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Sad news, sort of (4/8/2007)
The sad news is that Norma Gabler has died at the age of 84. While it is sad when anyone dies (well, almost anyone - there must be some exceptions), the sadness in this case is tempered by the rejoicing that an obstacle to children receiving a good education has been removed. Mrs Gabler was the most notable figure in the fight against having science in science books if that science mentioned evolution. She started out by looking for mistakes in textbooks, and, as would be expected, she found some. Nobody could object to correcting mistakes such as an incorrect report about which way a congressman voted on a bill, but finding that a biology textbook described the most important theory in biology could hardly be described as detecting an error. Unless you were some sort of religious bigot. Which she was.
Mrs Gabler's influence was much greater than it deserved, because she managed to catch the eyes, ears and imagination of bureaucrats and legislators in Texas, and Texas drives the market for school textbooks across much of the USA. If a book can't get on the list in Texas its publisher might not bother to sell it anywhere else, and might instead choose to provide a censored, bowdlerised (and inaccurate) version for all markets.
It would be nice to think that the passing of Norma Gabler meant the passing of interference with telling the truth to children, but for some reason images came into my mind of an apprentice discovering that when you chop something in half, two things take its place. And it might be some time before the sorcerer comes home to clean up the mess.
Good news (4/8/2007)
In March I mentioned that a book about my local congregation for the collection of cash, Hillsong, had been abandoned by the publisher just a few days before it was supposed to be in the bookshops. The good news is that the author found a new publisher and People in Glass Houses is now available. According to Sydney's best bookshop (Abbey's) my copy should go into the post on Monday, and I have registered to attend a function with the author at Sydney's second-best bookshop (Gleebooks) next week. The publicity that the book has been getting is the sort that most first-time authors can only dream about (full page review and interview in Saturday's paper, many minutes on Australia's only serious television interview show, ...) so the book has every chance of becoming a big seller. I hope it is, and I hope that the gutless publishers who dropped it at the last minute regret the lost income.
I'm in the wrong business (4/8/2007)
While I was waiting for a prescription to be filled I idly examined the homeopathy and quackery display in my local pharmacist's shop. There was a bottle of Bach Relief Remedy there for $15.45. It contained 10ml of a homeopathic preparation of flowers in "grape alcohol". There is a liquor store just near the pharmacy and I was tempted to go in and ask the proprietor if he thought that he could sell his lowest quality brandy for $1,545 per litre, but I thought that he might call the cops to have the madman removed from the premises.
A compliment (4/8/2007)
I have found myself listed with some very illustrious names. The location is a blog devoted to extolling the virtues of Amway and defending the right of people to lie to others about how much money can be made as a brick in a pyramid. Apparently my sin was to criticise multi-level marketing and the Amway motivational organisations without ever being a victim myself. (On this basis, the only crimes I can offer a credible opinion about are mugging, car theft and corporate fraud because I have experienced them personally. Anything I say about rape, murder, armed robbery or slave trafficking has no value. For some reason analogies like this don't go down too well with true believers, and even less well with those who pretend to believe in order to deceive others.)
It is interesting to note that two people in the list, Steve Hassan and Rick Ross, are actually anti-cult campaigners. I guess that the Amway Motivational Organisations feel their ears burning when anyone mentions cults. The blogger (who is of course anonymous, going by the name "IBOFightBack" on his blog and "insider" in at least one other place) has annotated some of the names, and this is what he had to say about me:
Runs the "ratbags" site in Australia. I wrote to him a year or so ago pointing out, with independent sources, where a number of his claims were flat out wrong. His only response? he'd already addressed the issues (he hadn't) and that I was obviously impervious to logic since I was writing from a domain mlmfacts.com (which I wasn't - it was mlmfacts.net)
Firstly, I am appalled at the egregious error I committed of typing "com" instead of "net". I have, of course, rushed to correct this dreadful departure from the truth, and I apologise to all my visitors for carrying such deceptive material on this site for more than a fraction of a nanosecond.
The second thing I noticed was his claim that I hadn't previously addressed the issues to which he was responding. This raises the interesting philosophical point of how he had anything to respond to, unless he thinks that simply denying something removes all previous mention of it and therefore it is necessary to start again. He would not be alone in this opinion, as anyone who has ever tried to debate a creationist will know.
