Wakefield still coming (4/12/2004)
Unfortunately, time beat me again this week so the updated story about Andrew Wakefield will have to wait another week. It may make things better, anyway, as more scandal comes in on almost a daily basis.
While doing a link check this week I noticed that possibly the last site defending mad feminist Mary Daly seems to have been eaten by the patriarchy, so I will have a story next week about Daly to show how stupid someone can be and how people can defend the stupidity with sophistry. And then there's the FTC action against the great humanitarian and scientist Hulda Clark ...
Some things never go away (4/12/2004)
Reader Tricia wrote to me about a film named What the Bleep Do We Know!? which has just been released in Canada. I haven't had a chance to see it yet (it won't be inflicted on southern hemispherians until next year), but I am already wary of the film because the official spelling of the name seems to be "What tHe βLεεP Dθ ωΣ (k)πow!?" and there is no mention of subtitles. I should point out that this film won the award for "Best Hybrid Documentary" at the 2004 Maui Film Festival!! What concerned Tricia most about the film was the involvement of certain people and entities, and she specifically asked me if I knew anything about a "JZ Knight". I looked at the film's credits and found that JZ Knight is listed under the heading "Special Thanks". Even better, "Ramtha" is listed as one of the scientists involved with the production.
I have always loved the self-referential quality of the cliché "a blast from the past", but it is so very appropriate here. Ramtha is the spirit guide of JZ Knight, and was born 35,000 years ago in the slums of Onai, the major port of Atlantis. After 63 out-of-body experiences, and with his body vibrating faster than light, Ramtha became one with the wind. Free of weight, he ascended into the Seventh Heaven from the side of Mount Indus in Turkey and he and God became the one entity. He is now part of an unseen brotherhood of superbeings who love us and hear our prayers. This brotherhood will shortly initiate the "Age of God", and this will mean the end of disease, suffering, war and death. (I am not making this up!) Ramtha is now also a scientific advisor to hybrid documentary films. Another advisor is John Hegelin PhD, who is a former president of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Maharishi International University.
JZ Knight and Ramtha received a great boost in publicity from a book called Dancing in the Light, brought out in 1985 by the talented, intelligent and attractive singer, dancer, actor and fruitcake Shirley MacLaine. According to the book, Ramtha told Shirley that they were brother and sister in Atlantis. Ramtha, through the medium of JZ Knight, told Shirley a lot of other stuff as well, such as how we are all God and once we realise this we can stop worrying about right and wrong and love God by loving ourselves. Twenty years later and JZ Knight and Ramtha are back helping to make documentaries about weirdness. It's deja vu all over again. Unfortunately, Jack Lemmon is no longer with us so we can't ask him to reprise his role in Irma la Douce and use his truncheon to whack some sense into some heads.
Much of the above information about JZ Knight and Ramtha comes from an article by Martin Gardner in the April 9, 1987, edition of The New York Review of Books, reproduced as the chapter "Look, Shirl, No Hands!" in his 1988 book )
Some things go away again (4/12/2004)
I just checked the Offender Information Database at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and what did I find? I guess that this means that baby slaughterer Alan Yurko won't be starting his professional speaking career as soon as he had hoped.
Some things are useless (4/12/2004)
Keen-eyed readers of James Randi's weekly commentary will have noticed the following picture last week. It shows two astronomers, a doctor, a professional skeptic, a film producer and me attempting to commit suicide by taking massive underdoses of homeopathic sleeping tablets at the recent Australian Skeptics convention. Despite swallowing many more tablets than the recommended dose on the packet, we were all able to stay awake for Phil Plait's excellent talk about mad and bad astronomy.
The futility of discourse (4/12/2004)
Sometimes it is not worthwhile to continue a conversation. During the week I was accused of lying for saying that not-a-medical-Dr Hulda Clark had not sued me for defamation but for damaging sales of her books, thereby evidencing her love for money. When I pointed the complainer to the specific paragraphs in the law suit (I even used the copy of the suit on Clark's lawyer's site so that I could not be accused of tampering with it) I was told that it said nothing about suing over books. When I pointed out yet again that the suit was bought by a publishing company which sells nothing but books and I was accused of damaging sales of the company's products (up to $10 million in lost sales), I was told that I was still lying because the word "books" was not used – it said "products". Is it any wonder that people can believe the nonsense in Clark's books if they do not have the reading skills to see beyond the literal dictionary definition of the words on the page?
Speaking of not-a-medical-Dr Hulda Clark ... (4/12/2004)
The US Federal Trade Commission has had some very uncomplimentary things to say about Clark. Her PR machine is trying to spin it as a victory for her, but it will be a sad time for her when she has to start giving money back to her victims. More next week ...
Ongoing correspondence (4/12/2004)
I have been having email conversations with several people over the last few weeks. Here are the current states of play:
Sadness abounds (4/12/2004)
When the mail came in yesterday one of the items was the latest edition of the newsletter The Human Rights Defender from Amnesty International. It came in a clear plastic wrapper which allowed me to see the articles featured on the cover. I decided that I didn't need to be depressed right at that moment about how hopeless the task of fixing the world's problems can seem to be, so I put it aside for later. The next thing in the pile was a large white envelope from a convention organising company. I opened it up and I was told about a conference to be held in June next year. This will be a conference and trade show run jointly by the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. That's right folks, the professional body representing university-educated, scientifically-trained retail pharmacists in this country is going to have a Natural Healthcare Expo in partnership with the professional body representing self-taught, science-rejecting snake oil salesmen.
I can't say that reading the Amnesty magazine cheered me up, but at least I have most of my Christmas shopping done now thanks to their online shop. Spending that sort of money for that sort of cause would make anyone feel better.
