Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank you

I've used the above picture on a previous post here, but I'm using it again because...well...I think it pretty much says it all. It's a nod not only to my favorite scene in one of my very favorite movies of all times, Joe Versus The Volcano (which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year), but also to what I think Thanksgiving Day is all about. And even if you don't happen to live in a country that celebrates the holiday, I hope you always find something to be thankful about. And I want you to know that I am truly thankful for each and every one of you– those who love this blog, and, yes, even those who aren't so fond of it. (And I think some of you who aren't so fond should be thankful for me as well. You're getting a lot of free lessons in marketing and other matters on this Whirled.) I'll be back to snarky mode in short order, but I'm taking a little time off from that...just for today.

PS ~ One of the things I'm thankful for is that I've recently made a new friend, Martha Finney, who believes Joe Versus The Volcano is "the most underrated and underappreciated and misunderstood movie of all time." Visit her web site and read her blogs. And, oh, yeah, watch Joe Versus The Volcano.

Monday, November 23, 2009

How to take over the world

Those of you who have been with this blog for a while, or who have read a fair sampling of my earlier posts, may remember that there used to be a lot more variety here, back in the day. Besides tackling the bigwigs in the New-Wage biz, I had scads of posts about lesser luminaries and random loonies. There were many days when my blog just seemed to write itself.

A major reason for this bounty was that someone, somewhere, somehow had added my name to the database of a certain New-Wage email marketing service – a very active marketing service. As I've previously conjectured, perhaps someone thought the "Cosmic" in my handle was some indication that I would actually be a receptive audience for these marketing efforts.

No matter; not a week went by that I didn't receive numerous emails advertising various gurus, techniques, technologies, health supplements, books, DVDs, and so forth, not to mention more MLM schemes than you could shake a talking stick at. And the vast majority of it was, well, bat-s--t crazy (and so, for that matter, were
the owners of the New-Wage marketing service). But all of it was rich, rich fodder, and like the proverbial lizard on a rock, lazily waiting for bugs to fly by, all I had to do to find material for my blog was just sit by the computer and wait for my "in box" to fill up.

Alas, at some point quite a while back, the light went out of my life. I stopped getting the emails. At first I thought the New-Wage marketing loons had gone out of business, and it made me a little sad, to tell the truth, but a perusal of their web site seemed to indicate that they were still active. "Ah, they finally got wise to me," I thought, not without a stab of regret. Perhaps, I thought, they had been getting complaints from some of their clients about whom I had snarked.

Although I never named my source, referring to it only as "my favorite New-Wage spam service," it's possible that my targets put two and two together, particularly since there weren't all that many New-Wage spam services regularly sending out the kind of stuff I was writing about. In fact, I remember my pal Steve Salerno of SHAMblog was on a radio show some time before the spam service pulled the plug on me, and one of the other guests on the show was a New-Wage ninny who had received my loving attention more than once, thanks to her emails I had received via the New-Wage spam express. I didn't catch the show, but afterward Steve told me she'd said something to the effect that she didn't mind critics, but she took offense at people like "that Cosmic Connie person" who just engage in random sniping.

In truth my sniping was only as random as the marketing campaigns of my targets, but I felt kind of honored when Steve told me that. I wasn't surprised, though. As it happens, more than one person has complained about what they feel is gratuitous sniping, though that's just the tip of the iceberg, complaint-wise. (I've also been called a pathetic little loser who creates nothing of value and is not even worth the effort it would take to counter my criticisms (although many have made that effort nonetheless). I've been called far worse things than a loser, including a word that rhymes with "runt." I've had people call me a Nazi and a hate-monger, and some have said they wish I would die a horrid death. And so forth.) It pretty much all slides off my back.

But I have to admit that my feelings were a little hurt to realize I may have been rejected by the New-Wage spam email people.

I let it go for quite a while, though, since I had a sizable backlog of urgent matters to blog about. Then finally at one point I tried to sign up to get back on the loony-tunes email list, but their web site wouldn't allow it. I tried under another name and email address, and then another,and I tried from different computers, but the site still wouldn't allow it. However, it seemed to be a malfunction on their end. Finally I gave up, resigning myself to having to make do with my other sources of inspiration. But I sure missed my New-Wage spam service.

And then the other night I was browsing around the Net and found a web site that is, in its own way, a source of looniness that is surely as richly loony as anything my old friends had to offer. The battiness showed up not as emails but as display ads on the web site for the radio show of one of my more 
famous snargets. I looked at some of those ads and felt as if I had come home.
The first one that caught my eye was undeniably hypnotic, as another one of my favorite snargets might say. It read: "HOW TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD. MAN'S MASTERS REVEALED. BUY THE BOOK NOW."

