Pa. Craigslist Killing Suspect A Spree-killing Satanist? Probably not, no.

A young woman accused of murder claims she’s part of a satanic cult and that she’s killed at least 22. Are we priming for another moral panic? “Satanic Panic 2: The Revenge”?

Two people falsely accused of satanic ritual abuse in the 80s were finally freed from jail just last year. The charges against them were just as absurd as some of the claims this woman is making, and they had real consequences. Real lives were ruined.

I’m not trying to make light of this–or even trying to debunk her claims–but I think that it is more likely than not she’s simply not telling, or perhaps capable of telling, the truth. Of course, the fact that she’s probably committed one murder means that people are going to pay attention to her claims.

She may have even murdered more, but that’s also not evidence of a satanic cult conspiracy.



Link Dump: Quacks and Dinos

Here’s an interesting essay on homeopathy for those interested in that sort of thing. Regulating over-the-counter curatives is a weird thing, especially when dealing with homeopathy which, if done properly, doesn’t really have anything in it.

Arnica, for example. There’s a big difference between homeopathic arnica preparations (which don’t got no arnica in it) vs. arnica gel (which is often labeled homeopathic even though it has an active amount of ingredient). Arnica gel can actually do something. Anyway, PZ Myers schooled the Jezebel site on the topic, which is worth a read.

I know some folks who have fallen for applied kinesiology…not scams, per se, but some hokum motivational speaker. Here’s a good an interesting look at the phenomena and how its used on Science-Based Medicine, written by the awesome Harriet Hall whose wrath I unfortunately incurred by attributing an article of her’s to Steven Novella, likely because SBM at the time looked identical to NeuroLogica.

Also: Heh, wallet biopsy.

Are blue whales the biggest animals ever? Maybe.

I mean, its one of those factoids that comes up repeatedly in books about either whales or dinosaurs, both of which we have in great heaps at Stinkbug Manor. (Definitely need a new bookcase in Julia’s room.) At 98 ft (30m) long and weighing almost 200 tons (180mt), it is certainly big. Dino-writer extraordinaire, Brian Switek, reexamines the claim with a look at some of the biggest sauropods that may (or may not) have ever existed. Spoiler: some dinos were longer, but none were likely more massive than a big blue.

Argentinosaurs, shamefully hot-linked

Speaking of Switek and sauropods, he mentioned on Twitter the other week about a dinosaur app for the iPad that I felt necessary to buy. It hasn’t been as popular with the kids as Dinosaur Zoo, due to the lack of defecating sauropods, but it is a little more stylish, a lot more expensive, and contains 100 percent more Stephen Fry, which is worth the $15. It is called Inside the World of Dinosaurs, and each morning, as I make coffee, Mr. Fry tells me about a dinosaur. This morning it was Argentinosaurus. Of course, I’d buy a copy of the phone book if Fry were to narrate it. Interestingly, he pronounces Giganotosaurus (which played into the story of Argentinosaurus) differently than they do on Dinosaur Train, favoring Ji-GANT-osaurus over Ji-gah-NOH-ta-saurus (forgive my phonetic approximations).

Ghosts on the loose in the USS Olympia…or maybe just a bid for tourists

Color me skeptical, but I find it odd that they Inky runs a full article on the hauntings of the USS Olympia now that the organization that runs it is threatening to close the site down in November. Odd that the ghost article brushes past that fact. If you haven’t seen it, the USS Olympia is a relic from the Spanish-American War and, along with its WWII-era submarine friend, the Becuna, a staple of regional class trips to the Philadelphia waterfront/historic district.

“I’m a complete rationalist,” said Jesse Lebovics, manager of the Olympia and submarine Becuna for the Independence Seaport Museum. “I can explain most of it.

“But [the ship] certainly has a colorful enough history that I think if something were to be around, it makes sense it would be around the Olympia,” Lebovics said.

Sure, Jesse, nice “but” there. I’d think a few ghosts would be mighty convenient for you though.

I don’t necessarily blame the folks who run the Olympia for pitching this story. After all, we’ve seen Eastern State Penitentiary go from moldering historical curiosity to one of the most popular “haunted” places in America by embracing the ghost tourist industry. (By day a historic gem, by night a history-making cash cow.) And the Independence Seaport Museum is still reeling from the scandal left behind by its former president, who ran the place as his own personal cash/political favor machine.

Apparently, the ISM has already pimped out the ship to the ghost TV reality show industry, a necessary first step, I’m sure, before they partner with a ghost tour outfit. That is, if they can put it together in time. According to previous reports, they’re looking to sell it for $20 million or they’ve threatened to sink it off the coast of Cape May. My thinking is that it will join the SS United States and become another ghost ship of Philadelphia.

