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!

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: