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.

Robert Todd Carroll

ęcopyright 2007





vertline.gif (1078 bytes)


January 13, 2002. Proving that wisdom does not necessarily accompany aging, 75-year old Fr. Gabriele Amorth confidently boasts of his superstitious notion that the Devil is behind all evil, including Harry Potter. Amorth is proud that he performs countless exorcisms, despite the fact that these days the Catholic Church hardly recognizes Satan as a force to reckon with. "An unnecessary exorcism never hurt anybody," says the good priest who considers the movie "The Exorcist" to be a documentary of his kind of work. Raised in Italy, where it is common to believe in such things as the evil eye and the casting of spells, Fr. Amorth has never outgrown his early training in superstition.

Amorth realizes that many people who think they are possessed by the Devil are mentally ill. He requires his victims to first see a doctor, but he doesn't seem to think the mentally ill can't also be possessed. He says he's treated some victims for 16 years. It is ironic that he thinks his victims have sometimes been dabbling in magick.

Amorth has not led any burnings of Harry Potter books, but he believes Satan is behind the books, luring children into supernatural activities. Another irony. The good father preaches a comforting, though diabolical, sermon to evildoers: it's not your fault, the Devil made you do it. He relieves his victims of responsibility and offers his powerful magic to help purify them. If Fr. Amorth is right, we ought to shut down all our criminal courts immediately. Criminals need exorcisms, not punishment. Even the temple priest in India who recently killed an 8-year old boy to appease some god should have been exorcised, not arrested.

Fr. Amorth is the author of An Exorcist Tells His Story in which he expands his victims to include those who are not only possessed by the devil but those who are oppressed by Satan. Someone should do a book on people like Fr. Amorth who are obsessed by the devil. But he does fill a niche. He says he has ten customers a day. You would think a dude as powerful as Satan would be embarrassed by the quality of the opposition.

December 24, 2001. Pope John Paul II has added the names of three more saints to his record book. Apparently, John Paul is aiming at naming 500 saints during his reign, which began in 1978. He has already set the record for saint-naming among modern day popes, a record as impressive as Barry Bonds 73 home runs in a season or Hank Aaron's 755 home runs in a career. This latest trinity of halo wearers, however, is likely to raise some sepulchres. Entry into the elite club of pope-named saints requires several miracles. The miracle is that the Catholic Church can find anybody to believe this is happening. These are the new role models for the faithful: Juan Diego, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, and Padre Pio.

Juan Diego is the name behind Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico. His cape of cactus fibers with a painting of the Virgin, allegedly emblazoned there miraculously in 1531, is an icon on display in Mexico City's Basilica de Guadalupe. The abbot of the basilica in 1996, Guillermo Schulenburg, once proclaimed that Juan Diego is a symbol, not a reality. He also called the pope's beatification of Juan Diego in 1990 the "recognition of a cult." He resigned under pressure ("Vatican elevates Mexico's Juan Diego to sainthood," by Traci Carl, Associated Press, Sacramento Bee, December 21, 2001, A20.) Even though it is doubtful whether Juan Diego even existed and probable that the story of his miraculous cloak is apocryphal, the pope proclaimed that Juan Diego performed a miracle by answering a mother's prayers. Her son had jumped from a building and cracked his skull. She prayed he would not die and he didn't. When you are on a saint hunt, as John Paul is, you don't worry about minor details like the strength of the evidence.

The second person in this blessed trinity certainly existed. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was a Spanish priest who founded "Opus Dei" in 1928. He claimed God told him to do it. "Ascetism, anticommunism, a rigid hierarchicalism, religious militancy and secrecy have become the distinguishing marks of the organization."* Opus Dei, according to Fr. Angel de la Parte Paris, "professes a fundamentalist theology, condemns Liberation Theology, has no concern for social problems, leaves little freedom to an individual's conscience, and is associated with secular power structures." Pope John Paul II loves the organization because it is against lax morals and communism. So did Robert Hanssen, the spy who sold secrets to the communists, went to Church regularly, supported a stripper, and made sex videos of himself and his wife, unbeknownst to her.

Finally, the capuchin monk and self-proclaimed stigmatic Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione, born in Pietrelcina, Italy in 1887) has been made a saint. He was most likely a pious fraud with a brain disorder, but he had quite a following amonst women. Padre Pio hallucinated regularly and enjoyed self-flagellation. The Church told him to say mass in private after his cult followers started behaving like shoppers on bargain day, physically struggling for the best pew. The ladies also liked to tear at his vestments, hoping to take home a souvenir relic. Despite Padre Pio's questionable pedigree, he was a made man and there was never any question of his being named a saint. The pope believed in his miraculous powers. In 1962, while still a priest in Poland named Karol Wotjyla, the pope asked Padre Pio to pray for some woman who was thought to be dying of cancer. The woman was given a medical exam and no cancer was found. That's the kind of evidence this pope requires.

