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June 3, 2006

Apology in advance (3/6/2006)
There will be no update to this site on the weekend of June 10-11. The Monday following is a public holiday where I live and I will be spending a little bit of time with my family. Also, over that weekend I have to do some paperwork for the Australian Taxation Office, and I have been informed on good authority that when the ATO says "Please do this" it is a waste of time (and may even be counterproductive) to tell them that you would rather spend the time updating a hobby web site. I do not want them to stop saying "Please". A sign has been pinned to my office wall which says in very large letters "Do not forget things, no matter how much you are distracted by ludicrous court cases".

Hate mail (3/6/2006)
I am not the only person who gets abusive email from people who either dislike of misunderstand what my site is about. You can go here to see a very nice example sent to a blog owner, complete with the blogger's analysis. (Here is the original article that the correspondent was referring to. It contained a link to here.)

[For some reason links to the original site failed to work, so I grabbed PDFs.]

Still Deluded After All These Years (3/6/2006)
I have written an article about homeopathy with the above heading which will appear as the Naked Skeptic column in the July edition of Australia's best science magazine, Australasian Science. The edition won't be on the newsstands for a few weeks, but you can get a sneak preview here.

Then it came for me (3/6/2006)
This is the title of an article about diabetes which I have submitted to the Health & Science supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. I don't know when (or if) it will appear, and I hope that its eligibility for acceptance would not be influenced by the advertising for and uncritical editorial about quackery which regularly appears in the H&S supplement. As an example of this, the copy I have in front of me has a quarter-page advertisement for Advanced Allergy Elimination immediately under the First Person column (which is where my article might appear) and nobody with any knowledge of science or medicine could ever believe that AAE is anything other than fraud. I hope that this is an example of a Chinese Wall between the people who control editorial and those who sell advertising space, but it would be preferable if things which have no relation to either health or science could be kept out of a part of the newspaper which has both words in its title.

Errors and omissions (3/6/2006)
I am always happy to correct my mistakes, and as my audience for this site seems to be only marginally less pedantic than I am I usually get reminded of the opportunity for correction very soon after the need arises.

In last week's review of The Da Vinci Code I said that one error in the book was that "you can't pace out a six-pointed star without retracing your steps as you can a pentagram". Reader Andrew Wolgemuth has pointed out that you can in fact do it by walking a zigzag around the outside and then a hexagon in the middle. True enough, but in the book it has people tracing out the star by walking between six places in a church. I have changed the review to say "you can't pace out a six-pointed star by walking in six straight lines between six places as you can a pentagram with five lines and five places". Of course, this is a trivial error in a book which is based on the assumption that there was a person named "Da Vinci". (I believe that Dan Brown is working on a novel based on the secret meanings in Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E Lawrence. The working title of Brown's book is The Of Arabia Code.)

Last week I also mentioned the difficulty I had finding a credible copy of the photograph of Tensing Norgay taken on the summit of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953. It seems that Google is far less good at indexing pictures than it is at indexing words, and Anna Simpson pointed me to where I should have been looking, which is the Royal Geographical Society's web site. Yes, the photograph was taken in colour, but it is quite possible that I have only ever seen it reproduced in newspapers (and in publications which had reproduced the newspaper photographs). 1953 wasn't that long ago (although my daughters think that there may have been dinosaurs still around then) and many things had been invented by then, although colour photography was still a relative rarity even though Kodachrome had existed as movie film since 1935. Still, when I think back on all the crap I learned in high school it's a wonder I can think at all ...

Thank you to both Andrew and Anna. Thank you also to the people who spotted the mistakes and didn't write. I am sure there are many of you out there.

