What is still going on (1/10/2005)
There is not much new here again this week because I have been involved in other matters, part of which included writing a twelve thousand word affidavit for presentation to a court describing the history of this site, its philosophy, and the stories of various complaints made about the site. Twelve thousand words is a lot of words (I wrote a best-selling book once which only had about thirty thousand words in it and my editor allowed me three months to write it) so I have tired fingers and brain. I probably also have the basis for a book about things that can happen to web site owners.
I am still under restriction as to what I can say about certain things and where I can say it, but as courtrooms in Australia are public places and the proceedings of the courts are not secret (unless a judge so orders) I think that is safe for me to say that anyone going to the Federal Court of Australia's web site next Wednesday evening, opening the page which shows the court lists for the following day, clicking on the link for New South Wales and then looking for my name will be informed about where I can be found from 9:30am onwards on Thursday, October 6. As I said, our courts are open to the public and any member of the public who wants to come along will be welcome.
Multi-level marketers deceive again (1/10/2005)
When I started running Google advertisements on this site I mentioned that advertisements might occasionally appear which contradicted the philosophy of the site. The advertisements are generated by matching words on the surrounding page and those words are often about things that I don't like. Google allows me to list up to 200 domain names that will be blocked from advertising on the site, but other than that blacklist I have no way of predicting what will be displayed and no way of knowing what has been displayed unless people tell me about it. One disgusting advertisement which was blocked as soon as I knew about it was for an organisation called Generation Rescue. If these people get their way all autistic children will be denied effective treatment and education, their parents will be denied access to counselling and other advice about how to best cope with and bring up their children, and all research into the causes, treatment and management of autism will cease. It is hard to imagine that anyone could hate children so much, but I have been observing anti-vaccination liars for long enough to know that no evil they perpetrate should come as a surprise.
The following advertisement was brought to my attention because the right hand side led to an organisation which actively promoted pyramid scams and their close relations, multi-level marketing schemes. I blocked the domain immediately.
The left hand side appeared to be an advertisement for Robert Fitzpatrick's excellent Pyramid Scheme Alert site. While I was prepared to block the scam promoter's advertisements, I was quite encouraged to see that their nonsense was apparently being balanced by Fitzpatrick's good advice. I say "apparently" because the advertisement was not for his site but instead led to the Direct Selling Association of the USA. This is the industry body for multi-level marketing organisations, and its board of directors reads like a Who's Who of scammery. And why would such a prestigious industry association resort to the deceptive use of someone else's name (even to the extent of registering a deceptive domain name) to divert people to their own site? Because deception is what they do and why they exist.
There is some interesting information on the DSA web site, however. In one place they boast that the industry has annual sales in the USA of $28.7 billion, sold by 13 million distributors. The marketing of all multi-level and pyramid schemes relies on prospects being unable to do simple mathematics, and I suspect that they think that nobody is going to be other than impressed by these huge numbers. They think wrong. Ignoring the fact that the total sales is a fictional number based on what the sales would be if all product ended up in the hands of people who are not participants in the system and pretending that no distributor ever buys anything for themself, if you divide 28.7 billion by 13 million you get average annual sales per participant of $2208. Remember that this the gross sales income for a year. The average commission rate is about 2% (most people actually receive a lower rate of commission payments) so this gives an annual net income before taxes and expenses of $44.15. Net income. For an entire year's work. Out of that $44.15 the participants have to pay for training materials, conference and seminar fees, normal business costs like telephone and transport, make-up, dry cleaning and nice clothes to look prosperous at functions, child minding while they are out showing the plan, … . And people try to pretend that these scams are legitimate business opportunities. Of course, there are people making money out of these schemes, but it certainly isn't by direct selling of anything.
Now let's look at the $28.7 billion in perspective. $28.7 billion sounds like a lot of money, and it is to you and me. If I were to be getting paid that each year I would have to put on extra staff just to help me spend it. Anyone who has ever been shown the plan will have been told how multi-level marketing is about to replace conventional retail trade, so how does $28.7 billion compare to retail sales? I chose one company which operates in Australia, a country with about 7% of the population of the USA. The company is Coles Myer Limited, and in 2004 Coles did $A32.3 billion of sales. Adjusting using today's exchange rate, this is about $US24.4 billion. So we have a single company in a country with 20 million people doing 85% of the total business that is being done by a group of 164 companies in a country with 300 million people and an economy to match. And these companies are about to dominate the retail sales universe? Is it any wonder that they have to lie in and with their advertisements? They must be terrified of prospects getting even a hint of the truth.
