Monday, November 28, 2011

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abrascam?

As some of you may be aware by now, Jerry Hicks, former Amway superstar and the person who first “inspired” his wife Esther to get in touch with that imaginary collective, Abrascam, has “transitioned to the nonphysical.” A form of leukemia, perhaps related to advanced age (he was in his eighties) took him. He shuffled off this mortal coil on November 18, which as it happens was the same day James Arthur "Death" Ray began his prison ministry tour. Esther apparently waited a few days to announce Jerry's death.

Many folks, both Abe believers and nonbelievers, have had questions about several aspects of this event. A person named Bonnie, writing in a discussion on an older post on the Salty Droid blog (comment date-stamped November 25th, 2011 at 6:04 pm), summed up the issues quite well:
What I really find amazing is that after they outright lied about his [cancer] diagnosis for the longest time, and when he got his diagnosis, he started immediately with aggressive chemotherapy treatments, something they have always claimed that modern medicine of any kind is something that you don’t need (I wonder just how many people they “killed” by people dying rather than seeking out treatment), and then he dies anyway and it takes Esther 5 whole days to notify their suckers, I mean, supporters, because she needs that much time to make up a story to convince their cult that everything is just the way it was supposed to be and Jerry is now where he was supposed to be, and everyone believes it all and is still all wrapped up in the bullsh!t! I mean, doesn’t anyone see the discrepancy between what they teach and the real facts now? Talk about brain washing! I kind of thought that when I saw clips of Esther performing with a bad cold and could barely talk, her voice was so hoarse, on one of their recent video releases, and how she “excused it away” — when what they teach is that if you are in “alignment”, or “in the vortex”, you will not get sick or attract any illness of any kind. I guess Jerry attracted his cancer the same way [James Ray] attracted his downfall. “You attract what you are”.
But no doubt Esther will go on, probably channeling Jerry now as well as Abe. I know, I know, she doesn't call it "channeling." She calls it "receiving." You say receiving, I say channeling, let's call the whole thing off? Not a chance of that; calling it off is apparently the furthest thing from Esther's mind, seeing as how she is already getting messages from Jerry in the Vortex.

And I've been getting bold anonymous messages on one of my old Abrascam blog posts, even though at the time I received them I’d only mentioned Jerry's death briefly on someone else’s post on Facebook. Here's a small sampling, unedited:
...And, they never said NOT to go to doctors and use medicine. Just whatever feels right (positive) to the person. Though of course, in hindsight, taking chemo didn't work for Jerry, overall. But then, he was 84 or so, and had a long, interesting, sucessful life, and maybe had done all he wanted to do in this lifetime?
...Just seems like the ctirics of the Hickses and Abraham are just plain jealous. And they will create a life for themselves, based on this...
Thursday, November 24, 2011 9:39:00 AM
Hmmm... if Jerry had done all he wanted to do in this lifetime, why fight the cancer at all? It seems obvious that Jerry wanted to live a little longer, and who can blame him? The comments following that one were even more loving (pardon the F-words and such):
Anonymous said...
ugly bitch. Be happy for someone when their dreams come true. Fucking follower. Go ahead live like your ancestors. Stupid old tired beliefs....why dont you go digging in the dirt for 2000yr old answers to now questions. I hate you. And i did it on purpose. I am not closer to wealth because of hating you. Bitch
Thursday, November 24, 2011 12:57:00 PM
Anonymous said...
maybe someday I will laugh at your choices in life, create a web-post about it, and use a flattering photo of you-maybe with a dick on you forehead.
Thursday, November 24, 2011 1:01:00 PM
Full of love and light to the end, those Abers! Or perhaps it should be that Aber. Frankly, most of those comments read as if they all came from the same deluded soul. By the way, that reference to a dick on my forehead is apparently an angry reaction to my crude photo-composite of Jerry with a big spider on his head. (Originally the Hicks thought Jerry might have been suffering from a spider bite, which, they speculated, he might have received while they were camping out next to a yacht marina.) I could save my critic the trouble and do a Photoshop of myself with a dick on my forehead, but I've written about so many of them on this blog over the years that it would be difficult for me to choose just one, and my forehead will only hold so much.

