April 1991 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Inform
April 1991 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 10, No. 4
Editor: Yves Barbero
PREGNANCY: FACTS AND MYTHCONCEPTIONS
by Molleen Matsumura
Many years ago, I took a course in the Indonesian language.
Inevitably, the instructor tossed in various cultural highlights.
One day, Ms. Nur Wattimena mentioned that, where she came from, a
couple expecting a child are also expected to avoid certain foods.
As she listed bananas, cucumbers, and other long, narrow,
cylindrical foods, we all burst into laughter at the obvious
Every important aspect of life, in every culture, is the focus of
a huge store of myth, lore -- and even, sometimes, empirical
knowledge. Not surprisingly, this is doubly true about pregnancy
and childbirth, since no culture could continue without these
activities. Our culture is no exception, of course. If you or
anyone you know even CONSIDER having children, you can expect to be
bombarded with an incredible mixture of information,
misinformation, out-dated information, and out-and-out myths. I'll
try to untangle a bit of the confusion, here.
BEGINNING A PREGNANCY
MYTH: Every couple that has ever had trouble conceiving has heard
some variation of the following: "Joe and Mary tried ten years and
nothing happened. Then, finally, they gave up and relaxed. Next
thing you know, Mary is expecting twins."
This story is a variation on the "me decade" credo that if an
airplane crash-lands in your living room, you must have WANTED it
to happen. Attitude does not affect fertility; it's just that
nobody is going to tell a hopeful couple stories about people who
gave up, relaxed, and remodeled their kitchen with the money that
would have remodeled the obstetrician's kitchen.
FACT: There are a few simple ways a couple can improve their
chances. The man who LITERALLY not figuratively) keeps cool will
have a higher sperm count. That means trading jockeys for boxers,
and avoiding hot tubs, saunas, and steam baths. Timing is
important. Planned Parenthood gives free classes that teach women
how to tell when they are fertile -- equally applicable to
conception or contraception.
Not cheap, but far more accurate, are the ovulation-detection kits
at your local pharmacy. When "the time is right", conception should
be attempted on alternative days, not daily: This way, there is
time for the mature sperm count to be replenished. (Some couples
who conceive after giving up may be benefitting from an increased
amount of mature sperm, due to less- frequent intercourse.)
If conception doesn't occur after a year of trying, see a fertility
MYTH: A woman who sees a fertility specialist will be treated like
a guinea pig, and forced to undergo a lot of expensive, painful,
FACT: Many people who foster the above myth have axes to grind. At
one end of the spectrum are people who simply build exaggerations
of the undeniable reality that some researchers are more interested
in the research than the research subject, and some physicians
aren't very good at giving clear explanations. At the extreme are
people who REALLY DO believe that the medical profession is some
sort of male conspiracy against women, and/or that science is some
sort of male aberration that no feminist should have truck with.
Deciding to get fertility counselling can be difficult. However,
the initial steps in fertility counselling involve simple,
painless, and relatively inexpensive tests such as blood tests. At
any point, questions can be asked. How much will this cost? How
likely is it to work: How many people have tried this procedure?
There is always the option of stopping to think!
MYTH: You can choose the sex of your child.
FACT: The methods suggested for affecting the sex of the child
alter the odds slightly, and that's all. The technique involves a
combination of methods, including timing the conception at a
particular point in the woman's ovulatory cycle (not easy!), and
altering the vaginal pH. Be forewarned that making the vagina less
acid increases the risk of minor but annoying local infection,
which in itself interferes with fertility. (If you try this method,
and infection occurs, don't listen to what people tell you about
allergies and "yeast diets" -- more myths! Just have your doctor
prescribe local medication -- it works in one to three days).
Researchers are trying to find improved methods for selecting a
child's sex -- and ethicists and demographers, among others, are
worrying about the possible social consequences. A gynecologist can
give you an update (and you can expect any REALLY effective
technique to make the front page of your newspaper).
Some of these myths will sound painfully familiar to the seasoned
skeptic. Well, what did you expect?
