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!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Election Day Experience

The 20 December issue of Germantown Chronicle carried a column by Republican activist J. Matthew Wolfe titled "Democrats Investigate Election Problems but Avoid the Real Election Fraud." I'd been thinking for a while about writing the City Commisssioners about some aspects of my experience on the election board, but had been unsure of how to proceed or whether it would get any attention. This column made me realize I didn't need to rely on the Commissioners' interest to express my concerns. I wrote the paper as follows:

Matt Wolfe's opinion piece has prompted me to describe my own experience on Election Day, when I served as a Machine Inspector. There was a Minority Inspector at my polling place (59/21), but I have reason to be skeptical about how effectual he was. The elected Judge of Election, I was given to understand, had not shown up, so someone from another division was filling in for her.

Although she had presumably received the same training I had, this substitute Judge of Election seemed oblivious of a basic rule that is stated unambiguously in the training paper: the Judge of Election is not permitted to assist a voter with voting. The reason for this rule is readily apparent: as a partisan officer in charge of the polling place, "assisting" voters can easily be abused to exercise undue influence on their choices.

For much of the day, this Judge of Election was routinely opening the curtains for voters. While this might be seen as a courtesy, she also frequently offered (prohibited) assistance when none had even been asked for. In one case I clearly heard her assume, "You want to vote straight Democrat." When I told her she wasn't permitted to assist voters, she acted as if I were just inexperienced and didn't know what I was talking about. Eventually the Majority Inspector joined me in calling her on this, and she finally relented. She didn't acknowledge that she'd been doing anything wrong, however, and represented that she was leaving the assisting to me "now that I see you know how." I'd always known how; I just hadn't offered it when not asked. (And unlike her, when I did, I was strictly nondirective.)

For a little while the Judge of Election left to vote in her own division, and I filled in for her at the table. I observed a good bit of confusion. The Minority Inspector, who preceded me in the procedural sequence, repeatedly put the same number on two consecutive voters' cards. I don't know what partisan purpose this could have served and, as he looked past retirement age, I supposed it was innocent error. Still, the confusion and extra work it created for me were frustrating.

Afterward, it struck me as odd that, whereas the Majority Inspector had eventually joined me in taking the Judge of Election to task for her improper conduct, the Minority Inspector -- whose role would seem more logically to encompass this -- had not spoken up. It's possible she'd only "assisted" while he was out of the room, and that I didn't notice this because I was focused on what she was doing and what I could do to stop it myself; but she did it so much, he must have been absent quite a bit for that explanation to hold water.

Short of abolishing party primaries and ballot columns -- in my view the ideal solution -- the best strategy for curbing such abuses is to build a credible opposition -- one whose values are in sync with those of most Philadelphians.This is one reason I'm a Green.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Definition of the Day

Fanfare, n. food eaten by fans. (Ex.: "He provisioned the con suite with great fanfare.")

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Republican state senator Dominic Pileggi has proposed that Pennsylvania change the way we choose our Presidential Electors. He did so last year as well, in a way that was easily criticized for its potential to "lock in" an unfair GOP advantage based on gerrymandering, because it would have let each Congressional district choose its own Elector.

His new proposal is different. Now -- except for two Electors who would still be determined by the statewide plurality -- he'd like us to choose them by proportional representation. While his likely partisan motivations are just as obvious as before, this strikes me as a progressive proposal, and I have written him, as well as my own state legislators, to express my support. Here's the text of my letter to Sen. Shirley Kitchen:

I support Sen. Pileggi's proposal to adopt proportional representation (PR) in our presidential elections. As the prospects of our continuing to be viewed as a "close" state appear to be dimming, this would restore the average voter's sense that te has some chance of affecting the outcome. As other states followed our example, it would also reduce the danger of a popular vote/electoral vote mismatch while gradually familiarizing people with PR, thereby making it easier to extend it to other elections such as for state legislatures and Congressional delegations -- which would, in turn, better guarantee the representativeness of these bodies by eliminating the role of gerrymandering.

I am proposing that the Green Party also endorse this measure, as PR has long been one of the electoral reforms it supports.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Trouble With Steven Spielberg’s 'Lincoln'

The Nation  November 26, 2012

The Trouble With Steven Spielberg’s 'Lincoln'

Jon Wiener

Daniel Day Lewis deserves the Oscar for best actor for his wonderful portrayal of Lincoln in the new Steven Spielberg movie. But while the acting is great, there’s a problem with the film: it is dedicated to the proposition that Lincoln freed the slaves. Historians say that’s not quite right. The end of slavery did not come because Lincoln and the House of Representatives voted for the Thirteenth Amendment.

The best work I know about the end of slavery is Eric Foner’s unforgettable book The Fiery Trial: Lincoln and American Slavery, published in 2010, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize and the Lincoln Prize. Foner and many other historians over the last couple of decades have emphasized the central role played by the slaves themselves, who are virtually invisible in this movie. During the three weeks that the movie deals with, Sherman’s army was marching through South Carolina, where slaves were seizing plantations. They were dividing up land among themselves. They were seizing their freedom. Slavery was dying on the ground, not just in the House of Representatives. You get no sense of that in the movie.

