Friday, April 28, 2006

And in local news....

News from the Zuma trial: Closing arguments began this week as the trial winds down. The prosecution weighs in with questions regarding why Zuma would have unprotected sex with someone he knew was HIV positive, why he refuses to disclose his HIV status to the court, why he had in his possession herbs for treating HIV if he does not have it, why he lied about where the 'event' took place, why he claims that by wearing a skirt she was asking for it, why he claims that if she had wanted sex and he hadn't given it to her she would have accused him of rape anyway, and lastly why an HIV-positive lesbian who saw him as a father figure would want to have unprotected sex with him.

The defence's closing argument revolves largely around claiming that there is a big conspiracy to discredit Zuma so that he can't run for president in 2008. That's pretty much their strongest argument.

In more news from the offices of the mayor of Cape Town, the DA's audit to find out what the ANC has left them with has discovered R25 million of city assets and property missing, stolen or just generally unaccounted for. This includes not only the expected staplers and calculators and pens, but also guns, bullet proof vests, and 'heritage' artwork and valuables (which is alone worth R6 million). It's like the outgoing mayorship took everything that wasn't bolted down. Someone should check the kitchen to see if the sink is still there.

And lastly, the DA is now calling for the Home Affairs minister to resign after Home Affairs announced it temporarily could not issue any passports. Why can they not issue passports, you ask? Is this some terrible foreign affairs bungle that means South Africans are no longer allowed to leave the country? No, quite simply, Home Affairs has run out of blanks. Run out. Of blank passports. So they can't make anymore. Until they get more blanks.

*slaps forehead*

Snow Job

Well, Bush has appointed Fox network's Tony Snow to replace Scott McClellan as White House Press Secretary, thereby confirming something we've all known, all along: that Fox News is merely the propaganda wing of the Republican Party.

There is no 'I' in 'Wii'

Nintendo's decision to change the name of the Revolution to 'The Wii' is probably the single worst marketing decision to come out of that paragon of gaming companies. My god, these are the people who brought us the d-pad, what the hell are they thinking?

Wii. Pronounced 'wee'. As in 'taking a wee', 'i need to wee', and 'wee in your pants'. As in urine.

I mean, can you actually imaging saying 'I'm playing with my Wii' with a serious face?

If you think i'm joking, check out the official announcement. Attempt to keep your lunch down while you swallow such saccharine marketing drivel as "But now Nintendo needs you. Because, it's really not about you or me. It's about Wii. And Wii will change everything."

Excuse me while i throw up on my keyboard.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Linkage


A few links for you today:

Body Autonomy put forward plainly and clearly as an argument for abortion here and here. Bluey the Body Rights Thingamabob sure knows his stuff. I'd never really thought of the right to body autonomy as the basis of all rights, but now that he mentions it, it makes more sense than a lot of other stuff about rights. The body defines the person, the person defines the need for personal right. Fuck with the right to someone's autonomy over their body, you fuck with their personhood, and subsequently undermine all personal rights. Simple, really. Also, Bluey is rather cute.

Zenstar rants about Snoop Dogg and other gangsters and their prison records (Snoop Dizzle has been arrested again, for the umpteenth time). The only industry where serving time should be a pre-requisite for doing well is organized crime. End of story. I'm reminded of SA's own Mzekezeke, who wins fans by always appearing in public wearing a prison uniform and a ski mask. Lovely. Teach those kids some values, why dontcha?

Tom Cruise sure doesn't seem to hold is duties to promote Mission Impossible III very highly. First, he uses them as a bargaining chip to get Comedy Central and Paramount's parent corporation, Viacom, to force Comedy Central to pull a South Park rerun that poked fun at scientology, now he ditches same duties to go shopping for baby clothes. I wonder what Paramount thinks of all this.

In local news, another stupid person dies doing something stupid. Someone pried open the lift doors of a building in Durban, to discover *gasp* an empty shaft on the other side. Then he slipped, fell, and died. There is a very good god damn reason the doors were closed. Darwin awards, anyone?

And finally, how to know if someone is a bona fide kook.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Midweek Cuckoo: Olga Visser


Michelle Olga Visser has had an interesting journey into the fringes of medicine. She began her career as a perfusionist, the technician who controls the heart-lung machine during open heart surgery. She is not a medical doctor, or a medical researcher. So it was with some skepticism that crionics researchers treated the announcement that Olga, her husband Siegfried, and a handful of Pretoria academics had discovered a cryoprotectant substance that would allow organs to be thawed from liquid nitrogen without any damage. Indeed, she claimed that in tests, rat hearts had successfully begun beating after being thawed, and that there was reason to believe this would successfully be applied to humans. Were it true, it would mean great things for human cryonics, a big industry in the United States where many people are willing to pay a high price for a chance at cheating death.

