing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Differences in Cognitive Culture, and Doing Something About Them

I just read another post by my brother to his new blog, which you can read at

It served as a takeoff point for a number of related thoughts which I posted as a comment there. I reproduce them here:

One good habit to develop in life, is not too quickly forming conclusions about other people’s behavior or underestimating the extent to which their knowledge base may be different from one’s own. Doing so may be reinforced by a momentary gratification — because it allows one to feel superior — but can stand in the way of helping them become more a help to themselves and less a burden to others.

Where illiteracy is concerned, it’s important to remember that many people who didn’t learn to read when they were supposed to, are too embarrassed to admit this, and so have developed quite elaborate means of concealing it. They may, for instance, pretend to know the name of a place from reading the sign, when in reality it’s from someone’s having previously told them, or from acquaintance with the graphical aspects of its logo. Once several years ago, I was hit by a store clerk who, as I interpreted it afterwards, was simply too embarrassed to admit he didn’t know arithmetic well enough to see that the register had miscalculated my bill.

Where street signs are concerned, there are many conventions with which we are so familiar, we may forgot that they are not intuitively obvious, and we ourselves had to learn them at one point. A few months ago I was on the the 15th Street platform of the Market-Frankford Line, and someone asked me if this was the side that goes to West Philly. I said yes, but she felt uncertain because of a sign saying “To Frankford.” I explained to her that the arrow next to those words means that you would have to follow that arrow, up the stairs and across to the other side, to get to Frankford. She evidently had simply never been outside her own neighborhood before (some people never do) and so hadn’t made the acquaintance of this sort of sign.

Someone new to the city might 1) not know where to look for the street signs, 2) not be familiar with the convention that a street sign goes parallel to the street it names, so that even if they see the signs they still won’t know which street is 12th and which is Chestnut, or 3) even if they know which street is which, not notice (or be able to read, if their eyesight is poor) the signs’ smaller print about street addresses indicating which way the higher numbers are.

Another, extremely pleasing experience I had in the past year was on a subway ride. A woman whose dress and manner loudly said “middle class” was showing her young child the SEPTA map on the wall of the car, and explaining how it worked. What was remarkable about this heartwarming sight was simply how rare it is, at least on public transit. Not long ago I saw a flier for a book arguing that one of the major factors helping to perpetuate class inequality is the differences in the cognitive habits passed on from generation to generation. Because this is cultural rather than biological transmission, it’s possible to break the cycle (which is the idea behind the Harlem Children’s Zone, for instance).

Of course such differences in cognitive-cultural heritage don’t account for our sociey’s huge differences in income, which result from hereditary private ownership of productive wealth. But while we’re trying to do something about that, there’s no reason not to also address what is easier to tackle politically — not to mention that such newly improved cognitive skills can be applied to activism as well as personal advancement, and are more likely to be if those who taught them are also activists. And that the species as a whole generally benefits when some portion of it gets smarter.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I went to a reading today by the authors of The Great Typo Hunt and got a free bag from the Chicago Manual of Style.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Quote of the Week

"I hear Iran had an earthquake this weekend. Didn't they say a while back that all these earthquakes are due to scantily clad women?" -- Robert Bowles Jr., in the 2 August Metro (Philadelphia edition)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Remembering Juliet Anderson

The day before yesterday, I learned that Juliet Anderson had died last January. This made me very sad as she was emotionally significant to me.

She was a Golden Age porn star best known for her take-charge "Aunt Peg" persona and for starting Nina Hartley's career with the film Educating Nina, but I actually didn't know these things when I became acquainted with her. I've copied below a correspondence I had with her last summer.

From: <
Subject: Happy Birthday!
To: "Juliet Anderson" < [This was an "extremely private" address which she told me not to share with anyone. I didn't while she lived.]
Date: Thursday, July 23, 2009, 9:09 AM

Yours always,

P.S. I have more insight than I used to about why getting to see and meet you 23 years ago was so emotionally significant for me. I should set a side time to explain that at some point.

From: juliet <
Subject: Re: Happy Birthday!To:
Date: Saturday, July 25, 2009, 1:51 PM

Hi Eric,

Please do tell me why. Can it be in person or do you live too far

I had a wonderful birthday.


From: <
Subject: Re: Happy Birthday!
To: "juliet" <
Date: Saturday, August 15, 2009, 4:46 PM

Dear Juliet,

I'm in Philadelphia so I'll have to tell you long-distance. Here's the story.

As I grew up I became pretty shy and introverted. I didn't seem to have many points of commonality with my peers, who were usually much less intellectual and very mundane in their interests. I eventually becamecurious about my parents' radical politics, and what I read of them made sense to me. Partway through high school I decided to get involved myself, in the youth group of the same party in which my parents had met and with which they still sympathized. In addition to a desire to make the world better, I was conscious of the hope that this would provide a circle of friends with whom I would feel something significant in common.

I was a member of the group for a year and a quarter or year and a half (1978-79). Partway through this period, the chapter organizer asked to have a meeting with me. He seemed concerned that I "lacked confidence in the leadership" and suggested I should leave the group. This apparently stemmed from an occasion on which, after the national leadership had come down in favor of the position I'd taken on a local political issue (in which I had been alone), someone had said to me jocularly, "Don't get a swelled head," and I had replied, very logically as it seemed to me, that of course I wouldn't get a swelled head, since the Political Committee's statement didn't mean that my position was right, but rather that their position was right. It would still be the right position whether they had taken it or not. This seemed to me to be practically a tautology, yet my interlocutor reacted as if I'd said something strange and disturbing, which mystified me at the time.

So the chapter organizer was pursuing this idea that I "lacked confidence in the leadership." I denied this, and in fact I hadn't volunteered any disagreements with them. Rather, the organizer was asking me if I had any. The only issues I could think of were a couple I had seen debated in the discussion bulletin of the adult organization, and even of these, I only was inclined to the minority position on one. I was inclined toward the leadership's position on the other, and just wasn't 100% certain about it. And these were really minor issues too, not core principles of the group. Yet, incomprehensibly, on this basis Bob repeated his contention that I "lacked confidence in the leadership" and should consider leaving the group. When I again denied this, he asked me if I would support their position in that case. I said of course not, because I didn't think it was correct. So Bob again claimed that I lacked confidence in the leadership and should perhaps leave the group. We seemed to be talking in circles. The meeting eventually ended with nothing resolved.

