Grieving for the Living: The Book

Donate to the project here.

A few months ago I wrote a blog here, “Grieving for the Living“, about the pain and loss I felt after my parents disowned me. Something I didn’t expected happened: I received a dozens upon dozens of emails and messages from people stating that they were in the same situation. An unfortunate and common theme was that there hadn’t been much research or discussion about the effects disownment has as people go through adulthood. So I, along with a friend I met because of have decided to do something about it. Grieving for the Living: Effects of Disownment in Adulthood is a work in progress by authors Bridget R. Gaudette and Emma S. Phillips. Our stories, along with about 20 others will be recounted in the book. We’ve  approached disownment from several angles including religious (de)conversion, gender identity, interracial partnerships and sexual orientation just to name a few.

In addition, to demonstrate the need for such a book, we are conducting a large scale survey meant to assess the impact disownment has on mood and mental health. We will be assisted by individuals that have PhD’s in psychology and social work along with medical doctors and counselors.


Disownment is the formal act or condition of forcibly renouncing or no longer accepting one’s child as a member of one’s family or kin. We are pursuing knowledge in the hopes of helping others. We are confident that by conducting research about this population and by publishing this work, people who are experiencing this alienation, like ourselves, will be able to find comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. Further, the results we find with our research will aid in bringing attention to this issue, which is more prevalent than one might think.

If you have been disowned, please take this survey. Also, although we have a publisher that has looked favorably on the project no contract has been signed so we are raising money to self-publish here: donate.

For more information on the book and the authors, visit our website at

Cultural Appropriation and Daniel Baldwin Makes Me Depressed

Daniel Baldwin as Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy

I sat down to write about Christmas With a Capital C, the anti-atheist Christmas movie from a bazillion years ago, but I didn’t get through 10 minutes of the movie before I turned it off. It wasn’t because of the politics. It wasn’t because of the bad acting or script (but surprisingly high production values). It was because of poor Daniel Baldwin. He spends the entire movie DESPERATELY trying to be his brother, Alec Baldwin. Specifically, Alec Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock. But without the jokes. Or the charm. Or the chin.

It would be like watching one of Steven Colbert’s siblings do an impression of the Colbert Report for Christian Broadcasting Network. After the initial laugh, you realize this guy is only getting work because he looks like his brother’s famous character. His whole life is completely overshadowed by his brothers work. It’s just depressing. I can’t watch.

Instead, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the Mayan Apocalypse, Native American Shamanism and cultural appropriation. There’s a really great short film called “White Shamans, Plastic Medicine Men” done by a Native American tribe in the 1990′s. It’s not strictly debunkery, but the documentary goes into why white “shamans” are full of crap. I’ll give you a minute to watch a bit.

White Shamans Plastic Medicine Men

Traditional Mongolia and Padme. They copied it down to the dots on the face.

A LOT of “woo” borrow symbols and ceremonies from other cultures. From “Asian” medicine to “African” voodoo. They think it lends legitimacy to their woo. (Sort of like how having the discount Baldwin might lend legitimacy to your movie) Often, the woo practitioners will turn around and pretend that their Frankenstein woo is exactly the same as the symbols and ceremonies from the other culture. (Sort of like how the discount Baldwin is only worth something if he pretends to be the famous, sexy Baldwin) This is called “cultural appropriation.” That’s when you cherry-pick the things you like from another culture, suck them dry of their original meaning, and take the remaining husks for your own use. Is it bad? Not always. After all, cultural appropriation from Mongolia is where we got Princess Amadala’s costumes in Star Wars Episode 1. And it won awards.

Maybe that’s a bad example.

Anyway, it puts me in mind of the Mayan Apocalypse hype. Everyone and their mother was posting something or other mocking those silly ancient Mayans. Because IF THE MAYANS WERE SO PSYCHIC THEN WHY DIDN’T THEY PREDICT THE SPANISH INQUISITON (har-har). But Mayans are still alive and kicking. Those Mayans are kinda pissed that the rest of the world is mocking them over doomsday fanaticism that has nothing to do with the real Mayan calendar was basically created by Coast to Coast AM and this jerk. Take a gander at his amazon page. Notice anything… shaman-y?

Did you know that the Guatemalan government used the day to promote tourism and hired a bunch of non-Mayan models to perform sham rituals at the Mayan temple? Cultural appropriation is for everyone!

Anyway, my point here is that sometimes we’re barking up the wrong tree. The Mayan Apocalypse wasn’t Mayan at all. It was 100% New Age babbling. If we’d picked apart Coast to Coast AM for promoting vaguely racist theories about the end of the world (the theories basically boil down to: I took a lot of drugs and realized dark-skinned people were too primitive to have built the pyramids – it must have been aliens/quantum consciousness! And the drugs said they’re trying to warn us!), we’d had saved a HUGE amount of trouble.

But hindsight is 20/20. Give the documentary a watch. It’s good stuff.


