One reader's rave

"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

Help the Honey Badgers in their fight for freedom of speech and thought!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Joke That "Spoiler Alerts" Have Become

Have you noticed how it seems that these days, when someone on radio or TV says "spoiler alert," they immediately follow that phrase with a spoiler? Do they not understand that most people don't have their hands perpetually on the radio, and will need more than a split second to turn it off to avoid hearing something?

Done in this absurd way, a so-called spoiler alert might more accurately be called a "spoiler taunt," as in, Don't want to learn the ending before reading the book? Screw you -- I'm telling you anyway!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Disability Program Hides True Unemployment Level

The latest This American Life is devoted to an examination of why beneficiaries of the Social Security Disability program have exploded over the past couple decades. It turns out that, in large measure, this is how states have offloaded the cost of supporting people for whom capitalism can't actually provide living-wage employment by transferring them from state-financed welfare programs to the federal Social Security system. While this keeps these people from starving or becoming homeless, it has the big disadvantage of not doing anything to assist them in getting out of poverty -- at the same time it erases them from unemployment statistics by no longer counting them as "looking for work."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bound and Gagged: pornography and the politics of fantasy in America, by Laura Kipnis

That story about Iceland reminded me of a great book I read several years ago, before I started my Powell Partner Bookshelf. I've added it now.

Bound and Gagged

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stop Iceland from Banning Internet "Violent Pornography"

As recently reported on FetLife, the government of Iceland is considering a ban on online "violent pornography," in the name of protecting children from its putative harm, of course. You can read the UK Guardian article here:

And here's what I've written the Prime Minister of Iceland at

Dear Minister:

I am greatly concerned by the news that you are considering a law to ban Internet "violent pornography" in the name of protecting children.

In the first place, contrary to your statements, there is no consensus among researchers about this alleged harm. Consider, for instance, this statement by US scholars:

In the second place, this is unquestionably an issue of free expression. Efforts to "protect" children with computer algorithms have had notoriously imprecise results -- including, for instance, the censoring of any and all gay-positive material -- so the only way to implement such a law would be to use human screeners, guaranteeing that those screeners' biases would come into play. Even terms like "violent" or "hateful" are construed in very different ways by different people. What one woman may call misogynistic, another finds arousing.

Thirdly, this goes beyond the desire of lone individuals to view erotica on their computers. Many people network online on the basis of shared erotic interests, such as BDSM (bondage and discipline/dominance and submission/sadomasochism). I belong to one such network based in the US. I am appalled at the thought that Icelanders with similar interests would become unable to find one another if this proposed law went into effect.

With a view to protecting their civil rights, I am determined that if this legislation is adopted, I will not buy any products from Iceland.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Cognitive Dissonance Is and Is Not

In recent years I've been irritated by how often people misuse the phrase "cognitive dissonance." Understood correctly, it's a powerful and important theory about one of the things that can drive people to change their beliefs and/or their behaviors -- and which can be exploited by others for this purpose, including in underhanded and unethical ways, as often is practiced by cults for instance. But the colloquial usage completely fails to capture this dynamic aspect of the concept, reducing it instead to a sort of highfalutin insult.

I saw another example of this in the latest Savage Love column, and submitted this comment:

While the column may be a rerun, unfortunately an inaccurate idea expressed therein seems to be as widespread now as when it was first published: the definition, "cognitive dissonance: the holding of mutually exclusive beliefs."

As Wikipedia explains, "In modern psychology, cognitive dissonance is the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions." Note the operative phrase, "feeling of discomfort." It's irrelevant whether SOMEONE ELSE perceives you to be holding mutually exclusive beliefs; what matters is whether YOU feel discomfort because YOU perceive a discrepancy. Leon Festinger, the author of the theory of cognitive dissonance, considered this effect important because people have a drive to REDUCE cognitive dissonance. You can't be driven to reduce a discrepancy that only other people, not you, perceive. Without this ingredient, it's reduced to an epithet, a pseudoscientific way of saying, "I think you're inconsistent!"