MYTH: You can use a pendulum suspended over the mother's abdomen to
predict the sex of the baby. Right! Probably it's a CRYSTAL
PENDULUM! I really can't remember whether clockwise movement means
a girl or a boy, but the really important question is whether you
have a compelling reason to be polite to the pendulum wielder, or
have been waiting for an excuse to kick this person out of your
life. You should try pointing out that, starting around the fifth
month, a mother-to-be shouldn't spend much time lying on her back.
(That's a fact -- the uterus presses on major vessels and impairs
its own blood supply).
Sometimes people come up with other myths, for example, "An active
fetus is a boy, a quiet fetus is a girl." (No comment needed for
FACT: There is no way to predict fetal sex except by genetic
testing -- amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. These
procedures shouldn't be, and aren't, done unless there is good
reason to be looking for genetic problems, or, in the case of
amniocentesis, to diagnose fetal illness. If and when they ARE
done, the parents can decide whether they want to know the fetus's
sex as well.
MYTH: If a little bit of vitamin supplementation is good, huge
amounts of vitamins have got to be better. (I told you some of this
would sound familiar!)
FACT: Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fresh produce really
will provide the necessary vitamins. All a pregnant woman needs to
do is eat the way she knows she ought to, adding a few hundred
extra calories, and skipping junk food. A prescription, prenatal
vitamin can help, won't hurt, and will not be excessive. Prenatal
blood tests can diagnose anemia, and then iron tablets may be
Taking huge amounts of some vitamins and minerals can be very
dangerous. Two examples: When a woman takes very large amounts of
Vitamin C prenatally, the newborn can develop "rebound" scurvy. A
heavy excess of Vitamin D is just as likely to cause bone deformity
MYTH: Unlike "synthetic" medications, herbs and herbal extracts are
"natural", safe, and wonderful.
FACT: Ho-hum. And which herbal extracts are we talking about?
Cocaine? Heroin? Strychnine?
There are three herbs in particular that a pregnant woman might
hear about. Raspberry leaf tea is supposed to "tone the uterus". I
have never figured out what that means. But I do know that no
controlled trials have been done, and that raspberry leaf tea
Valerian is supposed to help with insomnia. The people who laid
that one on a good friend of mine speculated that it was a "natural
version" of Valium. Maybe because they sound alike? Why would
anyone pregnant take any version of Valium, anyway? I was concerned
enough to track down a book by a practitioner of herbal medicine
who claimed that valerian will help with insomnia -- but, this
writer added, after a couple of weeks, the valerian itself will
cause insomnia. That was enough to convince my friend not to
Possibly the most dangerous is blue cohosh tea, which is supposed
to stimulate labor contractions, and might be recommended to women
close to their due date who are tired of waiting for labor to begin
spontaneously. I have not investigated whether this tea performs as
billed. If it can, that's scary: The concentration and dosage
cannot be controlled, and overly strong uterine contractions can be
very painful. At worst, if extremely strong contractions were
stimulated, the tea would be outright dangerous to both mother and
AFTER THE BIRTH
MYTH: If the parents are prevented from immediately holding and
"bonding" with their baby, their long-term relationship will be
FACT: The researchers who originally stressed the importance of
early bonding later modified their position. They did not retract
their original finding that, during the first few weeks after
birth, parents who had done early bonding seemed to grow attached
more easily. But they noted that, by the time infants are several
months old, the degree of patient-infant closeness is the same in
both early bonding groups and control groups.
Undeniably, a mother is very upset when she cannot be close to her
baby right after the birth (for example, because she had surgery or
the baby had respiratory distress). But the same women who, years
after giving birth, still remember how sad they felt about such
separations, do not express any feeling that their relationships
MYTH: Breast-feeding is always difficult. It is always easy. It is
absolutely vital to the baby's health. It isn't that important.
Formulas are just fine, and more convenient.
FACT: Breast-feeding IS beneficial to the health of mother and
infant. Women who breast-feed reduce their risks of developing
breast cancer -- according to recent research announced by the
National Academy of Science -- of developing osteoporosis. The
newborn's immune system is not fully developed, and, in the first
few days of life, it is protected against some infections by
antibodies in the mother's colostrum (pre-milk secretion). Nothing
is as easily digested by the newborn infant as breast milk, and
nothing is less likely to cause allergies (infants less than one
year old are more susceptible to food allergies).
