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!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wimminworsting Strikes Again at NPR

Discussing the role race may have played in the different treatment of sexual misconduct allegations against two Hollywood figures in a story on Weekend Edition Sunday, Ailsa Chang and Anne Helen Petersen couldn't resist bringing gender into the discussion quite illegitimately. I commented:

In comparing the two celebrity rape [sic] allegations, you slipped in a bit of ideological nonsense with the claim that these cases illustrate different attitudes based on gender as well as race -- patently impossible since the celebrities, though of different races, are the same gender and so were those who accused them.

The reality is quite the opposite -- our society more readily acknowledges and acts on sexual violence against women than against men, as documented here for instance:

This compassion gap is also visible in how the world expressed outrage at Boko Haram's kidnapping of girls -- after the same politicians and celebrities had completely ignored their gruesome murders of boys.

These are both examples of a pervasive assumption, without any regard for evidence or even the need to look for any, that women always get the short end of the stick -- an unexamined faith that men's rights intellectual Alison Tieman has dubbed "the Church of Wimminworsting."
This was a little differently worded when I originally posted it here because I was writing from memory. Subsequently I've received an email acknowledgement from NPR including the text of what I'd sent them, which I've used to correct the text here.

What's Really Un-American About Kerry's Speech

It's remarkable how Secretary of State John Kerry, in the name of "America's values," skillfully excludes from consideration the only real Middle East solution, modeled on America's own example. Here's what I wrote in response to NPR's story:

The most strikingly false note in Kerry's speech -- repeated implicitly thereafter -- is his statement that Israelis can't achieve peace by choosing democratic pluralism over ethno-religious nationalism within a one-state framework. Why on Earth not? That's precisely how we've (more or less) kept the peace here in the States for the past 150 years.

One has to wonder what he has in mind when he says, "We have long known what two states, living side by side in peace and security looks like." Really? That's not how we've done it ourselves, so to what could he be referring?

He similarly misleads by omission when he says, "It is not in U.S. interests to help anyone on either side create a unitary state." This is the fallacy of the excluded middle: what is in the interests of Americans and all humanity is to help people on both sides, working together, to create a unitary state. This is already prefigured in binational Israeli-Palestinian groups working against the occupation and the apartheid wall.

Indeed, there can be no more effective way of "working to change perceptions and build up belief in the possibility of peace" between populations that "no longer see the other side as people, only as threats and enemies," than for unity-minded members of both to work together in a common political movement whose logical endpoint is a common state.

Kerry's speech (rough transcript):

Monday, December 19, 2016

Quote of the Day

How dare anybody contradict that by saying all lives matter because unless black lives matter, all lives don't matter. -- Sarah Yacoviello, conservative Christian and York, PA, Trump voter

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Use Crowd Wisdom, Not Censorship, to Combat Fake News

Linked below is a piece by Cathy Young on Facebook's response to concerns about fake news.
I'm pretty leery of an kind of "official" fact-checkers, even if supposedly "balanced." I'd rather rely on collective filtering like they use on Less Wrong, where people can vote something up or down and if it's downvoted enough, it's hidden unless you choose to unhide it on your own feed. Of course opinions about veracity aren't the only reasons for up or down votes, but people can comment at the same time on why they're voting something down, for the viewing of anyone who's interested.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Right Doesn't Own Cultural Freedom

Over the past couple years, it's been quite dismaying to realize the understanding of the phrase "social justice" has wandered far from its origins -- that to many it now signifies a kind of cultural authoritarianism based on group identities, rather than the old humanist maxim, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need."

It's equally dismaying to discover that on the other hand, antisocialists are now trying to monopolize the term "cultural libertarian," as one can see from a group they've created on Facebook. They seem quite unaware that classical socialism is very much rooted in humanism and committed to individual liberty, and a society in which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

Monday, December 05, 2016

On the BBC, a Feminist Yet Again Exploits an Actual Rape Victim to Protect Hoaxers

On this morning's BBC Newshour, the recent revelation that Maria Schneider actually didn't consent to the rape scene in Last Tango in Paris was discussed with someone from a group called Women in Hollywood, who seized this as an opportunity to repeat yet again the feminist article of faith that this is "something that women just don't lie about." I've submitted this comment to the BBC:

   The guest you spoke with for your story on the rape scene
   in Last Tango in Paris made a statement of ideological faith,
   not fact, when she said that rape is "something that women
   just don't lie about."

   Not only do women lie about rape, it probably happens a
   good deal more often than many people realize. A female
   friend of mine once related three different instances of which
   she had personal knowledge. In two, a woman had what she
   described as "enthusiastically consensual" sex -- long before
   that became a catch phrase -- close enough for her to clearly
   hear, and in one case see, what was going on (this was when
   she was rather heavily involved in the party scene). In each
   case, the following day these women talked to her about they
   had been "raped." In a third case, the boyfriend of one of her
   female classmates related his concern over having learned
   that she'd been raped by a man in the same class as the two
   women -- a man not matching the description of anyone
   actually in the class. My friend believed that in this last case,
   the woman invented the rape to secure the boyfriend's devotion
   via a protective response (which looks similar to the probable
   root of the rape hoax recently at the University of Virginia).
   In the other two, she put it down to some women's being
   "unwilling to take responsibility for their sexuality." It should
   be emphasized my friend wasn't in any way condemning these
   women for being "loose," as she was much like them in that
   respect; she was only criticizing them for refusing to own their
   own choices.

