‘What’s the harm?’, Episode #4,354,223

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Perhaps the most upsetting of all the topics I’ve covered over the journey is the needless death of a child as a direct result of quackery, another example of which is reported here. In this case, the mother of a 10 year old considered herself a ‘healer’, and instead of getting the kid chemotherapy for liver cancer, fed her on fruits, vegetables, herbs and and coated her stomach in El Salvadoran mud.
It is true that the child may have died in any case, but you can just image the poor thing’s agony, with probably nothing more than dandelion tea for solace.
However it is also true that she would have had a fighting chance, particularly with the potential for a transplant at some point.
The parents claimed that they ‘don’t believe in chemotherapy’. There it is again – this thing called ‘belief’. Your beliefs are irrelevant when it comes to science – you should rely on what is known. Believing that the earth is flat doesn’t make it so.
They also said they we ‘bullied’ by the doctors. Well, boo hoo. I can just imagine the frustration of their doctors as they saw this young lady go from bad to worse, and not be able to intervene. Sometimes we just need to suck up our ego, and take the best advice available on the best course of action. Are they now proud that they stood up to these bullies? I have zero sympathy for them. This is not an excusable mistake. This is sheer child abuse and finally murder- clear cut. They are no less culpable than the person who gets behind the wheel while intoxicated and kills the occupants of a car – the outcomes are entirely foreseeable.
OK, enough ranting. But chalk up another statistic to the touchy-feely, natural-remedy bullshit.
Next time someone asks ‘What’s the harm?’, THIS is the harm.


Better late than never – Australia finally gets it on homeopathy

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You knew this would get me back to the typewriter, right?

Bottom line: the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council has concluded that:

“…there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective for treating health conditions”

Well, better late than never in coming to the same conclusion that ordinary folk like me have years ago. This excellent article in The Conversation summarises the issue nicely.

So, will health funds stop covering this sort of nonsense and costing the rest of us more? Will the government stop funding universities who teach this quackery?

Well, here’s my tip: Fresh from reinstating knighthoods, the Liberal government will:

  • disband the NHMRC as part of its response to the ‘budget disaster’
  • Replace GP Superclinics with holistic medicine centres because, let’s face it, homeopathy is much more cost effective
  • Increase funding to research into complementary medicine (that is, medicine that doesn’t work), and
  • Make complementary extras in private health care compulsory.

After all, millions of people use homeopathy, right? And millions of people are ‘the market’. And the market is speaking, so let’s get on with it.

Someone has to stand up to these scientists, and the Libs are the ones to do it.

I now look forward to that flood of comments about how misguided I am in disbelieving homeopathy, and being sucked in by the medical industrial complex. I especially look forward to the anecdotes which people cling to to justify wasting money and avoiding actual medical care.


Shatner meets the Beatles in the Sky (with diamonds) – hilarity ensues

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I’m speechless.

It’s no secret that William Shatner went on to some fairly questionable performance activities immediately post-Star Trek the original series, include some spoken-word albums, and a schlock-horror film or two.

But this takes the cake. I found it in the comments section on another blog, with the point being made that people should stick to what they are good at; or rather, that success in one field does not guarantee success in another.

To take a charitable view, this video is an homage to 60’s TV culture, done with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But the more realistic one is that Bill Shatner thought he was being arty.

You be the judge.

Primary school principals shut down religious education classes

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With a headline like that, how could I resist?

I believe the appropriate response is woo-hoo!

After some years of fairly negative news on the  RI in schools front, and the apparent stagnation of any efforts to expose the idiocy of spending public money on proselytising to primary school children, we have this welcome development, as reported here.

Some primary school principals are actually taking a stand, based on their own assessment of the SRI curriculum. This curriculum is being provided by Access Ministries, of which I’ve written plenty, for example, here, here and here. And it’s not just one or two – it’s hundreds apparently. The figures are that in 2011, 940 schools delivered SRI, while in 2013 it was 666 (yes, I know, the number of the beast – a coincidence? I think not). This is 40,000 fewer kids protected from wasting time on mindless drivel, and more importantly, protected from attempts to disable their clear-thinking circuitry.

Joe Kelly, principal of Cranbourne South Primary School, said:

“It is not education. It has no value whatsoever. It is rubbish – hollow and empty rhetoric … My school teachers are committed to teaching children, not indoctrinating them.”

Wow. Beautifully said Joe. I’m going to put that on a t-shirt. And nominate you for a Nobel prize of some sort.

He also went on to reveal that a lot of his colleagues feel the same way, but were not comfortable being as public about it.

