Tuesday, April 30, 2013


One of the beautiful songs in the film Ondine.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Best of Book and American History TV

Here’s a list of some of the better presentations and discussions of the past few months. All but Graeber’s are available to watch online at the links, and that one should also become available within days or even hours.

David Graeber, The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement

(I just watched this one so it’s freshest in my mind. Especially interesting is his characterization of the US as a “nation of frustrated altruists” and discussion of the need for a more complex understanding of altruism. This called to mind some of Fromm’s ideas…)

Nancy Unger, American Women in Environmental History

Patrick Tyler, Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country – And Why They Can’t Make Peace

Arlie Hochschild, The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times

Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South

Ben Goldacre, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

David Quammen, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

Helaine Olen, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tennessee Republican finds something he'll call rape

Documenting and exposing cruelty to animals. The rest of Andy Holt's email:
You work for a pathetic excuse for an organization and a pathetic group of sensationalists who seek to profit from animal abuse. I am glad, as an aside, that we have limited your preferred fund-raising methods here in the state of Tennessee; a method that I refer to as “tape and rape.” Best wishes for the failure of your organization and it’s true intent.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The quote that probably won’t make it to Stewart or Colbert

Tennessee state representative Andy Holt, responding to Kayci McLeod of the Humane Society:
I am extremely pleased that we were able to pass HB 1191 today to help protect livestock in Tennessee from suffering months of needless investigation that propagandist groups of radical animal activists, like your fraudulent and reprehensibly disgusting organization of maligned animal abuse profiteering corporatists, who are intent on using animals the same way human-traffickers use 17 year old women.

Monday, April 22, 2013

RIP, Richie Havens

Face the Animal

Here’s another for National Poetry Month. It’s by French poet Jean Follain (1903-1971).
Face the Animal

It’s not always easy
to face the animal
even if it looks at you
without fear or hate
it does so fixedly
and seems to disdain
the subtle secret it carries
it seems better to feel
the obviousness of the world
that noisily day and night
drills and damages
the silence of the soul.
Translated from the French by Heather McHugh. From A Book of Luminous Things:

I’m a guest poet!

There’s nothing quite like hearing praise and encouragement from someone whose opinion you value highly. I was simply overwhelmed yesterday when I saw that the incomparable Cuttlefish had posted one of my poems and linked to another.

The first comment after my response also made me smile: “I’m glad the bull is included.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I loved this movie

This post was going to be the second of a two-part combination, the first being about a movie I hated. I’ve found myself procrastinating on that one, though, probably because I haven’t been much inclined this week to write about art that makes me angry, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the film I enjoyed first!

I was surprised at how much I liked this movie, since I’d gone into it with such high expectations. I’d wanted to see it since I first heard it was showing in New York, and seriously considered making the trip for the express purpose of catching it in the theater. I’m glad I didn’t, especially since as good as it is at 51 minutes it’s quite a short film. This is an entirely appropriate length, but I would have had a hard time justifying the time and expense to see something the length of a television show which I’d eventually be able to watch online.

While I had only the trailer and a couple of reviews to go on, I knew that it was 1) a political documentary 2) about the Cold War 3) featuring rabbits. Given this, I couldn’t conceive of any way I’d dislike it. So my high hopes looked to make some disappointment inevitable, but fortunately that wasn’t the case - I was delighted.

Rabbit is, on one level, a traditional animal fable – the director Bartek Konopka describes it as a work in the new “fairy tale-allegory-docu” genre. The music, narration, and occasional anthropomorphic elements* contribute to this reading. And it seems from what I’ve read – which isn’t that much, to be sure, since I can’t read the languages involved – that the filmmakers approach it primarily at this level: they mean to tell the human story through the device of the rabbits. And it works on this plane, using the story of the rabbits to examine the human politics of security, fear, and freedom.

Happily, though, it doesn’t seem to be possible today to make a traditional animal fable or allegory, and that’s probably especially the case in the medium of film. This is apparent in the fact that the reviewer in the Guardian felt compelled to ask the director if he’s a [ahem] “rabbit-lover.” Because the rabbits aren’t animated or particularly anthropomorphized,* and because the movie tells the story (even if all of the footage isn’t entirely authentic) of actual rabbits, you can’t easily look through them to humans – see them as a pure representation or symbol of human experience. Watching the close-ups of their faces, viewing their responses to frightening events, seeing them hiding together underground, it’s difficult to accept them as mere vehicles for the human story. On one hand, it’s difficult not to sympathize with the rabbits as rabbits and not just as anthropomorphized human stand-ins. On the other, it’s hard to avoid drawing connections between their rabbit experiences (of terror, curiosity, joy…) and those of human animals, thus helping us to understand our own experiences more fully.

Further, in documenting the treatment of rabbits by humans to illustrate the treatment of humans by other humans, the film can perhaps advance our thinking about the connection between the practices of and rationales for oppressing animals and the practices of and rationales for oppressing humans. This could lead to a better understanding of both, including of the forms of deception - and self-deception - that facilitate our perpetuation of and acquiescence in these systems.**

At yet another register, the film might have some genre-subverting qualities, calling into question both the nature documentary and the animal fable. The conventions of the nature documentary are upended in Rabbit. These documentaries are often constructed so as to erase both the documentarians’ presence and the wider human interactions with and effects on the wild animals filmed. (When humans are featured, it’s in the role of the sympathetic scientist and expert.) Putting disruptive and destructive human actions front and center, the movie reveals the nature documentary itself as in some sense a means of obfuscation and the erasure of domination.***

By upsetting some of its conventions, Rabbit could possibly challenge the ancient genre of the animal fable itself. The movie doesn’t hollow out the rabbits’ experience to deny them their independent existence. It questions humans (literally, I mean - they interview people) about their own actions toward the rabbits. It plays on double meanings that reveal shared identities, as when someone describes border guards shooting people “like rabbits.” This might possibly encourage people to think critically about the symbolic function of traditional animal fables. In some sense, they could be seen as the artistic “exploitation” of animals, used fictionally as mere human allegories and denied respect as beings independent of their usefulness to human narratives.

I have no idea how much of this was consciously intended by the filmmakers. It’s possible that it’s a subversive result that you could only get from an artist who’s sensitive to the effects of their artistic choices but isn’t intending to produce a work “about” animals or how we treat them. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. At worst, it’s a clever, original, and insightful political film.