A quack is defended (4/12/2004)
An objection. My responses are in italics:
Date: Wed, 01 Dec 2004 14:12:47 -0500
From: IKRA_Centre_de_Santé Optimale
It seems that you hype the conventional ways of treating cancer. Please have a look at www.ouralexander.org.
This is an advertising site for Dr Burzynski. I was surprised to find that someone would use his own dead son in an advertising campaign until I found out that Michael Horwin was doing the PR for murderer Alan Yurko (he withdrew when the money ran out).
Alexander went through the conventional way of surgery and chemotherapy for brain cancer.
The last time I looked at the site it said that the Horwins were on Burzynski's doorstep six weeks after Alexander had been diagnosed. There was no possibility that he could have undergone all the claimed treatments in that time. Put another way, Michael Horwin was lying. Remember, this site was probably paid for by Burzynski, and you should not always believe what you read in advertisements.
His parents wanted to go the alternative way with Dr. Bryzynski and the FDA denied them this.
As it should. Burzynski's "treatment" had shown no effectiveness in the 20 years that he had been pretending to run clinical trials.
The parents were promised the latest in chemotherapy drugs, which some of turned out to be over 30 years old.
So what? I did a radio interview this week with someone who runs a school of complementary medicine. One of her claims for effectiveness of the pills and potions was that some had been in use for thousands of years.
The father put together this site to warn parents about conventional treatments which have been proven over and over to be useless, toxic and mortal for children (look at the the quoted oncology studies on the site).
The father put the site together because doing publicity and advertising was what he did for a living.
Before you start putting others down, check and see what conventional chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation offers children, absolutely nothing.
Other than an up to 80% chance for a complete cure. Burzynski claims to have treated more than 8,000 patients, but his supporters have told me that he does not claim to have cured any of them.
I'm sorry that the update is a little late this week, but I had to immediately react to a couple of emergency issues, and a lot of this week's material had to be passed in front of lawyers before publication. Normal chaos will resume as soon as possible.
A new tribute page (11/12/2004)
After several months of barely tumescent activity. Mr William P O'Neill of the struggling Canadian Cancer Research Group has reappeared with another tribute page to me. He created it at the new beta version of Google Groups and invited those who knew me and some other people to contribute their anecdotes. I couldn't help myself so I put up a few stories about Mr O'Neill. Unfortunately, one of the other parties mentioned complained to Google and the site is no more. I will never complain about anything like this because I simply do not find mindless fools calling me names to be defamatory. On the contrary, it is highly amusing, says much more about the morons than it does about me and sometimes, as in this latest case, gives me a chance to attack them using their own weapons. You can see what the original site looked like here. I would like to point out to Mr O'Neill that calling me a "convicted pedophile" is getting a bit tiresome and boring and he should look for another insult. That one has never done any damage to me and never will, just as insulting my family will never get me to go away.
[Update: On January 11, 2005, I was advised by the operators of the serviced office business which Foxtab had been using that Foxtab was no longer a client of theirs. The company modestly requested that their name not be associated with Foxtab in any way. I think this is false modesty, as "We do not deal with criminals" is a useful message to include in any company's set of public policies.]
You can see the brochure here (2mb Acrobat file).
The people who are running this scam are liars, thieves and charlatans. They should be in prison. If they think that I am defaming them then all I can say is "The people who are running this scam are liars, thieves and charlatans". Of course, to try to take any legal action against me for defamation would require the vermin to come out into the open and tell everyone their names, so I feel quite safe.
The brochure is a masterpiece of legal work. The first thing you don't see (because it is on the bottom of the inside of the front cover) is this disclaimer:
This disclaimer serves to disclose the following : Investment of any type can involve some risk. You can make a profit as well as losses. You should not commit funds to this, or any other investment, that you cannot afford to lose. You should reference all claims, projections and statements made in this brochure, to the disclaimer.
Well, you might accidentally see it, so it is printed in 7 point type, making it look like this:
This disclaimer serves to disclose the following : Investment of any type can involve some risk. You can make a profit as well as losses. You should not commit funds to this, or any other investment, that you cannot afford to lose. You should reference all claims, projections and statements made in this brochure, to the disclaimer.
The next page of the brochure gives the company's vision, including the fact that a company which claims as its head office a desk in a serviced office complex has "core values of honesty and integrity". Then we hear about the brilliant man who developed the system. He is a mathematician by the name of James Clark, who "was educated" at Washington State University. By some strange oversight, when you go to the American Mathematical Society's Mathematics Genealogy Project and search for this name and school you are told: "Your search has found 0 records in our database". I do know, however, that he is a brilliant mathematician, because he has worked out a way to gain an edge over totalisator betting systems. Why this is impressive is that tote systems work by taking their share and dividing the rest among the winning gamblers. Totes do not set or pay on odds. There is no edge to gain. Maybe Mathematician Clark is unknown to others in his field because he is keeping below the radar so that nobody can steal his work on angle trisection.
The next thing we hear is how poverty-stricken Australians are when they retire. The numbers are strangely familiar, and seem to be the same ones which are spouted by pyramid salesmen when showing the plan. Still, if something works on one bunch of suckers it would be a waste not to use it on others. The next five pages are figures and graphs showing how well you would have done using this betting scheme over the last year, assuming, of course, that you had the benefit of hindsight when creating the list of excellent results. I didn't bother to check whether the results shown reflect what actually happened in real racing history. It would be a bit silly for the crooks to make up the results from whole cloth, although it would be very difficult for anyone without a lot of time to spare to check them.
