Archive for March 2007

The Profit – A Review

March 31, 2007

With renewed interest in the motion picture, “The Profit,” I am getting questions from new visitors to XENU TV and the WOG BLOG. I remained quiet about the film until after it opened in Clearwater, Florida back in 2001. I posted what I thought was a fair, constructive review of the movie which did not sit well at all with the makers of the film or those who were in their inner circle.

I want the film to be re-released. I want people to be able to see the film. I want to see if they actually improved the movie in the many years it has been on the shelf. But I stand by my comments in this review as being my honest perceptions of the many flaws of “The Profit.”

FIRST PUBLISHED SATURDAY AUGUST 25th, 2001

A couple years back, I was riding in a Clearwater cab. I was on my way to a candlelight vigil in memory of a woman who died a tragic death after being held against her will for 17 days in the Fort Harrison Hotel. The cab driver was very curious about Scientology and asked a lot of questions.

At one point he asked if there was any connection to Satanism. I gave him a little background about Hubbard and Jack Parsons and their attempts to create the Moonchild. This driver, who had been so interested in Scientology, suddenly said, “Oh c’mon! You’re just making this up to make Hubbard look bad.”

This driver hadn’t heard Hubbard in his own voice praising his “good friend, Aleister Crowley.” He hadn’t seen any documentation or heard Scientology’s silly cover story (repeated on the A&E two hour documentary) that Hubbard had been sent in to “break-up” this Satanic cult. The story was just too unbelievable to be true.

This unfortunately is one of the main flaws with the movie “The Profit.” Although many of the events in the life of the fictional L. Conrad Powers seem to have actually been based on true incidents from the life of L. Ron Hubbard, as presented here they seem wholly unbelievable and work to distance the viewer from being drawn into this story of a cult leader’s rise and fall.

The filmmakers have assured us that the movie is based on a composite of various cult leaders but I’m afraid my own knowledge is limited to Hubbard and Scientology so most of my comments will concentrate on those comparisons.

Unfortunately the film opens with a lengthy sequence that concentrates on L. Conrad Powers’ involvement with just such a Satanic cult. Led by Zack Carson, the wealthy head of a chemical company, this cult practices rituals in the backyard of Carson’s mansion. There science fiction writer Powers spots a naked woman leaping through a bonfire and decides this is the place for him. Luckily, Carson is a fan of Powers’ writing so he gets readily welcomed into the house.

This sequence, clocking in at over 20 minutes, grinds the film to a virtual halt even before it starts. We see Powers steal Carson’s girl, his boat and his money but little is actually gained dramatically during the amount of time spent in this part of Powers’ life.

There is a lot of material that could easily be trimmed. We see Powers going through Carson’s desk drawers looking for the financial records which prove that Carson is wealthy and a good target for Power’s con. However, we’re standing in the middle of a vast mansion and know the guy owns a chemical company. We can assume the guy has money.

Then there is the sequence where Powers proves he is worthy of Carson’s confidence by constructing an elaborate gizmo to fool Carson into thinking a ghost is haunting him; a ghost that only Powers can control. To do this Powers goes to Carson’s library and reads a book on magic tricks. He finds the ghost trick listed in the book then luckily finds all the parts needed in an unlocked shed on the property. We are to believe that he not only finds all the parts needed but then is so skilled that he can easily assemble them into a working gizmo that projects a ghost image on cue. We also must believe that Carson hasn’t read the books on his shelf and wouldn’t recognize this as “the ghost gag” from his book of magic. And we also have to accept that the weather plays along with Powers plan and knocks the power out just as Power’s gizmo needs darkness for its flickering candle to project an image through a hole in the wall.

All this contrivance is to make Carson accept him as a close friend and confidant but we already have seen the look on Carson’s face when he hears a writer he loves is at his home. We can accept that Carson is a fan and is ready to trust him. Get on with it already and drop the ghost gizmo which stretches credulity.

Someone asked me a couple nights ago about “A.I” and among my comments I mentioned some logical points that should have been addressed. Why are we to believe that a company would create a mechanical boy so perfect in every detail except for the fact that he can’t take a bite of food or it will get clogged in his machinery and ruin him? It would be simple enough for this company to create a passageway for food to safely pass through the robot boy without hurting his mechanism. They make the boy real in every other aspect. Why not allow the robot boy to “dine” with his family. To do otherwise is to remind everyone at every daily meal that he is not real. It doesn’t make sense but it allowed Spielberg to do the “cool scene” of opening up the boy to show spinach clogging his system.

