The Becky Blog

August 25, 2003

Mind Control and Cult Practice

Margaux and I had a very strange experience recently. A visiting friend had mentioned that, some time ago, she attended a weekend seminar which focused on achieving one's potential and making possibilities become reality. She described her experience in very positive terms, and I was impressed that this program seemed to have been beneficial for her.

As I've written before, one of the great benefits of the transition experience, if done properly, is a couple of years of really good psychological counseling. I have always felt that my therapy was instrumental in many interpersonal issues in the nine years since I completed it. But, I reasoned, even a good psyche can get better, right? There's always room for improvement, and it helps to keep an open mind.

I learned that perhaps it doesn't help to keep a mind open so much that trash can be dumped into it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The seminar was conducted by a large international organization. I won't mention names, but I'll call it the Group (its name has the same number of letters, and the starting letter is very close). I found that the Group has an office building in Phoenix, where seminars are given several times a year. Indeed - how convenient! - a seminar was being planned for August, just a few weeks ahead. Would I be interested?

I let down my guard and said "yes." Even Margaux agreed to attend an introductory pre-course session with me. Neither of us exercised our usual due diligence to check out this Group on the Web.

At the introductory session, a very persuasive speaker gave his personal testimony of the benefits of the Group. He had completed the basic program, an advanced program, extra leadership training, and was now a seminar leader. In other words, his whole life was the Group. He had even signed his 80 year old mother up for the Group and she loved the experience. His talk was followed by some apparently spontaneous testimonials from persons in the audience.

That should have been a warning sign. How many people in attendance that night were driven by curiosity and inexperience, as we were; and how many were "plants"? But, I reasoned, what do I have to lose except the registration fee. I had a Friday to spare, so I signed up for the August session. With some hesitation, Margaux followed my example. I think she was partly interested in coming along to be sure I didn't get suckered in.

We received our instructions for the three day course. In retrospect there were more warning flags. The conferences start at 9 AM, and according to the phone call "end around 9 or 10 PM". (We found out otherwise.) We were to "bring snacks" because there were only two half-hour snack breaks during the day, until a 90 minute dinner break around 6:30 PM.

When we arrived on Friday morning there were about 130 other persons enrolled for the Group with us. We received our name tags, with huge first names so the instructor could address us. We left our snack coolers in one room and were seated in a large auditorium with no windows or decorative art. There were six or seven rows of straight back chairs, arranged as close together as airplane seats. In the front was a raised platform with the speaker's podium and several chalkboards.

The speaker was a graduate of all the Group training programs, but he made no claim to be a psychologist. He discussed the further rules of the Group. This discussion took almost the entire Friday morning and included the following points:

  • There would be no handout or syllabus for the course, and there would be no taking notes. [MAJOR red flag for someone whose entire professional life has been spent taking notes at medical meetings.]
  • No speaking unless the leader was specifically addressing you. No side conversations.
  • If you must go to the bathroom, be aware that you may miss a crucial moment in the course. He even used "The Crying Game" as an example of how missing a crucial 30 seconds can impact your whole experience. We were clearly intimidated from bathroom breaks.
  • During the three days, we were to abstain from alcohol, caffeine, and all nonprescription drugs, including aspirin. Curiously enough, they said that tobacco was permitted on smoking breaks.
  • The sessions would start at 9 AM and last until MIDNIGHT, and there would be homework to complete before the next day's session.

This recitation of basic training - type conditions was enough to make us both skeptics of the Group. As the morning and early afternoon wore on, we saw the leader ask for volunteers to share their hopes for the seminar. Some persons were confronted about their stated motives, and were "grilled" by the speaker to a point of tears. The psychological techniques seemed potentially harmful to an upset, vulnerable young person disclosing intimate personal details in front of dozens of strangers.

By mid afternoon Margaux had had enough. She made the leader aware of her opinion of the Group and walked out by the 3 PM break. I determined to stay until the official dinner break, then just not return.

We were encouraged to go to dinner in groups, but I left by myself and called Margaux to let her know I was coming home. She had already been on the Web, doing searches for other people's experiences of the Group. The number of unpleasant experiences reported was quite large. Others described the same ground rules and room setup. I believe the objective is to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible, to create the perception that they are missing something in their lives. That void, of course, can be filled by intense and ongoing participation in the Group.

