June 30, 2007

...And Go!

The 2007 NHL free agent season is upon us, and with the salary cap reaching $50 million and free agency age dropping to 27 (or, in Scott Hartnell's case, 25), there are more than a few teams in the hunt for more than a few players. The question is how to spend that money wisely.

So who provides the best of what? You know, I just happen to have a couple ideas about that. Amazing coincidence, eh?

First this a team needs to do is know what their weaknesses are. Is there anyone in the minors ready to step up and possibly fill a need? Which of your own free agents or restricted free agents gave the most bang for the buck? Who did your coach like, and who did he resent you foisting off on him?

Need goals? I'll go into a few forwards today, then defensemen and goalies tomorrow. There's a surprising number of top flight players to choose from this year that had solid scoring seasons. Best available:

Daniel Briere (95 points in 81 games)
Chris Drury (37 goals, including 9 game winners, in 77 games; defines clutch player)
Jason Blake (40 goals in 82 games)
Ryan Smyth (36 goals in 71 games, best on-ice leader in the game)
Bill Guerin (36 goals, 77 games)
Bredan Shanahan (62 points in 67 games)
Paul Kariya (76 points in 82 games)
Vyacheslav Kozlov (80 points in 81 games)

You could put Teemu Sealnne at the top of this list, but he's made it clear he'll play for Anaheim or no one - even though his 48-goal, 94-point season would bring in a huge contract if he wanted it.

There are down sides to all these players, of course; if there weren't, they'd probably have been resigned by their original teams. Briere only pulled 3 goals in 16 games during the playoffs. Only once in the past five seasons has Smyth managed the full 82 games. Kozlov is an erratic scorer with wildly fluctuating season totals. Guerin and Shanahan are, well, old: how long will their scoring resurgence last? Kariya is known as a headstrong and demanding player. Blake's hit 40 goals... once, just in time for his free agency. And as for Drury, he... Um... Okay, I can't actually think of anything to really criticise with Drury.

For all those folks, though, their potential pluses far outweigh the negatives.

There are plenty of other unrestricted forwards who are more useful to fill a need in leadership, add depth, or may be worth taking a risk on (assuming they sign cheap enough).

Secondary scoring (20+ goals):

Scott Gomez - yes, he plays a defensive system and still got 33 goals two seasons ago. That was the exception, not the rule.
Danius Zubrus - only 29, still loads of potential.
Eric Belanger - solid faceoff man, too.
Todd White - given room to move, he'll go. Fast.
Peter Bondra - no longer anywhere near a 50 goal man.
Michal Handzus - a little more confidence, and he'll be scoring regularly.
Ladislav Nagy - needs a finisher, but is a fine passer.
Kyle Calder - 28 years old, still improving, and packs energy.
Robert Lang - because every team needs a wily veteran.
Petr Sykora - fast and (reasonably) dangerous.
Viktor Kozlov - up and down career so far. Fine addition, so long as you're not relying on his scoring.
Mike Comrie - quick way to add at least 50 points.
Owen Nolan - a reasonably successful return to the NHL last season.
Alexi Yashin - hasn't lived up to his potential, but that "potential" was for a superstar. A good player, not a great one. The only question is if he can play without being a disruptive force.
Ruslan Fedotenko - big, young, and a recent 20 goal scorer.
Yannic Perrault - top face off man, 20+ goals.

A Little Something Extra:

Tony Amonte - more leadership skills than scoring, but good in the room.
Martin Gelinas - still fast, always contributes, rock-solid defensively.
Jamie Lundmark - can play any line... for short stretches, at least. Only 26, so could still grow into a scorer.
Wes Walz - kills penalties dead.
Arron Asham - loves the game, loves to grind. Great attitude and fearless.
Jed Ortmeyer - His name's "Jed", so what's not to love? If he could get on a line with Bubba Berenzwig... Anyhow, solid defensive forward.
Michael Peca - Kamakazie hitter, great face-off man, solid defensively. Oh, but when I say "kamakazie"? I mean it. Often injured.
Travis Green - another for taking defensive zone faceoffs.
Bryan Smolinski - like Robert Lang, only works harder and scores less. Okay playmaker, though.

