Saturday, November 24, 2007

Duh: It's A Cult!!! (Part I)

"I've never been able to understand advocates of homeopathy. I just have difficulty understanding how otherwise intelligent people can fall for the bad science, the logical fallacies, and the magical thinking necessary to believe that homeopathy is anything other than glorified water, an elaborate, ritualized placebo."
-- Orac, of the medical/science blog, Respectful Insolence.

Check it out, numbnuts:

Cult: Homeopathy

Founder or Leader: Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (photo)

True Believers and Followers: Melanie Hahnemann, Past and Present Practitioners

Popular Slogan: Similia Similibus Curentur

Mystery - Irrational Belief: Dynamization - Potentization

Pecuniary Interest: Selling "Medicines", Tuition for a fee

Got it?

Tell The Truth

"Homeopathy is a very insidious notion; it appears to be possibly beneficial at best, and innocuous at worst. It is neither. It is quackery in its most virulent form."
- James Randi

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Finally - It's Happening: The (Possible) Conviction Of An Australian Homeopath

Parents May Face Charges Over Baby Death

Charges may arise over the death of a baby who was treated by her parents with homeopathic remedies.

The NSW Coroner on Monday found there is sufficient evidence for the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider laying charges against the couple.

Gloria Thomas died in May 2002 in Sydney Children's Hospital of sepsis, or bacterial infections.

The nine-month-old, who was severely malnourished, had been suffering from such terrible eczema that much of her skin was split.

The inquest at Glebe Coroner's Court has been told the cracks in her skin caused the infant agonising pain and were a potential source of entry for the bacteria that killed her.

Parents Thomas Sam, a homeopath, and IT professional Manju Samuel treated her with homeopathic remedies rather than her prescribed medication.

State Coroner Mary Jerram terminated the inquest on Monday after finding there was a reasonable prospect the evidence presented to the inquiry could convince a jury to convict "a known person or persons of a serious crime".

Ms Jerram said the evidence showed the known person or persons caused Gloria's death and that their negligence warranted criminal punishment.

"In my view there is a prima facie case to consider and there is a reasonable prospect that a jury would convict," Ms Jerram said.

The coroner also recommended a central body be established for homeopaths in NSW with mandatory membership.

Ms Jerram said such a system would have multiple benefits for the public.

"I therefore recommend the NSW Department of Health consider introducing a mandatory system of registration for persons practising or wishing to practise homeopathy," Ms Jerram said.

The parents of the dead child were not present in court on Monday.

- From The Sydney Morning Herald

"Denial" Ain't A River In Egypt - It's A Conspiracy Of Lies

"Faced with the high odor of real perfidy, people unwilling to risk a break skew their perception of reality much more purposefully. One common way to do this is to recast clear moral breaches as foul-ups, stumbles or lapses in competence — because those are more tolerable, said Dr. Kim, of U.S.C. In effect, Dr. Kim said, people “reframe the ethical violation as a competence violation.”

She wasn’t cheating on him — she strayed. He didn’t hide the losses in the subprime mortgage unit for years — he miscalculated.

This active recasting of events, built on the same smaller-bore psychological tools of inattention and passive acknowledgment, is the point at which relationship repair can begin to shade into willful self-deception of the kind that takes on a life of its own. Everyone knows what this looks like: You can’t talk about the affair, and you can’t talk about not talking about it. Soon, you can’t talk about any subject that’s remotely related to it.

And the unstated social expectations out in the world often reinforce the conspiracy, no matter its source, said Eviatar Zerubavel, a sociologist at Rutgers and the author of “The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life.”

“Tact, decorum, politeness, taboo — they all limit what can be said in social domains,” he said. “I have never seen tact and taboo discussed in the same context, but one is just a hard version of the other, and it’s not clear where people draw the line between their private concerns and these social limits.”

In short, social mores often work to shrink the space in which a conspiracy of silence can be broken: not at work, not out here in public, not around the dinner table, not here. It takes an outside crisis to break the denial, and no one needs a psychological study to know how that ends."

From The New York Times.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Don't Forget: They'll Divorce You Too!!!

"With alternative therapists, when you point out a problem with the evidence, people don’t engage with you about it, or read and reference your work. They get into a huff. They refuse to answer calls or email queries. They wave their hands and mutter sciencey words such as “quantum” and “nano”. They accuse you of being a paid plant from some big pharma conspiracy. a problem with the evidence, They shout, “What about thalidomide, science boy?”, they cry, they call you names, they hold lectures at their trade fairs about how you are a dangerous doctor, they contact and harass your employer, they try to dig up dirt from your personal life, or they actually threaten you with violence (this has all happened to me, and I’m compiling a great collection of stories for a nice documentary, so do keep it coming)."

- From Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog.

Believe it or not, reading this made me miss my ex-wife, Karine Brunck, and my (former) friends. I've seen it all: divorce, arguments, whisper campaigns - you name it - and all in a defense of nonsense. Every one of them, more than willing to throw common sense, and morality (and me) to the side to cozy up with the out-and-out madness of their own feelings. (Which is really creepy, now that I think about it.)

"But", I can hear you saying, "You're so mean." To which I reply, I call nonsense "nonsense", or madness "madness", and if the shoe fits, wear it. That's not being mean but a clear indication you hate the dictionary:

Non·sense [non-sens]

Words or language having little or no sense or meaning.

Conduct, action, etc., that is senseless, foolish, or absurd.

Impudent, insubordinate, or otherwise objectionable behavior.

Something absurd or fatuous.

Anything of trifling importance or of little or no use.

Mad·ness [mad-nis]

The quality or condition of being insane.

Senseless folly

The quality of being rash and foolish

Don't blame me because you were raised to be a bunch of big New Age babies who can't handle words that apply to you. I even troubled myself to look up "mean" and here is what I found:

mean [meen]

Offensive, selfish, or unaccommodating; nasty; malicious.

Small-minded or ignoble.

Penurious, stingy, or miserly.

Inferior in grade, quality, or character.

Low in status, rank, or dignity: mean servitors.

Of little importance or consequence.

Unimposing or shabby.

Small, humiliated, or ashamed.

Informal. in poor physical condition.

Troublesome or vicious; bad-tempered.

Slang. skillful or impressive.

Now, except for the slang term (which is quite nice), I'd say that's a better description of what I, and Ben Goldacre, have recieved from others, than any description of my own actions or words. Am I capable of being pissed off? Of course. But not in defense of madness or nonsense - or my feelings - that's the domain of cultists, alone, and, historically (from Charlie Manson and Jim Jones to the new "Health Food Store" variety) they've all proven more than willing to be mean, vicious, selfish, small-minded, immoral bastards while doing it. Oh, they're such rebels!!

