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That time I almost joined a Communist cult


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#1
starspawn0

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Many years ago, I lived in Berkeley, California, a place everyone should visit for an extended stay at least once in their lives.  Berkeley has the highest diversity of human thought of any spot I've ever been to.  It also has the highest concentration of cults and crazies.  Nowhere else compares to it.  The locals who have lived there a long while are used to it, jaded, and tune it out, mostly.  They are wise to the ways of cults and avoid them; cults are for the newbies and naive.  At the time I lived there, I was a young newbie, though I like to think I wasn't all that naive.
 
Anyways, one day, while near the Cal (that's U.C. Berkeley) campus, I saw a rail-thin, older gentleman hand out fliers asking for volunteers.  I took one, and he asked my name and number, writing it down on a clipboard -- that's a classic newbie mistake.  He looked "legit", like a community service organizer; and I was thinking to myself:  I haven't helped the community before, so should give it a try.  
 
Later that day, maybe early night, I got a call, and was asked to come down to Oakland to see their office.  I hopped on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) the next day, got off at the West Oakland stop (as I recall), and made my way to the address provided to me.  
 
It was a little hole-in-the-wall place in an unkempt part of the city (Oakland).  I went inside, and on the wall were signs saying things like "Power to the People!", and a big, red clinched fist.  I was greeted by a woman named Alejandra (or Alehandra).  She told me to sit down, and that she wanted to give me a brief education on what they were about.  She pulled out a book filled with laminated pages with examples of labor organizing success, and corporate sins.  She had a slight South or Central American accent (Mexican, I would guess), and gave off vibes of bright and shiny, and had well-combed straight black hair and perfect white teeth.  If I had known of Dolores Huerta at the time:
 
https://youtu.be/Unzr9kiFScQ
 
I probably would have compared Alejandra's energy and intensity to hers.  The presentation was mesmerizing, and when she showed anger at some mistreatment of workers, I instinctively scowled along with her.  After it was over, she told me to come back in a day or two for "labor college".
 
I left, but felt it wasn't quite legit, though didn't guess it was a cult.  I came back the next day with a more street-wise acquaintance of mine, and she ran him through "the laminated-page book", too; he thought it was perfectly legit.  We didn't go to "labor college", though.
 
To satisfy my lingering doubts about the outfit, I looked them up on the web (which existed, but in a much more impoverished form compared to today, obviously), and found they were, indeed, a cult.  Turned out they were a NATLFED cadre:
 
https://en.wikipedia...abor_Federation
 
(An ironically-titled organization, as it sounds like the National Federation of Labor, a real and legit organization.)
 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided a law office and the NOC headquarters at 1107 Carroll Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on February 17, 1984 on tips that they "...had planned a series of violent acts ..." Kit Decious, Kathleen Paolo, and Daniel P. Foster, three other lawyers among the organization's cadre, were convicted of felony larceny and possession of forged documents relating to the 1984 departure of Mia Prior, a member of ten years; they were disbarred in New York following their convictions in the 1980s. Paolo's conviction was overturned on appeal.

The New York City Police Department raided the NOC again on November 11, 1996, on an anonymous complaint that children were being abused in the office. The police seized 49 antique firearms and $42,000 in cash, and arrested 35 people. Newspapers around the country briefly ran columns about the group. Two of the organizers, Susan Angus and Diane Garrett, were initially convicted of misdemeanor possession of weapons, but the appeals court overturned the convictions because the search was improperly conducted without a warrant. No evidence of child abuse was ever produced, and the press coverage died down rapidly.

Shortly after the 1996 raid in New York, an anonymously created website appeared by "an informal network of people" who were "frightened for the current members who are our children, siblings, former friends, and coworkers." This website condemned NATLFED, but also archived many news articles and other stories about them. The site, https://web.archive....n.com/xnatlfed/, disappeared from its original host in 2004 and is mirrored on the Wayback machine: http://users.rcn.com/xnatlfed/


I don't think the Oakland outfit was bad like that, just that it would be a large waste of time and lead to a distorted worldview that may never get repaired.

Anyways, my acquaintance refused to believe they were a cult. It took him few weeks to come around. In the meantime, I got many calls asking me when I would come visit them again. The incessant calling is also a common sign you are dealing with a cult, and I'd been through it before, with a religious cult.


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#2
tomasth

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Have you heard of any futurism associated cult we should be on the lookout for ?


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#3
caltrek

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Have you heard of any futurism associated cult we should be on the lookout for ?

