Last week, two Australian twins visiting Denver, went to the local shooting range to commit suicide. Kristin and Candice Hermeler (29) where seen smiling on video footage before shooting themselves in the head with .22 calibre handguns. Candice survived but her sister died at the scene.
The twins were clearly disturbed and had an obsession with the 1999 Columbine Massacre which took place not so far from the shooting range. You can read about the sad case here, but what I find remarkable was the Australian Heralds headline – “Suicide Twins Kristin and Candice Hermeler Had God Delusion in their Luggage.”
Clearly the implication was that the suicide was linked to reading Dawkins’ book. But what the article fails to give due weight to is that they also had a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment ” as well as a bunch of dreadful music CDs. I think, “The Very Best of Christopher Cross” is just as much a suitable candidate.
People commit suicide for all manner of reasons but I would have thought that atheism is far down on the list. In fact, one could argue that religion can be a motive as we know that belief in the afterlife is one of the incentives used to cajole suicide bombers.
Who put that bloody big rip in the sky?
It is a shame that these twins felt that suicide was worthy and worse that they decided to do it in public. The video released does not show the actual moment but there are others gathered around them at the range. I have always thought that this was an immensely selfish thing to do anyway for the traumatic impact that it leaves on others. When I read about the case, I was reminded of Adam Rutherford’s talk at TAM London about the Alpha Course. His opening slide was the image of the climber on the top of the mountain range asking more or less, “Is this all there is?” Adam replied, “Yes, and it’s fucking awesome.”
Somehow I think that people contemplating suicide, when they are perfectly healthy, need to stop looking inwards, but rather look at the fact that they are some of the luckiest people in the world. Of course, this is precisely the problem with suicide, but then, questioning the value of life without God, does not help.
A number of you have sent me the report in Canada’s “The Globe and Mail” last week about Russell Williams, the former Canadian Air Forces Colonel who was arrested earlier this year for the murder and rape of young women. Last month, he was found guilty of multiple murders and assaults. He is currently serving two life sentences and is unlikely to be ever set free.
Prior to his arrest, Williams had led an upstanding military life. He was highly decorated, had flown dignitaries and Royals around, was a keen fisherman and avid golfer along with his wife. But behind this facade lurked a different Russell Williams. Initially, he started off as a fetishist who broke into young women’s homes to steal their underwear. He kept detailed records of police reports of the crimes he committed and took photographs of himself wearing the trophies.
One of the worst set of images I have ever posted
Normally, I find pictures of grown men dressed in female underwear faintly amusing but these images of Williams that were published in the Montreal Gazette are shocking even for me. With two young daughters, it is difficult to remain impartial when considering Williams in a detached manner.
The reason I am telling you about Williams, is that last week the Canadian Forces burned all his military clothing. According to Canadian Forces spokesperson Cmdr. Hubert Genest, the idea to burn the uniforms had emerged “from the bottom up and been endorsed by the chain of command.”
“We did what we felt was necessary,” said Cmdr. Genest. “It feels right.”
Various commentators called the act unprecedented but I would contest that it is simply a manifestation of evil contamination as described in SuperSense. This was more than symbolism – these items were infested with evil essence. What’s more, the authorities would not comment about the black market interest in murderbillia – the perverse collecting of items associated with murderers.
With over 346 comments on the article, you can tell that feelings run high for this case. I find it quite disturbing but we need to be aware that individuals can be made up of multiple selves.
"That'll Do Babe"
Yes, that’s right. It is a real piggy bank made by Colin Hart from Belfast and on sale for $4,000 from TheCheeky.com. Marketed at those with too much money and too much loose change, the piglet bank is a texidermied carcass of a piglet that, according to the webite, was not killed but died of natural causes. Not surprisingly, the piglet bank is causing a bit of a stir. Have we lost our sensibilities again about the reality of human carnivorism? I expect that most people don’t want to be reminded about what the majority of us eat. Also I could not help thinking about the cute piglet Babe.
But maybe this is a trend we could develop. Do you remember the embalmed human corpses that I blogged about some time ago. Why not have our dear relatives turned into household piggy banks? There again, trying to get the coins out with a knife might seem a bit sacrilegious.
Last week, we learned that Prince William had given Kate Middleton her late mother’s engagement ring, a stunning blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds. He told the press ‘As you may have recognised, it’s my mother’s engagement ring, so of course it’s very special to me and Kate’s very special to me now as well…It was my way of making sure my mother didn’t miss out on today, and the excitement and the fact that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together.’
However, some commentators have raised concerns about using this ring which was associated with a bad marriage, divorce and the untimely death. Some think the ring is cursed. Rings of course are full of superstition and ritual. The ring finger was thought to be the direct arterial flow to the heart and hence this is why it is encircled – the eternity of the shape and so on. It’s more than just a symbol. That’s why I often use the wedding ring as an example of a sentimental object that people would not accept an identical duplicate as a replacement.
I have even had first hand experience of this type of thinking as my late mother-in-law had a ruby ring that she too, thought was cursed. So much so, that she did not leave it in the will to any of the children and was buried with it! Personally, I would have been happy to flog it. But then again, I am not that sentimental.
In a legal case that is reminiscent of the Alder Hay scandal where children’s organs were retained by pathologists without the consent of the grieving families, we learn today that body parts were also taken without consent from 64 former employees who worked at the Sellafield nuclear reactor between 1960 and 1991. This was done so as to test for the possible effects of radiation poisoning. A number of organs were removed including all the livers. In addition, some bones including the femur were taken and allegedly replaced by broomstick handles so that relatives would not notice. What were they thinking? Reminds me of when they stole Alistair Cooke’s bones to flog on the black market for bone transplant. Only the Sellafield cases were done for the good of the workforce.
