Mass Media Funk is a commentary on mass media stories about the scientific, the paranormal, the supernatural, and anything else that yanks at my eyebrows.
March 19, 2000. Nearly 500 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God burned to death in an Ugandan chapel as they awaited the Virgin Mary to take them away, according to the Nando Times. (A later report claims that 330 persons had been confirmed dead and that most of the victims were women and 78 were children.) The sacrificial victims' leader, Joseph Kibweteere, had predicted the world would end last New Year's Eve, then changed his mind to say it would be next New Year's Eve, and then apparently changed his mind again and said that on St. Patrick's day the Virgin Mary would descend and take up the faithful. According to one report, the doomsday cult was started by ex-priests and ex-nuns of the Catholic church. Another report claims that the cult was founded by Cledonia Mwerinde, a former prostitute, and that the chapel was built on the grave of her father. "The sect had about 1,000 members in nine districts in Uganda and was legally registered as a nongovernmental organization," according to Andrew England, who also reports that several of the cult's leaders were ex-priests.
Apparently, the cult members had a party two days before the conflagration, during which they consumed 70 crates of soda and three bulls. The day before violating the commandment against killing, they made a bonfire of their personal belongings including clothing, money, suitcases and church materials.
Millennial fears, combined with a history of extreme poverty and an unresponsive government, have led to the mushrooming in Uganda of (what are euphemistically called) "syncretic Christian sects." Early reports identified the cult as a suicide cult, but the authorities are investigating it as a mass murder.
One speculation is that founders Cledonia Mwerinde, the ex-prostitute, age 40, and Joseph Kibweteere, the ex-priest, age 68, murdered the cult members who had given up all their earthly possessions to the cult because they wanted their property back when the world didn't end as predicted.*
update (3-24-00): 153 more bodies of cult members have been found. These people, however, clearly did not commit suicide. They were strangled and dismembered and buried beneath an abandoned house six weeks ago. Fifty-nine were children, according to the Nando Times. Two former priests who helped lead the sect had been excommunicated because they "erred and broke discipline of the church."
update (3-27-00): Another forty bodies have been found, including two babies, linked to the cult, according to the Nando Times.
update (3-28-00): Another mass grave was found under the home of one of the ex-priests who led the cult, according to the Nando Times. Seven bodies were found, raising the number of known dead to 569.
update (3-30-00): Another 47 bodies of cult members were found, according to the Nando Times.
update (3-31-00): Another mass grave has been found, bringing the total dead to more than 900, according to the Nando Times.
further reading (submitted by Joe Littrell)
Also in the Nando Times today is an interesting article about eugenics in America. Many think this pseudoscience originated with the Nazis. Not so.
You might think that such a law violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law, but you would be wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law on May 2, 1927, in an 8-1 ruling written by Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said:
In case you are wondering, Indiana enacted the nation's first sterilization law in 1907, and Connecticut followed soon afterward. Biologist Harry H. Laughlin wrote the law on which the Virginia eugenics statute was based. Hitler's 1933 Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases sounds like the Virginia statute. In 1936, Laughlin received an honorary medical degree from the University of Heidelberg for his contributions to the "science of race cleansing." Laughlin was one of the founders of the Pioneer Fund, dedicated to such things as improving the character of the American people by encouraging the procreation of descendants of white persons. The Fund is still around and was a major supporter of Murray and Herrnstein's Bell Curve.
March 17, 2000. "Researchers at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill found electricians for five U.S. power companies had twice the
suicide rate and linemen 1 1/2 times the rate of utility workers not employed in those
jobs," according to the Nando
Times. Edwin van Wijngaarden, a doctoral student and lead author of the UNC study,
thinks that electromagnetic fields suppress melatonin levels in the body and that leads to
depression which leads to suicide. Others are not so sure.
March 15, 2000. Robert Park, physicist and irascible debunker of pseudoscientific notions, has a new book forthcoming and is featured in an article by Jennifer Ouellette in Salon.com. Park does much of his debunking as the author of "What's New" from the American Physical Society. His new book is called Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud and will be out in May.
thinks highly of Dr. Park's work.
