Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Scammy Award winners

Americans Against Self-Help Fraud has announced the 2009 winners of the SCAMMY Awards, bestowed upon selfish-help/New-Wage gurus for, as AASHF founder Dr. John Curtis puts it, "'excellence'" in shamelessly ripping off Americans with their falsehoods, false hopes, myths & half-truths."

These awards are part of National Guru-Free Week April 1 - 8, 2009.

And the Scammys go to...

  • DUMB SPEAK AWARD – given for the most unintelligent thing uttered by a Self-Help Guru: Joe Vitale & runner-up Eckhart Tolle
  • HYPOCRITE AWARD – given to the Self-Help guru with the biggest gap between their professed values and how they actually behave: David Schirmer & runner-up Bob Proctor
  • DADDY BIG BUCKS AWARD – given to the Self-Help Guru whose lifestyle shows that they are only in it for the money: Joe Vitale
  • BI-POLAR AWARD – given to the Self-Help Guru whose promises got the opposite results: Heidi Diaz, promoter of the Kimkins diet (while outside of the usual scope of the Scammy Awards, she received a large "write-in" vote)
  • BEST PERFORMANCE IN A MIS-LEADING ROLE AWARD – given to the Self Help Guru who did the best job of deceiving the public: Rhonda Bryne
  • BERNIE MADOFF LIFETIME MIS-ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – given to the best, all around Self-Help Guru who did the most to diminish the human race: Joe Vitale & Tony Robbins

My heartiest congratulations go to all of the winners, who worked hard to earn their Scammys. I can't wait to hear their acceptance speeches.

Now, if y'all want to see how I voted (and how I based my decisions), go to the "Comments" section.

By the way, Dr. John Curtis is available for interviews about the Scammy Awards, Guru-Free Week, and Americans Against Self-Help Fraud. 407.493.7323

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A few late Sunday snippets

The polls are now closed for the 2009 Scammy Awards, and within the next few days all will be revealed. I can tell you that several of the usual suspects (i.e., some of the most frequent snark targets on this blog) made the finals, as did a couple of surprises. Re the latter, I personally wouldn't have thought to vote for Eileen and Peter Caddy, two of three founders of the Findhorn Community in Scotland. Maybe that's because Findhorn, or at least the idea of Findhorn (I've never actually been there), holds a fond place in my heart...but that's probably a topic for another blog post. (I will confess that years ago, there was a time I was almost convinced that I could sometimes see nature spirits and devas and such, but then again, that was back in my heavy drinking days. I have found that some ideas and belief systems are easier to accept when one is pretty well sloshed. Come to think of it, I was also in Eckankar during that time...but that's a topic for yet another blog post, one that I've had half-finished for nearly two years, as a matter of fact. (Meanwhile, here's something related.))

Anyway, stay tuned for the announcement of the winners during Guru-Free Week, April 1-8, 2009. Meanwhile, here are a few light snippets:

Mystic B-Man gets Biblical on Internet hustledorks
Yesterday I listened to my pal Christopher Locke, of the fabulous
Mystic Bourgeoisie blog, in a conversation with Marcus Brown of Germany's Breitenbach und Brown. B& B have an elegant web site, and I would tell you what they do, but – my surname and heritage (on my dad's side) notwithstanding – my German pretty much sucks. Fortunately the interview was in English, and I have to say that for me, it was forty minutes well spent, and not just because Chris mentioned my name and my blog. (In fact, I was already well into listening to the interview, and thoroughly enjoying it, when Chris sent me an email telling me he'd mentioned me.)

Before he was Mr. Mystic B, Chris was one of those who had more than a clue, early on, of some of the profound ways in which the Internet would change our world, including and especially our way of doing business. Along with three other prognosticators, he wrote a well-received book called The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual, which came out almost exactly ten years ago. Chris, whom Amazon Reviews described as "a smart, witty, broadly read cyberpundit," also penned Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices. Chris' work has once again come into vogue, and the impression I got from listening to the interview yesterday was that some of today's social media marketers are waving his books around and, as Marcus Brown expressed it when talking to Chris, taking them in vain.

Both Cluetrain and Gonzo Marketing, of course, were published years before Twitter and other time-wasters became so ragingly popular, and some of the stuff is a bit dated now. The good news, as Chris announced on the interview, is that a revised and updated tenth-anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto is coming out soon (June 29, to be exact). You can pre-order it now. (And no, I'm not getting any compensation for mentioning this.)

I found the conversation between Chris and Marcus very entertaining, particularly when Chris jokingly employed a few Biblical references while talking about those annoying Internet marketers who are constantly selling advice about how to sell advice about how to sell advice, but, of course, are really selling nothing. They're just taking your money and using it to buy expensive crap for themselves. Or, as Marcus put it, invoking the late Gertrude Stein, "There's no there there." Some of them, of course, are making boatloads of money selling nothing, and I think you know the type I'm talking about. When Chris, waxing Biblical, compared these folks to a plague of locusts that swarm in through doors and cracks and crevices, landing everywhere, I couldn't help but laugh out loud. I also couldn't help thinking of Aussie Secret star David Schirmer's ventures with his new b.f.f. Perry Belcher. Both were at the recent StomperNet Live gathering in Atlantis...oh, we can only wish. I mean Atlanta.

Anyoo, if you have forty minutes to spend, and don't mind the occasional use of the f-word (I don't mind it myself, though I am sort of prudish about using it on my blog), give this a listen. By the way, Chris and Marcus plan to make these conversations a regular event.

Software for suckers...er...seekers
Speaking of Chris, he sent me a link to an absolutely amazing piece of software, tailor-made for a new generation of seekers. I give you the
Dream Manifestation Kit, which allows you to "use the quantum method to unleash your full potential and live the life you always dreamed about." With this kit, you simply "write your own success formula in less than 5 minutes. Set it on autopilot and watch your goals, desires and dreams manifest in the next 90 days."