“The Profit” has way too many such illogical ideas that must have seemed “cool” but instead make you wonder “why would they do that?”

Take the wraparound story, for instance. I’m talking about the scenes involving a character named Mitch Cabot who opens the film by visiting Powers on his death bed in a remote, isolated mansion. This high official in the Church of Scientific Spiritualism has orders to come to Powers’ deathbed, pick up a book from his wall safe and deliver that book to the new leader of SciSpirit upon Powers’ death. That new leader is to be instructed to read the book once, memorize it and destroy it. The book is the autobiography of Powers and while Cabot reads it to Powers’ doctor the film flashes back to portions of Power’s life starting with the Carson/Satanic scenes. We return to Cabot and the doctor reading the book a number of times throughout the film.

While laying a framework upon which to hang the story of Power’s life, the logic of this idea is flawed at best. Why would anyone write a book that says “I am a con man of the highest order who lied about every facet of my life. I was a bigamist. I stole all the research for SciSpirit. I punched my pregnant wife in the stomach and then I went nuts and blamed all my problems on the commies and the global conspiracy. Oh, and I ordered people to break into the FBI and steal documents.”

Even if you were to write this tell-all confessional, why would you then tell the new leader of the church to read the book once, memorize it and then destroy it? What good would that do? Well, If you don’t stop for a tiny split second to think about it, it kind of sounds “cool.” And it gave a convenient framework on which to hang the stories that Peter Alexander wanted to tell.

Let me digress for a moment. Hitchcock created movies in a somewhat similar, disjointed way. He wasn’t interested so much in narrative; he wanted to create memorable sequences that people would talk about.

They are often called set pieces and he was a master of them. For “North by Northwest,” he told writer Ernest Lehmann that he wanted:

1) a scene were a person gets shot in the U.N.

2) Cary Grant getting chased by a crop dusting plane through a field where he has no place to hide

3) a big finish in which there is a chase on Mount Rushmore.

He then let Lehmann build a solid story around these set pieces. The difference with “The Profit” is that Peter Alexander falls short of providing that solid narrative to move the film logically from one scene to the next and also fails to produce any memorable set pieces.

While readers of a.r.s know that Hubbard was a penny-a-word, science fiction writer, that he created Dianetics, turned it into Scientology and died with vistiril in his butt, that doesn’t mean that unsuspecting audience members can connect similar dots for the on-screen life of L. Conrad Powers. What do devil worshipping, hypnosis, and regression theory necessarily have to do with the cult this leader ultimately forms? Alexander ignores the first rule of screenwriting; each scene should move you logically and dramatically to the next scene. Alexander is only moving as smoothly as he can from one pre-selected anecdote to another. Consequently, his story gets led all over the map while diluting it’s message.

Alexander has said that this film is an effort to show how people can be sucked into dangerous, mind control cults but, in fact, there is very little in the film that addresses that issue. We see people follow Powers at various points, such as when he writes his first self help book, but we never really understand why. This is especially true of the later portions of the film when the Church of Scientific Spiritualism is created. With the exception of a promise of immortality and the endorsement of the movie star, “Tom Travers”, it is unclear why people are following Powers or how they got involved in the first place.

In fact the movie makes some very unintended endorsements of its own.

For one, it says that auditing works. We see Powers getting one auditing session from a doctor at a V.A. Hospital and curing his impotency. We see Powers give one auditing session to his publisher and curing his asthma. A girl at a book signing gets one session and her vision is corrected. This auditing is pretty powerful stuff and gives the only clue as to why people followed Powers early on with SciMind…because the tech worked.

We also get a ringing endorsement for the power of Satanism. After Powers steals Carson’s boat, money and girl, Carson tracks them down and falls to his knees, praying to Satan for assistance. Suddenly the clear skies are replaced by a massive storm which forces the boat to shore. A voice-over from Powers states that “Of course, Carson didn’t really create that storm but he thought he did and that showed me the power of the mind.” Well, pardon me, but I saw a storm appear from clear blue skies. Movies are a visual medium. You show…not tell.

