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!

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