Oh well. Keep this in mind, assholes:

Your ignorant feelings will not protect you.

In The Land Of Make-Believe

"We've won the war in the real Iraq, but few people in America are familiar with anything other than its make-believe version."

- The Mudville Gazette's "Greyhawk," a soldier currently serving his second tour.

(Shout out to WFMU's Irwin Chusid for the links)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Heart Of A New Ager

“You lie about what happens. You mislead people. You haven’t taken advice.”

- Liz Moynihan, wife of the late Senator Patrick Moynihan (Hillary Clinton's extremely-ethical supposed-political mentor, whose Senate seat she now holds) to Hillary Clinton, as revealed in Sally Bedell Smith's new book, For Love of Politics (Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years). Above is a photo of Hillary, a supposed-Methodist, being "blessed by a shaman".


"Who were the mystical entities Hitler conversed with and took guidance from? Why was group meditation a part of Nazi protocol? Why were many TM/ New Age slogans (“established in Being, perform action,” for instance) also slogans of the Third Reich?

Total control and spiritual domination. The destruction of everything that makes life worth living. Creation imploding on itself, like a snake swallowing its tail. That actually is a symbol found in mystery schools, which were controlled by the gods.

It’s time to give up beads and mantras, chanting and bowing down to dirty feet. It’s time to fire the gurus, stand up and be the powerful, sublime individuals we are. It’s time to question the dogmas we swallowed whole from Vedic tradition and take a closer look at what is happening when we meditate.

It’s time to reclaim our birthright, our divinity and this Earth. Only we can do it, as the conscious beings we are. As Alice in Wonderland said, turning and facing the Red Queen’s army that was hot on her heels, “Pooh! You’re nothing but a pack of old cards.” That army toppled, turning into a heap of playing cards the moment the girl broke through her bad dream. Our controllers too will topple, and dragons will turn into geckos. It’s time to give up the cosmic illusion and de-hypnotize."
-- By Bronte Baxter, posted on the Transcendental Meditation Free blog.

Friday, November 16, 2007

No, no - This Is "Friendly" Fascism!!!

David Lynch is no stranger to weird confluences. But the U.S. filmmaker, known for such works as Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, failed to anticipate the reception his latest project got in Germany this week. Lynch, whose new-age beliefs are sometimes as quirky as his movies, is touring Europe to help establish a network of so-called "invincible universities" to teach the philosophy of transcendental meditation. The idea is to engender world peace. But at a meeting this week at a culture center in Berlin, Lynch triggered a less than peaceful exchange with German onlookers when Emanuel Schiffgens, his partner for establishing such a "university" in the German capital, suddenly veered into dangerous waters.

"We want an invincible Germany!" intoned Schiffgens, the self-styled Raja of Germany. The flap those words created, with their echoes of the Third Reich, reveals both the deadly seriousness with which Germans view their wartime past and the gulf separating Lynch's new-age agenda from that of some hard-bitten Berliners with a more historical mind-set.

"What do you mean by this concept of invincibility," asked an onlooker from the audience, made up mainly of film students with a smattering of meditation devotees. "An invincible Germany is a Germany that's invincible," replied a Delphic Schiffgens, who was dressed in a long white robe and gold crown. Adolf Hitler wanted that too!," shouted out one man. "Yes," countered Schiffgens. "But unfortunately he didn't succeed."
-- From TIME Magazine.

Lynch (who wants to build a New Age university on "Devil's Mountain" in Germany) went on to exhort the crowd, "Let's march boldly toward a bright and shining future!" Sigh.

Go on - Watch the horror show for yourselves:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Am I In The Eye Of The Storm?

It makes me feel weird (as a black guy who was married to a french white woman that fancies herself as a "Student of the Occult") to be doing what I'm doing and, then, notice this:

The New York Times has run two recent articles on the prevelence of race and the occult on television.

Here's the occult one:

And here's today's race one:

I'm just saying, feels weird.

How The Occult Works

“The more convoluted the explanation, the more unintelligible the practitioners are, the more people may be inclined to believe them. It makes it appear as though it is privileged knowledge, like real medicine and auto tech.”

- "Cerebralmum", commenting on the blog of the great Panda Bear, M.D..

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Ex Is From Arkansas!?! (Not Wissembourg, France*)

"The denizen of a mouldering single-wide trailer in Sisterboff, Arkansas sending money to an oily television preacher so Jesus can reveal the winning lottery numbers is philosophically no different than a fit, professional woman swallowing her homeopathic remedies. One has a faith in her dimly understood religion, the other in her poorly understood notion of science. Both are being played for suckers.

- The completely awesome Panda Bear, M.D.

If the last few posts haven't made the point clear, the noose on "alternative medicine" is tightening,...

*Apologies to the people of Arkansas: you're smarter than the french any day.

And We Have Another Winner: Dr. Sid Schwab

"Many years ago I watched, drop-jawed, the television commercial of a local chiropractor as he stood by a couch-full of young kids. Recommending monthly preventative adjustments for these four- to six-year-olds, he touted the obvious benefits: look how healthy they are. Not, he seemed to imply, a heart attack among them. Nary a stroke. Probably not even a case of colon cancer. And I wondered: is he stupid enough to believe or is he simply a cynical and dishonest charlatan? I got a partial answer a few months later when a woman arrived in the emergency department, acutely paraplegic. Her chiropractor had continued manipulating her increasing and unresponsive back pain until she became paralyzed. The "doctor" must have known about her history of breast cancer, because he was also her husband.

Until that time, because the theory behind chiropractic is so obviously loony, I'd assumed practitioners all knew it and were simply crooks who'd found a surefire way to separate the credulous from their money. (And yes, I acknowledge that manipulation has a place in certain specific anatomic disorders of the back itself. But using it to treat or prevent systemic disease is nothing but laughable. Except that it's not funny.) Stupid, careless, lacking judgment: yes, the man must have been all that. But unless he hated his wife, I had to conclude he believed in what he was doing.

I still haven't figured it out, and I'm sure I never will. Of what do the cerebral lacunae consist in these people? How can (some) otherwise intelligent people (givers and takers) become convinced of the efficacy of whatever woo they wish? Is truth just too hard to take? At some primordial level, is it just that we need to believe in silly stuff? What is it about humankind that pines for magic, for simplicity, for answers that pave over the painful? Why isn't inquisitiveness universal; doesn't skepticism confer survival benefit? Or would we all be jumping off cliffs if we didn't have mythology? Maybe that's it. Maybe too many skeptics have already jumped.

The frailty, the neediness of the human brain, when stacked against the obvious power of it -- the ability to create, to invent, to inquire -- is a probative paradox. It may be a stretch to write my way from anger about alternatives and chafing at chiropractic, to the death of skeptics and skepticism, but in my mind it's of a piece. I have a friend, a brilliant physician and much more of a scientist than most, who tells me he knows, based on his particular faith, exactly into which level of heaven he will enter; as if he's already done a mapquest search and downloaded the directions. Given that there are about six billion people on the planet who believe something else, and with just as much certainty, I find it amazing. And revelatory. It's a need. It's built in. It's human.

My conclusion is that the desire to believe in certain unprovable things at one time was good for us: when the dangers in the world were mostly external -- volcanoes and saber-tooth tigers -- and the need to organize and stay together was clear, supernatural beliefs were of obvious benefit. And now, as society has gotten impossibly complex, and the dangers are mostly human-generated, it's become a detriment. Rather than helping mankind to cleave together and help one another, magical beliefs -- whether on couches or in the clouds -- are causing us to fall upon one another in hate, in fear, in the unreason that comes from a mind blown by the awful realities we have brought upon ourselves.

Magical thinking is who we are, I guess. If it were only that it serves to enrich some at the expense of others, maybe even make some people feel better, what the hell. If they're only hurting themselves, or the willingly deceived, should I let it go? But they are hurting people, and it's pretty clear that eventually it will hurt me."
-- By Dr. Sid Schwab

There's The 'C' Word Again,...And I Don't Mean Clinton

Queen Hillary's Disruptive Court

The press corps finally wakes up to her waffling and evasions. By Camille Paglia (on Salon)

Nov. 14, 2007 | The mainstream media have been in a breathless tizzy about how Hillary Clinton waffled, tripped, stumbled or generally screwed up at the Democratic debate in Philadelphia two weeks ago.

But Hillary's performance at prior debates was never as deft or "flawless" as the media claimed in the first place. Conventional wisdom has now flipped, and the air-headed lemmings of our free press have turned on a dime and are stampeding in the opposite direction. This is the same crew who passively swallowed administration propaganda about the urgency of an invasion of Iraq. Don't ask for critical acumen from this lot.

Hillary's stonewalling evasions and mercurial, soulless self-positionings have been going on since her first run for the U.S. Senate from New York, a state she had never lived in and knew virtually nothing about. The liberal Northeastern media were criminally complicit in enabling her queenlike, content-free "listening tour," where she took no hard questions and where her staff and security people (including her government-supplied Secret Service detail) staged events stocked with vetted sympathizers, and where they ensured that no protesters would ever come within camera range.

That compulsive micromanagement, ultimately emanating from Hillary herself, has come back to haunt her in her dismaying inability to field complex unscripted questions in a public forum. The presidential sweepstakes are too harsh an arena for tenderfoot novices. Hillary's much-vaunted "experience" has evidently not extended to the dynamic give-and-take of authentic debate. The mild challenges she has faced would be pitiful indeed by British standards, which favor a caustic style of witty put-downs that draw applause and gales of laughter in the House of Commons. Women had better toughen up if they aspire to be commander in chief.

Whether John Edwards or Barack Obama (toward whom I'm currently leaning) has conclusively demonstrated his superiority for the top of the ticket remains to be seen. They may unfortunately split the anti-Hillary vote (a majority of registered Democrats) so that she slips through. If Hillary is the Democratic nominee, I will certainly vote for her. But I continue to find it hard to believe that my party truly craves that long nightmare of déjà vu -- with scandal after scandal disgorged and an endless train of abused women returning from Bill Clinton's sordid, anti-feminist past.

An amusing video (posted by Matt Drudge) shows a row of American flags chaotically tumbling down behind and almost on top of Hillary last weekend--hardly an auspicious omen for Veterans Day. I like the way Hillary uses her flat, practical, real-life voice to admonish the event organizers about properly weighting the poles. A plus is a glimpse of Hillary's top aide, the elegant Huma Abedin, wielding one of her formidable designer handbags:

Aside from the stylish Huma, there's definitely something weird and cultish in the sycophantish cathexis onto Hillary of the many nerds, geeks and vengeful viragos who run her campaign -- sometimes to her detriment, as with the recent ham-handed playing of the clichéd gender card. I suspect the latter dumb move, which has backfired badly, came from Ann Lewis (Barney Frank's sister), a fanatical Hillary true believer who has been spouting beatific feminist bromides about her for the past 15 years. (The transcript of my tangle with Lewis about Hillary on CNN's "Crossfire" in 1994 is reprinted in my second essay collection.) Hillary seems to have acolytes rather than friends -- hardly a reassuring trait for a potential president whose paranoia has already been called Nixonian. Isolated monarchs never hear the bad news until the people riot and the lynch mob is at the door.

The Macho Response: Dr. Graham Sharpe Throws Down The Gauntlet ("Fascism It Is")

Pseudoscience and Quackery in New Zealand by Dr. Graham Sharpe

I will start by posing a question.

The question is:

What do you get of you cross a reflexologist with an iridologist?

You are required to to answer this by the end of this address.

Another question.

What exactly do you expect of me?

Or, to put it another way

Why ask me to give this presentation?

My views on alternative medicine are, I think, reasonably well known. Especially amongst my colleagues and friends. My opinions on this matter have at times got me into trouble, but usually only with politicians, quacks and other irrelevants – the usual suspects – but I’m not too worried about that.

Leona Wilson has, at a Medico Legal Society meeting, described my views as “somewhat opinionated” but she is quite wrong – and she knows it. My views are not somewhat opinionated at all.

My views are highly opinionated. And I make absolutely no apology for this.

Any view on this is by definition opinionated, because the whole field of alternative medicine requires an opinionated approach. It cannot be rationally debated because it is anecdotal opinion.

Not science. Not even medicine. But opinion, pure and simple.

So there can be no debate, no discussion, no engagement unless there is acknowledgement that alternative medicine is purely opinion, conjecture, supposition, assumption.

Alternative medicine does not even fit into the theme of our meeting, "Facts Fads and Folklore."

We would have to entitle it, "Fallacies, Fads and Folklore."

Yes it is fallacious, based on folklore, and is very faddish in its nature, but is extremely short on facts.

Calls for us to some how engage with this are growing, and such calls lead me to my view – alright my strongly opinionated – views. The growing popularity of alternative medicine has to be faced, and confronted. Dealt with, or should I say dealt to?

Dealing with alternative medicine means rigorously testing its claims.

Dealing with alternative medicine means exposing its scams, frauds, pseudoscience, delusion, and its shear muddle headed thinking.

