Analytical Techniques: The Power of Anecdotes

Summary: We look at the role of anecdotes in researching the cult.  They can be powerful tools to either validate or challenge your existing thinking.  Anecdotes don’t prove trends or general conclusions, but they are a great tool for alerting you to possible trends, changes in direction, or conclusions you’ve missed.  This article talks about how we use anecdotes on Wall Street. But the best part is a case study, with one of our commenters reporting on a great chance encounter who interviewed a Scientologist at length in an airport bar, as well as my quick take on what to do next with an anecdote that challenges some of my beliefs about the cult.

Anecdotes are powerful tools: Today, I want to look at the power of anecdotal evidence in analyzing Scientology.   Stories from current and former members can be a powerful tool to check your assumptions and your thoughts about what is going on inside the cult. These are particularly important to help you make sure that reality has not changed without your noticing.  In other words, anecdotes that don’t fit into your current hypothesis of what is going on are one of the most powerful tools in improving your analytical work.

In order to make anecdotes work, one has to have a foundation of intellectual honesty. In other words, you have to be open to the possibility that some new piece of anecdotal data will unravel a theory, potentially even one that you are inordinately fond of.  You can’t rush to defend a theory without thinking dispassionately about what the new data point means. Pride in doing good analysis comes not in being right about a particular theory, but in being able to adapt your thinking and to continue to hone in on useful and actionable conclusions, even if they are heading in a different direction in your prior work.

While anecdotes are powerful, “the plural of anecdotes is not data.”  What I’m saying here is not at all conflict with what I have said in multiple comments on Tony’s blog and elsewhere about anecdotes as inherently insufficient to prove general conclusions.  As you may recall, I have said on numerous occasions that clear and convincing anecdotal evidence that Scientology auditing has produced big “wins” for some people in some circumstances is not sufficient to “prove” that auditing works in a general case across a broad population of people. As scientists say, “the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data.'” That’s because anecdotes, no matter how credible the teller, aren’t structured rigorously the way that statistically valid data points in a clinical drug trial would be.  So you can’t get from “a big bag of positive auditing success stories” to the assertion that “auditing works and is an effective form of therapy.”  

In other words, anecdotes are great ways to get you to continually challenge your existing views and to guide your work by digging deeper into inconsistencies in your scenario of what is happening and your predictions about what will happen.  For that, one or two anecdotes can be sufficient to open up a whole new area of research.  However, those same anecdotes are not proof of your new theory or model.

Incidentally, I am working on a longer piece that looks at the apparent contradiction of how anecdotes can be valid individually, but any number of them cannot be combined together to establish a true statement.  It should be out in a week or two.

How anecdotes make you rich and famous on Wall Street:  In the late 1990s, Oxford Health was an HMO growing explosively, and the stock was on a rocket ride.  But one analyst, who checked in with doctors who were Oxford providers, started to hear that they were having trouble getting paid, though she knew that Oxford had always been very timely in physician payments to date.  She talked to more doctors, did some more research, and eventually made a gutsy call: Oxford would miss their profit forecast for the quarter for the first time ever, and by an immense margin. Her research helped get her clients out of the stock while it was still high and avoid catastrophic losses when the company reported several weeks later that they were hemorrhaging money and the stock collapsed.  An article from the New York Times talks about the Oxford case (I can’t remember the name of the brave analyst who went against the grain and was roundly criticized until she was proven magnificently right).  And this article from the Wall Street Journal at about the same time gives more depth on the thought process of using anecdotes in a very powerful way.

Case study:  Let’s consider a case of a really interesting anecdote which was sent in by “B. B. Broeker,” a longtime commenter on Tony’s blog.   He ran into a Scientologist at the airport in Tampa and had a long chat with a longtime supporter of the cult, which he relayed to me.  He said:

I was in Tampa for business not long ago. When my business meetings went more smoothly than I’d predicted, I saw my chance. I drove across the bay to Clearwater, parked near the Super Power building, and took a leisurely walk around the Scientology complex. It was a pretty unremarkable visit, but I was glad to have seen up close the buildings that have occupied so much of my mental real estate since becoming a Scientology watcher.

On my way home, I stopped at the airport bar, and sat next to a chatty woman in late middle age. She was, based on her interaction with the bartender, on what I figure was her fourth or fifth glass of chardonnay, and was engaging the guy on the other side of her in a trite conversation about the deleterious effect electronic gadgets are having on communication.  Needless to say, I stayed buried in my phone.

While I avoided a conversation for a while, I eventually gave in after she directly asked me how my (crappy) food was.   As it happens, I was reading Mike Rinder ‘s blog when I finally surrendered.  It turned out she lived in the greater Clearwater area, and I mentioned that I’d just been there. She named a couple restaurants and asked if I’d gone to them, and I said no, I’d just visited on a pilgrimage of sorts to the Scientology complex.

Her jaw sort of dropped, and I figured, “oh, shit, she thinks I’m a clam, and doesn’t know what to say.” So I hurried to add, “yeah, I find them fascinating.” She fumbled a bit, and eventually said, “you have no idea what’s about to happen there.   I’m a Scientologist.”

Now it was my turn to be taken aback, but I quickly recovered.  “Yeah! Super Power is finally opening! The IAS gala! Golden Age of Tech Phase II is debuting! And … you’re leaving town?”

She seemed suspicious, but answered. “Yeah, I’m headed out of town for a while. I’ve got lots of friends [at my destination], and I need to get away for a bit.”

(beat)

“How do you know all that, about all the events?”

“Oh, I read a lot. Like I said,  I find your religion fascinating.”

Well, after telling her what I do for a living (I was soooo tempted to say I was a psych, but I made a conscious decision to not antagonize her, both because I didn’t want to be mean and to see if I could get this tipsy woman to open up), she seemed to decide that I was good people, and she told me her life story.

She grew up in one of the richer suburbs of a large city, but her family wasn’t really wealthy, and she didn’t really fit in with the other kids.  Consequently, she had a hard time of it in school. “I didn’t need Scientology to teach me how to stop being effect and start becoming cause.  I had to learn that in high school.”

She got into Scientology in her 20’s.  Her boyfriend introduced her to the church.  They got married, and her new husband started a company which he ran on LRH “admin tech.”  It succeeded, and was later sold, and they moved to Clearwater.

It was at this point that she confessed that he wanted a divorce, and that she felt like she needed some time apart to figure things out.  That’s why she was headed out of town.  He wanted to stay for the events, and she decided to let him have them, while she got her head straight.

“I’m really sorry to be missing what’s happening – especially the developments in the tech and processing – but I can watch them all on DVD when I’m [at my destination].”  I guess she was planning to be gone quite a while.

We talked about the tech, and how much it helped her and her husband relate better (I courteously ignored their impending divorce), and how study tech is probably the greatest advance in human development in the past thousand years.  She even talked about the amazing efficacy of Narconon  – she had referred family members to the center and tried it for her own drinking problem.  She felt the tech and the counselors had saved their lives.  (I chose not to comment on how she was throwing back the vino – probably on glass five or six – at that very moment.) She volunteered that her husband was on a fairly high Bridge level, and had been for a number of years, but I didn’t know if it was a faux pas to ask about her own case, so I didn’t.

Anyway, I continued to demonstrate I was knowledgeable about the subject, so I wasn’t that surprised when she said, “you know so much about Scientology. Have you ever taken any courses?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I’ve read a lot of LRH, and … well, I guess it’s just not for everyone.”

She sort of accepted that, but after a while eventually returned to the topic – not in a proselytizing way, but as if she were genuinely curious why someone who had familiarized himself with the Founder’s work wouldn’t want to rehabilitate his spirit.

“Is it it the press?  You know you can’t trust the papers.”

“Oh, I know.  But I agree with LRH – ‘look, don’t listen.'”  (She smiled wide at that.) “I just don’t feel like I need Scientology. “

Again, she seemed to accept my position, but then she asked me a question I never would have expected:

“Everyone thinks we’re crazy, or we’re weird. I mean, people seem to hate us. You don’t – don’t get me wrong.  But why do you think people hate Scientology?”

It was touching, and not a little bit sad. She really wanted to know, and really had absolutely no idea, why the vast majority of people outside her little bubble believe that something at the core of her life is ridiculous and/or contemptible.  In keeping with my approach of not antagonizing her, and because I thought it would lead to a more illuminating discussion, I played it soft:

“Well, there’s the money aspect–“

which prompted her to talk about how much training the auditors all had, especially with the GAT II release and with Super Power, and about how that costs lots of money, and there’s all sorts of self-study courses besides.

“Right, but I wasn’t talking about donations for coursework or auditing.  I mean, the fundraising.  The Ideal Orgs.  The IAS.  You’ve been in for eons – do you get the sense that they’re regging you harder?”

“Well, maybe. But they really don’t pressure you to give what you can’t afford.  I’ve never felt pushed to give more than makes sense. Sure, really wealthy people – and there are a lot of quietly wealthy people in the Church – give a lot, but it’s nothing to them.  Normal people aren’t forced to give that much.  It’s just not expected”

“Are you guys IAS patrons, or anything like that?  Did you get pushed to prepay for Super Power?”

“No, we’ve got two bridges to pay for, and college for the kids.  We give what we feel we can, but our bridges come first.  And no one makes us feel bad about that.”

I don’t know about you, but I found that fascinating.  Sure, it could be a PR line, but it was delivered pretty genuinely, by a woman who had heretofore demonstrated no ability to effectively shade the absurd disconnect between her idealized vision of the tech and the reality of her experience in the Church. (See: her impending divorce, her Narconon “success” story.)  Now, whether she actually isn’t being coerced into donating, or whether she no longer can discern coercion – whether she actually isn’t giving a lot to the IAS, or whether she no longer has a sense of what “a lot of money” actually represents – I don’t know.  But I believe that *she* believes that there truly isn’t a regging problem.  And that’s interesting in and of itself.

Anyway, we chatted for a little while longer, but I soon had to head to the gate. As we parted, I caught her name off her boarding pass.  I checked her on Kristi Wachter’s completions list, and she had indeed been in the Church for quite a long time.  And I suspect she’ll never leave.

Thanks to BBB for a well-written narrative, and for doing a great job helping the lady he was talking to to open up.  Great job on sucking up the snark and wit to ask bland questions to help her feel comfortable.

How to analyze this data point:  There are  a couple areas where the lady’s statements fall outside my beliefs about how the cult operates.  Here are what I noticed and how I’d react to them (not to refute her statements, but to dig deeper to see what’s really going on):

  1. Regging is at tolerable levels:  The lady says that she doesn’t feel overly hounded for money, even though she is reasonably well off in semi-retirement, which I would assume makes her a prime target for enthusiastic FSM’s.  Given the horrific stories that have emerged from so many quarters, I’m surprised to see someone who is relatively sanguine about the amount of fund-raising in the cult.  It’s not likely that all those stories of obscene fund-raising techniques are wrong, but this lady apparently spoke truthfully (“in vino, veritas”?) about how she doesn’t feel overly pressured to donate all the time.  There are several possible explanations, and we would need further follow up to determine which might be applicable:   a) her husband might be the target of all the regging, since he controls the money in the family; b) they’ve reached the status of a “sideliner,” having made clear to the cult that they’re not giving more money ever; c) the cult is toothless to follow up on e-mails sent out in order to get people to attend events; d) the cult is more sophisticated in fundraising approaches, spending less time on members who are assessed as less likely to give, or e) something else entirely.  A detailed follow-up interview, if it were possible, with suitably gentle and wide-ranging questions might be able to give some perspective.
  2. Focus on the “Bridge” instead of events and donation: the picture in publicly available testimony is that the cult is making it difficult for people to move up the Bridge because it’s forcing them to redo long-ago levels and courses.  The fact that so many recent escapees say that having to redo “Objectives” caused them to blow may be a function of a self-selected audience; we’re not interviewing people still in the cult (which is why this conversation is so interesting).  I am intrigued that this person’s story challenges what many of us take on faith about lack of progress on the “Bridge.”  I would want to ask a whole bunch of follow-up questions including understanding how much Bridge progress they’re making, and whether they have had the setbacks (kicked back to “Objectives”) that others complain about. In other words, are they just engaging in a little cognitive dissonance, like touting the benefits of Narconon while belting back the drinks?  Or is there some sophistication in how the cult is targeting its members to maximize the total revenue per customer (like a casino who knows which customers prefer blackjack to poker, so they don’t shoehorn a craps player into a roulette game that they don’t really want to play).  Or, again, is something else in play?
  3. Narconon:  the fact that this lady was quickly getting bombed while talking about drug and alcohol “tech” is amusing. But beyond this, it’s reasonable to guess that a possible reason she’d be doing something that most addiction and rehab experts would say belies any actual rehabilitation, is that the cult’s definition of “recovered alcoholic” differs from the one used in the rest of the world by a fair margin.  In other words, the cult may rely on definitions to get people to think Narconon works.  She may think that because she has completed Narconon that that is what determines whether she’s an alcoholic or not.  On Tony’s blog the other day, a commenter quoted a story of one cult member saying of a nearby OT VIII who smoked madly, “he could quit at any time, he just chooses not to.”  It would take a follow-up interview to see if the lady believes Narconon works because it teaches you that you have the power to stop drinking any time you want, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to stop today.  If that is indeed the definition culties use for “success” at Narconon, it’s no wonder it’s easy for them to repeat claims of an 85% success rate for the program with a straight face.

The more data points one collects on a regular basis, the better prepared you are to detect changes in the environment that would allow you to update your scenario. The faster that you detect and respond to change, the more effective you’ll be… in capitalism, if you figure out that a company’s business is deteriorating, you can sell the stock before others think there might be a shortfall, and can often avoid huge losses.

Scientology Daily Digest: Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A day off turned out to be a great thing. It’s amazing how much difference two hours of sleep can make.  I’m back in the saddle now and rarin’ to go.

Today seems to be relatively quiet, perhaps because of the first snow of the season in many parts of the Northeast, including a few inches in the Canada region of upstate New York, an amount of snow that the locals, in their native tongue, call “flurries.”

Reaching back to yesterday, the latest video from Karen De La Carriere and J. Swift about the cult’s legal machinations is worth a watch. The funniest line was when Karen interviewed Jeff, wearing a silver wig that would make him the envy of any late-night televangelist, who said “We threatened Vanity Fair with a very serious threatening letter.”  “Yes but they published the article.” “Yes, but they almost didn’t publish it.”  Legally omnipotent, indeed.  Karen asks, “Why does the entire internet laugh at us?”  “Well, that’s not true.  It’s only part of the Internet that’s laughing at you, a large part to be sure, but only a part.”  I think the most important point in the video was the idea that the cult may start to turn up the “religious persecution” angle to try to rally the troops and to blunt opposition from outsiders.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI8d8pZQW04

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Tony’s weekly feature on actually “doing” Scientology with Claire Headley featured an interview of longtime auditor and Scientology exec Bruce Hines and some commentary about OT II.  More importantly, there’s a mention of what appears to be a looney-tunes filing in the Garcia case.  The cult is complaining that the Garcia’s reply to the description of arbitration that the Court limited to five pages is itself longer than five pages.  Also, Tony unveils the “sensurround” room with speakers throughout to help you perceive where sound is coming from.

My take: of course, the Garcia’s were not limited by the court to any specific length in their response, so this almost sounds like first graders arguing about the rules for tetherball.  The “diversity jurisdiction” trap that the cult sprung was way more clever than the usual maneuverings, because there’s little latitude for the judge to rule against it.  They follow this slick maneuver up with a couple of extremely odd filings that can only irritate the judge. So one wonders if they’re almost baiting the judge to try to find some way around the “diversity jurisdiction” issue and waste a lot of the Garcia’s money on a trial, only to have the jurisdiction reversed on appeal.

The “sound room” from the Super Power machinery revealed in today’s posts appears to be an acoustical engineering nightmare, but that is apparently in keeping with the grand tradition of recording engineering in the cult, leading straight back to Hubbard himself, as documented in the long but hilarious ESMB thread written by someone who was with Hubbard on the project.

Selected comments:

  • Marc Headley chips in with a couple comments.  He predicts that a lot of members will hit the streets when they realize that virtually all of the Biggest. Thing. Ever is warmed-over dreck that they’ve already seen before, but which they’re being bludgeoned into donating at great expense.  He also gives a great vignette of Scientology’s technological backwardness with its Incomm system.
  • Legal Eagle Scott Pilutik provides some details on why the Garcia case filing is bizarre, but also points out that the Court won’t wade through any of the nonsense until the petition over jurisdiction is decided.
  • Missionary Kid hypothesizes about the effects of the acoustical environment in the Wall-o-Sound chamber, as a way to bring about psychological effects from certain kinds of sound.
  • MaxSPaceman finds a quote attributed to David Mayo, who was Hubbard’s auditor and who was one of the first splinter groups to try to do independent Scientology, began to suspect that it was a con when he first read the OT III materials.

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • Mike’s first post yesterday provides more perspective on what happened in South Africa. It is an interview with Wendy Bowman, one of the 18 people who were declared suppressive persons and cast out of the church a couple of weeks ago. http://www.mikerindersblog.org/wendy-bowman-of-the-joburg-18-tells-her-story/
  • Today’s post features comments from the cult’s Facebook page where the public are getting near delirious with anticipation.  I guess this goes to show that if you hype the event up far enough before it happens, that you’ll get people to believe anything is great.  Google “The Royal Nonesuch” from Huckleberry Finn and you’ll see what I mean.

ESMB, WWP, OCMB

Fairly quiet here, though eagle-eyed Aeger Primo was on patrol again today, for which we are grateful.

  • The most interesting discussion was one started yesterday, about how “independent Scientologists” delivering auditing can be accountable to their customers, instead of hiding the lack of customer success under a veil of secrecy as the cult does.  My take is that this is indeed necessary to build a growing business, since word of mouth is a powerful customer recruitment tool.  But I still think this is a potentially fatal challenge for the Indies, since I continue to think they’re not enthusiastic about building a real umbrella organization.  And the last part of the original post speaks volumes: they need to have a way that OSA spies don’t get auditing and then denounce their auditors as frauds.  Yes, there are all sorts of obvious comments to make about the idea that OSA would denounce auditing as a sham, but I’ll skip them to stay focused on the corporate strategy issue: it will be hard to build an effective organization when there is always some residual paranoia about the intentions of some of your customers, and that may even extend to suspicion about some of the partners you need in order to grow the organization.  
  • On WWP, some members of Anonymous plan to launch “Anontube,” a hosting site for anti-cult videos that would be beyond the reach of the bogus takedown notices that are part of the DMCA landscape in the US.

A couple discussions from yesterday were also interesting, including:

  • Some members of ESMB predict a mass exodus of Scientologists when GAT 2, Superpower, and all the Scientology celebrations planned in ClearwaterFL. More Scientologists may say WTF and leave. Then there is the recent wave of apostates in South Africa. Will some of them wish to practice Scientology outside the Church and join the Indie movement? A new thread discusses the challenges in doing this.
  • There’s a rumor that the cult will give a $500 bonus to staff members to celebrate the GAT 2 launch.  This sounds a bit far-fetched but it’s worth thinking about. A bonus of that magnitude without offsetting “mandatory donations” back to the cult, say, for copies of the new and improved (yet again) “Basics” would be uncommon, and would point to the possibility that staff retention is becoming a near panic-level problem.  That, in turn, is one of the issues that would bring about the end of the cult, and which all the reserves in the world wouldn’t be able to solve.

General News

  • Kevin Trudeau, Scientologist and serial fraudster, whose latest effort is an apparent pyramid scheme called “Global Information Network,” was found guilty of criminal contempt of court for failing to disclose assets that could be used to pay a $37 million fine levied for his scams.  The saddest part of the Chicago Trib article about the verdict was that there were dozens of “supporters” who were in tears when the verdict was read.  The penalties for criminal contempt in Federal court are fairly open-ended, potentially up to and including life in prison.  It seems likely that the Court is not going to be lenient when it sentences him in February.  Apparently, Trudeau is almost enough to make Grant Cardone seem like a class act.

 

 

 

Scientology Daily Digest: Monday, November 11, 2013

I won’t be publishing a daily digest for tonight.  I must plead exhaustion.

This has been a brutal week.  In the midst of a lot of other things going on, I managed to write a total of almost 17,000 words since launching the blog seven short days ago.  I’m utterly exhausted and need to crash before another long day tomorrow.  I have three feature articles to run over the next couple of days that I hope will interest you.

I would like to thank you who have supported me, by reading what I write, by contributing your thoughts to the comments, by sending me data points and ideas, and by your kind words.

One amusing thing worth pointing out:  In response to Tony’s blog post detailing another piece of crazy “perceptics” machinery, Espiando envisioned:

Considering the number of perceptics, I’m surprised we don’t have the Ketchupy Fountain, the Wall of Steak Sauce Licking, and the Bathtub of Baked Beans. At least those might be fun, and leave open significant sponsor opportunities.

At the mention of “sponsor opportunities,” my greedy little capitalist mind flashed on to who would be the best strategic partners for the cult among American industry.  So I quickly penned this little press release:

ARBY’S ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY TO “BOOM” ITS BUSINESS

Customers Invited to Savor World’s Best Roast Beef at Sites of World’s Fastest Growing Religion

ATLANTA and HEMET, November 11, 2013 – Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. and The Church of Scientology International

Today, Arby’s and Scientology are pleased to announce a sweeping joint venture that will see Arby’s locations open in all Scientology Ideal Orgs, a “straight up and vertical expansion” move that will increase the size of the Arby’s chain. Scientology will name Arby’s the official sandwich provider of the Sea Org, its elite ecclesiastical unit, and Arby’s will name Scientology its official favorite new religious movement. The deal will be supported by a revenue-sharing and cooperative marketing agreement whose terms were not disclosed.

Explaining the rationale of the deal, Paul Brown, CEO of Arby’s Restaurant Group, said “If Chick-Fil-A, another large restaurant chain in the quick service space, can see business soar due to emphasizing its anti-gay stance stemming from its founder’s Christian religious beliefs, why can’t we ‘boom our stats’ by using a controversial religion to win over new followers?”

Scientology’s ecclesiastical leader, COB RTC David Miscavige, points out Scientology’s rationale for pursuing this groundbreaking partnership: “We’re always looking for ‘fresh meat’ in Scientology, and since our numerous other increasingly desperate attempts to get people in the door aren’t working, we naturally thought a partnership with the food chain that is the unquestioned experts in freshness of the meat it serves to its customers was a natural.”

After pausing for a few seconds to scream at and strike several cowed underlings, Mr. Miscavige continued, “And we could really use the rent from Arby’s to help us keep the lights on in our Ideal Orgs, which are packed day and night from all the people seeking refuge from a world where hamburger-based fast food seems to be taking over like drugs. Speaking of drugs, can I mention Narconon here?”

In the arrangement, Arby’s will increase its locations by over ten times, opening approximately 32,500 locations in the Scientology Ideal Orgs in 3,754 countries on all 53 continents. Management anticipates the creation of over 47 million jobs to support the anticipated demand from Scientologists and others. The joint venture restaurants will be run on the time-tested management principles of noted restauranteur L. Ron Hubbard, and the staff will be paid on the Sea Org pay scale, a motivational tool that has allowed Scientology to “clear the planet” in just a few short years. Importanty, even if Scientology never sells a sandwich, all 47 million employees will be trained in Scientology techniques as part of the revolutionary productivity enhancement programs.

Brown continued, “Heck, even our slogans and marketing programs are compatible. Our slogan is ‘slicing up freshness’ and Scientology’s seems to be ‘slicing up wallets.’ We take this as further evidence that our two corporate cultures will mesh together. We are exploring creating kiddie value meals that include our healthy roast beef sandwiches, a small portion of French fries and either a Xenu plush toy or an action figure of Terl from ‘Battlefield Earth.’”

About Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc.

Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. is a leading global quick-service restaurant company operating and franchising over 3,400 restaurants worldwide. Arby’s was the first nationally franchised, coast-to-coast sandwich chain and has been serving fresh, craveable meals since it opened its doors in 1964. Arby’s is on a never-ending quest for the perfect sandwich starting with the Classic Roast Beef and French Dip to the deli-style Market Fresh® line of sandwiches and salads. Visit Arbys.com for more information and to connect with Arby’s on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Instagram and other social media channels.

About The Church of Scientology International

Scientology is the world’s fastest growing religion. In sixty years, the Church has gone from a fever dream of a hackneyed pulp science fiction writer to a major force in the world today, with over 14 billion members in 38,901 countries on all 53 continents. Scientology is reknowned for its charitable works, with Volunteer Ministers routinely parachuting into disaster scenes, “making it go right,” and for its literacy training and drug education programs. Ecclesiastical leader David Miscavige continues the tradition of humane treatment of staff and customers, and ethical fundraising laid down by founder L. Ron Hubbard, “Mankind’s greatest friend(tm).”

ESMB reader Type4_PTS posted this to ESMB, where it got quite a reception, including someone who actually called up Arby’s HQ to find out if this was a real press release. Kudos to Arby’s PR manager Kathy Siefert for handling what likely counts as one of the oddest questions she’s taken in a while with grace and professionalism.

I’ll be back tomorrow night, rested, caffeinated and ready for action!

Scientology Daily Digest: Sunday, November 10, 2013

I think data hounds should pay close attention to the story on Mike Rinder’s blog about the Haifa org, which broke away from the cult en masse last year.  There are abundant stats on how well the org is doing.  I show below how these credible stats can be used to bracket estimates for the size of the cult worldwide, so this is a pretty significant discovery.

Tony’s blog post today featured a story about a relatively bizarre filing in the Luis Garcia case. Apparently, the cult is trying to get one of the plaintiff’s declarations thrown out because it is alleging facts that are inconsistent with the complaint. What makes this absolutely surreal is that the facts mentioned in the declaration are the ones that Scientology has alleged. So in other words, essentially, the cult of saying that Luis Garcia’s declaration is invalid because it repeats the church’s statements, which are true when the church says them but lies when Garcia repeats them.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

One of the most personally relevant comments on Tony’s blog came from Bury_The_Nuts, who remembered something I wrote a long time ago and applied it in a confrontation with cult goons at Flag one night…  Her story about using “Capitalist Tech” to mess with the heads of the guards and get them to understand that “the tech” doesn’t work made my day.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

The cult filed a rather odd motion in the Luis Garcia case, attempting to strike a declaration by Luis Garcia himself, claiming that the facts in the declaration did not match the facts in the original complaint. Of course, the cult is rather conveniently forgetting that the declaration is repeating what the cult alleged were the facts. In other words, it is getting a little surreal in here. I would have to believe that Ted Babbitt, the Garcia’s attorney, could not believe his eyes when he read the motion.

Scott Pilutik cleverly and vividly explains the absurdity of this filing in his comment.

Marc Headley wrote an eloquent letter to Mayor of Clearwater giving a great summary of how David Miscavage treats everyone, including the city. He is advising the mayor to toughen up and deal with this hemorrhoid on the body politic. I am not sure if this will have much effect, but it is certainly a great read.

In the interest of brevity, click here to see my detailed comment taking apart the craziness in the Sunday Funnies.

My take:  as I frequently point out, I am not a lawyer, so I do not see this legal battle through a lens that looks anything like the way a lawyer would see. I tend to see these things, surprisingly enough, as plays that explore good versus evil. Some of my thinking is informed by literary criticism and literary theory, and some by my skills in handicapping political campaigns and strategies.

That said, it sure feels to me like the tenor of this case has changed, and the momentum is back  The motion to dismiss filed by the cult on grounds of “diversity jurisdiction” certainly had the feel of an elegantly laid trap that, if successful, would make it significantly harder for the Garcia’s to prevail (even if it did not make it any more difficult, it certainly would make it more expensive). While Ted Babbitt prepared what felt like a competent enough response, it was a bit less confident in tone and some of the prior paperwork filed in the case.

But now, it appears that the cult is back to its usual program of bizarre legal machinations that swing for the fences but they come nowhere near actually hitting the ball. This latest tactic sounds even more ill-advised than the motion to disqualify counsel, which the cult soundly lost. It seems to me that if David Miscavage had a little more restraint, he would probably have a better chance on prevailing with the diversity jurisdiction motion. But the fact that he is driving his attorneys to file these obviously dilatory motions has a great chance of waving a big red flag in front of the judge. The judge will smell bogus legal tactics, and it would seem reasonable to guess that he will be very sympathetic to the Garcia’s attempts to conduct extensive discovery on the reality of the trusts that are at the heart of the motion to dismiss on diversity jurisdiction grounds.

In other words, by trying to win every battle, and by trying to start other battles in relevant locations, it is entirely possible that Miscavage will turn a potential victory into a far more likely defeat.

Key comments:

  • Anonymous points out that the whole Sunday Service thing, which Artie Maren’s trip to “preach” in Georgia, may be a renewed emphasis on “religious cloaking” to try and deflect some heat.  I would ask that people be aware of this possibility, and look for any notices of similar events at other orgs to try and determine whether this is a trend. That enables us to try to figure out what “flap” caused Miscavige to stir this pot, which has been relatively quiet for a long time.
  • Miss Tia tweeted director Ron Howard and other relevant players to make them aware of the copyright violation for the movie “Rush” with all the footage incorporated in the Silicon Valley org promo video.  Apparently, though they were pretty good about copyright violations for a month or two, they’re back to stealing stuff left and right. It appears they just can’t help themselves.
  • “Jo” discovered a cartoon that implies that the use of free stress tests to recruit new members may be alive and well outside of Scientology.
  • Beloved witty commenter “The Next Mrs. Tom Cruise” resurfaced after some months under the name “Sciloonfairy” after fixing long-time Disqus security problems.
  • TheCommodeDoor makes a nice catch of a 1980 paper published in the journal “Sociological Analysis” on the “superhuman” aspects of Clear.  It makes the point that Clear is a social status marker in the cult rather than something people believe gives them actual super powers.
  • Observer discovers a picture that hasn’t been shooped, and is disgusted by what she sees in the background behind Hubbard.  This is why.
  • Michael Leonard Tilse points out that vacillation on the part of the City of Clearwater may be a function of covert Scientologists still on the City payroll, long after many of us may have thought that the cult would have lost interest in such things.
  • Cat Daddy goes off-topic with a major find, a gloating video from a Volunteer Minister who took a bunch of water bottles stacked against the wall outside a makeshift X-ray clinic and handed them out. Too bad the bottles were there as improvised radiation shielding to protect personnel and people waiting to get treated.  Oh, wait, who was it that said radiation was an engram or something ludicrous?

Mike Rinder’s Blog

Mike’s blog post for today does a nice follow-up of the Haifa mission in Israel, which broke off as a group (staff and customers) a year ago, in a move that is unprecedented in the recent decades of Scientology.  There are some interesting data points that come out: Haifa, a metro area of 700,000, and the educational capital of Israel, has about 50 active Scientologists.  That’s probably due to extraordinary hustle on the part of the Lembergers, the mission holder couple.  That gives us a likely number of church adherent Scientologists in the country as a whole of perhaps 200, given likely lack of hustle from the Tel Aviv org.

It also gives a lower bound of staff per member, since the article shows the 5 staffers serving the 50 customers or a ratio of 1:10.  I have estimated previously that there are about 5,000 staff worldwide out of 25,000 members, a very inefficient organization indeed.  A software company typically does about $1.5 billion in revenue with 5,000 employees, almost an order of magnitude more than the cult…  Thus, this article suggests I’m reasonably correct on the relative ratio of staff to public in the cult.  That means we can focus on trying to model overall cult membership, and estimate the staff top-down from the overall member total, then we can cross-check that with built-up estimates of the staff of various key headquarters organizations.

Marty Rathbun’s Blog

Marty’s back after a long-ish absence, with a post about his plans to publish more books next year. He plans to help people move beyond Scientology, with the first part focusing on how to get some critical thinking skills back so one is no longer a blind adherent to the cult.  He’ll then think about what’s wrong with the OT levels from the standpoint of someone who’s done them. He decries the “shallow debunking of Hubbard and his theories.” While that may well be a nod to never-in’s trying to point out the absurdity of the OT process, the insult doesn’t matter.  What is interesting here is that he may be trying to use Scientology to cause Scientology to implode.  We shall see what happens as these books come to fruition.

WWP, ESMB, OCMB

Thanks again to Aeger Primo for keeping an eagle eye on the forums today!  Vistaril also made a great catch revealing a particularly pernicious trick for dealing with protesters.

  • Here’s a link to ESMB’s thread discussing the South Africa situation after the recent “massacre” of 50-year members that were at the top of the heap in that country.
  • Here’s an important discussion on both WWP and ESMB of security for people posting videos to YouTube and posting content to other Google properties.  The fact that Google is trying to get you to use Google+ (their sort-of Facebook clone) can result in some security leakage potentially including revealing one’s name used in sending e-mails.  When some of us created the “Rodeo” on Google Groups as a temporary home for the commenter community when Tony left the Village Voice but before he launched his own site, we discovered this.  I emphasize that I don’t think one needs to panic, but just to be aware of the situation and take steps if you post content to the properties referenced.  This does not create security risk on non-Google sites, such as Tony’s blog, mine, or anything else that uses Disqus, for example.
  • From the “Maggots gotta mag” department: the Philippines were devastated recently by the strongest typhoon ever recorded, and desperately needs help. ESMB anticipates that the American Red Cross may soon be joined by the “Cockroach Brigade” as Scientology’s Volunteer Ministers fly in to get in the way for a major fundraising photo op, and to waste time with fingers ready to do touch assists and hand out “International Disaster Response” booklets. I continue to find it amazing that they are handing out booklets to people languishing in the rubble of their former homes that contain the precept “Live a prosperous life.”   See the video Cat Daddy uncovered to amp up your outrage quotient over Volunteer Ministers if you just think they’re hapless dupes.  Their stupidity kills.
  • WWP discusses the project to flag Co$ ads on Craigslist as spam.  They’re working to coordinate efforts even more effectively.
  • Vistaril caught an interesting story about how a cultie got arrested for throwing water on two protesters.  The discussion on WWP raised the interesting point that this may have been done so the cult could get the identity of the Anons that would have to be revealed as part of making a police complaint, implying that the stunt was essentially arranged entirely for the purpose.  Apparently, one of the Anons was comfortable doing this, and that was sufficient to make the arrest.  The good news: they’re desperate enough to unmask Anons that someone would risk an arrest that will show up on a background check if they ever leave the cult.  The bad news: this may actually work.  The worse news, if you’re in the cult: David Miscavige treats your future employment prospects with about the same care and concern as the average Al Qaeda lieutenant recruiting suicide bombers.

Scientology Daily Digest: Saturday, November 9, 2013

Today, some follow-up details on the South Africa nightmare showed up; I continue to think this could be significant as the cult appears to be retreating and retrenching from some geographies to focus on the US operation.  I’m hungrily devouring everything I can to attempt to figure out whether this scenario of the cult declaring a sizable number of big donors will have ripple effects potentially including the entire org declaring itself independent of the “mother church.”

Tony’s article today focuses on a filing in the Garcia suit which can be used to cast aspersions on the credibility of the “diversity jurisdiction” memo which is still at issue in the case.

The message boards have a fair amount of clever creativity worth checking out.   While some might accuse me of bias, I must say that Supermodel #1’s comments on yesterday’s Scientology Daily Digest are worth noting.  She’s tolerant of my interest in the cult but has not had much interest in the spotlight.  I invited her to put in a small comment on my first blog post to help “christen” the blog, much as an elegant woman christens a lumbering smoke-belching ship before launch.  I may have created a monster, however, as reading her rather witty repartee will show.

Supermodel #1 Cover Shoot from early in her career. I’m not saying if I’m the male model in the background.

Incidentally, now that she’s surfaced publicly, some might wonder if Supermodel #1 is a sock puppet of mine.  She has met Tony on a couple of occasions, and has also met a number of other prominent members of our community; all can vouch for her, and since I was lurking nearby, proving that we have both been seen in the same place at the same time.  She’s even found a potential self-portrait, shown here, that she feels captures her true essence.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Tony’s story today analyzed the filing by Ted Babbitt, the plaintiff’s attorneys in the Garcia’s Super Power donation fraud case .  Scientology was required to submit a five page (restriction to avoid them droning on for hundreds of pages) summary of the arbitration procedure, so that the judge could determine whether the arbitration procedure is fair. That’s needed in order to determine whether the court could intervene, given that the donor agreement requires a “Church” arbitration panel (which the Garcias contend inherently stacks the decks against anyone seeking redress).

The response to the arbitration outline filed by the cult is withering and direct, accusing the cult of “fraud” and “fiction” in the description of arbitration.  The underlying legal filings are provided, as is a declaration of Mike Rinder, who points out that he spent 20 years in charge of managing legal affairs for the cult, and who says that he never knew of an actual arbitration proceeding to take place.

My take:  I think that the Garcia’s attorney may have been rocked back on their heels by the diversity jurisdiction issue, which appears to leave the Court little room for discretion in determining whether it has to dismiss the case or whether it can continue.  To a non-lawyer like me, it feels like this filing is far more confident in tone than the plaintiff’s opposition to the diversity jurisdiction issue. It is unusual for a motion like this to use such extraordinarily strong terms as “fraud” and “fiction.” In other cases I have looked at, attorneys tend to use a reasonable amount of restraint, even in the overview sections where one is expected to use passionate rhetoric to attempt to sway the judge before beginning the legal reasoning process. It is a surprising to see such strong words, one of which has a clear implication that a criminal act upon is being committed upon the court.

I think it is no coincidence that this response was filed very quickly, so that it influences the judge’s perception of the diversity jurisdiction argument and implies that it is likely fraudulent and fictional as well. Since I am not a lawyer, I don’t know how to assess how the judge reacts to this motion, either on its own merits, or in conjunction with the diversity jurisdiction issue. But I do note the more confident tone in this filing. 

Key comments: 

  • “Anonymous” gives a nice analytical writeup on how Scientology “ethics” are supposed to work, particularly showing how it traps you into doing the will of the supreme leader, even if that turns out to be unethical in other ways.
  • Good perspective from Skip Press about the playbook generally used for the CommEv scam. Fortunately, a number of people who have been through CommEv’s speak up about their experience, which is right in line with the theory Skip proposes.
  • TruthIWant points out that he underwent a CommEv procedure, and how it represented an opportunity to bully him into submission, rather than to try to figure out what happened as the paper documents suggest it is intended to do.  Not that we’re surprised it turned out that way, but firsthand accounts are always valuable.
  • Madora Pennington talks about her own CommEv, and gives a sense of how much monkey business was involved in auditing, especially in getting the person in the chair to report just how wonderful every auditing session was. Madora says memorably, “you aren’t allowed not to get better from auditing no matter what!”
  • Speaking of CommEv’s, “Room 101” had one, too.  It did not end well.
  • In a related example of how “Scientology ethics” seem to be rather highly flexible, Tory Christman shared an experience she knew about where to Scientologists were cheated out of a lot of commission money by a WISE company. Apparently, the cult step in and reverse the arbitration award because the CEO of the company was a major donor. The cult changed policies that Hubbard put in place the day before they “heard” the complaint to protect the money of the larger donor. Money quote: “it was the first time I realized you could PAY to have ‘tech’ removed.”
  • Lurkness located an interview that Mark Bunker did of Greg and Debra Barnes, talking about their CommEv’s and expulsion from the cult.
  • Sunny Sands somehow managed to find out that various Flag restaurants have been put on cash only basis with their liquor suppliers by order of the state alcohol regulator.  In life, you apparently can stiff just about anybody but the tax man and the booze peddler. One potential explanation for this is that the cult doesn’t regularly sell liquor at its restaurants, but is dusting off its liquor licenses to accommodate the booze-swilling IAS guests.  Too bad they didn’t bother to read the fine print before trying to get (illegal) extended payment terms from their vendors.  Hope Miscavige doesn’t read this blog and find out about it, or there are going to be some sorry campers in the RPF.
  • NoseInABk picks up on a cute poll that TMZ is doing about Tom Cruise’s involvement with Suri. Apparently, 96% think Cruise should not have the right to get Suri involved in the cult, though interestingly the readership is far more divided on whether “Abandoned” is a defamatory term.
  • MonkeyKnickers writes an open letter to the cult, providing some heartfelt advice to management on how to improve the cult’s image. One of her better efforts, one that proves that messing with the pregnant lady carrying twins is generally less than smart. 
  • TheCommodeDoor finds a nifty quote in a nifty paper by Stephen A. Kent of the University of Alberta on whether Scientology is a religion.  
  • Chuck Beatty, who designed the routing forms for refunds in the 1980s with the express intent of driving people seeking refunds over the edge, gives some background on what he did. 

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • Mike posted an article mulling over the extent to which Tom Cruise is subject to the disconnection policies that other Scientologists must live by.  It’s a well-written piece that doesn’t cover a lot of new ground in the discussion, but is a clear and cogent summary of what most of us already understand, and is worth reading on that basis.  http://www.mikerindersblog.org/tom-cruise-and-disconnection/
  • Mike’s second article relays a story on BackInComm, the South African blog of the wave of ex-Scientologists recently declared by the head office.  Mike references the story of Ernest & Gaye Corbett, decades long Scientologists and, according to Mike, the highest-profile members of the cult in SA.  More useful details to try to back into what Miscavige thinks he is doing. http://backincomm.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/here-is-their-story-ernest-gaye-corbett/#more-132

WWP, ESMB, OCMB

Aeger Primo helps out in a big way today, again. A serious article to lead off followed by some lulz.

  • WWP picked up a broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the harassment campaign against Marty Rathbun, to be aired Sunday (tomorrow) at 10pm ET.
  • ESMB has some snark and info about the casting call ad for actors “needed” to make the upcoming Co$ events at Flag (Clearwater, FL) look “good.”  Apparently, management thinks the average Scientologist is just not attractive enough to populate a brochure. Either that or that, or if they used 15 culties for the brochure photos, at a rate of one blowing a month, they’d have to re-shoot the brochure in just over a year.  Now you know why Winston was so overwhelmed at work in his job at the Ministry of Truth: erasing unpersons is a lot of work.  
  • Some pretty good humor and shoops about Tom Cruise’s comment in the Bauer Media deposition about how “My work as an actor is as hard as fighting in Afghanistan.” Some nice imagining how our troops would feel about the comparison.  Both ESMB and WWP are weighing in. 
  • OCMB captures Angry Gay Pope talking about his recent adventure, including the “citizen’s arrest.”
  • OCMB ponders what slant the cult might take on a new “tag line” for its ads.

General Media

  • Ex-Scientologist Skip Press writes a column on celebrity news site The Morton Report that profiles Jon Atack, the Hubbard biographer who has been sharing pieces of his revised version of “A Piece of Blue Sky” on Tony’s site every week.  Apparently, Atack helped Skip escape the cult.
  • The BackInComm blog for South African Scientologists and ex’s ran an article today advocating that all Scientologists worldwide stop giving money to the “Church.”  Well written advice.  More importantly, it’s worth reading to feel the gauntlet being flung down. We’ll see what Miscavige does next.  I am sure that being one of the recent Sea Org imports sent to town to fix things up will not be a pleasant lot in life (though I’m not feeling sorry for them at all).

 

 

 

Scientology Daily Digest: Friday, November 8, 2013

I think the big story today is the metaphorical bloodshed at the Scientology facility in Johannesburg. There are a couple of significant articles giving background and perspective here, which I strongly recommend reading. I think this situation is worth watching because it could be an example of a non-US organization of some size that may break away from the church, as the Haifa mission in Israel did last year.

Tony’s story giving lots of details about Tom Cruise’s lawsuit against Bauer Publications sketches in some great background, but since I do not think that Cruise is likely to prevail in that case, the story is not all that relevant to the cult.

Also, the City of Clearwater appears to be on its game in dealing with the cult’s late request for permits for the events scattered over the next several weeks. The city is offering to be flexible on some (though not all) of the items that Scientology would like done for the Flag building opening next weekend. The carrot being dangled in front of David Miscavage is that if he fails to play ball with the city right now, he will not get a permit for the IAS event, which is obviously far more significant. This seems to be a particularly smart way for the city to play its cards, because being willing to show some flexibility but to insist on other concessions from the called leads to a more desirable outcome to a lawsuit, which could carry an emergency order preventing the city from controlling the events in any way.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Tony’s story today featured details from the defamation suit that Tom Cruise filed against Bauer Media. In addition to looking at the deposition transcripts that were released yesterday by Radar Online, Tony also provided excerpts of e-mails from various Bauer employees as they develop the story and the packaging. It does not appear that there were any particular “smoking guns” among the employee e-mails.

My take:  I had a friend some years ago I was a senior editor at one of these publications (which was not owned by Bauer Media). The picture that emerges from these e-mails is very consistent with what my friend has told me about how they develop stories, including how they work with publicists for the celebrities they cover to use the implied threat of a more negative story to get the celebrity to cooperate and provide unique details that would enable them to write a more positive story. I suspect that this is been going on with gossip publications for decades.

I continue to believe that this is unlikely to result in any money changing hands. Cruz faces an uphill battle because the assertion that he did not see his daughter for nearly four months in what would have to be a difficult time immediately following his divorce was substantially true. One commentor raised the point that the whole issue seems to be around the word “abandons” used on the cover, and that this word may hold special significance for Cruise because of how his father abandoned him in childhood.

Best of the comments:

  • Ex-cultie Kevin Tighe (not the 1970s actor) reminisces about the daughter he lost to disconnection three years ago and challenges Cruise for implicitly supporting this.
  • Jeff Hawkins weighs in with a well-informed perspective on why Scientologists are always so nasty and aggressive in how they handle stuff that makes them uncomfortable.  This is not apparently just for the usual “confront and shatter” circumstances, but apparently for dealing with the media as well.
  • Gerard Plourde gives some Genuine Lawyer(tm) perspective in response to my question yesterday about why AGP would voluntarily submit to a one-year restraining order to stay away from HGB to get the prosecution to drop a case they would have dropped already.
  • Ze Moo makes the very relevant observation that the word “abandons” might be the real trigger for the suit, given Cruise’s abandonment by his biological father. On reading this comment, it certainly rings true as a possibility to consider.
  • Miscavige's Web Traffic Generation ConsultantJohnny Tank, who posts the daily Alexa rankings for the cult, points out that scientology.org has dropped 11,366 ranking spots since he started collecting stats on October 14, just over three weeks ago.  Given that the numbers seem to be propped up with Indian click farmers, that’s a bit of a plummet.  Think: Wile E. Coyote off a cliff after the temporary suspension of gravity has been eliminated.
  • TXCowgirl points out that the cult is now starting to evade the Craigslist campaign to flag their ads by posting on Backpage.com.  An amusing detail is that Backpage.com is/was owned by Village Voice Media, the parent company of Tony’s former employer.  The hilarious letters to the editor by Karin Pouw, the never-seen cult media person, frequently pointed out the affiliation between the Voice and Backpage, which has lots of escort service and other questionable advertisers, to “dead agent” Tony.  Not that that did any good or anything, but…
  • Noni Mause riffs rather elegantly on Cruise’s assertions about how Scientology is all misunderstood because it’s a “minority religion” and people are bigoted against them.  A nicely elegant contrast in two short sentences.
  • More good lulz from TruthIwant, who found a quote from Tom’s deposition that Tony somehow missed.
  • Nice analysis from “Vistaril” of victim mentality in the cult that may apply to TC.
  • MarionDee gives a great personal anecdote about her experience doing fact-checking of celebrity gossip for two different magazines, including one from Canada.  We had to check to verify that movable type printing technologies had penetrated the deep forest cover in that quaint rural region of upstate New York before we decided to recommend this comment.

Mike Rinder’s Blog

Mike’s first post is strongly recommended. It’s a detailed recollection of a 1980s pogrom called the LatAm Strategy.  Hubbard was in hiding and was paranoid that orgs were going to be hijacked by the executives running them, taking them independent and denying Hubbard the money.  To fix this imagined problem, the Sea Org parachuted into the Latin American cult HQ and declared a bunch of management as SP’s.  The intent was to terrorize the survivors into improving stats quickly.  While the stats spiked, shortly after the Sea Org left, stats sank back into the swamp, lower than before they shot all the experienced staff.  Mike thinks the return of the “LatAm strategy” is what happened this week in the Johannesburg org.  Only problem was that the first go-round 30 years focused on shooting staff members.  Apparently, somebody at Int Base forgot this minor distinction and decided to shoot a lot of the biggest donors and most loyal supporters of the org.  Rule #1 of a successful business is: “don’t piss off your most loyal customers.”

Some of the comments are fairly interesting, including perspective from a 56-year Church member in South Africa who knew Hubbard personally, who resigned because his wife was one of the 18 people declared.  

Mike’s second post links to the Tampa Bay Times article detailing the restrictions the city is placing on the events (see the discussion below), and delivers a few laughs about how Miscavige is likely to play this.

ESMB, WWP and OCMB

According to Aeger Primo, the forums were relatively quiet today.

  • One article stands out.  ESMB contributor “scooter” has a lengthy blog post about the history of Scientology in South Africa.  This is a useful prelude to understanding some of the details of the current situation in South Africa.
  • There’s also some more discussion about insurance fraud in Michigan on Reaching for the Tipping point.
  • Some of the longtime critics get into the aesthetic side of cult activism in the thread on ESMB discussing Leah Remini’s performance this week on DWTS.

General Media

A number of other outlets picked up news of the “leaked” deposition in the Tom Cruise vs Bauer Publication suit, focusing on how Cruise is acknowledging that Scientology played a role in his divorce (see Tony’s post for the truth of the statement; he didn’t quite admit that).  I have been accused of major “tl;dr” violations but not of flogging a dead horse… I don’t want to start now, so we move on.

The Tampa Bay Times reports new details of what the city is requiring from the cult in order to get a permit for the November 17 Flag building dedication (the former Super Power building).  They have to get permits for the tents that were illegally constructed, and for the fence they built.  The city won’t remove traffic signals for filming.  The upshot is that the city is willing to be flexible on dates for the Flag building event for the cult, but if DM doesn’t play ball, he can forget about permits for the IAS event.

 

 

 

Work in Progress: What are the Big Questions?

Summary

“Work in Progress” notes are ones where I’m reaching out to the community (that means you) for perspective, research and thoughts that will become part of the “official” published work.  In other words, this is your chance to get caught up in the adventure of predicting the future of Scientology, and figuring out how we can help bring that about.

This note introduces the list of “big questions,” the issues that have the most bearing in understanding where the cult is headed, how fast it will get there, and how we can help it along.  The questions here are the topics for the major research projects that we will set ourselves over the next few months.  The answers to these questions will probably change over time, so we’ll need to revisit each of them periodically and re-examine our conclusions in the light of new information.  But the first step on the intellectual adventure is to identify the most important questions.

The Role of the Big Question

When we in Global Capitalism HQ are trying to evaluate stocks to invest in, there’s an ocean of financial data that we have to consider.   Every single quarter, we look at a couple of hundred different numbers for each company in our portfolio.

It turns out that very few of those numbers actually matter at any given point in time.  We note that Microsoft currently owns $1.15 billion in mortgage-backed securities, a tiny sliver of its vast cash hoard.  That number has no bearing on its stock price, but there’s always an outside chance that it could.  If Management suddenly decided to roll, say, $35 billion of the $66 billion in US government debt it owns into mortgage-backed securities, we would certainly try to figure out why, because it would tell us whether they were smarter than we thought, or if they were putting a huge chunk of money to work in a risky investment, causing us to worry about a whole bunch of things, not the least of which is that management went collectively insane without our noticing.

In the case of Microsoft, the potential for the stock to go up can be determined by the answers to a small number of questions. Part of the job of an analyst is to figure out what investors are concerned about and answer those questions really, really well.  In the case of the software giant, the questions are things like:  Will management raise the dividend?  who will be the new CEO after Steve Ballmer retires next year?  When are they going to stop losing money on their Internet search engine? How will they fix the disastrous Windows 8 user interface and make their customers happy?  There are a couple others, but you get the picture.  If I can answer these questions better than my competitors, and especially if I can see when the answers to those questions might change, I will make enough money to justify my exorbitant salary.

The Current List of Big Questions

In the case of Scientology, here is my first stab at the list of big questions that would help us figure out what might happen next. From there, we can figure out what trends work in our favor, and how to blunt the cult’s strengths that we may find.  Each big question leads directly to a number of smaller questions that bear answering as well.

  • Membership count:  How big is the cult today in terms of both “public” and staff?  What is the likely rate of membership decline?  What is the cult doing to increase members?  Is disconnection an effective way of stemming the membership decline?  How many people still in the cult are “under the radar,” pretending to do Scientology, but only hanging in to avoid family or business consequences of disconnection?
  • Financial momentum: What are the cult’s sales and profits currently, and what is the trend?  What is the cult’s financial strength (mostly, the size of reserves)?  What are the effects of recent developments in the business, such as the major changes to the events business that could arise over the next year?  What could cause the financial picture to change rapidly over a reasonably short period of time?
  • New member recruitment: What is the cult’s strategy, if any, to bring “fresh meat” in the door? Just because its strategy is not working doesn’t mean they don’t have one.  It’s easy to believe, given Miscavige’s apparent long-term myopia that they don’t have one, but it’s much wiser to presume that there’s a strategy.  That way, if the cult does start to see growth in new members, we can formulate ideas of how to oppose that.
  • How much do Narconon and other ABLE businesses contribute? What is the current status and the future of the entire constellation of ABLE-related entities, including Narconon?  What is the financial impact to the cult?  What is likely to affect the fortunes of these businesses?  What percentage of recruitment of new members or new employees for the cult does Narconon comprise?  Is the business small enough that the cult could shutter it if legal issues continue to climb?  Or will the cult hang on because it is the only viable source of “fresh meat?”
  • International momentum: What is the current state of Scientology in key countries, especially outside the US?  Understanding this will allow us to determine whether the cult is retreating in reality, even if they continue to open new Ideal Orgs, such as the one announced recently in Buenos Aires.  Given the news in South Africa this week,
  • David Miscavige’s mental state: Is David Miscavige’s behavior rational?  Is it possible to develop a predictive model to estimate what Miscavige will do in a particular set of circumstances?  Colloquially, people say Miscavige is crazy.  It’s irrelevant whether he has a mental illness or even a diagnosable personality disorder.  What matters is whether there is a consistent model to assess what his likely responses are to situations. That way, if Miscavige suddenly starts behaving differently, it could be an important harbinger of change within the cult.
  • The king is dead; long live the king! What would happen if Miscavige were suddenly no longer the head of Scientology?  Would the organization simply shutter its doors?  Would a worthy successor be found? Or would the successor be so cowed and inept that the organization would implode slowly in an absurd soap opera?

How You Can Help

You can help by contributing your perspective.  What other questions should be on the list? Why are those important to understanding the cult and what can answering these questions help us decide?  Which of these questions don’t belong?  And for any of that, please help me understand why you think the way you do.  I promise I’m open to being convinced.

And of course, if you have any thoughts on data points that would help answer any of the numbers questions, or some valuable perspective that you haven’t seen anyone else understand, then this is the place.

I’ll produce a final “Predicting the Future: The Big Questions” document after the discussion here has settled down. Thanks in advance for your help!

Scientology Daily Digest: Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Today’s story was another installment in the interview series with legendary former cult marketing exec Jefferson Hawkins.  Today, the review of Chapter 3 in the book Introduction to Scientology Ethics is all about statistics, which is the basis for so much of the craziness around “management tech,” and, in my view, that is the craziness that drives so many businesses owned by Scientologists into criminal or at least incredibly short-sighted behavior.  I think this one is well worth reading, since Jeff once again does a great job presenting the subject accessibly, and it’s pretty easy to see how an already stupid idea of Hubbard’s can be taken and turned into a source of even more evil and ineptitude than Hubbard could have ever dreamed of.

Tony also got a brief “fuck off” e-mail reply from former cult spokesman Tommy Davis on asking Tommy for confirmation that he was in New York (New Jersey, actually, at the CNBC studio, a place I’ve done dozens of interviews myself) shepherding the chairman of his fund on a press tour.  It looks like Tommy’s new title of “special assistant to the Chairman” is real.  But it raised a question for me: a chairman of a big fund is not going to travel with an assistant he doesn’t trust.  And he’s not going to trust a rookie assistant unless that assistant has already got a lot of face time with him.  The only way to do that is to live in LA.  So is Tommy living in LA?  And if so, is wife Jessica with him?  I seem to recall that Tommy either owns or has access to a house in LA in addition to his place in Austin.  I am not starting a rumor; I’m just pointing out that a question worthy of further investigation has arisen.  

Finally, Angry Gay Pope was in court; other reports just before press time indicate he was released without being charged; the $150,000 bail and all charges were dropped. According to Karen De La Carriere, the district attorney was utterly uninterested in pursuing the case. Apparently, AGP will agree voluntarily to stay 100 yards away from HGB for a year, but the case was dismissed completely.  

My take

Jeff’s article is a great explanation of why Scientologists seem to gravitate towards sleazy or even criminal get-rich-quick decision making. Declaring that a) stats must go up every single week regardless of what is going on in the real world otherwise people inevitably have “crimes” that must be discovered and b) that people whose stats are up are exempt from trouble even if they are causing the wreckage that is depressing others’ stats is a recipe for disaster.

Much of modern management training is trying to figure out the real root cause of problems.  A lot of that is trying find out whether short-term problems are really symptoms of long-term issues.  High-quality organizations like GE are fanatical about trying to identify deep underlying causes of problems.  Trying to make weekly targets go up every single week with no exceptions inevitably leads to insanity.  And in that world, you never get to stop the hamster wheel and solve long-term problems.  

“Management tech” is based on the unstated assumption that demand for the “product” of Scientology was infinite. The cult could “grow to the sky” if the people in it weren’t such nitwits.  Like most fundamentalist sects, Hubbard says “everyone is a Scientologist, they just don’t know it yet.” In other words, everyone will inevitably become a Scientologist. That’s arrogant and naive at the same time. No product has infinite demand. Not even “eternity.”

A corollary is the idea that the product is never the problem when people don’t want to buy it. Naturally, Hubbard believed that the product was perfect because he had created it. But even if he were humble about his creation, the obsession with Keeping Scientology Working, which was originally an attempt to standardize delivery of “the tech” would ultimately became a mechanism for arresting any attempts to improve what didn’t work.

Customers change and evolve. We no longer dance the Lindy or Charleston, or even the Macarena. So a business trying to “sell” those dance moves would be in trouble, no matter how thoroughly management investigated the employees for “crimes” and no matter how thoroughly management graphed weekly stats.

The idea that people hitting their numbers are exempt from “ethics” is incredibly dangerous. Back when I sold corporate software (big applications for big companies), sales people could initiate radical alterations to the standard pricing and deal terms to close big deals late in the quarter. I’ve seen terms like one guaranteeing the customer they would always get the lowest price they paid for a given product for the next ten years.  So if the salesman gave a 70% discount to get a big order in this quarter, the customer would get a 70% discount for years to come, limiting the growth potential in the biggest customers.

This idea of ethics protection as a reward for performance is just like what happens if you give a surgeon immunity from malpractice suits if he performs a minimum number of procedures a week. Clearly, that’s a bad idea.  Why would you set up a similar “perverse incentive” in any other business? 

Key comments

  • “Anonymous” takes my main comment and runs with it, pointing out further ways that management by weekly stats backfires in the real world. 
  • I built on his views by pointing out that Hubbard probably got almost all his management thinking from the Navy, where you don’t have to think about things like customer demand, and where you do have to teach rookies about the importance of graphing trends so you can see that you have a steam leak in a boiler when fuel burn goes up to maintain a given level of pressure.  Without graphing, a farm boy from Arkansas who is now serving his second week on board a ship would miss a steam leak that could be fatal.
  • “Truthiwant” has an interesting detailed take on Scientologists and swearing.
  • Skip Press has a nice personal story about how Scientology stats basically make it worthless to make some superhuman effort to get something done this week: your reward is that you have to do more of it next week. That’s why the 100-hour weeks, etc.
  • Derek Bloch also reminisces about the insanity of weekly stats.
  • Another story of someone who lived it, from Natasha Boris.
  • AquaClara points out how the craziness spreads at some companies who have tried “management tech,” including Allstate Insurance.
  • Attorney Shockenawd thinks that Tommy Davis will talk about all the hate groups hating on his beloved church when he finally gets deposed in the Mosey Rathbun case.  A nice, withering blast of contempt that makes great reading.
  • My reply to Shockenawd: Anonymous is not a hate group, nor is Tony’s site or most of the rest of the universe.  They’re a laugh-at-and-ridicule group, which causes fundamentalists far more angst than real haters. Fundamentalists are so self-important that they can’t deal with people that laugh at them.
  • Relatively new commenter “M Diggs” points out that one potential reason people stay away from the cult is Hubbard’s language, which sounds increasingly archaic.  It’s a good argument, but I have to believe there are so many dimensions of suck that the language issue is a little further down the list.
  • Observer pithily notes the hypocrisy in Tommy Davis’s willingness to stalk countless cult members while they travel when he participated in “blow drills,” but blows a gasket when Tony does a much more benign version of the same thing.

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • Mike’s first post has four examples of marginally literate drivel talking up the big product releases.  Another amusing adventure in bad punctuation and in avoiding obvious bits of reality beginning to obtrude in the Truman Show.
  • The second post, appearing just before press time, points to the Tampa Bay Times story about permit issues with the big event tent, and features the clever title, “Counter In-Tent-Ion.” Mike raises the point that Miscavige continues to push the city, potentially pushing them around just to push them around. But given the risk of disruption to the events, this is probably not a smart time to pick a fight with the city and potentially encouraging them to come down on him for real. After all, since there are probably more ex-Scientologists in Clearwater than active members, it’s likely that someone has helped them understand just how critical the events are to the cult, and thus how much leverage the city has against them.

Marty Rathbun’s Blog

  • Radio silence, day 8.  This is now the longest he’s gone since I have data from RSS on his posts without writing something new.  I just got word moments before press time from Mike Rinder that Marty’s OK, just insanely busy working on supporting his wife’s case and on some other projects.

WWP, ESMB, OCMB

Thanks again to Aeger Primo for today’s cruise through ESMB.

  • WWP has a post with e-mails from another campaign by CCHR supporters to try and oppose a new psychiatric hospital to be built by Signature Healthcare Services, by fighting a zoning change.  Unsurprisingly, the WWP crowd are going to flood the Sacramento Zoning Board with letters exposing the crazy.
  • Some poignant examples of how difficult it is for former ex-Scientologists to find homes for thousands of CDs and video tapes of Hubbard lectures, and just how many trees died to print stuff that even formerly die-hard Scientologists didn’t read.

Press

A fairly abundant harvest from today’s general press:

  • They don’t call it the “Daily Fail” for nothing. UK’s Daily Mail is out with an article about the Twin Peaks CST base up in the mountains above Hemet, which is where they do all the engraving of the plates that go to all the other CST vaults.  It’s also the likely home of Shelly Miscavige, as Tony reported long ago.  The Daily Fail article starts by misspelling Leah Remini’s name and quickly gets worse.
  • The Tampa Bay Times reports that the City of Clearwater is now starting to get really irate after discovering a lengthy list of code violations involving the tent complex.  We may be at a major inflection point in the City’s willingness to hold the cult’s feet to the fire.  It’s possible that some connected ex-Scientologists have explained to the city how much leverage they have because of the importance of these events.  This would be the wrong time for Miscavige to have pissed off the city fathers once too often.
  • Radar Online is out with an update about the Tom Cruise suit versus Bauer Publishing over “abandoning” his daughter Suri.  This one contains a link to a PDF with excerpts of the deposition of Cruise taken in September.  While the deposition is only an excerpt, and while it is important to remember that Cruise has successfully sued publications for defamation previously, it sure looks like he’s really hanging in there on an uphill fight, what with truth being a defense and all that.
  • Vanity Fair is now picking up the story with Tom Cruise’s leaked deposition in the defamation case he brought against Bauer Media over charges he “abandoned” Suri.  The fact that only part of the deposition has been leaked makes it difficult to determine how solid the defense might be.  I’d expect a bunch more press to pick this up, and I don’t plan on reporting more instances of the story from the  general media after tonight, unless there’s a release of the full transcript that we can access.
  • The award for “Best General News Article of the Day Whose Title Snarkily References Scientology” goes to Forbes for an article on “The Church of Climate Scientology: How Climate Science Became a Religion.”  The article itself is fairly disastrous and isn’t worth reading.  Apparently, the author is not a Forbes reporter but is a “contributor” who apparently heads a pro-fracking lobbying group, a fact that Forbes forgets to mention on the masthead.
  • The Daily Dot, a news site for web site operators, has a feature article on the Anonymous campaign to rid Craigslist of deceptive cult ads.

Analysis Versus News Versus Opinion Versus Lulz

As I said in my first post on this blog, I want to try to add value to the world of Scientology activism by building a site for deep analysis, initially my own and, over time, building a community of like-minded folks to work together.

Why?  Because analysis is the prelude to action.  If you can do the following:

  • Understand the problem better
  • Identify a wider range of possible solutions
  • Predict accurately the potential results of each different solution scenario, especially by minimizing the chances that you’ll miss something leading to unintended consequences,
  • Apply enough analytical rigor to choose the best solution, and
  • Do that as quickly as possible

…you can significantly improve the outcome of whatever you’re doing, whether that’s winning a war, beating your competition in business, picking stocks, or doing any one of a hundred different things in a dangerous, competitive world.

Continue reading “Analysis Versus News Versus Opinion Versus Lulz”

Scientology Daily Digest: November 6, 2013

Editor’s Note: More hassles today; the longer article I had hoped to get out today will appear tomorrow.

Thanks to “AegerPrimo” for our first tour through ESMB and WWP threads.

As I’ve said before, this is a work in progress; I welcome suggestions on how to make it better. And if you’re willing to help out by taking on compiling parts of this (particularly ESMB, WWP and other forum sites) on a regular basis (perhaps signing up for one day a week), please be ready to jump in.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Today’s post covered three topics:

  • Various Michigan Narconon facilities under the banner of Per Wickstrom, in a development that should surprise exactly nobody familiar with the hijinks at Narconon Georgia, may be involved in insurance fraud, from a patient whose insurance was billed $200,000 without his knowledge.
  • Angry Gay Pope got arrested for protesting at Pac Base and is charged with stalking of a Sea Org member who had a now-expired restraining order against AGP.  Apparently, AGP will be spending the night as a guest of the authorities, until an arraignment to fight the $150,000 bail and felony charge, which sounds like it may well be over-charging, given that Tony reports the LAPD decided not to charge him with a crime after viewing his camera footage of the event.
  • A picture from the Million Mask March in London last night shows comedian Russell Brand standing next to well-known ex Samantha Domingo.  No word on who got whose autograph.

Key comments for the day:

  • Former Narconon Arrowhead President Lucas Cattona commented that insurance fraud could blow the whole Narconon thing up; I and several others had previously thought so, but it’s nice that an insider confirms it.
  • “Once_Born” suggested that a massive wave of lawsuits from Narconon could be impossible for the cult to handle.  I expanded on this to say that Miscavige can’t scale — the Anon 2008 protest was a “scale” attack, with perhaps 10,000 protestors appearing outside a substantial percentage of cult facilities; Miscavige remains traumatized by that.  “Anonymous” observes correctly that this was the cult’s strategy against the IRS that drove the 1993 exemption agreement: so many lawsuits in different jurisdictions that the IRS could eat up their entire litigation budget fighting them all. The thread is visible by clicking here and scrolling up.
  • Luke Catton also points out that the cult is trying to re-brand some of these facilities to escape from under the Narconon cloud, but he believes it’s not likely to succeed.
  • Also, Catton’s financial data on Narconon contribution to the cult jives nicely with estimates we’d been carring in our spreadsheet but not yet published; nice to have validation from an expert without having to slice up all those boring IRS Form 990s.
  • Still_On_Your_Side poetically compares David Miscavige to Norma Desmond, the aging diva from Sunset Boulevard.
  • OTVIIIisGrrr8! explains how everyone has some serious M/Us when it comes to the idea that Narconon would engage in something as distasteful-sounding as insurance fraud.

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • Mike’s first post highlighted the crazy coming from David Wilson, a Kool-Aid drinking whale who sent out a “regging” letter with some extremely bad reimagining of a bit of dialog from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  To make it even worse, the “Clear California” logo from the top of the document features the figure of a knight who looks more than a little like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, not the sort of knight you want on a life-or-death quest for glory.
  • Mike’s second post relays a story about the management of the Johannesburg Ideal Org getting replaced after being recalled to Clearwater.  Click through to the underlying articles on a blog for SA-based Indie Scientologists.  The article says that a number of people with decades in the cult have recently been declared, and a new management team from the Sea Org has been sent in; more declarations are expected.  I would estimate based on a quick cut of the numbers that there are perhaps 400 Scientologists in SA, so this may be an example of implosions to come in other countries, and perhaps even in US cities.  Suddenly, the formerly sleepy cult scene in SA seems a lot more interesting, and the recently-launched backincomm blog appears to be a great source for what’s going with those still in the cult down there.

Marty Rathbun’s Blog

  • Radio silence now of seven days.  There has only been one other period in the last four months where Marty has been off the radar for this long.

ESMB & WWP

  • “Suspicious Scientology Deaths….MURDER?” is the name of a a TruTV segment published today that looks into the deaths of Lisa McPherson, Susan Meister, Flo Barnett (DM’s mother-in-law) and Quentin Hubbard. It also references Kyle Brennan and several other deaths at cult-related entities.  This ESMB thread has extensive commentary including several lengthy posts by Arnie Lerma.
  • There will be a 5-day “Flag Down” conference in Clearwater, FL, in May 2014. Activists are requesting funds to host a conference to expose abuses of the Co$. Scheduled speakers include; John Duignan, Nancy Many, Victoria Britton, Hana Eltringham Whitfield, Mark Plummer, Patty Moher, John McGhee, Jamie de Wolf, John Sweeney, Arnie Lerma, Karen Pressley. This thread is running at ESMB and WWP.
  • WWP highlights (perhaps “lowlights” would be a better word) an interesting thread that showed one of the hazards of the “clay demo” part of Study Tech. NSFW unless you are one of the pigs who work on the trading desk in Global Capitalism HQ.
  • Some discussion on ESMB on whether Marty is completely dissociating himself from Scientology as a result of his “slavery” article a week ago.
  • Apparently, the city of Clearwater just approved construction of a new aquarium on a site next to Flag, which the cult opposes.  Guess there will be a whole new range of freaky alien life forms from the world’s oceans on display in downtown Clearwater.

“Scientology” on Google News

  • The Tampa Bay Times is back with an update on the plans for the big events in Clearwater. Sounds like the city is toughening up on the cult. According to the TBT, “City Manager Bill Horne said the city won’t begin reviewing the new IAS permit request until the church complies with conditions the city is placing on arrangements for another celebration: the grand opening of Scientology’s new Flag Building and related events, scheduled to begin Nov. 15.”