I went back and had a look at his email, and, yes, it was full of the same old rubbish that I had heard many times before, but one thing caught my eye that I hadn't noticed the first time around. I had mentioned that every time anyone from Network 21 had shown me the plan they had denied any Amway connection except for some drivel like "Amway is one of our suppliers". Here is what an "insider" had to say:
N21 does not sell *any* Amway products. Network 21 is a for-profit company that sells books, tapes, cds, and other business aids, and promotes and sells tickets to seminars and other events.
So there you have it, folks. An admission from the inside that Network 21 exists not to sell Amway products, not to support "Independent Business Owners" in their quest for wealth, not to help IBOs to build their downlines and spread the wealth creation, but to sell tools and seminars. And it does it for a profit, too (so there goes "we provide these services at cost to help you build your business" and other lies). This is probably the only occasion on which I have ever detected an iota of honesty in anyone involved with one of these organisations. Perhaps he didn't understand what he was writing. Perhaps he thought that I was the sort of person who would believe what he said because he said it in a nice voice. He was wrong.
He's not a doctor, but he plays one on TV
I try to never miss an episode of House. Here is an example of why.
A long time ago there was an excellent site called the Kook Appraisal Test where you could go to check on the relative kookiness of people you met on the Internet. (You can see a sort of definition of a kook here.) I processed our old friend Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group through the test and he scored remarkably well. After the site disappeared I was hoping to get some of the programmers at the RatbagWorks Code Foundry to produce a replacement, but like most IT departments they have enough work backed up to keep them all busy until Windows is error-free and Linux is useful in the average office. Or eternity, whichever comes first. I was pleased, therefore, to find that Chris Benton has done the work and produced the Kookometer site (sadly now defunct PB January 2019). I was even more pleased to find that he had adopted my expression "Full Canvas Jacket" for the highest level of kookishness, and pleased as Punch to see that he had even acknowledged where the phrase came from. Go there and get the score of your favourite kook. Enjoy!
And to stop you nagging - 12%. I scored 12%. There! Happy now? Satisfied?
Speaking of kookery ... (4/8/2007)
Someone commented to me the other day that there doesn't seem to be much humour in the skeptic business lately, the prime example being how seriously magazines like Skeptical Inquirer seem to take themselves. Relevant sayings are the Reader's Digest's "Laughter is the best medicine" and H. L Mencken's "One horselaugh is worth a thousand syllogisms". I was given credit for trying to fight fire with funniness, but I had to admit that it is hard work. One of the reasons that I gave up regular updates to Quintessence of the Loon was that it was getting more difficult all the time to come up with new and amusing material. If you look at the credits at the end of almost any television comedy show you can get an idea of how many writers it takes to make a half-hour of jokes, and I remember the English comedian Ronnie Corbett saying that in vaudeville you could make a career out of an hour's worth of jokes but on television you had to have a new hour every week. The Internet is no different.
I have decided to do something about this, and, in the spirit of the times, I will do it by recycling. Every now and then I will feature a couple of items from the archives at Quintessence of the Loon (and I may even add something new from time to time). The furniture around the occasionally-used Schadenfreude Corner has been rearranged, a window has been converted into a door, and a balcony has been glassed in to create ...
Quintessence Nook (4/8/2007)
Let's start with three classic spurned scientists. They laughed at Galileo but he was right, so let's laugh at these people so that they can be right as well.
V. Frolov September 2000
It seems that there is an underground state of the hydrogen atom, which is a special state of matter necessary for matter to act as an energy transformer. "Scientists" may doubt this, point to the remarkable simplicity of the hydrogen atom, and wonder how they have missed the obvious over all these years. The problem with "scientists" is, of course, that they are hide-bound by tradition and conventional, orthodox thinking and cannot see that there may be things they do not know. As Frolov says: "So, we can assume the mechanism for energy transformation in any place of vacuum as transformation of longitudinal wave in plasma that is made of electron-positron pairs, to electromagnetic radiation. It is real free energy source of energy in any place of space, if there is any matter here or not. In stellar matter or in any plasma matter the frequency of electromagnetic radiation is depend of the concentration N but the principle is the same." I read that in the original Russian and it made just as much sense there.