The next page is wonderful. It starts off with the heading "Australia's Largest Industry", and then says that the thoroughbred industry is one of Australia's largest (Note – not "the largest", but "one of the …"). Please note that the "thoroughbred industry" is not just betting on horse races. It includes all the stud farms, the training facilities, the staffing and upkeep of race tracks, the veterinarians, the people who transport horses around, the businesses which run the betting shop networks, and so on. The brochure says that annual turnover for the industry is "in excess of $12 billion", and this may very well be correct, but "Australia's Largest Industry"? Just to put things into perspective, I bank with Australia's fourth largest bank (the same bank as used by Astrafund). Westpac's turnover in its last financial year was $8 billion. The three banks above it had a combined turnover of $37 billion. Australia's largest retailer, Coles Myer, sells $32 billion worth of food and clothes each year. Do I think that the promoters of Foxtab are being deceitful when they call thoroughbred racing "Australia's Largest Industry"? Yes, I do. Did it take me long to reveal their deceit? No, it didn't. Do I think that the sort of person who would fall for their scam will bother to check" No, I don't. Do the principals of Astrafund care about the truth? Make up your own mind. (Note – I used the word "principals", meaning the owners. The word "principles" does not apply in this context.)
It also says on this page that "income is tax free". This may very well be so, but the relevant case law on this has all been to do with people trying to claim gambling losses as business expenses. It seems to be the clear from the court decisions that anyone who was really successful with the Foxtab system may well be declared to be running a business and therefore be assessable for income tax. One of the fine examples of the legal advice that the promoters of this scheme have received is the stipulation that the maximum bet using the system should be $200. Betting at this low level could probably be used in court as evidence that the gambler was not serious and therefore not liable to tax, and anyone who bet more than this would have no claim against Astrafund for invalid tax advice because he would have been acting outside the recommendations of the program. In any case, the income tax issues is moot, as nobody is going to be making any money out of this except the promoters.
I was interested to read that the millions of calculations necessary each week to produce the tips are "made through Astrafund Pty Ltd main frame computer". Just how a "main frame computer" with its associated raised-floor accommodation and extensive power and air-conditioning support systems would be located in a cubicle in a suite of serviced offices is something that I will have to talk to IBM about. I really like the page headed "Guarantee", where it goes on to say that if you had bought in a year ago you would have been guaranteed the results shown in the results graphs, but, sorry, you are coming in now so there is no guarantee of anything.
The final pieces of clever lawyering are in the application form to buy into this scam. The first thing I noticed was that the impressively titled "Foxtab Program Agreement" had already been signed by the CEO of Astrafund as part of the brochure printing process. What this means is that it is not any sort of agreement or contract at all unless he deigns to sign it again once it has been submitted. There also appears to be no corporate seal on the "agreement". If you think that I am being a bit pedantic here, it actually says in the "agreement" that once they receive your money they will supply an agreement signed by both parties. But – how will they get your signature on what they send to you, and if what you sign here isn't the final agreement, why does it call it that in the brochure? A mystery.
The other beautiful aspect of the agreement is that there is no amount of money mentioned on it. You have to fill that in yourself. But the cost of the program is mentioned nowhere in the brochure, so how do you know how much it is? You can't leave the amount blank (unless you are particularly stupid and regularly write blank cheques to strangers), as a contract with no consideration is no contract at all. You get the amount by ringing them up. This means that you have contacted them, so legally required cooling-off periods may not apply and you will have no chance to change your mind. The other nice thing for them is that they will have a record, three times and in your own writing, of how much you will allow them to extract from your credit card. If you subsequently complain about poor value for money, there will be no doubt about whether you were aware of the cost. Another advantage of having no price on the brochure is that it removes the possibility of the document being seen as a prospectus for investment, which would require the disclosure of some useful information like the names and addresses of the owners and directors of the outfit.
Just for interest, here are the last two years' activities for Astrafund as recorded by the Australian Securities & Investments Commission. Notice how often (and when) they move or change directors. They do not seem to have lodged an annual return since January 2003, but perhaps they are still waiting for Professor Clark to do the arithmetic.
|05/11/2004||484E Change to Company Details Appointment or Cessation of a Company Officeholder|
|12/10/2004||484B Change to Company Details Change of Registered Address|
|27/07/2004||484E Change to Company Details Appointment or Cessation of a Company Officeholder|
|27/07/2004||484 Change to Company Details Change of Registered Address|
484C Change of Principal Place of Business (Address)
|11/02/2003||203 Notification of Change of Address|
203G Change of Address – Principal Place of Business
|29/01/2003||316 (AR 2002) Annual Return Change of Registered Office Address|
316T Change to Principal Place of Business
316L Annual Return – Proprietary Company
So, in summary, we have a brochure filled with lies and half-truths asking people to give money (and credit card details) to unnamed people who have no known addresses, telephone numbers or means of being located in exchange for the possibility the they will receive useful horse race selections. The system is based on tote betting, which means that the more people who subscribe to the scheme the lower the individual payouts will be on those rare occasions when one of the provided guesses actually runs a place. Of course, there is also the incredible idea that anyone who knew how to pick all those winners would tell anyone else at all, as they could make all the money they could ever spend by working for ten minutes a week.
Here's a challenge for the crooks running Astrafund and Foxtab: For the next ten Fridays, send me ten selections by 5:00PM AEST. The selections must be one horse each in ten races at at least four race tracks. At the end of the time, I will have 100 selections. If the scheme works, I should have at least 80 place-getters listed. Easy, isn't it? Can't do it? Won't do it? I didn't think so.
Questions pre-empted (11/12/2004)
You may be tempted to ask why I would get so steamed up about a fraudulent gambling scheme and how such a matter fits with the other concerns of The Millenium Project. It's because the characteristics of this scam are the same as other ways of deceiving and robbing the gullible. What Astrafund is doing is no different in principle to the actions of pyramid scheme operators, cancer quacks, faith healers and fake religions. The idea is to find a group of people with some desperate need, be it related to health, wealth or self-esteem, and to ruthlessly exploit that need in order to steal money. It is no accident that Astrafund uses a version of the pyramid schemers' "where will you be at 65?" line. This bunch of thieves have either used it before to steal dreams or have seen that it works for others.