Risks possibly worth taking:

Joseph Vasicek - fragile, but young.
Anson Carter - he can score 25 goals. But he better come cheap.
Radek Bonk - has started to turn himself into a defensive specialist, but no fire to him.
Mike Johnson - should be a grinder. Isn't. If your coach can talk him into it, he's another potential 25 goal man.
Pierre Turgeon - finally broken? Possibly, but may also get 40 points.
Todd Bertuzzi - when he's on his game, he can be awesomely intimidating in every sense. Lacks discipline, and the circus tends to follow...

Then there's the ultimate wild card - Peter Forsberg. Whether he's going to continue playing or not is entirely up to him. Even with his history of injury trouble, there are 30 teams who would take a chance on this guy.

Some action is going to happen tomorrow, but a lot of players are going to wait to see the offers first. The most intriguing is Smyth - for all the criticism people (myself included) have leveled at the Islanders' front office , they've really improved their team; and it's hard to criticise just how much they've done to convince Smyth to stay.

We'll soon see!


posted by Thursday at 9:51 pm 0 comments

June 28, 2007

The Awful Truth

...No, not Michael Moore's television show of the same name. It's my raelization that the new job is making it harder to find time to play here. That it's been a week since I've posted is unfortunate, especially since there has been a whole lot going on and coming up to post about.

So I'm going to be limiting myself to once a week (I'm thinking... Wednesday) with the occasional exception to the rule.

So a short list of what's kicking around my Bookmarks to buy myself some time:

This'll take days to get through, if you're interested in technology, the enviroment, or just some very cool stuff. Like the Pope is.

It's articles like this that make me wonder who America's Cato will be - who is going to stand up and remind Ceasar that the nation's laws must be upheld by every man, even the most powerful, or the law has no meaning.

I found out a former neighbour of mine is driving a 1993 Geo Metro to Ullan Battar. Go ask him why.

Always remember that the (now former) head of the World Bank said that the Iraq War would pay for itself. He neglected to mention whom exactly it would pay.

A take on Net Neutrality I hadn't considered - the best part to me is the busting of an Astroturf group in the comments...

Another Glenn Greenwald article - just a little comparison he's making between the Left and the Right on the web. But it's okay: the Irrational Right (further over than the normal, day-to-day Right) will make up their own reality as they go. It's... interesting.

Why lobbyists are unhappy with the new U.S. Congress.

Proof that those who consider themselves poitically independant are just that much smarter than some we could name...? Wait for it - the kicker is at the end of the video.

The largest life form on the planet (it's not what you think).

I would like any three of these.

A long, and worthy, piece on just how much good can happen when the government bails out on providing their employers (you and me) with basic necessities - like infrastructure.

What happens when celebrities from two different cultures date - country music, and whale blubber, together at last!

And a parting shot at a(nother) stupid project...

That'll keep ya busy for a little while.


posted by Thursday at 7:25 pm 0 comments

June 21, 2007

What It's All About

The Significant Other and I wandered off to a small kink party on the weekend - quite small, as the group throwing it only has 100-110 members or so. We didn't go expecting to play, as it was the first time with these folks, but there were some lovely people there that we spoke to. We talked about (among other things) people who feel they have to hide their kinkiness away from the rest of their lives.

It's perfectly understandable, and frankly not all that damaging. Not like, say, being a closeted homosexual working for people who want gays removed fromt he face of the Earth. Kink is only slightly hidden from view, and can be as safe or as dangerous as you care to make it (hello, motorcycling!). I don't have any real need to hide my own proclivities, what with no kids, no live-in parents, and no family members running for political office, so we do on occasion get asked "what's it like?"

Well, the SO and I aren't so much into S&M, as B&D. But one person who is into the sado-machocsim side of things (professionally, yet) has a short video up (less than 10 seconds) that pretty much sums up the entire experience nicely.