T Farnsworth (The Father of Television) September
Billions and billions of dollars have been spent in the search for the ultimate in cheap power, nuclear fusion. For all the benefits received, we might just as well have burned the money in a steam engine. "What about cold fusion?" I hear you ask, but that was just a sideshow, an embarrassment along the way to the truth. That truth was known in the 1930s, when Farnsworth was able to sustain a fusion reaction for ten minutes. Why has this knowledge been lost? Why do we still burn oil, gas, coal, wood and currency? Why has someone with a name as wonderful as "Philo T Farnsworth" been forgotten? I propose that his name should be immortalised in the name of the unit of measurement for output from the fusion process. We will talk about power output in "philos", with a really good machine being rated in the kilophilo class
[Sadly, Philo's own web site disappeared in 2019 and all that remains are hagiographies at places like Wikipeda which are no fun at all, so the Web Archive will have to do.]
Newman September 2000
It is a sure sign of the authority and worth of someone's ideas when they are published in a book. It compounds the value when the book is self-published. That proves to the world that the ideas inside it are too dangerous to be made available to the common man, because to do so would destroy reputations and fortunes. Book publishers understand only too well the reality of the crisis that would face the major economies if whole industries like coal mining, petroleum, electricity generation and distribution and so on were to be shown to be useless parasites, deriving vast profits from what should be free to all. Maybe the oil companies own the book publishers
[The Illuminati (or maybe the oil companies) finally caught up with Mr Newman in 2019 and made his site disappear. The domain name is for sale and the Web Archive has been purged as well. Let that be a lesson to people who taunt the orthodoxy.]
Whine, whine, whine (11/8/2007)
Now it's my turn to complain. Here is a list of things I was planning to do this weekend:
The thing that is common to all these things is that I need an Internet connection, and one which works at a reasonable speed. I have a cable broadband connection which works in excess of 15 million bits per second. When it works. At about 2:30 on Saturday afternoon the fibre went dark. Telstra (profit announced this week in excess of $4 billion, CEO took home $12 million last year) tells me that someone will come to fix it some time on Tuesday morning. I should point out that this will be the third time I have had to cancel everything else and stay around the office waiting for a technician since the start of July, and the last time I was told that the third service call for the same problem gets a higher priority. I hope I never drop back to being a low-priority customer. In the meantime I have to make do with a 56Kbps dial-up connection (for which Telstra will try to charge me several dollars an hour) which seems to only manage half that speed in real life. I am too close to retirement to have time to do all of the things I wanted to do this weekend, so the update here will be as much as I think I can stand watching slowly dribble up the telephone line. At least I will have the time to reread the review books.
Browser weirdness (11/8/2007)
One of the statistics I get from the web server is the detail of the various browsers that visitors use when the come to this site. I use this list to check the site using the more popular browsers so that any differences and problems can be identified and fixed. Until recently the only ones which mattered were Internet Explorer and Firefox, but this month Safari has jumped from almost nowhere into fourth place. As this used to be a Mac-only program I can only assume that the increase in users is because there is now a Windows version. It is a very nice program and displays pages much more quickly than some of the other programs, but Apple couldn't resist the temptation to decide that they know best and it "enhances" the display of characters on the screen so that everything (on my computer, at least) looks like it is in bold type. Ugly and unnecessary.
I have stopped checking with two browsers because they didn't figure in the top 50. They were Flock and Maxthon. As they are based on Firefox and IE respectively there seemed to be no point anyway. Both of them also seemed to be trying to become the next MySpace, Facebook or Live Journal and my opinion is that if I want to join any online community it won't be because my browser tells me to. (Speaking of MySpace, within seconds of my creating a presence I had someone wanting to be my friend. He appeared to be a homosexual who was attracted to me because I am male. This beats the record set by Hotmail, which took a full eight minutes to deliver my first offer of penis enlargement after I created an account.)
The sad story in the browser world is Netscape. I am one of that very exclusive group who actually owned a legitimate copy of Netscape (complete with 3½" disks and manual) back in the days when the owners were trying to get people to pay for it. (No, I didn't pay for it. I won it in a competition.) There are still a few users of Netscape 7 who are prepared to tolerate its inability to display tables correctly or to position objects where the web designer wants them to appear, but the later versions barely make a ripple. As Netscape 9 is just Firefox wearing a different shirt it is reasonable to ask "Why bother?". (Netscape is not the only Internet market-leading phenomenon to fall on hard times. When my book about the 'net came out in 1997 the top search engine was Lycos, with about 70 million pages listed. Alta Vista was second. Lycos still seems to be around, but only as a place to create free web sites for people who can't get MySpace or Blogger to work, and the only time I go near Alta Vista is to use the hilarity-inducing Babel Fish "translator" service.)
