Tag: X-Ray

Day 996: The Greatest Prank In The History Of History


“That putz, Bolton. This will totally blow his mind.”

The above may have been uttered between the cool gusts of sharp giggles at a gathering of the Berkeley chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an organization designated either as a “historical drinking society” or a “drinking historical society”, depending on whom you ask. These are folks who are dedicated to the noble history of the American West, though they prefer to cozy up to their history with a frothy glass of smirk. Call them deviant scholars, outlaw students of the distant past and the eternal spirit of yeeha. Practical academics and impractical jokers.

The brass plate left by Sir Francis Drake near the bubbly Pacific coast is little more than a whopping banana peel, left on the ground to trip up one unfortunate mark but soon elevated into an established part of the natural vegetation. The so-called plaque that signifies the terminus of European exploration across our happy little continent is a hoax, a forgery, a one-off gag that exploded into accepted fact.

The lesson here is that history, for all her dates and names and oft-inexplicable motivations, can be a blast. Especially when iniquitous historians with a smirking sense of humor mess it up on purpose.


Herbert Eugene Bolton was one of the most respected historians of American western expansion, the author of a now-commonplace theory that asserts that we should look at colonial expansion across all the Americas holistically, rather than piece by piece. He was a brilliant man, the fantastic mind who established the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley as the preeminent historical resource it is today. He was also a member of E Clampus Vitus. One would expect he’d have been on the lookout for shenanigans. Read more…

Day 913: Psychiatric Pseudo-Symptoms Take Aim At Science


In more than one of his couch-quivering rants, Tom Cruise has expressed distrust and disdain for the science of psychiatry. Perhaps he believes Xenu and his intergalactic pals can do more for the struggling mind than can a branch of human medicine. I don’t agree – and I count that as a big win for my own sense of logic and reason. The science isn’t perfect but it’s progressing, and while the humans who administer its teachings are fallible, there’s still actual science there.

Psychologist and Stanford professor David Rosenhan also found the whole thing suspicious. It was the early 1970’s and psychiatric patients were treated somewhat differently than they are today, as anyone who read Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest will know. Doc Rosenhan wasn’t convinced that patients were being properly diagnosed, and he wasn’t sold on the standard treatment procedure either. He came up with a devious plan.

What if someone perfectly sane were to talk their way into a psychiatric hospital, only to have their symptoms disappear once inside? What ensued was a damning criticism of psychiatry and psychiatric diagnosis, one which still resonates to this day. But was Doc Rosenhan’s experiment a genuine scalpel-slice through the pristine flesh of the science of mental health, or was it pseudoscience? His results were shocking, but in fact they need to be scrutinized beyond the knee-jerk swoop of an accusatory finger.

Dr. Rosenhan was also suspicious of the science of hair restoration.

Dr. Rosenhan was also suspicious of the science of hair restoration.

Doc Rosenhan drafted eight ‘pseudo-patients’ for his experiment, which included himself, a grad student, two other psychologists, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter and a housewife. The eight of them were to show up at ten different psychiatric hospitals around the country. Underfunded rural hospitals were targeted, as were revered urban university hospitals and one pricey private hospital. Everyone held true to their biographical details, apart from their names (which were changed to protect them) and in the case of those who were actually in the medical field, their occupations. Doc Rosenhan didn’t want any special treatment for anyone. Read more…

Day 844: The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes


I think I would have made a good superhero. I get along well with sidekicks, I’m mostly incorruptible, and I’d probably look pretty smokin’ in a cowl. But alas, I have fallen into zero vats of radiation, been struck by no meteors, and if I saw a radioactive spider I’d probably blast it with a flame-thrower before I’d let it bite me. I’m destined to be a powerless schlub, I suppose.

But that’s okay – superheroes are but the stuff of fiction, right?

Well, maybe. That all depends on how much disbelief you’re willing to suspend when it comes to Natasha Demkina, the twenty-something lady from Russia who claims to possess the power of X-Ray vision.

To be clear, this is not some floozy with a Superman fetish, nor is she an impassioned collector of 1950’s mail-away cereal-box kitsch. Natasha truly believes she has this ability, and a number of people sporting a cavalcade of letters after their names have lined up to check her out.

And not just because she looks like this, you filthy-minded mongrel.

And not just because she looks like this, you filthy-minded mongrel.

According to her mother, a lady whose intentions hopefully drift nowhere near the realm of exploiting her daughter, Natasha began exhibiting this bizarre skill when she was around ten years old. To be clear, we aren’t talking about peering through plaster and brick into the next room, nor is she able to identify a playing card by looking at its back. Natasha’s X-Ray vision is just that – the ability to see into someone’s body, X-ray-style, to diagnose what’s wrong with them. Read more…

Day 572: Understanding Today’s Google Doodle – Dr. Rosalind Franklin


When I opened up Google this morning, this was my string of thought:

–          “Hooray! A new Google Doodle!”

–          “Oh, it doesn’t have a built-in game or anything.”

–          “Rosalind who?”

–          “Oh. Something-something-biology. DNA. Never heard of her.”

Well that’s hardly the breed of wide-eyed curiosity and insufferable openness that has led to the 570,000 words I’ve plunked onto this website in the past year and a half. And after skimming through the numerous articles about her life, I realized that Dr. Rosalind Franklin is a person everyone should know about. Not only did she contribute immensely to our understanding of the most fundamental building block of life, but she did it as a woman in a world of deeply-entrenched sexism.

She also got royally screwed over by her peers. If that ain’t worth a story, nothing is.


Rosalind was born into a family who already had a bit of overachieving greatness on the shelf. Her father’s uncle was Herbert Samuel, later the Viscount Samuel (that’s a title two notches up from knight), the first Jew to serve in the British Cabinet, and also the guy who oversaw the British Mandate of Palestine, prepping it for its future use as Israel. Herbert was well-respected by the Brits, loved by the Jews… not so much by the Arabs. Read more…