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L. Ron Speaks!

"Affection could no more spoil a child than the sun could be put out by a bucket of gasoline."

Don’t go looking for this maxim in your Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations — but you just might find it in your local newspaper, courtesy of Scientology. The IRS-designated religion — ministry to the stars (John Travolta, Jenna Elfman, Tom Cruise), owner of vast worldwide holdings and co-sponsor of this year’s Hollywood Christmas Parade — has been mailing out this and other pearls from the lips of founder L. Ron Hubbard to newspaper "Quote of the Week" sections.

The Hubbardisms address Morals ("The criminal accuses others of things which he himself is doing"), Problems ("Any problem, to be a problem, must contain a lie") and, in a masterpiece of mixed metaphor, Marriage ("Communication is the root of marital success from which a strong union can grow, and noncommunication is the rock on which the ship will bash out her keel"). They run above the tagline "L. Ron Hubbard, one of the most acclaimed and widely read authors of all time." (Hubbard was a science-fiction writer.)

Hubbard public-relations director Kaye Conley says the quotes have appeared in 80 publications, including the Orchard News (Nebraska), Clayton Today (Oklahoma), and the Stratford Star, Iraan News, and Talihina American (all of Texas). "I’m not saying they’re big, huge papers," Conley says. "They don’t have to be to be popular."

Iraan News editor Clara Greer says her paper (circulation 900) printed "everything that I got" during the two-month-old Scientology P.R. campaign. "One of our customers didn’t appreciate reading them. She seemed to know a lot more about Hubbard than I did," Greer explained during a phone interview.

Ann Driver, editor of the weekly Talihina American (part of a three-paper chain of Texas weeklies, combined circulation 4,500) also confesses to knowing little about Hubbard or Scientology. "I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know anything about it," she says.

It’s no secret that Scientology aggressively courts good publicity — and the group could use some good news. A French judge this month sentenced a former Scientology leader to six months in prison on fraud charges. (The church denounced the trial as an "inquisition.") Authorities in Moscow and Switzerland also shut down Scientology-associated operations.

The Hubbard P.R. machine has been busy. An article on the P.R. News Wire this month spoke of some "interesting new insights" into the subject of memory found in the Hubbard bestseller Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. (The Scientology text was published on May 9, 1950; it’s not clear how or when the "new" insights sneaked into the pages, particularly as Hubbard died in 1986.)

"Never has our society been hit with so much devastation…We’re trying to do something about it," Conley says.

"We just use the quotes as filler to fill our little holes," shrugs newspaper editor Driver.

Abdominator

"My muscles got so hard," says Douglas Brooks, pounding his rock-hard abs as 20-year-old Sylvia Nicholas straps what looks like a weighted fanny pack around her waist. "The more you wear it, the more you lose."

Brooks is standing at his wagonlike booth at the Whittwood Mall in Whittier drumming up sales for the Lay-Z-Trimmer, which promises to whittle your waistline while you sleep. Leaning on her baby stroller, Nicholas decides to take a chance. "I just don’t have time to exercise, because I have a baby," she says, pulling $20 out of her purse. "I want to get rid of the flab."

And she’s not the only one. Brooks expects to sell 40 to 50 Lay-Z-Trimmers a day during the Christmas rush. Salespeople having been doing it since 1979, when Brooks’ sister, Barbara Haisley, invented the device. Well, actually, Haisley was just the messenger. God invented the Lay-Z-Trimmer, she says.

"It sounds weird, but this is the truth. I was praying and talking to Him, and He told me what to do — even the design of it," Haisley remembers during a phone interview. God also told her the Lay-Z-Trimmer would work without diet or exercise, she says. How, you might ask? According to a sales brochure, the belt is filled with sand, magnets, ION oxides, crystals and minerals that break down fatty tissue. "The muscles work continuously for an extended time, so the exercise increases exponentially," Brooks explains.

Preposterous, says Samuel Bessman, professor of pharmacology and nutrition at the University of Southern California. "Your body doesn’t work that way," he says. "If you are going to do essentially no exercise, then there will be essentially no weight loss. No strain, no pain, no nothing."

Then why do people buy these products? "People are always struggling to achieve a result without really working, of course," says Bessman. "It takes away your responsibility for a while."

Pam Murrin, a 40-plus school teacher from Pico Rivera, looks like she could use a vacation from responsibility. "I have been trying everything I can to lose," she tells Brooks. "I lost 70 pounds, then gained 20. I will see if this will work, and if so, that would be great. Nothing ventured, nothing gained," she laughs, walking away with a Lay-Z-Trimmer under her arm.

Half an hour later, a father and his 20-year-old son make their way to the wagon. "I have a real keg," the father smiles.

"It works on anyone from Jabba the Hutt to Luke Skywalker," Brooks assures him.

Brooks eyes the son, who’s buff but showing a slight paunch. Brooks straps the belt around the son’s neck. "When you work out with it, it will work twice as fast," he says. "It is also totally therapeutic for stress . . . yet surprisingly affordable." Father and son walk off without buying.

Unfazed, Brooks turns to two Latina teens. "Do you want to lose weight from your stomach while you sleep?" he says with a smile. The girls stalk off. Brooks shrugs. "It has a use," he insists. "If it doesn’t work for one, it will work for another."

—Christine Pelisek

University of Springer’s Children

After taking "College of the Year" honors from the Time/Princeton Review College Guide, USC seemed well on its way to dispelling its image as the University of Spoiled Children. Admission standards were at a new high, and even East Coast intellectuals were calling S.C.’s outreach programs to its inner-city neighbors the best in the nation.

But then Evelyn Fox Keller, the eminent MIT historian and philosopher of science, appeared at this month’s Spectrum speakers series. Students hooted at Keller’s remarks on gender and science, and a student "coughing" fit led to a chorus of quacking noises and laughter. Some undergrads tried to clap Keller off the stage.

In a later phone interview, Keller dismissed the disruption as a bout of "tittering." Assistant dean of students Richard Fliegel said that the troublemakers were a small minority. But others in attendance found the boorishness widespread and outrageous.

"I wanted to hide my face and cry, or stand up and slap the jerks," assistant lecturer Emily Lundin said in a letter to the Daily Trojan.

Both those who defend and assail the students said that Keller’s Cagney-and-Lacey allusions and talk of academic in-fighting were boring. But during a previous lecture series, students also heckled renowned Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner when he mentioned his male lover, attendees remembered.

"The Spectrum series allows students a public forum to voice anti-gay prejudice [Kushner] and anti-feminist bias [Keller]. So what can we expect when civil rights activist Julian Bond speaks on February 22? White hoods and burning crosses?" asked another lecturer.

Some blame the freshman writing program, which requires students to attend Spectrum lectures. Others say the flap points to a lack of intellectual vitality at the university. Two days after Keller’s appearance, hundreds of students lined up to hear Jerry Springer, chanting, "Jerry, Jerry."

"To take the behavior of a handful of students and to use that to denigrate intellectual achievement does a real disservice to the university and to the students who’ve come here to learn," countered Fliegel.

In any event, some lecturers are dreading the rest of the lecture series.

"You get 1,500 of these kids together, they’re an angry rich mob," one warned.


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