Apr 28, 2018


Yoga's Culture of Sexual Abuse: Nine Women Tell Their Stories

Modern yoga has been fraught with stories of charismatic male yoga teachers who promoted their teachings as spiritually pure and later abused, or otherwise took advantage of, students who believed their mentors were gurus or saints. In 1910, an eccentric American yogi named Pierre Bernard (a.k.a. “The Omnipotent Oom”) was tried for having “inveigled and enticed” one woman into sexual relations—the charges were later dropped, and the incident ultimately brought him infamy. Decades later, in 1983, Swami Muktananda was the subject of an article that chronicled sexual activities he was alleged to have had with young female students; a New Yorker story later reported that at least 100 people believed the allegations to be true but were afraid of being ostracized by the community. That same decade, Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO Foundation, commonly called the “Happy, Healthy, and Holy Organization,” settled several assault lawsuits against its leader, including one case of rape and confinement brought by a woman who entered his circle at age eleven.

In 1991, Swami Satchidananda, who opened Woodstock by leading the crowd in a chant of “Hari Om,” was the focus of protest after allegations of sexual misconduct against female students surfaced; he was never charged and died a decade after the allegations were brought forward. In 1994, “Meditation in Motion” innovator Amrit Desai was removed as spiritual director of the Kripalu Center in western Massachusetts over allegations of abuse of authority and sexual misconduct. That same year, a student sued another prominent yoga guru, Swami Rama, for sexual misconduct; after his death, a jury awarded her almost $2 million, in 1997.

It goes on. In 2012, John Friend, who is a student of both Swami Muktananda and [Krishna Pattabhi] Jois’s main rival, B. K. S. Iyengar, stepped down from his All-American Anusara Yoga brand after allegations surfaced that he had been sleeping with his female students—renewing a conversation within the yoga community about power dynamics and ethical guidelines. In 2016, “hot yoga” pioneer Bikram Choudhury abandoned a fleet of luxury cars and fled his home in California, facing $6.5 million in damages owed in a sexual-harassment lawsuit; a judge later issued a warrant. Separately, Choudhury is facing six lawsuits alleging sexual assault and sexual harassment. (His current whereabouts are unknown, and there is still a warrant out for his arrest.)

Influential Guru Asaram Bapu Given Life Sentence For Raping Teenage Girl

An Indian court has found Asaram Bapu, a spiritual leader who has founded hundreds of ashrams in India, guilty of raping a teenage girl and sentenced him to life in prison. The much-watched case has prompted worries about possible reprisals from the guru's followers.

Asaram has denied the charges and he plans to appeal, according to a special notice on his organization's website.

The guru is in his late 70s. The case against him stems from 2013, when he was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting the girl, who was then 16. He has been jailed since then, with courts refusing multiple attempts at bail.

The teen's parents had been followers of the guru; they brought her to one of his ashrams to receive spiritual instruction — but instead, he forced her into sex acts, a court in Jodhpur, in the western state of Rajasthan, said on Wednesday. After the girl told her parents what had happened, they contacted authorities.

Forget the Double Helix—Scientists Discovered a New DNA Structure Inside Human Cells

Guided by the work of Rosalind Franklin, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the the twisted-ladder structure of DNA in 1953, a finding that gave rise to the modern field of molecular biology. It was by understanding DNA’s double-helix form that science was able to begin unravelling the many mysteries of genetic code.

The double helix, though, is not the only form in which DNA exists. For the first time ever, scientists have identified the existence of a new DNA structure that looks more like a twisted, four-stranded knot than the double helix we all know from high school biology.

The newly identified structure, detailed Monday in the journal Nature Chemistry, could play a crucial role in how DNA is expressed.

Some research had previously suggested the existence of DNA in this tangled form, dubbed an i-motif, but it had never before been detected in living cells outside of the test tube. Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, though, found that not only does the structure exist in living human cells, but it is even quite common.

Since 2016, Half of All Coral in the Great Barrier Reef Has Died

Once upon a time, there was a city so dazzling and kaleidoscopic, so braided and water-rimmed, that it was often compared to a single living body. It clustered around a glimmering emerald spine, which astronauts could glimpse from orbit. It hid warm nooks and crannies, each a nursery for new life. It opened into radiant, iris-colored avenues, which tourists crossed oceans to see. The city was, the experts declared, the planet’s largest living structure.

Then, all at once, a kind of invisible wildfire overran the city. It consumed its avenues and neighborhoods, swallowed its canyons and branches. It expelled an uncountable number of dwellers from their homes. It was merciless: Even those who escaped the initial ravishment perished in the famine that followed.

Many people had loved the city, but none of them could protect it. No firefighters, no chemicals, no intervention of any kind could stop the destruction. As the heat plundered the city of its wealth, the experts could only respond with careful, mournful observation.

All of this recently happened, more or less, off the east coast of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef—which, at 1,400 miles long, is the longest and largest coral reef in the world—was blanketed by dangerously hot water in the summer of 2016. This heat strangled and starved the corals, causing what has been called “an unprecedented bleaching event.”

How Bad Is The Government’s Science?

Half the results published in peer-reviewed scientific journals are probably wrong. John Ioannidis, now a professor of medicine at Stanford, made headlines with that claim in 2005.

Since then, researchers have confirmed his skepticism by trying—and often failing—to reproduce many influential journal articles. Slowly, scientists are internalizing the lessons of this irreproducibility crisis. But what about government, which has been making policy for generations without confirming that the science behind it is valid?

The biggest newsmakers in the crisis have involved psychology. Consider three findings: Striking a “power pose” can improve a person’s hormone balance and increase tolerance for risk. Invoking a negative stereotype, such as by telling black test-takers that an exam measures intelligence, can measurably degrade performance. Playing a sorting game that involves quickly pairing faces (black or white) with bad and good words (“happy” or “death”) can reveal “implicit bias” and predict discrimination.

All three of these results received massive media attention, but independent researchers haven’t been able to reproduce any of them properly. It seems as if there’s no end of “scientific truths” that just aren’t so. For a 2015 article in Science, independent researchers tried to replicate 100 prominent psychology studies and succeeded with only 39% of them.

Wormholes Could Cast Weird Shadows That Could Be Seen by Telescopes

Wormholes, or hypothetical tunnels through space-time that allow faster-than-light travel, could potentially leave dark, telltale imprints in the sky that might be seen with telescopes, a new study suggests.

These slightly bent, oblong wormhole "shadows" could be distinguished from the more circular patches left by black holes and, if detected, could show that the cosmic shortcuts first proposed by Albert Einstein more than a century ago are, in fact, real, one researcher says.

. . .

Such a shadow would be similar to those cast by black holes — including the supermassive one at the center of the Milky Way galaxy — which astronomers are now trying to observe directly. Its shadow would appear tiny, so astronomers are linking radio dishes across the globe to form an Earth-sized telescope, called the Event Horizon Telescope. They're now analyzing the first batch of data, which they collected last year.

In the new analysis, published in the preprint journal arXiv on March 30, Rajibul Shaikh, a physicist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, found that a certain type of rotating wormhole would cast a larger and more distorted shadow than the one cast by a black hole. As a wormhole spun faster, its shadow would appear a little smooshed, while a black hole's shadow would remain more disk-like.

A Huge New Study Just Showed Alcohol Is Worse for You Than You Thought

Ever since 1991, when Morley Safer raised a glass of red wine and told millions of 60 Minutes viewers that it might be a health elixir, Americans have taken it on faith that a nightly tipple is good for the ticker. The alcohol industry has helped perpetuate the notion, funding and promoting further studies claiming a host of other health benefits from moderate alcohol consumption—everything from lower rates of deafness to a prevention for dementia. But more recently, scientists have taken aim at a lot of those studies, finding their methodology deeply flawed and casting serious doubt as to whether alcohol really is some kind of miracle drug.

Now comes a huge study spearheaded by the UK’s University of Cambridge published in The Lancet this week. The study included dozens of researchers from around the world and nearly 600,000 drinkers in 19 countries. It finds that the people who consume more than one drink a day face greater risks of dying from any cause than those who drink less. The findings have implications for government health recommendations, which in many countries set limits that are much higher than the low-risk threshold found in The Lancet study.

. . .

The differences at low levels of drinking were negligible, with only months of additional life expectancy at the bottom of the curve for a 40-year-old man or woman. But the study found a striking linear relationship between alcohol intake and dying from any cause. The researchers estimated that reducing long-term drinking from the two-drink a day limit suggested by the US government, to less than one a day, was associated with a one- to two-year boost in life expectancy in men.

Very light drinking seemed to have a small protective effect against non-fatal heart attacks. But drinking above 100 grams a week also kicked off much higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal aortic aneurysm, and disease from high blood pressure that could cancel out the benefits from lower heart attack risks. One reason, researchers speculated, is that drinking causes high blood pressure, a key risk factor for strokes. Duke University’s Dr. Dan Blazer, one of the study’s co-authors, said, “This study has shown that drinking alcohol at levels which were believed to be safe is actually linked with lower life expectancy and several adverse health outcomes.”

Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?

I quickly discovered that way back in 1988, the World Health Organization declared alcohol a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it’s been proved to cause cancer. There is no known safe dosage in humans, according to the WHO. Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, but it kills more women from breast cancer than from any other. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that for every drink consumed daily, the risk of breast cancer goes up 7 percent.

