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Friday, December 23, 2011

Einstein: "Why I Am a Socialist"

This classic essay, written for the premier issue of Monthly Review, deserves to be far more widely read:

Why I Am A Socialist
by Albert Einstein

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist.

The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstances that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilised period of human history has — as is well known — been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks.
The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behaviour.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and — if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous — are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organisation of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organisation would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?"

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behaylour.

The abstract concept "society" means to the individual being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society — in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence — that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labour and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word "society".

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished — just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human beings which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organisations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behaviour of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organisation which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labour and a highly centralised productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time — which, looking back, seems so idyllic — is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egoistic drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this period of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egoism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labour — not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realise that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods — may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call "workers" all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production — although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labour power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labour contract is "free," what the worker receives is determined not by the value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labour power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labour encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organised political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the Iegislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterised by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labour contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the "free labour contract" for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from "pure" capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an "army of unemployed" almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilisation of capital which leads to a huge waste of labour, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilised in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult sociopolitical problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralisation of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of the bureaucracy be assured?*

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

Monthly Review, 1949

*For one answer, see this article:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The End of an Ideology? Not Quite

In its program today recalling the end of the Soviet Union, SRI's "The World" exhibited the premature capitalist
triumphalso typical of treatments of
this topic. I responded thus:

"It's perfectly absurd to call this "the end of an ideology." Parties that call themselves communist still have millions of members worldwide, counting only those that don't hold state power. To describe the breakup of the Soviet Union as the end of communism makes as much sense as calling the breakup of the Napoleonic Empire the end of republicanism."

The One Christmas Song That Rocks

When I was little I enjoyed singing "Glooooooooooooooria" to Handel's "Messiah." There days I tire of the incessant seasonal music. The one song I probably couldn't hear too much of is The Kinks' "Father Christmas."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Quote of the Day

"China's CP is more like a chamber of commerce than a conventional political party." -- Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs, on NPR's "Marketplace" this morning

Philosophy/Psychology Nexus?

Here's a curious observation: with two people I've been Facebook friends with, when someone made a skeptical comment on a "spiritual" post they'd made, they reacted as if this were a personal attack. In part, this seems to reflect an attitude that their Facebook Wall is their personal property. Yet I can't recall any of my atheist or rationalist friends (who are probably far more numerous) ever reacting that way. To the contrary, like me they seem to genuinely welcome debate on threads they've initiated, just as much as on those started by others. It would seem that a certain type of spirituality is particularly attractive to people with fragile egos.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Second Date Follow-Up

It went well. She laughed a lot. Because of a change in schedules from last week, however, we saw a different movie than planned, _Tomboy_.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Quote of the Day

Should this be the first sign we see after we're born? On a sidewalk vendor's kiosk: "If you're in a hurry, you are in the wrong place."

Vote Occupy

The paper Metro is polling its readers on the Person of the Year. You can vote from a shortlist of Occupy, Steve Jobs, and Gabrielle Giffords by emailing

Monday, December 12, 2011


Scratch that last post -- it doesn't quite work. I was only half awake when I thought of it.

A Riddle

What's a palindrome to caption a painting of the Virgin Mary? Post your answer as a comment. Solution in one week.

Second Date

We're seeing _Martha Marcy May Marlene_ Thursday.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Occupy Home: The Mason Family’s Eviction and Occupy Philly's Pledge to Help

I recently met a woman whose family was illegally evicted from their home at the behest of a landlord who'd refused to make repairs. An article about their situation and their struggle to regain the home follows.

Occupy Home: The Mason Family’s Eviction and Occupy Philly's Pledge to Help

Fri, 11/25

When Florence Mason and her children were evicted from their Mount Airy home on October 15th, after multiple evictions in the previous two months resulted in their return to the house on legal grounds still knowing it might happen again, she found herself with nowhere to turn—except for Occupy Philly. On November 17th, Mason came to the General Assembly and began telling her story: the police assault on her children, the landlady who trashed her home and stole her furniture, her own steadfast litigation. The General Assembly of more than 200 people that night unanimously passed a proposal to help the Mason family get their home back and defend it.
On the inside of the Masons’ front door is an ugly, fluorescent orange poster stuck on with glue and half torn off, declaring the home unfit for human habitation. Beginning in 2004, when the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) found dangerous levels of lead paint, through February of this year, when the notice was posted on the door due to lack of heat, Mason says, “PHA told [the owners] the house was in ill repairs.” The owners’ Section 8 housing assistance payments contract was terminated in June 2010, according to a letter Mason obtained.
“When the landlord has an L&I violation, they cannot do an eviction. It’s illegal. The tenant has the right to abate rent until they fix any problems in the house,” she says. “They failed to do the work, and they kept failing the inspection. Then they decided to go into municipal court and say that I stopped paying the rent.”
When Mason attempted to get a Section 8 voucher to relocate, she says, PHA told her that because her husband’s name is on the lease, she wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place – despite his granting her power of attorney when he moved out. A Court of Common Pleas decision in July tossed out the landlady’s case, but the family’s troubles had only just begun.
“I still have nightmares about that day”

On the morning of September 1st, the police arrived, then left shortly afterward. This was not uncommon, Florence Mason’s 13-year-old son Clifton says. “It’s been a lot of times they came and harassed us, and every time we had our papers.” But that day, Florence Mason left the house to go to court, and the police returned.

“My brother [20-year-old Vincent, Jr.] was like, ‘What are you trying to do? Why are you here again?’ so they said to get off the porch,” Clifton Mason says. “So we all got off the porch, and they started to put handcuffs on us. My brother Vincent said if they were to take him, he was going to go by himself – and just leave us alone. After that, they hit him, they slammed him in the car, and they started beating him. He wasn’t doing anything.”

A neighbor, Lillian Smith, asked the police to let her take the two youngest children until their mother could get home. “They were going to take them to juvenile hall—that was what the captain said, because they were loud. They were upset.”

Smith was also concerned for Vincent, Jr: “I witnessed that the cuffs were a little bit tight, and when they were putting the young man in the van, his head got hit. I just don’t like to see anybody’s head get hit, because that’s where – he’s going to be a doctor or a lawyer or something, and you hurt that child.”

“They were just slamming him against the car,” says Smith’s granddaughter, Lisa Bailey, 15. “The older girl, Crystal [who is 18], got really upset, because they were throwing her older brother in there, so she started to flip out also. So they threw her on the floor and handcuffed her ankles and her arms.”

“The police were very rough with them,” adds a third neighbor, who does not want her name to be used. “Just like you see with Occupy Wall Street, you know, they were very rough with these kids.”

“The lady [cop] came over and tripped my sister, so she’s on the ground,” Clifton Mason says. “My 11-year-old sister [Sherriah]. She was crying. They were saying they were going to call the Department of Human Services DHS.”

