Happy New Year (1/1/2004)
I would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. Your continued support of this site makes the work and time it takes worthwhile. The legal threats keep coming and the first demand in 2003 to close the site came on the first day of January, but the site is still here and my ever-increasing bills for bandwidth are evidence that I must be doing something right. Actually, the legal threats also prove that I am doing something right, because if the targets of this site care enough to start bullying then they must feel threatened themselves. A day spent annoying some of these people is not a wasted day.
I predict that 2004 will bring more complaints from crooks, charlatans and bigots, and I fully expect that the personal attacks on me will become more ferocious as the Australian Council Against Health Fraud evolves and grows over the year. (The first public attacks on me occurred within 24 hours of the announcement of the formation of the organisation.) I also predict that these complaints and attacks will have just as much effect in 2004 as they have had in the previous five years, which is none. I would again like to thank everyone for their support and for coming back week after week. And I really will try harder to answer all the email next year.
2003 Millenium Awards (1/1/2004)
The Millenium Project Awards for 2003 have been decided. You can see full details and citations here, but here is a summary:
Citizens Commission on Human Rights (1/1/2004)
(This is the text of the citation for the 2003 Anus Maximus Award)
Part of the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is that psychiatry is bad. His original feelings on this might have been influenced by the fact that he was mad and he felt threatened by a medical speciality which existed to treat that madness. Put another way, he felt that if there were no psychiatry there would be no madness for it to treat and this would make him sane by definition. (This is not meant to make sense. Remember than Hubbard was insane.) The real reason that Scientology opposes psychiatry, however, is that Scientology's target market is people who are depressed, unhappy, susceptible to suggestion, and don't feel that they fit in to society. Anybody offering to treat these conditions with some behavioural therapy and a course of Prozac is an obvious threat to a cult which wants to brainwash people into paying several hundred thousand dollars to cross a mythical bridge to personal awareness.
CCHR would not be such a problem if the Scientology links were made obvious, because this might make other people think twice about dealing with them. Certainly, Scientology is mentioned in their literature (I have a book called "Documenting Psychiatry: Harming in the name of healthcare" which mentions that the cult paid for the printing of the book, as if that were the only involvement) but the true horror is well hidden. On the other hand, it might not worry people who deal with them. Anti-psychiatrist Thomas Szasz was instrumental in setting up CCHR, and when he was asked how he could justify an alliance with the criminal cult he actually used the expression "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Alternative medicine supporters gleefully accept the CCHR's attacks on drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac because this supports their ideology that there is no such thing as mental illness. In one bizarre confluence of insanity, The National Vaccine Information Center issued a newsletter promoting a CCHR seminar. I hadn't heard that the Scientologists were opposed to vaccination (although nothing would surprise me) so I can only assume that Barbara Loe Fisher at the NVIC thinks that because CCHR is opposed to "the drugging of children" they oppose other medication for children and therefore support her agenda, which is to have the practice of medicating children to prevent life-threatening diseases abolished.
I know people who have suffered from depression and other mental illnesses. There are some people I don't know any more because they committed suicide. That anyone would campaign against effective treatments for these illnesses is almost beyond belief. That an organisation would oppose these treatments for purely financial reasons just reinforces why it is so appropriate to use the word "criminal" in the descriptive expression "the criminal cult of Scientology".
Small earthquake in Iran, let's celebrate the miracles (1/1/2004)
I have just seen some pictures on television of survivors being found amongst the destruction caused by the earthquake which hit Bam in Iran just after Christmas. Inevitably, finding people alive after several days is described as a "miracle", as though there was some supernatural cause which allowed these people to be found alive rather than just the persistent and optimistic hard work of many people who were prepared to patiently examine the rubble in a way which is grossly inefficient but which minimises the possibility of causing more harm to people trapped in the debris. If some god was going to perform miracles a week after the event, it raises the question of why he or she or it allowed 30,000 other people to be crushed to death in the first place. It's not the sort of god I would want to believe in. Some good may come of this tragedy, however, as it seems to have opened a crack in the idiotic diplomatic barrier between Tehran and Washington. It's just a terrible shame that so many people have to die before politicians feel the need to start acting like human beings.