Other Web sites told of friends and family members who put strong emotional pressure on the authors to participate in the Group experience. Some persons actually withdrew into a closed peer group where all their friends were fellow Group members. They were creating an isolated, dependent herd, whose anxieties were relieved only with continued Group experiences - always, of course, for the full cost of the course.

I felt a bit foolish for having allowed myself to be drawn into the outer rings of the whirlpool, but at least I swam out before being sucked down. Yet I realized that no one, other than the two of us, had actually left the seminar by Friday night. I am sure there will be persons who claim that the Group is a major positive force in their lives. They will say that I don't know what I am talking about, because I didn't stay for the entire experience. I don't deny that they feel enriched by the Group, but I do question what they have gained in return: following the Group mentality and making it a major life priority to recruit others into the Group. This continuing recruitment effort was mentioned by the leader early in our Friday session, when we were urged to begin thinking of others we could bring with us to a final session on the following Tuesday night. There we could share our wonderful experience and recruit our friends for the next session.

The parallels are inevitable with so-called cults, most of which are religious to one degree or another. Cult members share an experience, and a special knowledge base, which gives them a sense of elitism in the world. Persons who have been hurt and rejected by their loved ones are especially vulnerable to recruitment by the cult. Allegiance to the cult may be manifested by agressive recruiting of new members; or alternatively by progressive withdrawal from life in public, so that the cult itself becomes one's entire life. When this is carried to an extreme, the result can be Jonestown, Guyana, where the followers of Jim Jones committed mass suicide at the orders of their leader.

I'm not saying the Group is anything like the Peoples Temple. I'm drawing an outrageous comparison to emphasize the importance of staying in control of one's own life choices. We shouldn't let others - family, friends, pastors, teachers, or Group leaders - tell us just what to think or believe. We can make up our own minds and take responsibility for our own decisions.

August 31, 2003

Just a little housekeeping today.

I'm receiving about 20 to 30 e-mail messages an hour from "the virus." You know the one - Sobig-F or whatever. They are all around 100K in size with the little virus attachment. Of course, since I'm not using a Windows system, they wouldn't affect me even if I did open them (which no sane computer user should ever do). But there are two things I should mention.

First, if you receive an e-mail from with any of the telltale subject titles (see below), just realize it was sent from someone else's infected computer which has me in its address book. I didn't do it, OK?

Second, I have directed my e-mail program to route directly to the Trash all messages containing the following subject titles:

Approved Details
Wicked Screensaver My Details
That Movie Your Details
Your Application Anybody's Details

And, most significantly, "Thank You!"

So, until Sobig stops ricocheting around the Internet, let's not send one another e-mails with "Thank You" in the message title.

September 13, 2003

My e-mail program is happy again: the virus has come and gone. As has another 9/11.

Today I have a photo to share. In Sedona there is a glass artist who creates gorgeous Phoenix birds which rise from the ashes in a perfect circle. I couldn't help but see the comparison between the bird and the giant leaves of the fan palm outside the window where we've displayed it.

The late summer light diffuses the green of the palm and the magenta of the bougainvillea, shimmering on the glass of the window and the bird.

September used to be my favorite month. Maybe it will be again; maybe we won't have to keep on cringing against threats and blunders across our nation and world.


September 25, 2003

Well, aloha, y'all. We are worn out, sunburned, and full of good memories of the past week.

Until we got back home. But more about that later.

A time share arrangement can be a really good situation. You purchase a week in an "interval ownership" facility and pay for it over time, deducting the interest like a second mortgage. After a few years you own the week and thereafter only have to pay a modest annual maintenance fee. Then you look at your catalogue of resorts, find what you like, and call to reserve a week. Usually they have to call you back in a few days or weeks, and some resorts just don't become available. But when you get a reservation, you have one week in your favorite paradise for a TOTAL (not nightly) lodging fee of under $150.00.

So what if it's an efficiency unit with a fold-down Murphy bed and a postage stamp size kitchenette? We didn't come to Maui to spend time in the room! Anyway, it's one block from Napili Beach, close enough you can hear the surf. The native Hawaiian family just down the street has several roosters which ensure we don't spend too much time sleeping anyway.

I had heard so much about the difficult drive from the airport in Kahului to our condo in Napili. It wasn't bad at all! We took time to get our toes wet at this little pocket beach near Olawalu before driving on to Lahaina Town, such a fun place to explore.

Are we having fun yet?

