Happy Equinox of your Choice

Posted in Religion on March 22, 2008 by moonflake

This year, Easter falls the second-closest to the equinox that it can, bringing its traditions in line with its origin as a celebration of the coming spring. It may be of some small interest to those of a religious persuasion that this festival was later co-opted by a young, upstart religion in its efforts to attract pagans who, very humanly, were more reluctant to part with their jovial festivities than they were their gods.

Those in the Northern Hemisphere who wish to ignore the religious hijacking of this holiday and instead celebrate the life-affirmation of the coming spring, with such symbols of fertility as hares and eggs, may easily do so. Not so easily the Southern Hemisphere, where I live. For us, March brings with it the promise of Autumn, and the coming cold. Easter seems an empty parroting of Northern customs… the chocolate egg is indeed hollow for us secular southerners.

One wonders… are there any redeeming qualities of this festival worthy of celebration for the antipodean atheist?

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Danie Krugel expands his imaginary product line

Posted in Alternative Medicine, Pseudoscience, South Africa on February 28, 2008 by moonflake

Bloemfontein’s favourite son is at it again, folks. His new product is a mysterious device capable of detecting a substance at a distance provided it is given a sample of that substance…. hang on a second, isn’t this his last product, you ask? Oh no, this time the substance being detected is cancer, so it’s a totally different thing. Never let it be said that Danie Krugel is a one-trick pony.

The original article appeared in the Afrikaans-language Rapport, and the SA Skeptics forum have provided a translation here. In it, Danie supposedly is able to differentiate vials of blood containing cancer from those that do not. Since the ‘tests’ were performed in the office of a local internist, and then by the journos at the Rapport, I hardly think we can consider the results reliable. Perhaps now that Danie has voyaged into the realm of medicine, he will consider submitting his device to a double-blind, controlled trial? Yeah, you’re right, probably not.

To start with, I find it telling that after his spectacular failure in finding Madeleine McCann, and the subsequent pummeling he took in the internation press, Danie has moved away from body-finding and into cancer-sniffing. Allow me to remind you that Danie claimed to know where Madeleine McCann was buried, and yet there has been no digging whatsoever in the area he has marked out. Does this not strike anyone as odd, considering how ingenious Danie was at obtaining digging equipment, able bodies and cameras to upturn an area the size of two football fields, on a similar hunch about the Van Rooyen victims? Frankly, if I knew where that little girl was buried, and no one would listen to me, I would have set to digging that beach up with my bare hands to prove it to them. But not Danie. He slinks back to South Africa, stays quiet for a few months, then suddenly appears with a new shiny silver case containing yet another ‘invention’.

So let’s examine some of the details of this new article. Apparently Danie has ‘loaded’ his device with various forms of cancer already. Immediately this makes me wonder where he got it from. I don’t know about you guys, but samples of cancer are not something I come across in everyday life. Either Danie has been dumpster-diving in medical waste, or someone is supplying him – the man obviously has an accomplice in the medical community. All eyes should at this point be swivelling towards the internist who assisted him in testing the device. I would suspect that Danie did not just walk into this person’s office and claim he was looking for an objective witness with a medical degree, but rather that this is the culmination of a carefully planned scheme. Either that, or Danie is lying about the device being loaded with cancer samples.

There are also some distinct differences between this device and the last. Danie’s previous Matter Orientation Device, which worked on the same apparent principle of like communicating with like, was so sensitive that given any sample it would only detect the source of that sample, and not any other similar source. Given a sample of hair, it would react only to the person from whom that hair was taken, and not just to any hair (or poorly made wig) that happened to be in the vacinity. So I would wonder how it is that Danie’s current device is so much less precise? It apparently goes off in the presence of any cancer. However, cancer as we all know is genetically specific material, so I would expect that Danie’s technology would only register in the presence of the rest of the tumour from which the sample was taken (we look pointedly at the internist again), or perhaps in the presence of the person from which the sample was taken. Unless Danie’s lying again.

And now, this device is only able to detect cancer within 4m, whereas his previous device could find its match anywhere on the entire planet. Again, the device seems somehow weaker than the last… the claims, somewhat toned down. But then again, the case also seems smaller, so perhaps he’s using fewer fairies this time.

All I can say is that I’m looking forward to seeing how this new ruse of Danie’s pans out.

Manto: Western trials not fit for traditional medicine

Posted in Alternative Medicine, Science, South Africa on February 27, 2008 by moonflake

Well, here we go again. Our esteemed baby-killer-in-chief Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has now declared that African Traditional Medicines, while being subjected to research and development, should not become bogged down in ‘western’ clinical trials. Apparently, “We cannot use Western models of protocols for research and development… Clinical trials need protocols for traditional medicine.”

May I remind everyone again that this woman supposedly has a medical qualification? That she is a medical doctor? And yet here she stands, blatantly claiming special privilege for african medicine, referring to clinical trials as ‘western’… and then goes on to warn against “charlatans tarnishing the image of this sector … who promise our desperate help-seeking people all sorts of things that are not practically possible to deliver”. So…. all of them, then?

