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mung language (1/11/2003)
The 2003 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology was shared by Paul C. Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield for the development of magnetic resonance imaging. This used to be called "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging" because it referred to resonance in the nucleus of certain atoms that make up the chemistry of life (some isotopes of hydrogen and carbon, for example), but the name had to be changed because scare mongers had done such a good job of demonising the word "nuclear" that patients resisted the procedure in case it made them glow in the dark. It is this same muddled thinking which has otherwise sane-looking people objecting to nuclear power stations (which emit less radioactivity than coal-fired generation plants) because "nuclear" means bombs. There are regular outbreaks of hysteria near my place because Australia's only nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights is about to be replaced by a new one. (It is used for research and the manufacture of medical isotopes.) The nonsense of Gulf War Syndrome is amplified by people describing anti-tank projectiles made from depleted uranium as "nuclear weapons".
Many of the anti-nuclear campaigners know the truth about what they say. They know that more people died in coal mines during the twentieth century than the death tolls of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl combined. They know that the design of the Lucas Heights reactor makes a meltdown or explosion impossible unless the laws of the universe change tomorrow. They know that depleted uranium is not made from expended reactor fuel rods but is the metal left over after the fissile isotope has been extracted from the mixture found in nature. They know that nuclear power generation is less polluting than using fossil fuels and less damaging to the environment than the massive dams and reservoirs of hydroelectric schemes. They know that nuclear powered submarines are not necessarily nuclear armed submarines. They know all these things. They lie.
The tactics of the anti-nuclear protestors have been adopted by the opponents of genetic engineering, with the same use of lies and half-truths. Until recently, however, I had not seen the use of a categorical error like the invented problem with the word "nuclear" when related to MRI. Then the following story was reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on October 31, 2003:
The United States may have moved a step closer to authorising the sale of food derived from cloned animals, after a government agency announced that milk and meat from some cloned species was safe to eat.
The Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) said edible products from healthy cloned cattle, pigs and goats did not pose a health risk.
FDA officials said they hoped to decide by next year whether to permit the marketing of food from clones and whether such products should be labelled.
I'm not sure whether this was just a case of a journalist producing a beat-up to make the story quota for the week, but it seems to suggest that there might be a genetic engineering problem with cloning. The FDA is right to be concerned about the use of genetic engineering to produce food sources, but this example shows what can happen when words lose meaning. Cloning is certainly about genetics and it requires engineering something, but it is a far cry from what the expression "genetic engineering" means. When I look at a loaf of bread and think of all those extra chromosomes genetically engineered into wheat over the centuries I realise how stupid labelling something as "produced from genetically modified organisms" is. It could only be exceeded in absurdity by requiring labelling which says "produced from organisms which are genetically identical to other organisms which we have eaten for centuries".
History and an explanation (1/11/2003)
In case anyone thinks that I might be an unreconstructed cold warrior who believes in the use of nuclear weapons, I would like to point out that the best-fitting acronym I have ever seen is "MAD", for "Mutually Assured Destruction". It certainly was madness to have a race to arm countries with a ridiculous oversupply of weapons which could never be used because the retaliation would destroy humanity. I have always been opposed to the development and use of nuclear weapons, and, in fact, I was threatened with disciplinary action by my high school (which had pretensions of exclusivity) for organising "Ban the Bomb" protest meetings in the 1960s. We old and crumbling hippies might have become more conservative as we got older, but that doesn't mean we have gone mad. Millions of people have been killed by weapons containing explosives made from toluene, but that doesn't mean I want anyone to stop making petrol for my car.
Speaking of aging hippies ...
I just happened to be in San Francisco on business in 1987 when the remnants of the 1960s got together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Purely by accident, I found myself in a park full of hippies. Well, these 40-somethings had been hippies once. The marijuana had been replaced by canned beer (possibly in deference to the second-generation hippies that many had brought with them) and the tie-died shirts looked like they fitted a bit more snugly than when they had first been worn. Everyone was enjoying themselves when a busload of Japanese tourists turned up. The tourists leapt from the bus and took many photographs of the traditional San Francisco wildlife. I hope nobody ever disillusions the tourists by telling them that the people in the colourful clothes in the pictures of hippies were really bank managers, accountants, lawyers, shopkeepers and other ordinary folk. Plus the manager of computer systems for a relatively large and conservative Australian company.