Dr David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Monash University, backed up Kelly’s view of the curriculum, saying:

“I have reviewed all six booklets produced by Access Ministries, and it’s basically low order, unintelligent, busy work and rote learning. It horrified me. There’s nothing educational about it. It’s all about becoming a disciple of Jesus.”

Somewhat surprisingly, at this stage there does not seem to have been a backlash of any sort. Parents certainly aren’t in revolt. The Education Minister was quoted as having full confidence in the principals, and even the CEO of Access Ministries seems unperturbed. Those are the public positions – I’ll bet there is some heavy-duty lobbying happening behind the scenes however.

Nope, no backlash at all – although it could be a good explanation for some of the extreme weather events around the planet, as god extracts his special brand of biblical retribution. After all, what other explanation could there be?

More blood on Oprah’s hands

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It seems to have been ages since this post, and this… in which the link between Oprah’s obsession with new age nonsense in ‘the Secret’ and smooth talking con artists pushing self-help solutions clearly resulted in a preventable death.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped, and here another example – 3 deaths caused by some idiot pushing the really deep idea that ‘thoughts, feelings and actions need to be firing simultaneously in the same direction’. Oh what a lot of drivel. Just wish for it, and so it will be. It’s the Secret all over.

This piece of video focuses one of the deceased. It’s both heartbreaking and infuriating.

Good work again Oprah.

Unfortunately, none of your charitable works brings back the dead, or in any way makes up for facilitating con artists to find their marks.


On Gravity and Religious Symbolism

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I want to set the tone of this piece. Aaargghh. There, that should do it. Now you know where I’m coming from.

As background, I sometimes find myself listening to Sunday Nights with John Cleary on ABC radio. Yes, it’s a religious program, but I generally enjoy it because the host, although clearly strongly religious, present issues of the day with a strong secular brand of analysis, and is not afraid to confront the contradictions of religion, and also to question apologists accordingly. It is on that program I first learned of Bishop John Shelby Spong, and his progressive call for ‘a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines’.  A casual glance of the titles of his publications on the Wikipedia page illustrates his struggle to find any consistency between his spiritual life and reality.

In stark contrast, however, a couple of weeks ago we had one Richard Leonard as a film reviewer, and who is also a Jesuit priest. Hilarity ensued.

In conversation with John Cleary, he proceeds to review Gravity, but in a manner somewhat differently to my approach, here.

To cut to the chase, apparently the film was choc-full of religious references. And apparently (I’m going use that word a lot – so strap in) it’s not really a story of survival in space, with a sub-theme of Bullock’s grief at the loss of a child. No, it’s more a gospel highlights piece, set in space.

To be fair, it sounded like John Cleary wasn’t buying it all that much. He wanted to talk about how the visual style drove the film, and the allusions to Kubrick’s 2001. He was impressed by the minimalist story line, and the use of CGI to make aesthetic points, like the tear drifting off in zero G, describing it as a deeply emotional moment. Good points John.

But Leonard. Oh my. All I can say is, pareidolia anyone? This is definitely a ‘face on Mars’ moment.

To begin with, he obviously liked the movie, but sets up his forthcoming analysis by identifying the major theme of survival in terms of ‘choosing life’. Well, yes, that’s what happens when people try not to die. They choose life. But then he starts in on ‘inter-textuality’, harking back to his film appreciation classes in priest school, claiming that religion is a sub-plot.

Here is a selection of Mr. Leonard’s ‘faces on Mars’ views (and the odd bit of counter-apologetics):