Excitedly I followed the link. [Update: The link no longer seems to work. So you'll just have to take my word for it. ~CC, March 2010] And what I found just blew me away. It was an ad for a book that promised to finally tell me what's really going on, who's really running the world, and how I can run the world myself, evidently replacing the nefarious forces that are in charge now. But I quickly learned this information wasn't for the faint of heart.
You must be warned however, that the information will rattle your current view on life. It isn't for the brainwashed imbeciles who the political giants sweep away with the wave of a hand. It isn't for those who whine, cry, and complain about their own circumstance. It isn't for people who expect to be saved by others. No, it is for those who are brave enough to swim in deep waters! For those open minded enough to challenge their own beliefs in search of the truth! For those who are tired of being dictated by external forces and wish to free themselves of the prison they are in! Yes, it will be tough for most to comprehend, but you have a choice. Either you continue your slumber, or you can choose to be awakened to the history of mankind that has been HIDDEN!

Look at your world. What do you see? A slave race. That's right, a heiarchy [sic] with a servant race. Human beings are programmed through a built-in slavery system to become workers for the rest of their lives. Human beings are an organic robotic race. They are not living free. They are living in a nightmare. They hate each other, fight wars, police one another, and use deception. You see, humans are being suppressed and it is breaking the limit. Life is not about working, it is about love.
And just to show how serious they are, the authors offer an excerpt from the book:
"How does one take the world? This question has been asked by many. You may be one of them. No, that doesn't make you bad, or guilty of anything except for asking the question. Most people at some time, or another have pondered about this. Many have tried! Throughout histroy [sic], there have been men and women who have fought and bled and sacrificed to accomplish this goal. Some have even come close! Go ahead, make a list of all the people you can think of who have tried to do it. Names like Napoleon, Stalin, Alexander The Great, The British Empire, Caesar, Hitler, and The Ancient Arab Kings may come to mind. Or characters from various fictional stories such as Star Wars, Superman, etc., fill that profile. However, they have all failed. You will learn from this book, WHY they all failed. Even those who have attained it were unable to sustain it. All of their glory was short lived. It's like an athlete doping himself up with hard core drugs to win the competition only to live a pityful [sic] existence after his glory days. This book is to educate you. Also, you will see how it is done correctly by those who have done it...and are continuing to do it."
However, I should warn you that their refund policy is not very liberal.
Warning: Due to the highly controversial nature of this book, no refunds are given. You are either ready for this, or not.
But hey, it's only $14.99 (marked down for Christmas from $29.99). And you'll get "12 Mini-Ebooks free on personal development!"

But wait, there's more! On the very same web site where I found the How To Take Over The World book, there was an ad for a site offering products that will help you survive whatever's coming. For example, here's one that tells you how to hoard food. And here's one that tells you exactly what to expect in 2012.

I bet that by now you are so excited you're about to wet your pants, if you're wearing pants. You are probably going to want me to reveal the site where I found these ads. Well, for only $500.00, I will tell you.

Okay, since it's almost the holidays, I'll give you a $500.00 discount.

So where did I see these marvelous loony ads?

Are you ready for the answer?

And do you like my short paragraphs?

Are they hypnotic?

Are you sure you don't want to give me $500.00 to tell you?

Well, it was worth a shot.

Okay. The site on which I saw the above ads is... The Kevin Trudeau Radio Network, or, as I now like to call it, Loony Central.

The Kevin Trudeau Radio Network site is a clearinghouse not only for political wingnutty stuff that would make Rush Limbaugh and FOX-TV proud, but also for healthnutty stuff – which is only fitting, since Kevin is a noted health expert – and, increasingly, New-Wage stuff. (Take a look at the banner ad that's currently on top of the page and you'll see what I mean, regarding the latter. The ad shows the mugs of Rev. Michael Beckwith and Dr. Wayne Dyer, and bears the tag line, "For health and happiness, you must be balanced!" And then look around at the other New-Wagey stuff on the site. This kind of invalidates some bloggers' longstanding observation that the New-Wage is inexorably bound to the liberal left. There doesn't seem to be much room for libs on Kevin's site, but there's plenty of room for New-Wage loons and hustledorks.)

Interestingly enough, two other ads in the section where I found the sites linked to above are the International Pool Tour and, which are Kevin's sites, so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he also had some interest in the Take Over The World site, the Food Hoarding site, and the 2012 site. On the other hand, the latter three sites seem a tad unprofessional looking for a professional scammer of Kevin's caliber. So they probably aren't his. But the ads clearly have a place of honor as sponsors* of the Kevin Trudeau Radio Network, and I have no doubt that they are targeted to the same gullible audience Kevin targets.

