Work in Progress: What are the Big Questions?


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

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

The Role of the Big Question

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

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

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

The Current List of Big Questions

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

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

How You Can Help

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

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

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

Scientology Daily Digest: Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tony Ortega’s Blog

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

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

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

My take

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key comments

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

Mike Rinder’s Blog

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

Marty Rathbun’s Blog

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


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

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


A fairly abundant harvest from today’s general press:

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

Analysis Versus News Versus Opinion Versus Lulz

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Analysis Versus News Versus Opinion Versus Lulz”

Scientology Daily Digest: November 6, 2013

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

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

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

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Today’s post covered three topics:

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

Key comments for the day:

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

Mike Rinder’s Blog

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

Marty Rathbun’s Blog

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


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

“Scientology” on Google News

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


Scientology Daily Digest: November 5, 2013

Tony Ortega’s Blog

I’m not a lawyer and the subject of today’s article is sufficiently esoteric that it seems to be tripping even a couple of the lawyers who read Tony’s blog.

Today’s article focused on the response of the Garcia’s legal team to the motion to dismiss on “diversity jurisdiction” grounds that the cult filed recently in the Garcias’ suit in Federal Court in Florida alleging fraud in the Super Power donation campaign.  Almost a year into the case, the cult’s legal team dropped a bombshell, asserting that the case did not belong in Federal court because several of the cult corporate entities are trusts whose trustees are California residents.  The concept of diversity jurisdiction explained by Scott last week is apparently complex and arcane, and the cult appears to have created and sprung a trap that may have some chance of success either in the trial court or on appeal, because the trial court may have to do something that breaks an apparently ironclad procedural rule to keep the cult from profiting by chicanery, risking a messy appeal, or they have to dismiss the case so it is re-filed either in Florida or California.  That could be a problem if re-filed in Florida since the cult has seemed to have done well with Tampa-area judges in the past, such as in attorney Ken Dandar’s being barred from suing Scientology again.

According to Scott Pilutik’s legal analysis, this was a sharp move by the cult because the Court apparent has no choice but to dismiss the case if subject matter jurisdiction is involved.  In other words, good lawyering apparently may not be able to fix the issue.

The response from Ted Babbitt, the Garcias’ lawyer, appears to be alleging fraud: the cult has claimed that the directors are California based, without actually identifying them. In other words, he’s pointing out that the cult is not offering any proof to back up its case, so fraud may be involved.  It sounds like he’s pointing out that the cult’s credibility after the motion to disqualify plaintiff’s counsel might be worth taking into account by the judge in looking at how to remedy this situation.

Key comments:

  • Jeff Hawkins talks about life hiding behind the curtains on lockdown inside buildings at Int Base when protesters were outside the fences.  So much for the most “theta” beings in the Scientology universe to “confront and shatter”” suppression.  And these protests were long before Anonymous cranked up the numbers by a couple orders of magnitude.
  • Semper Phi, who was doing training at Flag in the Anonymous 2008 protests gives her version of being on lockdown.   
  • DamOTclese2 also reminisces from his perspective as a protestor during the same era.
  • Sunny Sands asked Roz Cohn to record her one-woman show about Scientology described in yesterday’s Underground Bunker article and post it; Roz e-mailed her back and said she was planning on it.
  • Jmh details a phishing attack attempting to steal passwords for the people working to take down cult ads on Craigslist.
  • Gerald Plourde raises the interesting notion that the delaying tactic of the motion on diversity jurisdiction may just be a tactic to stall the Garcia suit until Miscavige gets through the big events.  I’m not sure there’s any way to determine whether this is true, but it is very interesting to think about; it will be worth noting if the cult withdraws the jurisdiction motion once the events are complete.  It’ll also be interesting to see what happens if the cult starts to do some sloppy lawyering after laying what appears to be a remarkably clever trap.
  • Nice comment by StillOnYourSide about another theory of a potential path for Babbitt to win the diversity jurisdiction argument for the Garcias.
  • Grundoon did a nice bit of research on the historic neighborhood in LA where Hubbard lived for a time and where early cult facilities were located.