The weirdest browser to visit this site, however, is the one embedded in Nokia phones. I have a Nokia mobile myself, and it is a very fine instrument for ringing people up and talking to them. As a web browsing appliance it is infinitesimally more useful than the computer without a connection that I am sitting at right now. I don't think I will be rushing to optimise the pages on this site for viewing on a postage stamp sized screen. Or even for the new phones with a screen the size of a business card.
as she is spoke (11/8/2007)
The August edition of the magazine Australasian Science is on the newsstands, complete with my Naked Skeptic article. (No, I don't know why the column has this name. I tried being naked while I typed it once and my wife just sat nearby and leafed through DSM IV, nodding occasionally. At least she had stopped laughing.) You can go here to read it. If you live in my part of the world and are interested in science I recommend this magazine. If you live anywhere else there is a postal service.
Strange email of the week (11/8/2007)
I have to assume that this is a Hillsinger writing to me. Tony's email address is in Australia and the only reason I can think of for someone asking me if my name is Tanya is that they think I might be the author of the book about Hillsong that I mentioned last week. (I've read it, and it is excellent.)
From: "Tony Dean"
Subject: Hi There
Date: Thu, 09 Aug 2007 19:55:31 +0930
Could you please tell me your name? Seriously, this is not a scam or a trap or a con, I need to know your name and haven't been able to find it on your site. Is it Tanya?
My name has been on the "About this site" page since March 1999. It is not Tanya, although I do know someone by that name.
Quintessence Nook (11/8/2007)
This week it's religion's turn. Remembering that Jesus said "It is more blessed to give than to receive", I have found some people who want you to be blessed by giving. To them. Open your hearts to the truth. While you're at it, open your wallets as well.
Benny Hinn November 2000
I feel a bit sorry for Benny Hinn. I am a late-night person and I am useless early in the morning. Benny, on the other hand, has to get up when I am going to bed so that he can get dressed and made up for his television show which comes on really early in the morning where I live. I suppose he gets to talk to interesting people like night watchmen and cleaners and there is never any traffic on the way to work. He probably gets to park near the door, too, but it's still a lonely life. I also feel sorry for his audience, because all those blind and crippled people have to get to the studio before breakfast if they want to get cured. I suppose some people are going to try and tell me that Benny is only on the television at that time here because I live in a different time zone, but I have spoken to a lot of people and they all say that Benny is on at 5:00am or thereabouts. I suppose it's because he can't afford to buy television time later in the day. I know he must be short of money, because he is always asking people to send him some.
|A more serious comment about Benny Hinn appears here.|
Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba November 2000
In the traditional Christian burial service the words "ashes to ashes" are spoken. The Beloved Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba was at a funeral once, but he is a bit hard of hearing and mistakenly thought that the priest said "ashes to cashes". From that moment onward he knew that his mission was to turn ash into cash. Studying with the magic masters, he gradually learned the skills of legerdemain, an ancient art passed down through the generations. You can see from the picture that he has rather small hands, and towards the end of his apprenticeship his master commented on how "slight" his hands were. Again, the Beloved Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's poor hearing deceived him and he thought he heard the words "sleight of hand". The rest is history
Meditation ® November 2000
Some would say that Transcendental Meditation ® is not a religion. These people like to point out that there is no ® after "Catholic Church" or "Islam", nor is there after the names of most religious bodies. What these people don't realise is that in these litigious times it is necessary for newcomers to protect themselves legally. It's all very well to be a couple of thousand years old with a reputation for stake-burning or stoning dissidents and defaulters, but newer theologies need time to develop. Anyway, what have those old outfits ever produced? They say they invented universities, but did they run them like businesses? Did they teach people how to fly? Oh, yes, they talk about flying prophets in their fancy Bibles and Qur'ans, but what was the last time you saw your average worshipper zooming around the apse or the mosque? Pathetic, really. I'm off now to my flying lessons. My master tells me that as soon as I get my mantra right I will be able to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Oops, sorry. That was my boxing teacher.
