Postmortem: Ruthless

ruthless

I have a history with – or rather, against – the Church of Scientology.

A number of years ago, I started reading about the Church. I forget exactly what sparked it. But I remember my utter fascination at getting a glimpse into what seemed like an alternate reality.

Scientology has some really weird beliefs, sure. But people are entitled to their weird beliefs – myself included. I don’t begrudge them that.

My problem isn’t with the beliefs, nor with individual Scientologists. My problem is with the organization itself.

See, the group that calls itself the Church of Scientology is actually a cult that practices extortion, intimidation, harassment, abuse, and dishonesty on a massive scale, while offering little or nothing in return to the thousands of honest believers who open their checkbooks again, and again, and again.

The Church has a prison camp. I’m not exaggerating or sensationalizing. I mean they literally have a cluster of buildings surrounded by a barbed wire fence, patrolled by guards, monitored by cameras, in which there are Scientologists who desperately want to leave but are physically prevented from doing so, for years. This area, believe it or not, is the Scientology world headquarters – known as Gold Base – in California. You can see it on Google Maps. (The Church, of course, denies this and all other allegations of wrongdoing.)

The Church practices something called “disconnection,” which means that if a Scientologist leaves the Church, any family members who remain are forbidden from having any contact with them. In other words, they break up families, often for many years.

The Church has an internal organization called the Sea Org, whose members are supposed to be 100% dedicated to the Church. Women in the Sea Org who become pregnant are encouraged to have abortions.

I could go on.

And by all means, don’t take my word for it. All the information above is based on numerous reports from many different people who have left the Church over the years. The stories are publicly available and easy to find. Google will tell you whatever you want to know.

So, as I said, the Church of Scientology has been on my radar for a long time. (I even attended some public protests against them back in the day.) So when I saw a book about “Scientology, my son David Miscavige, and me,” naturally I was interested.

David Miscavige, you see, is the hot-tempered, abusive, power-hungry leader of the Church of Scientology. He is the successor to its founder, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986.

I finished reading Ruthless a couple days ago. It was fascinating.

See, no matter how many times I read about the cruelty and insanity of the Church, I’m still amazed all over again each time I read a new account. This one, coming from the father of the Church’s leader, was especially interesting.

He talks about how he got interested in Scientology in the first place, how he got his wife and kids (including David) involved, how the early years were happy and hopeful. Although I don’t think the Church was ever a good organization, it does seem clear that they’ve taken a real nosedive in the past three decades, under David’s leadership.

Ron (the author) talks about joining the aforementioned Sea Org, which is something like a Bizarro version of the Navy. As the years went by, the long hours got ever longer, the days off got less and less common, the pay got lower, the expectations got higher, the rewards evaporated, the punishments got more sadistic, and sleep became an ever more precious commodity.

Eventually, he moved to Gold Base. At first it was just a large, expensive, impressive headquarters for a worldwide organization. But Ron watched as security grew tighter and tighter over time, until it was literally impossible to get permission to leave. Ron said there were stretches lasting years in which he didn’t get a single day off. He says all-nighters were very common, and he once had to stay up more than 80 hours straight finishing a project.

Even the impossible deadlines and insane schedules might have been bearable, had the environment been more positive. But, Ron says, David was an obsessive micromanager and constantly abusive, screaming at people and insulting them and shaming them. Nothing was ever good enough. Lower-level managers picked up his attitude (or else they were removed). And the abuses weren’t just verbal. People were physically hit, or forced to stay in hot rooms for weeks, or shoved into a lake, or even (in one bizarre instance) forced to live in a shack out by a swamp, away from everyone else, for months.

Ron finally got out of this place in 2012. And when he refers to his departure as an “escape,” he is not exaggerating.

I admit that the book’s writing style is not very good, which is odd since Ron evidently had a ghostwriter. The story wanders sometimes, with large chunks that feel sorta irrelevant, and the prose is a little choppy. But those faults are easy to overlook in exchange for the engrossing view it offers into the Bizarro world that is the Church of Scientology.

Thoughts on the Five-Month Ultrasound

baby ultrasound

We had our second, possibly final, ultrasound on Friday. (More precisely, Betsy got an ultrasound and I watched.) The kid is a boy, as I mentioned Saturday.

It’s strange. The whole thing is strange.

First of all, ultrasounds are magic, it’s that simple. It’s technology and science that causes the magic, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it any less wizardlike. Think about it: they can pulse sound waves into a woman’s abdomen and create a three-dimensional real-time moving picture of an unborn human. We are living in the future, there’s no other explanation.

Surprisingly, though, the picture at 21 weeks is not as good as the picture at 10 weeks. There’s a lot more information, yes (gender, for instance), but because each picture is a cross section, and the baby is so much bigger now, it’s hard to get a single snapshot that shows you the whole kid at once. The one above isn’t bad, though.

The ultrasound took about an hour, and the nurse was great. There are a million things they have to check for, and she explained it all as she went: making sure the hands open sometimes (non-opening hands are a sign of Down syndrome), measuring the femur, counting bones in the hands and feet, and so on. I’m sure she’s done this a thousand times before, but she still made it sound like it was interesting to her (and hey, maybe it was). And she answered all our questions.