Ready, fire, don't bother aiming (1/11/2003)
The piece I wrote last week announcing the birth of the Australian Council Against Health Fraud didn't take long to get a response. It was published on a couple of mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups and within a few hours the idea was being rubbished, I was being called a liar, people who can't understand that Sydney is a long way from Philadelphia were accusing me of being a lackey for Dr Stephen Barrett at Quackwatch, and a well-known promoter of quackery from New Zealand was issuing idiotic challenges for me to prove that any quackery was dangerous. It looks like there will be interesting times ahead.
The affair took on the appearance of high farce when someone announced that ACAHF was not new but was just the Dwyer Committee set up by my state government last year to investigate some of the more egregious forms of quackery. When I asked how an organisation which did not exist until October 2003 could have been doing anything in the previous October I was again accused of lying. When I showed this person the Certificate of Incorporation of ACAHF with its clear date of incorporation I was told that this meant nothing because I had made a web page about the Dwyer Committee in October 2002! Bizarre! Is it any wonder that people who think like this can believe the nonsense spouted out by quacks? Evidence means nothing to these people.
And why ACAHF is needed ... (1/11/2003)
Following the Pan Pharmaceuticals disgrace earlier this year, a committee was set up by the Australian federal government to make some recommendations about the alternative medicine industry in Australia. The committee has now reported and has made some innocuous and obvious recommendations such as that medicines should have to prove some efficacy before being sold and that the Therapeutic Goods Administration should have some increased powers to conduct spot checks of manufacturers. The reaction has been equally predictable, with claims like one that efficacy is already being established because potions have been used for a long time. A spokesman for a large supplement manufacturer has declared that the recommendations would destroy the industry. (The statutory reporting of executive salaries of public companies indicates that this person receives a salary which is about 50% greater than the entire annual research and development expenditure of the company. I am being charitable to him here, because the way the company's accounts are presented means that R&D expenditure has to be estimated from notes about how the tax bill was calculated. If the accountants got the timing of expenditure and tax reporting periods right, the R&D could have been as little as 20% of the salary of this one man.)
It is obvious that the industry wants no oversight or regulation and does not care about quality, efficacy or anything else much except money. They say that they are interested in quality manufacturing and purging the business of fraud, but these are empty words. If they were sincere, the reaction to the Pan problems would have been to congratulate the TGA for enforcing manufacturing quality, and the reaction to the Dwyer Committee would have been to offer support to get the charlatans out of the business. The actions were the opposite, and you know what people say about actions and words ...
Sweet, caring anti-vaccinator (1/11/2003)
I received the following email from someone who believes that any slight discomfort to her child outweighs the rights of other children to a healthy life, or even to a life at all. It is typical of the anecdotes used by the anti-vaccination liars to show how terrible vaccination is for children and how duplicitous the doctors are who give the needles. If she wants to talk about Russian roulette, she should consider the gamble that children would face if there were no vaccines.
Subject: Normal person with normal vaccination complaint.
I would just like you too know that my third child after being vaccinated, (My other two were completely vaccinated), got whooping cough 2 weeks after the injection, you know what the doctors told me, "oh sorry about that but a child can get the virus they have been injected with". My answer was why the hell hadn't I been told that in the first place. "They said they don't like to scare people off vaccination, since the risk of getting the virus from the injection are low". Well guess what my child was one of them and while he might be classed as the minority, he is still a little person, my son and he does count and should be counted his life should not have been treated as in a game of Russian roulette I should have been warned, in stead I actually exposed my child to the virus. I felt that the doctors made me ignorant to the dangers simply because they want every one vaccinated. Its not good enough. So next time you complain about parents who don't get their kids vaccinated think of my little boy who was vaccinated and got the virus from that very vaccination, and I have proof the doctors admitted it to me and apologized!.
Whooping cough is not caused by a virus and every doctor knows that, so the quotes supposedly from a doctor in the letter are either fabrications or misrememberings. The vaccine against pertussis currently used in Australia (where this person lives) does not contain whole bacteria cells and therefore it is impossible for it to cause a whooping cough infection. The vaccine used before 1999 contained whole cells, but these were killed and again could not cause infection. The lady is either misinformed or lying, and I hope that none of her friends take her advice and avoid vaccinating their children because of her unfounded fear mongering. If they do, the children could very well end up looking and sounding like the children here.