Mike Rinder’s Blog

  • Brief post only encouraging people to vote for Leah on “Dancing with the Stars” and encouraging them to e-mail Clearwater city officials to encourage them not to grant the cult an exception for the late filing of the street closure permits for the events in two weeks.

Marty Rathbun’s Blog

  • Marty has been on radio silence since October 30.  This is an unusually long period of time for him.  I did not check the comments to see if he is away or something.

“Scientology” on Google News

  • Scientology has purchased a historic building in Buenos Aires for a new Idle Morgue.  The deal, announced Monday, was for US$1.5 million, and restoration is expected to take 12-18 months.

Scientology Daily Digest: November 4, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the first post of what I hope will be daily summaries of news from around the Scientology universe.  Initially, I’ll focus on the three key blogs: Tony Ortega, Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun.  Over time, particularly if some people can help me, I’d like to include a roundup of key Scientology-related posts on WWP, ESMB and other forum boards.  I’ll typically try, schedule permitting to get this out around 10pm US Eastern Time, though I can’t guarantee this.

I need feedback to determine what would make this document maximally useful to you; this is an evolving document and I’m very flexible on what to do with it, or even whether it’s necessary.

Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker

Tony’s lone article today continued Claire Headley’s series of actually “doing” Scientology. Today, she described what it was like to do the OT 1 level, the first stage past clear.

My take: As always, getting even a taste of what it is like to do Scientology training is interesting for a never-in like me.  The OT 1 level itself sounds pretty lame, hanging around out in public and looking at people and trying to figure out what they might be thinking.

Though the article didn’t go into it in any great detail, I recall reading from other sources that the cult pulls on people is to make it difficult for them to start doing the OT levels at all.  That’s the “OT Eligibility” process that Claire references in the article.  Interestingly, it costs $9,800 while the OT 1 level itself “only” costs $3,300.  I’ve heard that the OT Eligibility is where they like to throw lots of curves at you, magically discovering that there was some screw-up way back when and you now need to redo a whole bunch of lower-level stuff before you are going to be permitted to join the big time.

Key comments:

  • Chuck Beatty gave a nice firsthand description of watching people walk around the neighborhood of the Big Blue building in Hollywood doing their OT 1 observations.
  • Longtime member Patty Moher weighed in with her recollections of how the cult dragged out the OT Eligibility process for her, even though she was a loyal and successful OSA operative at the time.
  • J. Swift dredged up a copy of a legal threat from Scientology to WikiLeaks in 2008 for posting the OT materials on line.  Yeah, that obviously got Julian Assange whimpering in the corner.
  • “Guest” presented one of the nicer parodies of a missive from ham-fisted cult spokeswoman Karin Pouw to emerge in a while.
  • Bruce Hines mentioned that the OT 1 level went through a few radical revisions over the years.  I’m not sure I understand the details, but this is a source that may be worth noting. Anyone know Bruce’s history?  Apparently he was there.
  • Observer dredged up a link to a story from The Skeptic’s Dictionary where Hubbard allegedly subjected bacteria to jets of steam and tobacco smoke to determine whether they inherited instincts.  This is in a beautifully snarky review of Hubbard’s Rediscovery of the Human Soul, a book which I hadn’t previously seen.  It appears to be almost as pathetic as A History of Man, which Tony had leading evolutionary biologist P. Z. Myers review back in August.  The scientific method demonstrated in Hubbard’s experiment looks positively medieval.