*The movie’s weakest moments in my view are those in which the rabbits are most anthropomorphized, as when the narrator says that each rabbit family was provided an equal burrow. In contrast, they’re sometimes discussed in species-centric terms, like when they’re described as especially “timorous” (that’s a word you don’t hear often enough); this actually makes their shared qualities with humans far more visible than the anthropomorphic bits do.

**I’m reminded of the parallels between East German propaganda about happy, contented workers and the propaganda of the contemporary animal exploitation industry. (The film’s final scene, which I won’t spoil, leads to similar linkages and questions.)

***Hey, at least I’m not talking about “the human gaze.”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Atheist inclusion in official memorials: some issues

Ophelia Benson relays a request from Dave Muscato of American Atheists concerning the exclusion of atheists and humanists from public memorials. This is an extremely important issue to me, and I think it’s great that it’s being taken on. This will be a positive-critical post. I have some criticisms of Muscato’s procedure, and I have some praise for this broader effort which, unavoidably in this case, takes the form of criticism of the Harvard Humanist Chaplai, uh, Community Project.

Muscato’s request seems clearly to be meant for the leaders and representatives of established organizations. They’re asked to submit statements, including information about the group they represent, some of which might be given by Greg Epstein to “public officials” (we’re not told who) in a private meeting. They’re then encouraged, almost as an afterthought, to solicit remarks from others, some of which might also be passed along.

This seems a strangely and unnecessarily layered process, when much more direct means of seeking the contributions of the members of the community are readily at hand. (Even if some of these organizations didn’t have a sorry recent history of failing to engage, consult with, or respond to the criticisms of their supporters and people in the community generally, this would seem less than ideal.) A less hierarchical, more direct and open approach might also help to alert the community that there’s movement on the issue and get them active. Even if a private meeting with government officials is involved, that certainly doesn’t mean that grassroots public efforts and actions shouldn’t surround it. It can be about educating public officials while also being about educating everyone else, and there’s no reason the latter can’t supplement and accelerate the former.

That said, I’m pleased as punch that this is being raised as a key issue. As Muscato says:
Atheists are hurting from this news as much as anyone else, and part of the grieving process for atheists affected includes things such as representation at the official memorial service and in the community response. When memorial services include exclusively religious language, and especially when public officials use terms such as “godless” as a slur to describe these attacks, atheists who are affected are excluded and shut out from the community.
More than that, it casts grief and mourning as a religious, and not a fundamentally human, experience. For me, it’s not so much a matter of inclusion as it is of this aspect of monopolization. I think what we should have are secular community memorials in which religious groups can participate.

Which brings me to my criticism of the Harvard Humanists. Epstein’s response to the exclusion from the Boston memorial was consistent with the organization’s position in the past:
“The point of today was inclusion,” Epstein lamented. “All they had to do was say one word, or allow one official guest, and they didn’t. I can’t speak to their motivation. I hope it was a matter of ignorance.”
The HH have consistently attempted to identify and join with the “interfaith” community, and I’ve considered that approach unsound for a number of reasons. Epstein is plainly wrong here: the point of an interfaith event is by definition not inclusion. It’s inclusive only of faith (and, let’s be clear, not of all faiths by a long shot). The point is exclusion, both of people and organizations and more seriously of challenges to their monopolization of human experience and public rituals. That shouldn’t be brushed aside or minimized.

Epstein appears to be quietly asking for a seat at the faith table. I don’t think atheists should be included in official interfaith memorials. I don’t think there should be official, or officially endorsed, interfaith memorials. I don’t want us to have standing alongside faiths; I don’t want faiths to have that standing in the first place. There’s no more reason for us to accept religious public memorials than there is for us to accept religious public celebrations or religious public education.

(This is another problem with the procedure here: People might be unsure of whether to contribute statements or express support for this meeting since we don’t know how Epstein will be presenting the atheist position, and some of us have reason to suspect that it might not be in a manner we would support. I wouldn’t expect him to pass along my sentiments, but then this process doesn’t provide a meaningful space for me to air them.)

You could of course argue that this is a step in the right direction - that inclusion will lead to education and understanding and eventually to more or fully secular events. But I won’t accept, even tactically, an inclusion that requires styling atheism or humanism as some form of faith or respecting the conflation of religion and human experience.

The carnival-mirror world

Oh, right. I was reminded this week of why it’s important to continue to contest the misrepresentation of Central and South America in the US media.

The piece contains a clip of this exchange between Matthew Lee of the AP and Patrick Ventrell, spokesman for the US State Department:
MATTHEW LEE: Even though after—after—after the vote has been certified—after the election has been certified, you still think that there should be a recount?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Well, under the Venezuelan constitution, it’s ultimately up to the CNE to certify—

MATTHEW LEE: Well, I understand that—

PATRICK VENTRELL: —the election results, which they’ve done.

MATTHEW LEE: —but what’s the U.S. position? Is the U.S. position that there still should be a recount?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Well, our position is that—

MATTHEW LEE: —or the Venezuelan people to have confidence?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Our position is that—let me finish, Matt. Our position is that resolving these irregularities would have engendered more confidence in the Venezuelan people in the quality of this vote. And so, that is the concern we’ve expressed. But in terms of where we go forward, I just don’t have anything more for you today.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, OK. So are you prepared to congratulate Mr. Maduro on his victory?

PATRICK VENTRELL: We’re not there.
The US government's reputation should long precede it. Its representatives should never be able to make statements like this without being roundly jeered. Any suggestion that the US government respects and defends electoral democracy and constitutionality in the region is laughable.

Their concerns about the quality of the vote? The US government has been trying to destabilize and undermine the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia since Chávez and Morales were elected. They were involved with the 2002 coup in Venezuela, and rushed to repeat the story that Chávez had resigned and to recognize the coup regime. They kidnapped Haiti’s democratically elected president in 2004. They refused to acknowledge that the 2009 coup in Honduras was illegal and unconstitutional, hastening to legitimize the coup regime and to recognize a president “elected” in a process that was widely condemned by electoral observers and welcome a government that has committed widespread human rights abuses, including the murders of journalists, educators, activists, and lawyers. And this is all against the backdrop of a long history of overthrowing elected presidents and backing brutal dictatorships in the region. They should not be able to feel comfortable making public statements like the one above.