It was clearly shoddy thinking and I expect consent would have been given but you would be surprised how many families refuse to allow organs to be harvested or retained. As I remember hearing, one typical explanation is “They have suffered enough already,” and “They need to rest.” Strange, isn’t it?
The families in the Sellafield case are said to be shocked by the revelations. One relative is quoted as saying “my family and I have been absolutely devastated as a result of what has gone on. I believe that they showed severe disrespect to my father’s body and I find this mutilation very disturbing.” But hold on a minute, the last incident happened 19 years ago… and many as far back as 50 years ago.
I am sure financial compensation will make the distress all the more bearable.
New Scientist has pre-empted the publication of nine precognition studies by the eminent social psychologist Daryl Bem which is due out in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology later this year. The reason that this is drawing such attention is that Bem reports nine replications of precognition where participants’ performance on various cognitive tasks is significantly predicted by events that happen after their responses are made. For example, in one study, Bem reverses the classic priming effect. In priming, participants are presented with a positive word such as “beautiful” or a negative word “ugly” and then they have to make a speeded response to categorize pictures in terms of whether they are beautiful or ugly, say for example a picture of a flower or a picture of a wart. When the prime is congruent (“beautiful”) with the image (flower), participants are faster compared to when the prime is incongruent. Bem reversed the sequence so that participants categorized the picture and were then presented with the prime. He still found a significant but reduced effect for the reverse prime. In other words, participants behaviour at time 1 was associated with events that had not yet happened at time 2.
Does Bem have an explanation? Not really. What is the mechanism? The usual appeal to quantum theory that all bets are off. I know that Richard Wiseman is currently attempting to replicate Bem’s findings and until then I must reserve judgement. It would be unscientific to dismiss a peer-reviewed article without waiting for confirmation. But something tells me that this is not going to hold up as a reliable finding.
UPDATE: Richard Wiseman thinks that experimenter bias may have crept in. According to the methods section, words that were recalled that were close to target words were coded as near misses by student experimenters who were aware of which words were the targets. In other words, not truly blinded.
Me on an off day
The New York Times ran a piece today about the increased demand for exorcism. Despite there being only a handful of priests who are trained to exorcise demons, the American Catholic Church is holding a conference to discuss plans to bring an exorcist to every neighborhood.
According to Bishop Paprocki, signs of demonic possession include speaking in a funny voice, extraordinary strength, an aversion to Holy water or the name of God, severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, biting or scratching the skin. Hmm that all sounds a bit familiar. My accent is considered odd, I am not too keen on Holy water or God worshippers, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months, not much appetite at the moment and my skin has been incredibly itching recently. Only thing missing is the extraordinary strength. Maybe I should check myself in for a spiritual check-up.
A person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness, according to Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, which superseded the previous guidelines, issued in 1614. Much of that was prompted by the killing of a psychiatrically disturbed German girl Annelise Michel during an exorcism in 1976.
Some see this increased interest in exorcism as an attempt to bring the supernatural back to the forefront of the church activities but I wonder if it is a ploy to direct attention away from it’s more recent sordid, sexual activities.
That’s not an instruction to buff up your kitty but rather the latest cat-related interpretation of a cover for my book SuperSense from the publishers in Poland. I believe the last translation of the book will be in Japanese which is due to be published next March.
Will the Netherlands be the only country not to go for the feline theme or will Japan join them? I await in eager anticipation and will post a collage of the different book covers in the spring. Then I promise not to bore you further with my self-indulgent promotion.
Speaking of which, my next book is about the “self” which hopefully I should finish next year.
My new venture?
How about a trip to Shanghai where you can visit the new Super Sense Spa? You can relax while reading my internationally acclaimed book about the scientific basis of supernatural beliefs.
Why not relax in one of our many luxurious treatment rooms while our expert therapists pamper to your every need?
Or perhaps you want to take someone there for some special treatment. Our fully equipped rooms are of the highest comfort.
Of course, there is no link between the fabulous Super Sense Spa in Shanghai and my book, other than the title. …. but if you just happen to be the owner who stumbles on this promotional link, then I would be very willing to travel to your spa to give private readings and lectures!
I just got back from my two week field trip to Kyoto where I set a series of studies with my friend and collaborator, Shoji Itakura. I must say that even though I just flew in yesterday, I seem to have clicked back into a normal cycle of alertness very easily. Maybe that’s because I never actually synchronized while I was in Japan. I hardly seemed to sleep, was awake most of the night watching British TV from illegal proxy sites and spent most of the day in a constant stupor. My body clock was playing havoc with all my systems so thermoregulation, digestion and even my 6 o’clock shadow was failing to adapt to the new time zone.
But then I began to wonder if it was just Westerners who seemed to have trouble keeping awake during the day. Whenever I used buses or trains, I noticed that commuters seemed to fall asleep at a moments notice.
There are many examples on You Tube and I am reliably told that this behaviour is fairly common. Japan has double the population of the UK and the islands are roughly twice the land mass but because most of the terrain is mountainous, the whole nation is squeezed into some of the most populated regions of space on the planet. The Japanese may rise very early, spend their days working hard before a long commute home, but I reckon there is simply not enough oxygen in the cities to keep everyone awake. No wonder oxygen bars known as ‘air stations’ flourished there first. Maybe that’s why it is called the “Land of the Rising Sun” – people are in a constant state of half wakefulness!