Dealing with does not mean a softly softly, co-operative approach. It is not our ethical duty to trade with snake oil purveyors!

But before we go any further, let’s just digress and deal with some terminology.

The medicine which we practice is called a number of different things- particularly by our opponents

Conventional medicine

Western medicine

Traditional medicine

Allopathic medicine.

I contend that we should take back the terminology that is rightfully ours and say we practice medicine.

There is nothing conventional or traditional about modern medicine – it is continually evolving. Nor is it peculiarly western as such – that would deny the historical influence of, for instance, the great Arab physicians who were world leaders in medicine during the European dark ages.

Medicine is a system of healing and alleviating suffering based on scientific study, with definitions of disease and intervention, defined outcomes, appropriate analysis and, most importantly, with confirmation and replication of results by independent researchers. We may not meet all these requirements all of the time, but we strive to.

We can add extra words if we wish – scientific medicine or perhaps better scientifically based medicine. Or even evidence based medicine. But let’s for heaven’s sakes stop pussy footing around, and stand up for what we do.

We practice medicine.

Therefore there is no such thing as alternative medicine. Let’s be clear about that. There is medicine, and there are alternatives to medicine. Treatments are either medical or they are not. Alternative medicine is oxymoronic.

Why not alternative pathology or alternative psychiatry? Or alternative anaesthesia? Alternative surgery raises some interesting possibilities.

Do we accept alternative physics or mathematics? Should we have an alternative value of Pi? This actually happened in the United States in 1897 when Indiana legislated that Pi was to have a value of four, rather than pesky three point something long and complicated. Of course alternative maths leads to alternative engineering. Try building a bridge or a jet engine with Pi valued as four. Interesting thought!

Complementary medicine is similarly not valid or precise enough to be used. It is pure and simply a brand name, nothing else.

So for the purposes of this talk I will use the term “So Called Alternative Medicine” or SCAM for the sake of brevity.

How will I refer to SCAM practitioners?

To call them fraudsters invites a libel suit – and believe me they are very keen on that sort of thing. In the name of open debate you understand of course.

Calling them fraudsters also implies criminality – deliberate intention to mislead and exploit.

I actually do not think this is the case. SCAM practitioners on the whole do not knowingly mislead or dupe people. They genuinely believe in what they are doing – they are not fraudulent, nor are they classical charlatans. They are merely misguided, or perhaps deluded.

So for the purposes of this talk I will use the less value laden term “Quacks”.

Having established the terminology, we can look at SCAM in a broad sense. It now encompasses such a wide range of activities an all encompassing view is difficult, or even impossible. Also, SCAM permeates not just medical life, but political and social life as well. It gradually infiltrates mainstream society, in a manner mysterious to many of us. How is this happening?

There has always been interest in SCAM, but as we defeat the great medical scourges of the past, especially the infectious diseases, as we make life longer and more comfortable than ever before – and if you don’t believe me visit any older cemetery and see the graves of children killed by diphtheria, of mothers killed in child birth, of working men killed by occupational disease – as we make inroads into these scourges we observe a rise in a post modern reaction to science and technology.

This is resulting in a distrust of science and the scientific method. And such reaction displays a complete and profound misunderstanding of what science is.

Science is a way of thinking, a way of looking at the world, a way of interpreting what we observe and experience.

Brecht put it quite nicely:

“The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom but to set a limit to infinite error.”

For Karl Popper, what demarcates science is not support of theories by observation, but that theories are open to observational and empirical criticism and refutation, and that efforts are made to falsify the theory. So for Popper the only theories worth considering are those that can be falsified, and therefore are testable.

This is highly relevant in alternative medicine. The theory that all health is centred on the spine – the basis of classical chiropractic – is not falsifiable, so is not testable. Similarly the homoeopathic theory that “like cures like”. Unfalsifiable, therefore untestable.

Contrast this with medicine.

Penicillin kills streptococci in vitro and in vivo.

Insulin lowers blood sugar.

Falsifiable. Testable. Tested severely and found to be valid. Contrast that with the vast majority of alternative medicine claims!

Of course science is a human construct, and because it is human errors will be made.

Quacks point to such errors, or mistakes, such as the thalidomide disaster, as evidence of their own efficacy. But this is illogical. Medical mistakes, or iatrogenic medicine, do not of themselves give any validity to SCAM.

A better approach is

“If SCAM is the answer, what exactly is the question?” for this question demonstrates what we are up against. Was it Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” who said “first know thine enemy”?

SCAM now covers such a wide variety of claims – many of them contradictory and mutually exclusive – that a response is of necessity fractionated. And of course this is the divide and rule doctrine, for a fractionated response is a weak response. Hence our growing difficulty in countering SCAM.

Also, the multitude of claims allows a continual shifting of the goalposts, for example “Well you may have a point about homoeopathy but what about iridology etc etc.”

What we can and should meet head on are the common characteristics of SCAM. And I wish to deal with some of these. These are very much my own views, but if I have inadvertently plagiarised from others, I apologise.

These similar concepts usually end in the letters I S M. Isms. I call them the “Isms of SCAM.” Actually that would make a great movie title for George Lucas “Star Wars 172 – the Isms of SCAM.” My copyright George. All cheques to me thanks.

Some of these Isms are, I confess, somewhat contrived but they are good fun.

So, “The Isms of SCAM.


Many SCAMs cling to this ancient concept. Life, particularly human life, relies on some unseen force, some vital energy. This force is totally unknown to physics, chemistry or biology. It remains totally unproven, and there is no rational reason to suppose it exists.

Vitalism is often expressed in terms of auras or energies,
or the chi of acupuncture and traditional Chinese Medicine. It is a basic necessity of homoeopathy, therapeutic touch and some forms of massage.

Vitalism may be expressed in a religious concept – the breath of life for instance. But SCAM claims to be science, not religion.


And I don’t mean “Naturalism” - frolicking around naked. I mean the view, childish view, that because something is natural it is good, or better than un-natural drugs and surgery. Vitamins are good because they are natural. Arnica is natural, therefore it is good. Digoxin is drug and must be bad, but fox glove tea is natural so is good. Similarly aspirin and willow bark extract.

OK so syphilis is natural. So is cancer, malaria. Even uranium.

The “natural” argument is spurious, and can safely be disregarded.


The belief that there was once a golden age of health and vitality that has been ruined by modern medicine, and modern life itself. People were happier and healthier, life was kinder. There was hardly any cancer. People lived to ripe old ages. And doctors were nice people who sat by the bedside and did not charge money.