The professional association of pediatricians recommend breast-
feeding during the first year, and they're right. But it isn't the
end of the world if you don't. Most of today's 20-to-45-year-old
Americans were formula fed, and they're no more or less healthy or
intelligent than our parents were (well, maybe a little more!)
THE BIGGEST MYTH OF ALL
There is one right way to bring up a child. Your in-laws/parents/
neighbors/boss-and-boss's-spouse know this one right way, but you
are hopelessly inadequate. But that's another story.
[Molleen Matsumura is an editorial associate of "Free Inquiry", co-
author of "Mother to Be: A Guide for Pregnancy and Physical
Disability", soon to be published by Demos Publications. She
collaborated on "Sex in China" (forthcoming, Plenum), and edited
"Japan's Economy in World Perspective" (Alin Fdn. Press).]
Letters to the Editor
by Carl Alexander
I was delighted to read in December "BASIS" two articles dealing
with medical issues, the fluoride controversy and wild claims for
yoga. As a recovered cancer patient, I have heard it all. Yoga,
mental imagery, macrobiotic diet, etc., all with little or nothing
to back up the claims to good health or to cure illness. On the
other hand, what is really the cause of illness, and what are safe
levels of chemicals such as fluoride?
I am delighted that "BASIS" is dealing with all kinds of medical
issues and quackery. As Mark Hodes stated in the same issue, "upon
entering scientific literature, it becomes fair game for critical
evaluation". I hope "BASIS" will follow the issue of fluoride which
MAY be a case of scientific quackery. The worst kind is that that
is knowingly accepted.
As a cancer patient, I became aware of accepted medical quackery,
such as giving chemotherapy to people with lung or rectal cancer,
of which there is little or no medical evidence it will help in
these areas. I am not talking about experimental treatments, but
rather treatments in common use. If I pushed a rice diet on
someone, claiming it will cure cancer, without proof, I would spend
a long time behind bars, but it would seem public health officials
are immune from the rigors of scientific evaluation when dealing
with fluoride. In both cases, the criticism may be proven false,
but this can never happen without skepticism. Please keep up the
[Perhaps one of our physician-readers would like to reply. -- Ed.]
by Robert Clear and Barbara Judd
Fred Convers' analysis of Robert Steiner's statistics puzzle is
persuasive, but wrong. Steiner's challenge was to figure out the
probability that two children are girls if we know that at least
one child is a girl. Convers would have us analyze this problem by
assuming that we can split the problem in two cases: 1) The known
child is the first child, and 2) the known child is the second
child. We can illustrate this by _italicizing_ the outcomes where
the first child is known, and BOLDING the outcomes where the second
child is known. The outcomes are as follows: _gb_, GG, and BG,
where g = girl, and b = boy.
Since the cases overlap (gg is present in both cases), simply
adding double-counts the probability for gg. The problem is that
Convers' procedure assumes more knowledge than is given in the
problem. If you only know that there are two children, then the
probability of gg is 1/4. If you know that at least one of the pair
is a girl, then the probability goes to 1/3. Knowing whether it is
the first, or second child that is known, increases the probability
The distinctions are probably most easily seen via a numerical
example. Assume that we have 40 pairs, so that there are ten pairs
each of gb, gg, bg, and bb. The probability that any arbitrary
chosen pair from this population contains gg is 10/40, or 1/4. Now
assume that we are only interested in those pairs that have at
least one girl. This eliminates the ten cases of bb, so that the
resulting probability is 10/30, or 1/3.
Assume that the known child was the first child. There are ten
pairs of gb, so all of these pairs must be included, since there is
only one girl in the pair. If, as Convers asserts, the probability
that second child is also a girl is 1/2, we have to include all ten
pairs of gg. However, by the same argument, we also have to include
all ten cases of gg when it is the second child that is known,
which means we have to double-count them! If we include 1/2, or
five pairs each, of gg with each known child, then the probability
of gg with each choice is 5/15, or 1/3. These probabilities sum
GOODE NIGHT AGAINE, LITTLE PUZZLE
by Bob Steiner
A man has two children. The chance is one in four that they are
Start with the four chances in Case 1. Then eliminate the chance
that has no girls (i.e., both boys). That leaves us with three
chances, each of which has at least one girl. There is a one in
three chance that both are girls.