Naturally eyebrows were raised, especially considering there had as yet been no papers published in any of the reputable scientific, medical or cryobiology journals. Olga defended her discovery, vigorously flaming posters on sci.cryonics who dared to question her evidence, claiming there was a conspiracy to suppress her work, and threatening to exclude the unbelievers from future lucrative licencing deals. Through all this, she insisted on keeping the cryopreservant formula a secret. When asked for more detail such as toxicity or side effects, Olga stated mysteriously that "Toxicity clinical trials with humans for use of the compound as a drug are almost completed here in SA, and results will be made available before the end of this year." Remember that... we'll come back to it later. For now, note that she was conducting human clinical trials using a substance for which she had not published a single journal article, and the composition of which she still would not even disclose.

Despite all this, Olga succeeding in attracting interest from The Cryonics Institute and Alcor Foundation, who offered to bring her over to the states to demonstrate her technique. She accepted the offer, and by all accounts the demonstration was a complete failure. This was of course after Alcor had already reportedly paid her $25,000 for the rights to the technology.

Finally, it seemed that the composition of Olga's cryoprotectant had slipped out. On Usenet, a message from three respected names in cryonics (Mike Darwin, Steve Harris and Brian Wowk) noted "Even the Visser agent (dimethyl formamide) and other peralkyl-amides, while more penetrating than glycerol, were found to be intensely hemolytic (membrane toxic) at vitrifiable concentrations. (Peralkylamides were also found to be poor cryoprotectants at lower concentrations, including 25%, in a variety of relevant systems.)"

Olga did not respond to this, which was unusual considering her vitriolic flaming of anyone who had previously sought to discredit her. It seemed that the agent had been discovered, and not only was it not remarkable or even novel, it has also been shown not to work. Many people thought this was the last they'd hear from Olga Visser.

Not so. Two weeks later, Olga was back on Usenet, this time announcing the discovery of a Miracle AIDS drug, code named Virodene. She had presented it directly to members of the South African cabinet, including Nelson Mandela and then-Health Minister Nkosazana Zuma (ex-wife of Jacob Zuma) and was looking for $800,000 from the government to continue research. Oddly enough, Olga would once again not disclose the formula, and had not published anything in any journals. Olga and her coworkers claimed: "Virodene kills the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in the body and allows people infected with HIV to live a long and normal life. One of the most dramatic trial results was that Virodene could apparently even pull full-blown Aids sufferers back from the brink of death, reverting their condition to that of HIV-positive, in terms of which they are no longer so susceptible to opportunist diseases."

Olga was apparently so convinced of the viability of this drug that she began tests on human patients before the SA Medicines Control Council (MCC) had given her the green light. That made her tests illegal in SA, but that certainly wasn't going to stop Olga.

When asked how she had stumbled across this incredible discovery, Olga claimed that she had discovered the anti-viral properties of Virodene while conducting cryopreservation experiments. Sound familiar? In fact, it wasn't long before the truth came out: Virodene was dimethyl formamide, the same supposed miracle cryopreservant, which is in fact an industrial solvent. Short term side effects included abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, jaundice and rashes. Long term side effects included liver damage, cancer, and death. The MCC banned Virodene immediately. This was in 1997.

Fast forward to now: Virodene is still being advertised online, and Visser is claiming that not only is it non-toxic and efficacious, she is also claiming it has been cleared for use by the MCC. As I reported yesterday, they will be investigating. It seems that Visser is so determined to make money off a well-known toxic substance by passing it off as a miracle anything, she is willing to tell just about any lie.

I'll quote Dr. Steve Harris in closing:

"Do you suppose, then, that when Visser went to all those people with AIDS asking to use DMF on them (those that she did ask), she told them ALSO all about her interest in "Virodene P058" as a *cryoprotectant* for hearts -- one which she needed to be test in humans for reasons other than AIDS? Remember Helsinki and informed consent. Had these patients known of this other interest of Visser's, do you suppose some of them might have started to wonder if just perhaps they were being used as guinea pigs for some other purpose which had nothing to DO with AIDS? That perhaps they were in the grip of a madwoman?

What do YOU think?"


