More Fiction on the Way

Dear readers, writers, artists and fellow humans,
I’m working up a second collection of short stories, firing back up on my novel and submitting some other pros and poetry in the coming months. In the meantime, I invite you to read my first collection, the Brunt on Amazon. if you like dark quirk, ghost stories, satire andThe Brunt Cover animal revenge then these 6 stories are right up your figurative alley. Thanks as always for your support, your feedback and your own imaginative contributions to the world.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Brunt-Miranda-Culp-ebook/dp/B00MN2QRTG

Pope Francis on Armenia: This is What World Leaders Say to Foster Peace

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He had my attention when he invited women to breastfeed in the Vatican while there were waiting to have their babies baptized.  I know, he’s Argentine and they are a little more laid back, but when you consider that there are states here in the US that will arrest women for feeding their babies in public, this is big.

Then, #PopeFrancis organized around #climatechange, brokered the initial talks with Cuba and U.S and now, he used the word “genocide” in reference to the Armenian massacre, which marks its 100th anniversary.  I know most people will receive the sound byte, but here is the driving force behind his speech:

“Despite conflicts and tensions, Armenians and Turks have lived long periods of peaceful coexistence in the past and, even in the midst of violence, they have experienced times of solidarity and mutual help. Only in this way will new generations open themselves to a better future and will the sacrifice of so many become seeds of justice and peace.” (Pope Francis, St. Peter’s Basilica, April 12, 2015)

Here’s a link to the whole speech translated into English:

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2015/04/13/full-text-pope-franciss-message-to-armenians/

It’s important to note that His Holiness was actually quoting his predecessor and that he was making a larger comment about reconciliation and forgiveness. My interpretation of what he is saying is that in a new era of genocide, all peoples and all world leaders have a spiritual and social obligation to stop the cycle of violence.  He has shown himself to be an inclusive peacemaker, not just focusing on conflicts that burden Christians, but all peoples.

Organized religion is the oldest and most absurd rationale in the book for the wholesale slaughter of entire nations. Catholics, let’s not forget, were responsible for the Crusades that converted a large swath of the Middle East by force and wiped out those who would not acquiesce. Francis strikes me as a Pope who knows his history.

The question all this brings up: How do we expect our leaders to express peace?  And I ask this question out of baldfaced ignorance, but what does Turkey have to lose by recognizing the 1.5 million people systematically killed 100 years ago? How do we heal if we don’t first acknowledge the wound?

My figurative hat is off to Pope Francis for addressing human rights violations with a sort of innocence and idealism, for taking a good, logical look at climate change and for singing the unpopular song of peace. Now if he could update church policy on creating and harboring pedafilia, also bring the Church’s women’s rights policy into the 21st Century, I’d convert to Catholicism.

#CubaUSrelations  #Armenia  #humanrights

Going Clear: Scientology and Dispelling the Myths About Cult Indoctrination

By Miranda Culp

There is widespread coverage of the damage groups like ISIS have inflicted on their neighbors and much conjecture about why Westerners would join groups that regularly broadcast journalist beheadings and destruction of ancient art.  How could any reasonably sane, educated person consider becoming a terrorist?

When the Waco standoff resulted in an entire community of people dying in a rain of bullets and fire and the response I often heard was, “well, they were all sheep, they just followed that guy to the slaughter.”

The problem with this basic ignorance and the lack of compassion that attends it, is that people don’t understand their own programming.  We have all been brainwashed, by our respective cultures.  From the moment we understand language, we start adopting assumptions and those assumptions are reinforced for us daily.

The Going Clear documentary was very close to home for me; quite literally, I grew up not far from the Scientology headquarters in Los Angles and many of my parents’ peers had a story about someone trying to talk them into a presentation or a free “audit”.  My main sense of the organization, according to my mom’s teacher and activist friends, was that it primarily pitched itself as a gay deprogramming operation for budding actors. It could convert you and you wouldn’t even miss your old lifestyle because you would become so rich and famous.

