Happy Birthday to it (7/3/2009)
The Millenium Project is ten years old this month. The domain name ratbags.com was first registered on March 4, 1999, and this site started up shortly after that. The several thousand visitors each day seem to indicate that I haven't managed to bore everyone to death, so I guess I will just have to keep on doing whatever it is that I do. I would like to offer a very special thanks to all the people who come here, because it would be very discouraging if I was just talking to myself. I even thank the people who come here and don't like what they see. This is my opinion, and they are entitled to theirs, however misguided those opinions are. And as Dean Martin said, please keep those cards and letters coming in.
The Pope on parade (7/3/2009)
One of Sydney's best social get-togethers is the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. This year the Pope came along. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous before the start of the parade, but the roar of the crowd soon swept away my natural shyness. It was a bit strange to have both men and women blowing kisses at me, but it's that sort of party. The only downside is that if Fred Phelps is right I am now an official fag enabler and headed straight for hell, but I don't think I will worry too much about that.
Cards and letters going out (7/3/2009)
It is a constant worry to see pharmacy stores polluted by quackery. My local newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, ran an article recently about people not getting good advice about prescription drugs from pharmacists. My letter to the editor appeared on March 9.
No place for quackery
I am not so concerned about getting too little information from my pharmacist about prescription drugs, because I get that from the doctor ("Bitter pill for 'uncaring' pharmacists", March 6). What does concern me is the false information presented by the displays of useless quackery I see in almost every pharmacy - shelves of homeopathic treatments, advertisements for ear candlers and naturopaths, non-science and pseudoscience promoted as if it had some connection with reality.
Two examples I saw recently are almost fraud – a 10 millilitre bottle of Bach's Rescue Remedy selling for $14.95, or $1495 a litre for alcohol, and homeopathic "pillules" that were nothing but hundreds-and-thousands selling for 10 cents per tiny sugar ball.
We should expect the highest level of professional advice from pharmacists, but it is hard to maintain this expectation when we have to walk past mountains of garbage to get the advice.
Crazy Carley converts continue conversation (7/3/2009)
I still haven't got around to my reply to her latest incoherence in my email conversation with the certified insane ex-Dr Rebecca Carley. Neither have I managed to listen to her radio show yet, but as soon as I run out of more interesting things to do I will get right on to these matters. In the meantime, her followers have been pointing out her faults to me. Here are a couple of emails with my replies.
Date: Thu, 05 Mar 2009 15:46:54 -0500r>Subject: Re: Dr. Rebecca Carley
Dear Peter Bowditch,
I saw a letter from you on Dr. Carley's website. In that letter, you said; "I have been looking at your web site and it has raised a few questions for me".
Pardon me, I'm certain it's me, being a sodium fluoride, mercury head, child of the state, but I am having extreme difficulty spotting those questions.
This is a very interesting topic to me, so if you could please list those questions that would be a great help.
I'm sorry to see that your education didn't extend to an understanding of idiomatic English or any form of metaphor or abstract thought. This is possibly why you are confused by ex-Dr Carley's ravings and assume that they might contain some facts. Of course, had you read what I wrote you would have seen that I asked a specific question about the type of insanity that she exhibits.
Date: Thu, 05 Mar 2009 21:15:19 -0500
Subject: Wow – am I impressed
I've just read your Feb 4th letter to Dr Carley.
May I pass on a bit of free advice?
Sometimes it's best to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool ... then to open it and remove all doubt.
Thank you. I'm glad that you are impressed. I totally agree with your advice and it is a pity that ex-Dr Carley didn't take it before she started her ignorant ranting about vaccination. I suppose she has an excuse, though, having been declared insane. Have you met her? Does she still smear excrement on herself?
Comedy relief time (7/3/2009)
It is a basic tenet of pseudoscientific faith that when two events occur together one causes the other.
Some good stuff (7/3/2009)
A couple of friends of mine, Theo and Jef Clark, have an excellent book and podcast about fallacies in argument. I have been listening to the entire series of podcasts over the last couple of weeks and I haven't found one fallacious form of argument that hasn't been used on me at least once by a creationist, an anti-vaccination liar or a supporter of quackery. The book is available for free as a download from the site and there are links there to either download the podcasts or to subscribe to them through iTunes or another RSS feed. Very highly recommended. Click on the logo below to go to the Skeptic's Field Guide.
