Robert Todd Carroll
In Mass Media Funk, you will find articles about news stories, magazine articles or TV programs of interest to skeptics, which do not pander to the public's appetite for the occult and supernatural.
Note: because many of the sites linked to here are newspapers or magazines, it is impossible to maintain the links.
July 11, 2000. According to the Sacramento Bee, scientists believe that 25 million people have AIDS and that 15 million have already died of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Yesterday, in Durban, South Africa, hundreds of delegates at the 13th International AIDS Conference walked out when South African President Thabo Mbeki said
A Genevan delegate, Dr. Alexdra Calmy, said that Mbeki "blames AIDS on capitalism and imperialism."
Dr. Jennifer Ann Geel, who works with AIDS patients in South Africa, said that Mbeki's comments have made patients skeptical of such things as wearing condoms.
update (July 9, 2002). Dr. James McIntyre, director of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at the University of Witwatersrand in Soweto, estimates there are 250,000 HIV-infected women who give birth annually in South Africa. Yet, the minister of health for South Africa called drugs used to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child poison. (Newsday)
July 6, 2000. Neuroscientist Peter Brugger of University Hospital in Zurich claims that paranormal experiences, including out-of-body experiences, seeing ghosts or seeing one's double (doppelganger), can be due to brain damage or to intense emotion.
Phantoms could be the result of damaged pariental lobes, which help the brain distinguish between the body and the space surrounding it, but they can also occur in people with 'normal brains' due to powerful emotions such as intense fear, sadness, or euphoria, according to Brugger.
(Apparently, it is not uncommon for extreme mountain climbers to feel invisible presences and even to have OBEs, probably because of oxygen deprivation.)
According to ABCNews.com,
Brugger plans to test his theory using a “virtual reality box,” which
has been used to treat people experiencing phantom
July 5, 2000. The Journal of the American Medical Association
has dueling articles today regarding an issue reported on here last
November: death by medical error. One argues the
numbers are greatly exaggerated, the other argues they
are not, An analysis of the disagreement is given by Rick Weiss of the
July 1, 2000. We noted last February that 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, as long as they are displayed with "other documents of historical significance that have formed and influenced the U.S. legal system." Today, the Orange County courthouse became the first in the state to use the new law. Officials posted the Ten Commandments in a glass case between a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
The government officials and citizen supporters of this type of religious bullying are hypocrites, every one of them. They claim that they are not being allowed to pray, that religion is being squashed by the state, but in fact they don't want religion to be free or openly practiced, because that would mean that Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Scientologists, etc., would be equal with them (i.e., the militant fundamentalist Christians). These people are also illogical because they have posted and gone wild over contradictory documents. The First Commandment says "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me." But the First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." The Fourteenth Amendment forbids the States from doing what the First Amendment forbids Congress from doing. Americans are free to believe in the God of the ancient Jews, but we are also free to violate the First Commandment and have other gods we worship instead of the God of the Jews, Christians and Muslims. In short, the First Amendment says that no American has to accept the First Commandment, while the First Commandment implies that the First Amendment is contrary to one God's will.
I could go on ranting about the other commandments and their conflict with the Bill of Rights, but what good would it do? The Supreme Court will eventually toss this Indiana ruse onto the trash heap of hypocritical documents along with the Texas prayer law.
July 1, 2000. Li Hongzhi, leader of the Falun Gong cult, now claims that the persecution of his followers in China is the fulfillment of a prophecy of Nostradamus, according to John Leicester of the Associated Press (Sacramento Bee). The same lines that other believers in Nostradamus's prophetic powers have cited as predicting the plane crash of John F. Kennedy Jr. are cited by Li as applying to his group. Maybe Nossie gave the world a twofer here. The words are
June 29, 2000. Sister Lucia dos Santos, who claimed the Virgin Mary appeared to her and two other kids at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 was a person who lived in a "delirious world of infantile fantasies" and suffered "religious hallucinations". That is how a friar, Mario de Oliveira, describes her (Sunday-Times, UK, June 29, 2000). The Vatican's top theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said that Lucia, now a 93-year-old cloistered Carmelite nun, might have conjured her vision from devotional books. Skeptics are not so charitable. According to the Sunday-Times (UK, June 29, 2000), a lot of people are angry in Portugal and beyond because the recently revealed third secret of Fatima was not a doomsday prophecy, making their recent penitence and contributions unnecessary at this time. Lucia didn't write down the prophecy until 1944, and she's had a cult following ever since who have beaten their way to Fatima to pray, do penance and leave money, some hoping for a miracle, others hoping for forgiveness before the world ends. To skeptics, Lucia is just another liar for Jesus, a pious fraud. Whether she was deranged or just liked the attention, who can say?
June 29, 2000. The First Amendment Center released the results of their latest poll of our opinions. As a nation we have had over 200 years to inculcate the values of the Constitution in our people. Where did we go wrong? Here is an excerpt from their press release:
The full report is available in PDF format. The full report states that 40% (not 51%) said the press has too much freedom. Are we becoming a nation of polite hypocrites? Majorities oppose allowing speech which is racially offensive (77%) or religiously offensive (53%), and 51% would ban public displays of potentially offensive art.
Only 48% of those surveyed strongly disagreed with the statement "The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees." 65% think that giving money to a political candidate is an act of free speech that should be protected by the Constitution. Only 18% disagreed when asked whether a prayer should be said at high school graduation if the majority favors it. Only 35% disagreed that students at public schools should be allowed to lead prayers over a public address system at such events as a football game.
"The survey was based on telephone interviews conducted by The Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut with 1,015 adults, ages 18 or older, conducted April 13-26, 2000. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points."
I generally find opinion polls to be useless. Uninformed people are
asked for their opinions, which are then reported to us. Thus, the
uninformed are informed by the uninformed. I'd rather see the media
provide information about a subject that might help us become informed in
our opinions. However, I found this poll to be of value precisely because
it gives us some sort of gauge as to what people really think about
freedom, majority rule, and the Constitution. What I get out of this
survey is that there are an awful lot of Americans who think the majority
should be able to bully minorities in matters of religion and other
values. They do not grasp the fact that the First Amendment (and the
Fourteenth Amendment) are there to protect our rights from being abused by
Congress, the States, and our fellow citizens. They do not seem to
understand that even if everybody but one person agreed that it should be
illegal to say "Pluff" or read Little Boy Blue, that one
person is protected by the U.S. Constitution against the tyranny of any
majority in such matters.
June 28, 2000. Head warden Keith Harris of the Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire (England) had a wounded rhino. The cow's shoulder and foot had been injured by a bull trying to mount her. Traditional medicine did not help the limping rhino, so he decided to try an alternative approach. "I had heard about copper neck chains being used to treat horses with arthritis and thought that if that works for them, there's no reason why it shouldn't also be able to help rhinos." Good thinking, Keith, if it really works for horses. The rhino now sports custom-made copper bracelets. "Thelma's keeper says the treatment appears to be working, as she is now walking more easily," according to BBC News.
Of course, one can find many testimonials
based upon personal observations like the zookeeper's that copper
bracelets are effective in reducing the pain of arthritis or rheumatism.
Some defenders of copper jewelry theorize that the magnetic
property of copper is making "energy" and blood flow more
freely to the affected areas. Others speculate that copper
permeates the skin and enters the bloodstream where it is needed to
combat arthritis, osteoporis and other diseases. Some don't care about
theories; they just know it works
for them. Neither the magnetic nor the permeation theory is supported
by scientific evidence, according to
WebMD. (Dr. Helmar Dollwet's 1981 book, The Copper Bracelet and
Arthritis did not take the medical world by storm though it still
intrigues the "alternative" community.) The felt effectiveness
of such devices may be due to
self-deception and selective thinking,
the regressive fallacy or the placebo
June 26, 2000. Tonight ABC's Peter Jennings will narrate a program on the life of Jesus "the man." The program has upset Tom Shales of the Washington Post because Peter Jennings gets top billing over the Messiah...yes, Shales calls Jesus "the Messiah" in a secular newspaper. Actually, Shales is upset about a lot of things, but mainly he doesn't seem to like the idea of treating his Messiah as if he were a human being of interest to historians in the same way as, say, well, anybody else. However, besides noting that Jennings says there "is a wide range of opinions" on the resurrection--which, I must admit, is a pretty shallow comment--I don't find Shales' complaints very compelling. Jennings apparently shows some skepticism, not only about the resurrection but about the other alleged miracles of Jesus.
One should expect the program to be superficial. It's
television, for Christ's sake. If you want to know something in depth
about Jesus as an historical figure rather than as a mythical god-man,
read something like The
Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer.
June 26, 2000. Three weeks ago, Joe Littrell sent me an e-mail with a link to an article in the New York Times. It was about some religious novel becoming number one on the fiction best-seller list. I brushed it off as another example of not being able to account for bad taste. My mistake. Today's Sacramento Bee has an article by Bill Lindelof, which notes that "a conservative Christian potboiler" has been number one on the New York Times best-seller fiction list for three weeks. The book is the seventh in a series where "readers will experience the horrors of God's judgment and the hope of salvation as they follow Rayford, Buck, Chloe, and the rest of the Tribulation Force in heart-stopping action."* The book is called The Indwelling and it has sold two million copies. The authors are Tim LaHaye, a "retired" evangelist, and writer Jerry B. Jenkins. Altogether, the series has sold 15.1 million copies (Bee) or 17 million copies (NYTimes). According to critics, one of the objectionable messages that runs through the books is that the only way to salvation is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Other themes include The Anti-Christ, the Apocalypse, Prophecy, and other topics of interest mainly to conservative Christians.
Skeptics might find this disconcerting, that millions of Christians are finding spiritual succor in novels. However, outside of the fact that many people don't seem to treat fiction differently than non-fiction (witness the success of of the Celestine Prophecy and all religions), I don't know what the concern should be. If people are turning to novels for religious guidance, it is because they are not getting that guidance elsewhere, like at football games or before school starts. (The ACLU is challenging Virginia's law requiring public schools to begin each day with a minute of silence, a ruse to get them to pray together.)
Those who want to get Jesus onto the football field or into the classroom ought to consider requiring students to read the number one bestseller on the NYT's fiction list. They might have a better chance of success.
June 26, 2000. President Bill Clinton, never one to pass up an opportunity to lie to the world, announced
He was not referring to the success of works of religious fiction, but to the completion of "a rough draft of the human genetic code" by scientists, according to the NandoTimes.
Investors were not as impressed as Mr. Clinton was. Shares of Celera Genomics (CRA), a private firm involved in the mapping, were down $16.69 (13.14%) to $110.31 in trading today at about noon PDT.
Clinton compared the genetic mapping to the mapping of the explorers Lewis and Clark
Not to be outdone by Clinton's strange comparison, Tony Blair, the prime minister of Great Britain said
Maybe they were banking on most of us not knowing what 'map' or 'technological triumph' mean. The complete genetic map will certainly open the door to possible revolutions in medical science, but the technological triumphs are mere hopes at this point. How our scientists and society will use and abuse this new information remains to be seen.
Maybe there should be some sort of science IQ test given to those who want to become leaders of major nations. At least Clinton should know that it was Al Gore who discovered jeans while mapping our Interstate highway system after George W. Bush invented the hypodermic needle.
June 19, 2000. Time magazine has an article about the pros and cons of coning, i.e., ear candling. Janice Horowitz writes "there's no proof candling works." She also mentions the harm that can be done by the process and notes that it is a good thing to have ear wax, despite the urge to get rid of it.
Coning has been in the top ten hits on the Skeptic's
Dictionary for many months.
June 18, 2000. Last year, in the United States more
priests died than were ordained, leaving 12% of all parishes without a
resident pastor, according to the two-year study presented last week in
Milwaukee at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. CNN.com
notes that as the number of priests dwindles the number of Catholics
Robert Todd Carroll
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