Coincidence corner (1/10/2005)
On the same day that someone notified me of the DSA's deceptive ads I was introduced to one of the board members of the DSA. How is that for a coincidence? Spooky, isn't it? Explain that, skeptics.
What's going on this week (8/10/2005)
My side appeared in the Federal Court in Sydney on Thursday, October 6, bringing with us a comprehensive affidavit and a big pile of supporting exhibits, ready for our day in court. The other side appeared but had done absolutely nothing, which was very strange in light of the claim made in court on September 21 that they were suffering enormous and ongoing damage (including the very high probability of being thrown out of their office by the landlord) and an adjournment until October 6 would devastate them. Perhaps the "urgency" was exaggerated. The matter has been adjourned and we will all be back in court on Friday, October 21. Once again I invite the public to come along and take advantage of the freedom in Australia to observe court proceedings. Check the Federal Court of Australia's web site on the previous evening to see the court lists for New South Wales for the following day, but it should be 9:30am in Court 23E at the Queens Square court building.
(And don't take any metal through the detector, because security is more sensitive than at the airport. I have been into the building five times now and set off the alarm three times. Once for no identifiable reason, once with the tiny headphones for my MP3 player, once with the foil wrapper on some pills in my shirt pocket. There is nothing like a bit of "Place your feet apart and your arms out to the sides, Sir" to set your anxiety level before going into court. Still, I suppose it is better than my experience at Ottawa airport some years ago. When the alarm went off a lady pointed a pistol at me and simply said "Get your hands in the air". With my hands raised I remembered that I had taken my belt off and put it through the x-ray so that the buckle wouldn't set off the alarm. With both hands above my head I wondered what was holding my trousers up. You can guess the next part of the story.)
A new vaccine (8/10/2005)
Think about a cancer that kills more women in developing countries than any other and which around the world is the second-biggest cancer killer of women overall. Imagine that someone came up with a vaccine which could prevent almost all of the cases of this cancer. Would that be a good thing?
Well, it would if the lives and health of countless women mattered to you. If, on the other hand, you were an anti-vaccination liar you would be opposed to this vaccine. You would not be able to claim that the opposition was because of safety, because the vaccine hasn't been released yet and has not been used enough to detect any significant dangers. In 2002, researchers announced that a vaccine against cervical cancer would soon be available. On the very day that this announcement was made, opposition to the vaccine was declared, essentially on the basis that it was another vaccine and therefore intrinsically evil. The vaccine is about to be released by two companies, so what are the anti-vaccination liars doing now that they see that their insane ideology is not enough to overcome the death toll and prevent its use?
They are arguing on the basis of morality. That's right, people who don't care if children die from measles are climbing to some sort of moral high ground. The problem that they have fabricated is that because the vaccine will be most effective if it is given before exposure to the human papilloma virus and this virus can be transmitted by sexual intercourse, the vaccine will be recommended for pre-pubescent girls. This will encourage promiscuity, because such young things should not even be thinking about sex. Like the lies these people tell about vaccines being made from aborted foetuses or causing autism, this is just another way of frightening parents into avoiding vaccination for their children.
Vaccination usually has to precede exposure to the disease to be effective, as its job is to prime the immune system. (Yes, I know that vaccines for rabies, smallpox and tetanus work after exposure because of the way these diseases progress, but these are exceptions.) I have two daughters and I would be more than amazed if either of them ever had the thought of coming to either me or their mother and saying "Hey, I'm planning to start having sex with my first boyfriend in a month. Please call the doctor and arrange my HepB and HPV shots". Young people experimenting with sex is not like young people planning to travel overseas or to go to work in the flu season, because it often (usually?) happens without planning and without any thought of the consequences. In a sense, however, it is just like those other situations, because protective action needs to be taken before exposure to the risk.
Object to vaccines because they have not been proved to be absolutely safe, object because they are an assault on the purity of human blood, object because they are made by evil pharmaceutical, companies, object for whatever mad reason you want. But don't try to object on the basis that some people don't need them because they haven't been exposed to risk yet. That sort of objection makes you look even more stupid and duplicitous than you already appear. If that were possible.
