Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pardon My Absence

As Dr. McCoy (Star Trek) said, the bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.

After thinking that the last fire had extinguished, a series of new crises reared their ugly heads. From last Saturday, to yesterday, I’ve been in a frenzied race against a deadline.

But no more. The fires? Out. The dragons? Slain. The deal? Done.

We’ll continue with the story of Tiff tomorrow. Meanwhile, I hope you all are well.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Walk through Greenwich Village: A Carbon Copy

Had I known then what I do now, I would have acted differently during that last dinner with Tiffany.

More importantly, I would have realized what was going on throughout our relationship. I made it very clear from the beginning that I didn’t like her church. So simple recruitment doesn’t explain the frequency of her phone calls and visits, especially over a two-year span. After all, that’s a long time and a lot of hassle to recruit a single member. And as I mentioned earlier, the bulk of our conversations had nothing to do with things church-related. Furthermore, her evangelistic spiel had become noticeably silent for months until the fateful marriage call.

I had cause in 2001 to study cults in depth. I started by reading Combatting Mind Control by Steve Hassan, a former Moonie and widely regarded expert on cult mind-control who currently counsels cult and ex-cult members. One of his most key points is that indoctrinated people have artificial personalities that bury their real ones.

In 1988, Dr. Flavil Yeakley (Abilene Christian) published the results of a study he had done on the International Church of Christ, at the behest of one of its leaders, Al Baird. As a theologian who had done extensive research on sectarian growth, and a supporter of the discipling movement, Yeakley took on the assignment hoping to allay rumors that the Boston Church network had degenerated into a cult. Because of the problems surrounding the exact psychological test Yeakley used, the Myers-Briggs Indicator Type (MBTI), I didn’t cite it earlier, and won’t now in great detail, even though I know, by observation and independent research, that the results are accurate.

In a nutshell, the MBTI is based on the psychological theory of Carl Jung, and posits that our personalities are determined during are infancy, and that we don’t change unless circumstances force us to. Yeakley views this as detrimental, for “Trying to change a person from one psychological type to another is like spanking a child for using the left hand. One does not produce good right-handed people that way. One produces very poor right-handed people.”

Critical evaluation of the MBTI has shown it to be reliable in certain instances, but unreliable in many more. The test breaks people down into sixteen personality categories based on how they perceive and determine reality. If personality is immutable, as Jung said, then the results should remain consistent throughout one’s life. In fact, however, people could very well take the MBTI and produce varying results.

Proponents of the MBTI, like Dr. Yeakley, would say that the differing results would indicate a shift from the “natural” personality (the one from birth) to an “unnatural” one. In applying the test to ICoC members, and mainline churches of Christ (for control purposes), he found that a personality shift had indeed occurred within the members of the Boston Movement. More startling, they had all shifted to the same unnatural personality, the deceitful and manipulative one belonging to founder Kip McKean.

This means that when Tiffany evangelized, she had buried her own personality under that of her church’s founder. For all intents and purposes, when I argued against her, I was really arguing against a lying middle-aged control freak of a demagogue, nothing more nothing less. But since religious talk only took up a tiny fraction of our time, the prospect of conversion couldn’t account for what Tiffany wanted in our friendship. Only in hindsight did I realize that deep down, her interest in me wasn’t religion, or marriage.

It was freedom.

Hassan goes on to note that in his experience as a former cult-member and therapist that although the artificial personality comes to dominate, the natural personality resurfaces from time-to-time, and when it does, it wants to get out of the cult. In fact, the indoctrinated person will leave, if they are able.

Now the phrase “if they are able” might sound a little strange. But imagine that you’re married to someone in the cult, and that you have children within that cult. The cult would most likely dangle your kids in front of you as incentive to stay. After all, most cults have aggressive legal teams. It would be a simple task to have cult members perjure themselves in front of a divorce court to paint you as a rotten parent. More to the point they can produce your signed, over-inflated “sin list” as evidence.

If you work among church members, then you can be sure of harassment on the job that will make you seriously consider leaving, thus hampering your financial ability to just up and quit. Worse yet, many culties are estranged or shunned by their close family members, who by then were probably tired of being accused of being the devil’s minions. Thus logistical and money support for the wannabe ex-cult member might simply not be there.

At the same time, you’ll have a ton of former members trying to re-indoctrinate you.

Obviously, it would be nice if a person could plan their exit from a cult. Problem is, that takes time, and the artificial personality will reassert itself, especially when it’s reinforced by surrounding cult members.

Tiffany knew I seriously disliked her cult. She was no dumb bunny--in fact, quite the opposite. So she knew I’d never “submit,” and while she tried occasionally, she never tried all that hard. I could imagine her telling her discipler that she’s made “n” number of attempts to recruit me, and that my progress was coming along. After all, she has to tell the discipler something if she doesn’t want to get yelled at, or disciplined more harshly.

At the time, I was the only person close to Tiffany who wasn’t in the cult itself. I’m fairly sure now that when we were together it was one of the few times where her “natural” personality felt free to surface. At the “last supper,” so to speak, I’d probably seen her real persona in its barest form: ambivalent, critical, and “lukewarm.”

The timing of things makes me certain that the events of those several weeks had led her to a crossroad. She’s told by her discipler that she’s too old to remain single. They probably said something like, ”This X guy, is he gonna submit, or not? If he does, you can have him. If not, we’ll put you together with someone else who will be a part of the church for years to come.” When I said no, they found her a guy within several days.

Truth be told, she didn't want to marry anyone. But if she had to tie the knot, better me than some stranger. When she felt the touch of true romance (for the first time in her life), in the form of a co-worker’s neck rub, she knew she would miss out on something important. She probably wondered, for the first time since her indoctrination, what life would be outside the church.

You see, in the end, there was only one way for me to get her out of the cult: kidnap her, and then “deprogram” her. First of all, that’s illegal. Secondly, deprogrammers cost money, and they don’t grow on trees. Most important, and Hassan stresses this quite strongly, deprogramming usually does more damage than the initial indoctrination. It’s something that you’d only want to do as a last resort if, for example, you had good reason to think that the cult had given its members orders to commit suicide or murder people. Otherwise, you’re breaking them down all over again, and adding trauma on top of trauma.

Only Tiffany could really free herself from the New York Church of Christ. I could primarily assist by allowing her natural personality to reassert itself. Had I known then what I know now, I would have spoken with someone like Steve Hassan, a therapist specializing in cults (they’re called ‘exit-counselors’ in the biz), and would have had his or her card on hand to present to Tiffany at that diner. I would have made myself available for intervention, along with her dad and her brothers, and whomever else we could find. Once exit-counseling had begun, I would have followed the therapist’s advice as to how to proceed with her. I certainly wouldn’t have let my anger show. Most important, I would have stressed that it was always okay to call me, even in the idle of the night as she had always done.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Walk through Greenwich Village: Failing a Friend

After our brief Easter Sunday encounter, Tiffany and I shared one last meal at a Times Square diner where the atmosphere was dingy, the food excellent, and the prices cheap. I didn’t know what to expect, really, for the last time I saw her, two weeks earlier, she sorta snarled at me as she fled on bike to the cleansing hand of her discipler. I’d never seen her so much as frown before, and had never heard any sharp words from her until the marriage conversation on the telephone. These events, happening as they did within a few days of each other, signaled to me that our relationship had taken an irreversible turn.

The two-week cooling-off period gave me time to find out more than I wanted to know about the New York Church of Christ, its founder Kip McKean, and the abuse reported by many ex-members. I assumed, at the time, that she really didn’t know about the ICoC. If I could just tell her about it, and share with her my stash of spiritual pornography (mostly Xeroxed clippings), she might wake up and get the hell out of that cult.

I came to that diner loaded for bear. But she threw me a curve when it became clear that another matter occupied her thoughts.

She picked at her food, and talked a bit about her upcoming marriage. But she seemed generally unenthusiastic, a state I had never witnessed before. After all, the church preached that having a lukewarm disposition about anything was tantamount to spitting in the face of God. I assumed that she actually dreaded the marriage and wanted to get out of it. But instead of asking her specifically how she thought about it, I asked her if anything was bothering her.

She nodded. “It’s this guy at work,” she said, plainly.

“Is he a jerk?” I asked. “Did he do something horrible?”

She told me that the two of them were alone, working late at the office, when suddenly, and to her surprise, he gave her a neck and shoulder rub. He stopped after she mildly chastised him. Still, the incident upset her. I could understand that. After all, unwarranted and unwelcome touching is a violation of privacy, a very disturbing thing, and I told her so.

Tiff shook her head, and said, “You don’t understand. It felt good.”

Okay, I could understand how someone touching me when I didn’t want them to might upset me. I could also imagine how a neck and shoulder rub, after a long hard day at work, might feel quite relaxing. But I couldn’t figure out how this guy’s actions could provoke both responses at the same time.

After some poking and prodding, she finally admitted to the reason for her paradoxical reaction. This guy’s touch didn’t just feel good physically. What upset Tiffany was that his touch had prompted an erotic response within her. In other words, he had committed the cardinal sin of turning her on.

“My God, Tiff,” I spat. “You’re beating yourself up because you had an ‘impure thought?’ That damn church.”

I lost it. I launched into a tirade against the church. I told her everything, from the alleged sexual improprieties, to the indoctrination forced indoctrination, to the embezzlement of church funds by leaders. It obviously surprised her how much I knew about her own indoctrination, the role of her discipliers, the amount of money she had given to the church (well over 20% of her income), and so on.

Tiffany responded to each of the allegations with the pat answers members are taught to give when someone finds fault with the ICoC, and for each one I had an equal and opposite counter. At the end, the argument, the only one we ever had, degenerated into me begging her to leave the church, and her quoting an incoherent babble of pat responses and Bible verses.

It didn’t matter what either of us said, really. I knew right away that I had done something horrible and stupid--something I couldn’t take back. She came into the diner generally lukewarm. She came out of it with new enthusiasm for her sect, a fire I stoked by confronting her cultish beliefs directly. Instead of helping her out of the cult, I drove her further in.

Yeah, my heart was in the right place. But I came in with a lot of facts thinking that I knew something. Only years later, after an encounter with another cult, did I make an effort to learn what the real relationship between Tiff and I had always been, and how I could have helped her.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Walk Through Greenwich Village: The International Church of Pancakes, Pt. II

Addendum 9/15/10; edited 9/14/10 for accuracy and clarity. My thanks to Keith Stump.

The aspects of thought reform outlined by Dr. Margaret Singer give only a small sampling of the hell Tiffany went through with the NY Church of Christ. In an essay titled “Control Mechanisms in the ICC,” former member Keith Stump delved considerably deeper into the control techniques of the New York Church of Christ's parent organization. What follows is a brief outline of what he terms “The Architecture of Control” and “The Culture of Control”

The Architecture of Control

1. Illusion of wisdom--Church members seem to be authorities on the Bible, but in reality memorize a series of passages over time to give the illusion that they have mastered its text. Tiff was especially fond of quoting 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 4-7.

The ICoC further fostered the illusion of wisdom by requiring new members to make out “sin lists,” outlined confessions of past transgressions. Like Dr. Ewen Cameron’s pre-admission interviews, these made the subject feel as though the manipulator knew everything about her. It also led to false confessions if the manipulators deemed the person’s sins too paltry. For that reason, many members overdramatize the cult’s role in turning their lives around by exaggerating their past misdeeds. In this case, Tiffany left me with the impression (although she never said this) that she had engaged in a form of prostitution while strung out on drugs.

2. Artificially induced guilt--the church demands such high standards--not only of worship but obedience--that they’re nearly impossible to maintain. So church elders have an easy time finding fault. For example, when the pastor talked about a righteous person having the faith to murder someone or commit suicide in that Easter service I attended, he most likely knew that many of them would at least say to themselves “I don’t know if I could do that.” That little sliver of doubt would be enough to induce guilt.

3. Control of loved ones--more accurately, the control of access to loved ones outside the church, as illustrated by Tiff’s estrangement from her father and brothers.

4. Control of goals and decisions--anything from getting a haircut to getting hitched.

5. Discipleship partners/disciplers--see previous post

6. Eradication of boundaries--As Stump puts it, “The member is not free to tell his or her leaders that some particular aspect is none of their business.” The church fosters this by providing no avenue of privacy. For example, Tiff lived in an apartment with three other members. The place had two bedrooms, neither of which had a door. They had access to every phone call she made at home.

7. Breaking sessions--A dressing down or worse harassment over a perceived sin. Usually the sin is “pride” or individuality.

8. Fear--mostly of not being saved, or going to Hell.

9. Elimination of options--When ordered to do something, members aren’t given any options, and if necessary others will team up to show them why they have to take the course of action asked of them.

10. Manipulative affection--The most common term for this is ‘lovebombing.’ At first, cult members make you feel really good about yourself by praising you and lavishing you with attention and affection. Some cults go so far as to include sexual favors. In Tiffany’s case, this was muted in favor of a general sexual vibe, because of the stated anti-sex position of the church.
People like Tiffany, who are super attractive, and enthusiastically offer attention, fawning admiration, an unstated promise of sex, or outright sex are sometimes referred to as ‘lures.’* If you’re lonely or bored, lures can be a lot of fun. Once you join the cult, however, they become off-limits. After all, they’re out getting some other poor soul to join.


The Culture of Control

1. The vocabulary of control--Coded language that hides the agenda of the church. Click on the link for examples. During my time with Tiffany, I heard all of them, most more than once.

2. Denial that control exists--This is of particular importance when dealing with outsiders, especially new recruits (e.g., when Tiff said to me, “C’mon. It’s not like we’re going to lock you in a dungeon and throw away the key.”)

3. Control is good--Though this seems contradictory to denying that control exists, both aspects work sorta in tandem. After two years' refusal to acknowledge that the church didn’t control every aspect of her life, Tiff gave up her bicycle because the church told her to. To me, those wheels represented the last bit of freedom she had.

4. Poisoning the well--Preemptively dismissing a dissenting viewpoint by labeling it “spiritual pornography,” “persecution” or “opposing God.”

5. Propaganda--The belief in such things as the “persecution” by outsiders and blind obedience is fostered through all media outlets available to the church, especially music.

6. Illusion of Joy--Not only do church members have to comply, but they have to convince their disciplers that they like it. They smile constantly, no matter the circumstance. Everything they do on behalf of the church has to be extremely enthusiastic. Otherwise, church elders would deem them “lukewarm,” something the ICoC considers as an egregious a sin as rebelliousness.

7. Unwritten rules--A lot of church policy consists of unwritten rules, some of which consists of behavior expressly forbidden officially (i.e., to outsiders), but nevertheless demanded by church leaders. One example would be the torture of new recruits through sleep, water, and food deprivation.

8. The illusion of change--The church’s transgressions started to become known after the 20/20 exposé. Thus, it has periodically declared to either having reformed or to be in the process of reforming. More on that later.

9. The illusion of God’s hand--The insistence that church leaders are acting on God’s authority, and that doubting them is rebellion against Him.

10. Denigration of all other religious groups--The ICoC maintains that it alone is the one true church, and that all other faiths, including other Christian sects, are evil and will go to Hell.

11. The illusion of mission--Maintaining the belief that they have been charged by God to evangelize the world into their brand of Christianity.

12. Induced instability and transition--Basically, these are tactics designed to foster the feeling of uncertainty, or in other words to recreate the dangerous time that led the member to the group in the first place. The ICoC does this by a number of tactics, one of which (very similar to Jonestown, BTW) is the constant manufacturing of false crises.

_________________________
See Stump's comments to this post. The ICoC did not use "lures" in the way that many cults did, because of the risk of extramarital sex, and thus subsequent alienation from the church. I would still aver that her actions would remind someone of a lure in the classic sense, and could conceivably serve the same function.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Thought Reform 101

Addendum 9/15/10 to reflect some of the discussion given by Keith Stump.

The late Dr. Margaret Singer (left) hated the term ‘brainwashing.’ Instead, she preferred the term ‘thought-reform,’ which is a more accurate description of the process, when you think about it. She was one of the top psychologists dealing with this subject, a court-qualified expert who testified on behalf of many ex-members and their families.

In looking at my friend Tiffany’s situation, it’s important to know how she got there. Dr. Singer has given us a roadmap of six basic conditions needed for thought reform to occur. The New York Church of Christ exhibited all of these in spades. For example, Dr. Singer wrote:

Control the person's social and/or physical environment; especially control the person's time.
Controlling the recruit’s environment is key, especially in the early stages. As Rev. Rick Bauer, a former leader of the International Church of Christ explained in a 1993 20/20 exposé (click here to watch it), the first step of its indoctrination process requires isolation. Often the targeted recruit is approached by someone acting friendly and helpful. After building up a decent comfort level, the ICoC member invites the recruit to a seemingly harmless function: a Bible study, a concert, a study klatch, a basketball game, or something else that would interest the target. These activities are scheduled so that only one non-member attends at a time, and is thus completely surrounded by other ICoC members. In some cases, retreats to geographically and culturally isolated places are ideal for these purposes. Other former ICoC leaders admit to going so far as locking recruits into basements for up to two weeks at a time.

The initial isolation serves to break down former thought patterns and belief structures. In this particular case, Tiff invited me to concerts (note plural), parties and other events, and in each of these, I was the only non-member. She even invited me to a retreat.

The isolation cannot occur to the same degree once the initial indoctrination has taken place, but it still goes on. As Dr. Singer wrote, “Through various methods, newer members are kept busy and led to think about the group and its content during as much of their waking time as possible.” All ICoC members accepted a rigorous schedule of activity that required them to spend time in a number of different pursuits, among them outreach to outsiders, counseling with a discipler, Bible study, church maintenance, et cetera. Thus, they’re too busy and/or too tired to keep up their relationships with family and non-cult friends.

The cult also isolated by regulating communication with outsiders. After Tiff announced her wedding to me, my access to her dropped sharply. She shared a Brooklyn apartment with three other church members, who from that day on, erased my telephone messages to her (I’ll tell you how I found out about this later).

Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person.
By keeping recruits isolated from sources of support, their confidence level drops. The group then uses the opportunity to attack the recruit’s thoughts and beliefs. In the aforementioned 20/20 piece, Rev. Bauer gives some excellent examples of how he did this. The recruit might think about countering the onslaught, but feels that it won’t do any good, since no one is there to back him up.

Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person's former social identity.
The ICoC didn’t just attack spiritual beliefs. They attacked anything that smacked of individual initiative. Former members report that they got yelled at by other church members for so much as getting a haircut “without discussing it with them first” (read: “without permission”). The group dictated such things as job choices, family status, hair and clothing styles, what to consume, and what to like on TV. This had nothing to do with church doctrine. But it had everything to do with shaking the subject's confidence in making decisions, and distancing her from her previous identity.

Tiff said she had to get married.* What’s clear to me now is that she usually could only do what the church elders told her to do. Obviously, they told her that at her age she “needed” to find a husband. Because she lived under a tight schedule with other church members, and worked at a corporation with other people in the NYCoC, there was adequate opportunity to reward obedient behavior, and punish “pride and rebelliousness” (read: individuality).

So on top of isolating her from her family, her friends, and even from me, her lost recruit, the NYCoC did its damnedest to isolate Tiffany from herself.

Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors.
This one is easily demonstrated in the post titled “A Walk through Greenwich Village: The Submission of the Lamb.” This time, however, it wasn’t Tiff who succumbed to the psychological manipulation, but me. I didn’t bother to take notes or do the other things the ushers thought I should until halfway through the Easter service. Even then, I wouldn’t do it until one of them came close to making a scene, which you can construe as my punishment. My reward for complying with the required behavior consisted of getting him out of my hair.

Tiff, no doubt, received such reinforcement on a continual basis many times a day.

Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing. Members are not allowed to question, criticize or complain -- if they do, the leaders allege that the member is defective -- not the organization or the beliefs. The individual is always wrong -- the system, its leaders and its belief are always right.
Figure 1. A Diagram of the International Church of Christ governance structure.

The above figure, from the Reveal website, illustrates how the church distributes authority amongst its members. At the time of my involvement with Tiffany, the person at the very top of this pyramid would have been Kip McKean.

The bottom two sections merit closer examination. The most controversial aspect of the Crossroads approach was discipling. You see, most outsiders see this as a one-on-one relationship, with one person spiritually shepherding another until they are both peers. But discipling is actually a one-over-one relationship. The discipler does address some spiritual concerns, but for the most part tells the recruit what to do, all the time. This is the person whose permission the recruit would need to get a haircut, or buy a new pair of jeans. This is the person who would direct the recruit’s social life. This is the person who would report your “progress” (or lack thereof) up the ranks of the pyramid.

As you probably have determined by now, disciplers and other ICoC leaders used the terms ‘rebelliousness’ and ‘pride’ to keep the flocks from entertaining any independent thought, especially those that conflicted with the party line. The church also prohibited literature that conflicted with its belief and goals as “spiritual pornography” (e.g., The X-Spot), especially if that conflict were fact, research, or scientifically based. Without knowledge, the member might feel like challenging the dogma spewing from her “superior’s” (ahem!) lips, but has nothing to counter with. Couple this with constant pounding from scripture of how inferiors were to obey earthly masters, and you could see the recruit or neophyte member had little hope of winning an argument against a superior opponent, and couldn’t even get out of the argument until he or she had capitulated completely.

Tiff always had a ready answer for most of the things I could throw at her. She never won me over with anything she said. But it had become clear to me that she had internalized the whole power mechanism of the church. She believed in the infallibility of authority. In fact, she had bet her life on it.

Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how she or he is being changed a step at a time.
The most basic tenet. You see, no one would ever join a mind-control cult. So, the cult deceives the recruit with respect to its purpose and agenda. In order to maintain the deception, the group has to indoctrinate little by little. In fact, the behavioral and psychological steps happen so slowly, that the recruit usually doesn’t notice how she has changed.

It starts with simple things. Little things. Tiff, for example, always tried to get me to stop swearing. I don’t mean just in her presence. But everywhere, and at all times. In our telephone conversations, she would ask if my “use of language improved.” Most of the time, I’d simply tell her my vocabulary hadn’t changed without saying anything to upset her.

Once though, I answered, “What the fuck do you think?”

_________________
*In the comments section of the following post, Stump points out that the situation that I depict here would be somewhat unusual as stated. The pressure on whom to marry would normally be more subtle than depicted here, for one thing. A timetable, as such, would be less likely than an attempt to draw someone into the cult in order to continue a relationship--whatever that relationship is. She thus wouldn't have been a "lure" in the same vein as those utilized by other cults. As Stump notes, the risk for extramarital sexual relations (and thus less control over the member already in the cult) would be too great. It's possible that I misremembered what happened, but I'm quite certain that I did not. It would be more likely that I misunderstood her sense of urgency, but she herself gave me the timetable. My best guess is that she gave me a deadline in order to test my reactions; to see if I would commit to her, and ultimately to the cult.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Brainwashing 101

Before getting back to our story, a bit of background info.

When it comes to confirming the International Church of Christ’s “controlling” and “deceitful” approach to creating disciples, one need only go to the thousands of ex-members who have undergone the practice personally. You can get even more from former church leaders who were doing the controlling. In some instances, this included behavior legitimately thought of as torture.

Cult leaders know fully well that no one would ever join their group of their own volition. They have to coerce the prospect psychologically. They utilize a number of methods known to work on anyone with at least half a functioning brain cell. Anyone who believes they can’t be indoctrinated by these methods is easy pickings.

That means you. Yeah, you. Not some other people out in la-la land, not some poor soul who’s had a miserable life, not some wayward kid from a dysfunctional family, not some stupid moron without the sense God gave an amoeba.

You.

At various times in all of our lives we will reach points where we become unsure about things. Usually, this involves a transition of some type, but not necessarily anything catastrophic. I call these ‘dangerous times.’

For example, did you go off to college? Then you were at a dangerous time. You probably never lived away from home before that. It’s a period of transition, where the former securities of life no longer apply.

There are many others. Have you ever moved to a new city, especially in another part of the country, or in another country altogether? Have you ever been divorced or separated? Have you ever undergone the death of a parent, child, or other close family member or friend? Have you ever lost your job? Have you ever had a serious illness or physical injury?

I can go on and on, but you get the point. These are all types of things that people commonly go through. Undoubtedly, you’ve underwent at least one of these in your lifetime, probably two or three, maybe more. If a cult had had unshielded access to you right at that moment, then I would wager good money that you would have become one of the walking dead.

Fortunately, when most people go through these times, there’s not a cult member nearby. After all, they can’t indoctrinate everybody. There’s only so many hours in a day, for crying out loud.

Furthermore, even if a cult did approach you during a moment of transition, you probably would have had adequate support from other friends, family, or maybe even the kindly stranger who chases away the recruiting cult member away with a hammer in her hand, to insulate yourself from indoctrination. Some people are shielded by their past experiences as a cult member, or family member of a cult member, or by specific knowledge of how cults work--anything that leads them to recognize cult recruitment tactics. That's key, because cults can hide their methods and agendas quite well.

Those people who get approached, during a dangerous time in their lives, without adequate support or shielding through experience or specific knowledge, are those people who populate cults. I’m afraid that’s the only difference between us and them.

You see, one of the biggest myths about cults is that only the gullible fall into them. Actually, the opposite is true. When a cult makes contact with someone, they immediately apply some psychological test. Sometimes, these are standard types of tests where the targeted recruit takes his number two pencil and fills out a Scantron card. Oftentimes, though, the group administers the test surreptitiously by noting the potential recruit’s response to specific stimuli or questions. Whatever method used, the point is to separate people into four major categories: thinkers, doers, feelers and believers. This informs the strategy of their indoctrination. Thinkers have to be challenged intellectually, doers by their actions, and feelers by their emotions.

Believers, those people gullible enough to believe anything you tell them, those who haven’t sufficient will to object to anything, tend to get booted out. Really. The leaders know that there’s no sense in spending precious resources on brainwashing someone into the cult, when they can just as easily be brainwashed out of the cult.

The second big myth about brainwashing in general is that it requires a special type of person with a weak will, or an overwhelming need to belong. As some US Korean War army vets learned the hard way, brainwashing can happen to anyone. Some of those captured POWs found themselves confessing to crimes they couldn’t possibly have committed, and killing or torturing fellow American GIs inside their prison camps. These were men hardened by battle and training. The Army had monitored them for any signs of profound psychological problems.

Okay, some people balk at calling this process ‘brainwashing,’ for over the years, the term has become a staple of b-movies, comic books, and other media that trivializes it to a large degree. This makes it easy for some to dismiss the subject as the hobgoblins of the conspiracy theorist's mind.

So, perhaps we should use another word.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

A Walk through Greenwich Village: The International Church of Pancakes

What I learned about the New York Church of Christ.

The New York Church of Christ was founded in 1983, but its roots go back about sixteen years before that. It all began within the ‘mainline’ churches of Christ,* in particular the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainsville, FL. In 1967, the church hired Rev. Chuck Lucas to head a campus outreach program, Campus Advance, for the purpose of creating new disciples. The Crossroads Movement believed that becoming a disciple--i.e., a person "totally committed" to evangelism--and turning other people into them were the ultimate goals of a Christian’s life.

One of the people Lucas reached, a young student named Kip McKean, joined the Crossroad’s Movement in 1972, after the organization had grown considerably larger. McKean and fellow recruit Roger Lamb soon began posting record numbers of successful conversions. But the church pulled its funding for their activities in 1977, essentially firing them for “teaching false and ‘deceitful’ doctrine and promoting controlling practices.”

Undeterred, McKean relocated to Lexington, MA, where the local church of Christ had difficulty maintaining its membership. Using the methods that served him so well in Florida, he successfully built up the numbers, and then proceeded to take over the congregation. He ‘reconstructed’ (their term) the church into a disciple factory, of sorts. Part of that restructuring called for the consolidation of all local churches into one central congregation for every city, the name of which would precede the denomination. After successfully reconstructing a number of congregations in the local area, he rechristened the new organization the Boston Church of Christ in 1980. The restructuring effort came to Chicago the following year, London in 1982, and New York in 1983. Unlike the mainline churches of Christ, which stressed congregational independence, the Boston Church of Christ began to network with other worshippers in other cities, in effect becoming its own denomination.

During the 1980s, tension grew between the mainline churches of Christ and the Boston/Crossroad movements. The mainline churches were themselves almost evenly divided in their support of McKean’s discipling tactics, despite the fact that the sects were very similar in their doctrines and beliefs. According to Reveal, an organization of ex-members, the mainline churches wound up firing Crossroads founder Chuck Lucas in 1985 over “sexual improprieties of a public and ongoing nature.” Such allegations had become commonplace between the CM's top leaders, during this time, but represented only one aspect of what the mainline churches found distasteful.

Over the next three years, the mainline and Boston churches fired a number of salvos across enemy lines, with some in the mainline people defecting over to McKean’s camp. Others suspected that the discipling tactics of the Crossroads Movement had created nothing other than a mind-control cult. The separation of the Boston Church network and the other congregations became inevitable. As researcher Russell Padon put it:
The Movement's belief that the mainline Churches were spiritually dead (to the point of costing them their salvation), were not evangelizing the world, and were mired in tradition instead of being rooted in scripture led the Boston Movement to in turn consider the mainline Churches a separate fellowship. Although there has never been any formal break in relations, McKean has stated that it was in late 1986 and early 1987 that influential congregations and publications in the mainline Churches stopped considering the Boston Movement as part of the mainline Church of Christ fellowship.
Indeed, senior members of the mainline churches opposed to the Boston Church confirmed McKean’s impressions. In 1988, Rev. F.H. Martin wrote:
In dealing with the Boston...Movement, I feel that we can no longer consider them brethren. This is a very painful and difficult decision. In my investigation, I have had to come to this decision because of the error being taught and the departures from the Word of God. They have totally and completely apostatized from the teaching of the Word of God on so many doctrines we can no longer afford to count them as brethren....

Whereas getting kicked out into the cold margins of one’s faith might represent the ultimate in spiritual rejection, to McKean it offered a great deal of freedom. Under his leadership, the Boston Church of Christ expanded not only within the United States and England, but globally. Reflecting this new reality, McKean formally named his congregational network The International Church of Christ, in 1993.

It was about this time when a young woman named Tiffany, came into contact with McKean’s followers in New York City. Had she known what they had in store for her, had she known anything about the group beforehand, I wouldn’t be writing this now.



*The three mainline types within the churches of Christ consist of a liberal, moderate, and conservative sect. Note: they often refer to their denominations in lower case in order to emphasize the independence of each congregation, and they do not endorse the types of manipulative thought-reform tactics that the discipling movement engaged in.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Walk through Greenwich Village: The Submission of the Lamb, Pt. II

After the Easter service, I went backstage to where I knew Tiffany would be. Over the previous two year she had worked her way up to more responsibility, and the Church now put her in charge of managing all the musical acts for the ceremonies. I caught up with her just as she was barking out a number of orders for a dozen brown faces to follow. She continued to direct after she saw me.

When she finished, she came to me and said, “X, I’d like you to meet someone.” She pointed out a tall, handsome dark-skinned man more than five years her junior, and beckoned him over. “This is my fiancé.”

As I shook hands with her future-husband, she said, “I’ve gotta break our plans for tonight. I know we were supposed to have dinner afterwards, but something’s come up. I can’t see you.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Let’s go out for a Coke.”

Perplexed, she looked around to the face of one of the ministers who had overheard the conversation. He beckoned her with his finger, and she came to him. He whispered in her ear for a few seconds, and she nodded. “Okay,” she said, rejoining us. “Let’s go.”

“You really work fast,” I barbed, as we approached a bench in the middle of a cement park next to the Academy.

“I’m past due,” she explained. “I was supposed to be married a long time ago. And he’s a nice guy, really. Look, I only got fifteen minutes.”

“Where do you have to be in fifteen minutes?”

“I’m meeting my discipler at my apartment.”

“Is that why you’re canceling dinner?”

She shook her head. “No. I had to--if you could have only submitted, things would be different.”

I asked her why she had chosen a husband so rashly. After all, she admitted to have only seen him for a grand total of two weeks, and only casually at that. And choosing a spouse is one of the most important decisions one makes.

I didn’t try to dissuade her. I nevertheless voiced my concern. But she would have none of anything I said, and repeatedly responded in an unreservedly venomous fashion for the first time since I had known her.

As she trailed away on her bike, I made up my mind to look into this New York Church of Christ. The Big-Brother tactics of the ushers, the emphasis on blind authority, and the naked groundwork for violent acts and suicide gave me major-league creeps. That and the racial composition of the church leadership and congregation immediately reminded me of Jim Jones. And at its then-membership level, if someone ordered them to off themselves then you’re looking at something on the order of 130 Jonestowns, or 3,500 Heaven’s Gates.

Of course, what really creeped me out on an emotional level was Tiffany’s behavior.

Back then, I had Internet access. But the web wouldn’t be a good research tool until a few years later. So to find out about any subject in depth took a major commitment of time. Before then, I had been too lazy to take that time for her. But if my suspicions were correct, then maybe, I could have one or two more chances to keep her from making a huge mistake.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Walk through Greenwich Village: The Submission of the Lamb

I don’t suppose anyone takes too kindly to having their discussions of marriage laughed at, but that's what I had done to Tiffany. She tried to sound her cheery, usual self for the remainder of our phone conversation, but I could tell I upset her. I dreaded doing it, but she really wanted me to go to her church Easter Sunday. “There’ll be parents there,” she said. “It would really mean a lot to me if you’d be there.”

What else could I do? I promised her I’d go.

I actually had other reasons for wanting to attend. For one thing, I had become really suspicious of her congregation, for it seemed decidedly insular, and morbidly distrustful of people outside the church. Something had to be going on there, and I wanted to know what. Then again, I hoped that this Easter service would show how silly I’d been for worrying, and thus allow me to rest assured that Tiff was okay.

Easter Sunday, over 2,000 parishioners from all over the city, some with parents in tow, descended upon the auditorium of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, comprising a small crowd of 3,000-plus. The audience members were almost exclusively black and Latino, with a handful of Asian-Americans and even fewer whites. Two gray-suited white men, one mid-twenties, the other late-forties, had taken over the seats about five rows down from me. They paid little attention to what went on around the stage. For the entire service, they surveyed the auditorium and it’s attendees, sometimes by actually standing up and looking around. I got a number of disapproving looks from them.

The service itself consisted of numerous long-winded musical acts (sans instruments) and copious snippets of scripture taken out of context and reinterpreted by the pastor. With one exception, all on the stage, and all but two who were backstage running the show were white.

For each event, church members responded with some sort of action – either taking notes on the scripture or sermon, standing and clapping during the music, et cetera. Two muscular, gray-suited ushers (all white) patrolled each aisle while watching everyone, sometimes closely. I, however, didn’t respond on cue. As the pastor read the first piece of scripture, everyone around me took out Bibles, notepads and pens as they followed along taking notes. Since I had none of these items, I simply listened. But that drew the attention of the ushers, who glared at me, and motioned me to start reading and writing. The smiling young lady next to me took her nose out of her Bible long enough to notice what had happened. Thinking quickly, she took out a spare pen, a piece of scratch paper, and moved her Bible over so I could see it. After I accepted the writing utensil and pretended to read along, the gray-suit left me alone.

Perhaps I’d been asking for it, since I came by myself and sat down in a section of worshippers who were without parents. They probably pegged me as a potentially rebellious member, as did the lady next to me. Of course, this was Easter, and these guys should have realized that they had visitors. You would have expected them to be on their best behavior.

I would have also expected a more generally themed sermon, perhaps. I expected the pastor to expound upon the meaning of the Resurrection, the compassion of Christ to His tormentors, and so on. Instead, he launched into a tirade on Tiffany’s favorite subject: submission. He quoted bits of the Bible to support his pronouncement that leaders were chosen by God, and to rebel against earthly authority was the same as thumbing your nose at the Almighty. Because of the ushers’ suggestion (ahem!) to keep notes, I remembered the exact verses he quoted.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians, Chapter 5, verses 22-24)
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans, Chapter 13, verses 1-2).
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. (Colossians, Chapter 3, verses 18-25).
Obviously, the Church has a hierarchical view that presumes God personally assigned power to those in charge. Even though the scripture required the master to be gentle with his subjects, he nevertheless wielded authority by divine right.

Of course, when you’re talking about lopsided power, ‘gentle’ tends to be a relative term.

Then it got worse. In expounding on these items, and interpreting to the congregation, he gave examples of pride and rebelliousness among sinners and non-believers--basically apocryphal stories of unidentifiable people who met some horrendous fate in the end. He then went on to preach that whatever one’s common sense might tell them, whatever misguided morality they had learned in Sunday school as a child, they were to obey the church masters. From there he went off the deep end, telling parishioners that anything that the church elders tell you to do is the moral thing to do, even if God (i.e., the church) told you to murder someone, or commit suicide.

Note: there were parents in the audience, and the pastor damn well knew this. I’m sure he toned down his usual rhetoric for this all-important feast day. It gave me a chill to think about what he might have told his parishioners when nobody else was around.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Walk through Greenwich Village: The Tiff Files

Over the next two years, Tiffany made it a point to keep in touch. If she saw me outside, on the little cement patch we called a campus, she’d come over, even if I were talking to someone else. She occasionally stopped in during my office hours to ask me to proofread her papers, or help with her Latin homework. At first she phoned me at home, every other week, sometimes late at night. The calls eventually increased to two or three times a week. She even dropped by my apartment a couple of times, and came to one of my standup gigs.

In short, I had gotten used to having her around. Not that I minded. She was friendly, funny and smart. It didn’t hurt that her excessive exercise and girl-next-door looks made her Playboy material. Quite frankly, I loved the attention she paid to me.

Of course, that attention came at a price. Ever so often, particularly when I had had a bad day, she would take the opportunity to evangelize, sometimes aggressively, sometimes in tandem with Nketia (pseudonym), a mutual friend and fellow member of the New York Church of Christ. Both accursed me of pride and rebelliousness, at times, and suggested (out of concern, naturally) that I submit to something greater, presumably their church. Over these two years the suggestion to submit began to take on the tone of a command.

Tiffany stressed that her submission to the church saved her life. Even though I’m sure the church took undeserved credit for her turnaround, I couldn’t argue her point. After all, by her account she had lived a horribly tragic existence up to that point. Her mother neglected her, as a young child, in order to carry on an illicit affair behind her father’s back. Mom and her boyfriend wound up killing each other in a suicide pact shortly after Tiff’s fifth birthday. Tiff’s dad felt uncomfortable around little girls, and consequently lavished virtually all of his attention and affection onto her two older brothers.

She tried to escape the loneliness of her teen years by running off to college, but soon found herself majoring in hard drugs and hard sex. She dropped out that freshman year. What she did over the next seven years, she never described in any detail. All Tiff would say is that she and her roommate lived in an apartment, paid for by an older man who kept them sheltered, fed, and supplied with hooch. She never mentioned what he might have wanted in return.

Tiffany only surrendered these details a little at a time, a crumb here, and a crumb there. So it took me a while to get a psychological sense of her, or at least what she projected. Her father viewed women and sex as treacherous--not surprising since his wife not only cheated on him, but exposed him as a cuckold in a very obvious way. It therefore made sense that as she grew Tiffany made him more uncomfortable. I could also reckon that Tiff might view sex as a weapon, a tool, a means to an end. Moreover, it’s sometimes the case that women neglected by their fathers when growing up, seek male attention (especially from father figures) any way they can, whether that involves flirting or something bolder.

Eventually, I started to become more conscious of my reactions to Tiffany, and of her reactions to me. I don’t particularly read people all that well in real-time, so it took me a while to notice a decidedly sexual component to our relationship. Part of my slowness in realizing this was that she was openly anti-sex, for her church preached absolute abstinence for singles. By abstinence, I don’t mean simple refraining from the X-rated stuff. They would chastise her for having impure thoughts. If Tiff so much as looked at a guy, she would be required to tell her sponsor (called a ‘discipler’ by this particular sect), who would “work with her” to rid her of this “sin.”

Once this dawned on me, I began to observe her relationship with other people. Curiously, Tiffany seemed to evoke a sexual, or quasi-sexual response from everyone she knew, even heterosexual women such as Nketia, who privately fawned over her. Although women tended to be subtle about their adoration, men showed it in more obvious ways: body positioning, vocal inflection, and so forth. Sometimes they would stammer, sweat, or become physically awkward all of a sudden.

To put it crassly, Tiffany not only exuded sex through every pore, she amplified it with her looks, her charm, and her warmth, which seemed too genuine to be false. It was though a key part of her persona consisted of ten pounds of repressed sexuality crammed into a two-pound bag. Consequently, any latent desire I might have had for her soon dissipated, for I realized that any sexual vibe she might have sent out wasn’t personally directed at me.

Or so I thought. As her calls became more frequent, she wanted to talk more about sex. At times, that was all she could talk about. I first attributed this to a fracture within her psyche caused by the tensions between her repressive religious beliefs and her needs as a normal twenty-seven year old human.

One of our last calls, however, convinced me that all the sex talk was for another reason. Shooting the breeze in the wee hours of a morning the week before Easter, she casually mentioned that she would be married by year’s end.

“Congratulations,” said I, a bit confused. After all, she never mentioned dating anyone inside the church or elsewhere. “Who’s the lucky guy?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just know that I have to get married by December. It’s a question of finding someone who can marry me.”

“Well that leaves me out,” I laughed. “I can’t marry you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not a minister, judge, or the captain of a ship.”

“Listen,” she said, her voice immediately darkening, her cadence heatedly approaching rapid fire. “I don’t know why you think being any one of those things would matter to me. The only thing that matters is if you loved me. But I have a real problem with your pride. You don’t have to be anything great. If you’d only submit—“

“Tiff, that was a joke.”

For the next ten seconds, we were both completely, and awkwardly silent.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

A Walk trough Greenwich Village: The Questionable Bunch

As my cyberpal and I strolled along E. 8th Street, a tall brunette zipped by in the opposite direction. My companion continued to talk, not realizing the importance of the stranger who had almost brushed against her. Perhaps she didn’t notice the woman at all. But it didn’t take long for her to notice that my attention had immediately shifted elsewhere.

She stopped talking, and gave me a kind of puzzled smile. Neither menacing nor mocking, her glance conveyed amused curiosity. From the looks of it, she probably assumed something minor had gone wrong: an untied shoelace, perhaps, or maybe a charley horse from all the walking we had done up to that point. Whatever she might have thought at that moment, I felt compelled to explain my momentary space out.

“We just passed somebody I know,” I said, or words to that effect.

“Oh,” she said.

I began to tell her about Tiff (pseudonym). Back in 1995, I let her enroll into my junior-level pop music course because of her previous experience in the record industry. Towards the middle of the semester, she asked me to come to a gig of one of the bands she managed, because she wanted my input on how to market them.

Such wasn’t unusual, for me. I’d seen a ton of my students perform, just as my professors had come to see me. But this night immediately took a trip into the twilight zone. The ‘gig’ as it turned out was a worship service for a sect calling itself the New York Church of Christ. I noticed a number of people eyeing me suspiciously outside the building. They peppered me with such questions as “Who are you? Where did you come from? Do you belong to another branch of the Church? What are you doing here?”

Most of the people at the venue, a large third-story room in an almost abandoned office building, were people in their late-teens or early-twenties. A handful of white and Asian attendees ran everything. The “audience” consisted of about 100 people, almost all of them black or Latino.

I felt out of place among the young crowd. Yet, the man obviously in charge was even older than I, perhaps early to mid-forties. When I finally entered the room where everyone had gathered, a look of fear flashed across his moustachioed face. His pale skin took on a pinkish hue, and threatened to turn fully red any second.

“Who are you?” he asked. “What are you doing here? Did someone from the office send you?”

Funny. I’d been in the building for a grand total of three minutes, and had lost track of how many times someone had asked me those questions, and others. This time, however, Tiff materialized from nowhere to come to the rescue. “He’s with me,” she explained as she grabbed my arm.

The moustachioed face finally relaxed.

To be honest, those performing were quite talented, and had put a lot of effort into getting their sound right. A couple of acts reminded me of ‘60s folk rock, while the other three featured various flavors of metal, from the hard-edged blues of Iron Maiden to the lawn-mower rippings of hardcore. With the exception of one of the folkish artists, however, the lyrics didn’t live up to the instrumentals, as they consisted mainly of clumsily written evangelical pleas with no pretense of rhythm, rhyme or subtlety.

During the night, especially during the times when one band struck set while another one set up, I interacted with everyone else. They all hooted and hollered for each tune with great enthusiasm, which amused me a bit. After all, a record executive would have immediately pegged this as a hip-hop or house audience. I never really knew their musical preferences, but I gathered they were responding to the heavy-handed religious message.

As they did when I entered the building, and when I first came through the door, others began asking me lots of questions, only this time they were different. “What church do you go to,” inquired one. “Are you happy? What are the problems in your life? Do you have a girlfriend? Do you like Tiffany?” Each brown face smiled warmly, while showing genuine concern, hoping to offer words of hope and comfort. I repeatedly felt the firm manly grasp of men upon my shoulder, and the soft, stroking hands of women on my arms, everyone assuring me with both gesture and voice that I had indeed come to the right place, and that they now were there to help me. Help me with what, I could only guess.

Tiff managed only two of the acts, while another woman managed the other three. At the end of the night, they invited me backstage to pow-wow. They eagerly asked for advice, and I gave a few technical tips, and advised them to work on their lyrics. The artists didn’t really need much in terms of musical advice. Still, Tiff and her counterpart showed an almost reverent appreciation for anything that came out of my mouth. I remember thinking at the time that if I told them to dress their musicians in burlap sacks, or have them throw darts with their feet during every number, these two would have reacted as if I had given them some divine revelation.

When we emerged from backstage, the audience busied itself with the task of cleaning up the place. I offered to help them, but Tiff told me that they could handle everything. Besides, she had her own set of questions for me. “So you’re coming to our service right?”

“No,” I replied. “I play baseball on Sunday mornings.”

“Oh,” she said. “We will see you again, won’t we?”

“I’m not sure.”

“We have retreats. You should go on one with us. They’re fun. What do you say?”

I said nothing.

Sensing my concern, she grabbed me, probably more roughly than she intended to, by the shoulders, and said, “C’mon. It’s not like we’re going to lock you in a dungeon and throw away the key.”

I bid her good night, and left.

Upon exiting the building, I wondered, “Is this a cult?”

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Walk through Greenwich Village

As my friend and I walked along the streets of Alphabet City, the really funky part of the East Village, I reflected upon how pleasantly the day had gone, up to that point.

I didn’t know, for sure, how I would react to her in our first face-to-face meeting, nor did I know how she would react to me. It bothered me somewhat that she expressed a hint of fear in our meeting. So, I wondered about how I should approach her, to put her at ease. In the end, I decided simply to be myself, and not put up any false fronts. First off, she might see through a façade. Secondly, no one who knows me in meatspace thinks me as all that threatening, unless they’ve been up to no good.

That’s why, after meeting in Midtown, taking a subway to the Bowery, walking through the streets of Chinatown, and gabbing all the way, I began to relax and enjoy her company. She seemed relaxed too, as we sat down to Sunday brunch and thought about what to do next.

Shortly afterwards, this first f2f went slightly south, when a tiny piece of my weird past picked that moment to come back, and bite me in the tail.

More accurately, it passed us by on the street.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Philip Agee, 1935-2008

Associated Press reports that Philip Agee, whose name appears more than once on The X-Spot, died two days ago in Havana, Cuba. A career case officer, he left the CIA in 1969. Amid the public scandals that rocked the Agency in 1975, he published Inside the Company: A CIA Diary.

Inside the Company remains one of the most important books of this period dealing with US espionage. Beginning his career as gung-ho and patriotic as the next spy, he came to suspect that his role in the agency--especially in Latin America, but also in Greece--had never been about promoting democracy. Instead, he came to believe that under orders, he had helped to destabilize true democracies in order to install dictatorships loyal to the US government.

Even more controversial, the book named names. In later years, he felt compelled to distinguish his actions from those who had outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, explaining his purpose for doing so was “to weaken the instrument for carrying out the policy of supporting military dictatorships…[They] were supported by the CIA and the human cost was immense: torture, executions, death squads.” As to the Plame affair:

This is entirely different than what I was doing in the 1970s. This is purely dirty politics, in my opinion.
Agee faced expected criticism and notoriety. In her autobiography, former First Lady Barbara Bush accused Agee of releasing information in Inside the Company that led to the 1975 death of Chief-of-Station Richard Welch in Athens. Agee denied that his actions had anything to do with Welch’s death, and countered by suing her for defamation. Bush revised her book in settlement. Some, in particular Soviet agents defecting to the west, claimed he was actually a KGB disinformation agent. But according to Oleg Kalugin, former head of KGB coutnerintelligence, the Soviets turned down Agee’s attempts to give them information in 1973:

Agee then went to the Cubans, who welcomed him with open arms...The Cubans shared Agee's information with us. But as I sat in my office in Moscow reading reports about the growing revelations coming from Agee, I cursed our officers for turning away such a prize.
The US government revoked Agee’s passport in 1979, while he lived in various places in Europe, mostly Germany. Looking over his shoulder for a good deal of his life, he finally settled in Cuba. In 2003, he gave information to the Cuban government that led to the arrests of seventy-five dissidents that he believed were CIA agents:

To think that the dissidents were creating an independent, free civil society is absurd, for they were funded and controlled by a hostile foreign power and to that degree, which was total, they were not free or independent in the least.
His death disclosed only hours before the writing of this post, Agee remains controversial to this minute, with some wire services describing him as “outspoken” and “courageous,” and with others referring to him as a “turncoat.” I don’t think history has reached a verdict on people like him, Victor Marchetti, or other CIA whistleblowers of this period. People can and will argue about whether such people are good, bad or misguided.

One thing that’s certain about Agee: he gave us, the public, a reliable, hard-nosed first-hand account of the politics, tactics and aims of CIA operations abroad.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Long and Winding Road: Track Listing (Answers)

Thanks for going through this puzzle with me. I’m experimenting with game concepts here, and wondered if this would work, especially since--unlike She, Foam, Jean, CJ and Enemy of the Republic’s husband--I’m not much of a visual artist. You still got most of them, so I guess this went okay.

So here are the track listings (in alphabetical order):

“American Pie” (Don McLean)—The red, white and blue pie on the foreground table. Answered by Malcolm.

“Annie’s Song” (John Denver)—ANNIE Lenox singing at the foot of the hill in the background. Answered by Malcolm.

“Ariel” (Dean Friedman)—The television aerial on the tail of Robin Williams’ Sopwith Camel. Answered by no one.

“Boogie Nights” (Heatwave)—The dancing knights of the round table from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Answered by no one.

“Car Wash” (Rose Royce)—The teenagers washing the SUV in the background. Answered by Foam.

“Clap for the Wolfman” (Guess Who)—The wolfman learns that he has a case of gonorrhea (‘the clap’) from his doctor on the left side of the billboard. Answered by no one.

“Domino” (Van Morrison)—The domino on the background hill. Answered by Malcolm.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” (Blue Oyster Cult)—The pleading and the cartoon bird paying no attention to the presence of the Grim REAPER. Answered by Eric1313.

“Dy-no-mite” (Bazuka)—Queen Elizabeth II’s explosives. Answered by Malcolm.

“Flashlight” (Parliament)—The large flashlight the model has in her hand. Answered by Malcolm.

“Fly, Robin, Fly” (Silver Convention)—Actor Robin Williams piloting a Sopwith Camel. Answered by Malcolm.

“Frankenstein” (Edgar Winter Group)—The photograph of FRANK Gifford aNd Gertrude STEIN below the billboard. Answered by Malcolm.

“Grease” (Frankie Valli)—The can of Crisco on the foreground table. Answered by Malcolm.

“Green-Eyed Lady” (Sugarloaf)—The portrait of green-eyed actress Vivian Leigh below the billboard. Answered by Malcolm.

“Heart of Glass” (Blondie)—The glass heart underneath the road sign. Answered by no one.

“Higher Ground” (Stevie Wonder)—The photo of Stevie Wonder playing his music on a hill, literally HIGHER GROUND. Answered by no one.

“Hi, Hi, Hi” (Paul McCartney)—A picture of Sir Paul floating next to the Eiffel Tower. Answered by no one.

“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” (Bee Gees)—A puzzled surgeon looks up something on his laptop in the middle of open-HEART surgery. Answered by Enemy of the Republic.

“I Am…I Said” (Neil Diamond)—Rene Descarte saying “Cogito ergo sum. SUM!” (Translation, “I think, therefore I am. I AM!). Answered by no one.

“In the Navy” (Village People)—The sailor behind Queen Elizabeth II. Answered by Malcolm.

“In the Rain” (Dramatics)—The man protecting his cello with an umbrella. Answered by no one.

“Jet Airliner” (Steve Miller Band)—The 727 Trijet in the background. Answered by no one.

"Just You 'n' Me" (Chicago) The word YOU inside the word ME in the empty space on the right side of the billboard. Answered by no one.

“Killer Queen” (Queen)—Photo of Elizabeth II holding a silenced pistol, and toting sticks of dynamite in the backseat of her car. Answered by Malcolm.

“Lady Marmalade” (LaBelle)—The jar of orange MARMALADE sporting a picture of our friend LADY Luxie on the foreground table. Found by SJ.

"The Long and Winding Road" Beatles--The long, winding road going on in the background. Answered by X. Dell.


“Long, Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)” (Hollies)—The model strolling down the center of the road. Answered by Malcolm.

“Love Hurts” (Nazareth)—Lois, the mom from The Family Guy as a dominatrix. Answered by no one.

“Ma Belle Amie” (Tee Set)—African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church sponsored by The Bell Telephone company (MA BELL). Answered by no one.

”More, More, More” (Andrea True Connection)—The road sign sporting three different photos of actress Mary Tyler Moore. Answered by Malcolm.

“Short People” (Randy Newman)—The Munchkins, about as SHORT as PEOPLE get. Answered by Malcolm.

“Tell Me Something Good” (Rufus)—A man pleads with a cartoon bird to TELL him the GOOD news in his hand.

BUT WAIT!!! THERE’S MORE!!!

Some of you found Easter eggs, songs not listed on the track list, but nevertheless plausible answers.

“Burning Love” (Elvis Presley)—found by Malcolm.
“Doctor, Doctor” (Robert Palmer)—found by Eric1313.
“Cruisin’” (Smokey Robinson)—found by Malcolm.
“Dark Lady” (Cher)—found by SJ
“Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” (Elton John)—found by Eric1313.
“Jesus Is Just Alright with Me” (Doobie Brothers)—found by Eric1313.
“Jet” (Paul McCartney)—found by Eric1313.
“Me and Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul)—found by Enemy of the Republic and Kate.
“Nights in White Satin” (Moody Blues)—found by Eric1313.
“Over the Hills and Far Away” (Led Zeppelin)—found by Eric1313.
“Piano Man” (Billy Joel)—found by Malcolm and SJ.
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (B.J. Thomas)—found by Malcolm
“Superstition” (Stevie Wonder)—found by Eric1313.
Good work, all.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Long and Winding Road

New, from HeyTell Records, The Long and Winding Road, a collection of ‘70s hits.

We couldn’t retain the amazing artist who created our last CD cover, so we had to replace her with a new guy.

Boy, is he weird.

Instead of listing the songs on the back, he referred to all of the tracks with pictures, each of which represents the title of a 1970s hit single. For example, the long and winding road that runs throughout refers to “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles. Other images in his collage refer to other tunes, by other artists.



Can you identify the other thirty tracks on this three-CD set and their artists? Some are pretty obvious. Others require a bit more thought. A few of these references are puns bad enough to make SJ hurl.

To examine the entire collage in detail, click on the picture to enlarge, save it onto your hard drive, and double-click the saved gif file to see in your viewer. Every pixel should be fairly clear.

Good luck.

For the answers, click here. For earlier games, click here.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

And Now, Here’s Something We Hope You’ll Really Like: Answers

Pretty good. We got most of these. A pain to load, so I won’t be doing much of this type of game. Still, hope everyone had fun and laughs.

1. (1989) The Simpsons—Mr. Burns and Homer are pretty unmistakable. First answered by Eric 1313. Independently answered by Rayke, C-Dell, Libby, The Red Mantissa and Dale.

2. (1988) Murphy Brown—This was a rather historic episode. During his 1992 vice presidential reelection bid, Dan Quayle singled out the character of Murphy Brown, at the time an unwed mother to be, as a bad example. While it’s kinda routine for political figures to take a swipe at fictional characters, this was a rare instance in which the fictional character swiped back. First answered by Eric1313. Independently answered by The Red Mantissa and Dale.

3. (1959) The Twilight Zone—This is from the episode, “To Serve Man.” Answered by C-Dell.

4. (1992) Absolutely Fabulous (AbFab)—One of the funniest sitcoms ever, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley played two over-the-hill 1960s mods trying to cope with the post-modern ethos of the 1990s. Stumbling through a haze of sex, booze, drugs, and rock and roll, they won’t let go of their youth without a damn good fight. Answered by Dale.

5. (1965) Green Acres—The conversation is between Fred Ziffel and his wife, Doris. Answered by Foam.

6. (1971) The Electric Company—This kiddie show always began with Rita Moreno screaming, “Hey, you guys!” Answered by no one.

7. (1982) Police Squad—This show lasted a dismal six episodes, but spawned an incredibly successful movie franchise, The Naked Gun. First answered by C-Dell. Independently answered by Dale.

8. (1993) The X-Files—No relation. Answered by C-Dell.

9. (2005) Fat Actress—The speaker is Dr. Mayim Bialik, former child star turned neuroscientist. Answered by no one.

10. (1970) The Flip Wilson Show—Flip in his Geraldine voice. Answered by no one.

11. (1955) The Honeymooners—The Honeymooners began as a recurring skit on Dumont’s Cavalcade of Stars in 1949, but became its own show in 1955. Pert Kelton originally played Alice, and Art Carney played a police officer in the initial version. Jackie Gleason revived the original format in his later variety shows, with Audrey Meadows, Sue Ann Langdon, Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean playing Alice in the ‘60s and ‘70s. First answered by Eric1313. Independently answered by Dale.

12. (1953) The Tonight Show—The speaker is former host, Jack Paar. Incensed after NBC censored him for telling a joke about an innocent mix-up between a church and a loo, Paar surprised his audience and network executives by quitting during his opening monologue. Answered by no one.

13. (1981) A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—The title of the series is mentioned during the clip. Answered by Dale.

14. (1990) Seinfeld—First answered (emphatically) by Rayke. Independently answered by C-Dell, Libby and Dale.

15. (1987) Married with Children—This line is a lot funnier when you can’t see what’s going on (IMHO). First answered by Eric1313. Independently answered by Rayke, C-Dell, The Red Mantissa and Dale.

16. (1974) Good Times—A sitcom ahead of its time in leading the minstrel show into a whole new era. First answered by Eric1313. Independently answered by C-Dell, Libby, The Red Mantissa and Dale.

17. (1969) Monty Python’s Flying Circus—The speaker is Eric Idle. The show grew out of the college charades of friends John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Answered by Dale.

18. (1995) Xena: Warrior Princess—A brief reminder of the Christmas season we just survived. Answered by Rayke.

19. (1968) Laugh-In—My favorite show back in the ‘60s. The speakers are Arte Johnson (as the German soldier behind the bush), and Peter Sellers. Answered by Dale.

20. (1994) Friends—First answered by Rayke. Independently answered by C-Dell and The Red Mantissa.

21. (1959) Rocky and Friends (in later versions, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Bullwinkle)—The speaker is William Conrad, who first came to fame as radio’s Lone Ranger, became famous to a whole new generation as PI Frank Cannon (and even later as the Fat Man). Answered by Dale.

22. (1997) Ally McBeal—Dialogue between Calista Flockhart and Lucy Liu. Answered by Rayke.

Bonus points to Eric1313 for correctly identifying the title quote.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

And Now, Here’s Something We Hope You’ll Really Like

A game (bonus point if you can identify the title quote). For the answers, click here. For later games, click here.

If you’re like me, then you grew up watching what are now called ‘classic TV’ shows. Never mind that they were inane then, and are inane now. The point is, a classic can come from anywhere, from any point in time.

Below are a number of audio clips from television shows from the 1940s to the 2000s. As a little hint, I’ll put the year of the series’ debut in parentheses.

Good luck.

1. (1989)


2. (1988)


3. (1959)


4. (1992)


5. (1965)


6. (1971)


7. (1982)


8. (1993)


9. (2005)


10. (1970)


11. (1955)


12. (1953)


13. (1981)


14. (1990)


15. (1987)


16. (1974)


17. (1969)


18. (1995)


19. (1968)


20. (1994)


21. (1959)


22. (1997)

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Ganesh Map
Click to know more Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5Episode 6Episode 7Episode 8Episode 9Episode 10Episode 11Episode 12Episode 13Episode 14Episode 15Episode 16
  • Alien Abductions
  • April Fool's Day
  • Mae Brussell
  • Cause-Stalking
  • Chappaqiddick
  • The Children of God Cult
  • Sam Cooke
  • Culture Jamming
  • Theresa Duncan & Jeremy Blake
  • Exploitation Movies
  • The False Memory Syndrome Foundation
  • Fox, Monsanto and Mystery Milk
  • Games
  • The Gemstone File
  • Gik-Gik
  • The Golden Ganesh (History)
  • The Golden Ganesh (The Radio Drama)
  • The Gulf Breeze UFOs
  • The Grail Mystery
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Hitlerism vs. Nazism
  • The International Church of Christ
  • Janis Joplin
  • Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie
  • Lyndon LaRouche and Jeremiah Duggan
  • John Lennon
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • McMartin Preschool
  • MJ-12
  • Nurse Nayirah
  • Ode to Miss Texas
  • Operational Finance
  • The Paul-Is-Dead Rumor
  • Perverse Science: Biological Determinism
  • Project MK-ULTRA
  • Ruminations on the JFK Assassination
  • Anne Sexton
  • The Summer of 1947
  • The Tate-LaBianca-Hinman-Parent-Hinman-Shea Murders
  • The Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)
  • Urban Legends
  • The VENONA Ciphers and the Rosenbergs
  • Watergate
  • 9/11
  • Assassinations
  • Chappaquiddick
  • Cults
  • Cyberculture
  • Domestic ops
  • Esoterica
  • Espionage
  • Fiction
  • Games
  • The Golden Ganesh (history)
  • Humor
  • Mafia
  • Media
  • Mind control
  • Nanis
  • New World Order
  • Operation CHAOS
  • Paranoia
  • Parapsychology
  • Personal stuff
  • Political theory
  • Pop Culture
  • Psychology
  • Shameless Plug Division
  • Ufology
  • Weird Science

  • ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------s