Jim Downey's picture

"But that’s not real witchcraft."

Welcome to the effects of magical thinking:

Discrimination against albinos is a serious problem throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but recently in Tanzania it has taken a wicked twist: at least 19 albinos, including children, have been killed and mutilated in the past year, victims of what Tanzanian officials say is a growing criminal trade in albino body parts.

Many people in Tanzania — and across Africa, for that matter — believe albinos have magical powers. They stand out, often the lone white face in a black crowd, a result of a genetic condition that impairs normal skin pigmentation and strikes about 1 in 3,000 people here. Tanzanian officials say witch doctors are now marketing albino skin, bones and hair as ingredients in potions that are promised to make people rich.

Yes, you read that correctly: albinos are being hunted down, killed, and then their body parts used in potions sold to people to 'make them rich'.

How can this happen? Well, the quote I used in the title comes from this statement, which just might offer a clue:

Jim Downey's picture

She's just a good Christian woman.

Why do people even say things like this?

Naked mom argues with son, accidentally shoots finger

A 73-year-old Fort Worth woman shot her finger after arguing with her son because she had been walking around the house naked, police said.

Fort Worth police were called to a house in the 5600 block of De Cory Road around 1:30 a.m. Friday when they found Bertha McElroy with a bullet wound in her left index finger, according to a police report.


Tina Robinson, Ms. McElroy's daughter, said the shooting was an accident and that her mother was not nude. "There was no argument at all," she said.

Ms. Robinson said her mother often kept a gun at her bedside and was reaching for it when the accident occurred.

"My mom is a good Christian woman, an upstanding citizen and church member for many, many years," Ms. Robinson said.

Well, as the song goes... "Here's to you, Ms. Robinson..."

Jim Downey's picture

I admit it. I'm an addict.

Hello, my name is Jim. I've got a writing problem.

Via PZ and Evolutionblog, news that blogging (and writing in general) is actually a therapeutic form of self-medication:

Blogging--It's Good for You

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Alien Nation

Our old friend Lane Palmer gets it wrong. Again.

[Lane Palmer] So do you believe in aliens? Are there really races of creatures cruising around the friendly skies kidnapping cattle for “farm” aceutical purposes? ?

Well, I’m not sure - and frankly, I’m not sure I care either. But do you know who does care to know? The answer to this might surprise you - but in my experience, the group of folks who need aliens in their worldview are atheists.

More below the fold...

Jim Downey's picture

Swirling . . . swirling . . . down the drain.

OK, I've been tagged by Hank Fox:

That pest Hank Fox (of has tagged you with another idiot blog meme:

Tell the story of a (non-surgical) scar you have somewhere on your body. Answer and tag three other bloggers.

I tagged: PZ Myers of Pharyngula and Brent Rasmussen and Jim Downey of Unscrewing the Inscrutable.

(Hope you don't mind.)


This is a story many of my friends know, and it's bloody-well about time that I wrote it up.

Jim Downey's picture

R.A.H. would smile.

Yeah, ol' Robert would get a chuckle out of this news item:

Robotic suit could usher in super soldier era

Rex Jameson bikes and swims regularly, and plays tennis and skis when time allows. But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound software engineer is lucky if he presses 200 pounds — that is, until he steps into an "exoskeleton" of aluminum and electronics that multiplies his strength and endurance as many as 20 times.

* * *

Jameson — who works for robotics firm Sarcos Inc. in Salt Lake City, which is under contract with the U.S. Army — is helping assess the 150-pound suit's viability for the soldiers of tomorrow. The suit works by sensing every movement the wearer makes and almost instantly amplifying it.

The Army believes soldiers may someday wear the suits in combat, but it's focusing for now on applications such as loading cargo or repairing heavy equipment. Sarcos is developing the technology under a two-year contract worth up to $10 million, and the Army plans initial field tests next year.

Jim Downey's picture

Wait - I thought drugs were bad?

Isn't the whole premise of the War on Some Drugs that you should only use drugs for a medical condition, not just for fun or convenience? Well, then, how about this?

The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged.