Is this Christianity? (8/10/2005)
I am part-way through reading an intriguing book called The Sins of Scripture by John Shelby Spong, the retired Bishop of Newark. I will probably write a review of it when I have finished, ...
Guess what's still hanging around? (8/10/2005)
That's right. Our old friend, the Gutless Anonymous Liar, has had much to say about my adventures in court. It even claimed that it was going to be a witness. What a hoot! Imagine it sitting there in court with a garbage bag over its head saying "My name is something I won't tell you because I am too ashamed to say it and I swear to tell lies, more lies and nothing but lies".
Weve been asked to attend and provide testimony! Were gonna be there! And, remember tell the truth!
The punctuation! The grammar. The hilarity of the thought that anyone might think that what it had to say might be of interest to a judge, other than to make the judge laugh until tears ran down his face. The really funny thing is that it didn't turn up. Where was it? I looked all around the courtroom for something that might resemble a bowel motion in a bag. Surely it could have caught a plane from Ottawa. Perhaps the airline security people don't let things in garbage bags board planes.
MLM and me (8/10/2005)
I had to prepare an extensive affidavit to support my appearance in court last week. As part of that affidavit I had to put down some thoughts about why I don't like multi-level marketing schemes. You can read those thoughts here.
This week's legal news (15/10/2005)
Nothing much to report, really. It will be lights, (no) camera, action at 9:30 in the forenoon on Friday, October 21, in court 23E, Queens Square, Sydney. Everyone is invited.
Australian Biologics (15/10/2005)
The story so far: In July 2004, a "pathology" testing laboratory named Australian Biologics avoided examination of its activities by the Federal Court of Australia by agreeing to stop doing worthless, unscientific "medical" tests. Part of the settlement with the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission was that the settlement terms should be made public and that no denial of any contravention of the Trade Practices Act should be made. Australian Biologics threatened legal action against me for discussing the settlement (but refused to supply me with a copy of the document) and issued a media release saying that there had been no breach of the law. The owner of Australian Biologics, a well-known promoter of quackery called Jennie Burke, later appeared at a quackery conference to announce her great victory over me, the ACCC and anyone else who dared to suggest that her non-scientific methods of extracting money from wallets were suspect. You can see the saga so far here. Now read on.
The following advertisement appeared on the employment site seek.com.au on October 11, 2005.
Like most civilised countries, Australia has certain standards and rules about what you have to do to qualify as a legitimate medical testing laboratory. The body responsible for overseeing this is the National Association of Testing Authorities. I know people who have been involved in the NATA certification process from both sides, as laboratory management and staff and as inspectors, and the process inspires confidence. Here is what NATA says on its web site about pathology laboratory accreditation:
The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) was established in 1947 by the Commonwealth of Australia to provide accreditation of calibration and testing laboratories.
In 1979, the National Pathology Accreditation Advisory Council (NPAAC) was formed, its aim being to formulate Standards for accreditation of pathology laboratories.
The accreditation program for medical laboratories was established by NATA and the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) in 1982, initially as a voluntary program. The program, at that stage, was designed to ensure a minimum acceptable standard of operation which over time would be raised.
In 1986, accreditation of pathology laboratories became mandatory for the payment of Medicare benefits and NATA was appointed by the Commonwealth as the national accreditation agency responsible for conducting assessments.
A major review of the accreditation process in pathology was undertaken in 2002. This resulted in the confirmation of the role of NATA/RCPA in providing accreditation and supported the concept of peer review as part of that process.
From 1 January 2003, a new Deed between NATA and the Health Insurance Commission (HIC) has ensured a more stringent link between accreditation with NATA and the HIC.
There are currently over 500 accredited pathology facilities both nationally and internationally, in countries such as Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Laboratories continue to be assessed to the Standards set by NPAAC as well as ISO/IEC 17025 – 1999, General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories and further specific requirements relating to pathology laboratories.
"There are currently over 500 accredited pathology facilities …". And not one of them is called "Australian Biologics". I wonder why not.
"Dr" John Baker (15/10/2005)
Unfortunately, I cannot comply with "Dr" Baker's request for secrecy, as the original page that drew me to him is one of the greatest pieces of psychotic loonity that I have ever had the pleasure to come across. It's not quite up to the standard of Jack Shulman's rant about me (few rants could be), but it is least as funny as the Nuremberg 2001 court case brought by not-a-medical-Dr Hulda Clark against me and several other people (and non-people). For your reading pleasure I have extracted a copy of "Dr" Baker's masterpiece from the Wayback Machine and you can read it here.