But the stories I’ve read in the mainstream press completely fail to challenge the US government’s narrative or self-presentation. And now, the CNE has announced that there will be an audit of the votes, and the New York Times report begins: “In the carnival-mirror world of Venezuelan politics,…”.

This isn’t a game. This manipulation has consequences for millions of people in these countries, and that means journalists have a heavy responsibility when they present information to the public. When they simply repeat the spin of US officials or corporate PR hacks, when they treat political life in the region as a joke, when they psychologize real political concerns, they play a role in the manipulation and in the undermining of democratic politics. And this isn’t about liking or supporting these presidents, their parties, or their projects or letting their actions go unchallenged. It’s about a basic respect for the electoral democratic process* – the same basic respect people expect for our own.

Some of these journalists are in fact sympathetic to rightwing causes and know what they’re doing. I suspect that some others, though, have simply become habituated to writing about politics in the region in this naïve, arrogant, absurdly condescending fashion. It's the norm. But it has to stop. The carnival-mirror political world here is the one they serve to create through their rhetoric.

*Which is far from the anarchist-democratic ideal, but a lot closer to it than military dictatorships and corporatocracies.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Another small National Poetry Month contribution:


Looking for someone to protect themselves.
And they do need protection, these
farms and ranches,
the right of these
processing facilities

to do what they love to do
for generations
a hundred years.
They truly care about every
protein group.

There’s nothing in the Constitution that would give you the right -
going in and really mistreating
this video footage,
someone’s private property,
their reputations.

It goes against what they were raised to do
to communicate about things -
harmful to
this hungry country,
helping them understand.

This is a found poem constructed from the words of Emily Meredith* in this interview. (For the dull, I’ll point out that this is an artistic appropriation of her words and not intended to faithfully reflect their original intent.)

*I know I said her name isn’t important, but if I’m going to make a poem out of words she spoke I feel obliged to provide it. It remains unimportant in this context – she’s a remote-controlled corporate drone.

Keep checking those facts, New Yorker

“How do you write 11,000 words on a political figure without knowing how they got to their position? It's like writing a long profile on Gerald Ford that refers to that time when he was elected president.” – Jim Naureckas
I’ve tended to swing between two psychological responses to mainstream US journalists’ coverage of Latin American – and especially Venezuelan and Bolivian - politics. On the one hand, I know that it’s full of untruths, half-truths, and unquestioned ideological spin, so I tend to try to ignore it or address it only to call attention to the misrepresentations. I tell myself that I’ve accepted that this is the situation and that there’s little or nothing I can do to change these journalists’ or their outlets’ actions – I can only contribute to public knowledge of the problem and try to share and provide alternative sources for more accurate information. But at the same time, I recognize that I haven’t fully accepted it, and that my periodic calls for retractions, corrections, and apologies reveal disappointed expectations and a resilient optimism about the possibilities for change; maybe if they just saw more clearly how they're being used as the instruments of corporations and governments…

That internal struggle informed my response to this FAIR article about Jon Lee Anderson’s recent coverage of Venezuela in the New Yorker (not to mention the linked articles by Keane Bhatt at Manufacturing Contempt). Part of me says, “Well, that’s nothing new. You expect it from them. You know they’re not going to change.” And then another part replies, “But they’re supposed to be professional journalists! They pride themselves on their work! And people are influenced by them! They have to do better!”

And on it goes.

Those zany university radicals

Reading a post at Quotha about the murder in Honduras of Julián Hernández (president of MARCA, the organization of peasants in the Aguán), I saw this aptly placed reference. It’s a policy brief from last summer, by one Patrick B. Johnston at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

No academic hedging here. The title states the message with brutal clarity: “The Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation in Combating Insurgencies.” It can’t even be claimed that “decapitation” is purely metaphorical, since, as history has shown, its literal meaning is included in the metaphorical use.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ag-gag discussion

This is a productive and educational Al Jazeera interview with Will Potter, Wayne Pacelle of HSUS, and the “animal agriculture industry” organization* about the AETA and ag-gag laws.

I’ll save most of my commentary for other occasions, but I was especially pleased that they discuss the connections to ALEC and the implications that go far beyond the animal rights and animal welfare movements. (If you’re not very familiar with ALEC – or even if you are – you should watch Bill Moyers’ “The United States of ALEC.”)

*The representative’s name doesn’t matter. I’ve long been fascinated by these corporate mouthpieces. It’s a strange reversal of the idea that corporations are people – here, people have willingly sought to empty themselves of human content to become an extension of corporations. So I find them interesting in this sense, but there’s zero point in trying to address them as people when they’re acting in this capacity. Nothing in their canned recitations is real human speech or engagement. They might as well be CGI.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fromm and existentialist books and essays for Kindle!

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to post the exciting news here. In the past couple of months, Open Road Media has published a large selection of Erich Fromm’s books for the Kindle. It looks like about half came out at the end of February and half at the end of March.* You can read older ones like Escape from Freedom

and Man for Himself

as well as later works like Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought

and many more.

Another publisher, Now and Then Reader, offers some great essays, such as De Beauvoir’s “An Eye for an Eye”

and Sartre’s “Paris Under the Occupation”

I’m really enjoying these Kindle Singles. Come to think of it, I guess I always thought that would be the best benefit of the technology: to enable people to have quick and easy access to free or inexpensive shorter works of interest.

*When I’m feeling suspicious, I wonder whether this release wasn’t coordinated with the publication of Friedman’s Fromm biography…

Minnesota psychiatry news, and a note about reference groups

Carl Elliott posted at Mad in America yesterday (“To Honor or to Investigate?”) about the University of Minnesota’s press release announcing that Charles Schulz, head of the psychiatry department, is receiving the 2014 Stanley Dean Award for Research in Schizophrenia from the American College of Psychiatrists. “The timing of this announcement is intriguing,” he writes.
For the past month, a petition to investigate psychiatric research misconduct at the university has been quietly gathering momentum. It is not often that you will find an issue on which the editors of The Lancet and Guinea Pig Zero agree, but the need to investigate the University of Minnesota is one of them. MindFreedom International has endorsed the petition; so have 200 academic experts in health law, clinical research and medical ethics, including former editors of The New England Journal of Medicine. Many alumni of the university have left distraught comments on the petition....
Elliott wonders who will prevail – those lauding these practices or those seeking to stop them. For me, this particular contrast brought to mind the sociological concept of the reference group. A reference group is
the group to which the individual relates or aspires to relate himself or herself psychologically. It becomes the individual's frame of reference and source for ordering his or her experiences, perceptions, cognition, and ideas of self. It is important for determining a person's self-identity, attitudes, and social ties. It becomes the basis of reference in making comparisons or contrasts and in evaluating one's appearance and performance.

