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November 5, 2005

Build it and they will come(5/11/2005)
Statistics for this site for the month of October showed the highest number of visitors for any month since the place opened for business in March 1999. What makes this specially pleasing to me is that I wasn't able to do as much as usual during the month and for the entire month there was that legal notice at the top of the front page which could have made it look like nothing was changing and there was no new material. Thank you to everyone for your continued support.

Some of the visitors (5/11/2005)
The program which analyses visitor statistics also tells me where people come from to get here, and one place which featured highly during October was a discussion forum on the racist Stormfront site. The Klan at playWhat had brought them here was something I said back in August 2003, when I was commenting on the disappearance of a hoax site that Stormfront had once made about Wouldn't you like to see this?Martin Luther King. The particular words which knotted their underpants most were "[to] sentient beings, whether Dr King was an adulterous boozehound or not is irrelevant to the validity of his messages about tolerance and equality". Apparently I was being duplicitous (they, of course, did not use such a big word) by giving King some sort of free pass for bad behaviour, as it was assumed that I would not grant such a courtesy to David Duke. I have to say first up that I have never heard any rumours about David Duke being either a womaniser (or even a maniser) or a booze abuser, but if I did I wouldn't care. I apply the same rules to everyone – unless their behaviour is evidence of hypocrisy because it contradicts their preaching I don't care what people do, what parts of their body they do it with, or to whom they do it, as long as it isn't harming anyone. King's message was in what he said about people's rights, just as the message from the head of the Ku Klux Klan is in what he says about people's rights. The only slight difference is that I might think less of King if I found out that he was a child molester but I find it hard to imagine what I would have to find out about Duke that would lower my estimation of him. Absolute zero is absolute zero.

(While looking for a picture of the KKK in action I came across the lovely cartoon at the left. It almost makes me want to believe in Heaven so that I can imagine it coming true.)

Court Calendar (5/11/2005)
The back of a lawyerNothing happened during the last week. I will be back in court at 9:30am on Tuesday, November 8, and hopefully everything will be all over shortly after that. I say "hopefully" because we have gone to court on several occasions now expecting that we would be out of the place quickly only to find that agreements no longer applied or that subpoenaed material had not been produced or that something else had changed or that … . As usual, anyone who wants to come along is welcome. We will probably be in Courtroom 20D, but see the Federal Court's daily listing for New South Wales on Monday evening for the location. If you arrive late and the courtroom is empty this should be seen as A Very Good Sign Indeed, and you will be able to find us in the coffee shop across the road from the Phillip Street entrance to the court building.

Advance apology, probably (5/11/2005)
Next week's update might be brief. The Australian national conference for consultants working with the software product that my real life business is based on will be running from Thursday to Saturday, and I have to fit in my reaccreditation examination for the new version sometime in the other days of the week. I could be busier, though. In one of the finest acts of coordination ever seen from a company which sells diary and time management software, the international conference for consultants will be held on the same days in Scottsdale, Arizona. I suppose the organisers of both conferences will point out that they don't really clash because the events are in different time zones. All I need is some way of commuting between Sydney and Scottsdale in less than two hours.

Water to rinse money from wallets (5/11/2005)
I occasionally mention people who write to me thinking that I am preacher Benny Hinn, and last week I commented on someone who wrote to me when she really meant to write to deranged racist Hal Turner. These confused people can be legitimate targets of fun. This week, however, I received a misdirected email which is not funny at all. It came from a woman who has been deceived by quacks and has spent so much money on snake oil that she has had to sell her home. She would like me to tell her how to waste a few more dollars on something useless. I suppose I could direct her to the web site of the purveyors of the magic water, but I have a conscience to deal with.

I cannot get my Unique water. I travelled miles to the Karrinyup S/C to get it yesterday & they did not have any. Could you let me know if there is anyone in Fremantle or the Phoenix S/C in West. Aust. I have a special refridge for it that only holds one carton. I know I can get you to deliver but it is more expensive for one carton. It gets too hot here from now on for it not to be in the refridge. I do not have air conditioning. Have been so ill had to sell my home so I can stay alive. I now only rent a house It has cost me all I have worked for for 40 yrs. for treatment. I did have trouble trying to get you. I am pleased to hear that I can now contact you hope you can help me. Many thanks Rosemary

The product called "Unique Water" was heavily featured in newspaper articles and television current affairs programs in April 2002. The water, which contains the magic ingredient magnesium bicarbonate, was supposed to cure all sorts of things by neutralising carbon dioxide inside the body's cells. Facts such as the inability of magnesium bicarbonate to bypass the acid conditions of the stomach or the idiocy of suggesting that a carbonate can be used to neutralise carbonic acid were lost in the hype and free publicity. (To his credit, the journalist who wrote the original article, and even provided a personal testimonial, has since issued a muted recantation and apology.) The "chemist" who discovered the miracle cure has since disappeared. (I put the word "chemist" in quotes, because this supposed scientist was quoted as saying that something with a "low pH" could neutralise acidity.) The owners of the small soft drink bottling plant who spent lots of dollars to increase capacity are probably still paying off the investment.

There is something amusing about this story, though. The advertising slogan for Unique Water is "Too good to be true". And it really is. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that the Unique Water people are happy to say this about themselves but other people want to sue over the expression.)

It's cracker night! (5/11/2005)
Today is Guy Fawkes Day, the 400th anniversary of the discovery of a plot to blow up England's Parliament House. While people might joke that Fawkes was the only person ever to enter parliament with honest intentions, the fact often seems to be overlooked that he was a religious fanatic who believed (with some justification) that his particular species of religion was being oppressed by someone else's brand, and the best way to make amends was to murder some of his opponents. He was simply carrying on a long tradition of killing people over religious differences, and the authorities responded in kind towards him and his co-conspirators.

They were allowed to enter "not guilty" pleas at their trial even though their guilt and sentences had been announced, they were only slightly ridiculed for crossing themselves before the executions took place, and at least some of them were killed by the hanging which took place before the drawing and quartering. The king even showed leniency towards Fawkes by ordering that his torturing should start off moderately and the really bad stuff should be held back unless he proved recalcitrant. Before I forget, that considerate king was the one who arranged for the Bible to be published in English so that common people could read stuff like "Blessed are the merciful" and "Thou shalt not kill".

Of course, in the enlightened times in which we live now nobody would ever go around blowing people up for having a different religion, would they?

They think that nobody will check (5/11/2005)
I have commented in the past about the way that people will announce things as fact and either hope or assume that nobody will check the facts. One example that came my way this week was the announcement that Sir Christopher Hogg was the chairman of both Reuters and GlaxoSmithKline, therefore demonstrating that the sins of Big Pharma would never be reported in the media. The subject line of the announcement was "World's Largest Media Source Controlled by World's Largest Drug Company". Leaving aside the fact that very large companies sharing board members is neither uncommon nor evidence of anyone controlling anyone else, it took me about five minutes to go to the Reuters and GSK web sites and find that the chairman of Reuters is Niall FitzGerald and the chairman of GSK is Sir Christopher Gent. The person who reported the "fact" actually apologised to me for not checking, which is something of a first (especially as this person and I have hardly been friendly towards each other in the past). (Sir Christopher Hogg had been non-executive chairman of both companies in the past but has had nothing to do with either for some time.)

One of the assumptions of certain people seems to be that if you report something as happening in a foreign country then nobody will check. I had an example of this once with a multi-level marketing company which threatened me with all sorts of terrible consequences of violating their trademark rights. They said that they owned a trademark in Australia and assumed that I could not or would not check. I did, and it gave me great pleasure to notify the law firm looking after the intellectual property rights of Merck & Co that someone was challenging their ownership of the mark. A similar sort of thing happened this week when I was sent a story from a right-wing US web site which reported that the drug Ritalin, despised by alternuts everywhere, had been shown to cause stunted growth. Two doctors were quoted in the article – an anti-ADHD campaigner from the USA and a paediatrician from Sydney University, who was the person who had carried out the research. The paediatrician was not just cited, but words from her were quoted inside quotation marks. The really strange thing is that according to Sydney University's online staff telephone book, there is nobody with that surname employed by the institution in any capacity. Remember that this non-existent person was quoted, not just mentioned. Would I be safe in assuming that if the researcher does not exist then the research does not exist either?

November 12, 2005

Court report (12/11/2005)
Nothing! I put on a tie for nothing. The lawyers stood up, introduced themselves to the judge, and everyone agreed to come back later to talk about it again. The longest part of the proceedings was everyone checking their diaries to see what day was suitable. I think it took longer to get a cup of coffee in the court building restaurant than it did to go from "All rise" to "Court is adjourned". December 13, at 4:15 in the afternoon. And I set off the security alarm again. That's the sixth time, I think, so now I just automatically put my arms out and walk over to the man with the wand thing.

Speaking of lawyers ... (12/11/2005)
I managed to get a copy of Randy Cassingham's book, The True Stella Awards, just after it was released. It contains one of the finest collections of idiocy that you could hope come across, in the form of reports of insane court cases. The Stella Awards are named after Stella Liebeck, the woman who sued McDonalds because she didn't know that coffee is made with hot water and knees are not made for holding cups. I might write a review of it some day but there are a couple of lawyers I have to lend it to first.

Thank goodness we're not in Kansas, Toto (12/11/2005)
Now that the Kansas school authorities have decided to redefine "science" to mean "whatever you want science to mean" or words to that effect, I thought that it might be time to reproduce this cartoon.

Wrong researcher, wrong research (12/11/2005)
Last week I mentioned how someone had been citing some research about Ritalin but the researcher didn't seem to exist, thus casting doubt on the existence of the research. Further investigation has uncovered the paper in question, but it was actually written by someone else (or maybe the same person using a different name) and didn't find what the reporter had said it found. There were no surprises there, as I have found from long experience that alternative medicine supporters can be quite flexible in how they cite research which supports their prejudices. Here are just some of the tricks they get up to in order to deceive people who don't have access to medical libraries and might just be fooled into thinking that because some charlatan says something then that something has some truth to it. At various times I have seen:

Mental arithmetic (12/11/2005)
There is a mathematical formula which will allow me to make money in a multi-level marketing scheme. I have discovered a truly wonderful proof of this, but the margin is too narrow to hold it. While I was looking for a bigger margin I combined a couple of pieces I wrote here over the last few weeks to make a magazine article about MLM and arithmetic. It's going to be published in one of those old-fashioned paper magazines, but while the trees are being munched to make the paper and the candles are being burned to make the lampblack for the ink you can read it here in ephemeral pixel form.

Real magic (12/11/2005)
One of the few disappointments I had when I visited Las Vegas last year for Randi's conference was that I couldn't see magicians Siegfried and Roy. I had caught their act several years before and wanted to see how much better they could have made one of the best stage shows I had ever seen. Unfortunately, Roy Horn had been attacked by one of his white tigers in October 2003 and had suffered severe head injuries and a stroke. For a while it was doubtful that he would live, and the doctors even removed part of his skull to accommodate the swelling of his brain. (The skull fragment was stored within his body so that it could be reimplanted when the swelling had subsided.) Roy was a very sick man indeed.

The good news is that Roy is walking and talking again, although both are done with difficulty, and he is talking about getting back on stage with the tigers. Because Siegfried and Roy is a big stage magic act using lots of equipment, it is certainly feasible that a show could be designed which would allow Roy to work with the animals and make them do their amazing disappearing and relocating tricks, even if he had to work from a wheelchair. I hope he can come back, and I am sure that if he does the show will be as spectacular as ever.

What Siegfried and Roy do is stage magic, but what the doctors have done for Roy is real magic. The only question is how much more quickly Roy would have been back on his feet if he had been attended to by a crack team of chiropractors, homeopaths, naturopaths and acupuncturists.

Could this be a true story? (12/11/2005)
A Big Pin in a multi-level marketing outfit is on his way to Super Saturday. He is whistling to himself and daydreaming about all the tool money he is going to be collecting from the suckers. "Sorry" he says to himself with a wry smile, "I shouldn't call them that because they are Independent Business Owners". He then bursts out laughing and remembers how he mentally thanks his old drama teacher every day for showing him how to keep a straight face while telling the suckers (oops, there's that word again) about the rivers of cash which will be flowing over them when they get the system working.

Suddenly, a truck coming the other way crosses the double lines and hits the side of the Pin's car. A police car arrives on the scene within minutes and finds the Pin sitting in the car wailing "My BMW! My BMW!". The police officer looks at where the side of the car has been torn away, and says "Don't worry about your car. Your arm has been ripped off". "Aarrgghh!", screams the Big Pin. "My Rolex! My Rolex!".

November 19, 2005

Silence in the court! (19/11/2005)
Well, there has been silence for me this week, so I will talk about some other people's adventures with the law.

Dr Wakefield (19/11/2005)
YouA doctor? Or a charlatan? may remember Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose dubious "research" led to a revival of both measles and mumps in the UK. Wakefield was not happy about what people had been saying about him, so he sued everyone in sight for libel. Then he went quiet and started trying to drag the proceedings out. There are two reasons why he might want to do that. One is to increase the costs for the other side by continually having them come back to court, only to suffer another adjournment. The other is to limit their ability to comment on the case or on whatever Wakefield is doing now. Both of these provide advantage to Dr Wakefield as they frustrate his opponents and also provide what is known as a "chilling effect" on anyone else who might think about criticising him. On the other hand, if he is being damaged by what they have been saying then surely he would want a speedy result in order to minimise the damage. To the reasonable man on the Bondi bus (or Clapham omnibus, as the case is being heard in England) it might seem likely that the damage could not be as bad as claimed if the aggrieved party is doing things to stretch out the legal process. The Hon. Mr Justice Eady of the England and Wales High Court (Queen's Bench Division) has also taken this view, and has ordered Wakefield to get off the pot. For no particular reason but just because it is an interesting matter to ponder, I think it would be good for lawyers and judges to accept Justice Eady's decision as an addition to the body of common law and to recognise that any claim of great and/or imminent damage must be attenuated, or perhaps even nullified, by any action of the supposedly aggrieved party which delays or extends the resolution of the dispute. But I am not a lawyer … . You can see the decision here.

The Cavitat Crowd of Crooks (19/11/2005)
A Root canalsCavitat is a machine which is used to detect a condition called "neuralgia-inducing cavitational osteonecrosis", or NICO. Upon discovery of a case of NICO, much pulling of healthy teeth and teeth with either fillings or root canal treatments is done, leaving the patient toothless and cashless. The Cavitat machine is not approved by the FDA for the detection of NICO and NICO is not recognised as any form of medical or dental condition. None of this has stopped crooked dentists from using these machines to diagnose this non-existent condition and then charging much money to fix it. The insurance company Aetna has a specific policy against paying for NICO repairs or work done as a result of a NICO diagnosis, but again this has not stopped the crooked dentists from finding ways to get paid from Aetna's funds. When Aetna finally took action to stop the fraud the crooked dentists sued Aetna, claiming that the company was part of some massive conspiracy involving the FDA, the American Dental Association, and just about everyone who was not a party to the Cavitat fraud. They lost.

Aetna came back with a counterclaim, and the details were made public this week by the court. (Just in case you think that I am publishing some secret document, you can see the unsealing order here.) One of the nice things they did was exhibit a list of fraudulent insurance claims made by some of the crooked dentists, and you can see that list here. The best part, however, is the complete counterclaim, which describes in detail the nature of the medical fraud of the Cavitat machine itself and the financial fraud of the crooked dentists who tried various ways to get around Aetna's policy of not paying for this quackery. Read the full counterclaim here, and notice the familiar names – Huggins, Haley, Bolen … . One small disappointment for me was that Aetna's lawyers were far too polite, and in all the places where they quote the crooks and say "Spelling and grammar corrected" I would have left the illiteracies there for all to see.

And the true believers think ... (19/11/2005)
Well actually, they don't think at all. I was getting the material together for this week's site update and I noticed that someone had posted part of Aetna's counterclaim to an alternative medicine forum and someone else had asked where they could read the whole thing. I quickly loaded it up to my server and told people where to look. The immediate response from true believers was bizarre (although not unexpected, as one of the regulars in the forum is a great fan of ex-professor Boyd Haley and constantly shills for his mercury testing and chelation service). One response was to say that it couldn't be believed because I had mentioned it. Another was to say that as the original poster had mentioned that you had to be registered with a web site to download it, it was still hidden from the public. I had been a bit quick on the click and had failed to upload the file containing the list of fraudulent insurance claims, and the lack of this file was interpreted as a resealing of the records by the court, apparently as part of some conspiracy of Aetna and the medical orthodoxy. Pointing out that hiding the material only helped the crooks did no good. The fact that the records had been sealed in the first place was accepted as evidence that there was something to hide, although what advantage Aetna could receive from hiding the facts about attempts to steal its money by fraud was not explained. Is it any wonder that these people will believe anything that a quack tells them, and believe it twice as hard if someone who knows something disagrees with the quack?

And speaking of true believers ... (19/11/2005)
One day I will get back to my rewrite of the 39 Articles of Faith of the Anglican Church, as applied to those whose religion is the opposition to vaccination. Here are the ones I have done so far:

VII. Of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting death is offered to Childkind. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Antivax men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Antivax man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

These Commandments are:

  1. Thou shalt have no opinion about vaccination except that it is evil.
  2. Thou shalt not take unto thee any properly conducted scientific research showing the safety or efficacy of vaccines, whether conducted in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not agree with it, nor accept it.
  3. Thou shalt not accept any notion favourable to vaccination.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work, for in six days thousands of children will die of measles alone and on the seventh many more will die while you are resting.
  5. Honour those who speak out against vaccination that thy days may be long and children's days may be short.
  6. Thou shalt not kill, except by vaccine-preventable disease.
  7. Thou shalt not vaccinate against sexually transmitted diseases, for verily it has been said of those who suffer thus: "It is their fault".
  8. Thou shalt not steal, unless it be the lives and health of children that is stolen.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, unless thy neighbour works in vaccination research in which case thou mayest say anything about him regardless of truth.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's knowledge of science, medicine or morals, for such knowledge may cause thee to accept the value of vaccination.

VIII. Of the Creeds.

The Barbaran Creed, and that which is commonly called the Antivaxers' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture. The Creed says:

I believe in the evil of vaccines.
Vaccines are always harmful.
Vaccines are never safe.
Vaccines serve no purpose except to enrich sinners.
No disease has ever been prevented by vaccination.
Vaccines cause autism.
Vaccines cause children to take on the appearance of children who have been beaten.
Anything said against vaccines is the truth.
Anything said in favour of vaccines is a lie.
Diseases which kill and damage millions of children are benign.
Murderers are heroes.
Heroes are murderers
The end justifies the means.

November 26, 2005

Radio Ratbags (26/11/2005)
I was on the radio on Saturday, November 26, talking to Tony Murphy and Loretta Marron (The Jelly Bean Lady) on 4BC Brisbane. (I politely forgot to mention to Tony that I used to listen to him on Sydney's 2SM back in the olden days. Ahhh, the first tour by the Rolling Stones, when Brian was still with them. But I digress ... Neither of us needed to be reminded of the passage of time). We talked about quack cures for diabetes and how bad news can make people look for good news to compensate.

Then it came for me (26/11/2005)
I often get asked by supporters of quackery, in a sneering tone, what I would do if I were to be diagnosed with a serious illness. The implication seems to be that I only oppose snake oil because it doesn't provide any direct benefit to me and I would soon change my opinion if I had some bad news. Well, last Tuesday I did get some bad news when I was told that I have type 2 diabetes. This came as a bit of a surprise as I hadn't been showing any of the usual signs like excessive thirst or urination. I also don't have any of the family or health issues (other than age) which are usually seen as risk factors. A routine health check showed high blood sugar and I was sent off for more extensive tests. This should be a warning to anyone who doesn't have regular health checks, and I have been told that only about half the people with T2 diabetes are aware of it. It's too late to go to the doctor when you are blind, your toes have fallen off or you have had a stroke. As I have had to spend the last few days rushing around talking to dieticians, endocrinologists and other specialists and also learning how to punch holes in my fingers I haven't had much time to do much work here, so this week's update will be necessarily brief. (As an aside, I have just started playing the guitar again after a long absence. The frequent blood tests mean that I can have some balance in my life as now I can have sore fingers on both hands.)

So, what did an opponent of quackery and snake oil do when he was told that he has a serious and incurable medical condition? Well, I fired up Google of course and went looking for a cure. The first search I did was for any combination of the words "diabetes" and "cure" which gave me about six million results. This was a bit much to get through in an afternoon, so I limited the search to the exact phrase "diabetes cure". This gave only 202,000 results, a much more manageable number. Many of these are news items or articles where someone has said something like "a diabetes cure may be available one day", but a quick look over the first few pages of the Google results suggests that most of them are offering something to cure diabetes. This is very encouraging, as if each cure only extended my life by a single day I could look forward to about 500 years of life as I worked my way through the list.

Let's get serious for a moment. There is no cure for diabetes (except pancreas or Islets of Langerhans transplants for Type 1 diabetes). There are ways of controlling it, but these are not cures. Real medicine doesn't claim cures when it doesn't have them. When I see people claiming, as one web site does, a 95% success rate in curing type 2 diabetes and 64% for type 1 I know that they are lying and are stealing people's money and offering disability or even death along with false hope. I don't like the thought that for the rest of my life I might have to hurt one of my fingers several times a day, take daily medication, eat only at certain times, walk when I could use the car, and never eat donuts, but the alternative is to do nothing and hope for the best. Taking any alternative "cure" would be the same as doing nothing, and would have the same results.

There is no doubt that someone who knows something about nutrition can provide good advice, and many alternative practitioners do know about nutrition. The problem is that good nutrition is only part of the answer (both for prevention and management) and many alternatives go far beyond food choices into pure quackery. There is no possibility that acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy or electric zappers can do any good at all. I doesn't matter whether the practitioner is sincere but deluded or an outright charlatan, things which don't work don't work.

November 28, 2005

Don't panic, Mr Mainwaring (28/11/2005)
The people who host this site, destra, scheduled some sort of server maintenance for Sunday, November 27 (Sydney time), and this sort of activity always means that there may be interruptions to service. As web servers are an all day every day thing there is no convenient time to turn them off to do upgrades and other work, and I have worked with computers for long enough to know that experts who estimate how long it is going to take to do anything are usually slightly less accurate in their predictions than the average astrologer. The spectre of Murphy is always present on these occasions as well. I apologise to anyone who tried to look at the site while it was unavailable. I scoff at, mock and ridicule anyone who thinks that the site may have been down because someone didn't like something. The forces of darkness have not won.


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