The Power of the Union

By Seana Sperling

Unions are under attack by Corporate America and unfortunately, some people believe the propaganda against Unions. Do you like the eight-hour workday? How about the five-day workweek, vacations, sick pay, breaks? Without unions, all of that will go away. The neo-conservatives are busily defaming Unions and hacking away at our collective bargaining rights. Unions force the wealthy into being humane.

In this age of profits over people, we have seen an increase in bullying in the workplace to try and make people more productive, make them do other’s work and even taking breaks away. Also there is a tendency to try and privatize everything from the liquor stores to public schools.

In Washington State the liquor stores have recently become privatized. That was a loss of over 750 Union jobs according to one of the employees I spoke with. The employee also said that they were asked to stay on by the new owners, but without benefits, so they were looking elsewhere for employment. Another result of the privatization is that liquor costs have become higher because of added taxes and it is available everywhere, creating an easy outlet for juvenile shoplifters according to a report from KIRO 7 News.

The school bookstore on my campus was also privatized in the last couple of years and as a consequence we lost one of our best Union Shop Stewards and several other Union positions. (A couple of years earlier, another great Shop Steward was bullied out of her job by her department.)

In 1979 I began learning about the importance of Unions, the reasons they were formed and how much they improved the lives of the middle and working class. The first film I saw about Unions was Norma Rae, which was a fictionalized story about real life Union Organizer Crystal Lee Sutton. Set in a North Carolina Textile Company, where the working conditions were impacting the health of her parents who also worked at the mill, Norma Rae tells the story of her fight to organize her coworkers and their final success in unionizing the mill and getting better working conditions.

Matewan by John Sayles is another favorite film of mine. It is a fictionalized account of the 1920 battle between the miners and corporate thugs in Matewan, West Virginia, a coal mining area where men had terrible working conditions. A former IWW member arrives and begins to organize a strike and is harassed and defamed by the company thugs. (In reality, company thugs began evicting the striking miner’s families from company housing and that is what ultimately provoked the battle, according to Lon Savage’s online article, The Battle of Matewan.)

Nowadays people can’t appreciate the sacrifices that Union Organizers and the workers made because things like sick leave, vacations, coffee breaks, eight-hour-workdays have become the norm. We take it for granted, but many fought very hard and even lost their lives so we could enjoy these benefits today.

The eight-hour workday: I have seen this slip away from some positions. A friend of mine who was a nurse began working three 12-hour shifts during the week, so she could have four days off. This was her choice, however, I do not think that people can be equally sharp on a 12-hour shift as they can on an eight-hour shift. When I first heard that Nurses were doing this, I began to worry because these Nurses are Union members in the State of Washington. What if it stopped being a choice and became the norm? Has it? Many private companies will require overtime of employees as part of the job and in this case the employee has no choice. In some companies, 10 to 12 hour days are normal.

During summer my campus has a shorter week for classes Monday through Friday. My first, second, third, and fourth summer we had a choice of working our regular 8-hour, five-day week or we could do four tens. I never liked the four tens as I was exhausted by the end of the day and even with three days off in a row, it took one full day to recover. Last summer we had no choice, but to do the four tens. Some of us began to complain and because we took it to our Union, the college compromised this year. Now we can do four nine-hours and a half-day on Friday and decide to come a half-hour earlier, if we want to. Granted, nine hours is not as good as eight, but that half-day on Friday is always something to look forward to and we also have some choice.

Unions are under attack because they help the worker stand up to corporate greed. We live in a time when corporations are vying for power over the entire country. They outsource jobs, so they can squeeze every dram of blood from the penny, by paying lower wages in countries that have a lower exchange rate. Unfortunately there are a handful of wealthy multi-national companies that are entrenched in Washington D.C. and many politicians after leaving office go to work for these multi-nationals like Monsanto. I think that some people misunderstand that these so-called American companies have no real loyalty to any one country and therefore don’t really care if their company practices are in the realm of our national ethics. To them Unions are only a barrier against their company’s efficiency and profit margins.

I watched the documentary Waiting for Superman, recently. I was appalled at the attack on Teachers and especially Teacher’s Unions and the underlying tone was that Teachers should not have the protection of Tenure or their Unions. There seemed to be an emphasis on pointing out bad or failing Teachers and subtle support of Charter Schools running through the film. There was also intimation that Teachers were solely responsible for the student’s success. (This last part reminded me of Teaching for Peace Corps in the former Soviet Union, where if a student was failing a class, the Teacher was blamed. I was a new Teacher and the only foreigner in town, so the community cut me some slack, but they didn’t cut my colleagues any. This was part of the old Soviet System.)

There was one extremely disturbing scene in Waiting for Superman that showed Teachers in the “Rubber Room.” This disciplinary action against Teachers is taking place in New York State and it seems like a way to force Teachers out of their Tenure and Union jobs. (I know the East Coast is rampant with group bullying and group stalking, but I didn’t know School Boards were using psychological punishment against Teachers there.) This discipline targets Teachers who are under investigation for “something.” If Teachers want to remain on the payroll while under the investigation, they are sent to a large waiting room where they are restricted from using computers or other electronic devices and must just sit quietly. If a student, parent or someone else accuses a Teacher of anything, the Teacher can be suspended from the classroom and sent to the Rubber Room while the investigation is taking place.

The Rubber Room seems to be another tool to vilify Teachers and the Union. The Union protects the Teacher’s jobs even if they are “under investigation.” The limiting rules of the Rubber Room allow for no productivity while in the room and Teachers are filmed while sleeping or reading and then condemned for collecting a paycheck for doing nothing. A friend of mine from New York told me that a friend of hers, a fine Teacher had been sent to the Rubber Room on false charges. Finally the Teacher was able to get work at a different school according to my friend. A good Teacher was forced out her job with psychological bullying as far as I’m concerned.

We have to remember the sacrifices made by our Union Organizers and the rights they procured for all of us. If people continue to ignore the Rightwing/Corporate attack on our Unions and thus our rights in the workplace, we will spiral into a much wider disparity between the wealthy and the poor. A handful of wealthy can control a poor population, but they cannot control a healthy middle-class that stands up for their rights.

The Information Bullies

By Seana Sperling

We live in the “over the top,” Information age, where an Internet search of your name can reveal a plethora of personal information on websites like www.Mylife.com, www.Jigsaw.com, www.Redaris.com, www.Pipl.com, www.USSearch.com, www.123people.com, www.Intellius.com and even DEX online.

This Information can range from something as personal as your date of birth to your current address. Some sites may link to articles you have written or comments you have made in blog posts. So, what happens when the information is in fact Mis-information? (I have found three different ages listed under my name, unfamiliar photographs and unrelated Cloud links on one of these sites and it’s not like my name is Jane Smith. In fact there are very few Sperlings in Seattle.)

In the new millennium, identity thieves can post your personal information on assorted sites or comment in blogs under your name. (This is called E-personation.) They can also post mis-information designed to vilify you. After all, anyone can be anyone online.

Evidently the folks managing these information-gathering sites have no qualms about collecting and distributing your personal information. Nor do they seem to care whether or not the information is accurate. It seems that they are enabling libel. (It’s possible that some of these companies are Fusion Centers contracting for Intelligence agencies or Corporate America.) Just because they can access your information gives them no right to publish it. I think it violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

If you try to get the sites to remove your personal information, you may find it’s not so easy. Their response to your request may be a request for a long list of information that you need to provide to them to prove your identity (www.123people.com) or they ask you to log into your account (which you never set up in the first place and do not have the password or login information for). You are communicating with the avatar of Corporate America and they can simply tell you that they cannot help you.