Lahaina is an unashamed tourist town, full of T-shirt shops and event-booking storefronts. We had already made reservations for some of our activities like snorkeling and biking, so we found a quiet little restaurant called Kimo's and enjoyed good island fish (what else?) before turning in very early.

The alarm went off at 1:20 AM, just enough time to put on layers: T-shirt and shorts under sweatshirt and pants, with sneakers and thick socks. The Maui Mountain Cruisers van was waiting for our Sunrise at Haleakala. We dozed on the ride to the base station where we got our instructions and lots of coffee. Then the vans took us up the mountain to the 10,000 foot elevation where it was barely above freezing. We walked the last few yards up to the observation point and huddled in the dark, listening to our guides' information about the volcano. Then the eastern sky started to lighten just a bit as we saw Venus and Jupiter rising.

Can you see Jupiter? It's about 3/4 inch above Venus in this photograph.

The light increased gradually and the clouds inside the crater swirled and began to dissipate, but not before the first rays of the dawn broke the horizon.

photos by Becky Allison

We lingered a few minutes more until full daylight, and then made our way back to the van where the special downhill bikes were waiting. The tour company's windbreakers, helmets, and gloves would feel very good for the first part of the ride. We began slowly, single file, and soon were averaging 20 to 25 miles an hour down the mountain. I learned to accelerate by crouching over the handlebars and moving my arms inward to reduce wind resistance.

At about the ten mile mark we stopped for a breather and a photo opportunity. There followed a brief, punishing uphill section before we could coast again, through 29 separate hairpin turn switchbacks. Finally at 32 miles we entered Makawao for breakfast. It was time to shed our outer layers of windbreakers and sweatshirts.

The last six miles, from Makawao to Paia, were my favorite as we moved back into the tropical zone with gorgeous protea and bougainvillea. We ended our ride in the parking lot of a beautiful little church close to the beach.

Could it really be only one P.M. when we stumbled out of the van back at our condo? I felt like I had been up for twelve hours! A very nice nap followed, then we dressed and drove into town for the Old Lahaina Luau.

OK, now we're having fun.

I think the luau experience is similar everywhere on the islands. Same native foods, although this time the kalua pig and lomilomi salmon were delicious. (Poi is never delicious.) The dancers were young and so skilled (how do they get their booty to shake like that?). I liked this particular luau because (a) they didn't have a lounge lizard host singing "Just Hang Loose"; and (b) they didn't try to do all the dances of Tahiti, New Zealand, Raratonga, et cetera, just the native Hawaiian dance as it evolved over the centuries. I would recommend the Old Lahaina. If (when) we return, I want to see the indoor show called Ulalena, a Cirque du Soleil type production.

NEXT: Fun under water! Snorkel stories to follow...

But first...

September 28, 2003

"We have come a long way from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself."

George Soros is a financier, philantrhopist, and author who is the chairman of the Open Society Institute. His philanthropic activities have been instrumental in bringing about more open societies around the globe. The quote above is from Soros's article in the June 2003 issue of The American Prospect entitled "America's Global Role: Why the Fight For a Worldwide Open Society Begins At Home".

October 8, 2003

Maui no ka oi

"Maui is the best"? As far as I'm concerned, the phrase is true. I've been to Big Island and Oahu, and I didn't find myself wanting to stay longer than my week in either place. In Maui I needed at least another week. Maybe a job and a condo of my own...

I tried to listen to my body as it said, "Becky! Pace yourself. Take it easy on the day after the bike ride." So Friday we relaxed and checked out the neighborhood, which included a one block walk to Snorkel Bob's shop, and just past that the incredibly white sands of Napili Beach. In the evening we drove across the island to Paia, to Mama's Fish House, which had been recommended by several friends as THE place for a great seafood meal on Maui. We were not disappointed. The macadamia coated mahi-mahi was unforgettable. The mai tais weren't bad either!

Saturday was simply a fantastic day I'll never forget. It was a new experience for me; it was more pure fun than I've had in years.

We arrived early in downtown Lahaina at the Trilogy Excursions lot and walked the short distance to the pier, where we boarded their catamaran for the "Ultimate Adventure in Paradise." Captain Jenn and her crew, Mark and Mike, gave us twenty adventurers the overview of our day as we sailed the nine miles to the neighboring island of Lana’i and rounded the southern tip. We docked briefly in the small harbor where half of us were chosen to board vans which took them to their four-wheel Jeep tour. Margaux and I remained on the boat as part of the group starting the day with a snorkel session. We cruised further around the southwest tip of Lana’i to our snorkel cove, and begain getting into our fins, snorkels and masks.

