Here at Irregular Times we’ve been writing about hoaxes in general, and cancer hoaxes in particular, for some time now. This month, the relevance of the hoaxsters hit home. My wife was diagnosed just a few weeks ago with an apparently incurable and deadly cancer. Since I’ve found out, I have myself felt the desperation for a secret, hidden, or just-developed miracle cure. It’s like a heavy pit in my stomach.
Now that cancer is in my family, I am more angry than ever at the inexcusable yet shameless behavior of snake oil salesmen (and women) who are willing to exploit desperation for a buck, selling “miracle” products that just don’t work. The lies of the snake oil salesmen are magnified by well-meaning people who out of their trusting, faithful and unquestioning natures take the hucksters at their word and spread that word far and wide.
Since my wife’s cancer diagnosis many well-informed friends and acquaintances have helped me find medical centers of excellence whose survival rates are available through analysis of freely available datasets containing outcomes for millions of people. I can check up on the expertise of the doctors we consult by reviewing their history of published research. I’m grateful for the help of these friends and acquaintances who have helped point me in the right direction and provided me with verifiable information.
There are also many friends and acquaintances who have pointed me in the wrong direction. I’m not angry at these friends because I know they’re trying to help. I’m angry at the people who have duped them by taking advantage of their belief in the honesty of human beings who look honest and sound honest. Friends have suggested my wife go on the “Gerson therapy” of juicing and coffee enemas (which not only doesn’t work but can actually harm some people). People tell me all the time that they’ll be praying for my wife’s return to health (although the effect of distant prayer appears in research to be nil). I expected these declarations and was prepared for them with a polite smile, a thank you and a quick segue into another subject.
I wasn’t prepared for the friendly visitor who with heartfelt concern insisted that my wife begin treatments of “Essiac tea.” “This tea was developed by a Canadian nurse after she learned the secret from an Ojibwe medicine man. I learned about it on the internet,” our visitor told me. “She didn’t make a penny on it, and this tea fights all cancers. There have been many cases where doctors can’t find any more cancer and they can’t explain it. There is a recovery rate of 80%. 80%! Your wife needs to start on this right away.” And with that, she put a package of Essiac tea in my hand. You can find versions of my visitor’s story all over the internet, containing various mixes of the above elements, including the claim about an “80% recovery rate” (without documentation).
What is Essiac tea? Well, the preparation I received, sold by the Good Tern Natural Foods Co-Op in Rockland, contained four herbal ingredients: sheep sorrel, burdock root, elm bark and turkey rhubarb. These ingredients are apparently typical, according to the boosterish naturopathic website essiactreatment.com. “Essiac” sounds like an adjective, but it is really just the last name of its developer, Rene Caisse, spelled backwards.
Does Essiac tea really fight all cancers, end cancer, stop cancer? It’d be great if it did. But there’s no evidence from systematic clinical trials indicating that it does. I have not been able to find a single clinical trial in a published, peer-reviewed scientific journal indicating that Essiac tea has any positive effect on cancer — and the National Cancer Institute also asserts that there have not been any published clinical trial results. I have not been able to find any proof of an “80% recovery rate” for people using Essiac tea — not anywhere. A rare publication in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a sympathetic outlet, describes a retrospective non-experimental study of breast cancer patients that finds no difference between Essiac tea users and non-users in health-related quality of life or mood. That paper references a 1977 Phase II clinical trial that found no effect of Essiac tea on cancer survival; results from the trial were never published. However, a Canadian government review of unpublished trial data determined that Essiac tea had no effect on survival or tumor growth. Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Libraries have shown that in vitro (outside the body), Essiac tea actually promotes breast cancer tumor growth.
Research summaries by the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and Cancer Research UK corroborate these determination that Essiac tea does nothing for cancer. Even naturopathic “guru” Andrew Weill recommends that cancer patients avoid Essiac tea, because while doing nothing for cancer it can disrupt patients’ fluid balance and damage the liver and kidneys.