Liars keep right on lying (8/11/2003)
The non-existent link between vaccination and autism is one lie that will not go away. Another lie told by the opponents of vaccination is that they are interested in the truth and just want more investigation into vaccine safety. The fact that this is a lie is easily demonstrated by the persistence of the first lie. Every time another study is done which shows that autism is not related to vaccination another set of excuses, justifications and stories is made up. Sometimes, as in the Finnish study which looked at every vaccinated child in the country over many years, the science is attacked because a drug company was involved somewhere. Sometimes, as in the Danish study which also looked at an entire population, idiotic objections about genetic differences between Danish children and other humans are raised. Sometimes, as when Dr Andrew Wakefield's co-authors come out publicly to refute his interpretation of their research, great conspiracies of harassment are invented. The latest one, however, is a classic in sophistry and deceit. A paper in the journal Pediatrics reported on a study of 124,170 children and found no cause for alarm. The immediate response from the anti-vaccination liars was not to try to refute the science but to launch personal attacks on the authors and to claim that the results were fabricated. In case you think that I might be misrepresenting what the anti-vaccination liars said, a press release put out by Safe Minds and Vaccine Liberation included the words "The newest study falsely reports no link between neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, and the mercury-based vaccine preservative Thimerosal". It was sent to mailing lists using the subject "CDC Tricks Parents on Halloween". There is no lie too big for these people to tell and no science which they will not denigrate in their pursuit of their foul agenda.
Some questions for the anti-vaccinators (8/11/2003)
One of the reasons that I call the anti-vaccination liars "liars" is that they keep pretending that all they want is for parents to be informed in order to make appropriate decisions when what they really want is an end to all vaccination (and vaccination research) for all diseases, for all people, of all ages. I submitted the following questions to some anti-vaccination forums (you can see some responses here) and I am about to ask them again. I don't expect any direct answers, because honest answers to these questions would reveal them as the disgusting child-haters they really are.
And another question ... (8/11/2003)
Now that the mercury preservative has been removed from most vaccines, its ability to cause autism must be reduced. When can we expect to see a drop in autism rates? Surely it should be detectable by now if thimerosal was the cause. Oh, I forgot - it's something in the MMR which is causing autism now. It will be something else next week.
Sanity in Texas (8/11/2003)
Because the government supplies textbooks to school students, Texas is a very important market for textbook publishers. It is important in two senses - volume of sales and consistency of product. No publisher wants to have to print different versions for different markets, so the rest of the country will get whichever version is accepted by Texas. This fact has long been exploited by people who want to censor textbooks or to influence the content in some way, and the champions at this practice have long been the creationists. Of course, they don't claim to be creationists any more but instead talk about some nonsense called "intelligent design" as a way of hiding their true motivation. The law says that books can only be rejected because of factual errors, so a lobbying campaign has been going on to suggest that evolution is factually incorrect because there are things which the theory cannot precisely explain. Superstition and magic can explain everything, however, so the deceivers offer them as a possible alternative.
The attack against the latest list of biology textbooks up for consideration was led by an outfit called the Discovery Institute, which pretends to be some sort of scientific think tank. DI is simply a method of disguising religion as science in order to confuse those who can't see the signs. They very cleverly offer no real alternative to evolution but merely suggest that as evolution theory is not perfect it should not be mentioned in textbooks. The intent of this sophistry is obvious - it is to remove science from schools so that the mythmakers can have access to children's minds in order to fill them with unchallenged nonsense.
The good news is that rationality and truth have won. Biology textbooks selected for Texas for the next couple of years will contain discussion of the single-most important theory and principle in biology, and this means that books for the rest of the country are safe as well. The creationists will not give up, of course, and their attacks on reason will continue as part of their campaign to spread their perverted religious dogma. The only uncertainty is what form their deception will take next time, now that intelligent design has failed to prevent children learning the truth.
