CAM or SCAM? (6/9/2008)
That's the title given by the editor to an article by me in the September 2008 edition of Issues magazine. The first paragraph says:
The first thing I should say about alternative medicine is that there's no such thing. There is an alternative to medicine and it is widely promoted, but the existence of a valid alternative to medical science is as likely as the existence of alternative physics or alternative engineering. Every time there is a significant rise in petrol prices a flurry of people offering methods to run cars on water appears, but generally these people are politely ignored and referred to as kooks or quickly identified as charlatans and run out of town. Sometimes one will appear with a magic fuel efficiency increaser which attracts millions of dollars of investment and allows the inventor to, for example, buy some sporting teams, but these are the exceptions. Defying and denying the fundamental laws of physics or chemistry are seen as a signs of an unsound mind – car manufacturers and energy suppliers aren't rushing into perpetual motion research. People who deny the fundamental principles of engineering don't get to build bridges and commercial aircraft.
But wait, there's more (6/9/2008)
The original volunteer had to cancel so I was asked at extremely short notice to get suitably attired and provide the next Naked Skeptic column for Australasian Science magazine. Deadlines wait for nobody, so work on this site had to be put aside in order to get on with the writing for the magazine. The good news is that I still had something to publish here. The particular edition of the magazine won't be out for a few weeks, but you can get a sneak preview here.
Happy Ramadan to all Islamists (6/9/2008)
We are now in what is always referred to by tabloid journalists and brain-dead television newsreaders in our secular society as "the holy month of Ramadan". I like to celebrate Ramadan by having a ham sandwich every day for lunch, eaten of course during daylight hours. This year Fathers Day falls in the holy month, so I am adding to the celebration by allowing my two daughters to dress however they like, associate with whoever pleases them, manage their own private and romantic lives, drive cars, eat what they want and vote in the coming local government elections. My grandson will not attend a madrass during the holy month and nobody will attach explosives to him or teach him to hate anyone. After the holy month things will return to normal.
It was just a coincidence that it was during Ramadan that I heard that the video publishing web site LiveLeak had reinstated the film Fitna. This was withdrawn in March following the usual, predictable and infantile death threats that follow the publication of anything which suggests that the religion of peace is not peaceful. The film was made by Dutchman Geert Wilders (who, I can assume, is still under threat of peaceful violence) and illustrated some passages from the Qur'an with appropriate images. I congratulate LiveLeak for reconsidering their attitude and response to bullying, but as there are any number of copies of the film at places like YouTube the genie was well and truly out of the bottle. (The source of that cliché being, of course, a legend about how a woman had to tell a new bedtime story every night so that her husband would not peacefully murder her.) As further celebration of the holy month of the religion of peace, here is Fitna. Be warned, however, that you need a strong stomach. YouTube has an "adults only" warning on at least one copy and requires a statement of age before allowing people to see it.
Quintessence Nook (6/9/2008)
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Bigfoot and the Yowie, so it seems appropriate to resurrect some ancient history about animals from the archives of Quintessence of the Loon.
Tim, The Yowie Man
You have to love Tim, the Yowie Man, especially when you find that he calls himself "TYM". Unfortunately this site is all about Tym and not about the Yowie, a mythical Australian beast. Tym is the country's number one expert on these creatures and is, as he says himself, a "cryptonaturalist and personality extraordinaire". I would like to have seen a bit less of Tym and a bit more about Yowies (you can see a list of sightings here), but I am sure Tym has more things he is yet to show us (like photographs, footprints, DNA sequences, etc).
(Disclaimer - I once sat next to Tym at a function organised by Australian Skeptics. He seemed to be a normal person.)
Loch Ness Monster
I don't know why there is any controversy about Nessie. The picture at right was taken in 1933 and obviously shows a sea (or lake) monster. What else could it be? I know that Nessie must be a bit old now if she (I like to think she is a she) was an adult in 1933, but one of the good things about lake (or loch) monsters is that they live for a very long time. Also, the water in Loch Ness is cold and slows down the aging process a bit. Anyway, everyone knows that there is really a breeding colony of the animals there. I am thankful that they only breed slowly, otherwise the loch would be a writhing cauldron of monsters by now and all the mystery would have gone away. I went to Loch Ness once, but Nessie didn't show. I was not too disappointed, though, because I saw Elvis changing a tyre on His Vauxhall in the car park. We shared a couple of Big Macs (and He throws away the pickle like everyone else does).