Corporate America has seized control over one of the most dominant forms of communication of our time—the Internet. They can now control our privacy and can toy with our reputations. Even though the corporations may not post the libel, they enable it since no one has to prove who they are to set up accounts and post information on these sites. A vengeance stalker can post all sorts of your personal information online and then recruit other stalkers with a sob story or slander that they post on their own web page or a common message board. Another negative factor is that, if a prospective employer does an Internet search of your name and finds something irregular then chances are they will not hire you and will not tell you the reason.

There is a larger threat however. The small information gathering sites are sustained by mega-corporations. Everyone watched silently as Faith-based Clear Channel began buying up the airwaves (radio, television, Internet). Then they saturated cities with cheap or even free cell phones and Internet service. Clear Channel is one example of a mega-corporation monopolizing the media and your information. You can be tracked on and offline with the GPS in your phone. Then your whereabouts can be tweeted, texted or posted online.

Would the Witness Protection Program even be viable in today’s Information Age? You are constantly being tracked online and people know when you move and where you move to by something as simple as the changes in the phone book. (Even when you have requested your number and address to be unlisted, that is only for one phone book and there are a variety of them out there. I found my name, full address and phone number in DEX online even though it did not appear in another phone book.)

Just like the Do Not Call List, that restricts telephone soliciting, we should have something like that for these information collection sites, such as a, “Do Not Post My Information List.” Of course I believe in Freedom of speech, but I think that the profiteers of citizen’s personal information should be regulated, as it seems to violate the fourth amendment.

Why make it easy for vengeance stalkers and Internet Trolls to find their prey or for corporations to invade someone’s privacy to market to them? Some may say, “That’s progress and you can’t fight it.” Why not? If something is clearly wrong, a violation of our privacy, of course we should say something. For too long people have been apathetic. Others might say, “I have nothing to hide. What have you got to hide?” Nothing, but I would like to retain a certain amount of personal space, without Corporate America knowing my every move.

(See the Cyberbullying and Harassment page to see what the Information Bullies are capable of.)

Cointelpro One and Two

By Seana Sperling

Throughout history different regimes have constructed programs to control dissent. During the Cultural Revolution in China, students were encouraged to denounce, harass and sometimes even stone the Intelligentsia, their Professors and Scholars. This was Chairman Mao’s way to silence his biggest critics. The pigtail, a sign of the Intelligentsia was stigmatized and many were publicly clipped off. Thousands of miles away, in the United States, the Intelligence Agencies began using Cointelpro to destroy Peace Activists and other critics in the “land of the free.” According to former FBI Agent, Mike German who is currently working with the ACLU, Cointelpro, which was supposed to have ended when the Church Committee Report exposed it in the 1970’s, is still alive, but has evolved.

Cointelpro One involved using rumor campaigns, gaslighting, set-ups and tracking of Peace Activists and other dissenters. In the 1960s the FBI, paired with local Law Enforcement agencies and even some corporations started using these tactics against demonstrators, writers and the nation’s critics.

Peace Activist Abbie Hoffman was gaslighted, defamed, tracked and harassed for years by the F. B. I. The film Steal This Movie reveals a part of his life that mainstream media would never cover. Hoffman was under constant threat of arrest, which drove him underground for years and this isolated him from his real support group. His crime: organizing very creative protests against the Vietnam War and criticism of the corruption in government. (There were accusations of cocaine possession, but Hoffman maintained that law Enforcement had planted this according to his biography on Wikipedia.) In the late 1980s Hoffman made a brief comeback and began organizing and teaching about civil disobedience with students at Amherst. (I saw him speak at my University in 1988.) Unfortunately, Hoffman took his life in 1989. He was only 52-years-old.

General Motors used Cointelpro tactics against Ralph Nader after he exposed GM’s faulty and even dangerous vehicles in the 1970s. In the documentary, Ralph Nader, an Unreasonable Man, Nader tells how complete strangers followed him around (Gaslighting) and he also speaks of set-ups. On Gaslighting: if you tell friends that strangers are tracking and harassing you, and they see no evidence of it, they will think you are paranoid.

Cointelpro Two includes all of the above, but similar to the Cultural Revolution in China, it involves recruiting certain members of the community with propaganda and even slander against the target. Then this group will engage in tracking, set-ups and gaslighting of the targeted Activist, Writer, Teacher, etc. The group feels flattered that they have been selected for such an important job and they do not see themselves as tyrants and Informants, but as protectors. One even said as much to me. It was late afternoon and I was walking from the grocery store. There was a 20-something, white, male standing near the store entrance looking at his cellphone then he looked directly at me and said, “I’m here to protect babies!” I thought, “From what?” At the time, I did not know about all the slander about me on sites like www.rottenneighbor.com.

Cointelpro Two is much nastier than it’s forerunner. Not only can they start a rumor campaign that the person is crazy and anti-American, but they throw in false accusations of sexual deviancy and criminal behavior. If you want an entire community to hate someone, just put out an accusation that the person is a pedophile. Then local Law Enforcement is able to Amber Alert a judgmental and punitive populace to track, harass, gaslight and even set-up the Activist. Some local Law Enforcement agencies use average citizens as Informants and empower them to go after the victim of the accusation. Welcome to the United States of Oceania.

With the expansion of Cointelpro, the Intelligence Agencies have a vast and more efficient communication system to gather and disseminate information called the Fusion Center. Corporate America has also created Intelligence gathering websites like www.123people.com, www.pipl.com, www.instantcheckmate.com, etc. that gather all sorts of correct, but also erroneous information on millions of people without their consent or even their knowledge. According to some of these sites I am three different ages and they offer my Social Security number, address, and phone number, etc. for a price. Of course I get none of the proceeds or even a say in their selling of my information. Also, some of these sites claim to have arrest records on me. I checked my name on www.instantcheckmate.com and a warning popped up: “Caution. This background report is very graphic… The content of this report may shock you, so please prepare yourself for the unexpected.” I actually paid the $19.86 fee to see if there was more slander there. There were no arrest records of course, but anyone looking at that warning would think that some serious crime had been committed. If you are seeking employment and that comes up in a Google search, well, good luck.

If you try to get your information removed, you are lead into the maze of links and original source research and nothing is really ever taken care of. This may be another way to harass and gaslight people. I even wrote to Washington State, Attorney General, Rob McKenna’s office, and sent in plenty of documentation, yet was told there was nothing they could do. These sites are allowed to slander me, violate my privacy and sell my private information, yet there is nothing the Attorney General can do? This is not a 1st Amendment issue, but Corporte America violating my rights. It’s a flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

Another prop from the toolkit of Cointelpro Two is called Social Isolation. Social Isolation has been used in our prison system for decades and is called Solitary Confinement. The person is cut off from others and since humans like most animals are social animals this breaks the person down incrementally. The longer they are isolated, the more they adjust to it. When and if they are finally thrust back into a social environment, they must adapt again, which causes social awkwardness.

Social Isolation addresses all avenues of support that may be available to the activist/writer, etc. Cointelpro’s vicious rumor campaign takes care of the support group. Family and friends will shun the activist/writer, etc. because of slander or accusations of being “under investigation.” Who wants to be friends with someone that is under investigation for anything? Sometimes the support group merely tires of the victim’s complaints of constant harassment from strangers, neighbors, coworkers, etc. When the support group is gone, or at least very weary, Law Enforcement (and in my case many former Military) can surround the person with people that, under the guise of friendship, will continue to gaslight, set-up the victim and spread more rumors. These are called Handlers. They may even record everything the victim says on their cell phones and later put it up on You Tube or any other video, voice-over site.

Handlers and infiltration are tools of both Cointelpro One and Two. There have been assorted reports of former Military and off-duty Police officers infiltrating Peace groups since the 1960s. One segment of Michael Moore’s Documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 shows how a Peace group found that one of their members was actually an off-duty deputy using an alias, after his photograph appeared in the local paper with his real name.

