Friday, December 02, 2011

Who Are These People? The Backgrounds of David Lynch's "Operation Warrior Wellness" participants

(This is a rewrite/update of last years' "Who Are These People" feature, on the "researchers" and other figures associated with the David Lynch Foundation's campaign to promote Transcendental Meditation to vulnerable populations including schoolchildren and military veterans.)

This weekend's events sponsored by the David Lynch Foundation begin at 11 am Pacific time today, with a "press conference" that's been announced on the Foundation's web site, but strangely, as far as what shows up online this morning, no press releases have been sent to the media through the usual websites to encourage attendance by members of the press.

(Update, 9:30 am ET: Obviously the Associated Press has rewritten a press release into a news story for an event that hasn't even happened yet. It's 6:30 am in Los Angeles and Lynch and company are probably still asleep.)

At the DLF web site, there's a copy of an invitation that was sent to people who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique describing the event. As usual, this sort of "press conference" that isn't - a non-event that's staged periodically by the organization that teaches TM for the last few decades - will be a sales pitch offering the Transcendental Meditation program as yet another form of panacea, this time, as a treatment for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.

As is standard practice for promoters of Maharishi-branded products, full disclosure of the backgrounds, and prior associations with the TM program, of the people who'll be present and/or presenting at this event seldom occurs. While it may appear that the medical doctors and other individuals on the panel may be independently employed, many have long been closely associated with the TM organization.

As I've written before, the promoters of TM today generally tend to come from a rather narrow demographic, recruited while relatively young, and during a particular period, the late '60's and early-mid 70's, when recruitment into TM was supported by the influence of American popular culture. Likewise, there's a striking sameness among the ten individuals involved with this conference. Only two of them are clearly younger than 50 years old, and they're students at the TM movement's university. Among those whose date of initiation into the TM program can be identified, other than those students, only one learned TM after the mid-1970's.

My added details about the conference panel participants appear in italic below. Names and initial descriptions are from various David Lynch Foundation sources including press releases and bios on the Foundation and Operation Warrior Welness websites.

  • David Lynch, chair, David Lynch Foundation
American filmmaker, aged 64. Initiated into the Transcendental Meditation program on July 1, 1973. Lynch has no demonstrated qualifications to evaluate a treatment for PTSD. 
  • John Hagelin, Ph.D., president of the David Lynch Foundation. Harvard-trained quantum physicist who has led an international scientific investigation over the past 25 years into the applications of Transcendental Meditation for health and education.
While Hagelin is indeed a physicist, his qualifications to evaluate any treatment or therapy for PTSD have not been demonstrated. Hagelin has been involved with the TM organization for decades, and has run for the United States Presidency multiple times as the Natural Law Party candidate. Inside the all-male hierarchy of the organization, he's known as the “Raja of America,” coronated on November 20, 2007.
  • Jerry Yellin, World War II veteran and national co-chair of Operation Warrior Wellness. A P-51 pilot in WWII who flew 19 missions over Japan, and was victimized by PTSD for 25 years before learning to meditate in 1975, Mr. Yellin is a member of the Military Writers Society of America; author of three award-winning books, and honorary board member of the Iwo Jima Association of America.
Yellin’s personal story and endorsement of the TM program appears at the Transcendental Meditation Blog, and of course, in his latest book. Those are, however, no substitute for independent scientific research on the effectiveness of the technique, particularly with respect to PTSD. His story should not encourage the disregard of the inherent religious agenda of global transformation, based on gaining the support of Vedic devata (gods), put forward by the sole organization which offers TM. This unavoidable agenda is inherent to the whole process of learning Transcendental Meditation including introductory presentations on TM. The vague, unsupportable claim made by the DLF and others, that the mantras used in TM have unique, mysterious "life-supporting effects," is one such example.
  • Ed Schloeman, Vietnam veteran and national co-chair of Operation Warrior Wellness. He is a retired Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) from the New York Air National Guard and a Vietnam Marine Disabled Veteran (Sgt) serving from 1960 to 1966.

  • Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., PTSD researcher, bestselling author, member of the Operation Warrior Wellness medical board. Senior researcher in psychiatry and psychobiology for 20 years at the National Institute of Mental Health; clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School, who conducted research on TM and Iraq veterans with PTSD.
Rosenthal recently authored "Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation," a book which, like most of the genre, promotes TM through the use of anecdotes and celebrities. He learned TM in South Africa in the mid-1970's.

Other evidence of the depth of Rosenthal’s direct participation in the TM program, if any, remains undisclosed. He has been involved with at least one previous David Lynch Foundation sponsored conference, promoting TM as an aid for students with ADHD. He’s better known for coining the term, “seasonal affective disorder.”