   Janet Bloomfield has compiled a list of documented false rapes here:

   12 Women Who Lied About Being Raped And Why They Did It

   While this article doesn't directly demonstrate how frequent such
   false claims are, the fact the women involved all evidently thought
   they could get away with it, combined with the observable fact that
   so many people, like your guest, keep perpetuating the assumption
   that women never lie about rape -- an attitude that would, in fact,
   make false claims easy to get away with -- suggests that these
   documented cases are just the tip of a possibly much bigger iceberg.

   The flip side of this attitude is the assumption that rape of men by
   women is either impossible or exceedingly rare. Like its counterpart,
   this assumption results in very distorted public perceptions, as the
   best recent research indicates that it's actually pretty common, but
   much more rarely reported:

   Men Are Raped Almost as Often as Women in America. We Need
   to Talk About This.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The "We-ness" We Need Is Planetary

Although sleeping when this interview aired 11/25, I nonetheless caught much of it thanks to being in the dream state.

One thing Lilla doesn't say is that a chief reason American liberalism has become preoccupied with identity issues is that this has served as a way of running away from class, as the Democratic Party became increasingly beholden to corporate money -- whereas major parties exist in Europe that explicitly define themselves in class terms, none such exists here. And the one kind of "otherness" that FDR very much did talk about was precisely class, saying that "economic royalists" "hate me, and I welcome their hatred." The post-identity "we-ness" we need is planetary, not just American.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Need a personal greeting card? Try this artist!


Friday, October 28, 2016

Another Rewarding Visit to New York

Last night I attended a graduate information session at the New School. I was pleased to learn one of their psychology faculty has an interest in cultic issues.

The person sitting next to me had a Stein/Baraka button on her bag. She said a CUNY schoolmate is the Green candidate for US Senate there. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Another, Unexpected Reason to Like Scott Aaronson

Wow. I hadn't realized that the person behind MakeMineCount is the same as the one behind the Nader Trader website in 2000 -- let alone that that person was Scott Aaronson.

I voted for Nader in 2000, but it was the Nader trader effort that got me rethinking electoral strategy and led me, by early the following year, to support tactical voting and strategically selective ballot placement for third parties like mine (the Greens).

This further enhances the moral contrast in my eyes between Aaronson, promoter of such an eminently useful idea especially in the context of this crucial election, and feminist Amanda Marcotte, who led a vicious Twitter harassment mob against him early last year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Quote of the Day

"If you have no solutions in mind and don't want to meet and dialogue and only want to protest, then it looks like you're interested in ego, not in creating change." -- Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News

Monday, October 17, 2016

Flyers have appeared all over Penn saying, "GET OFF THAT F&IN PHONE!" But I fear most of those at whom the message is aimed won't see it.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

A Rapturous Day in New York

My Friday was devoted to attending the very first screening anywhere of Cassie Jaye's new documentary on the Men's Rights Movement, The Red Pill.

I was one of only five in the audience if I counted right, of whom two were Jaye's mother and producer, Nena Jaye, and her stepfather, whom I got to meet before the movie started. Shortly afterward I got to meet Cassie herself.

The day tickets became available, I'd purchased one for the premiere screening at 1:15; by the time I learned there'd be a Q&A with Jaye and guests after the 6:15 showing, it was sold out. Fortunately, the management let me attend anyway once that screening was over.

There was a pretty interesting, if too brief, discussion in the theater, though it could have been more interesting if more than one feminist (Michael Kimmel) had agreed to be on the panel. But lots more discussion occurred informally afterward, and I got to meet a bunch of people, in particular some I'd known/known about for a couple years but only via Internet -- including Alison Tieman, comics artist and creator of Honey Badger Radio, whom I adore on account of her courage, her intelligence, and her compassion.

Before leaving the theater for the last time, I purchased an 11"x17" movie poster on which I subsequently got her autograph and those of Cassie and Nena Jaye, Paul Elam, and Karen Straughan, as well as a promotional T-shirt. I also presented Alison with the big handmade pink heart I'd waved when she'd appeared on the screen, which she liked.

Jaye, guests, and a number of attendees repaired to a hotel dining lounge to continue the conversing and socializing, which was quite stimulating, giving me the opportunity to discuss thoughts and experiences I hadn't had the occasion to previously, and to learn those of others. Because people didn't decide to go to bed til after midnight, it was too late for me to catch the last affordable non-reserved bus back to Philly that night, so I had to wait for one leaving at 7 am. Consequently I suspect I'm too tired to do justice to the film with a review at the moment, and will have to return to that later. For now, it will suffice to say that I was highly impressed and strongly recommend it.

Linked below, Jaye shows the poster outside the cinema the day before it opened.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Mass Action Stops a Bad Bill in Poland

The Polish people have fended off a draconian abortion bill through mass action:

Apparently there wasn't very widespread awareness of this action here: I wore black in solidarity as many in Poland were doing, but I didn't see more than the usual number of people dressed that way, and received no comments about it.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Selective Service: "Extend It or End It?" Is a False Dichotomy

The latest newsletter from Courage to Resist, a group that builds support for military resisters, features a graphic captioned, "Do not extend draft registration to women. End war registration for everyone!" I submitted this comment under a related post on their Facebook page:

I noticed your graphic about this in the latest newsletter and wish to comment. "Extend it or end it?" is a false dichotomy.

Years ago I worked with an anti-militarist resource center called Stop the Pentagon/Serve the People or Project STP. One of the co-directors, Harold Jordan (now with ACLUPA), told me how during the Vietnam era, he and like-minded activists had opposed the college deferment on the grounds that it amounted to an exemption for white, middle-class men. I couldn't deny the logic of that.