Speaking of earthquakes ... (1/1/2004)
Where were the psychics and astrologers who predicted this earthquake and warned everyone to get out of town? I realise that most professional psychics always predict a couple of earthquakes every year so that they can claim the inevitable hits, but I want to see how they spin this one. "I predicted an earthquake in a country with the letter 'a' in its name". "I said an earthquake would happen in a month with an 'r' in it". "When I took your money for my predictions I said 'Wham, bam, thank you ma'am'. How's that for accuracy? I even got the town right." And they will still take people's money for this fraud next year, and the year after, and ... .
Liver Transplant (1/1/2004)
One of the true miracles of modern life is transplant surgery. Could there be a more thrilling example of medicine than the ability to transfer parts from one person to another so that someone can live? One hindrance to the wider use of transplants is the shortage of donors. In most cases, the donor has to die on a hospital operating table if the organs are to have any use. It doesn't matter how many living wills you make or how many donor cards you carry or how good your intentions, if you die at home or even in the ambulance it is unlikely that anything except maybe your corneas will be transplantable. There are limited opportunities for living donors because there are organs that we just can't live without (which is why transplants are needed), and this really only applies to kidneys, skin and blood. It is early days yet, but work is progressing on performing liver transplants from living donors, as the liver will regrow if it is not too badly damaged.
There was a case recently in Canada where a woman named Edith Petes provided a portion of her liver for a workmate, Zahir Ismail. Zahir was 51 years old and his liver had been destroyed by Hepatitis C. Nobody knows for sure, but it appears that he may have contracted hepatitis from a vaccination he received as a child in Kenya. He left Kenya when he was a teenager and settled in Canada in 1984 to study for his PhD. Unfortunately, the transplant was not successful and he died eight days after the operation from complications arising from the surgery. His wife Alison and the donor Edith were equally devastated at his death, and they share a bond which cannot even be imagined by the rest of us.
Zahir Ismail was 51 years old and received the suspect injection in the early 1950s in Kenya, which could hardly have been described as being in the forefront of world-standard medical care at the time. And how did Meryl Dorey, President of the Australian Vaccination Network, report this story of courage, medical wonder and ultimate tragedy? She released the story under the heading "Another victim of unsafe vaccines". I had to buy a new keyboard because I couldn't get the vomit out of the old one.
Update Disruption and a Great Big Apology (1/1/2004)
My grand trip to the other side of the world where it's winter and things are measured in feet and inches starts on Friday, January 9, and I will not be back in Ratbag Castle until about January 25. I will be taking my computer with me and I have all the pieces of magic hardware which are supposedly necessary for connecting to the Internet, so I hope to be able to do some site updates while I am away. The real test will be when I wander into a Starbucks somewhere and start following the instructions to connect to T-Mobile's WiFi hot point. It had better work, because I don't think a double latte with chocolate and truffle chips and a splash of crème du radium is going to be enough to calm me down. I might have to have a triple-strength moccha with Italian dressing and a toasted meringue topping, laced with aspartame.
Seriously, though, I don't expect to have too many technology problems, but I won't be able to guarantee an update schedule between now and the end of January. If you want to be notified of changes to the site, please register with ChangeDetection. This is the change notification system used by Steve Gibson at grc.com and he's about as paranoid about security as it is possible to get, so I'm not too worried about email addresses falling into the hands of spammers.
I'm baaaaack! (26/1/2004)
I am now back at the webface after the Grand Tour of the bottom left-hand corner of the USA and the top left-hand corner of Mexico. My intention to update this site while I was away was thwarted by a combination of Murphy's Law and Microsoft (some would say that there is little difference) when all of the components of MS Office decided to stop working until I inserted an Office XP CD. As my CD was several thousand kilometres away, the hotel was still using Office 2000 and I was not about to buy a retail copy of Office, FrontPage was broken and I couldn't do any updates. Of course PowerPoint was also broken, which is how I came to be in Kinko's at midnight burning a CD of my presentation to James Randi's Amazing Meeting so that it could be loaded onto someone else's computer. While I was at Kinko's my travelling companion, SkeptoBear (seen in the picture at right with a magician), was enjoying himself at a pyjama party with many of the ladies attending the conference. Not only did SkeptoBear get to see the pyjamed ladies, but while in Las Vegas he also had his photo taken with Bob Park (of What's New? and the book Voodoo Science), Stephen Barrett (Quackwatch), Eugenie Scott (National Council for Science Education), Michael Shermer (from the Skeptics Society), Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer) and Elvis. I was not photographed with any of these people, but am I envious of SkeptoBear? Well, of course I am. One day the full story of the bear's rampage through Las Vegas and California will be told.
