September 28, 2006

Science: Of Idiots and Irises

As I previously mentioned, a certain co-worker has decided to take a course in iridology. Now, I wouldn't have bothered to say anything, until she added: "This is something I want to do the rest of my life".

The thought of this young woman giving out medical diagnosies opened my mouth for me. To be fair, she has agreed to read a couple of articles debunking this silliness, but she has had NO experience in skepticism at all, so I have added a primer of sorts. I tried for a very general overview, but I didn't want to run to too many pages, as I knew she wouldn't bother with it if I did.

That being said, here's the lot:

When I first mentioned my skepticism of iridology, you said “How do you know it doesn’t work?” This is the wrong question to the wrong person: I am not making the claim, and I’m not spending the money. What I am trying to prevent is someone who has no medical training whatsoever from making diagnosies on clients.

You said that “it worked on me”. A few points about this:

1) There is something psychics use called “cold reading”, which is the picking up of verbal and non-verbal clues that the client provides. Looking at your eyes while asking questions certainly helped: if you are familiar with poker, then you know there is a reason why many players shade their eyes during games!

2) You did not have a copy of your medical history at hand, and so may have fallen victim to selection, which is where the client only remembers accurate guesses and disregards any inaccurate ones. The reader encourages this with non-verbal prompts; for instance movement of the head and hands to entice the client to speak and to change the movement to shaking the head (“no…that was wrong, sorry.”) if the client doesn’t respond positively. The more the client wants to believe, the more readily they respond. I’ve seen psychics miss guess after guess after guess, then finally get a hit and have the client tell them that they are amazing.

Now, I’m assuming here that the person who did the reading on you did not know who you were, hadn’t spoken to you or those you know, or hadn’t overheard you speaking to friends before the reading took place – a very common practice by spiritualists.

Having seen and spoken to psychics, tarot readers, Ouija board users, palmologists, and mediums and researched faith healers, psychic surgeons, and various odd diets and alternative medicines, I’ve noticed some common themes that crop up. You’ll certainly encounter a few of these as you talk to the folks involved, but not all of them.

Alternative medicine frequently makes use of the concept of “western science” and “eastern science”. There is no such thing: science is science. A ball will drop to the ground in a completely predictable way no matter where you are on planet Earth. Light refracts in the exact same way for everyone who observes it, no matter the race or location of the observer: this is to say, predictably. Scientific method is a stringent test, but a necessary one: you cannot declare cause and effect without being able to prove it.

“Us vs. Them” is another common theme, usually aimed at the evil allopaths and the medical system in general. This builds a persecution complex, where the practitioner can pretend they are David to the “Multi-Billion Dollar Medical Industry”s Goliath. In a way, of course, they are right; much like the perpetual motion machine inventor can prove that there is a conspiracy of silence among scientists and the Main Stream Media because they haven’t realized what a genius he is.

Feminine terms are common in alternative medicine: much is made of “feeling” and “sensing” rather than “learning” and “knowing”. Often, the terms are used outright as "male vs. female means of knowing". It's not only foolish, but outright sexist, acting as if knowledge is biased towards men and women need a special cheat of some kind to balance things out. This is less common in reflexology and iridology than in other fields (Therapeutic Touch, for instance), but you may still find it.

The practitioners of alternative medicine are frequently true believers: they think what they are doing is right and honest and accurate. However: sooner or later it comes down to sales. The more corrupt the office is, the more proprietary the cures are. In some practices, the ONLY place to purchase the medicine that has been recommended is at that office: with others, it’s a specific brand name, that further investigation shows helped the practitioner with seed money to start their office. Still others sell no medicines, but insist upon frequent visits.

About the diagnosies: most frequently, a litany of ailments is described, often either in vague terms (“a problem in the chest area”, which covers breathing, circulation and stomach) or as symptoms (“drowsiness”, “occasional dizziness”, “sensitivity to certain smells”). In this way, the client can select which suit themselves, and can ignore the rest.

Most people will heal on their own. This is where you’ll find complaints about doctors who “do nothing”. Frequently, that’s the right thing to do. However, for people who don’t realize this, if I told them that the cold they are currently suffering will go away if they only ate with their left hand for the next three days, they’d believe that my advice cured them when the cold did, in fact, go away. Thus a belief is born.

Money is very important to belief, as the higher the stakes are in that belief, the greater reluctance there is to deny it. You certainly don’t want to think of the money you’ve invested as being wasted, do you? Imagine spending ten times as much, how reluctant you’d feel then.

