Lucy: Sci-fi without the sci

 

lucy eyes

This movie was like a tsunami of woo. A woonami. La Femme Nikita with a lobotomy. What’s wrong with it? Well, I’ll wait for one of those “Everything That’s Wrong With This Movie in 5 Minutes” videos to come out, but in the meantime…

  • The obvious. 
  • Srsly, it’s like basing an entire movie on the premise that your body takes 7 years to digest chewing gum.
  • Villain washing blood off his hands with Evian: Worst product placement ever.
  • If you use 10% of your brain, you can defy gravity.
  • If you use 70% of your brain, you can turn people into mimes.
  • “I know Chinese now.” = “I know Kung Fu.”
  • Stock footage nature montages in a movie with a $40 million budget. Not even narrated by Richard Kiley.
  • Excuse me, a club drug?
  • By the movie’s own logic, Lucy should have looked like the Elephant Man. But then she wouldn’t fit into a little Gaultier dress, so….
  • Moms: If your hard-partying daughter starts to talk about feeling her brain and seeing energy, go ahead and freak out.
  • Can read minds and manipulate most forms of energy. Still needs to use a phone.
  • How did she get out of that hospital after shooting a guy on an operating table?
  • Can levitate, move anything, and transport herself across space and time. Still needs to use a car.
  • Why would your pupils change? Why?!
  • The French version of the Winky’s Guy served absolutely no purpose in this film.
  • Every Asian actor was wasted on Generic Asian Gang characters.
  • Adding dinosaurs will not save your sucky movie. (See also: Tree of Life)
  • An astrochicken computer will not save your sucky movie.
  • If you use 100% of your brain, you can dematerialize and rematerialize as a flash drive.
  • But the astrochicken computer also dematerializes, so where are they going to put this amazing flash drive?
  • Congratulations, Lucy. You were the first human to use 100% of her brain, and now you are the world’s most useless flash drive.
  • “Eat organic.”

 

so dumb for real

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Alex Jones Explains Ebola

 

This “special report” on Ebola in the U.S. by Alex Jones was uploaded on Saturday. It’s clearly just a teaser for Sunday’s radio broadcast, but it’s worth examining here because it contains several of the absurd disease factoids that Jones repeats ad nauseum on his show – and we all know what can happen when people hear something repeated over and over, without much context or explanation: They start to believe it. So let’s break this down:

1.  Lyme disease is a weaponized, tick-borne strain of syphilis created at Plum Island and unleashed upon America.

First of all, Lyme disease and syphilis are not the same thing. They are both caused by spirochete bacteria, yes, but Lyme disease is just as closely related to obscure skin diseases like tropical yaws as it is to syphilis. Syphilis is sexier, so Jones went with that.

The Plum Island Animal Disease Center of New York is a government facility that researches livestock diseases, primarily foot-and-mouth in cattle. The only sinister thing about the place is that during the Cold War, bioweapons research (aimed at livestock, not humans) was conducted there. This dark phase of the lab’s history spawned the theory that Lyme disease spread from Plum Island in the mid-’70s, carried to mainland Connecticut by the wild birds that populate the area.  This theory gained prominience with the publication of attorney Michael Carroll’s 2004 book  Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory, which practically debunked itself.

2.  Biosafety level 4 labs are surrounded by minefields and machine gun nests, and can be incinerated with “huge canisters of natural gas” at the push of a button in case of accidental contamination.


cdc_explosion
Are BSL-4 labs rigged to self-incinerate in an emergency? Politifact Georgia has already tackled this subject in regards to CDC headquarters in Atlanta (and if the CDC isn’t designed to be incinerated, it’s doubtful that any federally-funded lab in the U.S. is). CDC spokesperson Karen Hunter told Politifact that materials are burned, but it’s not what Jones has in mind. Researchers simply decontaminate with common household cleaning products like bleach, then toss the cloths they’ve used into an incinerator.

If you want to see the real safety measures taken at Level 4 facilities, check out this 60-minute video tour of Boston University’s NEIDL lab. Note that BU is a weapons-free campus, as is the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (where another BSL-4 lab is situated). Machine guns and landmines would not go over well at these locations. BSL-4 security precautions include much saner things like rigorous screening, perimeter fences and manned gates, and surveillance cams.

3.  A truck accident exposed Americans to “weaponized flu” 7 years ago.

I can’t find any evidence of such a thing happening. Jones is probably referring to a 2005 Canadian incident in which a FedEx truck carrying anthrax, influenza, and other germ specimens crashed in Winnipeg. There was no “weaponized flu” involved. All of the germs were weakened enough to be nonlethal even if they had escaped their shipping containers, which they didn’t.

4.  Mousepox is deadlier than Ebola, and scientists have released the “ingredients list” for it.

Mousepox is a mouse disease. Humans can’t get it. There is no “ingredients list”, because it is a naturally occurring disease. Jones seems to be confusing a controversial mousepox experiment with a 2012 debate over whether scientists should go public with the results of their research into H5N1.

5.  Professor Eric Pianka wants to unleash airborne Ebola on the world for real.

This is clearly a reference to the infamous comments made by University of Texas-Austin professor Eric Pianka back in 2006, one of Jones’ favourite bits of “evidence” that They are plotting to wipe out all but 1% of the world’s population. I’ve discussed this before at Leaving Alex Jonestown. The bottom line is that Pianka is a herpetologist, not a biochemist, and he was referring to a naturally occurring (not to mention fictional) strain of Ebola in a rhetorial manner.

6.  Eugenics/depopulation master plan: The elite want to eliminate up to 99% of the world’s population.

worldpop

Nope.

 

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Filed under Conspiracy Theories, Controversies, Health, Misinformation

The Health Ranger Might Want to Kill You

 

zyklon        potato

 

Mike “Health Ranger” Adams is on the warpath. The frequent guest host of The Alex Jones Show has enjoyed an unprecedented amount of mainstream attention this year, even appearing on Dr. Oz’s TV show in May to discuss his shiny new “food lab” (where he diligently searches for trace amounts of heavy metals in processed foods and beverages). But Adams has a deeply paranoid side, and that side came out roaring last week. On Monday, July 21, he published a glorious example of Godwin’s Law on his Natural News website: “Biotech genocide, Monsanto collaborators and the Nazi legacy of ‘science’ as justification for murder.”
In the tradition of Ben Stein’s “science leads to killing people“, this piece argues that biotech in the food industry is analogous to the (pseudo)science used to justify the Holocaust. Publications that support GMOs, then, are every bit as bad as the German institutions that funded Nazi medical experiments – they are “Monsanto collaborators”, in Adams’ words. Journalists who criticize the Food Babe, Dr. Mercola, or Adams himself are members of a “radical cult”, enablers of “GMO genocide.”

As always, Adams’ evidence that GMOs are deadly is absurdly thin. He cites the Seralini rat study as proof that GMOs cause cancer, and that’s basically it. This article isn’t any different from all his other anti-GMO rants, until he gets to the part about a recent speech by German President Joachim Gauck, in which Gauck commended the key players in Operation Valkyrie (the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944). Adams interprets Gauck’s central message thusly:

it is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.” (emphasis in original)

He goes on to list some Monsanto collaborators (wiki editors, leftist publications, food companies, etc.) before issuing a call to arms, encouraging someone to

“create a website listing all the publishers, scientists and journalists who are now Monsanto propaganda collaborators. I have no doubt such a website would be wildly popular and receive a huge influx of visitors, and it would help preserve the historical record of exactly which people contributed to the mass starvation and death which will inevitably be unleashed by GMO agriculture (which is already causing mass suicides in India and crop failures worldwide).”

Someone heeded that call almost instantly. Just as Tea Party websites popped up within 24 hours of Rick Santelli’s CNBC rant back in 2009, a Monsanto Collaborators site manifested just days after the Health Ranger’s creepy Nazi article was posted. It features an image of Auschwitz, superimposed with the names of several journalists and science writers who have criticized anti-GMO activism, defended GMOs, or questioned the Seralini study. There are links to stories about the “GMO” suicides among Indian farmers (a myth that has been debunked here, here, and here), and an ominous declaration that “responsibility for these deaths falls upon those individuals and organizations shown on this site.”

This is precisely what Adams wanted to see. In his July 21st article, he expressed the hope that the anti-GMO community will spawn a few Simon Wiesenthals, willing to track down Monsanto collaborators so they can be brought to justice. It should be noted that he attempted to soften his Valkyrie analogy by stating that he does not condone vigilante action, and would simply like to see Nuremberg-style trials for cereal manufacturers and science reporters.
Adams warned that anyone who becomes a Monsanto hunter should hide behind total anonymity, for his very life will be in danger. And that’s exactly what the creator of the Monsanto Collaborators site tried to do.