Earphones in, and not-repeat-NOT work friendly.


posted by Thursday at 7:22 pm 0 comments

June 20, 2007

Spinning My Wheels

While waiting for the bike to get repaired, I spend my days watching the Skeptics' Circle!

Up and about from New Zealand on this longest/shortest day!


posted by Thursday at 11:03 pm 0 comments

June 19, 2007


A good-news/bad-news sort of day today…

Good news: found work after being unemployed for a few weeks.

Bad news: it’s not playing with electricity, as I had hoped.

Good news: it’s at a u-brew place, and the Significant Other and I do a lot of that!

Bad news: holy crap, this looks complicated!

Good news: my sidecar is finally ready to be picked up. Thanks, R.E. Cycle of Chemainus!

Bad news: after seven months of waiting and four blown “ready by Friday” deadlines, the bill was $500 higher than the estimate given three weeks ago. Thanks, RE Cycle of Chemainus!

Good news: we had the money to pay for it, as the S.O. had a recent payday.

Bad news: it wobbled out of the parking lot and until about 60km/h, traveled for about 100 metres, then when I braked to turn right onto a quiet little side road and get it home, it pulled across the fast lane and slammed into the meridian.

Good news: the trucks following me had good brakes.

Bad news: I don’t have enough (read: any) experience with sidecars to know if it was a bad set-up or my riding that caused the accident.

Good news: fairly minor damage to either the bike or to me.

Bad news: the bike’s not ready to be picked up.

Good news: the shop is repairing it “for Friday”.

Bad news: that’s familiar…

Good news: Um… running out, here…

Bad news: the S.O. is going to be catering away from me for 10 days, starting this weekend, and we need a second mode of transportation.

Good news: I predicted the Ducks would win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of the season.

Bad news: I was stranded in Chemainus.

Good news: Got a ride home from my brother’s wife.

Bad news: woke up my wife, who starts work at midnight.

Good news: home.

Bad news: first day of work tomorrow, and not really ready for it.

Good news: one of our liquor shelves contains (in no particular order) Glenfiddich, Lagavulin, The Glenlivet, Bushmills (original), Bushmills (16 year malt), Highland Park, Aberfeldy (enjoying now), Talisker, Knockando, The MacAllan, Blair Athol, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, and for some reason Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. I think that last is in there because the shelf is high enough for the bottle to fit.

Bad news: we’re out of Oban, and won’t be able to afford to replace it for a while because the bike cost so damn much.

But other than that, doin’ fine!

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posted by Thursday at 9:58 pm 0 comments

June 13, 2007

“Okay, Here’s The Plan…”

We’ve got one shot at this, gang. We’ll have to find the right opportunity, or else manufacture it.

You’re kidding, right? We’re really going after… that?

Yep. That’s the challenge.

Look, this is ridiculous! We have serious consequences if this goes wrong – potentially far worse than anything we’ve tried before. All for some ego-inflating title!

Best Thieves in the World, bub. Treat it with respect: with that title comes the heat, and the jobs. Anyone here so scared of one that they don’t want the other?

Didn’t think so. Let’s got on with it then, shall we? Assets?

Depends on how much we want to spend, really. We’ve got a few contacts close to the target, of course, but no one that could pull this off. We’ve got us, of course, and I don’t need to say how valuable our respective skills are… Otherwise, several one-use cracks – but I don’t see how to apply them with any certainty.

Technology’s out. This isn’t just money we’re after.

Agreed. It’s going to have to be a Human Resources affair, rather than Industrial.

That comes to me. He’s a man, yes; but I don’t see an opportunity to approach him any time soon.

What events are on his dance card?

Little of use. At public events he’s always with his wife, of course; and the media surrounding him makes him more cautious than ever. Especially given his lowering fortunes.

True – he doesn’t need another PR disaster.

…But he could use a nice image-raiser…

Gentlemen, and lady: I believe we have our point of entry. A morale-raising event is going to happening somewhere – let’s find it.

Not easy. His security is through the roof for every outside occasion, even with hand-picked attendees.

We need somewhere he actually meets people.

Doesn’t happen.


Get serious: everywhere, and I mean everywhere, has a cordon of security even if he stays behind a podium on a stage fifty feet from the crowds.

Tell me what you have.

Here, there’s no chance – as was so astutely pointed out. Internationally, however…

Ha! He has an even worse reputation there!

Cool it, you. Keep talking.

Thank you. As I was saying, he seems to have a devoted following in Albania.





Devout. Worshipful.

Is he going anywhere near there any time soon?

He’s touring Europe after the G8 Summit next year, and that’s including Italy and Bulgaria

Sounds good enough to me. Who do we have in place that can shift the itinerary?

Make it a stop over – a short visit to let the man be greeted by cheering throngs…

I’m on it.

One crowd, coming up.

So, gentle readers – did they succeed? Will this notorious gang be hailed as the greatest thieves in the underworld? There are answers here… and here.

posted by Thursday at 3:01 pm 0 comments

June 10, 2007

Phrenology Repudiates Oligarchy

Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny

-Incorrect, if pithy, statement by Ernst Haeckel from the early days of evolutionary thought

Often it’s remarked how a cult, a thought, or a fad suddenly becomes hugely popular, and decades later it’s wondered why.

Hula hoops? Eugenics? Ayn Rand?


Sometimes, we forget to consider the environment that the idea was formed in – or at least the environment when the thought became suddenly popular. We look at the idea, and can flat-out dismiss it with a wave and a laugh, whereas some otherwise very intelligent people of the time would be devoted adherents.

As an example: if I were to tell you that I could tell you what you were like, in exacting detail, by measuring 37 different points on your skull, including the distance from the tip of your nose to the tip of your chin; or the width of your forehead; or how high up your skull the tops of your ears end, would you believe me?

We look at phrenology now, and think: bumps on the head are indicators of personality?


The best take on it that I’ve seen was good old Terry Pratchett describing a troll in his fantasy setting of Ankh-Morpork opening a retro-phrenology shop: the customer explains what traits they want, and the retro-phrenologist applies mallets of various sizes to the correct locations of the skull… They could truthfully say that the procedure “won’t hurt a bit.”

Hilarious, and oddly close to the truth.

All through the 19th century, phrenology not only had thousands of practitioners around the world regarding it as medical science, but it had entered the rest of culture just as decisively: novels began describing the characters by their head shape as much as their clothes or manner. People reading the book would know what a squarish forehead or widely set eyes meant about a person’s character, and few other clues were needed. Phrenology’s popularity in the popular culture was vast: now, we’re left to wonder why.

Simple enough: it was the YMCA.

Okay, so not exactly; but the idea of “improving yourself” was one that had a fevered grip on western society. The idea of change itself had been growing, from revolutions that overthrew entire governments to religious schisms, but those things were, as often as not, of little concern to the daily life of most people. Even as radical a change as monarchy to democracy doesn’t stop the crops from growing.

But as the middle class grew, and the upper classes grew wealthier and better educated (generally speaking), ideas that did come down to the so-called common man were generally focused on one theme: what do we do with all these miserable bastards who were moving to the cities?

Well, let’s improve them!

Radical dietary, health, spiritual and even architectural movements sprang up (or were rediscovered) all over the place, and as many as could be encouraged to go, went. Most faded quickly enough, though some (like the Atkins Diet, or Christian Science) are still around to annoy us in modern times. Many had their disciples, usually in local strongholds where the charisma of the leader of a particular group held sway, the group vanishing when the leader did. Most were recognized as being… well… a little “off” by the majority and never attained widespread acceptance.

So why would something as patently ridiculous as head-lumps?