Not all of my experiences with travelling technology were bad, and I would like to offer sincere compliments to the T-Mobile HotSpot network and Starbucks who together provided the resources which allowed me to access my email and do other Internet things wherever I went. If you have to travel in the US and you have a WiFi equipped computer I thoroughly recommend getting a T-Mobile temporary account. There seem to be more Starbucks outlets than fire hydrants and the coffee is not too bad, but make sure your battery is full because there aren't many tables with handy power points.
While I'm in a complimenting mood, I must congratulate the organisers of the 2004 Amazing Meeting. There were some problems with the venue but the list of speakers was excellent (you can see some of the names above) and nobody could have come away disappointed. It was one of the best skeptic conventions I have ever attended, and I'm already trying to work out how I can afford to get to the 2005 Meeting. The location has not yet been decided although a return to Las Vegas is quite likely. Many people are rooting for New Orleans (the Australians are barracking for New Orleans rather than rooting), but wherever it is I want to be there. You should be there too.
Now, back to work ...
Tim wasn't in (26/1/2004)
When I first announced that I was going to the USA, everyone's favourite PR man, spokesgoon Tim Bolen, suggested that lawyers and other people should meet me at various places to issue legal documents and otherwise show their displeasure at my existence. I thought I would make it easier for Tim by calling in to his office. He runs his PR business from an address in San Juan Capistrano, and the domains for his web sites are registered to the same address. As this address is a post office box inside a small stationery shop, I told Tim on several occasions when I was coming so that he could rearrange the desks and make room for both of us and our coffee cups inside the box. Unfortunately he must have lost his diary because when I called he wasn't there. In case it was his day off, I returned a couple of days later to see if I could catch him in, but I missed him again. This was a great disappointment and I was forced to sit outside and console myself by reading the real estate prices in the local paper.
In a beautiful example of why some people can be convinced of anything if they want it to be true, a supporter of alternative medicine commented that the reason why Bolen didn't meet me is that I didn't knock. When it was pointed out to him that the office is in a mail box his response was "Well, that doesn't prove you knocked". Another alt follower (who says that it is never right to belittle anyone) said that Bolen is better looking than me. I felt that the only possible response to this non sequitur was to say "I wouldn't know. I've never met him".
Hulda wasn't in, either (26/1/2004)
If you were wondering what sort of an organisation would employ a public relations consultant who only has a mobile phone and gives his office address as a post box then you should meet Tim Bolen's most well-known client. She is not-a-medical-Dr Hulda Clark, and she has The Cure for All Diseases and The Cure for All Cancers, according to her books. Clark has a clinic in Tijuana where she used to steal money from desperate people in a place out of reach of the US legal system. The Mexican authorities shut her down, but her PR apparatus is claiming that this was only a temporary setback and it's business as usual. To get to her clinic, you walk into Mexico at the Tijuana entry point and then turn in the opposite direction from the other tourists. You walk a short distance into what could politely be described as a slum and there it is in all its pinkness. You can click on any of the pictures below to see the place in all its putrid, colourful glory. Keep in your mind the fact that people with AIDS were asked to pay $15,000 per week to go there to be "cured".
And someone who should be in. Prison, that is. (26/1/2004)
There is a listing in my local telephone book which says "Vaccination Information Service". When people ring this number under the misapprehension that there will be someone there who can provide useful information they get to talk to Bronwyn Hancock, possibly the most egregious of Australia's anti-vaccination liars. This is the woman who told me that it is impossible to harm a baby by shaking it. I will repeat that. She says that it is impossible to harm a baby by shaking it. She has challenged me to provide scientific evidence that shaking can hurt a child. She is obviously mad.
Her latest trick is to assist people who want information about vaccinations for overseas travel. Her advice is, of course, that no vaccinations are really required and it is just some bureaucratic nonsense and a matter of paperwork. She will introduce you to a doctor who will provide the documentation you need to get into those pesky countries which insist on visitors being vaccinated against such harmless diseases as yellow fever. The disregard for other people's lives shown by the anti-vaccination liars never ceases to amaze me.