Speaking of Dan Brown ... (3/6/2006)
As I sort of enjoyed The Da Vinci Code I thought I might read some other works by Dan Brown. Unfortunately, the next one I came across was a thing called Digital Fortress. This is seriously looking like being one of the rare books which I cannot force myself to finish. It reads like an assignment written by a rank beginner in an introductory creative writing class. Not only is it poorly written, but despite claims to be supported by research and inside information about the National Security Agency it contains idiocies which even the most tolerant disbelief suspender should not have to tolerate. Would you believe that to get to your desk at the NSA you have to pass through multiple points where you have to show identification, including at least two places where biometric identification is required (palm print, voice analysis), but when you get to your computer it is only protected by a five digit numeric password which is never changed? Neither would I. Len Deighton's book Billion Dollar Brain (and the Michael Caine film of the same name) came out thirty years before Brown wrote this piece of drivel and it got less things wrong about computers than someone supposedly working with the assistance of experts.

More about the Cavitat Crowd of Clownlike Crooks (3/6/2006)
I received the following email in response to my words last week about how sleazy Tim Bolen looked while trying to remember if he only owned one home.

Date: Sun, 28 May 2006 07:00:10 -0700
From: synthia man
Subject: What not Publish a Follow up to Cavitat winning BIG in Aetna Case?

I heard that Aetna settled BIG with Bob Jones' Cavitat Case. Rumor had it that Jones was very please so it must have been millions$$$.

Any idea how much money in this "secret settlement?"

As the settlement was secret, nobody other than the parties knows what was in it. What is known, however, is that the law firm which acted for Jones and Cavitat at the start of the action is suing for payment of money owed to them under a binding contract between Jones, Cavitat and the lawyers. As the amount claimed is only a little over $500,000 and Jones doesn't have it to pay (evidenced by the law firm enjoining Aetna's deep pockets jointly and severally in the suit), it seems unlikely that Jones and Cavitat received millions of anything, let alone $$$. I have just received a copy of the suit against Jones, Cavitat, Aetna and lawyer-to-the-quacks Negrete and I will wait until I have had time to read and digest it before I make a comment. I will say, however, that I am familiar with the concept of secret settlements and the reasons that they are sometimes entered into. I am also familiar with the way that anyone who is not a party and who says what is in such an agreement is lying, even if what they say is coincidentally and accidentally the truth.

Email of the week (3/6/2006)
I cannot possibly comment on this, except perhaps to draw attention to the correspondent's apparently self-referential and therefore confusing use of the phrase "intellectually aware". My reply is in italics.

Date: Wed, 31 May 2006 07:26:01 -0700
From: First Last
Subject: intelligence operative

Are you, or have you ever been an agent of any government or lobby? Is it your objective to utilize the ignorance of the majority to hide your agenda under a blanket of hypocrisy, or do you use the fact that you contradict yourself in every single correspondence to confuse the intellectually aware? Are you actually convinced that the lies and propaganda that you spread are true? Are you convinced that though they are untrue, they serve a common good? Are you convinced that it is irrelevant to communicate dishonesty, or are you simply "evil", and enjoy destroying and burying truth's corpses?

That is all the questions I have at this time. Please respond in a manner which does not conform to government psy-ops.

I'm sorry, but I can neither confirm nor deny any association with any covert government body, nor can I make public comment about psyops (except to point out that wthey always spell it as a single word without a hyphen). I like to keep on living.

June 17, 2006

I'm back, but real life is still interfering (17/6/2006)
The Australian Taxation Office has been joined by another group of people to absorb my free time. This second group is known as "clients who pay me to work". If they left me alone I wouldn't have any need to deal with the tax people, so they don't just take up my hobby time. I suppose it could be argued that if they left me alone I would also have to find an alternative to eating, so I mustn't complain too much. If only I could get those pharmaceutical companies who are supposed to be paying me to actually put the secret payments into my bank account I could retire like Bill Gates, but, alas, their accounting departments seem to be far less efficient than their propaganda departments – you know, the departments which manage to convince organisations like the FDA that drugs work.

