Monthly Archives: September 2011

Magpies – Truly a Devil Bird

One of the most common and yet peculiar superstitions in the UK is to salute a single magpie (Pica pica) to avoid bad luck. This is often accompanied by some form of salutation such as “Good Morning, Mr Magpie, where is your wife?” Magpies are monogamous and mate for life so a solitary bird has been considered a bad omen. The custom has also been traced to the myth that the bird was the only species not present at the crucifixion, lending to the belief that it is a cursed bird that brings bad luck.

Don't Look Back - Just Ride!

Certainly that seems to true if you happen to be riding a bike during the spring in Australia, where the local variety is noted for territorial aggression. Last Sunday, four-year-old Seth McInnes, out riding his bike in a Toowoomba park near Brisbane, Australia, was attacked by a magpie that pecked out his left eye leaving him blind in that eye and in excruciating pain. When I read this story, I was reminded of the shock scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” where the birds peck out the eyes of various victims. Such swoopng attacks are not uncommon during the August/September mating season for the male Australian magpie which is a much bigger version of its European cousin. The article even has advice about how to avoid attacks and injury such as wearing broad brimmed hats and dark glasses. Apparently, magpies will not attack if you look at them directly and if you walk through a danger zone, draw eyes on the back of a hat or wear your sunglasses on the back of your head. I don’t think I would risk staring down a swooping aggressive magpie and prefer the shotgun tactic.

BTW, the Latin word for magpie, “pica” is also the term for the weird psychological disorder, where sufferers eat non-nutritive substances such as nails, glass, buttons, dirt etc. The origin for the word comes from the belief that magpies eat and collect almost anything and especially have an eye for shiny things.


Filed under In the News, Weird Story of the Week

Killer Phone Numbers

This is where you'll end up if you return a call in Nigeria

I had a meeting this week with several colleagues to discuss a bid to one of the research councils who are interested in funding research into conspiracy. So my mind is focused on this aspect of human reasoning where individuals believe that there are nefarious parties at work subverting society.

I just saw this piece on the BBC News website about a Nigerian urban myth that if you respond to a text message with an ID number of 09141, you die. A bit like watching that spooky video in “The Ring.” According to the brief report, up to 10 people are believed to have died returning this call. Now I have good grounds to ignore all those Nigerian emails from women whose husbands have died but left millions of dollars in bank accounts that they are happy to share with me if only I give them my bank details.

BTW I remembered I had this image of an African coffin shaped like a mobile phone on an earlier blog that dated back to 2009. I cannot believe I remarked about the exponential rise in FaceBook users at 175 million users. The current figure is around 750 millions users. Now that’s a conspiracy!


Filed under In the News, supernatural

I Hear The Light… But Feel S.A.D.

Pseudoscience that makes me SAD

There is something very uplighting about sunshine for anyone who has ever lived in Scotland or most of Northern Europe for that matter. On the flipside, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a depressive mood that is linked to the winter months when the days shorten. Apparently, one way to treat SAD is to use phototherapy by sitting in front of a light box for a couple of hours, thereby mimicking the longer days of summer. I am not sure if it works over and beyond a placebo and I am at a loss to know how one could produce a control for light, but hell, if it works, it works. However, one recent development of phototherapy is really pushing the boundaries of credibility.

According to the website, the Valkee “substitutes the mood-elevating effects of the sun, by channeling safe bright light directly to photosensitive regions of the brain through the ear canal.” Now if I was naive, I might think, “Well I feel more miserable during the winter and phototherapy is supposed to work but I can’t sit in front of a box for two hours. I know I’ll plug it straight into my brain through my ears.”

The last time I looked, receptors sensitive to photons were in the retina. You could rip of the back of someone’s skull and shove the brightest beam into their visual cortex and they would still see absolutely nothing. And the visual cortex is nowhere near the ears. I know, lets shout at the auditory cortex to find out if we can hear better.

Oh I give up sometimes. I am not even going to bother reviewing the ‘scientific evidence’ for this one.


Filed under In the News

Extreme Body Modification

"Would You?"

You have already probably seen this unbelievable image of Maria Hose Cristerna, a mum of four from Mexico, who has transformed her body to become her vision of a vampire. She is almost totally covered in tattoos and has titanium horn implants. Maria explains that she decided to do this to her body in response to a childhood of abuse. She told a UK tabloid, ‘Tattoos were a form of liberation for me – my way of being immortal – and the horns I have are a symbol of strength and were implanted without anaesthetic.”

According to the 2006 statistics from US Food and Drug Administration, 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo and the Pew Research Center estimated that 36% of 18-25 year-olds have at least one tattoo. I am sure there are many reasons people modify their bodies but the common explanation is that it is a form of self-expression – an act that differentiates oneself from the crowd. Many have secret tattoos and piercings – a bit like the hidden or real self that is kept separate from public scrutiny. But for those who like to display their tattoos, there appears to be something addictive about them as I know very few people who just have the one. What may start out as a single example of self-expression eventually becomes familiar and loses its impact factor. Soon, there is a perceived need to do something new.

Not everyone who was abused gets tattooed and not everyone who is tattooed was abused. For Maria, this is her explanation for her extreme body modification and I doubt many would go as far. But it is clearly a fashion on the increase (as documented by the popularity of TV shows about tattoo studios) which is ironic if tattooing is really is a measure of non-conformity.

Are you tattooed? What was the evolution of your body modification?


Filed under Weird Story of the Week