Here’s where things get a little weird. Adams, in an update to his article, stridently denies that he played any part in the website’s creation, and even urges his fellow activists to avoid it. Being a seasoned conspiracy theorist, he reasons that Monsanto Collaborators was put up by the “biotech mafia” to discredit anti-GMO activists (he also believes the biotech industry ensnares journalists and activists in elaborate sexual blackmail schemes, in order to turn them into shills). However, the Genetic Literary Project claims it has confirmed that Adams is the financial backer of the new website. Sadly, they haven’t provided any evidence of that to date.
UPDATE: As I was writing this post yesterday, This Week in Pseudoscience posted the results of their examination of MonsantoCollaborators.org, and there are strong indications that the site was put up by someone in the Health Ranger’s inner circle. The most compelling indicator is that Adams’ article didn’t appear anywhere online until after 11:00 PM (GMT) on July 21. It was posted to Facebook at 11:05 (GMT), and the first comment on the Natural News article was made 10 minutes later. However, MonsantoCollaborators.org was registered earlier in the day, at 4:21 (GMT) in the afternoon.
(thanks to David)

To my knowledge, this is the first time that one of Alex Jones’ most popular guests has made implied threats of violent retribution against a perceived enemy. His bizarre outburst comes at a time when he is struggling to put his conspiracy-mongering behind him and rebrand himself as a saner, calmer health activist. It also comes at a time when the anti-Monsanto, anti-GMO movement is at peak strength, gaining thousands of new supporters by the second. Boycotts, petitions, and protest rallies are sprouting all over the planet and garnering serious attention from mainstream media outlets. And now, at this pivotal moment, Adams decides to unleash subtle threats of violence and false accusations of genocide? It seems that if anyone is inflicting severe damage to the anti-GMO cause, it’s Adams himself. If he keeps this up, he’ll become a very different kind of ranger…

Lone_ranger_silver_1965

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Filed under Conspiracy Theories, Health, Misinformation, Paranoia

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Hoaxes of Space, Air and Land

moon_man

NASA totally Photoshopped this.

 

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Filed under Conspiracy Theories, Cults, Fraud, Hoaxes

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Bring Out Your Dead

A parade of sad, silly people who thought they could resurrect the dead (and/or themselves)

frankenstein

Returning from the dead is a big thing right now. ABC is airing Resurrection, a series about Missourians spontaneously coming back to life (total ripoff of similar to the excellent French miniseries  Les Revenants). A film adaptation of the bestselling book Heaven is for Real, featuring the near-death experience of a 3-year-old child,  hit theatres on Easter weekend. Filmmaker  Johnny Clark recently released a documentary titled Deadraiser, which chronicles the efforts of people who believe they are capable (with God’s assistance) of bringing the dead back to life. Even as I write this, followers of Hindu guru Ashutosh Maharaj are embroiled in a legal battle with Maharaj’s family members. Maharaj died of a suspected heart attack in late January of this year, and a man claiming to be his son wishes to cremate his remains. But he can’t, because Mararaj’s followers insist he isn’t dead. They say he is actually in a state of deep meditation that has lowered his heart rate to an undetectable level, and have stashed him in a freezer at the ashram in the belief that he will come back to life any minute now. As daffy as that concept sounds, there are a surprising number of folks – past and present – who honestly thought they could trump mortality either through faith or by sheer force of will.

Margaretta Peter, the girl who crucified herself

Margaretta Peter, born into a large Swiss farming family in the late eighteenth century, was a preaching prodigy. In 1800, when Margaretta was just six years old, she enthralled relatives and other residents of a tiny hamlet near Schaffhausen (either Wildisbuch or Wildispuch) with her impromptu sermons, seeming to have a better grasp of the Bible than any minister five times her age.
This was a marvelous quality in a preschooler, but over the years, Margaret began to exert a spiritual dominance over her family that made her pastor uneasy. He noted that when Margaretta was still a teenager, her widowed father and older sisters would obey her every command as though it was the will of God.

Margaretta’s commitment to her faith deepened even more at the age of 20, when she fell in with a group of Pietists and went through a year of self-chastisement for her sins. At the end of that year, she announced she was ready to become a preacher and prophetess. She returned to her home village in the spring of 1817, and quickly established a small following that included her father, sisters, and an epileptic servant named Margaret Jäggli. Jäggli thought her seizures were caused by demons, and hoped that Margaretta could heal her.

In the spring of 1823, Margaretta began talking about the Devil, warning her followers that he was close at hand. Jäggli’s seizures increased and worsened, probably due to stress. This further reinforced the group’s notion that Satan was moving in on them. In March, Margaretta summoned her followers to her father’s house and descended into an ecstatic state, experiencing visions of Satan’s hordes overtaking the planet. She, alone, stood in their way. For days, she uttered prophecies to her breathless disciples. She declared that Napoleon’s son would reveal himself as the anti-Christ, and this cued her older sister Elizabeth and Jäggli to mimic spirit possession by Napoleon and the Duke of Reichstadt; they marched around the room like military men until Margaretta banished the spirits.

The next day, the prophetess led ten of her followers into a small attic bedroom and exhorted them to gird themselves with both prayer and any weaponry they could find, for the final battle between Christ and Satan was imminent. The group included her elderly father, two of her sisters, and a married tailor who may have been Margaretta’s lover. They obeyed Margaretta’s instructions to board up the farmhouse and arm themselves with axes, hammers, clubs – anything they could find. Napoleon’s troops were coming, she said, and the invisible minions of Satan had already besieged the house. Her followers took up their weapons and swung wildly at the air inside the attic room, trying to kill discarnate entities that only Margaretta could see. This madness went on for about three hours, drawing curious neighbours to the yard.

When the attic room was destroyed, the melee moved to a downstairs parlour. There, Margaretta began pummeling Elizabeth with her fists at Elizabeth’s urging. Somehow, the crazed group imagined that inflicting pain on each other would help repel the demonic invaders – much like the French convulsionnaires who tortured one another in the most sadistic ways imaginable in the St. Medard churchyard during the previous century.
They continued punching themselves and each other in a night-long frenzy. The ruckus finally attracted police, who found Margaretta’s followers piled in a heap on the sitting room floor while she beat them senseless. The group was ordered to disband, and local authorities issued an order that both Margaretta and Elizabeth were to be sent to an asylum.

fight club

The disciples paid no attention to these orders. Just one day after their punching fest, a dozen people gathered around Margaretta in the little attic bedroom, prepared to carry out any instructions she issued. The prophetess announced that more blood had to be shed, and proceeded to strike her brother, Caspar, repeatedly with an iron wedge. While she bludgeoned her brother, her followers resumed beating themselves and each other.

Next, Margaretta announced that the ghost of her mother was commanding her to sacrifice herself. Elizabeth immediately offered to take her sister’s place, and Margaretta obliged by striking her with the same iron wedge she had used on Caspar (who was alive, but unconscious). The others followed suit, striking the prone woman with any tools they could find. Elizabeth was soon dead. Only one person, a young woman named Ursula, protested. Margaretta assured her that Elizabeth would be raised from the dead in three days’ time.

Then Margaretta ordered her disciples to crucify her. Reluctantly, they gathered the materials for a wooden cross and assembled it in the attic room. Her sister Susanna provided the nails. Again, Ursula protested and was told that both Margaretta and Elizabeth would rise from the dead in three days.

Margaretta’s followers nailed her hands, elbows, breasts, and feet to the cross. They later told the authorities that Margaretta remained fully conscious throughout this ordeal, coaxing them on. When she was secured to the cross, she demanded to be stabbed through the heart. Ursula attempted this, but was unsuccessful. Another woman and a young man took up a hammer and a crowbar and smashed Margaretta’s head until she fell silent.

Margaretta’s lover, the tailor Jacob Morf, was not present during the murders. He had remained at home with his wife after the beating frenzy. When he returned to the Peters farmhouse and saw the corpses of his beloved prophetess and her sister laid out in a bloodstained room, he was horrified. He reported the murders to a pastor. Meanwhile, the others sat vigil in anticipation of the resurrection. The Peters sisters died on a Saturday, so it was expected they would rise again on Monday. On Sunday night, Ursula removed the nails from Margaretta’s body so that she would not be fastened to a cross when she came back to life. Throughout the night, the group remained with the bodies and prayed.