Thank you, Mr. Convers, for your interest in this puzzle. Alas,
your little table has a logical flaw. It purports to demonstrate
that it is twice as likely that a person will have a girl as child
one and a girl as child two as it is that he will have a girl as
child one and a boy as child two.
An there are no further objections, maihap 'tis time to saie: Goode
night againe, little puzzle.
If one child born to a couple is a girl (or a boy), the chances of
the second child being of one or the other sex is still fifty
percent. Past performance has nothing to do with future potential.
It is merely a way to form the ruler to measure the probability of
that potential and not the cause of it. -- Y.B.]
by Tom Woosnam
Did you realize that the fillings in your teeth could result in
arthritis, colitis, kidney damage, birth defects and multiple
sclerosis? That at least was the suggestion made by Morley Safer in
a "60 Minutes" segment aired on December 16, 1990, a suggestion
that is not borne out by scientific evidence as reported by
Accuracy in Media, Inc. (AIM), in its January 1991 newsletter.
The basis for the CBS claim is the fact that amalgam fillings,
which have been in use for more than a century, are 50 percent
mercury (they also contain silver, copper or tin), and mercury is
known to be more poisonous than lead or arsenic. Although Safer
admitted that "no specific disease has yet been directly linked to
mercury from fillings" the parallels drawn between diseases and the
use of amalgam as reported by "60 Minutes" left little doubt as to
the conclusion that CBS wished to draw.
As an example of the kind of frantic recovery sufferers can expect
to experience, Safer interviewed Nancy Yost of San Jose,
California. Yost, a victim of MS, had her five amalgam fillings
taken out because she'd worked in the dental industry, and had
heard reports that some patients had shown improvements after their
amalgam fillings had been removed. The morning after the removal of
her fillings, she threw away the cane she had been relying on to
walk, and subsequently her voice and ability to dance were restored
-- small wonder then that after the program was aired dentists
around the country were flooded with calls from patients willing to
pay $200 to $2,000 to have their fillings replaced.
One naturally wonders at this point what an expert on MS might say,
and indeed "60 Minutes" did contact the National Multiple Sclerosis
Society and was offered an interview with Dr. Stephen Reingold,
vice president for research and medical programs. Because the
camera crew never showed up, however, the viewing public was unable
to hear what Dr. Reingold would have said, as he made clear in a
protest made to "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt: "The
reality is that there has never been a direct association made
between amalgam and MS. Reports of remissions resulting from
amalgam removal appear to be anecdotal, and cannot be separated
from placebo effects or spontaneous changes in disease."
One would have hoped that in the interest of balanced reporting
Safer would at least have interviewed patients who showed no
improvement in their health after having had their fillings
removed, but such hopes were not realized in this program. One
might have hoped also that he would mention that health
professionals who deal with amalgams every day show no higher MS
incidence than the rest of the population, but, alas, this evidence
is not forthcoming.
"60 Minutes" did not entirely ignore the defenders of amalgam
fillings, however. They showed an interview with Dr. R. Heber
Simmons, Jr., spokesman for the American Dental Association, but
much of his time (76 lines vs. 156 lines for the "anti-amalgam"
dentists) was spent defending the ADA policy of declaring it
unethical for dentists to recommend the replacement of amalgam
fillings except for cosmetic reasons."60 Minutes" turned this into
evidence of an infringement of the rights of dentists who want to
help patients avoid mercury poisoning.
