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Gimme that old detox feeling (10/1/2009)
Everyone feels a little cloudy after the excesses of Christmas and New Year. (I have said that anyone who gets up bright and early on New Year's Day doesn't quite grasp the concept of "party".) This is a fertile time for the quacks that offer detoxification treatments. Unfortunately for these charlatans, someone has actually done a study which shows that these useless treatments and potions are, well, useless.
Whenever some quackery supporter starts into telling me about the need for detoxification I always ask for details of the specific toxins that are to be eliminated. The answer is inevitably either a change of subject, a statement that I am in denial or a simple restatement of the need for detoxification. One response to the study was to tell me that real medicine uses detoxification - just look at drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. When I replied that the word "detoxification" was incorrectly used in these cases because the elimination of the relevant substances from the body was done through the body's own natural processes without the benefit of herbs and spices I was told that I was in denial and that detoxification was an essential practice. The subject was then changed. Sigh!
In November 2004 I wrote about the sleazy way that psychics try to infiltrate themselves into hunts for missing people. At the time I said "I think that psychic detectives are one of the vilest forms of the creatures who use pseudoscience and witchcraft to deceive desperate people" and little has happened since to make me change my mind. Reader Geoff Rogers has notified me of another example of the despicable behaviour of these parasites. Following the disappearance of his daughter in 1996 (a suspected victim of a serial killer), Don Spiers was assaulted by about 400 psychics and clairvoyants pretending to be able to help, usually in exchange for money. These relentless attacks added to the psychological effects of losing his daughter without explanation and eventually drove him into depression deep enough to trigger self-destructive behaviour. Mr Spiers asked the following question: "I can't understand why anyone would do this to someone in my situation. Why would they want to make it worse for me?" The simple answer is because they can and because they don't care about him, only about money and publicity.
Speaking of vile publicity seekers ... (10/1/2009)
I have seen two claims this week that have demanded that celebrities come out and support the causes of liars and deceivers.
And speaking of celebrities, Kylie Minogue has just finished a very successful Australian tour. Delta Goodrem is just about to start her country-wide tour. Lance Armstrong is here for the Tour Down Under. All cancer survivors. All cured by real doctors. All rejected quackery. That's the sort of celebrity endorsement I like.
Jock redux. Or should that be Jock reducks? (10/1/2009)
Definitely reducks, because Jock Doubleday is ducking and weaving away again from his ridiculous, non-existent "challenge" to doctors to consume vaccine ingredients. The clown was Highly Commended in the 2006 Millenium Awards, and in January 2007 I found out that he had created a web page devoted to me. It took the form of an open letter to me and included the following highly amusing restriction:
[PERMISSION IS NOT GIVEN to Peter Bowditch or to his agents/associates/affiliates/fans/supporters to 1) post this letter or any part of this letter (excepting Peter Bowditch's quotes) on the web site https://ratbags.com or on any web site with which Peter Bowditch is ideologically or otherwise affiliated; 2) reproduce/publish/distribute this letter or any part of this letter (excepting Peter Bowditch's quotes) in any media, in perpetuity.]
The moron resurfaced last week, and in an email to Martin Robbins at the Lay Scientist blog he had this to say:
The truth of any sentence beginning with the words "According to Ratbags..." should be taken with a grain of salt. Here's my open letter to Peter Bowditch ("Ratbags"). It has been up for over a year with no reply:
Of course, as anyone can see here I replied as soon as I became aware of it so Jock is lying, but that is not unexpected because lying is what he does - lies about vaccines, lies about childbirth, lies about having a challenge to doctors.
I think I need my own open letter to Jock, and I will put it in the form of some questions. The first question is rhetorical.
Putting us in our place(10/1/2009)
The news around my place this week was that the company which does advertising on buses has refused (without explanation) to run ads promoting atheism. Admittedly, some of the ads looked a little lame, like the message "Stay in bed next Sunday morning", but I don't think the campaign was going to unite Christians, Muslims and Rastafarians in holy jihad against atheists, the ad placement company or even buses. Come to think of it, I can't see Rastafarians getting upset unless there was nothing left to smoke, but I digress ... I wonder how the agency would react to a request to run something like the sign below. Probably get right on the phone to Coca Cola and McDonalds to tell them that all the bus space had been sold to someone else, sorry about that.