Well, I thought that one good inspiration deserves another, so I sent Chris a link to yet another piece of astonishing software, the Attractor Genie. Here's what it says on the site:

Never before has ANYONE been able to deliver the kind of results that are available via this radical technology. Here is a partial list of what you can expect when using Attractor Genie as directed:

  • ALL your limiting money beliefs will be erased - AUTOMATICALLY
  • Your ability to be broke will vanish - AUTOMATICALLY
  • Money will never again be a problem - AUTOMATICALLY
  • You will end procrastination forever - AUTOMATICALLY
  • You will live the life of your dreams - on your terms - starting today
  • And so much more...

Who knew that being broke was an ability? Anyway, folks, this is gen-yoo-ine Law Of Attraction software, and I know it's got to be the real thing, because it is prominently advertised on this site, which features Joe Vitale's Law of Attraction videos. (Joe sells amazing software of his own, such as his Hypnotic Writing Wizard, which shows you how to write good without even thinking about it. Skeptico recently paid loving tribute to this masterful invention on his own blog.)

Isn't it gratifying to know that there are a few brilliant folks out there selling powerful tools for us to manifest the life of our dreams, with no more effort than a mouse click or two?

Say it ain't so, O(bama)
No, I'm not even remotely ready to give up on President Obama. But
this article on the site of the above-mentioned Dream Manifestation Kit gave me a moment's pause.

Obama Administration Seeks Advice From Evolutionary Leaders

By Thomas Herold in Evolution on March 28th, 2009 / No Comments

The Obama Administration has asked the “Evolutionary Leaders” to communicate about what is transpiring on the planet, and how we can change the course of the unprecedented events that are challenging this planet. This is a window of opportunity for this information to be conveyed to the Obama Administration.

The Evolutionary Leaders like Deepak Chopra, Gregg Braden, Michael Beckwith and many, many others, gathered together to write up the information to present to the Obama Administration. They are also asking us to sign a petition to show the Administration how many people are in favor for these changes to occur. They need 10,000 signatures. We need your help to reach that number and beyond! Below is the information presented to the New Administration.

The petition link can be found here.

But wait...there's more! Visitors to the site get a chance to make a pledge to be SNAGs (Sensitive New Age Guys (or Gals)) themselves:

I join with Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Jean Houston, and other evolutionary leaders to pledge to make my conscious evolution an important part of my life, and in so doing help make the world a better place.

Of course, Obama has said he wants to hear from everyone, and that, I suppose, includes New-Wage hustledorks and random SNAGs. Besides, "the Obama Administration" could just refer to some nameless SNAG-ish office assistant to an assistant to an assistant in the Obama Administration. But if this kind of stuff continues, I am going to have to seriously consider changing my party affiliation. The Silly Party is looking better all the time.

Well, that's it for now, Dear Ones. I'll be back soon with much more.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Scammy Awards: last chance to vote

It's not too late to vote in the 2009 Scammy Awards, sponsored by Dr. John Curtis of Americans Against Self-Help Fraud. I previously reported that the deadline was 21 March, but I checked with Dr. Curtis, and he said that the hard deadline is midnight EDT, Sunday, 29 March. So you still have a few hours.

And despite the name of the organization sponsoring the awards, you don't have to be American to vote. After all, selfish-help/New-Wage scamming is no respecter of national borders. In fact, I think some of you Aussies out there will be interested to know that one of your countrymen has made the finals, according to Dr. Curtis.

Winners will all be announced during National Guru-Free Week, April 1-8, 2009. Don't miss your chance to participate in this vote. Or, in the words of Dr. Curtis, "Please do your part to ensure that these Self Help Gurus receive the attention they deserve."

Once again, here are the categories:

  1. DUMB SPEAK AWARD: given for the most unintelligent thing uttered by a Self-Help Guru
  2. HYPOCRITE AWARD: given to the Self-Help Guru with the biggest gap between their professed values and how they actually behave
  3. DADDY BIG BUCKS AWARD: given to the Self-Help Guru whose lifestyle shows that they are only in it for the money
  4. HOODWINKED AWARD: given to the Self-Help Guru who did the best job of tricking a celebrity into being their sponsor
  5. BI-POLAR AWARD: given to the Self-Help Guru whose promises got the opposite results
  6. BEST PERFORMANCE IN A MIS-LEADING ROLE AWARD: given to the Self Help Guru who did the best job of deceiving the public
  7. BERNIE MADOFF LIFETIME MIS-ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: given to the best, all around Self-Help Guru who did the most to diminish the human race
You can click here to get to the ballot, or on the graphic above.

Have fun!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Hell hath no fury..."

Within hours after publishing my post of 20 March entitled, "All I need is a miracle," I received a long email from a person who apparently took umbrage at my words. Whether he is a Joe Vitale fan or a devotee of the Maharishi, I couldn't say, but I suspect the former. Anyway, after reading his email, I immediately responded to him, thanking him for sharing his insights and asking his permission to publish his letter on my blog, anonymously, if he wished.

I received no response, so I sent another email the next day, asking him again, and adding that I assumed his lack of response meant that it was indeed okay to publish his letter.

I have yet to receive a reply, and so, in the interests of giving "the other side" a fair say, I am publishing his email in full – uncensored and unedited (but, of course, sans name and email address).

Here goes...

I stumbled across your blog! so insightful…

...if one is into snarky people.

Your greatest gift appears to be a driven hunger for tearing down those who have faith in something that you don't believe in.

You offended me with your vengful ignorance, your willful desire to slash at others who I have received great value from, and your complete failure to understand the things you bash. I'll work on whatever it is in me that allows you to pop into my reality and I'm responsible for how I feel about what you spew. Though part of me felt the need to write you a response. I accept the fact I feel the need to tell you what I am about to say. Your pain is so raw and searing as I read your rants and the people you attack so out of your league.

I wonder who hurt you or what happened to you that you are so bitter. No one is so focused on another's flaws unless they themselves don't feel right enough, good enough, or of value enough themselves. I looked at your picture and its clear you hide your hurt behind a forced smile of a woman disappointed by life. You use 'humor', sarcasm, cynicism and all the other typical masks to hide your own vulnerability. Is your pain really the fault of those you slash and flail at? I bet you used to believe in the things you now attack. You can't accept responsibility for your failure so you turn on your former beliefs. Hell hath no fury I guess.