Mike Rinder’s Blog

Mike reports that the cult has now filed permits for street closures, well after the normal 30-day deadline.  He references a Tampa Bay Times article filed this evening that the cult is going to request that busy Ft. Harrison avenue be closed during the entire weekend of November 17th, a prime beach weekend.  While the article quotes local officials as attempting to be flexible, one wonders whether the economic firepower of the tourism industry will overpower the fear-driven clout of the cult.  There are a couple interesting details:

  • The cult has asked for several traffic signals to be removed to support filming, which the city has refused to consider. This little detail, if granted, would apparently cost in excess of $100,000 per signal.
  • The cult plans on putting Jumbotron style video screens in the area so you can get a video feed of the festivities anywhere in the neighborhood.  Of course, this means they have to get the streets blocked so protestors can’t film the video on these screens with their phones.

Introducing John P. Capitalist’s Blog

Two years ago, I “fell down the rabbit hole” of the crazy world of Scientology.  Most people in the world know Scientology only as the religion of Tom Cruise and John Travolta.  Some have heard rumors that the top-secret beliefs revealed to high-level adherents who have paid exorbitant prices involve galactic empires and alien spaceships straight from the mind of a 1930s pulp science-fiction writer.

Long-time watchers of this dangerous organization often repeat the slogan, “Scientology: it’s always worse than it looks.”  That’s because those who scratch a bit further under the surface than the average People Magazine reader learn that Scientology is driven by ravenous greed, driving its customers close to (and frequently into) financial ruin to raise money. Relatively fewer people know that Scientology is a dangerous cult that takes extraordinary measures to control members’ lives and to keep its staff working brutal hours under inhumane conditions for paltry sums, with an internal prison camp awaiting staff members who fall out of favor with the cult’s violent leader, David Miscavige.

And not many outside the network of thousands of people who sacrificed decades of their lives and their entire fortunes know just how evil this organization can be. Scientology has left a vast legacy of economic ruin, premature deaths and shattered families in its wake.  And that  is just the collateral damage; Scientology has also engaged in carefully orchestrated and well funded plots to destroy enemies and raise money, actions that no organization and most particularly not a self-described “religion” should ever be seen doing.

I have spent a significant chunk of my free time over the last two years researching Scientology and writing of my conclusions in various forms including anti-cult activist sites like WhyWeProtest and Ex-Scientologist Message Board.  By far, the bulk of my writing about Scientology, however, has been in comments on the site of Tony Ortega, a professional journalist who has focused on Scientology news coverage for nearly two decades.  You can find me writing there under the name of “John P.”

Why my own blog?  Why now?   The fundamental reason for me to start my own blog is that I’ve written a lot about Scientology in the last two years.  A couple weeks ago, when I started to hatch the idea of doing my own blog, I did a little Linux grep-fu and counted up the number of words I had written in comments over the last two years. The actual count came to 603,000 words, which stunned me because that’s basically four or five non-fiction books worth of prose. And that has all been in reaction to what Tony and others have published; a news blog format isn’t conducive to publishing original research generated on my own time frame.  I’ve been grateful for the positive feedback I have gotten from many who have read my work, and it’s time to take it to the next level, with the ability to set my own agenda and schedule for what I want to focus on.

Over the last several months, traffic on Tony Ortega’s site has exploded, and what used to be perhaps two hundred comments per day, most adding deeper perspective to the story, has now blossomed by an order of magnitude.  There are a lot of interesting people and great stories told in the comments on Tony’s site, and the community is remarkably free of the vitriol, trolling and other bad behavior so common on the Internet. I’ve actually formed a number of off-line friendships as a result of participating on Tony’s blog, which is itself remarkable.

But Tony’s success has caused some problems: with ten times as many comments, it is increasingly hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. I think one-line quips and praise of others who write something of value are great, because those are important in building a large community that can have a real impact in opposing the cult.  Back-and-forth dialog enables people to understand and respect each other, including those who have never met. But those “light and fluffy” comments also make it hard for many readers to keep up with the comments, particularly in trying to find and keep up with longer, well-researched opinions or raw data on life in the cult.  With an average of one or two new comments per minute, it’s tough for people who can’t keep up with Tony’s site during the day to follow important news and thinking about the cult.  Some readers have told me privately that they’re frustrated at how long it takes to catch up with the day’s reading when they get home from work.  Sometimes it takes an hour and a half versus ten minutes in the past.