References:

The MCC bans Virodene
Hearts, Brains and Minds, an article on Visser by cryologist Charles Platt
Mail & Guardian profile on Visser
sci.cryonics posts

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Quickies

I've had one hell of a day today, what with being about 5 hours late for work due to my car's battery committing suicide. Turns out that replacing it is not enough, as it seems like there might be an electrical problem which caused the battery to be drained in the first place. So tomorrow morning i get to visit the auto-electrician too. Why do emergency expenses always happen right at the end of the month?

Anyway, not a lot of time to blog today, so I'll just throw some quickies out there:

Scandal rag You had an article about Kevin Ray Underwood, and mentioned his blog. They also had a nice shot of his profile including the Cannibal Outfitting question. What amazes me about their standard of journalism is twofold: firstly, they misquoted the question despite the screenshot being right there on the same page; secondly they stated that Underwood had asked the question when it was in fact Blogger that asked it of him. I have emailed them to set them straight. We shall see if they publish the letter.

Talking about the You again, their only reaction to letters of disapproval about their agony aunt's appearance in court in support of Jacob Zuma, and basic admission that she lied to letter writers to make sure they didn't commit suicide, was to make a small mention in the editorial that she was acting in her private capacity. Wimps. They should have fired her ass.

In parliament, Mbeki has questioned the constitutionality of a proposed ammendment bill that gives government control over independant communications industry regulatory body ICASA. Why would this be a problem, besides the fact that independant regulatory bodies should be, well, independant? Because the government owns a large chunk of every single major communications provider in the country. Lunacy. Isn't it interesting that the bill passed parliamentary scrutinizing without issue, and it took the president to turn around and question it?

In another unbelievable move, the Health Department has stated that it will be investigating the sale of a supposed AIDS cure that has not only not been clinically approved, but which is also largely composed of industrial solvents. Virodene is being marketed as safe, but so far the side effects have been those you would expect of people drinking industrial solvents. Now what i want to know is this: why is the health department suddenly so interested in investigating false claims of efficacy in AIDS medication, when in the same breath it's advocating the use of untested 'traditional' remedies? Maybe it's just that Virodene won't give them a slice of the pie.

And lastly, Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille was attacked yesterday by ANC members at a public talk about service provision in townships. ANC members in the audience hurled chairs at her, with one chair actually striking her in the head, and one ANC member threatened her with a knife before security hurried her out of the hall. Their cars were pelted with stones and half-bricks as they left. This is what happens when the ANC - who campaigned for democracy so well - lose a democratic election. They really can't believe that it's possible, and resort to violence. Or maybe they just can't believe that finally someone is actually doing something about housing and service provision, and it's not their party. I find it interesting that two news headlines i saw on my way to work today were 'Zille announces plan for housing' and 'Zille threatened with knife'. Does that make any kind of sense?

Naturally the ANC are denying they had anything to do with it. ANC provincial chairperson James Ngculu said it "worried" him that people automatically assumed that ANC supporters were responsible. Automatically assumed? This is yet another case of the ANC forgetting that video cameras actually record things: the chair-throwers are shown quite clearly wearing ANC shirts, and singing ANC songs. But then again maybe it's all just a conspiracy to discredit the ANC, just like everything else that's ever made them look bad.

Friday, April 21, 2006

SA Govt Ready to Seize First White-Owned Farms


What did I say? What did i fucking say?

This is how it starts. Of course talks are going to fail. Government wants them to fail. Why would it pay market price for something it can get for peanuts?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Scientology population increases by one


Katie Holmes gave birth to a healthy baby thetan yesterday, and if all went as planned neither she nor anyone else in the delivery room used any words during the birth. She was allowed to make noise and take drugs, you understand, just not speak any actual words. This is the basis of scientology's 'silent birth' theory, which says that any words spoken during a time of trauma (such as birth) may 'engram' the mother and/or child, creating problems later in life. Scientologists are not allowed to speak any words while enduring pain for this same reason, so you can forget about swearing if you've just stubbed your toe. You're doing yourself untold damage.

Anyway, back to the story at hand, Katie gave birth to an apparently human girl who the couple are naming Suri. Is it just me, or is it a bit odd that her name is made up of the middle letters of her surname? Suri Cruise. That's just retarded.

In a weird coincidence, Brooke Shields gave birth to a healthy baby girl on exactly the same day. Cruise made headlines (and a fool of himself) last year when he criticized Brooke for taking antidepressants to overcome her post-partum depression. I think it would be hi-fucking-larious if Katie developed a little post-natal psychosis of her own - let's see how Cruise handles that.