As you may recall, I have paid homage to Kevin – who is more commonly known here as Kevin True-dough – on my Whirled previously, most notably in January of this year, and then again in July. It seems pretty obvious that all of the government's efforts to interfere with Kevin's livelihood have not stopped him. Although he is banned until 2011 from doing TV infomercials for his products, and has been fined out the kazoo by the government, he just keeps on keeping on. He just paid a visit to my home state this past weekend for some head-huddling with a few of his fellow entrepreneurs (Joe Vitale and Pat O'Bryan) in the little Hill Country town of Wimberley, Texas. (Pics and exclusive video interviews coming soon! Or, as one of the participants in the secret session wrote, "This is dynamite. You're not going to believe what you're seeing.")

So I'm sure we'll see some marvelous products and business ops coming out of that meeting. After all, Kevin may be banned from doing infomercials, but there's nothing to stop him from finding numerous other ways to extract money from the masses, particularly if he teams up with some in the New-Wage biz who are also experts in the Law of Extraction (as my friend Blair Warren once described on his late lamented Crooked Wisdom blog), and, most importantly, who have huge lists that Kevin wants to get his paws on.

Speaking of extraction, I also found something intriguing towards the very top of the pile of ads on Kevin's Radio Network site. This has to be the MLM scheme to end all MLM schemes. It's called the Global Information Network, or GIN for short. Actually it almost sounds as if whoever came up with this scheme either had a little too much gin themselves, or they're banking on the possibility that their marks will be a bit impaired.

What is GIN? According to the web site, it is "a Multi-Form Foundation organized in the country of Nevis." Nevis?!? Wow, if that doesn't have "in your face, U.S. Government!" written all over it, I don't know what does. But never mind that. One of the first things you learn is that GIN is a very, very, very, very exclusive network. It is also confidential. Don't believe me? Then take a look at this:
GIN provides its members with exclusive, confidential, never before released information regarding:
  • Law of Attraction
  • Money Making Opportunities
  • Investing
  • Worldwide Real Estate Opportunities
  • Stocks, Bonds and Trading
  • Commodities, Worldwide Currencies
  • Off-shore Banking
  • Asset Protection
  • Natural Remedies and Cures for Illnesses
  • And much more
So how do you join? Well, I'm sorry to tell you this, but membership is by invitation only. On the other hand, there is a publicly accessible page where you can apply for membership. On still another hand, you apparently have to have some kind of invitation code from an affiliate in order to complete the form.
Apply today for membership. Simply go to the Global Information Network website and click Join now. Fill out the short application.
Do it today..
Remember, you have been handpicked and hand selected to become a new member in the Global Information Network. You truly are special. Wealth can be yours. Emotional well being can be yours. Financial freedom is within your reach. Dynamic vibrant health and prosperity for you is now at hand.
The very fine print at the bottom says:
We are an informational organization. We are a "member sharing with other members" private association. We do not provide financial planning, tax, legal, investment, or medical advice. Consultation with independent expert advisors is strongly recommended. We are not a business opportunity.
Not a business opportunity, eh? And yet there is this page on how to make money with GIN, which says:
The first way to make money is to “sell” memberships in GIN. Another way of saying it is you “refer” people to join as members in GIN, or you “sponsor” people into GIN. All the terms are synonymous. The main issue here is that all commissions are based on the sale of a real product, which is a membership in the Global Information Network. Please refer to the GIN website and listen to the audio entitled “member benefits” describing GIN member benefits to see the amazing value of the product.