I know about Handlers personally. In my naiveté, I befriended some former military who only revealed their deeply conservative and militaristic side in 2006 after my life had become a shambles. I remember the look of satisfaction on one bully’s face when I was almost at my breaking point. I had lost real friends and was being bullied everywhere I went by complete strangers because of the rumor campaign. Thus I was gaunt, exhausted and hyper-vigilant. I also had multiple phone calls from around the country at all hours, Cyberbullying and E-personation. I would find my name linked to provocative items on the Internet, which of course provoked even more bullying. (The slander helps the bullies recruit.) Since 2006 I have had to turn the ringer off on my land line phone and screen calls with my answering machine. I do not own a cell phone for a variety of reasons.

Cointelpro, although rarely discussed in mainstream media, is known in many activist and scholarly circles. In fact even Microsoft Word recognizes the term and I did not have to add it to Word’s lexicon even though I have had to add many other regular words. Mainstream media needs to pay closer attention to this violation of our constitution. Unless the majority of people know how serious it is and how much it threatens democracy, the bad guys will win.

The Arts Will Save Us

By Seana Sperling

Arts and Media programs are disappearing in public schools across the country according to a May 2012 issue of The Nation, What Teachers Want. At the Community College where I work we lost the College Newspaper and the accompanying Journalism Program in 2009. Next it was Publishing Arts. Currently in 2012, they are cutting the Film Program and there is speculation of closing the Apparel Design Program. Has the college become merely a place to educate corporate automatons or is this a way to curb Freedom of Expression?

Throughout History Artists like Goya, Solzhenitzyn and Woody Guthrie expressed their political beliefs through their art, and as a result helped provoke socio-political change. Freedom of Expression is essential to a civil society and is essential for our happiness.

The Arts have saved me many times. Music, drawing, writing, cooking, creating anything is very uplifting. Even listening to music elevates the soul and there have been times when I have felt great joy because of a certain series of notes. I would not be here today if it were not for art.

There was a time in Fall 2006 when I was in a deep depression because of a horrendous slander campaign against me, which had provoked intense organized bullying by the community. People were actually hinting that I was some sort of sex offender, racist or thief and I was being tracked everywhere I went by the bullies. I wasn’t aware that these accusations were being directed at me until I found multiple postings on www.rottenneighbor.com in December 2007. While these things aren’t true, the accusations caused friends to drop me completely and not one person would tell me what was going on. It was a very dark time in my life.

I forced myself out of the shadows by singing along with my favorite CDs. I felt a little silly at first, because when you live in an apartment building, the neighbors can hear you. One neighbor did make fun of my singing, but you have to ignore the bullies.

I’m not the only one who feels inhibited about singing. Over the years I have noticed that many Seattleites seem reluctant to sing outside of their choirs, bands, churches or without a Karaoke Machine. I rarely even see anyone singing along with the radio in cars anymore. This is a sad statement about Seattle, which is ironically a city famous for its music scene. I suppose people fear appearing uncool. (In the 1990s people were walking around without umbrellas in the rain for this reason.) From what I’ve seen at Peace rallies and marches most the people chant, but you rarely see them singing. Always chanting gets boring and singing provides a much better vibe.

The Seattle Peace Chorus used to take part in the Peace marches. They were a nice addition and very inclusive, handing out lyric sheets if you wanted to join in. The arts, such as singing have played an important role in the history of U.S. protests. Imagine a scene from the 1960’s with hundreds of people singing, “We Shall Overcome.” Singing provides a strong and positive vibration. Would the Police send pepper spray into a multitude of voices?

In some cultures the arts are on a parallel with mysticism. Tibetan Throat singing is linked to mysticism. The Whirling Dervishes of the Sufi spin into spiritual trances and the Kecak (Spirit Dance) of Indonesia historically also provoked trances in the participants. In these cases music and dance is sacred.

Tibetan Monk Throat Singing (Tuvan Throat Singing) is a very interesting use of this positive vibration. I’ve tried it and although I’m not very adept, I can feel the vibration in my chest. The singing originates in the throat, but seems to echo through the trachea into the chest. I think I am making the correct sound, but it’s hard to be objective when the only critics are overly curious neighbors and my cats. (No neighbors have made fun of my Throat Singing thus far, but my cats have given me some odd looks.)

Buddhist culture seems to value art very highly. You have only to look at the beautiful Watts (temples) of Thailand to know how important art is to this Buddhist country. Evidently the spirits of Thailand have a great interest in the arts and the Thai people want to please the spirits. When I was visiting friends in Khon Kaen, we came upon an outdoor film one evening that was being hosted by a student. According to my friends, in Thai culture it is popular to earn merit by doing good deeds or otherwise pleasing the spirits, thus the student would earn merit by entertaining them.

That same week we visited the Turtle town. I can’t remember the name, but it was a very small town famous for having turtles. We saw lots of softball-sized turtles crawling around in a big pen, but later we came upon people of the town hand-weaving beautiful designs on large traditional looms, which I found much more interesting. They seemed very happy with their work, which brings me to another consideration. If we create something with love, or at least in good spirits, does the creation retain that energy? Can happiness be woven into the fibers of a Monk’s robes? Does our Sweat Shop-made, off-the-rack clothing retain the hard labor and anxieties of the seamstress? That hand-woven cloth was not for locals, but to be sold in the city, which reminded me of Nestle who replaced Ghana’s Yam fields with cash crops that were too expensive for the citizens to consume.

Other works of art like the Mandala Sand Paintings are beautiful creations, yet are not sold and deliberately brushed away after their creation. (Except for the few that were donated to museums.) There is no effort to preserve these works and the joy is within the creation rather than preservation. There is no attempt to sell the art and the ego is not attached. Maybe art is not supposed to be for sale. Perhaps this is how the idea of the “Sell Out,” originated.

I’ve never been to an art auction, but when I have seen them in films, the scene is usually an auditorium filled with wealthy folks nodding or lifting a finger to signal a bid. Is there a certain point when people who are so occupied with making money lose their ability to make art and therefore have to buy it?

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, one Reporter on National News remarked that Haiti is a country of artists. There is little financial stability there unlike the neighboring Dominican Republic. Perhaps there is something to the idea of the “Starving Artist.” If we are not hungry spiritually, mentally and physically perhaps we are unable to create. Or is creativity a survival skill meant to strengthen us?

I have heard some people say that they are not creative. I think everyone is born with the ability to create and there are a multitude of ways to express it, but it needs to be cultivated. It needs to be encouraged and yes, taught. People have to feel confident to create and Arts Programs nurture this confidence.

If we aren’t creating are we busy destroying? It seems that in the new millennium some people drift into very corrupt behavior like gossiping, bullying, Cyberbullying, Cyberbaiting and stalking online and offline. There has been a sharp rise in bullying of all kinds in the schools, the workforce and communities in the last ten years. There are so many stories of teens or even adults taking their own lives because of group bullying. Perhaps the rise in bullying is a result of boredom and lack of creativity. Let’s bring the arts back to the classroom and especially the community at large.

FUN WITH LASERS: Interviews with Lasik and PRK Patients

By Seana Sperling

I began hearing about Lasik in late 1999. I was at a party and two women were wearing dark glasses. Naturally I had to ask why and they said they had gone through Lasik surgery just two days before and their eyes were still extremely light sensitive. Aside from their fashion statement, they were ecstatic about their vision, which was close to 20/20 and practically improving by the hour.

They said they had gone to Canada because the price of surgery north of the border tends to be much cheaper. ($2000.00 or $3000.00 cheaper.) Also, Canadian doctors have been performing the operation for over eleven years while it was still relatively new in the U.S. They had also received a partner/buddy discount ($100.00 each) for doing the surgery as a pair. At first, the idea of Discount Surgery made me a little uncomfortable. Was there also some sort of free gift–compliments of Fingerhut?

A friend of mine (we’ll call him Mark) and I started gathering research on Lasik Surgery in the summer of 2000. Since Mark is a doctor, he was very thorough in his research and contributed reams of paper to my growing stack. The consensus seemed to be a high success rate with a minute risk factor. We were still apprehensive.