You are of course welcome to your opinions. It seems every critic has opinions galore to share. Opinions are cheap after all. Problem is with critics is they content themselves a bit too much on mocking the creations of others. it is a temporarily filling distraction from the cold hard truth that you have nothing of real original value to offer of your own.

What do you create besides criticism? Bad feelings in others? Does that warm your heart on a cold night? Or is your anger and pride the closet thing you have to self esteem and your only approximation of self acceptance. Are you a 'good girl' when you punish others?

Really I wonder what drives your hate? How can you drone on and on for pages about the failings of someone else's work? Where do you get such energy and why don't you apply it to your own work?

We all have only so much time on this planet and your body of work is simply a statement of dissatisfaction with others. Who are YOU? What are you building, creating, sharing?

Uh, judgement of others?

You must sit pretty high in your thrown with your digital gavel pronouncing guilt in others with such certainty. But who are you to judge others who clearly are more successful and better educated than you in the matters you nit pick to death? Self appointed watch dogs make me wonder what dark skeletons lurk in their closet.

In what way are you a fraud and a scammer? Read Debbie Ford's book 'Dark Side of the Light Chasers' and you'll find out. Read that book and you can heal your real wounds. Heal that and you will be far happier than all this hurt you try to inflict on others with your 'im so smart' act. In the end we are all measured by how much we loved. That is all that matters. What will your tombstone say? Here rests a woman who was nobody's fool? Yay! so proud of you my dear. It would be so much more fulfilling if it read 'here rests a woman beloved by all'.but that seems very unlikely, doesn't it? You have to give love and forgiveness to receive it fully in case you didn't know.

I bet you are so critical of others that you dare not create anything for fear of being the focus of such bile yourself.

Sad. Again, I am confident someone else treated you this way and you are simply dishing it out now as your own. we all simply project what is inside us after all.

Maybe you might want to read what Alexander Pope said about critics. if only I had his economy of words.

While I certainly believe blogs and twitter offer a democratic venue for people to express themselves, the downside is that some people prolifically express hateful garbage. You must be so proud of your doubt. I wonder how many people really read what you spent so much time sowing - and what exactly are you going to reap from your efforts? an award? a medal? You are the hero to the skeptical and critical? You must be so proud and warm inside knowing that. We get what we focus on and you focus on scams, doubt, how everyone is out to get you and dishonesty. I would not want to trade shoes with you my dear. Ugh.

I wonder what exactly you would be without such a public forum for your vitriol. As you take such pride in bashing others I will take some comfort in knowing that at your core you feel hollow, bitter, and without faith or hope in anything that really matters.

I considered a point by point eviceration of your blog posts but thought better of it. It is not my place to do that and I just don't have the time. where do you get all that time to go on and on about the failings of others more successful than you? Are you the Robin Hood of the pen tearing down the evil rich gurus? Is that the hot burning belief driving your bitter mania? Oh how sorry that makes me for you.

There is no need to publically bash someone suffering from such an inner void, it is enough to know that you won't ever reach real happiness attacking others. I would wish for you that you find a place within yourself to look at how all the things you criticise could actually be good and helpful to others.

Are you so sure of your opinions that you don't wonder if you are tearing down genuinely good people? it doesn't take a genius to find flaws in others. Everyone has flaws. It just makes you small minded and a petty form of bully to strike so viciously in a public forum without facing scrutiny for your conjecture and false assumptions. But that of course is your right as a blogger. No one to stop you from saying whatever nonsense you want. It is the perfect forum for the coward who wishes no dissent.

this much is clear. if you were put up against the people you mock on the same stage in an equal debate you would leave with your tail between your legs. best restrict yourself to cheap shots from the peanut gallery love. that way you don't really face having to deal with all the ways in which you have nothing to offer but bile.

if you had any idea how cold, bitter and off base your words are I would hope you would hde your face in shame and apologize with all your heart. but you clearly don't have a clue. in your blindness and ignorance you will surely continue to flail in anger at those who have what you so desperately crave and yet will not ever have: the love and admiration of people all around the world.

My dear, 'you can't get there from here' is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of your efforts compared to what you truly want.

I wish you could find faith in something besides skepcicism and bitterness towards those who teach faith based things. I wish you happiness and hope you can find it. But you can't have happiness or hope about life's biggest questions without some faith which you so clearly lack.

You don't need to find your own 'scam' as you said on your blog. You need to find a way to love and forgive or find someone who loves you.There is no lasting way to build yourself up by tearing others down Connie.

Read Debbie Ford's book. It will change your life. And it's not based on woo woo so you may find you can read it without hurling up a blog post.

Best of luck with that.


Well, I guess that just about says it all. Or maybe not. Later I might publish my responses to my correspondent's insights.

PS ~ The photo above was taken on a particularly memorable night a few years ago, when we were celebrating Ron's birthday. I chose it because of my rather devilish smile, which, I now know, is merely a cover-up for a troubled heart, a bitter rage, and a deep disappointment in life. And speaking of devilish, does it sort of look like a little horn is growing out of my head on the left side of the photo? Hmmm....

Addendum (24 March 2009): As I mentioned yesterday in the comments section, I did finally hear back from my correspondent, who said it was okay for me to publish his first email, though he was surprised I would want to. He did ask that I withhold his name, and I will honor that. I haven't yet had a chance to finish my private reply to him, but I did want to mention that he said he regrets the personal assumptions / attacks he made. Here is a small part of his second email:

Had I wanted to publicly debate the merits of your posts, I would have taken a different point by point approach, but I am clear that I don't want to contribute to your quest to tear people I admire down, nor do I really want to take the time to really get into this properly with you.

I regret the personal remarks and assumptions I made in my letter as that was me taking the low road. By not engaging me at that level you served me a timely reminder that the high road is where I want to focus my attention. For that I thank you.