Those who sell Essiac tea today know full well that there is no demonstrated effect of the tea on cancer — but they continue to peddle and spread the stories and manipulate trusting, good-hearted people like my visitor into spreading the stories. There’s good money to be made peddling this nonsense tea. If you’re curious https://www.essiacproducts.com/secureorder/unitedstates (no hyperlink — I don’t want to reward the company with an actual working link) and review the price of Essiac tea sold by the holder of Rene Caisse’s proprietary license. As of today, a 10.5 fluid-ounce bottle of the stuff costs $38.00, plus shipping and handling fees. That’s a hefty profit, and according to the seller a bottle will only provide enough doses for 7 1/2 days.
People who make money peddling fake cures to desperate people used to merely offend me morally. Now they make me very, very angry. Let’s call these people what they are. Fraudsters. Let’s call Essiac tea what it is. A hoax. The only way to stop this is spread the truth in voices louder than the voices of the fraudsters and the well-meaning people they dupe. Will you do your bit? Will you share the truth?
On a variety of right wing web sites, you’ll see an advertisement featuring a graphic that appears to show President Barack Obama, being picked up by three men, apparently after falling down.
Could it be true? Does Barack Obama really have only one month left? Does he have a deadly disease that is causing him to fall down?
I can’t absolutely prove that Barack Obama won’t be dead within a month, or that he won’t be kicked out of the White House within a month. These things are always possible, for any President. No one can look into the future and say what’s going to happen with absolute certainty. I can’t even say for sure that the sun will rise tomorrow. It’s remotely possible that some cosmic disaster will remove the sun from the sky.
Given that, I can show that the right wing conspiracy theory that claims to have secret information proving that Barack Obama has only 1 month left is itself a load of hooey. All that’s needed to debunk the conspiracy theory is contained within the image itself.
First of all, we see that the image is a fake. Take a look at the picture shown here. On the right hand side, we see a photograph of Barack Obama from the WhiteHouse.gov web site, taken five days ago. It shows Barack Obama with a great deal of grey hair. On the left hand side, we see the image of Barack Obama used by the conspiracy theory advertisement. It shows Barack Obama with no grey hair at all. If it is a genuine photograph of Obama at all, it was taken a long time ago, and therefore cannot be evidence of a deadly disease that Barack Obama has contracted recently.
Now, let’s consider skin color. In the advertisement’s photograph, we see Barack Obama’s face, but what about his hands? As this image shows, putting one of the hands in the image right next to Obama’s face as shown in the same image, the skin color isn’t at all alike.
As this next image, taken from a White House photograph, shows, the skin on the back of Barack Obama’s hand may be slightly lighter than the skin on his face, but only slightly – nothing like the stark difference shown in the “Only 1 Month Left” image. If you don’t believe this image, go to the WhiteHouse.gov web site, and search through the photos yourself. You’ll see that Barack Obama does not have pale hands.
The “Only 1 Month Left” image is clearly doctored, and a bad fake at that. Of course, it’s possible that this fake photograph has been used to refer to an actual conspiracy. Maybe Barack Obama does have just one month left, and right wingers who are writing about it are merely stupid enough to create a bad fake photograph to illustrate a valid story.
This last possibility is extinguished by a quick search using Tin Eye, a image search engine that automatically compares versions of similar images, to help people discover where images originally came from. A Tin Eye search this morning, September 1, 2014, shows that a web site called Patriot Net Daily posted this same image, asserting that Barack Obama has “only 1 month left”, back in November of 2013, almost ten months ago. The claim that Barack Obama has only 1 month left has thus been disproven 9 times already.
Despite this obvious problem, the right wing conspiracy theory sites keep on making this “only 1 month left” claim. Why? They obviously think that their right wing readership is too stupid to notice the problem. That much they may have gotten correct.