Because of what phrenology promised: change. Not just a change in the body, with improved health and renewed vigour et al, but intellectual change. This was radical – the idea that people were born into their established roles was still very strong, and race and class were shackles to any kind of advancement. Of course, the opposite was also true: those “to the manor born” (ahem) were given roles that frequently far exceeded their abilities simply because of their birth. People changing their fortunes was a virtually unthinkable concept: life was a non-religious form of predestination.

The reasoning behind phrenology, however, held that as you “exercised” certain aspects of your personality, those parts of your brain responsible for them would increase in size, making your skull thinner; eventually so thin that it could be pushed slightly out of place as the region swelled. If you didn’t exercise certain areas of your brain enough, they shrunk in size, letting your skull grow thicker. The joy of hearing this news was that your fate wasn’t inevitable! You could, under the care and tutelage of your local phrenologist, change your personality until your brain was perfectly balanced!

Naturally, whatever traits were found among the rich and famous were considered the best originally, as it would not do for those of lesser ability (proven to be physically measurable too!) to have attained a high standing; descriptions made at parties were all nicely complimentary, and head-measuring became a light diversion for the moneyed set.

But then a funny thing happened to phrenology: people believed in it.

As more and more people drew calipers and strings across their skulls, certain patterns started to emerge: that there was little difference between the faces of the rich and those of the poor. Criminals were found to have the craniums of clergy. Intellectuals and idiots alike were proven to have similar brows, duplicate eyes.

And a very exciting thought played across the western world: that anyone could become anything. Clearly, a science as proven as phrenology couldn’t be wrong: so if those great men had overcome the handicaps of their cranial capacities, surely the lesser ones could as well! Suddenly, people of all social orders flocked to place themselves under the advisement of these professionals, sure in the knowledge that with just a little advice they could work their way up the ladder. The practice became a fetish of the masses, following the population as they followed their dreams.

Sadly, the relation between physical shape and mental acuity was soon enough shown to be false, and the only people to seriously rely on this quackery were those who wanted to prove their own superiority.

But even with the discrediting of the science behind phrenology, the accidental philosophy it released would last, joining of the tenor if the times. Whether an idea helped to form the political movements of the era or was a symptom of societies itching to embrace personal freedoms is always a tricky thing. The rapid rise of a strong middle class undoubtedly allowed far more people the time to be concerned about the welfare of themselves and of others; plus the shock of seeing old titled gentry being outstripped by the sudden cash of merchants would have reduced the awe of nobility that was the norm.

Still, whichever was the cause or the symptom, it delights me no end to think that such an astoundingly silly belief could have contributed to the radical changes in thinking and political and social upheaval that occurred in that century.

What that says about me, I don’t know. Maybe I need some calipers


posted by Thursday at 10:20 pm 0 comments

June 07, 2007

It's The Show That Never Ends!

Welcome, friends! Welcome to our series of exhibits that reveals the truths that THEY don’t want you to hear about!

Yes, after years – decades, in some cases – of hard work, battling many well-funded enemies who have repeatedly tried to hide the truth, we have finally been able to reveal to one and all what THEY were so desperate to keep hidden.

If you’ll just shuffle inside here out of the bus from that other museum, yes thank you… I know the folks there told you that they had the truth, but actually we WAY more Truth than they do, and they’re just being a bunch of apostates. What they say is the truth has nothing to do with reality!

Now, naturally, we’d love to be able to charge you nothing for this enlightening and heart-warming tour, but the evils that brought the world scientific thought controls the power, and we’re forced to ask for $19.95, to be freely donated to our grand cause.

That’s “freely donated”.

From everyone.

If I can remind you that I have the only communication with your tour bus and we’re miles from anywhere that’s even heard of sushi…?

Thank you for your generous donations! If you’ll just walk this way, please.

I understand that many people have wondered what good a Museum of Persecuted Thoughts would be, and let me tell you it’s gratifying to be working here! We help educate people – even people like you – about how our rights have been trampled upon for too long! We’re starting to push back against the cold, villainous world of reason and cognition. Have we not suffered enough for our modest beliefs? Chief among them, that we can make a living by whatever means necessary?

