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Friday, May 19, 2017

Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology

By: Marc Headley (with a foreward by Mark "Marty" Rathbun)

Publisher: BFG Books Inc; BFG 1st Edition Paperback edition (2010)

Softcover 396

Finished 5/18/2017

Amazon Listing


          In this book we get a different perspective of the cult known as Scientology. When a person is mistreated by a cult, either religious or political, often we have the mentality that it was partially the person’s own fault for being stupid enough to hook up with such obvious psychos and frauds. But what happens when a person is born into a cult? Or is indoctrinated into one before they are old enough to take control of their life? With no other options, they have to go along with it. This is such a story. The author entered Scientology at 13 and did not escape until he was 32.
          Scientology is a religion of money! Perhaps this is true with all faiths, but Scientology has refined it down to an art. Those who give big are treated as royalty- pampered, sucked up to, given access to slave labor. The rest below, especially those who sign the billion year contract and join their Sea Org, are worker drones, scuttling about to fulfill their duties, cast aside when they were useless. One line from L. Ron Hubbard quoted in the text sums up their attitude, “We’d rather have you dead than incapacitated.”
          The book shows the Scientology body in a high level of disorganization and incompetence. This makes sense as the people were given positions, technical and administrative, based on their willingness to put up with mental abuse, exhaustion, malnourishment, and adhere to the rules, rather than any ability. I say rules here, rather than doctrine, because for lower level Scientologists there seems to be a lack of ability to learn more on their own faith. For a person to rise in the ranks they have to pay for a series of courses. If you can’t afford it, well sucks to be you asshole. You’re stuck were you are. And in an organization where being paid minimum wage is a premium job, it isn’t likely that you will advance any time soon.
Author Marc Headley

          As the Scientology higher-ups were too paranoid to hire the necessary technical workers from the unwashed, their organization was strung together by a series of jury rigging and few mechanically minded people who kind of knew what they were doing. This constantly left them behind, technologically speaking. For example, they were still using the old VAX/VMS computer systems, the huge wall units with magnetic tape and punch cards into the 1990s. Additionally they continued to mass produce their audio propaganda on cassette tapes well after CDs had become the staple. This was mostly due to no one “cleared” by Scientology knowing how to convert the mediums over.
          I’ve often wondered how so many people could fall for the Xenu story which form the core of Scientology’s mythology. The one about the people of the overcrowded confederation of planets being sent to Earth (then known as Teegeeack) aboard ships that were subconsciously expressed in the design of the Douglas DC-8, the only difference being that "the DC8 had fans, propellers on it and the space plane didn't". Then using H-Bombs they were killed, their souls vacuumed up and brainwashed using “three-D, super colossal motion picture" for thirty-six days. The souls were then merged and implanted in prisons made of flesh- that’s us by the way. Only through Scientology can one strip off these souls and become “clear”. It’s so obviously schlocky science fiction. But this book illuminates that most of the lower level drones never heard it. The story is only for OTIII types, big spenders who have already sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the organization. People who aren’t willing to throw everything away on some silly story that couldn’t possibly be true.
          Most the venom is directed at David Miscavage, the psychotic pope of Scientology, heir to L. Ron Hubbard’s legacy, and best pals with Tom Cruise. Miscavage is depicted as a person who manipulated his way into power and then suppressed all those who could challenge him, like a miniature Joseph Stalin. Using the threat of his power to send any one who disagrees with him to the Rehabilitation Project Force (Scientology punishment and “re-education” cells and gulags), he has created a communist dictatorship within the Scientology community. With the religion running just as efficiently as its counterpart. 
Scientology COO David Miscavage
          He is characterized as a violent, incompetent, sadistic, unable to handle the pressures of power, a perfectionist without the ability to properly communicate what he wants, with no ability to actually advance what he wants. He is presented as an incompetent who believes he is the smartest guy in the room with no organizational skills, orders everything at the last minute, causes disasters and havoc, while blaming everyone else for his mistakes. 
          The author’s bitterness comes across in every page, having spent a decade and a half amongst an organization that he sacrificed and gave more to than any other, only to realize how he was abused is a harsh pill to swallow.  Over this time he saw hardworking dedicated people who had worked longer than him crushed down and destroyed by Miscavage and his ilk. Decades of service meant nothing, all of their successes would be invalidated in a heartbeat over minor disagreements or executive fiat. It was not an atmosphere where one could thrive.
          A few celebrities are mentioned along the way, the author Neil Gaiman being one. Apparently he was listed as a “suppressive person” until he became famous, then the label was quickly revoked. As is no surprise to anyone, Tom Cruise pops up a lot. He had nothing to do with the day to day running, but was a good friend of Miscavage (the latter being his best man at Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes) and the highest contribute to Scientology in the world. Much of their financing comes from helping to produce his films. There is also an amusing story where the crew at Int base (a Scientology headquarters) were piecing together clips and headshots of Scientology actresses to become Cruise’s girlfriend. After the actor’s bust up with Penelope Cruz over her refusal to join the religion, he realized that he could be with someone in the faith, so they began a pimping process to get him a woman.
Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard
           The book is not the best written and could have used an editor to clean up sentence structure and delete and replace repetitive words. But I was sucked into the story immediately. The plot overriding any minor technical issues. The day I picked it up, I chowed down eighty pages in one gulp. Scientology has a large vocabulary built into its structure, which seems to mostly consist of abbreviations of Scientology terms, so the author includes a glossary. However it is somewhat inadequate, largely missing many terms such as “preclear”, “suppressive person”, and so on. But I supposed being raised in a cult these idioms become second nature and the author doesn’t think to explain them. Luckily the internet is around to fill in the gaps.