My father’s cancer was discovered only after a full physical check-up, and then blood work to confirm. Since it was detected when it was, his prognosis is good. If he was relying on an iridologist for his check-ups, however, he may not have known it was even there.

Iridology-specific questions:
A person’s eyes change all their lives, especially when they are young. Does their health change accordingly?
How exactly is the heart (or kidneys, or neck et al) connected to the iris?
What would the eyes of Evel Knievel, who has broken 35 different bones and been in a 30 day coma over his life, look like? Can you confirm this?
What would the eyes of someone without a limb look like, and what is the difference between the eyes of someone born without, say, a left hand, and someone who has had their left hand removed through trauma? Can you confirm this?

I don't know if she'll listen to, or read, any of this. But I do hope I've at least planted a seed of doubt that can take root before her classes start.

Wish me luck.


posted by Thursday at 9:21 pm 2 comments

Other: Gather 'Round the Table, Folks!

This week, the Skeptics' Circle is at Martin's place, over in Sweden. So stop for a sauna, and enjoy the food (provided by Tara) and drink (by Runolfr - if there's any left)!
posted by Thursday at 9:15 pm 1 comments

September 27, 2006

Science: Vile Skepticism!

I work in an organic resturaunt/bakery. Nothing special, I just wash dishes. But there are fringe benifits to the place: great people to work with and the regular exercising of my skeptics muscle. (Or is it a gland? Hm.)

For instance, in the attached store one can find some crystals that you can put in your water. The packaging mentions various and sundry things that this is supposed to accomplish, but as none of them are possible I'm not going to bother mentioning them. Another is an entire selection of basic vitamins that apparently contain "women's energy". I wonder if the women in question are missing it? How is it supplied? Most importantly, if I take some, will I grow breasts? Heck, it's got to be cheaper than implants...

But there is a far more serious side to being a skeptic.

One of the employees is taking an iridology course. For those who aren't familliar with it, iridology is the idea that diagnosies can be made by examining the eye; specifically, the iris. The belief holds that the iris will show a trained professional where a corresponding ailment is. For instance, difficulties with the head will show up in topmost quadrant of the iris, whereas digestive problems will appear in the rings directly alongside the pupil.

Really, it's amazing what some easily reachable bits of our body can tell us about other, more embarassing bits of our body. You'd almost think that these things were developed at a time where the examination of a person was to be avoided if at all possible! Like, say the early and mid 19th century (phrenology and iridology), or the beginning of the 20th century (reflexology).

C'est weird, eh?

What will end up happening, should you attend one of these folks, is that you will be diagnosed with a multitude of ailments, any of which could be right. What happens next depends on just how corrupt the practicioner is: either you will be sent off to purchase various and sundry homeopathic medicines and a litany of oils, minerals and possibly crystals to restore your health (more likely to be called "balance"); or if they are a total scam artist instead of merely deluded you will be presented with a series of medicines to purchase directly from the iridologist, who will claim to be the only or best source. The more confusing and obscure the diagnosis, the more frightened the patient, just like in most homeopathy.

The kicker is that most homeopaths are really nice, middle aged women. I always feel guilty in disagreeing with them over something they've dedicated time and (invariably) money into. It's like I'm sticking my tounge out at my mom. Except that my mom is a fully rational RN - and DON'T get her started on "therapeutic touch"! When a ten year old can devise a simple protocol to show it doesn't exist...

So what do I care what some kid is doing with her time and money? It's not like I'm ever going to go to her for medical advice, after all.

It's because ignorance weakens the society I live in. It's the same reason why I care whether or not the poor can get medical care, or that there is a fire department, or that the best education can reach the greatest number of people: the people around me are the society I live in, and I want that to be as rational, as intelligent, and frankly as healthy as possible.

And I don't ever, ever want to have this happen again.


posted by Thursday at 9:41 pm 0 comments

September 25, 2006

Enough Moping

Between cancer, car accidents, and failed employment, this has been a bit of a time. But that's enough of that, it's time to get back to posting!

Besides: hockey season is coming up, and it's time to get working on the previews. You know, the important stuff.

Some things that have caught my eye:


There is a difference between Clinton and President George, and it's as obvious as the differences between an adult and a child. Here's Bush being asked about something his administration is currently doing, and here's Clinton being asked about rumours that were made out of whole cloth and innuendo years after he was out of office.