Better documented even than Nessie, Bigfoot roams the North American continent in vast numbers, like the bison herds of yesteryear. Millions of the beasts are in every bit of forest, leaving tracks and droppings everywhere. The only problem is that they are shy. These beautiful, intelligent creatures have a culture of privacy (yes, we can talk of "culture", as these animals are obviously closely related to us humans). They do not like having their photographs taken, as they believe that each image subtracts from their soul (they have a collective soul) and reduces their chance of going to heaven or appearing in a television series. I thought I saw Bigfoot once, filling up the tank of an old Cadillac convertible at a single-pump gas station just outside Squashed Flat, Nevada, but it was just some big guy in a sequinned jump suit.
An old friend goes back to his old job (13/9/2008)
Long-time visitors will remember Alan Yurko. This is the man who was a hero of the anti-vaccination movement because he beat a baby to death. (Literally a hero – the International Chiropractors Association set up a "Chiropractors Hero Fund" to raise money for his court costs.) Yurko served several years in prison for murder. The judgment was overturned on appeal and a new trial ordered, but Yurko pleaded nolo contendere to manslaughter (which basically means that he admitted to the killing but wasn't prepared to allocute to it in court) and was sentenced to time served on the murder conviction. As soon as he was out of prison he was abandoned by his "friends" who had been promising him writing and speaking careers. He was no longer any use as a martyr and when I asked one of his strongest supporters why nobody was helping him any more I was brushed off with some trite drivel about how whatever happened to him was his fault. To my knowledge, Yurko's name has not been mentioned on any anti-vaccination liar mailing list since he was released. He is a non-person now that he can't be pointed at with the message "See what happens when you vaccinate your children. You end up in prison".
Here is something I wrote about this a few years ago.
Too late for baby Alan (3/2/2001)
In the latest effort by the anti-vaccinationists to assist Alan Yurko, people were asked to write to an official in the Florida corrections system to complain about a proposed change to prisoners' email allowances. Writers were told not to mention Yurko's name in case of retaliation against him, but to pretend they were writing for some other friend in prison. In other words, the writers were asked to lie about their real intentions. Following Edmund Burke's maxim that "all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing", I wrote to the official concerned and warned her of the deceit. I copied my email to the person who had suggested "Shaken Maybe Syndrome" as a slogan for this particular anti-vaccination campaign (see the Anti-Vaccination Liars page for more details) and to someone who has suggested using Yurko as a consultant for other people charged with beating their children to death. One wrote back accusing me of a "heinous and spiteful act" and suggested that I "have placed Alan Yurko in danger". The other just told me "May you burn". The murderer's wife also wrote to me and said that "is not I or anyone else, that can stop you from eradicating yourself". Interestingly, she did not mention vaccination once, confirming for me that the Yurkos are just pragmatically using the anti-vaccination liars to achieve their own goal, which is to get the killer out. These people deserve each other. The tragedy is that children may die because of their actions. They all make me want to vomit.
Some of the stories being told about Yurko by his "friends" before they threw him away like so much garbage were that he was a talented writer with a great future and that he had been a medical student at the time of his original arrest for the murder of his son. The facts were that he had spent a large proportion of his life in prison and at the time the baby was conceived he was serving four concurrent sentences for burglary with violence.
So where is Alan Yurko now? Here's a hint:
You can see more of the grisly details here. While it is very difficult to have any sympathy for someone who killed a child, I have to think that if the promises made to Yurko by the people who were prepared to use him in their advertising had been kept then he might not have needed to return to burglary as a profession.
Religious idiocy #1 (13/9/2008)
An Italian comedian is facing several years in prison for insulting the Pope. What she said wasn't particularly funny, but telling dud jokes is hardly a felony. (If being an unfunny comedian was a crime, Adam Sandler would wear orange jump suits in all his film appearances, but I digress ...) It seems that since 1929 it has been a crime in Italy to suggest that the Pope might end up in Hell. I suppose that Dante was lucky that he did his suggesting about Hell and Pope Boniface VIII before 1929, although the rules about papal authority when Boniface was Pope seemed much more severe. You can read about this nonsense here.
Religious idiocy #2 (13/9/2008)
In Afghanistan, two people have been sentenced to 20 years in prison for publishing a Persian translation of the Qur'an. They are lucky, because if the translation had been ruled to be blasphemous rather than just incorrect they would have been facing the death penalty. Civilised societies stopped executing people for providing vernacular editions of holy books about five hundred years ago, so it looks like the Muslims are maintaining the timeline of being several centuries behind Christians in the climb towards civilisation. Read the bizarre details here.
