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September 2, 2006

A politician keeps talking sense (2/9/2006)
A couple of weeks ago I reported that I had written to the Australian federal Minister for Education, Science and Training to congratulate her on a principled stand against the madness of Intelligent Design. Here is her reply:

The Minister's reply

More about IDiocy (2/9/2006)
ReaderIf you found my Rolex on the beach you would think that someone had made it. Michael Lloyd recently sent me copies of two texts about Intelligent Design which had been distributed by the Anglican Church in Western Australia. I was a bit wary about reading them, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they came down on the side of sense. One was a theological argument about causality which I might put up on this site eventually, but the other one was a clearly-argued case against ID, written from a Christian perspective. The author's brief CV says that "Professor David Goldney is a committed Christian and a practising scientist. He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney, Orange Campus, an Adjunct Professor at Charles Sturt University and an environmental consultant". Professor Goldney has kindly give me permission to reproduce his paper, and you can read it here.

Weirdness note (2/9/2006)
I must get offered fake Rolex watches twenty times a day in spam email, but I didn't know how bad things were until I asked Google to show me some pictures of Rolex devices. Those pictures which were not of antiques were almost all of admitted fakes. You might ask why I didn't just go straight to Rolex. I did, but the Rolex web site has no pictures of watches at all, just Flash animations. They do have a nice set of screensavers, though, which would be eminently suitable for MLM distributors, who could be reminded of the things they don't (and won't) have while sitting at the computer. This would save them the regular trips to the bathroom to look at the pictures of expensive cars (to be in plain sight when shaving) or to the kitchen to look at the photos of mansions and boats on the fridge.

While we're on the subject of MLM ... (2/9/2006)
When I did my regular link check this week I found that the scamsters at Life Force International seem to have disappeared. Well, the corporate site has disappeared but there are lots of distributor sites still out there. The first one I looked at obviously belonged to a very successful distributor indeed (perhaps in the Piaget class, rather than Rolex), and displayed this set of awards.

Great results!!!

I was trying to find a link to the mother ship's site, so I looked at a few more distributor sites. I soon came across this:

More awards

Hmmmm. It looks like the makers of expensive Swiss watches and Italian sports cars will have to increase production. Surely the MLM outfit wouldn't be handing out the same awards to different people and hoping that nobody noticed. That would be deceptive.

Aaaaaaaarrrrrggghhh!! (2/9/2006)
Sometimes I hate computers. The program which maintains the menus on this site and all the other ones I look after is NavStudio 2005. The registration code I had carefully saved for this program when I first bought it was apparently some time of one-time code, and when I did The Great Reinstall of Everything last week I needed to get a new code. The vendors were very quick to respond and told me to download the latest version and install it and then tell them the magic number it generated so that they could send me a new unlock code. So far so good. The new version, however, stores the menu descriptions inside the web pages in a different format to previous versions. The new method is much tidier and nicer, but ...

There are more than 600 pages in this site which have a menu on them and every one of them had to be modified to use the new way of doing things. Fortunately the recent project I undertook to convert everything in the site to work with FrontPage templates made a mass update relatively painless, although finding out how to do it safely took more time than I wanted to spend on any fruitless activity. So there went the morning.

After all that drama was over I was surfing around and one site said that it needed to install a plugin to Windows Media Player to show me a video. As everything on the computer was almost brand new this was not a surprise and, in fact, I had been getting messages like this for a week for different addons like Java and Flash. And I have excellent and up-to-date virus and spyware protection. Well, I thought I did. This thing disabled the Windows Defender spyware trap, tried to disable the Windows Firewall (which I don't use - I have an external box to do that) and then started pretending to be an anti-virus program and kept telling me to connect to a web site to fix a dangerous situation. It also installed a toolbar in Internet Explorer which (I assume, because I wasn't about to click on anything) would have called home to some nasty place if I had used it. Norton Antivirus went berserk, but every time I told it to kill the intruder the other vile thing just restarted itself.

Into Safe Mode to disconnect the machine from the network and to run with the minimum needed for Windows. I manually deleted the Program Files folders for the obvious newly installed rubbish and then let some tools loose on repairing the damage. When you see the numbers below, remember that this is a machine that is effectively only a week old and that I had already manually deleted a lot of stuff.

So there went the afternoon. Did I mention that sometimes I hate computers? Not nearly as much as I hate spammers and virus propagators, of course.

(Note to fanatics. I HAVE a Linux machine as well as the Windows one. Please address all gloats and anti-Microsoft comments to where they will be routed to the appropriate staff member at Ratbag Castle.)

Perhaps this would have been useful (2/9/2006)
The Australian Securities & Investments Commission has commenced court action against a company named Citrofresh International Ltd. The company was planning to sell an "invisible condom" which could be sprayed on to the relevant body parts (after the action was over!) to protect against HIV and other diseases. The company had made the following announcements about the product:

It is good to see someone taking action against such obvious fraud and quackery, but why is it ASIC going after them and not the agencies which would normally be expected to chase people making medical claims? It is because Citrofresh is a publicly listed company and made the announcement to the stock exchange, and people aren't allowed to stretch the truth if the lies can influence the share price. There's something awry in a society where a medical claim that has the effect of ramping a share price can attract immediate disciplinary action but the same claim (or even more extreme claims) can be made almost with impunity by an individual, an unincorporated body or a private company, but at least this is a start. You can see the ASIC media release here.

This week's email (2/9/2006)
Even though I realise that true believers in quackery don't go out of their way to find out what is true and what is not, I am always a little surprised when someone accuses me of being anonymous.

Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2006 11:13:34 -0400
From: "King Cpl Frank"

Greetings sir, I am so happy to find someone with the fortitude to be open in his thoughts and accusation backed by so much fact. I see you even have the fortitude to tell us all who you are and how we might contact you other than a little email. You quote the dictionary all over your pages and ridicule others for their lack of education in proper grammar, yet a man so highly educated as to know the ins-and-outs of Homeopathy and various other medical fields well enough to combat these institutions, doesn't know that HOMEOPATHS isn't a word!æ

Funnily enough, there are many pages in my local yellow pages where people have paid to be called just that. I also note that the Australian Homæopathic Association says that it is a "national association of professional Homoeopaths" (yes, they use the old-fashioned spelling), the National Center for Homeopathy in the USA has a menu item on their site which says "How to find a homeopath", the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths says it all in their name, I see that the Homeopathic Medical Council of Canada prefers the term "homeopathic doctor" (but that would be expected from a body with the hubris to put the words "homeopathic" and "medical" together) but Canada's One-Stop Homeopathy Network has a link to "Find a homeopath", and The Society of Homeopaths in Britain describes itself as "the largest organisation registering professional homeopaths in the UK". Perhaps "homeopaths" isn't a word in places where they don't speak English.

Obviously you are a highly intelligent and brave man to know so much about homeopathy and say such things and even put your name on it. Oh, wait. You don't have your name anywhere, or even a phone number.

Actually, my name occurs immediately after the words "This site is owned and maintained by ...". As this has only been on the site since March 1999 I can understand why it might appear to be hidden.

Just an email that you can pick through and decide who is dumber than you so you can post it on your website and look smart. Wow! Did I mention the fortitude you must possess.

As you can see by my email address alone, I am far from afraid of letting you know just who I am and what I do. I wouldn't want to insult your intelligence, but that little Cpl and USMC in my email address, stands for Corporal (Non-commissioned Officer) in the United States Marine Corps.

I am well aware of what a Corporal is, as well as the general concept of "Non-Commissioned Officer". I was in a uniform being trained to ruthlessly kill people long before you were born. Perhaps even before the person with your name and "II" after it was born.

The name's there too if you can't make the connection between Frank King and the subject of this letter I'll do it for you. There is three of us, me being the youngest. At 21 years of age I am a U.S. Marine and have been for three years. I've been in an ant-terrorist unit in Washington DC for the last two years and now in the infantry Battalion ready for Iraq. I'll bet you know as much about the Marines as you do Homeopathy. So I wouldn't need to tell you at all what I do, highly educated man such as yourself. I would love to hear what you have to say about my organization.

I have no reason to believe that the Marine Corps is not a very fine organisation, and the Corps' own opinion of itself as the best group of fighting men in the world may even be true. As my service was with the Australian Army I have no direct experience of the US Marine Corps.

Please do leave an address I may send you a letter to from Iraq where I'll be next week until next April. Don't move in between now and than I'd love to come see you, maybe meet over lunch.

Frank J King III USMC Semper Fidelis
(that's Latin for "Always Faithful")

I know. I learnt Latin in school.

Allan was probably not satisfied by my reply when he wrote in May, so I don't think I will reply this time at all.

From: "allan munro"
Subject: my comments on your website
Date: Sun, 03 Sep 2006 04:19:14 +0800

Dear Liar,

I presume you work for the pharmaceutical companies. I cannot think of any other reason you would have to publish such utter nonsense on your website. Who are you trying to convince? Vaccines are dangerous and many people are wakening up to the facts. Autism, SIDS, Asthma, ADHD and the list goes on. And why the anger? Why be so angry with people who choose not to vaccinate and to put their children's health first. You are an arrogant misinformed liar!!!

I suppose you must get a lot of emails from people who disagree with your mindless gibberish. How we laughed at your pathetic website after the initial anger. You do children a great disservice. You dumb lying arrogant misinformed nonsensical rambling idiotic fool

If you cared about people you would take your website off the internet. It's useless crap!

Yours sincerely

Allan Munro

September 9, 2006

Imminent shortage of Australian heroes (9/9/2006)
It's been a bad couple of weeks for prominent and well-loved Australians. We have seen the deaths of Len Evans, whose influence on Australian wine drinking habits led to the high-quality products of today's wine industry, Don Chipp, that rare creature - a principled politician, Colin Thiele, children's book author, and this week Steve Irwin lost a match with a stingray and racing driver Peter Brock died in the Targa West rally.

When celebrities die, especially if they go without warning, the public always behaves as if a close friend has just died, because the nature of celebrity is that everyone feels that they know the person. I knew Don Chipp through his media and parliamentary appearances, there must be a copy of Storm Boy somewhere in my house, and it has been hard to miss the manic antics of Steve Irwin over the last few years (although he was actually a bigger celebrity outside Australia than inside the country), but I had never met any of these people even though they were somehow a part of my life. I met Len Evans on at least one occasion, but that was only because my employer of the time held the staff Christmas party at Evans' restaurant.

Peter BrockPeter Brock was different for me, not only because he competed in and dominated the same game as I used to play, motor sport, but because I had met him several times over the last thirty years. I used to do trackside commentary at motor race events, and Peter was someone we always tried to interview before a race (and afterwards when he won, of course). As an official in other capacities I also had reason to occasionally meet him. One time that I particularly remember was at a service break during an international rally in Canberra. This was his first entry into a rally of any kind, and he was there to get the feel of driving a car on dirt before participating in a round-Australia event (which he won). At his service point there was no panic and he chatted to anyone who wanted to talk to him. Among a field of cars and drivers which were normally occupied with the world rally championship he came sixth outright in what was basically a standard production road car, riding on standard highway tyres. He was that good.

Peter had his dark side as well, and some of his ideas were a bit loopy, to say the least. At almost the peak of his career he had a falling out with his major sponsor, the car manufacturer Holden, over his insistence that cars could be made to run better by sticking a little box full of crystals and wires onto the firewall behind the engine. For this effort he was awarded the 1986 Bent Spoon Award by Australian Skeptics. Somewhere in my garage (probably next to Storm Boy) I have a book by one of Peter's friends which chronicled the events around the "Energy Polariser" and how it not only destroyed the most successful driver-manufacturer relationship in Australian motor sport at the time but almost irrevocably damaged several long-term friendships. It was an object lesson in what can happen when people allow crackpot ideas to become more important than the things which really matter. Brock never admitted that the polariser might have been a mistake and was still defending it in interviews conducted shortly before his death.