March 13, 2000. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) members have been accused by many of caring more for non-humans than humans. The latest PETA campaign against cruelty to dairy cows will add fodder to the charge. Not only is PETA encouraging college students to drink beer, they plan to distribute beer bottle openers on college campuses as they advise students not to drink milk and to substitute beer for milk. So says the Nando Times. Presumably, since making beer only involves cruelty to water, hops, malt and yeast, it is ethically sound to drink the product, regardless of the well-known consequences of alcohol abuse among college students and other humans.
This exercise in poor logic and poor taste may be due to the humorless attempting to be funny.
PETA might do better to concentrate on the exaggerated nutritional value of milk (whole milk is 49% fat by calories) or the misleading claims that issue from the dairy industry: e.g. milk that is labeled 2% fat is actually 31% fat when measured as a percentage of calories.
update: PETA has halted the Got Beer? campaign in deference to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). PETA is giving MADD $500 and is linking to MADD's website. Isn't that nice?
March 13, 2000. The world will not end on May 5, 2000, as some
dumbsayers are claiming, according to Space.com.
Around here we call the millennial Cinco de Mayo belief myth #35.
March 10, 2000. Ted Turner must have a lot of free time on his hands now that wife Jane Fonda has found religion. They are spending time apart as Fonda explores the religion her husband has publicly labeled 'a religion for losers.' Turner is considering making a mini-series on the weather, based on a book by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber. The Coming Global Superstorm is based on archaeological evidence that shows that global warming will lead to a New Ice Age. Apparently, the only aliens mentioned in the book are some that were allegedly wiped out by another superstorm some 10,000 years ago. To avoid the upcoming catastrophe Bell and Strieber advise that we buy fuel-efficient automobiles. Sounds stunningly exciting.
I'm sure after he has a few drinks, changes doctors, and insults the
leader of a major religion, Turner will reconsider.
March 9, 2000. The RaŽlians (Raelians) are gathering in Montreal, according to Taras Grescoe of Salon.com. In case you don't know, RaŽl (Rael) is Claude Vorilhon, a Frenchman and former automobile journalist and race-car driver, who has founded a cult. His followers consider him to be "the prophet of the third millennium." RaŽl teaches and preaches about UFOs, our alien origin, cloning as the way to immortality, and that there is no God or soul. We were created by aliens and our creators want us to be beautiful and sexy and enjoy a sensuous life, free from the restrictions of traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Fortunately, the RaŽlians are big on using condoms. They not only won't spread as much disease that way, they won't reproduce, either. Like all good religious leaders, RaŽl expects his followers to support him. A 10% tithe is the norm.
He explains his mission in his book, The True Face of God. According to Grescoe, RaŽl claims that
RaŽl also teaches that the human race was created from the DNA of aliens some 25,000 years ago. With such a believable message, it is no wonder that people come from all over the world to be with the prophet.
According to Grescoe, "RaŽl's success seems to derive from providing
a structured environment for decadent behavior: He offers a no-guilt playground for
hedonism and sexual experimentation." This seems a bit charitable, though RaŽl
apparently attracts a disproportionate number of buff men and women who dress and look
March 8, 2000. A small, preliminary study on the effectiveness of magnets to ease lower back pain has found no significant difference between the magnet users and a control group, according to JAMA.
March 7, 2000. Anecdotes are circulating among anesthesiologists
that herbal products, taken by many advocates of "alternative" medicine, may be
causing unexpected bleeding and difficulty in blood clotting during surgery, according to CNN.com.
And I thought people who took such herbs did so to avoid surgery!
March 7, 2000. The Fort Worth, Texas, Star
Telegram reports of another fake palm reader defrauding a gullible victim. Moral of
the story: if a psychic asks for your jewelry, claiming to need it for a blessing or to
remove a curse, make a quick exit.
March 5, 2000. Besides costing more, is there anything significantly different between "organic" products and those not so labeled? Not according to Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California-Davis, who says that organic foods are neither safer nor more nutritious than conventional foods. Next summer, the US Department of Agriculture will be instituting its first set of organic food standards. The organic trade does some $6 billion a year in trade, according to the Nando Times.