Given how hard I work researching details of what I write, I began to be frustrated that my articles would zoom out of view on the roll of comments that steadily grows longer throughout the day.  Several weeks ago, I started to hatch a plan to start my own blog, to complement what existing sites do, and hopefully to contribute a new dimension in helping people to oppose this cult and what it stands for.  I know others interested in doing deeper work on critiquing and analyzing the cult have felt similar frustration over the large number of comments.  Fearing that your detailed work gets lost against the background of more casual commentary can be a remarkable disincentive to putting in the effort.

More perilously, there are many prominent ex Scientologists who used to be fixtures on Tony Ortega’s blog who are rarely seen there.  I can’t recall when I last saw a comment on “The Underground Bunker” from Denise Brennan, Kate Bornstein, Paulette Cooper, Mat Pesch, Amy Scobee, or so many other ex’s who have earned prominent standing in the community of ex’s.  I’d like to ensure that they have a platform to contribute more of their stories and experience, because they could be invaluable in helping our cause.

Last Friday, Tony announced that he’s got a new “day job,” starting today as Editor-in-Chief of a rapidly growing news site called The Raw Story.  The fact that I’m launching this blog today is, surprisingly enough, a coincidence.  I’ve been discussing starting my own blog with several other prominent members of the anti-Scientology activist community for a couple weeks, before I got wind of Tony’s new move.

What others do well:  One of the great reasons for the success of anti-Scientology activists since the landmark global protest by Anonymous in 2008 is the emergence of successful forums to bind the community together.   The prominent sites each serve different needs:

  • Tony Ortega is the premier journalist covering breaking Scientology news; he also does a great job mining his network of sources to get a look at marketing documents and published writings of L. Ron Hubbard.
  • Forums like ESMB and WhyWeProtest are a great place for people to express themselves, and to take the discussion in any direction that appeals to them.  Each of these forums has a unique style and a unique culture.
  • Prominent ex-Scientologists like Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder give their own perspective on life and their evolution since they left the cult.

It would be foolish for me to try to compete with them at what they each do so well.  I need to do something of value that they can’t easily accomplish within their existing “turf.”

What I can contribute:  It’s clear to me that I can leverage my career experience to build a site to deliver something that’s missing in any of the current popular anti-Scientology sites. Given my experience in analyzing companies, corporate strategy and economic data in my day job at a hedge fund that I refer to as “Global Capitalism HQ,” I want to bring the analytical skills and judgment I use in picking stocks to the process of thinking about what is going on today in Scientology and where it might lead in the future.

Insightful analysis is the basis for informed and effective action.  If we as a community of anti-Scientology activists can think through what the consequences (both intended and unintended) of the cult’s actions might be, we can precisely tailor our planned actions, which significantly increases the chances that our work will have an impact.  We can have increased confidence that the risks we take of harassment by the cult will be worth it because our actions might become more effective.

And equally importantly, if we are able to articulate the basis for our beliefs convincingly and logically, we will be able to convince many disparate groups all opposed to Scientology to align themselves more than in the past.  This has been difficult because some who have never been in the cult proclaim loudly that it’s all nonsense, which steps on the feeling of “independent Scientologists” who believe that the Scientology “tech” is a remarkably effective self-help toolkit and that only the current Scientology management is a problem.

Well-written analysis can help bridge these two opposed points of view and help people find a common ground that will allow them to work together even if they continue to harbor major areas of disagreement.  Thoughtfully articulated logical discussion can bind people together where passions and faith can tear them apart.