So, what are the facts as they are known but not reported on the
CBS Sunday night show? According to Dr. Simmons, studies show that
the daily release of mercury from amalgams is about one percent of
what a worker would receive when exposed to mercury in an
environment complying with OSHA standards. Dr. J. Rodway Mackert,
professor of dental materials at the School of Dentistry of the
Medical College of Georgia, writes in an article scheduled for
publication in the "ADA Journal" that the average patient's
fillings may give off 1 to 2 micrograms of mercury per day. In
contrast, the mercury intake from one meal of seafood in one week
would be seven times the amount given off by one's amalgam fillings
Even "Consumer Reports", which took the scare-mongers' side during
the Alar scandal, has noted "... dentists who purport to treat
health problems by ripping out fillings are putting their own
economic interests ahead of their patients' welfare. Amalgams have
been used for more than 150 years. Except for a few people with a
genuine allergy to mercury, [Consumer Union] knows of no one who's
been harmed by them." The "San Francisco Examiner" quoted one
anti-amalgam dentist as saying he had "at least 30 new patients
awaiting appointments" following the "60 Minutes" piece. "The
television show was wonderful." he said, "I was thrilled."
He may have been thrilled, but what of the MS sufferers whose hopes
were cruelly raised, then dashed when they were told the facts? As
AIM states perhaps they were "... lucky compared to those who
contacted not their doctors, but dentists willing to replace their
fillings. They will be not only sadder but poorer ... they should
send the bill to CBS."
[Tom Woosnam holds the Science Department Chair at the Crystal
Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough.]
THE EDITOR ADDS ...
I contacted Wallace I. Sampson, M.D., one of the founders of Bay
Area Skeptics and currently an advisor, after that particular show,
and asked him if I should run right over to my dentist and have my
fillings replaced. He said, "No!" No scientific findings would
suggest that there is any merit to the claims of that show. I know
Dr. Sampson well, and respect his scientific opinions, so I saved
myself a pile of dough.
Nevertheless, the show was remarkable for some of the questions it
raised. Obviously, you can't make a public health policy out of
anecdotal events such as the remarkable recovery (if it happened)
of Nancy Yost. Still, anecdotal claims (especially if there are a
number of them) should be considered for serious investigation. No
one seems to have suggested that Yost's recovery might be
investigated. I can't help wondering why.
That something has been in use for 150 years does not mean it's
safe nor does it mean it should be immune from investigation. It
does mean, however, that there is considerable vested interest in
There are clear economic interests at stake here. The ADA, like
many of its sister professional organizations, does three basic
=> It looks out for the economic interests of its members.
=> It issues (and enforces) ethical guidelines.
=> It keeps its members scientific, by enforcing academic training
standards and making sure its members use only accepted procedures.
There's little question that these functions occasionally become
blurred and don't always serve the public interest. In the name of
science, ethical guidelines might be enforced to serve economic
interests. If amalgam were proved dangerous, many dentists would
have to put up a lot of time and money for retraining and
retooling. Many of ADA's voting members would be out of business.
In addition, I've always been suspicious about the ADA since it
endorses commercial products (but that's an aside).
"60 Minutes" is generally an excellent show, but it does
occasionally demonstrate bias. It's difficult to pick it out if
you're not familiar with the subject matter (as I am not on most
medical matters). I have seen it in areas where I have some
background (labor, for instance). Still, I think that bias,
conscious or unconscious, is more closely related to sensationalism
than actual malice. What a shocker it is to discover that a
professional organization has thrown one of its members out of work
because he gave honest advice to a patient. But suppose it was a
sincere physician treating a patient with peach pits for cancer --
which of us wouldn't want him defrocked!
As skeptics, we should naturally be suspicious when conclusions are
made about a complex medical issue on a fifteen-minute news
segment, however reputable the news organization is. But we should
also be suspicious of spokesmen from professional organizations
(with mixed motives) who make pronouncements from on high. -- Y.B.
VOLUNTEERS FOR 1991 CSICOP CONFERENCE IN BERKELEY
The following have kindly volunteered their services to help make
the conference a success. In alphabetical order, they are ...