In the film Lincoln is dedicated to the great task of getting the House to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. But the film fails to note that Lincoln did not support the Thirteenth Amendment when it was proposed in 1864—by the Women’s National Loyal League, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Lincoln’s view at that point, as Foner shows, was that slavery should be abolished on a state-by-state basis, since slavery had been created by state law. He changed his mind in response to political pressure from Radical Republicans.

According to the film, Lincoln in 1865 was in “a race against time” (this synopsis comes from the semi-official Internet Movie Data Base), because “peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop the amendment abolishing slavery before it can become law.” That is simply not true. The movie focuses on the lame duck Congress that met in January 1865. If it had failed to ratify the amendment, Lincoln had announced that he would call a special session of the new Congress in March, where the Republicans would have a two-thirds majority. It would have passed the amendment easily—slightly more than one month later than the lame-duck Congress featured in the film.

The film makes another false argument, that once the Southern states were back in the union, they would have the power to block the amendment’s ratification, which required the vote of three-quarters of the states. Lincoln and the rest of the Republicans were not going to allow the Confederate state governments to remain in power after surrender—that was what “Reconstruction” was all about. Louisiana, Tennessee and Virginia had already formed new governments that abolished slavery. There was no “race against time”—and thus the central drama of the film is bogus.

Another question raised by the film but not really answered is why the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln issued on January 1, 1863, did not free all slaves. Lincoln knew that, under the Constitution, the president had no power to repeal laws passed by states—including the laws making slavery legal in the South. But he did have the power as commander-in-chief to take action in wartime that he deemed a “military necessity” to save the government—in this case, undermining the Confederacy by declaring its slaves free and recruiting them as Union soldiers. Thus the Emancipation Proclamation was a military measure that applied only to slaves in areas under Confederate control. A half-million slaves in the four border states and West Virginia remained enslaved. Lincoln believed that once the “military necessity” had passed, legislation would be required to end slavery permanently.
Abolitionist critics argued that the Emancipation Proclamation in fact freed no slaves at all. But as Foner explains in The Fiery Trial, the proclamation “was as much a political as a military document.” Before the war Lincoln and many others had argued that slavery should be ended by the states, gradually, and by compensating slaveholders. Now his proclamation “addressed slaves directly, not as the property of the country’s enemies but as persons with wills of their own whose actions might help win the Civil War.” Foner emphasizes the point made by the Abolitionist Wendell Phillips, that the proclamation “did not make emancipation a punishment for individual rebels, but treated slavery as ‘a system’ that must be abolished.”

“Never before had so large a number of slaves been declared free,” Foner concludes. “By making the army an agent of emancipation and wedding the goals of Union and abolition, it ensured that Northern victory would produce a social transformation in the South and a redefinition of the place of blacks in American life.” All that is missing from Spielberg’s film.

It is altogether fitting and proper that this film honor Lincoln. But historians have shown how slavery died as the result of the actions of former slaves. As Eric Foner concludes, “That would be a dramatic story for Hollywood.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Right to Work": Rhetorical Misdirection

The misnamed "right to work" laws are based on an ideological sleight-of-hand. Union shop contracts are enforced not by unions but by employers, because it's their private ownership of the means of production that gives them the power (backed by the state's guns) to exclude people from social production. When they do so they are simply exercising exactly the same right as when they exclude someone -- i.e., decide not to hire them -- for any other reason (aside from those specifically excluded by law like "race" or gender). And they will do so whenever they've judged it's in their interests as capitalists to sign such contracts, just as when they exclude people on any other basis. Laws prohibiting such contracts don't create an actual right to work because they leave untouched the institution that actually stands in its way: capitalist private ownership of productive wealth.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Yesterday I saw the film of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, the first sizable book I ever read at age eight, at Bryn Mawr Film Institute. They made a few changes but it kept to the spirit of the book, and I found the ending moving. It's ironic this film came out in 1970, close to the time I read it, yet I didn't know of its existence till I saw the screening announced in the paper the other day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I was just -- very briefly -- subscribed to a purported hookup site called CitySex. I immediately unsubscribed after ascertaining that the user who supposedly had a crush on me was nonexistent. If you read the terms of service, you'll notice that they actually reserve the right to create such dummy profiles to "promote participation." Don't waste your time on them!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Campaign to Rein In Criminal Landlords

My friend Deborah is campaigning for legislation that would facilitate coordination between agencies on different levels to help identify and rein in criminal landlords, such as the one who killed her friend and fellow tenant activist Roben Woodson. She particularly would like assistance in drafting a petition on Change.Org to push for this legislation.

To help Deborah with the petition or any other aspect of this work, contact her at

Monday, October 15, 2012

You know what this means, don't you? Now Roswell really HAS had a visitor from outer space!

Salvation Road play soon to be produced in New York City and Louisville, KY

I have seen this play and it is excellent. If you are living in either of these areas please go see it. The information is forwarded from ICSA's Michael Langone:

SALVATION ROAD, a new play by D.W. Gregory about the cult experience, will be produced at the New York University Steinhardt School of Educational Theatre Oct. 26 to Nov. 4. Tickets are $15 and can be obtained online at

An early version of the play was originally presented in a staged reading at the ICSA's 2008 conference in Philadelphia.