A couple months later, Bob asked to have another meeting with me. This time his expressed concern was that their was evidence of my having acted inappropriately on various occasions, which he described as a "pattern of sexist behavior." It was apparent that in some cases he simply had his facts wrong, and that what he was asking about was based on one half of a phone conversation, overheard, and not a complaint that someone had actually volunteered. In other cases the incidents had occurred, but were basically manifestations of social ineptitude rather than attitudes about gender. Since I knew that I did have significant problems relating socially, I ended up agreeing to leave the group, even though I didn't think the way the issue had been characterized was fair. I was very upset and rather depressed at this turn of events.

I had considered myself a Marxist for a few years before I'd joined the group or even made contact with it, however, so this experience didn't affect my convictions. It didn't even affect my opinion of this group in particular, since I had accepted the greater part of responsibility for having to leave it, and since, to the extent I felt misunderstood, I saw this as the problem of one or two individuals. So I continued to regard myself as a sympathizer, until later the group's own politics began clearly to change.

Before continuing with the chronological narrative, I want to fast-forward to a few years ago, when I finally acquired some insight into what had happened. This came while I was reading a paper by Dennis Tourish of the University of Belfast, titled "Ideological Intransigence, Democratic Centralism, and Cultism: A Case Study from the Political Left." I'd been developing an interest in the cult issue for the past several years, ostensibly from concern about a group a romantic interest was involved with; but for the first time I was reading about my own experience. Although it was a different group, I recognized the same mechanisms of milieu control and thought stopping that I had been subject to.

I suddenly had a whole new framework in which to understand what had happened. Things that had simply been mysterious fell into place when seen as part of a program of brainwashing, aimed at destroying my intellectual autonomy. I saw clearly, for instance, that Bob was "loading the language" (as cultic studies people say) so that "confidence" in someone -- which normally just means thinking they're basically good and honest -- instead meant surrendering one's independent judgment to them. In retrospect, one might wonder why I didn't point that out at the time; the reason is that Bob's whole manner was one designed to keep me off balance, so that I didn't even have the chance to form such thoughts, being kept too busy coping with his assault. (For that matter, it occurs to me that I might have asked, "If these disagreements mean I lack confidence, does that mean the members who raised them in the adult organization should leave the group too?" But, again, I was kept too off-balance to even think of something like that.)

Of course the attempt at brainwashing hadn't been successful, which was why they decided to get rid of me. But they had succeeded in masking the nature and motive of what they were doing, and as a result I'd taken blame that didn't belong on me, affecting my self-confidence. In particular, the issue they used to make me leave the group had played on my social and sexual insecurities, and consequently made them worse.

But what I couldn't yet handle emotionally, I intellectualized instead. From having been rather prudish through most of my adolescence, I became by mid-college years rather passionate about sexual freedom. I wasn't getting to practice it, mind you (except, briefly, with one girl who told me she'd been diagnosed as "hypersexual"), but I believed in it very strongly. Above all, I passionately opposed any treatment of sexual feelings or of honesty about them as illegitimate or "sexist." Yet the group's methods had been so sneaky that I failed to recognize where this attitude came from, or to ponder how it had changed so radically since junior high.

So, a couple years after graduating college, I see a local news segment about lesbian porn. I had not heard of such a thing before and was quite intrigued. I knew that I liked the idea of women's manifesting their autonomy by freely expressing their sexual interests. Of course, at the time I had no idea why I felt this so strongly; I only knew that I did.

The segment mentioned two publications, one of them based in the US: On Our Backs. So before long I visited the city's gay and lesbian bookstore to see if I could pick up a copy. I made no assumption about whether I would personally find it erotic; I just knew it would be very satisfying "politically" (or at bottom, as I now understand, emotionally) to see its existence for myself and to feel that I was supporting it. And in that first issue of OOB that I bought, I saw an ad by someone named Juliet Anderson, who was looking for people who could help her with a project to make lesbian erotic videos. Although I had no special skills to contribute and little money, I wanted to help if I could, so I called the number in the ad and talked to you.

You said you weren't ready to look for investors, but asked where I was, and when I said Philadelphia, told me you would be in Camden in a couple weeks for a live performance, and invited me to come. So I did. I got to talk to you for a moment and had my picture taken sitting in your lap with a big silly grin on my face, which you autographed. I had that picture for many years, although I seem to have lost it during a hasty move in 2000. Since then, however, you've sent me a postcard personally in reply to an earlier birthday greeting, as well as another autographed picture which I ordered from you.

But I appreciate now that the reason meeting you was so meaningful for me was that you negated, "in the flesh" so to speak, the feelings of guilt and anxiety about acknowledging my sexual feelings, with which my forced departure from the YSA (effectively an expulsion, since I'd been threatened with a "trial" if I didn't leave of my own accord) had left me. Basically, you helped show me that I wasn't crazy.

Thank you.


From: juliet <
Subject: letter
Date: Sunday, August 23, 2009, 11:14 PM

Hi Eric,

Thank you for the birthday greeting and your very interesting letter about how I had such a positive effect on you. Wow! Little did I know.

Keep living life to your fullest and with love and compassion.


Juliet's performance, which I saw in 1986 when I met her in person, was a sort of burlesque in which she started out dressed for various occupations -- carpenter, secretary, executive, nurse -- and then did a striptease, with the message that women in any line of work could be sexy. I wasn't in touch with her again till after discovering her website in 2004. I called her early in January 2005 and we talked about her career and its significance. I subsequently started sending greetings for her birthday (23 July), including a card I mailed her this past 22nd, before realizing she'd died.

For those who may be interested, she told me in 2005 that her favorite of the porn films she'd made was Talk Dirty to Me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I've somewhat belatedly posted an additional reply to a comment on one of my posts a few months ago, concerning The Hunger Project. You can read the original post and replies at: The gist is that the very speed with which the comment appeared supports my contentions.

To avoid any misunderstanding, I should acknowledge here that not all Large Group Awareness Trainings -- the general category into which est and its successor, Landmark Forum, fall -- are hardcore cults. Many people have been involved in them at a low level without apparent psychological harm. At the same time, several cases of acute responses to such trainings, involving psychotic breaks and requiring emergency psychiatric medication, have been reported, as described in chapter 13 of the book Recovery from Cults. At the very least, one can say that it appears such groups often fail to have mental health professionals present at trainings who can and will recognize when someone has been adversely affected and will intervene in a timely fashion.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fun with Fortune Cookies

This evening I attended an event at which Democratic committeeman Bill Morris endorsed Green Party candidate for state representative Hugh Giordano. Afterwards I went with the two of them and several of Hugh's supporters to a Chinese restaurant.

