NTS LogoSkeptical News for 24 February 2004

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Lies, damned lies and photography: how the camera can distort the truth


By Paul Vallely

18 February 2004

Everyone knows the saying that the camera never lies. What is less well-known is that the man who coined the phrase, almost a century ago, added a rider. "While photographs may not lie," the great American documentary photographer Lewis Hine said, "liars may photograph".

They have been at work ever since, as was seen this week with the fake snap of John Kerry which caused a stir in the United States. It purported to show him associating in the 1970s with the film star Jane Fonda, who is still widely reviled in the US for her visit to the enemy capital, Hanoi, during the Vietnam war. Many still see it as the act of a traitor.

This was not the kind of publicity the Democrats' leading presidential candidate needed. It was, we now know, doctored. But it fooled many US citizens and some British newspapers.

They should, it is easy to say with hindsight, have known better. For the black art of photographic manipulation has been with us for a long time.

True, it is more sophisticated than when two young girls in Yorkshire launched what was to become one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th Century. They claimed to have photographed the fairies at the bottom of their garden.

The pictures, taken in the summer of 1917, turned out to be paper illustrations, cut from a popular children's book, Princess Mary's Gift Book, and held up with hatpins. But it was a stunning deception. The Cottingley Fairies fooled many people, including the eminent self-styled detective Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The techniques of trickery have evolved over the years. At first a bald lie sufficed. In Russia at the end of the 19th century a French lumiére operator, finding that audiences at the Cinématographe craved film of the Dreyfus scandal, strung together shots from a number of films he had on hand - a group of French soldiers with an officer, an imposing building in Paris, and a ship at sea - to create the desired effect.

But then came physical interference with the photographic print. Abraham Lincoln was a pioneer here, asking a photographer to retouch a portrait to shorten his neck and make him appear more youthful. The result, he insisted, assisted his electoral victory.

Next Edwardian spiritualists discovered that double exposure would produce photographs of spectral relatives hanging in the air behind their grieving clients.

In the 1930s supporters of the anti-Communist zealot Joe McCarthy turned to careful scissorwork to undermine one of his earliest critics - Senator Millard Tydings - appearing to make him unnaturally friendly with the leader of the American Communist Party. Evidence that cut-and-paste was in those days an international phenomenon is there for anyone who cares to inspect the Daily Herald photo archives now lodged with the National Museum of Photography in Bradford. But if the techniques evolved, the formulae of fraud are fairly constant. So are the motivations. The press office of 1980s' film star Robert Redford used to issue instructions that his photographs should be retouched - particularly "the veins on his nose" and "the area around the throat and neck".

Some stars don't even have to ask, as with the GQ magazine cover shot of Kate Winslet which was digitally "stretched" to make her look thinner and sexier. Then there is mischief. It now seems pretty clear that the quintessential photo of the Loch Ness monster, allegedly shot in 1934 by a London gynaecologist, was a hoax made from a toy submarine to which a neck of plastic wood had been fastened. A similar sense of prankishness is today to be found behind internet japes like doctoring images of George Bush so that he is holding a children's book upside down, or looking through binoculars with the lens caps on. But the main motivation behind picture manipulation is politics of a darker kind. It always has been. During World War I many newspapers showed faked propaganda photographs of Kaiser Wilhelm cutting off the hands of babies. Soviet archives were filled with shots in which "disgraced" individuals, like Tolstoy and Molotov, had been airbrushed from party portraits on the orders of Stalin. In the West pictures of the German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl were doctored to place her standing next to Hitler, to reinforce the anti-Nazi view that she was too close to the dictator. Manipulated photos can reveal hidden agendas. Time magazine came in for criticism for being racist when its cover featured a grim mug shot of OJ Simpson - looking darker and more sinister than in the same picture on the cover of Newsweek.

The official police photo turned out to have been electronically manipulated to create what Time, in small type on an inside page called "photo illustration".

And in Britain The Daily Mail was taken to task by Reuters when two of the agency's photographs of the singer Michael Jackson - taken the day after he dangled his baby son from a window - were merged under the emotive headline "Is he fit to be a dad?" To make the image even more distorted, Jackson's security personnel had been painted out of the image. Modern computer technology has only made such cavalier decisions easier to make - like when the National Geographic used an early Scitex computer digitiser to move one of the Great Pyramids of Egypt so that it would fit the magazine's vertical cover format.

Russell Roberts, senior curator at the National Museum of Photography said: "It is possible, with careful scrutiny, to detect some of this." "If you look at the Kerry/Fonda picture you can see there are two different light sources on the two figures. There are shadows on the side of Fonda's face, but not Kerry's; the light falls differently on the wrinkles in their clothes," Mr Roberts said. Yet such analysis is not uncontroversial. Not everyone is convinced by the website of the French astronomer who says that the shadows in the pictures of American astronauts on the moon prove that the Apollo lunar mission was a fake and that the pictures were codded up in some US desert.

Still, truth is not always the final prejudice. Barbara Warnick, Professor of Media Criticism at the University of Washington, and author of Critical Literacy in a Digital Era says: "Events have shown that parodic activity can be a consequential factor in national [election] campaigns." The task of campaign managers has nowadays shifted to "reviewing what is out there and trying to contain it."

Until now it has been Mr Bush who has been the butt of the internet photo parodies - with shots of him cuddling up naked to Al Gore, earnestly studying "Anchor Politics for Dummies", dressed in women's clothes, or incapable of holding a children's book the right way up. His aides have been so worried that they had lawyers send a cease-and-desist order to one website and eventually filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

Which means that Senator Kerry can comfort himself with one thought. The faked photos of him and Ms Fonda show that he must have got the Bush camp really worried.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Ghost detectives seek battleship spirits in Wilmington


Sunday, February 22, 2004 5:10PM EST
The Associated Press WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) -

Ghost-hunters combed through the Battleship North Carolina with recording gadgets to try documenting the night watchman's reports of spirit life aboard the WWII-era craft.

For 27 years, Danny Bradshaw has been the only person onboard after the retired warship closed to tourists. He said he has had periodic run-ins with former crewmembers who seem to have never left. He's written a self-published book about his experiences titled "Ghosts on the Battleship North Carolina." But evidence of any apparitions has been hard to come by.

A group of ghost-hunters hoped to change that Saturday night. The sleuths brought aboard electromagnetic and temperature detection devices, and stationed motion detectors in several parts of the ship. Member of the group Seven Paranormal Research planned to stay onboard only a few hours collecting signals Saturday.

"We'll be poring over this video and these recordings for hours and hours looking for anything unusual," said David Gurney, one of the group's seven members.

If anything shows up on the recordings, they'd come back for a second walkthrough before deciding whether to spend a night on the battleship, he said.

The group, following Bradshaw's advice, decided to focus their initial investigation on the battleship's port bow. Five of the 10 members of the warship's crew killed in action during World War II died on Sept. 15, 1942, when a Japanese torpedo struck the front of the ship.

"If there are any tortured souls onboard who might believe they died too young, it's probably these guys," Bradshaw said.

As he prepared to open a hatch to an area of the ship normally closed to the public, Bradshaw said the spirits are normally involved in harmless haunting. "But a few times I've felt a cold and evil feeling," he said.

As the team prepared to fan out on the ship, with small groups headed to the engine room, Bradshaw's room, sick bay and the mess hall, the chatter was all business. Several team members, all of whom are based in North and South Carolina, noted that audio and vibration monitors probably wouldn't be very useful because of the constant creaking and rolling of the 40,000-ton metal ship. Still, everyone was upbeat as they broke out the equipment they'd brought aboard.

"This is exciting because this is currently an active site," Gurney said. "Plus it's just a cool place to come and look around in."

Information from: The Star-News, http://www.wilmingtonstar.com

Mars rock pictures baffle scientists


Researchers cautious about findings
Tuesday, February 24, 2004 Posted: 3:23 PM EST (2023 GMT)

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Microscopic photographs of a Mars rock taken by NASA's Opportunity rover have triggered excitement among scientists, even if they aren't unanimous on exactly what they're seeing.

The images, posted on Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars rovers Web site, show a highly detailed surface on a rock dubbed "El Capitan" that has been undergoing examination by the robot geologist.

"They are just very beautiful things and it's not at all clear that we understand what we're looking at," mission official Rob Manning said in a teleconference with reporters on Monday.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm, probably as much enthusiasm as we've ever had by the science team and a lot of intense discussions over these last several days."

The $820 million mission of Opportunity and the twin rover Spirit is aimed at finding geologic evidence that dusty, frigid Mars was once a wetter place where life could have taken hold.

