Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book Review: "Troublemaker" by Leah Remini

Book Review: Leah Remini Troublemaker Remini's autobiography interweaves the events of her life with her exposé of the problems with the "Church" of Scientology. That's because almost her entire life revolved around Scientology, as it does with many of its members. Like other cult religions, members spend an inordinate amount of time (and in the case of Scientology, money) devoted to being "good" members.

In her TV series on A&E she interviews past members about the abuses of the church: bleeding members' financial resources, forcing families to "disconnect" from members who left the church, punishment for "crimes" (including beatings). This is an important exposé because these things are common to so many extreme religions. I can imagine relatives of people involved with Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, or Independent Funadamentalist Baptists watching her show and thinking "wow, that's like my brother's church!"

In the book, she tells mainly her own story, which is a whopper. She joined the church as a child and experienced several different aspects of the church. She began her "studies" in Scientology in middle school, commuting from Bensonhurst in Brooklyn to the Times Square building where she would meet up with her mother. This was in the 1980s, when Times Square was not a nice place for little girls. Soon, her mother took her and her sister to Clearwater, Florida, where the kids were put to work cleaning a Scientology hotel. Children of members lived in motel rooms converted to dorms, and babies spent their days in a collective nursery. Kids were not properly cared for . At. All.

Takeaway #1: Scientology does not believe in the connection between family members -- all humans are supposedly "spiritual beings" who are equal to each other, including children and babies, whose needs are not special.

She & her sister joined "Sea Org" as a way out of their circumstance, and they flunked out. L. Ron Hubbard disapproved of sex before marriage, and the definition of "sex" was rather wide. They were rather innocent teens but told they were sluts. The family moved to Los Angeles after that, and Leah was determined to help her family by becoming an actress (her lifelong dream anyway). Meanwhile, she & her sister worked at whatever jobs they could find despite not being old enough to work. The Scientology network in the area helped them find jobs, but the cost of being a member was a constant strain for them. Fees were the same for everyone - no 10% tithing for them! And being equal to adults, they didn't have to go to school and their mother didn't punish them as most parents would. She used Scientology on them.

Remini describes some of the training she received, some of which seems to have some psychological validity -- for example, learning to keep your cool while being baited by your trainer. There is also a rating scale for emotionality, with "low" or negative numbers on one end and "high" positive emotions on the other. I can see how this could be a handy concept in life, too. People around us can influence our moods, and thinking about that in our interactions is potentially a good thing. It's easy to see how you can feel like you're getting something for your money, at least in the beginning.

Takeaway #2: Scientology offers members a sense of community and mutual support, while giving them a few psychological tools. The downside is that these things also give them a sense of superiority to outsiders, which cements their relationship to the church.

As Remini started having some success in Hollywood, she also continued in Scientology, but she tried to avoid discussing it during her work life. The culmination of her career was a 9-year run co-starring in the sitcom, "King of Queens." Now she had two sources of community and friendship: her church and her sitcom family. She also got entré into the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles. She continued her "training" after work and during breaks, and rubbed elbows with Tom Cruise and the other celebs. As a celeb she was pressured to donate more and participate more. And she also witnessed more. My personal opinion is that her coworkers on "King of Queens" gave her an alternate universe that helped her see the crazy of Scientology for what it was. She also seemed to have a fighting spirit that was impervious to Scientology's "tech."

As a true believer, she was disturbed by what she saw. Members were supposed to tattle on each other whenver they saw someone committing a "crime," i.e. not being a perfect Scientologist, and she took her responsibility seriously. She and her husband went to Tom Cruise's famous wedding in Italy, her friends J-Lo and Marc Anthony along for the ride. Absent from the wedding party was Miscavige's wife, Shelly, whom Remini considers a friend. The wedding guests also included married people who were cheating with each other, and caregivers for Suri who were clueless about caring for a baby. (Remini doesn't mention the cognitive dissonance of a baby being born out of wedlock to people who weren't supposed to be having sex outside of marriage)

Leah reported on the misdeeds of the higher-ups, including Cruise and post-LRH leader David Miscavige. She honestly believed the church would care about and fix the situation (with more training at the miscreants' expense). Instead, she was punished and this became the biggest wedge between her and her religion. After the famouse Cruise divorce, she tried to clear her record (and get her money back), and she got no satisfaction. She asked why the regular members had to pay for retraining when there had been a report on them, but the people at the top didn't. She also got no satisfactory answers to her questions about Shelly MIscavige's whereabouts. That didn't stop her from trying, and it led to her separation from the church.

Takeaway #3: You can take the girl out of Bensonhurst but you can't take the Bensonhurst out of the girl... which is a very, very good thing.

As she was getting the runaround, she looked -- for the first time -- for former members' stories on the internet and in person. This got her into even more trouble. One was Mike Rinder, who accompanies her on the show. She was now "disaffected" -- unhappy with the church -- and her friends were being told to help straighten her out. As things got worse, her friends started disconnecting from her, too. Eventually she decided she'd had enough, and took a step that would get her labeled as a "suppressive person:" She filed a missing person report on Shelly Miscavige with the LAPD. I had heard about this, but hadn't connected Remini with it. I have even more respect for her now that I know this.

Takeaway #4: Scientology punishes dissenters, and even has a facility near Hemet, California, that is like a prison.

After coming out as being out, Remini decided to speak up for those who can't. Fortunately for her, she had friends outside the church (though she lost dozens of friendships by leaving the church), and her family left too.

Takeaway #5: Belonging to a religion doesn't make you a better person in any way if people who don't belong to a religion can be better friends, colleagues, and family.




Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Religious Parents Neglect a Child to Death... Again...

Washington Post: Minn. Parents Let Son (7) Suffer wounds, inflamed Pancreas, With No Medical Attention Before He Died, Police Say
The parents had “issues with going to doctors”, they told authorities, and instead relied on their own research, giving the boy vitamins, “medical honey” and Neosporin, adding later that they “prayed” for the boy’s health.
Incredibly, this is a misdemeanor!
In a statement, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the office initially approached the case as a homicide, given the boy’s physical injuries and apparent emotional trauma. But after a year of reviewing the evidence and medical information, investigators could not link the parents’ alleged actions — or alleged lack of actions — to Seth’s pancreatitis and death. As a result, Freeman said, prosecutors imposed the most serious charge the law allows, the gross misdemeanor charge of neglect of a child resulting in substantial physical harm.

To add insult to (fatal) injury, they started a crowdfunding page and bragged about what great parents they were. It's offline now but the WaPo quotes:
After their son’s death, the Johnsons created a crowdfunding page on, raising $7,000 to “ease the financial burdens” of funeral expenses and leave from work, so that “Tim and Sarah can focus on getting their family through this difficult time.” Their son, they wrote, died unexpectedly in their home.

On the fundraising page, which has since closed, the Johnsons wrote that Seth “was a very quiet and hurting little boy” when he joined their family.

“His family embraced him completely and loved him unconditionally, and slowly began to see growth and change,” they wrote.

His parents “taught him about God’s love,” they added. “What it meant to be loved. What it meant to give love.”
It took over a year for authorities to figure out what happened and what to do about it.  If there really were a god, he would have smote these pigs by now!   Fortunately no other children died in their care in the meantime.

A lot of prisoners are parents who truly love their kids and regret not being better parents to them.  Instead of beating themselves up, they will have better targets now.... assuming the authorities have the kahonas to imprison them.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Scientology is Taking a Beating

Actress Leah Remini, a former Scientologist, has taken up the fight against the destructive cult/business in an 8-part television series called Scientology: The Aftermath on A&E.  Recently, she did a reddit AMA and she will answer more questions from reddit tomorrow on A&E.

Three episodes have aired so far (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. EST).   The episodes center on former Scientologists and the impact their devotion had on themselves and others.  It becomes apparent that the "religion" is big business, costing members about $250,000 to achieve the highest level, and that anything short of total devotion is severely punished.  Remini interviews people who perpetuated the abuse and suffered from it.

And over on Discovery - ID, a network that focuses on murder stories, the "Deadly Devotions" series reran an episode that documented the role of Scientology in the murder of devout believer Elli Perkins.   Perkins refused to allow her schizophrenic son to be treated by an actual psychiatrist and instead took him to a Scientologist "psychiatrist" who prescribed vitamins.   Her son's delusions eventually caused him to kill his own mother.

Naturally, Scientology denies all claims of malfeasance and insists that ex-members are disgruntled whiners & opportunists.  If you've ever known someone with a severe mental illness, their anti-psychiatry stance alone should remove all doubt about it being dangerous.   Check out the show if you haven't already.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election 2016: What Have We Learned?

I have been dismayed throughout the 2015-2016 election year for a variety of reasons.  Now, as an atheist, I'm very dismayed that Mike Pence, an uber-Christian rightie, will have power outside of his own ignorant hick fundy state.   Time will tell if Trump really is the idiotic delusional demogogic narcissist that he seems to be.  If only one of these adjectives turns out not to apply to him, the country may not go completely down the tubes.  If they are all true, then he will take off the brakes, and all bets are off.  I am completely avoiding any television commentary on this and I may just stop watching anything but Nickelodeon for awhile.  I need to sort out my own thoughts on this before a panel of six screaming experts tries to shout the loudest into my head.

But the results themselves are only part of my dismay.  I am an optimist about people, and I feel my optimism may have been misplaced.  People who I thought were bright fell for outright lies and didn't even care that they could have been lies.  After 150 years of civil rights progress, we have a president who is supported by the KKK.   Climate change denial will be official policy.   The world may not stop spinning but the U.S. is going in a very very wrong direction.

So.... what have we learned?

First, we have learned that 2000 wasn't a fluke.  It is indeed possible to win the popular vote but lose the presidential election.  Could it happen again?   I think so.  I also think it may be time to abolish the electoral college system.  Trump received 59,611,678 votes, or 47% while Clinton received 59,814,018, or 48%. That's over 200,000 disenfranchised voters.  I think I would feel the same if the numbers were reversed (though relieved it couldn't be a retroactive change).  Fair is fair, and this system is not fair.

It's the economy, stupid.   Sanders appealed to people who can't have a nice life because of the cost of post-secondary education and the debt that goes with it.  Trump appealed to people who can't have a nice life because they don't want to go to college (or are too stupid or old for college).  The transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy or knowledge economy just isn't working the way we were promised it would.  Bernie's strength in the Rust Belt didn't translate to Hillary, either because she didn't work hard enough to earn Rust Belt support, or because Bernie poisoned the well.  Swing voters are apparently the ones who are most dissatisfied with their job prospects.

Negativity works.   This has been known for a long time, but Michelle Obama's "When they go low, we go high" slogan just doesn't apply, at least not to white people.  Political marketing strategists know this, which is why TV ads on both sides were relentlessly negative.  People complain about them, but they are influenced by them.  The biggest problem that I see is that they are increasingly personal in nature, which makes policy or party less important to the voter.  Like it or hate it, the party system is the way that most business is conducted in Washington.  Your senator or congressperson is unlikely to buck their party's platform out of principle because they can be punished in their next primary.... by a contender running negative ads supported by the party.   Until and unless we have term limits & election finance reform, party affiliation is more important than personality.  This year some Republicans were repulsed by Dirty Donald and voted for Hillary, but apparently not enough.

The more similar the candidates, the more the differences will be exaggerated.  Hillary is not a crook and Trump is not a buffoon, according to Larry King.  Both are part of the New York elite.  Would the focus on Clinton's supposed crimes be as bad if her opponent had been Mike Pence or some other traditional conservative?  Likewise, she & Bernie Sanders are both New Yorkers who served in the Senate.  During the years they served together, they voted the same 93% of the time.  How could Bernie the Underdog make a case that he's different from an East Coast liberal he agrees with 93% of the time?   His fan base dipped into the ready reservoir of anti-Clinton lore (and haven't let go of it if my Facebook feed is any guide).

Liars win and bigger liars win bigger.  The famous quote by Goebbels comes to mind:
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
In 2016, the truth didn't seem to have any impact.  I have been fooled by fake news or meme-lies, and when informed that my Facebook post was not true, I deleted it.  When my republican friends learn that their post is a lie, they don't.  One refused to delete a lie about Michelle Obama because although not true, it reflected her feelings about her.  I tried to get her to find something truthful that could support that same feeling but she made it clear that the truth didn't matter.

The October Surprise is still a thing.  Comey's ill-advised letter about e-mails that mainly turned out to be duplicates may have swayed just enough voters to either vote Trump or stay home.   There were no such surprises on Trump's side though he most likely has many skeletons in his closet.   Would anyone have cared that he cheated in an investment deal, lied on his taxes, or slept with women who were not his wife?  No.  Because they do not have the same power that the lie about an imminent indictment based on these duplicate e-mails generated.

Racism is still a thing.  Reagan's Welfare Queen is now a drug-dealing Mexican rapist illegal immigrant.  And instead of black people in the cities spending tax money on luxuries, the working class thinks they are being put out of jobs by immigrants.   Well, they should be happy now.  Nobody will want to come to the U.S. for at least four years.

Third-Party Candidates don't have a chance.  If the Green Party or Libertarian party would have had a chance, this would be the year for them to prove themselves.  The pro-Bernie camp who insisted that his small-donation, internet-driven, small-money candidacy could have been applied to a national election should have demonstrated this in their support for Stein or Johnson.  Likewise, the Republicans who were horrified by Trump could have thrown their support (and their money) behind Johnson. Instead, it's hard to make a case that either of them had any impact on the election at all.  Even though an "outsider" won, it was by a tiny margin and he wasn't outspent.  Until we have campaign finance reform, the minor parties will continue to be irrelevant, no matter how devoted their fanbase.

A four-party system could actually be interesting.  We would have to have a coalition governmental system, though, which is basically what we have now.  We have two parties that are made up of a coalition of different parts of society and platforms comprised of a variety of niche issues.

False Equivalency is still a thing, but few seem to have noticed that it's false.  That's why it still works.  Someone who lies a lot isn't equal to someone who lies a little.  Someone who makes six figures for a speech to people who make millions is not equivalent to someone who makes seven figures using workers making slave wages.  Someone who has disclosed thousands of e-mails and decades of tax records but has a few slips (if that - many were common knowledge or were classified after the fact) isn't equivalent to someone who has kept all that secret and whose few slips reveal sleaze and narcissism.  Someone who doesn't say the right things once or twice about a minority isn't the same as a person who plans to do ethnic cleansing (which is what banning muslims & deporting hispanic immigrants really is).  I don't always agree with Bill Maher, but he got this right:

And lastly, we have learned that the Religious Right still has clout. Pence is their boy, and they vote in high enough numbers to add to the coalition of the gullible.  Trump is the antithesis of everything they believe in, but he said enough of the things they wanted to hear to satisfy them.  They have looked past deplorable acts of pastors, "reality" stars and homeschool book publishers, so why would they care about Trump's morality?   They think they are saved from damnation for saying the right words and letting themselves be waterboarded by their authority figure.   They don't really expect much of themselves or their leaders.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Whew! It's not just me

Like I said before, I agree with much of what Bernie says but I decided to vote for Clinton. As a lifelong Democrat who has voted in every primary since I turned 18, I know overpromising when I see it. I think it's great that Sanders energized voters, but he also spun off a cult-like devotion that's undeserved. (Well, any cult-like devotion is undeserved).

I worried about my friends' gullibility and uncritical reposting of nonssensical stuff. I still do. With one more primary (that Clinton will likely win by a wide margin) to go, and high-level Democrats endorsing Clinton, the more hysterical members of the Sanders fan club are grasping desperately to half-truths and slippery math to hang onto their hope for a win. They are also uncritically passing along paranoid conspiracy theories. Things like that are a kind of Godwin's Law for me: If you have to resort to bad logic and shady "facts," you have in essence declared yourself a loser.

But now beyond that, they are becoming laughingstocks. attacks them brutally:

Bernie Fan: “Where Did All These Clinton Voters I’ve Been Willfully Ignoring Come From?”

Dude, I’m so fucking irate about this rigged election right now, it’s not even funny. But even though rage is definitely my dominant emotion, a close second is confusion. You see, there’s a question that’s been haunting me each and every Tuesday, when we start seeing the results from non-caucuses come in:

Where did all these Clinton voters I’ve been willfully ignoring come from?

Seriously, is it just me, or is there something highly suspicious about the fact that suddenly millions of Californians turned out for $hillary, even after I’ve spent months fastidiously blocking them from my pint-sized consciousness? I can’t shake this eerie feeling that the Bernie Sanders 2016 subreddit isn’t an exact mirror of reality.

...It sounds cynical, and I hate to admit it, but the sad truth is that no matter how painstakingly hard you avoid people outside of your highly homogeneous social circle, the system is always going to recognize their existence. It’s almost like when I search Twitter for the #ImWithHer hashtag, the people who I send death threats actually exist.

Ya-huh, bro: shit is fucked.
Yeah, real people voted on real ballots (mail-in and otherwise) consulting only their consciouses instead of reddit, or perhaps just brainwashed by the Mainstream Media (MSM).

As they say, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean you're not paranoid.

Friday, June 3, 2016

In Atheist Circles, What is the Opposite of "Feminism?"

I don't follow a lot of blogs or videos by lone atheists despite being one of those lone atheist bloggers myself.  My taste runs to those that inform about the battle between belief and unbelief in the world, or in the U.S. (such as FFRF)  and those that cover the battle between science & pseudoscience (including religious pseudoscience).

But on the fringes of my consciousness I'm aware that there is some kind of battle between (male) atheist commentators and people who represent feminism in some form.  This isn't Elevatorgate.  It's more of a long-running debate.

I regularly search "atheism" on youtube and filter to "today" to see what's being said by us and about us. One of today's results is "How Feminism Castrated Atheism" by Thunderf00t. I'm familiar with the name but I don't follow him, probably because of things like this.  I'm not an academic feminist, but I'm female and I don't want to be considered a second-class citizen of atheism because of that.  It's not that I don't want to be dissed.  It's more than that.  Humanity is a team, made up of two sexes (and some variants) and different skin colors, economic classes, etc.  Atheism should reflect that, and divisiveness doesn't help our cause.

Does atheism have testicles? Should it have testicles? Why would a movement need testicles? I'm confused by the title.

Also, does atheism have feminism? Should it have feminism? Why would a movement need feminism?

What "Atheism" needs is an attitude of respecting -- and even expecting -- differences within the ranks.  I really bothers me that people argue with each other publicly about these things because we are by definition bound to disagree about a lot of things.  So "New Atheism" as a ballsy movement that has been neutered is a very strange concept to me.  We were represented by men in the early 2000s but we have been represented by both men and women before that, so why not afterward as well.

Where would "the movement" be without Madalyn Murray O'Hair (founder of American Athiests) and Anne Gaynor (founder of FFRF)?  Thunderf00t may be making something of a name for himself via youtube, but will the New York Times publish an obituary about him?  (Link to Anne Gaynor's obit)  Well, Thunderf00t is bothered by Atheism Plus and Elevatorgate and he insists there was no sexism or racism in atheism before people invented it just to bully him.  He calls them "parasites."  And he thinks the Reason Rally's "conduct policy" is "castrating" atheism.  How can you castrate a movement he claims wasn't sexist?

So, I don't recommend the video but it brings up the issue of diversity.  It's been clear for years that women and non-whites were not proportionately represented in atheism.  The meetup group I went to from about 2002-2007 usually had ten men and just one or two women there (counting me), and no non-whites despite the city being very ethnically diverse.  That has changed as more and more of us "come out," but to say there was no unpleasantness in atheism is just laughable.  It would also be laughable to say that all the men are jerks, but fortunately nobody's saying that.

Since we only agree on one thing that we disagree on, we are probably the most diverse "movement' there could be.  I have encountered the following "types" since joining atheist groups online and in person:
  • Men
  • Women
  • Racist (only one so far!  *whew*)
  • Sexist
  • Anti-transgender
  • Ph.D. in science
  • 2-year degree in a trade
  • No degree beyond high school
  • Bitter people
  • Shy people
  • Happy people
  • People with kids
  • People who never want kids
  • 9/11 truther
  • UFO truther
  • Food nazis
  • Smokers
  • Drinkers
  • Pot-smokers
  • Sober non-smokers
  • People who believe in free will
  • People who don't believe in free will
Apparently Thunderf00t worries that feminism will ruin the Reason Rally, perhaps because 17 of its 42 speakers are women.  That's 40% -- and that's not even counting the members of the Wu Tang Clan and the Washington Gay Men's Chorus!  Among these women you'll find Anne Gaylor's daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Julia Sweeney and five other humorists, four scientists, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and other women who have something interesting to say.  The male line-up is also diverse.

There is also a workshop for lobbying about sex ed in schools.  This is a secular issue.  The states with the highest incidence of teen pregnancy are those where the Religious Right has silenced sex education or substituted "abstinence-only" programs.

He doesn't think there needs to be a code of conduct for the Reason Rally.  This code basically says "Don't be a dick" (a commonly repeated moral code on reddit's /r/atheism sub-reddit).  It even includes religion as a protected identity: 
The Reason Rally Coalition does not tolerate harassment of or by participants in any form. Prohibited conduct may include—but is not limited to—harassment related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, sexual images in public spaces (not related to convention sessions or materials), deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.
This protects us all from dicks and fundy preachers, and from nuts mentally ill anti-atheists like D.M./Mabus who stalked P.Z. Myers at a conference.

I had hoped to attend but it just wasn't possible.  It may seem extreme to some that there is such a strict code of conduct, but I would enjoy being in a place where people are nice to each other.  Also, not having to worry about fundies attacking us would be very liberating too.

So, if you go, have a good time and know that I envy you greatly.  We need to come together to show our best side to America and to effect needed changes, not be split apart over stupid shit.  We also need to laugh and sing because that's what life is about when you don't worry that some vindictive mind-reader in the sky will punish you for eternity for stupid shit.  Being asked by fellow human beings to be respectful to each other isn't repressive unless you're a dick.