My main worry was of becoming blind from the operation. I was told by several staff and two different surgeons that the chances of the actual surgery causing blindness are nil, however, the very few cases of blindness that have occurred, were caused by post-operative infection. According to one of the doctors, one patient mowed his lawn a couple of days after the surgery and this resulted in an infection. (The surgeons now counter this possibility by giving all patients anti-bacterial drops as a preventative measure.)

Unfortunately, Mark had to leave to do his Residency in Michigan, so the mission was put on hiatus. Later that year, I started thinking about it again, so at my friend Joe’s birthday party I brought it up. Joe and I decided to make an appointment. The buddy-package was $975.00 each person–both eyes. I paid for additional insurance, which was about $50.00, bringing my total to $1024.00. (You pay in advance in either one or two installments by credit card.)

THE APPOINTMENT
When we went through the pre-operative appointment they checked our vision and the thickness of our corneas. (If the corneas are too thin a different procedure is required—the really scary one—see PRK.) They dilated our eyes and checked for any viruses or infections. After they finished inspecting and questioning, I was told I was a candidate for Lasik–not a great one, but a candidate. Joe was told he would walk out of the clinic with 20/20 vision. His corneas were evidently like slices of ham.

I was a little disappointed. My initial impression was that I would emerge from the clinic with perfect vision. From the consultation I found that the success rate varied, depending on the degree of the problem to be corrected. My prescription is fairly strong, minus seven in one eye and minus 5.25 in the other. In my case, the best vision they could promise me was 20/40, which is good enough to drive, but not to read, write or do detailed work. I’d be wearing glasses most of the time.

I decided against the operation and they promised to refund all of the $1024.00 I had paid. (They refund by check two weeks from the cancellation date. My refund arrived about four days late, but it was December, so I’m sure the holidays had slowed the postal system.) I opted out partially out of fear, but also because I get too frustrated if I can’t see well. The movie “Seven,” made me crazy because of the horrible lighting. What would I do if everything was, “just a little hard to see.”

Joe decided to have the surgery. I felt a mixture of jealousy and relief. I was relieved that I didn’t have to put my eyes through the stress, but a little jealous that my sight really didn’t have that much promise. I tagged along anyway.

GOING TO CANADA
When first hearing about the Clinic, I imagined several white, low-rise buildings in a rural setting where the light-sensitive patients could stumble around the grounds. The reality was a building the size of a Denny’s, buried amidst strip malls and pizza parlors. Where were the white-caned patients to stroll for their afternoon exercise?

It was around 1:00PM and the receptionist at the Clinic told us that Joe’s surgery would be over around 2:00PM or later because they were a little “behind.” We left Joe and headed to the nearby mall to kill some time. We returned about 2:15PM. As we pulled into the driveway, our hero emerged from the clinic wearing a pair of humungous, protective-eye-shades reminding me of the black and white film “The Fly.” Joe was in and out in so little time that Chris and I were half an hour late in picking him up.

JOE REVEALS THE GRUESOME PROCESS
Joe: First there was paperwork. They’re kind of mechanical with their questions, but very thorough. It’s like the same procedure we went through at the pre-operative exam. After that, they take you to a big room and lay you on a narrow table under a big machine. It kind of reminds me of a CAT Scan. It was a lot more uncomfortable than I’d expected. It’s painful when they pull your eyelids back with the spectrum, but it’s also painful when they’re doing the suction on the eyeball. It feels like your eyeball is being pinched all the way around and you have to stare at a light. Although it’s only 30 or 60 seconds an eye, it seems like an eternity. The smell of burning flesh is intense. I started getting slightly nauseated during the surgery.

The worst thing is that you have to watch it. You can’t help but watch it. There’s a flashing red light and you can see them pulling the flap back. You see them pull a piece of your eye off. Then they take something like a squeegee, and squeegee it back on. And you can’t blink. I turned down the sedative and now I’m sorry that I did. I would recommend taking it.

Afterwards, they guide you by the hand out of the room and you’re stumbling around in the dark and everything is really blurry. They put you in a dark room with other people. Of course when I got there, all four chairs were full, so I sat in an examination chair for a few minutes. Then one opened up and I sat in a comfortable leather chair. I was there for about ten minutes and then they came and shined a bright light in my eyes, which is kind of painful, but they were checking to make sure there were no folds and that everything was in place. Then they lead me out to the waiting room. It’s a very scary, freaky experience when you go in there even though they are very nice and professional.

Q: So how is your vision after surgery?

Joe: The right eye seems to be different than the left. I did experience more pain with my left eye even though they did it second. Everything is kind of hazy and my eyes are extremely light sensitive right now.

Q: What kind of pain?

Joe: You know how when you get soap in your eyes, it stings? Or when you sleep in your contacts and you wake up with them adhered to your eyes? They are itchy, like I have a hair in my eye or something. Everything seems really bright, but I have better focus now than usual.

Q: Would you have the surgery again? A Retouch? (These are sometimes necessary after a couple of years.)

Joe: Uh, well. Ask me tomorrow.

He kept talking about halos and I was wondering if he was seeing auras or something. Then I started worrying about my own aura. If someone could actually see it, what would it reveal? We returned to the mall after nightfall and in an episode of synchronicity, there was a kiosk that gave aura readings via computer. I couldn’t talk Joe or Chris into trying it though.

The next morning
Joe: I feel fine, my eyes feel really good. There was a little crusty stuff around my eyelashes, but that’s probably from the drops. My sight is better today than it is with my glasses. My eyes are a little bit dry, but no more discomfort than if I were wearing contacts. I’m not light sensitive in here, but I imagine I will be outside. It might be better or it might be that it’s not like looking through glasses or contacts because there’s no light refraction.

We were half an hour early for the follow-up in the morning and they got Joe right in.
After a few minutes, Joe walked out swinging a stainless steel coffee mug with the Clinic’s logo on it.

Joe: The doctor had me read the eye chart again and as I thought, my right eye is not as good as the left eye. My right eye is about 20/30 and the left is 20/20. The doctor looked at my eyes and said there was a little bit of swelling and hemorrhaging in each eye, but that was normal. Then he gave me my thousand dollar coffee mug and sent me on my way. It took all of two minutes.

Q: Would you do a Retouch?

Joe: Maybe I’d do a Retouch. Yeah, I probably would.

EPILOGUE:
A week later
Joe returned for another post-operative exam. (Three are required.) He said that his eyesight had been fluctuating as they told him it would, and he had 25/20 vision in his eyes individually, but combined, he had 20/20 vision and no discomfort.
A month later
At his last post-operative exam Joe’s vision was 20/15. What’s next X-ray vision?
The body can withstand a lot of pain and fortunately, the memory doesn’t retain the intensity, otherwise women would never have more than one child, people would never fall in love more than once and piercing shops would have no repeat business.

——————————————————————————————————–

CAVEAT — PRK Surgery
I was outside of my workplace waiting for Joe to pick me up to go to the satellite clinic for the pre-operative exam. A friend of a friend, Alexandra, walked by. She looked at the Clinic’s brochure in my hand and asked, “Are you thinking about having eye surgery?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m going to my pre-operative appointment in a few minutes. Do you know anything about it?”
“I’ve had it.”
I looked at her eyes. “But you’re wearing contacts.”
“That’s right.”
“What happened?”
“You don’t want to know right now.”
Just then Joe pulled up, and in my daze I crawled into the car and we sped off to the clinic.

Alexandra’s story:
In 1999 Alexandra also underwent surgery on her eyes, but she had the PRK, which is different than Lasik. The PRK is a much more radical surgery. You must go through all the same trauma except there is no flap to pull back and they must abrade the lense through the cornea. It is also more painful than Lasik and the healing process is longer. The care is also a little different. After this type of surgery, they place bandage-contact-lenses over each eye until the cornea regenerates.