Setting priorities (8/11/2003)
On Tuesday, November 4, Australia stopped work for a horse race and tens of millions of dollars were "invested" through bookmakers and totes, with untold tens of thousands more dollars spent on clothes and hats by people needing to be seen at the track. The papers were full of pictures of two parasites who were in Australia to attend the races as guests of a television network. Their sole claim to fame is that their grandfather started a business, but somehow this is enough to make people think that they are important. There was much talk of how good they are at shopping. On the same day, fourteen refugees landed on Melville Island, 80 kilometres north of Darwin. The government went into immediate panic mode at this invasion and the rules were changed (retrospectively) so that they could be repelled. It amazes me that there is no shortage of money for frippery like "fashion" or for fawning over nonentities who have been raised to the status of "celebrity", but no money to provide humanitarian aid to people who really need it.
Speaking of celebrities ... (8/11/2003)
It is a matter of constant annoyance to me that supposed journalists display obvious ignorance of the things that they are writing about, even when the facts are easily established. The cult of celebrity highlights this, because stories are usually based on nothing except other stories which are based on nothing except ... . Research and background knowledge are irrelevant. If something or someone is not already well-known or accompanied by a public relations campaign then they might as well not exist. A nice example of this phenomenon happened during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. One of the papers printed a picture of Bill and Melinda Gates at some event and the accompanying words gushed about how even very rich people could afford time out to watch sport and how much wealth there had been at the Games that day. It would have been an even better story if the person sitting on the other side of Bill had been identified, but why would a journalist writing a story about very rich people need to know who Paul Allen is?
An offer I could refuse (8/11/2003)
I participate in several Internet mailing lists, and I often get invitations to join lists when the list owner thinks I might be interested in the subject matter or might be able to make a contribution. I received the following invitation this week, but I think I will decline.
A message from email@example.com:
We are more numerous, passionate and motivated than the Zionists. And as was proven by a recent poll in Europe (and countless U.N.resolutions), the weight of world opinion is on our side.
But the fragmentation of our efforts ensures our FAILURE.
This group seeks to harness the incredible intelligence and energy dispersed among so many Yahoo groups in a single forum for ACTION.
A-Z-C will not be a victim of the endless Zionist spam afflicting other groups, because we will moderate every post.
This is not a debate club for fence-sitters, but a place to discuss, plan, and execute meaningful work to END THE ILLEGAL OCCUPATION OF PALESTINE.
People are talking (8/11/2003)
The September 30, 2003, edition of The Bulletin, Australia's oldest news magazine, included this site in their "Second Site: This Week's Top Links" list. It was described as "An anti anti-vaccination site that proves how heated the debate can become".
Fascinating spam (8/11/2003)
One of the tactics used by spammers is to use weird or deceptive words in email message subject lines to get around the tests applied by spam filtering software. Mailwasher caught one this week that I just had to look at. It was an advertisement for some get-rich-quick scheme or other so it went straight into the bit-bucket, but I really was impressed by the subject line which just said "dugong". Here are some dugongs.
Some things will not die (15/11/2003)
An old joke tells how after a nuclear war there will be nothing left except cockroaches sitting in the shade of privet bushes. If those cockroaches ever learnt to to read, they would be able to peruse another indestructible object, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. This piece of drivel has been continually exposed as a fraud almost from the moment of its first appearance, but the racists still persist in spreading it around and announcing it as if nobody has ever heard of it before. Some loon emailed me an entire chapter of the thing this week, apparently oblivious to the fact that I have had a link to one of the online versions of it here for some time as well as a link to the pack of Christian religious bigots to which he seems to belong. I suppose that like many of the people I deal with here he thought that repetition would wear me down. It won't.
I shouldn't be surprised by the pervasiveness of the myth of the Great Jewish Conspiracy, because it has enormous plasticity and can be applied in a wide variety of situations. I was informed this week that in 1909 the Rockefeller family had put up the money to destroy all forms of alternative medicine and to establish medical schools to teach orthodoxy only, presumably only to Jewish medical students. The writer actually said that chiropractic and homeopathy were specifically targeted for elimination and were gone by 1910, which must be why it is impossible to find either a chiropractor or a homeopath today. I must report that the conspiracy is working well in Australia to this day, as chiropractors can only manage to fill nine pages in my local Yellow Pages directory and all the doctors I have spoken to at Westmead Children's Hospital recently have been Jewish, though all except one of them were clever enough to disguise themselves to appear to come from Japanese, Indian, Scandinavian or Irish backgrounds. Even the one with the almost Jewish name was prepared to work on Saturday to hide his Sabbath observance. Devilishly clever, those Jews. Especially the Baptist ones like John D Rockefeller.