Want a quick primer on how a single person could corrupt hundreds of Diebold voting machines in under a minute? Princeton helps.


Speaking of politics, here's the real faith of the Republican Party: Moonism.

In a more traditional vein, the other Voice of God running around on this wacky planet of ours has reprimanded Canada for its tolerance toward gays and acceptance of abortion. I love that he's disappointed with Catholic politicians for yielding to "ephemeral social trends". How dare religious politicians listen to their constituents!

In a brilliant example of of tolerance toward other faiths, we have Christians praying with Muslims during Ramadan... to accept Jesus. And in the other, of course, we have Muslims attacking churches and shooting nuns in protest of the Pope's quoting a previous pope that Islam was violent.


I missed the "Back to School" party that a local kink group put on, unfortunately. The weeks have been awkward at best, and I thought it was happening a week after it was actually scheduled. When I found out on a Friday that the party was the next day instead of eight days later, I decided not to go. It's exactly what I like, with more of a role-playing theme than a simple beat me/beat you set up, but I need to mentally prep for it, and just didn't have the time.


I feel bad about not including these guys when it happened, but here is the latest Skeptics' Circle! (Caution: sad puppies ahead.)

The DSCOVR program, which essentially measures the enviromental status of Earth (synopsis here), was cancelled by the Bush White House (can't imagine why). The satellite has already been made and is ready to launch, and both France and the Ukraine have offered to launch it, free of charge to the United States, but have been turned down. There is hope of its eventual use, according to SEED magazine, as it hasn't yet been stripped for parts, but unless the political climate changes, our knowledge of the world's climate is going to remain limited.


All my two-wheelers are temporarily off the road, so nothing new to say there, but I would like to note the (magazine only) retirement of Max Burns, long time writer for Cycle Canada and of a few books that are well worth checking out. A rider/philosopher, like most riders, he keeps nothing sacred in the normally insular world of motorcyclists.

Other Stuff

Here's the situation: you're at work, and have asked for a raise. You've worked hard for the past four years, and like the company fine, so negotiations are underway. Then the manager gets replaced, then a month later the new manager is fired, and the owner tells you he'll pay you double what you're currently earning, but only if you sign a lifetime contract. If you don't sign, they'll stop you from working at your job, or at any other job, until you do.

Welcome to the New York Islanders! Goalie Rick DiPietro has just signed a 15-year, $4.5 million/year contract, offeret to him by team president Charles Wang. Only nine goaltenders in the history of the NHL have had 19-year careers, and none of them have been at their best for all of it. Good luck with that, Charles!


posted by Thursday at 4:31 pm 0 comments

September 11, 2006

Other: In The Blood

My sense of humour has been occasionally commented on, usually in hushed tones reserved for adults talking about giving their pet a B-A-T-H and not wanting to tip him off. To say I use gallows humour is only half the story: most of the time, it's being unable to stop myself from saying something incredibly stupid, insulting or callous, then scrambling to turn it into a joke that other people will understand, too.

I hate being the only one laughing at me.

I think I may have found, if not the solution then at least a root cause, of this debilitating social malady in a couple of emails sent back and forth to my dad recently:

Thursday, August 24
Had the prostate cancer biopsy yesterday. NOT FUN!!!!!! not nice. sucks real big , nasty! really sucks real big.
I went in thinking "Fiber optics and came out thinking SPACE SHUTTLE!!!"
Will get the results in a couple weeks, meanwhile I will not be dancing the watusie for a while.

My reply:
Well, you could have come out thinking "So THAT'S the Canadarm..."

Thursday (again, I know) September 7
And the word is.....TA dah.....cancer
Bad News....I have cancer
Good is small c not Big C.
Bad news...radical prostectomy is the only sure cure. Due to my sleep apnea, hypertension, weight etc it is not a good idea.
Good news.....the cancer specialists in Victoria are the best in north america.
Bad chance, 9 months of hormone therapy followed by 6 weeks of daily radiation treatment.
Good news....excellent survival rate with very little chance of cancer returning for 10 years.
Bad is throuought the prostate.
Good has not spread anywhere else.
on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being negligable and ten being you died yesterday it is a 6 which is good because 5 to 8 means slow growing so there is time for treatment, which I start next week. I have Dr Woodley here, Dr Nielson in Duncan and an oncologist to be named later in Victoria to see in the next two weeks.
Not much is going to happen for the next 9 months.
Good news...Janet is being real nice to me.
Bad news....She is giving me lectures!