As the meal was ending I introduced Hugh to the Fortune Cookie Game. For anyone who doesn't know this game: before someone opens and reads his fortune, another person at the table asks him a question, to which the fortune will serve as an answer. The object is to pose a question that guarantees the answer will be funny.

Hugh and Bill had been talking a good deal about another Democrat in their neighborhood, Lou Agre, whom they clearly don't care for. So it was obviously with tongue in cheek, and manifesting a good understanding of the Fortune Cookie Game, when Hugh chose to ask me, "Will I get Lou Agre's endorsement?"

The answer I read from the fortune was so apt that I could hardly finish reading it without cracking up: "Stop searching forever, happiness is just next to you." I commented that that sounded like a "No." It might be interpreted further as saying Hugh shouldn't want Agre's endorsement, but mine (or alternatively that of his girlfriend, who was sitting on his other side).

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Tom Tomorrow hits the nail on the head. I drive it in further.

Tom Tomorrow hits the nail on the head with his latest strip, The Sensible Liberal's Guide to Sensible Liberalism in the Age of Obama." I think one of his points could use some elaboration, however.

He satirizes "sensible liberals" as saying, "Either we politely overlook [Obama's] record on habeas corpus, rendition,...[etc., etc., etc] -- or Sarah Palin wins in 2012 -- guaranteed!" He properly derides this craven attitude, but doesn't explain why it's so very, very wrong.

Here are the political mechanics: When progressives protest Obama's not-so-progressive policies, the effect is to shift the axis of debate to the left. This makes Obama look more moderate by comparison with the protesters, and thereby helps him with the centrist "swing voters" in 2012. Call it the Martin/Malcolm effect, if you will.

To be sure, such protest may also allow (or push) Obama to adopt more progressive policies than he otherwise would have — but only to the extent that the shift in political climate that the protests have effected lets him do so without losing political ground. So the notion that the GOP's chances will be improved is completely baseless. Just the opposite is actually the case.

Great political thinkers have understood this principle. The father of modern liberalism, John Stuart Mill, for instance, was not a political socialist (although he did favor cooperatives). Yet he supported the socialist movement anyway, as he explained in his autobiography, because he saw that the fear of socialism was what would motivate the middle classes who held political sway to enact reform measures that he did support.

Principled progressives have no reason to fear that protesting Obama'a bad policies will help the Right. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Quote of the Month

"The cult problem is so prevalent, the chances of a family member joining a cult are greater than a family member catching chicken pox, 4 times greater than contracting. AIDS, 90 times greater than comtracting measles, and 45,000 times greater than comtracting polio." -- the late Dr. Paul. Martin, quoted on a poster at the International Cultic Studies Association meeting under way in Ft. Lee, New Jersey

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Had an interesting insight today while reading City Paper's "I Love You, I Hate You" page. This is a section where people post anonymous messages to each other.

One of them, titled "Lecherous Septuagenarians," addresses an elderly man who keeps trying to pick her up in the park with cliched lines like offering to be her literary agent. But what rang a bell was where she says, "I don't want you to put me up in one of your cut-rate apartment complexes because you feel that the neighborhood where I live is 'unsafe.'"

You see, early last year I was volunteering at the monthly mailing party for the William Way Community Center, and got into a conversation with a somewhat older man there. At the time I had recently acquired a second-hand computer and was trying to determine if there was a way around its apparent inability to "ping" with an HSI service. So this man told me he knew someone who could supply me with used accessories such as might serve to help get me online with this older computer (the one I'm typing on now). In return, he said, he could use some help locating an affordable place to rent in the Poconos where he could vacation. He said he had little computer experience and wondered if I would help him locate such a place.

Well, it seemed like a reasonable proposal. Perhaps this arrangement would give me some practice in the ways of making new friends, which was my main reason for volunteering.

But soon I started to feel differently. The speed with which he seemed to expect me to proceed with it, including rendezvous to pick up accessories etc., made me start feeling that I was no longer in control of my own time. I get a very, very, bad reaction to feeling that I've become "entrained" by someone else's agenda. Likely this particular sensitivity stems from my cultic experience earlier in life with the Socialist Workers Party.

At the same time, he seemed to be going way too fast with other ideas as well. He said that, once he'd succeeded in renting a lakefront place with my help, I would of course be welcome to spend time there. And he also solicitously advised me to move out of my current building because it's in an "unsafe neighborhood." This, of course, was what rang the bell in my head while reading the ILUIHU.

He said he could help arrange for me to rent a place in his area, which he said is safer. It didn't help that he elaborated by explaining that he'd read some sociology and knew that there was more crime in "black" areas -- while hastily adding that he wasn't prejudiced. Nor that the neighborhood he was suggesting I move to is reputed to be lily-white. In fact, I've spent nearly all my adult life in areas that others have told me are "dangerous," without once being the victim of street crime. So I've become pretty skeptical of such admonitions.

Within a few weeks of meeting him, all these things were making me increasingly uncomfortable. His seemingly solicitous manner and the speed with which he was pushing things felt presumptuous -- he seemed to be assuming a closer relationship than I had agreed to or even imagined, based solely on what initially seemed like a fairly casual exchange of favors. There was also one point where he criticized something I had done because, he said, it showed I didn't have enough confidence in him. (Unfortunately I can't remember now what it was.) This really rubbed me the wrong way since he hadn't given me any reason to have confidence in him. Being asked to have "confidence" when it doesn't appeared merited is another sensitivity rooted in my cultic experience, where I was told that disagreeing or even doubting the leadership's positions on what seemed like minor questions meant I "lacked confidence in them" and should leave the group.

So I decided I wanted out of this arrangement, and told him so at the next opportunity. He remarked that he supposed he would have to retrieve the accessories he'd lent me, and I agreed. And then something odd happened: he never got back to me about them. They're still sitting in my closet over a year later, and at this point I have to figure he was never seriously interested in getting them back.

I hadn't had much occasion to reflect on this till now, but after reading the ILUIHU it occurs to me that maybe getting a lakefront place to summer was never his primary interest. Perhaps he was mainly interested in getting into my pants, and this was just how he hoped to do that. Or perhaps it was a combination.