If you looked for a common thread which connects all the sites listed in the Millenium Project it is that someone is lying in order to gain an advantage over someone else. The advantage may be to convert someone to an ideology, as in the case of the anti-vaccination liars, some religions and some sexual and racial bigots, or it may be to steal money, like the multi-level marketers, the medical quacks and the faith healers. They all want something. They all lie to get it. And what they rely on is the lack of critical thinking skills which allows the lies to go undetected.
Another reason I got so worked up about this particular scam is that it only took me a couple of hours to get all the details necessary to show what a house of cards it is. The mail came in at about 6:00PM and I had the story written by 11:00PM, and in that time I had also cooked and eaten dinner and found time to watch the season finale of a television show (I didn't want to miss the cliff-hanger). If I can do this, why can't the television shows, newspapers and magazines which all claim to have teams of reporters just waiting to protect consumers from fraud?
AOL! Sigh! (11/12/2004)
When I was checking out Astrafund, I tried to go to AOL's US web site. Their system picked up my IP address, told me that I was being redirected, and flicked me to AOL's Australian site. I thought that I might be able to get to where I wanted to go by way of the "AOL International" link, and, sure enough, I was taken to a page which said "AOL is the world's largest internet company with over 35 million members around the globe. Each AOL has its own distinctive flavour, reflecting the diverse cultures and interests of the countries in which AOL operates. Take some time to look around!". I clicked on the link clearly labelled "AOL US" and was promptly returned to the Australian page. Is it any wonder that AOL has a reputation for moronic users when it treats visitors like morons. I know where I want to go and I would never do business with someone who treated me as if I was so stupid that I didn't know what I wanted.
Unexpected visitors (13/12/2004)
A few years ago I wrote a book about the Internet and my editor insisted that I remove certain comments as they could be considered defamatory of the Church of Scientology. These comments did not mention the Church, so I can only assume that the publisher was acting on prior experience with the outfit. This particular publisher specialised in consumer protection matters and was not frightened of taking on and naming large corporations (in a country with draconian defamation laws), so I knew that they weren't just frightened by the potential of a bit of bad publicity.
The words deleted from the book didn't really matter, and the book went on to be one of the biggest-selling non-fiction books in Australia that year. I went on to fame and fortune, both now just fond memories. I figured, however, that I had been personally interfered with by the Church to the point of having to change something to make them happy, so I reckoned it was fair for me to claim at least SP2 status, with a good argument for SP3. ("Suppressive persons" are those who offend the Church in some way. You can read about this here. The numbering system was invented some years ago by the opponents of Scientology, and reflects the OT levels of The Bridge. You can see all the levels here.)
All of that changed today, and I believe that I am due for regrading.
This afternoon my doorbell rang and standing on my front porch was not one but a pair of Scientologists. These were not just any Scientologists. One of them was the President for Australia, New Zealand and Oceania for the Church of Scientology. The top man. The Boss. El Supremo.
They were there to discuss, among other things, how their feelings had been hurt by things that I had said on my web site when awarding the Citizens' Commission for Human Rights the prestigious Anus Maximus Award for 2003. It did not escape my attention that the matter of Fair Game was brought up even before we had sat down, but I was assured that Mr Hubbard had soon realised the folly of such tactics and had forbidden it within months of first mentioning it. It also did not escape my attention that they had arrived uninvited at my home, sending a signal that they knew who I was and where to find me. (My home address is not on my web site, nor is the fact that I work from home and therefore might be on the premises at lunch time on Monday.) I can't really complain that they found out who I am, because I have never made any secret of who I am on the basis that if I tried to be anonymous I couldn't do what I do. In almost six years of running this site, however, this is the first time that anyone has actually visited me without even a preliminary email. Even lawyers ask for confirmation of an address before sending writs.
We discussed many matters of mutual interest over the next hour or so, and finally parted with handshakes all round and a commitment on both sides to continue the dialogue further in the future.
So, here's the question. Can I now claim that I am SP4, even though no explicit Fair Game or legal threat was made? I have to think that a personal visit from the top man in the Church beats a letter from a lawyer any day. It could even be SP5 at a stretch, as top-ranking Scientologists at the front door sounds an awful lot like the first shot in a Dead Agenting campaign.
Merry Christmas (18/12/2004)
It's all his fault! Pope Gregory XIII, pictured at right, removed ten days from the calendar in October 1582. Had this change not been implemented, Isaac Newton would have been born on December 25, 1642. The Cardinals at the 1563 Council of Trent have a lot to answer for over their calendar fiddling, as not only did they deny future generations the convenience of combining Easter and Australia Day but they also denied rationalists the pleasure of wishing everyone a Merry Newtonmas at this time of the year.
As I am stuck with the word, I would like to wish all of my site visitors a Merry Christmas. I don't need any presents because it is present enough for me that this site now attracts over a million visitors a year. What started as a hobby and a place to vent and rant has somehow turned into one of Australia's most popular media outlets dealing with science, rationality and critical thinking. (I have been told that my weekly visitor count exceeds weekly sales for New Scientist magazine in Australia.) I appreciate the emails I receive about the site, both the kind emails and the other ones, and I can't put it better myself than to repeat the words of the philosopher Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and say "Thank you. Come again".
Now, if only I can find a way to get paid for all this ...