Alexandra had some complications. After the surgery, her eyes were healing at an accelerated rate, so the technician decided that it would be OK to remove the bandage-contact-lenses a couple days early as this would save her a trip back to the clinic. (Generally the bandage contacts are removed after three days.)

After several days of pain and cloudy vision, Alexandra contacted the clinic. A doctor traveled halfway from Canada to meet her and replaced the contact-bandages in the bathroom of a fast food restaurant. Her eyes healed, but her vision was not 20/20. For the past two years, the clinic has tried to compensate her with several different prescriptions of contact lenses and glasses and paid for her hotel and travel expenses anytime she’s had to come back to Canada. Her vision at this point is improved, but she is still wearing glasses or contacts for the majority of the time.

PRK Surgery—A Positive Experience
In March 2000, my housemate traveled to Canada for eye surgery. Because of his thin corneas, he had to have PRK. When he returned, he looked miserable. I asked him if he would recommend PRK and he said, “No! Definitely not! It was like Nazi torture!” He said that after his surgery, he was incapacitated for the remainder of that day. Then he retired to his room. He also had some complications. After surgery, they placed the bandage-contact-lenses over his eyes. A day or so later, one of his bandage-contact-lenses started coming off. He thinks he bumped his eye while he was sleeping, disturbing the lense. Until that was corrected he experienced additional pain. The satellite clinic corrected the problem and then he was fine.

After a few days, I asked him about his sight and he said that things were hazy or fuzzy still, but that it seemed to be improving and the doctors had told him to be patient because he needed some time for his sight to adjust. Six months later, he was very happy with his vision, which is 20/20 now. He had a very strong prescription like mine but the PRK seemed to work. I asked him if he would have the surgery again and he said, “Definitely. I’ve always thought of myself as a guy who wears glasses, but now I’m a guy who doesn’t wear glasses.”

CARE: After the operation, the doctor will instruct you how to use the antibiotic drops, as well as saline drops. Plastic caps need to be taped over your eyes for sleeping so you won’t rub your eyes and these are provided by the clinic. Suggestions for discomfort: Cold compresses, dark rooms, rest, Tylenol. (Beware of caffeinated Tylenol in Canada.)

Rumor and Associates

By Seana Sperling 2000

Defamation of character—via accusations of being prejudiced, became the weapon of choice in the late twentieth century. Gore Vidal, one of the Government’s most tenacious critics, has been accused of being anti-Semitic because of his views on the National Security State’s support of the Israel Lobby. This tactic of discrediting an opponent is frequently being used as a weapon and it seems that you don’t need any evidence in this atmosphere of Tabloid truths. The accusation alone is enough to create doubt.

I was an English Second Language Teacher for years and in 1999, a new colleague that had just started at our school began to make insinuations that I was racist. Ironically, I had interviewed this man and recommended him for the job. He was very nice to me at first, but then he befriended a former friend and colleague of mine. Individually they were fine, but when they were together, they would fling subtle barbs. After a couple of months, he began scrutinizing everything I said for racist comment. For example, I had been at China Gate’s Karaoke bar for a friend’s birthday party and a Hong Kong version of the Sir Mix-A-Lot video, “Baby Got Back,” was playing. In the video there were rail-thin Caucasian women in one-piece swimming suits and the camera focus seemed to be on their actual backs. One friend remarked that it was funny that none of these models had back and that the video maker had obviously missed the point. When I relayed the story during lunch in the Teacher’s room the next Monday, he interpreted that as being racist. I thought, Huh?

After that my former friend and one of the other Teachers (both female and white) would walk around saying, “I’ve got back.” The Instigator continued with his racism Schtick and would say “Lots of people are prejudiced, but they say they aren’t.” How do you respond to that? It is so vague. Which people are prejudiced? Caucasians? African Americans? Asian Americans? Rich? Poor? Comedians? Who are they prejudiced against? Was he saying only Caucasians were capable of prejudice since he was African American and I look white? (I’m very ethnically mixed and also bi-racial.) The comment was directed to me in front of all the Caucasian teachers in the room. If that had been the case, why did I choose to work with students from all over the globe and why would I have recommended that my boss hire him?

It was always at lunchtime in the Teacher’s room that they would throw barbs. On one occasion I was talking about my family and I mentioned that my Step Mother was Panamanian and I had half-brothers and sisters. One of them asked why I didn’t just call them my brothers and sisters and insinuated that maybe I only cared about the white half. It was hurtful and ridiculous.

A couple of months elapsed and two new coworkers and even my boss began treating me differently. A tale had been spun and evidently embraced. Over the years my boss (and the former friend that was now spreading the slander) had met many of my friends from all different races, orientations and backgrounds. They knew better, yet even my boss picked up the mantra, “Lots of people are prejudiced, but they say they aren’t.” I started having serious health problems as a result of all the stress and began using my insurance. I was also in my forties and the new hires were all 20ish or 30ish.

The slander went viral. I was at a birthday party for one of my colleagues when another colleague’s husband launched an unprovoked attack. I lived in Boise, Idaho on and off as a teen and later for college. His wife knew this of course as I had known her for a number of years. In his little French accent he began asking me about Neo-Nazis and Nationalists and insinuated that I might be one of them. I told him that I was not and asked him about racism in France. He got very angry and defensive and slurred that everyone got along in France. Then he said, “So you’re a racist.” I was tired of being baited and harassed and told him I could barely understand his speech. Then he said, “So you’re racist against French people.” I just looked at him. I happen to be a smidge French and again, it was a ridiculous accusation. My friends that had come with me were shocked by his outburst and we left shortly after. I held my temper, as I didn’t want to make a scene at the party.

The next morning, I was still angry and left a lengthy message on their answering machine. I asked, “Who the hell I was supposed to be racist against since I have had friends, roommates and dated nearly every race. “ I also told them I was from a multi-racial family. That part my colleague already knew. It was just harassment from her bullying husband. When I saw his wife later that week at school, she tried to explain it away as French humor.

All my life I have been on the receiving end of hate-monikers such as Fag-hag (90’s through the new millennium) and Nigger-Lover (60’s through mid 80’s) because of the company I keep and the beliefs I hold. I’ve many times been accused of being too PC and now this reversal? Just because I thought OJ Simpson was guilty doesn’t make me prejudiced against all six-foot, African –American movie stars.

Next the boss began whittling away at benefits I had earned after seven years of working there, such as changing my work schedule and retracting a project that I’d been assigned to. (I later found out he had offered this to a new employee at a much lower wage.) He claimed that my schedule was unfair to the other employees even though most had been there less than a year.

Friends in Thailand invited me to stay with them for a couple of weeks and since I had not had a real vacation in years, I decided to take one then. When I returned the boss had pared things down even further.

In Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing, pizzeria owner Sal is accused of being racist because he doesn’t have any pictures of African-Americans on his wall. He only has Italians and Italian-Americans. The argument was that it was that almost all Sal’s customers are African-American and that he should represent them too. Sal explains that the pizzeria is an Italian restaurant, so he has Italians on the wall. Sal’s reputation and career is ruined when the neighborhood turns on him and destroys the pizzeria.

Nowadays racism is still a touchy subject and in Seattle especially I have seen some people turn tail and run when the topic is brought up. I have witnessed and even experienced racism here in the U.S. and abroad.

Rather than widening barriers or even creating non-existent ones we need more dialogue about this social illness. The reformers of the 1960’s were not divisive people, but inviting all to help change a broken system. We should not be fighting among ourselves, especially over a “He said/She said,” rumor. We need to stop accusing each other of ridiculous things and combine our creativity and power to help cure the social ills that keep evolving. A divided country is easy to control and by fighting among ourselves we are making it easier for the Haves.