You’ve heard the phrase, “If they put that in a movie no one would ever believe it.” Even though this incident was said to have supposedly happened, it is not believable on screen. It could possibly work if presented as a memory. For instance, Carson could give his version of what happened. Then it is no longer a recording of fact but is instead seen through his distorted view of the events.

Others may have a different “Rashomon” view of the storm. I still would argue that it is an unimportant tidbit to include in the film but at least it would be less likely to make the movie seem like a string of unbelievable events.

Speaking of unbelievable, what about Powers’ amazing ability to hypnotize anyone? Carson teaches this to Powers by dangling a medallion in front of a light and repeating “look at the talisman…look at the light…look at the talisman…look at the light.” Powers uses this new ability to hypnotize Carson and then later steals the medallion.

Powers then uses the medallion to hypnotize a doctor who does regression therapy. He steals her research and later turns it into SciMind. Under his spell, Powers tells her that she will forget she ever created this research. That spell worked so well that we never hear from her again. You would think her patients and co-workers at the V.A. hospital would have noticed that she has dropped all her important work or maybe brought up the subject again when SciMind was published in the bookstores. “Hey, Doc, that was yours…remember?

Why don’t you sue?”

That is not just a mighty powerful spell but more importantly its a mighty powerful blow to the drama of the story because it ignores the way a real con man seduces you. Instead we get the over-simplified, unsatisfying and unbelievable gimmick of a swinging medallion. This was done for two reasons. One was to give a quick and easy answer to how Powers could achieve all he did. The other was to point out Alexander’s theory that Scientology is based on hypnosis. However, rather than make that important point in a sensible way, showing how a process like auditing uses repetitive commands that lead you to a receptive state, the film instead makes the whole idea look silly.

Are we to believe that all cult members are tricked into staring at a medallion? It belittles the experience cult members must endure.

So, rather than explain the cult experience, the film muddies the waters and this is the greatest disappointment of the film. Alexander set out to make a film to educate people about the danger of cults but wound up with a film that merely says Powers was a bad man. That one message is delivered in every frame of the film, in every turgid line of dialog, in every overly dramatic pause. Speaking of dramatic pauses, the running time could be greatly reduced by simply doing away with the great majority of them. Virtually every actor is urged to slow down and take their time before spitting out their lines.

Eric Rath as Powers is the greatest offender. His limited bag of actor’s tricks includes ending each of his menacing lines in a whisper. He uses this technique in almost every scene. Long pause…whisper. Since the script provides him with an endless stream of menacing lines, we get to see this note over and over.

Watching a good actor on screen, you should be able to see what the character is thinking. Alexander doesn’t trust you to do this.

Taking no chances, he twice has Rath mouth a line he’d like to make sure you catch. When Powers overhears that Carson is the head of Carson Chemicals, you get a close-up of Rath moving his lips. “Carson Chemicals,” he tells himself. Later, Carson’s girlfriend asks if Powers can join them in a ritual but Carson says no because he’s not an adept. In the background, Rath contorts his face and spits out silently, “Adept?”

But then, the entire film is lappy. Lappy. Its a term coined by Milton Berle. In his autobiography, Berle told how he used to demand that his writers create jokes which were broad and instantly understandable. Unlike Sid Caesar who was adored by the critics for his smart, satirical sketches, Berle wanted all of his jokes placed directly in peoples laps so they couldn’t possibly be misunderstood.

Is there is an understated moment in “The Profit?” A moment where the intelligence of the audience is respected? I didn’t spot one.

Instead we get treated to over the top moments such as this: Powers goes to a private investigator and asks him what type of investigations he does. The PI answers, “Well, there’s legal…(slowly lights cigar, sits back in chair, puffs out smoke)…and illegal.” This is an actor who looks the part and has talent but whose performance gets undercut by having been directed to be “really evil” at every moment.

This is why the St. Petersburg Times critic called “The Profit” an exploitation film. There is no subtlety in the film whatsoever.

Everything is drawn in broad strokes and bathed in bright colors.

Speaking of colors, the director of photography says he shot the film as a comic book. An odd choice for the subject matter but that was how Alexander’s script had simplified the issues.