“They threw the young girl [Sherriah] down in the street and handcuffed her,” the third neighbor says. “I got a paper towel to wipe her face off, and they told me to get back. She was so traumatized. She was just staring off into space with tears running down her face. They also got a moving van to take the stuff out of the house. The street was filled with cops. Everybody up and down the street was upset. One neighbor at the end of the block came out of the shower with shampoo in her hair. The police were out here constantly. They would always intimidate these kids, and they always come when the mother’s not there.”

Before police allowed Lillian Smith to take Sherriah and Clifton into her home, Clifton was sitting handcuffed in a police car. “I was like, ‘Why you all got me in here?” he says. “[The police officer] was like, ‘I’ll take off my badge and fight you.’” Clifton asked what would happen to the family dog, a German Shepherd named Sam, and the police told him not to worry—they would take care of her, he says.

Meanwhile, Florence Mason rushed home after receiving a call from Crystal. “Just imagine being on the phone and hearing your kids screaming, and you can’t do anything to help,” she says. “It still hurts me. I have nightmares about that day, hearing my children hollering, ‘Mommy, they’re arresting us!’ and my daughter’s heart-wrenching scream."

Two days later, while the family was trying to locate Sam, the police Animal Control Unit put the dog to sleep.

“They ransacked everything”

Crystal and Vincent were released, their charges were dropped, and the Masons returned to their family home. But on October 14th, they were evicted again—and this time, the family sought refuge with relatives.
On October 14th, Clifton Mason says, “there were moving trucks. They took the TVs and beds to make it very uncomfortable, because they knew that we were going to come back in the house. They sawed off the pipe inside the house so we couldn’t have water. They unplugged the gas wires and everything. They made it impossible for us to live inside the house.”

Florence Mason says, “When the chief or captain was out here, he let the landlord go through the basement, and while he was standing out there fussing with me, they were cutting the pipes and pulling out the wires to the heaters and the hot water heater. They just ransacked everything, and they took TVs, my laptops, my dishes, and my dining room set. They took my dresser drawers and threw them on the floor, and now there’s mice stuff all in there.

“We were out in the pouring rain that day. Half of us had no jackets on. And we were directly across the street. The car was right there and the police officer was just sitting there, and I went over to her to show my paperwork. She said, ‘You ain’t showing me nothing.’ So as I was walking back, the landlady comes over to her, and the guys from the moving trucks are sitting in the truck, and she’s talking to her. While I’m turning my back, my son and them start screaming, ‘Oh no, we ain’t see that! How many denominations is that?’

“I said, ‘What do you mean, denomination?’ So he’s like, ‘Mom, she just gave the cop money.’ Then all of them jumped in the car and pulled off.”

Clifton Mason says, “After they took our stuff, the owner of the house went to the front of the car, and she walked over to the window, and she came out with money out of her pocket, and she gave it to her. The cop lady rolled down the window, and she gave it to her. In front of neighbors—we all saw her. She gave the cop the money. And the cop was like, ‘I didn’t see anything. Nobody told me to do anything.’”

He adds, “If you’re going to bribe somebody, why would you do it in front of everybody?”

“This happened on October 14th, and we got back in the house, and we stayed until that morning, the 15th,” Florence Mason says. “And then the cops came, because I reported the bribe on a 911 call.”

And then, Florence Mason was arrested. She spent two weeks in the county jail.

A fourth neighbor, who didn’t want his name to be used, says that he has since seen signs of life in the house—unfortunately, however, not signs the Masons had anything to do with.

“About a week ago, while I’m out cleaning the leaves up in the back, I notice a ladder and a window open to this house,” he says. “A couple nights, I come home from work, it’s dark, and I could see a TV set or something, through the blinds. I said, ‘Wait a minute, nobody’s supposed to be there, as far as I know.’

“They’re a quiet family,” he adds. “They cause no trouble around the neighborhood. They’re a happy family.”
Florence Mason expects her next court date, in December, to confirm her right to keep her home, but until then, she doesn’t believe the house is a safe place for her children to stay—not just because it is unfit for habitation until repairs are made, but also because of the police. “I don’t want my children to go through that again,” she says. “I don’t care how many walks I have to do to county, but I don’t want them experiencing that in their young life at all.”

But she’s proud of the example she’s made for her children by advocating for her rights and theirs. And she’s determined to return to her family’s only home, despite everything she has been through. “I don’t care how much you do to me, I’m going to eventually, one way or another, find a way back.”

Friday, December 09, 2011

Someone should do a spoof of _Inspire_. It could be more honestly titled "Expire." Only problem: whoever did it would probably become their next target :-(

Thursday, December 08, 2011

YEAH! I just heard on the radio that DA Seth Williams won't seek to have radical journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence reinstated. He suggested his motive was "closure" for Daniel Faulkner's family, rather than admit he couldn't win the appeal after all the evidence of innocence and of frame-up that's come out. And WHYY never mentioned that Mumia maintains his innocence, yet did quote Maureen Faulkner accusing federal judges of being "corrupt." I'm going to send them a note about this biased coverage.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Flame of Cthulhu!

The plaque in front of this stories-high sculpture, which dominates National Liberty Museum, calls it "Flame of Liberty." But I think we know who the model really was...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Well, they've done it again: painted my building'sonly stairs, both sides at once. This time they didn't bother fencing off the unavoidable with yellow tape. They just put a sign saying "FRESH PAINT" on the steps -- just so we'd have warning before stepping on them, I guess.

En-Gendering Absurdity

When I bought a weekly Transpass Monday, the cashier put an "F for female" sticker on it. This seems to start happening whenever I let my hair grow past a certain length. I don't even bother pointing it out any longer. Why should I help them enforce gender norms, especiallywhen they can't even get it "right" themselves? It just shows how ridiculousthe gender sticker policy is.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Moved All Over Again

I just finished seeing Secretary again. I hadn't realized how long it had been -- over 8 1/2 years since the last time, and I think that was only the second. Powerful to see it again -- I couldn't bear to miss a second, and didn't leave the theater until the credits were over. I also noticed this time that the music is by Angelo Badalamenti, which doubtless adds to the quality of the experience. It's my second favorite movie, after Contact.Today at 2:09am · Like · RemoveEric HamellMy favorite line from the movie is "Why not?" My favorite line from Contact is "That's a good answer."

Study: Left, Right Equally Prone to Confirmation Bias

Here's an interesting story from this week's On the Media:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Unsurprising Story

Interesting news discovered belatedly, and I'm not surprised. I had an encounter with his group in 1996. The way he led the meeting was domineering verging on bullying, as well as homophobic. And he made no apologies for having been running mate to Lyndon LaRouche, stacks of whose cult literature stood near the entrance of the "community center" where the meeting took place.

A woman who also attended -- perhaps the only other person there who wasn't in the cult -- told me afterward that she didn't have the right to criticize him because of his history with the Civil Rights movement (he was one of MLK's "field generals"). I said if she thought he was wrong, it was not only her right but her duty to say so. But doubtless that background did deter a lot of scrutiny he'd otherwise have gotten.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wednesday evening I came home to find yellow tape blocking the stairs. I tried a side door but found, in accord with past experience, that none of my keys work in it. As it was after hours I had no alternative but to stoop under the tape so I could get to my apartment, even though the new paint on the stairs was still sticky.