For everyone you get to join GIN as a member, or another way of saying it, for everyone you get to buy a membership in GIN, you are paid $200 commission. If you get just 5 people to join GIN as a member, you make $1000. That covers your initial membership dues. If you get 10 people to join GIN as a member, you make $2000. If you get 100 people to join GIN as a member you make $20,000. Anytime and every time you get someone to become a member in GIN you earn $200 commission. Because of the experts that are behind the GIN opportunity and their unparalleled successful track record generating over 100 Billion dollars in sales worldwide, we have insider marketing secrets using the internet and mass media marketing that can help you to potentially get many people to join as new GIN members. WE will provide you with all the secrets that can teach you how some members have signed up as many as 1000 new GIN members in just 60 days earning over $400,000 in just 60 days!
And yet, and yet...there's this, in small type at the bottom of the page:
Please note that all examples are for illustration purposes only. We make no income claims. Your income and success is solely based on your efforts, skills, market conditions, and a variety of factors. We do not promise nor claim you will make any money with this offer. Void where prohibited by law. Examples of past earnings do not guarantee future results. Individual results will vary. You could make more or less than discussed. Please review and fully understand the member agreement, terms and conditions, and affiliate agreement before joining. Never spend more money than you can afford to lose. All commissions are based on the sale of the product. The product is a GIN membership. You are not required to spend any money ever to join. There is no fee to join. You are not paid by recruiting people as affiliates. You are only paid commissions by selling memberships. You are not required to attend any meetings. You are not required to buy any sales or marketing tools. You are not, and never will be required to become a member in GIN. Based on a full legal review, we believe that this program complies with all laws where offered. Gin will comply with any and all changes in its affiliate commission marketing plan, that may be required from time to time as laws change where offered. Gin is not a business opportunity or franchise.
It's up to you to figure out what GIN (or "Gin," as it became towards the end of the copy) really is. But FYI, here's the link to the page explaining "Levels of Membership" (and the information on every level beyond Level 1 is "classified"). For even more insight, or perhaps just more confusion, here's a discussion about it on the Prison Planet forum. And really, you owe it to yourself to read this, for the laughs alone. Whether or not you can make mountains of money with GIN or Gin I can't tell you, but with Kevin Trudeau as one of your business partners, what can you lose?** So are you excited yet? Good, then go join GIN.*** Or go enjoy some gin. As for me, I'm just going to stay here and take over the world.

PS ~ The picture at the top has nothing to do with KT Radio Network or any of the ads I've found on that site so far. It is, very simply, a loving tribute to the owners of the New-Wage spam service I mentioned above. I was going to write another post on them to follow up my Ra Data post and my mention of them in the MystiCouples piece (second item down), but never got beyond this brief teaser. Someday, maybe.

PPS added 25 November: More on the exclusive Kevin True-dough video shot in Wimberley – something to whet your appetite (or perhaps ruin it).

PPPS ~ For more about True-dough's GIN scheme, see my December 4 post, "Illuminutty: the secret brotherhood of the chronically gullible."
* Here is a link to the complete list of "sponsors" of KT's radio show.

**Aside from your shirt.
*** I feel compelled to add this disclaimer, for the benefit of those who might have any doubt whatsoever: I do NOT recommend that you join GIN. I was being facetious. This is clearly another True-dough scheme in which, once again, he purports to offer some sort of forbidden knowledge that will transform your life and make you happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. And it is my opinion that if he's bringing any of his New-Wage buds into this or any similar venture, you seriously need to hold on to your wallet.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

The Mayans called. They want their calendar back.

12/21/2012 will be so uneventful that it’ll make Y2K look like the Harmonic Convergence.
~Steven Sashen

I wasn't going to even write about 2012. Really I wasn't, mainly because the topic has already been covered so well by some of my fellow wags and social commentators, such as the above-quoted Steven Sashen. Like most of them, I've known about the 2012 hysteria for many years, long before it actually became hysteria. For that matter, I was hip to it long before the Y2K panic became a panic. I first became cognizant of 2012 predictions way back when the world was still recovering from the utter letdown that was the Harmonic Convergence (the latter of which I mentioned in passing, along with one of the countless "ascensions" related to the number 11, in an old piece I wrote for Skeptical Inquirer).

I knew about 2012 by virtue of having friends, and later clients, who were into New-Agey stuff and were fascinated with the Mayan calendar and the usual hodgepodge of ancient prophecies. One of my clients, who later became a friend, did some channeling occasionally, and some of her Guides told her all sorts of stuff about massive catastrophic changes coming in 2012. One told her the s--t would actually start hitting the fan some time in 2009, and it would just begin escalating steadily for the next three years, culminating in the Big Whatever of 2012.

In the past couple of years, as it became apparent that 2012 was the new Y2K, I toyed with the idea of doing a blog post about it. Other topics captured my interest more, though, and I let it slide.

But now comes the new disaster flick, 2012, which opened in theaters across the United States today. (It's fitting, I suppose, that it would be on a Friday the 13th.) So far the movie critics have been less than kind, although reg'lar viewers have tended to cut the movie a little more slack. I'm pretty easy on movies myself, and will probably see 2012 at some point after it comes out on DVD; I've enjoyed several of director Roland Emmerich's other works, and I adore John Cusack, despite the fact that he may have some woo-ish leanings himself. During yesterday's interview on CBS' Early Show, Harry Smith asked John if he had been aware of the 2012 hoopla before he got involved in the movie. John said yeah, he'd been into that stuff for years. Here's a link to the video of that interview, which has become famous in its own right for the fact that the f-word just sort of popped out of John's mouth (at about 2:45 into the video).