While at the time I internally verbalized my feelings as being about "presumptuousness" or "going too fast," I couldn't put my finger on just what made me so uncomfortable. Having another person's similar experience to compare it with, I now realize that this is probably just about what people mean when they describe someone as "sleazy" or "creepy." So, now I've experienced that for myself -- just one of the (more dubious) benefits of being less withdrawn than used to be.

P.S. I also recall that in our initial conversation, he went into some depth about some family conflicts he'd endured. This elicited some sympathy from me, even though I noted the rather self-congratulatory way he presented his own noble role in the conflict. But after the other objectionable things started accumulating, I think that added to my judgment that this was someone I didn't want to be involved with.

Friday, June 25, 2010

In her latest column for the Philadelphia Weekly, Tara Murtha addresses radio station B101's refusal to air a public service ad about child sexual abuse unless the words "rape" and "sexual" are deleted (!) . This prompted the following letter from me:

It's appalling that B101 refuses to air ads about child rape unless the words "rape" and "sexual" are removed. The following quote reflects an attitude that's all too prevalent: "'Mommy, what's that mean?' is a phrase that makes [parents] feel that we have let them down as a radio station."

Correction: if parents can't handle this question, it means that they as parents have let their children down. Such enforced ignorance makes children far more vulnerable to rape.

If they are to be empowered to resist unwanted sexual attentions, children must get a clear message that they own themselves and are entitled to decide for themselves what is "good touch" or "bad touch" — not have such judgments imposed on them by adults under the name of "love" or "protection."

Hopefully, if anyone suspects a child is being abused they will, if possible, go to the child first with child-centered, non-leading questions like "Is someone hurting you?" or "Is someone doing something that makes you feel bad?" In this way abuse won't be swept under the rug, nor will children be traumatized by memories confabulated — or redefined as "bad" — in response to adult suggestion.

I've subsequently visited the website for the Hero Project, which sponsored the ad. Much of the information on the site is valid. For instance, in line with what I wrote above, it urges that parents tell their children to let them know if someone is doing something that makes them uncomfortable. And many of the potential symptoms they list are indeed indications that something disturbing is happening in a child's life.

A couple of the supposed warning signs give me pause, however, such as "age-inappropriate" sexual knowledge and "excessive" masturbation. Given the still common attitude that children should be asexual and ignorant, these could easily be interpreted in a way that simply reinforces the repressive messages that emotionally victimize children as well as make them easier prey for sexual abuse. Indeed, one might logically suppose that if a child is masturbating more than before, it reflects an experience that's made her/him more aware of her/his potential for sexual pleasure -- the opposite of what an abusive experience would do. Intervening on this basis seems more likely to disrupt a positive relationship than a negative one. Some adults have stated that they are glad no one else found out about such positive childhood experiences with older people, or complained that the reaction of other adults to the discovery was emotionally traumatic for them. (See, for instance, this paper by Joan Nelson, Ed.D., who herself had such an experience.)

Further, it's been documented that psychological trauma doesn't generally result from childhood sexual experiences unless they are physically traumatic, or accompanied by emotional abuse such as threats. This was the point of the Rind-Bauserman-Tromovich study that evoked such conniptions in politicians (egged on by physiologist "Doctor Laura" Schlesinger) several years ago that they pulled the un-Constitutional stunt of passing a resolution condemning the American Psychological Association for publishing the study in their journal. It's also dealt with in depth by Susan A. Clancy in her book The Trauma Myth.

This leaves me with a mixed mind about complaining to B101 about their decision. The cowardice that motivates it is certainly disgusting, but I wonder whether their changing it could do more harm than good. But at least I've made my own view public with the letter above, and I'll also post a comment on the paper's site just in case the letter isn't published.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Preserving Forgotten History

The screening last night of Sir! No Sir! and FTA was quite inspiring. It felt good to see the kind of mass antiwar movement that existed among soldiers in the Vietnam era, with the hope that something like it can come again.

I was too young at the time to be involved or have much understanding, though I probably had more awareness than most children my age because my parents, while of an older generation themselves, were radical and had many friends who were politically active.

I spoke to the director of the GI Press Project, James Lewes, after the screening to tell him about my father's role in organizing an antiwar march by WWII and Korea vets, in Gettysburg in 1964. While Lewes' focus is on preserving newsletters made by active-duty GIs, we exchanged emails so I can look into donating or lending the photos I inherited to some appropriate collection.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not Abducted by Aliens, Yet

Recently I visited a bookstore while perusing the event listings in a local weekly, and noticed one for a meeting of a UFO discussion group, being surprised it seemed to be meeting at more than one venue. Walking into the cafe part of the bookstore and sitting down at a table, I was surprised to discover that this was the group that was meeting there, not another meeting that I was interested in. In fact, it was specifically a meeting for "abductees."

I started looking back in the paper to find the right listing and then, looking up to explain to the person sitting closest that this wasn't the meeting I'd meant to be at, I noticed an alien standing at the other side of the table -- the classic Hollywood kind. Feeling somewhat alarmed now, I again looked in the paper to try and sort things out -- only now I saw aliens in the paper too, even in pages I thought I'd looked at already. Realizing this wasn't possible, I said, "How can they be in the newspaper?" and then "This has to be a dream! This has to be a dream!" I then shook myself awake.

Even as I went to the kitchen for a drink of water, I couldn't shake off the irrational feeling that maybe this was now bound to happen again and again, as "abductees" experience. Partway into the next dream, I began to see the evidence that this was a dream too, and decided to do the same thing again. Perhaps I wanted to reassure myself that I could in light of the residual unease from the previous dream. Then, while still in bed, I tried getting back into the dream, since it hadn't been unpleasant and I'd been talking to someone pretty. Unfortunately I'd awakened too far already for that.

The fact of this ability would seem to make me an unlikely candidate for the sort of hypnopompic-hallucination-with-sleep-paralysis that probably underlies the "abductee" experience.

Before I'd learned it, however, I did once have such an experience, when I was eight. My parents had someone over and gave them my bed for the night, so I had to sleep on a couch in the living room. There was a rainstorm outside. After a while I awakened, and the sound of the storm had been replaced by that of a party, as the room was now filled with people. I decided to get up, starting by raising my right forearm. I saw that I'd raised it, but still felt it lying at my side, making it seem that I had three arms. This frightened me awake. The room was still dark and empty and the rain was still falling.