December 17, 2001. Yesterday's news was bad as usual. First, we find out that all the anthrax used to terrorize our U.S. Senators originated in a U.S. Army lab. That news was on page 19 of the Sacramento Bee. Second, the Chicago police have been accused of abandoning pseudoscientific crime fighting techniques such as the polygraph and voice stress analyzer in favor of the tried-and-true method of torture to get a confession. But what really caught my eye was a story on page 9 about how the U.S. Department of Justice has been lying for years about its efforts to combat terrorism. The authors of the article--Mark Fazlollah and Peter Nicholas of Knight Ridder--didn't accuse Justice of lying, of course. That wouldn't be prudent. Justice has "overstated its record of arresting and convicting terrorists." How? By counting drunks who cause disturbances on commercial flights as "terrorists." Justice also counts prison riots as terrorism. Shove a judge, you're a terrorist. Threaten to kill President Bill Clinton even though he isn't the president anymore and you're a terrorist, according to the FBI. Last year, the FBI claims it had 236 "terrorist" convictions. Congress gave Justice $22 billion to fight crime, including terrorists. John Ashcroft says that the U.S. government defines terrorists as "those who perpetrate premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatant targets." Someone from the Department of Justice should ask him for a clarification because it is obvious that words like 'premeditated', 'politically motivated', and 'noncombatant' are being ignored by some of our finest law enforcement officers.

We should see a substantial increase in FBI arrests for "terrorism" under Robert S. Mueller, who is now the director of the FBI. But I wouldn't feel any safer. Mueller ran the San Francisco U.S. attorney's office for the past three years. That office led the nation in "domestic terrorism" cases filed. My guess is that most Americans don't consider the mentally ill, prisoners and drunks to be in the same class as Mohammed Atta or Osama bin Laden.

December 6, 2001. The FBI has finally done something right. They've captured Clayton Lee Waagner, who is suspected of mailing hundreds of terrorist anthrax threats to abortion clinics. Waagner was a fugitive awaiting sentencing on federal firearms and auto theft convictions. He is also wanted for bank robberies, carjackings and firearms violations in various states. Attorney General Ashcroft says he will prosecute vigorously. The FBI had sent posters of the alleged terrorist to Kinko's copy centers around the country and employees of a Kinko's in Springdale, Ohio, recognized Mr. Waagner when he came in to check his e-mail.

November 11, 2001. The Sunday Times (UK) reports that the FBI is seeking out psychics again, this time to help fight the "war on terrorism." According to the article, Prudence Calabrese, head of Transdimensional Systems, an outfit that trains remote viewers, claims that "the FBI had asked the company to predict likely targets of future terrorist attacks." Angela Thompson-Smith and Lyn Buchanan, former members of the infamous government remote viewing project called Stargate, also claimed that the FBI has sought their advice. Thompson-Smith is Executive Director of Inner Vision Las Vegas, which offers courses in remote viewing. Lyn Buchanan is part of a group called Controlled Remote Viewing and claims to have been teaching our military how to remote view for some fifteen years.

This does not come as a surprise. The FBI and CIA are the two most avid promoters of the use of the pseudoscientific device known as the polygraph. That they would continue to dabble in the occult long after all reasonable people have abandoned such non-sense should alarm us even if it fails to shock. It is becoming more and more apparent that the quality of investigation done by these two agencies suffers from being done by people who are superstitious and uneducated. If I wanted to gather intelligence about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. the first thing I would do is make sure I have plenty of agents who know the languages and histories of those peoples. Such obvious qualifications are not required, however. (See Peter Beinart's article on the CIA in New Republic.) The last thing I would do is hire alleged psychics. But our agencies are more concerned that its agents pass so-called "lie detector" test than it is that the people they hire be able to gather useful information based upon their having the proper education and training.

The FBI has released a profile of the anthrax terrorist. Does anyone take these people seriously? Remember their profile of the unabomber? It wasn't even close (neat dresser and meticulously tidy, an ideal neighbor!). Yet, Lou Bertram, a retired FBI agent who took part in the investigation of the unabomber claims "Absolutely, he fits the profile." Sound like a bit of shoehorning to me. The fact is that had not newspapers published the unabomber's "Manifesto" his own brother might not have ever suspected him. And had not his brother turned him in, it is unlikely that the FBI would have caught him. After all, they had 17 years to look for him and kept coming up empty.

The FBI profile of the anthrax terrorist is based upon the way he prints his letters. He is not from the Middle East, but an American male. They said some other things so obvious as to sound stupid when mentioned: "He is apparently comfortable working with an extremely hazardous material. He probably has a scientific background to some extent, or at least a strong interest in science...He lacks the personal skills necessary to confront others. He chooses to confront his problems "long distance" and not face-to-face."

Finally, here is the FBI list of "post-offense behavior." Tell me this doesn't describe half the American population after 9-11?

1. Altered physical appearance. 2. Pronounced anxiety. 3. Atypical media interest. 4. Noticeable mood swings. 5. More withdrawn. 6. Unusual level of preoccupation. 7. Unusual absenteeism. 8. Altered sleeping and/or eating habits.

Maybe the remote viewers can tell us whether he wears a moustache or dabbles in the occult. I'd be more interested if they could tell us whether the FBI and CIA will abuse their power in the coming years now that they have the authority to wiretap and arrest just about anybody as a suspected terrorist and then wiretap your conversations with your lawyer. I wonder if the FBI will use remote viewers to go through our e-mail?

What is 'terrorism', anyway? The so-called "Patriot Act" signed by President Bush last week doesn't even define 'terrorism.' It refers everybody to section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989. I have yet to hear the President or any of his minions define terrorism. Was there even any discussion of the definition issue before unanimously approving it? There was debate about whether to include such things as computer hacking in the definition, but was there any discussion of the definition itself? We all know terrorism is bad and we're all against it, but will we know it when we are arrested for it? How broad is the definition? Is it as broad as the definition proposed for South Africa where there is fear that under the new anti-terrorism law "young pranksters or ordinary trade union members could be convicted of terrorism and jailed for life."* If it's defined broadly enough, participating in a public demonstration against government policies where someone throws a rock may be prosecuted under the terrorism bill. Maybe terrorism includes criticizing the government as it takes more liberties from the people and moves forward with policies identical to disastrous past policies. For all we know, the government may consider it a terrorist act for the television mass media to do their news without the American flag waving in the foreground. Not that the television mass media would complain, since they seem to have assumed the role of government agents since 9-11. They see their role as one of support for the government in the war effort. They've finally completely lost touch with the ancient role of watchdog and protector of the people from government abuse. For all intents and purposes, the television media are part of the government itself. The print media still provides a voice for critics, but how long before they are shut down in the name of national security?

Maybe its time for Larry King to convene another panel of psychics to predict the future of freedom in America. While they're at it they could locate Osama bin Laden. The FBI and CIA could help pick the panel.

update: January 15, 2002. Prudence Calabrese now says she and her team of Rviewers see that the next terrorist attack will be in a subway and the words SNOW BANK are prominent.

October 29, 2001. Yesterday's Sacramento Bee had an interesting article by Samuel H. Pillsbury, a professor of law at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and the author of Judging Evil: Rethinking the Law of Murder and Manslaughter. The point of the article is pretty simple: "Evil is something humans do, not something they are." Dividing the world up into the good and the evil "dulls our understanding of the world" and has a very wicked consequence.

Consider what happens when we declare someone evil. We judge that person to be without value. The individual has no rights we must respect; there are no restrictions on what we can do to him or what we can feel about him.

Pillsbury believes that the "division of humankind into the worthy and the unworthy is the evil that drove the terror of Sept. 11, and perhaps the anthrax attacks as well. And such evil is contagious." His conclusion is that we should condemn acts not persons.

There is much to quibble with in Pillsbury's claims, but I think he is right about black-and-white thinking. This demonizing of the enemy and sanctifying of America is likely to result in "another eye for another eye till everyone is blind (Tommy Sands)."

Elie Wiesel also had an article in yesterday's paper--in Parade--and demonstrated just how attractive this black-and-white thinking can be. "The terrorists have chosen shame," writes Wiesel. "We choose honor." We want to believe that we are good and honorable and the enemy is evil and shameful. Unfortunately, so does the enemy.

Terrorists do not discriminate between civilians and soldiers. They kill indiscriminately and some even willingly die while killing people in a restaurant, marketplace, or public building. But they are human beings and need to justify their atrocities. Those they murder have been dehumanized as evil beings who have no right to be treated with any dignity. The terrorists who wish to kill every American have made the mistake of assuming we are all evil. They believe they are good and that good always prevails, so they believe they will prevail no matter what the odds. The odds are greatly against them. It is not likely they will prevail and turn the world into a fanatical fundamentalist medieval Islamic community, if that is their goal. But when they fail it will not be because they are evil and we are good.

While there are some Americans who will demonize all Muslims, Arabs, or dark-skinned people because of the evil acts of some dark-skinned Muslim Arabs on September 11th, most of us will follow President Bush's example and not use these events as an excuse to express racist hatred. But it does America no good to demonize Osama bin Laden and his millions of admirers the way we demonized Sadaam Hussein. Only if we distinguish the act from the person can we even ask the question, why is this man so admired by so many people? Why are millions willing to kill Americans or die trying because he tells them it is God's will? As long as we think of bin Laden and his followers as pure evil, we will make no effort to understand them. We will be driven by the same kind of blind hatred that drives our enemies; our goal will be to kill them all or die trying.

Bin Laden's followers admire him because they think he is good and his cause just. What is his cause? He says it is to rid sacred Muslim land of infidels and to punish those who cause suffering to Muslims. This religious intolerance is not unique to bin Laden, but is common in many Islamic countries. In fact, it is common throughout the world, even in atheist countries. If Americans did not catch bin Laden's wrath, he would be persecuting somebody else, most likely the Jews. The extremist Palestinian desire to exterminate all Jews in Israel is one bin Laden's kind knows well. These Palestinian extremists have been terrorizing civilians for decades and have incorporated suicide bombing into their religion. In part, these ethnic/religious wars of annihilation are due to too many people and too little land. But much of the hatred has to do with the notion of "sacred" sites. There is a lesson here for America's Taliban. Our survival as a nation does not depend on us all saying prayers together to start the school or work day, or before sporting contests. We will not be made stronger or more moral by posting the Ten Commandments in all public buildings. We will not become invincible by forcing God on everyone at every opportunity. We will not become good or better by hiding intolerance behind the mask of prayerful, patriotic unity. The real enemy is within and it is not godlessness. We should not be wasting our time debating whether the pledge of allegiance should be required or not, or whether public schools should proclaim on their message boards "God Bless America." Our Supreme Court should not be wasting its time deciding the constitutionality of laws that require students to start each day with a "moment of silence" which everyone knows is supposed to be a religious exercise and which everyone knows can be done by anyone at any time in any place and so does not require a law to force it on anyone. (FYI: The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the ACLU's appeal of a federal court's upholding of the Virginia statute which requires the moment of silence.)

The way to maintain our freedom and prosperity is through diversity and toleration. These are not the traditional values of Christianity, but they are the traditional values of America. The more we strive to impose uniformity of thought and trample upon diversity and freedom, the more we become like our enemy. It does not matter that our intentions are good, that we believe we are doing God's will, that we know the Bible has all the answers to all the questions. That is what our enemy believes, though their book is the Koran. Most people who believe in the divinity of the Bible or the Koran are peaceful, loving people, who do not try to impose their understanding of religion on the rest of the world. But the minority who are intolerant of opposition and who think they have been given a divine mission to impose the will of God (as they understand it) on the rest of us are dangerous to peace and stability, to freedom and joy. We have seen what has happened in the world of Islam when moderates have not opposed fundamentalist fanatics. The same thing could happen here should the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons take over.

The terrorists sending anthrax and anthrax hoaxes through the mails may think of themselves as good people attacking evil people. Whether they are trying to kill civilians or government agents, or frighten those who provide abortion information and services to women, these terrorists are not that different from each other. They think they are serving God by their terror. Where are the voices of the clergy or the moderate theists regarding anti-abortion terrorism, some of which has included terrorist bombings that have killed or injured innocent civilians? Does their silence mean they approve? What will happen to America if the religious moderates do not speak up against the religious fanatics and terrorists? Why doesn't law enforcement pursue these terrorists with the same vigor they are pursuing the September 11th criminals?

It would be foolish to try to predict how this will all play out. We are not going to wake up one day to headlines that read: Osama says he was wrong - jihad halted. Nor will we see: America surrenders! Bush asks forgiveness of Allah. The headline somewhere may read Good Triumphs Over Evil! but it shouldn't. Not when we have leaders of Islamic communities elsewhere and various Christian communities here in America declaring that those who do not share their moral values are evil.





ęcopyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

larrow.gif (1051 bytes) The Skeptic's Refuge

More Mass Media Funk rarrow.gif (1048 bytes)