The research linking alcohol to breast cancer is deadly solid. There’s no controversy here. Alcohol, regardless of whether it’s in Everclear or a vintage Bordeaux, is carcinogenic. More than 100 studies over several decades have reaffirmed the link with consistent results. The National Cancer Institute says alcohol raises breast cancer risk even at low levels.

I’m a pretty voracious reader of health news, and all of this came as a shock. I’d been told red wine was supposed to defend against heart disease, not give you cancer. And working at Mother Jones, I thought I’d written or read articles on everything that could maybe possibly cause cancer: sugar, plastic, milk, pesticides, shampoo, the wrong sunscreen, tap water…You name it, we’ve reported on the odds that it might give you cancer. As I schlepped back and forth to the hospital for surgery and radiation treatments, I started to wonder how I could know about the risk associated with all these other things but not alcohol. It turns out there was a good reason for my ignorance.

My Niece Believed She Was Abused By A Satanic Cult. The Truth Is Even Scarier.

I spent much of the last decade trying to comprehend the disquieting social panic over child sex abuse that roiled communities around the country in the 1980s and into the 1990s because I have a very personal connection to those events. During that era, truth became the victim of paranoia, political ego, over-zealous child advocates and outright fiction. Dozens of innocent day care workers were charged, and many convicted, of sadistic sexual abuse of children, despite no physical evidence ever surfacing to corroborate the supposed victims’ testimonies.

The children were victims, but not of abuse. They were subjected to relentless questioning, coercive and bullying interviews, until they broke down and agreed to abandon their truth (i.e. that no abuse had occurred) for the fiction that social workers, law enforcement and assorted authority figures wanted them to believe: They were raped with butcher knives, participated in orgies and sex games, dismembered dead animals. Their reward for caving in to these lies? The badgering stopped. Their parents loved them again.

The panic also fueled a widespread belief that thousands of children were being kidnapped and tortured by members of underground satanic cults. That is how I was drawn into the panic. In 1989, my emotionally fragile niece, then 21, told her parents, two siblings and me that she had been abused by members of a satanic cult throughout her childhood.

Escape the echo chamber

Something has gone wrong with the flow of information. It’s not just that different people are drawing subtly different conclusions from the same evidence. It seems like different intellectual communities no longer share basic foundational beliefs. Maybe nobody cares about the truth anymore, as some have started to worry. Maybe political allegiance has replaced basic reasoning skills. Maybe we’ve all become trapped in echo chambers of our own making – wrapping ourselves in an intellectually impenetrable layer of likeminded friends and web pages and social media feeds.

. . .

An ‘echo chamber’ is a social structure from which other relevant voices have been actively discredited. Where an epistemic bubble merely omits contrary views, an echo chamber brings its members to actively distrust outsiders. In their book Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (2010), Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Frank Cappella offer a groundbreaking analysis of the phenomenon. For them, an echo chamber is something like a cult. A cult isolates its members by actively alienating them from any outside sources. Those outside are actively labelled as malignant and untrustworthy. A cult member’s trust is narrowed, aimed with laser-like focus on certain insider voices.

In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined. The way to break an echo chamber is not to wave “the facts” in the faces of its members. It is to attack the echo chamber at its root and repair that broken trust. 

Racists Are Threatening to Take Over Paganism

There’s a war going on in the American Pagan community. On one side are racists who see gods like Odin and Thor as an embodiment of the supremacy whites have over the rest of the planet. On the other are the practitioners who believe these gods transcend racial lines and belong to everyone. Recently, the contention between these two groups has reached a tipping point as anti-racist Pagans try to claim the narrative around their faith before it is overtaken by alt-right racists.

Although the leaders of Nazi Germany were obsessed with Paganism and the occult, it has largely been associated with multiculturalism here in the United States. But with the recent rise of right-wing extremism in America, we've seen a co-mingling of racism and Paganism that has alarmed experts, activists, and Pagans themselves. For racists, the faith and its offshoots serve as both a cover and a recruiting tool. Today, one of the largest white nationalist organizations in the US, the National Socialist Movement, has traded in their Swastikas and Totenkopfs for Pagan symbols like the Othala rune. Similar groups have adopted Odinist phrases like "Faith, Family, and Folk." And while the Third Reich did embrace the Othala rune in their time, the symbol is far less inflammatory or recognizable than the Swastika in the United States, enabling these groups to fly under the radar.

White power's embrace of Paganism was on full display at the tragic Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. One notorious Pagan present was Stephen McNallen, the founder of the Asatru Folk Assembly, a far-right group fixated on "the survival and welfare of the Ethnic European Folk as a cultural and biological group." The rally also featured aspiring Pagan politician Augustus Sol Invictus, a an alt-right leader Richard Spencer credited with writing the first draft of the "Charlottesville Statement." Among other repugnant things, that infamous screed framed the refugee crisis as a religious war and promoted the concept of a white ethnostate.

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