On the (Key)Spot

Today I'm writing from the Urban Affairs Coalition's KeySpot location, the first step to signing up for Wilco Electronics' low-cost home Wi-Fi service. That means soon, hopefully, I can blog, read email etc. from home for the first time in a couple years, and for the first time ever with a fast connection.

Friday, March 15, 2013

ICSA special event - Abuses in the Troubled Teen Industry

One of the participants in this event, Sunny Linkfield, has described her own experiences at the hands of this "industry" at ICSA-Philadelphia meetings. A couple political connections to this issue: the recent "kids for cash" scandal in PA involved a judge's railroading teens to a facility of this sort. And Mitt Romney has personal connections with Straight, Inc.

From: Michael Langone
To: International Cultic Studies Assoc.
Sent: Friday, March 15, 2013 1:48 PM
Subject: {ICSA Members:77} [ICSAMail:70] DC ICSA special event - Abuses in the Troubled Teen Industry

PDF Flyer:

Abuses in the Troubled Teen Industry

Saturday, April 20, 2013—10:00 AM – 5:30 PM

Comfort Inn, Pentagon City, 2480 South Glebe Rd., Bldg. 2, Arlington,
VA, US, 22206. Phone: (703) 682–5500 Fax: (703) 682-5505 Exit 7B
(Glebe Rd.), I-395. Free parking.

International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) and Community Alliance
for the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY) are cosponsors of a one-
day conference that will bring experts together with individuals
harmed in teen treatment programs.

Some teen treatment programs have used psychological control
techniques commonly associated with manipulative, high-demand groups,
often called “cults.” Sometimes such techniques have contributed to
the psychological, physical, or sexual abuse of teens that the
programs were supposed to help.

The conference will include the following talks, followed by

Overview of the Cultic Influences in the Troubled Teen Industry
(William Goldberg)
Clips from Surviving Straight Inc., a Documentary (Kelly Matthews)
The Great Drug War (Arnold Trebach)
Survivor Interviews: Surviving Straight Inc., a Documentary
Personal Story (Sunny Linkfield and Ethel Linkfield)
Cultic Practices in Residential Care and Applicable Human-Rights
Conventions (Katherine Whitehead)
How Do We Really Help Troubled Teens? What Science Tells Us (Steve
Overcoming and Healing After the Abuse (William Goldberg)
Healing Through Advocacy (Kathy Moya)

Space is limited, so please REGISTER ASAP. The registration fee is
$30, payable to ICSA.

To register, send:





E-mail (Important!):

Payment: [ ] Check [ ] Visa
[ ] MasterCard

cc No: Exp. Date:

Register Online:

Mail: ICSA Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 34133 E-mail: Fax: 305-393-8193


Steve K. D. Eichel, PhD, ABPP, President of ICSA, is past President of
the American Academy of Counseling Psychology and the Greater
Philadelphia Society of Clinical Hypnosis. He is a licensed and Board-
certified counseling psychologist whose involvement in cultic studies
began with a participant-observation study of Unification Church
training in its eastern seminary (in Barrytown, New York) in the
spring of 1975. His doctoral dissertation, an intensive, quantified
observation of a deprogramming, earned him a John G. Clark Award for
Distinguished Scholarship in Cultic Studies in 1990. In 1983, along
with Dr. Linda Dubrow-Marshall and clinical social worker Roberta
Eisenberg, Dr. Eichel founded the Re-Entry Therapy, Information &
Referral Network (RETIRN), one of the field’s oldest continuing
private providers of psychological services to families and
individuals harmed by cultic practices. He also served as Clinical
Director of the St. Francis Homes for Boys from 1989 to 1994, and
subsequently as a consulting psychologist from 1994 to 2006. From 1993
to 1996 he was a family psychologist with Community Centered
Treatment, a multisystemic family-therapy program for delinquent