Other technical elements range from solid to inept. The costumes are the strongest with the exception of the robes in the Carson/Satanic section. They seem to be made of the same thin, shiny material used to make your child look like Darth Vader at Halloween. I wondered if such material was even available in the time period. However, with the exception of the robes, the costumes were all well done and to be applauded.

The sets vary dramatically in quality. By and large, the real world locations are terrific. The settings are most believable when the production got away from the studio sets and out to the real world.

The prop master and set designer have done a good job of dressing the locations for the appropriate era.

Back at the soundstages, things get a little tackier. The worst set is the interior mansion where Mitch Cabot is at Powers’ deathbed. You go from the exterior of an impressive looking home to chintzy “cardboard” walls inside. The flat lighting makes this set look similar to something in an Ed Wood film or a quickie porno. It doesn’t help that these scenes also feature some of the worst acting, getting the movie off to a very weak start. Mitch Cabot can’t resist snarling his every line.

Alexander has stated that “The Profit” is to be the first part of his trilogy of films. Since Lucas made “Star Wars” every director now wants to make his own trilogy. The next film is supposed to follow the adventures of Mitch Cabot. The last film would center around the critics of SciSpirit. Well, one of the best pieces of show biz advice I ever heard came from Sean Connery. Christopher Reeve went to Connery when Reeve was first cast as Superman. He asked the James Bond star how he could avoid being typecast. Connery told him he should first worry about being good enough to get asked back for a second film.

Ultimately, “The Profit” plods along with no dramatic tension, no characters with which to identify, and gives the audience nothing to think about. Outside of Clearwater, a town which has every reason to want to see a film related even marginally to Scientology, I’m afraid “The Profit” as it stands now offers little to nothing.

Its not too late. The St. Pete Times review should have been a needed wake up call that all is not well with the film. There’s no reason to consider this a finished film. Re-think it. Re-edit. Cut away at the fat of the story and the excesses of the performances. Do some professional test screenings with the National Research Group in L.A. and see what the audiences tell you. Real audience members who aren’t regulars on a.r.s. and can give you the feedback needed.

As I left the screening last night, I was met in the hall by a group of teenage guys waiting at the door to see the midnight screening.

They were asking everyone, including me, “what did you think?” I told them it wasn’t for me to say but I asked them what they had been hearing and they replied “Negative! Very Negative!” They had big grins on their faces as though they knew “yeah, it may be bad but I can’t wait to see a certain cult get blasted.” The faces of the people coming out were nowhere near as happy.

I met another group out in the parking lot who were hugging each other goodbye and saying “We’ll have to get together again for a GOOD film.”

I went over and asked them what they thought and they said “You’re not the director, are you?” I said no and they told me they thought it was lousy. That was the general consensus. Ignoring the obvious and blaming the LMT for sabotaging the film or accusing the SP Times’ critic of potentially costing someone their life for being honest about the movie won’t help a thing.

“The Profit” will live or die because of the quality of the movie.

Nothing else. Listening to hype from people who wish the film to be a success won’t help. Instead, give them a better film to trumpet.

As it stands, I give the film 1 and 1/2 stars out of four.

As I was leaving the theater, a downtown Clearwater businessman asked me if I had learned anything from the movie. I told him, “Yes. If someone dangles a medallion in front of me, I wont look at the talisman…I won’t look at the light.”

Mark Bunker

Here Come Da Judge

March 28, 2007

As most of you probably know, I now work in TV news. I spend part of my day combing through national stories, looking for the important, the overlooked and the “what the hell?” stories.

Today I found one that made my jaw drop. It was about a judge that pulled a gun in his own courtroom. I was interested enough to take a look at the story and see what the details were.

HOLY CRAP!!!! The judge was John Merrett, attorney for the LMT back in 2000-2001! The guy who represented me in the matter of my videotapes during the Lisa McPherson civil case!!!

I was absolutely stunned by this. I like John a lot. He is an amazing character with a sharp and biting wit and willing to take on Scientology to boot. He is on the masthead for the legal section of XENU TV and you can see him in action during the videotaped Trial of the Clearwater 13.

That he is a sitting judge kind of amazes me. How Scientology allowed that to happen, I can’t understand. I would have thought he would be smeared left and right before taking the bench.

I hope he comes through this okay. Most people there seem to feel a judge has the right and the need to protect himself in this age of courthouse shootings. And very few other judges have the thought of R2-45 in the back of their mind.

Anyway, here’s some of John Merrett in action.

And he also makes an amusing cameo in this commercial for the Threep.

Thetans Didn’t Like This…and Neither Will DM

March 24, 2007

Take the words of L. Ron Hubbard, set them to music and spruce them up with some images and you have one very Suppressive music video. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pink Munky’s “What’s the Matter with You, Hat?”

Karl Blumenthal has edited this terrific spoof from Hubbard’s own writings and some of the videos he used from XENU TV to make his great documentary, “Friend of Mankind.”

Couch Jumping

March 22, 2007

Stephanie Miller If there’s a mention of Tom Cruise in the news, that means Stephanie Miller’s voice man extraordinaire Jim Ward will be jumping on Oprah’s couch. I don’t know if the writing of the bits comes from Jim or Stephanie but whoever puts the pieces together has a pretty in-depth knowledge of Scientology buzzwords.

On today’s show, they tackle the announcement of a new film about the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

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Who’s Up for a Debate?

March 17, 2007

BROADCAST DATE: March 17th, 2007

The Many Moods of Vince Daniels

Not Stone Hawk Narconon. Vince Daniels offered to have an in-studio debate with Per Wickstrom and Clark Carr but they refused to appear on the show. I wonder why?

To combat Vince’s many effective shows on the abuses at Narconon’s Stone Hawk rehab facility, Stone Hawk has purchased an hour of radio time each Saturday morning for a month to spread their PR nonsense. Wickstrom hops on a plane to come do their little show each week but can’t stick around an extra few hours to answer questions.

Anyway, Kimberly Darr returns to the show. She has been relentless in exposing the fraud and abuse rampant in the Stone Hawk facility in Battle Creek, Michigan. She’s been working hard to see that other patients and their families aren’t harmed by Scientology’s drug-rehab front group.

More and more people keep leaving Stone Hawk due to Vince Daniels’ shows. The latest to exit is Sue Wilkins’ son. Sue actually brought the sheriff with her to get her son out of Stonehawk this week. She talks about googling “Drug Rehab” and getting tons of sites all pointing to Narconon. That’s just one of the ways Scientology uses the net to lure people into their program. They created hundreds of sites pointing to their program. This not only buries the competition but actually increases the ranking of their main Narconon site in many search engines.

Sue’s son was in Stone Hawk for five days before managing to slip away to make a surrepticious phone call asking her to get him out of that nut house. It wasn’t until Sue had left her son in Battle Creek that she discovered the truth of the program from websites featuring stories of past guests on Vinnie’s shows. When her son’s call came, Sue hopped back in the car and saved her son from Scientology’s grasp.

He had entered on a Thursday, when the state of Michigan came in to inspect the facility. The results of the inspection aren’t released yet, however Stone Hawk claims the inspectors were impressed by how clean the place is. If that’s true, you can thank the patients because, as was pointed out on the last show, Stone Hawk freaked when the conditions were pointed out on the air and forced the patients to scrub down the joint

In the first Stone Hawk audio segment played by Vinnie, we are informed by Narconon that drugs are stored in fat. There is no scientific evidence to prove Scientology’s theories, especially that niacin removes those stored drugs fro the fat cells. This is the same non-fact based crap that got Scientology kicked out of California public schools. By the way, good work, Dave Touretzky.

The “Dear Alice” TR is described and much is made of the bullbaiting at Stone Hawk. You can see a demonstration and read an explanation of the TRs here.

Kim is trying to gather victims together for a possible class action suit. She gives out her email address for anyone that wants to contact her. One family has already sued.

After the break, they play a clip about how and why Per Wickstrom opened Stone Hawk.

Lynn Kasey scoffs at the claims of Narconon’s success rate and a good discussion is held about Stone Hawk’s claim that people can come back after leaving the program without paying more to re-enter. Lynn points out that the contract specifies they have to pay for an “ethics cycle” at a minimum $1500 charge.

Sue also points out that there was a lot of heavy smoking going on at Stone Hawk. That’s not surprising as Hubbard told his followers that smoking cures cancer.

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Next Vinnie plays the clip of “Nicole” who speaks about how Narconon saved her life and her arm but she speaks about it in very Scientological ways, raving about the purif and touch assists.