March 5, 2000. Trauma counselors advise reliving a tragedy to assist in getting over it, says the Nando Times. According to John Stein, the deputy director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, the human brain doesn't store memories of traumatic events the way it would a normal memory.
"To some degree, we're asking them to go back to those memories in a categorical form that allows them to revisit (the event) without it being so powerful," he said. "It's a reminder that much of what they're experiencing afterwards is the human mind trying to sort through a lot of unpleasant stuff [like feelings of rage] it doesn't want to absorb."
March 2, 2000. Taking vitamin C supplements could speed up hardening of the arteries, according to a study of "573 outwardly healthy middle-aged men and women who work for an electric utility in Los Angeles." Those taking vitamin C supplements showed "accelerated thickening of the walls of the big arteries in their necks....the more they took, the faster the buildup," according to the Nando Times.
March 2, 2000. Earlier this week Patrick J. and Lore Harp McGovern committed $350 million over 20 years to MIT to establish an Institute for Brain Research. He is the founder of International Data Group (IDG), "the world's leading computer publishing, research and exposition management company." She is co-founder of Vector Graphics and is involved with numerous start-up ventures in Silicon Valley.
"The new institute's mission is aggressive exploration of human learning and communication through interdisciplinary research that encompasses neuroscience, molecular neurobiology, bioengineering, cognitive sciences, computation and genetics."
Joe Firmage, take note.
February 29, 2000. A girl who suffered permanent brain damage after she was given a large dose of the diabetes medicine Glynase instead of a small dose of Ritalin was awarded a $16 million judgment against Rite Aid and the pharmacist who erred in filling the prescription. His excuse? According to the Nando Times, both pills are yellow and he was finishing up a 12-hour shift and a 60 hour work week.
February 28, 2000. Zig Ziglar goes MLM. Selling hope coast to coast! Get in on the ground floor; that way you won't have so far to jump when the building collapses.
February 25, 2000. Diabetics are being warned by the FDA about the dangers of taking five brands of Chinese herbs because they illegally contain prescription drugs, according to ABC.com. The drugs and companies that sell them are: Diabetes Hypoglucose Capsules, sold by Chinese Angel Health Products of Santa Monica, Calif; Pearl Hypoglycemic Capsules, imported by Sino American Health Products Inc. of Torrance, Calif., but also sold by Chinese Angel; Tongyitang Diabetes Angel Pearl Hypoglycemic Capsules and Tongyitang Diabetes Angel Hypoglycemic Capsules, sold by Sino American; and Zhen Qi Capsules, sold by Sino American.
update: Two other herbal preparations have been recalled because they contain "dangerously high" amounts of glyburide, a drug used to lower blood sugar: Dianolyn Capsules, made by Diabetic Capital of Alhambra, Calif., and Dimelstat, manufactured by SciQuest Lab Inc. of Brea, Calif.
[thanks to Jon Henrik Gilhuus]
February 25, 2000. Internet auction house eBay refuses offer to sell man's soul on ground that there is no evidence the item really exists, according to Bloomberg.com.
February 24, 2000. The New England Journal of Medicine admitted today that over the past three years the authors of 19 articles reviewing drugs were written by doctors with financial ties to the drug makers. The editor-in-chief claims this was due to "carelessness", according to the Nando Times.
February 23, 2000. The Journal of the American Medical Association has released the results of a new study which claims that in 1995 there were some 150,000 children between the ages of 2 and 4 who were being treated with psychiatric drugs like Ritalin and Prozac. This was a 50% increase over the previous 4 years. This is troubling, says JAMA, because nobody really knows the long-term effects such drugs can have on developing brains. [Nando Times]
February 22, 2000. A woman suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis (a.k.a. "chronic fatigue syndrome") resorted to trepanation (trepanning) for relief and claims that while the results haven't been dramatic she feels better and has "more mental clarity," according to Reuters. The treatment seems to work better than that used by a Japanese cult led by Koji Takahashi, who was arrested in connection with the death of a man he was treating for a brain hemorrhage by patting his patient on the head. The cult is called "Life Space." Apparently, their goal is to make space for more life.
February 20, 2000. Feng shui has its
faithful believers; hence, it is like religion; hence, the BBC should cover it in its
religious programming. So goes the logic of the Rev. Ernest Rea, the BBC's head of
religious broadcasting, according to the Sunday
Times. The largest religious group in Britain is the group who have "vague
faith," and atheists outnumber Christians, says the Rev, who wants his title changed
to head of "faith" broadcasting. To show that he is not a nutter and that BBC
religious programming has not gone trivial, the Rev. Rea reminded critics of the upcoming
3-part series on the Son of God.
Scientists are reminding us that earth has only about half a billion years left, at which time the planet will either be burnt to a crisp or frozen solid. This cheery thought is brought to you by the Nando Times.
February 13, 2000. In 1999, there were over 3 billion prescriptions filled by pharmacies. How many errors were made? Nobody seems to know, according to the Nando Times. How many were made by pharmacy technicians?
Meanwhile, "horse whisperer" Monty Roberts has been accused of
faking his autobiography, including the bit about horse whispering (an alleged mysterious
way to communicate with horses, especially wild horses, by using special signals),
according to the Sunday
Times. One unhappy client claims she was left partly disabled when her mustang
trampled her shortly after it returned from several months' treatment at Roberts' ranch.
February 11, 2000. St. John's wort, a popular self-medication for depression among advocates of "alternative" medicine, may interact dangerously with prescription medicines, according to two new studies. St. John's wort was found to dull the effectiveness of both the HIV medicine indinavir and the transplant drug cyclosporin, according to Lancet. According to the Nando Times: "Although both studies involved few participants, independent experts say the way they were conducted and the strength of the results render the findings significant."
February 10, 2000. Researchers find 'compelling' evidence supporting Big Bang theory!!
February 9, 2000. Despite the lack of scientific studies to support any benefit to periodically douching the colon, many people are self-medicating with colonic irrigation (colon hydrotherapy) in the hopeful belief that it will help them live longer and more healthily. Katherine Rauch of WebMD reports on one naturopath who prescribes colonics for "asthma, arthritis, sinus problems, chronic fatigue and constipation." The fact that there is no scientific evidence to support such treatment is little deterrent to true believers in "nature's remedies."
One traditional MD is quoted as saying that the dangers from colonic douching "include spreading infection from contaminated equipment and harmfully altering the chemical balance of the colon." Dr. Ross Black notes that "A major function of the colon is to absorb minerals such as potassium and send them through the bloodstream. Colonics could wipe out these minerals and thereby cause deficiencies."
February 8, 2000. According to Yahoo News, a French government report has described the Church of Scientology as a dangerous organization that "threatens public order" and "human dignity" and has called for its dissolution.
Daniele Gounord, a spokeswoman for the sect in Paris, denounced the government report describing it as a "slap-dash Mickey Mouse job in which facts are pulled out of a hat."
"With this report, France has joined the ranks of banana republics," she
February 7, 2000. According to the Nando Times, the Indiana House voted 92-7 in support of a law that would allow posting the Ten Commandments in schools, courthouses and on other government property. The state Senate already has approved a similar measure. The clever legislators think they will avoid Constitutional problems of separation of church and state by requiring that the Ten Commandments, if so displayed, be displayed with "other documents of historical significance that have formed and influenced the U.S. legal system." I suppose they have in mind such things as the Magna Carta, Justinian's Code, Deuteronomy and a copy of Marbury v. Madison.
No mention was made of what influence the Ten Commandments has had on our legal system, but it will be difficult to maintain that if it weren't for the Ten Commandments we'd allow murder and theft. On the other hand, it is pretty easy to show that the requirements of a belief in God, in just one God, and to not covet your neighbor's wife or property, haven't found their way into our laws yet. Furthermore, one of the commandments that did have a strong influence on our laws in the beginning has been abandoned by most states, namely, the law against adultery. The fourth commandment has been abandoned in most places but the Indiana vote should give a boost to sabbatarianism: soon it will be against the law to use the Internet on the Sabbath.
One hopes that the Indiana politicians who voted for this bill did so out of a felt need to pander to the mob, rather than out of a conviction that seeing the Ten Commandments posted in school will prevent another Littleton. I prefer the disingenuous hypocrite to the truly stupid.
Robert Todd Carroll
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