William Goldberg, LCSW, PsyA, is a clinical social worker and
psychoanalyst with more than forty years’ experience working with
former cult members. He and his wife, Lorna, colead a support group
for former cult members. This group has been meeting for more than
thirty-five years and is the oldest group of its kind in the world. In
2007 Bill retired from the Rockland County, New York Department of
Mental Health, where he directed several programs and clinics. He is
presently an adjunct professor in the Social Work and Social Science
departments of Dominican College, and he is on the faculty of the
Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies. Bill is a frequent speaker at
ICSA conferences, and he and Lorna have been the recipients of the
Authentic CAN Hall of Fame Award, and of the Leo J. Ryan Award. In
2010, Bill was the recipient of ICSA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sunny Linkfield, President of CAFETY, is a survivor of Straight Inc.,
where she was a client from 1982 to 1984. This abusive teen “rehab”
center convinced thousands of parents that normal behavior was a sign
of “druggie” behavior. Sunny was an overachiever but became a moody
teenager, experimenting with pot, alcohol, and a few other drugs.
After her parents read an article in Reader's Digest, they dropped her
off in a warehouse called Straight Incorporated. Straight, Inc. was an
abusive, mind-control cult that practiced on youth torture techniques
formerly used in Communist China and North Korea. These techniques
were ostensibly employed to help Straight’s victims overcome the
problems and addictions that Straight claimed they had. Spin-offs
still exist today. Sunny is now a make-up artist/esthetician and a
trainer in retail cosmetics. She was recently interviewed in the new
movie, Surviving Straight Inc., a Documentary. Sunny was also the lead
make-up artist for the film. Ms. Linkfield is active with the
International Cultic Studies Association and serves on the Board of
Directors of the Community Alliance For the Ethical Treatment of

Kathy Moya, BA (Psychology) is a former 15-year-old client of the
Straight, Inc. program in 1982. In 1999, Kathy helped spearhead the
online movement against institutional child abuse. Her personal
efforts began with a forum and Web site called Straight Inc.
Survivors, in an effort to share her research about the Straight, Inc.
program and speak to others who had been there so they could share
their stories and viewpoints about their experiences. In 2001, she
helped organize the Saving Our Children from Drug Treatment Abuse
conference presented by the Trebach Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
Her research led to her discovery that an entire troubled-teen
industry existed within and beyond the United States. By 2004, she had
created the Fight Institutional Child Abuse (FICA) Web site, which
served as an informational campaign and forum for families considering
a residential program for their child(ren), as well as for families
who had already been affected by child abuse within a variety of
institutions for children. She authored two reports in 2006,
“Understanding the Con Game,” and “Understanding Brainwashing, Mind
Control & Aggression,” as part of the Fight Institutional Child Abuse
educational campaign. She attended the congressional hearings on Child
Abuse and Neglect at Residential Treatment Programs in 2007 and has
participated in several conferences over the years regarding this

Arnold Trebach, JD, PhD, is the founder, Chairman of the Board of
Directors, and Chief Executive Officer of The Trebach Institute. He
has had a long and varied career in the worlds of academia,
scholarship, teaching, writing, government service, and business
enterprises. He personally led the Institute on Drugs, Crime, and
Justice, an international seminar on drug treatment and policy, from
1974 to 1998. He founded the nonprofit Drug Policy Foundation (DPF) in
1986 and served as its first chairman and president until 1997. DPF
has been recognized as one of the leading forces for rational drug
policy reform in the world. He has been the subject of an
international campaign that sought his nomination for a Nobel Peace
Prize on the basis of his drug-policy-reform efforts. Also, he has
been called the Father of the Modern Drug Policy Reform Movement and
the Shadow Drug Czar, along with some much-less-favorable appellations
by some of those who support the status quo in drug control. He
retired from the American University, where he now holds the rank of
Professor Emeritus, and also from the Foundation at the end of 1997.
His books include The Rationing of Justice (Rutgers University Press,
1964); The Heroin Solution (Yale University Press, 1982); The Great
Drug War (Macmillan, 1987); and Legalize It? Debating American Drug
Policy (American University Press, 1993), which he coauthored with
James Inciardi. Dr. Trebach has edited or coauthored many other books
and has published numerous original articles in scholarly journals and
the popular press. He has appeared in hundreds of television and radio
programs. American University conferred on him its highest award for
scholarship for the academic years 1978–79 and 1983–84. He holds a JD
degree from the New England School of Law (1951) and a PhD in Politics
from Princeton University (1958). Since 1951 he has been a member of
the Massachusetts Bar.

