Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Thanks to Whatveresque and PZ by proxy

Monday, November 26, 2007

Jesus Christ gets an evil twin in fantasy film

Something tells me this movie is going to be awesome.

Jesus Christ gets an evil twin in fantasy film : Mail & Guardian Online

A Sceptic's Survival Guide to the Holidays

Thanks to sceptical "rogue" Evan Bernstein, we have a handy survival guide for those family events we're going to be encountering soon:

The Rogues Gallery » Family And The Holiday Season

Telecommuting, again

Yes, I know, I've blogged about this before. More than once. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that this is not only a good idea, but something we should collectively be pushing for.

Today's reason for telecommuting is global warming. Yes, global warming.

We all agree that in order to do our part to curb global warming, we need to reduce the amount of energy we spend. So let's look at the energy consumption involved in the average office-worker's day.

When it comes to your average work-day, there are two aspects that determine your energy consumption. The first is the electricity employed in the execution of your job.

This electricity is used by the tools you employ in your job: computer and telephone. Whether you're using a computer and telephone at an office or at home makes no difference: the same amount of electricity is being consumed. There are also other devices in an office environment that use electricity that are shared amongst all the employees: air-conditioning, kettles (for coffee), fridges (for storing milk), photocopiers, fax machines, PABXs, communication servers, lighting and so on. Let's look at each of those individually.

Air-conditioning is an absolute requirement in an office environment. When you have a number of large mammals generating heat and exhaling carbon-dioxide in a confined space, it would get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly. The fewer large mammals contained in that space, the less each air-con unit must work in order to maintain a fixed temperature. So fewer people in the office = less power used by air-con. If you're working at home, you're probably one of very few large mammals occupying the space, so no air-con is necessary, even in the middle of summer.

Kettles are a requirement in an office. If you're a coffee-drinker, you'll have a kettle at home as well. Whether you boil it at the office to make your coffee, or at home makes no difference.

You probably have a fridge at home already. It's probably already operational 24/7. They'll need one at the office to be running all the time as well. Once again it's even money.

If you're alone at home, you don't need to photocopy documents. In fact you shouldn't be photocopying any documents at the office either, but stick-in-the-mud Amish types will insist on it. If you're not there to hand someone a document, the obvious choice is to email it to them. Photocopiers will go silent most of the time, saving paper and power.

Fax machines should be done away with too. If you can scan and email a document, there's no need to fax it. Why buy an extra machine to do the same job? If you're not using paper documents, which you shouldn't be doing anyway if you're working from home, the fax machine will see less action too.

PABXs and communication servers will still be necessary. If your IT department is savvy, they will know how to divert your calls to your cellphone, reducing the number of calls to be made when clients try to reach you. The communication servers that are probably already there will simply be working more on managing remote connections than local ones. Power-wise it's still even money.

If you have less people in an office, you need less lights on. People working from home during the day will tend to leave the lights off and work with sunlight. Since you shouldn't be using paper anyway, and your computer screen is backlit, there should be no need for any artificial lighting. Telecommuting wins again.

So in summary, working from home uses slightly less power (and paper) than working in an office. Most factors are even, but telecommuting wins when it comes to air-con and lighting: two major power wasters.

The second aspect of your power consumption is driving to and from the office.

This is a no-brainer: less driving = less environmental damage. If you can arrange your work week so that you need only go into the office twice a week, that's a 60% reduction on carbon emissions. Even if you only work form home one day a week, that's a 20% reduction! Also, if you consider that driving in peak traffic uses more fuel than off-peak (because your engine is running for longer periods, even if you're covering the same distance) you can reduce your impact even further by scheduling your office-visits for the middle of the day instead of early morning or late afternoon.

I'm serious guys, talk to your bosses. If the company you work for is reasonably tech-savvy, odds are they already have the infrastructure in place to allow you to work from home at least one day a week. You owe it to your personal budget, the company's budget and the environment!

Telecommute for the children!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Health Director General is an Idiot Too

Business Day - News Worth Knowing

Even though he sounds like as much of an idiot as Manto, defending "traditional medicine" using every woo-woo logical fallacy in the book, it's encouraging that the project to assess and regulate all such preparations is still underway.

It will probably take years, but at least they're working on it. I volunteer to assist in testing... I'll handle the homeopathic remedies.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

LifeWave II: The Saga Continues

Well, I'm glad to report that I was proven wrong... to some extent.

Last week I predicted that I would not recieve a reponse from Primedia's marketing department relating to my complaint about their airing advertisments for LifeWave Nanopatches.

I was wrong. It took them a week, but I finally heard back from them. Here is their response:

Dear Owen.

We appreciate the time you have taken to write to us.

Please note that Talk Radio 702 is a credible News and Information
station. We deem any communication conveyed by our advertisers to our listeners
as credible, above board and legitimate. I do however understand that some of
your concerns may be valid it is however ultimately up to the Advertising
Standards Authority to manage this process. I’m sure that you will appreciate
that we are a commercial radio station and although from time to time it has
come to our attention that advertisers may promote products or offerings that
may not deliver on what they promise it is not our responsibility to decide.

Please direct your concerns and complaints to the Advertising Standards
Authority on 011 781 2006 or visit their website on

Kind regards,

Andrew Cooper
Direct Sales Manager
Primedia Broadcasting

In other words, Primedia like to think of themselves as a reputable media corporation, but don't feel that it's their responsibility to enforce that, rather relying on an external agent to inform them when they have stepped over the line.

It should be noted that the AASA is not a government sponsored organisation.
They are set up and sustained by the media industry themselves as a self-regulatory system. An honourable goal to be sure, but it seems now to result in that same industry abdecating all responsibility and passing the buck to the AASA.

"Oh what a fool I have been to go searching for courage in the lair of cowards"
- Admiral Alidar Jarok

But that's fine. At least I now know were we stand, and I'll follow it up with the AASA as I had planned. They have a pretty good track record of responding, so I'll let you know what they have to say.

Monday, November 19, 2007

IOL: War on crime causes traffic snarl-ups

IOL: War on crime causes traffic snarl-ups

This is a blatant lie. I was stuck in this very traffic jam this morning, for over an hour. When I got to the road-block, there was no randomised searching for illegal firearms. Nothing of the sort!

They had their license-plate scanning rig set up, along with their mobile fine-payment caravan and two paddywagons off to one side to transport offenders to jail. Along the road was parked a line of expensive cars, all empty (presumably waiting to be towed to the impound lot).

They were looking for traffic-fine offenders!

Although it is outrageously stupid to do something like this in peak traffic on a weekday, it is within the jurisdiction of the Metro police to conduct such road-blocks. So why would they lie about the purpose of the road-block?

Something doesn't smell right here.

Columnist fired for sticking up for Satanism

I'm still too angry about this to write an intelligible post on the subject, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it.

As seems to be the case so often nowadays, go to Moonflake for the story.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bones found near Van Rooyen’s house « moonflake

Bones found near Van Rooyen’s house « moonflake

Moonflake is teh win.

Was Danie Krugel right?

Well this is interesting.

It seems that bone fragments have been unearthed less than a kilometer from Gert van Rooyen's former residence in Pretoria.

They're still being tested to see of they are human, and, if so, if they belong to any of his missing victims.

Danie Krugel, after using his magic quantum machine, predicted that the girls' bodies were buried within a few Kilometers of van Rooyen's former home. Before anyone gets all excited about this being a vindication of Danie's magic box, let's put this into context.

Firstly, do any amount of digging in an urban area that has been occupied for several decades, and it would be surprising not to find any bone fragments. People eat animals, the bones of which sometimes end up being buried (by pet dogs, for instance). People's pets die, and are frequently buried in the back yard. Your average back yard probably contains several bones that, upon first glance, could be thought to resemble human.

So the chances of these particular bones turning out to be human are probably pretty slim. The contractors digging the swimming pool most likely wouldn't have given the fragments a second thought if they weren't aware of Danie Krugel's predictions (thanks to that pillar of journalistic integrity: Carte Blanche). But, we'll only know for sure once they've been tested.

If the bones turn out to be human I suppose there's a good chance they might belong to at least one of his victims. Human bones are generally not strewn about willy-nilly. If that turns out to be the case, however, it still doesn't mean that Krugel's machine works.

Why not? Simple logic.

As an experienced policeman, Krugel would, no doubt, be aware that murderers of this sort tend to dispose of the bodies near their homes. Any regular viewer of CSI would be aware of this tendency. His making that prediction says nothing about his magic box, and rather merely demonstrates that Krugel himself is an adequately skilled detective.

If Krugel's box had predicted the location of the bones to within a few metres (say, less than twenty) that would certainly lend support to his claims. But he didn't. He predicted a radius of several Kilometers. That's not a hit.

Danie: even if you turned out to be right this time, and manage to impress the credulous producers and viewers of Carte Blanche, you'll need to do better than that in order to really prove the efficacy of your little contraption.

Have you found little Maddie yet? Nope.

Have you even tried to look for little Londiwe yet? I have no idea, but I'm guessing no.

Do better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ridicule as a persuasive tool

Bobby makes a really good point here.

Anyone who joins a rattlesnake cult is not going to be swayed by a rational argument - they’ve already abandoned logic.

Ridicule is an important tool.

I often cringe when I hear sceptics being overtly dismissive and insulting of the credulous. I do it too, and although it feels good sometimes, there's always a nagging pang of guilt back there somewhere.

Rational, intelligent people aren't going to be persuaded by sarcasm. Being sarcastic, although an almost reflex reaction, is often not a good idea. But the way Bobby puts it here makes sense. It's not valid to assume that everyone who subscribes to woo-woo is necessarily intelligent or rational. In fact, the opposite is probably true more often than not.

When dealing with those who aren't swayed by logic or reason, the only way to reach them is through manipulation. It sounds terrible, I know, but I think it's true. To extend Randi's burning building analogy, if the person you're trying to rescue won't be persuaded to move, sometimes you have to pick them up like a sack of potatoes, throw them over your shoulder, and carry them out yourself - Bruce Willis style. Ridicule seems to be the psychological equivalent of that.

Not so?

LifeWave goodbye

So the other day I was driving to work and almost crashed into the car in front of me because I was overcome by a sudden rage. LifeWave, who I had heard about on James Randi's Swift newsletter, had purchased some advertising time on Radio 702 to peddle their Nanopatches: devices supposed to use nano-quantum-kungfu-whatever to give you psychic superpowers or something. Take a look at their website and see for yourself.

I try to avoid listening to the radio because it's littered with all kinds of crap. But Hide's been trying to get me to listen, so as to keep up-to-date on everyday happenings of the sort that most people care about (as opposed to the ones that I care about). So every now and then I turn it on for a few minutes until my Crap-o-meter hits the red and I have to put on a George Carlin CD or something to calm me down.

Having become somewhat desensitised to the usual nonsense that our ignorant and talentless radio presenters spew, I was surprised to hear 702 stoop to this new low.

So I wrote a little email to their marketing department.

To whom it may concern.

I was surprised and disappointed yesterday morning when, on my daily
commute, I heard a radio advertisement on 702 for the "LifeWave

As an advertising division of a media corporate, you are all, no
doubt, very busy. I therefore assume that your team lacks the capacity
to examine the credibility of every advertiser who wishes to purchase
air-time on 702.

I also assume that the credibility of your advertisers is of
importance to you, as they are a reflection on the credibility of 702
and Primedia as a whole.

I therefore take it upon myself to inform you that this particular
product, and company, has been exposed as a scam. The "science" behind
the nanopatch devices has been well debunked
( and LifeWave must go a
long way to prove their gadgets' efficacy.

Their advertisement makes a string of medical claims despite the fact
that their devices are not medical in nature. The fact that their
website includes a disclaimer stating that they make "no medical
claims" loses its credibility when that disclaimer is followed by a
list of four separate medical claims!

Although I cannot say whether or not the nanopatch actually works (as
I have not tested it myself), LifeWave have not met the necessary
burden of proof to demonstrate their product's efficacy, and therefore
have no right selling it to a misinformed public.

Of course the choice is yours as to what action to take from here, but
I would be very pleased if this advertisement were to be pulled from
the air with immediate effect until such time as LifeWave can produce
evidence supporting their claims.

In the words of Carl Sagan "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary
evidence." In this case the claims are certainly extraordinary, but
the evidence is not even ordinary, it is practically nonexistent.

Thank you for your consideration.

Owen Swart

That was two days ago now. As I should have predicted, there has been no response from Primedia yet. And I don't expect one.

I haven't heard the advert again, but then I don't listen to the radio very much. If anyone hears it, please let me know. If I get no response from Primedia, my next stop will be the Advertising Standards Authority.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


In order to satisfy the hordes of you who have been wishing - hoping against hope - that you could leave a comment on my endlessly entertaining, or infuriatingly idiotic blog posts but haven't had the time or inclination to sign up for a Google account, your wish has come true.

I have once again enabled anonymous comments!

[Waits for the cheers and thunderous applause to subside]

Just because I've decided to allow anonymous comments again doesn't mean I encourage it. If you're going to leave a comment, please identify yourself. I don't mind if you want to leave something critical or even abusive, so long as I can track you down see who left the comment. My identity is no secret, so I ask the same courtesy of you.

If it gets abused again I, of course, reserve the right to delete comments that go too far, or deactivate anonymous comments again. But if we all play nice, that never has to happen. Kay?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mbeki still an AIDS Dissident « moonflake

I haven't had the time to verify the claims made in this yet, but I think it's fairly safe to take Moonflake's word on it.

If it is true, then holy crap! What is the use of fighting for human rights if our own president denies the humanitarian crisis on his doorstep?

I've tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, assuming that Mbeki was merely misquoted, and avoiding the temptation to become embroiled in a PR battle with the media. But if this story checks out, then I have misjudged him.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Stupid South Africa

Okay, I’ve had a few hours to sit and digest the impact of the survey conducted by Sceptic South Africa. As upsetting as it is, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the results. Knowing that HIV infection rates are higher here than just about everywhere else is testament to the fact that South Africans, as a whole, are indeed colossally stupid.

I must qualify here that SSA’s survey was the first of its kind to be run in South Africa (as far as I can tell… please let me know if there have been any before). Being the first, and so far only, the results should be treated with a fair degree of scepticism. I haven’t inspected the protocol for the survey, so I can’t speak to its accuracy or lack of bias.

However, based on George Claasen’s writings he seems a competent sceptic, and I think it’s pretty safe to assume that he would be perfectly capable of designing and executing a reasonably impartial study with as diverse a sample group as is practical. And also to report the results honestly.

Even assuming a fair degree of possible error, the results are clear: South Africans have a tendency to believe whatever supernatural mumbo-jumbo they’re fed. This is, I suppose, not all that different to all humans, regardless of nationality. All other statistics of this nature that I’ve seen (particularly in the US) show a similar leaning.

Hide raised the obvious question this morning: why does it bother me?

This is why.

Considering that SSA’s survey was at least partially conducted via telephone, it is ironic, but not amusingly so, that so many respondents admitted to believing in a young Earth (less than 10,000 years old). Our knowledge of the fact that the speed of light is constant is one of the many scientific advances that have led to the development of technologies like the cellular telephone. That same knowledge has assisted us in determining the actual (estimated) age of the universe (around 13.7 billion years). These idiots are happy to rely on science for their everyday convenience, but deny its results when they conflict with dearly held ideological beliefs.

The reason why these sorts of ridiculous mistakes are made is not just sheer stubbornness, although that is probably a factor. I think a far larger factor is ignorance, specifically, scientific illiteracy.

Your average South African doesn’t know how a cellphone works. They’re happy to carry one everywhere they go, but probably don’t give a moment’s thought to the mechanisms behind this revolutionary technology. In fact, even if I were to attempt to explain the concept of a cellular communications network to an average South African, they wouldn’t have a clue what I was saying, because they wouldn’t have access to the scientific vocabulary necessary to parse the information.

In fact, I would be surprised if the average South African was even aware that the speed of light is known to be constant. Or for that matter, even of the fact that light travels at all!

Even those who have received high-school educations have largely obtained their matric certificate without ever having had the concepts of evolution properly explained to them (until now).

But why does it matter? What difference does it make to Joe Smith’s life if he plods through his daily existence unaware of the fundamental concepts of science? Why would Jane Jones care that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared?

If you had asked that question a century ago, or even a couple of decades ago, the answer would probably have been that it would, indeed, not have mattered very much. Despite the fact that they would have missed out on all the awesome beauty and sheer elegance of the natural world, their daily lives would probably not have been all that different.

But times have changed. In the 21st century it has become nigh impossible to navigate daily life without a basic knowledge of science.

An easy example is that of vaccines. Medical science has offered us a variety of medicines designed to defend against some of the most dangerous organisms known to attack humans with regularity. In some cases, proper use of vaccines has resulted in the complete elimination of these organisms, as was the case with Smallpox.

Despite these successes, there is a growing and vociferous movement of scientifically illiterate people who have cottoned onto the viral meme that Mercury contained in certain vaccines can cause autism in children. This sort of thing plays directly into the human cognitive tendency to believe scary claims, no matter how implausible they may be, because it’s generally safer to have a false positive than a false negative.

However in this case exactly the opposite is true. Not only do vaccines not contain any harmful Mercury compounds, but failing to vaccinate Junior could result in the illness and death of not only your child, but his peers as well. These people do not possess the necessary vocabulary to parse the medical literature, and are led entirely by specious claims and anecdotal evidence (which is not evidence at all) into believing this dangerous lie. By remaining scientifically illiterate, these parents are putting their children’s lives at risk, and setting themselves up for personal tragedy.

Then there’s the other example. The big one. Climate Change. Although there is much research that still needs to be done in this area regarding the exact causes and potential impact of Climate Change, it is undoubtedly a global issue. This is something we all need to be talking and thinking about, and figuring out what to do about it.

Without the necessary tools, average South Africans will waste their time on useless endeavours that have no impact on Carbon emissions whatsoever. And worse, could actually contribute to the problem by supporting environmentally harmful practices, like “organic” farming or using ethanol for fuel, because they simply lack the understanding to weigh their options effectively.

Only by possessing the necessary understanding, can we hope to engage in a meaningful and valuable discourse on this real and potentially dangerous anomaly. Our failure to do so thus far is probably what has resulted in this situation.

It may already be too late. For all we know, we may already have passed the point of no return, and our general stupidity may have set in motion a sequence of events that will lead to the collapse of our civilisation, or even our extinction, in the near future. That sounds alarmist, I know, and it is unlikely. But there is a non-zero probability that it is correct.

Of course there any many more examples I could cite, most notably the HIV issue, but I will save that for another post. I feel I have made my point sufficiently already.

It is an absolute imperative that we South Africans, and indeed all humans, become educated in the basic principles of science, to the point where we are able to make informed decisions on these and other important issues, as well as influence government policy in the right direction.

It is an absolute travesty that this is not already the case. A travesty we may yet pay for with our lives.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Christmas? Really?

It’s getting to that part of the year when folks start making a fuss about the “Festive Season”. We use that term almost euphemistically to refer to Christmas so as not to offend the Hanukkah-celebrating Jews, Yule-celebrating Pagans and any other religious types who may have ‘circumstantially’ engineered some major holy day to occur around the time of the Winter Solstice*.

What about those of us who have no religious festivals to celebrate? I’m a non-believer, and therefore have none.

I was raised a Christian, so my family still practice the Christian tradition of celebrating Christmas. Come to think of it, I don’t think anyone in my family would self-identify as Christian anymore, but the celebration continues every year nonetheless.

Over the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable about participating in it. It seems almost hypocritical to reject a religion at its core and then continue to benefit from its traditions.

There is, of course, the fact that the whole festival of Christmas is merely an imperialistic re-purposing of an existing Pagan festival (Yule, as I mentioned before) celebrating the Winter Solstice**. Many of the traditional symbols of Christmas have absolutely nothing to do with the Christian incarnation myth: pine trees aren’t very common in Israel, nor are holly, mistletoe or fat men in red suits. With the exception of Father Christmas, these were all symbols of the Yule celebration that were co-opted by the early church in order to make the conversion of the European Pagans that much easier.

And don’t get me started on the Santa Claus idea (or as I like to call him: “GodLite”).

The only identifiable symbol belonging to Christian mythology that is associated with Christmas is the nativity scene. Thanks to political correctness we are seeing that less and less often. Also, much of it was lifted from earlier myths… such as the births of Horace, Dionysus and Mithras.

Knowing all of this, it still feels wrong to wish someone “Merry Christmas”. Must I resort to “Have a Cool Yule”? Maybe we should start celebrating Kwanzaa, Festivus or Friday instead.

Is it enough to enjoy the celebration, and use the tradition as an excuse to do the family thing? Since Christmas is a lie to begin with, is it okay to imperialistically re-purpose it once again as we see fit?

I don't have an answer here, folks... I'm counting on you geniuses to tell me what to think here (you don't often get that chance, now do you?)

*I say ‘Winter Solstice’ because most of said religions originate in the Northern Hemisphere, so from the point of view of the funny-hat-wearing folks who invented said Holy Days, that’s exactly what it is. Taking note of that fact may help to explain a lot of the seemingly ridiculous rituals associated with those Holy Days. Down here on the bottom-half of Earth it is, of course, the Summer Solstice, so most of those rituals make no sense whatsoever.

**Take a closer look at the biblical myths, you’ll see how it couldn’t possibly have occurred at that time of year.

88% of South Africans are stupid

I would go into a tirade about it, but this just makes me too sad.

Good job, Prometheus.