Ha! Homeopathy can't kill me! (17/6/2006)
Last month I was challenged by a homeopath to put my mouth where his money was and to take some 200C belladonna tablets. When I didn't immediately respond he sent me a couple of emails suggesting Belladonna. Click for a larger image.that I was too scared to take the pills, so I told him that I was going to take a massive overdose at a coming dinner meeting. He then told me that this just showed that I didn't know anything about homeopathy because he had told me that to get the effect (an effect which was not specified) I had to take one pill every hour for twelve hours. I have now done that as well, and the effect was surprising. Well, it would have been surprising if I had been expecting to suffer the effects of belladonna as set out in my excellent 1930 book on these matters, A Modern Herbal by Mrs Maud Grieve, where it says that I should have been experiencing "Strange indescribable feelings with giddiness, yawning, staggering or falling on attempting to walk; dryness of mouth and throat, sense as of suffocation, swallowing difficult, voice husky; face at first pale later suffused with a scarlatiniform Several days' dose of belladonna.rash which extends to the body; pupils widely dilated; pulse, at first bounding and rapid, later becomes irregular and faint". What I actually experienced was nothing at all.

The pills that were supplied to me were indistinguishable from those little sweets used on top of birthday cakes (called "hundreds & thousands" in some places and "nonpareils" elsewhere). While doing the grocery shopping yesterday I saw these things on sale for $1.16 for 180 grams, so there is a nice little mark up for any homeopath putting a few dozen of the sweets in a bottle and selling it for a few dollars. You can add financial fraud to medical fraud. The picture at the right shows about two days doses in the palm of my hand. (I apologise for the quality of the picture, but it had to be grabbed from a video as persons unnamed in my home have misplaced my digital camera.)

So, the situation at present is that when I take the pills as directed nothing happens, and when I take a week's worth at once nothing happens. But what else would you expect from something which, according to its label, contains nothing at all.

Religion (17/6/2006)
I received a gift from a secret admirer during the week. It was a box containing four books, sent to me, according to the delivery advice note, as "A gift from Mr Daniel Lindsay". As I don't think I know anyone by this name and a check of my email archives doesn't turn up anyone with this name ever contacting me, the identity of Mr Lindsay must remain a mystery for the time being.

Three of the books are by author Lee Strobel and are named The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith and The Case for a Creator. The fourth book is by Jackie Pullinger and is named Chasing the Dragon. As is suggested by the titles, the Strobel books pretend to demonstrate evidence for certain religious beliefs. The Pullinger book is about missionary work in Hong Kong.

I have had a brief look at the Pullinger book and my impression is that if Jackie Pullinger is a Catholic the only thing holding up her canonisation is that she is still alive. If what the book says is true, I am sure that the Vatican has already done all the paperwork to ensure that her beatification can be announced as soon as she dies and that formal canonisation and elevation to sainthood can be performed simultaneously with her funeral. People talk about the unusual haste with which Mother Teresa is moving through the sainthood process, but Jackie Pullinger blows the Mother into the weeds in the good works and miracles stakes.

So far I have looked at two of the Strobel books. I mentioned a week or so ago that one of Dan Brown's books was one of those rare ones which I could not force myself to finish. I have now found two more, and I suspect that the third Strobel book (The Case for Faith) might be something even rarer – a book which I can't stand to even start reading. Unfortunately, none of my table legs is short enough to need this much padding to make the table level, so I might have to just put it through the shredder to make stuff to line Polly the Rat's cage. (If anyone from the RSPCA is reading this, please let me know if this would be considered cruelty to animals. If so, I will take the book to the special collection point that my council has set up to receive sump oil, paint tins, pool chlorine and other things too toxic to be accepted for landfill.)

The Case for Christ starts off by saying that it is going to examine the evidence for the existence of Jesus and the authenticity of the Gospels, but it soon turns into a series of statements by scholars who each seem to know a particular truth, who claim to be supported by all other biblical scholars, but who seem paradoxically to be at odds with all other biblical scholars. Statements about the authorship and dating of the gospels seem to contradict what most scholars say, but that doesn't stop the people interviewed in this book from claiming full support from the academic community. There are inconsistencies between what these experts have to say, but these are ignored, and the main form of evidence for the accuracy of the gospel stories is that the stories appear in the gospels. Fundamentalism at its best. One uniting factor is a virulent hatred of the Jesus Seminar, a cooperative project which started about 20 years ago and brought together hundreds of New Testament scholars to examine the stories about Jesus and judge their veracity. The Seminar decided that Jesus existed but that many of the things he is reported to have done or said cannot be confirmed. This was not good enough for the fundamentalists interviewed by Strobel – if it is in the Bible, it must be true. (I wonder how much of their animosity comes from the fact that none of them were invited to take part in the seminars.)

Strobel's style of reporting the interviews is extremely irritating, as he tries to describe all the minutiae of coffee drinking, smiling, raising eyebrows, and other such pieces of irrelevance. This wasn't enough to make me give up reading, however, but I had to stop when one of the interviewees started ranting about atheists, liberals and left-wingers. This was a man whose mind could not be changed with a brain transplant, and the trend of the book suggested that later interviews were going to be even more useless.

The Case for a Creator also starts off by claiming that it is going to chronicle a dispassionate search for facts, and again takes the form of a series of interviews with experts. I didn't get as far into this book because I just simply got sick of the adjective "atheist" being applied to anyone who might have a positive view of evolution, but what made me finally give up was the realisation that all the interviewees were going to be either from the Discovery Institute or fully supportive of its deceptive attempts to disguise creationism as science. One good point, however, is that nobody interviewed for this book can claim in the future that their opposition to evolution is not based on religion.

I cannot see who these books benefit except Strobel and his publishers. There is nothing in them that would cause a non-believer to have any doubt at all, and they must be an embarrassment to any real believer who takes his or her religion seriously. The amount of deception and sophistry in the defence of God must also be an irritation to Him if He exists. I am glad that I got these books for nothing, but even then I paid many times what they are worth.

Justice at last, maybe (17/6/2006)
The Dr Andrew Wakefieldhot topic in my email this week has been that the General Medical Council in Britain is planning action against Dr Andrew Wakefield for his fraudulent research into the relationship between MMR vaccine and autism. You may remember that Wakefield lied about the source of the subjects for his research and forgot to mention that he was being paid a lot of money to find what some lawyers wanted to be found. Predictably, the anti-vaccination liars have been foaming at the mouth about this attack by organised medicine on a hero. (Also predictably, they were all in favour of the GMC when it was investigating the hated Roy Meadow, who had committed the sin of suggesting that children who appeared to have been bashed by their parents may actually have been bashed by their parents. Shaken Baby Syndrome is always caused by vaccines in the alternate universe inhabited by these disgusting creatures.)

I will be following this story as it progresses, but in the meantime you can read something I wrote about Andrew Wakefield here.

Benny's coming!!! (17/6/2006)
Snail-trails of slime will be leading to Sydney's Superdome arena next weekend as faith-healer Benny Hinn gets ready to extract money under false pretences from desperate, sick people. I plan to go to one of his shows, and I hope I have greater success in getting inside than I did last time Hinn was here.

Email of the week (17/6/2006)
There is an expression of bewilderment and incredulity which starts off "What the ..." and is usually abbreviated to "WTF?" Here is an example of why such a literary device needs to exist.

Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2006 05:01:16 -0700
From: abed aljabbar albaik
Subject: hi

halooo.i can shere fore you.? and viset you,& to be frinde?thanks

Email of last week (17/6/2006)
I won't reproduce it here because I have a rule of trying to be as inoffensive as possible on the front page of the site, just in case children or maiden aunts are reading. The best email I received last week can be seen here. I like to learn something new every day, but this email has presented me with a dilemma. I have never heard the word "pluke" before, and asking Google to find a definition resulted in the message "No definitions were found for pluke". As the writer was talking about me and my mother, I am going to assume that it means "drive to the shop to buy groceries".


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