Yes, that is me screaming. I mentioned last week that I had temporarily lost my cable broadband Internet connection and had been sentenced to suffer a connection at dial-up modem speed. One of the penalties for being an early adopter of technology is that early adoption means that your stuff gets old before everyone else's. I have had cable Internet since 1998, shortly after the wires went up on the poles in my street. It has generally been very reliable, but, like all things (me included), some parts of the system don't work as well as they used to. On July 10, a technician came out and got it working again by replacing some weathered component up the pole out the front of the house. On July 28, another technician solved my intermittent connection problem by modifying the coaxial fly lead into the modem (something which apparently should have been done when the modem was replaced a couple of years ago). On August 14 a third technician fixed the problem (permanently?) by replacing something in the grey box where the cable enters the house.
What I didn't know was that there was a computer on my network waiting in ambush, ready to pounce and download the entire oeuvre of several bands who wear black clothes and have stickers on their CDs warning of strong language within. A few hours after the last technician left, my usually very adequate usage allowance for the month was exceeded and the speed of my connection was throttled back to dial-up speed where it will stay for the next two weeks. (Within those two weeks I will be changing my will so that one of my daughters inherits the mortgage, the credit card debts and the diabetes.)
My doctor says that the sweating, the nightmares and the shaking will gradually go away, but in the meantime ...
Everyone must have heard of YouTube, but have you heard of GodTube? It's a video sharing site dedicated to religious matters. It seemed to be just the sort of place that I needed to be involved with, so I joined and uploaded the video below. I didn't expect any problem with this particular video, because I have the suspicion that any place with a cross in its logo and the slogan "Broadcast Him" might not be too fussed about offending Muslims.
I have no basis for any objection to GodTube at all. People are perfectly entitled to establish communities of like-minded believers and, unlike the idiotic Conservapedia for example, the owners of this site don't seem to justify its existence by claims of unfair treatment elsewhere. Of course there is material there that I don't like, but it would be a very dull world (and a very empty Millenium Project) if I had to like everything before it could appear on a web site. There are even moments of great humour there, and one example is Charley's series of videos attacking evolution. We "EVILutionists" and "Darwinists" have heard all the arguments before, but seldom have we heard them expressed by someone with such a poor grasp of reality. There are several videos in the series, but Charley explaining Australian marsupials is a wonderful example of the genre.
Oh, all right - here's Charley and the marsupials.
Tim's back! (18/8/2007)
Our old friend Tim Bolen, spokeslout to the quacks, has resurfaced. His latest campaign is to screech and shout about Dr Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch. Tim has been whining about Dr Barrett for years, but this time he is accusing Dr Barrett of hiding, because he has moved and has a new address. The new address is in an office block, but because one of the tenants of the block is a private post office Tim is outraged and is claiming that Dr Barrett is hiding his whereabouts. Tim has been joined in this outrage by Ilena Rosenthal who is famous for getting a court to declare that you can't defame anyone by repeating something you read on the Internet, even if you have no reason to believe that it is true. (Ilena has a web page which mentions me. It is a mishmash of such comprehensive idiocy that I just had to list it on my Tributes page.) In a wonderful moment of hypocrisy, Ilena once demanded that I apologise for defaming her. I pointed out that I was merely repeating something I had read on the 'net, but she found this unsatisfactory (and could not detect the irony).
What makes this all doubly hypocritical (and funny) is that both Bolen and Rosenthal have been using post office boxes for years as both business and residential addresses, and both refuse to reveal where they actually live. Here is Tim Bolen being deposed in a court case (he was representing a company which was committing blatant insurance fraud). Note that he has a PO box address on his driver's licence, something which I am surprised is legal.
Just for good measure, and to show that Tim's poor memory isn't confined to his living arrangements, here is Tim trying to remember his education.
Strangely, Tim seems unduly sensitive to the video about his "education". In several Usenet posts I had provided links to the "where do you live?" video (it is on several video sharing sites to spread the fun) and Tim joked about it and suggested that I post other sections of the deposition. When I posted a link to the education video he suddenly decided that I was breaking the law and infringing his privacy. Tough. He demanded to know where I got the deposition, but I don't think he is going to be happy about me telling him that I got it from my post office box. It's sometimes amazing how thin the skins are of people who spend their lives vilifying and defaming others. Message to Tim Bolen - if you don't want people talking about you and laughing at your antics, stop attracting attention to yourself.