Um, not in the haunted sense, but the abandoned, looming over Ikea sense…although the Olympia doesn’t necessarily loom over anything.

You want to save the Olympia? Save the waterfront. May my father, a highway engineer since the 60’s, forgive me, but let’s get rid of I-95. The idea is so mad it might work.


I can’t link it directly, but check out picture number four in the gallery. The caption says it all: “In recordings, Harry Burkhardt says, he has heard voices, including one that told him: ‘Save the ship!'”

Harry, are you certain Jesse wasn’t whispering in your ear?

Kids! Freak out your parents!

With one of these bad boys: Evil Baphomet Goat Head Ouija Board Satanic Nemesis


Man, why couldn’t Parker Brothers make ‘em like this? That’s just gorgeous. And the name! Good gravy, its enough to cause pause for even the most lapsed Catholic parents. I have half a mind to buy one for my godson.

So, how do Ouija boards work? Evil spirits and the ideomotor effect. Learn more here. And this handy-dandy video, staring the Amazing One:

Things that won’t kill you in Australian waters: plesiosaurs

This week we’ve introduced the kids to Walking with Dinosaurs, which takes you to a place and time were reptiles were huge and CGI budgets were relatively small. We were two episodes into the the six-part series when the five year-old noted that there only seems to be a handful of different species of dinosaurs around in any given epoch. Generally, each episode features a meat eater, a plant eater, a very big meat eater and a turtle.

Continue Reading Things that won’t kill you in Australian waters:...“Things that won’t kill you in Australian waters: plesiosaurs”

Near Death Experiences not paranormal, just a wiring issue

Near death experiences always seem start out the same way — there was a tunnel, then a light…

Paranormalists often point to the commonalities of near death and out-of-body experiences as evidence of the proof of an afterlife or astral projection. Turns out there is a more mundane — though fascinating — explanation. These experiences are common because that’s how we’re all wired in the noodle:

The doctors believe they are seeing the brain’s neurons discharge as they lose oxygen from lack of blood pressure.

“All the neurons are connected together and when they lose oxygen, their ability to maintain electrical potential goes away,” Chawla said. “I think when people lose all their blood flow, their neurons all fire in very close proximity and you get a big domino effect. We think this could explain the spike.”

It’s possible a cutoff of oxygen would trigger a similar but recoverable event that becomes seared into memory.

“Not everyone reports this light sort of business. What you hear most often reported (in near-death experiences) is just a vivid memory,” Chawla said.

UPDATE: Cancelled! One Month Only: The $100 Psychic Challenge!

I have in my grubby little hands a slip of paper that could grant your favorite charitable organization $100.

Last night, I did the somewhat unthinkable (or at least, unreasonable) for a self-avowed skeptic: I bought a Powerball ticket. I lost, of course, as do the vast, vast majority of people who buy these tickets. It isn’t a good investment of even one measly greenback — but hey, it’s a vice.

And speaking of vices, I also realize I drink too much coffee. I’m going to try to quit — or at least drastically cut back — and I reckon I’d easily spend at leat $100 over a given four months for coffee and other caffeinated beverages.

Still, my loss is your gain — provided you have actual psychic powers. For this month only, if you can guess all six numbers — originally chosen by the Powerball machine — I will give your favorite charity $100. If nobody successfully guesses, I’ll donate the money to the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Here’s how Powerball works, from their site:

Powerball® is a combined large jackpot game and a cash game. Every Wednesday and Saturday night at 10:59 p.m. Eastern Time, we draw five white balls out of a drum with 59 balls and one red ball out of a drum with 39 red balls.

I’ve been told that many psychics refrain from playing the lottery as it would be a crass abuse of their powers. Fortunately for you, I have a guilt-free method with which you can demonstrate your powers and be assured that a deserving charity gets the full total of the award in your name. In the very least, you’ll be able to keep that Randi guy from getting another benjamin.

I’m sorry that it couldn’t be more, but if I were rich — or good with money — I wouldn’t be buying lottery tickets.

Here are the rules:

1) You have until 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) on October 31, 2009 to post your guess of six Powerball numbers to this blog entry.
2) You must provide your e-mail address. One guess per person. (I’ll check IPs/emails).
3) You must indicate a 501(c)(3) charity in your post. Otherwise, I’ll donate it to JREF in your name.
4) The lottery ticket will be kept in my wallet. If my wallet becomes lost/stolen over this month, the contest will end. Void. Kaput.
5) Your sole hint: the Powerball ticket was purchased September 30, 2009
6) If, for some reason, I lose my main source of income this month, i.e., “my freakin’ job,” the psychic challenge will stand, but I will hold off on donating to JREF. Sorry Randi, Phil.
7) Payments will be made in four monthly installments, since this is coming out of my coffee money.

UPDATE (30 seconds later): A few quick edits for typos.