Mannatech. Can't these people read? (7/3/2009)
Last year I had an exchange of emails with the lawyers at Mannatech who seemed to be under the misapprehension that I was a distributor of their rubbish and that I was making some health claims about the stuff. I don't know why these people seem incapable of actually reading the page that they object to, but here is the latest missive, with my reply.
TO: Bowditch, Peter
RE: Impermissible Use of Health Claims Attributed to Mannatech Products 1.36.17
Dear Bowditch, Peter:
We need your immediate assistance with a critical issue related to your website. It has come to our attention that you currently have statements on your website which are or could be construed to be unauthorized health claims which go beyond stating that Mannatech nutritional products promote the maintenance of health and general well-being. The statements made on your website are contrary to Mannatech policy.
Demand is hereby made that you immediately remove from your website any statement or reference which (i) states, suggests or implies that Mannatech nutritional products prevent, treat or cure disease, (ii) states, suggests or implies that Mannatech nutritional products are a substitute for a doctor's standard of care, and/or (iii) is in any manner in contradiction with Mannatech's existing policies and procedures. Demand is further made that you refrain from engaging in this activity in the future.
Please contact the undersigned in writing within five (5) business days from the receipt of this letter advising that you have made the requested modification to your website and confirming that you will refrain from such activity in the future.
Failure to comply with this demand may result in legal and compliance action up to and including litigation in which Mannatech will seek injunctive relief, damages and attorney's fees and costs as allowable under Texas law. Mannatech will undertake all actions necessary to secure your compliance.
Having brought this to your attention, we are confident that you will understand our concerns and act immediately. We will be monitoring your website, and await your response in writing. Please contact the undersigned at email@example.com
if you have any questions regarding Mannatech's position in this matter. Nothing herein shall be construed as a waiver of any rights Mannatech has at law or in equity, all of which are expressly reserved.
Your prompt attention and cooperation in this matter are greatly appreciated.
Mannatech Legal, Ethics & Compliance Department
I thought I had made this clear last year when I received a similar complaint from you. I do wish that you would actually take the time to read the page you are complaining about, but just in case you can't do that I will reiterate what I said last time (and which appears on that page).
At no place on my site do I state, suggest or imply that Mannatech nutritional products prevent, treat or cure disease, or state, suggest or imply that Mannatech nutritional products are a substitute for a doctor's standard of care. I would not do either of these things because I do not believe that such statements would be true. I do not care what Mannatech's policies are with regard to such statements because I am not a Mannatech distributor.
Before you write to me again with complaints about things I do not do please try to read my clearly expressed opinions about Mannatech. You only make yourself look foolish by displaying a total lack of comprehension.
Again, I would like to thank you for implicitly informing me that Mannatech products have no role in the prevention, treatment or cure of any disease and that they do not provide an alternative to professional medical care. I will cite this to Mannatech distributors who contact me with anecdotes suggesting otherwise.
As is my usual policy, your email and this reply will be published on my web site.
I don't know what the month has to do with it, but in February 2006 I suffered two almost simultaneous hard disk failures. I could not remember the previous time that I had experienced even one such failure. Much time was spent restoring, reloading and recriminating.
In February 2009 I again found myself having to rebuild the working environments on two computers at the same time, which has meant that I have been very part time at everything else over the last week or so. Of course I had backups of all the data, but getting that back isn't what takes the time. It's installing Windows and all the software. I spent a few useless days inserting CDs (and even DVDs), downloading latest versions and watching progress bars crawl across screens.
One piece of good luck was that there was a temporary error on a Windows XP installation CD which caused the process to fail before any real progress had been made. You might wonder why this was good luck. When you reinstall Adobe Acrobat the registration and activation process will not work if you are installing for the third time unless you connect to the Internet and deactivate one of the previous installations. The machine with activated Acrobat on it was about to have its hard disk formatted because I had set the Windows installation to run while I installed Acrobat on the new computer. The CD read error (which did not recur when I tried again) saved me from spending the inevitable long time on hold waiting to explain to Adobe's tech support people that I wasn't trying to steal their software. As it was, I have an upgrade version of Acrobat and the original disks needed for installation verification took some finding after the house move.