Nights out with good company (18/8/2007)
I spent two nights this week at presentations by authors in my favourite bookshop, Gleebooks. (Yes, I know that the last time I talked about bookshops I said that my favourite was Abbey's and Gleebooks was second. The positions alternate on a weekly basis.) One night I heard Tanya Levin talking about People in Glass Houses, her new book about my local Pentecostal money vacuum, Hillsong. I had met Tanya while she was researching the book and it was good to catch up with her, even if only for a few minutes at the signing table. I hope to have a review of the book here shortly, but I can't see why her original publishers dumped the book at the last minute. It tells the story of her journey from true believer to true outsider and there is very little in the book that could be seen as defamatory of Hillsong or its inhabitants. They probably don't like the organisation being inspected for Robert Lifton's eight signs of a cult (Hillsong manages a score of eight out of eight), but if I was getting in excess of $50 million a year tax-free I wouldn't care what anyone said about me.
The speaker on the second night was Bishop John Shelby Spong, who is doing a tour of Australia to promote his new book, Jesus for the Non Religious. He has been banned by the Archbishop of Sydney from Anglican churches in the Diocese of Sydney so it looks like the local Anglicans aren't going to be allowed to have their faith and beliefs challenged. This is a pity, because what he says might be controversial and confronting, but anyone who immediately abandons their faith on hearing his message couldn't have had a very strong faith to begin with. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, but judging by the content of his talk it takes him ever further from mainstream Christianity than did his previous work, The Sins of Scripture. I probably should revise that last sentence by removing the word "mainstream", because I find it difficult to imagine how he is any sort of Christian at all unless all the other ones are wrong about what it means to call oneself that. Still, it was fascinating listening to him and I hope to hear him again before he leaves the country. If Christianity is what he preaches then I could almost become a follower myself. Almost, I said! Religion based on the Golden Rule without any supernatural component! Now there's an interesting concept. (I will be seeing him next at a Unitarian worship service. Unitarians have been described to me as "atheists who sing hymns" so I might fit in well. As the music on that occasion will be provided by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir I expect that there will be very few Sydney Anglicans or Catholics risking the wrath of their respective Archbishops by being there.)
Quintessence Nook (18/8/2007)
Three sites selected randomly from the archives at Quintessence of the Loon. No, I am not making this up.
and Aspartame added 15 January 2002
Terrible things are happening to our food. Chemists and other practitioners of black arts are adding chemicals, and we all know that there are no chemicals in natural foods, just plain, simple nature. Biologists are fiddling with the very meaning of life itself, putting badger genes into potatoes so the tubers will dig themselves into the ground, combining the genetic material of forty-seven mammals, molluscs and reptiles in an attempt to breed a single source for hotdog meat, and crossing cows with gherkins so nobody will know which bit of a Big Mac to throw away. I even saw a packet of fish fingers in my supermarket and fish didn't have hands when I was a boy. It's just as well we have people like Mission Possible to alert the world to the danger at the bottom of the slippery slope. It is tragic that some of them have to suffer as they have, but perhaps their experiences will save us all.
[Unfortunately this wonderful web site about a man who grew breasts because of aspartame is no more. Aspartame and genetic modification are still here. Evil has won!]
Multidimensional Healing added 23 February 2002
Atlantis gets all the attention, and the sister continent Lemuria just gets pushed into the backgrounds of everyone's minds. This is not fair, because, as it says on this site: "The Lemurian resonance was always a holding frequency during all times of Atlantis for those who were guiding this stage in the evolution of the Earth and humanity. From all of the twelve Creator star systems, There were many landings here, Light ships as well as ships containing the representatives of the Trinities of Alliances from Galactic federations". I always preferred Lemuria anyway in past lives because of those really interesting animals with the big eyes that used to run the place. The crystals were always bigger there too. Or maybe they just looked bigger because my eyes were so big and round. Who knows?
footprint photos added 7 May 2002
Australia is a land of strange and dangerous creatures. The bush and the backyards contain some of the most venomous snakes and spiders in the world. The water at any beach is a seething cauldron of sharks and box jellyfish. The very centre of the place is occupied by herds of baby-eating dingos. In between there are feral kangaroos and carnivorous wallabies, and flying above it all are cockatoos, fruit bats, giant green cicadas and, worst of all, vast clouds of sabre-toothed bogong moths which can strip a cow to a skeleton in less time that it takes a piranha to say "Let's do lunch". Despite all this we residents are a stoic lot and, apart from brushing the occasional vampire fly from our faces, we live in peaceful coexistence with the fauna. Until a yowie comes along, that is. Even the two-metre tall eastern winged koalas are afraid of them. Just look at that bite on the tree!