In the past several months I've been seeing some more acerbic commentary about this whole 2012 thing. I don't know if any of it will make a dent in the growing hysteria, but I applaud the writers' efforts nonetheless. In October, Mark Stevenson published a piece on the MyWay site about how disgusted many people of Mayan descent are about the 2012 phenomenon. Astronomers are pretty irate as well.

At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer" Web site, says people are scared.

"It's too bad that we're getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they're too young to die," Martin said. "We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn't live to see them grow up."

Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.

A significant time period for the Mayas does end on the date, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical alignments they say coincide in 2012, including one that happens roughly only once every 25,800 years.

But most archaeologists, astronomers and Maya say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet doomsday rumors and TV specials such as one on the History Channel which mixes "predictions" from Nostradamus and the Mayas and asks: "Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?"

Although 2012 does have some archeological significance, which Stevenson explains in his article, it's just not gonna be the end of the world as we know it.

More recently, on the h+ Magazine site, Mark Dery wrote a scathing piece, 2012: Carnival of Bunkum. He rips into 2012 "expert" Daniel Pinchbeck (whose asininity has had my pal Chris Locke at the Mystic B blog tearing his own hair out for quite some time now). Dery writes:

But the worst of the 2012 bandwagon, epitomized by Pinchbeck’s lectures and writings, is the blithe cultural arrogance and staggering anthropological ignorance evident in the movement’s appropriation of Mayan beliefs and history. In a discussion hosted by Pinchbeck’s online magazine Reality Sandwich, the cultural theorist Erik Davis puts his finger on the minstrelsy implicit in the ventriloquization, by white, first-world New Agers, of the Maya. “[I]t seems to me that there is very little concrete sense of what ‘the Mayans’ (whoever that grand abstraction represents) thought about what would happen in the human world on 2012,” he writes. “To my mind it is kinda disrespectful to the Mayans to force them into our own narrative.”

Dery also talked to journalist Xeni Jardin, who does not claim to be an expert on or spokesperson for the Mayan people. However, her adoptive father is "of indigenous descent," and Xeni's work with his nonprofit organization in Guatemala to make things better for the poorest of the poor there has brought her in close contact with the Mayans. Here's what she had to say about Pinchbeck:

What makes me angriest about Pinchbeck’s bogus, profiteering bullsh-t isn’t so much him, but the fact that that many people are racist enough to believe any asshole white guy who declares himself an expert in Mayan culture. Did it ever occur to anyone to ask practicing Maya priests out in the villages? [...] It absolutely enrages me that while people I know in Guatemala, traditional priests, are struggling to figure out how to provide clean drinking water to their families, how to feed their communities, how to avoid being shot by the gangs and thieves that plague the roads more than ever---while they’re struggling to survive and keep their communities intact, assholes like Pinchbeck are making a buck off of white man’s parodies of their culture.

Of course, Native Americans have been hollering for years about the wholesale exploitation of their culture and religious traditions by New-Wage hustlers and their followers, the latest newsworthy example being James Arthur Ray's infamous Death Lodge. In fact, the Lakota tribes of North and South Dakota have just filed a lawsuit against James Ray, the owners of the Angel Valley Resort, the state of Arizona and the United States. Here is a PDF of the pleading. (And years before Sweatgate there were other disasters, not only with sweat lodges but with large-scale New-Wagey events such as the increasingly ludicrous Burning Man.)

But back to 2012. Despite the serious efforts of people such as Mark Dery and Mark Stevenson, people are going to believe what they want to believe. Almost certainly the silliness will continue unabated, and perhaps the best way to fight it is with yet more silliness. I kind of like Steven Sashen's approach. He has a mighty prophecy of what will occur on December 22, 2012, which is the day after the world is supposed to end.

...when the “planetary alignment” occurs, without the warned-about mayhem, here’s how the 12-ers will spin it:

“YOU DID IT, HUMANITY! You made the shift in consciousness that we needed to avert disaster and have ushered in a new era in global connection and enlightenment.”

One of his readers responded:

What’s amusing to me is that there’s pretty solid proof that the Mayan Calendar was created several hundred years after year zero. i.e., the makers extrapolated back to make things fit the way they wanted to. So year zero is completely arbitrary, just like year zero in CE calendars is arbitrary (seeing as how Jesus was probably born in 4 BC).