Pedantry Update (29/12/2004)
Reader and pedant David Shannon has pointed out that England did not accept the Popish Gregorian calendar until 1752, thus making the day on which Isaac Newton was born December 25 1642 in his part of the world at that time. That may be so, but the great arbiter of everything English, the BBC, now lists Newton's birthday as January 4, 1643. I will admit that there was that glorious period of 110 years when right-thinking people could raise their mugs of cider (the preferred beverage because of its relationship to apples) and wish each other Merry Newtonmas before the juggernaut of Catholicism rolled remorselessly across the sceptred isle and crushed this spark of rationality. And who said that I am not a pedant too, because Principia was published in 1687 so it was only 65 years and Principia was written in Latin, the language of the Papacy, and we wanted to call it Newtonmass so that along with the cider we would have a reminder of Newton's laws but the Catholics had stolen the word "mass" so people started saying "weight" which is not the same thing because it needs gravity to work so even though it also reminds us of Newton it is wrong when talking about laws of motion because gravity is an outside force and makes the calculations hard to do unless what you want is to calculate an orbit ...
I apologise for that. I reached for my coffee and accidentally bumped the switch on the Rant'o'Matic with my elbow and the setting changed to "Foam at the mouth mode". I am going to lie down for half an hour and everything should be good again shortly.
Holiday Opening Hours (18/12/2004)
I've just updated my business web site to tell people where I won't be and what I won't be doing over the next few weeks, so I had better do it here as well. I plan to spend Christmas Day and the day or two after it with my family and friends, so the next scheduled update is on Wednesday, December 29. I have long held the view that anyone who plans to do anything productive on New Year's Day hasn't quite grasped the concept of the word "party", so the update for that weekend will probably appear on Tuesday, January 5. (As I was the leading Y2K skeptic and dissenter in the Australian computer industry, I had to do some serious partying on December 31, 1999, in case I looked like the world's greatest idiot the next day. I didn't.) On the weekend of January 23 and 24, Her Majesty and I will be in attendance at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Unfortunately this event no longer has Heineken as a major sponsor, so I will be forced to look at very fit young women in extremely short skirts without the benefit of my favourite sense-numbing beverage. I suppose I will be able to cope somehow.
Scientologists on my doorstep. Again. (18/12/2004)
Another update I had to do to my company web site was to put up a notification of the possibility that the Church of Scientology might try to do some damage to the business, and what my clients should do if they were contacted or heard rumours. (I have had a similar warning about Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group for some time.) I had taken this precaution even before the second unannounced, uninvited and unwelcome visit of Scientology officials to my home.
The reason that the Scientologists have been paying attention to me is that they are distressed by what I had to say when I gave the 2003 Anus Maximus Award to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. CCHR is a Scientology front organisation which opposes all forms of psychiatric treatment including, but not limited to, medication, counselling, surgery, shock treatment and confinement. You can read the award citation here.
I have now had Scientology officials visit me at my home twice in one week. On both occasions one of the visitors was Mr Nick Broadhurst, the President of the Church of Scientology for the region described as Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. The other visitor in each case came from CCHR, and on the second occasion it was the head of the regional organisation. Mr Broadhurst has emailed me with his concerns about what I said above, and has asked me to remove the material from this site.
I have reread the citation and I have come to the following decision. It stays. In fact, if the rules allowed a site, person or organisation to win the Anus Maximus Award more than once, CCHR would be at short odds to win again this year, although I might have to write a stronger, more critical citation. Mr Broadhurst asked before he emailed me that his message be kept private and I will do so. I will, however, publish my response as an open letter.
I have carefully considered your request to remove the material at https://ratbags.com/rsoles/comment/cchr.htm from my web site. Unfortunately, I can see no way to have this happen. I realise that you, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights and the Church of Scientology may be upset and offended by what I had to say, but they are only words. On balance, I feel that many of the statements made by CCHR give greater offence to the very many people who suffer from psychiatric disorders and are therefore classed by CCHR as dupes of some vast conspiracy of psychiatrists. Going beyond just words, many of these people would become dangerous to themselves and others if they were to be denied the treatments which CCHR so vehemently opposes. Psychiatry and mental health treatment are both far from perfect but these imperfections will not be fixed by abandoning everything and returning to the time of the Bedlam hospital.
On another matter, I would appreciate it if in the future neither you nor any other official of the Church of Scientology or any of its related organisations come to either my home or my place of work without either an appointment or an invitation. Thank you.
How people make stuff up (18/12/2004)
Do you remember all those fake predictions not by Nostradamus which appeared just after the September 11 atrocity in 2001? I was shown another example of this sort of thing this week when someone was demonstrating how the Quran predicted the fall of Saddam Hussein to the great American Eagle. The passage quoted was:
Quran (9:11) – For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah; and there was peace.
Any version of the Quran which is in other than Arabic is not a translation , but an interpretation. It is not the authentic word of Allah. Having said that, here are three interpretations of the eleventh verse of the ninth book:
Notice how close all of them are to the Eagle version? It took me almost a quarter of a second to find this using Google, so it is no wonder that the person promulgating the false story found it so hard to check the facts.
(Googling note: You have to be careful what you type into Google or you may not get what you really want. Just before I hit "go" I noticed that I had typed "korean english" rather than "Qur'an english". It may have been useful for me to proceed, however, as I might have been told where to put the water in for the rear window washer on Her Majesty's Hyundai or how to get my LG DVD player to do as it's told.)
Professor Haley redux (18/12/2004)
The subject of Professor Boyd Haley's disgraceful use of the term "Mad Child Disease" to refer to autism has come up again, because fans of the man have claimed that he has apologised when all he has done is to say that he didn't invent the expression. Apparently this is sufficient justification for being able to use it without remorse, in the same way that a supporter of Haley once referred to someone as a "jew boy" and defended the slur on the basis that the words were descriptive and had been used before. Haley will never apologise. Arrogant know-it-alls like him never feel the need to apologise because they are never wrong. In the eyes of the anti-amalgam idiots and the anti-vaccination liars it is blasphemy to suggest that a god is not infallible, but I would like you to consider the following two quotes from Dr Boyd Haley.