I saw Peter Brock in his first race in my state. I was there when he competed in Australia's most prestigious touring car race at Bathurst for the first time, I was there when he won the first of his nine victories in the race, and I was there when he raced at Bathurst for the last time. At one of the very early race meetings I bought a souvenir Holden Dealer Team hat, and it became a family tradition for someone to wear the hat whenever we watched him race until he either finished or dropped out of the event. After his last race I retired the hat. We couldn't get near him on the day so I posted it to him with a request for an autograph, and I received a very nice letter from Peter a few days later. The hat is now sitting next to our television, and I might bring it out of retirement on October 8 for this year's Bathurst 1000k race.

Like Steve Irwin, Peter Brock died almost instantly doing what he loved to do and what he was better at than almost anybody else. I will miss him.

Now for some light relief (9/9/2006)
On August 28, a large envelope containing a bundle of paper and a CD was delivered by registered post to the office of Australian Skeptics. It was addressed to the "Skeptics Society of New South Wales", a body which does not exist. Two of the documents were printouts of web pages of such consummate obscurity that it was difficult (and perhaps even a threat to mental health) to decipher their content. These were also on the CD and you can see them here and here. Another document contained a mass of numbers which apparently have some numerological significance, although the "logical" part of that word might not really be appropriate. You can see this amazing thing here.

Some numbers

The final document seems to be a threat of legal action against me, and concludes with the following (almost) paragraphs:

Should there be no acknowledgement from either Peter Bowditch, RatBagsDotCom or the Skeptics Society of New South Wales (Australian Skeptics Incorporated) as to the Improper Nature of their respective conduct with regards to their characterization of me as the substantial cause for subsequent and continuing vilification.

A remedy will be sought to the claim of a religious and racial vilification under Section 8 as Victoria's (Australia) Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 Act No. 47/2001, will be sustained by a Natural Law, Common Law and Constitutional Rights argument (see CD ROM), and that will be a made in perpetuity, against your right to procreate within the Australian Commonwealth.

Delivery of this material caused both bemusement and amusement to the staff at Australian Skeptics, and, in fact, the guffaws coming out of Skeptics Central were loud enough to disturb the peacocks in the grounds of Ratbag Castle, which is almost on the other side of Sydney. Some fine legal minds have queried the last sentence of the threat and it is thought to be unlikely that any court in Australia would actually issue an order restraining my right to procreate simply because I hurt someone's feelings, but the question is moot for me anyway as I don't intend to do any more procreating. As an aside, it is interesting to note that the author of the threat is a self-confessed member of the non-procreating class, if you get my meaning. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I was rather surprised to learn of more potential legal action against me from this quarter, as the author had written to me in January 2004 using the following words: "I do not believe that Mr. Peter Bowditch, has sufficient cognizance of the underlying supernal aspects relating to the development of a mathematical metaphysical theological 'a priori' to grant his ego any opportunity for self-aggrandizing upon the scales of justice. Accordingly I am advising of my intention to discontinue any further consideration of legal action in the matter of his infraction of liberty of citizenship". Perhaps that promise had a use-by date. But this is a new threat, so:

So, what is all this fuss about? Go here to read the complete saga.

While we are speaking about religious loons ... (9/9/2006)
Do Demonic indeed!!!you have an iPod? Do you know how evil they are? It seems that Apple is trying to use the iPod and its other products to cause young folk to take drugs, become homosexuals, and even worship the Devil. Just look at the recording they chose to illustrate on the iPod box - why would they use an album named Demon Days and associate it with the words "Feel Good"? I don't know about other people's iPods, but on the other side of the box that mine came in was a picture of Bono from U2, and you only have to listen to a few bars of him murdering Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah to realise that Bono is very closely related to Satan, if not the Devil Himself. Just look at those weird spectacles he wears. And he comes from Ireland and might even be a Catholic. As the person who informed me about the risk from Apple said, "Of course, I'm not saying that a brief exposure to Apple computers products will make your child into a drug-using, Devil worshipping homosexual, despite Apple's best efforts to make that so. I am saying that Christian parents should choose carefully, and be aware at the agendas of the companies that compete for your child's dollars, attention, and souls".

You think that I am making this up, don't you? I'm not.

Astrologers v Astronomers (9/9/2006)
The recent demotion of Pluto from planet to less-than-planet should have created consternation in the astrological world, at least for those astrologers who had updated their "science" since 1930. As both astronomy and astrology have been disrupted, I thought that it was time to point out some differences between the two disciplines. The following list was circulating anonymously on the Internet several years ago and I have no idea who originally wrote it, but whoever it was probably won't mind it appearing here.


  1. Astronomers never try to contact dead astrologers.
  2. Nancy Reagan never asked an astronomer for advice.
  3. An astronomer plans an evening according to the position of the stars, planets, etc. An astrologer plans their life according to the positions of the stars, planets, etc, several thousand years ago.
  4. Telescopes come in a staggering array of shapes and sizes. All Ouija boards look the same.
  5. Carl Sagan did not have a 900 number.
  6. Your VISA limit is of very little interest to an astronomer.
  7. Astronomers occasionally make accurate predictions.
  8. Alcohol makes complex astronomical concepts more difficult to comprehend. It makes astrological concepts easier.
  9. Transposing two astronomical objects' coordinates makes a huge difference. Transposing two peoples' horoscopes makes no difference at all.
  10. Astronomers believe in the truth of relativity. Astrologers believe in the relativity of truth.

Strange email of the week (9/9/2006)
Yes, my house is for sale, but I probably should stick to an agent with an office near the house. I thought that these people were a bit fussy about how I made the link, so I didn't make a link at all.

