“Here’s to my sweet Satan. I sing because I live with Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”

 These are the disturbing words which appear when the 1971 Led Zeppelin masterpiece “Stairway to Heaven” is played in reverse – or so it is widely claimed. In the 1970s and 80s, a moral panic spread among American Evangelical groups about rock bands hiding satanic and other subversive messages in their music. These messages, they claimed, were subliminally inserted by recording them backwards, a technique known as back masking. This panic reached such hysterical heights that churches across the United States held record smashing and burnings, several bands found themselves in court over corrupting lyrics, and the legend of backwards satanic messages became an indelible part of music culture. But did any artists actually hide backwards messages in their music? Well, yes, but not for the reasons their Evangelical critics believed.

The practice of back masking is as old as sound recording itself. Shortly after patenting the phonograph in 1877, Thomas Edison experimented with playing recorded music backwards, noting that the result sounded “novel and sweet but altogether different.” The first association between back masking and satanism came in 1913, when British occultist Aleister Crowley, in his treatise Magick: Book 4, recommended that those interested in black magic listen to phonographic records in reverse in order to learn how to think and speak backwards. Coincidentally, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page would later purchase Crowley’s former mansion, giving plenty of ammunition to the evangelical satanic panic crowd. Over the following decades, avant-garde composers like John Cage and Edgard Varèse experimented with reversed recordings to create bold new soundscapes, a technique which was later adopted by various rock ‘n’ roll groups starting in the 1960s – including the Beatles. According to John Lennon, after coming home from a party in 1966, he accidentally played a take of the song “Rain” backwards. Lennon, a fan of avant-garde music, was so enamoured by the sound that he included a reversed version of the song’s opening line in the fadeout. This is widely considered the first use of back masking in a pop song. The technique was also heavily featured in the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the band’s 1966 album Revolver, as well as throughout 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

 Unfortunately for the Fab Four, this experimentation would lead to the first great back masking controversy, as the technique formed a cornerstone of the infamous “Paul is Dead” urban legend. For the uninitiated, “Paul is Dead” was a popular conspiracy theory started in 1967 which held that Paul McCartney had in fact died in a car crash on November 9, 1966, and was subsequently replaced with an impostor. The theory further held that the remaining Beatles attempted to reveal Paul’s fate by planting subtle clues in their songs and album covers. Among these supposed clues are the lyric“the walrus was Paul” from the 1968 song “Glass Onion” and the cover of 1969’s Abbey Road, on which Paul is barefoot and walking out of step with the rest of the band. But the most definitive clues, the theorists claimed, were revealed by playing Beatles records backwards – particularly the 1968 White Album. For example, “Revolution 9” supposedly contains the message “turn me on, dead man,” while “I’m so Tired” yields “Paul is dead. Miss him, miss him.” Of course, the entire “Paul is Dead” rumour is complete nonsense, and while the Beatles did pioneer the use of back masking, none of the aforementioned examples were intentional uses of the technique. Rather, these supposed “secret messages” are merely cases of pareidolia – the tendency of the human brain to perceive patterns in otherwise random data. Other famous examples pareidolia include the “face” on the surface of Mars seen by the Viking 1 spacecraft in 1976, the face of the Devil seen in the smoke billowing from the World Trade Centre on 9/11, and the endless reports of Jesus and the Virgin Mary appearing on slices of toast and other objects. Research has also shown the strong influence of the observer-expectancy effect, as few listeners will perceive the supposed hidden messages unless they have already been primed to do so. Nonetheless, the fact that the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and other musicians did intentionally use back masking for fun or artistic effect was enough to convince moral guardians that the technique could also be used for nefarious purposes.

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Is Fentanyl-Tainted Marijuana ‘Something Real’ or ‘Just an Urban Legend’?

Taken at face value, recent reports of fentanyl-tainted marijuana in Connecticut highlight the hazards inherent in the black market created by drug prohibition. Consumers who buy illegal drugs rarely know for sure exactly what they are getting, and the retail-level dealers who sell those drugs to them may be equally in the dark. But even in a market where such uncertainty prevails, opioid overdoses among drug users who claim to have consumed nothing but cannabis—like earlier, better documented reports of fentanyl mixed with cocaine—raise puzzling questions about what is going on.

One thing seems clear: The official warnings prompted by those reports are more alarming than the evidence justifies.

The proliferation of illicitly produced fentanyl as a heroin booster and substitute during the last decade or so has helped drive opioid-related deaths to record levels. Fentanyl is roughly 50 times as potent as heroin, and its unpredictable presence has increased drug variability, making lethal errors more likely.

According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States saw a record number of drug-related deaths last year: more than 93,000. Three quarters of those deaths involved opioids. “Synthetic opioids other than methadone,” the category that includes fentanyl and its analogs, were involved in about 83 percent of those opioid-related deaths, up from 14 percent in 2010.

Fentanyl and heroin have similar psychoactive effects. And since fentanyl is cheaper to produce and easier to smuggle than heroin, it makes sense that drug traffickers would use the former to fortify or replace the latter. But the idea that dealers would mix marijuana and fentanyl, two drugs with notably different effects, is much less plausible. Until now it amounted to nothing more than scary rumors.

Last week, however, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that it has received 39 reports since July of “patients who have exhibited opioid overdose symptoms and required naloxone for revival” but who “denied any opioid use and claimed to have only smoked marijuana.” The most obvious explanation for those cases is that the patients falsely denied opioid use, which carries a stronger stigma than cannabis consumption. But the agency also reported that a lab test of a marijuana sample obtained in one of those cases detected fentanyl.

“This is the first lab-confirmed case of marijuana with fentanyl in Connecticut and possibly the first confirmed case in the United States,” DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani said. Based on that finding, her department “strongly advises all public health, harm reduction, and others working with clients who use marijuana to educate them about the possible dangers of marijuana with fentanyl.” It says “they should assist their clients with obtaining the proper precautions if they will be using marijuana.” It also “recommends that anyone who is using substances obtained illicitly…know the signs of an opioid overdose, do not use alone, and have naloxone on hand.”

These warnings seem overwrought, given the meager basis for them. If the hazard Juthani describes were significant enough that it would be rational for cannabis consumers to “have naloxone on hand,” you would expect to see many more suspected cases in a state with more than half a million marijuana users. Assuming the single lab test result was accurate, it is not clear how fentanyl ended up in the marijuana sample. Did a dealer intentionally add the fentanyl, and if so why? Could the sample have been contaminated accidentally by the dealer, his customer, or the lab? Did the patient, contrary to his denial, deliberately dose his pot with fentanyl?

Forbes writer Chris Roberts posed those questions to Robert Lawlor, an intelligence officer who works for the New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), an interagency drug task force. “We have some of those same questions,” Lawlor said. “From a business standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to put fentanyl on marijuana. So why is this happening? What is the purpose of behind putting it in marijuana? Those are some of the questions that are still out there.”

Notably, HIDTA is not telling marijuana users they should be on the lookout for fentanyl in black-market cannabis. “Marijuana [mixed with] fentanyl has been sort of an urban legend for a couple years now,” Lawlor said. “To try and decide whether it’s something real or just an urban legend is important for public safety and public health.”

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Fact Check — No, Spokane Students Were Not Forced to ‘Pick Cotton’

CLAIM: Black students at a Spokane, Washington, middle school were ordered to “pick cotton” as a school assignment.


The disturbing story is already viral…

BET: “Black Middle School Students Reportedly Ordered To Pick Cotton”

NPR: “Cotton picking lesson leaves Black middle school students reeling in Spokane”

ABC: “Black students ‘humiliated’ by cotton-picking assignment”

Drudge: “SHOCK: Black Middle School Students Ordered To Pick Cotton…”

This sounds awful, right? Who would do such a thing? The mother of the two 14-year-old girls at the center of this racial storm pulled the twin girls, not only out of the class but out of the school entirely and is demanding, according to ABC News, the “removal of a school administrator whose suggestion was to separate two Black students after their mom raised concerns about a classroom assignment the students say involved cleaning cotton.”

Here’s how the mother portrayed the principal’s “suggestion”: He wanted to “segregate my girls into a room by themselves, away from the white teacher.”

She also wants the social studies teacher and “other school administrators to be disciplined for how they handled the situation.”

The outraged mother told local news, “For you to pass out cotton and to my children [and tell them] that essentially, they’re going to pick the cotton clean and it’s a race of who can get it clean first, that was extremely bothersome to me and my children” She added, “Under no circumstance … do they need to be taught what it’s like to be a slave or what it’s like to be black.”

With some reading between the lines, it’s pretty obvious what happened here, and it had nothing to do with forcing black kids to pick cotton…

Here’s how the girls themselves described what happened… [emphasis added]

Twins Emzayia and Zyeshauwne Feazell said they were in their social studies class on May 3 when they said the teacher pulled out a box of raw cotton and told the class they were going to do a “fun” activity. The girls added the students were subsequently instructed to clean freshly picked cotton as part of a classroom assignment to see who could do so the fastest.

Let’s start with the most important point… By their own admission, the girls admit no one forced them or even asked them to “pick cotton,” which proves all these stories and headlines false.

“Cleaning” and “picking cotton” are two entirely different things. Picking cotton is obviously associated with slavery, but cleaning cotton is associated with what the school says was part of an assignment about the Industrial Revolution and cotton gin, an invention that revolutionized the cotton industry by putting an end to the tedious and time-consuming labor involved in removing the seeds from the cotton by hand.

Is it not fairly obvious that this teacher used a hands-on assignment to show the class just what a revolution the Industrial Revolution was — an assignment that had nothing to do with “picking cotton?”

Something else that gives it away is what one of the girls said: “We didn’t learn about the slave trade or anything about the history of slavery.”

In other words, the cotton wasn’t handed out in the context of slavery, it was handed out in a different context altogether, which backs up what the schools said about the lesson revolving around the cotton gin.

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Discount Store Chain in England Pulls Controversial Ouija Boards from Shelves

In response to a growing furor surrounding their decision to sell Ouija Boards at an incredibly low price, a chain of discount stores in England have pulled the controversial items from shelves. The British equivalent to an American dollar store, Poundland made headlines last week when it was discovered that their seasonal offerings for Halloween included a Ouija Board. The problematic product priced at merely a pound quickly sparked concerns among people online who feared that children could easily get their hands on the cheap Ouija Boards.

While it would seem that the Ouija Board backlash simply served as some good publicity for Poundland this Halloween season, the company was finally forced to take action when the issue went beyond the world of social media and a number of prominent figures, including a high profile religious figure and a member of Parliament, spoke out against the spirit boards. Announcing that they would no longer sell the items in stores, a spokesperson for the chain reportedly explained that “we had a message from the spirits to make the handful that were left vanish.”

As one might imagine, the company’s critics applauded their decision to no longer sell Ouija Boards. Specifically, well-known Free Presbyterian minister Rev David McIlveen opined that the ‘game’ is “an introduction to a world that is very satanic and takes control of a person’s mind.” Meanwhile, Parliament member Gregory Campbell, who had once actually argued that there needed to be regulations surrounding the sale of Ouija Boards, mused that the kerfuffle is “a lesson for retailers to examine the product they put on their shelves before they have actually made it for sale.”

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The invention of satanic witchcraft by medieval authorities was initially met with skepticism

In the 1430s, a small group of writers in Central Europe – church inquisitors, theologians, lay magistrates and even one historian – began to describe horrific assemblies where witches gathered and worshiped demons, had orgies, ate murdered babies and performed other abominable acts. Whether any of these authors ever met each other is unclear, but they all described groups of witches supposedly active in a zone around the western Alps.

The reason for this development may have been purely practical. Church inquisitors, active against religious heretics since the 13th century, and some secular courts were looking to expand their jurisdictions. Having a new and particularly horrible crime to prosecute might have struck them as useful.

I just translated a number of these early texts for a forthcoming book and was struck by how worried the authors were about readers not believing them. One fretted that his accounts would be “disparaged” by those who “think themselves learned.” Another feared that “simple folk” would refuse to believe the “fragile sex” would engage in such terrible practices.

Trial records show it was a hard sell. Most people remained concerned with harmful magic – witches causing illness or withering crops. They didn’t much care about secret satanic gatherings.

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Sen. Josh Hawley Says He ‘Took on an Asian Trafficking Ring’ and ‘Freed a Dozen Women in Sex Slavery.’ That’s Not True.

When Missouri police raided several Springfield massage parlors in 2017, as Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) tells it, it was a righteous rescue mission led by a promising young attorney general who would later go on to become a rising Republican star in the U.S. Senate.

Hawley’s self-aggrandizing account goes like this: After getting wind of a potential sex trafficking ring at Asian massage parlors all around Greene County and the city of Springfield, Hawley’s office helped state and county police free “female victims” from being trapped in massage parlors and “forced into sex work,” while “the participants in the ring were charged.”

In fact, Hawley said at the time, “some evidence collected by Highway Patrol, leading up to these raids, suggested that there are potentially ties to Asian organized crime.”

While this tale nicely reinforces Hawley’s long-standing preoccupations with public morality and Chinese hegemonythe evidence doesn’t back up his version of events. The real story is one about police and prosecutor overreach at the expense of potentially vulnerable immigrants, followed by grandstanding and falsehoods from a senator intent on rewriting his own history.

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