By assuming your motivations and making judgements about what drives your perennial criticism I made the same error I was accusing you of and the irony of that amuses me.

He did, however, stand by his basic opinions about the people he says I tear down, as well as his suggestion that I read the Debbie Ford book. I'll probably have more about this soon (I'm on the run again today), but I wanted to be fair to him and let y'all know that he did have second thoughts about the ad hominem stuff.

Friday, March 20, 2009

All I need is a miracle...

Note: This post contains some highly scientifical and mathematical technical stuff. In light of some of the subject matter – and you'll see what I mean in a moment – I probably should have published this on Square Root Day, which was 3-3-09 – but, hey, better late than never. I'm certainly not going to wait until the next Square Root Day, which will be on 4-4-16, nearly three and a half years after the world may or may not be scheduled to end. So I settled on Equinox Day. I would call it the first day of Spring or the Spring Equinox, but it's the Autumn Equinox in Other Parts of the World (although, just to add to the confusion a little bit, Autumn officially began in Australia on March 1).

* * * * *
What if you're in a hurry?
What if you need a miracle fast?
What if things for you are urgent and you are desperate?
What then?
That's when you have to pull out all the stops and get help. But not from just any one person, but from a special group of people who are helping each other to achieve real world results.
I'm talking about a new online community where you can state your intention and others can hold that very intention for you...
~ Joe Vitale, from an email promoting his Attract Miracles online community
The teaser page for Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale's Attract Miracles site bears this large and compelling headline:
"What Would Happen if 8,185 People Held an
Intention for You Personally?"

In the weeks before the site went live in December of 2008, the headline on that page was followed by a mention of "the Maharishi Effect," and then the customary excited but vague promises about the miracles and wonders in store for participants. After the site went live, however, the Attract Miracles page changed. The promises were still there, the bit about the 8,185 folks was still there, but mention of the Maharishi Effect had disappeared. It lives on, however, in Joe's December 4 blog post promoting the site, although he published yet another blog post about the site on December 20, sans any mention of the Maharishi Effect.

But let's talk for a moment about those 8,185 people. Who are these people, and why are there 8,185 of them? Joe claims that is the number of people needed to change the world. He explains that 8,185 is the square root of one percent of the estimated current world population of 6.7 billion souls. (I whipped out my trusty calculator, and by golly, that's pretty accurate.) And Joe's goal is to have at least 8,185 members in his online community, though he implies that he thinks there will ultimately be many more.

While Joe doesn't fully explain this part on the site, the significance of 8,185 is rooted (so to speak) in a "scientific" formula dreamed up decades ago by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who first achieved world fame by briefly being guru to The Beatles in the late 1960s. Don't get me wrong: Joe does write about the formula on the Attract Miracles page, but he doesn't mention the guy who made it up in the first place.

The Maharishi originally predicted that if a mere one percent of the population of any city were to practice his Transcendental Meditation (TM) program, this would reduce crimes, accidents, and illness in that city. This phenomenon came to be known as the Maharishi Effect, and advocates claimed that it established a new formula for the creation of "an ideal society, free from crime and problems." A few years later, however, the "Extended Maharishi Effect" was invented...er..."discovered," and the critical-mass projection was lowered to the square root of that one percent figure, whatever it might be. How the Maharishi figured all of this out, I have no idea, but then again, I don't have a scientifical mathematical mind so I couldn't be expected to understand. (Actually, it probably had something to do with Vedic principles, but I'm equally ignorant in that area.) The important point is that for many years now the Maharishi's minions have been on a mission to prove the existence and efficacy of the Maharishi Effect.

As noted, however, the Attract Miracles page, as well as Joe's December 20 blog post and subsequent mentions of his online community, do not directly mention the Maharishi Effect at all. One other little detail has changed as well. Both the current Attract Miracles page and the December 20 post mention that "more than twenty-three scientific studies" prove the efficacy of group intentions and support. However, on the December 4 blog post, as well as in The Attractor Factor and other earlier writings, Joe wrote that there were nineteen scientific studies. For years it was "nineteen studies," and now it's "more than twenty-three." (Or in some cases, as in that email I quoted at the beginning of this post, it's merely "twenty-three.") The exactness of those numbers is what I find so interesting (Prime Number Day, anyone?). Perhaps four or more additional studies were made up... I mean...discovered between December 4 and the day the Attract Miracles site went live.

But I quibble. The point is that Joe's declarations about the "scientific studies" seem to be a major selling point of the Attract Miracles community, which is not surprising, as science appears to be a New-Wage guru's best friend these days, next to online diploma mills...um...I mean, "universities." (Joe himself recently invented a brand new branch of science, "neurometaphysics.") Regarding the scientific studies relevant to his Attract Miracles community, Joe offers various impressive-sounding factoids about how they were published in respected, peer-reviewed journals, and were independently verified. 

Oh, those pesky naysayers
As is the case with all of his posts, most of the comments to Joe's posts about the Attract Miracles community have been supportive. But at least one person challenged Joe on the "scientific" claims. This comment appeared
on his December 20 post:
John Curtis says
Can you send information on where these studies can be found based on this statement above??
“Twenty-three scientific studies prove this kind of group support works.”
Although John Curtis did not provide a web site link, I am assuming that this is the same person who runs the self-help-fraud watchdog site (and is the brains behind Guru-Free Week and the Scammy Awards). As of this writing, Joe has yet to answer the question and I'm guessing he won't, but if he does, more than likely he'll simply refer Dr. Curtis to The Attractor Factor.
What Joe does not mention, either on his blog posts, in The Attractor Factor, or on the Attract Miracles site, is that virtually all of those "scientific" studies he cites were conducted and/or sponsored by people and organizations affiliated with the Maharishi's vast empire (can you say "confirmation bias," boys and girls?). Here's a source I bet Joe wouldn't cite, if he were citing sources to back up that claim about peer review: http://www.behind-the-tm-facade.org/mdefect-peer2.htm

More about the Fales and Markovsky study cited in the link above can be found here, on counselor and researcher John M. Knapp's very informative TranceNet site.