The sisters remained dead, of course. Their father now had little choice but to report their deaths. In December 1823, eleven of Margaretta’s disciples went on trial for murder in Zürich. All were convicted, and received prison sentences ranging from 6 months to 16 years. None expressed remorse for their actions. On the contrary, they insisted that the murders had been the will of God.

The Peters affair reportedly inspired Hanns Ewers’ 1910 novel The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Source: Historic Oddities and Strange Events by Sabine Baring-Gould

Charles Freeman and the Pocasset Horror

In 1879, Charles and Harriet Freeman were good, upstanding citizens in the Cape Cod Peninsula village of Pocasset. Charles, in particular, was something of a role model in the Seventh Day Adventist church the Freemans attended. But in the spring of that year, Freeman underwent a severe religious mania. He announced to his wife that God wanted him to sacrifice a member of their family – and it couldn’t be Freeman himself. The sacrifice would have to be one of their two daughters, 6-year-old Bessie or 4-year-old Edith. On the night of April 20, in spite of Harriet’s tearful entreaties, Charles crept into the room his girls shared. He woke Bessie, ordering her out of the room. Then he stabbed sleeping Edith to death. He stayed with her corpse throughout the night.

The following day, Freeman sent word  to neighbours and fellow Adventists that he would be announcing a “great revelation” at his home. When about 25 people had gathered, Freeman launched into an hour-long sermon on Christ’s imminent return. Then he led everyone into his daughters’ room and showed them Edith’s bloodied, lifeless body. God had demanded a great sacrifice, he explained, but would offer a great miracle in return: Edith would rise from the dead in three days’ time.

Incredibly, the group seemed to accept this. They returned to their daily chores and told no one what they had seen. Word did spread, though. On April 22, both Freemans were arrested on suspicion of murder. Even in jail, Freeman continued to insist that his daughter would be resurrected.
The charges against Harriet were dropped. Freeman ended up in the State Lunatic Asylum at Danvers. It wasn’t until 1883 that he began to realize he had been insane at the time of his crime. In December 1883 he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was released from the asylum four years later. The details of his life after the asylum are unknown.

pocasset

Source: Psycho USA by Harold Schecter

Cyrus Teed, prophet of the Hollow Earth (Koresh #1)

Earth1

Cyrus Teed was a New York “eclectic physician” who monkeyed around with alchemy in his spare time. In 1869, at the age of 30, he claimed to have transformed lead into gold in his lab.  That very night, a hermaphroditic deity revealed him/herself to Teed and imparted all the secrets of the universe, the most startling one being that the surface of Earth is actually located on the inside of something like a hollow egg, with the “sky” being the empty space in the middle of the “egg”.  Teed subsequently adopted the name Koresh and introduced a new scientific religion called Koreshanity.
In the 1870s, Koresh founded the Koreshan Unity, a New York commune centred around his teachings. The commune relocated to the small Florida town of Estero in 1894. Estero became less like a commune and more like a community, with its own printing press, a general store, and a power plant. Though there were some clashes with locals, including a pistol-whipping of Koresh himself in 1906, the Koreshians thrived until 1908. That’s when Teed/Koresh died.

Teed had predicted that he and his flock would be resurrected and taken up to Heaven after they died, so his followers expectantly waited beside his body for two days. The corpse had to be confiscated by order of the county health officer after it began to putrefy.

Source: Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science by Martin Gardner

Branch Davidians: George Roden and Vernon Howell (Koresh #2)

In 1987, Lois Roden, the leader of the Branch Davidians at Mt. Carmel, died. This left her son George in charge of the compound, which was virtually empty after a rival prophet by the name of Vernon Howell declared himself the true leader of the flock.
George Roden soon realized that he was the incarnation of God, and God certainly holds rank against a mere prophet like Howell. It was time to establish his supremacy before the endtimes began. A brute show of strength wouldn’t do, God/George decided; a resurrection contest would be make much more sense. He went to the Mt. Carmel cemetery, exhumed the body of Anna Hughes (a sect member who had been dead for twenty years), and practiced a few resurrection techniques on the corpse.
Howell wisely refused to accept the resurrection challenge. Instead, he reported Roden’s corpse abuse to the Waco police. They told him they wouldn’t press charges without evidence that a body had been exhumed, so Howell and a few of his followers donned gamo gear and crept onto the compound grounds. In the ensuing gun battle, God lost. The eight intruders were acquitted of attempted murder, and Howell quickly laid claim to the compound…which wouldn’t see another gun battle for five whole years.
God/George was never charged with abuse of a corpse, as he insisted he had simply been moving the cemetery to a new location very slowly.

After the deadly conflagration at Mt. Carmel in 1993, the faithful expected all those who had died to be resurrected. They are still waiting. “We, as survivors of 1993, are looking for David and all those that died either in the shootout or in the fire. We believe that God will resurrect this special group,” survivor Clive Doyle recently told NPR.

Source: The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation by Dick Reavis

The Deadraisers of Bethel Church and Beyond

Tyler and Christine Johnson, a young couple living in Wyoming, are the ultimate pro-lifers. Tyler heads the Dead Raising Team, a volunteer group that “is available to come to your city to train you to raise the dead.” Tyler has also published a handy book, How to Raise the Dead. According to the DRT website, the Johnsons “hope to see a DRT started in every city in the world, so that nobody could die without being prayed back to life.” The Deadraisers can even cure leprosy, apparently. That’s neat.
Tyler Johnson was once a student at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, which is an actual thing. This Hogwarts for Grownups is an outgrowth of the Bethel Church, a megachurch in Redding, California. Bethel’s pastor, Bill Johnson (no relation to Tyler), has supposedly seen countless “miracles” at his church in recent years. First, feathers drifted down from the ceilings. Parishioners attributed this to birds nesting in the rafters, until feathers began to appear in Johnson’s presence in other public places. Johnson decided they were actually “angel feathers” (ornithologist David H. Ellis declared them to be ordinary bird feathers). Bethel members also say that “gold dust”, diamonds and pieces of jewelry have spontaneously appeared during church services. One video purportedly shows a “glory cloud” of gold dust manifesting in the sanctuary.

duck

Actual angel.

Johnson claims his flock can heal the most serious ailments. In the church’s healing rooms, members blow a ram’s horn (shofar) to summon the Holy Spirit, then pray for it to heal conditions ranging from arthritis to deafness. In 2010, Johnson told  reporter Amanda Winters, “We just had another brain tumor case of cancer healed. We have a lot of that kind of stuff happen. It’s verified by doctors, they do the tests and the cancer’s gone. We have a lot of that sort of thing – miracles.”
To date, no medical professionals have come forward to confirm that anyone has been healed of anything at Bethel.

Bill Johnson was one of the ministers who “commissioned” Todd Bentley as an evangelist in June 2008, after other Charismatic leaders expressed concerns about Bentley’s methods and claims (more on that below).

Tyler Johnson isn’t the only Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry grad who thinks he might be able to raise the dead. In October 2008, Jason Carlsen tumbled over the edge of a 200-foot cliff in Redding while drinking with two BSSM students. Instead of calling 911, Sarah Koivumaki and Zachary Gudelunas attempted to reach Carlsen (who is now a paraplegic) and pray him back to life, believing he was dead. Unable to get anywhere near their comatose friend, these two compassionate souls proceeded to bicker over whether they should summon help or not. It took them about six hours to decide they were not in a Roadrunner cartoon.

Todd Bentley, Bully for the Lord

Nearly four years ago,  Pastor Stephen Strader of Ignited Church in Lakeland, Florida launched an old-school  revival that was supposed to last for five days. The star attraction of what later became known as the Florida Healing Outpouring was a hip, tattooed preacher in his twenties, Todd Bentley of Fresh Fire Ministries.

Bentley, who was not an ordained minister, rapidly made a name for himself by turning the Lakeland Revival into a spectacle-laden stage show, full of faith healings and mind-boggling miracles. Every night, up to 10,000 Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics flooded the Ignited auditorium to witness Bentley’s gifts of the spirit in action. The five-day revival evolved into a six-month gig for him.

WARNING: May not be funny for all viewers.

The media became interested in Bentley after stories about his bizarre healing techniques surfaced. Bentley often “healed” the elderly by kicking, punching, headbutting, or kneeing them onstage. A Charismatic named Sheldon informed me that God commanded Bentley to smack people around just to test his faith. He believes God prevented actual physical contact from happening, but the numerous YouTube videos of Bentley using his “knee of God” indicate otherwise.
Then things got weird. By the revival’s end, Bentley was declaring that at least 31 people may have been raised from the dead. If you’re keeping count, that’s 30 more than Jesus raised, unless you count Jesus himself.