Can’t we all just get along?

Now, as we start our tour, you’ll see in our Grand Hall here the so-called “periodic table of elements”. There’s no truth that we here informally call it the “periodic table of idiots”. Ha! Ha! After all, these “scientists” can never seem to get the thing right – it’s constantly changing by whatever whim is in vogue at the time. Clearly, chemicals shouldn’t be left to chemists.

Now, in here (if you’ll just be seated) is a view of the vast expanse of the heavens… It’s night, and all the stars have come out for you to see…

Don’t be too startled by the spirits you see floating above: they are ghosts and acting as our spiritual guides on our great exploration…

Pardon? “Dust”? No, of course not! These images were made with very sensitive photoreceptor equipment. With quantum film, I think. If I may continue? Thank you.

Some people say that there could be aliens out there, somewhere, and that we should try finding them for the joy of communicating with other sentient life.

But if we can’t prove that something’s there in the first place, why bother? Aliens aren’t mentioned in the bible, so if we did look, God would probably cause global warming by way of divine retribution. As great a scientist as Michael Crichton said it, so it must be true. Well, he said something like that, anyways.

Ah! And there are the lights. Off we go to our next exhibit!

Now, we’re going to be entering the theatre next, so hold on to your seats! We don’t want any money to be shaken loose! Ha! Ha! (But seriously, if anyone here has any extra money lying around, we can take care of that for you… No? No one? Fair enough, you’re all damned to hell, anyways.)

Through these doors, you’ll be shown what just may be the greatest proof of God’s creation – an actual alien visitation! Good luck, and try not to be too frightened!


And how did you enjoy the show? I didn’t hear any screaming, so you lot must be of sterner stuff that the usual rube- uh, usual people! Say which, now? It made you hungry? Um, okay…

Ah! Now would be a perfect time for a visit to our commissary, then! All our food is guaranteed to be safe and chemical free! Now -

What's that? Yes, of course I know what chemicals are! They're bad for you, right?

Now, as I was saying: being as we’re so broke here at the Museum of Persecuted Thoughts, we’ve acquired a sponsor who –

Hey! Now hold on here just a minute: this is someone we’re sure you’ll enjoy. He’s got a wonderful plan to make everyone here earn $30,000 a month!

No ma’am, that door’s locked. And that one’s one-way only. No, the windows don’t open, either – Put down that chair, please! Right, then! I see you’re eager to continue the tour, so let’s just get going, shall we?


Since you all seem to have skipped that meal, how about we relax in our trans-denominational vibrational frequency healing facility? The knowledge that all is one with God has helped us create products that allow you to heal yourself. Isn’t it amazing?

What’s that? “That’s what bodies do anyways”? Huh! Shows what you know! What kind of attitude is that, anyways? Fine, fine: if you don’t want to control the activity of your DNA to create a more perfect you, just say so!

Er… Not quite so loudly next time, all right, everyone? Thank you.

Now, we’re coming to an exhibit that I know even you will have difficulty denying: yes, it the magical healing fish of Kangal! These incredible gifts from God are proof that woo – I mean alternative medicines work! And no one knows how they cure vic-

What? Well, no; not cure exactly. Um… yes, I suppose there could be a logical reason for it. Sure, there’s a spa there that charges -

All right, look! Just shut up, okay? We’re allowed to have our beliefs, just like the noble Barry Lucier, fighting for all of us! And you can’t make us think! Otherwise!

You can’t make us think otherwise!

You know what? You lot have been such a… a… pain in the fundamental that I want you out of here! Just get out! Go continue your tour somewhere else!

And I hope the next place you visit is better skilled at handling such an unruly mob! And I hope it takes you exactly two weeks to get there!

P.S.: And take those protesters across the street with you!


posted by Thursday at 2:00 am 8 comments

June 06, 2007

Bring 'Em Young

Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.
-Jesuit proverb

Japan has a long history of being a very regimented society. Social mores were stictly enforced through peer pressure and absolute laws for a simple reason: that many people, that close together, and you could quickly have problems. Ask any night club owner.