This was my first ever snorkel and I was so adrenalized. I'm a decent swimmer, and I chose to wear a small flotation belt also, so it was quite safe. All I had to do was train myself to breathe with my face under water. This did not take long; as soon as I had a good fit on my mask, I was taking the required deep breaths in and out through the snorkel.

Photo by Margaux! (of course)

Here I am giving the standard "hang loose" hand signal we see everywhere in Hawaii. If you look closely you can see another snorkeler behind and below me. The little disposable underwater camera was very effective.

It was so quiet under the water. No sounds but my own breathing. The fish are unafraid and they come so close. Here's one of the more common ones, a Black Durgon (triggerfish). The little yellow tang and the pennantfish were everywhere. Underneath were coral and sea urchins, sometimes close enough to touch had we been foolish enough to injure ourselves trying.

photo by Margaux Schaffer

The hour was up much too soon, and I was now a snorkeler. I wanted more time in the water, but it was time to board the smaller speedboat raft and zip over to the Hale O Manele landing where our crew were preparing a lunch of teriyaki chicken and vegetables. We were joined by the Jeep riders, and each group shared their experiences over lunch. Then we swapped our destinations, and boarded the van.

Tiny Lana’i City is the only inhabited area on the island, aside from the new resort hotels. In the center of town was a park where six Jeeps awaited. Margaux and I got into number three. We got a lesson on how to use the four wheel drive in the high and low positions.

photo by Becky Allison
Then it was off following our leader. We began by bumping and sliding up the mountain, on a rutted dirt road made muddy by a rare Lana’i shower. Coming down was even more interesting than going up, but apparently it's not easy to get a Jeep stuck, and we didn't. We drove over to the dry side of the island and had another photo opportunity, looking across the Auau channel back toward a cloud covered Maui.

We ended up on a beach close to an old shipwrecked tanker which had become one of the few tourist sites on this part of the island. The loose sand was a bigger challenge for the Jeep than the mud, but we made it through in four-wheel low and back to the landing. The second snorkel group was waiting for us back on Trilogy VI. We stretched out on the forward trampoline portion of the catamaran and relaxed on the sail back to Lahaina.

What a day! Needless to say, we were too tired to dine out Saturday night. Not to worry. Maui, being a true part of the U.S., has its own Pizza Hut delivery. I had worked up enough appetite to enjoy pizza before washing my hair and dropping off to sleep.

Sunday we slept late and had coffee and cereal in the room. I awoke to a serious sunburn on my back. Duh! Lying face down in the water for an hour does expose one's back. Despite my SPF 48 sunblock, I was lobster-red. We used nearly a whole tube of cortisone cream on our burned areas during the week.

Our snorkel experience was so positive, we structured the rest of our trip around another one. We both decided we'd rather do a second all day snorkel trip than drive the road to Hana. That tourist must-do can wait until next trip. I did a little research on the Web and came up with Blue Water Rafting. Their Kanaio-Molokini excursion featured not one, but four snorkel sessions.

Very early on Monday we drove down to Kihei boat ramp, the starting point for the Blue Water trip. This was a smaller pontoon type boat, and many of us sat on the pontoons as we rode to Kanaio to view the sea caves created when the lava from Haleakala's earlier flows erodes under the force of the waves. Off La Perouse Bay we had our first half hour of snorkeling. I wore a T-shirt over my bathing suit to protect my burned back. The reef here was very shallow and there were many more of the tangs, triggerfish, and butterflyfish, as well as really exotic looking cornetfish.

From La Perouse Bay we rode over to Molokini. This tiny rock islet is crescent shaped with the inside of the crescent being one of the great snorkel sites in the Pacific. We were not alone here; several other boats discharged their cargo of snorkelers and snubas. Still it was amazing fun. The next snorkel time was a drift snorkel, from mid-crescent all the way over to the far side. We relaxed and let the current slowly bear us over as the boat followed.

Finally we stopped at an area off Makena, which was noted for its large population of green sea turtles. We all floated around looking for turtles. Guess who found one? Margaux actually kept with the turtle for a long distance before he decided to dive deep. Some of the other people in the boat had seen the spotted eagle rays. These gorgeous creatures are uncommon around populated areas, so their siting was quite a treat.