His research on Iraq veterans with PTSD was published in Military Medicine in July, 2011. This is an "uncontrolled pilot study" with only five subjects who were followed for only twelve weeks, and the abstract suggests that "larger, placebo-controlled studies should be undertaken."

Despite Rosenthal's public endorsement of TM in the context of marketing that implies that it's a well-studied, scientifically-proven treatment for everything including mental illness, in a November 21, 2011 online interview, he offered this advice to those who wanted to use TM as a treatment for mental illness: 
I would first say, proceed with caution. The very first edict in the Hippocratic Oath is, "First do no harm." So if someone has a mental illness, that's something to be taken really seriously. And I would emphasize the value of getting somebody who's qualified to consult, to offer opinions, to suggest and make recommendations. And it's only in that context, once the standard treatments have been tried and implemented, that one should go into what is, after all, even though it's very exciting, still exploratory and experimental. So I would say definitely consider it, definitely bring it up to any treating therapist or doctor. ... I would not recommend Transcendental Meditation for any kind of emotional or mental illness ahead of what's called the "standard of care," those things that have been very thoroughly researched and have been put forward as standard treatments.
Rosenthal's website is produced and hosted by Safire Internet Solutions, the same provider that creates websites for Maharishi University of Management, the David Lynch Foundation, and the TM movement.

  • Colonel Brian M. Rees, M.D., M.P.H., co-chair of Operation Warrior Wellness, has 34 years of commissioned military service, and completed four deployments in Afghanistan. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the US Army War College, and is the former commander of the 349th Combat Support Hospital in Bell (Los Angeles), California.
Rees is a teacher of TM and has been closely associated with the Transcendental Meditation organization for over twenty years. He wrote a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association supporting Maharishi Ayur-Veda products in 1989, and was later identified as the director of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Medical Center in Pacific Palisades, California. He was a candidate for U.S. Senator from California in 1998 and 2000 under the banner of the TM organization’s “Natural Law Party.”
Rees is the author of a rather peculiar, 2007 US Army War College masters degree research paper, “The Application of Strategic Stress Management in Winning the Peace.” While the title suggests the subject is “stress management,” much of the paper assumes the validity of the so-called “Maharishi Effect” - the unsubstantiated, and religion-based, assertion that groups of people practicing certain parts of the Transcendental Meditation program that generally involve bouncing on foam rubber will bring peace and “invincibility” to countries that establish and pay for such groups by gaining the support of Vedic devata (gods). In 1997, Evan Fales and Barry Markovsky at the University of Iowa concluded that this “theory does not pass minimal criteria of meaningfulness and logical integrity.”
Rees is named as one of the directors of the “Center for Advanced Military Science (CAMS)” at “The Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy at Maharishi University of Management,” one part of the organization that teaches TM. The main function of CAMS appears to be the promotion of the “Maharishi Effect” non-theory, renamed “Invincible Defense Technology,” as valid military doctrine of some sort.

    • Sarina Grosswald, Ed.D., Operation Warrior Wellness director of women's programs, George Washington University-trained cognitive learning specialist and published researcher on the effects of TM on PTSD and ADHD.
    Grosswald is a research faculty member at the TM movement’s Maharishi University of Management. She was a candidate for U.S. Congress from Virginia in 1996 and 1998, and was treasurer of the Natural Law Party of Virginia at its closing in 2004. Grosswald also participated in the 2003 inauguration of “The US Peace Government.” Grosswald, like John Hagelin, has received a “Doctorate in World Peace Studies” from Maharishi European Research University, which reportedly, as much as it ever physically existed, once consisted of a desk in a TM movement owned hotel in Switzerland. According to a self-described long-term meditator, the MERU “DWP” degree was “an award from Maharishi to those who studied with him for over forty years.”

    • Dan Burks, Vietnam veteran, member of the Operation Warrior Wellness advisory board
    Burks, aged 63, was Instructor of Exercise and Sport Science at the TM movement’s Maharishi University of Management, in 2009-2010, and resides in Fairfield, Iowa.

    • David George, Iraq veteran, member of the Operation Warrior Wellness advisory board
    • Supriya Vidic, Iraq veteran, member of the Operation Warrior Wellness advisory board

    The actual participation by the organizations listed as "partners" on the conference invitation could not be confirmed by way of each organizations' websites or other substantiating reports. Paul Rieckhoff, the Executive Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, has been announced as a recipient of an award at the David Lynch Foundation's fundraising gala tomorrow night (Saturday, December 3, 2011).

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