Briefness and preapology (25/8/2007)
This week's update will be rather brief, because I have been asked to fill in for my friend Richard Saunders at several Mystery Investigators shows over the weekend. The shows are part of National Science Week and are an important part of educating the public (and especially the younger members of the public) about what science is and how it is done. Among other things we will be bending some spoons to show that even ordinary people like us can do the things that others say need special paranormal powers, lying on a bed of nails, and teaching kids how to do double-blind testing by showing them how water dowsing works. Or doesn't work, if you prefer. I know it's short notice, but if you see this before the weekend is over and can get to the Ultimo studios of the ABC on either Saturday or Sunday please drop in and say "Hello". I'll be the one in the white coat and the bewildered expression.
The sort of apology is because there might not be an update at all next week. My family and I will be taking a short trip to the delightful country town of Cootamundra, and I have no high hopes of there being an adequate broadband internet connection in the motel. On the way home I hope to call in to Canowindra to visit the Age of Fishes Museum and see some fossils from 360 million years ago. The last time I tried to go there was as part of an Australian Skeptics delegation to make a donation, but some people who had been found by the Federal Court of Australia to be operating an illegal pyramid scheme thought that my time would be better spent being sued for saying that the Federal Court of Australia had found them to be operating an illegal pyramid scheme.
Which reminds me ... (25/8/2007)
Corporations in Australia cannot sue for defamation, so they have lately been relying on copyright, trademark and trade practices laws to suppress criticism. The crooks received a bonus this week with a change to the Trade Practices Act requiring the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to prosecute people who cause damage to corporations by criticising them. This means that we now have the bizarre situation where the following scenario could be played out:
The true beauty of this new legislation is that it removes from crooked corporations any risk that they might have to bear court costs if they lose an action against a critic, because the ACCC will be taking the risk and paying the legal bills. To make it even tastier for the crooks, by spending money on these cases the ACCC will have less money to initiate prosecutions against lawbreakers. Everyone wins. Everyone who has something to hide or who operates on the fringes of the law, that is. The rest of us lose. We lose another fragment of our freedom of speech, and as taxpayers we lose money defending criminals against exposure.
The political party who introduced and passed the legislation has apparently been wanting to do it for some time, but they had to wait until they had control of the Senate and could get the legislation through without any real hindrance. There is a federal election coming up in Australia later this year, and they are probably expecting me to vote for them. Unfortunately, I live in one of the safest electorates in the country for the party in question so my vote won't count. It will be cast, however.
Important law changes (25/8/2007)
Sometimes legislators spend their time on much more important matters. A case in point is that this week the Atlanta City Council in Georgia will be voting on a proposal to ban baggy trousers. Apparently the citizenry have expressed their concern at the sight of young men exposing their underpants by wearing trousers which drop below their waists. As well as the offensiveness of this practice there is also the practical question of how anyone can actually walk when the crotch of their trousers is between their knees, so there is a safety issue as well as one of public morality. The ACLU has brought up the possibility of the ordinance extending its reach to women jogging while wearing sports bras, but it seems that the proposal is mute with regard to women's undergarments (and a good thing that is, too). It is good to see that the councillors in Atlanta are not wasting their time debating such trivialities as rates, roads and rubbish and are dealing with the important issues in modern society.
(I tried to get some comment on the proposal from the Georgia Plumbers' Union and the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, but they hadn't got back to me by the time I had to publish this week's update.)
I wish I'd thought of this (25/8/2007)
The last time I looked at the commercial web site of our old friend Professor Boyd Haley he was selling a test for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease). He had developed the test himself based on research conducted by him alone. There was, of course, a treatment on offer, no doubt at considerable expense. I see that Professor Haley now has a new test which can reveal toxins in need of removal (which is a much more polite way of saying "dollars in need of removal"). Apparently, if you have halitosis you are making your own toxins, so the test requires you to get a sample of your bad breath so that an appropriate treatment and payment schedule can be determined. Professor Haley might have forgotten the chemistry he learnt in high school, but he sure has a good imagination and a great eye for the main chance.