=> Yves Barbero
=> Lucinda Ben-David
=> Ralph Carmichael
=> Judy Daar
=> Keith Dabney
=> Don Henvick
=> Dan Dugan - Sound and Audio
=> Rick Moen - Chair, Conference Steering Committee and
=> Kathy Pinna - Usher Supervisor
=> Francis Rigney
=> Wilma Russell
=> Jerry Schwartz
=> Gil Shapiro - Vice-Chair, Steering Committee
=> Terry Simmon
=> Kate Talbot
=> Laurel Tuck
=> Quentin Tuck
=> Ray Westergard - VIP Limousine Services
=> Tom Woosnam
There's still time to volunteer. The hours are flexible, the wages
nonexistent, but the company is great. Call Kathy Pinna at 843-
SPIN DOCTORS AND DERVISHES
by Yves Barbero
It was a British general who pointed out, just before the ground
war got under way, that Saddam Hussein was willing to use "the
currency of human life" to advance his policies and therefore
"there would be a ground war".
The statement was remarkable for its candor. Finally, a military
officer told the absolute truth. Washington, however, wasn't sure
how the American people would take the news, and, for a couple of
days, its public relations troops (spin doctors) were explaining
that a ground war was not necessarily in the works (a lie). Events
proved the might of modern war technology, and the forces of
righteousness took almost no casualties, while the Iraqi forces
(with a less-advanced technology) may have suffered, according to
one estimate, as many as 150,000 killed.
Under the guise of protecting troops, the press was stage-managed.
Even the establishment press complained loudly and publicly. One
commentator couldn't help wondering what possible security purpose
was served by not allowing the photographing of bodies being
brought home. I can answer that question. The administration wasn't
sure the ground war wouldn't be bloody and was afraid that the
sight of so many coffins would make it suffer at the polls.
Censorship, in this country, has been more often used to manage
public opinion than to protect state secrets. I doubt seriously
that journalists would object to not publishing shipping schedules
in time of war. The administration was nervous for public relation
Whatever side one takes on the issue of the Gulf War, there was
plenty to be nervous about. The resurgence of jingoistic patriotism
is certainly one issue. Led by President George Bush, we have now
overcome the "Vietnam Syndrome". If that means we've lost the
reluctance to enter into armed conflict, it is a sad loss. The Gulf
War may have been justified (and I personally believe it was,
although I think the timing had more to do with the American
electoral schedule than any other reason), but I'd prefer it if our
leaders spent more time examining issues than possible public
reaction. Would Bush have NOT started the war if he thought it
would be unpopular? Could, for instance, have sanctions worked if
given more time?
Why do we think that an almost flawless technical execution of the
war is synonymous with virtue? We won because we had better
technology, more money, great generalship, better diplomatic
skills, and numbers. In addition, Iraq could not re-supply or build
its own weapons, and had almost no internal self-sufficiency. Oil
needs to be exported, and that was cut off. A one-resource economy
is doomed to eventual extinction. "Goodness had nothing to do with
it!", as May West might have pointed out.
Our greatest ally was Saddam Hussein, himself. He showed great
ineptness in his public-relations campaign. Even the most twisted
intellectual apologist in the Western World would have difficulty
justifying the policies of a man who gassed thousands of his own
people. However diplomatically skilled nations in that part of the
world are reputed to be, nothing can make up for the public-
relations stupidity of the Scuds and the terrorizing of the Kuwaiti
population. And, most important, HE ACTUALLY INVADED KUWAIT. That
made all the rulers in the area extremely nervous and malleable to
Just as we infer virtue from technical skill, we seem to assume a
hundred-percent moral certitude when the balance sheet is barely in
the black for us. It IS a fact that Kuwait stole oil from Iraq. As
are most of our Arab allies, Kuwait is a reactionary dictatorship.
They all exploit their people. In the case of Kuwait, only a
privileged few citizens do well. Imported workers, who make up the
majority of the population, have absolutely no rights. The
prospect, in the region, of democracy sprouting roots is almost
It's also a fact that the U.S. sees an opportunity to re-establish
itself as a world power, with all its attendant commercial
advantages, and was looking for an opportunity to show its prowess.
Philip Agee, the former CIA agent (barred from re-entering this
country), thinks the war was engineered by the Bush Administration
just for that purpose. It was not diplomatic stupidity on our part,
he claims, but cynical design when a State Department official told
the Iraqis we had no interest in protecting Kuwait. (1) I'm not
sure I'd go that far, but Grenada and Panama were too local and too
small to send out the proper message. The Iraq War is just the
right size and, to boot, in the right location.