Kinder and gentler (31/1/2004)
One of my New Year resolutions is to be much kinder and gentler to my opponents. An example of this policy in action can be seen in the email quoted in the next article.
Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy (31/1/2004)
I have been invited to attend a seminar this weekend which will deal with the dreadful problem of Dr Roy Meadow, the person who first identified the condition known as Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. (Unfortunately I cannot attend due to a subsequent prior engagement, as Oscar Wilde said.) This is where parents continually present children for medical treatment in order to meet a need in the parent for attention. Sometimes the parents will even hurt the child so that there is something for the doctors to look at. The anti-vaccination liars have taken a particular dislike to Dr Meadow because he acts as an expert witness for the prosecution in Shaken Baby Syndrome trials, and it is now an article of faith for these people that all cases of damaged children are caused by vaccines so Dr Meadow must be vilified at every opportunity. Last October I mentioned a particularly execrable outfit called the National Child Abuse Defense & Resource Center which exists to assist anyone charged with shaking a child to death, regardless of any evidence. The person who runs this organisation made the following comment on an anti-vaccination liar mailing list this week:
Only by chance did I find last night I had made Ratbags in a big way in October. The man comes by his name honestly.
I notice yet again the powerful juju that prevents these people using my name. I sent the following email to Barbara Bryan, but I have not yet received a reply:
I noticed that in a message to the AVN mailing list you said:
P. S. Only by chance did I find last night I had made Ratbags in a big way in October. The man comes by his name honestly.
If you think that a single mention on my site is making it "in a big way" then you are overestimating your importance. I may, however, decide to make a bigger issue in the future about your disgusting agenda and your malice towards children.
By the way, perhaps you could directly answer the question I put there. How do you look in the mirror without vomiting?
Shaken Baby Syndrome (31/1/2004)
To give you an idea of the thought processes of SBS non-believers, here is an email I received this week. It was sent to two different email addresses, seven minutes apart. The second time it arrived the subject line asked "did you write this article on SBS???". I do not know to which article the writer was referring, so I can't answer the question.
You are obviously a very uneducated, self righteous Villon, that has been placed in the PC world, to torment and traumatize innocent people that are suffering at the hands of "Junk Science". It is people like you that have taken this SBS crap way to far and are causing innocent people to be incarcerated and remain jailed because of egotistical biased Helfer's! You should be ashamed of yourself for putting the things on that site you did. May God have mercy on your soul along with your Chadwick, Randall and Meadow's followers. You are all a bunch of weak, stubborn, insensitive, obviously uneducated, and ruthless people who choose to close the doors to possibility's of an underlying cause, and follow the SBS trail that has no "science" to back it up. Go back to the Library, and try to look out side of your little box! Take this site down and pray to the good Lord, not only forgiveness for hurting innocent people, but pray he gives you brains to see the difference. May you go down with the best of them if you choose to stay on your trail of madness.
Disrespectfully yours, Brenda
Yurko – more nonsense (31/1/2004)
Murderer Alan Yurko has found a new excuse. The latest story is that the baby he beat to death actually died of scurvy. Just in case you didn't catch it the first time, a baby with blood in his eyes, brain cavity and spinal cord and with four healing broken ribs from prior assaults died of scurvy. This is about the seventh different reason provided to explain the death of a ten-week-old baby and to shift the blame away from the person who did it (and who has been officially declared a "hero" by the International Chiropractors Association). The picture at the right is supposed to be of Alan Yurko and his victim in the ICU and comes from a site begging money for more appeals for the killer. I seem to remember, however, being told that the baby was in a coma from the time he was admitted to hospital until his death two days later, and I don't think it is usual practice for comatose patients in intensive care to be handled by lay people. Perhaps Yurko just has a winning way with authority figures and rule enforcers, because the story is that he was the baby's father even though he was in a maximum security prison serving four concurrent sentences for violent crimes when the baby was conceived.