Today we’re looking at PT Barnum and his book Humbugs of the World. After all, there’s no one who knows a sham better than a professional sham salesman. “Humbug” as you probably know, is an old world for “bullshit” or “flim-flam” but PT Barnum generously defines humbug as mere…. exaggerations of the truth. And as long as people were getting their money’s worth, humbug here and there isn’t a problem. Whatever you say, PT.

Humbugs came out in 1865, following the huge success of Barnum’s autobiography. Humbugs did pretty well too, and you can probably find really beautiful copies of both books in your local used book store – but it’s public domain and free on Kindle. If you want to see a really beautiful copy, CFI Amherst has a lovely leather copy in their library with gold lettering on the cover and gold on the edge of the pages.

At times, Humbugs reads like PT Barnum is simply defending his own humbuggery by pointing at people who are bigger liars than he is. And hey, the guy has a reputation to keep. But that all fades away when he talks about spiritualists and mediums. Barnum never hired a single one and he has nine chapters full of venom and scorn for the lot of them. If you’re into the history of spiritualists, this is worth picking up just for those chapters alone.

Otherwise, the book gives us a nice overview of the scams and psudoscience of the day, like the “Golden Pigeons of California”, the weird and wonderful moon hoax (the one with the demons having a party on the moon), witch hunts, Monsignore Cristoforo Rischio (a “model for our quack doctors”), blood purification pills, and the list goes on and on. The chapters on financial scams are tailor made for Skeptic money readers, with lottery humbugs, Tuipomania, the largely fictional (but very profitable) New-York and Rangoon Petroleum Company , and page after page of money swindles. The book is mostly anecdotes and feels like a friendly conversation with Barnum. It’s also pretty sarcastic and light-hearted, so it’s very readable, despite the 150+ years of language difference.

There is some serious historical culture shock. He has two chapters devoted to avoiding food and alcohol-related scams; for example, watering down alcohol to “homeopathic” doses. Barnums words, not mine. It took me a minute to remember that these were the days before FDA and basic food regulations. I’ve never felt so grateful for modern food regulations in all my life. I’ll let you read them for yourself, but it’s all very scary. It’s for the germaphobe. The chapters on quack medicines are even scarier with magic sand, rampant placebo use at doctor’s offices, and hashish candy. It’s a wonder anyone was able to survive a doctors visit at all.

Other chapters left me really disliking Barnum. The 1800′s were a bit racist. Ok, they were really racist. And boy-howdy is Barnum right in step with his era. The chapter on the Miscegenation pamphlet is flat-out unpleasant. I get that he had to sell copies of the book to all parts of the US (I’m looking at you, post-civil-war-south) but I took very long breaks from that chapter. It ended up being worth reading for the history of the word “Miscegenation”, but I feel like that information could also be learned from Wikipedia without reading about Barnums disgust with racial mixing. His chapters on religious humbug is where he can really loose me. He’ll start waxing on and on about pagan cultures on distant lands or ancient heathens and my eyes glaze over. On the upside, he does move onto “ordeals”; traditional christian “trials” that would determine your innocence if you survived drowning, poisoning, burning, etc. Apparently these were still practiced during his time.

Overall, it’s a fun read and many of the lesser scams in the book aren’t available to research on the internet. If you’re into history in general or if you feel like you’ve simply run out of new ways to be shocked by scam artists, well,  you’re only gunna find this stuff here and Barnum is awesome. Go check it out.


Humbugs of the World is public domain and is available on Project Gutenberg for free, and currently is free in the Kindle bookstore.

The audio recording is free at the Internet Archive, and was recorded by volunteers at

8 Book Everyone Should Read By Neil deGrasse Tyson

A couple of weeks ago Mr. Tyson showed up on reddit.  He was asked what book should an intelligent person read.

Here is the list of 8 book that he gave.  Some redditors left links to free audio books as well as free e-books.  I have also tried to find the links for kindle, audible and the old fashioned print copy.

1.) The Bible Free Librivox Audio ASV, Free Librivox Audio KJV, Free Android Bible App, Kindle, For a Hard copy- you can get them free from almost any hotel, Audible.

2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton (Part of The Principia) View pages Free Online, Kindle version.

3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin Free Librivox Audio, Free Online text, Free Kindle version, Amazon Print, Audible.

4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Free Librivox Audio, Free Online text, Free Kindle, Audible, Amazon Print.

5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine Free Librivox Audio, Free Online Text, Free Kindle, Audible, Amazon Print.

6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith Free Librivox Audio, Free Online Text, Free Kindle, Audible, Amazon Print.

7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu Free Librivox Audio, Free Online Text, Free Kindle, Audible $1.95Amazon Print.

8.) The Prince by Machiavelli Free Librivox Audio, Free Online Text, Free Kindle, Audible $1.95, Amazon Print.

Tyson added: “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”