My reply:

Yeah, I chickened out. His wife has excellent reason for giving him lectures, believe me, and I would have pitched my own, but I decided that she was in closer proximity to him than I was. We've talked on the phone and discussed what was next, and you know the part that just kills him (heh) the most? At the end of the month, he's taking a cruise to New Orleans.

And the doctor has ordered him not to gain a single pound.



posted by Thursday at 9:56 pm 0 comments

Politics: When Dueling Pageants Collide

So, other than traumatizing anyone who lost family members during the 9/11 attacks, what's been the point of regurgitating a terrible day five years old? Twice as many people watched football as did either the $40 million fictional account that was apparently for Republican-eyes only (only conservative pundits were given preview copies: here's why) over on ABC or an actual documentary recounting the day on CBS.

Oh, no reason, really.

But since that terrorist action (which should have launched a criminal investigation instead of a war) happened, there has been an awful lot that's gone on, and here's a bit of the latest:

Greg Palast has been arrested.

No shit. Even funnier is that he's been charged with filming a "critical national security structure" in Louisiana. In fact, right here in Louisiana, beside an Exxon oil refinery. He and his cameraman were filming at that location, and they filmed the refinery as part of their story.

As the arresting officer, detective Frank Pananepinto, said: "If you remember, a lot of people were killed on 9/11." Which, naturally, justifies Exxon lodging a criminal complaint against two reporters for filming something that can be found in the freakin' Yellow Pages. Which raises the question: if it was a matter of national security, why did Exxon press charges and not the
U.S. Government?

Oh, no reason, really.

So what the Sam Hill was Mr. Palast doing in such a *gasp* highly sensitive area, and with a camera, yet? Well, he was talking to a few of the 73,000 people who live there and in places just like it. What they have to say isn't very pretty, but they are unfortunately burdened with the crime of being alive, and thus not having the spiritual perfection that grandstanding zealotry really needs.


posted by Thursday at 8:34 pm 0 comments

September 07, 2006

Other: Beer Me!

You know, I mean you KNOW that I have to say this:

Norwegian beer tastes like Aass!


posted by Thursday at 10:10 pm 0 comments

Other: Back to It

What with my head being otherwise occupied, there's been a lot to catch up on. (Tes, another one of "those" posts).

I went swimming in the Cowichan River for what's probably the last time this season, and got a little reward. The last couple times the Significant Other and I wandered down there, we've brought empty onion sacks with us to clean up a bit of the flotsam and jetsam. One very noticeable thing: the idiots who toss beer cans about have really bad taste. They are almost invariably Kokanee, or Molson Canadian, or Coors Light, or (I mourn to mention) Lucky Lager. Hideous, cheap-ass crap.

Today, when we were just floating and enjoying ourselves, I found a 500ml bottle of Heineken, still sealed.

Karma, baby!

Speaking of which...


What happens when someone has been sheltered all their lives, living under a single world view, until suddenly they have to travel somewhere? A friend of mine, Born Again and frankly not all that bright, spent his honeymoon in Thailand, and came back complaining about how uncomfortable he felt surrounded by all these people who *gasp* were openly non-Christian! Now, being a friend of ours, he understood how some people were just weird and rejected God, but an entire country full of them simply blew his mind. No one was actully rude to him, but he felt uncomfortable and oppressed for the entire trip.

You or I hear this, and think "Well, yeah... Welcome to everyone else's world, junior!" Of course, he's also convinced that North America hates Christians, so what are you going to do?

Anyhow, I'd like to introduce you to Gary Christenot (I'll say it's not a psudeonym, but...). Gary is a steadfast believer, an evangelical Christian who served with the US military at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. While there, he went to a high school football game, and as he stood for the pre-game incantation... Well, let's just say that he no longer supports prayer before every sporting event being mandatory.

Get the headphones in for this "old-timey" song about God's Wrath.

And to quote a slightly different song:

I raise my Sword of Right to the Clear and Shining Light
Stained crimson red with the blood of the unredeemed
I will rend them limb from limb
And dash all their kith and kin
Their bodies I will bury in the deep
Because there's power in the Blood.
-"Power in the Blood"
Alabama 3

Welcome to Jesus Camp.