This golden era never existed. Again, visit an old cemetery. And think of life without, well, anaesthesia. Without modern dentistry. Without antibiotics.

This romantic view of the medical past is particularly evident in support for Traditional Chinese Medicine or Aruveydic medicine, an ancient Indian tradition. It also looks to ancient cultures such as that of the North American Native peoples, or even Atlantis.


Many popular SCAMs have been started by an individual who has had some blinding thought or revelation. A Eureka moment.

Hahnemann and homoeopathy, Palmer and chiropractic, Peczely and iridology, Fitzgerald and reflexology, Bach and flower remedies. Or a more recent example Andrew Weil and stoned thinking.

Some essential truth has been revealed to an individual. Not by a rational process of inquiry and investigation, but by some sort of quasi religious or spiritual experience.

This results in what can reasonably be referred to as a cult, rather than a scientifically proven method of medicine.

Of course there have been Eureka moments in medicine, but the difference is that they are investigated by clinical trials or scientific experiments. Medical Eureka moments often fail when properly tested, and are then discarded. But sometimes, such as Fleming and penicillium mould on his agar plates, they are valid and new and exciting. But they stand up to scrutiny- proper scrutiny.

Post Modernism.

I accept my use of this term may not strictly accurate, as it arises out of architecture and sociology rather than science, but it is used to describe the thinking that we have moved past science, into a New Age. This thinking is gobbledygook, best demonstrated by a quote.

In his book, Supernature, Lyall Watson says the following:

Science no longer holds any absolute truths. Even the discipline of physics, whose laws were once went unchallenged, has had to submit to the indignity of the Uncertainty Principle. In this climate of disbelief, we have begun to doubt even fundamental propositions, and the old distinction between natural and supernatural has become meaningless.

Let’s just dissect this a bit.

No absolute truths? Here’s one – light travels faster than sound. This is true, and therefore an absolute. Discovered and proven by science.

What about a medical one. Oxygen is essential for human survival. Nothing relative about that. No oxygen, humans perish.

Post modern thinking leads to another ism:


This view holds that any point of view is just as valid as any other, or as Prince Charles calls it “Other ways of knowing”. This holds that if some one thinks something, that thought is as valid as any other. So if some one thinks homoeopathy cured their dog’s shingles, it did. Any view point is valid, and this is used to defend SCAM, and particularly to defend its use in public hospitals at public expense.

The basic flaw in this argument can be met with an example. Everyone used to think the sun revolved around the earth. Does this make the theory true? Or did the sun revolve around the earth when everyone thought it did, and has the earth started revolving around the sun because that is what we now think happens?

The relativism defence of SCAM more often than not ends with the statement that “everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

Well let’s just dissect that a little further.

I am an enthusiastic democrat. Democracy has many flaws, but no better system has yet been found. In a democracy, you have to tolerate opinions that differ from yours.

That does not mean however, that an opinion is as valid as any other. Nor does it mean that everyone is entitled to their opinion. To take an extreme example, some people have been of the opinion that Jewish people are vermin who should be exterminated. Are they entitled to that opinion? No. We now accept that opinion is dangerous and wrong. Some opinions are obnoxious, and are not deserving of tolerance.

This leads to my next ism


This is a psychological term which refers to a confusion between cause and effect. For instance do we cry because we are sad, or are we sad because we are crying?

Also, epiphenomenalism is, for me, a new word, and even if I have not used it correctly in the strict sense, I was determined to include it some where!

Confusion about cause and effect is a basic feature of SCAM. Homoeopathy and dog’s shingles again. And this results in another ism of SCAM. Anecdotalism. All SCAM relies heavily if not totally on anecdotes to support its claims. Watch late night TV or look in a women’s magazine. Plenty of stories about coffee enemas curing cancer or ear candling curing autism.

This demonstrates a common logical fallacy. If A follows B, B must have caused A.

So if SCAM A is used and illness B is cured, SCAM A cured it.

Well why do people recover from most illnesses? Or why does SCAM appear to work?

Placebo. Especially in treatment of pain.

Cyclical disease. Popular with quacks. Many illnesses wax and wane with or without treatment.

Misdiagnosis. Or non diagnosis. Again popular with quacks, especially when given in terms of “weakness”. Weak liver. Weak immune system.

Psychosomatic Illness. The worried well, characteristic of modern Western life, and a great source of income for Quacks.

Spontaneous Remission. Even cancers occasionally remit with no obvious explanation.

Time. The great healer. A cold last seven days, unless you use homoeopathy, and then it will last only a week.

Considering the effects of SCAM in such a way is applying Occam’s razor. Seek the easiest explanation. If you hear hoof beats in the night, assume it is more likely to be a horse than a zebra.

Annecdotalism reveals itself in another way in SCAM circles. And this is reference to published material. Every so often a study is published in a leading medical or scientific journal which apparently supports a SCAM modality. These are few and far between, and of course are seldom if ever replicated by further studies. But the SCAM community shouts them to the roof tops.

Of course much material is published in SCAM’s own literature, but these are not credible scientific journals. They are better thought of as comics, but comics lacking in artistic or comedic merit.


By this I mean the use of so called celebrities to endorse SCAM.

Some of these should know better.

The late Linus Pauling – a double Nobel Prize winner no less – gave credence to spurious and wildly unlikely claims about vitamin C by his endorsement. This was given with no scientific evidence. He published a single observational paper but not one controlled trial. Not one. His claims that mega doses of vitamin C would prevent the flu or the cold, or even help cure cancer, remain totally unproven. At best vitamin C supplements may, and I emphasise may, reduce cold symptoms to some minor degree.

Linus Pauling aside, celebrities who endorse SCAM tend to be people with too much time on their hands, too much money, and not exactly noted for their intelligence. You know, film stars, rock stars, royalty. Whether it’s Prince Charles and homoeopathy, or Linda McCartney endorsing alternative cancer therapy, or Jerry Hall and her opposition to unnatural medicines, they can be, and should be, safely ignored.

The other problem with iconism is that if fellow travellers are a support for SCAM, less savoury fellow travelers must also be considered.

That well known vegetarian, non smoking, teetotaller, animal rights lover Adolf Hitler was an enthusiastic supporter of homoeopathy. He was also very keen on the weird anthroposophical medicine of Rudolf Steiner. I hasten to add that this does not make Steiner a Nazi – he died in 1925 and as far as I know he was not a Nazi or an anti-Semite.

I have struggled to find an ism for my next feature. But I can’t.

Fantastic Claims.

The basic claims of SCAM are simply fantastic.