When his hip older sister Denise disappears with members of a fundamentalist church, 17-year-old Cliff Kozak struggles to hold it all together, pretending that he isn't hurt by her decision to cut him out of her life. But a year later, a chance sighting of Denise at a New Jersey strip mall leads Cliff and his best buddy Duffy on a road trip into the heart of a deepening mystery. Why would a smart and talented girl like Denise fall for the hollow promises of a sleazy preacher? Could it be that blind faith is just another term for a desperate need to belong?

Salvation Road also is scheduled for production at Walden Theatre in Louisville, Ky, Nov. 8 to 18. Tickets go on sale three weeks before the production; tickets to public productions are available from the Walden Theatre box office (502) 589-0084.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

17 September 2012: After a period of less focus on my social anxiety disorder, I've started going on the offensive again. The day before my birthday, I decided to cancel the Web part of my wireless service, and also stop taking printed matter with me when I leave home. I did this because these temptations were too strong and were diverting me from taking advantage of opportunities to make conversation and meet new people. This was shortly after deciding to be more selective about things I do after dark, particularly during the week, because I wasn't leaving myself with enough energy even to think of going clubbing -- with the added disadvantage that getting home late often meant not having time and energy to prepare meals for the next day, and ending up spending more on vended food.

The effects of my choice are starting to show. I made good small talk with several attractive women this morning. This included making remarks when I previously would have fatalistically though tthat "the moment had passed." I'm feeling pretty good about myself.

Over the past few months I had four dates with the same woman. The fact that she approached me and suggested we date doubtless did something for my self-confidence, but I think my willingness to break it off with her a few weeks ago (she was only interested in being "friends") probably did more. That would explain the steps I've taken subsequently and the progress I'm now showing.

18 September 2012: I talked with Jim again today. I really appreciate the way he's able to give me frank advice and criticism, like about the importance of eye contact -- not breaking it for extended periods while accessing memories, for example. It's kind of like having a therapist without the fees. Actually, it's kind of like having a parent -- one who involves himself more than mine often did.

I've made some more small talk today. While eating lunch I did some intuitive-type art (as opposed to the highly analytical "math art" I've done more of in the past), featuring oft-outre organic figures as it tends to when I do it. I put my logo on it as a signature and will put it on my wall (or rather a copy of it, as I just ran several off here at the library).

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The radio show Studio 360 asked if listeners had some song, play, book, etc. that changed their lives. This reminded me of something I'd been thinking about already recently (having in fact borrowed a related item from the library in this connection), so I submitted the following as a comment:

At age nine I read Lincoln Barnett's The Universe and Dr. Einstein. It was only my third sizable book, and it came at a time when I was distressed by disorder in the family's situation and a feeling that my parents weren't paying attention to me. I was also starting to get alienated from my schoolmates. I was very moody that year and talked a lot about killing myself.

Although my previous couple books already suggested an intellectual bent, I think that deepened with this one, as the idea that the Universe had a more beautiful, symmetrical order below the surface of things deeply appealed in these circumstances. The significance of this book for me may also be suggested by the fact that it was the first book (or anything else) that I mentally associated with a song that was on the air at the time -- and associated it with another one when I reread it the following year.

On the subway today, a girl sitting next to me was getting repeated calls, evidently from her boyfriend. She asked him why he kept "acting like you think I'm lying" -- it seemed he kept asking where she was and where she was going, even after she'd told him. I thought I really should tell her that this sort of jealousy is a bad sign and is predictive of abusive behavior. I tried to screw up the courage but hadn't managed to by the time we both got off the train and went in different directions.

This is just the fourth day since I decided to cancel mobile Web service and stop taking reading matter with me when leaving home. It's already been conducive to my starting conversations in a couple other cases. But here the fear that I'd be told to "mind my own business" still inhibited me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

I mentioned yesterday that I'm cancelling my mobile Web service. For the same reason, I won't be bringing reading matter to work. I may need certain information from the weekly papers, but I'll wait till after work to pick them up and read them after I get home. I tried something similar a couple years ago, but retreated from the discomfort in a couple days. This time I'm deploying the commitment-and-consistency principle (by publishing all this) to prevent that.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Having mobile Web has cut across my efforts vs. social anxiety disorder. So I'll be cancelling that service tomorrow. I'll keep multimedia for person-to-person only.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Dear Prudence

I've been listening to the second disc of the White Album. I don't hear this song the same way since learning about its origins a couple years ago at the cultic studies conference. Now it has a somewhat sinister undertone.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Still Waiting

This guy has been standing in front of Prince Music Theatre, apparently trying to hail a cab, for years. Probably no coincidence that he's black.

Sent from my Cricket mobile device

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reaching My Limit

Today I attended a rally called "Let's Help Philly Put Romney-nomics to Rest." But I left after half an hour.

It was just too much like an Obama rally, in all but name. I can vote for a lesser evil -- I've been willing to do that for several years -- but I can't rally for one. That just feels too inauthentic.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Honoring Neil Armstrong

I've created a petition calling on the United Nations to hold a memorial for Neil Armstrong. Others are proposing a state funeral, but I see no reason only one country should honor someone whose achievement was significant for all of humanity. You can see and sign the petition here:

Friday, August 24, 2012

ICSA Special Event: The Traumatizing Narcissist and Post-Cult Trauma

This looks interesting and I hope I can attend. It would cost me $65 at the ex-member discount, not including transportation.