It's interesting to compare any of the North American societies, where a strong individualism is encouraged and expected (right up until you actually become dangerous to yourself or others) to a people who live a codified life but cut loose with vigour - when appropriate.

One thing that the Japanese do to unwind is drink - heavily. They drink at work meetings with clients; they drink with their employers; they drink with guests. One of the many unspoken rules at such times, is that nobody remembers what was said during these occasions. Meaning people can speak frankly to each other in ways that would get them fired/sued/arrested at other times. Now, when I say nobody remembers, I don't necessarily mean they drink themselves into oblivion, though that happens too: it's that nobody officially remembers the next day. You have to do something awfully damn stupid for it to be recalled, and even then you won't be fired because you told your boss he's a fish-faced fornicator who has carnal knowledge of billy goats. You'll just be fired, and nobody will mention why.

Here, on the other hand, it's considered a very stupid move to go get drunk with someone you don't know very well and upon whom your future rests. Politeness counts, but is not demanded here, and insults are freely used to greet friends and loved ones. You're free to behave boorishly: it's seen as your problem, not society's. But losing control of yourself is strictly against the law: public drunkenness can bring fines or jail time; likewise many forms of private intoxication. Encouraging others to behave this way is also frowned upon, especially if you are encouraging someone considered "under society's protection", ie. children.

Way I figure it, kids are psychotic enough without the encouragement so fair enough.

As much as you're not encouraged to entice children to use intoxicants, even ones as mild as alcohol and cigarettes, advertisers of these things can't even state any sort of benifit gained by using them, no matter what the target age. Even those candy sticks that were sold in packs of twenty from way back when now call themselves "candy sticks" instead of "candy cigarettes" (or even just "candy", like these folks. Notice something missing?)

Compare that, if you will, to Japan's Kampai company, which advertises its foaming apple juice, faux-champaigne, wine, and cocktails specifically targeting kids in commercials like this, while selling a hangover cure here.

How well do you think those would go over on this side of the Pacific?


posted by Thursday at 11:49 am 0 comments

June 02, 2007

When Woo Works

First off, if you don't know what "woo" is, here's a solid definition.

Up to speed now? Then let's continue.

There are two stories I want to cover with this, one physical, one metaphysical. Both are examples of how interprtation of events can lead to belief, and a bit about the difference between truth and reality.

Here's the first, from this month's Scientific American:

For anyone who has had goldfish - and you know who you are - the temptation to reach your hand into the water is overwhelming. Everyone has felt the abraiding nibbles at their fingers, and insane old women coo happily away that their fish are giving them kisses out of sheer love (assuming they haven't broken out in cats, of course). As far as the fish are concerned, the sudden appearance of dead primate skin makes for a lovely addition to their standard diet.

So once upon a time (1917), there was a shepherd living in Kangal, Turkey. As he was tending to his flock, he fell and injured his leg. When he washed it in a nearby pond, *presto* it was cured! Well, obvoiusly when someone washes an injured area it looks better than when there's blood covering it, so that must have - Oh, what am I saying? It was a miracle! Well, not a miracle, of course: that would be unscientific. But a miracle cure!

Now, bear in mind that the western world was still in their Healthy Everything kick that infested thought and literature at the turn of the century, and spas and health retreats were everywhere even with the war going on: local people flooded to the area, and word of mouth spread its fame. And when people arrived, they weren't just tourists: they were customers. And they were going to expect a consistent product, much like what people expect when they travel today, helping make the world what it is.

Clearly, the only thing to do was to wall the pond off from its feeder creek, trapping the fish and other life in the single pond. Not such a great deal for the fish, as the pond was (and is) over 35 degrees centegrade (that's 95 for the imperial folks). Not much algae can survive at that temperature, so the fish trapped in that pool are in a state of constant starvation, but at least people always knew they were there to be called into action when needed. Kind of like how film studios in the 20s treated their talent.