"El Capitan" was designated the top target for close-up study after a general assessment of the outcropping from a distance. The layered rock generated debate about whether it was formed volcanically, by deposition of sediments, or involved mineral growth or wind-created structures.

"Once we got close, the images are much more striking, and although the science team is very reluctant to make any decisions about what they're looking at, there's a lot of information in the pictures they've been looking at," Manning said.

It was not certain when scientists would comment on their findings. A teleconference was set for Tuesday and the next formal press conference was scheduled for Thursday at JPL in Pasadena.

Manning predicted that Opportunity would spend "a fair amount of time" at the outcrop before leaving the area to search for other sites to explore in an area known as Meridiani Planum.

"There's just too much excitement, too much to see," he said.

On the other side of Mars in Gusev crater, Spirit had left a trench it dug last week for study of subsurface soil and was en route to a new site dubbed "Middle Ground."

Voices for Evolution

NCSE is pleased to announce a further addition to Voices for Evolution: a statement from the Society for Neuroscience, reading in part, "Recognizing that the theory of Evolution is the fundamental scientific theory or cornerstone that helps us to understand and study the origins and diversity of living organisms, the Society for Neuroscience supports teaching evolution in science classrooms, and opposes the assertion that Intelligent Design Theory (ID) is a valid scientific alternative."

For the full statement, go to http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=2, click on Statements from Scientific and Scholarly Organizations, and then click on the Society for Neuroscience.

With over 34,000 members, the Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists devoted to the study of the brain. Be sure to visit the SfN web site at: http://web.sfn.org/ A press release about the statement is available at: http://web.sfn.org/content/AboutSFN1/NewsReleases/pr_021604.html


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x 305
fax: 510-601-7204

Monday, February 23, 2004

Spare the rod? Not if you're a dowser looking for water


Conference explores methods, modern uses for old divining art

08:16 PM CST on Monday, February 23, 2004

By KATIE MENZER / The Dallas Morning News

A plastics engineer doesn't often need to find an aquifer, but everyone could use help picking a ripe cantaloupe.

"A lot of people use dowsing to search for water, but it's hard to verify you've found a vein unless you have a backhoe," said Michael Blais, a member the American Society of Dowsers. "I use it in the grocery store to find produce."

The ages-old practice of using a divining rod or other tool to find water, answer questions or even rearrange living room furniture was the subject of a weekend conference of the Society of Dowsers' North Central Tejas chapter.

"It's very interesting how people choose to use it," said Sue Leibold, a longtime dowser and an organizer of the biennial conference that's been held in Dallas since the 1980s. It included lectures and workshops on spiritual dowsing, dowsing and landscaping, dowsing for gold, self-empowerment through dowsing and using dowsing for water purification.

About 40 dowser veterans and wannabes roamed a conference room at the Holiday Inn Select at Dallas Love Field as they practiced the art during Friday's daylong class. They learned about dowsing tools – the L-rod, Y-rod, pendulum and others – and resembled bumper cars as they wandered the carpeted floor with their implements seeking objects in the room.

"I found Kay," said Sylvia Chavoya, her L-shaped divining rod suddenly swinging to the left and hitting a fellow student.

The novices also learned about hazards that can interfere with their dowsing accuracy. "Thought forms" – bundles of energy that can exist anywhere – often lead a dowser astray. Wind is also a factor.

"I'm finding this is not my tool," said newbie Gary Wahlgren, testing out his Y-rod for the first time. The implement, with its arms held in the hands of the user and the stem pointing outward, just bobbed senselessly in front of Mr. Wahlgren's face.

Conferees said dowsing is still used for finding water, but David Maidment, professor of Environmental and Water Resources Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, said he'd turn to scientific sources first if he needed to dig a well.

"If I was going to search for water, the first thing I'd do is find a geologic map and see what kind of rocks are under the place," he said.

The tools were once called "witching rods," said Bette Epstein, an event organizer and fifth-generation dowser. She said the term came from witch hazel wood, once commonly used in dowsing.

"Dowsing is like a sixth sense," Ms. Epstein said Sunday. "Anybody can do it."

Attendees came from as far away as Oklahoma, Arkansas and even Australia.

Raymon Grace drove from his home in rural Virginia to speak to conference attendees Sunday about the art of purifying and energizing water by dowsing.

"The message we want to put out there is that we have all the water we're ever going to get," Mr. Grace said, adding that people should try to keep it clean.

Sunday, visitors split off into groups listening to lectures on such topics as handwriting analysis and feng shui. In an adjacent conference room, metaphysical enthusiasts perused stacks of literature, purple and rose crystals and jewelry, and could even sit and have special photographs taken that revealed their auras.

At the conference, the less skeptical shared stories of how they've used dowsing in their lives. A woman said she used it to find parking spaces in crowded lots and, once, found thieves who had robbed her friend's house. Another said she used it to find a lost dog.

Mr. Blais, who has been dowsing for 30 years and was the class's director, said he was a dowsing Santa last year. A friend said she wanted a compact disc from a specific musician as a Christmas present, but she did not specify which album she wanted.

"I didn't know which album to get, so I used my pendulum," Mr. Blais said. "She said it was perfect. It was the exact one she wanted."

Staff writer Katherine Morales contributed to this report.

E-mail kmenzer@dallasnews.com

See also:


Sunday, February 22, 2004

MMR doctor: I stand by my research on autism link


By Michael Day
(Filed: 22/02/2004)

The British doctor who claimed to have identified a link between the MMR vaccine and autism last night angrily rejected claims that the research was "flawed" as parents of children involved in the original study accused his critics of a "witch-hunt."

Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose research sparked the nationwide controversy over the safety of the triple vaccine, told the Telegraph: "I stand by the findings reported in The Lancet. We have identified important illness in children and raised important questions about child health."

Dr Wakefield spoke out after allegations yesterday that his 1998 study of 12 children was flawed because he had also been working on a separate project to seek evidence to support a legal action by parents claiming that the MMR jab had harmed their children. He said: "That was a completely separate study. We took children according to clinical need. There was no selective recruitment."

Rosemary Kessick, whose child developed autism after receiving the MMR vaccine, defended Dr Wakefield. "This is a witch-hunt. By attempting to smear researchers like Dr Wakefield who are raising important questions, the establishment is impeding our right to know about illness and even how we might prevent it," she said.

Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us

· Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war
· Britain will be 'Siberian' in less than 20 years
· Threat to the world is greater than terrorism

Mark Townsend and Paul Harris in New York
Sunday February 22, 2004
The Observer

Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters..

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'

The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.

The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.

An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is 'plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately', they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.

Last week the Bush administration came under heavy fire from a large body of respected scientists who claimed that it cherry-picked science to suit its policy agenda and suppressed studies that it did not like. Jeremy Symons, a former whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that suppression of the report for four months was a further example of the White House trying to bury the threat of climate change.

Senior climatologists, however, believe that their verdicts could prove the catalyst in forcing Bush to accept climate change as a real and happening phenomenon. They also hope it will convince the United States to sign up to global treaties to reduce the rate of climatic change.

A group of eminent UK scientists recently visited the White House to voice their fears over global warming, part of an intensifying drive to get the US to treat the issue seriously. Sources have told The Observer that American officials appeared extremely sensitive about the issue when faced with complaints that America's public stance appeared increasingly out of touch.

One even alleged that the White House had written to complain about some of the comments attributed to Professor Sir David King, Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, after he branded the President's position on the issue as indefensible.

Among those scientists present at the White House talks were Professor John Schellnhuber, former chief environmental adviser to the German government and head of the UK's leading group of climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He said that the Pentagon's internal fears should prove the 'tipping point' in persuading Bush to accept climatic change.

Sir John Houghton, former chief executive of the Meteorological Office - and the first senior figure to liken the threat of climate change to that of terrorism - said: 'If the Pentagon is sending out that sort of message, then this is an important document indeed.'

Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored.

'Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,' added Watson.

'You've got a President who says global warming is a hoax, and across the Potomac river you've got a Pentagon preparing for climate wars. It's pretty scary when Bush starts to ignore his own government on this issue,' said Rob Gueterbock of Greenpeace.

Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.

Randall told The Observer that the potential ramifications of rapid climate change would create global chaos. 'This is depressing stuff,' he said. 'It is a national security threat that is unique because there is no enemy to point your guns at and we have no control over the threat.'

Randall added that it was already possibly too late to prevent a disaster happening. 'We don't know exactly where we are in the process. It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years,' he said.

'The consequences for some nations of the climate change are unbelievable. It seems obvious that cutting the use of fossil fuels would be worthwhile.'