…Reference groups act as a frame of reference to which people always refer to evaluate their achievements, their role performance, aspirations and ambitions.
When seeking to understand what could lead people to act in the ways described in the post, we tend to focus a lot on financial corruption and careerism. But thinking about reference groups can add another important dimension. It seems to me that virtually the only reference group available to most people seeking to enter psychiatry or related fields in many countries is the complex of corporations, professional organizations, and government and academic institutions that support adjustment psychiatry, the brain-disease-drug model, and a strong corporate role. In their education and professional life, people entering these fields are socialized within this system and come to regard the people in it as the only real or meaningful set of reference groups. They don’t just provide financial incentives, and financial rewards (or punishments) wouldn’t be enough to keep people enthusiastically involved in any case. They provide the social basis for the construction of a professional identity – social rewards, a culture of achievement (however dubious), a professional status and network, an ideology into which one’s work fits, and so on.

Not only do the alternatives seem limited, but they’re often viewed as threatening to the professions themselves and to the professional’s very identity. Happily, there are growing movements within psychiatry and psychology that can provide different frames of reference and visions of professional development. I hope that the movement for humanistic psychiatry continues to take form and to grow, and that more people wishing to do this sort of work come to be aware that they can choose and advance an entirely different political and professional role - one they can be proud of and fulfilled by.

The groups that embody the dominant model will continue to use their immense power and resources and to offer their accolades; their opportunities for professional status, career advancement, and social engagement; their comforting notion of the psychiatrist’s social role;... But as more and more people become aware of the scientific, ethical, and political problems with this model and of the history and existence of real alternatives, an organized humanistic movement can offer a meaningfully different and positive reference group.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fromm biographer on Book TV

Lawrence J. Friedman, author of The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet, was on Book TV today (you can watch here).

The biography was interesting. Very different book than I’d have written (I can say this with some confidence, because I’m writing my own book about Fromm and it is indeed very different :)), and I disagree with his take on a number of issues,* but I learned quite a bit new about Fromm.

I'd especially been unaware of the extent of his political activism. This talk is sponsored by Amnesty International, so Friedman focuses particularly on Fromm’s central role in the founding and funding of AI. I’d known nothing about it – Fromm’s name isn’t even in the index of Keepers of the Flame -

or about his involvement with (and influence on) the Kennedy administration and international politics.

The talk is decent, too. At one point in the Q&A a woman notes that she’s never heard about Fromm in psychology classes and asks why this might be, and Friedman replies that while Fromm’s books continue to be of interest around the world, the US stands out as a country where he’s not taught in psychology. The reason? “Psychology has lost its moorings, I think.” Too damn true.

*He adores Fromm’s You Shall Be As Gods, while I…let’s say I have a few problems with it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why we need atheist humanism #35,807,240,654,058,740,672

Dan Savage provides a solid (if maybe overly generous…from the sound of it – I haven’t read the book*) review of Jeff Chu’s Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. Here’s part:
…In the most moving chapters, Chu profiles gays and lesbians who are struggling to reconcile their faiths with their sexualities, some more successfully than others. Particularly heartbreaking is Kevin Olson, a “homosexual but not gay” man living in Minnesota. Olson chose a life of celibacy and community musical theater. He’s never had a boyfriend. He’s never had sex with anyone. But Olson’s honesty about his sexuality makes his Christian friends uncomfortable, so he no longer attends Bible study, and he stopped performing in musicals because of questions — “voiced and unvoiced” — about his sexual orientation.

“Sometimes, I do feel cheated because I haven’t been able to experience certain things in life, but then I remember that it’s not about me,” Olson tells Chu. “As a believer in Christ, you accept that this isn’t all there is to life. There’s a life to come. That will be a happy time.”

Olson attempted suicide in 1997 after his twin brother died and he developed a crush on a male co-worker — two events that Olson seems to view as similarly traumatic….
*I do hate that Savage includes a remark to the effect that Chu's more callous and uncompassionate statements show him at his "least Christian." Argh. No.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Why religion shouldn’t play a role in environmentalism #2: It’s gratuitous

It’s gratuitous first in the basic sense that it’s unnecessary. I’ve asked a few religious environmentalists whether they would still be environmentalists if, hypothetically, they came not to believe in the existence of their god, and I’ve never received a sincere, satisfactory response (or for that matter any response that I can recall).

I’ve never really expected one, I suppose. I’m not anticipating an honest admission that Yes, the person’s activism really stems from their own decency, passions, and values. I’m also not expecting to hear what I think in the overwhelming majority of cases would be a dishonest reply: that their environmental commitments would become meaningless and immediately evaporate if they came to disbelieve.*

I don’t believe for a second that most of these people genuinely think – when they’ve been challenged on their rote religious attribution and taken a moment to consider the question – that they lack a morality independent of external commands. I think this religious decoration has simply become a culturally sanctioned habit of speech and of thought.

It’s also gratuitous in the sense that it benefits religion by falsely conflating it with morality. Again, there’s no reason for atheists and humanists to play along. It’s plainly contrary to humanistic goals, implying that the humanistic alternative doesn’t offer a real foundation for ethical environmentalism andor that it’s not sufficiently motivating. (Sometimes this is argued explicitly: You’re never going to win people over with dry science, they say, as if our only option is to dourly read them an IPCC report.)

I understand what’s in this faith-ornamented vision of environmentalism for religions, but fail to see why humanists should be willing to accept it. They’re not just bedazzling our Armani dress – they’re then declaring that without the bedazzling the dress is trash.