Homoeopathy relies on serial dilutions of chemicals to the point where none of the ingredient is left. Dilutions of one in a hundred, done 125 times. A little simple maths shows this claim to be truly fantastic. Cosmologists estimate there are ten to the power of eighty molecules in the universe. So ten to the power of minus 125 is a stupendous number.

Iridology claims the iris reflects the health of all organs in the body. Another fantastic claim.

Similarly reflexology – the foot reflects the body.

Therapeutic Touch claims we can treat patients by not touching them, thereby manipulating the body’s auras or energy fields. A fantastic claim, refuted soundly by a nine year old girl Emily Rosa, who showed therapeutic touchers cannot detect energy fields, therefore how can they manipulate them.

Let’s consider an extraordinary claim from the world of alternative psychiatry.

It is claimed that a major cause of psychiatric illness is kidnap by aliens, often accompanied by medical experiments. Supporters of this claim say that as many as 3% of Americans have been kidnapped by aliens, all in great secret of course. There are about 250 million people in the States, so 3% means 7.5 million abductees, all since 1947. 125,000 abductions a year – or 2,400 a week – or 340 a day, 15 each and every hour. For 60 years. Don’t you think it might just be noticed by the authorities – even in the US?

The appropriate response to extraordinary claims is this:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.


The claimant is required to supply the evidence.

SCAM meets neither of these requirements. In particular the fantastic claims of homoeopathy, ear candling, colonic irrigation, reflexology, iridology, therapeutic touch remain totally unproven. The basic claims of chiropractic and osteopathy remain unproven.

Of course medicine has made some fantastic claims in the past, and some of these have not held up under scrutiny so have been discarded. Other fantastic claims have been tested, often repeatedly, and have stood up to that scrutiny.

Let’s just consider one example.

The claim that a patient can be rendered unconscious by drugs, kept alive and insensible to the severe pain of a surgical operation, and then recovered to full consciousness remains a truly fantastic claim. But that is what medical anaesthesia is, and after 150 years continues to be, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the ongoing scrutiny this area of medicine is repeatedly subjected to.

This of course is an example of the inherent self criticism of medicine. Everything is up for comment, scrutiny and research.

Contrast this with SCAM, where there is no attempt to challenge the underlying claims on which it rests.


By this I mean the misuse of scientific terminology and science itself, so characteristic of SCAM. For example the reference to the Uncertainty Principle I referred to earlier. This is also popular with the likes of Deepak Chopra, who uses the principles of quantum mechanics to describe human relationships and other aspects of his particular SCAM. Quantum physics is a theory about sub atomic particles, and the uncertainty principle refers to the spin or trajectory of such particles. Applying quantum mechanics in such an erroneous way is just one example of the pseudoscience of SCAM. There are plenty of others.


The SCAM industry is large and growing. Proponents of SCAM use this commercial success as validation of SCAM, but it is not a valid argument – the Spice Girls were very popular but that does not validate their music. The Nazis were popular, so was eating whale meat.

Popularity does not of itself validate SCAM, and the huge commercial interests in SCAM are not of themselves proof of its efficacy.

Commercialism is a criticism often leveled at medicine by Quacks, particularly regarding the drug industry, but they are no longer immune from that criticism themselves. It is ironic that they use commercial success as validation of SCAM, but as an attack on medicine.

I was going to use the term fascism as my last Ism of SCAM, but it does conjure up emotional images that may not be appropriate. But I have not come up with a better term so

Fascism it is.

I do not mean that SCAM quacks go about rounding up people and executing them. Fascism in this context means the use of legal and political avenues to prevent your opponents from speaking out.

I appeared before the Select Committee on Government and Finance as it considered the Trans Tasman Therapeutic Goods Agreement. During my meeting with the Select Committee I was asked what I thought of homoeopathy. After trying to evade the question, as I thought it irrelevant, I told them exactly what I thought of homoeopathy. The response to my comments by the NZ Council of Homoeopathy was telling. I was attacked for being unprincipled and ignorant – i.e. attack the messenger and try and shut him up. This is a classic fascist tactic. Not infrequently in the past I have received veiled threats – not that’s inaccurate – they weren’t veiled at all – overt threats to sue me for libeling SCAMs. Steve Barrett, who founded the National Council Against Health Fraud, has been sued six times always unsuccessfully – he has successfully countersued twice. Such use of the law to silence their opponents is not infrequent and that is what I mean by fascism.

What we are facing is a loss of confidence in medicine. We are perhaps not meeting the needs of patients, but what are these unmet needs? I don’t know, but perhaps SCAM is filling a gap. Do we spend enough time with our patients? Have we lost our humanity and empathy? How many of us touch our patients – appropriately of course.

I believe much of the rise of SCAM reflects badly on us. And we should attend to such matters ourselves.

We can always improve our profession. But the failings of medicine are not of themselves a validation of SCAM.

There are many alternatives to medicine that no doubt provide comfort and succor to ill patients and to their families. Music, pleasant surroundings, fresh air, massage. Some patients derive great help from prayer or mediation or other religious practices. But these are not medicine or alternative medicine.

What do I think should be done about SCAM?

Perhaps surprisingly – not a lot.

Despite all my previous comments, I regard SCAMs and quacks as basically harmless.

But there are some exceptions to this. One area of great concern to me is opposition to vaccination. This is popular amongst many quacks and must be resisted and attacked. Even worse is the pedaling of alternative homoeopathic vaccines by some quacks. This is potentially dangerous, from an individual patient and from a public health point of view.

The opposition to vaccination reveals much about the potential dangers of accepting SCAM at face value, and not challenging it. The CDC in Atlanta voted vaccination as the health intervention with the most benefit for the least risk. Exciting new areas are opening with vaccination – for example the vaccine against strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer – what a fantastic advance, and how disgraceful the opposition from those who say it will encourage early sexual encounters! Other vaccines on the horizon include one against malaria. This has the potential to help save millions of people from misery and early death. Where is SCAM’s involvement in such advances? Nowhere! Except opposition to vaccination.

Similarly opposition to public health measures such as fluoridation of water supplies or addition of iodine to salt or other foods must be resisted. Other potential dangers include the denial of medical care to children, and have we not seen some tragic cases of this in New Zealand. One thing that has fascinated, and appalled, me about such cases is that if Jehovah’s Witness parents refuse a necessary blood transfusion for a child, the courts will intervene promptly, as they should. But if parents refuse medical care on the grounds that they will instead use SCAM, the child’s doctors become the villains, and the press side with the parents and turn the whole matter into a media debate rather than a legal one.

Let’s be clear about this.