So dramatic are the report's scenarios, Watson said, that they may prove vital in the US elections. Democratic frontrunner John Kerry is known to accept climate change as a real problem. Scientists disillusioned with Bush's stance are threatening to make sure Kerry uses the Pentagon report in his campaign.

The fact that Marshall is behind its scathing findings will aid Kerry's cause. Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who heads a secretive think-tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security called the Office of Net Assessment. Dubbed 'Yoda' by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience, he is credited with being behind the Department of Defence's push on ballistic-missile defence.

Symons, who left the EPA in protest at political interference, said that the suppression of the report was a further instance of the White House trying to bury evidence of climate change. 'It is yet another example of why this government should stop burying its head in the sand on this issue.'

Symons said the Bush administration's close links to high-powered energy and oil companies was vital in understanding why climate change was received sceptically in the Oval Office. 'This administration is ignoring the evidence in order to placate a handful of large energy and oil companies,' he added.


The end of the world


By Jane Lampman | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When David got home from school, the third grader looked everywhere for his mom and sisters. They couldn't be found in the house or the yard. Suddenly the youngster panicked. What he'd been taught in church must have happened - they'd disappeared in the "rapture," and he'd been "left behind."

For children raised in a fundamentalist Protestant background, "that wasn't an uncommon experience," says David Currie of his frantic moments years ago. They were taught Jesus could come at any moment to whisk believers to heaven and leave others to face seven years of "the great tribulation." Only after that period of suffering, violence, and disasters on Earth would Christ return in the Second Coming.

Today, as belief in this end-times prophecy sees a resurgence among Americans - partly because of the phenomenal success of the "Left Behind" series of novels (58 million sold) and the disturbing "signs" of terrorism and war - Mr. Currie and others are seeking to refute the apocalyptic theology.

Harnessing her heavenly contacts



LUCINDA Shon's husband is not convinced of his wife's celestial powers, but plenty of other people are. And the only business of its kind in Scotland which uses the power of the angels to offer health and happiness to those who seek their help has taken off - heavenward - for the mother of three from Banchory, Aberdeenshire.

Mrs Shon, 37, says she has been in touch with people's mysterious personal angels from above ever since she was a little girl. Even her husband, Adam, is sceptical of her claims - but that did not stop her launching her own "angel therapy" business.

Mrs Shon says of her powers: "My husband is a sceptic - but that is good. It's a job I love, people benefit from it, and they pay me.

"I can heighten awareness of angels and the universe so you can experience unconditional love and take it home."

Customers have been flocking for her treatments and getting in touch with their angels - despite others being sceptical. Mrs Shon said: "When I was about ten, I realised not everyone was like me. It's something I have grown up with and felt I had to keep quiet about at first. But as you get older you cannot deny who you are."

"Once you learn how to contact your angels and receive their messages life becomes easier and you will find the answers to all your questions.

"Not only is this comforting but it also builds your self-esteem and confidence. It's all about getting control of your life."

She added: "When my youngest child got out of nursery the business idea developed from there.

"Over the past year it has just gone mad - business has mushroomed. I have not really advertised - it has just been word of mouth.

"Only once have I had one person, who was very religious, who thought such things should only be done through the church."

TV psychic faces probe


By Kelvin Healey

CONSUMER Affairs Victoria is examining a complaint alleging celebrity self-proclaimed psychic John Edward cannot talk to the dead.

Melbourne mind illusionist Mark Mayer claims the star of worldwide TV hit Crossing Over with John Edward "is a specialist at fooling people".

Mayer made a formal complaint to Consumer Affairs on Friday, claiming Edward's sell-out show in Melbourne would breach the Trade Practices Act.

The Act says the supplier of goods or services must be able to substantiate any claims.

Consumer Affairs Victoria director Dr David Cousins confirmed the authority would consider the complaint.

Edward will begin an Australian After Life tour this month and will be at Rod Laver Arena on March 2.

Tour promoter Leon Nacson denied Edward was a phony, saying he had a five-year record of producing "amazing" results.

Best Newsletter


The North Texas Skeptic

Don't get us wrong. We like UFO stuff and The Lost City of Atlantis and health supplements and crop circles and magnetic shoe arches and secret government experiments. This is the stuff of life, the fruit of the twisted imagination. We just have a difficult time taking it in its raw, unadulterated form. When filtered through the monthly debunking machine of this sharply edited newsletter, though, it's perfect. We get our Face on Mars cake and a list of the bizarre ingredients, too. It's like reading Hollywood gossip crunched and analyzed by The New York Times. Brought to you by the fine minds of the North Texas Skeptics club, the newsletter features short items and long essays written by an array of local physicians, scientists and academics. Of course, you have to join to get it or, like us, pretend you are a member of the Fourth Estate. For details, visit their Web site at www.ntskeptics.org.

dallasobserver.com | originally published: September 25, 2003

Ike and the Alien Ambassadors


The Whole Tooth About the President's Extraterrestrial Encounter

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2004; Page C01

Fifty years ago tomorrow -- on Feb. 20, 1954 -- President Dwight Eisenhower interrupted his vacation in Palm Springs, Calif., to make a secret nocturnal trip to a nearby Air Force base to meet two extraterrestrial aliens.

Or maybe not. Maybe Ike just went to the dentist. There's some dispute about this.

The Ike-met-with-ETs theory is advanced by Michael Salla, a former American University professor who now runs the Peace Ambassador Program at AU's Center for Global Peace.

The Ike-went-to-the-dentist theory is advanced by the folks at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kan. And by James M. Mixson, a dentist, professor of dentistry and historian of presidential dental work.

Just to make things more intriguing: On the night in question, the Associated Press reported this: "Pres. Eisenhower died tonight of a heart attack in Palm Springs."

Two minutes later, the AP retracted that bulletin and reported that Ike was still alive.

Indeed, Ike was alive. And he continued living until 1969. But in the decades since his death, his activities on the night of Feb. 20, 1954, have become fodder for strange theories about alien beings.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

NCSE's Dr. Eugenie Scott on the radio

NCSE Executive Director Dr. Eugenie C. Scott will appear on the Seti Institute's "Are We Alone?" radio program this coming Sunday, February 22, at 10 PM EST.

From the "Are We Alone?" web site:

Skeptical Sunday: The Darwin Conspiracy

Imagine a group of evolutionists, sitting in a darkened room, busily plotting how to forge fossils and skew facts so that textbooks tilt in favor of Darwinian evolution.

This conspiratorial scenario might sound far-fetched, but some anti-evolutionists are convinced it's real. Join us with guest Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist, CSICOP Fellow, and executive director of the National Center for Science Education, to find out the top myths that creationists use to confuse. It's Skeptical Sunday, but don't take our word for it... tune in.

For details, see:

Skip Evans
Network Project Director
National Center for Science Education
420 40th St, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609
510-601-7203 Ext. 308
510-601-7204 (fax)

NCSE now has a one way broadcast news list. Please note that this is NOT a discussion list. You cannot post messages for members to receive. We use this list to broadcast news about the creationism/evolution issue to interested parties.

To sign up send:
subscribe ncse your@email.address.here
to: majordomo@ncseweb2.org

"Unlucky" souvenirs returned to Uluru


ALICE SPRINGS, Australia (Reuters) - To the unwary Englishman it was just a harmless little red pebble, picked up as a souvenir at the base of Uluru, the immense monolith in the central Australian desert once known as Ayers Rock.

"But since then, my wife has had a stroke and things have worked out terribly for my children -- we have had nothing but bad luck," he wrote when he sent the pebble back halfway around the world to its rightful home.

This was just one of hundreds of rocks returned to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park during the past decade, many with similar tales of woe linked by tourists to their decision to take home a souvenir from the sacred Aboriginal site.

"The general tenor of a lot of the responses is that the rocks are being returned because they bring bad luck," said Tony English, manager of the 132,500-hectare (327,400-acre) park in the red, desert heart of Australia. "It is a reasonably impressive collection. Most of them are fairly small, around the size that you can pop in your pocket, but there has been a few larger items removed in the past."

Among the packages arriving almost daily at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park office, 275 miles south west of the town of Alice Springs, was a piece of rock weighing nine kg (20 lbs) that was returned by a German tourist. "They're coming in from all over the world," English said.


European explorer William Gosse named the red monolith Ayers Rock in 1873, but it became known officially by its Aboriginal name Uluru after it was handed back to its traditional owners, the Anangu people, in 1985.

The Anangu then leased the world heritage-listed area, which has sacred meaning to them, back to the Australian government for 99 years for use as a national park. Almost 400,000 visitors are expected there this year.