And the definition of screwed is... The Canadian Airborne ended up in a horrible situation in Somalia, and events occured there that caused the entire regiment to be disbanded. (One soldier's perspective here - check out his reading list, too.) But these guys from the U.S. military are in the middle of something worse than any place I ever want to imagine being.

You've undoubtedly heard about the kerfuffle about the theoretical broadcast of "Path to 9/11", but if not a quick synopsis:

Bill Clinton was a weenie.

For some reason, this has the political left in an uproar, and the political right chortling with glee as they review the film. The filmmakers have been saying "wait for the finished version to come out before judging it", because it's still being edited. Except, of course, for the copies that have already been distributed to political right pundits. Those ones, apparently, were finished. Needless to say, the Clintons did NOT get an advance copy. There's a running history here, and a bit of history here about another mini series that caused contreversy and ended up being pulled from CBS.

But in keeping with the musical theme, here's a couple gems:

Inspired, perhaps, by the former Prime Minister of Canada buddying up to U2s Bono, the President of the United States sings it...


I've been out of commission for a little while (broken rib while playing in the river six weeks back), and the SO was not terribly happy about my inability to move while our ninth anniversary approached. Better than last year, but still... To make up for lost time, we each wrote out something we'd like to do on five seperate cards (we've been together ten years), and we opened one a day starting with the anniversary.

The only down side was with us being together so long, we've kept those things we liked in our regular repertoire already, so there have been a few repeats. Somehow, we struggle through!

Keep those headphones on, and possibly cover up the screen, for this song.


Phillip K. Dick has long been a cult fixture in science fiction, with brilliant, often opressive and paranoid writing about humanity losing itself, so when someone build his head to carry around to convertions, it's no real surprise.

"Hey, it's Phil!"
"Isn't he dead?"
"Oh. Hi, Phil."

Unfortunately, that head has since gone missing from a Los Vegas (where else?) airport.

An extensive musical list of sci-fi songs. No links to them, which blows, but a fine thing to argue about.


That's it for Clover for this year. Insurance is up, and she's just too squirrley to ride year-round. Going to be a month or so before the Honda's got the sidecar stapled to it, too. *sigh* Back to four wheels for a while...


Hard work might make you free, but at Hitler's, so are the refills!

One red paper clip = one Saskatchewan house. If you have the time, scroll down to help out with his Alice Cooper petition. You know it's right.

You can always tell a great film by the festivals that it inspires.

One more song; I've got to give credit to anyone who can casually get Abe Vigoda into music.


posted by Thursday at 1:52 pm 2 comments

September 04, 2006

Three Days: The End


I am so done!

Total count:

Eighty-six pages,

Sixteen thousand, five fundred words;

Seventy-one hours.

Oh, plus untold numbers of grammatical and spelling errors, which is what the seventy-second hour is for.

Me sleep now.


posted by Thursday at 11:05 pm 1 comments

Three Days: Day Three

Four hours left. Computer crashed.

I save frequently, but it's the momentum lost that's killing me.

Seventy-five pages; about 15,000 words; and at least three scenes to go.

Are we having any god damned fun yet?


posted by Thursday at 8:06 pm 2 comments

Three Days: Day Two

Around fifty-five pages and 13,000 words, 48 hours into the contest.

I've been writing this in three parts simultaneously, and now two of them have finally joined up. Still have no idea about how (or if) the ending's going to work, and I've got at least two more scenes in mind. That's a good thing.

I've averaged about 80-85 pages in this event (a little below their mean of 100 pages/entry) and anywhere from 14,000 to 20,000 words, so I think I'm on schedule.

I think.


posted by Thursday at 12:24 am 0 comments

September 02, 2006

Three Days, Day One

Okay, it's almost 24 hours in and I've got perhaps 30 pages and about 8,000 words done. Not a particularly fast pace, but bear in mind there will be no time for editing at the end of it all, and I compose as I go.

I've got scenes, and lines, and pieces of dialogue dripping throught my brain-filter right now. No idea how the colours will end up combining on the final painting, but they're looking awful pretty right now.

There's psychics, cops, talking dogs, lawnmowing... the usual stuff.

Well, that's my break. Back to the word mines.



posted by Thursday at 11:41 pm 0 comments

Twenty-Four Hours: These Guys Know How I Feel

Hordes of hideous undead have attacked this weeks version of the Skeptics Circle.

Specifically Invisible Hitler Zombies, but who's keeping track at a time like this?

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posted by Thursday at 11:37 pm 0 comments