Hi Webmaster,

We found your website and would like to exchange links with you.

Since we already have your link information, simply use our unique Premium Partner Add URL wizard.

Please use the link information provided below:

Site Name :
Realty in Edina Minnesota
Site URL :
Description :
Edina Minnesota prime real estate. With our online listings, you can view choice real estate in Edina Minnesota. Use our MLS quick search and make your Edina Minnesota dream home a reality.

1. Add our link using the link information provided above
2. Using the Add URL Wizard for quick inclusion, tell us where our link is on your site

Chelsea Daniels
Link Directory Liason - msp.TheMLSonline

September 16, 2006

The barbarians are inside the gates (16/9/2006)
Last Saturday I attended a dinner function where the speaker was advertised as coming to talk about philosophy and the mind. I spent some enjoyable times studying this sort of stuff at university, so I looked forward to an entertaining evening.

Descartes wrote some real philosophyThe presentation started out with a mention of how Rene Descartes had proposed the still-unsolved problem of the interaction between a material body and an immaterial mind. So far, so good. The speaker then went on to solve the duality problem by simply declaring that there is no such thing as a mind. Again, an interesting, although apparently naive, philosophical position. The next statement led into uncharted waters by declaring that as there is no such thing as a mind there can be no such thing as mental illness. Well, it was an uncharted area for anyone who hadn't met Scientology before. The first real red flag came when the speaker, who claimed extensive professional experience in the mental health treatment system, said that the terms "mental illness" and "mental disorder" are interchangeable. Not in the state of New South Wales they aren't, and anybody who has been professionally involved in the area knows this. (The terms have to do with how long patients in the system can be detained without a court order - someone declared "mentally disordered" can only be held for three days before either being released or brought before a magistrate; in the case of "mentally ill" the detention can be up to seven days. The difference is based on how dangerous the patient is to himself and to others.)

The red flags kept popping up with stories such as the one about the millions of children being prescribed Ritalin, but the turning point for me was when the speaker mentioned that anti-psychiatrist Thomas Szasz was one of his dearest friends. Szasz worked with the Scientologists to create the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a blatant anti-psychiatry Scientology front organisation. The speaker then went on with more CCHR nonsense such as the claim that ADHD was invented in 1987 simply to create a need for Ritalin. (Methylphenidate was patented in 1954, so inquiring minds want to know why it was invented 33 years before what it was supposed to treat. That is assuming that "inquiring minds" exist, of course). We were eventually told that schizophrenia is just people hearing themselves think like everybody else does and that anorexia nervosa is just girls having conscious hunger strikes to get their own way and annoy their parents. By the end of the night we were hearing the lies about government plans to drug all schoolchildren. At no stage was CCHR or Scientology mentioned.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the forum was not the sort of place where I could hurl furniture and insults, and the question (and answer) at the end which opened the crack to allow me to introduce an exposure of the Scientology connection was declared the last question before everyone went home. I am sure that most of the audience would not have been aware of the background to what they had been told, and I am equally sure that nobody openly declaring that they wanted to promote Scientology or its principles would have ever been invited to speak there. A real psychiatrist in the audience later told me that she could not remember the last time she heard so many specious claims in such a short time.

So here are the questions I would have liked to ask the speaker:

(An expanded version of this article appeared in the March 2007 edition of the Skeptic, the journal of Australian Skeptics.
You can read
The Myth of "The Myth of Mental Illness" here.)

More planet strife (16/9/2006)
Astrologers are having to work in pencil at the moment, as everything about the planets seems to change from day to day. Pluto has gone as a planet, and now we hear that Xena (which is bigger than Pluto but still not a planet) is to have a new name. The person who discovered this object, Professor Mike Brown, has announced that it will now be known as Eris, after the Greek goddess of strife and discord. The original Xena name was taken from the television series, and apparently this set an uncomfortable precedent. There is still a connection, though. Eris has a moon, and that moon is to be known as Dysnomia after Eris's daughter in Greek mythology. The Greek word "dysnomia" means "lawlessness" in modern Greek. Think about it. (Hint: the word "cast" applies both to horoscopes and acting.)

Guest columnist (16/9/2006)
During the week the conversation turned to politicians and their principles (or lack of them). This prompted me to hunt down two of the best speeches made by any Australian politician over the last couple of decades. They were both made by Prime Minister Paul Keating, probably the country's most despised and reviled politician, but even his strongest detractors would have trouble criticising the sentiments in these speeches. The first was on December 10, 1992, and was made to launch the International Year for the World's Indigenous People. The second was on Remembrance Day, November 11, 1993, and marked the entombment of the body of the Unknown Australian Soldier at the Australian War Memorial. It is easy to say that this was just a politician reading words written by someone else (in this case Don Watson), but it doesn't really matter who wrote them or said them, just that they were written and said.

A correction (16/9/2006)
Reader Günther Scholz offered a suggestion about the list of differences between astrologers and astronomers that appeared here last week. The line which said:

  1. An astronomer plans an evening according to the position of the stars, planets, etc. An astrologer plans their life according to the positions of the stars, planets, etc.

Has been changed to the much more accurate:

  1. An astronomer plans an evening according to the position of the stars, planets, etc. An astrologer plans their life according to the positions of the stars, planets, etc, several thousand years ago.

A signHere is something I wrote some time ago which is probably still relevant. Keen eyed observers should be able to work out when to send me birthday greetings.

One of life's awkward moments is when someone comes up to you at a social function and asks you what your sign is. I resist the temptation to say "School Crossing. Watch For Children" or "Caution. Koalas Next 4K" and generally I tell them that I am highly sceptical of astrology and point out that this is not unexpected as scepticism is an almost inevitable trait in people born on the cusp of Libra and Virgo. Sometimes I like to combine cultural superstitions, and I tell them that I am a very troubled person because I have had to live my life with the internal conflict of being a Virgo born in The Year of the Randy Goat. If I am feeling grumpy I rebuff them on religious grounds. I tell them that I am a Priapist and I will not stand for their nonsense.