Most of the comments on the agency's inaction have been along the lines of restriction of free speech, and the papers have been carrying letters from various religious figures saying that atheists are just as entitled as anyone else to publicly express an opinion. So far nobody has been as foolish as the person who complained that an atheist advertisement in the UK violated the advertising rule requiring truthful statements. He was objecting to an ad that said that there was "probably no God" on the basis that this was an untrue statement. (The full ad said "'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".) Leaving aside the logical argument that use of the word "probably" makes the statement a tautology, it takes some chutzpah for a person who accepts something solely on faith to claim that people who disagree with him are lying. I don't detect any move to restrict the ability of religions to say almost whatever they like, but some people can't help but see any contrary opinion as something which must be suppressed. I read about the UK case on a site called Christian Voice, and I don't think it is an coincidence that when I looked it was displaying the following statement.
The Atheist Cartoons site disappeared in 2014
Speaking of advertisements ... (10/1/2009)
Anyone looking at my hate mail collection can see that I am involved in activities which cause some concern to some people. It seems that this ability has now rubbed off into other things I do. Last year I was an extra actor in an anti-smoking television advertisement. Each year the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau publishes a list of the most complained-about ads. Guess which ad came in at number five!
I notice that no complaints were received which claimed that the advertisements were not telling the truth, but instead they were all based on someone being offended by something. I have to admit that I found the first placed ad for tampons offensive, but not because of the subject matter or the infantile and smutty references to beavers (a term which is almost unknown in the Australian vernacular). It was because the ads were stupid and treated viewers and potential customers as idiots. But did I complain? Of course not.
Oh, OK, if you insist. Here is the fifth most offensive advertisement in Australia, which I spent a whole day hanging around a railway station to make.
Site maintenance (10/1/2009)
I took the opportunity over the Christmas break to do a bit of site maintenance. The major thing was to change over from Microsoft FrontPage to Expression Web for maintenance and management. I've been using FrontPage in its various evolutionary stages for a long time and I quite like the way it does things, but times change and sometimes I have to change with them. In real life I advise people about the use of technology in business and one of my constant points is that you don't change without a good reason. As a user of technology I take my own advice, which I why I waited a year or two after Expression Web came out before taking the plunge myself. The new product does some things better than its predecessor, some things differently and some really useful features have disappeared. This phenomenon of upgrades incorporating sidegrades and downgrades is not new, but on average things are better. One major advantage is that Expression Web runs a continuous audit for compliance with HTML standards which, in theory, should make it less likely that pages appear differently in different browsers. This is the computer business, however, so nothing can be taken for granted and I have already discovered one quite well-defined standard which just happens to not work in Firefox and causes that browser to make quite a mess of page appearance. The fact that Firefox is quite happy to work correctly with some examples of the standardised practice and not others is just another mystery of computer technology.
An Old Joke
A lawyer, an engineer, a doctor and an IT manager are having a drink in the clubhouse after a game of golf and the topic of conversation turns to what is the oldest profession. The lawyer points out that God laid down rules that had to be obeyed in the Garden Of Eden, so obviously law was the oldest profession. The doctor then says that as Eve was created from Adam's rib, surgery and therefore medicine was the oldest. The engineer states the obvious, that engineering must have preceded that as order had been created out of chaos. The IT manager takes a sip of his beer and simply says: "And where do you think the chaos came from?"
You might also notice a few things missing from the front page. As I no longer live anywhere near the very fine Mars Hill Cafe I've dropped the link. Perhaps I will find a new favourite caffeine dealer one day, but providing a Christian rock band for my birthday party won't necessarily be a mandatory requirement. I've also dropped the link to The Bear's Progress because it happened a few years ago. You can still read the saga here. Another thing that has gone is the offer of a DVD containing some talks I gave. Again, this applies to events from a few years back but the real problem is that I had some trouble reproducing the disks and I need to locate a new master copy. Technology marches on, but sometimes things fall out of the backpack on the way.