Yesterday a neighbor told me she has a key that lets her in the side door. She said she'd show me the trick when she sees me again, but I don't know when that will be as I'm not even sure where she lives.

Meanwhile another neighbor had pointed out that the usual procedure is to paint stairs one side at a time, so that residents don't have to look for alternate routes.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I seemingly had a paranormal experience about half an hour ago, in which I saw a statue move. Unfortunately it was just a dream. But I was so excited at the time that, in my attempts to get others to see it too, I apparently vocalized (indistincty) through my sleep paralysis, much as I've done during certain nightmares. After I'd failed at that the statue, which looked like a mixed-media sculpture of an African goddess resembling Whoopi Goldberg, apported and tossed me a red and white umbrella. As if to make light of the situation I said "Two, two umbrellas!" after the manner of The Count on Sesame Street, and she obliged me with another one. That's when I awoke, heart pounding.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The mosquito women really got inside my head." -- Andrew Murphy

What's that you say -- you want context? That would spoil all the fun! But here's a clue: it was said at Philcon.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

If the Tea Party are going to call themselves that, they should really do something more like the original Tea Party -- like, say, gather at a Boston pier disguised as Native Americans and dump a bunch of sick infants without health insurance in the harbor.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Consciousness, as far as I can tell, is a consequence of the laws of the Universe, not an ingredient of them." — physics Nobelist Frank Wilczek, speaking at Penn this evening

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Herman Cain isn't at all put off by the Apocalyptic insinuations about his "999" plan. In fact the campaign is encouraging supporters to have it tattooed on their foreheads. It'll be called "the mark of Cain."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When trade is outlawed, only outlaws can profit from trade -- a thought I had after a radio discussion of economic sanctions on Iran

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

God's Gift to Women

That's how I went to the Gate Munch Saturday, the fourth time I've used that costume. As always people loved it. I donated a bag of organic wheat berries from Weaver's Way Co-Op for the food drive they're taking part in, called I <3 It In The Can . On Sunday I had a first date with someone Ive known for several years . We had dinner and saw _The Ides of March _. Good thing we both like political movies -- and that she loves George Clooney.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Great Moments in History

Today's anniversary of the (European) discovery of the Caribbean reminded me of a sketch on one of the comedy/variety shows when I was a kid -- it was either _Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In_ or _The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour_:

Boy Columbus is in school and the teacher is telling the class that the world is flat. Then Columbus stands up dramatically and declares, "No! You're wrong!"

The teacher is taken aback and demands, "What do you mean?"

Columbus goes on, "The Earth IS'NT flat. The Earth is shaped... like a CHICKEN!"

Occupy, so we can all be occupied

I'm getting sick and tired of letters to the editor perpetuating hoary old stereotypes about protesters. So I've submitted this letter to Metro:

I'm employed, so I can't take part in the Occupy movement full time. But if I could I would. Capitalism by its nature can't give everyone a job -- only fear of unemployment can force people to work for less money than their labor creates, with the difference going to non-working owners -- so I'm glad that after fifty years I'm finally seeing a movement broad enough to begin building an alternative to this system, one that could guarantee everyone decent work at a living wage and an equal vote in how profits are reinvested.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

In one of my dreams last night I read about "take," the practice (according to the article) of geeky people going around without their shirts. It quoted one of them explaining how it helps him deal with his emotional issues, then described his wife making a supportive comment while giving his back an affectionate rub.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Quote of the Year

"The beginning is near." -- slogan on one of the countless handmade signs at Occupy Philly, seen 7 October 2011

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Chamber of Commerce Can't Balance Its Own Books

Some people like to say only capitalists know how to run government efficiently. This story from the Public Record might appear to refute that claim:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Take the Offensive Against Gerrymandering

I just sent an email under that header to both my state legislators, as follows:

I hope you will do more than simply oppose the politically motivated attempt to change the way Pennsylvania chooses its presidential Electors. Democrats should take this opportunity to push for reforms that could end gerrymandering altogether.

The key is to point to the hypocrisy of the rhetoric about "making every vote count." Right now, inasmuch as this is a "purple" state, every voter has a modest chance to affect the outcome by coming out and voting, no matter what part of PA te lives in. By contrast, if the Corbett/Pileggi "reform" is adopted, only voters in the "purple districts" — basically the Philly suburbs  — will still have any chance of affecting the outcome. Urban and rural voters alike will no longer have any motive for getting to the polls. That's because this legislation wouldn't abolish "winner-take-all" — it would only shift the operation of that principle from the state to district level.

The real alternative is proportional representation on the state level. This is the type of system whereby 10% of PA voters can choose 10% of the state's Electors, no matter how they're distributed throughout the state. Various forms of PR exist, such as cumulative voting and the ranked-list system; they're all described at the web site of the Center for Voting and Democracy.

Adopting PR for the Electoral College would make every vote count even more than it does now, since it would no longer be necessary for the election to look "close" to give each vote the sense that te has a significant chance of affecting the outcome. Further, there's no reason to limit this principle to presidential elections; we can advocate it for the state legislature as well, and roll it all up into one bill. (We could also include PA's congressional delegation, but this part would likely be struck down until US Code Title I is amended to no longer require single-seat districts.) Proposing to "amend" the present bill by substituting PR for single-Elector districts would put Pileggi & Co. on the defensive by showing that only our plan actually advances the goal that his only pretends to serve; at the same time, by applying PR to other state elections simultaneously, it would completely eliminate any possibility of gerrymandering, since districts themselves would become passe. And if any currently "red" states followed PA's example, that would tend to cancel out any loss of Democratic Electors owing to Pennsylvania.

Friday, September 23, 2011

It's Not What We Don't Know...

I just sent this letter to the Public Record in response to an article in their "You Need to Care About Your Healthcare" section.

The title of your article, "What You Don't Know Can Kill You," is rather ironic, in that its very first statement, "[H]eart attacks are [the] #1 cause of death for Americans," is something we don't actually know.

Why do I say this? Because eight years ago, after my mother died, I was dismayed to discover that doctors are expected to pronounce a cause of death even if they're not really sure, and that my mother's doctor declared her death as being due to heart attack without having physically examined her — based solely on a telephonic communication that was significantly incomplete as to the circumstances in which she was found. She decided to give heart attack as the cause of death simply because, she said, this often strikes people of my mother's age (78) without any prior warning.

This may well be, and it may well be that this is what my mother died from — but if doctors are often making guesses like this, they could often be getting it wrong, and we would really have no way of knowing. In fact, this sort of error would tend to feed on itself in a snowball effect: the more doctors guess heart attack as a cause of death, the higher the statistic for deaths caused by heart attack without prior warning, and so the more likely doctors are to pronounce this cause of death based simply on a guess — and so on.