Grammar lesson (16/9/2006)
Or should that be "grammer lesson"? It's been a long time since I studied grammar (if that is how you spell it), so I mightn't have remembered everything about it.

From: "Sean M."
Subject: That could be...
Date: Sat, 16 Sep 2006 07:06:17 +0000

Dear Sir or Madame,

I have to tell you this site makes me smile. Maybe some of what you say is true, but how could people take you serious when you have the grammer of an 8th grader. Using words like "mightn't" and saying "It's been," it's just embarrassing, not only to the fellow members of your site but to your family as well. Maybe you should get an editor, or simply read it before you post. How about this, next time you think about putting something on the internet ask yourself this question, "will this shame my parents?" If the answer is yes, then don't do it. Looking at this site, most of the time it probably is.

Thank you,
Joe Butler

September 23, 2006

Those pesky Popes (23/9/2006)
Isn't it terrible that the Pope has reminded the world that at some time in the 14th century some Byzantine Emperor said that Muslims tended towards violence? This is obvious justification for Muslims in the 21st century to murder aged nuns, burn Anglican and Orthodox churches, take to the streets shouting "Death to Israel" and "Death to the USA" and declare that anybody who thinks that they might be violent should be murdered to demonstrate how peaceful they really are.

I am not surprised that virgins find thos offensive!!When there was an outbreak of similar childish rage over some cartoons back in February this year I commented that any religion which was so fragile that it could not stand even the slightest criticism was in serious trouble. This latest reaction to a statement that things were bad 700 years ago just reinforces the point. If believers choose to make their faith look ridiculous then they can hardy complain about any subsequent ridicule.

Having said all that, I hope that Pope Benedict doesn't dig up any centuries-old defamation of atheists, otherwise people like me might have to rampage through the streets yelling out "Death to Lichtenstein", burning Thai restaurants along the way and declaring that all goldfish breeders should be put to death. But if we did that we would look like idiots, wouldn't we?

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother (23/9/2006)
Actually, I don't, but the potential for doubt is always there. A few weeks ago I wrote an article about business opportunity scams advertised in my local paper. Most of the multi-level marketing "opportunities" at least offered some sort of real product to support the pyramid, even if the product was only Herbalife. One stood out, however, because the only product was replication of the scam. Someone who agrees with me about MLM has now offered me the same scam as an example of a good business. I don't think I will be giving up my day job.

As an aside, when I saw this email I was reminded of the song by The Who which contains the lines "Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss", except this time it is "Meet the new scam, Same as the old scam". It is ironic that I should have thought of that particular song, because the title must be anathema to MLM promoters - Won't Get Fooled Again.

From: "Renea Rootes"
Subject: Re; Pyramid selling
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2006 22:12:29 +1000


My name is Renea and yes I do agree with most of what you have to say in regards to MLM as I have had some of these experiences, it is just a shame that the only way certain companys market great products is through MLM and to be able to afford them is to get people to buy them eg sign up underneath you, however I have finally found an oppurtunity to market my products and not ever have to prospect people again if I choose not to,this is the way of the future people shopping online for what they need.I have a number of great products that I love and like to offer to other people and this system allows me to advertise up to 6 products- and I haven't had to do the big MLM selling thing to anyone, the products are there and if you want to use them great.

I know about this scheme. I recently did an investigation into "business opportunities" advertised in my local paper, and this particular scam stood out because it had no product except the scam itself. By the way, I didn't see it using anything like the URL of your web site, but instead at and To your credit, however, neither of those sites had a picture of an expensive car but yours did.

Yes I can make unbeleivable money just from promoting the system however I don't do the sale the company does that for me, then if that person was to buy into the system I don't stand to recieve pyramid money from that person- it is direct selling. I will give you my website to have a look at ask for a call back to talk to someone about this system.

If it isn't done by referral, then why does the main web site at insist on seeing a distributor identifier as an introduction before letting anyone see the "opportunity"?


And what does Pegasus Mail have to say if you click on Renea's link?

Computers are smart!

Vote early and vote often (23/9/2006)
In late 2004 I had a conversation with Dawn Winkler, one of the most egregious anti-vaccination liars I have ever had the pleasure of doing business with. Actually, it wasn't really a conversation as the interchange mainly consisted of me pointing out flaws in her story and her then moving the goalposts and adding more lies to the pile. I finally gave up as I was worried that observers might accuse me of mocking the afflicted. You can read the saga here.

Ms Winkler has now announced that she is running for political office, specifically for the position of Governor of Colorado. I have magnanimously decided to apply my "kind and gentle" policy and offer her the following suggestions for a platform of policies to use during the campaign.

Dear Dawn,

I have heard that you are running for Governor of Colorado, so I thought that I would offer some policy suggestions.

Aged care
Old people are a burden on society, so you should ban anyone over retirement age from receiving flu vaccine. As winter is approaching in your part of the world, this should mean that fewer of these ancient parasites would be around next year with their incessant demands for subsidised medications, cheap bus tickets and discounts at Pizza Hut.

Workplace productivity
I remember that you told me that the only people who ever lose work because of the flu are those who have been vaccinated against the disease. By banning all flu vaccination for people of working age you will increase overall productivity and also free up workers' sick leave allowances so that the days can be used for such minor irritations as pneumonia and major medical catastrophes such as skin rashes.

Teenage pregnancy
This is always a problem, and there is little politicians can do about it except to make the penalties more severe. By banning access to vaccines against hepatitis B and human papilloma virus you will increase the likelihood that the little sluts will get an appropriate punishment for their behaviour. This is a long-term solution, of course, but it won't be many years before every high school girl has had a friend or acquaintance die because they couldn't get a liver transplant, a cone biopsy or a hysterectomy in time. You might also consider banning liver biopsies and Pap smears for even greater effect.

