Category: Things I’ve learned (Page 3 of 4)

“United for Human Rights” – the newest Scientology scam?

A couple of days ago I got (in my professional capacity) a kit titled “Bringing Human Rights to Life”, published by United for Human Rights. According to the introductory letter the kit is designed for teaching human rights to students in secondary and post-secondary educational institutions. The kit consists of a DVD titled “The Story of Human Rights” (which I haven’t watched and probably won’t) and two pamphlets on human rights which basically include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and some contextual text on the current state of human rights – somewhat informative and rather innocuous stuff. There is also a fact sheet, a non-specific “action” letter, a coupon for joining “United for Human Rights” (at a $40 annual membership) and an order form for getting more copies of the DVD (at $15 a pop) or the cheaply-made, rather useless booklets (at $1.50 each). The Educator’s Guide, whatever that is, costs $37.50.
What I find interesting is that nowhere in the kit, there is any mention of “United for Human Rights” being a non-profit organization (I rather guess they are a for-profit “publishing” company), or that they are associated with Scientology, the pseudo-religion invented by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. However, a visit to its website shows that “United for Human Rights” is associated with Youth for Human Rights (YHRI), a non-profit organization founded and mostly staffed by Scientologists and which coordinates most of its major activities with the “Church”.
The “Church” of Scientology is well known for its interesting “theological beliefs” – namely that an inter-galactic dictator named Xenu brought his people to the earth millions of years ago, then proceeded to kill them and now their “essences” go around infecting people and causing them harm. In order to rid yourself of those pesky spiritual invaders, you have to pay the “Church” of Scientology many, many, thousands of dollars.
But it’s not just money that the “Church’s” followers/victims have to part with. They are forced to give up control of their lives, give up contact with any relatives/friends who are antagonistic towards the “religion”, perform slave labor, and even have unwanted abortions. And this is just the tip of the iceberg (Time magazine had a very interesting article uncovering much of the coercive practices of the “church” leadership).
It may seem ironic that an organization that has been faulted for its inhuman practices against its devotees would show interest towards promoting human rights. My take is that there are three main reasons for this. The first is that since its beginnings, Scientology has been trying to portray itself as a religion – not just to get tax-free status (and as a mega-corporation I’m sure that’s a big part), but also to portray itself as the victim of religious persecution. It behooves Scientology, therefore, to foment the human right of religious freedom, hoping that in the eyes of the people this will envelope them as well.
The second is that Scientology has been very smart, and very good, at introducing itself into educational institutions by providing them with free or cheap educational materials. They use this access to push their “message” on unsuspecting children. It worked for them with drug education, so it makes sense they would try human rights education next.
Finally, I think that Scientology wants to clean up its image by associating its “work” with that of well-regarded international human rights organizations. Their literature contains links to the major non-governmental, governmental and international human rights bodies, and Youth for Human Rights claims partnerships with organizations such as Amnesty International South Africa and the Mexican National Human Rights Commission. I wonder if these groups know of YHRI’s Scientology connections.
In any case, my primary motive for this posting is to clarify the connection between “United for Human Rights” and Scientology, so that other human rights activists and educators who receive the kit I got, will known whom it’s coming from.

