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4 Cults You Might Not Know About

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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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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