Truth and Fiction (1/3/2003)
Last Saturday evening, I gave a talk about pseudomedicine, and one of the pieces of dangerous quackery I featured was Hulda Clark's disgraceful and disgusting suggestion that by using her treatment methods it was possible for people with Type 1 diabetes to virtually eliminate the need for insulin. In these people the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, which produce insulin, are destroyed. The only treatment available for this condition has been frequent insulin injections, although in rare cases a transplant of a pancreas and kidney have effected a cure. Clark's fantasy includes the preposterous statement that 50% of the islets can regenerate. This is simply a lie – once the islets have been replaced by scar tissue, there is no possibility of recovery.
The next day was the 50th anniversary of the publication of the structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. This was a case of real scientists making a real discovery which transformed what we knew about how the body worked and opened the way for a revolution in the understanding of diseases and their prevention and treatment.
These two seemingly unrelated matters were brought together for me on Wednesday, when I went for a tour through The Millennium Institute at Westmead Hospital. (This is the place that gets a share of donations made to the RatbagsDotCom sites.) In the foyer is a map of the human genome, and the first laboratory we visited contained machines for sequencing genes. These machines are used by researchers throughout the institute in their work on cancer, viruses and other research areas. The breadth of what has become possible in just fifty years in real medicine highlights the vacuousness of what passes for research in pseudomedicine, where nothing new or useful has been found for centuries and where science is just a dirty word.
The next event really highlighted the difference between medicine and the alternative. We were addressed by a scientist working on techniques to transplant just the islets into patients with diabetes, rather than the complete pancreas. So far, only four successful transplants have been performed, two at Westmead and two by their collaborators in the USA. (The transplant team at Westmead have done about 140 full-pancreas transplants.) The new method requires much less dramatic surgery, has shorter recovery time, requires less anti-rejection medication for the life of the patient, and holds out the possibility of a single donor pancreas being able to be used for multiple recipients. It's early days yet, but this has the potential to transform the lives of many people whose only choice up to now has been between many injections each day and death. There could be no starker contrast between medicine and quackery than comparing these scientists, with their cautious optimism and rigorous research, with charlatans like Clark who unashamedly lie about having all the answers right now.
PETA – People Exhibiting Total Absurdity (1/3/2003)
No sensible, ordinary, civilised person wants to see animals mistreated. I have no problem with eating meat, using drugs tested on animals, or watching trained animals perform, but I like to think that the animals I eat have been humanely killed, the laboratories have treated their animal subjects with respect, and that the circus or racehorse trainer has done nothing to harm their animal employees. Sometimes these ideals are not met, and when this happens I support bringing the full force of the law down on people who do not behave responsibly. I believe that animals have rights. I just don't think that they have more rights than humans.
Arrayed against people with these views are two groups of mad people. One group is the one which tortures animals, starves them, kills them for no reason, forces them to fight to the death. (Please note that I do not accept cultural relativism here. If it is wrong to break a dog's legs to keep it fresh for the pot in Sydney or Seattle, it is just as wrong in Seoul.) The other group is the one which allocates more rights to animals of all kinds than to humans. These people are in a sense worse than the torturers, because they claim education and ethics and civilisation, yet are prepared to go to any lengths to get their message across. I know of people who have to work under high security because their workplaces have been attacked by criminals claiming to act on behalf of animals.
One of the maddest animal rights groups must be People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This bunch of fanatics would look like a parody of an activist group if they weren't so idiotic and dangerous. These are the people who wrote to the governor of the prison where Timothy McVeigh was to be executed, asking that his last meal be a vegetarian one because there had been enough killing. Their latest act is an advertising campaign called "Holocaust on Your Plate", which will use pictures of concentration and death camp inmates to draw comparisons with animal husbandry. It would be hard to conceive of anything more offensive and tasteless. It shows the total detachment from reality that can overcome fanatics when they come to believe in the absolute rightness of their cause. It was thinking like this which gave us the Holocaust in the first place.
The Coalition of the Silly (1/3/2003)
Some ideas are so bad that they achieve immortality. Just when we all thought that the absurdity of the Star Wars missile shield was nothing but a bad memory, North Korea launches a test missile and it's all on again. Some senior Australian politicians have suffered some sort of brain meltdown and have suggested that we should be part of this boondoggle. Apart from the facts that it doesn't work, can not ever work, and the country would be bankrupted by trying to make it work, there are some political aspects to consider.