Here's my prophecy about 2012: The one thing the movie about it will accomplish, besides making big bucks at the box office, will be to finally bring the conversation even more into the mainstream. It will give the talking heads and the blogging hands something to talk about and blog about, and it will give the worrying public something else to worry about for a while, until the next trendy worry du jour comes along. End-timers of the New-Wage sort will come forward with still more products to help humanity through this "transition." (I wouldn't be surprised if Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, for example, came out with his own exploitation project – perhaps a moviemercial about "Hypnotic Marketing Secrets of the Mystical Maya." After all, he went to Peru last summer and got photographed looking deeply wise in Machu Picchu. That has to be good for at least one infoproduct. It would be just the thing to add to his world series of magickal offerings, such as the Russian Wish Dolly and the Polish Money Attractor.) Meanwhile, end-timers of the Christian fundamentalist kind will righteously assert that Jeezus H. Christ Himself said we don't know the hour or the day the world will end, but that in any event we shouldn't be listening to those pagan Mayans.

And the Whirled will just keep right on spinning.

PS ~ Here's the Wikipedia entry on 2012.
And here's the even more authoritative Uncyclopedia entry.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For those who have served

Warning: I'm sorry to disappoint those who live for the snark, but today's post isn't a snarky one. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming soon.

Most of us know the story: on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, The War To End All Wars was formally brought to a close with the German signing of the Armistice Treaty. That was in 1918, and, of course, what would later be designated as World War I did not mark the end of war at all, but merely the beginning of a whole new era of warfare. Nevertheless, November 11 became a day to honor veterans of that bloody war, and, later on, veterans of all wars. In the United States we know it as Veterans Day, and in other parts of the world it is Remembrance Day.

Veterans Day gives me cause to acknowledge and celebrate the veteran I live with, Ron Kaye. And I'll tell you right off that this post won't even begin to do him justice; these are just a few things off the top of my head.

The first thing that comes to my mind about Ron is that he is always doing what he can to help make things better for others – people and animals alike. Whether it's taking a day to go into Houston to tend to his aging "second parents," or spending hours helping our friends at a local goat dairy dig a trench to help fix a broken well pump, or helping the ranch hands save the life of a colicky horse, he's there. He has helped his children through some very rough spots over the years. He has always been there for them, and for me too, even when we didn't make it easy for him.

He's there for strangers too. A few months ago there was a grisly car crash on the relatively quiet country road that runs by our home. Some local teenagers had apparently had way too much to drink, and their car veered off the road, plunged through a fence and plowed into a tree. Since the road is about a half mile from our home – we have a long driveway – we weren't aware that anything was going on till the local law enforcement got to the scene and we saw the flashing lights. Without even hesitating, Ron ran up to the road, found out what was going on and asked what he could do to help, explaining that he had been a field medic in the military. Immediately he was handed a pair of disposable gloves and told, "There's one over there in the trees." Not knowing what he'd find, Ron raced over to where a young man who had been thrown from the car was lying bleeding. It was impossible for Ron to discern the extent of his injuries, but they were obviously pretty bad. All he could do was keep the young man immobilized and give what comfort he could till the EMTs got there. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say he helped save his life. I think what he did was heroic. Yet he shrugs it off, saying, "I just did what anyone would do."

Ron is the most kindhearted, loving, and even sentimental person I know, but he isn't afraid to go "toe-to-toe" with anyone, whether he's sticking up for someone he loves, advocating on behalf of a client, or calling someone out for their b.s. (I firmly believe it was his willingness to call things as he saw them that was instrumental in the breakdown of our "friendship" with a person who later became a well-known hustledork.)

He has also gotten into his fair share of conflicts while arguing his point of view about various matters such as spirituality, social issues, or, especially, politics. Although he is always respectful and never abusive, he is sometimes...well...adamant. Some people have trouble with that, if they happen to hold an opposing view. Some have hurled abuse at him for his so-called "liberal" views. Some, not knowing his background but basing their judgment solely on, say, the fact that he was opposed to the U.S.'s 2003 invasion of Iraq, have accused him of being a contemptible '60s-era hippie who sat in a custom-painted van, smoking dope and listening to Grateful Dead tapes, while laughingly avoiding the draft. Little do they know... Some folks simply cannot understand how a person can be both a "liberal" (or a holder of anti-war views) and a veteran who actually volunteered for a cause beyond himself.

In the years since he served, I think Ron has managed to make a good life. He has two fine kids (I can't take any credit for that, but I adore them). He does work he loves. And he has made me happy for sixteen years and counting. Most important of all, he has an uncanny ability to see into people's hearts. I sometimes wish more people could see into his.

So anyway. Here we are, on the 90th anniversary of the first official "Armistice Day" (it was first observed on November 11, 1919), which eventually morphed into Veterans Day. If I were you, I'd celebrate it by saying a big "Thank you" to the veteran(s) in your life. A big hug probably wouldn't hurt either. And if you're a veteran yourself, or currently serving, you have my thanks, and a big virtual hug as well.

PS ~ Here is a link to Ron's blog.