Cointelpro and the Age of the Bully

By Seana Sperling

In the film, Ralph Nader: An Unreasonable Man, we learn the history of Ralph Nader’s battle with Corporate America. Nader was a Consumer Protection Activist in the 1970s and exposed General Motor’s negligence in the manufacture of some of their vehicles. In retaliation, General Motors began using Cointelpro tactics to defame Nader such as having strangers follow him around everywhere (so when he told supporters of the tracking, they would think Nader was delusional). In the film, Nader also speaks of set-ups in which very beautiful women would try to befriend him. Currently, average citizens, armed with the latest technology, are engaging in the same Cointelpro tactics to harass and set up other average citizens in the twilight of our Democracy.

In 2010 there were news reports on KIRO and KOMO TV about public service organizations, ACORN and Planned Parenthood being set-up by Neo-conservatives posing as pimps and prostitutes? The Neo-cons would manipulate the ACORN worker or Planned Parenthood worker into saying something that would reflect badly on the organization. All the while the Neo-cons would be secretly filming and later air it to discredit the organization. This is called Cyber-baiting.

Norton Family Online Services describes Cyber-baiting as one or more persons deliberately harassing someone to get a reaction, which they capture on their cellphones and post on the Internet. I have dealt with set-ups for years. Almost daily, complete strangers in my neighborhood go out of their way to try to get me to react, by either calling me a lewd name, or blocking my way when I’m walking on the sidewalk or entering a building. On occasion some of the abuse has been physical such as people deliberately bumping into me, blocking my way, opening doors on me and I have been spit on twice. You might wonder why strangers would target me. Aside from the vengeance stalking that I have had to deal with for many years, you can’t be a Peace Activist during a time of war and not have some enemies. Many Educators, Writers and even some school children are experiencing the same abuse.

Bullies like cliques and if you enrage even one bully, they can recruit all of their Social Network friends to harass, defame and ridicule you. In the article, Student’s Organize Day of Bullying, www.upi.com, students created a FaceBook page called, “Annoy (Student’s name) Day,” to harass one of their fellow students. In another case, Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old in Massachusetts was constantly tracked and harassed through her school hallways and neighborhood until she took her life in March 2010. An alarming component of Cyber-baiting is surveillance/tracking the victim via cellphone. These teens were using Cointelpro tactics.

The following articles reveal authorized Cointelpro tracking/surveillance of average citizens: From the A.C.L.U., Stop the Government From Turning Neighbor Against Neighbor and from The Register, NSA Setting up Perfect Citizen Spy System and Amerisnitch from Peace Corps Online. If you are seen as a troublemaker, whistleblower, etc. you may be placed on a Watch list. Law Enforcement in your community may alert the neighborhood that you are “under investigation” or “a person of interest” for being (choose any) a terrorist, prostitute, pedophile, dangerously insane, racist, thief or drug dealer. If someone in authority accuses you, the neighborhood bullies go on patrol. (It’s a possibility that if the Neighborhood Watch asks Law Enforcement why they don’t just arrest you, Law Enforcement may say they don’t have strong evidence with a wink to the community that maybe they can “help” get proof. The Cyber-baiting begins with cell phones in hand.)

Another disturbing component of Cyberbullying and baiting is E-personation (posing as someone else online). In 2007 my name was linked to online articles that I had not written. One was about the Iraq War and the F-word was used liberally. Another was titled, “Everyone Loves an Abortion.” In 2006, online articles that I had written were linked to porn and gambling sites. In 2007, I found multiple blog postings stating I was a child molester, prostitute, thief, racist, crazy, etc. on www.rottenneighbor.com and more slander in 2008 on www.thestrangernewspaper.com‘s SLOG. While none of this is true, a gullible community might not question something that is in print. If it is from a popular source, some may join in to be part of the popular crowd.

We have an abundance of technology at our disposal, but as a nation our Emotional Quotient (E.Q.) lags far behind our I.Q. If people can do harm without actually seeing the blood they’ve drawn (such as from the safety of their computer or cellphone) they gleefully follow the bullies. We must recognize the signs of decline from history. The same bullying, self-righteous attitudes that appeared during Hitler’s rise to power and other Fascist takeovers are cresting in our society.

The Rise of the Cults and the Anti-Christian—Part One

By Seana Sperling

More and more we are seeing an emphasis on conservative Christianity appearing in the media. In 2010 I heard a News Anchor say, “Scammers have preyed on the faithful.” Then they showed footage of an austere little church and went on with the report. Why not say Christians or the name of the particular church? Are Christians the only “faithful?” Flipping through local channels I have seen eight or more conservative Christian stations with lone speakers loudly proselytizing one ideology in assorted languages. Where is the Buddhist channel or the Hindu channel or even a Progressive Christian channel? Are they only available on cable? This culture of same-ness is very disturbing. This rise of conservative Christianity is beginning to dominate society and creating a cult culture.

There also seems to be an increasing divide between Progressive Christians that live in the tradition of Christ, and the Neo-conservative Christians whose rigid, cult-like fundamentalism drives them to judge and even punish others that don’t share their ideology.

How do you recognize a cult? According to Michael Shermer’s article on Christian Scientists, Is Scientology a Cult? Skeptic, May 2011, Cults may have the following characteristics:
“The leader claims to have extraordinary powers.
Members are isolated from friends and family.
In Group vs. Out Group/Us vs. Them.
Practices are highly controlled, and at advanced levels, secretive.
Group and leader are not accountable to any outside authority.
Denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines to reinforce Group-Think.
Meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues.”
Most cults are an authoritarian environment where questioning and dissent is not only discouraged, but also punished according to Shermer.

In 2000 I was telling a friend about some horrible experiences I’d had in a Seventh Day Adventist Church School I attended as a child. My friend claimed that the Adventists were a cult. This he based on a class he’d taken on cults. Even though I knew about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, this idea had never occurred to me. When I was a part of that church no one was speaking in tongues or chanting, nor did we live in a compound.

In retrospect, some of the indicators were present. The spiritual leader of the Adventists was a Psychic named Ellen G. White, who claimed to have communed with God. It was also a very top down, authoritarian environment at home and school where I received beatings, ridicule and other psychological forms of punishment from parents and Teachers for minor things. There was an emphasis on control. (There were some nice people there too, but more often than not, the people in authority positions were bullies.)

When I reached seventh grade, I insisted on going to public school. There was no seventh grade or even other eligible students, but the Teacher and my mother spoke of planning a grade just for me. At this school multiple grades were stuffed into one room with one teacher as a monitor and we did our studies alone with our workbooks. The Teacher would grade the work and we could go to her desk with questions, but there was little in the way of actual teaching. Fortunately I loved reading and my mother took my older stepbrothers and me to the library on a regular basis. If I’d not had this resource, I would have been very behind in public school.

My first morning at the entrance to the public school a bully pushed me. It was as if she was trying to keep me from entering. I pushed her back and went inside. This could have been a set-up by the church or my mother to make me fear going to public school. Some cults seek to control every facet of their member’s lives according to Margaret T. Singer’s 1996 book, Cults in our Midst and my mother was very controlling. Even after I became an adult and had not been to church for over 12 years, Adventists would stop by my apartment uninvited, claiming that my mother had asked them to visit me. Later, even after moving to Seattle, a few took jobs at schools where I was working. They always seemed friendly, but disturbingly ubiquitous.

In the new millennium, I have seen more and more conservative Christians entering into key positions in higher education where I am still working. Some have even become Shop Stewards in my union. Chris Hedge’s book, American Fascism: The Rise of the Religious Right illustrates how The Dominionists, which are conservative Christians, seek to dominate key areas of society. According to Hedges, the Dominionists seek control of politics, education, the economy, etc. Although he does not call the Dominionists a cult, their ideology seems to be very authoritarian and controlling. (This paired with the conservative’s attack on women’s rights is very reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale, in which, a totalitarian religious regime takes power in the U.S., the media turns into a propaganda machine for the regime and most women are enslaved.)