And in fact, such men's susceptibility to the draft, even ameliorated somewhat by the deferment, was doubtless a big factor in the scale of the antiwar movement. The US rulers' reliance since then on an all-volunteer force has allowed them to continue their militarism and imperialism with much less popular opposition. Likewise, women's susceptibility to the draft would contribute greatly to public questioning of the law, especially given how women's lives tend to be viewed as more precious. It would compel many women to introspect about their values in a way they haven't previously had occasion to.

Rather than counterpose ending the female exemption against ending the Selective Service system, we should welcome the former proposal as something that may help pave the way for the latter.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Good Cause, Muddled Argument

The first item in the Philadelpia Gay News LGBTQ Youth Supplement is an essay titled "The case for gender-neutral bathrooms in Philadelphia high schools." The argument is less persuasive than it might be because of the author's insistence on trying to frame it in ideological terms that don't really fit, as I argue in the letter-to-the-editor below.

Matthew Zarenkiewicz advocated for a good position in his recent article, but muddled the argument by trying to conform it to ideology bearing little relation to reality.

He claims current practices are "derived from misogyny, heterosexism and homophobia," yet fails to specify how. It's true the main objects of traditionalist fears are (transgender) women. But they're feared not
because they're women but, on the contrary, because they're perceived to be men.

For comparison, consider another story in the news recently: the way some airlines discriminate against men by forbidding them, but not women, to sit next to unaccompanied minors ( If you peruse this story, you'll find no mention at all of gay, bisexual, or transgender people, and women figure only as perpetrators, not victims of discrimination. Yet the underlying issue here is in fact the same as with resistance to gender-neutral bathrooms: namely, the bigoted view of male sexuality as inherently predatory. Zarenkiewicz does mention this attitude in his piece, but fails to name it. It has a name, but its name isn't misogyny, homophobia, or transphobia -- it's MISANDRY. Learn the word, folks!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Urge Your University to Preserve Due Process

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) is urging its supporters to write their alma maters about the worrying trend toward so-called "victim-centered investigations." I've written a letter to Penn's President Gutman laying out the case against this approach:

I am very concerned about the threat to due process rights and the presumption of innocence posed by the trend toward so-called "victim-centered" investigations, primarily being promoted in connection with accusations of sexual assault on college and university campuses.

By substituting partiality toward the accuser -- even to the point of deliberately refraining from gathering evidence in some circumstances -- this approach not only increases the likelihood of false convictions, but ultimately can only undermine the public's confidence in judicial processes, and make it more skeptical even of true accusations.

Indeed, inasmuch as the push for this approach is mostly restricted to the context of sexual assault investigations, it could end up making the public even less willing to believe these allegations than those of other crimes.

Please commit Penn to maintaining neutral fact-finding as the standard for all its judicial processes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Workshop for Families and Former Members

Posting this for anyone to whom it may pertain -- and you or someone close to you may have been involved in a cultic group without realizing it yet:

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

So... Now I Know What to Do with Myself

I've been wrestling with which way to take the rest of my life since I was laid off a few months ago. Today I attended an Idealist Grad Fair, half not believing it could do me any good, and fully undecided about which of numerous fields I might pursue. By partway through, after mentioning to one rep that psychological issues had got in the way of pursuing post-baccalaureate education or even a suitable job, it hit me: the one area I can make the most  difference is helping people dealing with the same issues that got in my way, especially the aftereffects of cult involvement. So now I am going to pursue a career in psychology where I can specialize in that, as a too-small handful currently do.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

We're Here, We're Queer, and We Like to Say Hello

That was one of the chants by a crowd on Gollege Green today as I was heading toward Penn's Van Pelt Library.

When I first saw it I worried it might be part of the recent neo-puritan reaction to the "scandal" about a sexually oriented email sent to some freshwomen inviting them to a hookup party. It turned out instead to be a pro-LGBT protest in response to a handful of fundamentalist street preachers. The latter had a sign reading, "No one is born homosexual." After the chant under way as I approached, "Love trumps hate," died down, I volunteered through cupped hands, "No one is born a bigoted fundamentalist!" Another protester commented, "No, they have to be brainwashed!"

Speaking of brainwashing, while the term is probably apt for most homophobic street preachers, it isn't so much for people who are simply propagandized by right-wing talk radio. So, in preparation for an event this evening featuring a documentary about the rise of such media, I've printed out a number of copies of Margaret Singer's article "Thought Reform Exists: Organized, Programmatic Influence," incorporating a table comparing and contrasting the different varieties of social influence and persuasion programs, and will make them available at the event.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Of Paranoids and Pollsters

A friend made a point today that hadn't occurred to me: because paranoid people are apt not to answer pollsters -- and because, for the first time, a major-party Presidential nominee is aiming his message largely at paranoid people -- it's likely Trump will do better in November than the polls indicate.

He also noted that prediction markets, which historically have done better than polls, are predicting a closer race as well.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

A Tale of Two Docs

This being the first day of school in Philadelphia, it seemed a fine time to put up some posters for Cassie Jaye's documentary The Red Pill. And where better to put them than where they'll be seen by fresh, bright young minds just turning back to academic studies, possibly just starting to take an interest in social issues, but not yet indoctrinated? So I started this morning with the environs of Central and Girls' High Schools, both of them geared to the academically gifted. I'll try hitting others in the coming days.

I got news yesterday about another film I'd taken an interest in, Kamala Lopez's Equal Means Equal. Between the trailer and the reviews I've seen, unfortunately, it looks as if this one is shaped by a deeply ingrained, totally un-self-aware gynocentrism. For instance, one question we hear in the trailer, apparently intended as an example of why we need the Equal Rights Amendment, is, "How is it that the United States has more homeless women and girls than any other developed country?" Where to begin? How about, "Because we have more homeless people than any other developed country"? That, in turn, is because we have much less of a social safety net -- but most of those many homeless we have are men. Indeed, the ERA might help us address this problem, because arguably much homelessness is caused by public laws and policies biased against men, which that amendment would prohibit. But that's not what the film is evidently suggesting, unless the trailer is intentionally misleading. I was holding some hope for the latter when I saw earlier versions of it, but those hopes are dashed by the fact there's no hint at any surprise twist in either of the reviews I've read.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Quote for the Day

Beware of "anti" formulas. They are always inadequate because they are purely negative. One cannot conquer a principle except by opposing to it another principle -- a superior principle.

This statement by Daniel Guerin appears in the 1945 preface to his Fascism and Big Business. I've chosen to read this for the next meeting of my left book group, at which fascism will be the topic.

Guerin may here be seen as anticipating frame theory, whose application to politics has been expounded on in recent years by cognitive linguist George Lakoff. Of course Lakoff is a social democrat whose political perspective remains within the horizons of capitalism and statism, whereas Guerin was a libertarian Marxist. But the psychological principle expressed is similar -- with Lakoff's version actually being somewhat more robust in that he suggests "anti formulas," by implicitly restating and thereby reinforcing the nominally opposed frame, are not merely inadequate but directly counterproductive.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Logically, One Shouldn't Need to Trade Votes to Be Pragmatic

All one need do is weigh the trade-off between the instrumental vs. expressive value of one's own vote, and choose accordingly. I came to that conclusion about fifteen years ago, but the argument is summed up well in this recent piece:

But I suppose some people may need to frame it as trading votes with a fellow citizen to allow them to be pragmatic without feeling they're "selling out."

At the same time, we can continue to work for proportional representation (PR) and instant runoff voting (IRV), which would render such trade-offs unnecessary.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Woo Hoo!

I just secured a ticket to the world premiere of Cassie Jaye's documentary on the men's rights movement, The Red Pill.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Looks Like I'm Still Looking

I did my first, training, day today with Community Voters Project, which turned out also to be my last. Possibly this had something to do with the fact that there wasn't much actual training.

We were given a talk about what we were supposed to do and how, and then assigned to teams. Once arriving at our sites, however, we each worked on our own.

True, my team leader asked if I'd like to spend some time watching him, and I declined since, in past experience, I've done well on things like registering voters, petitioning, etc. as a volunteer. Still, you'd think an organization that's serious about training wouldn't just let someone go because he overestimated how well he'd do unsupervised on the first day. You'd expect them to say, "Next time spend some time watching me so you can see how it's done."

Also, it seemed a little disingenuous of him to acknowledge that luck can be a factor but "rules are rules," since in fact, of those coworkers who gave me a precise figure when I asked how many people they'd registered, neither of them had met the quota either, although they'd come closer.

In this context it was interesting that, when I left the building, I saw someone sitting nearby with a sign reading, "Community Voters Project discriminates." He told me he thinks they wouldn't hire him because of his age, and I suppose that could have covertly been a factor in their letting me go, too. Another factor, perhaps in combination with bias, may be general incompetence. You might think, for instance, that leaders of an organization based and operating in Center City Philadelphia would be familiar with its streets. Yet, when I left with my team leader to go to our target site, he initially started us in the wrong direction, until I pointed out it was the other way.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Looks Like I Have a New Job

A few months ago I was laid off from the courier job I'd held for a long time. Today I interviewed with the Community Voters Project, which aims to increase registration and voting in communities of color, and the interviewer seemed quite enthusiastic about me, especially when she asked me to come back next week for training. So, unless I do poorly at that -- which I don't expect, since I already know I'm good at this sort of thing -- I suppose this means I'll have a new job. The starting pay will be slightly higher than my last one, with opportunities for advancement for which I likely will qualify.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016


I've completed another piece of math art. In "Goggles," the color of each cell reflects, to the nearest whole number, the product of that cell's center-to-center distances from the two foci.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Another Kind of Political Principle

Ont the latest On the Media, a Canadian advocate for strategic voting explained how it helped that country elect a more progressive government without reducing the Green vote:

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Getting Refocused After the Cult

Last weekend I attended a workshop for those recovering from an experience with a high-demand, high-control group and its aftermath. Although a delay in the bus trip got me there a few hours late on Friday, and I didn't recover full alertness until Sunday, I still got some important insights I expect will help me make the most of the rest of my life. Even though my cultic experience was a long time ago, I'm still dealing with some of the aftereffects, especially since I didn't start to understand what had happened until relatively recently.

If you've had an experience with a high-demand, high-control group, it may likewise be affecting you in ways you don't yet recognize; such groups never advertise themselves as cults, and are very good at convincing you that if you leave -- voluntarily or otherwise -- there's something wrong with you, not with the group. I recommend that if you even think this might apply to you, or someone you know, you should check out the resources provided by reFOCUS and the International Cultic Studies Association. For that matter, these are things everyone should learn about to help them avoid psychological manipulation in the first place.