The only countries likely to be hostile towards Australia in the near future are Iraq and North Korea. Iraq has missiles which have a range of about 160 kilometres, which would make it very difficult to attack Canberra from Baghdad. I suppose they could bring the missiles to some convenient place by boat (if the Iraqis had any boats) and then set them up within range, but I suspect that the citizens of such delightful places as Ulladulla would be alerted by the sight of swarthy strangers unloading rockets at the fishing wharf, standing them on their ends in the park and then waiting for orders to light the blue touch paper and stand well back.
North Korea is much more of a threat. After all they are only about 8,500 kilometres away, and they have a real rocket. At least, they did have a rocket until they test-fired it a few days ago, but I assume that they can make another one. Australia is one of the few countries which have formal diplomatic relationships with North Korea, so perhaps it would make more sense to talk to these people rather than spending billions of dollars to protect against a non-existent threat. (As an aside, can you imagine the disappointment? You are packed up and ready for your next diplomatic posting to London or Washington, then the word comes through: "Sorry, change of plan. Pyongyang."). Politicians are amazing creatures, but I am glad that it's not a federal election year otherwise they might be talking about doing something really stupid.
Secrecy in Public Relations – oxymoronic or just moronic? (8/3/2003)
Corporations have names, and there is a large industry devoted to telling people about those names. The advertising budgets of places like Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Toyota and McDonalds could be used to run small countries, and I would imagine that almost everyone reading this would recognise those names and would know what these companies sell without me having to say any more. Company names are valuable properties and nobody appreciates their brand being devalued or used illegally, but I am not in any fear that any of the companies mentioned above would take offence at what I have said about them here.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find out about a company that doesn't want people to even mention its name. I commented on this back in January when I was first contacted by a lawyer about the matter, but I didn't do anything about it then because, frankly, it just looked too silly. I have now received another letter which mentions a huge amount of money gouged out of someone else who offended by saying the words that cannot be said, so I will have to respond. You can read the lawyer's letters here. The content of my email to him appears below.
When I received your first letter I was puzzled, as the only mention of Nutrition For Life on my site was the name of the company, used as a link to its web site, and this could hardly be seen as misrepresentation or passing off. As companies spend large amounts of money to get their names widely recognised, it struck me as strange that anyone could interpret trademark law to suggest that a company's name was so sacred that it could not be said or written. Equally confusing was the implication that just saying a company's name, especially one as inoffensive as "Nutrition For Life", could cause damage to the company's reputation or business.
I can only assume that the resort to a claim of intellectual property infringement is a ploy to bypass the laws protecting freedom of speech and is used by Nutrition For Life to suppress any criticism, real or implied, of their multi-level marketing activities. As requested, however, I have removed the company's name from the link, and it now says "Some MLM company that threatens to sue anyone who mentions its name".
I noticed in your first letter that you claimed that NFLI was the owner of the trademark "Nutrition For Life" in Australia. A check with the relevant authorities showed that, in fact, that mark has a pending registration to Merck & Co. I have passed on the details of your claim to the intellectual property lawyers who act for Merck in this part of the world.
As is my usual practice, your letter has been scanned and its contents and this reply have been loaded up to my web site.
Strange email of the week (8/3/2003)
I'm not quite sure which church I have managed to join, but this looks like an offer that would be hard to refuse.
The First Ten Commandment Clock Ever
Dear Pastor and Members of the Church:
Hi, my name is Barbara Farris, I'm the inventor of the Ten Commandment Clock. My clock recites a different commandment each hour. I have been in the newspapers The Tampa Tribune, Daily News and on the local news Channel 5 out of Mobil for my clock. We are not going to offer this clock to retailers at this time. It is for the purpose of the Churches and Bible bookstores. To hear this clock play go to www.intimewithgod.com
It may just be a rumour, because I can't find any mention in places like CNN, but I have been told that the state of Florida has caved in and will allow Sultaana Freeman to cover almost all of her face in the photograph on her driver's licence. Freeman had said that her brand of Islam prevents her from showing her face to people who are not relatives, and she claimed that it was some sort of attack on religious freedom for the state to insist that she comply with a law that applies to everyone else. Apparently she had previous licences which had an anonymous photograph, but after September 11, 2001, sanity broke out and Florida decided that photographs on licences had to look something like the people who held the licences.
I hope the rumour is not true, because this sort of political correctness and cultural relativism is ridiculous. I have been authoritatively informed that there is nothing in the Qur'an which requires women to hide their faces, so Freeman really should only have two options - do what every other licence holder has to do or give up the privilege (not right) to drive. She would not have that choice in Saudi Arabia.
March Madness at the Museum (15/3/2003)
A local museum near my place is planning a function next Saturday to coincide with the equinox. It all sounded like a lot of fun until it was discovered that the day involved some dubious people whose aims would seem to be diametrically opposed to the idea of what a museum is for.