And then, the coup de grace of evidential reasoning, she quantifies why african medicine is so special that it does not need to be tested… because it has been used for thousands of years. Wow. Really? Under that logic, perhaps we should revert to slavery, forced marriage, human sacrifice and colonialism… all practices with thousands of years of tradition behind them. Perhaps we should go back to other traditional forms of healing: bloodletting, amputation, trepannin and electroshock therapy? Perhaps we should throw out the whole court system and bring back trial by combat? And perhaps we should bring back that wonderful old-time tradition of women not being allowed to hold public office?

Get a few things straight, Manto: traditional does not mean right. There is no such thing as ‘western’ clinical trials, there are only clinical trials, performed everywhere in the world. And there is no such thing as western medicine, chinese medicine or african medicine: there is only medicine, which is the stuff that has been tested objectively and found to work, and all the other stuff that people claim is medicine, which is the stuff that may well be helpful, harmful or placebo, but which we don’t know until we test it.

And then the Doctors for Life International group responded with one of the worst press releases ever, using as their primary argument for testing of traditional medicine, the possibility that we won’t know if it contains human body parts or not if we don’t test it. Oh, and it’s the biggest culprit in fatal poisoning in the country. Nicely done guys. While both your points are 100% accurate, all you serve to do is give her more ammunition to claim that you are only villianizing her precious african medicine and that you don’t understand it.

What needs to be addressed here is the fundamental racism that causes her to refer to all scientific advancements as ‘western’, the reverse of which is that she is basically calling africa an unscientific backwater that rejects all modern understanding of chemistry, biology and medicine. Get it straight: we are all human beings, we all have the same biochemistry, what works on a western person works on an african person works on a chinese person. We are all prone to the placebo effect, we all deserve medicine that works, and we all deserve not to be taking something that doesn’t. We all deserve for you to subject anything you suspect might be useful to clinical trials, so that if it is medicine it can be manufactured and distributed to help the world. And if it’s not, it can be outlawed, to protect the world. The only people you hurt by not doing this, is the africans already taking it.

Fan Death

Posted in Urban Legends on February 20, 2008 by moonflake

It’s summer, and it’s hot, and every night I sleep with a fan blowing blessedly cool air over my bed, usually with the windows closed to keep the murdering rapists out. So I’m sure that others will be as surprised as me to discover that in one country in the world, this is considered to be as dangerous as sleeping with a loaded gun.

South Koreans of all ages, religions and levels of education will tell you that every year in S.Korea, people fall victim to ‘Fan Death‘ resulting from operating a fan in a closed room while asleep. This is not a kooky urban legend supported by only a few neurotics – fans in S.Korea come with warnings not to operate them under the above conditions, and include timer nobs so that the fan can be set to safely turn off on its own as you fall asleep. The media participates by reporting cases of fan death in all seriousness. And the government-funded Korean Consumer Protection Board has released this statement:

If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [the] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open.

Even the medical experts in the country are convinced that this happens, and have put forward plenty of explanations for why, ranging from asphixiation to hyperthermia to hypothermia. None of them seem to be able to explain why it doesn’t happen in North Korea, or in other countries with similar climates, or even to Koreans living abroad.

How does it get this bad? A vicious circle of argument by authority – the doctors think that it must be real because it’s in the media, the media thinks it must be real because the doctors say it is, and South Koreans think it must be real because the doctors and the media say it is. Any lone voice in the wilderness is summarily drowned out, such as those doctors who actually perform the autopsies and pronounce cause of death due to heart or lung disease or serious alcoholism. South Koreans will vigorously defend their belief as cultural if faced with a skeptical foreignor, and will even go so far as to suggest that perhaps South Koreans have a unique physiology that makes them susceptible to this particular danger.

Fan death is a fantastic example of how something with absolutely zero basis in fact can take on the appearance of fact, and even be defended in the face of no supporting evidence beyond anecdotes, vox populi and argument by authority. Replace ‘fan death’ with ‘homeopathy’, ‘astrology’ or any other baseless belief, and that statement still stands.

Fan Death

Church of Scientology responds to new Tom Cruise Biography

Posted in Religion on February 10, 2008 by moonflake

Well, Andrew Morton certainly has the church of scientology all aflutter. The church issued a 15-page statement to the Today Show, denying many allegations made in the book. It makes for entertaining reading.

How reliable is their rebuttal, you may ask?

Continue reading

The Avian Lung

Posted in Evolution on February 7, 2008 by moonflake

A recent comment on this blog, challenged me thus:

If evolution is true then how did the avian lung develop.

That’s right I went there. While you atheists can place your store in purposeless fallacies I choose to hope because hope is all that is left of our ignorant race. And maybe one day as I did, instead of closing your eyes maybe you will open them and see your lies, or even accept the truth as I did, instead of trying to bury it!