Midweek Cuckoo: Wilhelm Reich


Wilhelm Reich, M.D. (1897-1957) claimed to have discovered "orgone energy", the most powerful force in the universe. Despite numerous attempts by many scientists, including Einstein himself, no one was ever able to find evidence in nature or in Reich's experiments that this energy existed.

Reich, who was initially trained as a psychoanalyst, became convinced that a biophysical energy permeated all things, and that this so called 'orgone' was massless, responsible for all life and is absorbed by all matter, both living and non-living. These orgones are responsible for, among other things, the colour of the sky, heat haze, gravity, galaxies, the failure of political revolutions, and a good orgasm. Reich, who was an associate of Freud, started all this muddy thinking by trying to find the energy responsible for libido, and apparently ended up discovering midichlorians. If he'd done it today, George Lucas would probably have sued.

Reich believed all disease was merely an imbalance in the body's orgone energy, and that these diseases such as cancer could be cured by addressing this imbalance. To this effect he built 'orgone accumulators' (basically just a telephone-booth sized box) that he had patients sit in. This apparently accumulated orgone energy, which was absorbed by the patient, leading to supposed miraculous recovery.

Another of Reich's inventions was his so-called 'cloudbuster', which used orgone energy to create rain. He also claimed that he had done battle with evil aliens who were attempting to increase the amount of negative orgone energy on earth.

Naturally the FDA was all over Reich and required that he prove that his orgone accumulator worked or quit making fraudulent claims. He responded that his science was so advanced that even if he tried to explain it, the FDA would not understand it. The FDA investigated anyway, found it to be useless, and ordered an injuction against Reich. When Reich continued 'treating' people with his orgone accumulators, he was thrown in jail. He died there of a heart attack a year later.

Despite the very obvious lunacy of his claims, Reich has his followers even today. Websites like orgonelab.org, orgone.org and orgonomy.org claim that his experiments have been verified, that he is a martyr to the evil FDA, and that orgonomy is a real science (they have their own journal and everything, so it must be). Also, you can buy their crackpot orgone devices and literature for plenty of money. There's even a museum. They get very upset if you tell them that their hero was a nutcase and that no one other than a true believer in orgonomy has every been able to reproduce his 'experiments' or 'proof'.

Some people say this guy was unfairly persecuted by the US Govt, that he didn't deserve to get thrown in jail. I think that when you are telling cancer patients you can cure their life threatening illness when you can't, you should either be in jail or an asylum. You certainly shouldn't just be left to run around giving false hope to people and taking their money.

The Straight Dope on Wilhelm Reich
Quackwatch on Wilhelm Reich
Skepdic.com on Wilhelm Reich

Google Blogger Predicts Man's Cannibalism

Oklahoma - Kevin Ray Underwood is arrested for kidnapping, killing and dismembering 10 year old Jamie Rose Bolin. Police believe the motive was "part of a plan to kidnap a person, rape them, torture them, kill them, cut off their head, drain the body of blood, rape the corpse, eat the corpse then dispose of the organs and bones."

The interesting part: Kevin had a blog. Go check it out quick before the authorites get to it. Otherwise, Insomnia Report has a good synopsis and some excepts.

The even more interesting part: Blogger profile asks you a random question when you're creating your profile. If you answer it, the answer goes on your blog profile. Kevin's random question? If you were a cannibal, what would you wear to dinner? His answer? The skin of last night's main course.


Explain that, skeptics.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Various Stupidity over the Easter Weekend

Well, it seems the world didn't take a holiday from stupid this weekend. In the news:

People in the Philippines think it's a good idea to get crucified with actual nails over Easter. They say they do this for penance, or in prayer. In reality they do it because they are stupid. The only person who gave this practice the dignity it deserves is the Japanese guy who allowed the footage of his crucifixion to be used in porn (and what the hell kind of porn is that anyway?).

This person got what they deserved when it comes to superstition: they got ripped off. Learn a lesson, people, mystics are fraudsters. End of story.

Muslim sectarians (or maybe just one madman acting alone if you believe the government) in Egypt attacked worshippers in Coptic christian churches last friday, killing at least one person. The stupidity here, besides the killing of people for religion? It wasn't Good Friday for Coptics, as they along with Greek Orthodox churches celebrate Easter one week later. Stupid. If you're going to make a religious statement, at least get the god damn date right.



