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4 Cults You Might Not Know About

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Some cults get all the publicity. The Manson Family, the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate—everybody's heard of them. But last week's arrest of Goel Ratzon in Israel reminds us that there are many cults that continue to attract followers and have managed to flourish due to a lack of publicity. Here are four such cults you might not have heard of.

1. The Savior

Goel Ratzon (his first name means "Savior" in Hebrew) was arrested in Tel Aviv last week and charged with enslavement, rape and incest. But his victims weren't the ones who blew the whistle on their savior; it was Israeli social services and police who'd launched an investigation when they'd heard rumors of children living in overcrowded conditions and possibly being abused. They found out that Ratzon had been head of a bizarre cult he'd founded about 10 years ago.


The 60-year-old self-described "healer" had 17 women and dozens of children (all of whom he'd fathered) crammed into in three small apartments in the Hatikvah area of Tel Aviv. (The total count of his offspring may never be known, as some of them were allegedly sired via his own daughters, and they are keeping mum to avoid additional
charges.) He monitored their activities via closed circuit TV, dictated their modest mode of dress, and collected the wages they earned from their day jobs (mostly as cleaning women). Oh, and he issued them cell phones so that they could text him when they were ovulating. A TV documentary aired on Israel's Channel 10 last year presented a tableau that would make your blood boil. The women and children all had Goel's name tattooed on their bodies and took turns brushing his hair and spoon feeding him.

Why wasn't the "Messiah" arrested immediately after that mind-boggling broadcast? Actually, authorities did launch their investigation shortly after the program on the grounds of child endangerment. But what with the women so slavishly devoted to their collective husband and protective of him, it took some time to gather the necessary evidence. While Ratzon sits in jail awaiting trial, most of his harem have remained loyal to their leader and have told the press that outsiders just don't understand their guru, this Perfect Man.

2. Children of God

David Berg, who called himself Moses David, founded the "organization" called Children of God in 1968. The so-called Jesus Movement was gathering steam in the late 1960s and a lot of disenfranchised hippies were ripe for the picking. Berg started his first "colony" in Huntington Beach, California, and similar colonies soon sprung up in other states, as well as Europe and South America.

Members were required to relinquish all their worldly possessions to the commune and cut off all ties with their families. In the beginning, members panhandled or busked to earn money to pay for food and other supplies. But as their numbers increased, Moses decided they needed to earn dollars, not spare change. With so many young attractive women ready to do his bidding, the answer was simple "“ why not exploit the world's oldest profession? Berg called this fund-raising effort "flirty fishing" as a result of his unique interpretation of Matthew 4:17. Flirty fishing was officially banned by Berg in 1987 (mainly due to the escalating AIDS epidemic). Watch Berg's daughter explain the practice:

Children of God has changed its name several times in recent years after a barrage of bad publicity, including accusations of incest and other abuse. Berg passed away in 1994 and the group, now known as The Family International, is led by Steven Kelly (who calls himself King Peter).

3. The Ant Hill Kids

ant-hillThe majority of Canadians consider Roch Thériault to be one of their country's most notorious criminals, but his devoted followers still call him "Moses." In 1979, Thériault set up a safe camp in Burt River, Ontario, in preparation for the apocalypse. Charismatic and politically savvy, Roch attracted a small group of followers he called "The Ant Hill Kids," all of whom were looking for spiritual salvation and a pure existence. The nine female members were his concubine and were required to be subservient to the few male members of the sect. Over 20 children were born to the group in the ensuing years, many of which were sired by Roch.

The group earned money by selling baked goods door-to-door. Because Moses had officially registered his commune as a church, provincial officials were unable to do much about the primitive living conditions the members were subject to; they could only ensure that the children had warm clothing and proper nutrition. Thériault had a drinking problem and a superiority complex and demanded absolute obedience from his followers. Such unquestioning submission led to the death of one of his "wives" when she allowed him to operate on her for a stomach ailment. Another female follower risked his wrath when she fled to a hospital after he chopped off her forearm with a cleaver in a fit of anger.

It was that act of brutality that finally brought authorities swooping down on the Ant Hill. Thériault was found guilty of murder in 1993 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was denied parole in 2002, but has fathered three more children during his years in jail as a result of conjugal visits with some of his remaining faithful few.

4. The Source Family

cult-4What Jim Baker had that other cult leaders did not was timing and (as realtors say) location, location, location. Retired medal of honor-winning Marine and judo champion Baker first headed to Los Angeles after the end of World War II to work as a movie stunt man with his eye on becoming filmdom's next Tarzan. When that dream didn't pan out, he fell in with a local group of beatniks called the Nature Boys, strict vegetarians who lived according to "Nature's Laws." Baker flourished in the hippie lifestyle to the extreme—he studied philosophy and religion and became a follower of Yogi Bhajan. Like all good gurus-to-be, Baker eventually left Bhajan and formed his own religion. He also adopted a more spiritually-jazzy name, Father Yod. He called his new religion the Source Family and opened an organic vegetarian restaurant in Laurel Canyon called (what else?) The Source.

Religion plus natural food plus nubile young servers in colorful robes equaled celebrity cachet in the early 1970s. Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Frank Zappa, Julie Christie and many other famous people made The Source the hip place to dine. As a result, Father Yod was able to rent a small home in which to house his devoted followers, which numbered about 160 at its peak.

In addition to the sex and drugs typical of most communes of that era, Yod also embraced rock and roll. He and his faithful formed an ersatz band called Ya Ho Wa 13, which ultimately released nine albums (recorded in a home studio and mostly sold via his restaurant). The recordings were a mixture of an avant garde acid rock-type background while Father Yod chanting his wisdom.

All seemed groovy until Father Yod's natural treatment of whatever ailed his minions failed, and a Source baby had to be taken to a local hospital due to a severe staph infection. In anticipation of The Man swooping down on his kingdom to investigate the possibly unsafe environment in which children were being raised (more than 100 people in a three-bedroom house), Yob moved his "family" to Hawaii. In 1975, a totally inexperienced Baker decided to try his hand at hang-gliding, and his first flight was his last. The Source Family pretty much disintegrated after his death.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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