Hate mail (15/10/2005)
A couple of years ago I met a young lady at a conference about hate on the Internet. It was just a few days after she had received her PhD for a thesis based on a study of hate mail, and she and her thesis supervisor were both speakers. I spoke to her for some time and finally came to the conclusion that she might have written a thesis about hate mail but she didn't seem to have ever seen any. She was certainly totally unaware of the unique grammatical constructions, poor spelling, creative punctuation, solecisms, random capitalisation and incoherent thought patterns which identify the genre and which have been familiar to me for years. This really nice example came in this week. I have no idea what set the writer off, but I must have touched a nerve somewhere.
I have just had the most rude awakening that people like you that live to put down everything from proven systems to defaming the dead do realy walk the eath. When did you find out that your mother didnt love you, and what help have you taken, or is it that because you are a living legend that no one can help. to go through life in that amount of missary you must in massive emotional pain I hope your med's start working soon.
You can't always judge something by style, however. Another email I received had all the hate mail signs, including profanity, some CAPITAL LETTERS, and evidence of being typed by fists hitting a spittle-flecked keyboard. I was about a quarter of the way through reading it before I realised that the correspondent was agreeing with me.
The regular court report (22/10/2005)
There was a delay starting the day's proceedings on Friday, October 21, which meant that we ran out of time with about an hour's worth of work left. Everyone will be back next Thursday afternoon at 2:15 for the final chapter. (See the Federal Court's daily listing for New South Wales on Wednesday evening for the location.). I would like to thank the supporters who turned up yesterday, and also any who arrived and went to courtroom 23E only to find it empty. Judges usually operate out of the same room all the time but on this occasion we were somewhere else in the building. If everything goes as it should then next week the notices will disappear, some small changes will be made to the content of some pages on the site and it will be, in the words of someone else who once appeared in the Federal Court of Australia, "business as usual".
Bad news for anti-vaccinators! Kids not dying after shots. (22/10/2005)
A comprehensive analysis of 31 research projects was published this week by the Cochrane Library. It looked at adverse reactions to the MMR vaccine and, to the surprise of nobody, it found no evidence of a link with Crohn's Disease or autism. The comment was made that the methods of collecting adverse reaction data should be improved (something which nobody concerned with vaccine safety would disagree with) and also that this review does not establish that the vaccine is effective in preventing the diseases vaccinated against. As only anti-vaccination liars doubt the effectiveness of vaccines, this is not really a fault of the research. This was a review of existing research so the authors had to work with what was available, but they took the reasonable view that the effectiveness of MMR vaccine was clearly demonstrated by the lack of cases of measles, mumps or rubella in countries with good vaccination coverage.
You can read a media release about the review here. The full paper is available through the Cochrane Library. In some parts of the world (including Australia) full access to the Cochrane material is paid for by the government, but if you go to the site you will get the necessary information about access.
Here are the major points of the review:
MMR was associated with a lower incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, a higher incidence of irritability, and similar incidence of other adverse effects compared to placebo. The vaccine was likely to be associated with benign thrombocytopenic purpura, parotitis, joint and limb complaints, febrile convulsions within two weeks of vaccination and aseptic meningitis (mumps) (Urabe strain-containing MMR). Exposure to MMR was unlikely to be associated with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis (mumps) (Jeryl-Lynn strain-containing MMR). We could not identify studies assessing the effectiveness of MMR that fulfilled our inclusion criteria even though the impact of mass immunisation on the elimination of the diseases has been largely demonstrated.
The design and reporting of safety outcomes in MMR vaccine studies, both pre- and post-marketing, are largely inadequate. The evidence of adverse events following immunisation with MMR cannot be separated from its role in preventing the target diseases.
Using the combined vaccine for protection of children against measles, mumps and rubella
Measles, mumps and rubella are three very dangerous infectious diseases which cause a heavy disease, disability and death burden in the developing world. Researchers from the Cochrane Vaccines Field reviewed 139 studies conducted to assess the effects of the live attenuated combined vaccine to prevent measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) in children. MMR protects children against infections of the upper airways but very rarely may cause a benign form of bleeding under the skin and milder forms of measles, mumps and rubella. No credible evidence of an involvement of MMR with either autism or Crohn's disease was found. No field studies of the vaccine's effectiveness were found but the impact of mass immunisation on the elimination of the diseases has been demonstrated worldwide.