ICSA Special Event: The Traumatizing Narcissist and Post-Cult Trauma
Saturday, October 13, 2012
10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Location: The National Institute for the Psychotherapies 250 West 57th Street, Suite 501 New York, NY 10107

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Progress on Paranoid Guy

Since I last wrote about Paranoid Guy, he's shown some improvement. He no longer tells me that I hear voices, but still always mentions, whenever he sees me, that he hears voices. Once that was cleared up, I urged him to seek psychiatric help at some place that would be free or low-cost, since it looks like he may be homeless. But he told me that he couldn't because he's an undocumented immigrant. (He speaks with what I take to be a Russian accent.)

So I mentioned him to someone I know who's involved with GALAEI, who told me Puentes de Salud won't deny him service for being undocumented; that's largely the population they serve. But Paranoid Guy still insisted they'd require a Social Security number. After Ulises assured me they wouldn't, and PG still resisted, I finally made time last Monday to visit them and ask if they could give me something in writing that I could show him. They had no statement about this, but they gave me a card and wrote in the hours they could see him.

Last night, when I encountered PG at the central library, I gave him the card, repeating what they'd told me. He was still talking over me with his conviction that he can't get help, and I worry he's too "out of it" to act on the information I've given him. Still, I think I've done everything possible. I did, right after getting the card, make a sheetful of copies of it so that, if PG fails to act on it the first time, I can give it to him again.

Call Akin on Slut-Shaming

Why is no one talking about what Todd Akin was implying with his recent remark? By saying "legitimate" victims can't get pregnant, he was calling all pregnant women who seek abortions on account of rape *liars*. This is of a piece with Rush Limbaugh's slut-shaming of all women who want reproductive choice.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

In the Small World Department, I ran into my old friend Holly today, who used to live in the same building with me when I was on Broad Street. We caught each other up on some of our activities: my volunteering with the PA Voter ID Coalition, and her starting a business helping people write their resumes. She's also planning to write a book, which I could proofread for credit and possibly royalties. She'll let me know as that plan progresses.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Quotes of the Month

"Socialism will not and cannot be created by decrees; nor can it be established by any government, however socialistic. Socialism must be created by the masses, by every proletarian. Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there they must be broken. Only that is socialism, and only thus can socialism be created." -- Rosa Luxemburg, "Organizational Question of Social Democracy," in Selected Political Writings, edited and introduced by Dick Howard: New York and London, Monthly Review Press, 1971, pp. 396-7.

"The fact is, however, that Social Democracy is not bound up with the organization of the working classes; rather, it is the very movement of the working class. Social Democratic centralism must, therefore, be of essentially other coin than the Blanquist. It can be nothing but the imperative summation of the will of the enlightened and fighting vanguard of the working class as opposed to its individual groups and members. This is, so to speak, a 'self-centralism' of the leading stratum of the proletariat; it is the rule of the majority within its own party organization." -- p.290

"If, with Lenin, we say that opportunism is the attempt to cripple the independent revolutionary class movement of the proletariat in order to make it useful to the power-hungry bourgeois intelligentsia, then in the beginning stages of the labor movement this goal can most easily be reached not through decentralization but precisely through rigid centralism. It is by extreme centralization that the still unclear proletarian movement can be delivered up to a handful of intellectuals." -- p. 301

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

Paterno Sculpture: Why Remove When You Can Re-Purpose?

While I agree with the decision not to leave the Joe Paterno sculpture as it was, they could do something more creative to remember the victims of his negligence. I propose keeping the sculpture but commissioning an addition: the figure of an abused child lying at his feet. That way, he'd now be portrayed leading his team forward while looking straight -- and ignoring what's right under his nose.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Happy Moon Shot Day!

July 20, 2012, was the 43rd anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon -- one of my earliest and most significant memories.

Though at the age of not quite eight, I wasn't yet in the habit of following the news, I sat on the sofa for hours with the rest of my family (father, mother, an older brother) watching the Apollo 11 mission. Because of my young age I kept falling asleep, but my brother would periodically shake me, saying, "Wake up, they're about to land!" So I'd resume watching, and the announcer would say, "They should be landing any minute now" -- and then they wouldn't, and I'd fall asleep again.

I wasn't awake at the moment Neil Armstrong was shown setting foot on the Moon, and even after being roused again I was too sleepy to really comprehend what was on the screen. Only years later did I learn that they'd detected a layer of dust on the surface but didn't know how deep it was, and so were worried it might bury the spacecraft. And they worried they'd have to go home before finding a safe place to land, lest they ran out of air. But they didn't want the public worrying about such things, so they just kept saying that they'd be landing any minute. Still, I'm glad I was "there" for this historic event... sort of.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Two Slogans Seen Yesterday

On a T-shirt, "DOUBT ME": on a button, "If you're happy and you know it clap your... oh," over an image of a dinosaur.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What's Your Eerie Coincidence?

A professor at Cambridge is collecting people's experiences of coincidences that strike them as improbable, with a view to understanding these experiences better. I've submitted one, which is copied below.

In 1997 or thereabout, I was reading a science fiction magazine called Terra Incognita while on the train to a memorial for someone who'd been well known in one of my social circles, named Frank Lovell. I put the magazine away when I arrived at the venue, the Tamiment Labor Library at New York University in New York City. When it was over I left the room and walked to the elevator on the mezzanine level, that of the library. While waiting for the elevator to arrive, I resumed reading the story I was on. It was a story about someone who's received a mysterious job offer, and he has to meet someone in front of a specific building to be interviewed for it. So now I get to the description of where the building is, and it's described as being on a particular side of Washington Square. I realize that I am at that very moment in a building on Washington Square and, further, that it is the only building on the side specified in the story. So I am on the mezzanine level of this building "at the same time" that the protagonist is standing in front of it! Spooky.
You can read this and other people's experiences, submit your own, and learn more about the project at

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nostalgia Is Funny

I once heard it said, "Nostalgia isn't necessarily about missing the times when we were young because they were better, so much as about missing them simply because we were young." Something like this must be involved in the feelings I had about learning of Robin Gibbs' (of the BeeGees) death.
This particular nostalgia must reflect a longing for the lost sense of certainty that I was part of a "special" group. Yet now I recognize that this experience -- especially the part where I was forced out of the group -- did me emotional damage, as well as confining the scope of my intellect for many years thereafter.

Conversely, another tune's associations have improved for me through the same process. As I walked home from the meeting in which the chapter organizer first tried to persuade me to leave the group because of my tendency to think for myself (although he disguised this with a euphemism sufficient to keep me from seeing what I didn't want to see), the music that happened to be running through my head was the theme to the British TV series The Prisoner, which was on Channel 12 at the time. So for quite some time thereafter, this music had very negative associations for me. This now seems particularly ironic: although I didn't realize it then, leaving the YSA was the first step out of a prison.

I heard from Maria again. A few weeks ago we'd made plans for a fourth date, and when I was starting on my way there she called to say she'd been up late the night before and was tired, so she asked to postpone it. But after I messaged her about plans the following weekend, she didn't get back to me. A few days ago I messaged her again, and yesterday left something on her voice mail indicating my displeasure. So today she PMed me back with an explanation that there'd been a death in the family, and she hopes to get together again soon.

That, I can certainly understand. After my father died when I was a teenager, I remember my mother took me out of school and drug me around for a few weeks. There wasn't anything for me actually to do to help her, but it seems she needed my company. And it happened so suddenly that my teachers didn't know what was going on until after the fact.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Discriminating Observations

A column in the latest issue of Metro (6/8/12, p.4) argues that people mistakenly think that forms of discrimination are illegal which are not, and tells people to get over their bias against discrimination, justifying this by reference to biased ideas about only children. I wrote this response:

Danny Cevallos's column is a good example of why we should maintain a presumptive bias against discrimination: the fact that it's so often based on a prejudice not supported by facts.

Cevallos justifies discrimination against only children on the basis of old stereotypes, without offering any evidence that they're true. Frank Sulloway's book Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives has shown that firstborns are more likely than laterborns to be eminent in traditional areas of achievement, but this is less true of only children. And even if only children were more likely to achieve, this would simply prove that their upbringing equipped them for achievement, thereby making them most suitable for eminence. Greater competence could hardly justify discrimination!

The only proper criterion for selecting people is individual merit. Any kind of discrimination, legal or not, is invidious because it's based on a prejudice about a group rather than the individual's qualifications.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Selection Bias

Someone posted a flier near College Green showing a line of brown men with their child brides/fiancees under the title, "Islam Is for Lovers." I commented with my ballpoint: "That's like pointing at Tony Alamo Ministries or FLDS and saying, 'Christianity is for lovers.'"

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Do What They're Not Expecting

This morning I received a private message on Facebook from someone whose name I didn't recognize. It turned out to be abuse from someone who'd previously sent me a friend request, to which I'd responded by asking the reason.

I soon concluded he was a troll, and was initially inclined to retaliate in some way. But then I decided it would be more interesting to surprise him by finding the original request and confirming it. But it seems I'd deleted the notification, and searching Facebook for his name yields no results. He must have deleted his account as soon as he sent the message, so that I couldn't respond. Oh, well.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's been a great week for chance encounters. Last Wednesday, on the bus to Philly AIDS Thrift to donate a record I'd ordered through the mail which had turned out not to be what I thought (the seller, Bubba Chubs Records, refunded me but said just pass it on, don't spend money on returning it), I saw my old friend Amy Murray, whom I'd met in the YSA as an adolescent and remained close to for some time thereafter, but hadn't heard from for a few years. I gave her my email address orally since I had to get off, and hope she remembered it.

Later the same evening, while at the Trestle Inn for a film screening by Secret Cinema, I saw Edmund, someone I met when he worked at Mellon Independence Center and I was contracting there daily, who has similar political views to mine. I'd seen him previously at a couple screenings at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which is pretty close to MIC and apparently how he became acquainted with SC.

And, just this afternoon, I was accosted by Lori Wollod, whom I was involved with for a few years (1997-2001 IIRC), but also hadn't seen for a few years. She gave me her address and told me to send her mine. Btw, I ran into her the same place she'd previously reintroduced herself to me: the Shops at Liberty Place.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Randommess Made Easy

I read something really cool in _Ph actum, the newsletter of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking. If you've ever flipped a coin to make a purposely random choice, but worried that the coin might not be fair, use this trick: for each binary choice you have to make, flip the coin twice. If it comes up the same way both times, disregard and flip twice again. If it doesn't come up the same way both times, just use the result of the first flip.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Taking a Drastic Measure That Should Work

I've been frustrated with myself lately for my frequent failure to get up in the morning when I intend to. So I'm adapting an approach I heard described recently on the radio, whereby a woman got herself to stop smoking cold by telling her friends that if she ever had another cigarette she'd give a thousand dollars to the KKK. Similarly, I pledge that any time I don't get up on time, I'll give ten dollars to Mitt Romney's campaign. To reinforce this incentive, I also promise not to "balance" this contribution with one to Obama or to any other candidate or party.

To help ensure I don't forget, I think I'll print out a photo of M.R. and put it over my clock radio before going to bed.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Don't Let Them Bury This Hero Alive

The media are largely ignoring whistleblower Bradley Manning's ongoing political prosecution. Contact your local media and urge them to cover his next pre-trial hearing on 6 June.

A source of news and analysis you can recommend to them is Kevin Gosztola's Dissenter blog at

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

It's John Brown's Birthday

His truth is marching on!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Persistent Scammers

Remarkable! Even though I sent an unabashedly skeptical reply to the letter from "St. Matthew's Churches" -- a letter I subsequently learned is intended as bait for a "spiritual" pyramid-scheme scam -- they've sent me their "Divine Seed Principle" scam mailing anyway. Maybe they have a uniform policy that doesn't reckon with skeptical replies. Or maybe they actually have found that some people who express skepticism nonetheless fall for it if given another "chance" to. Gee, I hope not, since that's a depressing thought.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Since I no longer use a landline, I just gave my old phone away to someone through Freecycle.

I hope I find some reason to meet her again, since she's cute.

Super Fleas!

Now we know why Fred didn't like it so much when Deeno jumped him...

Friday, May 04, 2012

Fourth Date

Maria and I were set to have a fourth date last Sunday, but she asked to postpone it to tomorrow because she'd been up too late the night before and was still tired. I've decided I'd like a change of pace, so instead of dinner and a movie again, I'm proposing a picnic in Clark Park.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yesterday -- but not for the first time -- I received a religious chain letter from something called the Churches of Saint Matthew. It included a "prayer rug" (made of paper) bearing what I suppose is called a trompe l'oeil: an image of Jesus that seems to change as you look at it, from closed eyes to open ones. The letter instructed me to pray on the "rug" and mail it back the following morning, only opening the "sealed prophecy" after I'd done so.

Of course I was having none of this. I read everything the same night, including the "prophecy," which as expected was conveniently non-specific. In the morning, I sent this letter sans "rug":

Dear sister and brother humans,

I submit my mind exclusively to the information the Universe gives me about itself through my senses. To me, substituting any figments of human imagination for what reality itself tells me is idolatry.

Consequently, I am not returning your so-called prayer rug Magic Eye picture so that you can use it to promote your superstition to others more susceptible than myself. I may, however, scan and upload it to my Atheist Meetup Group for others' amusement.

Sincerely, etc.

P.S. You are welcome to visit my blog, Gondwanaland, at and leave a message in my Guestbook.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Last night I heard Nate Phelps, estranged son of Westboro Baptist Church's Fred Phelps, speak at Drexel under the auspices of the Freethought Society. His autobiographical talk fully confirmed my suspicions that WBC is a cult, including such hallmarks of totalism as cult jargon, black-and-white thinking, milieu control, the demand for purity, and the dispensing of existence. After he mentioned he's looking for psychologists to help people who've left fundamentalist churches, I told him about ICSA's network of cult-aware therapists. He was very appreciative of the contact information.

Effective Persuasion

Here's a real-life story illustrating the kind of approach that actually changes people's minds, as opposed to the kind that leaves the advocate self-satisfied but ter interlocutor unchanged:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Toulouse: When Will They Learn?

TOULOUSE: Hmm, let's see... We have someone predisposed toward violence and obviously a little unstable... so let's *further destabilize him with psychological warfare*. Remember how well that worked out in Waco? Seems some (statists) refuse to learn that violence isn't always the best solution.

Monday, March 12, 2012

So on the subway today, a guy started haranguing the other passengers. He began by saying something like, "I hope you don't mine me taking a moment of your time," but it's not like he was giving us any choice, since he was talking too loud for me to read. He starts telling how a while ago he was a "player," and then a girlfriend outed him to another girlfriend.
It wasn't hard to guess where this was going -- soon he was telling us he had gotten religion and thought we should too. Never mind that by his own account -- which I shouldn't necessarily believe, since evangelizing groups often encourage members to exaggerate their past lives of "sin" to heighten the contrast with their present "saved" condition -- it wasn't God but girl talk that had spurred him to change.

But in the nick of time he gave me a good "pivot" by declaring, "It all starts with loving God!" So as I was about to get off I turned back and answered just as loudly, "It all starts with loving HUMANITY -- not believing in fairies!"

