Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TM-Free News Brief, 15 December 2010

If David Lynch Falls in the Forest: The top story this week is almost a non-story: the nearly complete lack of serious news coverage of the David Lynch Foundation's latest "Change Begins Within" event, which was apparently intended to sell the concept of Transcendental Meditation as a treatment for PTSD to war veterans. For the sponsors, the hazard with this sort of gala event is that the the presence of celebrities, and the resulting gossip, are the only thing even vaguely interesting to the rest of the world.

Here in the U.S. the only mention of the event in a hard-news outlet was a single blog post on the website late last week. Everything else... well, we're down to also-ran celebrity-stalker websites that follow what Katy Perry's doing every waking moment, like and (that's not a typo). People, MTV, OK! and Gordon Smart's Bizarre! at The Sun ("Lynch job for Russ and Katy") each ran a few celeb-focused lines, with a brief, vague mention of meditation at the end of each piece.

You had to look outside the U.S. for mention of the DLF gala outside the gossip columns. The definitive bit of news coverage on the gala and press conference is this subtly snarky Guardian article ("There was no mention of the impact on stress of Brand's autobiography My Booky Wook"). European news wire AFP reported on the gala before it even happened. The Sydney Morning Herald worked from those two stories for its website.  Sky News Australia gave it all of four lines.

While as far as I can tell George Lucas and Oliver Stone were no-shows (should I still call it "Billionaires for TM?"), Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese submitted pre-recorded videos, giving testimonials endorsing the TM program. Here's a list of those who walked the red carpet, culled from the Getty Images archive of photos from the event. How many of these people have the slightest clue about TM, its history, or those isolated "raja" fellows wearing crowns and dissing doctors? Many may have just been there to rub elbows with Lynch and get their photos out there - at a thousand dollars a plate.
Presenters: Russell Brand, David Lynch,  Clint Eastwood (recorded video), Martin Scorsese (recorded video), Dr. Mehmet Oz, Nazerine Griffin, Emily Lynch, Lois Lee, Candy Crowley, Jerry Yellin, John Hagelin. Others on the red carpet: Lisa Edelstein, Ben Folds, Fleur Folds, Desiree Gruber, Dayle Haddon, Laura Elena Harring, Donna Karan, Bettye LaVette, Lori Levine, Kyle MacLachlan, James McCartney, Rose McGowan, Moby, Edward Norton, Daphne Oz, Katy Perry, Denise Rich, Susan Sarandon, Frederique Van Der Wal.

Dr. Oz graduates to official TM program spokesperson: Dr. Mehmet Oz, cardiac surgeon turned Oprah-spawned talk-show host, seems to have now graduated to the role of celebrity endorser of the TM program. In an eight-minute presentation dripping with worn-out Maharishi metaphor ("deeper waters of our consciousness"), Oz revealed that Bob Roth, TM and DLF press contact, was his TM teacher. Oz repeated many of the claims for TM concerning blood pressure, insulin resistance, and cholesterol that have been made by the organization in recent years, with the aid of animated graphics. He used the fact that some of the research was funded by the NIH to imply that that was a governmental stamp of approval of the findings, which it is not.

Any discussion of research on meditation, particularly TM, should be prefaced with this observation, from the abstract of a University of Alberta meta-study that can be found on the website of a U.S. Government agency: "Many uncertainties surround the practice of meditation. Scientific research on meditation practices does not appear to have a common theoretical perspective and is characterized by poor methodological quality. Firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence."

Continuing down the list of vulnerable populations: First it was urban schoolchildren, followed by American Indians, and then, veterans. We're now down to the homeless and child prostitutes. Featured at the DLF gala was Lois Lee, the founder and president of Children of the Night, an organization that assists children and teenagers involved in child prostitution. She said, "Earlier this year, Children of the Night partnered with the David Lynch Foundation in order to bring Transcendental Meditation to this very special group of children." Lee was followed by an anonymous endorsement of TM by a young meditator who learned TM through this program.