In no way do I want to minimize the importance of everyone's looking after their heart health. But neither do we want to overlook other possible causes of death because of a possibly exaggerated figure for the number of deaths due to heart attack. Nor would we, in individual cases, wish to close an inquiry prematurely due to an ill-founded assumption that the cause of death is already known. By doing so, we might miss out on important information that would help us forestall our own deaths.

As a general moral principle, it is horrendous that the law actually compels doctors to pretend to a certainty that in many cases they don't really have. Pretended certainties are one of the biggest sources of mischief in our world. Stephen Hawking put it this way: "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge." Or as Mark Twain said, "What gets me in trouble isn't what I don't know, it's the things I know that just ain't so." We should urge our lawmakers to repeal this unwarranted mandate of an artificial, pretended certainty. Let's get used to openly acknowledging our ignorance, when ignorant is what we are.

I will be sending copies of this letter to my state legislators now.

Double Standard?

I read this quote in today's Metro concerning the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind:

“I loved them. I think they were just a great rock band. They had all the sort of great elements that a rock band has. They had that rebellious stance and a clandestine appeal. They were great-looking and rough and messy. [Emphasis added.] And great songs. The whole package was there.”
— Blondie singer Debbie Harry

Seems only a few weeks ago that I read an interview in which someone was complaining about how she can't play without people's commenting on how good she looks, a complaint that was represented as being common among female rockers. Is what's sauce for the gander not sauce for the goose?

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Book Review Soon to Be Published

The other day I learned that my review of Ranger's Apprentice 8: Kings of Clonmel, will appear in the next issue of ICSA Today, magazine of the International Cultic Studies Association. You can read it here:

Friday, September 09, 2011

Doing It Off the Cuff

After arriving for the bimonthly BiUnity meeting this evening, I discovered it had been canceled on account of flooding in the region. But since two others had also shown up, including one person new to the group -- and since William Way Community Center still had the room reserved for us -- I decided to go ahead with an unofficial meeting so the newbie could get some of his questions answered. It went well.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

From "A Man Harassed with Sound" to "Philly Coverup"

Someone handed me a flier about this a couple weeks ago:

It may be that she was fired for political reasons, but the rest seems like pure paranoia. Chances are she just had the misfortune that someone who held a grudge was looking on, unbeknownst to her, when she volunteered for the "wrong" candidate, and decided to tell her boss. It's not likely that a conspiracy was stalking her.

This kind of delusion is apparently shared by many, however. A couple years ago someone rose to speak about it during the Q&A portion of the local ACLU annual meeting. He called it "gangstalking" and a Web search revealed there are thousands of sites concerned with it (though many are just reproductions of the same article). None of them seem to provide any solid evidence, however. Indeed, some will claim that the gangstalkers intentionally avoid leaving any hard evidence of their actions, just so other people will think you're crazy!

Many, though not all, of these people seem to have a world-view suggestive of the "kook right." I asked the publisher of The Skeptic's Dictionary if he knew anything about it, but he'd never heard of "gangstalking" and noted the improbability of such an apparently huge conspiracy so successfully hiding itself from the public at large.

The paranoia of the speaker from the floor at the ACLU meeting was suggested by the fact that in the course of his remarks, he asked those running the meeting to get a certain man standing near him to "stop touching me." Note that the publisher of the above site also complains of strange women touching her on public transit, as if it were part of a conspiracy to make her crazy.

This is reminiscent of ads I used to see in the Daily Pennsylvanian back in the Eighties. They would ask if anyone knew about "a man harassed with sound," evidently referring to the ads' author. He claimed that various noises were being produced near his home for the purpose of disturbing him, intentionally leaving no hard evidence so others wouldn't believe him. Now that the Web exists, it's easy for paranoiacs like him to find one another and reinforce each other's delusions.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Redistricting Just Doesn't Add Up"

That was the title of an article by municipal reform activist Brett Mandel, published in the latest Public Record. In it, he complains of how the process is fundamentally about "dividing, not uniting" people, and is inherently "disrespectful" because "inevitably one must choose to split some neighborhood, fragment some population, or carve up some community."

This looked to me like a good opportunity to point out an alternative. Here's what I wrote:

Dear editor,

Brett Mandel is more right than he seems to know when he says this. And that's because he isn't right when he says, "One has to draw the lines somewhere." Or at least he doesn't have to be right.

There's an alternative to single-seat, first-past-the-post elections. Already in use in many jurisdictions, it's called cumulative voting. A body such as a city council is elected on an at-large basis, but voters have the option of casting more than one vote for a candidate. For instance, suppose we were to have 17 members of Philadelphia City Council, all elected at-large. Each voter would have 17 votes to cast, but te wouldn't have to divide these votes between 17 different candidates. Te could give all 17 votes to one candidate, 10 to one and 7 for another, or however te liked.

A minority — be it political, ethnic, or of any other sort — that knew it represented, say, about 3/17 of the electorate, could choose to give all its votes to just 3 candidates. The members of this group would still be able to cast just as many votes as anyone else, and could thereby guarantee that they'd get as much representation as any other part of the population, instead of being diluted into invisibility.

Another advantage to this procedure is that it would render partisan primaries clearly unnecessary. No one would be pressured to pigeonhole themselves ahead of the general election, and the annual cost of elections to the public would be cut in half.


Setting the Record Straight on Firsts

I've been visiting the websites of the various candidates, and found an inaccurate statement on Karen Brown's (R). I wrote them this correction:

Your statement that Karen Brown is the first female nominee for Mayor of Philadelphia is inaccurate. I turned 18 in 1979, and my first vote was for Nora Danielson, mayoral nominee of the Socialist Workers Party.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I had an amusing experience yesterday. I couldn't access one of my customers the usual way, and when I got to the alternate floor I wasn't sure how to gain access. While weighing whether to try the phone at one end of the elevator lobby or the buzzer at the other, I heard a deep voice say, "This is your conscience, stripey7," and then repeat itself. After a split second of spookiness I realized I was being pranked. Laughing, I asked, "OK, who is it?" Then, through one of the glass doors, I saw someone rise, and knew that was the way to enter. As I got in I recognized him -- he was someone I often see on the usual floor, and is taken to playing around. Sometimes his joking gets annoyingly repetitive, but in this case it was fun.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Stop Facebook's Collective Punishment!

The other day I saw a news item about Facebook's closing the accounts of California prisoners after one accessed his victim's profile. I'm sending them the following letter:

I am angered to read that, in response to one convict's passively viewing his victim's profile, you are now undertaking to identify and close all accounts held by prisoners in California.

You are not a police agency and should not be doing the work of a police agency -- least of all in a way that amounts to collective punishment of all incarcerated Facebook users because of the actions of one.

This policy harms society by making it more difficult for prisoners to reintegrate into the outside world. I urge you to end it immediately.