 

LOL


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The principles of justice define an appropriate path between dogmatism and intolerance on the one side, and a reductionism which regards religion and morality as mere preferences on the other.   - John Rawls


#4
Yuli Ban

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Have you heard of any futurism associated cult we should be on the lookout for ?

You're in one right now!


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And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.


#5
starspawn0

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There are futurist cults, as a matter of fact. I would rather not draw attention to them...

....

There is so much to say about Berkeley's "local color", that I could write a book about it. Maybe I could mention a few brief anecdotes:

* First, there is "Happy! Happy! Happy!", who is probably dead now:

YouTube video

He was a little Chinese man who used to stand on a box or bucket, holding a giant sign describing the sins of the CIA. He would say things like, "Happy! Happy! Happy! The CIA murdered 1 million people and never apologized. Happy! Happy! Happy!" He would do this all day long, Monday thru Friday and maybe even the weekends. Just think of how sore that would make you to stand there and do that, especially if you are as small as he was.

I seem to recall while I was there that there was a rumor he had died, and I remember reading that some Cal students had said they gave him donations every day for good luck -- or maybe they were talking about someone else; I can't recall exactly.

* Then there were the aging hippies who were students at Cal back in the 60s, and who flocked to Caffe Mediterraneum, which is now no longer there, probably. They used to get together to complain about politics, and other affairs of the day. A few of them were very well-read, and I learned a lot about science fiction from one of them, named Michael O'Neill; everybody just called him O'Neill. He was brilliant, but easily irritated, resulting in him making fun of the others in the room quite often. If one of them came to sit with him and said something stupid, he would relegate them to "the special ed table" -- a large, brown-colored table he wouldn't sit at (very often). He had lots of stories about people like Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, and Robert Silverberg, just to name a few.

Michael died in 2003. Here is a webpage written by three of his friends (none of them are me):

http://www.berkeleyi...net.com/oneill/

(The funniest one is "Michael O'Neill Takes on the Universe". I knew the guy who wrote it.)

* There was the old homeless monk who used to hang out at a coffee shop near campus. I can't remember which one -- Caffe Astrada, maybe? (I only vaguely remember it.) He would sit there literally all day, and meditate with eyes open, with a big smile on his face, looking up towards the ceiling; and if he experienced a serendipity -- some unexpected sound or perfect vision, he would laugh and laugh and squint his eyes, like it reached deep into his soul. You could talk to him, but wouldn't say very much -- he preferred to stay focused on the beautiful present.

* There were the learned people of Cody's Books, which is now closed. Cody's was a victim of Amazon.com, I think. It was a large bookstore where you could find anything, including technical books. People would come there to browse for hours. And they would have some of the most distinguished guest speakers come and enlighten the public:

<a data-ipb="nomediaparse" data-cke-saved-href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cody" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cody" s_books"="">https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cody's_Books

It was the kind of place where you would expect Noam Chomsky to show up and give a lecture.

* There were random street urchins who come and go with the seasons.

* There are colorful kids who grew up there, that are really hard to classify. For example, I remember two high school kids who I would see on occasion. One said his father was Russian Jewish and mother African American, and he used to wear what looked like a chador, or maybe some kind of paramilitary outfit:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chador

but with only a little peep-hole for the eyes, nose and mouth (you couldn't see his hair). His girlfriend -- or who I presume was his girlfriend -- was a young African American girl who wore green camouflage attire, along with a camouflage pillbox hat. They made a colorful couple. Anyways, the guy, whose name escapes me, used to make fun of the mayor, who he referred to as "Mayor McCheese" from the McDonald's commercials. Every time I ran into them, they really cracked me up -- superb comedians.

* Then there was the John Lennon fan who never showed his eyes -- always wore black glasses and rode around in a strange van. He was the kind of guy who gave off "Zodiac Killer" vibes.

* Lots of random weird homeless people up and down Telegraph Avenue and other parts of Berkeley. I knew a few of them; some were ok, just tired of "the system" -- others were mentally ill; and still others had drug problems.

* Poets of various stripes selling poetry. Musicians, too.

* Protests were a common happening. There was usually at least one protest march or mini-revolution per week about something -- protests over war; protests over injustice; protests about something in some other part of the world (e.g. Tibet); protests over pay; you name it.

* Random stories like the following: a student at Cal shows up to class buck-naked. Students are a little amused; instructors act like it is perfectly normal, and don't complain. The school has come a long way since the days of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. See the famous Mario Savio "bodies upon the gears" speech:

YouTube video

* The yearly "How Berkeley can you be?" competition. The competition includes "dykes on bikes" vying against a naked bicyclist club. Maybe they also had some "psychedelic explorers", too.