On that note, Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, who has long considered himself a friend of Esther and Jerry, weighed in about Jerry's death a couple of days ago. Besides paying tribute to his friend, he attempted to address the controversies surrounding Jerry's illness and death:
Abraham taught you’d always have challenges. As soon as you resolved one issue, you’d attract another. Welcome to the human experience. This doesn’t mean the Law of Attraction doesn’t work. It means it does work. You always get what you unconsciously believe and expect. (Re-read that.) Jerry once told Esther he’d probably depart before her, which proves he had a belief in dying, and maybe a belief in a particular way of passing on.
What Joe doesn't mention is that Jerry told Esther he would probably depart before her because he was so much older than she, and the law of averages would dictate that his time would be up before hers. So Joe's remark that this comment proved Jerry had "a belief in dying" is... well, typical asinine Law of Attraction crapola, to put it most charitably. Joe continued:
I wasn’t with Jerry when he grew ill, so I can’t say what he was thinking. I don’t know why he attracted cancer, or why he chose the modern medicine path to remove it. But if he accepted conventional medicine as a treatment, than he must have felt he attracted it as a possible solution. He was probably reaching for the thought that felt best to him at the time.
But immediately afterward, Joe seemed to contradict himself:
The fact that he got ill and passed on doesn’t mean anything more than he got ill and passed on. Everything else is simply our projecting our beliefs onto his situation.
Perhaps Joe actually meant that the fact that Jerry got ill and passed on doesn't, or shouldn't, mean anything more to Abe-Hicks believers than that he got ill and passed on. After all, the two paragraphs Joe wrote before that sentence would seem to imply that there were indeed deeper reasons for and/or meanings behind Jerry's illness and death. In any case, many of the Abers -- and ex-Abers --do seem to be having problems with apparent contradictions in the Abe-Hicks teachings. As illustrated above, some who seem to be clinging desperately to their beliefs have rationalized that Abe-Hicks never actually taught that one should eschew Western medicine completely. Others contend that yes, Abe-Hicks did teach this, and therefore Jerry Hicks was being hypocritical by choosing chemo.

The larger issue, and one that Joe conveniently overlooked, is that either by accident or design (then again, there are no accidents, right?), Esther and Jerry created a "cult of personality" over the years with their Abe shtick, making themselves the stars as much as their imaginary friends, despite their faux-modest disclaimers that Abe was the real source of the wisdom they shared.

So the fact that some of their followers are upset about what they see as contradictions or hypocrisies in the Hicks' own decisions cannot be dismissed merely as the followers' own flaws or projections, although that is Mr. Fire's favorite means of dismissal. People who create and market a public persona -- and represent themselves as an example of how to live -- are setting themselves up for criticism. (Yes, I know I am setting myself up too, and I get plenty of criticism. But I'm not presenting myself as an example of how to live, and I am certainly not making millions of dollars off this snarky shtick.)
I will grant that whatever her motives might have been, it was Esther's right to choose when and how to announce her husband's death. Brilliant cons aside, Jerry was her spouse of many years, and I have no doubt that she loved him, and is grieving for him on a deeply personal level.

At any rate, as I've noted before, I'm not an expert on the Abe-Hicks material, so I'll leave it up to those with a broader and deeper knowledge of the material to argue the particulars about what Esther and Jerry and "Abe" did or didn't teach about health and illness and death. And other folks can argue all they want about whether and how the Law of Attraction "works." That doesn't interest me much. To me, the real issue here is and always has been my opinion that Jerry and Esther made the whole Abraham thing up, originally inspired by the enduring success of Jane Roberts' Seth material. (Some of the back story -- plus some insight into the Hicks' character and business practices -- can be found in this 2007 article from the (UK) Independent.) And while Jerry may have lived a long, interesting, and successful life, as one of my Anon detractors pointed out to me, for much of his life he made his living as a hustler and con artist. Before Abrascam, there was Amway...