If you wish to write Facebook about this, their address is:
Facebook, Inc
PO Box 10005
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The consortium's presentations to federal government officials [on a scheme for intelligent rather than random assignment to prescription drug plans] were met politely but coolly. Perhaps its advocates should have called it 'intelligent design.'" -- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (hardcover edition) page 172

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The Internet: where men are men, women are women, and children are FBI agents." -- seen on a hacker flier left in an honor box in Center City Philadelphia

Monday, August 01, 2011

Earlier today I friended Slutwalk Philadelphia, which my friend Kali Morgan had posted about on FetLife.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What a weekend! Yesterday I tried to do my laundry but couldn't finish drying it because Friday without warning a new management took over my building that's no longer opening the office on Saturday so I couldn't reload my laundry card. So today I had to take the still damp clothes to another place a few blocks away and squeeze in a little petitioning on the nominating paper for Richie Antipuna I only got Thursday, then had just enough time to get the clothes home and the papers downtown for notarizing before they're due tomorrow, then back on SEPTA to get to the PhillyCOR picnic. Whew! And after that it was straight to South Philly for the ICSA meeting!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Comments on a Talk by Milt Rosen

A member of the Left Book Group to which I belong has posted a speech by Milt Rosen, a founder of the Progressive Labor Party, on the occasion of his recent death. This has given me a welcome opportunity to expound on some of my thinking on the relations between politics, philosophy, and psychology. You can read the original speech at Here are my comments:

There are some valid points here about the importance of developing relationships with people, even outside of politics, and really listening to them. But I think the implementation of this idea is hampered by the Leninist framework, which tends to lead people to interpret reality more on the basis of what the party (leaders) say, and less on their own experience and that of coworkers and neighbors. This is because of the cognitive dissonance effects that Dennis Tourish (among others) has discussed in his paper, "Ideological Intransigence, Democratic Centralism, and Cultism."

It's interesting that he gives the Chinese Army (pre-Revolution) as an example of how it's possible to incorporate discussion in the context of action. As we now understand, a lot of that "discussion" was probably what the Maoists called thought reform, which they started practicing even before they took power. This involves "struggle," all right, but there's nothing really scientific about it since it involves a high level of psychological coercion. This is also the context in which they developed the concept of "criticism and self-criticism." This doesn't prove that every group employing these terms is a cult, but when they're applied in conjunction with other concepts like democratic centralism that are also conducive to conformity pressure, the hazard to intellectual (and emotional) autonomy is particularly high.

Another key difference with scientific method is that the latter requires controlled experiments. Coming up with a "scientific plan" based on a "correct line" means you are acting on a single hypothesis — not on two or more hypotheses. This means you are not able to compare the relative merits of different ideas, which is fundamental to science. (True, you can compare the relative efficacy of your group's ideas to those of other groups; but you are unlikely either to have unbiased information on which to base such an evaluation, or the psychological ability to evaluate it in an unbiased way, since your group identity is invested in your own hypothesis and you likely regard the other groups as opponents if not class enemies.)

Rosen is doubtless right that sometimes people express differences for selfish reasons and not out of deep conviction. But it's disturbing how readily he attributes some people's "falling away" to an unwillingness to intensify struggle. He claims they had no fundamental differences, but doesn't quote them to prove that they would agree with that statement. On the other hand, this kind of explanation is extremely characteristic of how every cult describes those who leave — it's never for valid reasons, always because the individual was weak or had some flaw. For that matter, one can't even tell from the text that these people actually dropped out of politics; they may simply have chosen to join a different group or continue their activism without an affiliation.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Seen on a bumper sticker: "VERMONT: What happens here, stays here. (But nothing ever really happens.)"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Revolutionary Answer to the Crisis

At the urging of others, I've sent some messages to our political leaders about not throwing workers and the oppressed under the bus in the name of a budget deal. But these pre-formatted messages don't suggest any way around the impasse. So I decided to send my own message addressing the radical danger of financial catastrophe with a radical solution. This is what I wrote on the White House Web comment form:

The President must put an end to Republican budget terrorism by declaring a state of emergency. He should use emergency powers to:

1) Raise the debt ceiling by Executive Order;

2) Implement the People's Budget proposed by members of the House Progressive Caucus, which would create millions of new jobs while reducing the deficit with a deep cut in military spending;

3) Mandate that all US-based corporations offer living-wage jobs with benefits to any who apply for them, as a condition for keeping their corporate charters; and

4) Repeal or modify antitrust laws so that companies can coordinate to achieve greater efficiencies and, in particular, so that they can raise prices as needed to cover increased labor costs resulting from the previous measure.

President Lincoln addressed an earlier national crisis with revolutionary economic measures, expropriating the entire planter class of the rebel states. President Obama can and must do likewise to resolve the present crisis.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

On my after-dinner stroll I encountered someone whose wireless account had run out. I texted his mother that he was at the door.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

These Magnets Are Repulsive

I read today on a screen that Crowne Plaza hotels are now offering "no-snore" rooms, one of whose features is "magnetic pillows" whose embedded magnets supposedly keep sleepers' airways open. This is of course complete nonsense since magnets have no effect on anything but iron, nickel, and cobalt (and moving electric charges). This hotel chain is shamelessly exploiting some people's scientific ignorance.

I looked for contact information for Crowne Plaza hotels, and the only thing I could find that's not specifically for guest feedback is this address for the Americas office of InterContinental Hotels Group LLC,
of which Crowne Plaza is a part:

InterContinental Hotels Group
3 Ravinia Drive Suite 100
Atlanta, GA 30346-2149

I'm writing them today to call on them to stop promoting pseudoscience!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Speak Up Already!

One area in which I've worked to cease being unduly constrained by social anxiety is interaction with fellow pedestrians. As I've started to overcome this problem myself, I've seen in the City Paper's I Love You, I Hate You that others are still mired in self-righteous/helpless blame-someone-else mode. In response to a 7 July ILUIHU titled "Walk Already," I've submitted the following:

Why do some people rant here when they could address a problem for themselves? If someone is walking too slowly for you, why not just ask them to make way? It's really simple -- just say, "Excuse me, could I get past?" They may not even know there's someone behind them. If you find yourself unable to do this, see a therapist!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Last night I went to my third Purgatory party and played with two people -- the one I played with last time, plus another I met and asked for the first time. The second called me "fearless." What a change from just a couple years ago!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

I put a check in the mail this morning for Bothwell for Congress. Cecil Bothwell ( is the strong progressive challenging the Blue Dog incumbent in next year's Democratic primary to represent North Carolina's 11th district. If elected, he'll be the first person to join Congress as an open atheist, laying to rest the notion that this isn't possible.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Today I saw a table whose banner announced "The Truth About Drugs." Even from a distance something about the design told me this was a Scientology banner. So as I passed I informed a bunch of people who'd taken pamphlets that they were "Scientology cult literature."

Saturday, July 02, 2011

At last week's ICSA meeting, I learned about an unethical dominant who's running a BDSM cult. I'm consulting with someone prominent in the community on how best to spread an alert about this person.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bradley Manning No Longer in Solitary!

