Site Problems

I have been experiencing site problems.  I am reinstalling WordPress from scratch and will get things back up as soon as possible.

Updated 15:44 ET to add: The core reinstallation appears to be working, with all posts and embedded images back up and running, and Disqus reintegrated into the site.  It will take me a while to recover the formatting in the themes, which I may leave undone anyway because it could have been a theme problem that was causing me all this grief.  In the meantime, I think it’s safe to stick your toes back in the water!

–John P.

 

Financial Strategy: Why Do They Require People to Buy the Mark VIII E-Meter for Cash?

Summary: The recent revelation that you have to buy your new Mark VIII e-meter for cash instead of using money deposited with the cult on account has led some to speculate that the cult’s finances are in precarious shape.  Though that is certainly possible, I think it’s impossible to tell from this one data point alone. However, this development suggests that Miscavige is managing the business of Scientology to achieve only one goal, a financial metric that is utterly useless in the real world, but one that allows him to feel like less of a failure when he looks at the numbers than other numbers in the cult.

We also look at what moves Miscavige might make next to continue to grow the business using his management criteria.

The Detail That Sparked the Question

Over at WhyWeProtest, a new thread wonders whether the cult finances are struggling in light of the new requirement that people buy the new Mark VIII e-meter with new cash, rather than using money “on account” that they have paid in advance for courses not yet taken.  Recall that Mike Rinder’s blog yesterday featured a detailed post about how the cult has made this change in the rules.  In some cases, people have put significant amounts of money on deposit; one now ex-Scientologist highlighted in a Tampa Bay Times article had over $350,000 on account at one point.

Forbidding people from using their deposit money to buy e-meters certainly sounds like it could indicate that the cult is running out of cash.  That is indeed possible, but there are other explanations that could also account for this decision.  My inclination is to believe that they’re not in danger of running out of cash. It’s merely bad management.

What Real Executives Manage

There are dozens, if not hundreds of financial numbers that senior executives pay attention to when running a company, to help them keep tabs on how well their business is doing.  But it turns out that only a relatively small handful of these numbers are the key indicators that will move the stock price up or down significantly.   That’s true of the largest, most complicated companies in the world, like Exxon or General Electric.  Every industry is different.  Software companies focus on growth in sales as well as “operating margin” (defined below) while the oil industry could care less about sales figures, since sales includes the cost they pay for the oil they refine, and that fluctuates based on global economics.  If you ask the CEO of Exxon what his sales were, he will give you a blank look; I’ve actually seen it happen when a rookie asked him that when he came to Global Capitalism HQ to review the business a few years back.

But one thing is common to all executives in a real business: the numbers they manage the business to deliver are ones that genuinely reflect how well the business is doing, and that give the earliest possible warning for how the business might be faltering.  They don’t ignore the hundreds of other numbers, but they only lose sleep over a handful of numbers.

Basics of Financial Management

Here are some of the key numbers that appear on financial statements in most businesses.  We’ll refer to most of these in the discussion of Miscavige’s management mind at work.

Sales Sales (a.k.a. revenue) is the money you take in from the product or service you offer. In the case of Scientology, this includes sales of courses, books, auditing services, cruises on the Freewinds, etc.  We also classify donations such as IAS and Ideal Orgs as “sales,” even though real accountants would describe them slightly differently.
Operating Expenses Operating expenses are those expenses you pay in the normal course of business to generate sales.  They would include rent on buildings, utilities, raw material costs, labor, advertising, paper clips, costs of the private jets for the executive team, costs of your IT operation, etc.
Operating Income Operating income is the money left over when you subtract out operating expenses from sales.
Operating Margin Operating margin is the percentage of sales represented by operating income.  Most manufacturing and service companies manage to sales growth plus keeping this number at or above the level that it was at in the same period last year.  It’s all about how efficient you are.
Extraordinary Items Extraordinary items include lawsuit settlements, gains or losses on selling off a division of the company, charges for failed products, etc.
Net Income Net income is what’s left of your operating income after extraordinary items and after taxes (though the cult doesn’t pay any taxes in the US).  At the end of the year, your cash goes up by approximately this amount.
Gross Cash There are two kinds of cash balances that a company holds.  Gross cash is simply the total amounts held in the various bank accounts of the corporation.
Net Cash Net cash is a subset of gross cash. It is what you can actually use to invest in growing the business.  To get from gross cash to net cash, you have to subtract out debt that you owe to the bank or to bondholders, since you’ll have to pay that off.  Importantly in the cult’s case, net cash also subtracts out the amount of money that customers have put on deposit in advance of using services for you.  In the case of Scientology, we believe this number is a significant portion of the reserves.  You can’t count this as net cash because customers could, in an ethically run business, show up and demand that money back, and it is particularly bad form to be unable to refund them on demand.

For a little clarity, here’s an example of how this might work in Scientology.

Let’s say that the cult begins the year with $1.000 billion in reserves.  Over the course of the year, sales from all operations are $200 million. and operating expenses are $140 million.  That means operating income is $60 million, and that means that the operating margin percentage is 30%.  That’s a pretty healthy number relative to a lot of industries, by the way.  The grocery business would kill to get 5% operating margins; 1% to 2% is more normal.

If the cult paid out $30 million in legal settlements that year, they’d have net income of $30 million, and at the end of the year, gross cash would go up by about $30 million, to $1.030 billion. Net cash would go up by the same amount, since the $30 million in profits is not encumbered by a need to be able to pay it back.