Listed on the David Lynch Foundation website is an "immediate funding need" for "$50,000 a year for one specially trained teacher to provide an intensive 12-month program of individualized instruction and follow-up in Transcendental Meditation for 100 at-risk teenage girls" through Children of the Night.

Preceding Ms. Lee at the podium was Nazerine Griffin, program director of the Harlem facility of The Doe Fund, a New York non-profit working to "meet the needs of a diverse population working to break the cycles of homelessness, addiction, and criminal recidivism." Griffin also endorsed Transcendental Meditation, which was taught to him and others involved in Doe Fund programs. Mention of this program is also on the David Lynch Foundation website: "$75,000 a year for each specially trained teacher to provide an intensive 12-month program of individualized instruction and follow-up in Transcendental Meditation for 200 at-risk men and women at the Doe Fund in New York City." Also mentioned is a need for "$63,000 for a first randomized controlled study on the effects of Transcendental Meditation on homeless veterans."

Curiously, no mention of these programs associated with the David Lynch Foundation could be found on the websites of the organizations involved.

The Incredible Shrinking Research Bibliography: They sometimes claim 600 published studies supporting TM, other times, 300 or so. The research bibliography released by the David Lynch Foundation last week, with its announcement of this week's events, is down to... twenty-one studies, one of which hasn't even been published yet. At least twelve of the studies involved current and former Maharishi University of Management faculty including John Hagelin, Sarina Grosswald, Robert H. Schneider, David W. Orme-Johnson, Robert Keith Wallace, and Fred Travis. The TM organization has had almost forty years to provide lists of research that aren't seeded with self-performed or self-financed pilot and preliminary studies. Today, this is, evidently, all they have to offer when providing support for the claims made during one of the organization's premier events. They've even recycled one of the first published studies on TM and put it on this list, from way back in 1973. Ironically, it's the "pilot study" (are there any others on TM?) on the focus of the gala, veterans with PTSD, that's the one still "in review" with some unnamed journal.

Briefly: James Wolcott, Vanity Fair columnist, continues to mention Transcendental Meditation in his blog; I wrote about his initiation into the TM program in June 2008... Former Natural Law Party candidate is still pushing anti-GMO hysteria, on the Dr. Oz show: "Jeffery Smith, a former Iowa political candidate for the Natural Law Party with no discernible scientific or agricultural training" ... Mick Jagger tells his own, unique version of  Maharishi's amorous advances in Rishikesh, according to Christopher Isherwood... Baptist Press columnist still maintains that TM (and yoga, and simplistic sounds, and yoga postures, and pop culture, and maybe even breathing) will send you to hell. Some things haven't changed much in 35 years.

Here at the TM-Free Blog: Laurie reports that "Robes of Silk, Feet of Clay," Judith Borque's book on her (sexual) love affair with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,  is now on sale at a reduced price. I also offered some observations on "Where the TM Program Clearly Resembles a Religious Faith," noting how so many TM devotees, seen online and at events such as the DLF gala, are usually of a very narrow demographic, over 50 and started TM before 1976. Also appearing this week in preparation for the gala was the "Who Are These People" detailed explanation of the backgrounds and affiliations of many of the individuals seen during the DLF press conference and gala.

The TM-Free Blog is now on Facebook. Updates to the blog will be posted there.

TM-Free News Brief, 15 December 2010. Published irregularly here on Wednesdays by Mike Doughney, who's solely responsible for its content unless otherwise noted.

1 comment:

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

"I question whether TM (just the 2x20 we all know and used to love, maybe still do)

can one meditate TM and face the claim that TM did not deliver on its claims and not forgetting Mr Kaplan who paid 100 million$ for worldpeace, only to see a ghostown habitating 30 individuals where his 10.000 flying yogis should meditate for world peace. Or is it that the belief in Mahesh is the tool that make meditators immune to any criticism. As I understand it TM is 90% practice and 10 theory. My belief today is vedanta without meditation.

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