Friday, March 09, 2012


I just had quite a workout on the way home. Someone saw my Nate for Congress buttons and started peppering me with challenging questions about why I support him, what he stands for, etc., often reflecting a cynical viewpoint. But I acquitted myself well and didn't lose my footing or my cool. When I had to get off at my stop, he wished me good luck.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Limbaugh Calls Freedom-Loving College Student "Slut"

Of course he's not alone in this; it's been a favorite tactic of misogynists for ages. What this petition from Keystone Progress fails to remark on is that in the process, he also falsely implies that she was actually given a chance to speak:

Monday, February 27, 2012

"Why Me?"? Why Not?

Sent: Mon, Feb 27, 2012
Subject: "Why Me?"

I resent Dan Gottlieb's assertion that the question "Why me?" is universal and inevitable. I never ask myself this, because I wasn't brought up to believe the Universe operates on a principle of justice. Perhaps Gottlieb was, and that's why this reaction seems "natural" and "inevitable" to him. But he shouldn't project this irrational expectation of his onto those of us who were taught a non-anthropocentric concept of cosmic order.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bad News from Playgrounds for Palestine

We must share some bad news that has a terrible impact on Palestinian children. On Monday, February 12th, 2012, Israeli bulldozers arrived before sunrise and without warning to the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem to demolish a newly completed community facility. The “cultural café” was built with funds from Playgrounds for Palestine and California-based Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA). The Jerusalem Municipality and the National Parks Authority carried out the demolition with Israeli police officers closing off the street and preventing nearby families from leaving their homes while the demolition was underway.

Jawad Siyam, director of the Madaa Creative Center in Silwan, which runs the cultural café and the sports field in front of it, lamented, "This was the only place in the area to meet, to sit together. It was the only place for children in Silwan. The children in the neighborhood were very upset to see their treasured place destroyed."

This was an illegal act apparently motivated by racism and contempt for Palestinian life and liberty and we are asking you to support this communty's effort to rebuild this simple public space that offers the only place where children in this area have to play.

The community is determined to rebuild the cultural café in time for a Mothers' Day Celebration on March 21, 2012 (Mothers' Day is celebrated across Arab countries on this date). Siyam says, "We are also waiting for the bill for the bulldozers." This practice of charging owners for demolition of their property began in 2011. “But,” he continues, "We won't pay for this. Someone from the center might have to go to jail but we will refuse to pay."



For more articles and information:

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Candye Kane Seeking Help with Cancer Costs

The blueswoman (and former porn star) sent this word out to her fans. I'm sending a few dollars her way:


Hello Everyone ---
As you may know, I have been diagnosed with a recurrence of the pancreatic carcinoid neuroendocrine cancer I had in 2008.   I will be giving myself injections of Sandostatin three times a day subcutaneously for eleven days, at the end of February, graduating to one injection a month after the initial trial.  Sandostatin is used to stop the progression of this disease and the subsequent surgery will be used to remove the tumor (s) and unblock the duct that has been causing me so much pain. There are no guarantees that they will be able to alleviate all of my pain permanently, or that they will be able to remove all of the cancer but this is the best chance I have to rid myself of this cancer again and get back to a better quality of life. If they are successful, I could be in remission for many years. Of course, this is our hope.
Because so much money has already been spent on flights and deposits for this upcoming European tour, I have chosen to postpone my surgery until the last week of April, first week of May. I will likely have surgery at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles on April 27th.  My doctors agreed that it is okay for me to wait for the surgery to be performed until this time.
It is my hope that by the last week of June, I will be ready to resume my busy touring schedule. It may be sooner than that, but I am planning on making the Simi Valley blues festival my first official appearance back.
I am sorry for this interruption in our schedule. I know how many of you depend on me to be the workhorse I am. I plan on letting this disrupt my life as little as possible. I have a good chance of recovering from this surgery quickly, the same way I recovered very quickly from the whipple procedure in 2008. My doctors at Cedars Sinai think I am a good candidate for this surgery, also called a whipple revision and that I will be able to work again a month later, just as I did, the last time. If you'll recall, I had surgery April 18, 2008 and was on tour with United by Music by June 18th.
Of course, this is a scary time for me and my family and closest friends. Michael Kinsman, Janiva Magness, Joey Scruggs, Barbara Hammerman and many others have already offered their assistance with benefits for me. I will definitely need financial help to survive both during the last two weeks of february whilst I endure these injections and also during the month of May and possibly the first part of June, when I am home healing and convalescing. Any help that any of you can give me to get the word out about needing assistance would help greatly. My paypal account is
My insurance has a $2500 deductible when I am hospitalized and I am still not sure whether the injections will be completely covered. They are  between $1500 to $5000 each injection. We are proceeding as if they are covered, unless we hear otherwise but I think it wise to plan ahead in case they are not covered.
Anyway, I am scared, sad and grieve for the changes that this will make to my body. I am lucky that I have some extra body weight still, that I can afford to lose during this time. 
Please keep me in your meditations and prayers and encourage others to do the same. I will need as much of your positive energy during this time as I did before. Maybe even more so this time, because I still remember clearly the intense pain of 150 stitches and the aftermath of my recovery period. It was the most intense challenge of my life. I am up for this next challenge and I know I will emerge triumphant. I am blessed to be a role model to so many, proving that anyone can overcome adversity with sheer guts and determination. I hope to continue to be able to do my job and spread love and hope through music around the world, for many more years to come.
If you can't come to a live show, please consider joining the National Blues Foundation at Kids under 18 can join for FREE and you can join for just $25! The Blues Foundation is committed to helping promote blues music and giving aid to blues musicians all over the world with their various programs. While you are there, you can cast a vote for me! I am nominated for BB King Entertainer of the Year and Best Contemporary Blues Female. You have until March 1st to join and vote. I am honored to be nominated amongst some of the best of my hardworking sister and brother musicians.
On a personal note, in spite of this latest family crisis, my sons Tommy and Evan are doing very well. Evan is playing in several local San Diego bands and working hard teaching music at the Boys and Girls Club in Carlsbad. Tommy has graduated from UC Berkeley and is now living in Oaxaca, Mexico, teaching English and Music to students at the Liberty Language School. Both of my boys are healthy and thriving and I couldnt be more proud of them.
Thank you again for all of your wonderful emails and words of encouragement during this difficult time in my life. I can win this battle with cancer. I have done it once and I will do it again! I have cancer. Cancer DOES NOT HAVE ME. Sending boatloads of love, strength, and white light to you in your own struggles!
Big Love and Gratitude,