And lastly, South Africa bids farewell to young actor and comedian Brett Goldin, murdered this weekend. Brett and friend Richard Bloom were found naked and face down in a field, each of them having been shot in the back of the head. Brett is best known as a member of Crazy Monkey, the comedy team who created MTV-inserts spoofing Jackass, and who starred in the local comedy Straight Outa Benoni. The stupidity is that the only reason we know who did it is that the perpetrators were arrested in a random Easter Weekend roadblock, and the officer just happened to find Brett's credit card on them. This is how crime is solved in SA - by accident.

Happy Easter, motherfuckers. Nice to see your god was doing his job over the weekend. NOT.

In Farmland, No One Can Hear You Scream


Zenstar and I went away for the easter weekend with my family, spending three nights in a glorified wooden shack on a farm near Velddrif on the West Coast. For those not familiar with the West Coast, there are only two things that happen here: farming and fishing. The land is arid, good for grazing of sheep, cows and ostriches. Close to the ocean the soil and water are high in salt content, and Cerebos produces a large chunk of their salt out here. The coast itself is dotted with fishing villages like Paternoster, tiny dorpies where the only income is the sea harvest, and tourists. Surrounded by so much barrenness, so much open space, the thing that came to mind was: if we were attacked out here, no one would hear us scream.

It may seem a little paranoid as thoughts go, but in SA it's utterly realistic. Just this weekend an elderly couple were brutually attacked on their farm, tortured and left for dead. The man was forced into a bath of hot water, and the soles of his feet were so badly burned that they peeled completely off, and were left by the attackers on the couple's dining room table. The wife was beaten so savagely that she ended up in the ICU for five days and suffered a heart attack. This was all apparently for R250 in cash and a few appliances. No one heard them scream.

A few years ago Interpol ranked South African Farmer as the most dangerous job in the world outside of a warzone, with 313 murders per 100,000 population. That's twice the death toll in Iraq, and four times as high as the murder rate for any other minority in SA. An estimated 1,700 farmers have been killed since the handover to the ANC. Organizations such as the Human Rights Commission and GenocideWatch.org have expressed concern about the death toll, and London's Sunday Times has even run an article detailing the numerous atrocities.

What has the government done about this? Well, for a start they disbanded the army veterans group known as the Commandos, who took it upon themselves to patrol the farms as volunteers, keeping the peace in the middle of nowhere. When residents asked who they should now call on to protect them, they were told to call the police or the army. Government fails to note however that for the majority of farms, the closest police or army are several hours away, whereas the Commandos were usually fellow farmers, only minutes away. Very constructive move.

Until recently, the refrain was always 'At least it's not as bad as Zimbabwe'. Our next door neighbour, celebrating this week it's 26th year of freedom, used to be known as the Breadbasket of Africa. It used to be Africa's greatest producer of grain, exporting all over the world. Today, thanks to the government's land reform policy that saw white owned farms seized and white farmers fleeing the country in legitimate fear of their lives, Zimbabwe does not have enough grain to feed itself. Those farms that were handed over are now being used for subsistence farming, whereas previously they were large scale producers feeding the entire country. As a direct result of the Zimbabwean government's meddling, inflation is over the 900% mark, leading to stories very similar to those heard during the great depression. Zimbabweans carry their cash around in trailers, their salary has devalued between the time they are paid and the time they get to the shops to buy bread, and everyone in Zimbabwe is now a millionaire in Zim dollars.

The only thing keeping South Africa from making the same mistakes has been the "willing buyer, willing seller" policy that had until recently been in place. Naturally, despite farmers being willing sellers, government was never the willing buyer. They demanded sale prices well below market value, and when the farmers refused to sell their farms at a loss, the government eventually gave up. They have now instituted a new, Zimbabwe-like land reform policy, under which they are free to seize farms whenever and however they like, with little to no reimbursement to the farmer.

How long will it be before things fall apart here, I wonder?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sense of Humour: Absent

A Kansas State Board of Education member on a recent tour of a middle school objected to an image on a teacher's door, and requested that the principal order the teacher to remove it.

The Board Member? Known Intelligent Design advocate Connie Morris, responsible in part for Kansas' tragic science education policies.

The image? His Noodliness the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All Hail His Noodly Appendage, Forever and Ever, Ramen.

I wonder if this kind of thing counts as religious persecution?