 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Le Gun 1-3

By: Various

Publisher: Mark Batty Publisher (October 28, 2008)

Hardcover 456 pages

Finished 5/11/2017

Amazon Listing











          An art book put out by the various personalities from London’s Royal College of Arts Department of Communication Art and Design (usually when they slap that many words on a title or department it’s a deflection to ward people off from questioning a department’s usefulness). It began life as an annual magazine, I believe they are up to issue six, the first three of which are collected here (hence the name).
         This isn’t for someone who is looking for a story or some guys beating up on each other. This is a collection and as such the art varies greatly from page to page. One flip you find incredible piece rendered in amazing detail, next flip you come across something that is below amateurish, next flip an item that feels like a filler sketch.
          This is essentially a cult publication, popular among the English visual arts community, but unavailable at most stores. I only managed to run across it in a second hand book shop when I was doing my yearly purge of my collection. It’s a quick read, those illustrations which grabbed my eye and caused me to pause, being few and far between. But I believe a person would get out of this book what they bring to it. And in that sense it succeeds. Looking through this, every person would be inspired by a different page and long fruitful discussions could come from the disagreements.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Anomaly

By:  Skip Brittenham & Brian Hablerlin

Publisher: Anomaly Publishing; Box edition (November 28, 2012)

Hardcover 370 pages

Finished 5/7/2017

Amazon Listing




          Anomaly is a large scale graphic novel that comes with an app of fully voiced interactive graphic novel, a background to the universe app, and apparently has been options for a film by Relativity Media- who must have been looking for derivative properties.
          The book is massive, some might think it unwieldy, 16.5 x 1.5 x 11.5 inches, stretched out into a rectangle to give it a widescreen cinematic feel. And while I may complain it is not a cheap product. Time and care was put into it, and the publisher made sure that enough space was given to make sure that a story of such scope was done right. That’s the real tragedy of this book, it could have been amazing.
          The art is the best thing about the book, but even that feels a little lacking in originality. You can tell that a lot of care was taken here. It is painted with computer graphic enhancements. The best scenes being panoramic shots of alien worlds and vistas depicting a massive battle. They are beautifully rendered and detailed, giving a massive scope to the stage. While the illustrators do make errors here and there in terms of pacing and action.

          The alien races, animals, and landscapes are good, but the humans are weak. Painted in an uninteresting style and without much distinction. Several of them look so much alike, that I confused a minor character with the hero. And, as often as not, a character will disappear for fifty pages then return, and they were so bland it took me awhile to remember which character they were again.
          Anomaly, art aside, doesn’t have a very compelling story. It mashes up old sci-fi and fantasy tropes to attempt a catch-all experience, but ultimately feels like a lackluster hodgepodge of the two genres. The author forgot the basic rules of writing, if you’re offering nothing new in the setting then you’ve got to have engrossing characters, which they author also failed to do.
          We have our intrepid protagonists abandoned on a primitive planet, where a fungus eats polymers use in technology, by an evil all-controlling conglomerate corporation. Earth has been evacuated due to environmental poisoning and only the very poor are left to wallow in its filth. The conglomerate expands onto other planets by suppressing the native species, either through relocation or extermination. Anomaly is the planet the protagonists are stranded on, dubbed so because it hosts numerous sentient races co-existing in it. Odd as usually one species usually rises up to club the others out of existence.
          Once they reach the planet the story delves then into fantasy, and we are given the standard cast of characters. The chosen-one hero who destined to destroy the evil-one and unite the races of the planet. The privileged woman, who dislikes the hero at first but eventually comes around to admire him.  The bald, fat, and cowardly Dr. Smith type. The betrayer character who regrets his decisions in the end. The magic using evil Sauron character who commands armies of hideous monstrous creatures (ugly = evil). The scientist who is considered puny by the locals, but wins them over with technological skill and invention. The warrior woman who becomes attracted to the scientist despite her thinking him “weak” at first. The important alien that the hero meets and frees (like the mouse taking the thorn from the lion’s paw fable) only to have his input be very very important in getting his race to decide to join the hero’s cause.
          And so on. None of the character’s personalities go beyond this. I’ve read it all before and so have you.
          There are extensive notes after the story, taking up 30 of the 370 pages on the human race and the development of the future society of Earth, much having little to do with the main story on Anomaly. There are several graphs and charters about the races which may be of some interest and character biographies that add detail, but don’t have any impact on what’s happening. And often enough you just don’t give a damn. It’s quite clear that a lot of time was spent developing this background, when they should have directed their efforts to character development.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories


by: Ben Katchor

Publisher: Pantheon (March 5, 2013)

Hardcover 160 pages

Finished 5/2/2017

Amazon Listing  




          The Extension Fallacy is when an arguer takes a statement and exaggerates the parameters so much that it becomes completely ridiculous idea. This perfectly defines the humor in Hand Drying in America. The strips revolve around the nuances of city life. Much of them are concerned the variances of architecture in a New York City-esque environment. The constant raising and destruction of buildings, as depicted in this books paints a picture of a city landscape that drifts back and forth like an ocean current, where the occupants try to find stability and meaning in a chaotic ever shifting concrete jungle.
          The stories take mundane aspects and illuminate them to ridiculous heights. Such as the couple tired of the sealed wrapping in these new condiment styles that hire people to open up the packets for them. To the man who is obsessed with BTU outputs and heat sinks so that he marries a woman that radiates a lot of warmth. To a man who is preoccupied with the gravel in his driveway being taken away by strangers that he eventually has his daughter’s fiancĂ©e arrested for theft.  
Author Ben Katchor
          Katchor’s artistic style adds to the surrealist element. Colored in muted tones, the charterers are drawn as almost grotesque caricatures of people. Rigid smiles that reek of false friendliness, like off-center candid stills where the participant was caught in an awkward moment. Stiff limbs, like an old timey photograph where a person had to stand rigid for 10 minutes before the shutter snapped. These all add to his dry sense of humor and make a reader believe that we are just one beat away from some of his stories being true.
          It is a beautiful oversized book, 11.8 x 0.9 x 12.3 inches, with each page containing one of Katchor full strips. All of these were originally published in Metropolis, an architectural magazine, which this strip had been published in from 1998 until it recently ending in December of 2016.
 

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Cartoon Guide to Genetics

By: Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis 

Publisher: Harper Collins (July 25, 2014) (Original version 1983 by Barnes and Noble Books)

Softcover 224 pages 

Finished 4/27/2017

Amazon Listing



          Larry Gonick, author of the wonderful Cartoon Guide to the Universe, has found his niche with educational comics and this book is a great example of it. He’s tackled many subjects and I found this to be thoroughly researched and presented in an easy to understand manner. And a bibliography is provided if you want to delve deeper into the subject- which I did not.
          This is as much a history of genetic research as it is about the basics of the subject. He begins with primitive man, moving on to the early philosophers such as Aristotle, before arriving at the real breakthrough moment with the research of Gregor Mendel- the Catholic monk, gardener and scientist.
Larry Gonick
          The book is a good primer and the basics of genetics- DNA, amino acids, proteins etc.- are not going to change. When I was a middle school English teacher I used to stock up my classroom library with his books: The Cartoon Guide to the Universe, to the Modern World, Statistics, Biology and so on. And they were always well received by my students, often being one of the first ones stolen from classroom.
          What I disagree with in this text is that he promotes the “theory” that “primitive man”, whether he means homo sapiens or an ancestor species is unclear, could not differentiate between sex and procreation. After reading his source material, this is about as spurious a theory as I’ve ever read. Evidence is nearly nonexistent and conjecture abounds. It’s almost conspiracy level leaps the author takes to piece this together.
1983 edition of the book
          The other problem with the book is that often the information is out of date or, most common, there are discoveries and breakthroughs not recorded by the text. The version I have is from 1991 so there is a gap of 16 years of information. For instance it states that it was believed by scientists to be over 200,000 genes, but it is now known to be only around 20 to 30,000 of them.
          Still as a beginning delve into the subject this would be a good place to start and, apart from what I mentioned earlier, the bibliography is solid. Offering a person a good point to keep learning if they are so inclined.