While Kata Tjuta -- the name of a nearby rock formation also known as The Olgas -- means "many heads", Uluru is simply a place name given to the monolith by the Anangu, one of hundreds of Aboriginal groups living across the vast continent.

They associate the park with many songs and stories passed down to them through generations, and believe the area is governed by powerful Aboriginal law that they must protect and support.

To them Uluru is like a cathedral and the route of the climb follows the path taken by the Mala men, the Anangu's ancestors, when they arrived at the rock thousands of years ago.

"Government law is written on paper. Anangu carry our Law in our heads and in our souls," they said in a statement.

For one young woman, Gail, whose nationality is unknown, her father's gift of several small rocks taken from Uluru was too much to bear.

"I was horrified because I know this is such a deeply spiritual place and what he did was probably offensive to you," she wrote in a letter to the Anangu people to return the rocks.

"I believe that my family is experiencing a lot of ill health and bad luck since then and, although people may laugh at my superstitious nature, I believe the stones are something to do with this. I will try anything to help my family."

English said he hoped the return of hundreds of rocks meant people were starting to respect Uluru as a sacred site.

"I am hoping the stories of bad luck -- whether real or perceived -- is maybe a signpost of hopefully a deeper notion of respect for Anangu culture," he said.


Visitors to Uluru may climb the steep 345-metre (1,100-feet) high rock, which has a circumference of 5.8 miles, but are strongly encouraged not to do so, English said.

"There is certainly a very strong message conveyed here in the park about respecting Anangu wishes about the rock and the park generally. People should be making an informed choice."

More than 60 people have died on the rock during the past 50 years, many from heart attacks while climbing the rock in soaring desert temperatures, but also from straying off the safety chain and falling on the steep, slippery surface.

In 1998, stringent guidelines were introduced to close the climb if rain was predicted, if temperatures were forecast to rise higher than 36 Celsius, or if it was windy at the summit.

The rock climb can also be closed for cultural reasons and in 2001 was shut for nearly two weeks in May as a mark of respect for the death of an Aboriginal elder.

"We are greatly concerned about your safety while on our land, because we want you to return to your families to share the knowledge of our culture that you have gained," the Anangu people said on the national park's website, www.deh.gov.au/parks/uluru.

Friday, February 20, 2004


The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 673 February 18, 2004 by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein, and James Riordon

A NEW APPROACH FOR CALMING PARKINSON'S TREMORS. Many neuroscientists believe that pathological brain rhythms, for example in Parkinson's disease and in epilepsy, arise from an abnormal synchronization of many thousands of nerve cells (neurons). This physical mechanism appears in many physical and biological systems. For example, it enables fireflies to light up in unison. Sometimes, synchrony is desirable, for instance, when the cells of the heart's main pacemaker (the sino-atrial node) fire all together to stimulate heart contraction. But in many cases synchrony is harmful. London's Millennium Bridge, which swayed undesirably shortly after it opened in 2000, provides a useful example. Hundreds of pedestrians subconsciously synchronized their pace to the bridge's sideways, left-to-right swaying motions. The bridge oscillations, driven by pedestrians, became dangerously large, and the walkway had to be closed for reconstruction. In the case of a Parkinson's tremor one also needs to suppress the synchronous oscillations of nerve cells, but one can hardly apply the methods used by engineers for the Millennium Bridge. Thus, researchers need a technique to control the collective synchrony of neurons.

Now, a paper suggests a new approach: one would measure the collective rhythm of nerve cells and, after some delay, electrically "feed back" this rhythm into the population of nerve cells. Adjusting the delay time and the amplification in the feedback loop, the researchers in principle could either suppress or enhance the collective rhythm. The researchers (Michael Rosenblum, mros@agnld.uni-potsdam.de, and Arkady Pikovsky, pikovsky@stat.physik.uni-potsdam.de, University of Potsdam, Germany) have tested this idea in simulations that employ mathematical models of neuron populations. The researchers believe the scheme might be used, in particular, for suppressing Parkinson's tremors by means of the emerging medical technique, called Deep Brain Stimulation, that enables intervention with the use of implanted microelectrodes. In principle, medical doctors could use an implanted electrode to measure electrical activity of the brain area and stimulate the nerve-cell population via a second electrode with the delayed signal. The advantage of this approach is that individual neurons are not much affected and continue to function, while the pathological collective Parkinsonian rhythm is suppressed noninvasively. (Rosenblum and Pikovsky, Physical Review Letters, upcoming article.)

ATTOGRAM MASS DETECTION has been achieved by Harold Craighead and his colleagues at Cornell, with prospects of exquisite detection of very tiny chemical and biological species, possibly with arrays of detectors. With their lithographically fabricated nanoelectromechanical (NEMS) device, the Cornell researchers can measure the mass of a particle with a sensitivity of 10^-18 grams, far exceeding the precision of a comparable device with femtogram (10^-15 g) sensitivity reported last year (www.aip.org/enews/physnews/2003/split/634-2.html). To get any better measurement of mass you would have to vaporize the particle and shoot its constituent molecules through a mass spectrometer. At Cornell, mass measurement works this way: when the minuscule particle is absorbed onto a tiny sliver of silicon it alters the sliver's resonant oscillation (see figure at http://www.aip.org/mgr/png/2004/211.htm). The oscillation in turn is monitored by reflecting laser light off the cantilever. It's as if a particle with a mass of a billionth of a billionth of a gram stepped onto a diving board whose springiness was observed by reflected light. So far Craighead's group has weighed small gold dots and tiny coatings of molecules on the dots, but the goal is to detect and identify viruses. (Previously the same group detected the immunospecific binding of a single bacterium using the oscillating-cantilever method. They did this by coating their with a specific antibody and therefore could bind and detect the added mass only of the corresponding antigen.) The mass sensitivity with the present cantilever (4 microns long, 500 nm wide, and at room temperature) is expected to be 0.39 attogram and will only get better as the size of the cantilever is reduced further, extending the sensitivity well into the zeptogram (10^-21 g) range. (Ilic et al., Journal of Applied Physics, upcoming article; lab website: http://www.hgc.cornell.edu/index.html )

PHYSICS NEWS UPDATE is a digest of physics news items arising from physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and other news sources. It is provided free of charge as a way of broadly disseminating information about physics and physicists. For that reason, you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit AIP. Physics News Update appears approximately once a week.

Aliens Cause Global Warming


A lecture by Michael Crichton
Caltech Michelin Lecture
January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming. Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.

Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.

I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.

It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind. Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world might not be avery good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world.

But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought---prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan's memorable phrase, "a candle in a demon haunted world." And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.



from Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Astronomers said Thursday they have found a frozen object 4.4 billion miles from Earth that appears to be more than half the size of Pluto and larger than the planet's moon.

If confirmed, the so-called planetoid would become the largest object found in our solar system since the ninth planet was first spied in 1930.

Preliminary observations suggest the frozen celestial body is 10 percent larger than Quaoar, a 800-mile-diameter object found in 2002.

Scientists Say Administration Distorts Facts


by James Glanz

Published: February 19, 2004

More than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement yesterday asserting that the Bush administration had systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad.

The sweeping accusations were later discussed in a conference call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent organization that focuses on technical issues and has often taken stands at odds with administration policy. On Wednesday, the organization also issued a 38-page report detailing its accusations.

The two documents accuse the administration of repeatedly censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice and refusing to seek any independent scientific expertise in some cases.

"Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systemically nor on so wide a front," the statement from the scientists said, adding that they believed the administration had "misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies."

Dr. Kurt Gottfried, an emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University who signed the statement and spoke during the conference call, said the administration had "engaged in practices that are in conflict with spirit of science and the scientific method." Dr. Gottfried, who is also chairman of the board of directors at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the administration had a "cavalier attitude towards science" that could place at risk the basis for the nation's long-term prosperity, health and military prowess.

Dr. John H. Marburger III, science adviser to President Bush and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, said it was important to listen to "the distinguished scientific leadership in this country." But he said the report consisted of a largely disconnected list of events that did not make the case for a suppression of good scientific advice by the administration.

"I think there are incidents where people have got their feathers ruffled," Dr. Marburger said. "But I don't think they add up to a big pattern of disrespect."

"In most cases," he added, "these are not profound actions that were taken as the result of a policy. They are individual actions that are part of the normal processes within the agencies."

The science adviser to Mr. Bush's father, Dr. D. Allan Bromley, went further. "You know perfectly well that it is very clearly a politically motivated statement," said Dr. Bromley, a physicist at Yale. "The statements that are there are broad sweeping generalizations for which there is very little detailed backup."

The scientists denied that they had political motives in releasing the documents as the 2004 presidential race began to take clear shape. The report, Dr. Gottfried said, had taken a year to prepare, much longer than originally planned, and was released as soon as it was ready.