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

"Pro-Life" Hypocrites Scuttle Breast Exams

I learned today that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation has caved to right-wing pressure and stopped funding breast cancer screenings for poor women at Planned Parenthood facilities. Emergency donations are being solicited to make up the difference. I'm making one and you can too by following this link:

Follow-up: After several days of widespread protest, Komen reversed its decision:

Dear Eric,

Today, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation announced that it will continue to make grant funds for breast health and education available to Planned Parenthood health centers.

It's terrific news, and we are gratified that Planned Parenthood's partnership with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation will continue to make this care available to women in need. We are also grateful for the simply astonishing outpouring of support for women's health this week.

In the past few days, millions of Americans have rededicated themselves to protecting women's health and expanding access to lifesaving breast cancer screenings to every woman. This compassionate outcry of support for those most in need rose above political, ideological, and cultural divides, and will surely be recognized as one of our nation's better moments during a contentious political time. I am so proud and so grateful for each and every person who has contributed to elevating the importance of breast cancer prevention for so many women in need.

Over the last three days, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Breast Health Fund has received more than $3 million from thousands of people across the country. Every dollar we received for this fund will go directly to breast exams and diagnostic services, as well as breast health outreach and education so that more women can receive this critical care.

Our first priority is to fill any gaps in service in the 19 communities where Komen Foundation grants support Planned Parenthood health centers' breast care programs. The extraordinary generosity will also allow us to help expand Planned Parenthood breast health services nationwide far beyond what we ever thought possible. Planned Parenthood provides nearly 750,000 clinical breast exams each year at health centers across the country, but we know there are hundreds of thousands of women who need these services but still don't have access to them. The Planned Parenthood Breast Health Fund will enable us to reach these women and ensure they have access to affordable, quality clinical breast exams.

In short, this outpouring of public support will lead more women to detect breast cancer earlier, and will save more women's lives.

We are enormously grateful that the Komen Foundation has clarified its grantmaking criteria, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Komen partners, leaders, and volunteers. What these past few days have demonstrated is the deep resolve all Americans share in the fight against cancer, and we are proud to be a leading source for women seeking preventive care.

Thank you for standing with Planned Parenthood, and for being a crucial part of the movement to protect and promote women's health. 


Cecile Richards, President
Planned Parenthood Federation of America

 P.S. We've heard so many inspiring and deeply moving stories from Planned Parenthood supporters this week. If you'd like to share your story on women's health, click here

I'm going to be tutoring a friend in calculus. Fortunately, although it's been a long time since I studied it, I've used it recreationally fairly often and believe I have a pretty good recollection of the basic derivations.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Brother Has His First Paid Publication

It's part of an anthology titled Wildthyme in Purple. I haven't read it yet, but my past experience with his writing has been favorable.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Proposal

Having first gathered at 30th Street Station and then rallied against postal cuts at the Main Post Office, the crowd was now settling down at the municipal workers' union hall for the indoor part of Philly's Occupy the Dream event. A man came in front of the podium and activated the Occupy movement's "people's mic" by calling out, "Mic check!" The crowd responded in line. And a second call-and-response: "Mic check!"--"Mic check!" He commenced his message -- which I'm fairly sure was not part of the organizers' program for the evening -- by saying a woman's name, and followed this with, "Will you marry me?" She didn't reply via "people's mic," but was smiling broadly, and a moment later he was at the back of the room with her and it could be observed that they were kissing.

And so it was that I not only witnessed a marriage proposal in person for the first time in my life, but also took part in it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Quote of the Day

"Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." -- Abraham Lincoln in his first State of the Union address, 3 December 1861. Quoted in John Nichols, _The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition... Socialism_

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Political Mechanics 101

I don't know why so many people seem to have trouble with the basic political mechanics I explain in this comment I wrote in response to a story on NPR's Morning Edition today:

Julie Rovner is 100% wrong when she says helping Romney beat Obama is "exactly the opposite" of what his conservative opponents want. On the contrary, they presumably know he's more conservative than Obama, and therefore prefer, should he win the nomination, that he go on to win in November. I often make exactly the same argument when I tell fellow progressives it's not disloyal to criticize Obama from the left, since this can only help him with centrist voters.