Children requiring medical care deserve the protection of the state and the authorities if their parents or guardians refuse to allow that care. We, the state, society and the medical profession, we all have a duty to intervene where patients cannot advocate for themselves, and let’s stop pussy footing around in the name of parents’ rights to access alternative care.

How should we as anaesthetists react if our own patients want to include some from of SCAM in their anaesthetic care? Well usually it is something harmless like that well known load of total bullshit called arnica. I don’t get too worried if patients wish to take it. But I absolutely refuse to administer such nostrums during an anaesthetic, as I have been asked to do. A small number of herbal medicines may be harmful peri-operatively, but so long as we are aware of these and take steps to avoid their use by operative patients, that is about as far as we need go.

So just in case I have not made myself quite clear about this, you may have been left with the impression that SCAM and quacks get right up my nose. Well what really gets up my nose is this.

We practice in a time when medicine has to more and more justify its position, provide appropriate evidence and admit mistakes and errors. I have no problem with any of this. That is how we should practice. We may not always get it right, but those are laudable goals for us to continually strive for. But at this time, when so much justification is required of medicine, we see SCAM and quacks being given essentially a free ride, by the media by politicians by the ministry and by the public and sadly by some of our own. And that is what really gets up my nose about SCAM in all is glorious variety of quacks and quackery.

The best form of defence is attack, but that should basically be with humour and education, not the courts and legislation.

However, I object to taxes being wasted on SCAM. If people want it they can pay for it.

Similarly I object to calls for us to engage with SCAM. This basically an invitation to dance in the theatre of the absurd, and we must resist it. I go further. I believe it is unethical to get involved with the fatuous nonsense spouted in the name of SCAM. We should oppose such moves loudly and frequently.

Education is I think the key here, but I despair at the scientific illiteracy displayed in much of the SCAM debate. The education system lacks the facility or ability to teach young people critical thinking or logic. I believe these should be core subjects at secondary school, along with science, mathematics, English, history, other languages, geography, art, physical education, music and so on. If we are to develop a knowledge based economy, surely we cannot do so in a climate of scientific, mathematical and literary illiteracy so common in the SCAM debate.

What we must do is answer the question I first posed.

What do you get if you cross a reflexologist and an iridologist?

Some one who diagnoses what’s wrong with your feet by looking at your eyes, and what’s wrong with your eyes by looking at your feet.

So we must speak up.

Our prostration in this debate is appalling. What are we so afraid of?

The saying “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is the silence of good men” is often attributed to Edmund Burke.

If I can finish by slightly altering that aphorism:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of alternative medicine is the silence of the medical profession”

Please take that as a challenge from me to all of you.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Read This - Now - Click The Link: THAT'S My Life

People think I spend a lot of time blogging, which is silly. I blog when I have the time. What I spend a lot of time doing online is reading. And not about cults and stuff. I write about what I find on that when maybe I come across something interesting, or when it references a thought I've had about it. But, usually, when I find a cult article, I'll just quickly bookmark it, hopefully, to put it somewhere appropriate later when I have the time. And then I go back to reading about bruxism or something.

But, if I want to, there is a lot of good writing on what I think of as cultish-thinking; just focusing on specific aspects of it, rarely completing the puzzle, or just admitting it, like, say, Panda Bear, M.D. (I'm not sure, but I think being from Greece might give him some insight that doctors and scientists, here, haven't grappled with yet. I think my trips to Europe did for me.) Still, having others parse the subject of cults - even if they don't call it that - has been of immense help to me; improving my knowledge on the "second-hand self-help" thing, and, especially, just for fullfilling my love for the written word.

For instance, just to show you how it goes, I'd been thinking about when I read Salon's very un-cultish description of this new TV show, "Aliens In America" (above) that features a Pakistani kid "perplexed by the immorality and shallowness" of the Americans around him while "truly, deeply confused at the sorts of ethical lapses that most American kids take for granted as the dog-eat-dog flavor of high school life", asking "How can he navigate this strange and confusing world that he's landed in?"

Now, funny as the show may be, I'm not really concerned about how Raja will "navigate this strange and confusing world that he's landed in" but how I - me, an American - live with the "ethical lapses" I've had to navigate - like what I'll call The Oprah Spirit - that I later found was perfectly captured by Steve Salerno (Author of SHAM) in "The Sociopath's Guide to the Universe. Part 2. :

The true genius of the new spirituality was that it gave each person license to be his own Pope, free to redefine right and wrong as expedient, free to blow off the very idea of conscience. And let’s face it, if you already know that your beliefs and behaviors are inconsistent with the demanding edicts of most formal religions...isn't it so much neater to just declare yourself "spiritual" and not have anyone to answer to?

Yea, isn't it?

In a related vein, there's an interesting discussion on Orac's blog about the history of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) surviving alongside real medicine, since (as Panda Bear noted) it can't survive on it's own. Orac titled it Selective Pressures and the Evolution of Alternative Medicine:

There actually is no "fossil record" of discontinued CAM methods and therapies. The reason is simple: CAM does not abandon its methods, regardless of evidence and, to a large degree, regardless of harm. Yes, individual treatment modalities may wax and wane in popularity, but they never go away completely. They never go extinct. Think about it a bit. Can you think of a single "alternative medicine" treatment modality that's ever been abandoned because it either doesn't work, is too harmful, or has been co-opted by conventional medicine. I can't. CAM is, in the words of James Randi, an "unsinkable rubber duck." It just won't disappear,...homeopathy, for example, has persisted 200 years despite no evidence for its efficacy. Aryuvedic medicine has persisted at least a couple of millennia, despite a similar lack of evidence. Ditto traditional Chinese medicine. Never mind that these systems were developed in a time when very little was known about how the body actually works and are infused with spiritual and religious beliefs. They are still used my many millions, if not billions, of people worldwide. They have left no "fossils." Of course, as in evolution in biology, this selection, applied over long periods of time, may ultimately eliminate such modalities, but if I were somehow able to call the Doctor to give me a ride in his TARDIS a couple of hundred years in the future, I bet that virtually all of these CAM modalities would still be in use.

Interesting stuff. The second half - where Orac discovers that CAM is a medical parasite (which sounds about right) - is even more so. But I've got to get out of here. Go read 'em yourself,...I'll get back to this when I've "got some time". I'm too busy not-checking-out jaw-dropping parasites like the one below. As someone once said, "The stupid - it burns!":

Everything Is (NOT) A Cult

"While many of these alternative medicine gurus say a lot of weird stuff does that mean it’s wrong? Many medicines we have now are derived from natural sources like plants. I mean who would’ve thought that we can treat diseases with fungus? If that’s the case then wouldn’t it also be possible that some of the “crazy potions” actually have value to them? Of course science detests anything from these shamans yet it’s a possibility that only the ignorant would cast off.