So the fish living there are now, fifty years after they've been isolated from an external water source, weigh a quarter what others of their species weigh. But they do get a regualr supply of human meat! Well, human skin, anyways: about 3,000 people a year go to Kangal specifically for treatment of their psoriasis (not really a hot dating resort, then...). Typical woo, then?

Actually, no.

The treatment does work: the fish eat dead skin cells, favouring thicker, older skin. This stimulates new skin growth, doesn't hurt the patient, and is a relaxing vacation at the same time, cutting down on the stress which frequently triggers a bout of psoriasis. Naturally, there are imitators springing up on various points of the globe (you just had to know China would be in on it). So it is a cure, then?

Well, no.

It does relieve the symptoms of psoriasis, but does nothing about the cause of it. However, as you'll notice, the word "cure" pops up four times on the spa's opening page. I have no issue with people afflicted with this rather nasty disease getting relief; but please, drop the "cure".

The second story is from a few years back (2004) in the Utne Reader:

The writer and his wife, being non-religious, had a running joke in their marriage: they would invoke Mr. Loh in times of need. They built a shrine to him, made little offerings (always including alcohol), and would call on him in ways that have gone "from ironic to partly heartfelt".

And wouldn't you know it? The invocation works!

When they need a parking space, they'd note how Mr. Loh was beyond the need for parking, and behold! A parking space would appear (eventually)! When they were buying a house, they placed the appropriate offerings on their shrine (Monopoly houses, a bird's nest, etc.), and they got a house!

These are offered as examples of a vague spirituality that is in full evidence with every bout of new age nonsense out there - from quantum silliness to homeopathy to the odious books "The Celestine Prophecy" and the newer, blander "The Secret".

What was happening to the author, though he didn't realize it, was that he was remembering specific events because of the invocation he's added to them. It's not a special occasion to find a parking space; it becomes one if you add a specific prayer to it. They won $72 in a lottery - no big deal, but then they attributed it to Mr. Loh. The went shopping for a house and bought one. Again, no real shock there: I've done the same, and I imagine a good number of people have done likewise. But they decided to credit Mr. Loh, and suddenly it was a mystical event.

Sound familiar?

In both of these stories, the people who interpret what they see - their truth as compared to the reality of what's happening - created what they thought was miraculous effects. The "truth" was that the Doctor Fish of Kangal cured people; the reality is that they feed on dead skin, which aleviates the worst symptoms of psoriasis. The "truth" is that invoking Mr. Loh helps a writer and his wife in their day-to-day life. The reality is that Mr. Loh gives them somewhere to place their anxieties and responsibilities for a little while.

Neither of these is a bad thing. The beliefs here are even benificial, in a limited way. But not being able to discern reality from "the truth" is a dangerous prospect at best, and a nightmare at worst. Seeing a variety of perspectives, or at least exposing yourself to them, is the only way to avoid the pitfall of "truth".


posted by Thursday at 12:20 pm 2 comments

June 01, 2007

Time Ticks Away...

...And you're down to the final few days before the Skeptics' Circle comes to life right here in these pages!

I have had a couple inapropriate submissions, and I'll explain why it is:

This story does a good show of having a healthy attitude towards your local politicians: yep, it's a skeptical one. But it's based on the politics of the region, and while it confronts the classic executive doublespeak that's so tragically common in municipalities, we're looking for more on the scientific end of the spectrum. Woo, bad science, mysticism, misapplications of science in the media... These are the things we're looking for.

Granted, a lot of science has been politicised lately; it occasionally hard to seperate the two. For instance, do the new plans set out by the American or Canadian governments actually do anything other than act as a delaying tactic? Is a "missle defense shield" even feasable? What is the purpose of NASA? And did three Republican candidates really publicly claim that they did not believe in evolution?

But bear in mind that your post will be more likely included without the political references. There is, after all, lots and lots and lots to choose from!


posted by Thursday at 9:46 pm 0 comments