In the final segment, we meet another Stone Hawk patient, who went through the program about a year ago. Chris Jones calls in from West Virginia. Among the horror stories Chris shares, he talks about being forced to live in a room with other patients as it was being cleared of deadly asbestos.

Just as with the smoking situation, Hubbard told his adherents that asbestos wasn’t dangerous. Architect Lawrence Woodcraft recounted his experiences dealing with this insanity while aboard the Scientology flagship, Freewinds. Read his affidavit.

Chris shares his stories about the bizarre bullbaiting practices, the Scientology connection and how the sauna got him sick. To top it all off, they wanted to know “what are you afraid of?”

What is Scientology afraid of? Can’t communicate? Can’t confront? What powerful beings behave this way? Instead of manning up and appearing with Vince Daniels, they aired another one of their infomercials at 6 a.m. this morning.

Clark Carr believes Narconon is a drug-free social-education model. I think it’s a scam. To prove me wrong, he spent the morning talking to parents of children who underwent the program at Stone Hawk. They stressed the importance of getting through the whole program. If the whiners who call in to Vince had just stuck it out, everything would have been fine.

Amy, a mom of a patient calls in. Her son, Michael, has been in Stonehawk for 4 months. She actually admits that her son was dumped at a cheap motel but let him stay there and fend for himself until he decided to return to the program. They even try to make this dismal practice of patient dumping look like a good thing.

A dad, Bob, also calls. No last names, please. That could lead to fact-checking. Bob’s son was a meth addict. Bob is in the construction industry and now does interventions and sends people to Narconon.

I believe Clark Carr slips and lets out Bob’s full name. He may be this Bobby Neuman.

A big thanks to Raymond Hill for researching the doctor who appears on the show. Dr. Alan E. Sosin appears as a medical expert to put the full weight of his professional credentials behind the quack rehab program. It’s not surprising to discover that he is a Scientologist. You’ve got to love his success story:

“My most important gains in Scientology have included the ability to realize the truth of things, that is, to achieve a higher reality. In the past the truth was often determined by what other people said and by my own reactions to prior experiences. That has changed, and I am now more able to observe what is true, without having things twisted by prejudice and evaluation. That has made me a happier person, with a willingness to face and enjoy the future.”

There’s no longer a need for him to rely on scientific facts that are known truths. Now he can feel free to believe whatever crap he “observes to be true.” Hey, watch me pull a rabbit out of this hat!

To close the show, Clark reads a quote from L. Ron Hubbard. It just happens to be Dan Murnan’s favorite quote which I read to him as he led me on a walking tour of L.A. years ago.

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When is Scientology going to make this go right?

Millions Celebrate L. Ron Hubbard’s Birthday!

March 16, 2007

hubbard

That’s according to a press release from the Church of Scientology who claim that millions all across Teegeeack (Earth to you newbies) got together on March 13th and shouted Hip, Hip, Hooray for LRH.

 

In 160 countries around the world millions of people celebrate March 13th, the birthday of L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), founder of the Scientology Religion.

I counted only one person celebrating: legendary broadcaster Keith Olbermann gave the old con man a shout out on his broadcast that night.

Hubbard is going to be pissed when he picks up a new body and discovers he’s more of a laughingstock now than he was when he died.

Nice going, DM.

Because Larry King Really Needs a Creepy Stare

March 16, 2007

Tom Cruise reportedly gave Larry King a tour of Scientology’s hit-job on Psychiatry: An Industry of Death. “Hey, let’s take the kids!”

King said he was not convinced of the sect’s stand, saying “Their attack on psychiatry is incredible. They hate psychiatry,” Newsweek.com reported in a story carried on IANS Tuesday.

America’s most respected newsman, Keith Olbermann, devoted a few moments to this story earlier in the week.

But Keith is not the only one to have covered this story. Let me introduce you to Stephanie Miller. She is a terrifically funny radio show host with a smart, faced-paced liberal mind. Her daily morning drive-time show is building in steam and she has become a force to reckon with.

You can listen to three daily comedy segments on her blog and subscribe to hear the whole show. The archive of her bits is a terrific place to browse. She has a gifted impressionist with her every day who not only does some fantastic voices but he has a deep understanding of the wackiness of Scientology.

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