You can read a longer article about this here.
Barry Sheene (15/3/2003)
A friend of mine died last Monday. He was a vicarious friend, in that he used to come into my house through the television rather than in person (although he did once wander into the announcers' box when I was doing on-track commentary at a car race). I had been thinking about him only the day before because he was missing from the commentary team for the Australian Grand Prix, where his normal job would have been to interview the drivers and pit crews, all of whom always seemed to have time to talk to him. Barry Sheene won the 1976 and 1977 World Championships for 500cc motorcycles, and moved to Australia several years ago to get a better climate than his native England. He was still suffering from the effects of some severe accidents and thought that living in a warmer place might help his arthritis.
Last July, Barry announced that he had cancer in his stomach and oesophagus. He also announced that he was not going to use any conventional medical treatment, but was going to rely on alternative methods and his own will to survive. While there was no doubt that he possessed the latter in enormous quantities (I have seen the X-rays of the metal reconstruction of his legs after one of his crashes), it was not enough. While I respect his decision about his treatment, it is impossible not to wonder if he might have still been alive today if he had been treated by real doctors rather than quacks. What we do know is that the fruit juices and the herbs and the mental imaging and the placebo effect did not work. They never do.
Barry left behind his wife Stephanie, two children and a huge number of friends and fans. We will all miss him.
A song (15/3/2003)
I was thinking about those people who can "cure" cancer and other diseases, and wondering why they don't go for the Cancer 100 Challenge and get a Nobel Prize. Just as I figured out that it is probably because they can't do what they say they can do, an old sea shanty popped into my head.
|Oh, hang the hag high, laddies, hang the hag high|
Way aye hang the hag high
Oh, hang the hag high, laddies, neck her real good
Give me some time to hang the hag high!
A young girl is checking for lumps in her breast
Although it just doesn't feel like it should,
Fast forward a few months, her funeral's today
"Neuroblastoma" is so hard to spell
But as soon as the credit and money runs out
If Grandpa has Alzheimer's all is not lost
If you'd all like to join in a party today
Missed Opportunity (15/3/2003)
Don't you just hate it when someone tells you about some desirable object that's for sale, but when you go to the shop the last one has been sold? The sign below was listed on eBay but I found out too late to get one.
Mea culpa, mea tinybit culpa (22/3/2003)
Last week I mentioned how I was disappointed that a museum was supporting woowoo. I went along to the "Celestial Celebrations and Autumn Equinox" with some friends, and generally it was as bad as we expected it to be. I still have the opinion that it is not the sort of thing that a museum should be promoting. There were numerologists telling us about how car number plates revealed secrets and astrologers telling us how planets revealed secrets and tarot readers telling us how cards revealed secrets. There were plants and birds and rocks and things, there was sand and hills and rings …. No, wait! That was the song on the car radio when we arrived. (Why do we of the baby boomer generation keep having these flashbacks?)
I said "generally" above because it wasn't all bad. One day I am going to buy a magic wizard's cloak (although when I tried one on people remarked that the hood didn't cover enough of my face). There were also stalls selling interesting ornaments and objects which probably horrify excessively religious people but which I wouldn't mind having on a shelf at my place. I owe a sort of an apology to the Pagan Awareness Network, because when we met them they turned out to be practitioners of a religion that is no sillier than any other and a lot better than some. They certainly aren't the Satan worshippers that their enemies make them out to be. Their ceremony was interesting and made more sense than many traditional religious services I have endured. I don't think I will join up, but I would like to see a Pagan ceremony with everyone in the full robes and regalia. I was also slightly disappointed because I was sure I had heard someone say that they were going to sacrifice a goat, but I was mistaken.
Speaking of Pagans and Tarot … (22/3/2003)
One amazing fact we discovered was that divination is still illegal in many parts of Australia. This means that astrologers, palmists, tarot readers and so on face prosecution for predicting the future. These laws are old and it is apparently almost impossible to get arrested for breaking them, but the potential is always there for some over-zealous police officer to do a bit of persecution. It seems that whenever any move is made to repeal these old, useless laws the traditional churches start lobbying, presumably because they don't want any competition for their own brands of superstition. We have had freedom from religion in Australia since our Constitution was enacted, and it is absurd that any religious group can try to limit what other people believe and practice. I don't really have to reiterate my views about these silly practices, but the idea that they should put people at even the tiniest risk of criminal charges is ridiculous.