Speaking of living forever ... (15/11/2003)
I have a pair of Alex Chiu's famous Immortality Rings so my eternal life is guaranteed, but you can never have enough insurance. This is why I am pleased and thankful that believers in that execrable fraud, faith "healer" Benny Hinn, keep writing to me to tell me that they are praying for me even though they know I am going to hell for not believing in Benny. You can read their messages of encouragement here. It's not just Hinn fans, however. Some time ago a web site with the strange name of "Java for Jesus" had a link to The Millenium Project which said "this man and his site need to be redeemed -- please help this man". They have revised the site and I can't find this any more. I greatly appreciated the concern and I hope they are still looking out for me
Sexist jokes (15/11/2003)
In the Sexual Bigotry category here I have a link to a site titled "Top 75 reasons why women (bitches) should not have freedom of speech". Someone wrote to me to advise me that this was a joke, implying that I should have been able to infer this from the fact that it is included in a humour site. I knew it was supposed to be a joke, but that doesn't stop it from being sexist, bigoted and offensive. I remember being accosted by a professional feminist once who was determined to disabuse me of the idea that feminists were totally lacking in any sense of humour. (When I say "professional" I mean it. Her nominal employment was in a clerical capacity for a government office, but all her working hours were spent on her role as a member of some women's support group. When pressed she admitted that this committee had no function and served no purpose, but it kept her busy and it had nice stationery with its own logo. My taxes at work.) She told me that she had heard a very funny feminist joke that would have me splitting my sides with laughter. The joke was in the form of a riddle which asked "How many men does it take to paper a feminist's bedroom?". The answer was "It depends on how thinly you slice them". I told her that I had heard another equally funny riddle: "How many feminists does it take to grow roses?". When I told her the answer ("It depends on how finely you mince them before you fork them in as fertiliser".) she told me that this was horrible, sexist, not at all funny, I shouldn't joke about killing people, and she was going to have to run away and hug some sisters. And I thought she had just been telling me about her sense of humour ...
Australian Council Against Health Fraud
This week's update is a bit short because I have spent much of the week doing all the bureaucratic necessities to set up the Australian Council Against Health Fraud. The organisation now has all the necessary bank accounts, taxation paperwork and so on that our regulated society requires. Actually, it has more that enough because I could have started up a business to manufacture and sell quack cures without some of the registrations that ACAHF has. In fact, I could do that without any registration at all if I decided to sell certain forms of quackery. Sometimes I regret the morality that my parents instilled into me, but never for long. (An Amway salesman once suggested to me that making lots of money was the only worthwhile goal in life because this would allow me to do anything else I wanted. I told him that if money was all that mattered to me I would sell heroin to schoolchildren and then turn them out as prostitutes to pay for it. Whooosh! Straight over his head, and he just kept on with the script.)
There's still a lot of work to do before ACAHF is a real, working organisation but the basics are now in place and will be refined over the next few weeks. The official launch and press barrage will probably be in January 2004. The web site now exists and it too will evolve over the next few weeks. Please click here to see the current version. Comments and suggestions are welcome.
The itinerary (15/11/2003)
I will be in the US for two weeks next January to attend and speak at James Randi's Amaz!ing Meeting. I would like to meet regular readers of this site so if you live in San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or San Francisco, please email me and we might be able to get together for a beer or two.
Suffer the little children (22/11/2003)
In June 2001 twin boys were born in Valley Hospital, Las Vegas. One of the boys weighed 4 pounds 13 ounces. The other weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces and was apparently stillborn but later developed a heartbeat. The hospital gave the smaller baby a blood transfusion to save his life and then applied to a court and received guardianship of the baby for the next 30 days in case another transfusion was necessary. No further transfusions were required, and both boys are now alive and well. You may think that this is just another case of doctors doing what they are supposed to do, and you would be right. You may well think that the parents would be grateful, but you would be wrong. You see, the parents are Jehovah's Witnesses and are now suing the hospital for saving their son's life. They would rather he had died.