Tiktaalik

Speaking of transitional fossils, a newsworthy item i missed while on leave was the momentous discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, which is important not only because it is a transitional form between fish and tetrapods, but also because the place and era of its discovery was predicted by paleontologists. Pharyngula has followed this story in a fair amount of detail here, here, and here.

Naturally, the Discovery Institute is scrabbling to explain why transitional fossils don't exist, why evolutionists have never found a transitional fossil, why this isn't a transitional fossil, and why even if it is a transitional fossil it doesn't hurt creationism anyway. In the process, they are only showing how poor their understanding of biology really is. Don't take my word for it, read PZ's articles above. He does a very good job of ripping them a new one, especially in the second article.

Suffice to say, the science vs. intelligent design scoreboard has not changed.

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

At home

A quick snipped from SA: under pressure from several AIDS activist organization, the government has lifted its ban on the Treatment Action Campaign attending an upcoming international conference on HIV/AIDS. The government attempted to bar the TAC from attending the meeting due to "a concern over its position on HIV". Government should very well be concerned over TAC's position, as it is quite simply that government is fucking over the south african people when it comes to AIDS education and treatment. And they're right. Government is only afraid that TAC might bring this up at an international conference and make the health ministry the laughing stock of the meeting. I sincerely hope they do.

Abroad

Archaeologists have unearthed a fossil in a rich human ancestry site in Ethiopia that may very well be a missing link between Ardipithecus and Australopithecus. The importance of the find rests on the fact that fossils from a massive span in the evolutionary history of homo sapiens have been found in a single area, making the argument for their evolution from one to another far stronger than if they were scattered all over the world. People like Erik von Daniken would have us believe that people had cars and space ships back then, but really early man didn't travel much outside of his area of birth, so the fossil finds in this area now form the most complete chain of human evolution ever found. Of course creationists would have us believe this is all a hoax, because according to them no archaeologist has ever found a transitional fossil. Ever.

On a subject with much more tangible impact on daily life, Iowa is in the throes of an outbreak of the Mumps. Whenever something like this happens, the anti-vaccination liars crawl out of the woodworks to lie about how this means that vaccines don't actually work. Of course it seems that none of them are capable of either reading or simple maths, as aetiology and good math, bad math point out. No one ever said that the MMR vaccine is 100% effective; in fact about 5% of the population never respond to the vaccine and do not produce the required antibodies. Even so, the actual number of infected in this 'epidemic' equates to only a tiny percentage of the 5% who are in danger of contracting mumps. That leaves about 99% of the population utterly unaffected by the outbreak. In addition, Iowa is accustomed to about 5 cases of mumps annually, which is why 500 seems like a lot. But it's nothing when you discover that prior to the introduction of routine vaccination, it was not uncommon to experience 20,000 cases a year. And that's just in Iowa.

Even more interestingly, the CDC suspects the outbreak is linked to a previous outbreak in the United Kingdom. And that outbreak, which was much worse, was directly linked to a run of children NOT being vaccinated.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

And the award for world's biggest hypocrite goes to...

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Yes indeed, Manto is now using the media as a scapegoat, saying that if the government's aids prevention campaign fails it is because of their reporting of Zuma's 'showering to reduce the infection risk' tactic.

Am i reading this right? The woman who tells people to eat garlic and african potatoes instead of taking their ARVs, the woman who says that african people should be allowed to use african remedies instead of ARVs, even if they are untested and unproven, the woman who is single-handedly responsible for more confusion about aids medication than anyone else in the country, is saying the media will be responsible if the campaign fails?

Manto, the fault will be yours and no one else's. As a health minister, you have done a piss-poor job. On the other hand, you're pretty damn good at genocide through misinformation.

Science Porn

Midweek Cuckoo: William Dembski

William Albert Dembski is the Carl F. H. Henry Professor of Theology and Science at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. As such, he is one of the biggest, loudest, most prolific Intelligent Design advocates around. He has a blog on which he and his IDiot friends post plenty of noise with very little signal, and from which it is famously easy to get banned if you so much as hint that you may not agree with his views. Some people have found themselves banned pre-emptively, even, as Dembski's followers have been known to trawl the interweb looking for posters whose opinions may be contrary to Dembski's should they ever choose to air them on his blog.

This alone is probably not enough for him to distinguish himself as a Midweek Cuckoo. Recent actions of his, however, have upped his ranking in the crazy game.

University of Texas Professor Eric Pianka gave a speech in early March describing how the human population was expanding at such a rate that it was due for a biological "crash". Our growth rate coupled with our sociability and mobility is creating the perfect breeding ground for a massive virus to wipe us off the face of the planet. An airborne strain of Ebola, for example, would likely succeed in killing off 90% of the population. The planet as a whole, however, would probably be better off for it, as nature has a tendency to correct populations that have grown to unsustainable levels, and humans are doing more harm than good anyway.

Columnist for the Society for Amateur Scientists' The Citizen Scientist, Forrest M. Mims III, who was present at the speech, understood Pianka as intending to actually create such a virus to wipe out mankind, Dr. Doom style. Mims wrote about his concerns in his column, and the Sequin Gazette-Enterprise picked up on the story and published a scare-mongering article about it.

In response, William Dembski stated on his blog on April 2 that he had reported Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security. Shortly after, the FBI announced it would be interviewing Pianka.

Naturally the blogosphere exploded. Articles by Austringer, Pharyngula, Red State Rabble, the Bad Astonomer and many more have given this bizarre move all the ridicule it deserves. Other attendees of the speech have come forward stating that Pianka did not in any way imply that he had plans for genocide, and in fact he received a standing ovation.

Dembski was undeterred. He even made a public wager as to the eventual outcome:

"I'm willing to wager $1000 with David Hillis that sympathy not just nationally but at UTAustin for Pianka will take a nose dive once his TAS speech goes public. Of course, we need to set the terms of this wager more precisely. But it's a wager easily settled -- Pianka needs merely to make his speech before the TAS public (the actual speech -- not a bowdlerized version of it)."

Of course, a transcript did come to light, as these things do, and it made it pretty obvious that Pianka was planning nothing of the sort, only advising people of a very real, natural danger if we don't sort out our population growth. And what happened? The Gazette-Enterprise withdrew its story from its website, and pro-ID blog Tellic Thoughts retracted their earlier reports of Pianka's genocidal intent. Dembski has been stangely silent as to whether he paid the $1000 he now owes Hillis.

What makes Dembski truly crazy though is that to believe Pianka was serious, to believe strongly enough to report him to the Feds, he had to believe in the possibility that his plan might work. Considering this involves Ebola evolving to an airborne form, and that Dembski has stated time and again that evolution does not exist, he is either totally off his rocker, or lying about something. Personally, i think Homeland Security should be investigating him for falsely reporting someone he knew not to be a threat. Either that or the Discovery Institute should revoke his fellowship for supporting evolution.

But then again, Dembski thinks the Bible Code is a supportive argument for ID. Doesn't he know it's been thoroughly debunked? Of course, if proof and logic were enough the persuade Dembski that an argument is false, he'd have quit ID by now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Food for Thought

A capetonian man peddling fake cures to the desperate and dying is due to stand trial for fraud in the United States. Now they just have to find him and drag his sorry ass over there. I wonder what the extradition laws are like in SA?

Stephen van Rooyen and his girlfriend defrauded people with life-threatening illnesses by offering them a fake 'cure'. They are facing a potential 20 years in jail each. They deserve life. The funny thing is, if they had committed this crime in SA instead of USA, they likely wouldn't even be prosecuted. And if they were, all they'd have to do is show that it was a 'traditional' remedy, and they'd be protected by the constitution. Some people say that South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. This is not always a good thing, where it would protect people like this.

In other health news, in response to consumers calling for labelling of GM foods in south africa (one of the few countries to actually use GM foods without whining like little girls about the patents), tests are to be undertaken by the University of the Free State to determine the safety of genetically modified foods. I predict they will find there is no difference between foods genetically modified in a lab and foods genetically modified in the greenhouse, except for speed and accuracy.

It's interesting that consumers are so worried about the chance of genetically modified soy creeping into soy products, but thoroughly welcome the introduction of pork genetically modified to be good for you. What this tells me is that it's the vegetarians doing the whining. I think it's time to reiterate my standpoint on vegetarians: eating them will solve a lot of problems.

And lastly, the Templeton Foundation spent $2million to fund a massive study on the effects of prayer on recovering patients. For those not in the know, the Templeton foundations spends a lot of money on scientists who are religious, or whose science contributes to (christian) religious beliefs (i was actually lectured by George Ellis who won a lot of money from the foundation for being a religious cosmologist). While they often do fund good science, their objectives are pretty obvious: give money to scientists for being religious. Anyway, Dr. Herbert Benson, the scientist leading this particular study, set out to prove that prayer could affect patients recovering from heart surgery. He didn't try to hide his hopes for the outcome - he has always been optimistic when it comes to the subject of prayer and religion, or the foundation would never have given him so much money.

So it's not only a triumph for science, but a triumph for him as a scientist, that the study found no effect whatsoever. None. In fact there may be indication that patients who knew they were being prayed for actually did worse. Why do i say this is a triumph for him as a scientist? Because he reported it. He did the best science he could, came out with what for him was a negative result, and still reported it faithfully and accurately. That's what real scientists do, ladies and gentlemen. They don't hide negative results, they don't fix studies to come out with the result they're looking for. They do good science.

Of course, there will be absolutely no change in the viewpoints of those who believe in the power of prayer. Nothing as simple as cold hard facts or proof can be expected to sway them, now can it?

Monday, April 10, 2006

More from the homeland

Zuma's rape trial is becoming the laughing stock of the century. Zuma, the former deputy president and former head of SA's National AIDS council, a man who has publicly stated on many ocassions that south africans have a responsibility to use condoms, has undone 15 years of AIDS education in a single bound. Zuma has claimed he had sex with a known-HIV positive woman without a condom, because his work with the AIDS council educated him as to how low the risk of infection was. Also, he had a shower afterwards.

Is he retarded? Seriously, is he?

Also, he says she must have wanted to have sex with him because she wore a skirt when she visited, and she'd never done that before.

Retarded. It's the only explanation.

One moment of actual levity in the trial was when Zuma took the stand. Kemp, Zuma's defence lawyer, asked him, "Mr Zuma, can you tell us whether you are circumcised or not?"

"I am circumcised," Zuma replied.

"Are you happy with that?" Van der Merwe (the Judge) asked De Beer (the lead prosecutor).

"Well, my lord," she said, "I certainly don't want to make an in loco examination."

In other news from the mother country, government is restricting sales of pornographic material to adult shops only. This in itself is not too bad. What's bizarre is the intended restriction of online sales too. And they're not just talking porn, they're also talking sex toys and 'performance enhancing' pills, the majority of which are obtained over the internet. Their claim is that they are doing it for the children, but surely internet sales have nothing to do with that? I mean, if a child is buying dildos online, (a) they are doing it on their parents' internet account without any kind of parental supervision and (b) are using their parents' credit cards to do it. How is this not the parents' fault? And must legitimate consumers and the industry be punished because people can't control their kids? And seriously, what parent doesn't notice a 10-inch black rubber cock arriving in the mail?

Stupidity abounding yet again.

back

Apologies for the non-existent updation over the last while - i was on leave, and my home is an internet-free zone. You must understand this is not by any choice of my own, and two weeks without internet have made me decide it is time to get me some broadband.

Well, after i get burglar bars on the front windows. That takes priority.

For non-South Africans who may be reading this, allow me to explain why getting broadband in this country is a big decision. Due to the complete monopoly held by the only fixed line operator in the country, Telcom, and due to the fact that Telcom is one third government owned, broadband in SA is 1000% more expensive than in other third world countries, and 2000% more expensive than in first world countries. It is also about a thousand times slower (1mbps vs 1gpbs) and capped (maximum 3gigs download a month is standard). So take what you would pay for a month of broadband service in the US or UK, and multiply that by 2000. That's what it costs to get it here, only slower, capped, and with shitty service to boot. So it's a pretty big financial decision to get broadband, and one that i've been umming and ahing about for a while now.

However, 2 weeks disconnected from the world has forced my hand.

I discovered a few interesting things while on vacation that i will briefly share with you now. I would have blogged about them in more detail at the time, but hah! no internet.

  • South Africa actually has a law that makes it a criminal act to declare someone to be a witch. Despite the law, thousands of people every year are branded as witches, their houses and possessions burned, and in a best case scenario they are driven out of their villages and ostracized forever more. In a worst case scenario, they and often their family and friends are brutally killed. Who said witch trials went out of fashion with the Inquisition? They seem to be alive and well in sunny SA.
  • According to my grandmother's domestic worker, the ANC arrived in the townships the day before the municipal elections with crates of food that were then handed out with rallies to vote for the ANC. We're talking 5kg bags of sugar, rice, maize meal... all paid for with party funds, i'm sure. No chance that tax money was used for that.
  • From the same source, i hear that with the DA in power in the cape for only a few weeks, the difference in the townships has been marked. Houses are being built (when the previous ANC mayorship claimed there was no money or space to build houses), streets are being repaired, traffic lights are working. Surprised? I'm not.

More when i think about it.