Remember, no one ever joins a cult. People join groups of friendly people who seem to be doing important things, and only later find themselves stuck in a cult. Asking what kind of person would join a cult is like asking what kind of person would step in quicksand.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

An Unprecedented Rally in Defense of Trans People in Philadelphia

I spent part of this afternoon at The Great Wall of Love, a peaceful mobilization called in response to the Westboro Baptist Church cult's plans to protest the LGBT-oriented Mazzoni Center clinic, and its transgender patients in particular. The purpose was not to confront WBC, but rather to shield patients from having to see or hear their hatred. To that end music and songs were played by the Philadelphia Freedom Band, including my friend Erin Worrell whom I hadn't seen in several months.

I especially liked the WBC parody signs with messages like "God Hates Single Ply," "God Hates the Schuylkill Expressway," and "Legalize Gay Marijuana."

As it was winding down, I heard an organizer call it the largest specifically pro-trans rally ever. Apparently no more than five cultists actually showed up and they only stayed for about five minutes, so that most of us never saw them.

Monday, July 25, 2016

NPR Does Another Totally Gender-Biased Story About Sexual Harassment

In the wake of Roger Ailes's dismissal from Fox (So-Called) News, NPR ran yet another interview that blithely assumes men can only be sexual victimizers and women only victims. I posted this comment:

Another thoroughly sexist story about sexual harassment. If you'd thought to check your assumptions, you might have discovered articles like "Male Rape in America" (, showing that women's capacity for sexual abuse is comparable to men's. Given this fact, what reason is there to believe West's claim that "when women are in power, this kind of thing will stop"? None whatever; more women in power would just mean a larger proportion of female abusers and a larger proportion of male victims.

Abuses of power aren't about gender; they're about power. If we want to eliminate sexual harassment, we have to end the class stratification that gives some people power over others.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Thom Hartmann, Retract Your Slander of Milo

On the 21 July edition of his RT show The Big Picture, Thom Hartmann insinuated that Breitbart commentator Milo Yiannopoulos had been engaging in racist and sexist harassment, yet totally failed to state any examples thereof, instead merely using his banning by Twitter to pivot into a more general discussion of Internet harassment. I've posted this comment in response:

In a possibly defamatory bait-and-switch, you led into the discussion of Internet harassment with a mention of Milo Yiannopoulos, yet never substantiated that reference with any evidence that he's harassed anyone. I don't follow his Twitter feed, so I wouldn't know if he's done so. What I do know is that he almost single-handedly scored an important victory for freedom of thought and expression by saving the latest project of Cassie Jaye, the award-winning feminist independent filmmaker. When she needed additional funds to complete it last year, she discovered that the progressive foundations who'd supported her work in the past were unwilling to provide any more support unless she gave up creative control -- a demand she'd never faced before. The evident reason was that, in the course of making The Red Pill, a documentary on the Men's Rights Movement, she'd found herself questioning some of her feminist convictions, and incorporated that into the film. This sign that it wouldn't be the one-sided hit piece her funders may have previously expected made them unwilling to leave her in charge.
Rather than give up her independence to an ideological litmus test, she decided to try and raise the rest of the needed funds through a Kickstarter campaign, which would guarantee supporters could have no influence over content. But it initially looked doubtful she could raise the necessary money in time -- until Yiannopoulos wrote a column about her plight. Then, overnight, a Kickstarter that was less than a third of the way to its goal was taken over the top, and then some, thanks to supporters of free speech who follow Milo and spread the word about this situation. For this reason alone, Milo deserves to be called a hero of free speech. You owe him an apology.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I Give Another TV interview

I was just interviewed by Philadelphia's CBS3 for a story about why politicians don't do more outreach to nontheists, despite our being more numerous than any other specific faith group. She apparently was endeavoring to get views on this from nonbelievers of various political bents, as my name had been suggested by the Green Party. She said it would air at 11 tonight.

My previous TV interview was a few months ago, when I was one of those demonstrating in support of Apple in its dispute with the FBI in front of its Center City store.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Suicide Is Painless (Not)

An appallingly ignorant side comment by Marty Moss-Coane on today's Radio Times provoked this comment from me:

I was appalled by Marty's reference to suicide as a "narcissistic" act.

A narcissist is preoccupied by concern about how others see them; they insist that others view them favorably (or pretend to). By contrast, a person who commits suicide -- except in the rare cases where they can be seen as doing it for a larger purpose with which others will sympathize -- is someone enduring such unbearable pain that they no longer care how others see them; they care only about ending the pain, even at the cost of condemning themselves to be seen ever after as a "quitter," and an embarrassment to those close to them.

It was particularly shocking to hear Moss-Coane's ignorant remark so shortly after Robin Williams' tragic death by suicide, followed by the explanations authorities on the topic had to make in response to all the insensitive, angry comments about it on social media by people lacking any understanding of depression. Did she learn nothing from all that? Is she actually expressing anger at how suicide "embarrasses" the survivors -- and projecting *their* narcissism onto those who commit it?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Identity in Conflict: What Omar Mateen May Have in Common with Geert Wilders

Pondering the increasingly paradoxical information coming out about the Orlando shooter reminded me of something I read a while back about Geert Wilders (which I unfortunately can't locate at the moment). This article had argued that the virulence of Wilders's anti-Muslim position arises from his having a divided identity resulting from his own immigrant background (his mother is Dutch Indonesian), resulting in insecurity about his own belonging in Dutch society.

Omar Mateen may have faced something similar, with even more of an element of double bind: encountering hostility from other Americans because of his Muslim-ness, and at the same time struggling with a sexual identity that he'd been taught to see as antithetical to his ethnic and religious heritage. The experience of Islamophobia might only have intensified his sense of guilt over his same-sex attractions, seeing these feelings as betrayals of an identity especially in need of defense.

I suspect he made no serious plans to evade police after committing his crime. His self-loathing was likely such that he felt he deserved to die anyway.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Tip: Don't Get Your Health Advice the Same Place You Get Your Waffles

It's evidently too much to expect that someone as set in his ways as uncritically-thinking Joe Sbaraglia, who writes "The Waffleman" column for the Philadelphia Public Record, would mend his ways after a couple of nudges. I've previously written him a couple times when he repeated false rumors, especially ones of a medical nature, but he just keeps at it. This time I've directly written the editor:

Dear editor:

Please stop allowing Joe Sbaraglia to repeat unsubstantiated, and sometimes downright false, health claims in your newspaper.

In his latest column, he cites a long list of purported benefits of bananas, introducing them with the statement, "The following material comes from" It's dismaying that someone who presumably knows the purpose of that website -- to clear up which rumors are true and which aren't --  doesn't grasp that people who are capable of passing on information without fact-checking it first, will likewise fail to check whether the information actually comes from Snopes. It'd be easy enough for him to do so himself, yet he evidently doesn't, since many of the claims he repeated either are not to be found on that site, or are pronounced false there.

Such carelessness is perhaps harmless enough where so-called "fun facts" are concerned, but it's absolutely irresponsible to repeat, or to publish, false information about medicine and health.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Trump's New Appellation

I have a new name for Donald Trump: the Dark Side of the Farce.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

An Anal SJW in the Philadelphia Gay News

Some remarks in PGN's latest "Family Portrait" illustrate the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy of some "social justice warriors."

I have no issue with much of what Jayme Campbell says in the interview, but this really stuck in my craw:

A gender-based example [of a microaggression] might be when people complain, "It's just really hard for me to get your pronouns right because you don't look like a boy (or girl)." So you're saying I don't deserve respect because I don't meet your idea of what a boy or girl should look like?

No, you idiot, it doesn't mean that at all.

A few years ago, I inadvertently misgendered a trans woman friend while in conversation with her and others. Immediately realizing what I'd done, I felt acutely embarrassed and apologized. Obviously, the reason I felt embarrassed was that I do respect her. But respecting her didn't magically negate my conditioning from infancy to gender people based on their appearance.

I didn't say something like what Campbell cites because I didn't want to sound like I was making excuses -- but if I had said it, it would have been true. And what it would have meant was not that I didn't respect her, but that I felt embarrassment over my error and, for that reason, a need to explain myself.

To do as Campbell does here -- take a statement that actually reflects a person's regret over their mistake and instead call it an "aggression" -- is really quite abusive.

Monday, May 09, 2016

No, Mark, Bernie Isn't Ralph: a letter to the Philadelphia Gay News

I'm increasingly struck by how fuzzy Mark Segal's thinking often is. There's no comparison between Bernie Sanders and Ralph Nader.

Nader is called a spoiler because, running as a third-party candidate, he competed for votes that might otherwise have gone to either Bush or Gore. Bernie not only isn't doing this; he's promised he won't.

In fact, as socialist Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant, who spearheaded the $15 living wage movement, has pointed out in an online petition, Bernie could run as an independent and still not be a spoiler, by simply bypassing "close" states like Pennsylvania. In this way, if he doesn't get the Democratic nomination and turn that party into one that reflects his progressive, anti-corporatist values, he could garner millions of volunteers, votes, and federal matching funds to launch one that does, without aiding Trump in any way.

Meanwhile, for Bernie to try and "make up" before the convention by diluting his agenda would simply serve to demobilize his movement and foreclose the chance for the kind of progressive realignment that his candidacy makes possible. By the same token, it would also demobilize those forces that would be needed to help elect Clinton if she's the Democratic nominee. This would be a lose-lose for everyone but Trump.

TAL's Doubly Wrongheaded Disclaimer

The guest host on the latest This American Life introduced one of the segments in a profoundly misleading and potentially hazardous way, thanks to his thinking's being warped by erotophobic ageism. I wrote him as follows:

You opened this piece with a disclaimer that managed to be wrongheaded in two opposite ways simultaneously, by saying it "acknowledges the existence of sex, and it's probably wrong for young children."

On one hand, you thereby suggested that the mention of sex made it wrong for young children, despite zero evidence that there's any age before which hearing about sex is apt to cause problems. I would refer you to this brief filed by sex researchers and others in opposition to the misnamed Child Online "Protection" Act:

On the other hand, the same wording implied that the mention of sex was the ONLY reason the piece might be "wrong for children." In fact, it was less about sex than it was about genital mutilation, a violent, bloody, and painful human rights violation. There's considerable reason to think young children might be traumatized by hearing about this, yet your mention of only sex in the disclaimer gave no clue. Had I any children, I'd naturally have assumed (as in fact I did) that the line about children reflected only the mention of sex, and that I consequently had nothing to worry about. And then my children might have had nightmares.
I might have added that the disclaimer before a segment of Snap Judgment concerning suicide, also on NPR a couple hours later, was by contrast perfect in its general applicability: "Sensitive listeners and people with small children should be advised that this broadcast does traverse some dark territory."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This Metaphor Is Bad for Our Health

In a solicitation from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, I found a reminder of an irritating practice of theirs that I'd always meant to comment on. I've just done so now in an email to them as follows:

I'm writing to express my disapproval of your use of the phrase "food porn." Clearly you are trying to convey the concept of food that tastes good but isn't good for you. Trouble is, that's not true of porn itself.

Despite generations of attempts to scientifically prove the "common sense"* that porn is bad for us, such evidence is essentially nonexistent, and sometimes it suggests just the opposite. Here, for instance, is a court brief debunking the idea that it's "harmful to minors":

And here's a study refuting the idea that the availability of porn lowers women's status:

This isn't a merely "academic" question. These false notions about porn have been used to justify restrictive laws and customs which, so far from protecting people, may well contribute to psychosexual problems and leave children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, as discussed by Judith Levine in her book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex.

*"What many people refer to as common sense is nothing more than a collection of prejudices accumulated before the age of eighteen." -- Albert Einstein

Monday, April 11, 2016

Thanks, Senator Haywood!

Today I was pleased to read that my state senator, Art Haywood, has endorsed Bernie Sanders for President. I just left a message on his website thanking him.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I received an automated reminder call from my community health center about an appointment in a few days. But you'd think it was from an analyst's office, since it asked me to "bring my id." And I'd do so, except I think it was eaten while I was on the Space Beagle.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

That REAL Old-Time Religion?

Last week, Donald Trump said he "listens to himself" on questions of foreign policy. But soon, I predict, he'll acknowledge listening to other voices as well -- like those of Yahweh, Zeus, and Ahura Mazda.

We already have a bicameral legislature, after all. Why not a bicameral executive?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Review: _The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind_ by Julian Jaynes (1976)

I heard of this book over thirty years ago on the last day of my Ancient Mythology class in college, but have just recently read it after following some links about it from a discussion prompt for my Less Wrong meetup group.

Without having looked yet for contrary arguments, I provisionally find Jaynes's argument fairly persuasive. An extremely brief summary: from a variety of literary, historical, and archeological evidence, he suggests that the earliest civilized humans lacked consciousness in the sense of self-awareness or an inner life, and that volition, because it wasn't yet integrated with the externally acting part of the mind, consisted of remembrances of past admonitions from authority figures, was activated only by the stress of novel situations for which the individual lacked a conditioned reflex, and was experienced as a hallucinated voice as it was transmitted from one part of the brain to the other (hence the "bicameral" mind). An important part of the argument consists of explaining the gods of early civilizations as cultural interpretations of these voices, beginning with ascribing them to dead ancestors who had been the actual models for the hallucinatory voices before they died. Another part of the argument looks at reports from clinical or experimental subjects of electrical brain stimulation suggesting the existence of residual brain anatomy from a past bicameral period that may underlie aspects of such present-day phenomena as hypnosis and schizophrenia.

The first passage prompting me to comment is on p.29 (first Mariner Books edition, trade, 2000), where Jaynes is enumerating and debunking arguments for the necessity of consciousness for various functions, so as to render more credible the idea that early civilizations could have functioned without it. Here he's refuting the idea that consciousness is a "copy of experience," as follows:

Think, if you will, of when you entered the room you are now in and when you picked up this book. Introspect upon it and then ask the question: are the images of which you have copies the actual sensory fields as you came in and sat down and began reading? Don't you have an image of yourself coming through one of the doors, perhaps even a bird's-eye view of one of the entrances, and then perhaps vaguely see yourself sitting down and picking up the book? Things which you have never experienced except in this introspection!

After a couple similar examples, he concludes,

Looking back into memory, then, is a great deal invention, seeing yourself as others see you.
My own answers to the two questions just quoted are in fact, most definitely, "Yes" and "No," respectively, contrary to what Jaynes confidently expects. In fact, prior to 2002, I would have been surprised to learn that anyone remembers ter experiences from a third-person vantage point, as Jaynes seems to assume everyone does.

That was the year I read Susan Blackmore's book Dying to Live: Near Death Experiences. As part of her effort at a naturalistic explanation for this phenomenon, she considers out-of-body experiences more generally, and discusses the fact that while some people imagine or remember their actions from a first-person perspective, others form a third-person mental image. IIRC, she cites evidence that which disposition a person has is predictive of ter likelihood of having an OBE -- specifically, that the latter are far more likely to.

So, the only somewhat surprising thing here is that a professional psychologist who'd already been in the field many years when he completed this book, was just as ignorant of the diversity of human minds in this respect as was I, who only took a couple college courses in the subject. I suppose this is an example of what's sometimes called the "typical mind fallacy," as discussed here:

That being said, the fact that what Jaynes writes here is true of even some of us does make his case quite strong, as do many other arguments in that section of the book.

After making his case about things he thinks consciousness isn't, Jaynes follows with an explanation of what he thinks it is: essentially, that it's a particular system of metaphors constructed by means of language. In fact, he holds that metaphor "is the very constitutive ground of language," and argues that "[i]n early times, language and its referents climbed up from the concrete to the abstract on the steps of metaphors, even, we may say, created the abstract on the bases of metaphors."

This rang a note of familiarity for me, because it echoed a thought I'd had about the first substantial book I ever read: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. I've pondered why I started becoming so intellectual from an early age, and it occurred to me that this book, which I loved when I read it at age eight, is very well suited to preparing you for abstract thought, because it largely revolves around depicting abstracts as concretes in a fun way. If what Jaynes argues here is true, such depiction isn't merely helpful, but essential to thinking abstractly.

In his discussion on the significance of oracles, Jaynes writes about Delphi (p. 323):

Another kind of explanation, really a quasi-explanation, still busied about with in the popular and sometimes professional literature, is biochemical. The trances were real, it says, but caused by vapors of some sort rising from a casium beneath the floor of the cave. But the French excavations of 1903 and more recent ones have shown distinctly that no such casium existed.

I'd also been told of this "quasi-explanation" and subsequently that it had been debunked. But in 2001 I heard about this discovery: So, it appears vapors may well have induced the Pythia's ravings after all. This isn't inconsistent with Jaynes's idea, however; in fact, by calling it a "quasi-explanation," he's indicating that, even if vapors were the trigger, the particular form of behavior they induced must have been enabled by some kind of structure in the brain, for whose origins his hypothesis offers an explanation.

Finally, on page 394:

The hypnotic phenomena found in a medical psychiatric setting are commonly more profound, because, I suggest, a psychiatrist is a more godlike figure to his patient than is an investigator to his subject. And a similar explanation can be made for the age at which hypnosis is most easily done. Hypnotic susceptibility is at its peak between the ages of eight and ten,

adding in a footnote,

In a forthcoming book, I shall be discussing the development of consciousness in the child, suggesting that this age of greatest hypnotic susceptibility is just after the full development of consciousness.

Jaynes never published the above-mentioned book, and I don't know whether he presented supporting evidence for this suggestion in some other form. But this rang another bell for me, because I distinctly remember that at age eight, I started having the feeling that this time in my life was special in some undefinable way because I was different from how I'd been before. All I could articulate (in my own mind; I don't remember mentioning it to anyone else at the time) was that it had something to do with my mind. I was aware that I was starting to shoot ahead of my peers scholastically; things that they all seemed to struggle with, like multiplication and division, were old hat to me. But the feeling of difference was more intrinsic, about how I had changed, not merely a comparison with my peers. After reading the passage quoted above, I suspect the hard-to-define change of which I was self-aware at that age was, after all, simply the fact that I was self-aware, whereas I hadn't been before, at least not fully.

At the Less Wrong meetup the other day, I asked the two others present if they had a similar memory, but neither did. Perhaps the difference lies in the emotional role that abstraction assumed for me at that age. The family situation felt rather chaotic: when I was seven Father was working out of state and we only got to see him on weekends. Around my eighth birthday (IIRC) we moved again, and within 12-18 months we were reduced to being tenants in a couple rooms of the house, but I'd picked up on the fact we were struggling with the mortgage even before that happened. In this context, as I've reflected previously, discovering a mental world where things were orderly and predictable (numbers, especially) provided a great refuge.

When Brian Martin's death was announced on the news a few days ago, the anchor asked, "What's your favorite Beatles song? Could be a tough question, I guess." I immediately agreed, but just a moment later started thinking of one: "Strawberry Fields." And as soon as I did, I had an idea why: I vaguely remember listening to it in the "music room" where the stereo was, relating it to the feeling of having a space inside myself where everything was peaceful and calm. And it now seems to me that the sense that I was different now was important because it was linked to having a "mind-space," as Jaynes would put it, where I now could go to find a rational and orderly world.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

A New Art Piece: "Bi-Focal"

For years I've been periodically making pieces of "math art," using color to vividly depict interesting numerical patterns. In my latest, "Bi-Focal," the color of each cell reflects to the nearest whole number the sum of its center-to-center distances from two foci. This results in (pixelated) elliptical contours.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Call on UC to Reverse Its Sexual Consent Catch-22

In a very disturbing development, the University of California system has adopted a new policy on adjudication of sexual assault complaints that compounds the erosion of civil liberties already brought by its "affirmative consent" standard.

Now, any non-consensual recording of a sex act, even if it's never shared with anyone, is considered a form of sexual assault. This may seem reasonable until one remembers that verbal agreement isn't considered proof of consent if the accuser claims they were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Since such influence isn't always obvious, this means the very act of attempting to create proof of consent could get someone accused of sexual assault.

This prospect looms even larger because of another change. UC is now abandoning adversarial process in favor of letting a single administrator hear and decide a case -- an administrator who may feel pressured to produce convictions to justify Title IX funding. The accused's only recourse is to appeal to a higher administrative body, which would have the same institutional bias as the original hearing officer.

This isn't only an assault on due process; it's also an assault on sexual freedom. While encouraging people to be comfortable talking about sex with prospective partners -- or anyone else -- is absolutely a good thing, trying to prescribe forms of consent in this way can only have an intimidating effect on people as they explore their sexuality, something that typically involves a good deal of anxiety already. Taken to its extreme, it could lead to involuntary abstinence for women and men alike. Accordingly, I've written UC President Janet Napolitano ( as follows:

Dear President Napolitano: I urge you to reverse the new policy concerning adjudication of sexual assault complaints at UC. It is unacceptable to give a single administrator, possibly under pressure to get "results" to justify Title IX funding, the power and responsibility to adjudicate such serious accusations -- especially when the new definition of assault covers the very recording that the affirmative consent standard makes necessary for proving innocence. This puts the accused truly in a Catch-22.
The option to appeal does not adequately address these concerns, since it would still leave the ultimate decision in administrative hands. We have already seen examples of universities' refusing to consider clearly exculpatory evidence on the technical grounds that the original trial was procedurally correct, as illustrated here:
Please restore adversarial process and the presumption of innocence without delay.
For further information on this issue, visit Stop Abusive and Violent Environments at

Here's an excellent piece by Wendy Kaminer on what's wrong with "affirmative consent" as  a legal standard. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Thought for the New Year

When life closes a door, the Elder Gods open an inter-continuum portal.