If, in the same year that net income contributed $30 million to gross cash, the cult also regged people to put $50 million on deposit for courses in advance of taking them, then gross cash would go up by $30 million + $50 million, to $1.080 billion.  But net cash wouldn’t go up at all because you have to be ready to pay your customers back if they change their mind and want their deposits back.

The One Number I Think David Miscavige Manages

I think David Miscavige manages exactly one number as he reviews the cult’s finances:  gross cash.

I think he does this for two emotional reasons:

  • Mainly, I think he does this because he desperately wants to be able to overlook the negative indicators he’s seeing, such as declining revenue and increased amounts of money paid in legal settlements.  Declining sales over multiple years is a disaster in almost any company, and increasing extraordinary expenses are also problematic because they cost you profits but don’t help you make more money later.  So I think he focuses on the one number that’s least likely to deteriorate, no matter how bad the rest of the numbers in the company might be.
  • I also think that gross cash makes most intuitive sense to a very unsophisticated manager.  When you ask a kid how much money is in his piggy bank, he’ll almost invariably give the gross cash figure, and he’ll forget about the money he owes people because feels better to have as much cash as possible.

I have had the feeling for a few months that this is the number that Miscavige cares most about. This scenario, focusing only on gross cash, explains why he seems to be so un-troubled by the lack of “fresh meat” walking in the door, which would contribute some revenue today, but lots more revenue over time as the cult empties the finances of each new member on the Bridge to Total Bankruptcy.

It’s uniquely tough for the cult to cut operating expenses and boost operating margin, since they have little control over costs like utilities and telephone.  It’s uniquely hard for them to increase profits (and thence cash) by cutting costs since their labor costs are already extremely low, due to the Sea Org slave labor wages.  Most service companies spend from 30% to 50% of sales on salaries, which makes that a juicy target for cost-cutting measures.  But since the $50 per week Sea Org earn in a good week is about 1/10 of the salary of a minimum wage worker in other businesses, the cult won’t be able to manage labor costs to preserve operating margin.

And especially these days, managing to net income is difficult.  Net income is hurt by slowing sales, growing expenses and by extraordinary items.  Those three variables can be very tough to control, especially when the cult seems to be paying out far more in legal settlements the last couple years than in the past.  Operating income is easier to manage than net income, since it doesn’t include extraordinary items, but both of these numbers are hard to manage in the best of time in the most straightforward of companies.

Here’s the magic trick: if you can take in deposits then gross cash can go up even if net income is negative. For example, if the cult does $200 million in sales, $30 million in operating profit, and pays out $30 million in legal settlements, then net income was $0. But if you also add in $40 million in deposits greater than revenue, gross cash goes up by $40 million which looks pretty good. You could almost feel like you were doing something right. The only problem is that while deposits make gross cash go up, net cash would go up by $0, which doesn’t look good.

So now you can see why gross cash is a much more likely number for Miscavige to manage.  By extracting deposits from your customer base, you can make gross cash look good even if the rest of the business is turning to shit.

That, in turn, explains why he fights so viciously to not only avoid giving refunds, but to avoid giving back money on deposit. If he were managing revenue, he’d hate to give refunds because that takes revenue down. But if he’s managing gross cash, that is why he fights so viciously about money on deposit.

What Might They Do Next to Protect Gross Cash?

One commenter suggested that the cult might arbitrarily convert deposits to IAS donations.  I’m not sure that’s too likely.  Here are the scenarios I come up with:

  • First, I think that the lawyers will smell blood in the water if the Garcia’s are successful in getting the cult-specified arbitration system (which apparently has never actually existed) to be tossed out of court.  I strongly suspect that Ted Babbitt is using the Garcias as an initial case before filing tons of suits on fraud related to Super Power.  But I also suspect he and several others are waiting to file a mammoth class action suit to get refund of money on deposit, particularly for ex cult members.  I have talked to a couple of ex’s who would not sue individually but who would happily join a class action suit to recover money.  And due to the precise nature of the documentation, I think recovery for the ex’s would be fairly high, a lot higher than the pennies on the dollar typical of traditional class action suits. Look for the cult to continue to fight the Garcia case tooth and nail.
  • Second, I doubt that they will convert deposits to IAS donations without something that looks like permission from the deposit holders.  The word “conversion” in accounting circles is somewhat dirty — it basically means that you took something and pretended it belonged to you in the first place.  I think the cult’s primary mechanism to hang on to deposits is just to make the refund process as difficult as possible.  I think a suit over conversion, even if there were terms permitting it in the deposit agreement, would easily win.
  • Third, I think they’ll continue to focus over time on IAS donations, rather than taking deposits.  This is a trend already well under way, as evidenced by all those flyers that invite you to donate and move up a status level, but I think it will likely accelerate, even if they can’t really convert deposits directly to donations.  They may try to put status levels “on sale,” promising you 150% credit towards your next Patronius Gluteus Maximus trophy for every dollar you convert from deposits to IAS donations, but I suspect people will blow if they are being regged at par (i.e., one for one exchange of deposit dollars for IAS donation dollars).

Scientology Daily Digest: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Scientologist after attempting to navigate the complexities of the new sales process and the legal agreement governing use of the recently announced, new and improved Mark VIII e-meter.

Scientologist after attempting to navigate the complexities of the new sales process and the legal agreement governing use of the recently announced, new and improved Mark VIII e-meter.

The big news today came on Mike Rinder’s blog, where he relays a note from a contributor about the craziness around the requirement to upgrade to the super-duper all-new (except for the part about being in a warehouse for a decade) Mark VIII e-meter.  The whole article is worth reading carefully, because it sure sounds like the cult is desperate to not only sell the new meter quickly, but to prevent it from falling into “the wrong hands” (i.e., independent Scientologists).

Mike says that some of the annual check-in is to reset a timer on the unit itself that keeps it working for another year.  Apparently, you don’t have to send the unit back for “calibration” every year or two, but if I’m reading the post correctly, there’s a timer that expires every year, after which the meter can’t be used.

And apparently, you can’t pay for the new meter from money that you have on deposit for courses — you have to pony up new cash, immediately, or you won’t be able to be audited, and you won’t be able to continue any courses that are in progress.

Wow.  Just… wow.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Tony’s story today features the news that Russell Miller’s Bare Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard, originally published in 1987, will be back in print in February.  It’ll be published by Silvertail Books, which published BBC reporter John Sweeney’s The Church of Fear earlier this year.  Tony also posted a picture of Lisa McPherson to commemorate the anniversary of her death.

Selected comments:

Mike Rinder’s Blog

As noted above, the cult is engaging in a Kafka-esque nightmare of obstruction, obfuscation and bullying, to get people to buy the new decade-old Mark VIII e-meter.

Forum Sites (WWP, ESMB, OCMB)

Thanks yet again to Aeger Primo for keeping an eye on things on these sites…

General News

 

Well, At Least it Has a Certain Minimalist Quality…

The Point of the Exercise

Summary: The cult sends out the shortest-ever e-mail solicitation piece, good for many laughs. With tongue deeply in cheek, we measure this effort against real-world marketing principles.  We then measure it against the marketing principles laid out in Hubbard’s “management tech” books for additional fun. Unsurprisingly, we discover a major heap of fail.


Editorial Note:  I have been incredibly backed up with various projects and have not had a chance to get back to people who have written in with offers to help with site design, with story ideas, or other contributions.  I want to let you know that I am slogging through almost 300 e-mail messages and responding as best I can; I’m still trying to deal with messages that are three weeks old (!) and am finally making some progress. Please be patient.  I welcome your contributions, but am just completely buried.


The Smoking Gun

One of our Alert Readers forwarded us this e-mail solicitation from the cult. It is perhaps one of the lamest appeals yet, though it is mercifully brief, and thus it has a certain minimalist quality to it. Oh, and it is short enough that the author managed to make it through two sentences without any spelling or grammatical mistakes.

For this post, I wanted to try to figure out how much of the bozo quotient was a function of the individual writing it or how much it was a function of the current Church of Scientology corporate environment, versus how much of it came from Hubbard’s marketing ideas.

Here’s the original e-mail text, reproduced in its entirety.

From: "Tyler Beal" <tyler_beal@mailpac.net>
Date: Dec 3, 2013 4:47 PM
Subject: LRH data: The way to solve any problem
To:  <an alert reader>
Do you know what LRH says is the way you solve any problem?
If you'd like to find out, contact me and I'll give you the LRH data.
Tyler Beal
tyler_beal@mailpac.net
323-953-3435

Things that make my teeth hurt

This is what Scientology marketeers think they're doing

This is what Scientology marketeers think they’re doing

First, my tipster is an upper level OT.  One would certainly hope that by that point in his time in the cult, he has a pretty good idea exactly what LRH said about the magic solution to any and all problems, given all the money he’s spent.  So you’d assume that the cult’s e-mail database reflects the level attained of each prospect, ensuring that they put the most relevant and appealing offer in front of each customer.

But nooooooo!  This e-mail assumes that the reader is a rookie with no clue that there is any received wisdom from “Mankind’s greatest friend(tm)” beyond that found in some of the low-level courses like the incredibly effective “confront and shatter suppression” course.  This is a “spray and pray” approach to market segmentation, rather than any kind of insightfully dividing the customer base into different types, each with different needs and with different buying motivations.

Second, of course, is the one that gets my blood boiling: calling random stuff Hubbard said as “data.” It recently occurred to me that this is one of the biggest mind control gimmicks in the cult.  Data is supposed to be neutral and verifiable.  It doesn’t represent an opinion.  Data is something like “the water temperature measured 10 feet below the surface at this location at this time is X.”  What Hubbard calls “data” are what real scientists would call conclusions.  And a key part of science is making sure that the available data leads to the stated conclusion.

But if Scientology can get you to think of what Hubbard said as “data” instead of “conclusions,” meaning that it doesn’t have to be proven, then they’ve knocked down your defenses and can storm the ramparts of your mind, and basically they will own you after that point.

What Scientology marketeers are actually doing: yelling randomly at customers who can't hear through the noise.

What Scientology marketeers are actually doing: yelling randomly at customers who can’t hear through the noise.

Also missing is the benefit statement.  What benefit will I receive from calling up and allowing myself to be reg’d?  The solution to any problem I might encounter in life? It’s tough enough to believe that Oxyclean, flogged on TV by the late, loud Billy Mays can clean any stain, so it’s harder still to believe that Hubbard’s figured out the solution to absolutely every problem I might face in life.