There may be justifiable wars, and I suspect, reluctantly, that
this was one. But war should be a last resort and not the first.
The "Vietnam Syndrome" served us well and I hope it isn't dead.
Patriotism is fine and dandy as long as it implies good feelings
for the land and its people, and not an lockstep following of any
administration's line. Flags should identify public buildings and
ships at sea, and not be the subject of idolatry.
My greatest fear is that we'll start selling our military forces to
the highest bidder, and our young people's lives will become our
chief export. The best way to avoid war is to promote popular
government. Economic ideologies, totalitarian states, and religious
fervor have been responsible for all this century's wars, but I
can't think of a single instance when one democracy has declared
war on another. Ever! Not any time in history!
As to the "New World Order," I'm not ready, just yet, to put on an
(1) Agee, Philip -- "Producing the Proper Crisis," "Z Magazine",
Oct '90. (An electronic form of this article may be downloaded from
the Skeptic's BBS as "GULF-WAR" -- 415-648-8944.)
WMMR, THE ENFORCER OF AUTHORITY
by Brian Siano
Secretary/Editor, Delaware Valley Skeptics
[Censorship is a continuing problem, used most often to enforce a
political agenda under the guise of protecting public morality.
Increasingly, as Brian Siano observes, it is used to cynically
promote commercial interests without regard to common decency or
respect for individual political views. ...And this happened in the
cradle of democracy, Philadelphia. -- Yves Barbero]
Singer Sinead O'Connor has a policy of not allowing any national
anthems to be played before her shows. Since, nine times out of
ten, rock concerts aren't preceded by the "Star Spangled Banner,"
nobody really took much notice of this, and no feathers were
However, when Ms. O'Connor threatened to refuse to perform at a
recent concert in New Jersey, radio stations in the area found a
dandy way to boost sagging ratings: organize Anti-Sinead activities
fit for the whole family. WMMR's John DiBella, once the highest
rated DJ in the Philadelphia area, decided that it'd be healthy and
humane to hand out American flags at Ms. O'Connor's show at the
Mann Music Center, and let the crowd give her what-for.
If the people at WMMR have ever actually paid attention to what
happens at a rock concert, the results were predictable: A good
chunk of the audience waved their souvenir flags and chanted what
they thought was the National Anthem during O'Connor's show. Quite
a few of those flags wound up being thrown at the stage. The
audience who went to hear O'Connor sing was cheated, in having to
put up with this.
Let's put things in perspective, so we can understand what WMMR has
become. In 1966, John Lennon, in an offhand comment about the
Beatles' popularity, remarked that they were bigger than Jesus.
True or not, this sparked a massive wave of record-burnings and
public protests. Lennon was forced to apologize, saying that he
didn't have anything against Jesus, but that a lot of His followers
were "a bit thick. They're the ones who ruin it for me." True
If we were to ask the people at WMMR "If you were running a radio
station then, would you have organized some protest over John
Lennon?" Sure they'd say "No," but it's easy for them to say that;
the Lennon flap happened twenty years ago, and Lennon is something
of a secular saint. This week, when Sinead O'Connor ticked a few
"patriots" off, WMMR was staunchly on the side of the thimblebrains
who burn records. I wonder how they would've dealt with the Lennon
of 1973 who was far more critical of the U.S. than Sinead O'Connor
What else can we expect? WMMR is in the business of selling things
to specific market segments, and what matters to WMMR are such
products as Coors Beer, Miller Beer, Molson Beer, Budweiser, the
Army, and such open-minded spokesmen as Guns `n' Roses. WMMR has a
vested interest in encouraging mindless stupidity and unquestioning
patriotism. And, so far, its concern with community issues has been
limited to dopey platitudes about "Saving the Planet." Oh, there
was John DiBella's opposition to record-labelling; but it's not as
if WMMR hadn't kept quiet on the matter for years, before
organizing something right after rival Howard Stern passed him in
the ratings. (Coors Beer is both a sponsor on WMMR and a supporter
of the pro-censorship Parents' Music Resource Center. Some
But the Sinead O'Connor incident wasn't just pandering to
knuckleheads to regain lost Arbitron ratings. It was an ugly
exercise in demagoguery. I'd expect that sort of thing from Howard
Stern, maybe, or Jerry Falwell, but DiBella should know better. He
could have used his position and his air time to educate his
audience, and become an active voice in the community. Instead, he
and WMMR organized a mob of flag-waving morons to harass and
intimidate Sinead O'Connor, and ruin her concert. Too bad Sinead's
fans are a bit wiser and more open-minded; I wouldn't mind seeing
an WMMR-sponsored concert event disrupted in a similar fashion.