But there is another way that I relate to this story: when I was 19, I spent three days under the spell of a mad man like L. Ron Hubbard.  I had just moved from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz, CA. Unlike most of my friends in high school, I didn’t get into college and so I was drifting. Since many of my friends went to UCSC, I moved up there to go to junior college and get a job.

A young man who was an artist and musician, we’ll call him Michel, lived in the basement apartment of my old Victorian, and I was immediately captivated by him and his girlfriend, whom we will call Mandy, a tall willowy read head, also artsy and interesting.

One Sunday evening, after being gone all weekend, the couple came home and I knocked on Michel’s door to say hi.  They asked me to come in and when I opened the door, a small group of people was seated on Michel’s bed.  They asked me to join them and Michel and Mandy smiled warmly.

At the head of the bed was a tall, gorgeous African American man.  He had beautiful skin, close-cropped hair and perfect teeth.  His name was Joshua.

“Who are you?” he asked me. I gave him my name.

“Who are you?”  He asked again. I was confused.  Michel moved over so I could sit next to Joshua.  “I’m Miranda.” I repeated.

“No,” he leaned in, his eyes boring in to me, “who are you?” Everyone in the group sat and waited.  I think I must have giggled out of nervousness.

He tried again: “What are you?”

“I’m an..artist,” I stammered.

“Ah”, he smiled. “And how is that going?”

This went on and escalated, so that every time I gave him an answer he didn’t like, he would raise his voice, just a little, and show me with his body language that my answer didn’t please him. Meanwhile, everyone in the room sat and listened. When I looked at them for an explanation, they would just smile at me encouragingly.

After twenty minutes or so, this guy had uncovered my extreme doubts about my usefulness on the planet, he had sought out my anxiety about the state of the world and then presented me with a solution to both of these things at the same time. At his bidding, I called my parents at 11pm, to wake them up and tell them I was dropping out of school and joining the Blue White Dove Foundation.

I will cut to the chase here and tell you that Michel’s parents did some research on Joshua and discovered that he had done time for violent crime. With some digging in the Berkeley community, we found he had convinced over 80 college kids to quit school, empty their bank accounts and “follow” him. He had manipulated many of the women into unprotected sex, and he had convinced one woman to abandon her infant.

For those three days that I was with him, none of us ate or slept much. We did these exercises in his question-and-answer style and listened to him prattle on, borrowing from diverse sources such as Alistair Crowley and Prince.

It’s pretty obvious to me after watching Going Clear, that Joshua had some experience with Scientology because he had adapted many of their techniques. In the film, a former member of the Church describes his consciousness seeming to draw back in his brain and watch all the action from a pinhole.  I cannot tell you how accurate this is; it’s like the voice in your head is no longer your operating system, but it’s still talking.  There is a total disconnect between your inner voice and your actions.

Watch the trailer for Going Clear here.  It re-airs on HBO April 9th.

It’s not a complicated process to brainwash someone, it simply takes knowing where the vulnerability is and learning how to verbalize it in a way that resonates.  Religious leaders, politicians, lawyers and marketers already know this, in fact, there is a term for it in marketing: pain points.  If you know friction the customer experiences, and you can voice that pain point, the customer will go for the solution you provide.  Simple as that.

A cult leader is particularly deft at describing these pain points to you.  And once you have bought into the solution, even if you don’t believe it all the way, all of your peers are sold and self-doubt, the thing that got you there in the first place, does the rest.

For the young men that get indoctrinated into ISIS, there are probably so many questions that don’t have an answer: Why are so many members of my family being killed?  Why is there no fresh water? No access to food or medicine? When someone gives you the answer: “This is all the infidels’ fault. This is a holy war. You are chosen to stand up and fight. God wants you to fight.” There is suddenly order when before there was nothing but chaos and the directive is very clear.  Now you have a plan of action.

And when you are not eating or sleeping, or when you have experienced trauma, we know now that the decision-making part of the brain just shuts off, redirecting its precious energies to survival functions. This is how herd mentality works. It explains why totally sane, sweet people can be driven to the most heinous acts, because they stop individuating. The body takes over and goes with safety in numbers.

Scientology has ruined lives, vanquished the possibility of livelihood for thousands of children, and created a state-sanctioned human trafficking business that has racked up billions of dollars.  It has done all this by cashing in on the better nature of normal people, hard working, hopeful people whose only crime was self-doubt.

The good news about our suggestibility is that when people are presented with their options, they are still capable of making choices, even after years of submission.  Margaret Singer was a psychologist at Berkeley studying cult behavior at the time that I encountered Joshua.  One of the young men in our group had been embedded for 3 weeks and Joshua had convinced him that the end of the world was coming. After his parents contacted Singer and forcibly took him away from Joshua,  Dr. Singer’s secretary called right as he was about to jump out of the window and escape.  She said to him on the phone, “I was in a cult for 11 years and if your experience was anything like mine, the only thing you want to do right now is run.” That was the moment when the artifice collapsed for him, the moment when his consciousness broke free of the spell.

The former members of the Church of Scientology may have been just average people going in, but I can tell you first hand that in order to get out, they were nothing short of heroic. Some of them were embedded for 20 years, some of them had to leave behind partners and children. Some of them had to run like refugees and reenter a world where they had no money, no skills and nowhere to go.

We should do away with discussions that pigeonhole people into two categories: suckers and critical thinkers.  None of us think for ourselves; we are moved by the language around us.  Free will is a fragile construct based on that language.  The best we can do is try to become more comfortable with the human inclination to ask these questions and build our endurance for uncertainty.  That, and a healthy skepticism for anyone proclaiming to have all the answers.

Margaret Singer on language and how it is used in mind control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9rj4R4QhQg

Ai Weiwei @ Large Exhibit at Alcatraz: the Danger of Silence

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I lived in San Francisco for 8 years and never went to Alcatraz until this weekend.  I could never think of a good reason to visit a dilapidated prison. But I was struck by the magnitude of this mass of rock and its crumbling facades, the undeniable beauty of the ocean and the city.  It was the perfect setting for this show.

Ai Weiwei is such a force that he can successfully conduct a conversation about freedom and confinement without even setting foot on the site.  These installations are so titanic without overpowering the space; they also enable the public to see some of the buildings that are not usually accessible.

The experience of being in this space is hard explain but there are so many contradictions: the constricting cells, and the wide openness of the industrial buildings, the degrading surfaces and the bubbles of old glass letting in the bold illumination of the sea.

Ai Weiwei tinkers with these contradictions so consciously: the portraits of detained or persecuted people are made of Legos, giving them a primary and pixelated look.  Soft little ceramic flowers fill up bath tubs and latrines, you almost miss them if you aren’t looking for them, quiet gestures of solace in an environment of humiliation and chaos.

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In the hospital, there were two tiled rooms the size of small bathrooms where the mentally ill were contained.  Glass block facing the ocean allowed a soft light in but once the sun went down, these rooms went black.  Ill prisoners were kept in solitary, often restrained. Ai Weiwei piped the sound of Tibetan monks chanting into one room and at a certain point I was the only one in there.  I closed my eyes and the sudden, sonorous vibration of the monks’ deep bellow shook my ribcage. In the other room, the sound of Hopi ritual drumming and chanting bounced off the tile walls.

Prison and war are our primary industries in the U.S and it is almost hard to separate them when you are in these interiors.  Alcatraz was a military prison, the remnants are still ferocious, like the cannons that shot 440 lbs cannon balls.  These spaces are like a war on the body, a constant attack of surveillance, a void of comfort, a wasteland of connection.   The primary tool of these industries is dehumanization; when we cease to acknowledge a person, or a country as human, we can criminalize them, we can refuse to help, we can drop bombs.

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And still, this artist who deserves to be on the world stage, is able to convey these very powerful messages about injustice, about the danger of silence, and that is not possible in other countries.  At the end of the exhibit, there are shelves of postcards with the names of political prisoners printed on them.  Ai Weiwei teamed up with Amnesty International to ensure that these prisoners would receive the postcards and visitors to the exhibit were encouraged to write.  This was perhaps the most powerful part of the installation, that as a viewer, you were not simply left with this heavy feeling of futility, but that you could sit down and convey your own message.  An art guide told me that 8 people had been released since the exhibit opened.

This is what great art does: it makes an undeniable stand, but it invites questions and evokes a sense of personal responsibility in everyone who witnesses it.   It is by nature, inclusive, calling attention to the artificial boundaries that distance us from other people.

Pope Francis, Protector of Mother Nature: May He Work a Miracle With Climate Change

I really cannot believe that there isn’t more thunder in liberal circles with Pope Francis’s recent public statements on #climatechange.

Do any of you remember what it was like when Benedict or Paul opened their mouths?  It was always a “brace yourself for a draconian throwback from the 15th Century” kinda moment.

But #PopeFrancis seems to be the rare bird, not just in the church but in the world, who is taking the Jesus model seriously.  He’s not all “home school this and Original Sin that” he’s more like, “forgive everyone” and “please feel free to breast feed your babies in church”.

A little more than a week ago,  Pope Francis announced that he will “issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions,” regarding climate change, according to the UK Guardian. His goal is to rally unified support for action at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015. Encyclics are a high priority declaration that get handed directly down the ranks worldwide.

Now, I realize that for those of us on the left, this is the kind of declaration we have all been waiting for from a global figure, but his constituency may not feel this way.

But here is the beauty of his argument: Pope Francis is approaching this from a human rights perspective, a slant that leverages the sense of charity and justice that the #Catholic Church is famous for.  The Pentagon recently published a report on climate change and how it is directly related to destabilization in certain regions of the world. The nature of the conversation is changing, linking environmental and social justice together more closely. His Holiness is speaking in bigger terms, and with eloquence: “The monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,”

Could someone with this much clout make such a persuasive, human-centric case that he could sway the populace?

I want us all to set aside our informed cynicism about the state of the planet for a second and imagine one person could mobilize world leaders and such a significant portion of the global population that we could radically alter the current path of humanity.  Just sit with that for a second.

The Catholic Church is arguably the oldest corporation in history, and while I understand why religious people would veer away from that label, that descriptor actually works in the context of economics.  It has the oldest, longest running message, the biggest target audience, the most capital with which to enact rapid, massive change and a CEO with considerable decision-making power.  In ancient Rome, there were mostly terrible emperors who wallowed in food and sex, but even in there, a few good guys pushed civilization forward, building libraries and aqueducts.

I’m really hopeful for the first time in a long time that we can engender a collective ideological shift; history says it has happened before.  Maybe this sweet man who has said nothing but peace-making things since he became the Pope will say to the world, come on now, the science says yes, let’s clean it up.  Maybe half his church leaves him, and then all the liberal-leaning christians will move in to support that path, who knows?

Saint Francis is the guardian of the animals, the protector of nature.  He was a symbol of man’s responsibility to his world.  In his prayer he says, “Lord, make me an instrument of peace.”  Pope Francis is seeing the disconnect we are experiencing with nature and with our neighbors as the same thing.  May he do his best to heal it and may his flock listen.

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The Perfect Last Minute Gift : the Brunt Short Stories

The Brunt Cover

In another, opportunistic move, I am going to capitalize on this season of getting and spending by suggesting to you that you buy this collection of irreverent, exploratory, slightly witty short stories for someone you truly love or just like ok.

In a slightly less self-involved move, I am going to invite you to give me feedback, positive or negative so that if you feel totally ripped off by the 3 dollars you wasted, you can make yourself feel better by letting me have it.  Especially if you are George Bush Jr. Don’t know what that means?  Guess you will have to read the story to find out.

Here is the amazon/kindle link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MN2QRTG

Wishing you a genuinely peaceful, jovial holiday.

Miranda, One Who Wonders.

#fiction, #shortstories #lastminutegift