Evidently I'd been experiencing perceptions from my senses (waking mode) together with perceptions from my imagination (dream mode), generating a perceived anomaly. But I don't recall any hypnopompic hallucinations subsequent to that one.

Back in the real world, here's an upcoming event that's most worthy of support:

View this message online CLICK HERE

The GI Press Project presents a special screening of Sir! No Sir! and the Philadelphia Premiere of FTA. Local efforts increase to preserve anti-war papers by Vietnam vets.

Gina Renzi
Director, The Rotunda

What: The GI Press Project presents a special screening of Sir! No Sir! and the Philadelphia Premiere of FTA in order to raise funds for and awareness of the rarely seen Vietnam-era Underground Press.

When: Wednesday June 23, 2010@6pm

Where: The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street, Philadelphia

Why: In the Vietnam War era, anti-war members of the US military and their supporters found voice for their concerns in what eventually added up to hundreds of underground newspapers produced and circulated everywhere, inside the Pentagon itself, aboard ships at sea, and on and around military bases around the world. With names such as Left Face, About Face, Harass the Brass, A Four-Year Bummer, The Fort Polk Puke, RITA, FTA, Marine Blues, and Rough Draft, they served as an organizing tool, a platform for discussion of issues the military chain of command should have cared about but didn't, and a way of letting the rest of America know that opposition to the war was widespread in the armed forces.

These newspapers, largely overlooked by historians, had great impact at the time and are now in danger of being lost altogether. They were generally printed on cheap paper that will crumble to dust before too many more years pass. To insure that this legacy and effort is not lost, a GI Press Preservation Project has been launched in Philadelphia, where several of the best collections of Vietnam-era GI newspapers are located. James Lewes, who worked on the GI Press part of the movie Sir! No Sir! is spearheading an effort to digitally copy all still-existing copies of Vietnam-era GI newspapers so that they will not be lost to history when the paper they are printed on crumbles and can be shared more widely and take their rightful place in the history of the Vietnam War and the GI Movement that opposed it. To help raise money and bring attention to the project, James Lewes will be showing the films Sir! No Sir! and FTA at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

About the films

Sir! No Sir!
This feature-length documentary focuses on the efforts by troops in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to oppose the war effort by peaceful demonstration and subversion.

A documentary about a political troupe headed by actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland which traveled to towns near military bases in the US in the early 1970s. The group put on shows called "F.T.A.", which stood for "F**k the Army", and was aimed at convincing soldiers to voice their opposition to the Vietnam War, which was raging at the time. Various singers, actors, and other entertainers performed antiwar songs and skits during the show.

Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gathering, Not Hunting

I recently hit on another way to take myself out of my mental comfort zone, and tried it today. I knew there was at least one item I wanted to buy at Rite Aid, but instead of going directly to where I might expect to find it, I made myself walk slowly along each of the aisles, simply scanning the shelves to see if there was anything interesting there. If I saw something, I would then consider whether it was something I ought to buy now or sometime soon.

This may seem pretty quotidian to some, but for me it wasn't, because my whole life I've shopped exclusively in "hunter" mode, knowing what I planned to get when I went in and aiming straight for it. This fits into my general pattern of needing a well-defined purpose all the time and not easily getting comfortable with non-directive activity. I knew, therefore, that this exercise would be a stretch for me, one that I hope (especially with repetition) will help me learn to be less anxious and more able to live in the moment.

The proof that this actually was a stretch lay in how I felt as I was doing it. It was a slightly heady feeling, a bit as if I were floating -- an appropriate metaphor in that I had intentionally let go of the "mooring" of being fixed on a purpose.

Also today, in view of my clear pattern of procrastinating about clubbing, I decided that starting immediately I will set aside an amount from each pay deposit for that purpose, so I won't spend it on something else and then have the excuse, "Oh well, I can't afford it now." I intend by this means to ensure I get out to a club once a week, instead of only a few times over the past several months.

Eric Hamell

Friday, June 18, 2010

Show Developing for Humanist Arts Circle

I've lately become involved in a humanist creative arts circle, and its organizer Martha Knox is working on having a show of all our work. She's proposed calling it "Humanist Voices," and you can see some of each member's work here:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quote of the month: "The very idea that pacifist, feminist, Jewish, and Christian organizations like CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the American Friends Service Committee would ally with a violent, misogynist, Islamic group like Hamas - much less any group that engages in terrorism - should be recognized as absurd on face value. When prominent Democrats - including the head of the House subcommittee on terrorism - imply that leading American and Israeli peace groups are linked to terrorism, it is no longer simply heated rhetoric in defense of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, but a dangerous attack on civil liberties." -- Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus, 11 June (thanks to John Kirkland for forwarding this)

Well, my Census job wound up Thursday, having started 27 April. It was interesting albeit sleep-depriving, and earned me $1150 -- plus a couple more payments yet to arrive, which will be relatively small since there was less work to do toward the end as we were increasingly left only with "hard cases."

Eric Hamell

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Principal Needs Refresher on Constitutional Rights

Dan Savage has brought another example of puritanical persecution to our attention with the case of a high school coach who was fired for sending "adult-oriented pictures" to his girlfriend, a college student.

The principal, Donna Richardson, defends her action with talk of teaching students to become "good characters," but evidently needs some instruction in this department herself. In a case like this it seems appropriate to emphasize the pedagogical issues, so I've sent the following message to her email address (

Dear Ms. Richardson:

I am very disappointed by your dismissal of Jason Robinson. By taking this action, you have set a very bad example to the students under your supervision. You have modeled:

1) Endorsing and rewarding the violation of someone's privacy;
2) Punishing other people's consensual activity; and
3) Worst of all, by implication, attempting to coerce other people's consensual activity through threats to their livelihoods.

By doing these things, you have sent all the wrong messages to students about responsible behavior as members of a democratic society. It is urgent that you rehire Mr. Robinson, which would have the added merit of modeling the ability to admit when you have made a mistake.

To refresh your own appreciation of these principles, you might do well to re-read the Declaration of Independence. For a more in-depth treatment of them, you could also read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty.

Eric Hamell
Philadelphia, PA

You can read more details of the case in Savage's column here:

Monday, May 31, 2010

Well, I had a gratifying experience today. I recently had been thinking that if someone asked me for change, instead of simply giving them money I should offer to pay them for doing something, e.g., singing their favorite song. The first time I was solicited today, I tried doing this, but found myself unable to. My social anxiety was getting in the way -- the fear of my offer's being rejected -- and so I ended up just giving him change. Now, in addition to my original motives, I saw also the importance of achieving this as an "exposure" to an anxiety-inducing situation.