Some of the resurrected people included an infant that had been dead for 27 hours, another infant that was fished out of a pond, a schoolteacher who died of a massive heart attack, and a man who came back to life at a funeral home during his own wake.  Bentley excitedly announced these resurrections during the revival, but could not provide any details…because he didn’t have them. These were secondhand, unverified reports filtered to him via word of mouth and email. As it turned out, the schoolteacher story was a deliberate email hoax perpetrated by a British Christian who wanted to test Bentley’s honesty.
A Nightline report concluded that none of the Lakeland “miracles” could be verified. When he appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s Fox show, Bentley could not produce any evidence that anyone had been healed or resurrected as a result of the revival.

Bentley turned out to have a colourful history. His past exploits included sexually assaulting a 7-year-old boy when he was in his teens. In this regard, he was quite similar to one of his brothers in Christ, the incarcerated preacher Tony Alamo. Alamo, a businessman turned messiah figure, used his position as an evangelist to “marry” girls as young as 8. He became a preacher upon the death of his first wife, Susan, in 1982. He got off to a shaky start by proclaiming that Susan would be resurrected. Thirteen years later, her lifeless body was still enshrined in his ministry compound, and Susan’s daughter had to sue Alamo to get it back for proper burial.

Other Back From the Dead Cases

  • Two days ago, numerous media outlets reported that a 2- or 3-year-old girl named Sydney came back to life at her own funeral in the Philippines.
    Sadly, the reports were wrong. The child’s grandmother had scooped Sydney out of her coffin and carried her out of the church in the mistaken belief that had she had moved her head. Doctors declared her dead a short time later, and a second funeral has been arranged.
  • A popular video about a newborn coming back to life in his mother’s arms is actually 5 years old. In 2010, twins Jamie and Emily Ogg were born prematurely in an Australian hospital. Jamie did not survive long after birth, and mother Katie Ogg was reluctant to part with him. For two hours, she and her husband held and caressed Jamie’s lifeless body…and were stunned when he began to move and breathe.
    This really did happen. Jamie Ogg is now as healthy as his sister.
  • Cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall claims that only his prayers revived clinically dead patient Jeff Markin in 2006. He gives no credit to the medical procedures that were applied to Mr. Markin. Crandall is one of the stars of Deadraiser.

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Filed under Bizarre, Cults, Hoaxes, Religion, Wednesday Weirdness Roundup

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Ghost Sex, Celebrity Hauntings, and a Convenient Demon

This week, I’m going to labor the point that today’s celebrities just can’t seem to come up with anything original – even in the supernatural realm.

  • In 2011, Lady Gaga reportedly believed she was being followed around by the ghost of a dude named Ryan. A few months later, she told Harper’s Bazaar that the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen wrote her song “Born This Way” from beyond the grave (he had committed suicide the previous year). She might be the first celeb to have a ghost stalker, but she’s certainly not the first person to channel music from the dead. In the ’70s, an English senior by the name of Rosemary Brown released “new” works by major composers, including Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Weirdly, all of them spoke English.

 

  • Demi Lovato claims she has been followed around by the spirit of a little girl named Emily for most of her life. She told Ellen Degeneres she grew up in a “ridiculously haunted” house in Texas. Emily and her co-haunters like to screw around with electronics a little bit and make balloons float in the wrong direction. (Lovato also believes there might be mermaid aliens in the Indian Ocean, based mostly on an “extremely convincing documentary” she saw.)
    Even Ellen was unimpressed by the balloon story. And I’m unimpressed with the whole shebang, because it pales in comparison to the mother of all celebrity hauntings: Elke Sommer’s spooky-ass Beverly Hills house. In the mid- ’60s, Sommer and her husband, Joe Hyams, were hounded by poltergeist noises, ghostly dinner parties, and the spectre of a slovenly middle-aged man.
    While Lovato could produce nothing more than the unimpressive ghost photo you see below, Hyams became a less annoying version of the guy in Paranormal Activity, setting up microphones and even hiring a P.I. to monitor his house while he was away.

lovatoghost

 

  • Lee Ryan, a former member of some band I’ve never heard of,  says he grew up in Kent. But I think he grew up in the wilderness or something, because he didn’t recognize the ghost that visited him (via a psychic medium) when he was in his twenties. The spirit told him to work on his lower range and avoid drugs.
    Turns out it was Janis Joplin. Ryan took her advice about singing and abusing drugs, but may have forgotten to avoid abusing people.
    Michael Jackson did not grow up in the wilderness – though that might have been better for him – and immediately recognized Liberace when the ghost of the fabulous pianist began appearing to him with helpful career pointers. Jackson lined a secret room with mirrors so he could have a special place to commune with “Lee”. Then things got weird.
  • Ke$ha told Jimmy Kimmel that her hypnotherapist found a “ghost in her vagina” by waving a “ghost meter” over her body. She didn’t seem terribly concerned about this, and the whole thing may have been a publicity stunt. It’s not as disturbing as the fact that her mom dresses as a giant penis for her concerts.
    But then there’s B-movie actress Natasha Blasick. “I felt something entered the room. I couldn’t see anybody. Suddenly I could feel that somebody touching me,” she told the British TV show This Morning earlier this year. “Their hands were pushing me against my will and then I could feel the weight of their body on top of me but I couldn’t see anybody.” This sounded like a classic Old Hag encounter, until Blasick went on to say that when the experience occurred a second time she “decided to relax and it was really pleasurable, I really enjoyed it…You don’t see anybody but it’s very pleasant and it made me feel warm and fuzzy…It gave me comfort and support and love, and it did answer questions for me that there is something else out there.”
    Though the media had a field day with these crazy kids and their ghost sex, it’s all been done before. In the late 19th century, the much-persecuted sexual reformer Ida Craddock penned a series of works about her marriage to an angel/spirit she called Soph. For having the audacity to write about women and sex, Craddock was hounded to her death by Anthony Comstock.
    A few decades later, Englishwoman Dorothy Eady began receiving visitations from the spirit of Pharaoh Seti I, with whom she had been lovers in a previous lifetime. The two became lovers again, but Eady committed herself to a chaste life after becoming the unofficial guardian of the temple of Seti I in the ’50s. She took the name Omm Sety, meaning “mother of Seti”.
  • Now we move on to the dark side. Bob Cranmer is a former county commissioner in Pennsylvania. In 2003, he was charged with assaulting his 18-year-old son, punching him in the nose with such force that he was barely conscious by the time Cranmer’s 14-year-old son summoned the police. According to Cranmer’s younger son and wife, father and son had gotten into a quarrel over the bathroom. The charges were ultimately dropped.
    A decade later, Cranmer has a perfectly legitimate excuse for punching his son in the face: A haunted house. In his soon-to-be-released book The Demon of Brownsville Road, he explains that his Victorian home was possessed by a malevolent force that destroyed religious items, made a “blood-like” substance ooze from the walls, and wreaked emotional havoc on the entire family. He claims that his sons had to undergo psychological treatment to recover from the events of 2003-2006, and he has hinted that the demon infestation played a role in the family violence that erupted. What’s particularly odd about this demon is that the Cranmers had already been living in the house for 15 years when it became an “evil, evil entity” (to quote Cranmer).
    Sadly, this spirit-blaming business isn’t a new thing, either. When tomato farmer Maurice Theriault was charged with molesting his stepdaughter, professional ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren tried to pin the blame on an incubus (even after Theriault admitted to his crime). Perhaps keep that in mind if you watch the latest blockbuster inspired by the Warrens’ legacy.

 

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Filed under Ghosts, Psychics, Wednesday Weirdness Roundup

Somaly Mam and the Dark Side of Charity

Since 1996, a non-governmental organization known as AFESIP (from the French, Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) has been working to rescue and aid young female victims of human trafficking, operating three centres in Cambodia where the young women are housed and educated.
The guiding light of this effort is co-founder Somaly Mam, a Cambodian-born woman who claims to have been a child prostitute in the ’80s. She has become one of the world’s most prominent anti-trafficking activists, racking up prestigious awards and honours. According to Mam, over 4000 girls and women have been rescued from forced prostitution thanks to AFESIP’s efforts. AFESIP’s fundraising arm, the Somaly Mam Foundation, has raised millions since its inception in 2007.
So it came as a nasty surprise to many supporters when Mam stepped down as the head of her own foundation in May, amid allegations that she fabricated not only the stories of two of her spokespeople, but also her own life story. To hear other media outlets tell it, Mam’s downfall was brought about by a single Newsweek cover story penned by Simon Marks.

newsweek

A Distressing Situation

The Newsweek article is shocking, but here’s something even more shocking: Nothing in the Newsweek story is breaking news. Not one thing.