* But, if we were going to take the religious attribution seriously, I guess we would have to point out that the risk is certainly there. Religion is a fragile, fickle motivation for environmentalism. If people come to lose the beliefs – that they have a God-ordained responsibility to steward the environment and other living things or whatever – they might well lose the inspiration, perhaps even coming to see environmentalism as harmful. It’s also double-sided: if we were going to expect that following a different church or theology could lead people towards environmentalism, we would have to admit the possibility that a religious shift could just as easily lead them in the opposite direction.

The fillintheblankstats and other evil referrerbots

Not long ago, I started paying attention to my blog stats and noticed some referrals coming from a vampirestat/villainstat/zombiestat site. Searching, I – fortunately – turned up a couple of bloggers who’ve posted recently warning people about these referrerbot operations that exploit the stats feature to get bloggers to visit their sites, where the lucky will be subjected to ads and the unlucky possibly to worse. (The comment threads are worth reading, too.)

The takeaway:

• Don’t click on these or other unfamiliar referring sites.

• Don’t include their full URLs or link to them for any purpose, including in posts or comments ranting about them.

• Do face the reality that many of the visitors to your blog are likely bots. Sigh wistfully, and keep writing.

Site Meter apparently doesn’t include them in its stats, so I see no reason Blogger can’t find a way to exclude them as well. After all, their using Google's features for their own malicious purposes will make people less likely to trust or choose Google, so Google would seem to have an interest in putting a stop to it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Joanna Moncrieff talks about “The Myth of the Chemical Cure: The Politics of Psychiatric Drug Treatment"

The banning of nonvoluntary psychiatric interventions, including drugging, can and should occur whatever the extent of people’s appreciation of the scientific bankruptcy of the brain-disease model. Even if these were genuinely effective treatments for psychological distress, that still wouldn’t justify their forcible administration.

At the same time, though, we can recognize that challenging the disease model is, in addition to its necessity in other regards, a useful part of the battle against coercive psychiatric interventions (including in but by no means limited to the research context). We don’t hear calls these days to give legal sanction to exorcisms, psychiatric hysterectomies, insulin comas, or lobotomies, because the arguments for the therapeutic value of these interventions have been destroyed and they’re widely recognized as dangerous sham treatments. But that sort of awareness hasn’t yet become widespread in the case of prescription psychoactive drugs, and so many in the public, even if they concede a generic human right to refuse these interventions, are confused by the rejection what seem to them powerfully effective therapies.

One person working on both fronts is the psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff, whose book The Myth of the Chemical Cure I wrote about a while back. Here’s a great recent talk (even the Q&A isn’t bad) in which she summarizes the arguments in the book and makes a number of topical points. I like her conclusion, in which she expresses her wish that her work can contribute to an appreciation of “how badly deluded we have all been.”

UN Human Rights Committee asks US to defend forced drugging in psychiatric institutions; and, how our choices matter

Following up on the recent news about the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture calling for the banning on all coercive psychiatric interventions including forced drugging, Tina Minkowitz from the Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (CHRUSP) reports at Mad in America on more progress:
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has asked the U.S. government to clarify how the possibilities for nonconsensual medication in psychiatric institutions comply with their obligations under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – i.e. the obligation to ensure that no one is subjected to torture and ill-treatment.
She describes some of the implications:
The question asked by the Human Rights Committee is significant in a few ways. First, the Committee appears to be opening up for debate the standards that should be applied to nonconsensual psychiatric medication. The Committee is considering the related question of psychiatric commitment and compulsory treatment as a violation of Article 9 of the Covenant, on the right to liberty and security of the person, as it works on drafting a General Comment on Article 9.
As one of the human rights advocates who’s been working on the issue in Geneva, Minkowitz also discusses some of the issues ahead and practical steps forward in advocacy:
We should urge the U.S. to provide information about federal and state law and to present its justifications for inflicting treatments on people that disrupt their consciousness, flatten their emotions, cause serious neurological impairments, and otherwise cause serious anguish and bodily harm, without the person’s free and informed consent and often over their active objection and refusal.
She also situates the development within recent history:
We should keep in mind that the Special Rapporteur on Torture has strengthened our position in human rights law, with his recent call for an absolute ban on forced psychiatric interventions including nonconsensual drugging and electroshock, as well as restraint and solitary confinement, and for repeal of legal provisions allowing confinement and compulsory treatment in mental health facilities. The U.S. government should remember the advice of the National Council on Disability which recommended in 2000 that mental health policy should move in the direction of a totally voluntary mental health system, and take the call to action by the Special Rapporteur as a stimulus to revive those recommendations and improve the human rights record of this country.
(I hadn’t been aware of the 2000 recommendation, but it should by all means be revived.) This is tremendous news, and I think marks a turning point.

A few thoughts on the meaning of these developments:

When I posted recently about the statement by the UN Special Rapporteur calling for a ban on all nonvoluntary psychiatric interventions, I feared that many people in the US and UK wouldn’t see the relevance in their countries. We often associate these coercive practices with the former Soviet Union and other extreme authoritarian regimes. But this question put to the US government should raise awareness of the problem of forced psychiatric interventions here.

This is very much a US issue. As I’ve discussed in the past, the US has a long history of forced psychiatric “treatment,” and this has never been far removed from politics. (In fact, the entire drug-based model of adjustment psychiatry revolves around the medicalization, marginalization, and containment of disruptive elements.)

Part of the problem is that our culture teaches and encourages us to view things through the narrow lens of personal choice. Due to this culture and our position of privilege, we’ve largely come to see psychiatry in terms of individual consumption rather than in a larger cultural or policy context. So we think that it’s a personal matter if we choose to embrace this model and these drugs for ourselves, as long as we think it’s helpful for us.

In this sense, it’s much like religion. People who believe they’re just making decisions about their own consolation and well-being are contributing to the cultural acceptance of this model and the corporations and institutions that profit from it. It’s a sort of epistemic recklessness in which those who are subjected to the model with less, little, or no choice in the matter are neglected.

Ben Goldacre’s recent book Bad Pharma suffers from this choiceitis. The problem, as he sees it, is that the corruption of medical research and medicine interferes with the ability of people and their doctors (who want the best for them) to make informed and responsible decisions. That’s true as far as it goes. But the people affected by psychiatry aren’t only those “freely” (on the basis of a warped and corrupted research base and decades of manipulation, that is) choosing to participate. Psychiatry is special amongst medical subfields in more than one sense, but most significant here is the longstanding use of coercive or involuntary interventions, often sanctioned by law.