"I don't see it as a partisan issue at all," said Russell Train, who spoke during the call and served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. "If it becomes that way I think it's because the White House chooses to make it a partisan issue."

The letter was signed by luminaries from an array of disciplines. Among the Nobel winners are David Baltimore and Harold Varmus, both biomedical researchers, and Leon M. Lederman, Norman F. Ramsey and Steven Weinberg, who are physicists. The full list of signatories and the union's report can be found at www.ucsusa.org.

Aside from some new interviews with current and former government scientists, some identified in the report and others quoted anonymously, most of the information in the documents had been reported previously by a variety of major newspapers, magazines, scientific journals and nongovernmental organizations.

According to the report, the Bush administration has misrepresented scientific consensus on global warming, censored at least one report on climate change, manipulated scientific findings on the emissions of mercury from power plants and suppressed information on condom use.

The report asserts that the administration also allowed industries with conflicts of interest to influence technical advisory committees, disbanded for political reasons one panel on arms control and subjected other prospective members of scientific panels to political litmus tests.

Dr. Marburger said he was unconvinced by the report's description of those incidents. "I don't think it makes the case for the sweeping accusations that it makes," he said.

But Dr. Sidney Drell, an emeritus professor of physics at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who was not a signatory to the statement, said the overall findings rang true to him.

"I am concerned that the scientific advice coming into this administration seems to me very narrow," said Dr. Drell, who has advised the government on issues of national security for some 40 years and has served in Democratic and Republican administrations, including those of Presidents Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson. "The input from individuals whose views are not in the main line of their policy don't seem to be sought or welcomed," he said.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Attempted 'evolution' ban entirely misguided


By Emerald editorial board

February 18, 2004

Here we go again.

Every year some hysterical backwater administrator in some Southern state manages to wield the Bible like a scepter in a futile battle against -- get this -- the word "evolution." It seems that these people would rather our public schoolchildren be exposed only to the notion that God created all, affectionately labeled "creationist theory," and that science is all just a bunch of bunk.

Laughably, these people don't see the irony in proclaiming that evolution is an aberrant, sacrilegious theory and that their personal beliefs -- their faith, if you will -- are inarguable, concrete fact.

This year, the state of Georgia played host to the latest debacle. In a semantic battle not unlike the flap over whether certain people are entitled to use the word "marriage," a dozen science teachers rallied to change the word "evolution" to "biological changes over time" in the state's science curriculum, according to The Associated Press.

Apparently, the word "evolution" has become so loaded that to even utter it could be tragically blasphemous -- perhaps sending all the schoolchildren straight to hell in one fell swoop? -- and thus reducing the argument from a scientific debate to a religious and moral squabble. The whole affair reeked of Orwellian Newspeak, and the suggestion was eventually dropped after legitimate professors, educators and politicians spoke out.

At its heart, the evolution-creationism debate revolves around differences in microevolution, in which a series of small genetic changes can form new subspecies, and macroevolution, wherein large-scale evolution can form new taxonomic groups (i.e. apes to humans). Opponents of the word "evolution" generally tend to accept the tenets of microevolution. Experiments, such as Darwin's work with finches, show that populations can change in small ways to adapt to their environments, and opponents rarely dispute these findings.

The contention lies in macroevolution. Opponents of the word "evolution" say it has no scientific legitimacy (read: no proof that any species used to be something completely different) and therefore should not be mentioned in a public school setting.

But most scientists disagree with the alleged lack of evidence for macroevolutionary principles. In fact, Douglas Theobald, Ph.D., of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder, cites 21 different pieces of evidence for macroevolution. His paper is posted at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc, a Web site dedicated to the evolution debate.

As the late Stephen J. Gould, a paleontologist from Harvard University, wrote in a May 1981 issue of Discover: "... evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet-to-be-discovered."

Humankind relies on science for progress and understanding about our origins and the world around us. This is the socially accepted means of public scholarship in a country where the church and state have been explicitly separated -- although this fundamental aspect of our society seems to suffer assault on a daily basis. Because science is so accepted and so ingrained in nearly all elements of life, it is only reasonable that it be taught in public schools. If religious administrators have a problem with that, they can join private religious schools where the accepted dogma is not science but faith.

Quack alternative medicine pains me



A DISTRESSING fact of life is the enormous amount of money wasted every year on quack alternative medicine treatments and the useless, but expensive, products that are prescribed.

There is a standard article that appears regularly in newspapers, extolling the virtues of alternative medicine. Rather like a medieval mystery play, there is a theme and a cast of characters which never varies.

The tear-stained, desperate patient, searching in vain for help over many years of a debilitating illness. The arrogant, ignorant, conventional doctor who casually prescribes all sorts of dangerous, ineffective drugs, refuses to listen to the patient and then says nothing further can be done. The wicked pharmaceutical company, making millions selling these useless and dangerous drugs. And finally the kind, wise, caring alternative practitioner who solves the problem by rubbing, tickling, pricking, prodding or prescribing expensive diets and dietary supplements. Evil is conquered and goodness prevails.

The difficulty in investigating the claims of alternative medicine is that because of the way they are framed, they are impossible to disprove. I cannot say that vitamin X will never under any circumstances help condition Y, any more than I can say that Lord Lucan is definitely not hiding in a cave in Afghanistan, or that Hibs will never win the Premierleague. The last two possibilities are so improbable that no sane reader would bet on them, but they cannot entirely be ruled out, and the same is true of many alternative medicine claims.

What conventional doctors ask of the exponents of alternative medicine is that they expose their treatments and methods to scientific assessment. It is not enough to say that I gave this treatment to Mrs Smith and she is much better. The placebo effect ensures that a combination of a distressing condition, a kind practitioner and an expensive prescription will always produce some initial benefit. What counts is how this new treatment fares when compared scientifically with other treatments or, indeed, no treatment at all.

Alternative practitioners protest that these demands are hypocritical, that much of conventional medicine has no scientific basis either.

The difference between conventional medicine and alternative medicine in the 21st century is that the former is striving to develop an evidence base for treatment, while the latter sometimes seems to relish lack of evidence, even claiming, perversely, that it is some form of advantage.

It is sensible to make a distinction between two terms, alternative medicine and complementary medicine, that are often confused. Complementary medicine practitioners, as the name suggests, work most effectively in some form of partnership with conventional medicine. Their disciplines often have rigorous and verifiable training programmes, with recognised qualifications for successful candidates. They use some of the tools of conventional medicine and may also have medical qualifications.

I accept that a qualified osteopath or chiropractor can treat certain specified conditions far better than I can and will refer patients without hesitation, or use their services myself if the need arises.

I cannot so easily accept the claims of acupuncturists that they can ease a variety of conditions by sticking needles in various parts of the body, or homoeopaths who say that the more dilute a medication the stronger it is.

Herbs have a long and respectable tradition in the treatment of illness. Many have been proven to be beneficial and are now used in conventional medicine. You can go to your family doctor and have one prescribed for you if needed. Other herbs can be purchased from a herbalist. Just beware of two things. Herbs, whether beneficial or not, can have serious side-effects or mix adversely with any other medi-cine you may be taking. If you want to dip your toe in this water, please consult a qualified herbalist and get advice first.

My main grouch, however, is with the alternative medicine practitioners, many without a recognised qualification, who jostle with each other to milk money from vulnerable and gullible citizens. Those who make a diagnosis if you send them a hair by post, or promise a cure for cancer by adopting a special diet. A fortune is spent every day on expensive vitamins, salts and other dietary supplements, most of which are entirely unnecessary and pass straight through the system into the lavatory pan.

Of course, massage, aromatherapy and such techniques can make a person feel cosseted and raise self-esteem. Organisations such as the Wester Hailes Health Agency offer these services free to their clients for this purpose. It is when they are sold at great cost, accompanied by claims of benefit in a wide variety of serious medical conditions, that I draw the line.

So, am I just jealous of the success of alternative practitioners in curing patients where I have failed? Do I even fear for my job if my patients vote with their feet and stop using my services? Is this merely another whinge by an established professional guarding his turf against incomers?

These are accusations levelled when alternative medicine is challenged, but I am happy if someone else succeeds in helping a patient where I have failed. Doctors at all levels are used to this and accept that no individual is the source of all wisdom.

Nor is the stage even remotely near when conventional doctors' business will shrink through lack of custom; indeed demand for appointments is at an all-time high.

What is objectionable is that we can see those who can ill-afford it being milked of their money by charlatans and sharks who promise what they can never deliver. And that they are being encouraged in this process by those who should know better.