Back in October 2012, Simon Marks, along with Khy Sovuthy, published a piece in Cambodia Daily, “Questions Raised Over Symbol’s Slavery Story“, probing the accuracy of the horrifc story of sexual slavery and mutilation told by Mam’s most high-profile spokesperson, Long Pros (AKA Somana Long). This was just one of several articles Marks has written about Mam and AFESIP over the past two years.

Also in 2012, Cat Barton wrote several articles like this one, questioning the wisdom of the high-profile brothel raids engineered by Somaly Mam.  AFESIP has received a considerable amount of criticism from other anti-trafficking orgs for allowing journalist Nicholas Kristof to “live-tweet” a brothel raid in the northern Cambodian town of Anlong Veng in November 2011, as this violated the privacy of the young women removed from the brothel.
Barton also reported concerns that not all of the women and girls housed by AFESIP centres were there voluntarily; some had been dropped off by police following raids.

In November 2013, Lindsay Murdoch raised further questions about Somana Long’s  account and the integrity of Somaly Mam in a Sydney Morning Herald article, “Dark Truths or Fiction?

Another Marks article, published in El Mundo last year, exposed the same lies that Marks revealed in the Newsweek piece. In fact, there are few significant differences between the two articles. It’s disappointing that the world’s major media outlets ignored such an important investigative piece published by one of the largest newspapers in Spain.

In March, AFESIP launched an inquiry into the allegations raised by journalists over the years. Staffers knew that Marks was working on the Newsweek piece, and apparently realized it was time to deal with the issue head-on. The details of the independent, third-party investigation conducted by Goodwin Proctor LLP have not been divulged, but a statement posted on the website of the Somaly Mam Foundation makes it clear that the investigation results were the direct cause of Mam’s resignation. In other words, Goodwin Proctor discovered that aspects of her story were fraudulent.

With so many people raising the alarm about her, why has Somaly Mam been bulletproof for all these years?

The Long Con

One reason is the compelling stories told by young women she has rescued.

The first of these “pretty victims”, as Daily Beast* writer Amanda Marcotte has dubbed them, was Meas Ratha. Ratha, 14 years old at the time, appeared with Mam on the French TV programme Envoyé Spécial in 1998, only a couple of years after AFESIP was formed. This broadcast drew international attention to Mam’s work, winning Mam the endorsement of Queen Sofia of Spain and the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation. She was subsequently able to gain some U.S. government funding, and donations began to flow into AFESIP.

Ratha spoke of being imprisoned in a Phnom Penh brothel, lured there by traffickers who promised her a job as a waitress. She said her father had abandoned his large family, leaving her mother destitute.
Last year, however, she admitted that she and her sister, Meas Sokha, were sent to the AFESIP center in 1997 by both of their parents, not because she had been a child prostitute, but because the couple was unable to provide for all eight of their children. Meas Sokha confirmed this, as did Marie Christine Uguen, a woman who was caring for Ratha at the time of her Envoyé Spécial appearance. Ratha confessed to Uguen, shortly after the TV show aired, that Somaly Mam had selected her to tell a scripted story on television.
Prior to their TV appearance, Mam told Ratha that the trafficking story had really happened to another AFESIP resident, Sokha, who was too traumatized to discuss the events publicly. Ratha was stunned to discover, last year, that Sokha had been featured on the same Envoyé Spécial broadcast, relating a completely different story of forced prostitution.

It was Ratha’s story that won the world’s interest in Somaly Mam’s work, but the young woman known as Long Pros became her most visible success story, and a haunting symbol of human trafficking in Cambodia.

When she first spoke out about her ordeal in a Phnom Penh brothel, Long Pros (Somana Long) said she was 13 in 2005, the year a young woman kidnapped her and sold her to the brothel. The teenager was twice impregnated by rapists and subjected to home abortions. She refused to service the brothel’s clients on the day of her second abortion, and this so angered the brothel owner that the woman seized a chunk of jagged metal and gouged out Long’s eye. She threw the girl out into the streets when the infected, oozing eye socket began to displease customers. Her own parents refused to take her in. Somana was then rescued by Mam’s organization.

An entirely different account appears in Traffik, a 2008 book by photographer Norman Jean Roy. In this version of the story, Somana’s eye became infected after she was kicked in the face by a pimp, and it was surgically removed in hospital. Roy has worked closely with Somaly Mam, photographing girls at AFESIP centres.
Long herself told Josephine Lim, in a 2012 interview for the Australian website Our World Today, that people at the brothel had taken out her eye with a piece of steel and that she was rescued by a police raid.
Asking if Mam had perhaps exaggerated the stories of survivors, Lindsay Murdoch pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald that Somana’s story changed over time, becoming increasingly gruesome and awful.

Two years ago, Cambodia Daily reported that Somana actually had her eye removed by surgeon Dr. Pok Thorn at the Takeo Eye Hospital in November 2005, because of a benign tumour that had been growing for years. Her parents, Long Hon and Sok Hang, confirmed this. They have since refused to discuss the surgery, worried that their daughter could lose her job if they do (she worked for an Australian nonprofit program affiliated with Somaly Mam’s organization).
Te Sereybonn, who was the director of the Takeo Eye Hospital in 2005, says his staff was responsible for Long’s placement in the AFESIP centre. She was not an abused child or a prostitute, but the staffers could see that her family was in financial straits, so they contacted AFESIP to see if she could be enrolled in one of their vocational training programs.
Goodwin Proctor also investigated Somana Long’s story, and it seems they found it to be untrue. The Somaly Mam Foundation has announced it is breaking all ties with her.

The pressing question is, why did Mam fabricate sex-trafficking tales? If her organization has, indeed, saved thousands of girls from forced prostitution, then surely a few of them would be willing to share their true stories. Even if the stories Ratha and Long told were 100% true, though, Mam’s use of these young women as spokespeople for her organization would be questionable. Having to relive their trauma over and over again in front of strangers could delay their own healing.

The Star Factor

Mam would not be where she is today – disgraced and unemployed – without the support of powerful people in business, entertainment, and journalism. She carefully courted these people, going to red-carpet and black-tie events in lovely gowns. She received endorsements from Queen Sofia of Spain, Ban Ki-moon, Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Meg Ryan. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Susan Sarandon are advisory members of the Somaly Mam Foundation board of directors. Mam worked closely with Pulitzer-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife. Her 2005 memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, received dustjacket endorsements from Mariane Pearl and Ayann Hirsi Ali, two women who have survived very real hardship and tragedy.

These people are not fools. Who among us, looking into the earnest, anguished faces of young girls as they recount abduction, rape, and torture, would ask questions like, “Is she putting me on?” In the end, journalists like Marks were the ones to ask the hard questions and dig up the hard, disappointing answers.
One of these journalists should have been Nicholas Kristof. He had observed the sex trafficking situation in Cambodia up close. In 2004, he spent $350 to buy two young girls out of a Cambodian brothel. Kristof is a good journalist, but even the best journalists are human. His emotional response to the plight of women in the Third World blinded him to the reality of the NGOs working with those women. In a 2009 New York Times article, he expressed admiration for the work of Greg Mortenson, the author of the New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson founded a nonprofit to educate girls in Middle Eastern countries, achieving worldwide renown for his efforts, but a 2012 investigation concluded that he had misspent $6 million that should have gone to his charity, and Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million. Like Somaly Mam, Mortenson had also fabricated portions of his life story to help promote his organization. When his lies were exposed by 60 Minutes, Mortenson hit back with angry denials; today, he thanks his detractors for putting him back on the straight and narrow. Sadly, his remorse came far too late to save the life of his co-author, David Oliver Relin. Relin committed suicide when the veracity of Three Cups of Tea was challenged.

Kristof embraced Somaly Mam’s work in the same manner that people had approached Mortenson’s accomplishments – with an uncritical eye and a deep willingness to believe in the strength of the human spirit. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, co-wrote the 2009 bestseller Half the Sky, a passionate call to justice for women in developing countries. This became a PBS documentary of the same name in 2012. Both book and film featured Somana Long telling her story in her own words. She subsequently appeared on Oprah, and her story is still posted on Oprah.com.
It would be difficult to underestimate the amount of credibility that Mam gained by her affiliation with Kristof. His New York Times pieces, his book, and the PBS doc boosted her already thriving NGO into the upper echelons of nonprofit stardom.