I have no problem with mentally competent adults refusing medical treatment. If someone wants to bleed to death instead of receiving a transfusion then he should be quite free to do so, although why anyone would present at a hospital and then refuse treatment is a mystery. Children are different, and society recognises that there are certain decisions that a child cannot make. In the case of a baby only a few hours old, claiming that the child could have a religious objection to anything is ridiculous. I have been following an online discussion of this case for a few days and the arguments have been becoming more and more desperate. Not only are Witnesses ranting on about religious freedom, but they have been joined by political halfwits who see this as some form of oppression by the state and interference in the parents' rights to do whatever they like with their children. Proof that the baby's life really was saved have been demanded, dangers of blood transfusions have been raised, nonsense about abortion has been flung about. The facts are that any civilised society has the right to step in to protect children. If someone's religion required sacrifice of first-born girls there would be no questions raised if the courts prevented it. The courts do not allow rape of infants or leaving them to starve. Refusing medical treatment is just as much a form of abuse as these. Justifying abuse on the grounds of religious freedom is just more evidence of why any sensible society should confine religious activity to consenting adults in private.
Speaking of religious beliefs ... (22/11/2003)
This week marks the 25th anniversary of one particular occasion when people listened to a religious leader. A suitable antidote to the mental poisoning which causes people to say that unquestioning belief and faith is harmless would be to repeat the word "Jonestown" 913 times.
I'm a porn entrepreneur! (22/11/2003)
A few weeks ago someone left a message on my home answering machine inquiring about a job. He was responding to an advertisement somewhere on the Internet which was offering $165 per hour for men to appear in pornographic movies. I assumed that it was a wrong number and thought no more about it. Yesterday I got another call about the same thing, and this time I was there to answer the phone. The caller asked for me by name, so it wasn't a wrong number. I asked how he had heard about my mythical casting campaign and he said that it was in a classified advertisement on the 'net. By this time he was getting a little embarrassed, but I managed to get him to tell me that the ad was in Penthouse. I checked the Penthouse site but it looks like you have to pay to see more than a teaser, so I couldn't find the advertisement. This is all a great mystery. I wonder who would have bothered to create (and presumably pay for) a fake advertisement with my name and phone number in it. As for paying $165 per hour for talent, if I knew where to get that sort of pay for that sort of work I would apply for the job myself. After all, I get lots of email telling me how to enhance my qualifications.
Radio Ratbags (22/11/2003)
During 2002 some friends and I appeared weekly on the Internet radio station NetFM with a program produced on behalf of Australian Skeptics. For reasons which don't matter any more the relationship broke down, but we had always hoped to get back on air somewhere. Unfortunately, NetFM is no more so we won't be back there. If everything works out, we should be back with a radio program in early 2004. The plan is for a weekly program with interviews, opinions and some skeptical news. That should make sure that I don't have any spare time.
Murphy's Law (22/11/2003)
There are certain natural laws which apply throughout the universe. One of these is Murphy's Law. I already have a version of the front page of The Millenium Project which is updated weekly in a format suitable for downloading to a Palm or other PDA. I decided to expand this to include a version formatted for viewing on WAP-enabled mobile phones. In between thinking of the idea and testing the new page to see what it looked like I selected some menu item on my mouse-equipped, overly-capable new mobile phone and the phone rebooted itself, clearing all personalised configuration settings. One of the things that was cleared was my WAP login information. I am now waiting for the telephone company to send me an SMS message to reinitialise things. Maybe it will all be working next week. Remember the good old days when phones were only used for talking to people?
Live vets do lie (29/11/2003)
Joel Wallach is a veterinarian best known for selling a tape called "Dead Doctors Don't Lie!". The stories on this tape are used to promote Wallach's multi-level scheme to sell snake oil which cures everything from Alzheimer's Disease to Zambucca Overdose, or so it seems. Vet Wallach likes to refer to himself as a "physician" apparently on the basis that he has bought a degree in naturopathy from somewhere. I saw Wallach on television this week in a news background item about a tour he did of Australia and the most notable thing was how he is so arrogant and dismissive of any criticism (and so frightened of any of his marks hearing that criticism) that he was prepared to allow a television program to film his use of thugs to throw questioners out of his meetings. One person evicted was Stuart Adams, who has an excellent and comprehensive analysis of Wallach's claims which you can read here. [Mr Adams' web site survived until the closure of Geocities in late 2009. As Stuart has moved on to other activities it is unlikely that the site will be resurrected. PB December 2009]
Wallach's Australian arm of his scheme has two web sites, with different content, hosted at different servers in different US states. The reason for this can be found in the dictionary under the head word "duplicity", and is done to place them outside the reach of Australian regulatory authorities. These sites advertise an ongoing Australian tour by Wallach's son and some other people, but the price (and the fact that you can book online through another offshore web site) suggests that the inconvenience of Australian Goods and Services Tax has been eliminated. This is not surprising, as tax avoidance seems consistent with the rest of Wallach's business "principles". As Wallach's multi-level distribution company would be required to be registered for GST and avoidance is treated seriously by the tax collectors, it is also not surprising to see that the page advertising the seminars includes the quaintly-worded disclaimer: "This is not a Australian Longevity event. Any damages, mistaking, refunds, and liable's are strictly the responsibility of the event provider(s) The above advertisement is for informational purposes only". There is one of these seminars near my place next weekend. If I go along they will be able to recognise me because I will be the person withholding 48.5% of the entry fee unless I am provided with the legally-required form of a tax invoice, complete with an Australian Business Number. That should get me thrown out.
Speaking of television programs and scams ...
The show about Wallach was a bit more skeptical than some other episodes of the same investigative program, but it still told people to use their own judgment without making a judgment of its own. If these programs would be a bit more enthusiastic about exposing scams rather than being even-handed then many people would be much better off. The papers last week were full of the story of a collapsed financial scam, with thousands of people out of pocket or left with crippling time payment contracts. The victims had been conned by a crook named Henry Kaye who charged $15,000 (and sometimes more) to train people to make fortunes in the property market. Like the medical fraudsters, Kaye targeted desperate people and among his latest prospects were unemployed single mothers. If the mark could not afford the $15,000 right now, finance could be arranged (through companies coincidentally controlled by Kaye) at an interest rate only a little above twice the normal mortgage rate. Common sense would suggest that anyone whose only source of $15,000 was through a loan shark owned by the seller of something would have great difficulty borrowing $500,000 from a bank to buy investment property, but common sense is something that desperate (and greedy) people often put aside.
Kaye was able to start and run his organised thievery because he was given uncritical free publicity by the media. He was promoted as some sort of financial genius. This reputation was based on a story he told about how, as a young person, he ran a business buying and selling computers from his mother's garage. It was when he said that this business turned over $50 million per year that the reporters should have walked away after telling him to stop bothering the grownups. The possibility that he was running one of the country's top ten computer distribution organisations was nil, but the story took precedence over the facts. Had this ridiculous claim been treated with the contempt it deserved, a lot of people would be a lot happier now. And there's one thing I can be sure of - Henry Kaye's 130 interlocked companies might be technically insolvent but Henry won't be broke himself. He will be back with another scam, and almost inevitably the media will give him free advertising.
Still on scams ...
You might think that the collapse of Henry Kaye's house of cards would cause the promoters of financial scams to retreat for a while. Wrong! Someone rang me this morning to tell me about a computer program which will let me make 20% per month profit by investing in the stock market. I was restrained and polite to the caller, because he was probably just a telemarketer paid by the call. It was still difficult to be polite, though
What was it that Ignatius Loyola said?
Two friends of mine have started a business to take skepticism and critical thinking into schools. They give presentations, usually replacing a scheduled science lesson, which demonstrate how easy it is to draw the wrong conclusions about things and how the tools of science can be used to improve the likelihood of getting the right answers to questions. If you are a science teacher or a parent who thinks that their children's school might be interested, please contact the Mystery Investigators for more details. It's the eastern side of Australia only at the moment, but they will take the show anywhere if they can get enough bookings near the destination to make the economics work. If they get too much business, they might even offer me a job. I could drive the van.
Sylvia - suppository or saint? (29/11/2003)
Someone was not pleased with what I had to say about charlatan Sylvia Browne, and sent me the following message.
Translated into something compatible with the characteristics of the human eye, it said:
Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2003 00:26:27 -0500 (EST)
Subject: sylvia browne
its people like you that diminsh good faith in the world and the people that bring it. Lucky for sylvia, she pays no attention...get over youre ego guy
I know Sylvia pays no attention. If she did she would either do what she says she can do and collect James Randi's million dollars or she would shut up and stop lying.