E-Mail solicitation in the “Wog” world

Unfortunately, this breaks so many rules of direct mail solicitation from the “wog” world that one doesn’t even know where to start.  Here’s a quick list of do’s and don’ts from Alexander Direct Mail Marketing, a large vendor in Utah, along with our take on how they do against the major criteria for success:

What the Experts Say How this E-Mail Stacks Up
1.  Keep your content simple: While print holds people’s attention for much longer than digital media, attention spans are still short. Boil your message down to the most important points, and deliver it with clarity and simplicity. Using the right photos, drawings or other graphics will also help you send concise messages to your reader. Maybe, if you squint at it a bit.  This e-mail is certainly simple to the point of being Zen-like in its minimalism.  It’s not like the lengthy stuff I write in my blog posts.  It certainly fails on the photos, drawings and graphics criterion.
2.  Tailor your message: In order to produce effective content you need to know your target audience. If your message doesn’t apply to them, your direct mail piece is wasted. Make sure you’ve done your research, and that you know the recipients of your message are likely to act to help you reach your goals. Fail.  Sending out something like this to a high-level OT is just bizarre.  Presumably the OT’s will already know Hubbard’s handy-dandy one size fits all solution to all of life’s problems.  And they probably can exteriorize to visit Tyler in his seat at the boiler room operation where he works at Big Blue and figure out exactly what he’s trying to raise money for.
3.  Have a great offer: You don’t need to break the bank offering coupons or giveaways, but you do need to provide value to your targets so that they won’t want to pass up the offer. Whether it’s a coupon, a discount, or merely a great service, your offer should be noteworthy. Fail.  Assuming that the recipient is ignorant of why the cult is sending out this letter, it might work. But anyone who’s been around for a while knows that this e-mail is an invite to a fleecing.
4.  Show off the benefits: No need to make your content sound boastful. Just make sure your message clearly describes the benefit. Don’t use words and images that aren’t relevant or helpful. When it comes down to it, consumers, clients and customers want to know what benefit they’ll receive. Fail.  On the one hand, you might think it’s a win to promise that one simple phone call will solve all your problems.  On the other hand, if the solution is that good, why don’t you already have this important benefit of Scientology?  Intuitively, those receiving this document know the benefits are a lie.

 Marketing the Hubbard way

Promotion:  This lame effort violates some of Hubbard’s tenets of marketing, as simplistic (and often as erroneous) as they are.  For example, Hubbard says “Promotion is the art of offering what will be responded to. It consists only of what to offer and how to offer it that will be responded to. By promotion in a Scientology organization we mean reach the public and create want.” (HCO PL 1 Sep 1979, “Marketing, Promotion & Dissemination Defined).  So obviously, this little effort is not exactly “on Source” because it isn’t doing what Hubbard defines as promotion.

A mystery spot... where they serve a great mystery sandwich in the snack bar.

A mystery spot… where they serve a great mystery sandwich in the snack bar.

The mystery sandwich: But wait!  It might actually be “on Source” after all. In another document, Hubbard says “A thetan is a mystery sandwich. If we tell him there is something to know and don’’t tell him what it is, we will zip people into Div 6 and on into the org.” (HCO PL 25 Jun 1978, “Come-On Dissemination”) So this may explain the supremely non-specific tease our buddy Tyler sent out.  Hubbard says this will always work — “Their own curiosity will pull them along the channel, providing you created the correct mystery in the first place.”

And what is this mysterious “channel” of which they speak?  It doesn’t appear to be the notion of a distribution channel, the typical usage of the term in the marketing world of today. It appears to be the path of interactions from the initial contact to a sale.  Hubbard says,
You channel by indicating where and how to get the data— — never just GIVE the data. And one can keep on doing this to a person— — shuttle them along using mystery.

Well, this is becoming a bit clearer.  Get them to respond, then deliver a few scraps of the answer, then repeat as necessary, as long as the prospect has any remaining cash (and functioning brain cells).

These blithely uttered simplistic strategies seem to be something Hubbard consistently does in “management tech:” to promise that success is trivially easy.  For example, he says “Were we able to clean out just this one factor in management in every org, we’d have a boom, just like that!”  In other words, “if you people weren’t such idiots, we’d have even more money.”  By the way, this is all built on the fallacy of infinite demand that appears to color much of Hubbard’s management thought.

Hype:  Hubbard says that you have to hype the product.  “So don’t understate things in your promotion. Just tell the truth and you’ll find that it’s very effective.”  (HCO PL 19 Sep 1979, “Promotion”)

In HCO PL 26 Sep 1979 (“Copywriting”), Hubbard says “A common fault in writing ad copy or other material, both in marketing and other areas, is an inability to assume the viewpoint of the reader and get the idea of what impression the reader may have when he reads the ad. An ad must be written from the viewpoint of the public that is going to read it.”  True enough.  I wonder just how much thought Tyler put in to looking from the standpoint of his customers.  It is entirely possible that Tyler, recruited to the cult at an early age, hasn’t actually met a customer because he’s been locked in the bowels of Big Blue for too long.

Hubbard says that all marketing material has to be good or you have a “quality degrade,” which means the marketing campaign won’t work.  One of the causes of these: “knowing products or promotion are of poor quality but, for one reason or another, neglecting to remedy them.”  So given the quality of this piece, will Tyler end up in the Hole given that this message is so lame?  We shall see.

The hard sell: In one of the most hilarious statements about Marketing, Hubbard talks about how important it is to use the “hard sell” technique.  He says,

It is necessary in writing an ad or a flier to assume that the person is going to sign up right now. You tell him that he is going to sign up right now and he is going to take it right now. That is the inference. One does not describe something, one commands something. You will find that a lot of people are in a more or less hypnotic daze in their aberrated state, and they respond to direct commands in literature and ads. If one does not understand this, and if he doesn’t know that Dianetics and Scientology are the most valuable service on the planet, he will not be able to understand hard sell or be able to write good copy.