For many, rejecting psychiatric “treatment” isn’t an option. People admitted to psychiatric institutions, elderly people in convalescent homes, children in and outside of youth facilities, prisoners,… Most recently, public attention has focused on the military, as in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Richard A. Friedman. Soldiers aren’t in the same position as some of the other groups just mentioned, but neither can their compliance with psychiatric interventions be assumed to be entirely voluntary.

Some figures Friedman provides:

• In 2012, there were more suicides amongst active-duty soldiers than deaths in battle.

• The number of psychoactive drugs prescribed to soldiers increased almost 700% between 2005 and 2011, even though troop levels have decreased since 2008.

• The number of prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs increased more than 700% and the number of prescriptions for anticonvulsant drugs (not FDA-approved for psychiatric use) for soldiers jumped almost 1000% between 2005 and 2011.

[Friedman is a psychiatrist who buys the brain-disease-drug myth, and his analysis is therefore misguided at times (he deplores the declining use of “antidepressants” in the military in favor of prescribing antipsychotics, for example, not on the basis that the latter are even more harmful than the former but under the assumption that the former are actually effective).]

Meaningful discussions about psychiatry and psychiatric drugs can’t take place on the foundation of the comforting myth that our personal choices don’t have wider ramifications.

More US children being diagnosed with Youthful Tendency Disorder

I needed this today. (From 2000, but new to me.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sometimes I despise my culture

And this is one of those times. Since the technical issues I (and some of my thoughtful and generous friends) have been dealing with for the past several months have now been resolved, I’ve been able to resume reading my small set of feeds. And they’re contributing to my misanthropic, alienated mood.

James McWilliams shares a recent piece from the New York Times“The Proper Way to Eat a Pig”:
I’m not going to analyze the piece because, unless you are a psychopath, it’s sufficiently self explanatory. In its gonzo glorification and stylization of violence it will inevitably offend most omnivorous gazes with its inherent creepiness….

The woman holding the pig’s head looks like evil incarnate. The kids, and their teacher, are smiling at death and dismemberment. The “look” on the pig’s face is Orwellian. Vegans should praise this sensational brand of journalism because, although the topic itself is morally offensive, the portrayal, although intending to be an example of responsible writing, reflects an almost comical attempt to promote the dubious virtue of no-waste carnivorism. My sense is that most meat-eating readers—certainly those who realize that a clean murder is just as wrong as a messy one— will not be motivated to go out and eat pig stomach. More to the point, they will find the suggestion so absurd they might look at its paler reflection through a new lens.
Sadly, I’m not so sure. Maybe the worst part for me was the butchery teacher’s description of her emotional response to killing nonhuman animals:
The first animal Davis ever slaughtered was a chicken. After that, she killed a rabbit. “I’ve never figured out how to fully articulate what happens,” she said. “I don’t feel guilty and I don’t feel bad. It is a pure and intense experience, but it is the most complicated experience you can have in terms of living and dying.”
This is a perfect blend of the statements of Nazis who led mass slaughters and the sort of mystical descriptions often heard from serial killers. Is it in any way possible, I wonder, that future generations won’t see things like this and think we were monsters? I hope not.

Meanwhile, Will Potter reports that a US district court has dismissed the lawsuit against the ALEC-influenced Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), while ag-gag laws continue to mount across the US. Although his analysis of the decision itself is fairly optimistic,* the juxtaposition of the story above, in which basic compassion is pushed aside and even insulted in the celebration of killing, and this one in which compassionate people who trespass, take and release videos, rescue animals, and “go beyond the terms of their employment” are labeled “terrorists” is truly horrifying.

*And someone in McWilliams’ thread mentions an interesting piece in the New York Times“Open the Slaughterhouses.”

Why religion shouldn’t play a role in environmentalism #1: Authoritarianism

I began a post about why religion shouldn’t play a role in environmentalism more than a year ago. It quickly took on a life of its own, becoming far too long for a single post (even one of mine). Watching an episode of Moyers & Company a few months ago really drove home one of the major reasons, and since I wanted to write about it specifically I decided to make it the first post in a series. I’ve alluded to or discussed most of these points briefly in the past, but they come sharply into relief when it comes to dealing with AGW and campaigning for environmentalism.

The show was “Ending the Silence on Climate Change,” and the guest was Anthony Leiserowitz, a research scientist at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Overall, but for the brief discussion of ranchers, it’s a great interview and I recommend it (and feel a little guilty about using it to illustrate a wrongheaded approach). On one point, though, it was quite frustrating.

After Leiserowitz has summarized the different stances on AGW found in the US – what he calls the “six Americas” - Moyers asks him to respond to different kinds of deniers:
BILL MOYERS: Assume that I'm a skeptic [sic]. Not only a skeptic but a Tea Party Republican who goes to church every Sunday where my beloved pastor tells me that, reassures me that God created the earth 6,000 years ago and that if God wants to end the earth God will on God's terms, that this is out of our control. If you were sitting across from a good, disciplined believer like that, what argument would you make to me?

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Well, the first thing I would do is I would listen, I would really listen. Because I'd want to know really what are the depths of, not just their concerns about this issue, but what are their aspirations? What do they want for their children? What do they want for their grandchildren? What kind of community do they want to live in? What are the values that really animate and motivate them?

And I would try to find some way to then meet them where they are first. So let’s just take the religious side. There are wonderful activities going on by all of the world's major religions right now including the evangelical churches to say this is a moral and religious issue, okay.

From our worldview, from our standpoint, this is crucial both because we were commanded by God in Genesis to till and tend the garden, to care for his creation which when he created he kept telling us, "It is good." Okay, it is our responsibility they would say to take care of his creation, and that the kinds of things that we are currently doing to the planet are essentially violating that promise.

But moreover, we're also seeing the theme of social justice, that we've been commanded, they would say, to take care of the least of these: the poor, the sick, the powerless both in our own country and around the world. And many churches, in fact, have invested enormous resources, I mean, sending their young people abroad to do great works to try to help people who desperately need that help.