The anti-vaccination liars will ridicule and otherwise ignore this paper, of course. Just to save them some time, here are just some of the objections that can be raised to try to convince people that yet another study proving that liars like Wakefield are liars can be ignored:
Good on ya, Kylie! What a grouse sheila. (22/10/2005)
Or so Australians are supposed to say when congratulating the Singing Budgie, Kylie Minogue, on her announcement that, despite the rumours, she is definitely not considering any "alternative" treatments for her breast cancer. She is being treated by real doctors using real medicine. Kylie is handling her problem very well. Her openness about her illness is a useful warning that breast cancer can strike even young, fit and otherwise healthy women, and her rejection of quackery might encourage some women to get to a real doctor before wasting time with charlatans who can only delay proper treatment (often until it is too late). I wish her every success with her treatment, and I hope she can be back on stage warbling and wiggling before too long. I'm not a great fan of Kylie's work but life would be awfully dull if the only music out there was the kind that pleased everyone, and if she resumes her interrupted Australian tour I might even buy a ticket. Just to show support for a breast cancer survivor and to look at the colour and movement, of course. I promise not to pay any attention to the contents of those very tight and very short shorts.
A must see! (22/10/2005)
I doubt that the Church of $cientology will be able to shut it down, but just in case they manage to find a mad judge you should go right now and have a look at scienTOMogy.info. Tom Cruise is either a far better actor than anyone ever gave him credit for or he is an extremely satisfying object of ridicule. Enjoy!
|Update August 18, 2006. The ScienTOMogy site is no more. Weirdly, it seems that the objection to showing Tom Cruise's mad antics on Oprah didn't come from the Cult but from the Very Important Lady herself. Apparently, only Oprah can show pictures of Oprah's guests making fools of themselves.|
Update September 16, 2006. It's back!!
Update December 22, 2007. It's gone again. I got sick of chasing it, so here is the video:
In other Tom and Katie news, it has been noted that Katie is pregnant despite making categorical and quite definite promises to remain virginal until marriage. Remembering the last time that something like this happened, shepherds everywhere are grooming their flocking sheep, innkeepers are keeping the manger straw fresh, and wise men are logging on to eBay to find the best prices for gold, frankincense and myrrh. (A friend of the couple claims to know for an absolute fact that the baby was conceived in the normal, non-supernatural way. Film industry gossip is that Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson and Mimi Macpherson have been approached to act as marketing consultants for the distribution of the DVD.)
When Tom was married to our Nicole, he had the honorary title of Australia's National Son-In-Law. The current incumbent in the position is Prince Frederik of Denmark. The word from Copenhagen is that Frederik is not scheduled to appear with Oprah in the near future, and if he does he will not be jumping on the couch. Australians (and Danes) everywhere are relieved and reassured to hear this.
Is the Star Chamber back in use? (22/10/2005)
There has been much excitement and pants-wetting going on in alternative medicine circles over the last week about a court decision which has apparently endorsed and placed an official seal of approval on quackery. The case involved an appeal by chiropractor Tedd Koren against damages for defamation awarded to Dr Stephen Barrett. The result was announced in a press release by bilgemeister Tim Bolen, written in Tim's usual frenetic, hyperbolic and deranged style. It mentioned that Koren's lawyer had been the famous Carlos Negrete, renowned for demonstrating his understanding of defamation law by publicly calling me a "bottom-feeding parasite" while he was acting for someone who was trying to get me into court.
As I have found it a useful rule of thumb to disbelieve anything said by either Tim Bolen or Carlos Negrete, I asked someone who was distributing the press release for some more details, perhaps something official like a transcript of the court proceedings. (The press release had made specific references to things that had happened in the courtroom, and these would be only reported in a transcript rather than in written decisions or orders.) I was simply offered another copy of the press release. I asked again, making it clear that I wanted something official, and got the press release again. More requests produced the same results. Someone told me that it takes six months to get a transcript out of a court, something which would be news to the people providing me with transcripts of my recent court appearances, which are emailed to me the next day. (I could get them by 6:00pm on the actual day if I wanted to pay a bit more.)