A formative experience (25/8/2007)
I have been told that as a white, heterosexual male with no obvious physical or mental disability I can have no idea of what it feels like to be the object of prejudice and racial bigotry.
Many years ago when I was a mere slip of a lad I went out a few times with a very nice English girl who worked in the room next to my section of the civil service hive. She and her parents had migrated to Australia under an assisted passage scheme which allowed people to come from England by paying just slightly more than I was paying for my weekly rail ticket. The condition was that they had to stay for two years or reimburse the government with the full cost of the trip. They were affectionately known as "£10 Poms".
I went to a party at her parents' house one night, and I came away determined to never treat anyone the way I was treated that night. Nobody would offer me a drink or a canapé and I was effectively invisible. Nobody would speak to me, although they were not so shy as to avoid talking about me in the third person in front of me, and whenever it was necessary to refer to me in conversation I was "the Australian". The family lived in a cul de sac and it appeared that all the residents of the street had come from the same English village and had simply transplanted it into a Sydney suburb. I was treated with disdain, rudeness and ignorance by people who had been welcomed into my country.
I left the party early because the situation was embarrassing for both me and the young lady, but we got the sign that the relationship was truly hopeless a few weeks later. Her appendix ruptured at work and she was rushed to hospital. Her parents knew that I visited her whenever possible, and one night they turned up with a replacement boyfriend. He was suitably English, and again they acted as if I wasn't in the room. After this we agreed to part, and I remember saying that she was lucky that she hadn't been attracted to an Aborigine. With a look of increased sadness, she agreed.
As I said above, this experience made me determined to avoid behaving like this myself. Actually, the way my parents had brought me up had already instilled in me a sense of fairness and tolerance towards others, but there is nothing like being on the receiving end of bigotry to recognise and reinforce its evil.
(Happy ending, sort of. I ran into the lady a few years later at a social function. She had avoided the seemingly inevitable arranged marriage and was in a happy relationship with someone whom her parents had had no part in choosing. We had a couple of dances and I wished her all the happiness in the world.)
Quintessence Nook (25/8/2007)
More unbelievable stuff from the archives of Quintessence of the Loon.
S. Psychotronics Association added 23 December
I like someone with the courage of their convictions. When I first saw this site it was publicising an annual conference which would presumably discuss Radionics, defined as "a method of energetic balancing at a distance by using intuitive/natural extrasensory abilities, a focused intent, and instrumentation". I noticed that while the dates were give for this conference, no year was specified. You may think this is an oversight, but it is in fact pre-qualification for the conference. Any competent psychic will KNOW when the conference is on. Really good ones don't even have to go. They will know it all in advance and can save the registration fees.
Theory of Evolutionary Process as a Unifying Paradigm
added 17 December 2000
I like a good philosophical argument. There's no sport quite like a team of Cartesian Absolutists lining up against some Euthanistic Ethicists, with teams of Moralistic Relativists, Kuhnian Popperists and Aristotelian Nihilists waiting on the sidelines to take on the victors. I'm not sure which side Frank would be playing for, but he would be the player to watch with material like "The first level is "point-like" or zero-dimensional in character, is "outside/beyond" space and time, and has complete (three degrees) freedom. Level I projects the "firelike" Ground of Being--the teleological impulse of potential/realization. The second level is "linear" or one-dimensional in character, "subsists" in time, and has two degrees of freedom and one degree of constraint. Level II precipitates and persists as the "watery" realm of becoming--the continuous charged flow of substance/force".
Freegan added 17 December 2000
At Christmas time many charities collect money so that they can assist the less well-off members of our communities with food and clothing. Little do they know that the indigent are in fact better off than the rest of us because there is no real need to buy stuff and we have been brainwashed into consumerism. This site reveals the luxuries, the wealth and the fabulous lifestyle available to people who see the light and do their shopping in dumpsters. Imagine if we all did this. If we all got all our needs out of the trash, then there would be no need for money or greed at all. I don't know who would keep making the piles of garbage for us to pick over, but I believe that there are some places in the world where this system is working and children love the idea so much that they fight just to get closer to the best garbage.