Alternative medicine in the mainstream




For 25 years, Maria Fotis has faced down breast cancer as a nurse and, starting two years ago, as a patient herself.

But on a recent Friday, the Providence Portland nurse found herself in a health care position she had never encountered -- stretched out on a massage table.

Fotis got a long, relaxing massage courtesy of Rebecca Harrison, a Portland massage therapist who specializes in working with cancer patients. Starting this month, Harrison is working alongside an acupuncturist, a naturopathic doctor and an internal medicine doctor in Providence's new Integrative Medicine Clinics, which let cancer patients blend such alternative therapies with more traditional drug-based, or allopathic, care.

Alternative treatments are nothing new -- in fact, many stem from traditions centuries old. And some patients and medics have long been interested in mixing modern and ancient therapies, especially in Portland, home to major colleges for traditional Asian, naturopathic and chiropractic healing.

But most big, traditional health systems and medical insurers have ignored alternative therapies, saying they are not scientifically proven to work. That is changing, with hospital systems increasingly embracing them. A survey by the American Association of Hospitals found that 16.6 percent of U.S. hospitals offered such services in 2002, up from 7.9 percent in 1998.

Several health systems in the Portland area started such programs in recent years, responding largely to patient demand as well as to some doctors' interests. They generally treat three broad categories of illness: chronic pain, side effects caused by traditional treatments and chronic diseases that have poor records of treatment with standard medicine.

The programs aim to address the biggest criticism of alternative medicine -- poor scientific grounding -- by researching treatments carefully and offering only those supported by evidence.

"We're trying to be very cautious and very careful, and have a high degree of reason," said Ken Weizer, the naturopathic doctor involved in Providence's effort.

The Providence program focuses on cancer patients because surveys show that more than half of them pursue some form of alternative treatment, from herbal pills to acupuncture. The reason could be that "conventional therapy leaves something to be desired," with sometimes low cure rates and serious side effects, said Dr. Miles Hassell, medical director of Providence Cancer Center's new Integrative Medicine Program.

Hassell said the program will focus not on curing cancer but rather on relieving pain, exhaustion, nausea and other cancer symptoms or drug side effects. His interest lies in studying diet and exercise, such as whether flax seed can slow the growth of breast cancer. Acupuncture and massage aim to ease side effects such as nausea and pain.

The alternative therapies also aim to boost physical and mental health by easing stress -- the benefit Fotis saw after her massage.

"The physical effects of the massage lasted about a day and one-half. The feeling of well-being lasted all weekend," she said. "I made an appointment for another massage before I left."

Harrison, the Providence clinic's massage therapist, said conventional medicine sometimes ignores the emotional and psychological aspects of cancer that alternative therapies address.

"When (patients) are in crisis, in the hospital, it's almost a spiritual thing for some people" to get a massage, Harrison said. "They say it's the first chance for their body to feel good."

Kaiser Permanente programs

Other big Portland-area health systems have alternative medicine programs, including research projects paid for by the National Institutes of Health. The agency increased its alternative medicine budget from $50 million in 1999 to $117 million in fiscal 2004.

Kaiser Permanente's Portland-based Center for Health Research won one of the first grants. Kaiser researchers are studying several alternative treatments for facial and dental problems with colleagues from Oregon Health & Science University and the major alternative-medicine colleges in Portland, said Nancy Vuckovic, one of the Kaiser researchers.

The center is working to finish two trials involving problems with the temporomandibular joint, which can cause extreme jaw pain. The trials compare standard medical treatment with acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, naturopathic remedies and traditional Chinese medicine. Another study looks at an herbal remedy for adult gum disease.

"We had really good response from people that we recruited for the studies," Vuckovic said. "People seem quite interested" in taking part in such research.

Kaiser has launched other studies on alternative treatments ranging from the Atkins diet to treating temporomandibular pain with "shamanistic healing," which Vuckovic described as "a form of spiritual healing, where the practitioner works with the client to try to resolve old issues."

Kaiser also runs a weekly natural medicine clinic for patients, group sessions that can lead to later one-on-one care, said Dr. Charles Elder, who runs the clinic. Elder is an internal medicine specialist who also has studied Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian health system.

The weekly clinics focus on "diet, meditation, exercise, daily routine (changes) and herbs," Elder said. Patients seek help for varied complaints, including digestive problems, allergies, depression, cancer and menopausal problems.

OHSU gets grants

Federal grants also help pay for OHSU's alternative medicine work, which includes a program focused on neurologic disorders and an Integrative Medicine Clinic in OHSU's Center for Women's Health.

Dr. Wendy Kohatsu, an assistant professor of family medicine who helps run the Women's Center clinic, said its patients include men and women, ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s. Patients seek treatment for "a lot of conditions that allopathic medicine doesn't have answers for," she said, such as obesity and autoimmune diseases, as well as for food allergies and heart disease.

The OHSU and Kaiser programs include opportunities to teach doctors and medical students more about alternative medicine.

Skepticism remains

Doctors involved with the alternative medicine programs at leading Portland-area health systems said other doctors generally seem to accept the programs, though "there will always be some people who have skepticism," Kohatsu said. "And I think some skepticism is good."

Insurance companies are most skeptical. Kaiser's health plan covers some alternative care, Elder said, and the OHSU clinic can bill initial visits, at least. But many insurance plans cover few or no alternative therapies. Because of that, the new Providence clinics are not offering insurance billing services and are running on patient fees, Hassell said.

That could change, he added, if scientific research studies help prove that alternative therapies do ease patients' pain.

"I think we're all trying to find the best answers," Hassell said. "In reality, we should only have two types of medicine: good and bad. We shouldn't have integrative medicine and conventional."

Andy Dworkin: 503-221-8239; andydworkin@news.oregonian.com

Is That You, God?


by Norma Sherry

It would appear that the messages Pat Robertson has been hearing from God are not from God at all, but a cruel, conniving imposter.

It's sad, but true. But, he's in very good company. There have been many self-proclaimed prophets in our history. Some that predicted the day of the Second Coming and others that foretold the demise of the world.

Christopher Columbus was among those who forewarned the end -- even wrote about it in, "The Book of Prophesies," which he published in 1505.

There is no shortage of God-fearing men and women who commune with God and as such, are privy to His private utterances.

The founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, said a meeting of the Mormon religious leaders was called because God had commanded it. The Watchtower Society has been quite prolific in their predictions for Armageddon: 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, and 1994, were some of their dates.

Today's preachers rarely dabble in such folly. Nay, their assertions are harangues intended to incite and divide. Their pulpit is used to bully and harass. The notion of love and brotherhood are far removed from their public pronunciations.

Lest you think I categorize all men and women of God as such, let me proclaim that is not so. I am writing of those few whose congregation's are in the multitudes. The tele-evangelist's who demonstrate miracles on television with a wave of their hand or a touch on the head -- to those who proclaim to do God's work as they don their six-thousand dollar designer suits, board their private jets, and flaunt their superiority while they sit upon their golden-gilded chairs in front of the cameras of their church-owned television stations: The Pat Robertson's, the Jerry Falwell's, The Benny Hinn's.

They preach to their minions' half-truths, falsities, and destructive examples that inflate egos, separate people of differing beliefs and life-styles, and they do so with a high and mighty commanding declaration that their mutterings are the truths that their congregation was heretofore denied.

When Rev. Falwell said, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen,'" before a 700-Club television audience, was he acting pastoral? Was he walking in the shadow of Christ? Or was he preaching separatism, bigotry, and filling his congregation with hatred?

In an earlier preaching, the good reverend told his flock that the cause of 9/11 was "the throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked."

In 1980, to a throng at a Jesus rally, Pat Robertson shouted, "We have enough votes to run the country. And when the people say, 'We've had enough,' we are going to take over." In a fund-raising letter he wrote, "We at the Christian Coalition are raising an army who cares. We are training people to be effective -- to be elected to school boards, to city councils, to state legislatures, and to key positions in political parties.... By the end of this decade, if we work and give and organize and train, The Christian Coalition will be the most powerful political organization in America." Now, that was prophetic.

Today, as we find ourselves shaking our heads over the demise of separation of church and state, we should remember, we were warned. As far back as 1993, Rev. Robertson, said, "There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore."

Rev. Robertson from his on-high pulpit has preached on every important topic facing our country and our citizens. His opinions on the Supreme Court and our judicial system borders on lawlessness and irresponsibility. In his instructions to his followers he said, "Why should you and I be bound because of the ineptitude, if you will, or the skill of one or more defense lawyers, or the plaintiffs in any particular lawsuit?"