Religious idiocy #3 (13/9/2008)
The Royal Society has spent much of the last week denying that this august body has lost its collective scientific mind and is in favour of the teaching of creationism in science classes. When someone pointed me to the original newspaper articles suggesting that this insanity might have been a real phenomenon I almost assumed that the turning on of the Large Hadron Collider really had led to the destruction of the known universe and we were now in some parallel universe where respected scientists talked nonsense. Here is the official word from the Royal Society:
No change in Society position on creationism
12 Sep 2008
The Royal Society is opposed to creationism being taught as science. Some media reports have misrepresented the views of Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Society expressed in a speech yesterday.
Professor Reiss has issued the following clarification. "Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis. I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview'; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility."
The society remains committed to the teaching of evolution as the best explanation for the history of life on earth. This position was highlighted in the Interacademy Panel statement on the teaching of evolution issued in June 2006.
(How's this for a vicarious connection? I have a large Banksia tree in my front yard. This sort of plant got its name from Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who travelled with James Cook and who collected and named the natural history specimens collected on that first European trip to Australia. Banks became the President of the Royal Society in 1778, shortly after returning to England from the Great Southern Land. Six degrees of separation? Hah! Milgram was a pessimist.)
Some good news for a change (13/9/2008)
One of the vilest inhabitants of the alternative medicine universe is Matthias Rath. His speciality is telling people that he has a cure for AIDS and all you have to do is take some of his magic pills. If that was all he did then he would just be another annoying quack, but he managed to get the attention of people like Thabo Mbeke in South Africa. As South Africa is reputed to have more HIV-positive and full-blown AIDS sufferers than almost anywhere else in the world it was a fertile market for this colossal fraud. Obviously, his activities attracted attention from people who are concerned about medical fraud, and Rath responded in the normal fashion for quacks so challenged. He didn't retreat to the laboratory for more research or get some clinical trials under way – he went straight for the lawyers. He found at least one insane judge and managed to get some money out of the British Medical Journal for calling his fraud a fraud. Then he got ambitious and took on The Guardian.
He thought that everything was going well, but he needed something to be kept from the court. What he wanted hidden was something said by his South African associate about Zackie Achmat, an AIDS activist. This is what he didn't want the court to see, and remember that this was written by a lawyer as part of a "59-page draft bill of indictment at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, in which we apply for the prosecution of TAC leader Zackie Achmat on a charge of genocide for his direct criminal role in the deaths of thousands of South Africans".
In view of the scale and gravity of Achmat's crime and his direct personal criminal culpability for 'the deaths of thousands of people', to quote his own words, it is respectfully submitted that the International Criminal Court ought to impose on him the highest sentence provided by Article 77.1(b) of the Rome Statute, namely to permanent confinement in a small white steel and concrete cage, bright fluorescent light on all the time to keep an eye on him, his warders putting him out only to work every day in the prison garden to cultivate nutrient-rich vegetables, including when it's raining, in order for him to repay his debt to society, with the ARVs he claims to take administered daily under close medical watch at the full prescribed dose, morning, noon and night, without interruption, to prevent him faking that he's being treatment compliant, pushed if necessary down his forced-open gullet with a finger, or, if he bites, kicks and screams too much, dripped into his arm after he's been restrained on a gurney with cable ties around his ankles, wrists and neck, until he gives up the ghost on them, so as to eradicate this foulest, most loathsome, unscrupulous and malevolent blight on the human race, who has 59 plagued and poisoned the people of South Africa, mostly black, mostly poor, for nearly a decade now, since the day he and his TAC first hit the scene.
Rath couldn't get this hidden from the court and he realised that it would expose him and his operation as insane, so he ran away. Luckily, The Guardian had run up some extensive and expensive legal bills which Rath is going to have to pay. Still, I suppose all he has to do is spread some more lies about being able to cure cancer, diabetes and AIDS and the coffers will fill up again. Read the story about his flight from court here.
How vitamin entrepreneur Matthias Rath persuaded South African Aids patients to stop taking their prescribed drugs - and use his vitamins – with terrible consequences
An oldie, but a goodie (13/9/2008)
This all over the 'net and I have no idea who first thought of it. I can satisfy copyright and intellectual property whiners by saying "It wasn't me".
