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.