A little later I saw a second opportunity approaching. This time I prepared by going into "trance" for a second so I could make the offer without thinking about it. Far from being offended, he readily complied, and sang an entire song ("Love on a Two-Way Street") that he evidently had committed to memory. It was very pleasing to be honored in this way with something he loved, and to be able to not only pay him but give honest praise too. Persisting afterward was a heady feeling from having done the "impossible," like that I first had on 2 July 2005 after introducing myself to several attractive strangers that day (with the difference that going into trance took more effort back then).

Eric Hamell

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Porn You Can Salute and 11 Years of Space Docking

I attended a cool event last Friday titled Porn You Can Salute, a workshop on alternatives to mainstream pornography. It was presented by a new group called Screw Smart, which is about promoting sex-positive, queer-positive sex education to the public. We had an erotic "exquisite corpse" exercise -- the first such I've participated in -- followed by screenings of several varieties of alternative porn. Their web site is

This Saturday I'm going to a night of sf-themed comedy called 11 Years of Space Docking. I saw the flyer for it at the Green Line Cafe when I was there last Thursday for the humanist arts circle.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Narconon (Scientology) Promo Piece Appears in Public Record

Last week's issue of the Philadelphia Public Record included an article about a club drug called mephedrone, toward the end of which it became apparent the article is meant to promote the Scientology-connected Narconon program. After doing a little homework I submitted the following letter.

Dear editor:

Your last edition features an article titled, "New Club Drug Endangers Many Lives," which promotes the Narconon organization and may be assumed to reflect its views. While I claim no expertise on club drugs, Narconon is not a credible source of information.

As discussed on Wikipedia, Narconon was founded by Scientologists and continues to be run by them. The Church of Scientology opposes all use of psychoactive substances, even those legally prescribed by psychiatrists or other doctors. They ignore or misrepresent any evidence that such drugs can be beneficial because it is an article of religious faith for them that they can't be.

Scientific and medical authorities have widely rejected Narconon's claims. In 1991, for instance, the Oklahoma Board of Mental Health denied them a license, saying that "credible evidence establishes Narconon's program is not effective," and adding that "the program offered by Narconon-Chilocco is not medically safe."

Similarly, in 2005 California's superintendant of public instruction "officially recommended that all schools in the state reject the Narconon program." Wikipedia also reports that Narconon has been linked to two deaths.

In addition to direct medical hazards from a program that is faith-based rather than evidence-based, Narconon is accused of being a front for recruitment to the Church of Scientology, a science fiction-based cult and pyramid scheme which many former members say has done them enormous financial and emotional damage.

It may well be that mephedrone is dangerous as the article says, but one must look elsewhere than to Narconon for reliable information on just how dangerous, in what ways, and under what circumstances.

For more information on cults and warning signs of a psychologically abusive or manipulative group, visit the International Cultic Studies Association at

Eric Hamell

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bad Science or Bad Journalism? (Or Both?)

Yesterday my eye was caught by this headline on the front page of the Weekly Press: "Hiding Pollution Behind Science." The article is about how a group of agricultural scientists are allegedly defending an inappropriate method of estimating safe levels of manure use to put nitrogen in soil. I wrote the following comment:

Tom Horton's approach does a disservice to readers and insults our intelligence.

He never explains why he considers Water Stewardship more credible than SERA-17. Nor does he even explain what the harmful consequences of "excess" phosphorus are supposed to be -- and neither does the executive summary nor the introduction to Water Stewardship's report. Instead, he seems to think a couple quotes lifted out of context will suffice to convince us that SERA-17 is biased, without even suggesting what possible motive they would have for preferring farmers at the expense of the environment.

Of course this problem, if problem it is, would be moot if we weren't supporting factory farms with our meat-heavy diet. Environmental debates aside, it appears beyond dispute that these industrial facilities create a hellish existence for the animals, which is reason enough to avoid supporting them.

I don't pretend to know who is right in this dispute, and there's unfortunately nothing unusual about a piece of advocacy journalism that insults the critical-minded reader's intelligence. But my attention was siezed by the headline, which is inappropriate even if the author's view is correct. If pollution is being hidden, it's being hidden by bad science, not by "science" as such. Of course that may be the editor's fault rather than Horton's.

Eric Hamell

Saturday, May 08, 2010

I saw a very decadent T-shirt yesterday. It read, "I'll have a cafe mocha vodka marijuana latte, please."

I also got my first "live one" as a Census enumerator -- a resident who was actually at home to give me an interview. Till then I'd only gotten information from neighbors or else had to leave Notices of Visit.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

In the course of my rounds today, I saw Senate candidate Joe Sestak giving an outdoor press conference at 15th and Market. He's been courting progressives by contrasting himself to Arlen Specter as the "true Democrat," yet he's supporting the troop escalation in Afghanistan that Specter opposed. So as I walked past I shouted, "US out of Afghanistan NOW!" I then heard someone pointlessly mutter, "Shut up."

Sunday, May 02, 2010


On reading the souvenir from Herb Lewin's memorial, I found I had gotten a couple incidents confused in my previous post. It has now been corrected, based on an account of his career originally written by his wife Pauline for his eightieth birthday.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Remembering Herb Lewin

Today a memorial was held to celebrate the life of Herb Lewin, an old friend and comrade of my parents whom I also knew.

I'd heard a few weeks ago of his death at age 95, which occurred 18 March, but didn't learn the time and place of the memorial till today, after arriving at the event in Elmwood Park described in my previous post. Being without a car or a ride, I had to leave that event early to get to this one.

It would actually have been quite appropriate had the memorial been held in conjunction with the Elmwood park event. The park was sited where it was because of a major labor struggle that was waged just a few blocks away. In fact, I've learned that this was the very struggle that put Herb's picture on the cover of Life magazine, being clubbed by mounted police.

A few years later he was dismissed for his political views and his coworkers walked out to demand his reinstatement along with another worker likewise fired as a "security risk," which they won.

After becoming a socialist in early adulthood, Herb spent his entire life as a radical labor activist. He also ran for office for several times, including once for President (as the candidate of California's Peace and Freedom Party) and twice for governor of Pennsylvania. His obituary appeared in the 29 March edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, on page B08.