Yurko desperation update (22/3/2003)
A continuing ploy in the campaign to free murderer Alan Yurko is an attack on the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on the dead baby. For a while, the killer's supporters have been claiming that the autopsy was carried out on the wrong dead child. Now they have found something new, and, to quote, "Compelling new developments surrounding the Yurko Project are coming to light. The Medical Examiner in the Yurko case who contaminated the autopsy of Baby Alan with data and tissue from another has done so, according to an internal investigation, hundreds of times before". When you actually read what happened, you find that in 1994 and 1995 the Medical Examiner's Office was extremely careless, and evidence related to several court cases was either contaminated or the chain of evidence was broken. You will notice that the quote above talks about "hundreds of times before", but when you actually read what happened you find that only 26 cases were affected. (It is possible that convictions in those cases could be overturned on appeal now that the evidence problems have been revealed.) So 26 becomes "hundreds"? And where did I read that it was only 26? Why, on the Free Yurko web site, of course! They must think that the people who look at the site can't read. And another thing – Yurko did his killing in 1997, long after the evidence storage problems were fixed. In 1994 and 1995 he was in prison in Ohio, serving a sentence for four counts of aggravated burglary.
When politicians go mad (22/3/2003)
There must be a special additive in the water in the buildings which house parliaments, congresses, councils and other legislative bodies. This chemical causes politicians to behave irrationally. Normally the populace just rolls its collective eyes as the elected ones stuff pork barrels, start wars, run up deficits (referred to as "good economic management") and dally with the staff, but sometimes they do things which surprise even the most blasé observer. Two such cases have come to my attention recently.
The New Mexico Legislature is considering a bill put up by Rep Daniel Foley which would designate an annual Extraterrestrial Culture Day to recognise the contributions of space aliens to the culture and economy of Roswell. I have a close personal connection with the equinox following the Roswell Incident, so all I can say is that it is about time that the cultural interchange between us and our alien cousins was given the attention it deserves. Now, if Rep Foley can just get the government to open up the secret vaults …
Meanwhile, in England schools have been told not to sell or give away hot cross buns. Apparently, the use of such comestibles might offend certain persons to whom Easter is not a significant occasion. It will be permissible to have a substitute, provided that it is some sort of flat bread like a pancake with no cross on it. As is often the case in such examples of political correctness, the potential offendees have not been asked to contribute. I am rarely in full agreement with the head man at the Muslim Council of Britain, but I think he got it exactly right when he described this decree as "bizarre". He also pointed out that Muslims are perfectly capable of saying what offends them, and it isn't spicy fruit buns.
Heeeeee's back!! (22/3/2003)
Some skeptics tell me that my moon-phase lunacy predictor is based on the false premise that the moon has an effect on people's minds (or where their minds used to be, in some cases). They might laugh, but how can they explain that the full moon last week coincided with the retumescence of Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group? If that is not enough evidence, Mr O'Neill appeared in two guises – as himself and as "Annie McNaughton", with both personas cackling the same sort of nonsense. Even further evidence is that cardboard and new crayons were handed out at the GAL Asylum for the Terminally Clueless, and the Gutless Anonymous Liar said rude things about my wife. One of these days Mr O'Neill will realise that I am not going away and that his ridiculous stories about my bankruptcies and criminal records are not believed by anyone. His first ever email to me insulted my wife, yet he has not learnt that this tactic is useless as well. To while away his time, he could enter the number 15724799 into a calculator and then convert it to hexadecimal notation.
Don't mention the war (29/3/2003)
I am quite happy to follow Basil Fawlty's advice, so instead of talking about the war I am going to talk about protesting against the war. The right of peaceful assembly to express dissatisfaction with the actions of the government is a cornerstone of democracy, and it is just this sort of right that the current action is supposed to be going to deliver to the Iraqis. (It is just a happy coincidence that certain rights will also be restored to companies like Haliburton, Bechtel, …) The key word, however, is "peaceful" and there seems to be a tendency these days for protests to be anything but peaceful. As an example, one of my clients owns a hotel which was used recently for a meeting of World Trade Organisation delegates and during the time of the conference the place was surrounded by concrete barriers and police. Other guests and functions were cancelled or sent elsewhere. They were reacting to credible threats against the property, but smashing up a hotel is hardly going to effect the course of globalisation of trade.
Part of the problem seems to be that there is a group of people who, for a variety of reasons, attach themselves to protest actions when they have no real interest in the stated purpose of the action. Some seem to just be there because it gives them an opportunity for anonymous vandalism and destruction. Whatever their motivations, there is something quite ridiculous about the idea of a violent demonstration for peace. (In case you think this is new, or that I am just an old fogey whining about the natural exuberance of youth, there is probably still a file about me stored in some spycatcher's dusty archive detailing my part in the organisation of protests against the war in Vietnam. I broke with the Moratorium movement because they were prepared to tolerate people whose sole objectives seemed to be to attack returning troops and to rampage through cities breaking things. My fight was with the politicians, not with soldiers or shopkeepers. Many of the soldiers were conscripts and were just doing what they had to do to avoid quite harsh consequences. I know this because I was both a conscript and a soldier.)