Based on a Lie

The fake trafficking victims are bad enough. Then there is the issue of Mam’s own distortions.

On December 7, 2004, police and AFESIP raided a Phnom Penh hotel called the Chai Hour II, removing 83 women and girls to the local AFESIP center. The next day, a group of about 30 men forced their way into the center and removed the females.
In a speech she gave before the UN General Assembly in April 2012, Mam stated that the Cambodian army had killed eight of these girls. This bizarre claim was immediately challenged, and Mam had to  admit that she did not have any firsthand knowledge of events following the raid; she had relied upon secondhand information (from a “reliable source) that eight girls and women had died after the raid in a “series of accidents that may have had something to do with their pimps and traffickers.”

That could be chalked up to a mistaken assumption, but the story of her daughter’s abduction is not so ambiguous. In The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam wrote that in 2006 her 14-year-old adopted daughter, Ning, was kidnapped and gang-raped by traffickers in retaliation for the Chai Hour II raid. When the police found Ning, she was in the company of a “boy she knew”, who acted as a lure for the traffickers.
Mariane Pearl wrote about Ning’s abduction in a piece for Glamour.
However, Mam’s ex-husband and Ning’s father, Pierre Legros, told Lindsay Murdoch that Ning was not kidnapped. She ran away with her then boyfriend. Legros’ version of the story is supported by Aarti Kapoor, who worked as a legal adviser to AFESIP from 2003 to 2006. No police report was ever filed in connection with Ning’s “abduction”.
The creation of false enemies and phony “brushes with death” is something we’ve seen over and over on this blog, among “former Satanists“, conspiracy peddlers, and fraudsters. If you have powerful foes, you must have a powerful message, right? Disturbingly, Kapoor told Simon Marks that other AFESIP employees knew the story was a fabrication, yet elected to remain silent.

Finally, there is Mam’s own chilling tale of survival.
As she tells it in her memoir, Mam was essentially a feral child, living out her earliest years in the forests of northeastern Cambodia with no one to look after her. Her parents and maternal grandmother abandoned her in the village of Bou Sra sometime in the late ’70s, when she was not yet 10 years old. As she repeatedly laments, she grew up without a mother.
Bou Sra was in a remote, forested area that had not been heavily affected by Vietnam or the Pol Pot regime, and Mam was sheltered from modern life. By the time she left the village around 1980, she had never seen a car, hot running water, or a pair of shoes. She had to forage for food and sleep in the open.
Around age 10 she was taken away to a far-off village, Thloc Chhroy, by a man who called himself her grandfather. She was subjected to daily beatings and forced to work in the rice fields. The Khmer villagers treated her like a slave, with the exception of a schoolteacher named Mam Khon and his wife, Pen Navy. This couple took her in, though they had six children of their own. Khon told her he was her paternal uncle, but Mam didn’t believe this. She was just grateful to be unofficially adopted by the family. “Grandfather” exploited Mam until she was approximately 14, then forced her to marry an abusive soldier. Without any medical training, she worked as a nurse in the military hospital at Chup, watching helplessly as soldiers and villagers died terrible deaths at the hands of untrained medical workers.
When her husband failed to return to Chup, Grandfather sold her to a brothel in Phnom Penh, where she was forced to have sex with half a dozen clients per day. She was “about 16 years old.” She remained captive there for about 3 years. She witnessed a brothel owner fatally shoot her best friend. She was subjected to brutal beatings, rape, and electric shocks.

By the time she was in her late teens, however, the brothel owners no longer held Mam captive. She admits she worked for them voluntarily, on and off, up until she decided to leave prostitution in 1991, having met future husband Pierre Legros, a young French biologist working in Phnom Penh.

At least, that’s one version of her story. Speaking at the White House in February 2012, Mam said she was trafficked at age 9 or 10 and spent a decade in the brothel. Sitting beside Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks Show in 2008, she said she was sold to the brothel at 13 or 14 and remained there for 4 or 5 years. Legros has stated that when he met his ex-wife in 1991, she was working freely as a prostitute, not in a brothel but in an upscale hotel bar. Some biographies of Mam, such as this one at Women’s Conference.org, would lead you to believe that she met Legros in France.

Simon Marks probed these discrepancies by interviewing villagers in Thloc Chhroy who had known Mam as a child. These people say that Mam was not an abandoned child. She was the biological daughter of the kindly couple she mentions in her memoir, Mam Khon and Pen Navy.
According to residents who were there at the time, the family arrived in the village in 1981 from a nearby community. Prior to that, Mam Khon had been assigned to teach in a remote part of northeastern Cambodia – the same area where Mam supposedly lived as an urchin of the forest for the first 10 years of her life. Furthermore, she attended school in the village from 1981 right up to graduation from Khchao High School in 1987, the period when she was supposedly being prostituted in Phnom Penh. After graduation, she and a friend both sat for a teachers’ exam in Kompong Cham. Then, around 1987, Mam left her family home voluntarily. Never, at any time prior to age 18 or 19, was she homeless or abandoned. She was not married off at the age of 14. She was not pushed out into the streets to sell herself. There was no abusive old man posing as her grandfather. She did not sleep beside the body of a dead mother in the military hospital. There simply wasn’t time for Mam to have been prostituted as a child. Again, this “not enough time” issue is a problem we’ve seen many times in Satanic ritual abuse accounts and self-glorifying autobiographies.

Many of the other stories in Mam’s memoir have yet to be verified, like soldiers decapitating a small boy in Thloc Chhroy, and another little boy being fatally wounded by a hand grenade during military training in the schoolyard, and another little boy (Mam’s best friend) being torn apart in an accidental rocket blast.

But She’s Helping Trafficked Girls, Right?

At this point, an estimated 150 women and girls are living in AFESIP centres. We have no way of knowing how many of them were trafficking victims, and how many are simply young women seeking an education because their families cannot provide for them.

As mentioned, AFESIP has been criticized for taking in sex workers picked up in police raids. One former prostitute told Simon Marks she was taken to an AFESIP center by police on two separate occasions, and fled both times because the centre insisted she learn to sew.
This raises the question of what, exactly, the centres do to help women overcome their tough financial circumstances. In the interview below, Mam enthused that her girls may be doctors and lawyers in 10 years. In reality, the young women in her facilities are taught sewing, hairdressing, weaving, and other traditionally female skills that will allow them to eke out only the smallest incomes. Last fall, Estee Lauder announced it will be training sex trafficking survivors at a Somaly Mam beauty salon in Siem Reap.

It would not be out of line to call Mam’s behaviour predatory. She has been exploiting and manipulating vulnerable Cambodian girls to promote her cause. She has brazenly, outrageously lied to millions of people about ordeals that never occurred, which undermines real victims of trafficking and sexual assault. She has collected millions from donors under false pretenses. She has seized a heroine status that isn’t hers to claim. In a 2013 Daily Beast article, she actually likened herself to the protagonist of 12 Years a Slave. I think we’ve gone well past exaggeration, here. This is cold-blooded deception on a frightening scale. We could be dealing with a sociopath.

Most NGOs struggle. It isn’t easy to raise funds and effectively operate a charitable organization at the same time, especially if that organization is anchored in a remote area of a developing country. So when a relatively tiny operation like AFESIP achieves dazzling success and brings in millions, attracting some of the most influential people on the planet to its cause, one has to wonder if the money and prestige have become more important than the cause. AFESIP seems to have a lot of both; the SMF regularly ran full-colour, full-page ads in TIME. The ads didn’t show trafficking victims, but a glamour shot of Mam herself.

Sex tourism has long been a problem in Southeast Asia, but now sex trafficking survivors are drawing in tourist money. Last November, U.S. travel company OmLuxe took 20 people to Cambodia to meet with Mam. They were promised they would be able to spend time with sex-trafficking victims. What if anti-trafficking is becoming the new trafficking? This year’s trip, scheduled for November, includes a lunch with Mam.