Road deaths
Statistics indicate that adolescents are over-represented in the road toll, both as victims and as those responsible for accidents. By banning all childhood vaccines altogether you will be able to reduce the number of children who survive until the age when they can start driving. This will have the added advantage of reducing the need for public services such as police, ambulances and hospital emergency facilities. And high schools.

Internet pornography
Measles is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. By banning measles vaccination you should be able to increase the number of blind people who, obviously, can't look at pornography. For those who don't go blind, banning of the mumps vaccine should increase the proportion of men who can't use dirty pictures even if they can see them. A good dose of diphtheria will reduce the ability of female porn stars to moan in simulated ecstasy and has the added advantage of, how shall I put this tastefully, making certain sexual practices less attractive.

Free hair cuts
You could offer to rebate the cost of children's hair cuts if the parents sent the clippings to a laboratory (not one obviously associated with Professor Boyd Haley) and pay to have the hair analysed for heavy metal contamination.

Free dental care
If, as expected, the results of the hair tests show massive mercury loads, you could offer free replacement of amalgam fillings with chemical-free composites (but only after compatibility testing at a laboratory not obviously run for the benefit of Professor Boyd Haley).

University scholarships
You could offer scholarships to allow youngsters to study postmodern chemistry at the University of Kentucky. Postmodern chemistry is the sort where the chemical and biological properties of a compound can be established by looking for other compounds with rhyming names. Examples would be that ethanol has exactly the same effect on the body as methanol and how the element boron makes you think of a moron.

Snot elimination
I am sure that it would be attractive to parents of vaccinated children to be offered subsidised (or even free) supplies of Kleenex tissues so that they can wipe off the green snot which continuously runs from the noses of all vaccinated children. This policy might also attract other voters who are sick of seeing rivers of snot every time they go near a group of children.

Diapers for autistics
It is almost certain that parents of autistic children will rush to vote for you if you offer to supply them with free diapers to control the way that their mute kids shit their pants.

(Note: These last two can be offered as temporary policies, because if you ban vaccines altogether both autism and nose running will be eliminated in a generation.)

Other benefits to society
As well as the specific items mentioned above, there could be many benefits to society arising from the banning of all vaccines, most related to the reduced number of children who live beyond a few years. Examples would be reductions in custody disputes in divorce proceedings, less shoplifting, lower incidence of underage drinking, reduced class sizes in public schools, decreased demand for child care places, lower demand for music which parents hate, fewer kids hanging around shopping centres wearing weird clothes, etc.

I hope you find this list of suggestions useful. Please use them all in your campaigning as they will show what sort of a person you are and allow the voters of Colorado the opportunity to see what they would be getting if you succeed in the gubernatorial race.

Your friend,

Psychiatry (23/9/2006)
I A brain after a psyciatrist has had his way with it.received the following email commenting on what I had to say last week about an after-dinner speaker's presentation of some anti-psychiatry propaganda which seemed to originate with the Church of Scientology. This correspondent appears to be even more anti-psych than even the most ardent Scientologist or alternative medicine believer, although there seems to be a need to work on the coherence of the message. I am not sure how (or even if) to respond.

From: "Chris"
Subject: mad
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2006 19:26:31 +0100

The people declared mad are sent that way by psychiatric assault, They are usually dissidents, either political or religious and the attack is the first stage of their ultimate execution by cutting off the frontal lobe a couple of weeks down the line.

The real problem is "intelligence in the working class" a serious disease and the treatment is brain reduction by cutting holes in it.

This in the norm in Britainand children are identified for brain destruction as young as six to ensure they do "working class jobs". I don't know what that is? I don't know any workmen but identifying a pig before he strikes is essential.

Annie get you gun — too late for Annie: "ouch — I feel ill!" fell on the floor…


Is he a watch dog or a watchtower dog? (23/9/2006)
I Could this have been Richard Dawkins' dog in a previous life?was aroused from my ruminations about what to write here by my dog Cody, who was carrying on as if there were two couriers in different coloured jackets at the door. (We have become resigned to the fact that the dog has some sort of hatred of the poor unfortunate people who are assigned to deliver parcels of software to the commercial tenant of Northmead Technology Park. We can only assume that in a former life he was tormented by men who drove white vans and wore fluorescent jackets.) As it was Saturday and I wasn't expecting any deliveries I went to have a look, and there was an object which sends Cody into even greater paroxysms of barking - a travelling religious salesman. The last time there had been such a commotion of barking there had been two young Baptists on the porch, but this time it was a single Jehovah's Witness. I didn't feel like a debate at the time, so I was able to use the berserk animal on the other side of the front door to politely shorten the visit, but not before I had been given a tract about creation. I've heard all the stories about the cult-like behaviour of the Witnesses, so I don't think I will be joining up any day soon, but I have to give them credit for the disclaimer in the tract. If all the churches thought this way then skeptics would have a lot less argument with religion over evolution and creation.

Are Jehovah's Witnesses Creationists?
Jehovah's Witnesses believe the creation account as recorded in the Bible book of Genesis. However, Jehovah's Witnesses are not what you might think of as creationists. Why not? First, many creationists believe that the universe and the earth and all life on it were created in six 24-hour days some 10,000 years ago. This, however, is not what the Bible teaches. Also, creationists have embraced many doctrines that lack support in the Bible. Jehovah's Witnesses base their religious teachings solely on God's Word.
Furthermore, in some lands the term "creationist" is synonymous with Fundamentalist groups that actively engage in politics. These groups attempt to pressure politicians, judges, and educators into adopting laws and teachings that conform to the creationists' religious code.
Jehovah's Witnesses are politically neutral. They respect the right of governments to make and enforce laws. (Romans 13:1-7) However, they take seriously Jesus' statement that they are "no part of the world." (John 17:14-16) In their public ministry, they offer people the chance to learn the benefits of living by God's standards. But they do not violate their Christian neutrality by supporting the efforts of Fundamentalist groups that try to establish civil laws that would force others to adopt Bible standards. - John 18:36.