Their argument would be how can we in good conscience ignore a problem that's just going to push millions of more people around the world into those exact same kinds of circumstances we're trying to help them with, okay. So all I'm saying is that the faith community itself is not monolithic, it isn't homogenous. And it too is trying, currently, struggling to make sense of this new issue and what is the role of religious faith in answering it.

BILL MOYERS: What do you say to the secularist?

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: I say let's engage on the science. Let me hear what your arguments are and then let's respond to them. And I would ask in turn that you listen to what the scientific community has to say. It's perfectly fine to have a great conversation with many people about the science itself because the science is so robust at this point. I mean, we have basically known for over 20 years now that, and it actually boils down, for all the complexity of the science it's really quite simple.

It's real, okay, climate change is real. It is mostly human caused this time. There have been climate changes over many millions of years in the past that had nothing to do with human beings. This time it's mostly being caused by our activities. Third, it's going to be bad. In fact, it's bad now and it's going to get worse.

Fourth, there's hope, that there are lots of solutions already on the table that are in fact already being implemented in this country, communities all across this country as well as around the world. There's an enormous amount of work that we can do right now with things that we have in hand.
I fully agree with the idea of listening to religious people and seeking to meet them at their best aspirations. Of course, we could find that some aspirations (for example, the glory of the impending Rapture) are fundamentally contrary to any positive program of action on AGW, in which case meeting them there is impossible. But assuming people who haven’t gone off that cliff, it is of course best to connect with people around shared positive hopes and wishes. This is true generally, though, and not specific to religious people. Any movements that want to address AGW and work towards biophilic and sustainable human cultures need to come from a humanistic and compassionate place.

But the next part of his response both contradicts the first and illustrates well the problem with the involvement of religion in environmentalism. He refers to some Evangelical churches that have a different, more “progressive” understanding of what they’re commanded with regard to life on this planet and social justice. There are several problems with this tumble into theology, not least of which is that theological disagreements aren’t resolved in light of reality, so all religious claims in this area have the same “validity.” There’s also the condescension involved in assuming that religious people can’t be convinced by a reasoned discussion of reality.

And many more… But most important for my purposes here is the authoritarianism inherent in this approach. It’s an authoritarian duplex, in fact – religious people are offered alternative religious authorities to whom they should defer, who in turn offer different interpretations of the deity’s commands. There’s no other way to describe this than authoritarian, and it’s exactly the opposite of the ethical-epistemic practices we should be promoting – critical thinking and questioning, skepticism concerning authorities, and a respect for reality. (There’s something especially perverse about this promotion of authoritarianism when it comes to this question of science.) As I’ve said before, believing is a political act, and support for the authoritarian principle and practices of submission to authorities have effects that go far beyond the realm of religion.

Of course, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of assuming that some image of blind obedience or belief represents reality. As Sartre describes insightfully in “Existentialism is a Humanism,” what appear superficially to be passive or unthinking patterns of behavior in reality reflect choices and commitments (why did you choose to consult with that particular religious figure or to view that particular phenomenon or event as a sign with that particular meaning?). People have personal and political motivations – conscious or not - for choosing to obey or believe who they do.

But this makes the case against authoritarian approaches even stronger. These promote the principle of authoritarianism as well as the acceptance of the notion that people are simply – in a realm beyond their capacity to make choices – submitting to authority. This supports the authoritarian claim that people are just obeying superiors, just following orders, when in reality the idea that we’re believing or obeying others or responding to external signs is a means of evading the responsibility for our own choices, which leads us to make more irresponsible ones.

AP drops “illegal immigrant” and “schizophrenic”;… and, the language fetishist just might be you

Last week, the AP announced that it was dropping the use of “illegal immigrant” and – though this change has received less attention - of “schizophrenic”:
"The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person,” a blog post from AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explains. “Instead, it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

The move, Carroll writes, is part of a broader shift away from labeling people and towards labeling behavior — for example, referring to people “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of “schizophrenics.”
The only problems with the replacement policy and language are those that reflect fundamental failings of our society. Referring to people “diagnosed with schizophrenia,” for example, still carries the implication that "schizophrenia" is a real thing – a disease that doctors can diagnose as they do arthritis; describing immigration as an illegal behavior similarly implies an acceptance of the criminalization of movement. But since we live in a society in which “schizophrenia” is considered a real diagnosis and crossing borders is sometimes against the country’s laws, the problem can’t really be addressed through language. Nevertheless, while progress is still being made on those basic problems, people who write about related issues can do what's possible to avoid misleading and harmful labels. And using language that doesn’t lazily label people itself helps contribute to change in that it can lead people to question their assumptions.

I was amused by Janet Napolitano’s response to questions about the change:
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters last week that she didn’t “really get caught up in the vocabulary wars.”

“They are immigrants who are here illegally, that’s an illegal immigrant,” she said.
So, she doesn’t get caught up in vocabulary wars, but she’ll be damned if she’s going to change her vocabulary. You’d think someone so unconcerned with “vocabulary wars” wouldn’t bother with such insistence on a simple term, especially one so many people find objectionable and that could easily be discarded.

This reminded me of Erich Fromm’s response in the 1970s to those calling for dropping the generic use of male pronouns and the use of “man” to refer to humans. In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), Fromm refused to alter his language on the grounds that he didn’t support the “fetishization” of language.
Another semantic problem is offered by the use of “man” as a word to denote mankind, or humankind. The usage of the word “man” for both man and woman is not surprising in a language that has developed in patriarchal society, but I believe it would be somewhat pedantic to avoid the word in order to make the point that the author does not use it in the spirit of patriarchalism. In effect, the contents of the book should make that clear beyond any doubt.

I have also, in general, used the word ‘he’ when I referred to human beings, because to say ‘he or she’ each time would be awkward; I believe words are very important, but also that one should not make a fetish of them and become more interested in the words than in the thought they express. (p. 20)
My response when I read that was the same as my response to Napolitano’s comments. First, it says something about how the person thinks about the people affected by the language and about their own position in relation to those people. If you claim not to be interested in vocabulary discussions and yet tenaciously cling to unnecessary terms you know are rooted in oppressive and unjust systems like patriarchy, if you dismiss objections to the cultural components of patriarchy as fetishizing language and insufficiently attentive to the supposed intent of the writer, you demonstrate arrogance and contempt for the people harmed. The principle you’re upholding is that you can treat those people exactly as you wish, and the word has in fact become a fetish – of your own sense of superiority.