The Problem Doesn’t End Here

The Somaly Mam debacle is not an isolated incident. Charity-related fraud is widespread, and it’s very easy to be taken in by slick, professional-looking campaigns that want your donations. A few of the problems in the NGO world include:

  1. Fake Charities/Charities that aren’t actually charitable
    One example of a bogus charity is Pink Pagoda, an organization that claims to have rescued 50,000 Chinese girls from infanticide and is trying to raise $1 billion to rescue a million more. While it has the outward appearance of an NGO, a legal disclaimer in teeny-tiny print on the bottom of its website states that it is not a charitable organization. It is a for-profit enterprise, and an extremely dodgy one. Its founder/director, Jim Garrow, appears to be engaged in the buying and selling of babies. I’ve covered Pink Pagoda in a recent post about Garrow at Leaving Alex Jonestown.
  2. NGOs that aren’t actually doing anything
    Many orgs have good intentions, yet suffer from mismanagement, poor planning, or misguided goals.  NGOs dedicated to ending malaria in Africa (Roll Back Malaria, Malaria No More, etc.) tout mosquito netting treated with chrysanthemum-derived insecticides as the most effective method of stopping the disease. Unfortunately, a 2003 study found that an average of 55% of African households given treated bed nets actually used them over sleeping children. This amounts to roughly 20 million children – an impressive number, but far from enough to make an impact.
  3. Trafficking Activists who may be mistaken or lying
    In Argentina, Susana Trimarco is receiving the same accolades Somaly Mam did. Trimarco became an anti-trafficking activist after the disappearance of her 23-year-old daughter, Marita, in 2002. She insists her daughter was abducted and sold into prostitution, though the evidence seems thin, and has implicated everyone from hospital staffers to the governor of her province. She began to disguise herself as a prostitute to infiltrate brothels, piecing together stray bits of gossip in an attempt to track down her daughter. By some accounts, she has now rescued about 150 South American and Spanish girls from sexual slavery. She has millions convinced that some of the highest officials in South America are complicit in human trafficking, but how much of her story is accurate?
  4. The crying wolf effect
    Charity frauds like Mam and Garrow harden people, making them less likely to donate time or volunteer hours to worthy causes.

* It should be noted that Daily Beast made Mam one of its “Women of the World” just three years ago. Last November, it published Mam’s firsthand account of her time as a child prostitute, in which she likened herself to the protagonist of 12 Years a Slave.

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Satanic Panic in the News: Ouija Board Possession

On June 23, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, the Daily Mail, several paranormal websites, and other media outlets reported on this video of a “possessed” Mexican woman. The girl seen in the clip, Alexandra Huerta, alternates between growling and laughing while restrained on a hospital stretcher.

These initial reports stated that Alexandra, 22, had begun to convulse and speak in tongues after using a Ouija board with her 23-year-old brother and a teenage cousin in the village of San Juan Tlacotenco in southwest Mexico. The Blaze article is headlined, “Terrifying Video Allegedly Shows Effects of Young Woman’s Use of a Ouija Board”, and the Daily Mail article stresses that many Christians perceive Ouija boards as dangerous occult instruments.
All three were taken to hospital to be treated for symptoms that included double vision and blindness, hallucinations, numbness, difficulty swallowing, muscle spasms, and deafness. The girl’s parents had sought an exorcism, but were reportedly refused one by local clergy on the grounds that the family didn’t attend church.

Two days later, the real story emerged: The two young men and Alexandra (who is 16, not 22) had ingested Brugmansia on the advice of Alexandra’s guardian, 48-year-old Maria Camaño.
Brugmansia, also known as Angel’s Trumpet, is an extremely potent (and poisonous) hallucinogenic plant that produces states of delirium in which a person can’t distinguish reality from fantasy and acts out in bizarre, sometimes violent, ways – “temporary insanity” is a term commonly used in relation to it. Effects can include fever, paralysis, convulsions, elevated heart rate (tachycardia), migraines, frightening visual and auditory hallucinations, vomiting, cycloplegia, photosensitivity, confusion, memory loss, and death.

datura drzewko-resized

Brugmansia in bloom. Psychoactive ingredients: the tropane alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine.

Camaño reportedly told the young people that Brugmansia would help them contact the spirit world and perhaps receive messages from Alexandra’s deceased parents. After the girl began to convulse and “speak in tongues”, however, Camaño began to believe her body had been taken over by a spirit. She called the paramedics only after the youths’ conditions didn’t respond to prayer and the priest refused to perform an exorcism.

ouija

Typical Ouija board. Psychoactive ingredients: None.

All of the symptoms experienced by the three young people in Mexico can be attributed to Brugmansia ingestion. There is no need to blame the spirit world, the Devil, or a piece of wood with letters on it.

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The Top 5 Silliest Chicken Franchise Myths

chicken too

Now that the heartbreaking/enraging viral story about a disfigured 3-year-old being turfed from a KFC for “scaring the other customers” has turned out to be a likely sham, let’s review some of the other kooky hoaxes and urban myths involving fast food chicken joints…

5. Clones and Chickenblobs/KFC name change

Beginning in the late ’90s, scare emails claimed that Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to change its name to KFC, because it was no longer selling actual chicken. It was farming genetically modified chickens with more than two legs, or chicken clones, or beakless, legless chickenblobs that had liquid nutrients transfused directly into their veins. The story was sometimes accompanied by this picture:

chickenblob

Needless to say, there wasn’t much truth to any of this.

  • KFC doesn’t even raise its own chickens; the chain buys from numerous suppliers that sell chicken to many other restaurants, supermarkets, and fast food chains.
  • No one forced Kentucky Fried Chicken to change its name. The common wisdom is that the name change was part of an early ’90s rebranding effort designed to downplay the word “fried” (and possibly the word “Kentucky”).
  • The word “chicken” still appeared on the KFC menu, so obviously they were still using chicken.
  • Genetically modified chickens are still chickens.
  • No one has yet figured out how to produce legless/beakless poultry.
  • Meat from clones is reportedly on the market. However, cloning animals is prohibitively expensive and risky, so it’s not going to appeal to fast food suppliers that need a steady, reliable flow of cheap animals.

Silly as the chickenblob legends are, factory farmed chickens can live in some pretty dismal conditions. A less-silly rumour, included in Super Size Me, is that chickens are being bred to have enormous breasts that make them so top-heavy they are barely able to walk. The ASPCA website even asserts that most chickens have to lie flat on the ground throughout their lives.

There is some truth to this one. In general, chickens bred for meat have disproportionately large chests and low bone density. Many of them have trouble supporting their own weight on those skinny legs.  I don’t know that the average broiler chicken has this problem, but it is a concern. In overcrowded poultry operations, birds can’t walk around, anyway, because they’re squished together like foam packing peanuts.

foghorn leghorn

 

4. The Kentucky Fried Rat

This is a golden oldie of an urban legend that I’ve been hearing my entire life. It seems to date from the mid-’70s. There are variations of it, but the most popular one is that a woman was nibbling a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken when she suddenly realized it was actually a fried rat. In some versions of the tale, she died from a heart attack and her family sued the franchise. According to snopes, this story has never been traced to a single source, and it’s rarely connected to a specific location. It is incredibly unlikely that it really happened.

However, people now frequently share Guess What I Found in My Chicken photos and stories. In 2000, Katherine Ortega of Newport News, Virginia, produced a deep-fried rooster head that she claimed to have discovered in a box of McDonald’s chicken wings (which were being test-marketed in the area at the time). She threatened to sue, but apparently never did. It was not confirmed that the head came from McDonald’s.
In 2003, Baltimore pastor Tony Hill claimed he was served a mouse at a Popeye’s chicken outlet. He, too, never pursued the matter.
Last year, a Colchester man complained of finding a “brain” in his KFC meal. He chucked it in the trash, but KFC tentatively identified the object in his photo as a kidney. Two identical discoveries also received press attention.
Just this week, a woman in New Castle, England, released a photo of a piece of KFC chicken that was actually a battered and deepfried paper towel.

3. Church’s Chicken KKK Sterilization

In 1986, folklorist Patricia Turner was teaching an Introduction to Black Literature course at the University of Massachusetts. For some reason, she told her students the Kentucky Fried Rat story, and was intrigued when one of the students informed her that the Church’s Chicken chain was owned by the KKK, and was putting something in its food to chemically sterilize men – mostly black men, since Church’s Chicken franchises existed in predominantly black neighbourhoods.
A nearly identical KKK “stealth sterilization” rumour was attached to a new brand of cheap soda, Tropical Fantasy, in 1991, leading to a steep plunge in sales and a frantic PR campaign. Anonymous fliers posted in Harlem implicated the Tropical Fantasy, Top Pop, and Treat brand sodas as part of a genocide-by-beverage campaign. There were reports of attacks on delivery drivers by outraged youths.
Turner thoroughly investigated both stories and wrote about them in her 1993 book I Heard It Through the Grapevine. Though racist chicken joints were definitely a thing, she couldn’t find any KKK connection to either Church’s Chicken or the Brooklyn Bottling Corp. (which, ironically, employed a large percentage of minorities). Though there are chemicals believed to decrease fertility in men, there is no substance capable of permanently rendering a man sterile that could be introduced into food or liquid.

2. Silicone in chicken nuggets

I covered this one several years ago at Leaving Alex Jonestown, when Natural News was twigging out over it. Yes, dimethylpolysiloxane, a type of silicone, is an ingredient in the coating of some chicken nuggets. It is added to many foods and drink mixes to prevent sticking, clumping, and foaming. It’s simply a synthetic version of silica, which occurs naturally in most grains, water, and meats because it’s one of the most common minerals on the planet. Like silica, dimethylpolysiloxane is perfectly safe to ingest.

nugget mcbuddies

Forget the silicone…why does this McNugget Buddy have hair?!

1. Mechanically Separated Meat Is Bad for You

There is widespread suspicion that we are still living in Upton Sinclair’s Jungle, where hooves and a**holes end up in our processed meats on a regular basis.

In Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock takes umbrage at the very idea of chicken nuggets. “What part of the chicken does a nugget come from?” he asks, wrinkling up his Mario ‘stache in a convincing simulacrum of disgust. In an article on nuggets published by NBC last year, a medical doctor is quoted as saying that chicken parts aren’t really chicken.
The notion behind chicken nuggets is exactly the same as meatloaf, liver pâté, or fishsticks, but for some reason, finely chopped chicken has become the new hot dog of the fast food world – always suspect, always derided, forever ghetto. It has to be the worst parts of the chicken that end up in Nuggetville, right?
Not really. The quality of the chicken is the same as you’ll find in other chicken products, since it comes from the same chickens. There is some skin in, say, McDonald’s nuggets – but most people eat the skin from roasted and fried chickens without a second thought.
Western consumers have developed a horror of mechanically separated meat (MSM), particularly after Jamie Oliver’s demonstration of how finely textured beef is processed went viral. In the aftermath of the “pink slime” revelations, certain facts were neglected:

  • Oliver drenched a tub of meat in liquid ammonia to show how it is sanitized, but “pink slime” does not contain ammonia. Ammonia fumes are used.
  • Using less-than-perfect parts of an animal means less waste. The less-than-perfect parts aren’t going to hurt you. In Eastern countries, all parts of an animal are used or consumed. Think of Filipino blood pudding, or Vietnamese fatty flank steak. Jamie Oliver is a wealthy white man, schooled in the European culinary tradition, who does not understand how most of the world eats. MSM is an efficient, cost-effective use of animal products that would otherwise be discarded.
  • It is a filler product only. You won’t find any meat products in the fast food market that contain just pink slime or MSM.

Bonus Urban Legend: The Colonel’s Curse

This one really doesn’t have anything to do with chicken, but it’s too fun to ignore. In 1985, the Hanshin Tigers won the Japanese baseball championship with a 4-2 defeat against the Seibu Lions. Triumphant fans got carried away that night, stealing a Colonel Sanders statue and hurling it into the Dōtonbori River.
The Tigers didn’t win another championship. In the great tradition of sports curses, the vengeful spirit of the Colonel was blamed…though he didn’t actually die until 1990, and the Tigers had always sucked. Every so often, TV personalities would make a big show of trying to find the statue. but it wasn’t recovered until 2009.
The Tigers continue to suck.
The curse-KFC link has become so entrenched in Japanese culture that it pops up in the very first episode of the anime horror series When They Cry, which is set in 1984.

Now, get a little closer to your screen, because I’m going to reveal a few of the real dirty little secrets of fast food chicken franchises…

Harlan Sanders only served three months in the U.S. Army. He used the name “Colonel” just to sell chicken.
In the ’60s, the “Colonel” made cameo appearances in cheesy exploitation flicks like Hell’s Bloody Devils and Hershel Gordon Lewis’s Blast Off Girls, hawking his chicken.
In the ’70s, long after he had sold his franchise, the Colonel described Kentucky Fried Chicken gravy as “sludge”.
After a 2010 survey of  Americans ages 18-25 found that 52% of them believed Colonel Sanders was a fictional part of KFC’s branding, KFC launched an intensive PR campaign to prove Sanders had been a real person.
Chick-fil-A has sent cease-and-desist letters to at least 30 businesses to demand they stop using slogans that begin with the phrase “Eat more…”

 

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Filed under Conspiracy Theories, Health, Hoaxes, Misinformation

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Stolen Imaginary Friends, Bigfoot Bears, & The Clinton Chronicles Redux

imaginary friend

  • With the recent passing of British comedian Rik Myall, you might have had nightmarish flashbacks to one of the most astoundingly awful films of recent decades: Drop Dead Fred. Or maybe you had fond flashbacks, because you were one of the people who cherished that movie. But did you know that the movie’s title character was stolen?
    Sometime in the late ’90s, I read the fantasy short story “Mr. Fiddlehead”, by Jonathan Carroll, in a 1990 collection of the year’s best fantasy and horror. In the story, a woman falls in love with her BFF’s imaginary childhood friend after he materializes as a carroty-haired, freckled, impish man. He appears only when the woman who created him is in emotional distress. He delights the two women with his practical jokes, childish sense of humour, and magical powers.
    I was appalled that Mr. Carroll had recycled the plot of a terrible movie.
    What I didn’t bother to notice at the time was that “Mr. Fiddlehead ” had already appeared in Carroll’s 1989 book A Child Across the Skytwo years before Drop Dead Fred was released. Somebody had recycled a plot, but it clearly wasn’t Carroll.
    The IMDB page for Drop Dead Fred credits one Elizabeth Livingston for the story. It is her only listed story credit. The script was written by Anthony Fingleton and Carlos Davis. Davis’s only other screenwriting credit is a TV children’s movie  from the early ’80s. What is he doing these days? Possibly working on the long-rumoured remake of Drop Dead Fred, his one and only big-screen effort.
    Are we dealing with out-and-out theft, or with the sort of “inspiration” that Yann Martel used to refashion Moacyr Scliar’s Max and the Cats into a slightly different (but infinitely more famous) story? That’s a judgment call. But I would absolutely love to hear Ms. Livingston, Mr. Fingleton, or Mr. Davis explain how their shitty movie somehow ended up with the central character from a story they didn’t create.
    UPDATE: After additional research, I have found that Elizabeth Livingston is a freelance writer/editor who was a book editor with Reader’s Digest for many years. She co-authored two children’s books.
    In a 1991 interview with Fantazia magazine (reproduced here), Rik Myall said of the screenwriters, “They’d been talking with a mutual friend, Elizabeth Livingston, who was writing a story based on her little daughter’s imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred. They decided it would make a better film than series and approached me.”
    This doesn’t clear up the mystery, of course. It just establishes that Livingston was not simply the pseudonym of a writer who didn’t want to be connected to the movie.
  • Happy World UFO Day! International Business Times has a fun piece about a video hoax that involved both the secret space program and yet another alien corpse.
  • Two years after Melba Ketchum released the profoundly weird results of her Bigfoot DNA study, the group of UK researchers that was conducting a parallel study has announced its findings. Researchers at Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology, led by Bryan Sykes, have spent the past two years analyzing 30 hair samples suspected to be from Bigfoot, Almas, and the Yeti. The upshot? Not a single hair came from an unknown animal. Most were from bears. The rest came from horses, deer, wolves, raccoon, sheep, cows, a porcupine, a human, and a tapir. Curiously, a hair sample from the Himalayas turned out to be a match for a prehistoric polar bear.
  • Mother Jones has compiled one of the largest lists of Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories ever. We’ll be seeing lots of these in the run-up to the 2016 elections. One of the latest, crafted by a JFK researcher who loves boobies, is that Chelsea Clinton is actually Webster Hubbell’s daughter. Morrow also asserts that Bill Clinton is a serial rapist, and claims that a large number of U.S. presidents (including, um, Nixon) were secretly bisexual.
chelsea

Oh my glob, a morphing .gif. HOW MUCH MORE EVIDENCE DO YOU NEED?!

 

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Filed under Bigfoot, Conspiracy Theories, Hoaxes, Hoaxes from Space, Politics, UFOs, Wednesday Weirdness Roundup