One of the most frequently mentioned Maharishi Effect experiments was a 1993 group meditation focused on Washington DC. According to a piece by John Olmsted on the eSkeptic site:
In 1993, 4,000 meditators gathered in Washington, D.C. under the direction of physicist John Hagelin. Hagelin predicted in advance that the meditations would drive down the violent crime rate in the city by 25 percent that summer. Despite the fact that the murder rate actually rose, Hagelin announced a year later that his analysis proved that the violent crime rate fell just as he had predicted. In his recent book he states that the meditators "function essentially as a 'washing machine' for the entire society."
John Hagelin, as many of you may recall, has been the Presidential candidate for the Maharishi-affiliated Natural Law Party. Hagelin also seems prone to a brand of hubris peculiar to TM-ers; in July of 2007 he claimed that the efforts of his group of meditators, the Invincible America Assembly, was going to create unprecedented prosperity for the US and make the Dow climb to 17,000 within a year. Hey, nice work, Hagelin, et al. According to the article linked to in the second sentence of this paragraph, the group also insisted that because of its efforts, there would be fewer hurricanes and better US-North Korea relations. Again, nice work, guys!

Critics have also pointed to the example of Fairfield, Iowa, location of the Maharishi University of Management, and home to a thriving TM community. Since 1979, Fairfield has contained the largest group of TM and TM-Sidhi practitioners in the US. Yet in that time, there have been several years in which violent crime and property crime in Fairfield and the state of Iowa actually increased.

I'm not dissin' meditation, but...
Just in case it isn't entirely clear, I am not arguing with the notion that meditation can reap personal benefits to the meditator. There seems to be a lot of credible evidence supporting the effectiveness of meditation in stress reduction, relaxation and in some cases pain management, for example, although
serious TM advocates seem to be pretty adamant in their insistence that only their brand of meditation is effective. (And they tend not to talk about the potential harmful effects of TM on some individuals.)
At any rate, this isn't about about whether or not meditation, or even specifically TM, can help improve the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual health of individual practitioners. It's about whether or not a group of meditators can, by the simple act of meditating, influence external events such as crime or war or stock market fluctuations.

And, contrary to the claims of the Maharishi folks and purveyors of similar magic and miracles, those claims have not been proven by science. I will not go so far as to say that the Maharishi Effect has been been officially and thoroughly debunked, though many would argue that it has been. At the very best, it has never really been properly researched by parties who didn't have a clear pro-Maharishi/pro-TM agenda. At worst, it is, as former TM teacher Joe Kellett wrote on his excellent web site, Falling Down The TM Rabbit Hole, "incredibly outrageous pseudo-science."

Not that this has made a bit of difference to those who want to believe, and those who want to make money from those who want to believe. 

History, economics, and (of course!) quantum physics
Joe swears that the basis of his Attract Miracles community is completely scientific: "nothing woo-woo about it!" And even though the late "giggling guru's" name is not evoked on the Attract Miracles site, Joe does seem to be promoting the Maharishi mythos by implying that focused group meditations were responsible for everything from the end of the Cold War to a rise in the stock market. He writes [and my interjections are in brackets]:

Want world peace?
Then you'll be glad to know a long term meditation that lasted from 1988 to 1990 coincided perfectly with the end of nearly every major conflict including the war in Afganistan [sic] and even including the historic end of the Cold War. [And there have been no more wars or terrorist attacks since then, right? By the way, people such as Charlie Wilson, Joanne Herring, and Lord knows how many Afghan resistance fighters would be really interested to learn that the Soviet-Afghanistan war ended not because of their efforts but rather because of the mighty meditations of the Maharishi's minions.* ~ CLS]
Are you worried about the economy because of bad news about the stock market, housing prices, or a credit crisis?
Take heart because another experimental study by The Scientific Demonstration Project [another Maharishi-sponsored project ~CLS] showed group meditation corresponded to a dramatic 12% rise in the stock market. [And, of course, the stock market has been on the rise consistently. ~CLS]
I could go on, but there are too many studies to list here.
Over the last 50 years the scientific evidence of the power of group intentions has piled up - and yet the media doesn't mention a peep!
Hmmm. Maybe "the media" don't mention it because it's...well...bunk. Moreover, as the above-mentioned former TM teacher Joe Kellett wrote, "What gets totally buried is that there is a difference between 'correlation' and 'cause and effect.' In other words, just because two things happen in succession it doesn't mean that one caused the other."

By the way, I know I've written about this a few times before (e.g., here, to give just one example), but I can't let a discussion of group intentions pass without mentioning Joe (Vitale's) efforts to rally a large group of believers to tame hurricanes. He did it with Hurricane Rita in his "Help Me Stop Rita" e-newsletter/email blast in 2005 (and later claimed success at re-routing the storm and reducing it from a Category 5 to a Cat 2). Then when Ike threatened in 2008, he copied and pasted from the Rita email and sent out a "Help Me Stop Ike" blast...and, well, we saw how that one went.

More recently, Joe has made a stunningly generous offer to the many thousands of people who may have wanted to attend his third and final Zero Limits Ho'oponopono event with the famous Dr. Hew Len (Austin, Texas, April 17-19, 2009), but won't be able to do so in person. Alas, the $997.00 event, which was limited to 100 participants, is now sold out. However, Joe has decided to offer absentee tickets for only $100.00 per person. What do you get for your $100.00? Do you get a chance to "attend" the event in real time via the Internet, so you can at least watch and listen, even though you can't participate? Do you get a special DVD and MP3 of the event, and maybe a free signed copy of the book Zero Limits?

Nope, sorry – well, at least not as of this writing, although those are actually pretty good ideas. As of now, it appears that in exchange for your C-note you get to have your name written on a piece of paper, along with the names of all of the other absentee "attendees." But wait, there's more! During the event, all of the people in the room – including the great "Dr." Vitale and Dr. Hew Len, of course – will "clean" on you and your fellow absent ones. I don't think you even have to write down your issues or the things you want cleaned on; the Divine always knows. "Obviously," Joe writes, "being in the room and hearing Dr. Hew Len, myself, and everyone else, is the ideal, but if you can't make it there (since the event is sold out), being an absentee participant is the next best thing."