Sort of apology (23/9/2006)
A few weeks ago I added a link here to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's science news service. I have since heard that the Java code affected some people with Firefox, causing the browser to lock up. It didn't happen to me, but I have removed the link anyway. Anyone wanting to see the ABC's excellent science reporting will have to go directly to the ABC site.

September 30, 2006

Multi-level marketers tell lies! And they call this news? (30/9/2006)
Mannatech is a company which sells useless "nutrients" through a multi-level marketing scheme. Some of the "nutrients" are various forms of sugars, all of which are immediately broken down by the digestive system into chemical compounds which can be used by the body just as happens to most carbohydrates in food. Taking these Mannatech products provides no more benefit to the consumer than eating spoonfuls of sucrose would, but it does provide a benefit to the Mannatech corporation and whoever sold the stuff from their position in the pyramid.

One of the big Mannatech sellers is Ambrotose, which goes one step further by being composed of indigestible dietary fibre. This might provide nutrients to bacteria in the lower intestine but has no apparent nutritional value for humans at all. In a moment of arrogance worthy of its own Nobel Prize if such a category existed, Mannatech have issued a media release saying how useless this product is. You can read this proud confession here. See where it says "It is said to have a beneficial effect on the gastrointestinal system, slowly fermenting to increase beneficial microflora like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria and decrease endogenous pathogenic bacteria"? Great for germs, less great for humans.

One of the claims made by Mannatech distributors is that the products are based on good scientific research, and that Nobel Prizes have been awarded for this research. I have heard claims as high as five for the number of Nobel laureates, but the most common is to refer to Dr Günter Blobel, who won the Physiology or Medicine Prize in 1999 "for the discovery that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell". My favourite Dr Blobel claim is still:

In 1994, Dr Gunter Blobel MD PhD, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his discovery in glycoproteins have with the body's ability to fix itself.

Understandably, it irks real scientists when their achievements are belittled by association with nonsense which has nothing to do with reality or their research. Dr Blobel issued a cease and desist request against Mannatech in 2004 but this hasn't stopped the lies and misrepresentations. He has now been joined by two other Physiology or Medicine laureates, Dr Paul Greengard (2000 - "for ... discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system") and Sir Paul Nurse (2001 - "for ... discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle"). You can read about their campaign to disassociate themselves from this scam here. I wish them luck, but inevitably Mannatech will claim to have no control over what independent distributors say and the lies will continue to be propagated in the effort to sell more sugar to people who don't need it.

While we're talking about MLM ... (30/9/2006)
One of the advantages of operating a multi-level marketing scheme is that the people who like to call themselves "independent business owners" can legally be treated as independent when the need arises. I have a relationship with Microsoft which allows me to make money by selling their products, but I can almost guarantee that if I start bad-mouthing Novell or Oracle as ways of promoting Microsoft software I will have lawyers from Microsoft crawling over me even before their competitors have noticed. Similarly, I have a strong relationship with the people who develop and distribute the software which really allows me to make a living (and which I don't name here because this site has nothing to do with my commercial life), but my career as a certified consultant would come to a very abrupt end if I started pretending to speak for or about the company in ways which caused them any embarrassment. (One of the longest serving certified consultants found this out the hard way earlier this year. The time between infraction and dismissal was measured in hours, not days.)

Compare this to the way that MLM companies react to misrepresentations and false claims by their distributors. As I said above, Mannatech claim that lies told by distributors have nothing to do with the parent company and there is nothing that can be done to stop rogue distributors saying whatever they like. After all, they are "independent". It was similar when Amway distributors kept circulating rumours about Proctor & Gamble being managed by Satanists. Amway finally sued P&G for suggesting that the lies were told with Amway's permission (or, at least, without Amway taking any action to stop them). In a delicious irony, this allowed P&G to call in an expert on organised crime to have a good look at Amway, and you can read what he had to say here. Another MLM outfit disowned a distributor who claimed to be a representative of the company when threatening web site owners who mentioned my name, despite the fact that group photographs taken at a distributor conference showed many people wearing t-shirts carrying the logo of the company running his section of the pyramid. The same "independent" distributor was able to get access to a complete list of email addresses for all the company's distributors in order to send out an email with the subject line "Death to Ratbags". But he had nothing to do with the parent company, of course!

There is a club in the US called the Direct Selling Association. I caught them out running deceptive Google advertisements, so it comes as no surprise that members of the body act unethically. It is probably a condition of membership.

Predictions (30/9/2006)
Where I get  my predictions fromI have decided to test my psychic powers. The 2006 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine will be announced in Stockholm at 9:30am on Monday, October 2. As that time is Monday evening where I live and is later than the deadline for publishing this update to the site, I am going to make some predictions about the winners. Here are those predictions:

What's wrong with a little charlatanism? (30/9/2006)
In June 2004 I mentioned that I had seen a charlatan named Eric Pearl on television telling lies about how he could heal rheumatoid arthritis. It seems that he has now moved into healing other chronic complaints. The difference is that rheumatoid arthritis is very painful, but people seldom die from it. "Healing" Type 1 diabetes is a different matter. Here is some correspondence I received recently about "Dr" Pearl. You can easily infer that when confronted with someone having a problem with insulin injections his reaction is not to suggest seeing a real doctor but to recruit the patient's mother into his scam.

My niece has a Type 1 diabetic son who is showing an allergic reaction to insulin, causing wasting of the tissue surrounding the site. Recently, (probably out of desperation) she went to a "Reconnective Healing" seminar and privately met with "Dr" Pearl. She is now a practitioner of this "therapy"!