And, of course, the Lord spake upon his Holiness, the good Reverend Robertson about our upcoming presidential election and told him, "George Bush will win in a walk." What a man he must be for God Almighty to speak unto him -- and to him alone.

Regarding our Constitution, Rev. Robertson told his television ministry, "...it is a marvelous document for self-government by the Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christian people and atheistic people they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society. And that's what's been happening."

This man of God, this preacher of the Word, told his followers, "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense."

In another fund-raising letter dated 1992, the benevolent reverend wrote these words, "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."

To his viewing audience he declared that Planned Parenthood, "...is teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism -- everything that the Bible condemns."

In an example of his Christian love he instructed that we need to stop giving money to welfare mothers. "...if they'll stop paying them, they'll stop having babies. It's that simple. It's not heartless, it's not cruel, it's an intelligent use of money." In another moment of compassion, he made this comparison: "Many of those people involved with Adolph Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals -- the two things seem to go together."

His exclusive right of non-cult distinction disclaims any non-Christian: "...A cult is any group that has a form of godliness, but does not recognize Jesus Christ as the unique son of God.... One test of a cult is that it often does not strictly teach that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God who Himself is God manifested in the flesh...."

The Reverend Jerry Falwell fares no better. On a myriad of topics his intolerance and bigotry are glaring. He's in agreement with Pat Robertson that the churches will soon be running the education of our youth; that the notion of separation of church and state was not what our founding fathers had in mind; that the Jews "are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior;" and that the courts have "raped the Constitution".

He holds no qualms to his beliefs that, "If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being, or that "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."

The Rev. Falwell imparted his unearthly wisdom as he told his disciples that, "The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country."

My favorite, if one can justly refer to anything Jerry Falwell says, as a favorite, was a remark he said on Crossfire in 1997, "Grown men should not be having sex with prostitutes unless they are married to them."

And, probably one of his most despicable remarks was, "AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh's charioteers."

The undeniable king of prophesy; however, is Benny Hinn. He's the preacher and healer who's on television in the wee hours of the night. If you're a troubled sleeper, you've seen him. On April 2, 2000, on a TBN Praise-a-thon, he announced, "I'm prophesying this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is about to appear physically in some churches and some meetings and to many of His people, for one reason - to tell you He's about to show up."

On January 1st, 1990, the self-proclaimed oracle, shared two divinations:

"The Lord also tells me to tell you in the mid-90's, about '94, '95, no later than that; God will destroy the homosexual community of America. ... He will destroy it with fire. And many will turn and be saved, and many will rebel and be destroyed."

His second foretelling was, "The Spirit tells me Fidel Castro will die in the '90s." He elucidated that it would be a very horrible death!

Benny Hinn's proclamations are so extravagant, so unbelievable, yet hordes of followers assemble to hear him in churches, stadiums, and fields in lands all over the world. According to Hinn, he has been in the presence of the Archangel Michael and he has seen the dead raised; sickness, he says, comes from individuals attacking preachers; and lastly, he claims he "is a 'little messiah' walking on earth."

These are not my words. I haven't edited one syllable. The proclamations should speak for themselves. If these are true, God-fearing men, leaders of men, women, and children, and their word is taken as gospel, then our fears are not fearful enough. For in these words of these righteous men are the words of hate, and slander, and disgust - vile, depraved, and immoral rantings spoken as truth to a congregation of lost souls; to an audience who have long given up thinking for themselves. For surely if they did, they would renounce these men as the pretentious charlatans they are.

With more than a million Jerry Falwell television crusaders in over 168 markets, Trinity Network nearing a million viewers, Adventist Communication Network (ACN), the fastest growing network with eight-million church members, and TBN, CBN -- in contributions alone, The Worldwide Church of God reportedly rakes in $75-million in contributions, Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, $60-million, Pat Robertson's 700 Club on CBN, $58-million, Jerry Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour, $48-million -- and with a 25% modest growth a year, there's no denying there is big money in TV evangelism.

With the numbers of meandering, prayerful worshippers growing by the multitudes, there will always be a provocateur waiting in the wings to lead the flock. And, there are no shortages of son's willing to follow in their father's footsteps. Nepotism is rife in the world of evangelism as exampled by Franklin Graham, Don Swaggart, Jamie Bakker, and Tim Robertson.

Pray tell, is it prophesy, as in portending the future that drives this evangelical mission, or is it profit, as in lining one's pocket? The truth is more beguiling than the biblical defining of prophesy.


Norma Sherry is co-founder of TogetherForeverChanging.org, an organization devoted to educating, stimulating, and igniting personal responsibility particularly with regards to our diminishing civil liberties. She is also an award-winning writer/producer and host of upcoming television program, The Norma Sherry Show on WQXT TV.

Email Norma: norma@togetherforeverchanging.org

© Norma Sherry 2004

Thousands flock to Benny Hinn meetings in Mumbai


By Shiv Kumaar, Mumbai, Feb 14 (IANS) :

Despite the disapproval of the Catholic church, thousands of Christians here are flocking to hear charismatic evangelist Benny Hinn.

The crowds thronging the meeting of the American preacher are expected to peak on Sunday, the last day of the three-day event, say the organisers.

"We have made arrangements for 500,000 people though the numbers could be much higher," says organiser Gul Kripalani. Others say a million people are expected to attend the meet at the Bandra-Kurla complex in suburban Mumbai on Sunday.

Flush with funds, the Indian organisers of Hinn's meeting have chartered more than 200 buses to ferry in people from different parts of this city.

Despite a warning from Mumbai's Archbishop, Cardinal Ivan Dias, busloads of Catholics are rushing to hear Hinn speak.

"I know the bishop has advised us against attending but I will go," says Joe D'Souza, an advocate from north Mumbai. Like all pious Catholics, he also plans to attend mass Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

"I have watched him on Miracle Net and he is a powerful speaker," says D' Souza.

However, parishes in Mumbai distributed a statement from Cardinal Dias saying: "Benny Hinn, despite his popularity on television shows, is not accepted even by many of his own colleagues."

Dias told local priests: "It will be wise to strongly discourage your parishioners from attending his programmes."

In his statement, the cardinal hit out at Hinn for "false prophecies, his alleged vision of angels and contact with the dead, his emphasis on the prosperity of the gospel and exaggerated physical healings".

However, priests at several parishes told newspapers here that they didn't expect the appeal to work.

The charismatic movement and new prayer groups like the Believers, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses have taken away a large number of Catholics from the mainstream faith.

Catholic leaders feel Hinn's World Outreach Centre could play an important role in weaning away members in the aftermath of Hinn's prayer meet in Mumbai.

The meet has been grandiosely called "The Festival of Blessings - Pray for India".

Like other preachers, Hinn will "heal the sick". A special enclosure has been erected for the sick and needy near the stage where Hinn will hold forth.

People suffering from ailments such as arthritis, asthma, back pain and neck pain will be "cured".

Though rationalist groups have questioned the efficacy of such "healers", those with ailments continue to attend such meets in large numbers.

Kripalani said invites had been sent out to Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray though he admits that neither has agreed to attend.

Organisers say 32 giant video screens have been put up at the complex to enable the people to see and hear Hinn. A VIP gallery has come up. Parking for 60,000 cars has been provided.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Is the barcode the Mark of the Beast?


Do barcodes really contain the number 666?

Is the barcode paving the road to 666: the Mark of the Beast?

Before we answer these questions, we need to briefly examine the barcode technology. . .

Despite F.D.A. Ban, Ephedra Won't Go Away

February 17, 2004


By April 12, ephedra will disappear from stores and Web sites that sell dietary supplements, by order of the Food and Drug Administration. But that does not mean the herb will entirely drop out of sight.

The agency's ban on ephedra specifically excludes uses of the herb in traditional Asian medicine. Acupuncturists, herbalists and other practitioners of Oriental medicine routinely dispense teas, pills and powders containing ma huang, the type of ephedra grown in China, to treat colds, asthma, persistent cough, headache, water retention and other maladies.

The ban on dietary supplements containing ephedra, announced in December, was published by the agency on Wednesday and will take effect 60 days later. It targets the ephedra supplements that have been advertised for weight loss, muscle building and athletic performance.

The supplements have been linked to heart attack, stroke and sudden death because of their ability to raise blood pressure, increase heart rate and speed up brain activity.

The F.D.A.'s ban states that herbal medicine preparations "are beyond the scope of this rule because they are not marketed as dietary supplements."

California and New York, which had already banned the sale of ephedra supplements, made similar exceptions for herbal medicine. Illinois, in its ephedra ban, did not.

Herbal medicine practitioners say they are relieved that their profession has not been included in the F.D.A. ban because ma huang is so useful.

