February 2012

Maoshan Taoists

China's Hoodoo Doctors

There are numerous different sects of Taoism, including the Celestial Masters sect with its Taoist Pope and its network of temples, the Dragon Gate sect with its emphasis on alchemy and immortality, and the Complete Reality sect which combines Taoism with Confucianism and Buddhism. And then there's the much-feared sect of the Maoshan Taoists, sorcerers who can control the spirit world using special yellow talismans.

The Unique Science Of A Competitive Eater's Stomachs

New research shows the unique biology inside a competitive eater, and why they're so good at what they do.

People are different. No one can deny that, but sometimes our differences give us an unfair advantage within a certain kind of activity. For instance, Michael Phelps was born with an incredibly long torso and arms and short, powerful legs: the ideal speedboat-human. The same can be said of the stomachs of competitive eaters that, as Marc Levine of the University of Pennsylvania told Popular Science, function, “more like an expanding balloon than a squeezing sac.”

Levine, the chief director of gastrointestinal radiology at UP Hospital, studied competitive eaters’ stomachs using fluoroscopy, a real-time x-ray technology, that allowed him to watch their gut as they ate. For the study, Levine recruited a hotdog eating champion (ranked in the top 10 at the time) against a man that was substantially bigger, about 4 inches taller and 45 lbs heavier. Challenging the two to a hotdog eating contest, Levine then watched their stomachs as they ate. What he noticed was a difference in the natural way that our stomachs and digestive systems’ musculature move food through from esophagus to anus.

Jerusalem Syndrome: (Self-)Selection Bias

This psychiatric syndrome is specific to tourists in Jerusalem
This month's issue of Wired magazine has an interesting look at Jerusalem Syndrome, which is one of those fascinating, location-specific psychiatric conditions. In Jerusalem Syndrome, a tourist who visits Jerusalem is overcome by religious fervor. In advanced cases, the sufferer may actually believe themselves to be the Messiah.
Frequently, an in-patient stay at a psychiatric facility is able to repair this specific sort of psychotic break. But the most effective treatment is to send the patient back to their home country, to their everyday,  familiar and neutral turf. Needless to say, psychiatrists and therapists in Jerusalem are all highly trained and experienced in spotting and treating cases of Jerusalem Syndrome.

The Golden Dawn

Occult Secret Society

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a secret society, attracting many of the most prominent artists and intellectuals of Britain and Ireland, for the purpose of studying and practicing ceremonial magic. The emphasis here is on “ceremonial”- based on the surviving rituals of the Golden Dawn, the members were at least as interested in performing elaborately choreographed rituals as they were in pursuing the spiritual/mystical work of the order.

Government-Mandated RFID Tags For Every Citizen?

Will President Obama's stormtroopers pound on your door in the middle of the night and insist that you have an RFID chip implanted in your hand under penalty of death? Some people would have you believe so. This has been a persistent rumor for hundreds of years, thanks to some particularly lurid and bizarre bits in the Book of Revelation. 
Most recently, a government bill titled HR3200 has been the focus of the intersecting sets of paranoid conspiracy theorists, Biblical literalists, and ultra-Libertarian survivalist fanatics. However, there are two things that these groups overlook, in their overheated panic at the thought of having a government mandated hand chip linked to their bank accounts.
The first thing is, THIS BILL IS OBSOLETE. 

Germany's "Cancer Village"

Residents of this small town are demanding answers
The otherwise peaceful German village of Wewelsfleth, with a population of 1,500, has recorded a whopping 142 cases of cancer in a ten year span - a rate that is twice as high as that of the general population. Worse yet, the cancers are seemingly unrelated, even though it certainly qualifies as an epidemic.
Onlookers note that Wewelsfleth is only a few miles from three nuclear power stations, that it is situated near an industrial shipyard "where vessels were once sprayed with highly toxic paint," and that many residents' garages are roofed with asbestos. And in the words of The Sun, England's finest tabloid news source, the town also suffers from "electro-smog from power lines."

Nigerians Outraged By "Sheep/Human Hybrid"

Deformed lambs are sometimes born with human-like faces
A truly horrifying lamb was born to a sheep in Nigeria recently, and it has locals in an uproar. The lamb was delivered at a veterinary clinic in Sokoto, a city in northeast Nigera with a population of about 47,000, on January 22nd. The lamb's unusual appearance has led many spectators and religious leaders to believe it is a sheep/human hybrid. So many people thronged to the veterinary clinic to see the "monster" that the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) had to be deployed to manage and disperse the crowds.
Belief in witchcraft is alive and well in Nigeria, and many Nigerians have made the seemingly logical conclusion that this deformed lamb is the result of the sheep's owner having had sexual relations with his sheep. Religious leaders have called for the man to be put on trial, and some are even calling for his execution. I guess you don't want your sheep to give birth to a lamb with birth defects in Nigeria.


Different From Voodoo

What's the difference between hoodoo and voodoo? Quite a lot, actually. “Hoodoo,” also known as “conjure” or “root work,” is a unique American tradition of folk magic based on a mixture of African practices with Protestant beliefs and European sorcery. Hoodoo is an intensely eclectic tradition, but it is mostly African-American. It is a system of magic, not a religion, although there are elements of African religious ideas in the hoodoo system. For instance, the West African crossroads god was supposed to be able to grant skill at any craft or trade. This combined with European legends of “meeting the Devil at the crossroads” to become a belief that you could meet the Devil at the crossroads to gain special skills of various kinds- such as the ability to be a great musician.

"Sky Hum" Speculation Just Won't Die

Sky Hum 3: The Hummining
As I predicted earlier, "sky hums" are well on their way to becoming this decade's crop circles or chemtrails: thoroughly debunked, believed by almost no one, and yet there is always someone around to passionately argue in their defense.
In the case of sky hums - those seemingly mysterious electronic groaning sounds which have been faked on many Youtube videos, and which sound a great deal like a known musical instrument called a waterphone - now a "respected geophysicist" is stepping forth to promote two of the main theories. 
(Do note: this respected geophysicist is a professor at a university in… Azerbaijan.)

Does Bob Ross Make Your Scalp Tingle?

The internet calls this strange phenomena “ASMR”
I recently learned about an odd phenomena that I had experienced before, but never really noticed. It has been described as "a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs." Common triggers include people whispering, light scratchy noises, clicking, watching other people perform simple tasks with their hands, and close personal attention as from an eye exam, hair cut, make-over, etc. 
In fact, the most common trigger people cite for ASMR is the videos of famed NPR instructional painter Bob Ross.

Leap Castle

Most Haunted House On Earth?

Leap Castle in Ireland is one of the world's most infamous haunted houses. This place has been home to so many horrors, it would be difficult to even know where it all started. There's the chapel, where one brother murdered another right over the altar. There's the oubliette- a kind of a dungeon, but with no door in or out, just a hole you dropped the victim into so you could forget about him. Lucky victims would land on the spike at the bottom of the pit and die relatively quickly. Unlucky victims would miss the spike and then slowly starve to death. When they started renovating the castle, it took three carts to haul away all the bones they found in the oubliette, along with one pocket watch from the 1840s- long, long after anyone should have been throwing anyone into an oubliette in Ireland.

The Mashco-Piro: One Of The World's "Uncontacted" Tribes

But for how much longer?
An amazing set of photographs was released earlier this week, some of the clearest pictures ever taken of the Mashco-Piro, which is one of the most isolated tribes of people in the world. The Mashco-Piro live in the Amazon, in the rainforest east of the Andes in Peru. And they have never been contacted by outsiders.
There are about 15 such "uncontacted" tribes tucked away in the Amazon. Estimates are that between 12,000 and 15,000 uncontacted tribespeople are living in the Amazon. You would be tempted to call it an "unspoiled life," but the entire reason we have these great pictures of the Mashco-Piro is that rampant logging in the Amazon has driven them out of their home territories, all the way to the river banks.