Regular readers will know that I have a place in the country where I do some work. Another project over the last few weeks was to get a permanent Internet connection at the Ratbags Rural Retreat to replace the rather patchy connection I had been using over the 3G mobile phone network. The phone was connected two hours after I ordered it (attention Guinness Book of Records) and according to an email sent to me after I had left to drive back to Sydney the ADSL was ready to go two hours after that. I decided against buying a Lotto ticket as I had already used up all the week's good luck. This proved to be a correct assumption. Back in Sydney I tried to connect to the ISP's user web site to configure my account details. Several failed login attempts later, interspersed with being on hold and then talking to computers I was told (by someone who otherwise could not help me) that if I said "Consultant" to the robot voice in answer to any of its questions I would (might?) get to talk to a competent human being. This piece of good advice allowed me to go through several iterations of having the password reset and then failing to log on to the web site until finally I reached someone who told me that the web site logon did not get activated until after the first time that the modem connected. I slapped myself across the face several times to stop the hysterical giggling.
Back to Grenfell to plug in the modem, enter the latest password and have it accept the password and then fail to connect. More time on hold and talking to tech support with no results, so off I went back to Sydney taking the modem with me so that I could configure it in exactly the same way as the same model device working properly there and then take it back to the bush. (I found out later that I had been given an incorrect inconspicuous setting by one of the tech support people.) On the way home I received a call from tech support asking if I could go to the modem and do some testing. I pointed out that I was about 200 kilometres from the power point and telephone outlet and the modem was in the car with me, but I managed to get the techo to agree to reset the password yet again and email me the new version.
The reset and reconfiguration in Sydney went well so back to the bush where I managed to get my ADSL connection in Grenfell working. You know how they tell you to put the radio transmitter for a wireless network as high as possible to get the best coverage? Did I mention that when you drop a $200 Netgear combined ADSL modem and wireless network router about 2 metres from the shelf it is on that it bounces and then keeps on working? The next-door neighbour asked me later if what I had dropped was expensive. She had guessed that it was from what I had shouted.
Then I tried to set up a virtual private network between Grenfell and Wentworth Falls and ended up with two modems 300 kilometres apart which were both refusing to connect to the Internet. Netgear make very fine bounce-proof boxes, but their instructions about how to do complicated things leave a lot to be desired. Back to Sydney with the modem for yet another reset and reconfiguration. I finally got everything working and then found that Windows Vista assumes that anyone on a VPN must be trying to connect to a server and won't connect without a user name and password. I have been told that there is a work-around for this, but I can only stand so much pain so I have almost given up.
Remember all those latest versions of software I had to download? I also downloaded a couple of movies and so I went over my bandwidth allocation for the month and was dropped back to dial-up speed for two weeks. It didn't help to know that I still had about 11.5 gigabytes of traffic left on the Grenfell connection, because I wasn't there. I think that the thing that toppled me over the limit was when iTunes updated its podcast list and started pulling down something called the Skeptic Zone. Special thanks to my friend Richard. Bloody 23 megabyte podcasts!
And totally unrelated to computers but indicative of the way things have been going lately, I am learning to use the stove in the new house and it cooks some things faster than the one in the old place. I finally got to use my fire blanket when the lamb chops got a bit overdone. The smoke alarms work.
One word of praise, however. My new laptop has Vista and inbuilt Intel wifi. If everything worked as well as these do together then life would be much more pleasant for everyone. I've been using Netgear stuff for years because it just works, but the way the new machine found and connected to the wireless network made doing the same with a Netgear adapter look primitive. Oh, and I thought that I might be able to get around my VPN problems by using only the router in Sydney and Netgear's VPN client software on the computer (saving $10 a month for a static IP address in Grenfell and giving me the advantage of being able to connect anywhere where I can get an Internet link). Guess the name of the only piece of software that I have found so far that won't install under Vista. (I have been assured that the latest version, on its way to me even as we type, works with "all versions of Windows". I'll believe it when I see it.)
It's just as well that I sell computer expertise and advice for a living or I might have found all this a little discouraging. I'm glad I didn't have to pay myself to do the work. Oh, wait, what's that thing called "opportunity cost" that my economics professor used to talk about? What do normal people do for a living? If only I had taken my mother's advice and kept up the music lessons I could still be playing the piano in a brothel.
Where it started (14/3/2009)
In 1996 I wrote a book about the Internet. (It was published in early 1997 and modesty forbids me mentioning the name of the author of the biggest-selling non-fiction book in Australia that year.) One of the distasteful things I had to do while researching the book was to examine how easy it could be to find and look at pornography, because that was (as it is now) a concern for some parents and I assumed, rightly as it turned out, that the subject would be raised in almost every interview I did while promoting the book. While doing other research I came across a site from a crowd calling itself the Vaccination Awareness Network, and I remember saying at the time that none of the porn sites I looked at were anywhere near as offensive as this pile of garbage from a pack of child haters.