And on and on...
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#6
tomasth

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would rather not draw attention to them.

Probably for the best (especially if its anything like the rest of the post).

 

A futurist cult wouldn't offer anything worthwhile that this place of other sites like many subreddit can offer.



#7
Erowind

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This thread is really entertaining. Perhaps tomorrow I'll post some stories from my own little corner the world from the past few years. Some of my own and others from around the city. Pittsburgh's pretty eccentric. Not in a Berkeley way, we've got our own vibe. I really enjoyed reading about your stories up there Starspawn maybe others will enjoy some of my own just as much.
 
Here's a little taste crossposted from an old http://nevertellmetheodds.org/ post. NTMTO is a an old mostly text board made for Yinzers. It's been populated by a motley crew over the years and is invite only nowadays to stop trolling. I still don't have an invite despite asking many people. I had someone tell me to ask a punk once. Well I did that, but low and behold he logs into his account, tries to invite me, and the server fails to send the email. I'm not convinced a new user has been able to register on the site for years. The webmaster was unresponsive and I'm not going to bother some random dude I met a show for more of his time. One day I'll get my invite, but I'm on a tangent now. 
 
http://nevertellmeth...?id=143184&r=41
 
Anywho here's the post from that thread. 
 
Cassdizzle posted this on Sep 03rd, 2017 at 08:33:54 pm
 
"Ok, I just saw something I think is weird, please advise:
I was walking the dog from my apt in regent square up to my landlords office next to Biddles Escape to drop off the rent. A minivan drove by me at the end of biddle and there was a woman in the passenger seat holding her arm out the window. She was holding a blinking red light--a bike light--out the window. Weird, I thought, and kept walking. At the corner of biddle where BE is, I noticed that the owner, who lives across the street, had his front door open. He was standing in the foyer, but kind of far back so I could only barely see him. But he was holding a blinking red light!!!!!! I walked to my landlords office and dropped the rent then walked home and got to the corner about a block from where I saw the van holding the original light. And there on the ground was the blinking red light!!! Like she had just tossed it into the ground, still blinking!!! Why??? What is happening???"

 

I'd give more context but there's no real conclusion from the folks on that thread about what's going on. It sits well as an unknown, adds to the mystique. 


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#8
starspawn0

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I've been to Pittsburgh several times. Never found it to be that exciting, but guessed it was like most cities -- had some interesting parts, and a lot of boring parts. Berkeley is unusual in that all the interesting stuff is out in the open -- in fact, people flaunt it there. And there's just so much of it.


Most cities have a little section with a few tattoo parlors, a few really funky coffee shops (the more genteel coffee shops are elsewhere), a few bong shops, hippie restaurants, old vinyl record shops, colorful graffiti art everywhere, and so on. Berkeley's section is a large part of the city -- and even the parts you wouldn't expect to find something strange, have just that.
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#9
caltrek

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I think the insane are sometimes linkages to the sacred, or to a higher level of understanding of our society.  They just can't cope with their insights in the way that "normal" people can.

 

I remember one fellow  that hung out near where we worked who literally hugged trees.  When my boss mentioned seeing this fellow to me, I remarked that trees are often a symbol of organization, and that it was very fitting that a schizophrenic, a person with markedly disorganized thinking processes, would embrace a tree. 

 

There was also a woman who suffered from at least a version of having multiple personalities and her defense of a tree.  She objected that a particular tree was going to be either severely pruned or cut down to make way for a certain construction activity. When somebody tried to explain the need to her, she responded "but the tree was there first."  

 

I remember seeing a documentary about schizophrenics in China. One, in particular, made a critique of Chinese society that sounded for all the world to me like a critique an American might make about China.   

 

Schizophrenics often make comments about how their handlers are making notes about them that are actually quite accurate, yet perceived as being "paranoid." 

 

...and on an on it goes...


The principles of justice define an appropriate path between dogmatism and intolerance on the one side, and a reductionism which regards religion and morality as mere preferences on the other.   - John Rawls


#10
caltrek

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“Our greatest blessings,” says Socrates in the Phaedrus, “comes to us by way of madness”…He qualifies his paradox with the words….”provided the madness is given us by divine gift.”

 

-E.R. Dodd


The principles of justice define an appropriate path between dogmatism and intolerance on the one side, and a reductionism which regards religion and morality as mere preferences on the other.   - John Rawls





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