Just got this great news about Pfc. Bradley Manning, who's been persecuted for blowing the whistle on "collateral murder" by US armed forces:

I have some great news from Bradley Manning. He has been moved from his abusive solitary confinement in Quantico to a new cell in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Yesterday Bradley's lawyer released this statement to his supporters:

PFC Manning's overall mood and demeanor has greatly improved. PFC Manning is able to maintain regular contact with his defense team. He receives weekly written updates, phone calls and visits from defense counsel. In addition, he receives regular visits from family. Finally, PFC Manning also receives hundreds of letters from supporters every week. He wishes to extend his sincere appreciation to those who have taken the time to send along their thoughts and well-wishes.
You did this. Thanks to you, Bradley went from being forced to strip naked nightly at Quantico to a new life in Fort Leavenworth. We disrupted the government's campaign of abuse and intimidation, and with your support, we won this fight for Bradley.

There's still so much more to be done in our fight for justice. Can you help Firedoglake continue our important work by chipping in $5 now?

Nearly 60,000 Firedoglake activists like yourself spoke out and rallied for the humane treatment for Bradley Manning. Along the way, we had to fight the Pentagon, the State Department, and even the President himself.

Together, we picked apart claims by government witnesses, doggedly pursued reporters to debunk official propaganda and helped organize actions online and offline that made the difference for stopping the abuse of Bradley Manning.

Bradley is now free to exercise, socialize with other detainees, write and receive letters, and even go outside. He sleeps with a normal pillow and blanket without interruption, and he can keep his clothes on at night.

How do we sustain this kind of campaign? Firedoglake has served as a forceful counterweight to entrenched corporate insiders and ineffective DC groups on issues from Bradley Manning, to auditing the Federal Reserve, and winning student loan reform. But it's hard to sustain our current path when we're up against a corrupt political establishment that is determined to abandon the rule of law.

Can you help us continue our fight for justice and the rule of law? Please chip in $5 to support our work.
This incredible turn of events for Bradley Manning was possible thanks to your continuous support. There's much more to do for Bradley Manning and the pursuit of justice across our country. With your help, we can continue to succeed.

Thanks for all you do.

- Brian
Brian Sonenstein
Digital Strategy Director

Saturday, June 25, 2011

At the Green Party of Philadelphia meeting Thursday evening, I met the nominee for City Commissioner, Richie Antipuna. I'd been present at the previous meeting where he was endorsed, but hadn't introduced myself to him. I explained that I'd like to help petition to put him on the ballot, but prefer not doing so for the Sheriff candidate, Cheri Honkala, about whom I have some concerns based on my experience in the Labor Party in the '90s. Though he said he was sorry to hear that, he was understanding, evidently having encountered this issue before. He said he'd arrange for me to get petitions with only his name on it.

Although I circulated a modified petition in 2008 too, I seem to remember raising the question with a lot more trepidation then, even though I did so with Hilary Aisenstein (now Kane), whom I knew already, and she already had some idea I might want to do so. So I feel the ease with which I acted on my concerns this time reflects the greater comfort I've attained in exercising my political autonomy even within a group setting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Last night I saw the documentary Two Spirits, about a Navajo teen named Fred Martinez who was murdered because he expressed both masculine and feminine personae -- a characteristic described in some Native cultures as having "two spirits." Traditionally such people were treated with reverence because they were believed able to cross boundaries of other sorts as well in ways other people couldn't.

It's instructive to see how cultures can differ not only in the attitudes they take toward gender-variant people, but even in how they classify them -- "two spirits" is sometimes translated as "transgender" but it may also be applied to those who are simply homosexual, for instance. I think this points to the fact that the map is not the territory, and all our labels are fundamentally conventions which may help us communicate about the world, but nonetheless carve it up in ways that are always somewhat arbitrary.

The film was screened at WHYY's headquarters as part of the Community Cinema series, and one of the panelists discussing it afterward is organizer of the campaign to end SEPTA's policy of requiring gender stickers on Transpasses, which have resulted in denial of service and other forms of harassment for transgender people. During Q&A I elicited some laughter from the audience by pointing out that ironically, this policy also discriminates against heterosexual couples because its purported purpose is to prevent pass sharing between significant others, which only works if they're of the opposite sex.

I've started practicing limited daily fasting, as advocated by Paul McGlothin and Meredith Averill in their book The CR Way, as a means of inducing the physiological state of hormesis, which switches on longevity-promoting SIRT genes. My current circumstances allow me to fast longer during the day than overnight, so I'm simply skipping lunch. Yesterday I fasted over 16 hours, and the day before nearly 17. As I noted previously, it's not very hard to endure a little hunger when you understand that it's beneficial.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

...Getting Better All the Time

Two weeks ago, as I reported previously, I finally found myself able to ask people to play with me at the Purgatory party. Last night I did so again, and this time someone agreed. Turned out our interests complimented almost perfectly, and we had a very good time. I'll be friending her on Fetlife.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dangerous Talk » Atheists as a Political Force

This post by Staks Rosch looks like an excellent idea:

Dangerous Talk » Atheists as a Political Force

It really bothers me that we can’t come together to form a strong voter block. I keep hearing excuses why we can’t do it and that just seems silly and lazy to me.

Atheists are a very diverse group and we are fiercely independent. Yeah, I get that and yes, the only thing we have in common is our lack of belief. I get that too. But I think those within the greater community of reason have other things in common too. We tend to be humanistic, we support reason over faith, education, critical thinking, science, and surprise, surprise most of us are pretty liberal and even down right progressive.

While we are independent thinkers and organizing atheists is comparable to herding cats, I think most of us are smart enough to realize the advantages of electing reasonable atheists to public office. This alone should be incentive enough to work together and get reasonable atheists elected to public office.

I am tired of the excuses. I know that many atheists groups can’t endorse candidates, but as the religious people have shown, there are ways around that. There really is no excuse for the inaction of the greater community of reason.

I am calling for all atheist bloggers, facebook uses, twitter uses, reddit uses, etc. to join together and help to get Cecil Bothwell elected. Leaders of atheist organizations can help too just by using their e-mail list to let people know an atheist is running. They don’t have to endorse a candidate. In fact, they can even talk about the other candidate and let their members choose for themselves who the reasonable candidate is.

In politics, money matters. If we all can donate a little bit to his campaign and that of other reasonable atheists running for office, we can show that we are a political force. Other politicians will start to think twice about invoking religion and some politicians might even come out of the closet and try to get our support.

What we can’t have is this negativity. No more excuses! No more of this “atheists can’t win” nonsense. We have to spread the meme that we can win and that we will do it together. So if you really want to change the overly religious politics in this country, then you have to put in some effort. Not praying is not enough.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I lost my weekly Transpass today, but didn't know this till I got a call from the man who'd found it. He waited several minutes for me to come and retrieve it and declined the dollar bill I offered him for his trouble.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Trumka Running for President?