By the way, has anyone noticed that the people raising the biggest
noise about flag-burning or the National Anthem kept their mouths
shut when Oliver North and Ronald Reagan were gutting the
Constitution? Maybe I'm being to harsh on DiBella, an entertainer
who just picked an opportune time to take a safe political stand;
maybe he was just angry that she has more hair than he does.
| PSYCHIC ADVISOR, continued |
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Does anyone have a working laser printer he'd like to donate to
We've always been fortunate in having first-rate computing
equipment available to us for final drafts from our dedicated
subscribers, but it'd be really nice to have even a basic machine
available at the editor's office to view working drafts without
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Contact Yves Barbero at 415-285-4358.
THE SKEPTIC'S ELECTRONIC BULLETIN BOARD
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Make plans now to join us at the
1991 CSICOP CONFERENCE
Hosted by the Bay Area Skeptics, and co-sponsored by CSICOP
and the University of California at Berkeley Physics Department
CLAREMONT RESORT HOTEL
Berkeley/Oakland Hills, California
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, May 3-5, 1991
Keynote Address: "In Search of Our Origins", by Donald C.
Johanson, President, Institute of Human Origins, Berkeley
(See this issue's insert or the Winter 1991 issue of the "Skeptical
Inquirer" for details and registration information. Write, care of
this publication, or call Yves Barbero at 415-285-4358.)
BAS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chair: Larry Loebig
Vice Chair: Yves Barbero
Secretary: Rick Moen
Treasurer: Kent Harker
Yves Barbero, editor; Sharon Crawford, assoc. editor;
Wilma Russell, distribution; Rick Moen, circulation
William J. Bennetta, Scientific Consultant
Dean Edell, M.D., ABC Medical Reporter
Donald Goldsmith, Ph.D., Astronomer and Attorney
Earl Hautala, Research Chemist
Alexander Jason, Investigative Consultant
Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
John E. McCosker, Ph.D., Director, Steinhart Aquarium
Diane Moser, Science writer
Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D.,U. C. Berkeley
Bernard Oliver, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center
Kevin Padian, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
James Randi, Magician, Author, Lecturer
Francis Rigney, M.D., Pacific Presbyterian Med. Center
Wallace I. Sampson, M.D., Stanford University
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., Anthropologist
Robert Sheaffer, Technical Writer, UFO expert
Robert A. Steiner, CPA, Magician, Lecturer, Writer
Ray Spangenburg, Science writer
Jill C. Tarter, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
NATURE OF EVIL -- CULT VICIOUSNESS
by John Hubner
Tuesday, April 16, 1991, 7:30pm, Gallery Theatre, Skyline College,
3300 College Drive, San Bruno.
Watch for coming events in the BAS Calendar, or call 415-LA-TRUTH
for up-to-the-minute details on events. If you have ideas about
topics or speakers, leave a message on the hotline.
WARNING: We STRONGLY URGE that you call the hotline shortly before
attending any Calendar activity, to see if there have been any
Opinions expressed in "BASIS" are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect those of BAS, its board, or its advisors.
The above are selected articles from the April, 1991 issue of
"BASIS", the monthly publication of Bay Area Skeptics. You can
obtain a free sample copy by sending your name and address to BAY
AREA SKEPTICS, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco, CA 94122-3928, or by
leaving a message on "The Skeptic's Board" BBS (415-648-8944) or
on the 415-LA-TRUTH (voice) hotline.
Copyright (C) 1991 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit "BASIS,
newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco,
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank