Friday, August 31, 2007

The Alzheimer's Chip

ABC News has reported on a Florida-based company which is implanting two hundred Alzheimer's patients in the Palm Beach, Florida area with sub-dermal microchips. Called VeriChips, they can be scanned by a hospital that has taken in a lost Alzheimer's patient and provide identification and medical information about the person. Read the article here. The crux of the piece seems to be the privacy issues raised by implanting a chip in someone who cannot give informed consent. Katherine Albrecht of AntiChip.com is quoted in the article as saying that it's a matter of dignity for the patients. I've checked out her website, and it makes various claims of adverse health risks associated with the VeriChips. Still, the chips have been approved by the FDA, and I'm not informed enough to make an educated statement about the healthiness of the chips. On the issue of dignity, however, I do have a thought. Would it be dignified to lose your wandering loved one who suffers from Alzheimer's and cannot make an informed decision for himself anyway? Isn't that what power of attorney is all about? Many Alzheimer's patients are incapable of looking out for themselves, in which case it becomes necessary for others to look out for them. What do you think?

Full Moon Myth

This story by Australia's Daily Telegraph demonstrates a disturbing fact of most reporting about paranormal myths. The article discusses three suicides which may have correlated with a lunar eclipse. It goes on to falsely claim that scientists, psychologist, and (sigh) astrologers have all concluded that there is a link between moon phases and aberrant activity, including murders, suicides, and aggravated tomfoolery. This, of course, is nonsense, but it rings true and is, therefore, unquestioned. The only voice of reason quoted in the article comes from a Queensland homicide detective, and he isn't even mentioned until the very end. For real information about the moon's unimpressive powers over the human psyche, read the Skeptic's Dictionary entry here.

Big Love in the Afterlife

This interesting Newsweek article examines the implications of polygamy in the Mormon afterlife. Though the Latter-Day Saints church has publicly rebuked the doctrine of polygamy in regards to our terrestrial existence, their stance on plural marriages in Heaven is a little less clear. When a couple is married in the Mormon temple, they are "sealed" to one another for all eternity in the eyes of the church. If a Mormon man becomes a widower or gets a divorce, he may remarry in the temple and be "sealed" to another woman. But if a Mormon woman loses her husband, she must have their seal canceled by the church before she may remarry. In other words, you may die only to find yourself stuck with your husband's second spouse as your "sister" wife. Aside from all the usual sci-fi shenanigans involved with afterlife mumbo jumbo, this issue raises some pressing questions about the equality of men and women even in the modern, gentler Mormon religion. If only those golden tablets had been just a little more clear on the important issues. Though I suppose it can get pretty murky when you have to read them from inside a hat.

Ask an Amateur Scientist: Roswell

In the third installment of my weekly PinkRaygun.com column Ask an Amateur Scientist, I explore the origins of the Roswell, New Mexico myth. Did an alien spaceship really crash there in 1947? Probably not, but it sure does make for an interesting story, as you well know from all of the top-notch entertainments the Roswell myth has spawned--Independence Day, Roswell, that other one. And no one can deny it's been good for New Mexico's tourism. And David Duchovny's career. Read all about it here.

Bend it Like Allah

Some angry Muslims have been holding demonstrations in southeast Afghanistan, protesting the U.S. military's dropping of soccer balls bearing an image of the Saudi Arabian flag. The military intended the multi-cultural soccer balls as something fun for the kids, but they didn't realize Saudi Arabia's flag features the Koranic declaration of faith, which includes the name of Allah. Afghan MP Mirwais Yasini said, "To have a verse of the Koran on something you kick with your foot would be an insult to any Muslim country around the world." First of all, the existence of any nation based entirely upon theocracy is an insult to reason, so I'm not so sympathetic on that point. And secondly, would it be okay to head-butt the name of Allah? Or throw it on the neighbor's roof to make your little brother cry? Unfortunately, these questions are not answered in the BBC's story here.

Moldy Depression

A new Brown University study published in the American Journal of Public Health has found a statistical link between depression and living in a damp, moldy home. The study was not designed to test whether mold is a physiological cause of depression, only to show whether people who live in mold-infested houses are more likely to be depressed. More details here. Though I know this is only anecdotal evidence, I can't help but remember how sad I used to be when I lived in a leaky, mold-encrusted apartment. Well, there was one time I was so happy that I was bouncing off the walls, but I quickly fell through them. Maybe there's something to this after all...

Huckabee and Healthcare

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently appeared on the increasingly dirty-sounding Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss, among other things, his views on health care. According to Huckabee, an increased focus on exercise and diet would cut U.S. cancer rates by a third. Dr. Steven Novella, host of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast and author of the NeuroLogica Blog, has written an interesting piece critiquing the skeptical community for pouncing on Huckabee's statements to attack his creationist views. While I'm all for attacking creationist ideas, Dr. Novella is correct in chiding those who can't wait for the proper time. He also looks into the actual science behind Huckabee's claim, which, it turns out, is fairly solid. Read Dr. Novella's piece here. Wow, that sounded pretty dirty, too.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Travolta and Preston on Scientology

Halloween is a couple of months away, but I thought I'd get a head start on the scares by linking to this OK! Magazine interview with John Travolta and Kelly Preston, the world's second most famous Scientologist couple. I refuse to be held responsible for any heart damage you may suffer from the shock, so I'll spoil it for you right now: They're raising their children as Scientologists. Now stop screaming and listen. This may not be such a bad thing. Maybe the one advantage of having Scientologists as parents is that you will never grow up believing that such science-fiction claptrap is in any way cool. Here's hoping one day a teenage Travolta spawn hops on his motorcycle screaming, "I'm sick and tired of your Dianetics, old man!" And by the way, I'll try never to link to OK! Magazine again.

Gay Marriage Ban Cracked

Judge Robert Hanson of the Polk County, Iowa court struck down the state's ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional and a violation of the equal rights clause. He also ordered that marriage licenses be immediately granted to the six homosexual couples who acted as plaintiffs in the case. No word yet on whether the marriages of Iowa's Bible-thumpers have suffered from the desecration of their sanctity. Frankly, I was just surprised to learn anyone lives in Iowa besides presidential candidates and their campaign staffers. Read more about this story here.

Ask an Amateur Scientist: Kevin Trudeau

In this second edition of my weekly PinkRaygun.com column, Ask an Amateur Scientist, I discuss convicted huckster Kevin Trudeau and his inexplicably best-selling book Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About. Oddly, his book doesn't contain any natural cures. For those, you have to pay for a membership to Mr. Trudeau's website. Clever moneymaking scheme or global information suppression at work? Find out for yourself here.

Messages from God

A California woman is in trouble with the local city government and her own neighbors after covering her house and car with cryptic messages she says come from God. She claims the incoherent rantings warn of a global conspiracy involving technology and witchcraft. Although her neighbor across the street doesn't seem concerned. "This is another free person's way of expressing themselves," he said. Might he change his tune when his wacky neighbor sees him strolling with his iPod and flays him alive for being a techno-sorceror? Read the story here.

Black Cat Fever

An Italian animal rights group estimates that 60,000 black cats are killed every year by superstitious Italians who consider them a sign of bad luck or sacrifice them in "black magic rituals". The Telegraph has a pretty informative story on the whole affair here. If only these people realized that the ghosts of dead black cats sexually transmit genital warts to their murderers' mothers. It's a pseudoscientific fact.

Holy Water = Holy Threat

Security personnel at a French airport refused to allow a group of Catholic pilgrims to carry holy water aboard planes. Read about it here. The reasoning is that holy water falls under the general ban placed upon carry-on liquids, as they might be disguised explosives. But I imagine the airport security will feel pretty stupid upon hearing that a swarm of vampires had overrun the plane mid-flight. After all, there are definitely no motherfucking stakes on the motherfucking plane.

Medicine Man Drowns

A Tanzanian medicine man drowned after jumping in a river with the promise to resurface in three days bearing revelations from ancestral spirits. According to the AFP story, his decomposing body was fished out of the river four days later. Ta-da!

Giant Spiders from Hell (Texas)?

A giant spider web in a Wills Point, Texas park has caused quite the sensation. Read all about it at the Bug Girl's Blog and note that she has solved the mystery of the web's origins with her sexy, skeptical mind. Although the quote of the day comes from the AP story in which park superintendent Donna Garde proclaims, "There are times you can literally hear the screech of millions of mosquitoes caught in those webs." Terrifying.

Hitchens and Donohue on Mother Teresa

As a companion to yesterday's post of journalist Christopher Hitchens' article on Mother Teresa's seeming atheism, here now is a clip from MSNBC's unfortunately named Hardball with Chris Matthews in which Hitchens discusses the situation with the Catholic League's Bill Donohue. My favorite Bill Donohue story? He ranted and raved about the obscenity and blasphemy contained within comedian Louis C.K.'s short-lived HBO sitcom Lucky Louie until being forced to admit in a debate with Louis C.K. himself that he had never actually seen the show. You can find a list of some of Donohue's other greatest hits at his Wikipedia page here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mother Teresa's 'Crisis' of Faith

Much has been made of Mother Teresa's recently published letters expressing doubt in the existence of God. In a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the atheist host gloated that she was now on "his side". Disturbingly, the faithful seem to have latched onto these letters as evidence of Teresa's unwavering service to God, even in the face of reason. In this excellent Newsweek article, journalist Christopher Hitchens provides some much needed context in which to consider Mother Teresa's legacy. Was she a saint or a sadist?

Ask an Amateur Scientist: The Loch Ness Monster

In this first installment of the weekly Ask an Amateur Scientist column at PinkRaygun.com, I discuss the origins of the Nessie myth, Saved by the Bell, and "strange lady figures". Click here to read it.