But he did leave a legacy, and I have no doubt that even as Jerry joyfully whirls in the sweet by-and-by, the sweet buy-and-buy will go on in this dimension. Esther will be up there on stage channeling Abe, and then...oh, my... Jerry will make an "appearance," bringing tears and laughter to the crowd of gullibles. More books, more DVDs, more workshops, more cruises. And Jerry will be on every one of them. Indeed, it takes more than cancer to kill a cash cow.
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More on Abe-Hicks:

Kyra's excellent critical Abe-Hicks blog (I may not know much about the Abe-Hicks teachings, but Kyra certainly does.)

I don't want to forget Dave Stone's Abe-Hicks Squidoo lens. Here he shows an outrageous example, from a recent Abe-Hicks workshop, of the type of amoral teachings of Esther Hicks' imaginary pals (but very real cash cow). Apparently selfishness is a divine, Christ-like attribute, and it's perfectly all right for a child to abuse a pet.

Musings about why it matters more -- or should matter more -- when New-Wage gurus screw up in their lives than when the rest of us do:

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Friday, November 18, 2011

A jumpsuit for Jimmy

But I breathe yet
And for some the sky is bright
I cannot give up hoping for a morning light
So I ask that killer, "Can you sleep at night?"
Those three are on my mind.

(Apologies to folksinger Pete Seeger)*
As everyone who has been following the story is painfully aware by now, James Arthur Ray, convicted in June of 2011 on three counts of negligent homicide for the October 2009 fake-sweat-lodge deaths of James Shore, Kirby Brown and Liz Neuman, was sentenced on Friday, November 18, 2011. For his role in ending the lives of these three fine people, he received a mere two years in prison, minus 24 days served in jail last year after he was arrested. Those two years actually represent three two-year terms -- one for each death -- but the terms will be served concurrently rather than consecutively. As was the case of the verdict on the lesser charge of negligent homicide (as opposed to reckless manslaughter), the sentence represents only a tiny victory for the victims and their loved ones. 

For the first few days after his conviction, Death Ray was officially listed as being in the Yavapai County (Arizona) Jail infirmary, leading to all sorts of speculation on Salty Droid's blog. As of this writing he is apparently in transit to somewhere else.

Though I was unable to follow the whole trial and post-trial goings-on moment by moment, and I certainly have been remiss on my blogging, I kept up with the story through Salty Droid's blog, LaVaughn's Celestial Reflection's blog, Connie Joy's Tragedy in Sedona Facebook page, and various Twitter feeds. The mainstream news media were of very little help. 

And despite my capricious satellite connections here at the Edge of Nowhere, I was able to tune in to a live CNN feed on November 18 to see the tail-end of the sentencing. At the time I tuned in, Death Ray was engaged in what was certainly the most important performance of his career, issuing a tearful, cracked-voice apology. Among other things he whimpered that if he'd had any idea whatsoever that the people in his fake sweat lodge were really in any distress, he certainly would have "stopped immediately." (This is, of course, contrary to mounds of eyewitness testimony.) He also promised to never, never, never, never run another fake sweat lodge. 

Comparing his past arrogant, in-your-face performances with that courtroom drama, I was reminded of the creature Gollum in Lord of the Rings: one moment plotting his evil deeds to wrest the Ring from the Hobbits, and then the next, when confronted and threatened (usually by Frodo's loyal pal Samwise Gamgee), cowering and whining that he was just an innocent soul who was only trying to help out, and he never meant any harm at all.
Unfortunately this was real life, not a fantasy film. Following Ray's pathetic histrionics there was a break, and then a beet-red, faltering Judge Warren Darrow came back to pronounce his judgment.

My first thought when I saw him was that this man was seriously hypertensive. It also seemed apparent as he rambled on that he was having some deep emotional conflicts about the case. I kind of felt sorry for him at first, particularly when it seemed for a moment that he wasn't going to let Ray off easily. But I was quickly dispelled of all illusions as he began nattering about “educated adults” and “responsibility” and “common sense,” the clear implication being that the people in distress in the sweat lodge should have taken more responsibility for saving themselves. It sounded to me as if he also mumbled something about suffering being one purpose of a sweat lodge. I can only imagine how Native Americans felt when listening to that.

I was also appalled when Darrow said in all seriousness that he believed Ray sincerely thought he was helping people. And when he said that Ray had committed no prior similar offenses, I found myself shouting at the computer screen. What about the previous sweat lodges where people almost died? What about Colleen Conaway, who died at a Ray event in San Diego in July 2009?

And what about all of the aggravating circumstances? 

Granted, Judge Darrow couldn't legally base his sentence on some of the things many of us found most objectionable, such as Ray's apparent lack of remorse up to the time of the croc-tear performance. But he was allowed to take into account many aggravating factors -- that was the purpose of all of those hearings following the verdict, after all -- and it seemed to many of us who were watching this that his sentence displayed either abject naivete or willful ignorance of the greater context. Or perhaps something more sleazy was going on. I don't know and, obviously, I'm not a lawyer, but I think this kind of "justice" stinks.

In Ray's camp, the attorneys immediately began the process of reversing what little justice had been done, and The Spin began as well. According to an article by Mark Duncan that was published on the site for the Prescott, Arizona Daily Courier:
Ray's family was somber but upbeat after the sentencing, making plans to return to their homes in San Diego and Kansas City. They think Ray is strong enough to endure his prison experience.
"We want to express our condolences to the victims' families again and hope they can find forgiveness in their hearts," said Ray's brother Jon. "We were fortunate enough to meet with James after the sentencing. He was in good spirits and said this would give him the opportunity to help people in prison who need it."
I can just imagine the type of "help" James could offer to his prison mates. There's been a lot of speculation about what manner of new frauducts or flopportunities he'll be able to dream up behind bars. Even though he has promised never to conduct another phony sweat lodge, there are still plenty of ways to scam people and to inflict financial and emotional, if not physical, harm on them. He proved that time and again at his other pricey, emotionally and physically abusive events. (Colleen, for example, did not die in a sweat lodge.) Moreover, being behind bars has never stopped a first-rate scammer for very long. In fact, prison is often just another incubator for scams. In many ways it is a hucksters' paradise.

An oft-cited (at least on this blog) example is infomercial king Kevin True-Dough, who served two years in prison in the early 1990s on on various felony charges, including credit card fraud. In prison he met another scammer and cooked up more scams, and when he got out he went on to bigger and better schemes. Perhaps his biggest current scam is the Global Information Network, or G.I.N., which, because the main money-making ops come from selling memberships to others, is basically a pyramid scheme — despite the protest-too-much disclaimers on various sites run by some of his minions. He apparently manages to get around the U.S. authorities by basing G.I.N. offshore, in Nevis/St. Kitts. He also retains expensive lawyers, and has a legal defense fund which he aggressively promotes — the result being that the same folks he’s screwing with his frauducts and flopportunities contribute to the great cause of keeping him out of jail. If they contribute $1,000 or more they get a chance to have dinner with him and their fellow suckers, and more opportunities to contribute yet more money to the cause. 

No doubt about it, KT has a great shtick going, and he has many people convinced that he’s a fearless consumer advocate and First Amendment champion whom the government, the medical profession, and the pharmaceutical industry are trying to squash.

But I digress. It seems that the Death Ray case was Judge Darrow's swan song. According to the Daily Courier article cited above:
Judge Darrow, who spent nearly two years refereeing a consistently contentious adjudication, has announced that he will retire early next year. In an email, he wrote a brief summation of his thoughts on a decade on the bench.

"I cannot overstate my appreciation for the opportunity I have been given to serve in this position of profound responsibility," he wrote.
While Judge Darrow recovers from his ordeal and Ray's lawyers work to further muck up the wheels of justice, James Ray's fans and defenders are also out in force. A core group of loyalists insist he doesn't deserve prison, according to this ABC News piece. One said, "Wherever James goes, he always does good." Some of the most revolting remarks can be found on the Official James Ray fan page on Facebook. If you follow that link, be prepared for some nauseating victim-blaming ("those three sheeple deserved to die") and Ray-worshiping ("those who hate James Ray aren't worth even one of his turds") remarks. I have to wonder if some of the people on that site are just being cruelly provocative, or if they really are as deluded as they sound.

My point is that although there may be more than a bit of schadenfreude in the critics' corners at the prospect of Jimmy Ray in an orange jumpsuit, we can't necessarily count him out of the selfish-help/New-Wage/McSpirituality game. Granted, as Salty Droid and others have noted, at least that two-years-minus-24-days sentence is something. And perhaps Salty is right and JAR has been crippled. Like Voldemort when Harry and gang started destroying the Horcruxes, Ray may be seriously weakened. Not only does he face scads more civil suits, there's the Colleen Conaway case, which her family is actively pursuing. Maybe Ray will never regain his full power to hurt people emotionally, physically, and financially. 


But others will surely rise in his place, so it’s up to those of us who wish to fight what Salty has often referred to as the “sick machine” in our own way to keep reminding people of the nature of the beast.

I've wondered if some of the stigma of James Ray's conviction and imprisonment will also leave a bit of a smudge on the other New-Wage gurus, particularly the stars of The Secret, who used to boast that Ray was their friend. One that comes to mind is our friend Mr. Fire, who, in happier days (that would be the heyday of The Secret), bragged that James Ray was his friend. Joe hasn't said much about his friend, at least not publicly, since Ray's troubles began. Others in the selfish-help game have been bolder. For instance, there's Scientist Bob Proctor, quoted in this article on the Arizona Republic site (this was just after Ray was convicted):
Bob Proctor, a self-help leader and longtime friend of James Arthur Ray, said although he did not support the sweat-lodge retreat, he would have liked to see Ray vindicated.

"Anybody had the right to leave there (the sweat lodge), and they didn't. Some did," Proctor said. "It was a tragic thing that happened, but I don't think (Ray) should be the one that's held responsible.

"He's not a bad guy. He's been portrayed as something that he's not. He's actually helped a lot of people."
And the aforementioned Kevin True-dough, not a star of The Secret but an even brighter star in the scamosphere, spun Ray's conviction as part of a U.S. government conspiracy against the selfish-help industry and the true innovators and entrepreneurs in society.

But I really don't think Ray's jail term will have much of an effect on the activities of the busy hucksters. Jimmy Ray Jumpsuit may be temporarily incapacitated, but the selfish-help industry is thriving -- scams, scammers, and all. There are laws in place to protect consumers, but those responsible for enforcing the laws have their hands and their plates full. The battle cries of "cages for sociopaths" and "cages for psychopaths" are heating up, and I admit that they have a certain ring to them, but I can't honestly say that I believe even now that cages are appropriate for all scammers -- and besides, as we've seen, cages have never stopped the really determined ones. And there are many more scammers outside of cages than in them.

Whatever happens in the future, it is my hope that the families of the victims will find a little comfort from the November 18 verdict, and if not from the verdict, at least from knowing that there are many of us out here who are in their corner. Even if the public in general has a short memory, we do not. And we will be mindful as we sit down to our holiday dinners that because of James Arthur Ray, several families will be facing yet another holiday without the loved ones he took from them.

* Lyrics quoted are slightly modified from "Those Three Are On My Mind," from Pete Seeger's 1967 album Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and Other Love Songs. "Those Three Are On My Mind" is actually a protest song about the 1964 shooting deaths of three Mississippi civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. Of the eighteen men arrested for this crime -- a group that included law enforcement officers and Ku Klux Klan members -- only one was ever charged with murder, and that was four decades later, when the accused was 80 years old. The other killers were either acquitted of lesser crimes, were convicted but served short sentences, or their cases ended in mistrials. In the song verse I quoted, the actual lyrics are, "So I ask those killers, 'Can you sleep at night?'" You can listen to and purchase "Those Three Are On My Mind" here.

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