Put all this evidence of fraud aside, and there’s yet another simple test to verify the accuracy of this conspiracy theory: The test of time. Let’s wait a month, and see if Barack Obama is still around. If he is, then we will know for certain that Patriot Net Daily, and all the other right wing sites that carry the “only 1 month left” message, are unreliable sources of information about secrets and scandals in the Obama Administration.
It’s Labor Day, but I just can’t bear to reiterate the awful facts about economic inequality in the United States. I could tell you about the insights from the latest article from the Journal of Economic Inequality, but I would have to pay $44.95 for access to that article, and I just don’t have that kind of extra money.
Rather than talking about people who work in inhumane conditions, it will be far easier for me to talk about workers who are literally non-human. Let’s talk about worker bees.
It’s commonly said that in a hive of honeybees, the queen lays all the eggs. I found out, while reading a recent article from The American Naturalist, that worker honeybees actually do lay eggs.
What happens to the eggs of worker bees and queen bees is what makes honeybee hive society structured in the way that it is. Worker bees kill each others’ eggs 98 percent of the time. This egg-killing is called “policing” by entomologists. Only between 4 and 10 percent of eggs laid by the queen are killed by workers in the colony.
The article that provides these statistics, Killing and Replacing Queen-Laid Eggs: Low Cost of Worker Policing in the Honeybee by
Martin H. Kärcher and Francis L. W. Ratnieks, is available at Jstor, where, if you sign up for a free account, you can read three academic articles at any given time, at no cost.
Why do three year-olds need to be fashionable?
In Kenya, drunken monkeys, given alcohol by people stopping by the side of the highway between two nature preserves, have become so aggressive that locals are afraid to venture outside their homes. “They eat our goats, and we have been unable to plant food for the last three years,” one explains.
The problem isn’t unique to Africa. In Dehli, India, monkeys who are revered by Hindus as representations of the god Hanuman have been given food, and sometimes alcohol, by city residents. As a result, the monkeys have become more assertive, and have begun to steal liquor and attack people.
In St. Kitts in the Caribbean, vervet monkeys commonly sneak away with the alcoholic cocktails abandoned by guests at beach resorts. Over on the other side of the world, primates are said to go one step further. Modern Drunkard claims that monkeys in Borneo actually make their own alcohol, by stuffing collections of wild plants into holes, and then letting the mix stew. Orangutans, it is said, will raid the monkeys’ stash to get their own buzz on. Independent sources are not available to verify this story.
When I picked up copy of the latest NEA Higher Education Advocate, I came across this snippet regarding Maine Governor Paul LePage in an article titled “The 10 Worst Governors:”
The placement of LePage’s quote next to a description of education cuts suggests a particular meaning for the quote: that Governor LePage wants kids in Maine who can’t afford private school to have a bad education.
But read an article written by Maine’s affiliate of the National Education Association, the MEA, and you’ll see that Paul LePage was making a different point altogether:
“On Friday, Nov. 9 Governor LePage shot a few more rounds at educators…
“He said, ‘Until the Legislature and the governor sit down and say what’s best for students, we’re not going to change our schools.’
“At the MEA we believe when decisions are made that will benefit students, educators will be a part of the discussion. The educator voice is imperative in curriculum and professional debates, discussions and decisions. We also believe that the next session of the Legislature will be more supportive of educators and the inclusion of educators’ voices as we work together to benefit our students.
“LePage went on to say charter school legislation and implementation is a step in the right direction. MEA respectfully disagrees. Charter schools will only hurt public schools by funneling off taxpayer money at a time when the state has not reached the 55% mandated resources. The promise, voted on by Maine’s voters years ago, has yet to be kept and continues to limit school opportunities. Adding charter schools into this will cause budget woes for school boards, force schools and faculties to face insecure futures and impact the quality of education we can provide to our students.
“But most insulting was his statement, ‘If you want a good education in Maine, go to a private school. If you can’t afford it, tough luck.’ Once again Governor LePage is caught in a bald faced lie discrediting public schools. Maine’s schools produce successful students statewide yet the Governor and Education Commissioner Bowen continue to push their private school agenda.
“The Governor believes that Maine’s schools should be privatized and should be run by for-profit, out-of-state corporations. Public schools belong in our communities and should be overseen by taxpayers – not by corporations. Our students and parents benefit from local public schools. Our educators work hard, provide outstanding opportunities to students and go above and beyond. The MEA loves Maine’s educators. We stand behind you and all the good work you do.”
What LePage was saying at the time was not that Maine kids should have bad educations. He was claiming that Maine kids in public schools currently were getting bad educations, and that they could get better educations if public schools were privatized.
I don’t agree with LePage’s assessment of Maine public schools. I don’t agree with him that privatization is a good policy solution. But I also don’t agree with the choice by the NEA to accomplish a cheap shot through mischaracterization. A national association of educators should know better.
Believe it or not, in 2014 there are still people out there who are obsessed with the idea that Barack Obama is a secret foreigner who from the date of his birth has been swept up in a conspiracy to bring a non-American into the presidency so he could… well, generally disappoint? The conspiracy theories are fuzzy on the supposed object of all this hypothetical subterfuge, but they agree that Barack Obama has had his birth certificate forged. The latest claim comes from Bill, who shares his insight in a thread on quack cancer cures:
“Jimmy boy Obama proved citizenship ? Kenya? The birth certificate they produced said Afro-American hmmm now where did they get that? Back in the 60′s there were no such things as Afro-Americans.”
I looked into this assertion and it turns out Bill isn’t alone in asking this kind of question. Earlier this year The Minority Report: Conservative News & Opinion posed the following question from an unnamed “New Jersey Attorney”:
“Back in 1961 people of color were called ‘Negroes.’ So how can the Obama ‘birth certificate’ state he is ‘African-American’ when the term wasn’t even used at that time?”
30 seconds’ of searching on Google trashes the latest birth-certificate conspiracy claim in two ways:
1. Go look at the White House’s own original release of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The phrases “Afro-American” and “African-American” don’t actually appear anywhere on the certificate.
2. Check out Google’s database for the term “Afro-American” in books; you’ll see that people actually were using the term all through the 1960s.
What’s next? Will they say that the Communists have inserted falsehoods into our historical book records? That the Islamofascists have re-doctored the doctored birth certificate? These claims are sadly more likely than the admission, “we fibbed.”
Over the last 5 years, Delaware’s Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Coons has taken over one and a half million dollars from political action committees set up to represent business interests. That’s almost 5 times as much money as he’s accepted from labor union PACs.
Is it any wonder, then, that Senator Coons refused to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would have increased the minimum hourly wage to $10.10 and provided for automatic increases in the minimum wage to keep up with inflation? Is it a surprise that Coons would not support the The Climate Protection Act, which would have transferred the costs of climate change from individual Americans to fossil fuels corporations? With all of the corporate money connections Chris Coons uses to support his position in the U.S. Senate, is it unexpected that Coons has witheld support for the Follow the Money Act, legislation that would require prompt reporting of the corporate links to independent expenditures?
No, none of this is surprising, but it is profoundly disappointing.
The Republican alternatives to Coons are even worse. The semi-literate Carl Smink proposes that Congress act to “Insure that the Bible and the Constitution of the United States are used as the primary sources for governance of this country,” not understanding the contradiction inherent in his proposal. Kevin Wade offers half-baked aphorisms for his extremist conservative political platform, advising that “military and economic weakness lead to hazard and hazard is the doorman to national tragedy,” and that “the Federal government makes a very poor Mom an insufficient husband and offers no kind of ‘god’ to replace our Own.”
Thankfully, there is an alternative to the corporate corruption of Coons and the theocratic incompetence of Smink. Andrew Groff is running for Senate this year as a Green Party candidate. Groff isn’t perfect**, but no choice in this election is. If you’re in the state of Delaware, and are looking for a third choice, it’s worth considering whether Groff might be closer to your ideals than the other two candidates.
** Groff’s campaign web site features a strange article that celebrates the collapsitarianist ideas of Dmitry Orlov, which picks on the Ik, a group of people who have been forced by constant warfare into a kind of refugee status. The article, not written by either Groff or Orlov, but featured by Groff nonetheless, sneers at at the Ik with unnecessarily abusive language such as this: “The last Ik who was still human preferred to be locked up in a Ugandan jail cell rather then be with her own people, and upon release, immediately attacked someone else so she would be put back in jail.”
In spite of this strange addition to Groff’s campaign site, Groff has a positive political platform that includes: An end to corporate personhood, reversal of indefinite detention and military policing powers under the National Defense Authorization Act, repeal of the Patriot Act, restraint rather than military expansion in foreign policy, opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, and support for equality in marriage rights.
I’ll admit, it’s been a long time since I put dating aside in favor of marriage. So, take what I’ve got to say here with a big cube of salt. Even when I was single, I never used online dating services. I simply met people, face to face, by happenstance.
That said, there’s a particular sort of online dating service that is especially inscrutable to me: The atheist dating service.
There’s Atheist Dating Service, Freethinker Match, Atheist Personals…
… and there’s Atheist Passions, a web site that promises, “You have a better chance of finding Waldo on this site than you do of finding God!” The company that runs it, Passions, also hosts Mime Passions… for mimes who want to date other mines.
How many mimes, looking only for other mimes, actually exist? There are indications that these supposed atheist dating services are really just fill-in-the-blank iterations of larger dating services, a form of link bait to draw people in from a variety of different communities.
Consider, for example, the “about” text from atheistdatingservice.com: “Who are we? Atheist Dating Service is the fastest growing co-operative of online-dating sites in the world. This growth is driven by the totally unique partner concept and range of services that we provide, that are unmatched in the industry…” It goes on an on like that, with boilerplate text, and nothing at all about atheist dating needs in particular. The concept that grabbed my attention here is the the claim that atheistdatingservice.com is “unmatched in the industry”. What industry? The atheist dating industry?
The industry, if one exists, looks awful scammish to me, but putting such concerns aside, I want to deal with a deeper question: Why would atheists want to date only other atheists?
I’m atheist, but I’m not married to one. Given the odds, my guess is that this is how it turns out most of the time. I disagree with my wife about many things when it comes to religion. But then, we also disagree about food, and hairstyles, and movies, and educational policy…
Are dating and marriage about agreeing with people’s opinions? I don’t think so. The phrase vive la difference comes to mind.
Furthermore, while it is true that atheists as a category are rejected as potential marriage partners more than any other group in America, I reckon that, as individuals, atheists end up being just as attractive to potential partners as anyone else. It would be a shame, an a hypocrisy, for atheists to complain about Christians who reject the possibility of dating atheists, but then go off into dating services that are designed to help them reject the possibility of dating anyone but atheists themselves.
There are plenty of fish in the sea, it’s said, and it’s worth reminding that most of the fish don’t look very much like each other at all. I don’t want to swim in sync with a school of people who think just like me – and honestly, most atheists don’t really think just like each other anyway. If I had set out to marry an atheist woman, I would have probably ended up arguing with her about her libertarian politics, or about the way that she folds towels.
In our romantic lives, we learn about different ways of living by hooking up with different kinds of people, until we find the one who feels right – whether it makes rational sense or not. Love is a mystery, and I suspect it won’t work out very well if people try to micromanage it.
It’s true that I don’t believe in the reality of any gods. More than that, however, I don’t believe that it’s gods I wanted to talk about on any of my first dates.
There’s a reason that marriage has been one of the key political battlegrounds in American culture over the last 100 years. Regressive groups want to keep dating and marriage within strictly controlled boundaries.
I think it’s better for everyone if we mix it up.