  • Apparently Deuteronomy 30:19 is ‘there loud and clear’: choose life. Again, if you don’t want to die, yes, you are choosing life. Do we really need a bible reference to explain this? In fact, without getting too deep here, Mr. Leonard should go back to bible school on this. From my reading as a layman, this was not the intention of the quote (see here). Apparently in Deuteronomy 11:26, of the Israelites it is taught that “God did not administer justice to them according t the strict letter of the law, but allowed them mercy so that they might ‘choose life'”. So far, so good. But an interpretation by latter scholars deduced from the the words ‘choose life‘ that ‘one can learn a trade to earn a livelihood‘. Somehow I don’t think this is a key theme of the film. Just sayin’.
  • In one of the longest bows he draws, Clooney’s obsession with Mardi Gras stories is significant apparently because “it’s the night where you have your last big blowout before the sacrifice of Lent. The sacrifice of Lent can be in contrast to Fat Tuesday. The contrast was stark.” WTF?
  • On returning to Earth, the capsule plunging into the sea is a baptismal move. Yeah, right. Here are two more interpretations: It could be a child returning to the mother’s womb, or, it could be a safe way to retrieve a metal box from orbit. Take your pick.
  • When Bullock clambers onto shore, she ‘literally comes out of the mud’, which apparently is a reference to Adam who comes out of mud. Wow.
  • He gets a free-kick  because of the St.Christopher medallion in the Russian craft, and the Buddha in the Chinese one. The latter is meant to indicate that Bullock is embracing pain and not running from it.
  • When Bullock tries to raise the Russians on the radio but can’t communicate, she asks them to pray for her because ‘no one taught her to’. This he takes to mean a deathbed conversion. I hate that. People take comfort in all sorts of fantasies – religion is just another.
  • And finally, Clooney’s return to the capsule means he’s an ‘angel of life’ (and to emphasise his scholarly reading, Leonard refers to him as ‘angelos’. Yes this means angel in Greek. Impressive.) Apparently (last one, I promise) he comes back as the angel of life to help her remember the instructions because she’s given up on life. Or it could be a hallucination brought on by the depleted oxygen environment. Maybe he’s not an angel, but an inspiration. Mystifyingly, Leonard also thinks that Clooney coming back into her subconscious is also ‘deeply Freudian’. Really? Don’t see it myself.

Well, that’s it.You see what you want to see I guess.

Leonard has found extensive religious symbology in what is essential a story of survival in a hostile environment, with the focus on human ingenuity and drive to survive, which is a strong evolutionary trait.

I don’t mind Leonard being reminded of his religious symbols by the movie – that’s fine. But to subordinate human values of courage, ingenuity, mutual support, not to mention science and technology, to religious clap-trap, it’s just intellectually dishonest.

This is just a mis-guided, or desperate attempt to leverage the achievements of man to prop up an area which has in essence had no achievements for 2000 years, unless you count creative writing, cathedrals and genocide.

When the shoe was on the other foot – when Erik Von Daniken in Chariots of Fire ascribed the events in the Book of Ezekiel to alien technology, the religiati squealed like stuck pigs, refusing to have a bar of it.

Well, that’s just how I feel about this movie review.

EMF Devices – How to really build them

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I’ve been thinking.

Following my previous post on the preposterous EMF devices, I decided I would think about them in a bit more detail, as they present an interesting engineering challenge. Normally I don’t advocate spending too much time on the preposterous – my main example is academic debates about religion, for example ‘What is the ontological status of God’, which sounds impressive, but just asks, ‘does god exist’. So what’s the point? How can you academically prove that God doesn’t exist. It’s like debating the existence of the Easter bunny. The best you can do is show that the proponent is inconsistent or illogical, but that never phases them anyway.

So spending any time on the EMF con is similar. The difference here is that the real work I’m supposed to be doing this afternoon is boring me shitless, so I’ve decided to pull on the engineering hat again. Ok yes, it has a propeller on it – what’s your point?

In any case, I think it’s actually useful to understand WHY such devices are SO preposterous.

So after that long justification giving myself permission to spend time on this, let’s at last talk EMF Crystals! If you haven’t read the piece on EMF crystals already, it would be useful to do so now.

The reality

Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a pond, and waves are coming at you from all directions from other people frolicking, and also leaving you as you flap around your arms. This is only a 2D example, but in reality it’s happening in 3D. And the waves are a very broad range of frequencies, all mixed together – some visible, some radio, some UV, some very low like power lines, some extremely high like mobile phones. To take two extreme examples, power lines have EM waves at 50 Hz – that is, each second in our pond we get 50 peaks and troughs. For mobile phones, it’s around 2 GigaHerz, or 2,000,0000,000 waves per second in our pond. Not only that, for digital communications like phones, the waves are chopped up into billions of little packets for transmission, and reassembled by your phone to turn into something you can hear.

What it needs to do

So, what this device is supposed to do, is to take this vast array of EM fields hitting you from all directions, adjust them, and rebroadcast them in a more ‘user friendly’ form.

Technical problems abound, but just some of them are:

  • Firstly, the device is on your belt or your neck or somewhere, and would need to somehow deflect the waves from hitting your body, and suck them into the magic disk. If you think it would be messy trying to stop the waves hitting you in the pond, it would be many orders more difficult to stop EM waves hitting you.
  • We need different devices and materials to capture different frequency EM. An antenna or material to capture TV signals is quite different to capturing mobile phone signals. Just look at your TV antenna. TV is just a minor band in the EM spectrum, but to capture the different frequencies efficiently, we need different lengths of material, ranging from a meter or so, down to a few centimeters for UHF channels.
  • That’s just to capture the EM waves – we also need to stop them from hitting parts of our body. Ummm, not sure how they even might do that, because shielding is a big issue. Remember that we manage to receive a lot of EM inside solid structures – otherwise we moan about our phone coverage. So how we would stop phone signals in the air and from our phone from hitting our body is a decent engineering problem.
  • OK, so let’s grant it the ability to do all the above, thanks perhaps to ancient Egyptian materials. So now, it needs to ‘harmonize’, ‘clean’, and rebroadcast the signals to us in a form that doesn’t screw us up, and in fact can cause us to sing all day, according to one testimony. Firstly what needs to be cleaned? Cleaning implies there is something dirty or unwanted in the signal. Well, true, there is always noise in the system which needs to be filtered out, but this isn’t the bit that’s hurting you, according to our friends selling these devices. It’s the actual signal. So how do we ‘clean’ it? So we remove some frequencies? Well, that would alter the signal, so there goes your phone reception. Do we make them smaller? Yes, you could attenuate them, but that would kill the range of your phone so as to make it useless. What about ‘harmonize’ – this means to synchronise two or more frequency so that they are in harmony – so what are we harmonizing with? You body’s ‘natural frequencies’ they would say. Well, they don’t exist, but even if they did, and even if we could, harmonizing with them would mean changing our EM signal, so there goes our phone signal again.
  • And to do the cute bit in the previous step, the device would also need to keep track of all the EM it has collected, and presumably have some sort of storage while it does the cleaning and harmonizing and so forth, and then rebroadcast according to a schedule that doesn’t screw up our communications. If we did manage to screw up the timings between signals, then things like GPS – which relies on nanosecond timing – wouldn’t work. Yep, you’d need to be quite careful with this bit.
  • Lastly, to rebroadcast our captured, cleaned and exquisitely scheduled range of EM signals, we need two things – antennas and power. As for capturing the signals, we need the right sized antennas to re-broadcast whatever it is we now want to substitute. So that in a ceramic disc will be challenging. Then of course we need power, and the only way I can see of building this thing is with a miniaturised Zero Point Module – which is of course fictitious.

All in all, this is a bugger of an engineering problem, which would need some major break-throughs in physics to achieve. In fact, I’ve tried to think how I would even build one of these using ANY of the technology in the world of science fiction, and it’s still tricky. Let’s try:

  1. Stopping the EM from hitting the body – perhaps generate a warp bubble around the body to deflect the waves; or else use the warp bubble to dip the body in and out of an alternate universe (one without EM fields) long enough to really reduce the intensity of EM received by the body. Then we just have the radiation of travelling between universes to deal with, but that’s a problem for another day.
  2. Collecting the desired EM – Hmmm. I suppose we could modify the above warp bubble to act as a lens in all frequencies, but modulating its fundamental frequency through the entire band, so that it acts as an antenna itself, which then just leaves the problem of getting the energy, and associated data on the composition/timing of that energy into our crystal. If we could get the crystal to resonate at the same frequency as the warp bubble, then at least the impedance could be matched, and thus facilitate a transfer of the energy. Encoding data about the content would need a decent kilobit quantum computer on the crystal – with that, we could just about process all major communications frequencies in parallel.
  3. Cleaning, Harmonizing, and Rebroadcasting – I think once we have our information stored and sorted in our crystal, it’s then a trivial problem to present the information to our person in a gentle form, perhaps directly injected into the cerebral cortex would remove the need for re-broadcast EM altogether. Alternatively, an artificially generated Vulcan mind-meld with the crystal would do the trick too, but I suppose we’d need to replace that Egyptian sand with Vulcan, and that’s hard to get these days.
  4. Powering this thing – as I mentioned above, we’d need a ZPM out of the Stargate universe, and even that would need to be miniaturised. Alternatively, a few grams of black hole would give us enough for a miniature reactor and that would also do the job, but create a couple of other problems to solve – firstly carrying the crystal would be a challenge due to the massive curvature of space-time in the crystal, and secondly we would need to stabilise the black hole so that it didn’t kill us with radiation and also didn’t suck in the known universe; that latter would be kind of counter-productive. And to stabilise it means – yes, you guessed it – another warp field.

Let’s just hope they don’t invent sub-space radio for real, because that would totally bugger up my scheme, since as we all know, warp fields are transparent to sub-space radio.

Kirk out.