So even though you don't get anything tangible for that hundred bucks, you do get a chance to get worked on from afar by two of the greatest cleaning minds in the whole racket, with the assistance of a whole room full of people who spent nearly ten times more money than you did to be in the presence of those minds. Think of it like sort of a yagya, but with faux-Hawaiian elements (aloha-yagya?). Or think of it as just one more example of desperation marketing the powerful magic of group intentions. (And read all about it here.)

But back to the Attract Miracles group. Naturally, you couldn't have a proper New-Wage $cheme without the invocation of quantum physics:
For the first time in history people from all over the world can gather in a single place without having to physically meet.
Quantum physics and ancient spiritual principles reveal that we're all connected on an energy level.
In fact, studies have proven that time and distance doesn't [sic] matter.
That's why you can hold an intention for fellow members and that energy instantly reaches them.
But now we can connect on a conscious level in real-time, too.
That's because for the first time in history, the Attract Miracles website provides a place for you to go any time you want to connect with the energy of the entire community.
This is far from the first time that Joe has used quantum physics to give credence to one of his mercenary schemes, and, of course, he's far from the only one to do this. It's S.O.P. in the New-Wage biz these days.
But why is he playing down the Maharishi origins of Attract Miracles? My first thought was that he might be trying to avoid possible negative connotations – after all, the Maharishi has been widely criticized over the decades for being everything from a lovable kook to an egotistical sociopath bent on world domination – and Joe wants to attract as large an audience as possible. But my second thought was that he simply wants to stamp Attract Miracles with his own brand. Knowing Joe, the brand-consciousness motive sounds the most plausible, and I wonder how long it will be before we start hearing about "the Vitale Effect," which, no doubt, will be an improved version of the Maharishi Effect, with additional magical and powerful properties. Or, to paraphrase countless New-Wage marketers in the past couple of years, "The Vitale Effect takes up where the Maharishi Effect left off! It's the 'Missing Effect!'" In keeping with the square-root theme, perhaps Joe can exploit a whole new realm by inventing a formula for change that utilizes imaginary numbers. (Here's a cartoon he might be able to use for one of his presentations.)

And one more point before we leave the topic of numbers: Mr. Fire seems to display some numeracy challenges when he declares, on the Attract Miracles page, "Today I live with my love, Nerissa, in a multi-million dollar estate and I recently added a $375,000 Rolls Royce Phantom to my growing exotic car collection."

Apart from the fact that I wouldn't exactly consider a Rolls Royce to be an "exotic car," there seems to be another inconsistency in that copy. I'm not real great with numbers myself, but it looks as if Joe may be off a few dollars regarding that "multi-million dollar estate", that is, if he's talking purely in terms of its appraised value, which, according to publicly available information, is currently less than $320,000. Am I missing something? Is he counting the value of his cars too? Or perhaps the total value of the rural subdivision in which he lives?

IM, I said
You might say that the present Attract Miracles site has been a long time coming. Joe was talking and writing about those "scientific studies" about meditation and group intentions even before The Attractor Factor was initially published in 2005, and he hinted that he was planning to do something significant with a form of meditation he invented, which he calls "Intentional Meditation," or IM. He was inspired to create IM when he read a book called
Permanent Peace: How to Stop Terrorism and War – Now and Forever. The author is Robert Oates, a senior policy fellow with – guess what? – Maharishi University of Management's Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy in Fairfield, Iowa.

A few years ago Joe wrote that his mission was "to establish an Intentional Meditation Foundation with hubs around the world, all using my book, and the meditation I teach in it, to lower crime and increase wealth globally. Now THAT is more than a goal, it's a mission." In The Attractor Factor he dedicates an entire chapter to IM. And there's a fairly recent (post-Secret) web site devoted to IM as well. Joe explains that IM differs from TM in that it is request-oriented, that is, you use it to get the Universe to give you specific things:
In the IM formula that I just described to you, you are quieting the mind as in meditation, and even merging with all that is, but you are also placing a request with the universe. That request will radiate out and reach the people who can help you achieve it. From there, magic happens. I know much of this may seem strange, but I'm calling it an Experiment so you can find out, with me, just how powerful this system can be.
I'm just speculating here, but I have a feeling that IM, or something like it, is the focus of a book idea Joe mentioned last November on Twitter. According to his Twitter entry, he was writing a proposal for a book that would "save the world, heal all money problems, and cause lasting peace. But I might be dreaming big." (Oddly enough, two days after he Tweeted about that book proposal, he sent out an email to his list promoting his new book, Expect Miracles, and in that email he wrote that Expect Miracles will very likely be his last book. He said he had no additional books in the works and no plans whatsoever to write another one. Either he is kind of forgetful, or he is banking on the fact that his readers are kind of forgetful, or his publisher looked at the proposal and said, "Forgeddaboudit !")

Joe isn't the first to have big ambitions for a branded meditation program, of course; once again he seems to be taking his inspiration from the Maharishi, or, more accurately, from one of the late guru's more prominent and eccentric followers. Make no mistake about it: although the Maharishi has passed on, there are people working very hard to keep his legacy alive. For example, even though the Fab Four as a group became disillusioned with the Maharishi nearly forty years ago (and/or vice-versa, according to Deepak Chopra), the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, are slated to headline a benefit concert on April 4** for the Maharishi-inspired David Lynch Foundation. One of the missions of the famously quirky director's foundation is to provide funds for teaching TM to at-risk kids so they can change the world from within. Part of this ambitious program involves taking TM into public schools.