I'll just put the two statements together with nothing else around them.
This is a professor of chemistry, chair of his university's chemistry department, but he uses elemental mercury and ethyl mercury interchangeably. In another email to me he suggests that as there are no toxicity specifications for ethyl mercury it is legitimate to use the recommendations for methyl mercury. I would hope that the library at the University of Kentucky has a good collection of chemistry textbooks and journals, because chemistry students certainly aren't going to learn anything in class.
There is, however, always the possibility that Dr Haley actually lives two lives – the one of the chemistry professor who knows the truth and the one of the anti-mercurist who will say anything at all if it advances the agenda – and that he can so completely compartmentalise these lives that he doesn't recognise his hypocrisy. There was a similar case to this in the creationist movement some time back. One of the most quoted experts supporting the claim that there was scientific evidence for the Earth being only 6,000 years old was Andrew Snelling, who held a legitimate PhD in geology. Snelling could find all sorts of evidence of a young Earth, and his academic qualifications were always used to support his claims. In his day job, Snelling worked as a consultant geologist for oil and mining companies, using his knowledge of the changes which occur over hundreds of millions of years to advise his clients of likely places to do their prospecting. Just as the creationists could see no inconsistency in Snelling's behaviour, the anti-amalgam loons and the anti-vaccination liars see no problem with the nonsense that Haley spouts in support of their beliefs.
Betting Scam Update (18/12/2004)
Last week I mentioned that I had received an offer to participate in a betting scam. In the brochure it said that income from the scheme was not subject to income tax. The promoting company is not registered for Goods and Services Tax even though it is obviously over the turnover threshold for registration, but it collects the tax, which is illegal if the company is not registered (otherwise there is no way to pass the money on to the tax office). Just so I don't forget, the Australian Taxation Office case number for its investigation into Astrafund Pty Ltd (A.B.N. 73 082 152 707) is 178580. All it took was one phone call to the ATO. I had to fill in an online form at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to register complaint number 71590765 with that organisation.
I have just celebrated Christmas with my family, but the celebration was severely dampened by the news of the earthquake near Aceh and the resulting tsunami. My thoughts go out to the victims, both living and dead. I cannot imagine what it would be like to suddenly and without warning lose everything that matters to me.
Could anyone looking at the television over the last two days and seeing the wreckage around the Indian Ocean and the bodies piled in makeshift morgues still believe in a just god? I predict that a week from now someone will be found alive in the rubble of a hotel or an island village and the word "miracle" will be invoked. The people using this word will not ask themselves why the god who performed the miracle had to kill tens of thousands of people and damage, if not destroy, the economies of several countries in order to set the stage for the miracle. And speaking of predicting things, I sent the following note to the world-famous, $750 per hour psychic Sylvia Browne:
Date: Tue, 28 Dec 2004 11:01:08 +1100
I realise that Sylvia doesn't usually read emails, but I am sure that she has been asking the office staff to print this one out for her as soon as it arrives.
I have been looking all over Sylvia's web site for a warning about the earthquake and subsequent tsunami which caused so much death and destruction in the countries bordering the Indian Ocean yesterday. As it is the holiday season I know that web site updates may not be a high priority (my site, The Millenium Project, is usually updated on either Saturday or Sunday, but the schedule is a real mess for this week and next), but a notice about a disaster like this could have been put up on the site before everyone went home for Christmas.
There is, of course, the distasteful possibility that Sylvia only warned people who paid $750 for her time to do so, but as the majority of the people in the affected areas could not afford this I am sure that it is not the case.
On a brighter note, if such a term can be used in such tragic circumstances, I am sure that Sylvia will offer her services to pass on messages from the victims to their friends and relatives. I have no doubt that the Red Cross would welcome her assistance and perhaps even provide her with transport (most residents of the disaster area cannot afford to ring the US, even when the phones are working), but I have heard that Psychiques Sans Frontieres is assembling a disaster relief team and she may prefer to work through that organisation.
And here's something for the religious people who believe in that just and merciful god. God did it deliberately! Here is God Himself predicting the event and telling us that the people had it coming and we should not try to help or clean up in any way. From the book of Jeremiah:
25:32 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth.
25:33 And the slain of the LORD shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground.
Betting scam – Round 3 (29/12/2004)
On Tuesday, December 21, 2004, I received a telephone call on my business number from someone purporting to be a representative of Foxtab. The caller started off by telling me my address so that I could be sure he knew where I lived, and wanted to know why I didn't like what his organisation was doing. I told him that I don't like people who committed. fraud. He said that it was not fraud (another black-letter law reason for not having the price on the contract), so I asked for some indication of performance. He refused to tell me how many "clients" his company had, but did tell me that the turnover of the company was greater than $50,000 per annum. When I asked him why the company was not registered for Goods and Services Tax he told me that it was. He told me to check again. I checked again and found out that, as I expected, he was lying. That was just one lie.
He then offered to come to my home to discuss the matter over a cup of tea. I repeatedly told him not to come to my home, but he continued to say that he was coming. I informed him that if he appeared at my home I would call the police. (I spoke to the local police station afterwards and they promised very prompt response if I had to have trespassers removed.)
After I became sick of repeating myself about how he was not to come near me, I hung up. He then rang me back three times (once on my mobile phone). I finally told him that I did not want to talk to him, I did not want him to come near me, and if Foxtab wants me to remove any material from this site they should get a court order. He asked me what I was going to do about the material about Foxtab on this site, and I told him I was going to double it.
After the first mention of Foxtab on this site, a couple of potential victims contacted me and all said that they had been told that the price of the scheme was $5,800. It was interesting to note that the representative of Foxtab who contacted me told me that they were not asking for any money in the brochure. I can add sliding around the black-letter law on fraud to the reasons given above for not having an amount of money specified on the "agreement" in the brochure.
The following message was sent to finance and business writers at 190 media outlets by both fax and email during the evening of December 21. I started with specialist writers, but the database of email addresses and fax numbers in Margaret Gee's Media Guide contains thousands more people yet to be contacted if necessary.
A Sure Bet – The First Cockroaches of Summer
It seems that every summer we get tinderboxes, cockroaches and new betting scams. One such scam named "Foxtab" landed on my desk a few days ago from a company named Astrafund Pty Ltd.
The classy brochure contains all the usual enticements to "invest", including the standard sets of results showing how well you would have done had you joined the scheme last year before it existed. What the brochure didn't contain included the names of the directors of the company and a real address for the company (serviced offices do not count).
The people at Foxtab did not like what I wrote at https://ratbags.com/rsoles/comment/foxtab.htm and wanted to meet me at my home. The first indication I had that that sort of threat was coming was when the person who rang me asked me to confirm my address. There are many ways of saying "We know where you live".
I had already notified the Australian Taxation Office of the fact that a company was apparently collecting GST while not registered and that Foxtab were claiming that income as a professional gambler was free of income tax. I had also notified the Australian Securities and Investments Commission that a company which had changed directors and address several times lately but had not submitted an annual return for almost two years was acting in a suspicious, scam-like manner. As Foxtab have invaded my privacy and continued to say that someone was coming to my house "for a cup of tea" after being told several times that they would not be welcome, I am fulfilling my promise to tell the media about them.
I thought that people other than the media and government authorities might be interested in what is going on. On the inside cover of the brochure you can find the slogan "I want my Foxtab". When I asked the lady at Foxtel corporate affairs if she would be interested in hearing about a betting scam using the slogan "I want my Foxtab" her response was to think for a picosecond and then ask me to email her a copy of the brochure. Rupert Murdoch's lawyers! I bet the scamster will want them to drop around for a cup of tea.
But wait, there's more ... (29/12/2004)
This might be some sort of tag competition. On Christmas Eve, just three days after I had received the threatening call from Foxtab, a brochure for another betting scam turned up in the post. This one was a bit cleverer than Foxtab (although by a remarkable coincidence the head office and Melbourne branch shared office space with Foxtab) because this crowd had actually registered for Goods and Services Tax and had a (very small) disclaimer about how any income might be taxable. On the other hand, it is not too clever to invent an accounting firm to provide a recommendation for the "investment" and not cover up the invention. As the creation of an accounting firm in order to defraud people is probably not the right thing to do, this outfit has been given to the fraud detectives in four states as well as attracting Australian Securities and Investments Commission complaint number 71611774. You can read some more about this here.
As I seem to have broadened the area of attack somewhat, the category which was previously known as "Multi-Level Marketing (Pyramid Schemes)" is now called "Multi-Level Marketing, Pyramid Schemes, Scams and Frauds". Also, I have now received at least three offers from people who want to sell their kidneys to me. As I can only assume that these poor folk misunderstood the Alan Yurko Kidney Auction, I have decided to stop taking bids for the time being. The page will stay there with the existing bids. Yurko probably still needs to sell his kidneys because his lawyers and expert witnesses weren't paid their expenses for his great and successful court appeal, but I suppose he could pay them back out of the money he gets for sewing mailbags for the next few years.
Death tours (29/12/2004)
It is not very surprising that the cancer quackery industry in Tijuana should have spawned another level of parasites. There are the viatical parasites who buy life insurance policies to pay for the "treatments", and I have been looking at two organisations which promote tours of the death factories. One does drive-yourself tours, and I just had to ask them this:
Subject: Quack clinic tours
Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2004 21:48:02 +1100
I notice that on the web site http://www.cancertours.com promoting tours of Mexican cancer quackery clinics you have the following words:
Rent a car from AVIS with our corporate number.
Save 10% on AVIS car rentals. Only AVIS cars are allowed to cross the border with the proper papers.
I crossed the border in a Hertz car without papers earlier this year.
I suppose you have to lie to increase your credibility with your clients in Tijuana.
The other site does bus tours from San Diego. In September 2005 they are running the 33nd Annual Cancer Convention.
This much evil in one place is hard to imagine. A feature of this group's conventions is a a bus tour of Tijuana's finest money-for-less-than-nothing establishments. That is not surprising, but what is surprising is that nurses registered in California can get continuing education credits for attending the convention. This actually has government approval. I eagerly await the reply to this:
Subject: Continuing Education insanity
Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2004 22:04:43 +1100
I was just perusing the web site of an organisation which promotes one of the most disgraceful forms of deception and medical quackery – fraudulent cancer "cures". You can see this disgusting site at http://www.cancercontrolsociety.com
On the page describing their 2005 conference, there is a statement which says "Provider Approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing, #CEP5688 for 27 contact Hrs. $125.00". I am not sure what the $125 means, as the cost for registration for the entire conference is only $105 – I assume that this is an extra fee charged to fill in the necessary CEP forms. http://www.cancercontrolsociety.com/meeting2005.htm
My concern is not about the price but about the fact that it appears that nurses can gain CEP points for attending a conference run by an organisation which is totally opposed to real medicine and which actively promotes illegal, dangerous and deceptive practices. One of the extras for the conference is a tour of Tijuana cancer clinics. As everyone should know, these clinics are in Tijuana because they cannot operate legally in the USA. They exist to steal the money of dying and desperate people by offering supposed "cures" which have no basis in science or medicine.
I find it amazing that nurses, who are supposed to be part of the medical and health professions, should be rewarded for their involvement with an event which, if it achieves its aims, will turn seriously ill people away from proper treatment and place them in the hands of crooks and charlatans.
Please cancel this attempt to legitimise quackery by associating itself with medicine. The Board of Registered Nursing has no place in the promotion of quackery.
This book will change your life (29/12/2004)
Well, maybe not change your life, but it might make you think before throwing your life away. Eric Scheibeler was a big pin in Amway and this book documents the way he and his wife were drawn into the cult by false promises, lies and psychological tricks – the same tactics used by all cults to gain control over members. He saw the deceit, the hypocrisy and the obsession with money as an end in itself from within the small circle of people allowed to be exposed to the truth. When he saw the truth it revolted him and he realised that anyone with a conscience and with a sense of morality could not remain inside this corrupt environment. My own direct experience with executives of Amway showed me that the company would lie to protect criminals in its ranks.
Someone who was showing me the plan once told me that there had never been anything like the system in the history of marketing. When I pointed out that the illegal drug industry was a multi-level marketing scheme where the people at the bottom recruited others to pay for their own supplies and the people at the top got all the money, lived like kings and had absolute contempt for those below them in the network the Amway scout listened politely and then resumed his spiel. He either didn't care or didn't want to know. Probably both. The difference between Amway and the Mob is that the Mob don't pretend to be in an honest business.
You could originally only get Eric's book from his web site, but that site is now closed. You can download the book here. I recommend that you go there, download it, get a bucket ready to catch the vomit, and then read about the way that the fortunes of people like Richard de Vos, Jay Van Andel, Dexter Yager and other big-time crooks were made by offering dreams which they knew could never be fulfilled.
[Eric eventually gave up and closed his web site. You can download and read his book here.]
A kinder and gentler 2005 (29/12/2004)
I will be extending my "kinder and gentler" policy in 2005. During 2004 the policy was reactive – I was kind and gentle when replying to critics. The change for next year will to become proactive, and I will occasionally reach out to those with whom I might not be in agreement. I will send them a polite email commenting on their words and actions. By doing this I hope to establish a dialogue and to demonstrate my commitment to tolerance of their views.
I have been practising over the last week, and here are some examples:
Subject: That old mercury in the MMR BS
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 2004 16:38:29 +1100
Dear Mrs Hickman,
I thought that I would write to you under my 2004 policy of maintaining kinder and gentler relationships with people with whom I do not necessarily agree.
I have long followed your rantings and lies about vaccination, and I even had the perverse pleasure of seeing you lie live on stage once, and for all this time something has puzzled me. Is your lying some kind of psychopathological condition or do you just do it because you really don't care? I realise that these two states may overlap but the latter implies a greater level of conscious activity. One is mad, the other is bad.
What encouraged me to write to you today was your letter in the Manly Daily, written in response to a sensible article from the Manly-Warringah Division of General Practice. I don't have time to address all the lies in your letter (I don't want to miss lunch with the family on Saturday), so I will just refer to this particular one:
Medical evidence is also available linking measles, mumps, rubella vaccine and vaccines containing the preservative Thiomersal – a mercury derivative – to autism and neurodevelopment disorders.
You know, and I know that you know, that the preservative thiomersal (or "thimerosal" as it is referred to in the USA) has never been used in the MMR vaccine. I realise that you have very carefully worded your lie so that it doesn't actually say this, but the implication is clear. By the way, thimerosal is a compound of mercury, not "derived from", but you know that. The real lie, of course, is that there has ever been a connection shown between vaccination of any kind and autism. Still, once the lie is uttered it can be difficult for truth-tellers to refute it.
I remember seeing you on stage that night at Hurstville lying about the mercury in vaccines which have not had mercury in them for years and then going on to praise murderer Alan Yurko for killing his girlfriend's baby. I have spent some time as an observer and critic of the mental health system and I must say that you would fit in well into almost any secure psychiatric facility that I have seen, although some of the patients might think that you are nuts. I'm sure you will be disappointed, though, to know that on that particular night your performance was eclipsed by Dr Archie Kalokerinos. Still, it is hard to beat someone who says that the World Health Organization and the Save the Children Fund "put Hitler and Stalin in the shade" with their policy of genocide. Better luck next time.
Subject: Bad doctors
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 2004 13:07:45 +1100
Dear Ms Delp,
Congratulations. I totally agree with you when you say "obviously crimes of trust don't carry heavy penalities in the UK" in your comments about the article at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/beds/bucks/herts/ 4117859.stm
The nonsense of giving separate injections for measles, mumps and rubella instead of the single MMR shot was always a fraud, and those people who promoted the practice deserve all the opprobrium they receive.
I look forward to your campaigning for very harsh penalties to be applied to Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose fabricated "research" contributed greatly to the scare about MMR vaccines by pretending to show a link between vaccination and autism. As you know, Dr Wakefield not only lied about how his "research" was conducted and funded, but he hid the fact that he stood to make a great deal of money if his "research" could influence public opinion or government policies. It was the dishonesty of Dr Wakefield that created the environment which allowed people like Dr Pugh to go about their evil business.
I know that you will be bringing up the disgraceful conduct of Dr Wakefield, because to do otherwise would make you look like a hypocrite.
By the way, did you know that Dr Joseph Mercola has said that both Dr Wakefield and Dr Boyd Haley are wrong about what causes autism and that the real culprit is the consumption of pasteurised milk? Isn't it good to know that neither MMR vaccine nor the mercury in thimerosal have anything to do with it?