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I've always liked this poem by the late French poet Louis Aragon, who was a part of the French Resistance during World War II. This translation is from the (out-of-print) 1976 book, Literature and Liberalism: An Anthology of Sixty Years of The New Republic, edited by Edward Zwick.

The Waltz of the Twenty-Year-Olds

Good for the wind, good for the night, good for the cold
Good for the march and the bullets and the mud
Good for legends, good for the stations of the cross
Good for absence and long evenings. Funny ball
At which I danced and, children, you will dance
To the same dehumanized orchestral score
Good for fear, good for machine guns, good for rats
Good as good bread and good as simple salad

But here is the rising of the conscript sun
The waltz of the twenty-year-olds sweeps over Paris
Good for a shot of brandy at dawn and the anguish before the attack
Good for the waiting, the storm and the patrols
Good for night silence under rocket flares
Good for youth passing and the rusting heart
Good for love and death, good to be forgotten
In the rain and shadow cloaking the battlefields
Child soldiers trundled in no other bed
But the ditch already tailored to their measure

The twenty-year-old waltz sweeps through the bistros
And breaks like a laugh at the entrance to the M├ętro

Army classes of yesterday, vanished dreams
Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen: listen. They hum
Like us the trite refrain, like us believe it
And like us in those days, may God forgive them
Value more than their lives at a single moment
Of drunkenness or folly or delight
What do they know of the world? Does living mean
Quite simply, Mother, to die very young?

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OMT: Today is as good a day as any to mention the ongoing problem of U.S. veterans – of all wars – getting the short end of the stick when it comes to health care. Here's a story about it.

Here's a link to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs web site.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The lies that blind

Today I heard from someone I'll call Pat, who recently discovered my blog. For several years Pat worked for an Internet marketing guru, and at first found the work fun and creative. Then as time went by, to Pat's dismay, the guru became more and more involved in the world of New-Wage/selfish-help stuff. Pat, a self-described skeptic and atheist who believes that "most self-help stuff is crap," found several of the guru's schemes to be morally objectionable. The fact that the guy was bilking people out of lots of money was what really got Pat's goat.

At first the guru's New-Wage leanings didn't pose too much of a problem, however, because there was still enough non-objectionable work for Pat to do. But as Pat's boss became increasingly more woo-ish, and then latched onto The Secret in a huge way, things became much less tolerable. Pat ultimately left the guru's employ with sanity and ethics intact, having learned some eye-opening lessons about the private worlds of selfish-help luminaries.

There were two paragraphs in Pat's email that particularly stuck out for me, and Pat has graciously given me permission to share them:
I think that the majority of the people that buy into these types of people and their products would be absolutely gobsmacked if they realized what these guys are like behind closed doors. Up on the stage, in the books, in the audios, in the videos, these guys are charming, upbeat, positive role model type people that you can look up to. But get them off stage and with the people that work for them, and they are completely different. [My ex-boss] holds the honor of being the absolute WORST boss I have ever had... One of his favorite pastimes appeared to be seeing how many times he could make an employee cry with his raving and name-calling in a week, and for someone that was able to command thousands of dollars for just one weekend of the yippety yap, he paid us all circus peanuts (which is one step down from real peanuts, which at least have some nutritional value).
In my experience, the others are no different than my former boss. As I read your blog, I keep coming across names of people I came into contact with while I was working with this guy, and I am torn between laughing in recognition and wanting to facepalm. Oh, the stories I could tell. Not only are these guys almost always complete doucherockets when they aren't in front of the trusting masses, the vast majority of them will readily admit (and laugh about) the fact that the crap they are pushing is indeed crap. Even these guys don't buy their own sales pitches.
And oh, the stories many of us could tell. I believe I could write a whole book on what I have experienced firsthand, and have heard from others (Pat being far from the only one), regarding the sometimes disturbing difference between many New-Wage hustledorks' public personas and their private raging, passive-aggressive, greedy, arrogant, narcissistic, occasionally borderline-sociopathic, or sometimes predatory selves.

Not everyone in the self-help industry fits these descriptions, of course. I believe there are some genuinely good folks in the business. And it could be argued that even the mostly horrid ones have at least a few good qualities and have produced work that has helped some people in some way. Moreover, I'm only hearing Pat's side of the story. Even given these qualifiers, however, there seems to be a distinct pattern of lamentable personality traits among New-Wage stars and superstars. In other words, Pat's ex-boss doesn't seem at all atypical.

Many people already know this stuff. Others might be aware of it but simply choose not to dwell on it because, perhaps, they find some value in the gurus' works. Separate the message from the messenger, in other words. Still others might ask why it even matters, because after all, most people in the public eye have their private quirks and foibles, and of course, even New-Wage gurus are only human. In other words... Yawn. 

Well, stifle that yawn, if you can, while I attempt to answer the question of why it matters. (Come on, humor me.) I know we've discussed this matter on this blog before, but I think it's worth repeating, at the very least for the benefit of new readers, or people who might not have considered these matters previously. 

Maybe it's not such a big deal to have a shiny happy public presence and yet be a butthead or a bitch or a cad in private life, if, say, you are a celebutante or a rock star or even, in some cases, a politician (that is, if you're a politician who sticks to serving your constituents and are not on some moralistic high horse yourself). Depending upon the degree of fame, the disparity between public image and private reality might be tabloid-worthy, but that's about the extent of it.

It's different with self-help leaders, particularly those who claim some sort of spiritual authority. In my opinion, they should be held to a higher standard because, unlike most other celebs, they are making their fortunes by instructing others in how to live their lives. Equally if not more important, unlike most celebrities (with the exception of those who cross over into the self-help world themselves, such as Suzanne Somers), selfish-help/New-Wage/McSpirituality gurus aggressively and disingenuously use their own ostensibly perfect lives as marketing tools. They are continually promoting themselves as being happy, healthy, wealthy, self-actualized, self-realized, fully awakened human beings who have everything they could possibly want, including amazing relationships. Occasionally, to make themselves seem likable and accessible, they will mention that they're only human and are still a "work in progress" or some such disclaimer. But the dominant message is that their astounding achievements (and, of course, their enviable possessions) prove that they are a cut above ordinary humans, and that they can sell you the secrets to make you a magnificent human specimen as well. 

Most important of all, when other celebs, most notably Hollywood types, show off how successful they are, their main purpose is fairly innocuous: to draw attention to themselves. They aren't trying to manipulate people into forking over thousands of dollars for a weekend workshop in order to try to create a life just like theirs. By contrast, as noted above, all too many hustledorks use their carefully crafted public images as their primary marketing tool, their goal being to convince as many people as possible that anyone can have an exemplary life like theirs, if they are only willing to "invest" a few thousand bucks, or a few hundred thousand, in the right products and workshops and retreats.

And all too many people buy into the message, spending thousands of dollars they don't have, and not really seeing any genuine improvements in their lives. Some of them even end up dead, as we've seen this past month.

And meanwhile, the hustledorks hustle on.

I've written some variation of this message so many times, on this blog and on discussions on other blogs and forums, that I can practically write it in my sleep. In fact, I am pretty sure that I was mostly asleep while writing this. And I'm far from the only one who has snarked, sniped, and griped about the duplicity of New-Wage snake-oil pushers, whose real lives are full of ugly realities that differ radically from the pretty veneers they construct.
The take-away lesson, in case it isn't painfully obvious, is this: Don't believe the lies. Or, if you prefer something less incendiary, don't believe the marketing. Don't believe the gurus when they talk about how consistently glorious their lives are, and how self-realized and "awakened" they themselves are. (Wasn't it James Arthur Ray who, not long ago, wrote, "I don't have bad days"? And how many other successful New-Wage leaders have we heard making some variation of that claim?)

For that matter, even when the hucksters occasionally share their problems in the form of "confessions" about setbacks or disappointments, or tales of friends or associates who have supposedly betrayed them, you should take all of that with a few grains of salt as well. When hearing a sob story, if it sounds kind of one-sided or overly dramatic, always assume that the guru telling it is (1) selectively sharing details in order to preserve his/her image as a bearer of deep wisdom (while perhaps gaining cred as a martyred hero); or (2) so genuinely clueless, despite his/her "advanced" state of personal growth and spiritual development, that s/he honestly cannot see the true cause of the problem in question. More than likely both factors are at play.

Most of all, never, never assume that selfish-help hustlers literally believe in all of the stuff they are peddling. Privately, as my correspondent "Pat" said, "The vast majority of them will readily admit (and laugh about) the fact that the crap they are pushing is indeed crap. Even these guys don't buy their own sales pitches."

And Pat, as well as many other people whose stories I've seen and heard over the years, would know.

PS ~ I linked to this in my James Ray "Sweatgate" post but it's worth linking to again. This is from my friend Duff McDuffee, who says that, contrary to the hustlers' promises, you CAN'T have it all, but that this is actually good news.

PPS ~ As vanity and envy are two major factors that fuel the selfish-help industry, providing the very foundation of most hucksters' marketing plans, I think it's worth your while to read Steve Salerno's four-part series on the topic on SHAMblog. Here's Part 1, here's Part 2, here's Part 3, and here's Part 4.

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