In 1999 I discovered that the group of clowns had changed their name to make their opposition to vaccination less obvious to the casual observer. They were now called the Australian Vaccination Network, and this change of name to something deceitfully inoffensive made me think that there were people who needed to be offended and offended often. I was looking for a name for my new project, and that was 1999 so everyone was talking about the millennium except those that were talking about the millenium. A metaphorical light bulb flashed over my head and I thought "millenium – a thousand arseholes". The rest is history. What started as just a list of the first hundred offensive sites on March 14, 1999, has turned into what you see today. Unfortunately, the Australian Vaccination Network is also still with us and they are just as offensive to sane and rational people as they were back then, so I have been paying them some attention in this anniversary week.
A child died. Hooray! (14/3/2009)
I was banned from the Australian Vaccination Network's Internet mailing list many years ago. Since then I have found various ways of finding out what goes on there. It is a regular occurrence for people to be banned for expressing contrary opinions (known in the outside world as "talking sense"), but usually they get to post at least one message before dismissal; I didn't get to post at all before the powerful magic of my name became too much to bear. (The magic worked even better on another list – the owner of the largest anti-vaccination liar list closed it completely because she believed, on no evidence, that I might be a member.)
When the news broke that a child had died of whooping cough, the first in my state since 2000 and the first in Australia since 2004, I thought that It might be time to check the list traffic to see how the denizens were reacting. I found what I expected to find – trivialisation of the death and exploitation of it to attack vaccines. I thought it was time for some more Kind and Gentle activity, so I sent the following email to AVN President Meryl Dorey and someone known only as Sue who had recently rejoiced in a news story about a death from measles:
Congratulations. You must be very pleased that your work is achieving the expected results.
The reaction was predictable. Sue posted my email to the list with a paranoid comment about how spies must have given me her email address. Someone commented that it was sneaky of me not to post my email to the list that I am banned from posting to, and someone else ad hominemed me by ridiculing Australian Skeptics. None of these people bothered to contact me directly, but instead chose to talk about me (without referring to me by name – there's that powerful juju again) in a forum in which I am prohibited from participating. Of course, none of them showed any pity for the dead child or tried to explain why the death had anything to do with the dangers of vaccines.
The media doesn't care. Boo hoo! (14/3/2009)
Coincidentally with the whooping cough death mentioned above, a couple of local papers ran extensive opinion pieces about the venality and stupidity of anti-vaccination liars.
This attention to common sense did not please the local anti-vaccination campaigners. Causing them particular offence was that Meryl Dorey from AVN had been cut off in a radio interview and that she had only had a few words printed in the press after an extensive interview. I didn't hear the radio interview but I have no reason to believe that she was cut off for any reason other than the usual – she had gone off-topic or had started repeating herself. (I've been on both ends of talkback radio and I've been both cutter and cuttee.) Or perhaps the interviewer thought that the radio station didn't need to promote an anti-vaccination agenda any longer. In the press story, the words that were printed did not include any truth so perhaps this was another case where the journalist felt that enough had been said.
I've been interviewed many times and always expect to be edited. Someone once said that the only way to be quoted in full was to ask in advance how many of your words would be printed or how many seconds of audio or video would be broadcast and then only speak that number of words or for that period of time. This is rarely practical. The best one I had was a half-hour interview for about two minutes of screen time. That wasn't the problem, because I expected it. The problem was that the producer then wanted me to demonstrate some cancer "curing" devices so I had to go back to the studio the next day. The producer then decided he needed one of those faintly ridiculous "walk to camera" scenes so I had to return a third time.
Oh, and did I mention that someone who suggested on the AVN mailing list that the radio truncation might be because the interviewer didn't like lies was banned from the list ten minutes later?
Cheering them up (14/3/2009)
Because the members of AVN were so disappointed at their treatment in the media I thought I would cheer them up with something that would make them feel better. I chose the photograph below so that they could reminisce about when times were better for their ilk. I posted it to several Facebook groups set up to oppose vaccination (including the one for AVN itself – they might be able to block me from their mailing list, but Facebook is less rigid). The text accompanying it said:
Remember the good old days?
This picture should give everyone a warm glow of nostalgia. If vaccines are banned this could all come back, and just think of all the new employment opportunities for iron lung manufacturers, leg calliper makers, nurses, physiotherapists, mortuary workers and grave diggers. A polio-led answer to the current economic crisis.
Iron Lung ward at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, Downey, California, ca.1953
Some email (14/3/2009)
This one actually came to the Australian Council Against Health Fraud, but I thought that the name used for the addressee made it imperative to reproduce it here.
Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 08:24:32 -0700
From: John H
Subject: What Is It Excatlly You Support?
I am not Mr O'Neill.
What Is It Excatlly You Support?
The Medical Industrial Complex? Really? Are you simply against individuals CHOSSING FREELY the medical path that best suites them because it's a path that doesn't suite you? Is your day job really pushing dope for big pharma? Do you sleep well at night?
I sleep very well. Children with whooping cough do not sleep well, nor do children with diphtheria. Meningitis from measles can make children scream with pain, causing their parents to lose some sleep. The parents of children who die from vaccine-preventable illnesses must often spend sleepless nights nursing their grief. Not that any of this would be of concern to you, of course.
In reading your web site I'm really trying to fathom what on earth it is YOU DO SUPPORT / PUSH?
In reading your web site I'm really trying to fathom what on earth language it is written in, although it does bear a superficial similarity to English.
If you're really a big supporter of the 'established' medical 'industry' you obviously must be a EUGENISTS / TRANS-HUMANIST. Here in the U.S.A. our own government and 'established media' has estimated that the very 'sound' medical establishment you SEEM TO defend tooth and nail kills over 200,000 annually. The first 100,000+ are killed due to 'established' big pharma drugs, vaccines included and, other 100,000+ are killed due to misdiagnoses by the very type docs you defend to the end. If you wish to CLAIM I'm "making these figures up", go haead, they aren't very hard to find for anyone eho's just slightly inquisitive.
Yes, those numbers can be found on many web sites written by liars and deluded opposers of medicine. I would never claim that you made up the 100,000 number, because in fact I was the one who made it up. You can read about that here.
So Mr O'Niell, are these death toll numbers NOT high enough for you? Would you like to see them rise? All in the name of 'sound established medical practice'?
All The Best!
Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 15:30:49 -0700
From: luke willard
Subject: Dr. Rebecca Carley
I noticed your letter on Dr. Carleys website. Do you have any facts proving her wrong? I'm not baiting you... I just stumbled onto her site and I want both sides of the story. I'm not interested in your perception of her state of mind or any opinions. I'd just like to know if you can provide me with (or direct me to) factual information that disputes her claims in regards to vaccination.
Chief Luke Willard
Nulhegan Band of Abenakis
That's not how science works. She is the one making the claims of immense damage being caused by vaccines, therefore it is up to her to provide evidence that she is correct. The fact that she is coincidentally insane has nothing much to do with anything. When she can produce more than assertion that vaccines cause more problems than they solve then it might be reasonable to take some notice of her. If you want a comprehensive investigation of the evidence she rejects I cannot do no better than recommend the book "Autism's False Profits" by Dr Paul Offit, available from a bookshop near you.
Something good (14/3/2009)
The latest edition of that fine magazine, the Skeptic, published by Australian Skeptics is now available. The magazine has a new editor and a new, fresh look. Yes, most of the content is written by friends of mine and I have a reasonably close association with Australian Skeptics Inc, but neither of these facts are causing me to recommend the publication. I just think it's really good.
Work and politics (28/3/2009)
Real life has got in the way! An upsurge in business has come at the same time as an outbreak of internal politics in an organisation I am involved in. The work is good because it pays for such essentials as food, accommodation and this web site. The political crisis looks like being resolved satisfactorily in the next week or so. It's all good, mate. Due to the inelasticity of time, this week's (fortnight's?) update will come from the mailbox. Normal programming will be resumed soon.
Karmic Schadenfreude (28/3/2009)
A reader who needs to remain anonymous because he has to keep working with someone sent this in. I don't think it needs any further comment.
A couple of weeks ago one of the junior folks at work told me that vaccinations are bad and cause autism and mercury poisoning.
I told him (politely) this is actually bullshit, has zero evidence and he should read up the facts about that before telling people things that are obviously crap, and it's going to cause bad things if too many people don't have immunity etc (eg NSW north coast baby who died last week of whooping cough) – the stuff you are I both know.
I found out today he is in hospital..