I reckon that some of you cult-watchers will be alarmed at the prospect of the Maharishi's legacy seeping into our schools, but look at it this way: if at-risk kids are preoccupied with meditating, they probably will not be out killing people over a hit of crystal meth, or shooting their teachers and school mates, or setting wildfires, or, far worst of all, sending naughty pictures of themselves to their friends via their cell phones. Even so, the creation of vast new generations of TM drones is kind of an unsettling prospect as well, notwithstanding all those disclaimers on the TM.org site that TM is not a religion, philosophy or lifestyle, and that all TM instruction in schools is free and voluntary. Equally unsettling, for that matter, is Joe's own vision for the future of education, as mentioned here recently (first item).
Not surprisingly, Joe Kellett has something to say about David Lynch's big plans. Quoting from a July 2005 story about Lynch in the (London) Independent, he writes:
Furthermore, Lynch believes this:
Students who meditate, Lynch assured the New York Post yesterday, will: "Start shining like a bright, shiny penny and their anxieties will go away. By diving within, they will attain a field of pure consciousness, pure bliss, creativity, intelligence, dynamic peace. You enliven the field, and every day it gets better. Negativity recedes."
There's more. With his new outfit, Lynch also intends to ease tension for all the rest of us by putting together "peace-creating super groups of 8,000 meditators" around the world, who will all chant simultaneously for peace and harmony. It is important that each group [emphasis mine. ~ CLS] has 8,000 participants because "it's the size of the square root of one per cent of the world's population."
Hmmm. Is any of this beginning to sound familiar? Of course, the big difference is that David Lynch envisioned multiple groups of eight-thousand, while Joe's Attract Miracles community presumably involves only one group of eight-thousand-plus – a minimum of 8,185, to be exact. Maybe it's that extra 185 folks who give Attract Miracles the edge. Maybe it's the power of the Internet. Or perhaps Joe's magic is stronger than David's or the Maharishi's. Must be that Vitale Effect at work.

I don't know about those "hubs around the world" that Joe mentioned in some of his writings about IM (and that David Lynch seems to be advocating as well), but it appears that the Attract Miracles site is definitely set up to increase wealth – Joe's wealth, anyway, as well as that of his partner in the current scheme, Craig Perrine, who calls himself the Maverick Marketer (a name he came up with well before the McPalin campaign laid claim to the title of "Maverick").

As it turns out – and I know this will come as a shock to you – the Attract Miracles community is basically a multilevel marketing setup. It costs a mere $1.00 to join, but you get $12.50 per month for every person you refer, for as long as those people remain members. That sounds like an amazingly good deal till you get further down the page and discover that the $1.00 is just a trial membership, and after 30 days, you get to "keep the service" for "only" $37.00 a month ("less than a cable bill!" Joe enthuses).
It's kind of like a prayer circle, or, perhaps more accurately, like Marcy From Maui's Powerful Intentions site, except you have to pay actual money to receive the prayers or powerful intentions of other members.

Your definition of "skeptical" may vary...
For the benefit of those who might be skeptical, Joe has this advice, which is a variation on the New-Wage credo that although doubting is perfectly normal, it will only impede your "progress."

Truth is, the only thing stopping you is your own doubt.
Admit it. You're asking yourself things like...
  • Will this really work?
  • Will this really work for me?
  • Should I trust this guy about what he's telling me?
All good questions, of course.
But it's that very voice of doubt that is keeping you from moving forward.
I know it's tough to swallow, but doubt is the reason most people don't take action, and consequently why most people stay stuck...
Joe eases the doubter's concerns with his "priority assurance policy," which he says is "beyond fair." Once you register, you gain instant access to the Private Members Area, and if you're not "thoroughly convinced" that AttractMiracles.com is for you, all you have to do is contact Joe's office within 30 days and your membership and access to the Members Area will be canceled.

I'm not sure how this reconciles with the fact that your trial period, the part that only costs a buck, is only seven days. Presumably if you cancel within that time period, you won't be charged $37.00 for your first month. Seven days seems to me to be a pretty short amount of time to determine whether or not something so momentously life-changing is working for you. The sign-up blurb (as opposed to the "priority assurance policy") says you can cancel any time, but, if I'm understanding it properly, it seems pretty clear that unless you decide within seven days that the community isn't for you, the Attract Miracles site is going to extract at least $38.00 from you. And maybe more, if you don't time your cancellation just right.

But $38.00, or maybe more, is chicken feed compared to all of the billions of real dollars, potential dollars and even totally imaginary dollars that are floating around Miracle Town. (Don't underestimate those potential and imaginary dollars, by the way. They can result in lots of real dollars for a few people. Funny how that works.) According to Tweets Joe posted on Twitter just after the Attract Miracles site went live, people were signing up like crazy for his new community, and miracles were being created left and right. To hear him tell it, this is a veritable miracle-making machine.

"What can it hurt?"
Perhaps you're saying, "Oh, come on, Cosmic Connie, enough already with this snarkastic stuff. You're only contributing to the overall problem of negativity, just like
that nasty old mainstream media that largely created, and is certainly perpetuating, the so-called 'economic crisis.' Besides, even if mainstream science hasn't validated the Maharishi Effect and the power of group intentions, what can it hurt if people want to get together and support each other with their mutual positivity? And don't forget that members do get a lot of bonus products with membership, and they even get a chance to personally ask Joe questions, so at least they're receiving some tangible value for their thirty-seven bucks a month."

Joe himself implies that he's making a real sacrifice by offering membership so cheap. "Because of how much is included for members of AttractMiracles I've been advised to charge $97 or more each month," he writes. "I know I could and it would be well worth it, but I won't. I want to help as many people as possible." What a guy.