And if you don't watch out the bogey man will get you (24/1/2009)
I keep getting told that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States shows that racism is on the decline in that country. I would be more convinced if the people who tell me that this is a good thing stopped mentioning the colour of his skin and how remarkable it is that a person with this condition should get to where he has. Of course they don't actually mention his colour, they just call him "African-American" to make sure that there is no mistake about him not being the sort of American that doesn't require qualification or comment. Of course, Obama is a very pragmatic politician and has milked his "different but same" status mercilessly ever since he first entered politics. I was pleased when he dumped the bizarrely racist church that he attended, but I could never understand how someone with his political nous could have stayed there for more than a single sermon. According to a documentary I saw about him recently, the choice of the church was based on pure pragmatism - that was where the people he wanted to impress went.
I have mellowed in my opinions about Obama since I wrote about his church two years ago, and I suspect (and hope) that he will be a very good President indeed. My only concern is that his pragmatism will direct him towards getting and keeping votes rather than addressing the enormous problems facing his country and, by extension, the rest of the world. (At least he can't be as bad as the last one.) An Australian politician with a well-deserved reputation as a fixer and numbers arranger wrote a book after he retired called Whatever It Takes. When his party lost office the people who had been pointing to the book as evidence of his party's perfidy immediately adopted its principles (which were about the only principles they had). There is an old saying that you can tell when a politician is lying because you can see his lips move, but it would be nice to think that there are some exceptions some time. With any luck, and we are all going to need luck no matter where we live, Obama might be one of those exceptions. There is no doubt that he has the support of the US population. I just hope that he can fulfill the implied and explicit promises.
Now back to racism. It hasn't just been the innocent use of discriminatory terms which has indicated to me that there is a long way to go. I have also been exposed to statements about Obama which would embarrass the Ku Klux Klan with their vicious bigotry. It is a pleasant fiction to believe that all the battles have been won. Here are two songs from the 1960s which address racism in different ways. Colored Spade from Hair is about as in-your-face as the rest of that musical but I thought that "President of the United States of Love" was a nice and appropriate line. What Color (Is A Man)? by Bobby Bare captures my idea about the relevance of skin colour. Sometimes I miss the 60s, but I don't miss the freedom rides even if the changes in laws since that time haven't led to all the changes in attitude that we optimistically looked forward to.
Telling the truth about autism and vaccines (24/1/2009)
Regular readers, and even observant dropper-inners, will be aware of my contempt for the people who oppose vaccines. Well, perhaps "contempt" is an understatement but I don't want to dump a thesaurus in here. Another person who shares my feelings towards these vile creatures is Dr Paul Offit. As Dr Offit is chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and also professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he is, of course, doubly evil in the eyes of anti-vaccination liars. He is "organised medicine" to the core. To add to the anti-vaccination liars' distaste he also holds the patent on a vaccine against rotavirus which saves the lives of many thousands of children each year. Whenever his name is mentioned in anti-vaccination circles there is an outburst of mouth foam and vituperation (at least they will say his name - for some reason my name is never explicitly stated even when I am being heavily lied about) and this reaches a crescendo when he publishes a new book. His latest book is called , and the insanity has spread to attacks not only on the author but on people who have written reviews of the book for newspapers. Dr Offit won't be doing a book signing tour to promote the book because the police take the death threats seriously. Nice people, those anti-vaccination liars. I haven't seen this latest book yet but according to my email inbox a copy has left Amazon.com and is making its way across the Pacific Ocean at this very minute. Maybe I should write a review and endear myself to the liars even more.
Speaking of books ... (24/1/2009)
A visit to the local outpost of my favourite bookshop, Gleebooks, resulted in swiping of plastic and the addition of some new books to the library.
One book, by Simon Singh and Professor Edzard Ernst had been on my shopping list for some time. I haven't read it yet, but it comes highly recommended. One form of recommendation is the vilification of the authors by quacks. Professor Ernst is Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter and I was recently exposed to an extensive attack on him based on the principles that he couldn't comment on a particular form of quackery (in this case homeopathy) unless he had undertaken extensive education in the fraud itself and that he couldn't be trusted because his research showed that quackery is quackery. The clowns always bleat about how scientists won't take them seriously and then double the bleating volume whenever a scientist does take them seriously and does some actual research which inevitably exposes the worthlessness of the nostrum under investigation. Simon Singh is being sued for defamation by a bunch of chiropractors for saying that there is no scientific basis for chiropractic. (You can see the offending article here.) The usual defence offered in such cases is that the offending words constitute opinion, allowing the suers to claim "Well, it was only his opinion" if they lose the case. Singh has taken the unusual step of claiming truth as a defence and has therefore challenged the chiropractors to produce this scientific evidence that they say they have in abundance. It will be interesting to see if the chiropractors are brave enough to keep pressing on in court. My experience has been that quacks fold very quickly when offered the promise of a complete retraction and apology as soon as they produce the evidence they claim to have.
The second book is by Robert Park, author of the excellent I will have a review of this book here shortly, but in the meantime I am going to spoil the surprise and give away the ending. Good books always have good first and last paragraphs, and this one ends very well indeed.
What science is learning about the laws that govern the universe gives us the power to transform the world into the closest thing to paradise that any of us will ever see. This knowledge did not come from sacred texts, or the revelations of prophets. Science is the only way of knowing - everything else is superstition.
I bought a third book at the same time. I won't mention the title and author here because they don't really matter but the book annoyed me so much that I threw it away before I finished reading it. It was a novel in a series with the same cast of characters throughout, and the characters have developed as the series progressed, with continual references to earlier books to provide historical context for the latest events. All the books I have read so far have been written in the first person but this latest one is written in the third person so that sudden scene changes can be made which don't involve the principal character. This wouldn't be too bad, except that now there is also a plethora of very short sentences of the type which our school teachers used to draw red rings around. To make matters worse, everything is written in the present tense. I know I'm using it right now but it is appropriate here. It is not appropriate in a novel and made the thing almost impossible to follow as well as being intensely annoying. Could things get worse? Well, yes, because suddenly a character appeared who had been foully murdered in a previous book in the series. Because I buy books in this genre Amazon have recommended an even later book in the series to me, and in this later book the principal character is married to the previously murdered man. Did I mention that the author's bio in the front of the book says that in real life she holds an identical job to that held by the principal character, but in earlier books it said that the author did something else and there was no suggestion of the academic qualifications which would be essential to do what the character does? I don't like being treated like an idiot so I don't think I will be buying any more books by this author.
I apologise for the Eng Lit lecture but I needed to rant a little. Normal transmission will now be resumed.
Get them demons out of them girls! (24/1/2009)
Exorcism is a medieval practice usually associated with the bad old days of the Catholic Church. Yes, it occasionally pops its ugly head up in some Catholic parishes today, but it is still seen as a throw-back to ancient times. You might not expect to see it in a hip, up-to-the-minute, rock-music-playing generation Y outfit like my local Temple of Mammon, Hillsong. Well you might not expect it if you didn't know that exorcism is cheaper to supply than professional counselling and Hillsong likes to supply counselling in the cheapest fashion possible, especially when there is government money to be had for the asking. One of Hillsong's sidelines is Mercy Ministries, where unfortunate young girls who have been led astray by pregnancies or substance abuse are offered counselling to help them get their lives back together. The counselling is provided by fully qualified Bible students (qualified in Bible study, that is, not that expensive and time-consuming psychology) and is provided for free (after the clients assign their welfare benefits to Hillsong). As an added incentive to the young ladies to mend their ways, a special part of the auditorium is reserved for them at Hillsong's theatre posing as a church so that they can be pointed out to the rest of the audience for mocking and pity. Placing them in stocks and supplying tomatoes to throw at them would be silly as it would require money being spent on building the stocks, buying the tomatoes (although surely some Hillsong-attending farmer could be persuaded to donate them) and cleaning costs (unless audience members would like to volunteer). Having their hands locked into stocks would also prevent the girls from getting their pocket money out when the collection plate comes around.
Read more about this travesty here .
This one comes highly recommended (31/1/2009)
During the week I was referred to the work of Dr Rebecca Carley for some conclusive evidence about the dreadful dangers of vaccines. I have often suggested that some anti-vaccination liars are insane. Here is a case where real psychiatrists have made an assessment.
You might think that this action by the New York authorities had eliminated this lunatic's ability to harm children, but you would be wrong. She still has a web site and she is still cited by other anti-vaccination liars as an authority on vaccine damage to children.
For extra value, have a look at the transcript of her suspension hearing, paying particular attention to what the examining psychiatrists had to say. This is one seriously disturbed lady, but as her lunacy includes opposition to vaccines and belief in a vast conspiracy against her it is no surprise that she is some sort of hero to the anti-vaccination campaigners. It was interesting to read that she deliberately urinated and defecated on herself to inconvenience some police officers (after suggesting that one of them should sodomise a social worker so that they could have demon children). It makes a change from metaphorically urinating and defecating on the rights and lives of children. (See the request that ex-Dr Carley return her practising certificate here.)
I have decided to reintroduce my Proactive Kind and Gentle Policy again this year, where I write to people to ask them questions to clarify their positions or to point out problems with their arguments. The first one this year goes to ex-Dr Rebecca Carley
Dear Dr Carley,
I have been looking at your web site and it has raised a few questions for me. I note that you had your medical licence revoked a year or so back because at the time you were obviously barking mad. The content of your site today suggests that the pills, the counselling and the therapies are not working, and, if anything, you appear to be getting worse. I checked my thesaurus for possible conditions and I wonder if you might like to select your particular mental state or states from the following list:
ape, baked, bananas, barmy, batty, berserk, bizarre, bonkers, brainsick, confused, cracked, crazed, crazy, cuckoo, daft, delirious, demented, derailed, deranged, dingy, dippy, disarranged, disconcerted, disordered, displaced, distracted, distraught, disturbed, dotty, erratic, fatuous, flaky, flipped, flipped out, frantic, freaked out, frenzied, fried, fruity, idiotic, impractical, insane, irrational, irresponsible, kooky, loco, loony, loopy, lunatic, mad, maddened, maniac, maniacal, manic, mental, mentally ill, moonstruck, nuts, nutty, nutty as fruitcake, of unsound mind, off, off one's rocker, out of one's mind, out of one's tree, out to lunch, paranoid, perplexed, potty, preposterous, psycho, psychopathic, psychotic, rabid, raging, raving, round the bend, schizo, schizophrenic, schizzo, screw loose, screwball, screwy, senseless, silly, touched, unbalanced, unglued, unhinged, unscrewed, unsettled, unsound, unzipped, wacky, whacko, wild, wrong
Judging by your attitude towards vaccination I would say that "psychopathic" is a close fit and it is obvious from things you said at your hearings that you are paranoid, but perhaps you might like to expand on these so that visitors to your web site can have the fullest possible information about you in order to assess what they see on the site and its relationship to reality.
Your friend, Peter.
Idiots who take themselves too seriously (31/1/2009)
I'm talking about the Thai royal family, who are apparently some species of god that can't be offended on pain of imprisonment. An Australian, Harry Nicolaides, was recently sentenced to three years imprisonment for insulting these wimps in a book. The fact that the book sold only ten copies did not mitigate the sentence. Here is an example of the highly offensive material contained in the book:
From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives "major and minor "with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.
As you can see, this is just the sort of blasphemy that would have seen people burnt at the stake in ancient times. Except that this is the twenty-first century and Thailand pretends to be part of the modern world. In a nice irony, the action against Mr Nicolaides has aroused interest in the book and this has, of course, encouraged someone to make it available on the Internet. I can't find a text version but you can see a scanned copy here. I imagine that more than ten people are going to get to see it now. You can read more about this story here.
By coincidence, during the week I was offered a discounted holiday in Thailand. I simply responded with the obvious mispronunciation of the name of the Thai resort Phuket. And the royal family it rode in on.
More parasitology (31/1/2009)
Following my comments about psychic "detectives" a couple of weeks ago, my friend Ken McLeod reminded me that he had written about this scourge several times in that most excellent of skeptical magazines, the Skeptic. What could I do but reproduce the articles here?
From the mailbox (31/1/2009)
As they used to say on that fine old TV show, Laugh In - keep those cards and letters rolling in. (I know, it isn't listed among the catchphrase quotes from the show at either Wikipedia or the International Movie Data Base, but I remember it. We baby boomers remember the 1960s quite clearly. You bet your sweet bippy we do! Who could forget Goldie Hawn all painted up in psychedelic patterns and gyrating in a bikini? Wait a minute - could that be true or a badly remembered hallucination? Veeery eenteresting!)
From: "Glenn Wells"
Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2009 06:13:27 +1100
Hi I was looking at your site and I thought to myself this guy would be perfect as a US Public Relations guy. I do feel sorry for you though, having a closed mind is not very healthy.
All the best to you.
Thank you, Glenn. I'm actually in Australia like you so I don't think I will be doing any US PR work. I feel for your closed mind problem but there's not much I can do about it, I'm sorry. Perhaps you could join a skeptics group and they could arrange an intervention.
Subject: Boyd Haley
Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2009 19:48:53 -0500
How many autistic children do you have?
None, but I have a very close relative who has Asperger's Syndrome.
Did you note when the symptoms of Autism occurred?
It wasn't diagnosed precisely for a year or so, but one of the nurses noted the way the baby attended to stimuli immediately after birth, so that's when the signs first appeared. Let's say at five minutes old.
I notice that you refer to Dr. Haley and others as "anti-vaccination" liars...which of course screams "agenda" within your own articles.
Why? They lie so they are liars. It's quite simple if you understand how English works.
I'm pretty sure (having an Autistic son and following this whole "theory" very closely) that none of them have espoused getting rid of vaccines, but rather eliminating Thimerasol as the preservative.
You haven't been paying attention, have you? Why do they oppose MMR, which has never contained thimerosal? Why do they oppose all the vaccines which no longer contain thimerosal? The only answer I can think of is that they hate children and want to see them dead or maimed.
I'm not a Bio chemist, but you engage in the same "wow them with technical speak" B.S. that you accuse Dr. Haley and others of engaging in. Let me see…you use the Helicopter pilot analogy to as a way to demonstrate what you believe is an idiotic response. How about this…"Mercury is only one of 23 atoms in the Thimerasol compound." My reply…who gives a shit…can you tell me what happens to that Mercury atom after my son's body breaks down the Thimerasol? No?
Yes. When the thimerosal breaks down, one of the products is ethyl mercury which leaves the body in the urine and stools. The mercury goes with it. Liars will try to tell you that thimerosal breaks down to methyl mercury or that ethyl and methyl mercury have the same effect on the body, but they would be lying. After all, lying is what they do.
Let me guess, you're not a doctor but a blogger…you have a really impressive degree in "blogging".
You don't have to guess, because it is stated quite clearly on my web site. You are not the first person claiming the ability to research facts who can't even find out the simplest things about me and you won't be the last. And by the way, to be a blogger I would need a blog. This site isn't one.
Here's another common response "Billions of vaccines have been given with no ill effect." Again, who cares if hundreds of thousands have had an ill affect? I don't think anyone believes the Thimerasol alone is the culprit…but rather that those who's Autism may have been triggered by it have a genetic disorder where their bodies can not detoxify as effectively.
Yes, that's the lie that had to be invented when the "autism epidemic" didn't go away after the thimerosal was removed from vaccines. It's the lie that had to be invented to dispute the repeated and extensive scientific studies which have shown that there is no connection between thimerosal and autism.
I'm no medical doctor either, but I know that injecting children THE DAY THEY ARE BORN with molecules that contain mercury is…idiotic.
And what vaccines which contain mercury are given to children THE DAY THEY ARE BORN? See the full list of vaccines here. Please be specific.
The final proof in the pudding is that pharmaceuticals "voluntarily" removed Thimerasol. Given that they, much as your "advertising based" blog-site, chase the almighty dollar, why would they remove it if there were no ill effects?
It was done as a public relations exercise because they were being distracted from the task of protecting children by liars telling lies about autism. It made some vaccines more expensive because it meant that they had to be packaged in single-use vials and probably saved the manufacturers some money because they could leave out an ingredient.
Why so coy with the acronym? We're all adults here. I'm not too shy to spell it out and tell you to fuck off yourself, but I don't want you to die.