There seems to be a growing trend by the conservatives in shaming and destroying public services as well. According to national news reports in 2010, some neo-conservative Christians set-up/entrapped some community support organizations. According to the footage, two conservative Christians, a white woman who posed as a prostitute and a white man who posed as a pimp, secretly filmed an African-American ACORN worker who thought she was helping poor people with housing. There was also a secretly filmed set-up of Planned Parenthood by conservative Christians according to national news. What these neo-conservative Christians did was far removed from the teachings of Christ and against the law yet, there was no report of them ever being penalized.

More and more the media is reporting on bullying coming from conservative Christian church members. An article from Truthout, Persecution is Not a Right, by Vincent Warren speaks of some conservatives making absurd claims that they are being persecuted because they are not allowed to bully people. “The insistence by some U.S. Christians that they are being oppressed, when others try to keep them from bullying, discriminating against and sometimes hounding LGBT people to death.” What does bullying have to do with Christianity? I am tolerant of all types of religion, however, I am not tolerant of bullies of any ilk.

Some Christian conservatives will even bully as a group. Extremist groups like the Westboro Baptist Church disrupt funerals with their vitriol against LGBT. This group’s hate campaigns are about as far from the teachings of Christ as you can get. It seems that this group baits grieving people into fighting with them for publicity and monetary gain. According to local news reports, if the injured party reacts against the hatred and disruption, the Pastor who is also a lawyer sues on 1st Amendment Rights. KIRO 7 2011. It seems like this is either a scam or the actions of a very negative cult.

Part Two–Veiled Religious Cults

Harmful cults are not easy to detect if you are unfamiliar with their ideology. In the early 1970s when I was 11 we were living in Pocatello, Idaho for a few years. A white neighbor girl who I did not know well asked me if I wanted to go to a John Birch Society meeting with her. I had no idea what the Birchers were and asked my mother. My mother told me they were racists. Of course I had no desire to go after she told me that.

It was ironic that the girl had asked me since I’m very ethnically and even racially mixed and my best friend at the time was African-American. I suppose the Bircher thought she was recruiting another white girl since I had blonde hair. I don’t remember if I gave the Bircher a lecture on racism or not, but it was something I was doing a lot of at the time, which angered a lot of white racists in Pocatello. (Many years later, in 2002 I was in Boise for a few months and joined a Peace group. Shortly after I joined, Birchers tried to infiltrate the group. One male Bircher grinned hideously at me when he arrived. I spoke against them to the organizers, who told me we should be inclusive of all who were anti-war. I pulled away from the group at that point. Later one of the organizers confessed that they had been wrong to include the Birchers, but had not understood how wrong until a Bircher Preacher was a guest speaker at one of their meetings. In retrospect, I think the Birchers just wanted to disrupt a Peace organization.)

Recognizing a cult is also difficult when it doesn’t have the typical appearance of a cult. In the late 1970s when I was an adult I was in Boise, Idaho for a couple of years and joined a Karate class at a Community Center. At first, it seemed like a normal class where we learned various techniques and Kata (forms). There was an emphasis on meditation, which I was no good at, so I merely shut my eyes, periodically peeping out to see if meditation time was finally over. Out of the corner of my eye I would see the other students seemingly asleep or in trances and wonder why I was merely ruminating about my day.

I didn’t know many people in Boise in the 1970s so I began making friends within the class. After a month, my classmates invited me to a picnic. All were into healthy activities like gardening and tennis, none of them drank or smoked and some were even vegetarian. They were a tight-knit group and had known each other from the class for over a year. They spoke fondly and often of our Karate teacher Mr. (name withheld).

Later, Mr. (name withheld) encouraged us to read parts of the Bible in our spare time. Having been stuck in that Fundamentalist school as a child I was quite familiar with the Bible, but did some review. Mr. (name withheld) also told the class that we had negative entities and to learn to control them with meditation. At this point I was wary, but I liked my new friends.

In July Mr. (name withheld) invited the class (approximately six people) to his house one night for a potluck. He made Pineapple Upside Down Cake and the students seemed so excited about it. They went on and on about how wonderful it was. Then there was some Bible reading and someone started passing around a plate for donations. I thought, “Oh God. I’m in church.” I really wanted to leave. It was at this point that Mr. (name withheld) encouraged us to meditate more on our own and to beware of our Negative Entities.

That weekend I went tubing down the river with my aunt, cousin and one of her friends. We joked around, drank beer and I got a sunburn.

I didn’t go back to the Karate class for well over a week and when I did return Mr. (name withheld) berated me for letting my Negative Entity control me. That was it for me. I never returned. Later, I left Boise and when I did return in the late 1980’s, out of curiosity, I called about the Karate class. The guy at the Community Center Desk said, “That was a cult!” which confirmed my earlier fears. I never thought that I could possibly be wooed by a cult. I still don’t know what type it was, but it wasn’t one of the White Supremacist cults, because there was a mixture of races in that one.

Boise seemed to have a lot of cults. Some of them were well-established churches and even with their incredibly odd ideas they still had thousands of followers. There was also the rise of New Age and Paganism in Boise in the late 1980s. There was a store named The Blue Unicorn that sold crystals, books and cassettes about New Age topics, which had quite a following. Some of my friends would joke around about past lives and channeling as New Age ushered in a host of trendy topics. My Mormon Sociology teacher even offered a class that explored New Age ideas, such as Numerology, Personality Tests and Guided Imagery, which a few of my friends and I took. It was called Personal and Planetary Transformation.

I was surprised that a Mormon Teacher would offer such a class, but I knew there were unusual things about their ideology. Joseph Smith, the spiritual leader of the Latter Day Saints/The Mormons claimed to have spoken with God and most people know he and Brigham Young’s views on marriage and procreation. Also, there is a lot of secrecy around their temple marriage rituals. Are these well-established religious organizations on a parallel with The Moonies and Rajneeshies? It seems it is simpler to accuse an organization of being a cult when their origin is from another country.

The Psychologist Margaret T. Singer co-wrote Cults in Our Midst, with former cult member Janja Lalich, which provides an insiders view on the life of a cult member and the psychological aspects of a cult. The authors explore the control the cult has over its’ members, the allure of belonging to a cult, and how even quite normal people can be attracted to cults. There are also detailed cases of Singer’s patients that were exiting cults of different types and the cult’s attempts to reclaim and/or punish them.

In the final chapter, Singer writes about how she was systematically harassed and defamed by some cults because of her counseling the victims and her expert witness testimony against the cults. According to the book, on one occasion they sent in a cult member posing as a student volunteer that gathered information on Singer and all her student’s contact information. The cult impersonated Singer through letters to her students to defame her. (This seems no different than the conservative Christians that posed as pimp and prostitute to set up ACORN in 2010.) Another time the cult stalking Singer showed up dressed as Nazis claiming that Singer was a Nazi Scientist outside a lecture she was giving according to the book. PP. 341-345

How can the cults justify that kind of behavior and why would an entire group feel compelled to engage in an illegal act? This goes back to Shermer’s “Group and leader are not accountable to any outside authority,” and the idea of “Us vs. Them.” The Group-Think of the self-righteous maintains that the end justifies whatever means and that they answer to a higher power than the law of the land.

Not the Only Cults in Town

There is a vast array of cults beyond the Fundamentalist Bible types according to Margaret T. Singer’s book Cults in Our Midst. There are New Age cults, UFO cults, Political cults, Satanic cults, Psychic Phenomena cults, Karate cults, etc. Singer makes the distinction between negative and benign cults, since the group may hold some of the same traits of a cult, yet not harm anyone. Although she does not mention these, I have always thought of Sororities and Fraternities as cults of the privileged because of their elitism, competitive nature and their predilection for secrecy and odd rituals. If they are a cult, are they negative or benign?