It's unfortunate that because of a lack of communication the two events weren't coordinated. But for me there was no question about priorities. Herb had attended and spoken at my mother's memorial seven years ago. I had to be at his, and felt I should speak at it too, despite -- or in a sense, perhaps, because of -- knowing I would get emotional. But that seemed appropriate to the circumstances so there was no embarrassment.

Thanks are due to Doug Buchholz and his partner Simone for organizing the memorial, to the officiant and other staff of Unitarian Universalist House (I'm afraid I don't remember their names) for hosting it, and to all those who attended. I estimate that about forty were present.

Eric Hamell

Thursday, April 29, 2010

May Day: Rally for Workers' Rights and Remember Our Heroes

I regret that, because of personal issues, I didn't post this sooner. But I certainly hope and plan to be there:

Rally for the Rights of All Workers MAY DAY USA

May Day is the Global day to Honor All Workers. Come and Learn the True American History of May Day and its Origins in Chicago During the Struggle for the 8 Hour Day.
Saturday, May 1- Noon til 2 PMElmwood Park @ South 71st St. &Buist Ave. in Southwest Philly

Join us for the Dedication of a Labor Monument in the Park That Will Honor Eugene V. Debs; The Wobblies; Bread and Roses; Child Labor Reform; “Si Se Puede!”; “I Am a Man”; and Karen Gay Silkwood.

Guest Speakers:

Reverend Chester Williams- Pres., Nat’l Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees Local 509
Cathy Brady- Friends of Elmwood Park/SEIU Healthcare Pa.
Pedro Rodriguez- Member, Phila. Civil Service Commission
Royce Adams- Int. Longshoreman’s Assoc. (ILA) Local 1291
Fabricio Rodriguez- Lead Crdntr, Phila. Security Officers Union
Tom Paine Cronin- Dir. Comey Inst. of Industrial Relations @ St. Joe’s Univ., Pres. (Ret.) AFSCME DC 47
Kathy Black- Pres., CLUW (Phila. Chapter), Co-Convener of USLAW, Health & Safety Director AFSCME DC 47
Barbara Rahke- Executive Director, Philaposh

Music & Entertainment “The K&A Mob” (Rock) , “Tha Truth” (Rap) “Legendario” (Spanish Rap)

Sponsored By: The Penna. Labor History Society (PLHS) and the Phila. Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health (Philaposh)

For more Information Contact us at 215-301-2633 or

Monday, April 26, 2010

Another Test Passed

It's been a little while since I gave myself any major challenges to my social anxiety, and I'd started to feel I was stagnating/regressing. But I had occasion to change that today.

I should back up and explain that on 10 March I received a notice from my landlord congratulating me on having my lease renewed as of May on new terms (higher rent) of which I'd previously been notified. Problem is, I hadn't received said prior notification. This made me very anxious as it activated the "bait and switch" trigger tracing back to my adolescent experience with a cult.

Within a few days I met with someone at Community Legal Services. He could give me limited advice at that point since I had brought the lease renewal currently in effect, but not the lease itself from two years ago. I sent him a copy of that a day or two later.

I then procrastinated a while. It took me a few more weeks to get around to actually reading the lease and start advertising that I was looking for a new place (since at that point I didn't think I had an alternative). Finally I talked to the guy at CLS again, who'd reviewed my lease and said that since I hadn't received the stipulated sixty days notice of a change in terms, it was renewed on the old terms. Of course the landlord could claim that I had received timely notice, but in any case, I was told, their position would be that a change in terms constitutes a new lease which has to be agreed to affirmatively and not just passively. It was advised that I meet with the landlord's representative to state this view of things.

For a change, circumstances actually beyond my control delayed my doing so for another week. My employer was short-handed because a coworker's heart trouble was turning out to be worse than first realized. (I felt a little guilt since I'd encouraged his interest in switching from another employer; on the other hand, since his previous job was pretty similar, there's no particular reason to think I hastened this development, which now has had him out for a week.)

But I already had this week scheduled as personal vacation (more on which below), so today I visited the management office and showed one of them the pertinent documents, and she said she'd research the issue. It was no big deal in the event, but that's just the point with exposures: you intellectually understand there's not much to be afraid of, but you have to go through the experience to prove that to yourself on an emotional level.

The reason for the vacation is another bright spot in the picture: starting tomorrow, I'll be getting training to be a Street Enumerator for the Census. This will provide a quite considerable, if temporary, boost to my income that will be particularly handy if I find I have to move without receiving a refund of my deposit.

Eric Hamell

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Federal Anti-SLAPP Legislation Being Considered

As reported in this week's On the Media, legislation has been proposed in Congress to deter so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), defamation cases brought not because they have legal merit or are likely to be successful, but simply to harass and bankrupt the defendants and thereby silence them, and pre-emptively induce self-censorship by others who might criticize the plaintiff.

SLAPPs have targeted a variety of groups and individuals. Environmental activists have been sued for expressing their view that an industrial facility will be polluting; James Randi and CSICOP (now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) were sued by Uri Geller and other purported psychics for pointing to evidence that they were fakers. According to the story, SLAPPs have proliferated as social media expand the opportunities for public expression.

The situation is even worse in the United Kingdom, where libel law appears to be stronger than whatever protection for free speech is considered to be in that country's unwritten constitution. A recently prominent case involving a skeptic/consumer advocate being sued by homeopaths is described here:

Called the Citizen Participation Act, the bill has been introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN9). A summary by the Public Participation Project can be read at It would not supercede anti-SLAPP laws already in place in several states, but would create the option of moving a case to federal jurisdiction.

If you are in Cohen's district you can express your support through his web form at; otherwise you can write him at 1005 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.

Eric Hamell

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I've recently updated my post reviewing Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, based on the results of an inquiry prompted by something in the book. You can read it here.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stop Land Grab at Beit Sahour

I just received word from Playgrounds for Palestine about an Israeli attempt to confiscate private and community land in Beit Sahour in the West Bank, including a park where one of their next playgrounds is to be built. I've whittled the information down to fall well within the green zone on's "impact meter," as follows:

As a supporter of Playgrounds for Palestine, I am disturbed by news of an Israeli land grab against the community of Beit Sahour in the West Bank. As described by town residents, Ha'aretz, Ma'an News, and other sources in recent days, Israeli soldiers and bulldozers arrived on February 10 at a family recreation park in Beit Sahour and declared it a closed military zone, for the stated purpose of building a watchtower.