Katherine Whitehead, JD, is a children’s-rights advocate and the
founder and director of Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment
of Youth, CAFETY. The organization’s mission is to promote and secure
the human rights of youth in, or at risk of residential placement,
through education and advocacy led and driven by those with direct
experience in harmful residential placement and our allies. Ms.
Whitehead is a survivor of a therapeutic boarding school called
Mission Mountain School, and she formed CAFETY in an effort to give
voice to residential-care alumni and survivors concerned with human-
rights violations in residential programs for youth. A graduate of
Hunter College with a BA in Political Science, Ms. Whitehead dedicates
much of her time to civic engagement. She volunteers her time for
various organizations and working groups such as the Bazelon Center
for Mental Health Law and Policy’s Leadership 21 Initiative, and
Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate Use of Residential
Treatment (ASTART).

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Today I resumed going door to door in my neighborhood with the Green Party of Philadelphia's anti-fracking petition (I started two weeks ago), which will be presented on Earth Day, 22 April, to the head of the DEP regional office in Norristown. I'm doing this as a way of getting to know my neighbors and increasing the visibility of  GPOP, and with a view to further developing my capacity for extroversion/overcoming social anxiety. While I've done door-to-door things a few times before, this time it's my own initiative.

I saw in the City Paper that Tuesday night, Woodmere Art Museum is screening The Ipcress File, a film from 1965 in which "Michael Caine stars as an intelligence agent investigating the brainwashing of British scientists." Seeing an opportunity to offer some information about the reality behind the fiction, I've printed out Margaret Singer's article "Thought Reform Exists" from ICSA so I can make copies to hand out.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Who Do I Think I Am -- Some Kind of Einstein?

Well, not quite. I understand he had an IQ of 160. I do have a friend like that.

But it occurred to me recently that I might find more people to get romantically excited about -- and, at the same time, whom I could relate to on other levels as well -- if I spent more time around those on a similar intellectual level. So I contacted Mensa and learned when their next test for membership eligibility is.

I was never told my IQ as a child, but later self-administered a test I got at a bookstore. Though I was allowed 90 minutes to complete it, I got through it and reviewed my answers in less than an hour. When I scored myself I got 146. So I'm fairly confident I'll pass the test being administered next Saturday.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

I just listened and commented on this edition of *Voices in the Family* from a month ago on a particularly fascinating topic. If you read the comments, you'll notice how conspiracist listeners heard the show selectively so that they could justify dismissing it as just "part of the conspiracy," completely ignoring that host and guests alike acknowledged the existence of actual conspiracies and the importance of maintaining a degree of suspiciousness toward official as well as toward dissident views.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Flawed Reasoning About Hookups

In his interview on WHYY's Morning Edition today, Dr. Dan Gottlieb talked about "hookup culture." Unfortunately his remarks evinced a biased attitude toward the subject, as I discussed in this message I sent the station:

While Dan Gottlieb is right to say parents should tell their children that casual sex can be physically pleasurable (if only so they won't lose credibility), that's only half the story. His suggestion that it compares unfavorably in other respects with dating suffers from a fatal flaw: none of the figures he cited actually makes such a comparison. In the absence of corresponding numbers for dating, the findings about hookups that he reports are of little practical relevance.

In particular I would dispute the claim, for which he doesn't even cite any study data, that hookups involve "an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections." Quite the opposite, I think: because people who are hooking up do so for the explicit, unambiguous purpose of having sex, it's pretty certain that they'll bring protection. In a dating situation, by contrast, women in particular may tell themselves that they don't really intend to have sex -- especially if it's one of their first dates with someone -- while secretly hoping that something might "just happen." This sort of romantic fantasy often results in someone's coming to a date without birth control or, even if they bring it, failing to use it because they're "carried away by the moment," or because they're afraid showing they came prepared for sex (instead of relying on the man for birth control) will make them seem "slutty."

In a hookup situation this isn't an issue, since by agreeing to it a woman makes clear she's not ashamed about wanting sexual pleasure. So she not only will come prepared, but is highly likely to use what she brought.