Since "value" is subjective, I won't attempt to argue this point. Joe does offer a bunch of free videos and other products for members, though some of it is available for free anyway (e.g., his December 2007 talk in Maui on creating "15-minute miracles"). I'm sure he also offers members opportunities to ask him questions, though you can also do that for free on his blog, and sometimes he even answers. (Alternatively, if you want access to him I suppose you could just pretend to be with some New-Wage magazine or film production company, and he'd probably jump at the publicity op.) Beyond that, however, I have no doubt that some people believe they are getting good value from their Attract Miracles membership. Just recently, f'rinstance, I saw a comment on Joe's blog from a guy named Barry Thomas Bechta, who thanked Joe for the value he is providing through the Attract Miracles community. And Barry ought to know value; after all, he's one of the people who was smart enough to invest $5,000.00 to ride in the back seat of Joe's Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Okay, so I'm still being snarky, and some might ask me how I am qualified to go on so much about something when I haven't experienced it firsthand myself. What could it hurt for me to invest a buck to take it for a test drive for a week? Am I really that cheap? Or am I, as more than one disgruntled reader has speculated, simply afraid of something I don't understand? Actually, I am afraid, but what I'm scared of is getting my sensitive information into an auto-payment agreement for something like this. (I keep thinking about the problems people have had with folks such as Joe's new pal Kevin Trudeau, although in all fairness I will say that the Attract Miracles site was apparently set up well before Joe met True-dough, and is most likely not affiliated in any way with True-dough. Kevin did give Joe some marketing advice about upselling, though, so that might be a red flag regarding some of his future enterprises, particularly if they involve infomercials.)

Besides, I would imagine that the Attract Miracles community only wants like-minded people, not snarky cynics. I'm sure that even as a lurker I simply wouldn't add to the positive energy they are trying to build. No, joining does not seem to be an option for me. But I'd be glad to hear from those who have joined and have found it helpful (or not).

As for the question, "What can it hurt?", I'll concede that on the surface the whole thing seems harmless enough for those who have $37.00 a month to spare, but a better question might be, "Is it really helpful?" And I don't mean that in the subjective, personal-experience/personal-taste sense. What I mean is, are there measurable positive results that can credibly be attributed to the group intentions of the Attract Miracles crowd?

While we're waiting for those measurable positive results, I'd say that if spending thirty-seven bucks a month to be a member of a New-Wage mutual masturb...I mean...cheerleading group will really make you feel better, go for it. You might make some new friends, get to do some networking, maybe even make a few bucks yourself. I will warn you right now, though, that you'll probably have to put up with a bunch of other people whining and moaning about their awful lives, or bragging about their small triumphs, as they sometimes do on Joe's blog. But remember, you're there to support them, and they're there to support you if only they can stop focusing on their own stuff for a few minutes.

Most importantly, of course, you'll be helping support Joe, and at least one of his cronies, Craig, in the style to which they've become accustomed. At the very least, you'll enable them to continue to buy those pricey Siglo cigars so they can sit around together with a couple of their other cronies and mastermind even more creative new ways to separate you from your money... I mean, to save the world. You really can't put a price on that.
All I'm saying is this: Don't delude yourself that you are participating in an experiment that has actually been validated by science. And don't blame me, or any of the other "naysayers," if that thirty-seven-dollar-a-month investment does not reap world peace, an end to crime, an ever-rising or at least stable stock market, or even the miracles that you so desperately want in your own life.

The monkey on our backs
By the way, when Googling for information about critical mass, group intentions, and spirituality, I came across
this page, which is one of many that cites the "hundredth monkey" phenomenon. The hundredth monkey myth has been even more thoroughly debunked than the Maharishi Effect. Very simply, the monkey tale did not unfold as it has been spun by New-Wage believers, who were inspired by a 1979 book, Lifetide, by the late Dr. Lyall Watson. When pressed by skeptics, Dr. Watson ultimately admitted that the hundredth monkey phenomenon was, as he wrote in 1986, "a metaphor of my own making, based...on very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay. I have never pretended otherwise." (Actually, he did pretend otherwise, at least until he was called on his pretense.)

Not that the truth really even matters. Some myths just never die. Especially the profitable ones.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I GOTTA find me a scam.

PS ~ In case you missed it earlier, here is the link to my November 2007 blog post about the Maharishi and related matters.
And here's a link to a TM discussion on RichardDawkins.net.

And here, one more time for your convenience, is a link to Joe Kellett's site, Falling Down The TM Rabbit Hole, which offers a detailed critical opinion of TM, including a good debunking of the Maharishi Effect.

Oh, and don't forget John M. Knapp's marvelous TM-Free Blog.
Last but emphatically not least, for another snarky but very knowledgeable perspective, do check out Jody Radzik's Guruphiliac blog; he has written extensively about the late Maharishi. In a recent blog post about the above-mentioned David Lynch Foundation and its mission to get TM into schools, Jody wrote:
TM™ is not secular meditation. TM™ is a religion, and a destructive cult in every sense of the word. While we agree that meditation is good for all regardless of faith, TM™ meditation comes with so many strings attached to a wildly fantastic mythology (including all their so-called "science") that you may as well be dunking kids in full-on Christian baptisms.
Amen, Brother Jody.

Addendum 29 March, 2009: Skeptico wrote a good post about a related topic, remote healing and the power (or lack thereof) of focused intentions. This was in response to an article on distance healing that recently appeared in the Huffington Post. Here's Skep's take on it. Darn it all...more inconvenient truths for miracle seekers and sellers. But read it. It's good.

* If you're interested in that Afghanistan-Russia conflict, From That Flame is a fascinating fictionalized account involving one of the heroes of that war. Oddly enough, there is no mention in the book of the Maharishi Effect. (In the interests of full disclosure: The publisher of this book is a friend of mine, but I'm not getting any compensation for mentioning it.)

** Gullibalooza alert: If you can't make it to the David Lynch wingding, don't worry. Also on April 4 is a big to-do at the Unity Church of Dallas: the Conscious Community Expo & Concert, sponsored by The Peace Project. There will be messages, lectures and performances by scads of New-Wage luminaries, including Mr. Fire himself. According to the write-up on The Peace Project's web site, the rationale behind the big expo/concert is that "a collective, united consciousness has been scientifically proven to manifest results." The event is the culmination of the Peace Project's 10-month-long "Crime Reduction/Peace Enhancement Study" for AGNT (the Association for Global New Thought). One stated purpose of the gala is "to provide each community that uses THE PEACE PROJECT protocol substantial proof that these kind of community events are effective in increasing harmony and reducing crime – without cost to their city." Sound familiar?

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