The Top 10 Ways To Know If You're A Bible Thumping Whack-Job
Bill Mutranowski's Atheist Cartoons site disappeared in 2014
Have you ever moved house? (27/9/2008)
Am I jihadded? (27/9/2008)
Some of the comments made about my YouTube video of the reprehensible Danish cartoons seem to be written in a language which only vaguely approximates English. (One is actually in Arabic, so I have no idea whether it was complimentary or coruscating. I suspect the latter.)
يارب انت القوى على كل من افترى على عبدك ثم نبيك محمد على الف صلاة والف سلام يارب احمى محمدا من اى سوء يارب العالمين يارب اسخط اى حد يفكر يتكلم على نبيك باى سوء يارب احفظة من اى سوء حيث لا حافظ الا انت اللهم امين يارب العالمين
This comment wasn't posted to the site but instead arrived by email. I am intrigued by the writer's guess that I am a Christian rather than a Jew, and I am encouraged by the tolerance shown in the final words.
hello hello friend how r u first nice channel if u plz if u can remove that carton clip about mohammad really this is no fun and in these scenes u hurts others i hope u to understand me really this is so much painful to me when i see like this video laughing at prophets whatever mohammad orJesus both prophets from our god and i love them and respect them i hope to feel in me and help me to remove like these movies no body like to watch like these movies except jews and if u r jewish i know u will ignore my msg but i feel u r christian and i know how christian peaces people thank u anyway if u remove or u do not remove salam
I will not be removing the video. People have the right to be both offensive and offended. If all the complaints about the cartoons were like this one then there would be no news story, but when lunatics start wanting to kill people over trivialities then the only sensible response is to do more of what upsets them. Giving in to blackmail and threats just lets the bad guys win.
Treating the symptoms (27/9/2008)
One of the constant whines from supporters of quackery is that real medicine only treats symptoms whereas quackery treats and cures the underlying problem. The fact that homeopathy, for example, is totally based on identifying and treating symptoms is something that they like to either ignore or lie about.
Here is a list of the ten biggest selling pharmaceutical products during 2006. Note that they all address the underlying condition and only fix any symptoms as a consequence of the treatment. Several of the conditions are asymptomatic anyway, and I speak as a person with a chronic condition which can have no symptoms at all.
|Structure||Trade Name||Generic Name||2006|
|Plavix||clopidogrel||5.8||Bristol-Myers Squibb /|
|Zyprexa||olanzapine||4.7||Eli Lilly||Bipolar Disorder|
|Risperdal||risperidone||4.6||Johnson & Johnson||Schizophrenia|
Is this mad or what? (27/9/2008)
Quoting from the newspaper: "A devout Muslim has been given a 26-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, for forcing two teenagers to flog themselves until their backs bled during a Shi'ite religious ceremony". "And in which backward theocracy did this outrage take place?" I hear you ask. England.
Where would you rather live? (27/9/2008)
Let's look at two countries at opposite ends of the European continent which have come to my attention during the last week or two. First, there's Turkey. Remember that Turkey is officially constituted as a secular state. Well that may be so, but the powers that be have put filters on the country's links to the Internet so that residents of this secular state cannot access a web site belonging to Richard Dawkins. It seems that Professor Dawkins has offended a creationist loon. This man takes offence very easily and has previously successfully petitioned to have Wordpress and Google blocked. I would say that it takes real chutzpah to want millions of blogs and billions of indexed web pages blocked but I would assume that using a Jewish word would offend this clown even further. In that case, I will have to say that it takes real chutzpah to ... I hope that he is suitably offended. Turkey is trying to join the European Union. Perhaps they should consider moving a few centuries forward to the 18th century and the European Enlightenment first. One step at a time. You can read about this idiocy here.
For a good laugh, you can go here to see what Professor Dawkins said that caused all the offence and fuss. How dare this Oxford professor poke fun at someone who thinks that insects with great big steel hooks coming out of their bodies aren't showing any signs of having evolved. Caddis flies have always been fully equipped to attract and catch fish. That is what God made them for. Well, can you think of any other use for a caddis fly?
Things are different a bit further west, and I am pleased to announce that a Danish brewery has launched a beer named Gudeløs. This apparently means "Godless" in Danish, and a portion of the sale price goes towards promoting atheism. I wonder if Turks will be able to visit the brewery's web site.