Apr 22, 2016

CNN Still Soft-Soaping James Ray

A magician never reveals his secrets... unless he's a down on his luck, ex-con, trying to mount a comeback, and you stick a camera in his face.

Sometimes I miss New York. This is one of those times, because this week's debut of Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray at the Tribeca Film Festival is an event I'm actually sorry to miss, if only for stunning reveals like the above. You want to see how I played my followers like fiddles? Watch my hands, as I subliminally conduct your thoughts and feelings. See? ACTING!!!

This is not to say that it's a great film. I'm hearing not very good things about its effectiveness in conveying the horror of James Ray's actions, or holding him to account. For starters, the families of his victims were never even contacted by the filmmakers, so their voices and continuing concerns are notably absent. According to The Verge, Virginia Brown, mother of the late Kirby Brown, took it upon herself to contact the director, Jenny Carchman, and met with her over lunch. Kirby's sister Jean Brown's calls were unreturned, and Carchman declined to interview any family members on film. Ginny has posted a letter under the auspices of SEEK Safely, Inc., the organization of which she is a founding member.

We were disturbed to see clips of Ray “at work” before and after his incarceration serving as an infomercial for his comeback. The film failed to look critically at the tactics Ray had used prior to his incarceration and continues to use that put his customers at risk of emotional, financial,and physical harm; the film even omitted important facts such as the suicide of another attendee at a Ray event just months prior to the three deaths in Sedona. Many of these tactics, such as encouraging participants to share about personal trauma in a group setting, are commonly used in the unregulated selfhelp industry and are exactly the sorts of “red flags” SEEK wants to alert consumers to.

When asked at the end of the film how and why Sedona happened, Ray’s declares, “Sedona had to happen. It was the only way I could experience and learn… A test of character. I think I did ok.” Unfortunately, the people who were injured and traumatized, and especially those who died, are not so “ok."

Apr 8, 2016

FLDS, Foodstamps, and Fraud

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Federal charges against FLDS leadership have opened a new window into Warren Jeffs's oppressive, ongoing regime. The imprisoned child molester is still very much in control and, while his followers are suffering, they are not doing so equally. While rank and file members have been forced to subsist on beans, sharing in the pain of their incarcerated "prophet," they were also directed to apply for food stamps, which they were directed to turn over to church leaders. The government benefits are enjoyed by the privileged few, while the majority starve.

Lyle Jeffs and 10 other church members, including another Jeffs brother, Seth, were accused in a federal grand jury indictment of conspiring to cheat the federal government -- and qualified recipients -- of millions in food stamp benefits. Families who qualified for federal assistance were told to turn over their food stamp debit cards and take what they needed from a warehouse of pooled resources called "the bishop's storehouse."

As a result, the federal government alleges, some families subsisted on beans, rice and toast, while high-ranking church members were able to serve more expensive meat, turkey and seafood. The government also alleges that the Jeffs brothers and others laundered money by swiping food stamp debit cards and ringing up "ghost" purchases at church-friendly businesses. The laundered cash allegedly was used on big-ticket items such as a Ford F-350 pickup truck ($30,236), a John Deere tractor ($13,561) and $16,978 in paper products.

In addition, another $250,000 allegedly was spent on printing costs for Warren Jeffs' self published, 854-page book of jailhouse revelations, "Jesus Christ, Message to All Nations."

Mar 21, 2016

Religious Literacy: Midterm

I have been taking this class through Harvard edX on religious literacy and enjoying it very much. It's also been taking up a lot of my writing time, so in lieu of a blog post, I thought I'd post the Midterm I recently posted to the classroom. The assignment was to apply the cultural studies method to a contemporary article, relevant to my cultural context. I chose this article for analysis. The questions posed are in bold. It's a little brief, because there was a word limit. My first draft was about twice the length, but oh well.

1) Does the article represent the religion or religions in question as internally diverse?

Yes and no. The authors specify that the focus is biblical literalists, including "Evangelical and fundamentalist churches, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and other conservative sects." They distinguish these sects from "liberal, progressive Christian churches with a humanistic viewpoint, a focus on the present, and social justice."

There is no acknowledgment of diversity among Evangelical sects and LDS, and that not all are rigidly "conservative." For example, the authors claim that these groups "focus on the spiritual world as superior to the natural world." However, there are Evangelical movements with a strong focus on ecology and "stewardship" of the natural world.

Aside from the caveat about “liberal” sects, they are not represented in the article. There are no examples of benign or positive influence in other Christian sects. Yet, they make many generalizations about the destructiveness of Christianity and religion, writ large, rather than confining these assessments to these "conservative" Christian practices.

To say that some religious expressions are “more toxic than others” implies that they’re all at least somewhat toxic. This broader implication is not supported in the text. While there is acknowledgment of the internal diversity of Christianity, the authors do not present a balanced portrait of that diversity.

Feb 6, 2016

Satanists Silence Phoenix City Council

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The Satanic Temple has struck another blow for the First Amendment, by effectively silencing the Phoenix City Council. Rather than allow Satanists to exercise their Supreme Court determined right to give the invocation, the council has opted for a moment of silence.

To recap, in May of 2014, the Supreme Court made a decision on Town of Greece v. Galloway, which allowed for religious invocations in city government meetings. As discussed, this could create some discomfiture for members of any community who do not share in the predominant religion, but have no choice but to listen to a prayer celebrating that religion. Justice Kennedy's written decision, at least, opened the door for that pain to shared, in that such bodies cannot discriminate against minority religions. This has allowed for such things as this lovely Pagan invocation to be read in Florida... and for the ensuing backlash.

Through that same narrow doorway, now comes the Satanic Temple. Rather than allow Satanists a seat at the table, the Phoenix City Council has done away with invocations entirely.

Followers of the Satanic Temple, a group promoting religious agnosticism, had been scheduled to give the prayer at the council's Feb. 17 meeting. News of the planned Satanic invocation became public last week and went viral almost instantly. Council members said constituents and others inundated them with comments.

That outrage was in full force Wednesday as more than a hundred people filled seats at the council's meeting, many opposing the Satanic invocation. The emotional testimony went on for more than two hours.

Jan 28, 2016

Richard Dawkins and the He-Man Woman-Hater's Club

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Richard Dawkins may have finally gone too far. (Not the first time I've said this, I know.) After his most recent Twitter feud, he's found himself disinvited by the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism. It seems they've finally noticed that he's a raging misogynist. Some of us caught on to this problem a little quicker. Skepchick blogger Rebecca West gives a rundown of this latest fiasco here.

In short, he retweeted a video from a men's movement ideologue called Sargon of Akkad, which mocked and attacked a feminist activist. Even when it was made clear to him that the woman is being terrorized with rape and death threats, and that she was doxxed, his reaction was to double down. This red-haired feminist was just too mockable for him to let it go. She's so obviously the wrong kind of feminist. Dawkins, by the way, is the right kind. He really understands what women should want in life, and is more than happy to explain it to us until we get it into our pretty, little heads.

In particular, he's very clear about what Muslim women should want. He'd like to start a feminist revolution for them, and he'd like to start with their clothing. That this isn't what Muslim feminists are concerned about doesn't seem to phase him. And so goes the other Twitter war, in which Dawkins finds himself these days. In the since deleted tweet, he explains how a "good Muslim" woman comports herself.

Jan 26, 2016

Bikram Loses Million Dollar Law Suit

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Minakshi Jafa-Bodden has prevailed in her lawsuit against yoga teacher Bikram Choudhury, as previously discussed here.

A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, to pay about $924,500 to a lawyer who alleged that he sexually harassed her while she worked for him and that she was fired after she began investigating claims that he raped a yoga student.

Attorney Minakshi Jafa-Bodden said in her lawsuit that she suffered gender discrimination, wrongful termination and sexual harassment during her time working for Choudhury.

. . .

Jurors deliberated for about a day before returning with a unanimous verdict in favor of Jafa-Bodden, said Mark Quigley, who along with attorney Carla Minnard represented Jafa-Bodden.

“Jafa-Bodden faced retaliation and intimidation when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behavior,” Quigley said in a statement released after the jury's decision Monday afternoon. “This verdict sends an important message, that speaking out when you see signs of sexual abuse is the right thing to do.”

Jan 13, 2016

Pottermore Snuffs Candlelight Vigil – UPDATED

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Update: Pottermore Ignores the Tragic Loss of Alan Rickman

As I wrote here, the once great site known as Pottermore fell to the Death Eaters and Dolores Umbridge appears to have taken over the security of their social media. A once vibrant, atmospheric, and interactive site has become a slick, but substance-free marketing blog for Warner Bros.

Last week many former members of the original Pottermore turned out on the site's Facebook page, and under a tedious post about the cinematic version of the whomping willow, they staged a candlelight vigil in memory of the once great site and in hope of its return. One by one they lit candles and placed them at Platform 9 3/4.

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Jan 11, 2016

Graham Hancock on Revising Archaeology

In this recent interview, Graham Hancock discusses findings at sites like Göbekli Tepe and Gunung Padang and how they challenge the prevailing archaeological narrative. He also discusses evidence that meteor debris may have caused a global cataclysm, one that could account for Plato's story of the lost civilization known as Atlantis. It's a good interview and worthwhile overview of his new book Magicians of the Gods.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Dec 10, 2015

The Taybor Revisited

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A couple of years ago, I was brought up short by the realization that Space 1999 might just be more than a shallow, if entertaining, 1970s science fiction vehicle. An episode from the second season called "The Taybor" forced me to give the series a rethink. Specifically, elements of the subtext and imagery, in that episode, point directly to the Tibetan concept of the rainbow body.

I watched "The Taybor" again, recently, and realized that I still hadn't given the episode, or possibly the entire series, enough credit. I'd glossed over a number of details, allusions so direct it's hard to imagine they are not conscious and deliberate.

This analysis of the series addresses the possibility that it's not meant to be taken at all literally – that it only really makes sense if you assume some sort of divine intervention and higher purpose to Moon Base Alpha's unlikely journey across the space.

The idea that the Moon could be thrown from its orbit to drift at speeds allowing it to cross interstellar space in time periods of weeks or months is difficult and often impossible for many viewers to accept. The mass of the Moon is so large and its orbit around Earth so apparently firm and the force of a series of atomic explosions so more likely to obliterate the Moon than to blast it out of orbit, that the imaginations of many of even the most ardent science fiction aficionados were challenged beyond their limit to stretch, despite the fact that the planet Pluto is credibly posited by scientists to have been a satellite of planet Neptune that broke away from Neptune and settled into an irregular orbit around the Sun. And then there is the difficulty that some people have of assimilating the prospect of such an event being caused by human error. Most people prefer to think of future, technological man as incapable of contributing to a disaster of such magnitude.

Dec 1, 2015

Today's Forecast: Dizzy

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... with increasing chance of lower back pain, headache, and occasional piercing tones.

I rarely do these energy forecast type things, but the last few days have been so strange, I thought it merited mentioning. I've been having bouts of vertigo and some other symptoms, which tends to happen before things like earthquakes and other disasters, but sometimes connected to nothing I can pinpoint. It's been sort of constant, so that I only realize how dizzy I am when I'm walking across the room and realize I can only walk on the diagonal. It's a very strange feeling. Over the past few days, though, I've spoken to numerous people who are having these symptoms, particularly the dizziness and sense of dissociation.

I have no idea what this may be connected to. In terms of earthquakes and the like, the predictive capability is nil. I only see the connection when something happens and the symptoms suddenly abate. So, as a tool, it's pretty worthless. I am fairly certain it's in some way connected to magnetic fluctuations on the planet and the natural disasters are also symptoms, not really the cause.

I'm not going to pretend I really know what's going on. I just wanted to put it out there, because I know, for a fact, that I'm not the only one who's experiencing this right now.

Comments on this entry are closed, on this blog. If you wish to comment, please find this and all newer blog entries crossposted on Celestial Reflections.

Nov 15, 2015

Fullmetal Plagiarist – UPDATED


Update: Spiritually Bypassing Citations (see below)
Update: How Many Cheneys on the Cooks Source Scale is This? (see below)
Update: Addicted to Plagiarism (see below)

In this recent post on Teal Bosworth Scott Swan, I wrote about what I'm calling her "originality gap." I cited a number of examples of recycled material – numerous blog posts which rely on word for word lifts from her own previous articles. As stated, this is called self-plagiarism. I also touched on her propensity for relaying ideas, words, and images that strongly resemble work from other sources. I have noted a number of these parallels in the noncasts.

For instance, in the noncast entitled "The Bottomless Rabbit Hole," I referenced a rather striking similarity between her painting called Alchemy and art from the series Fullmetal Alchemist. Imagine my surprise at seeing that image, once again, heading her recent blog post.

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