Violence at peace protests is stupidity, because it distracts from the real purpose (the media concentrate on the violence, not the message), it alienates observers from the purpose of the event, and it makes it more difficult to get permission and police cooperation for future events. There was a particularly blatant case of stupidity at a recent anti-war demonstration in Sydney. This had been organised primarily for schoolchildren (who have every right to want to live in a world without war, however naïve that wish might be), but it was almost immediately disrupted by louts (described in PC-speak in the media as being "of middle-eastern appearance") who threw chairs from an outdoor restaurant and other objects at the police. After trashing the restaurant they turned their attention to the nearby St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, where they smashed stained-glass windows and desecrated the altar. You might wonder why it was deemed necessary to attack a Christian church, when the churches have always been supportive towards the peace movement. Remember how I mentioned stupidity? Well, these clowns attacked the cathedral because they thought it was a synagogue! Morons.
Fruitcake with extra nuts (29/3/2003)
I have just watched an abysmal television show called Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?. The usual suspects were rounded up (Bill Kaysing, Bart Sibrel, David Percy) and the usual drivel which has been rebutted ad nauseum was trotted out. There was the fluttering flag (wave a cloth around in a vacuum and it flutters, stop waving it and it keeps fluttering for a while because there is no air to damp the inertia), the missing stars (it is impossible to set a camera exposure for a picture of a white space suit in full sunlight and still be able to record stars in the background), the light infill in shadows (sunlight reflected from the Moon's surface can light up the ground 350,000 kilometres away on Earth, but these kooks say it can't work at one metre), and …. but why go on? There was at least one piece of deliberate deception in the show, when victims of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 were shown as if this was what would happen to anyone passing through the Van Allen belt. There was also the obligatory mention of the film Capricorn One, apparently on the basis that if someone could make a fictional film in 1978 about something that never happened (a manned trip to Mars that was actually simulated on Earth) then it was probably based on something that really happened in 1969. I suppose that the Moon hoax kooks think that Lord of the Rings is a documentary.
What really caught my attention, however, was the claim that the faked Moon landings were filmed at the infamous Area 51. This must be an extremely busy place. What is fascinating about it is that it is the most secret place in the whole of the USA yet people can freely take pictures of it from nearby hills, and every loon and conspiracist seems to have perfect knowledge of what goes on there. I have been told that even the President does not have a high enough security clearance to see the facts about the place, but these facts are made available to people with loon web sites. It's a strange way to run a country! The big question, though, is why NASA needed to fake the Moon landings. As Area 51 is supposed to contain the technology obtained from crashed and captured alien space ships, and the NASA people obviously had enough security clearance to go in there to make their film, why didn't they just exploit this technology to make a craft that could really go to the Moon? Surely the technology which had been used to transport creatures across light years of space would have no trouble with the million kilometres or so of a trip to and from the Moon. This is the real cover up!
Deploy those smokescreens!! (29/3/2003)
People have commented to me several times that any time some alternative medicine scam outfit gets a court ruling against it, supporters of quackery start defaming people and ranting in order to divert attention. A hint that something was about to happen came last week when Tim Bolen (who used to be the spokesgoon for not-a-medical-doctor Hulda Clark, but seems to have fallen out of favour) issued another of his foam-flecked tirades against the "quackpots" and "quackbusters". Simultaneously, some people who have been associated with Bolen posted newsgroup messages singing the praises of the lawyer who works with Tim, pointing out his many victories on behalf of pseudomedicine. (This lawyer seems to have missed the lecture in law school about defamation – he once publicly called me a "bottom feeding parasite".) One of these victories was apparently Nuremberg 2001, the case against me and about 30 other people and non-people. Web sites were cited which described our perfidy, but no mention was made of the fact that the case was withdrawn. I wonder whether all this had anything to do with the fact that another of the lawyer's clients lost an appeal this week over their fraudulent claims that a product called Growbust could make breasts bigger. The basis of the appeal was that lying in advertising is protected free speech and it is therefore illegal to object to such lies. The judges of the appeals court thought otherwise. You can see the judgment here.
Speaking of lawyers … (29/3/2003)
I have updated the list of threatened lawsuits arising from the content of the RatbagsDotCom sites. I had forgotten a couple of threats made by people who didn't like their words quoted in Full Canvas Jacket.