"Ephedra is the first herb taught in a Chinese medicine course," said David Molony, an acupuncturist in Catasauqua, Pa., who is a vice president of the American Association of Oriental Medicine. "It's traditionally been used as one of the top herbs for one of the top complaints of humanity: colds."

Yet ma huang is becoming increasingly difficult for herbalists to obtain, because of insurance costs. Ephedra's dangerous side effects have led to lawsuits against supplement makers. And those, in turn, have caused insurers to raise the premiums for companies that deal in ephedra, even for use in herbal medicine.

"This started even before the baseball player died," said Subhuti Dharmananda, an herbal medicine supplier, referring to the death last year of Steve Bechler, a 23-year-old pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, who had been taking ephedra supplements. "If we have one product with ma huang in it, then the insurance company raises our product liability insurance rate for everything by a factor of three," Mr. Dharmananda said.

As a result, his company, the Institute for Traditional Medicine, in Portland, Ore., has not used ma huang in any of his products since 2001. "We have reformulated all the products that had ma huang," Mr. Dharmananda said.

Some other herbal medicine distributors have also discontinued ma huang, but some continue to sell it.

"We decided to pay higher insurance rates to keep those formulas available," said Dr. John Scott, an Oriental medicine practitioner and owner of Golden Flower Chinese Herbs, an herbal medicine distributor in Albuquerque. But Dr. Scott said he was disturbed by the rising insurance rates and by the negative news surrounding ephedra.

The active ingredient in ephedra is ephedrine, a stimulant. Dietary supplements have contained concentrated amounts of ephedra, sometimes combined with caffeine, another stimulant. Herbalists say they are not surprised that some consumers suffered side effects.

"Chinese medicine practitioners have known for years that you could get too much of this," said Dr. Robert Schulman, a physician who practices acupuncture in Manhattan.

They even recommend a specific herbal antidote, known as white tiger decoction, to be given to people who are overstimulated by ma huang, he said.

Dr. Schulman and other practitioners of Oriental medicine say they would not dispense ephedra in concentrations as strong as those found in dietary supplements, they would not dispense it for weight loss or muscle building, and they would not dispense it for more than a week or two.

Because ma huang relaxes the air passages in the lungs, Mr. Molony said, it is used to treat asthma and cough. It also promotes sweating, so it can help a person recover from a minor cold, he said. And it is said to promote urination and thus relieve edema.

But ma huang is never dispensed by itself, practitioners say. It is used in combination with various other herbs. "Part of what makes herbal medicines safer is that they have a complex array of constituents," Dr. Scott said.

Ma huang can be found in dozens of different formulations, but only a few are commonly used. One of these combines ma huang with cinnamon twig, apricot seed and licorice.

These ingredients can be boiled together to create a rather viscous tea. Or they can be boiled and then dried to make powders or tablets.

The cinnamon twig is meant to help promote sweating; the apricot seed, to suppress cough and stop wheezing; and the licorice, to moisten the lungs and "harmonize" the other ingredients, Mr. Molony said.

"I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this formulation for a chronic cough," said Dr. Schulman, "one that just doesn't go away."

Herbal medicine practitioners caution against giving ma huang formulations to people who have high blood pressure or a fever or to women who are pregnant.

Though herbalists universally claim that their use of ma huang is safe, there have been no efforts to monitor harmful effects in patients receiving herbal treatments, the F.D.A. reports.

What if someone asked an herbalist to dispense ephedra for weight loss? The F.D.A.'s new rule does not specifically prohibit that.

Herbalists said in interviews that they and their colleagues would not do that.

"I would tell them there are a lot better ways to lose weight than using stimulants," Mr. Molony said.

Mr. Dharmananda said, "For those of us involved in natural healing, the idea of popping pills for weight loss doesn't work."

Andrew Gaeddert, an herbalist at the Get Well Clinic in Oakland, Calif., said: "I can't think of one herbalist who would use ephedra or ma huang as a weight loss alternative. When people get herbal training, they get the idea drummed into them that this is a strong herb and we use it only for a short time."

Dr. Stephen Bent, a physician at the University of California at San Francisco who has studied the health risks of ephedra, said, "The traditional Chinese medicine loophole is probably not a great danger."

A bigger danger, he said, is that consumers may turn to F.D.A.-approved over-the-counter asthma medications that contain ephedrine. "It seems strange to me that the F.D.A. is banning ephedra because it contains ephedrine but not over-the-counter products containing ephedrine, which obviously could be used for a long period of time," Dr. Bent said. "It raises the question of how often these approvals are reviewed for their appropriateness."

"Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Alien country: Earthlings welcome

By Mike Fink
CNN Headline News
Monday, February 16, 2004 Posted: 6:00 PM EST (2300 GMT)

(CNN) -- When pictures from NASA's Mars rovers were beamed back to Earth, many were disappointed by the absence of images of alien life. For those of us who support the search for E.T., our attention must continue to focus here on our home planet.

Roswell, New Mexico, is considered by many to be the "mothership" of alien adventure; one of the most famous UFO "crashes" occurred here in 1947. Since then a whole culture of alien-awareness has grown. But the city hardly holds a monopoly on extraterrestrial excitement. In fact, there are several alternatives to this mainstream alien hot spot.

One of them is Dreamy Draw, a recreation area near Phoenix, Arizona. As the story goes, a UFO crashed there in 1947, just three months after the Roswell incident. The remains of two 4-1/2-foot passengers were reportedly taken from the crash site and kept in a local's freezer until the military took them away. True believers say that shortly after the crash, the Army Corps of Engineers built a dam at the site to cover up the evidence. According to the city of Phoenix, the dam wasn't built until 1973. Decide for yourself.

If you'd like the opportunity to see a UFO, head out to the "UFO Watchtower" in Hooper, Colorado. Judy Messoline, a former cattle rancher, opened the observatory in 2000. Since then, she has played host to thousands of visitors and claims to have documented numerous sightings.

A cemetery in Aurora, Texas, supposedly features an alien pilot's burial site. A nearby state historical marker tells the legend of a spacecraft that crashed there in 1897. However, the exact location of the pilot's grave is unknown. If you can't make it out to the cemetery, rent "Aurora Encounter," about the alien's visit.

Aliens must like Wisconsin. It's home to three UFO "Capitals of the World." First there's Dundee, where every summer believers and nonbelievers alike gather to celebrate extraterrestrial visitations. They call it UFO Daze. Coincidentally, several UFOs have been reportedly sighted on nearby Highway 67.

Wisconsin's second "UFO Capital of the World" is Elmwood. UFOs allegedly started visiting the area in the mid-70s. Since then, residents claim to have seen anywhere from 30 to 50 strange-looking objects in the sky. Every year the town holds a festival that includes a group "UFO Watch."

And then there's Belleville, which holds its annual UFO celebration the last Saturday in October.

In the movie "Contact," the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico received alien messages. Located near Socorro, 27 radio antennas search the skies for intergalactic data. Each antenna is 2 feet in diameter and weighs 230 tons. Free guided tours are available. Even if the observatory hasn't recently made contact with alien life, there's something eerie about seeing all of those dishes pointed toward the heavens.

NASA's rovers are continuing their exploration of Mars. President Bush has announced plans to launch a manned mission there, but that won't happen until after 2030. So if you can't wait that long for interplanetary interaction, keep searching -- even if it's here on Earth.


Cursed by spirits


BANGKOK: A man from Buri Ram province who went on a three-day drinking binge returned to his job in the capital with a terrible pain in his abdomen – which he apparently tried to cure by operating on himself.

The man, identified as a 32-year-old Sanan Jodrum, having three days vacation, did what most low-paid laborers in Bangkok do: he boarded a bus and went back to his hometown to see family and friends.

After saying a brief hello to his wife, he joined a wong lao (literally, a "whisky circle") with his rural friends, drinking continuously for three days and three nights – without eating.

When he returned to the capital, he suffered from terrible stomach pains. He consulted a doctor who told him it was the result of excessive alcohol intake and lack of food.

The doctor gave him a couple of injections but these did not help. Now that conventional medicine had failed him, K. Sanan became convinced that the cause of his gastrointestinal woes was sorcery.

According to a local superstition, it is possible to curse a person in such a way that an indigestible strip of buffalo hide somehow finds its way into an enemy's stomach, causing great pain followed by agonizing death.

On the morning of January 7, K. Sanan was found dead. Arriving on the scene, investigators found his lifeless body lying face-up in a pool of blood, a single knife wound, apparently self-inflicted, running from the top of his ribcage to just below his navel.

His intestines had burst though the wound. No buffalo hide was recovered.

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