UPDATE 2 (1.5 hrs later, or so): Just to be clear, I am in no way affiliated with the James Randi Educational Fund. They neither sponsor nor sanction this brutal test of paranormal abilities.

UPDATE 3: Damn. I lost the ticket. It must have slipped out of my wallet. We’ll try again later. Skeptifail!

And Louie, Louie Gets Me Hot Just Thinking about It

Interesting press release in my morning Eurekalert! feed

In an article published in the April 2009 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that teenagers who preferred popular songs with degrading sexual references were more likely to engage in intercourse or in pre-coital activities.

Already, with the euphemisms. What are pre-coital activities? Heavy petting? Badminton?

Writing in the article, Brian A. Primack, MD, EdM, MS, Center for Research on Health Care at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, states, “This study demonstrates that, among this sample of young adolescents, high exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex in popular music was independently associated with higher levels of sexual behavior. In fact, exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex was one of the strongest associations with sexual activity…These results provide further support for the need for additional research and educational intervention in this area.”

If I had known this then, I would have taken extra care in putting together mix tapes for the girls I fancied.

Surveys were completed by 711 ninth-grade students at three large urban high schools. These participants were exposed to over 14 hours each week of lyrics describing degrading sex. About one third had previously been sexually active. Compared to those with the least exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex, those with the most exposure were more than twice as likely to have had sexual intercourse. The relationship between exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex and sexual experience held equally for both young men and women.

Similarly, among those who had not had sexual intercourse, those in the highest third of exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex were nearly twice as likely to have progressed along a noncoital sexual continuum compared to those in the lowest third. Finally, the relationships between exposure to lyrics describing non-degrading sex and sexual outcomes were not significant.

Students reported the number of hours per day that they listen to music and their favorite musical artists. Through a detailed content analysis, the percentage was calculated of each artist’s most popular songs containing lyrics describing degrading sex. An exposure score for lyrics describing degrading sex was then computed by multiplying each student’s hours of music exposure by the percentage of his or her favorite artists’ songs that contain lyrics describing degrading sex.

Oh, OK, I think I found the problem here. They surveyed “711 ninth-grade students at three large urban high schools”…now, I’m no expert on youth culture, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a song popular among urban high schoolers that wasn’t about degrading sex. Of course kids listen to songs about sex.

When I was a kid, I’d hover over any material, in print, on video or sketched by a 17th c. Dutch Master in the often vain hopes that there would be some sort of sexual content in it. A kid would no sooner pass up a song about deviant sex than they would a Trader Joe’s Vanilla Joe-Joe (Crom, I love them). On the surface, there seems to be some correlation/causation confusion.

And that’s the danger of it. For all I know, this is probably good, legitimate science and there are factors here that just aren’t coming across in a press release. Mark my words, this press release will picked up unedited and regurgitated in news outlets across the land.

It doesn’t help to use phrases like “noncoital sexual continuum” as if that’s a normal everyday figure of speech. What does that mean? It sounds like the leading cause of blindness in teenage Borg. I’m assuming “noncoital sexual continuum” is how we round the bases in science-speak. Does that make it degrading? If so, I don’t know what’s normal.

How do you quantify degrading sexual lyrics, anyway?

“I’m sorry, son, that hip-hop song rates a 6.5 on the Ludacris scale and, well, that’s logarithmic and the logarithm is going to get you. Your mother and I don’t want that sort of thing in the house. You understand? Good, now here’s $20, go see American Pie 7 while your mother and I get our freak on…Gladys, where’s the butter and the Lil Wayne?”

To Uninspire a Nation

The Constitution Center in Philly is asking people to come up with six words that Pres. Obama should add to his inaugural address. Mr. Obama will face a crowd of millions, with tens — if not hundreds — of millions more watching on TV, and apparently the Center thought he could use some help…and they could use some publicity…

Putting words in his mouth is a tricky proposition, and I think it might be helpful to feel out the borders of good taste for the Constitution Center people. You know, a touchstone they could test against for appropriateness.

So, some six word phrases that shouldn’t be in the inaugural address:

  • I will devour your filthy souls
  • Damn, its brisk out here, people!
  • Hopeity, bopeity, shmopeity, blah blah blah
  • Wait, women can vote for president?
  • You get a car…and you
  • I will grow a Lincoln beard
  • Can I get a wave going?
  • Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, just kidding
  • My new ranch in Crawford, Texas
  • You get a bailout…and you
  • But first, hold hands and sing
  • Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Obama R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn
  • Everyone, hold hands and concentrate…LIFT!!!
  • Pass the plate, please, the deficit…
  • I really am a Secret Muslim
  • It really isn’t a great job
  • Build, build, build my golden idol

Please suggest some more. And I will immediately ask Obama not to include them in his speech.