We can find treatments to diseases in strange places. I’m actually working in a lab right now and we’re studying the effects of cinnamon on the large conduit arteries of male wistar rats. We’ve found that licorice administered in vitro causes vasodilation! Right now we believe licorice acts through nitric oxide synthase in the endothelium.

(Uh, the point being that you’re studying it. If it doesn’t pan out you will shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well, guess we were wrong about that one,” not form the Cult of Cinnamon Therapy and defend it from all infidels.-PB)"

- From the comments section of Panda Bear, M.D.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've become a big fan of Panda Bear, M.D.'s medical blog, and the exchange, above, is an obvious reason why:

1) He talks straight, like a human being, with no BS.

2) He doesn't suffer fools gladly.

3) He's not afraid to call a cult a "cult".

And notice the distinction he makes about the behavior of others - that not everyone decides to form a cult around a particular idea. This has been an argument I've heard from many people ("Everything is a cult") and I've always thought it was one of the most bullshit answers I've come across.

"Everybody" doesn't do this. Only "close-minded" people get to the point of being cultish around an idea - like the suggested good in being "open-minded" to all things - just as I've become, completely and openly, close-minded to the idea there's any worth in cultish-thinking. I'm an "open-minded" person, but I've circled the wagons on this one.

Believe it or not, I wasn't always this way. (You might get some argument on that point but, hell, I'm an atheist who, for 20 years, was married to a woman who went to church, attended Reiki "meetings" - eventually claiming she could walk through walls - believed in U.F.O.s, and continued to throw every other manner of New Age nonsense available, that her psychic "guides" could think of, at me. Without my awareness, of course. And there I am, above, smiling with an actual frenchman - in France of all places!) But - while I'm sure most people don't know what it's like to endure being in love with someone who is functionally crazy - that's proof enough, for me, that (at the very least) despite my biases, I was a "tolerant" fellow before my divorce. Just not anymore.

Now I can see that people form cults around all kinds of things, but they just don't call it that. "Bush Derangement Syndrome" is just another term for cultish-thinking.

It hasn't been lost on me that most of the people that hate the president can only get along with other people that hate him as well. (Don't get me started on that one - man, have I got stories,...Hate may not be a family value but it, surely, flourishes in the hearts of many of my friends - and, especially, some of the best liberal families I know of,....) These are people who know every possible charge against the president but can't find time to discover if those accusations are true - and, more importantly, don't care. Show them how such an attitude hurts the country and they blithely bat it away, having convinced themselves of their own righteousness. (It's really sad because, like my ex, they can be so damn smart, and charming, at other times. And they absolutely hate any comparison, of themselves, to my ex.) This is just not how thinking people behave.

BTW, on a related topic, out of all the e-mails I've received, not one has pointed out any "overflowing landfills" to date. Nor have any of my readers, when I bump into them on the street, wanted to discuss it. (Very curious behavior, for people who are so sure recycling is necessary, and/or who seriously want me to reconsider my position on all this cult stuff,....)

What's truly amazing is, any kid can see through this stuff that the adults around them will destroy friendships over - and marriages - to maintain believing in:

I was on the BART train not too long ago, and a group of Jr. High School students (from Berkeley, Ca.) got on, playing some of that really bad Hip-Hop R&B that kids are inundated with these days. Two girls sat across from me, playing their music loudly, until I told them - flat out, as an adult - "That's really bad music."

They looked at me like the thought had never occurred to them before (which it probably hadn't). "Really?" they asked. "Yea", I said, and I started to engage them in conversation about the obvious merits of good music over bad. They seemed intrigued.

Having that opening, I asked them what grade they were in and what they learn in school. One volunteered "stuff about the environment" which - Bingo! - got me to asking some questions about the "knowledge" they had received.

As we talked, other kids in their group started gathering around, paying close attention to the conversation their classmates were having with this unknown black man. Then, as a group, they started asking me probing questions, leading to some wild exchanges:

"Are you a Republican?"

(Murmuring from the peanut gallery, including a "Whoa" or two)

"I never met a Republican before."

"What do you think?"

"It's cool."

As we went back and forth, I could see their eyes starting to light up; their little brains flickering on; until one kid finally let loose with, "I knew it!", meaning he'd always been sure his tie-dye brained, granola-munching, teachers had been trying, badly, to indoctrinate him They asked me how I felt about everything - even abortion - until their stop arrived.

As they left, I heard one kid say, "That was awesome!" which gave me a great feeling. Almost like what a real teacher must feel like. And (as my friend, Tony Sparks, likes to say) here's the thing:

They never once got angry.

Those kids were asking good questions, while listening closely for evidence of deception, because I was challenging some of their deeply held beliefs - like what constituted good music, which, as any parent can tell you, is very important to a child of a certain age and not exactly open for discussion - but they could tell, no matter what I said, I was always on their side and I gave them everyday examples they could sort out themselves. I wasn't the Devil because I showed them some idea, or bit of information, was wrong. Challenging them wasn't considered an insult. Learning was, believe it or not, fun. (I actually feel sorry for their instructors when they got back at school.)

With adults I get none of that. Especially for those that know me and my recent personal history, my divorce is the first obvious weakness to attack in any debate. "You're obsessed!" they cry, turning the argument away from whether or not they hold a defensible position on the topic of discussion, which is a totally chickenshit move. (How low can they go?) They cut me off with "No, no, no" if a concept can't be explained in a sentence or two - anything but accepting an idea on the merits or - Heaven forbid! - looking at the evidence. (I put links in my posts for a reason, Kids.)

And they'll punish me, brutally, if I don't go along. That's been the most hurtful discovery, regarding my "friends" (and, especially, my ex), of this whole ordeal:

How absolutely ruthless cultish-thinkers, spiritual types, Leftists, etc., will immediately become to defend their beliefs.

It's like they've been waiting all their lives to show their asshole side and, now, they've finally got the opening they've been waiting for - to slam The Big Guy, Mr. Know-It-All, The Crack Emcee - the daddy figure they've been running to for advice all these years because he was happily married and famous. (My current favorite: "Why does my wife scream at me the way she does?" "Because you let her.")

It's tragic, really, because they're still as wrong-headed as they ever were, and pissing me off isn't going to change that, or help them escape their long-term battles with such confusion. It's merely going to eliminate one more critical thinker, who loves them, from their lives; which certainly can't be helpful, considering the, many, totally ass-backwards and cultishly apocalyptic delusions they hold, oh so dearly.

Time gets us all - but websites live forever - and cultism will be defeated through: