What's happening? 3/2/2007)
Not much here this week. I have been fighting a running battle on another site I manage with some moron who is using an automated process to bypass the security system on the forms on the site and send me collections of idiocy. As happens with much spam these days, each message is different from the last and it is almost impossible to set up a reliable filter to dump the rubbish so I have been making progressive modifications to the software which manages site security and supposedly keeps the vermin out. (In my travels I found a site supposedly devoted to web site security which gave instructions for a method of bypassing those graphic images that you have to copy numbers from to use many sites. Finding this did not improve my disposition.) Things are a lot better than they were some time ago, but there is still work to do. True to my membership in Amnesty International I am usually opposed to capital punishment but I am prepared to make an exception in the case of spammers. This week marks the anniversary of the execution of Guy Fawkes, and I would offer spammers the same compassion that King James showed towards Fawkes. They should only be tortured a little bit before being hanged, eviscerated and chopped into bits.
There have been outbreaks of lying about vaccines in Pakistan and Britain lately, both directed at Muslims. I am collecting information about these for an article, but it was interesting (although not really surprising) to find that the doctor in England who has been recycling the old "vaccines contain pork" lie seems to have some ties to a well-known anti-vaccination activist. He's pretending to be offering impartial advice, of course, but she couldn't help boasting about the connection.
Another project which is taking more time than expected is an analysis of World Health Organisation figures on disease mortality. I'm working on an article about the decline in mortality for various vaccine-preventable diseases over the last few years and it requires massaging several million pieces of data. The WHO's documentation of their data sets is comprehensive but it is turning out to be anything but a trivial matter to extract the numbers I want. (I can't really complain about this because the relevant WHO web pages do warn the faint-hearted to stay away.) I suppose I should be grateful that I had already doubled the memory in my computer before I even thought of this project otherwise I would be looking at flashing lights all night.
Then there's the invisible changes I have been making to the site which should give me a few more minutes each week to do something else, and the new books in the bookshop, and the t-shirts and mugs which will be here as soon as I get a sample and I'm satisfied that I've got the graphics right, and the real-life work which pays the bills, and ...
A haggish fraud lawyers up (10/2/2007)
Or should that be "A fraudulent hag lawyers up?" One of the worlds most blatant non-psychics, Sylvia Browne™, has decided that she doesn't like criticism of her and her work and has threatened legal action against a web site called StopSylviaBrowne.com. [Update 9/5/2009: Robert Lancaster, who created the StopSylviaBrowne web site suffered a serious illness and missed the deadline for renewing the domain name. Either Browne or one of the fraudster's sycophants grabbed the name and used it to promote Browne. I have corrected the link so that it points to where it should. PB 9 May 2009 A link check in early 2019 went to something totally irrelevant.] In the true spirit of people who either can't or won't respond to criticism by presenting facts, Sylvia Browne™ has not sued for defamation but has claimed that the site owner is damaging the trademark "Sylvia Browne". This strategy can be used to initiate and maintain a lengthy and expensive court case where lawyers argue about the finer points of commercial and intellectual property law while avoiding any discussion of freedom of speech until the respondent either goes broke or gives up. I have had some experience with this. (I should point out that my use of the term "intellectual property" should in no way be taken to imply that there is anything about Sylvia Browne™ that is in any way related to the every-day use of the word "intellectual".)
Here are some facts. Sylvia Browne™ has no power to see the future or to detect anything by any form of supernatural or paranormal power. She is a stage performer who pretends to be really doing things that many other stage performers will admit are tricks of the trade. She could be seen as a harmless buffoon if she didn't charge very large sums of money to deceive and disappoint people who are influenced by the credibility given to her by uncritical television programs. The most recent in a long series of Sylvia Browne™ gaffes was to tell the parents of a missing boy that their son was dead and then offer to locate his body (for a suitable fee, of course). The boy was alive and has been returned to his parents, but has The Trademark apologised? Of course not. I have children of my own and I can imagine what these parents went through not knowing what had happened to their son. I can equally imagine how they must feel now that they know that they were lied to and had their hopes almost destroyed by a charlatan who only saw them as an unopened pay packet.
On a lighter note, I was intrigued by the logo used by The Trademark's law firm (who managed to misspell their client's name at one point, a sure sign of competence in a business where cases can be decided on ambiguities in punctuation). It looks very much as if the logo includes a representation of a goose. (Note to lawyers – the logo is reproduced here for the purpose of fair comment and any suggestions that its appearance here dilutes or damages its commercial value will be met with incredulity and several more entries in the Google index for the words "idiotic" and "risible".)
Under the headword "goose" in my copy of the Macquarie Dictionary it gives as one of the definitions "a silly or foolish person; simpleton". The word can also be used as a verb, and here the dictionary says "to poke someone between the buttocks". Perhaps this could be taken as a suggestion for what Sylvia Browne™ and her lawyers should do with their ridiculous law suit.
Speaking of charlatans ... (10/2/2007)
Pretend exorcist Bob Larson is planning a tour of Australia later this year. In addition, Australia is apparently so full of Satan-possessed souls that he is even thinking of setting up a branch of his "church" here. I won't be paying to get in to see him when he comes, but if the shows are free then I might go along to have my demons cast out. (I can't find a reference to it right now, but if I remember correctly Larson had to keep reducing the price of his shows here in 2005 to keep the crowds coming. It could have been some other fraudster, of course.) On Larson's web site he reports on his last visit to Australia and claims that he went on radio and faced down "the country's most vocal atheist". I have no idea who would fit this description, but I also have no expectation that Larson should be providing an accurate account of what happened.
It looks like Larson's act is indistinguishable from that of other charlatans like Benny Hinn, where the marks are pushed over backwards to much shouting of "Hallelujah" and "Jesus". The short video below shows the Millenial Power being used to cure a woman of the disease of lust (her husband was the only objector), but I think that exorcism might have to be added to the agenda. Ladies infested by demons know where to find me.
In April 2007, Hinn complained to YouTube about this original creation by Richard Saunders and claimed that it violated Hinn's copyright. He was bluffing (a polite word for it), and negotiations with YouTube are going on to have it restored. You can see more here.
Birthday time (10/2/2007)
February 12 is the birthday of Charles Darwin. This is obviously a very special holy day in the skeptics' liturgical calendar, and I will be celebrating in the appropriate fashion. Creationists sometimes ask why there are still monkeys around if humans evolved from apes, but I'm just pleased that while yeasts were evolving into real plants the one which works so well with barley and hops didn't go extinct. Another way to celebrate is to explore Darwin's works, which are now available online. Get started here.
The date is also the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, and persons of a certain age might find themselves humming that great birthday celebration song, Abie Baby, from the musical Hair. Sensible baby boomers will, of course, refrain from singing the words out loud in the office or near maiden aunts in order to maintain employment and decorum respectively.
Speaking of persons of a certain age ... (10/2/2007)
Despite what youngsters and others might say, there are certain circumstances in which the options of a bona fide baby boomer are severely restricted. When I brought my guitar home (it was an impulse buy – I had gone to the shop to get a single string valued at $8) nobody was particularly surprised to see the word "Fender" on it. There aren't enough '67 Mustangs or Corvettes to go around (or Monaro 350s or Falcon GTHOs if you are an Australian) so car choices are a bit less restrictive, and even though red paint and rag tops are important it is possible to get away with something which is bright yellow. A new conveyance has been added to the transport fleet at Ratbag Castle, and again the choice between classic clichés came down to two. Taking into consideration the impossible-to-beat price requested (and remembering what they say about gift horses and mouths) and the fact that the man across the road already has his Harley, the newest member of the Hell's Doubters gang will be going about on a Honda CB750K.
Very unexpected news (10/2/2007)
It is my sad duty to inform you that the Psychic Museum in Stonegate, England, will be closing due to lack of visitors. For the time being the premises will be used for an internet cafe, but some people running ghost tours will be moving in when the tourists start coming back to Stonegate. The museum operators can't predict whether they will ever be back in business, but this lack of psychic ability is apparently due to the inability of psychics to predict anything about themselves. Several suggestions have been made about why the place didn't do as well as expected:
But wait, there's more … (10/2/2007)
In more closing down news, it has been announced that the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory (PEAR) will cease looking for anomalies at the end of the month after 28 years of finding no real evidence of any paranormal activity, spending a lot of dollars, irritating real scientists and being a slight embarrassment to the university in which it is located. It seems that all that can be known about the paranormal is known (something which skeptics have suspected for some time), and Robert Jahn, the founder of PEAR, has said "If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will".
I can't find any mention of Uri Geller ever visiting PEAR, so the closure is probably not his fault. I do notice, however, that they seem quite proud of the fact that jazz pianist Keith Jarrett dropped in once. Why this should be relevant to a discussion of the history of a scientific laboratory is unclear to me, but Jarrett holds the distinction of being responsible for the only record in my collection which has not been played more than once. In fact, it didn't even make it as far as once*. Knowing that Jarrett was interested in PEAR offers a possible explanation, as it could have been that he was experimenting with playing the piano using random and only partially-working telekinesis rather than his fingers as is usually done. It could also be a case of the famous Skeptic Effect which causes psychics and other paranormalists to suffer performance anxiety in the presence of non-believers and leads to the failure of demonstrations of paranormal powers. Jarrett might have been experimenting with psychic transmission of his musical talents through the unconventional medium of vinyl and I was just not a good receiver. I'm now sorry that PEAR is closing because I can see a large grant in this and I would be happy to spend a year or two at Princeton listening to Keith Jarrett playing the piano and telling him whether I liked it or not.
* Note: One of my favourite recordings is The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett, which is a masterpiece. (The picture is from the CD cover.) This doesn't mean that I have to like everything he has ever done. Like that little girl with the little curl, when he was good he was very, very good and when he was bad he was horrid. We all have bad days, but usually nobody is there to record and sell the evidence. I also have very dud recordings by Sonny Rollins and Carlos Santana and an absolutely awful live recording of The Rolling Stones, but I forgive them all too.
A puzzle (10/2/2007)
I probably shouldn't be mentioning this so please keep it a secret between you and me, but the latest Illuminati staff newsletter had this puzzle in it and I can't for the life of me figure out what it means. I showed it to a friend who is high in the ranks of the Christian fundamentalist organisation Cruentus Dei, but he just dropped the paper on the floor and ran away.
The coming hiatus (17/2/2007)
Out there in real life I have had some changes in my work pattern. I'm just about to commence a new project which will take up a lot of my time, it looks likely that I will become the local representative for a software product and this is going to require some time spent in training, I'll be teaching at a business college one day per week for a few weeks, and I am supposed to be finalising a draft of a book about management. All of this will unfortunately limit the time I have available between now and the end of April to do really important things like work on The Millenium Project.
The site will still be updated on approximately a weekly basis, but the updates will probably be restricted to following up existing articles and commentaries where something has changed or more explanation is needed, adding books to the bookshop and responding to emails. I will also react to relevant news stories occasionally, but it's the research and creative work for this which requires the time I won't have.
Remember that if you want to be notified of changes to the site, you can register with ChangeDetection. This is the change notification system used by Steve Gibson at grc.com and he's about as paranoid about security as it is possible to get, so I'm not too worried about email addresses falling into the hands of spammers.
Perhaps I was a bit obscure (17/2/2007)
I have received several emails explaining to me the secret in last week's magic square. I would have thought that my saying that it had arrived in an Illuminati staff newsletter would have been a clue that I was joking, but for anyone who thinks that I am dense I will assure you that I really did know what it was about. What wasn't a joke, however, is that the particular magic square was sent to me because some fundamentalist Christians were actually claiming that it was doubly evil because the derivation of the number of the beast was not obvious and needed two steps, thus proving that Satan was very devious. Now, I think I will go and bang my head in time to some music. Perhaps the full version of the song which surrounds my mobile phone ringtone.
Misguided spam of the week (17/2/2007)
I received a notification that this site had been added to a new search engine. I won't bother to provide a link because I don't feel the need to publicise it and, in any case, the site design is going to have Google's intellectual property lawyers crawling all over them before many days have passed. Apart from the very unimaginative site design (which might even be an attempt to confuse visitors), they don't seem to be able to categorise included sites very well. Here is what they said about The Millenium Project:
Your web site has been added to our search engine www.websearchstore.com. You can view your company's listing in the search engine by clicking Mannatech. To see the entire category you are listed in, click multi level marketing We are passing along a copy of our latest product special offer we hope you might enjoy.
They also seem to be living somewhere in the past, because the "special offer" is something to gather information off web pages and import it into a range of software packages. The first package mentioned is something which I am so familiar with that I make a living selling and supporting it, but nobody is very interested in Versions 4 to 6 any more, as Version 6 was last sold in 2004 and Version 9 was released last year.
So they think I sell Mannatech here and want to sell me something which can scrape addresses from web sites and import the data into obsolete software which I have encouraged my clients to replace with a later version. I don't think that I will be doing much business with this particular spammer.
Not just misguided ... (17/2/2007)
Here's someone who is misguided in more ways than one. Why would anyone think that I am Benny Hinn?
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2007 04:14:04 +0000
From: Rajay Kumar
Greetings to you in the name of Almighty Jesus.
Iam facing problem in registering myself in your site bennyhinn.org and since I am from India I intend to order some posters which your site is not allowing the same.
Can you please help me in this.
Mannatechies won't give up (17/2/2007)
Another person felt the need to set me straight about the Mannatech scam. (I don't think I've ever called it a "spam".) I accept that people who get sucked into pyramid schemes don't seem to understand arithmetic, but this person doesn't seem to understand what I have said about Dr Blobel and the lies that Mannatech salescreeps say about him.
Date: Wed, 07 Feb 2007 10:14:15 -0800
From: Lindsey Littleton
Subject: Lindsey Littleton-Mannatech is Not A Spam.
I just want to tell you that you have no idea what you're talking about. Mannatech is not a scam at all. I personally know people who sell it and I take it because I have eczema and over the past 5 years, I don't even look like the same person. You really need to get your facts straight because Dr. Gunter Blobal isn't even the doctor that discovered these glyconutrients. You're an idiiot dude.
On the campaign trail (24/2/2007)
When Barack Obama was elected to the US Senate in 2004, I had this comment to make about the emphasis which was being placed on his physical appearance.
A question of race (6/11/2004)
On his official Senate web site he says: "Obama and his wife, Michelle, married in 1992 and live on Chicago's South Side where they attend Trinity United Church of Christ". It is informative, therefore, to see what his chosen church says about itself:
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
Trinity United Church of Christ adopted the Black Value System written by the Manford Byrd Recognition Committee chaired by Vallmer Jordan in 1981. We believe in the following 12 precepts and covenantal statements. These Black Ethics must be taught and exemplified in homes, churches, nurseries and schools, wherever Blacks are gathered. They must reflect on the following concepts:
If the paragraphs above were modified by replacing each occurrence of the word "black" by "white" and each occurrence of "African" by "European" the text would not look out of place on a Ku Klux Klan web site.
Obama's family history has nothing to do with any "pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism". He just happens to be the son of someone who had dark skin and who met and married a white woman while attending the University of Hawaii as a foreign student. (His father returned to Kenya after obtaining a PhD from Harvard. His mother later married an Indonesian student.) Barack Obama seems to have led the sort of life which would be the envy of most people, with nothing preventing him from achieving whatever he wanted and suffering no handicap from having either a Kenyan father or an Indonesian stepfather.
It seems that now we can judge him by the content of his character. If he truly believes in and supports the blatant racism espoused by this church then he is unfit to hold any public office in any country which purports to hold it self-evident that all men are created equal. If he is doing it for purely cynical political reasons to garner votes by exploiting his "blackness" then he is just another lying politician who will do whatever it takes to get where he wants to go. There is always the possibility that both of these situations apply, of course. Whichever it is, his election to the Presidency would be a disgrace. In November 1863 Abraham Lincoln expressed the hope that the men who fought at Gettysburg had not died in vain. President Barack Obama would be very strong evidence that Martin Luther King (and Lincoln himself) lived and died in vain.
|Update January 31, 2009 – During the 2008 US presidential election campaign the church became both an embarrassment and a liability to Barack Obama. He wisely and pragmatically distanced himself from the insanity. By early 2009 the church's web site had been changed to show a new pastor, but they hadn't completely thrown away the racism. The first paragraph quoted above still appeared on the site, although the expansion of the bigotry in the subsequent paragraph and list of concepts were now well-hidden if there at all.|
I am already out of the country (24/2/2007
I know that this has been bouncing around the blogs for a week or two, but late is better than never. The following letter appeared in the January 29 edition of the Kenai Peninsula Clarion. I would like to think that it is a parody or that the weather in Alaska can derange or disable brain cells, but I have met people who really do think like this. I am also fascinated by the philosophical concept that "freedom of religion" implies compulsion to believe in a specifically Christian God.
February 26, 2007|
Some material on this site has been removed or changed because someone selling books promoting quackery who used to advertise her possession of a medical degree she didn't have (from a university she didn't attend and which does not have a medical school) didn't like what was said about the situation. To get the material removed she claimed that her name was trademarked. She had been informed of the contents of this page several years ago but took a long time to decide that even a tiny bit of criticism could put her house of cards at risk. It must be a very shaky house of cards.
And did the complainer complain to me first to try to rectify the problem? Of course not! That would have required manners. The first approach was to the web hosting company, whine, whine, whine, … .
As she no longer uses the fake degree and has changed her web site to tell the truth about where she obtained her qualifications and what those qualifications are I consider that a victory for me and I am not going to waste any time or money arguing with her in court. And by the way, her name is actually trademarked but there is no Australian trademark registration for "Dr xxxxx", so I guess that she still thinks that she can say things which are not strictly true and nobody will bother to check. You might note that she signs her name using what is supposed to be a trademark, not a legal name, and uses something which is not trademarked when pretending to write out her name in full.
Perhaps I should register my name as a trademark, and then I could threaten people who threaten me.