He hasn't said so, but it's encouraging how blunt he's been lately about his dissatisfaction with Democratic leaders, as described in this article:

They're already trying to preempt a challenge from the left: today I saw a sticker on a light pole reading "2012" with the Obama logo inside the "0," and below in smaller letters, "I'm in!" So I wrote "TRUMKA FOR PREZ" on a blank label and placed it directly above; and above that, by way of partial explanation, a leftover sticker for the 9 April antiwar march.

I'm thinking of trying to spread the meme "Trumka running for president" on the Web in hopes of getting it reported as "trending." I heard of someone who successfully did that, merely in a spirit of mischief, for "Muslim leader converts to Christianity."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Being called a socialist is a step up for me." -- AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, speaking to Bloomberg News. Works for me, too!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The "Myth" of Repressed Memory

I was perusing the Skeptical Inquirer the other day, where it reported on Elizabeth Loftus' having received an award for defending her work on the creation of false memories. I took the occasion to write the following to the editor:

I was reading your coverage of Elizabeth Loftus's recent award for demonstrating the malleability of memory. She certainly deserves recognition for the courage with which she defended her findings and testified to their relevance in many legal cases.

That said, it's problematic that so many skeptics seem willing only to acknowledge the alterability of memory in the direction of its artificial creation, and not its intentional suppression.

For several years I remembered the following: at age 12 I became curious about my family's past, so my mother showed me where some old documents were. One of these was my father's curriculum vitae. Suddenly, midway through reading it, I said loudly, "Why are you wasting your time looking at all these stupid old papers? You have more important things to do with your time!" I hastily put them away and left the room. Even as I did so, I realized my behavior was strange, but I didn't look back.

When I was seventeen, my mother told me something I hadn't known: she'd had another husband before my father, named Harold Diamond. Almost immediately I felt that something seemed familiar about that surname, but I couldn't place it. Within a few years, the whole name also seemed familiar, but I still didn't know why. Finally, while again pondering it, I saw the printed words in my mind's eye: "Married Alma Diamond in 1951." And immediately remembered where I'd seen them: in my father's c.v.! Now I recalled the split second that had been missing before: seeing that sentence and immediately averting my eyes and chiding myself on "wasting my time." A little later I visited my mother and asked to look at the c.v. again. There the sentence was, just as I remembered.

My brother, similarly, has over the years recalled several incidents he'd forgotten, clearly not because they were insignificant but because of how significant, in a disturbing way, they were. (He recently wrote about one of these on his blog.) To the best of my knowledge all of his repressed memories, like mine, were recovered without the use of hypnosis, and in at least one case his memory, like mine, received some independent verification.

Can I, in a scientifically rigorous sense, prove that the above is a true account of the history of my memory? Probably not, since life isn't a controlled experiment. I can only attest — and will solemnly affirm, on a stack of Skeptical Inquirers if you like — that had anyone asked me, between the ages of 12 and 17, whether my parents had previously been married, I would have answered in all sincerity, "No, not to my knowledge." And there is, after all, no reason to regard this as any less plausible, a priori, than the creation of false memories. It's just harder, for practical and ethical reasons, to demonstrate in a laboratory.

Now, there may be some specialist sense in which these memories don't meet some technical definition of "repression." But I'm pretty darn sure they are exactly what the average person in the street thinks of when te hears that phrase. So to have a book titled The Myth of Repressed Memory, without the author even making some sort of cavil about it when giving speeches or interviews, is very problematic. When the term "myth" is being applied to something that millions of people have firsthand experience with, I suspect the effect is not so much to discredit false memories, as to discredit the skeptics who are trying to make people aware of this issue.
Years ago the Skeptical Inquirer bore this cover line: "Hypnosis Is Not a Truth Serum." This is quite true and of great importance where abuse allegations are concerned. But from this factual statement, to baselessly calling repressed memories a "myth," is a huge leap of logic — one which consistent skeptics will refrain from.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Yesterday someone called to me from her car. It was a receptionist I'd invited to an evening of spoken word a few weeks ago, but had never given me a confirmation call. It turns out she'd lost my number. I'd nearly given upon her but now am again optimistic it may come to something.

Monday, June 06, 2011

I've got to admit, I'm getting better...

And Saturday night was another breakthrough. I went to one of The Black Phoenix Club's Purgatory play parties, asked or told several people I was interested in playing with them, and exchanged contact info with a few. I hadn't done this with more than one or two people in the 8 1/2 years I'd been involved in the kink community. I also, before the night was out, developed the will to "dress down" in the hope of attracting more interest; it somehow hadn't occurred to me previously that I might do this even if I wasn't already playing with someone. It's also true I hadn't been to this type of party for a couple years, so this may reflect progress I'd been making incrementally over that whole period which only now had the opportunity of expressing itself.

Particularly nice was that, near party's end, I got in a conversation with a woman who turned out also to have serious social anxiety problems. It was stimulating to exchange perspectives and talk about coping mechanisms etc. with someone who shares this as a personal interest.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Woo Hoo! Rafah Border Reopened

This actually happened a little while ago but I heard a report reminding me of it yesterday. It's particularly gratifying to hear since I spent a few days in Rafah while volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement.

The man who eventually agreed to let my affinity group stay over in his house and take turns listening for tanks (as described in an earlier post) took us within a few hundred feet of the border. He cautioned us not to step out from behind the building for fear the guards in the tower would shoot at us, so instead I peered at the no man's land through my camera. Our host-to-be also commented bitterly on how the "peace" agreement between Egypt and Israel had created this oppressive situation, where previously people could move freely.

I should email my friend Emad, whom I also met in Rafah and who put up me and Joe Bailey the night before (IIRC), to share my happiness about this turn of events.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I just left Sen. Rand Paul a message thanking him for his efforts to counter the so-called Patriot Act's infringements on our liberties.

An Independent Candidate for City Commissioner

This past Thursday evening, the Green Party of Philadelphia voted unanimously to nominate Richie Antipuna as their candidate for City Commissioner. Richie has been an activist based in the Kensington area for some time; his cable TV show brought attention to the "Kensington Strangler" killings before authorities or other media were taking them seriously, to name just one of the community issues he's worked on. He now has a network of supporters based in all parts of the city and elsewhere. I look forward to helping elect him.

It should not be hard to stir up interest in his campaign in my new neighborhood of Germantown, as many feel that the outgoing district councilwoman, Donna Reed Miller, engaged in a lot of electoral dirty tricks. The City Commissioners' job is to ensure that elections are run fairly, so having someone independent in that office would revive confidence in the electoral process.

You can view Richie's show at

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Starting on a New Diet

The other day I started trying to practice a calorie restriction (CR) diet. The point of this is not to lose weight (I'm not currently overweight or not by much anyway), but to increase one's likely longevity and overall state of health by keeping fasting blood glucose levels low. Too soon to see results (I haven't gotten a glucose meter yet), but the striking thing is how different the same physical sensation can seem depending on one's attitude toward it. Previously hunger would tend to make me anxious, based on a supposition that it's evidence of a condition threatening to my well-being. But now that I understand moderate hunger is actually a sign of a healthful condition, it rarely disturbs me at all.

Call to Stop War Spending!

This courtesy of USLAW (US Labor Against the War):
This week, the House is expected to debate and vote on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) - the bill authorizing spending $553 billion for the Pentagon and another $118 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is time we brought our troops home from Afghanistan and stopped wasting billions of dollars we need at home. The last thing Congress should be doing is authorizing endless war, but that's exactly what the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act does.
Call Congress today, using this toll free number 1-888-231-9276*. The calls started yesterday, and we want to keep pressure on Congress until the vote which is expected on Thursday.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Out Candidate Almost Wins, World Almost Ends

OK, the latter is an exaggeration. But Sherrie Cohen, whom I helped get on the primary ballot and then did phonebanking and leafleting for in the last days of the campaign, was first runner-up in Philadelphia's City Councillor-at-large race, falling just 1600 votes shy of winning a seat. And it was her first run for office. Not bad!

I also made myself a new reusable placard to show the End Timers leafleting on May 20. Unfortunately I only found one of them, but the sign evoked favorable comments from others and sparked a good conversation on the subway ride home. Among the slogans were "It's never too late to kick the faith habit" and "Reality speaks to us through our senses and NO WISE ELSE."

Sorry for Being a Stranger

It's been a while since I posted much here, on account of my no longer having Internet access from home, and being preoccupied with matters related to my having to move.

I'm not wired from my new home yet, but now that the move is accomplished I hope to post more regularly again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Objectivity .NE. Centrism

The latest On the Media had a discussion about whether NPR is biased. While it was acknowledged that media fragmentation has led to a lack of consensus about what constitutes the "center," no one questioned that said "center" is a relevant reference point for defining bias. I made the following comment (which had to be edited slightly before submission because of a character limit):

The fundamental flaw in this discussion is the unexamined assumption expressed by the phrase, "journalism that tries to stick to the center and tell both sides." This assumes 1) that there are only two sides to an issue, and 2) that somehow the "center," whatever that means, is more likely to be right than any other position.

One sees how ridiculous these assumptions are if we do a historical thought experiment. At one time, the "center" was undecided on whether slavery was right or wrong. Does that mean a journalist who acted on the usual assumptions of today would have been biased in doing totally antislavery reporting, but unbiased by giving the proslavery position equal time? How can what was biased then be unbiased now, and vice versa? Plainly such an approach is not unbiased at all, but is instead biased against change. The study you discussed, which found the Inquirer's "pro-peace" bias on Palestine/Israel to effectively favor locking in the status quo, is just one example of this.

Also, on any particular question, one side favors a change from the status quo while the other wants to preserve it. So you can give equal time to both sides on various issues, but still skew your coverage simply by your decisions about what issues to cover.

Often what we would now view as the right position would have been considered totally fringe at one time. The "doughnut" approach is fundamentally at odds with freedom of thought because it rules out positions which may in fact be correct, simply because they are presently unpopular. To be truly objective (to the extent humanly possible), journalists must stop worrying about what is or is not the "center" and simply try to report all the relevant facts that come to light. As in science, the corrective to individual biases will be found not in a cult of "objectivity" that really masks a centrist bias but, rather, in the interplay of the different perspectives of multiple journalists, each helping to check and correct the bias of others.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Support the Nadler-Lee-Stark Amendment

The Nadler-Lee-Stark amendment will be voted on today or tomorrow.

The Congress is voting on a Continuing Resolution to authorize funding for 2011. Continuing resolutions are used when a new budget has not been adopted. It allows the government to continue to operate while debate continues on the budget.

This amendment to the Continuing Resolution, which will set the budget for FY 2011, would strike $90 billion from the proposed $100 billion allotted for Afghanistan, leaving $10 billion for the withdrawal of US troops.

Call the Capitol Switchboard TODAY: (202)-224-3121.
Ask your member of Congress to vote in favor of this amendment.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Missing the Forest for the Mystery Lights

At a PhACT meeting recently, George Hansen complained to me that, in a couple of earlier posts ("Review: The Trickster and the Paranormal" and "This Movie Is for the Birds"), I had misrepresented him by saying he portrayed Linda Moulton Howe as a credible source of information (and I had added that I thought this reflected negatively on his own powers of critical judgment). He said that, on the contrary, he had written about how "even her friends sometimes become exasperated at her for uncritically accepting information from government personnel." I said I'd reread that part of his book and issue a correction if necessary.

I've now reread the section in question. It's true that he makes the statement about her uncritical reporting of claims by government personnel. But that's a very limited criticism compared to what I observed when she spoke at the Central Library in 2002, which didn't even involve quoting government sources. As I wrote in my review of Hansen's book, Howe failed to see evidence of the artifactual nature of "mystery lights" that was literally staring her in the face, instead seeming to see only further "mystery" in it. Likewise, she irrationally dismissed the revelation by the two Englishmen about having made crop circles — with a demonstration of how they did it — on the grounds that these two men couldn't be responsible for circles on multiple continents. This totally missed the real point of their revelation, which was that if they could do it, anyone could do it. And evidently many have.

Compared to this, what is Hansen's observation that Howe is unduly credulous about claims coming from government sources? Why, it's hardly anything. He ascribes to her such broad positive traits as "incredible energy, tenacity, and dedication" as well as "integrity ... above reproach," yet he doesn't see fit to criticize her incredible obtuseness when it comes to recognizing information that disconfirms her beliefs? Such an imbalance might be called "praising with faint damnation," and borders on dishonesty in my book. Unless, of course, he doesn't mention her obtuseness because he shares it with her.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Critical Thinking Discussed, Not Applied on NPR

Today's Morning Edition discussed a study that purported to show that a large fraction of college students aren't learning critical thinking skills. This may well be true, but it was never stated how this outcome had been measured — particularly ironic given that Steve Inskeep had opened the interview with a declaration that he'd be applying critical thinking to the study, yet never asked this rather basic question. Here's the comment I posted:

You said you'd apply some critical thinking to the study, but actually did very little. You never asked the guest how it was determined that a third of the students surveyed showed little improvement in critical thinking skills. The only metrics mentioned were the amount of writing done, and how difficult students feel their courses are. Neither of these bears any necessary relation to critical thinking. One can write at great length, but if the teacher gives a high grade simply for regurgitating what he said, no critical thinking need be involved. On the other hand, if a professor knows how to teach critical thinking really well, the student might find it very easy despite the fact that he's learning a lot.

Some good ways to measure such skills can be imagined. For instance, one could ask a person to read an essay and then identify all the fallacies it contains. This might involve very little writing — none at all if administered orally — but would still provide a definite measure of critical thinking skills. But the guest said nothing about whether this or any similarly relevant test was actually employed in the study.
You can read a transcript of the story at