An issue with possessives and thoughts on grammar

If you read my blog regularly, you will have noticed that my grammar leaves much to be desired. Though I went to High School in America, I wasn’t really taught grammar at school and I’m not good enough at languages to have figured it out on my own. Needless to say, I often make mistakes both in written and spoken speech (perhaps more in the latter), but, from time to time at least, I find grammar very interesting and want to know what’s the proper way to say something.
As I was writing a restaurant review for my Food Blog, I found myself in the situation of having to say “McDonald’s chicken nuggets”. Now “McDonald’s” is already in the possessive form, with an apostrophe-s following the proper noun. The name of the restaurant is not McDonald but McDonald’s. So I wondered how to make an already possessive word possessive again. Mike wasn’t sure, so I called my friend D. – a former teacher who knows English grammar backwards and forwards. Her answer was that you use only one apostrophe as the noun is actually expressing the possession of the noun that follows it (of course, she said so grammatically). That is to say, when you say “McDonald’s”, the “hamburgers” or, in this case, “chicken nuggets” is already implied. It’s logical, but it hadn’t occurred to me. I will continue with my constant grammar mistakes, but not with this particular one 🙂
As I was writing this posting another grammar question came to my mind. A proper sentence in English, I’ve always been told, has to have an explicit subject and a verb. There are no tacit subjects and no tacit predicates. The lack of tacit subjects is understandable, as English verbs are minimally conjugated. But there is no reason I can think of to explain why you cannot substitute a verb with a comma. For example, in Spanish I can say “The day, beautiful” with the “is” implied. In English, as far as I know, you can’t say that. Mike tells me that you can imply the verb in a sentence such as “Mike is going to the house and Mary to the park”, but I’m not sure if that is, indeed, grammatical.
And how about sentences with what I would call a propositional predicate? Can’t “To the house.” be a grammatical sentence?, one that would logically followed the sentence “Where are you going”?
I’ve also always been told that you cannot have a predicate-less sentence in English. For example, “A beautiful day.” is a proper sentence in Spanish. It’s called an “unimembre” sentence. While such sentences are not common in business or journalistic Spanish, they are often used in colloquial or literary language.
What I wonder is whether there is a “hidden” English grammar; one in which these type of constructions are grammatical, but which is not taught to not confuse students. After all, it’s difficult enough to get children to speak and write even simplified proper English.
I hope some day I meet a linguist or grammarian specializing in English, whom I can ask these questions 🙂

Smelly child

bad smelFor the last few days, my 4-yo daughter Camila’s head has been smelling quite badly, sort of like rotten fish. We were traveling in the Yucatan, going from cenotes to the pool to the sea, and never quite getting a good shower, so we thought it was environmental smell, easily eliminated by a good bath. Well, we tried it yesterday morning and it didn’t work – she soon started stinking again.
The smell was so bad by last night that I was worried she might be sick. I tried to localize it, but I couldn’t, I could smell it more strongly around her head, and it seemed to come from her sweat. That worried me, as one of my sisters suffered from kidney disease and you could smell urea on her skin and breath when her kidneys were malfunctioning. This smell was different, but it made me quite anxious.
I called the nurse advise line, but under the premise that the smell was coming from her sweat, the nurse could not help me at all – she had never heard of that happening and couldn’t find any references to it. So, I kept looking online and found a discussion that mentioned that bad smell in little children could signify an ear infection. Indeed, Camila had had some discharge from her ears a few days before, while swimming at a cenote, and she’s had tubes put on her ears, so an ear infection made sense. I went to smell her again, and indeed the smell was strongest in her left ear.
Today we took her to the pediatrician and confirmed that, indeed, she has an ear infection (her first, I think). She’s been prescribed some antibiotics and she’ll be fine, but I thought I would share this information with the world, in case another worried parent searches for reasons their small child smells bad.
The pediatrician told me that it’s advisable for children with tubes in their ears to wear ear plugs while swimming – in particular in less-than-clean water sources, like cenotes. This is no longer standard advise, too bad we didn’t get it before.

Non-profit conference scams

If you are in the non-profit world, chances are you’ve gotten a letter from the World Youth Organization for Human Welfare inviting you to a conference in California and another location. Due to their generous donor, all your costs will be paid – they say. Except for the hotel costs – that is. And here is where the scam lies. They make you pay in advance for conference hotels – money they pocket, as there is no conference.
Today I got another one of these letters, now purportedly from the Callums Foundation, that probably amounts to the same thing. If you do a search for “Callums Foundation”, you’ll find nothing, and the letter is written in that forced English that characterizes scams. There also doesn’t seem to be a Center for Human Rights Research and Development in Mozambique. I don’t know if this scam works exactly like the other one, but you can be sure that you’ll have to pay for something in advance and there will be no conference.
I’ve gotten a few other versions of this scam: “INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CHILD LABOUR, ABUSE AND NEGLECT” , “INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON WOMEN AND CHILD ABUSE” and others I haven’t saved.
The moral is, if you don’t know who is inviting you and they’re offering you something for free, research them before you do anything else.

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