Becky Allison
I didn't want to leave the water, but our snorkel day was done. We agreed it was a good move to save the road to Hana for the next trip, and snorkel more instead.

Exhausted, we slept late on Tuesday and did a little more shopping in Lahaina Town. I had to find Aloha wear for the grandchildren!

We had one last wonderful sunset meal at the Bay Club at the Kapalua Bay resort Tuesday night. This gorgeous view is only a five minute stroll from our condo. I am going to try to get the same place next year - well, maybe farther back from the road, away from the neighbors' roosters.

Aloha Airlines has round trip flights between Phoenix and Maui without going through Honolulu. They are very service oriented, with a free movie and a full meal. Wednesday we turned our checked baggage (unlocked, of course) over to the Transportation Security folks after promising we had no live plants or animals. All appeared to go well, and we were waved through to our gate. The flight was long but not unpleasant, and at about 10 PM we picked up our baggage at Sky Harbor and headed home.

Margaux keeps a backup of her portfolio on a portable hard drive. She's very security conscious at home, and is always thinking of what to do if her desktop computer was stolen or burned. So the small hard drive went to Hawaii and back with us; for space reasons I put it in my suitcase. As we began unpacking late Wednesday night, I saw it in the bottom of my bag and grabbed it to hand to her. "Here's your h...." The words froze in my mouth as we both saw that the hard drive had been taken apart and not put back together. It had to have been done by the TSA personnel. But what could they have been looking for? It's just a computer hard drive, easily recognizable as such. You want to know what's on it? Plug it into the darn computer and see. Don't destroy it.

This is the type of harassment we shouldn't have to endure from our government. They should be here to protect us against threats to ourselves and our property, not to cause such a threat themselves. To say we were unhappy is the understatement of the month. I thought it best to sleep on it overnight before firing off an email to the TSA. It was reasoned and calm, even though I did title it "You have destroyed our property". The response? A canned reply, untouched by human hands, referring us to the TSA Web site for information on their policies and procedures. A form letter.

They're from the government and they are not here to help you.

October 20, 2003

From Reuters News Service:

Sexual Identity Hard-Wired by Genetics

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sexual identity is wired into the genes, which discounts the concept that homosexuality and transgender sexuality are a choice, California researchers reported on Monday.

"Our findings may help answer an important question -- why do we feel male or female?" Dr. Eric Vilain, a genetics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Sexual identity is rooted in every person's biology before birth and springs from a variation in our individual genome."

His team has identified 54 genes in mice that may explain why male and female brains look and function differently.

Since the 1970s, scientists have believed that estrogen and testosterone were wholly responsible for sexually organizing the brain. Recent evidence, however, indicates that hormones cannot explain everything about the sexual differences between male and female brains.

Published in the latest edition of the journal Molecular Brain Research, the UCLA discovery may also offer physicians an improved tool for gender assignment of babies born with ambiguous genitalia.

Mild cases of malformed genitalia occur in 1 percent of all births -- about 3 million cases. More severe cases -- where doctors can't inform parents whether they had a boy or girl -- occur in one in 3,000 births.

"If physicians could predict the gender of newborns with ambiguous genitalia at birth, we would make less mistakes in gender assignment," Vilain said.

Using two genetic testing methods, the researchers compared the production of genes in male and female brains in embryonic mice -- long before the animals developed sex organs.

They found 54 genes produced in different amounts in male and female mouse brains, prior to hormonal influence. Eighteen of the genes were produced at higher levels in the male brains; 36 were produced at higher levels in the female brains.

"We discovered that the male and female brains differed in many measurable ways, including anatomy and function." Vilain said.

For example, the two hemispheres of the brain appeared more symmetrical in females than in males. According to Vilain, the symmetry may improve communication between both sides of the brain, leading to enhanced verbal expressiveness in females.

"This anatomical difference may explain why women can sometimes articulate their feelings more easily than men," he said.

The scientists plan to conduct further studies to determine the specific role for each of the 54 genes they identified.

"Our findings may explain why we feel male or female, regardless of our actual anatomy," said Vilain. "These discoveries lend credence to the idea that being transgender --- feeling that one has been born into the body of the wrong sex -- is a state of mind."

I must say the last phrase is an extremely poor choice of words, but the rest of the story clearly indicates that what Dr. Vilain means is that being transgender is hard wired in the brain - a "state of mind" which cannot be changed.

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