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (30/9/2006)
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in several parts of the world and I have already seen the first warning out of the alternative Breast Cancer Awareness Monthmedicine industry about the dangers of mammograms. Other than a hatred of women or a simple knee-jerk reaction to anything done by real doctors, what possible motivation could there be to oppose a public health initiative that provides early warning of a very serious disease? I am not surprised when the anti-vaccination liars rail against mammograms because killing women is just an extension of their agenda to kill children (as indicated by the insane resistance to a vaccine against human papilloma virus), but this latest warning came from someone who claims to be an advocate for women with breast cancer. Perhaps she wants to see more of them so that the market for quackery increases.

No Popes in Byzantium (30/9/2006)
OK, I know. There were no Popes in Byzantium in the 14th century, so the piece I wrote last week about Muslims reacting to something that Pope Benedict said was incorrect. It has been fixed and the researcher concerned has been ordered to clean the gum leaves out of the gutters on the roof of Ratbag Castle as penance.

Still on correcting my mistakes (30/9/2006)
IA mighty and mercury-free set of choppers like what I say here to be correct, so I never object when anyone points out a mistake. For this reason I was pleased to receive the following email. As I said in my reply, my mistake was to assume that dental fillings don't cause people to become insane.

From: "paul killmier"
Subject: dental amalgams
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2006 22:29:18 +0930

dear proctologist I endured 15 years of hell at the hands of mercury fillings.I would love to get hold of the fuckwit dentist who put mercury in my mouth and beat the living shit out of him. All you dentists who think mercury fillings are a good idea should be dragged out into the street pistol whipped and shot in the back of the head.Its amazing how far the human animal will go to protect there own interests but when it comes to money grubbing low down devious maggots you log take the cake .Curl up in a ball and die you piece of shit!!!!!!!

Thank you for your kind words. I have usually rejected the idea that amalgam fillings cause mental illness, but you appear to be the exception that proves the rule. I am not a dentist.

The names we call things (30/9/2006)
The intellectual endeavour known as semiotics states that the universe of communication is made up of signs. One leading theorist, Ferdinand de Saussure, said that signs have two components - the "signifier" which is the means used to refer to something and the "signified" which is the thing itself. (Extreme semioticians sometimes like to claim that these cannot exist independently, and that there can Ferdinand de Saussurebe no signified without a signifier, and vice versa. I am not sure what they do about beauty, truth and even the beauty of truth, but I was lucky enough to finish my studies in the area before the drivel of postmodernism started decaying the academy.) Another theorist, philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, suggested that the sign had three components, the "representamen" (which corresponds roughly to de Saussure's "signifier"), the "interpretant" (the sense made of the sign), and the "object" which is the thing itself. There has been much discussion about how these last two categories might map to de Saussure's "signified", but my view is that Pierce was just elaborating on the concept common to both philosophy and cognitive science that we interact with the universe indirectly via the mediation of the senses rather than by direct experience of things in themselves.

All reasonable semioticians agree that signifiers are arbitrary and culturally determined and accepted. If I said that I have a cup of tea on my desk next to my keyboard most readers would understand what I meant without further explanation. In a society where ceramic hot beverage containers with handles were called "shelves" and fermented leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis had a different name I could be drinking a shelf of iolanthe, but the reality would be the same. What is important is that there is some consensus within a society about the relationship between signifiers and between the signifier/signified components of a sign.

Now that I have saved you the effort of reading a couple of hundred thousand pages of dense academic literature, you are probably asking yourself where this is leading. I was sent off on this tangent by two discussions during the week which involved the meanings of words.

The first was the perennial argument over the correct form of skepticism about the existence of god - is it "agnostic" or "atheist"? One way that believers use to attack outsiders is to use the term "atheist" as a form of abuse, and to ridicule atheists by saying that belief that there is no god is just another form of religion. The next step is to suggest that the only correct skeptical position is agnosticism, which is not knowing. This argument is half right, except that it ignores what the words actually mean in today's society. The word "agnostic" has come to mean "I don't want to offend anyone so I will wait until Cesare da Sesto : Leda and the SwanI die to find out", and "atheist" now really does seem to mean someone who actively denies the existence of any god. The original meaning of "agnostic" was "without knowing" and "atheist" meant "without god". Agnosticism is not tied to religion, as, for example, it is possible to be agnostic about one's marriage partner's fidelity, which simply expresses a position of ignorance. Anyone who said that they were atheistic about the situation would seem strange (although I have to admit that swans have long been banned from the lakes on the Ratbag Castle estate).

I still like the original meanings, which implies that I am an agnostic in the sense that I don't (and can't) know whether there is a god or not, and I am an atheist because nothing would change in my life if gods existed - I live my life without god. Perhaps the correct term is "apatheist" - I don't know and I don't care.

The second discussion showed how it is impossible to have a rational conversation with anyone if there is no agreement on the meanings of words. In this case it was a claim by a supporter of medical quackery that the combined profits of ten pharmaceutical companies in the Fortune 500 exceeded the total profit of the other 490 companies combined. (Apparently it is somehow a problem that very large organisations make profits, and we all know that all suppliers of alternative medicine provide their services for free.) An immediate response to this claim from someone sensible was to show that the publicly available financial positions of the Fortune 500 indicated that the highest placed company with a pharmaceutical interest was Johnson & Johnson, which was in 11th place. (Remember that the Fortune 500 includes only publicly-listed companies which are required by law to publish financial reports.) An analysis of the 500 brought out the information that the combined profit of the ten pharmaceutical companies was in fact only about 120% of the profit declared by the largest corporation on the list (Exxon) and only about 25% of the combined profits of the top ten. And what was the response of the quackery supporters to this demolition of an absurd attack on medicine? It came in the form of two demands: "Define profits" and "Define Fortune 500". You get used to goalpost-moving when you try to debate these people, but usually the goalposts at least stay in the same suburb. It would be amusing if it wasn't so pathetic.

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