It’s weird knowing it’s a boy. On the one hand, it makes the kid seem more like a real person, which is good. On the other hand, it makes the kid seem more like a real person, which is bizarre. This is actually going to happen, evidently.

Also, for some reason, we’re finding it much, much harder to pick a name for a boy. There are a zillion girl names we like, but our shortlist (read: full list) for boy names only has four possibilities. And one of them is a long shot.

What are they? Well, I suppose I could share:

  • Agamemnon
  • Radagast
  • Jα§ρer
  • Palpatine Iscariot III, Jr.

Five months down, four to go.

Additional Data

miniBuckley.Gender = "male"; //visual confirmation

Friday Link

According to this, some elephants are self-aware.

Rock on, elephants.

The Art of the Dill

mcclures

Has anybody else tried McClure’s Pickles? Cuz I just bought some last week and they are friggin’ amazing.

Disclaimer: I received no compensation, monetary or culinary, for this thoughtful and in-depth review. I am not in the pocket of Big Pickle. This is mostly because nobody has tried to bribe me yet. If anyone wants to, be assured that my morals are very much for sale, and will be gladly exchanged for crisp pickled goodness.

Various, Sundry & Miscellany

In no particular order:

  • I was sad to learn this morning that singer Guy Clark has died. If you’re not familiar with his music – well, I’m not especially either. I only know him because of a single NPR story I heard once, and I only know a few of his songs. But damn, they’re good. My Favorite Picture of You is a simple little song, but one of my all-time favorites from any genre.
  • This Friday is Betsy’s birthday. She’s turning sqrt(961) but doesn’t look a day over sqrt(841). Friday is also the day we find out the gender of Baby Buckley. She, and I, and my mom, have all had dreams that it would be a boy. We’ll see.
  • We’ve started watching Lost Girl on Ben Trube’s recommendation. Only three episodes in. The first one was great, but 2 and 3 have lost momentum. (A lot of shows are like that.) I’m waiting for them to get off the story-of-the-week stuff and into the big story.
  • I recently finished reading The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs. Not much insight into spirituality or Christianity, but a whole lot of insight into the Bible as a document, and into many of the groups that take it literally. Did you know there’s a prohibition in Leviticus and Deuteronomy against wearing clothes made of both wool and linen? Or that several groups are trying to breed a perfect red heifer without spot or blemish because they believe it will usher in the End of Days, based on another Torah passage?
  • Speaking of the Bible, Betsy and I have now read Genesis, Exodus, the Gospel of John, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians. We’re halfway through the Gospel of Mark, with Leviticus up next. Obviously, we’re jumping around, but we do still intend to read every book. I may post more thoughts on all that when I get time.
  • I’m now reading Ruthless, a book by Ron Miscavige – father of David Miscavige, who is currently the successor to L. Ron Hubbard as supreme leader of the Church of Scientology. It’s interesting. Ron is very critical of the modern “Church” (which he correctly labels a cult) and of his son, but he still believes in the basic Scientology teachings.
  • Captain America: Civil War was pretty good. It’s basically Avengers 3 more than a Captain America movie per se, but I’m not exactly complaining.
  • Monday, when I posted my Buffy Shakespeare thing, I also posted a link on the Buffy subreddit. The response was overwhelmingly positive, which was very encouraging. Blog traffic for that day jumped from the usual 500-ish to almost 1,000.
  • Speaking of Buffy, the actress who played Drusilla – Juliet Landau – is now following me on Twitter. She follows an enormous number of people, so this is not incredibly impressive, but I still got a real kick out of it.
  • I have cleaned and organized the basement. If you ever saw our basement, you know that this task qualifies as the 13th labor of Hercules. I also shoveled and spread 6 cubic yards of mulch last weekend. “But Brian,” you say, “these are fairly ordinary tasks. Do you really expect us to be impressed?” Listen. I don’t have muscles. This stuff is impressive, dammit.
  • I had this crazy dream that one of our two major political parties chose as its nominee for president a man who advocated killing the families of people who attack us. Haha! Oh, man, what a crazy dream.
  • Editing is going very well. I’m doing a ton of work for Dragonfly Editorial, Green Frog Publishing, and Creative Sparks Writing. And they’re paying me!
  • My dad is in Italy on a business trip. He sent me this photo, with the caption “Exterminate!”

Exterminate

Did you get it? Yeah, you in the back, you got it, right?

Secret Project Revealed

Remember a month ago when I said I had a secret project that was super exciting for me, but would be a colossal disappointment to everyone else? Well, get ready.

Here’s the deal. I took an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the fifth-season finale, “The Gift” – and rewrote it as a Shakespearean play. The entire episode. It’s a five-act tragedy I call Summers’ Fall. (There’s also a permanent link to the upper right, where it says Buffy Theatre.)

That’s right. I Shakespearized Buffy.

3 excellent questions

Actually, at the bottom of that page, under the text proper, there’s a Q&A section that answers all three of those questions – and many others, including “Why?!”

Enjoy.