* * *

Such episodes are among more than 250 cases The Washington Post has identified in which the government has, without medical reason, given drugs meant to treat serious psychiatric disorders to people it has shipped out of the United States since 2003 -- the year the Bush administration handed the job of deportation to the Department of Homeland Security's new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.

Jim Downey's picture

In other corpse-related news . . .

OK, the story of the three teenagers using a skull as a bong wasn't *exactly* the usual fare for UTI. In an effort to make up for that, I bring you this news item:

Kids, mom lived with 90-year-old's corpse for weeks in Wis.

MADISON, Wis. - Two children and their mother lived for about two months with the decaying body of a 90-year-old woman on the toilet of their home's only bathroom, on the advice of a religious "superior" who claimed the corpse would come back to life, authorities said Friday.

he children — a 15-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy — cried hysterically Wednesday after a deputy who came to their Necedah home looking for Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth ordered them out because of the stench from her body.

The children were in foster care Friday. Their mother, Tammy Lewis, and self-described "bishop" Alan Bushey remained in custody on felony counts of being a party to causing mental harm to a child.

Mental harm? That would be the religious indoctrination, right? You know, this part:

iheartmitochondria's picture

The Pig's Role in Regenerative Medicine

A scientist at the University of Pittsburgh has found a way to regrow human fingers with the help of pig bladder. Apparently, the brother of one of the scientists working in the field of regenerative medicine chopped his finger off, and then received a gift of some magic powder he calls "pixie dust." He sprinkled it on his stump, and within days his finger grew back.

The "pixie dust" is really extracellular matrix, that is the dried out lining of the pig bladder. Apparently this ECM gives the human cells a scaffold to build onto to allow the body to regenerate.

Here's the link:

There's a video of the guy with the stump for a finger (WARNING: Its a bit gruesome.) and there's another video of the scientist explaining where the pixie dust comes from.

Jim Downey's picture

Take me out to the ball game . . .

Via BoingBoing, news of just how vigilant they are in Detroit to make sure you read the label of any beverage you are served:

Boy, 7, taken from family after drink mixup at Tigers game

The sign above the Comerica Park concession stand said: "Mike's Lemonade 7.00.''

So when Christopher Ratte of Ann Arbor ordered one for his 7-year-old son at the April 5 Detroit Tigers game, he had no idea he was purchasing an alcoholic beverage.

Or that his son would end up spending three days and two nights in the custody of Children's Protective Services.

A park security guard spotted 7-year-old Leo Ratte drinking the Mike's Hard Lemonade, confiscated the bottle and took the family in for questioning.

Jim Downey's picture

Penis theft panic hits city.

Offered without further comment . . .

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.

Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where belief in traditional religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or body parts still occur.

Rumors of penis theft began circulating last week in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo's sprawling capital of some 8 million inhabitants. They quickly dominated radio call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings.

. . . because none seems necessary.

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

What could possibly go wrong?

We humans have a long and twisted history of doing bizarre things to ourselves in the quest for increased attractiveness. Tapeworms were popular in the 19th century to help people lose weight. Arsenic was taken to "improve complexion". And about 20 years ago people decided to start injecting neurotoxins into their skin to remove wrinkles.

Yeah, I'm talking about Botox. And gee, guess what? Turns out this was not really a good idea:

Jim Downey's picture

Home of the Brave?

If you know me at all, from personal experience or just from my writings, you might be a bit surprised to know that when I was a kid I was considered bookish, uninterested in athletics, a bit nerdy. I distinctly remember being pushed to close whatever book I was quietly reading, and to go outside and play 'like a real boy'.

Jim Downey's picture

Just how long . . .

Ah, great - the military has a new techno gizmo to use in the Global War on Terror: a hand-held lie detector! From the article:

FORT JACKSON, S.C. - The Pentagon will issue hand-held lie detectors this month to U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan, pushing to the battlefront a century-old debate over the accuracy of the polygraph.

The Defense Department says the portable device isn't perfect, but is accurate enough to save American lives by screening local police officers, interpreters and allied forces for access to U.S. military bases, and by helping narrow the list of suspects after a roadside bombing. The device has already been tried in Iraq and is expected to be deployed there as well. “We're not promising perfection — we've been very careful in that,” said Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, the midwife for the new device. “What we are promising is that, if it's properly used, it will improve over what they are currently doing.”

Jim Downey's picture

Just in case . . .

OK, just in case you haven't seen this over at PZ's or elsewhere, here's a hilarious and brilliantly done satire:

It takes some deconstructing, but the consensus is that it is indeed pro-science/skepticism.

UPDATE: Here are the lyrics, and here is a brief bit on the 'cast' - kudos to both authors!

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

Sex! Sex! Sex!

(This post is part of the Blog Against Theocracy Blogswarm.)

OK, now that I have your attention . . .

. . . let's talk about sex. Or, more accurately, how religious nuts want to control your sex life, your access to information about sex, and your sexual health - all through the government.

Theocracy, anyone?

Specifically, I want to talk about how some in the health-related professions think that they should have the "right" to deny you services or information if something about your sex life disagrees with their religious beliefs.

First off, here's a nice bit from Illinois:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A group of pharmacists asked the Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday to throw out a rule that forces them to dispense emergency contraception despite moral objections, claiming it amounts to illegal coercion.

Jim Downey's picture

The one thing you know.

(I wasn't planning on cross-posting this from my blog, but it took a rather philosophical turn, and upon reflection what I have to say has a lot to do with why I am an atheist. So, I thought I'd share. -Jim )

There is one thing, absolutely, that you know - but most people don't really believe it. That you are alive, and that you are going to die.

"Wait!" you say, "That's two things!"

No, it's not. Life and death are two aspects of the same thing. It is the fundamental duality of our nature. Now, the first part of that equation is generally accepted, but the second part is widely denied - hence the desire to split it into two separate items.

But it hasn't always been like this. Most of human history, people have understood the connection - they were familiar and comfortable with death (even if it wasn't to be desired). I'd even go so far as to say that much of the world today is still this way. It is really only in the last couple-three generations that those in the richer countries have lost a day-to-day connection with death.

Jim Downey's picture

Confession Time - Chicken Guts Edition

OK, in our previous edition of Confession Time, I kicked off the series with a basic explanation of the rules:

Each "Confession Time" will be devoted to one topic, and the rules are simple: confess to a guilty pleasure you have within that topic, and explain why it makes you feel guilty.

Today's topic: food.

My good lady wife tolerates a lot from me. But there is one thing she will not abide: my fondness for chicken gizzards. So, when the craving gets too bad, I just pick some up for lunch when she's not home. Like now. From here. Bring 'em home, hit 'em with some ground-up dried habanero, and snarf.

Generally, I try to be fairly reasonable about what I eat, and I tend to avoid fast food (easier to do since I work at home). I know that battered and fried (probably in some hideous trans-fat) chicken guts are likely not the best in the way of health food, but there you have it - my guilty pleasure.

So, what's yours?

Jim Downey

Jim Downey's picture

What's next? TSA-approved colostomy bags?

Teen Says TSA Screener Opened Sterile Equipment, Put Life In Danger

James Hoyne, 14, has a feeding tube in his stomach and carries a back-up in a sealed clear plastic bag. Hoyne said two weeks ago a TSA officer insisted on opening the sterile equipment, contaminating his back-up feeding up tube which he later needed.

"I said 'Please don't open it' and she said 'I have to open it whether you like it or not. If I can't open it, I can't let you on the plane,'" Hoyne said of his conversation with the TSA screener.

TSA officials apologized to James and said they're looking into the incident to see what corrective steps need to be taken.

Jim Downey's picture

There's a sucker . . .

. . . or at least a desperate sick-person, born every minute. That's the basic premise of most cold medicines, and it was certainly the case with the much-hyped "Airborne", as seen in this news item:

Makers of Airborne Settle False-Ad Suit With Refunds

The following news may not astonish many of you, but feel free to quietly claim your cut: The makers of Airborne, a line of popular herbal supplements that was marketed as a “miracle cold buster,” have decided to settle the false-advertising complaints in a class-action lawsuit for $23.3 million, according to one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

* * *

Syndicate content