Building a community of like-minded folks:  This is my site, and at least for the short term future, I’ll be writing most of the content. But I can’t do it all alone, even if I wanted to.  I want to build a community of like minded anti-Scientology activists from across the spectrum who want to do their own research and digging to help increase the effectiveness of anti-cult activities.  The cult is increasingly vulnerable, and well-aimed action can help blunt the damage it does in the world more rapidly than at any time in the past.  If you like writing (and reading) insightful analysis or digging up obscure source documents and connecting the dots to help expose and oppose Scientology, I want this to be an important destination for you.  I am familiar with what sociologists call “on-line production communities” such as those that build open source software, and I think I have enough wisdom to encourage people who want to help and then GTFO the way.  

We are about deepening understanding of what the cult of Scientology is doing now, and about making increasingly accurate predictions of what it will do in the future to try to reverse its flagging fortunes.  I’ll come up with a more reasoned “mission statement” at some point in the future.  

I am not making a bid to become a leader in the anti-Scientology movement. To the extent that a leader is needed, there are many people who have already done much to deserve some form of leadership role in the increasing groundswell of outrage. I’m not that leader. I want to provide research so that people can make up their minds on what they want to do, and then get out and do it with confidence.

How it works:    I’m going to start out with a couple of deliverables and expand as reader preferences dictate.  I’ll link comments in other forums to this blog in general and to specific posts here where warranted.  I’ll continue to comment on Tony’s blog where I have something to say, since that’s a key way to attract new readers here.  If those of you active on ESMB, OCMB, WWP and other forums would like to help, please link back to this site from your posts in those sites.  Key deliverables:

  • First, as a service to Tony’s many readers, I plan to put out a nightly recap of the day’s Scientology-related news, coming out at 10:00 or 11:00 pm Eastern time.  I’ll summarize Tony’s article(s) from the day, add some of my own thoughts where relevant, and summarize and/or repost the most interesting in-depth comments.
  • Second, I’ll do longer analytical pieces answering key questions often posed by people with significant interest in the cult.  Perhaps the most common question, given the inept management of Scientology, is when the whole enterprise collapses into a heap of smoldering rubble.  I will publish a carefully researched scenario that looks at the estimated financial picture, the likely short-term effects of recent news and what we understand of the cult’s business strategy. From there, I’ll predict what is likely to happen over the next year or two.  Such a scenario is a living document that needs to be updated periodically in the face of breaking news and new data.  A lively community of people helping to come to a consensus on scenarios like that will be invaluable in guiding the movement in focusing its efforts.
  • Third, I’ll attempt to give readers a sense of the analytical techniques used in the world of Wall Street, so people can participate fully in developing high-quality analysis of the cult and its weak spots.  In other words, I’ll do my best to train people in what works and what doesn’t work in doing this kind of writing.  It’s far different than being a news reporter, and it demands a lot more intellectual rigor than just expressing a “seat of the pants” opinion in a comment forum.  I can’t guarantee that you’ll get a job at Global Capitalism HQ if you read the articles I’m planning on analytical technique, in part because it’s a miserable job, but I can work hard to help you learn something that might help you in your current job.

Over time, we can add as much formal structure as necessary to turn this into a platform for anyone who wants to do high-quality research about the cult. That could include section editors, qualified people who write about their expertise (Scientology ethics, the corporate structure, lawyering and legal affairs, etc).  I’m open to a lot of ways to make it easy and fun for people to put their real world expertise to work.

This is a serious endeavor, but I don’t want to extinguish all hope of fun.  I’m sure there will be more than a few references to oiliness tables, Steely Dan lyrics, that remote rural enclave in upstate New York called “Canada” and plenty of other humor.  But if we can maximize the signal-to-noise ratio and unleash the armchair analysts, the long-time ex’s and others, we as a community can have an even bigger impact on the cult than we do today.

I look forward to starting a fun intellectual adventure with those of you who read this and those who join the conversation in the future!  Your passion and knowledge and ideas are what will make this all work, so please click on “Add a Comment” and give me your best, starting right now…