Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Invisible People: Blogging Homeless Lives

In addition to the brief, harrowing videos and the black and white photographs on Invisible People, there’s a tagline at the top of the right column in light blue letters that will grab your attention.

“Homeless Has A Name.”

Mark Horvath’s blog chronicles the stories of homeless people on the streets of L.A., Denver, and road trips across the country (including homeless people in my hometown of Boston). Horvath himself was homeless when he lost his job working in the television industry.

You’d expect stories of heartbreak and misery, which, of course, there are. But often the stories are first-person journalism at its best. In the story of Michael, whose video was at the top of the blog when I last looked, is the story of a street musician who’s been living on the streets for more than 20 years.

Michael never panhandles; instead he plays his acoustic guitar on the streets. If you listen to him, it’s not hard to imagine how he makes enough money to get by. But recently, the Denver police have been cracking down on ordinances that ban him from playing music between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., despite being quieter than the loud buses and bars around him.

To listen to Michael tell his story of a policewoman who’d been following him (literally) to lock him up reveals the injustice of our system. What crime has Michael committed living on the streets? How is jail a better option than more resources toward human and social services?

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Filed under: homelessness, social justice, , , , ,

Ex-Scientology Members Given a Voice

Unhappy with your beliefs? Seeking an alternative to nirvana?

The New York Times published a fascinating report on several defectors from the Church of Scientology, the exclusive, secretive religion favored by Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Though it’s missing the more salacious things we’ve heard about aliens and L. Ron Hubbard’s frozen body, it does investigate charges of physical abuse of staff members, declining membership, and the system of confessional-type “auditing” sessions.

[Members] may spend hundreds of hours in one-on-one “auditing” sessions, holding the slim silver-colored handles of an e-meter while an auditor asks them questions and takes notes on what they say and on the e-meter’s readings.

What’s most fascinating is the odd cosmology of military paraphernalia (wearing Naval uniforms for religious ceremonies), New Age rituals (spending five hours a day in a sauna, cleansing your body of toxins), business lingo (confession-as-auditing-session), and Hubbard’s own doctrines that read more like science fiction than religion. According to NYT journalist Laurie Goodstein, “Scientologists believe that human beings are impeded by negative memories from past lives, and that by applying Mr. Hubbard’s “technology,” they can reach a state known as clear.”

What’s troubling to learn about Scientology is its culture of secrecy and its severe punishment for those who wish to leave the religion. In a tradition known as “disconnecting,” members who wish to leave the church must sever, or “disconnect,” all ties to any Scientology family members or friends. This threat of separating not only from one’s beliefs, but parents, brothers, sisters, and the like, is enough to instill fear in any member who wishes for freedom.

Mike Rinder, who for more than 20 years was the church’s spokesman, said the disconnect policy originated as Mr. Hubbard’s prescription for how to deal with an abusive spouse or boss.

Now, “disconnection has become a way of controlling people,” said Mr. Rinder, who says his mother, sister, brother, daughter and son disconnected from him after he left the church. “It is very, very prevalent.”

It’s difficult to understand how this type of worship differs from the authoritarian qualities of a cult. Ex-Scientologist Marc Headley writes that his wife suffered from a common church practice: coercing members to receive abortions.

All of this subjugation to the church makes me wonder: Must individual liberties be sacrificed for the good of an institution? How does a culture of fear and secrecy correlate with a stated emphasis on humanity and an end to suffering and pain?

Filed under: religion, , , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
March 2010
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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