As a particular court and case number had been specified in the press release, I decided that I would just have to do the work myself. I went to the court's web site and did some searches. Surprisingly, the court's online database contained exactly zero references to any case where a party had been named "Koren", exactly zero cases where a lawyer appearing for any party had been named "Negrete", exactly zero cases with the cited case number, and three cases with a party named "Barrett", none of which were Dr Stephen Barrett. To clear up this mystery I have written to the Clerk of Courts, and I hope to have some clarification of the matter here next week.
I am trying to find out some information about a case supposedly numbered 2002-C-1837 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County.
I can't find anything about this case in the search system on the Court's web site, but perhaps I am not doing the search correctly. Is there anything special I need to know or do to get the details of the case?
Psychological testing (22/10/2005)
I wrote an article for the October edition of the magazine Australasian Science which is now on the newsstands. Some of the content is online, but not the latest Naked Skeptic column. You can read the article here.
On October 28, 2005, I was ordered to remove certain allegedly disparaging comments from this site, and I also agreed to display a notice detailing the state of the court action.
This week in court (29/10/2005)
Following the court order mentioned above, I have had to make some changes to the content of this site. (I would like to thank the author of the notice I agreed to display for pointing out the statistics for MLM participation in Australia. You can see some comments about the arithmetic here.) None of the changes were substantial, and the two pages I chose to remove were taken down because, with or without the requested changes, they were no longer relevant. The next stage is that I have to rewrite the main page about the company, but this doesn't worry me because I was planning to do so anyway to make the chronology and some references and citations clearer. That change will be published immediately after we get out of court on November 8, which is the date set down for the court to finalise all this nonsense. If everything goes right that day's session should be very short, but we thought that about the last time until a certain movement away from commitments was observed. Again I would like to thank the friends who turned up to watch the proceedings and support me. Like most of the other people in the room they were expecting to be out of the place in twenty minutes, but they stayed until closing time. It meant we went out for dinner rather than afternoon tea.
And another thing … (29/10/2005)
At 10:15pm on Thursday, October 27, I received a telephone call from some unidentified person who wanted to tell me how pleased he was that a court had finally taken action about the terrible things I had been saying about this particular MLM company. I hung up when he started telling me how I should be sympathetic to all the people whose lives I had ruined. As I said, he didn't say who he was, but I have just two words for him: "Caller Identification".
And speaking of anonymous morons ... (29/10/2005)
The Gutless Anonymous Liar had a rush of blood to something or other during the week and managed to get some quality time on the computer at the GAL Home for the Picocephalic. It still seems to think that calling me names is going to make any difference to what I say or do, and it doesn't seem to understand that when I publish its droolings it is so people can laugh at them and it. To increase its reach, I always forward a copy of each of its emails to me to Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group so that he can have a good laugh too. Aren't I generous?
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the Direct Selling Association (the US industry body for MLM and pyramid schemes) was very proud of the fact that the average sales per year per MLM participant in the USA was about $2,200, giving an annual net income of about $44. Per year! I now see that in Australia there are 500,000 MLM participants selling $1.2 billion worth of goods and services each year. This works out to $2,400 gross sales per year per participant. The legal minimum wage in Australia is $12.30 per hour, which comes to $24304.80 per year for someone working 38 hours each week (and not getting any overtime). This is just over ten times the sales for the average MLM participant. But it gets better, because the $2,400 sales turns into $48 real income at the average commission rate of 2%. $48 per year! That's less than for four hours at the minimum wage rate. I think I will stick to stacking shelves at Safeway to earn my pocket money.
Business Opportunity (29/10/2005)
A recent court decision has opened up the Australian market for multi-level marketing schemes. To take advantage of the new legal freedom and to reward the visitors to this site for their support and patience throughout the recent troubles, I have launched The Ratbags Dream to allow all of us to secure the levels of income which will assure us of an endless supply of Ferraris, French champagne, truffle sandwiches and gorgeous and insatiable young sexual companions. (Note to self: think about rewording that last sentence before getting the wife to proofread this week's update – you know how she hates two-door sports cars.) We will shortly be expanding into other countries (see our proposed European headquarters in the picture) and will be looking for representatives to take The Ratbags Dream worldwide. So, put a photograph of a Ferrari (or a Porsche if you insist) over the bathroom mirror so you can see it while you are shaving and get on over to the Ratbags Dream page before it's too late. I'm off now to polish the Lexus.
Goodbye, Rosa Parks (29/10/2005)
Imagine that you are lying on your deathbed, thinking back over the contributions that you have made to the welfare of others. Would you think that one of the finest things you had ever done, or could have done, was to stay seated when someone else expected you to stand up? That is what Rosa Parks did on December 1, 1955, and that small act of defiance triggered a revolution. It is almost impossible to imagine what it must be like to be the first person who resists an injustice and says "No. It stops here". But someone always has to be first, because if nobody leads there is nobody to follow.
Rosa Parks died this week, aged 92. Civilised people everywhere owe her a debt, because she showed that evil can be overcome if ordinary people decide that the time for evil is past. I live in a different country with a different cultural history, but acts of courage like that by Rosa Parks in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 resonate across societies. We are all one people. We are all one species. The colour on the outside is a difference which makes no difference at all.
And here's another type of mother altogether (29/10/2005)
You may have heard about a pair of 13-year-old twin girls who are making a reputation for themselves singing under the name "Prussian Blue". They chose the name because that is the discolouration of the walls of the gas chambers at Auschwitz caused by Zyklon-B residue. They sing songs of pure hate, and jointly and separately are among the most vile and repulsive things on the planet. I have received an email from their mother. You might wonder why the thing that spawned these creatures would have anything to say to me, especially as I have never mentioned her litter. Well, it seems that she is offended by something said about her on the web site of racist radio man Hal Turner. So, why does she write to me and not to Hal? My only guess is that she is so stupid that she couldn't find an email link on Hal's site so she went looking for Hal in Google. That led her to my page about Turner, where she found a link to click on. Stupidity is an essential element of racism, but rarely is it demonstrated so clearly.
Maybe there really is a Star Chamber (29/10/2005)
I mentioned last week that I couldn't find anything on the Lehigh County Court web site about a case involving chiroquactor Tedd Koren, archmoron Tim Bolen, lawyer-to-the-quacks Carlos Negrete, and Dr Stephen Barrett. I wrote to the Clerk of Courts for more information and I was told that only some of the court's proceedings are recorded on the web site. I can understand not putting up the full details, but surely in an open society there should at least be an acknowledgement that something has happened. It turns out that things are not as secret as they seem, and I can get details about the case for the payment of $3. When I pointed out that I am in Australia and banks charge something like $25 to draw a cheque in a foreign currency, I was told that I could send the $3 as cash or get someone to drop into the courthouse and pay for me. I don't need to ask what the reaction would be if I went into my bank or American Express and tried to buy $3US worth of banknotes (the minimum seems to be $1000), so I guess the matter will always remain a mystery to me. And I wonder how much it would have cost to post the information to me. More than $3, probably.
There goes the spare time (29/10/2005)
It won't be official until the annual general meeting in two weeks, but from then I will be a member of the Board of Electronic Frontiers Australia. To quote from EFA's web site:
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. (EFA) is a non-profit national organisation representing Internet users concerned with on-line freedoms and rights. ...
Our major objectives are to protect and promote the civil liberties of users and operators of computer based communications systems such as the Internet, to advocate the amendment of laws and regulations in Australia and elsewhere (both current and proposed) which restrict free speech and to educate the community at large about the social, political, and civil liberties issues involved in the use of computer based communications systems.
This is what I said about myself in the short story I had to write to support my nomination. I don't think my motivation will be a surprise to regular visitors to this site.
I have always believed in Oliver Wendell Holmes' concept of the market of ideas, where the answer to speech is more speech, and one of the policies that I have had for my web site since its inception is that anyone can say anything they like about me and my only response will be words. One of the greatest positives about the Internet is that it allows anyone to publish anything and allows anyone who complains the same right to publish rebuttal.
Like most people I talked the talk and it was all rather academic, until, as Pastor Niemöller said, "Then they came for me", and I was dragged into court by someone who didn't like what I had to say about them. This experience has made me want to be more actively involved in gaining and keeping for everyone, not just me, the rights of free expression that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights supposedly endows on the citizens of every country.
Like all rights, freedom of speech can be abused, but freedom of speech is an example of Pascal's Wager – the cost of choosing suppression and being wrong is far greater than the cost of choosing freedom and allowing the occasional mistake.
Just after I put in the nomination I was conversing with someone who turned out to be somewhat of an authority on Oliver Wendell Holmes (that's Junior, the US Supreme Court judge – his father was the physician and author), and my friend informed me that Holmes' wife's name was Bowditch.