Second, this doggedness often suggests that the attachment to the word reflects prejudices that run deeper than the person is acknowledging, or even consciously recognizes. This became clear when I was reading Fromm’s 1976 To Have or to Be?. In the foreword, he returns to the question of language and sexism:
Another point of style that I want to clarify concerns the use of generic ‘man’ and ‘he’. I believe I have avoided all ‘male-oriented’ language, and I thank Marion Odomirok for convincing me that the use of language in this respect is far more important than I used to think. On one point only have we been unable to agree in our approach to sexism in language, namely in respect to the word ‘man’ as the term of reference for the species Homo sapiens. The use of ‘man’ in this context, without differentiation of sex, has a long tradition in humanist thinking, and I do not believe that we can do without a word that denotes clearly the human species character…. I think it is advisable to restore its nonsexual meaning to the word ‘man’, rather than substituting awkward-sounding words. In this book I have capitalized ‘Man’ in order to clarify my nonsex-differentiated use of the term.” (xxiii; my emphasis)
Of course, there are several obvious problems with this argument. Seemingly difficult to miss is the fact that the word “humans” – hardly an awkward-sounding term - has long existed to denote our species. Also, it’s arrogant and short-sighted to acknowledge that a woman has educated you about the importance of language in sexism and then to refuse to accept that you might still be ignorant and to give her the benefit of the doubt and change your practices. And it would appear logically that the history of man’s use in humanism is irrelevant to the justness of that use. Finally, the suggestion that “man” used to refer to all humans could ever be “nonsex-differentiated” in any nonsexist sense is of course laughable.

But it’s the phrase I highlighted that led me to understand better Fromm’s unreasonable stubbornness on this point. It’s the last few words that hold the clue: “I do not believe that we can do without a word that denotes clearly the human species character.” This reference to an alleged “species character” points to why some of the obvious objections mentioned above weren’t at all obvious to Fromm.

Fromm’s right that the term was long (and continues to be, unfortunately) used by many humanists in this way. That isn’t a justification for its continued use or evidence of its indispensability - it’s an indication of a serious problem with the tradition of humanist thinking. This becomes more clear if we ask: Why doesn’t a word that simply denotes human beings as a species suffice? Why would humanists need to refer to some special human “character”?

The humanist tradition is deeply invested in speciesist ideas. It has been interested, often to the point of obsession, in distinguishing our species from “animals” in some essential way. This is the central conceit: Man isn’t just something you are simply by being a member of the species Homo sapiens. It’s a project, an achievement, an ideal – something only our species can potentially aspire to and attain. In this sense, “man” corresponds to human-with-adjectives: “fully human,” “subhuman,” “dehumanized,” and so on. Further, in the associated hierarchies, Man corresponds to white, cis, “Western,” “Civilized,” “sane,” and, especially, male. The lower down on the hierarchy are the beings or their behaviors considered, the further from the essence and ideal of “Man” and the closer to “The Animal.”

So we come back to sexism, but we can only fully understand it in light of speciesism. It’s not simply that humanists think “Man” should cover women, too, and don’t understand the concern. It’s that the tradition depends on a concept of humanity that draws lines between humans and other animals, and the distinctions are made in terms of the qualities alleged to characterize dominant categories of humans, particularly men.

[The tension within this view of Man – in the sense of both species and sex – as being both allegedly essential (what they are, as defined against others) and an ideal (the highest aim to which they can aspire) is important to recognize. A man is supposed to be the representation of the human/male essence and at the same time to strive to fulfill this ideal or demonstrate that he fulfills it. We can see this clearly in references to “fully human” and “real men.” This contradiction leads to a great deal of insecurity and the constant need to define and defend boundaries.

Humans in subordinate categories are on shaky and shifting ground. Fromm huffily declares that women are covered by the term Man, but since women’s alleged qualities – those most associated with The Animal – are what Man is defined against, women can only partially achieve the status of Man. Nonhuman animals, the quintessential Other believed to represent the antithesis of Man, can never come close.]

Given this, it hasn’t been possible for humanists to discard “Man” without replacing it with terms that convey the same basic ideas. As with “schizophrenic,” we can do our best to challenge prejudices and discrimination through challenging words, but in the long run we have to address and change the system of beliefs that gives rise to these terms and requires their continued use. The ideal is a world in which the so-called humanistic conception of Man has no purchase – in which the question “What makes us human?” makes as much sense as “What makes a bullfrog bullfrog?”

The important point here is that we shouldn’t accept superficially casual dismissals of “vocabulary wars,” “fetishization,” or “language policing.” We should look closely at the words people cling to with the most tenacity, even as they try to sound blasé about it. In Napolitano’s case, I suspect that the resistance to surrender the “illegal alien” label is in part an attempt to avoid facing the harms of a system in which marginalizing and devaluing people with official labels is central, and in which she participates. In the case of Fromm and other humanists, the unbending attachment to “man” reveals a deeply rooted speciesism that lies at the base of other lines of oppression.

*I want to emphasize that I’m not extrapolating from this single comment – it was reading it in light of his many books that was enlightening.* As I've noted before, Fromm’s sexism went well beyond the thoughtless use of language. There was some improvement in his use of language, but other elements of sexism persisted and even worsened over the years.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Found on YT: The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation



Three Dead Animals

The joyous poem I posted yesterday in honor of National Poetry Month can’t be allowed to stand alone. I’m compelled to add my own bleak, angry offering (some background):

Three Dead Animals

The bullfighter, writer, and sportsman Ignacio Sánchez Mejías died
the morning of 13 August, 1934.

The bull Granadino died
around that time.

The poet Federico García Lorca died
in the same era.

Friday, April 5, 2013

eighty thousand poems

I learned from Cuttlefish that this is US National Poetry Month. Coincidentally, I just came across a lovely poem (set aside the religion) by the garden designer Musō Soseki (1275-1351). It was recited in “Dream Window: Reflections on the Japanese Garden” on the Smithsonian Channel, which I also loved.

The sounds of the stream
splash out
the Buddha’s sermon

Don’t say
that the deepest meaning
comes only from one’s mouth

Day and night
eighty thousand poems
arise one after the other

and in fact
not a single word
has ever been spoken