Hard sell means insistence that people buy. It means caring about the person and not being reasonable about stops or barriers but caring enough to get him through the stops or barriers to get the service that’s going to rehabilitate him.

Yep, Tyler’s little ad sure shows the hard sell technique in action. Uncompromising command of the customer as only a true Operating Thetan can do.

Scientology Daily Digest: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The big news on the day came early in the evening, when Tony Ortega posted a story with a major wave of filings by Monique Rathbun, plaintiff in the harassment suit against the cult.   We predict there’s enough detail there that the Court in the Rathbun case will have to order that Miscavige be deposed.  In my view, this may lead Miscavige to propose a settlement if the cult loses this motion, but I believe that Monique will insist on a far larger amount than was paid in the Debbie Cook case plus permanent restrictions on the cult’s conduct towards her and towards Marty.  However, I predict that the cult will not be able to resist breaking the permanent injunction; it’ll be interesting to see what a Texas court will do to the cult if they don’t follow a negotiated permanent injunction.

Don’t forget that tomorrow is the anniversary of Lisa McPherson’s death.  As the Anons say, this is why.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Tony filed two stories today.  The morning story features an interview with Mark Headley, who worked at Int Base and was involved in the project to build the new Mark VIII e-meter, which debuted at the Golden Age of Dreck 2 launch, but which was designed and built about a decade ago. Several thousand units have been languishing in a warehouse until now.  Headley points out that a professional outside designer was used (I think the product is actually fairly appealing even if it does resemble the recently redesigned Easy-Bake oven) and says that Miscavige claimed to have spent $20 million on the design. That number seems high to me, even given the usual last-minute micromanagement Miscavige is known for, even if they had to re-do the final production molds for the case multiple times.

Tony’s AM story also notes that Eric Tenorio, a former Narconon staffer who is now a key opponent of the quackery-based alcohol treatment facility, relapsed after surgery earlier in the year and almost went back to Narconon, but managed to find a real rehab facility, one based on sound medical techniques and on use of 12-step programs to aid in recovery.  Glad to see him back in action.

Early this evening, Tony relayed a major filing by Monique Rathbun in her harassment case against the cult.  In that case, Tommy Davis’s deposition was supposedly scheduled for today in Austin.  The next hearing is for December 11.   In these filings, declarations from numerous former cult executives including Mike Rinder and many others all testify that Miscavige is a hands-on micro-manager.  The filings also have significant portions of Debbie Cook’s testimony under oath from her 2012 suit against the cult.  Ray Jeffery raises the obvious point in his legal argument that since the Warren McShane deposition and others didn’t answer whether Miscavige is actually in control of things, DM himself should take the stand to explain things.

Mike Rinder’s declaration contained a few interesting and somewhat obscure Hubbard quotes about how to ruin opponents, which Rinder uses to point out that Miscavige is actively directing operations to smear and destroy perceived enemies.  This may be a watershed, given Mike’s post on his own blog shortly thereafter, in his version of “independent Scientology,” as he’s making it harder for his readers, many of whom I would term “doctrinaire indies” (Hubbard perfect, Miscavige evil) to continue to believe that Hubbard had clean hands while he ran the cult.

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  •  Late this evening, Mike posted a brief story linking to Tony Ortega’s story about the Monique Rathbun case filings.  Mike’s commentary is quite important, since it calls attention to some Hubbard quotes in his declaration.  The Hubbard quotes are all about how to attack, undermine, disrupt and injure opponents of the cult.  Rinder points out that Miscavige is applying the “tech” correctly, which might ruffle the feathers of some of the “Hubbard always good, Miscavige always bad” crowd just a wee bit.
  • Mike’s earlier story echoes a story from the “BackInComm” South African blog about the dire shape of Scientology in South Africa.  This time, the “Life Improvement Centre” in a suburb of Johannesburg is profiled, and it appears to be open for business only intermittently, with creeping weeds and graffiti marring the building.

Forum Sites

Yet again, Aeger Primo comes through with a detailed scan of the forum sites, including the discussion with Eric Tenorio’s announcement of his meltdown and his (new and improved) path to recovery.

Scientology Daily Digest: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tommy Davis’s deposition in the Monique Rathbun litigation is scheduled for today (Wednesday) in Austin.

Thursday marks the anniversary of Lisa McPherson’s death.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Today’s regular installment in the series where Claire Headley, recently joined by “tech” veteran Bruce Hines, walks readers through the process of actually doing Scientology, featured the OT III “Wall of Fire.”  In this one, as most of us know from reading tons of stuff over the years, Hubbard introduces the Xenu mythos in an unveiling of the holiest of holies of Scientology out of a locked briefcase.  Even with all the hype and build-up before opening the envelope with some notes scrawled in Hubbard’s handwriting, apparently quite a few people do wake up and say, “WTF?” on their way out the door.

Apparently in this level, Hubbard giveth and Hubbard taketh away.  Part of the study involves explaining why you can’t show anyone else, even other Scientologists, that you can levitate ashtrays or do any of the super powers that OT’s are supposed to have.  This is obviously a key reason that people still believe in the OT powers without any evidence that they produce any results; they know that all those OT’s are doing amazing things in private; they’re just not allowed to show anything more interesting than keen parking space hunting capabilities.

Selected comments:

 

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • Today, Mike put up a fairly important post, with some estimates on the total number of Scientologists in the world, via the work of a source who did the actual number crunching.  They’re estimating 25,000 to 35,000.  The numbers for the most part look credible, though I think the Sea Org size is a bit high, as is the estimated public coming in through the mission system.  “Deep Six” gives some further details that are useful.

Forum Sites (WWP, ESMB, OCMB)

  • Apparently, Tory Christman was involved in leading a rescue of someone from a Narconon facility in Michigan.  ESMB and WWP both cover the adventure.
  • Both ESMB and WWP provide more detail on the blight of the empty Philadelphia Ideal Org building, which was purchased six years ago.
  • The Way To Happiness Foundation is achieving peace and sanity in the Middle East.  I didn’t know that either, until I read the credible and accurate cult PR piece.
  • OCMB is covering the FBI probe of LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, who seems to be a little too friendly to Scientology relative to the size of their membership among his voters.  

General Press

 

Scientology Daily Digest: Monday, December 2, 2013

Perhaps the biggest catch of the day is on ESMB, where a guy identifying himself as the former Director of Special Affairs (OSA boss) in several different locations has popped up on the radar screen and declared himself an Indie.

There are a couple epic advertising fails and some bad news for the Ideal Org building that the cult bought in Philadelphia six years ago, and which is now apparently causing neighborhood blight.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

A fairly light day, with a couple photos of the really tawdry Way to Happiness Foundation float in the really tawdry Hollywood Christmas parade, which has been in a steady decline to irrelevance for decades.  Apparently, the Dianetics Bookstore building at 6253 Hollywood Blvd. is for lease.  Straight up and vertical expansion, baby!

Selected comments:

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • Today’s post contains a reg e-mail full of unctuous, smarmy praise for David Miscavige, the hero who apparently knows better than Hubbard just how to fix all those courses that kept people from bounding up their Bridge to Total Freedom like a couple of gazelles on meth.  The nauseating praise is a fun read.  My favorite: “You can tell a lot of thought and care went into this by someone intelligent and who understands grammar well.”  Yeah, when you’re telling me that this is the best thing to happen to Scientology since the invention of Dianetics in 1950, it makes me really want to sign up and buy when the best testimonial you’ve got is that the guy who pulled off this feat of “research” understands grammar really well.  It’s like how one actress, when asked in an interview about another, will say “well, he is really punctual.” If the best you can say about someone is that they show up to work on time, that’s not exactly high praise.

Forum Sites (WWP, ESMB, OCMB)

General News

  • I missed this a couple of days ago, but the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about the urban blight of the new Ideal Org building in Center City.  Apparently, in the six years it has lain abandoned after purchase, it now has too many boarded up windows and is breaking an anti-blight ordinance.  Surprise, surprise.  The money quote is from an ex who says that there are only about 100 active Scientologists in Philadelphia.  Wish I knew who that was so I could try to understand the basis of that figure; while it’s possible that the number is that small, I don’t want to use that in anything I write until I know how it was derived.
  • A new low: in Israel, apparently, the cult is running ads inside of web-based kids video games on the local version of the site Webkinz.  Scientology is apparently blaming Google, claiming it has no control over ad placement.
  • The increasingly important “BackInComm” blog of South African independent Scientologists has a great document leak, with a nasty memo from the Executive Director of Johannesburg upbraiding the staff back in 2008, saying that in the 14 months since the release of “The Basics,” they have only graduated 4 people on the course sequence.  Apparently, 50 people have quit part-way through and the staff was so inept that they weren’t able to get them back on track; sounds like they blew the cult entirely.

Scientology Daily Digest: December 1, 2013

We return to action following a Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Fortunately, the news from the world of Scientology watching was fairly light and fluffy, and easily digestible, unlike the gluttonous feast most of us in the US consumed.

Chez moi, the supermodels behaved themselves, and the fights that broke out at some of the emporia where the rural riff-raff shop (the camouflage fishing tackle department at the local Wal-Mart) were not in evidence at the Vera Wang dress shop at Bergdorf’s or the Christian Louboutin shoe shop on upper Madison Avenue.  Whatever the supermodels did, it didn’t involve my credit cards and the drama quotient was low when Supermodel #1 and I returned from our vacation to my parental units’ waterfront estate.

The other major American holiday of “Black Friday,” an ode to materialism the way that Thanksgiving was an ode to gluttony, appeared to be pretty solid.  We’ll be interested to see who has a take on how the various retailers fared on the biggest shopping day of the year.  Our biggest find: we checked with some sources in the retail electronics business and it appears that Apple may have underestimated demand, since a number of outlets we checked with were out of various iPads.  Retailers seemed to have fewer units in stock than they wanted.  But it appears that the folks at Samsung were anticipating this, as the stores we talked to had plenty of Samsung tablets in stock, and many frustrated consumers who walked in looking for an Apple product left with a Samsung unit instead.  There are no Sony Playstation 4’s to be found anywhere, and lots of begging and whining from parents desperate to get one.


In Scientology news, more photos ratchet around Teh Intertubes from the IAS event, including a bunch posted on Tony’s blog.  Mike Rinder captures the incredible gulf between the breathless hype around Golden Age of Dreck 2 launch and the reality of what’s been happening inside the cult, contrasting people saying it’s the biggest thing since Dianetics versus stats giving a peek at the plummeting membership roster.

The best Orwellian disclaimer comes from the bottom of a cult flyer from the land Down Under, where it says “Joining Scientology staff is a religious commitment and all activities are entirely voluntary. Scientology is a religious philosophy and offers total freedom.”  The fact that they feel compelled to append this disclaimer actually calls negative attention to their cause, especially since the ad had absolutely nothing to do with being on staff.  It reminds me of a Karin Pouw statement about the RPF which stresses its entirely voluntary nature.

Also, don’t miss Mike Rinder & Mike Bennitt’s aerial stunt at the IAS event, having a plane tow a banner asking “Where is Shelly Miscavige?”  Fun, but not quite as epic as the helicopter over the Super Power building opening.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Sunday’s story featured the usual Sunday Funnies.  As always, there’s something to laugh at.  I still can’t quite help feeling that the staff is so stressed that the creativity level has been on a bit of a slide lately.  A lot of the Photoshop gurus on Tony’s site are turning out higher quality art in less time than the cult’s marketing department can generate with a lot more effort.  In particular, they’re reaching down even deeper to get the Hubbard quotes than they have in the past, and they’re coming up with ever more inane stuff.

The bigger news was the IAS event held Saturday night in the big tent in Clearwater.  The best comment ever on Tony’s blog, both in one-liner puckishness and especially when considered against the backdrop of the author, is Paulette Cooper’s comment with a suggestion for a slightly different banner that could have been flown over the event by Rinder & Bennitt.  I did love the picture of the knight on the horse.

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • A great data point: Mike takes apart some breathless assertions of success in Pasadena, where they have had one Golden Age of Knowledge completion in six years, and walks through the numbers to estimate the Pasadena public at about 300, no more than 500, in the greatest concentration of Scientologists on Earth (Glendale, next door to Pasadena, is home to tons of Scientologist-owned businesses).  That’s got to be embarrassing.
  • Further evidence that grammatical standards inside the cult are plummeting: Mike happened on a fund-raising letter which says that “The next MASSIVE, ULTRA MAJOR BOMBASTIC blow against psychiatry to date is being released at the [IAS] event.”  Someone needs to word clear “bombastic.”
  • An article dredging up an old e-mail about the expansion of the Seattle Ideal Org gives a real insight into Hubbard-style management insanity as practiced by Miscavige.  Apparently the reason that the Ideal Org strategy is failing is that the cult is not doing enough of it.  If the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” what is the word beyond insanity when you do more of something that doesn’t work and expect success?

Forum Sites (WWP, ESMB, OCMB)

Aeger Primo comes through once again with summaries of interesting discussion threads.  Thanks!

  • Two threads about the Ideal Org in Taiwan opening on December 7th at ESMB and WWP.  News is that the COB himself will be there for the opening ceremony.  If true, that’s pretty remarkable, because DM is rumored to be chartering a Boeing Business Jet these days. Those charter for about $15,000 per hour wet, which means that round trip airfare from Hemet to Taipei is over $400,000.  That’s probably more than the total revenue of the Kaohsiung Ideal Org over the next two to three years.  Wonder if Dave is billing them back the cost of the jet charter or if he’s paying that out of Int Management’s budget.
  • An interesting indie group called the “True Source Scientology Foundation” is apparently making Scientology material available in a central location over the internet. ESMB is discussing what that might mean in terms of legal action by the cult.
  • Narconon Arrowhead is apparently offering voluntary Bible study as part of its treatment program. It’s just another ploy to stay under the radar.
  • Bruce Wiseman, former president of CCHR (Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights) is apparently hiding cash for the cult in the Cayman Islands. Does this thread confirm it because of a change in Cayman law?

 

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Programming note: Today is the beginning of the US Thanksgiving Day holiday, a celebration of all things truly American: hours of epic gluttony followed by sitting in front of the television watching people in colorful armored uniforms colliding vigorously with each other, playing a slightly different version of “football” than that practiced in most other countries.

The next day is an even bigger holiday, and it is even more uniquely American.  Called “Black Friday,” people flock to shopping malls at improbably early hours to run up the balance on their credit cards, spending money they don’t actually have to buy the latest soon-to-be-obsolete consumer electronics gadgets and tons of clothes to overload their already bulging closets.

Thanksgiving is a little different for us in Global Capitalism HQ, however: the supermodels are not so big on the gluttony aspect and have no understanding of American football.  But they sure know how to shop for clothes on Black Friday.  So they spend Thursday stretching, practicing their martial arts moves, and checking the traction of their running shoes to make sure they can corner nimbly in the aisles at Barneys and all those trendy little boutiques in the Village to beat out all the other supermodels racing for the best deals.  When it comes to bone-crunching collisions, American football players have nothing on the supermodels going for a half-off Vera Wang number on the “better dresses” floor at Bergdorf’s.  They won’t have me to supervise them; the jet has already jetted off to the ancestral homeland, where I’ll be communing with the waves of coniferous trees at the Capitalist Parents’ waterfront estate and eating healthy.

To each his own.  And however you celebrate this holiday, I hope it’s with good friends and family!


Naturally, the last word on Black Friday comes from none other than Steely Dan…  I dedicate this to all of you who may be working retail tomorrow, long hours at low pay:


Technical note: I’ve been experimenting with the format of the blog a bit.  This may continue for some time to come as time permits.  Each new “theme” package comes with some lame picture for the top, so the default photo up on tonight’s post is not at all meaningful and will be replaced by something artistic when I have a chance.

 

Scientology Daily Digest: Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Today’s news seems to be focused on the new Mark VIII e-meter, with some commenters noting that it bears more than a passing resemblance to the recently redesigned Kenner Easy-Bake Oven.  Some say that this is because Ideo, the legendary design firm that did tons of iconic products over the years including many for Apple, did both products. In a comment on Mike Rinder’s blog, not yet moderated by press time, I said that the design of the new e-meter isn’t half bad, and could well have been done by Ideo.  And I’m actually serious. The good design doesn’t excuse the stupidity of leaving this thing in a warehouse for a decade or a lot of other mistakes in the GAT2 rollout, but it’s not bad design by itself.

Also, life seems to have dealt Mr. Thomas C. Mapother IV a mixed bag today.

My Blog

I normally don’t like to do something that looks like I might be tooting my own horn, but there were a couple comments on my blog in the last 24 hours that I thought were worth calling your attention to.

  • Eclipse-girl wondered how I got an estimate of 500 to 700 Scientologists in Germany when the German government’s official count was about 4,000.  I went through a detailed discussion in my reply.  This might be a useful read as we start to go through and build up an estimate of membership.
  • OrangySky takes umbrage with a commenter in another forum who says they’re too clever not to get involved in a cult.  I share the experience of several very smart people who still managed to get tangled up a cult (one Scientology, one not), because that cult was able, whether by intent or by accident, to target their Achilles’ heel.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Tony’s blog post today contained the regular Tuesday feature with Claire Headley (recently joined by longtime top ranked auditor Bruce Hines) taking us “up the bridge,” going through all the materials for each level.  Today’s OT 2 stuff basically sounds like pages and pages of Orwellian “word salad” that sure looks like the goal is to scramble any remaining critical thinking skills.

There’s also a status update on the depositions in the Monique Rathbun case. The next court date is December 11.  They’ve gotten depositions from cult execs Warren McShane and Allen Cartwright, plus defendants Monty Drake and Steven Sloat. Tommy Davis is scheduled for December 4 in Austin and Leah Remini is still not scheduled.

 

Senate House at the University of London, considered to be the model for the Ministry of Truth building in George Orwell's 1984.

Senate House at the University of London, considered to be the model for the Ministry of Truth building in George Orwell’s 1984.

My take:  Some of these statements, including the first few, which read:

1. To Die is To Live
2. To Live is to Die
3. To Surrender is to Victimize
4. To Victimize is to Surrender
5. To Lose is to Win

… all suggest that somebody was reading a little too much George Orwell when they wrote all this stuff. Perhaps one could envision these chiseled on the wall at the Super Power building, which, given its foreboding footprint on its lot, resembles the immense

Super Power Building. If you imagine this in gray, you can kind of see a resemblance.

Super Power Building. If you imagine this in gray, you can kind of see a resemblance.

Ministry of Truth building in 1984 but with a pseudo-Mediterranean Disney-esque paint job. Even skimming this list without holding the cans, I can see my synapses frying like an egg on a hot griddle.

Regarding the depositions in Monique Rathbun case, it would be delightful fun to read Warren McShane’s deposition, given that I seem to recall a quote from Miscavige to the effect of how he loved it when Warren testified because he is the best liar on the management team. And I would certainly pay money (though I wouldn’t go so far as to hock the Global Capitalism HQ jet) to see the video of Tommy Davis’s deposition, just to watch him get “really angry!”

Some of the comments that riff on other trending topics are the best payload of Tony’s story today.

Selected comments: 

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • Exhibit 1: The Mark VIII E-Meter

    Exhibit 1: The Mark VIII E-Meter

    Mike picked up on the commenter from Tony’s blog who noticed the resemblance between the new Mark VIII Super-De-Duper and the recently restyled Easy-Bake Oven.  One commenter claims that these two products were done by the same design firm, the one that has done a lot of work for Apple.

    Easy-Bake Oven... Separated at birth?

    Easy-Bake Oven… Separated at birth?

    I contend that this is eminently possible, and in a long comment on Rinder’s site, I deconstructed the design elements of the new e-meter that make me believe this. I also tracked down an interesting tidbit on the history of the redsign of the Easy-Bake Oven.

  • New Valley Org solicitation.  I "command" you to reach for your wallets, since asking politely didn't work too well.

    New Valley Org solicitation. I “command” you to reach for your wallets, since asking politely didn’t work too well.

    Mike also published an interesting Valley Ideal Org flyer (which a tipster originally sent me a couple of days ago).  The first thing you see is the word “Command” at the top. It’s all about how DM is commanding you to get the Valley Org done. Not about how great it will be for those about to throng the doorway to learn about Scientology, nor what it will do for existing public. It’s all about how you can obey him.

Forum Sites (WWP, ESMB, OCMB)

  • WWP discusses new “rules” for owning an e-meter, including a clause that says you can only own one if you remain in good standing. Not sure how enforceable that is, but nice try… Also, it might be interesting to see if the requirement that you have a current annual or lifetime IAS membership before being allowed to buy a meter constitutes “tying” under anti-trust law.
  • A WWP thread discusses the software update for your PC that connects to the new Mark VIII E-meter, wondering if it is entirely about the E-meter or wondering if there might be other secret capabilities involved, like a new “net nanny” package.  Worth monitoring in case some clever Anon manages to disassemble part of the executable to see what it really does.

General News