Included in this swath of land is the treasured Oush Grab Peace Park, which serves as a community space, park, and recreational facility where Palestinian families gather daily and was to be the site of one of PfP's next playgrounds.

I urge you to call and write to Israeli officials to protest this action, call upon them to stop the construction of the watchtower, stop settler attacks on the park, and cease any idea of building a settlement on the site.

I've already sent this to Senator Specter and will shortly send it to my other representatives. The full text of the message from PfP is copied below. Although the original call to action comes from a Christian group, it should resonate with any humanist.

Eric Hamell

From: Playgrounds for Palestine <>
Date: Saturday, February 27, 2010, 5:19 PM. . . helping children reclaim their childhoods

February 27, 2010

We are sending out this CALL TO ACTION to alert our supporters about a troubling development in the Oush Grab Peace Park, the site designated for a 2010 PfP playground installation. The Israeli military is trying to implement a decision to confiscate community and privately held property belonging to the community and families in the Palestinian Christian town of Beit Sahour.

Included in this swath of land is the treasured Peace Park, which serves as a community space, park and recreational facility where Palestinian families gather daily and was to be the site of one of PfP's next playgrounds.

We ask you to call and write to Israeli officials in order to protest this action, call upon them to stop the construction of the watchtower, prevent settlers from attacking the park, and cease any idea of building a settlement in the site.

Follow the link and enter zip for to contact local congressmen -

Call the Israeli ambassador 202 364 5500 or email

Email the Consulate General of the US, Jerusalem -

Call the Israeli consulate in Philly 215 977 7600

Contact the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near East Affairs - Jeffrey D Feltman 202 647 7209

Injustice in Beit SahourA Statement by Kairos Palestine

(Jerusalem 20.03.2010) As described by town residents, Ha'aretz,Ma'an News, and other sources in recent days, Israeli soldiers and bulldozers arrived on February 10 at a family recreation park in Beit Sahour – a town slightly east of Bethlehem in the West Bank, and the site of the former army base Osh Grab, which was abandoned by the IDF in 2006 – and declared it a closed military zone.

KAIROS Palestine condemns this action and calls upon churches worldwide to advocate for the Christians and all residents of Beit Sahour and intervene in the damage, present and projected, wrought upon their home.

Since 1967, Beit Sahour, one of the last Christian majority towns in the West Bank, has repeatedly lost land to the Jerusalem municipality and to the nearby settlement of Har Homa. Much of the remaining land was occupied by an Israeli military base, Osh Grab. After the army evacuated the base in 2006, the Beit Sahour municipality regained control of the land – largely private plots and some public ones. (That said, all of the land remained part of what Israel calls Area C, keeping it under harsh regulation by the Israeli State.) The municipality renovated the public land, built a recreational park and playground – the "Peace Park" – and was planning to build a hospital as well.

Over time, fanatical Jewish settler groups have often threatened to take over the site, protested there as part of their aggressive claim as its "true" owners, and even physically vandalized the park, as they did last month. As it stands, Israel's stated intention is to build a new watchtower: a troubling reassertion of a military presence in Beit Sahour. The other worry is that this could pave the way for a new settlement, which nearby settlers have been demanding for years. As Amira Hass writes in Ha'aretz, "The Beit Sahour residents have no reason to doubt either the settlers or the Har Homa neighborhood committee chairman, who declared that 'This could become a reality, just as Har Homa spilled beyond what was planned and expected.'"

Either way, this new display of control on the part of the State – arriving with bulldozers, excavating the site around the park, prohibiting the entry of the Beit Sahour residents and various internationals who came to protest, declaring the land a closed military zone – is a grave affront. It is painful and unjust for some reasons of specific import to Christians (who form 80% of Beit Sahour); others are simply questions of humanity and legality, crucial for both Christians and Muslims.

First, the park area lies between two sacred sites: "Shepherds Field" and the place, as told in the Bible, where Boaz fell in love with Ruth. These are places of immense spiritual significance, and the State's commandeering of the land is profoundly distressing. (As we wrote in the Kairos Document, "freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security.") Second, the takeover is yet another example of the way Israeli occupation displaces us, divorces us from our basic rights of mobility and autonomy, and enforces a divisive view of human interaction that perverts the Word of God and the love and compassion it calls us to.

We request the solidarity of churches in the international community: to support us, to intervene in this latest encroachment on Beit Sahour and prevent it from continuing, and to speak out against the occupation in all such instances. We ask individuals and communities worldwide to contact Israeli officials and condemn their actions, to write the mayor of Beit Sahour and express support, and engage in other such forms of outreach and network-building.

As we make these requests, we quote again from the KAIROS Document itself to remind ourselves and each other of what is at stake and what we must call for: "Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or theological question only…[w]e suffer from the occupation of our land because we are Palestinians."

And finally: "We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…and distort [s] the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice."

Please join KAIROS Palestine in condemning these oppressive actions in Beit Sahour and working to restore the justice that is both our calling and our right.

We ask you to call and write to Israeli officials in order to protest this action, call upon them to stop the construction of the watchtower, prevent settlers from attacking the park, and cease any idea of building a settlement in the site.

Please make appeals to:

[Ehud Barak] Minister of Defense, Ministry of Defense, 37 Kaplan Street, Hakirya, Tel Aviv
61909, Israel Fax: +972 3 691 6940 Email: Salutation: Dear Minister

Israeli Ambassador in your respective country

Copy to: the Mayor of Beit SahourEmail:
Kairos Palestine: Email:

KAIROS Palestine is a group of Palestinian Christians who authored "A Moment of Truth" – Christian Palestinian's word to the world about the occupation of Palestine, an expression of hope and faith in God, and a call for solidarity in ending over six decades of oppression – and published it in 2009.

From our board member, Nathan Dannison, more information –

Here is a great background video re: the site: more background information from decolonizing architecture:

Here are two articles regarding my non-violent protest and its result:

Here are some photographs of the event: (scroll forward to see more)

Here are my relevant blog entries:

Here is some troubling information regarding the current state of affairs:

Also – Photos of popular resistance including tearing down the apartheid fences in Bilin

Beit Sahour: a new struggle by Ben White - 21 February 2010 11:49, The Newstatesman

This message was sent from Playgrounds for Palestine, 132 Pennsylvania Ave, Yardley, pa 19067.