Apart from the traditional cults, there are online bullying groups that organize only for the purpose of harassing others. Some organize through social networks to harass their enemies or someone else’s enemy or someone they have targeted because of envy. If you search Facebook for the word “Annoy,” several pages will come up in which the page owners brag about how they like to annoy others. Some students were suspended for organizing a day to harass one of their classmates, www.wbi.com Students Organize Day of Bullying. More and more stories of people of all ages killing themselves over bullying are appearing in the media.

Some people will even go after complete strangers who are perceived to be an enemy of one of their online friends. The story from: The International Herald Times, In South Korea, Online Rumors Hit Hard, By Sang-Hun Choe, illustrates how mobs of people can be recruited to go after an innocent person they have never met. Mobbing is a universal term for this group bullying phenomena we are seeing in this millennium. Are they cults? They do meet some of the requirements: Group-Think, Secrecy, Punishing the victim with harassment, Defamation of Character and Social Isolation for the imagined wrong. This group-vigilante behavior echoes the K.K.K.’s brutality against African-American Leaders in the 1960s, Nazi practices prior to WWII, Stasi practices post war and Cointelpro tactics that have been used against Peace activists since the 1960’s. The bully’s main tool is rumor and the whisper campaign.

Bullying is an extreme and destructive action, bad for the bullied and bad for the bully. The bully will never realize their full potential in life, if the only way they can maintain their high self esteem is through persecution of others. They will never truly lead or create anything of lasting value. They can only destroy and be unhappy with occasional small emotional triumphs.

MOB THINK

By Seana Sperling

It’s become commonplace to accuse a Teacher of being a pedophile, racist or something equally heinous, however there appears to be little or no accountability for the accusers. The people making the allegation should at least have to take a Polygraph test, because an accusation is as good as an indictment in our hypercritical society. There is no accountability because of our reactionary, Amber Alert mindset and the fact that people are eager to believe the worst about others. This is a fertile seed for the destruction of our democracy.

I imagine this would suit the current regime very well. They have been gaslighting the public and using negative campaigns for a long time to control the political arena. Suppose our government would use something as simple as gossip to achieve their agenda. It’s been done before. The SS vilified the Jews, Gypsies, Gays and Lesbians, anyone that didn’t fit into their Aryan ideal. They united the Germans by rallying against/mobbing minorities. History repeated itself during the Cultural Revolution in china and students were manipulated into violence against their Teachers. The Soviets used community spies and the spread of propaganda to keep their Scholars and Writers in line. How do you get rid of the Activists and Writers, the dissenters—spread rumors.

We are immersed in an age of mob mentality once again and gossip has become a national pastime. Look at our penchant for Reality T.V. We like to see people behave badly, so we can group-judge them over coffee the next day. In the 80’s people would discuss evening soap stars in the same manner, but now people prefer to take pot shots at real people. I’ve heard people denigrating some of the contestants of Survivor, American Idol and America’s Top Model as if they were intimate enemies. Is this a natural evolution of fads and tastes or was this carefully manufactured? We have been duped before and Manufacturing Consent, by Noam Chomsky illustrates the patterns and methods used to manipulate our desires.

Other people’s business, A.K.A. spying has also become the hip thing to do nowadays. There are films like, Spy Kids, Civic Duty and Disturbia, where the participants in the spying feel they have an important cause, which permits them to abuse another’s Civil Rights. What if the government is following in Mao and Stalin’s footsteps and creating little units of people to spy on Activists, Writers and Teachers. Of course they would need some propaganda to recruit their spies. Let’s see. Shall we say Mr. Something or other is a drug dealer or a pedophile?

Neighborhood Watch groups could be persuaded to orchestrate surveillance. A little man with a real or fake badge goes around the neighborhood with a file on the Teacher that lives on the block. A photoshopped image of the target could be the cement that unites the team. Like the game Telephone, the propaganda can get even more distorted as the stories fly through blogging. The group discusses what to do in the situation and a decision is made to keep an eye on the person. There could be a decision to drive the person out of the neighborhood with noise campaigns or street harassment. How much proof would a Watch group need to begin surveillance? Would they need any or would a slanderous statement suffice?

I used to think Community Policing was a good thing, however, as with everything, good ideas can be corrupted over time and Neighborhood Watch groups can turn into angry mobs given the right motivation. Secondary School Teachers are especially vulnerable as they are grooming the young for adulthood and if the Teacher questions our government or especially the misdeeds of our multi-national corporations, they can risk angering people that are opposed to free speech. There are a lot of them out there, especially if they are getting huge tax breaks from a corrupt system. Welcome to the United States of Industry.

We need to think independently and not go along with the mob. Question everything you see, read and hear. This is a lesson hard-learned by ex-Soviets and one we need to heed. Our gullibility and greed for gossip could be our downfall.

It shouldn’t be career ruining for Midwestern Teacher to tell her class, “I honk for Peace.”

Stuff and Nonsense

By Seana Sperling

I don’t have a car and I don’t need one for the most part. I don’t have a house and I don’t need one (although I would love to have a real home). What I really need is a safe place to sleep, eat and take care of my animal friends. I need food, water, love, clothing, bedding and time to think, but I don’t need a lot of stuff.

What inspired some of my musings on “stuff,’ was a 1970’s routine by Comedian George Carlin. The gist of it was that people had a lot of stuff and needed a place to keep it. If we look at the expectations of average Americans, we all expect to have a certain amount of stuff. In comparison with some societies our amount of stuff is truly excessive.

I don’t need a TV, but I like to watch DVDs, so I have one. I don’t have cable and I don’t need it. I had cable briefly and it was far too distracting. There is a vast array of films that I can borrow from the library for free and I also have Netflix. I don’t need a computer, but it is helpful for editing articles, so I have one. I don’t have an active cellphone. I bought two cheapos a few years ago, but they are not activated. (There is scientific evidence that cellphone frequencies are harming our Bee population.) I have a landline, which for the most part I do not need either. I don’t have Internet. I can use the Internet for free at the library or pay for it at a café if I need it.

For a while during the 1980s I didn’t have a phone, a car, a TV, much furniture, but my life was very full. I rented and had work, school, my friends, the anti-nuke/anti-war group I belonged to and two bicycles. Some of my friends would get so frustrated that I didn’t have a phone. Then my mother bought me a TV for Christmas (even though she knew I didn’t want one). They all felt I needed more stuff.

In the new millennium there are even higher expectations in our society about stuff. It is unusual for a steadily employed person of my age not to own a car. It is also unusual for a person in my circumstance not to have a furnished house. “Where’s your stuff?” people ask, “That’s downright un-American!” Oh, I get by.

In the past when I have had to move, I’d think, “Where did I get all this crap?’ (It’s only crap when you have to move it otherwise it is still stuff.) Then comes the separation anxiety when you have to release some of the stuff. “These yard sale dishes with the chickens on them could come in handy someday.” “Of course I need four wrenches.” Thus I end up moving stuff that I won’t use.

I am trying to train myself to release stuff occasionally. I have to. I am an indefatigable yard sale hound. Last summer I began by donating the contents of my storage unit to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence for their rummage sale. Letting go of stuff felt really good. However, trying to round up a vehicle to pick up that stuff took some doing, but the Sisters found a driver willing to do it. (One of the few times owning a car would have come in handy.) I was able to unload quite a bit that day last summer, but alas, it is now winter and I have filled the storage unit again with more stuff.

Why do we need so much stuff? Why do I keep filling my storage unit with treasures from yard sales that I may never use? Why would any person need more than one car? Why does John McCain need seven homes? Why did Imelda Marcos need so many shoes? Why was Marcia always the popular one?

Is it greed, a deficit in character or self esteem? Why does our society put so much value on what we own or what other’s own? Are we trying to compensate for a lack of something else?