I'm glad I had my TB shots back in school.
Forget those other children. They don't matter. (28/3/2009)
As part of my 2009 Kind and Gentle program I have been posting useful links, videos and images to various anti-vaccination liar groups at Facebook. One of the links I have been putting up is the WHO page about measles statistics. Melissa Saunders had this to say at VACCINES: A license to KILL!!!, with my reply following. Melissa is the admin of the group and in typically cowardly fashion has blocked me from further participation. I can't respond to her there so it will have to be here.
Sure I would put that number up if it were a fact. The FACT is that number is used as a GLOBAL SCARE TACTIC by our government and anyone else who follows their mass deceptive organization. Please don't use "global stats" they do not give us, in developed countries, an accurate description of the disease itself nor an accurate death toll caused by the disease. Rest assure, that in all of Canada, USA, and the UK...the "outbreaks" of the Measles virus as only killed 2 people in 15 YEARS!!!!! Also please note that these 2 people already had underlying conditions that may very possibly have succumbed to even if they did not catch the Measles virus. Are you seriously telling us that in all the outbreaks we've had in 15 years, 2 deaths is cause for concern? I am truly sad for the individuals and their families, but this is NOT a reason to do universal inoculation. That is extremely dangerous and irresponsible!
To any thinking person the reason for the low rates of measles in Canada, USA and the UK is that these countries have high levels of vaccination. Tragically, the rate dropped in the UK following Dr Andrew Wakefield's disgraceful publication of fraudulent research, resulting in at least one death, but there is still some herd immunity remaining.
I am not surprised at your lack of concern for children in less developed countries. After all, why should you care about them, they might as well die of measles as anything else. This is typical of the arrogant, selfish and irresponsible attitude of vaccine deniers – nobody else's children matter.
Melissa added to the evidence of her ignorance by the following:
PS, I am concerned about anyone who refers to the site "The Millennium Project" to even have an ounce of merit or who chooses to use this arrogant rant page as a credible source of information. You can get better arguments from a 5th grader!
As I was referring to the site "WHO | Measles" I am concerned about your mental processes. Please get your brain back in touch with reality. You only make things worse by removing the link to The Millenium Project so that what you are talking about is even less clear. Still, why should I expect common sense or manners from someone who sets up a group called "VACCINES: A license to KILL!!!"?
My grandfather is in firm believer in Mannatech ever since he started taking their pills. Couple days ago, my grandfather called me and asked for my parents' and my social security numbers. He told me that he needed them to purchase Mannatech packages for my parents and myself. I DO NOT LIKE GIVING OUT SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS TO ANYONE. However, as an Asian American, we rarely question our elders so with mild resistance, I gave them out. This was before I found out just now that they are not drug company but rather nutrient company. I thought they needed social security numbers to check my insurance but now it seems that will not be the case. Is this legal thing to do? Asking for social security number? If you have any answer or comment to this, it will be very appreciated.
I have to start out by saying that I am neither an American citizen nor a lawyer, but this makes me very suspicious. As far as I know the only legitimate use of a Social Security Number is to identify an individual to someone who is going to pay the person some money – employers and pension plan operators can ask, most other people can not. It can not be used as a form of identification in the way a driver's licence or passport can. As an Australian citizen I have a Tax File Number which is the local analogue of the Social Security Number. Employers, financial institutions and companies in which I hold shares are entitled to ask for it, but if I decline they still have to deal with me but are required to withhold amounts equal to the highest marginal rate of tax from any money they pay me.
There can be no reason why anyone would need your Social Security Number to buy Mannatech products on your behalf, but there is another possible explanation. In many multi-level marketing schemes, bonuses are scaled according to the number of people in the downline. I suspect, but of course cannot prove, that your grandfather has enrolled your parents and you as Mannatech distributors, not just customers. I can see why Mannatech might request SSNs in this case, as distributors are supposed to be paid taxable income, however unlikely this might be.
I seriously doubt that anybody from Mannatech would be concerned about the legality of this, as they would simply claim that any illegal action was undertaken by your grandfather without their consent or knowledge. (I leave it to your imagination to think of where your grandfather got the idea.) It is quite possible, however, that the IRS and other authorities might be very concerned indeed. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be discussing MLM companies and their activities with participating family members, but you should find a way to diplomatically tell your grandfather that you are concerned about your SSN being given to Mannatech and that he could be placing himself at risk if the IRS decide to do some auditing.