Congratulations – PayPal and MailWasher (31/1/2004)
I would like to publicly thank PayPal and MailWasher for the excellent service I received from both this week. Someone managed to fraudulently extract money from the PayPal account belonging to the Australian Council Against Health Fraud. As soon as it was reported, PayPal reversed the transaction and made sure that my credit card was reimbursed for any charges. They are investigating how the problem occurred, but the speed of the response is something that anyone who has ever had a problem with a bank credit card will agree is exceptional. I have mentioned before how useful the MailWasher program is in handling spam. I wanted to upgrade my free version to the fully-featured version but I did the wrong thing and my money was recorded as a donation instead. I emailed them with a suggestion that they should make the upgrade process a little clearer and they responded by giving me a free upgrade to the Pro version with updates for life. Again, I would like to congratulate both organisations for showing that the concept of customer service still lives.
Does using AOL make you go blind? (31/1/2004)
Some time ago I collected all the penis enlargement spams I received in a month and listed the various subject lines of the emails. Shortly afterwards, people started writing to me asking for help with their genital inadequacy. I thought that a notice saying that I didn't have an answer would be enough, but people still keep writing to me despite the page saying, in this size type,:
I don't know how to make your penis bigger.
Don't keep asking me!
For some reason, most of the requests come from AOL subscribers. The quality of the language in these emails suggests that the writers could very well be incapable of understanding the message above, so I have run it through the AOLer Translator which came up with the following eminently understandable rendition:
I DONT KNOW HOW 2 MAEK UR PANIS BIGER
DONT11!!! WTF KEP ASKNG ME1!!1! WTF
Bill's back, blathering and bullying (31/1/2004)
While I was in the USA, Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group, a fading quackery organisation responsible for the deaths of at least two people, rang my home and spoke foully to my wife. He also contacted the management of the hosting service for this site in another vain attempt to have this site shut down. He has also sent me a couple of stupid email messages, but as he sent them anonymously they have been added to the Gutless Anonymous Liar page. One of them abused my family. As Mr O'Neill's first ever email to me, four years ago, also abused my wife you would think that he would have figured out by now that this will not make me go away. Well, you might think that because you have an intellect, but we are talking about Mr William P O'Neill here ... Another of his recent stupidities was to announce to the world that my passport had been confiscated and that I would not be allowed into the United States. Mr O'Neill might like to consider the following picture. If he clicks on it he will see a beautiful coloured image of page seven of my passport.
It's only a theory (31/1/2004)
Creationists love to point out that evolution is "only a theory". This is supposed to be an argument that demolishes us Darwinists and evolutionists. In fact, it just tells us that we are dealing with someone who is either ignorant of what words mean or who is prepared to deceive. I received the following devastating rebuttal of evolution this week, and I reproduce it in its entirety.
How do you prove a THEORY?? re Evolution??
The short answer is "You don't". This is a typical misuse of the word "theory" by creationists. The word has a specific meaning in science, and that meaning isn't "some untested idea". It's the next stage beyond "hypothesis", where the idea has been comprehensively tested and has been strongly confirmed (if you are a follower of Carnap) and not falsified (if you follow Popper). The electronics in the computer I am using are based on theories in physics, but the thing seems to work. The use of the word "prove" is interesting too, as it originally meant "test". It survives in this meaning in the aphorisms "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" and "The exception proves the rule", as well as in the terms "proof-reading" and the use of the word "proof" as a measure of the alcoholic content of spirits. I would also like to point out that gravity is only a theory, and the writer is welcome to doubt its veracity the next time he is on a balcony or a bridge.
Speaking of evolution ... (31/1/2004)
Apparently the state of Georgia in the USA has decided to remove the word "evolution" from text books and replace it with some euphemism like "biological change over time". What idiocy! What cowardice! If they think that this will make the creationists happy they are wrong. All it will do is provide more words for lawyers and duplicitists to argue about. The Australian Museum in Sydney has a display about "biological change over time" and every time I go there I make sure I look at the sign which says "Evolution is a fact". I couldn't have put it better myself.
...and its supporters (31/1/2004)
While in the USA I had the pleasure of visiting the National Center for Science Education. I found it a much more pleasant place to visit than the Institute for Creation Research and the ICR wasn't even open when I got there! If it had been, I would have been faced with the moral dilemma of deciding whether to pay to go into their museum or not. Luckily, some higher power intervened and I was spared the choice, the embarrassment, and the outrage. The NCSE have some wonderful bumper stickers, and you can see one below. My trouble is that the only place I could put it on my car already has a Darwin fish on it, so I guess I will just have to put my sticker on my office wall.