—thus spoke mattmitch.

feel free to send a rebuttal

Well, mattmitch, I’d firstly like thank you for bringing this to my attention. I was certainly not aware that the entire field of evolution, and the philosophical position of atheism, were both under threat by the structure of the humble avian lung. Frankly, beyond the knowledge that the avian lung was significantly superior to our mammalian lung, I hadn’t really done much reading on the subject. So I can certainly say that thanks to your comment, I am now more educated on the subjects of how bird lungs work, and baseless arguments made by creationists.

As to a rebuttal, there are a couple of ways we could go with this. Let’s start with the obvious one:

I assume that since your comment is both anti-evolution and anti-atheist, you are yourself a creationist. This implies that your opposing position is that God made the avian lung in all its glory. Assuming this is true, please explain why he chose to short-change his favourite creation, humans, in the lung department? Since the avian lung is considerably superior to ours, is God trying to tell us something by giving us shoddy lungs? Were we, perhaps, too busy standing in the brain line when the good lungs were handed out? I challenge you, in fact, to explain this obvious disparity in any way other than appealing to God moving in mysterious ways.

But as satisfying as that response may be, we don’t really learn anything from it. So here’s the other option, the one that requires some research (that’s when you go look stuff up instead of just making it up for yourself, you might like to try it):

Recent evidence suggests that oxygen levels were suppressed worldwide 175 million to 275 million years ago and fell to precipitously low levels compared with today’s atmosphere, low enough to make breathing the air at sea level feel like respiration at high altitude.

Now, a University of Washington paleontologist theorizes that low oxygen and repeated short but substantial temperature increases because of greenhouse warming sparked two major mass-extinction events, one of which eradicated 90 percent of all species on Earth.

In addition, Peter Ward, a UW professor of biology and Earth and space sciences, believes the conditions spurred the development of an unusual breathing system in some dinosaurs, a group called Saurischian dinosaurs that includes the gigantic brontosaurus. Rather than having a diaphragm to force air in and out of lungs, the Saurischians had lungs attached to a series of thin-walled air sacs that appear to have functioned something like bellows to move air through the body.

“The reason the birds developed these systems is that they arose from dinosaurs halfway through the Jurassic Period. They are how the dinosaurs survived,” he said.

So actually, the ‘avian’ lung came before birds, and evolved in dinosaurs because of selection pressures for survival in low oxygen environments that killed off most of their competitors. It’s the resulting enormous network of airsacs, which extend even to within their bones, that allows their avian ancestors to be so much lighter, and therefore to fly. Without the ‘bird’ lung, we probably wouldn’t have birds in the first place. Which I hadn’t known. So again, mattmitch, thanks to your bizarre, almost Tourettesian outburst, I actually did open my eyes and discover some new truth today. I hope you did likewise.

Heath Ledger Dead; WBC to Picket Funeral

Posted in Religion, Stupidity on January 23, 2008 by moonflake

So, as I’m sure everyone who doesn’t have their head in a bucket knows by now, Heath Ledger is dead at 28. It’s tragic. I’ve been a big fan, although I’ll admit I far prefer his witty comedies, like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, to his more weighty fare, like Monster’s Ball and Brokeback Mountain. Either way, he was an amazing actor, and I’m sure he was a wonderful person. He leaves behind a 2-year-old daughter who will never have a chance to know him properly. At this time, the autopsy is inconclusive and we will probably have to wait a couple of weeks for a cause of death.

What has surprised me until now is the speed at which the media has grasped its own member and wanked away like a horny teenager at this story. The details change from one moment to the next as they fumble clumsily about, desperate for climax: he was found naked in bed, he was found face down on top of a bottle of pills, pills were found nearby, it was accidental, he was found in Mary-Kate Olsen’s apartment, he was naked, he was clean from drugs for a year, he was in rehab, he was taking sleeping pills, he was naked, he was depressed, the housekeeper called Mary-Kate’s bodyguard for help, a rolled-up $20 bill was found by the body, he had pneumonia, it was suicide, Mary-Kate Olsen is not involved in any way, he was naked…

It’s horrible. But, as bad as it is, it cannot compare to this missive from our dear Westboro Baptist Church:

‘Brokeback Mountain’ star – Heath Ledger – is dead. WBC will picket his funeral.

“Though shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination.” Lev. 18:22. “For because of these things cometh the wrath of god upon the children of disobedience.” Eph. 5:6.

Yes. WBC will picket this pervert’s funeral, in religious protest and warning. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” Gal. 6:7. Heath Ledger thought it was great fun defying God Almighty and his plain word; to wit: God Hates Fags! & Fag Enablers! Ergo, God hates the sordid tacky, bucket of slime seasoned with vomit known as ‘Brokeback Mountain’ – and He hates all persons having anything whatsoever to do with it.

Heath Ledger is now in Hell, and has begun serving his eternal sentence there – beside which, nothing else about Heath Ledger is relevant or consequential.

If the mass media (and I’m counting you gossip bloggers in this) are the adolescent wankers in this story, then Fred Phelps is the cum crusting over on the balled-up tissue.

That’s all I have to say on the matter.