24 September 2007

Why woo merchants cannot be trusted

I have a friend. She's a lovely girl, but as credulous as hell.

She grew up in a small country town about two or three hours drive out of Melbourne, and she pretty much accepts anything that is shovelled her way, no matter how much it beggars belief.

Not long ago, she was round at our place and she told us something that really caught my interest: Her mother, along with most of the rest of the country town she grew up in, saw a UFO.

This really interested me, because, for the first time, I thought that we had an example of that most elusive of UFO sightings: One that had been independently verified.

Sadly, after finding out the year in which it took place, a quick search of the web failed to yield any record of this event which was apparently witnessed by a town of about 1,000 people.

I had bitten my tongue throughout, but it eventually became all too much and I said, "Are you sure your mother was 100% certain that what she saw was a spacecraft of extra-terrestrial origin?"

Her first response was: "Are you calling my mother a liar?"

This is a somewhat telling response for a variety of reasons. And for the purposes of my story, we'll go with the definition of "lie" as being that where someone wilfully intends to mislead.

I didn't take it further, but I really wanted to ask her this:

1. The most obvious conclusion that anyone, including myself, can come to is that her mother, and the residents of this country town were mistaken. That is, they saw (or thought they saw) something completely different.

Science has discovered a large number of naturally occurring phenomena that could quite easily explain this "sighting". Ball lightning, low flying aircraft, mass hallucinations, mass hysteria - these are but the tip of the iceberg, there's plenty of others.

Why would I be suggesting, then, that her mother took the less likely tack of deliberately telling an untruth?

2. The definition of "liar" last time I looked, was someone who lies. Did my friend remember this?

3. Which begs the question, given that the definition of "liar" is not one who "lied" - was my friend aware of anything else that her mother had told her that would lead us to accuse her mother of having told more than one fib?

4. Given the above, could my friend shed some light on the accusation that I was calling her mother a liar, given that it is clearly not even the most likely conclusion that I could come to?

I probably like to say that there's a distinct whiff of a guilty conscience here, however, I could also put my friend's defensiveness down to the fact that she has encountered skepticism on this very subject before, and like most daughters, will not countenance any possibility that her mother is any less than honest on the subject.

But I won't. Which brings me on to my main point.

Woo consumers often try this exact same tack, and will not accept anything other than full and willing acceptance of their claims, and will be only too ready to accuse anyone of calling them liars if the slightest ounce of skepticism is shown. Despite the fact that their testimony may be suspect.

In the case of UFOs, it is suspicious that after years of sightings and close encounters, not once has there been an independently verified sighting. Suggest that a claim should be more closely investigated, and your average woo disciple will scream that their honour is being impugned.

It's not just UFOs. For years, homeopathy has been allowed to operate, despite the extreme lack of evidence showing it to be even remotely effective. Criticise the testimonial evidence of a woo practitioner, and you may stand accused of calling them liars.

A lot of this stuff has been practised for years, even centuries, yet if you suggest that someone gathers evidence showing it to be effective before claiming that it works, you get nowhere.

Bronze Dog recently blogged that after all the promises claimed by the world of woo, there is still nothing to show for it. Does acupuncture really cure colds? Does chiropractic really fix headaches? Can John Edward really talk to the dead? Why would UFO crews deliberately pick out hillbillies to try out their anal probes?

Alan Hopgood is a playwright of note in the city where I live. At a dinner I was at where he gave a speech, he told of a time when he was at Uni and a few friends of his chose to perpetrate a hoax.

A few of them got together and plotted a line out over the suburbs, calculated speeds and worked out times. Then a couple of them went and stood on a street corner in the CBD and at the allotted time, looked up, pointed and made a lot of noise about having seen something going very fast across the sky in a south-easterly direction.

This was repeated in various suburbs out towards the south east by various accomplices.

Somehow, one of the news services calculated a rough velocity based on sighting times, and a UFO legend was born. The hoax was exposed soon after. Hopgood swears that to this day, he runs into people unconnected with the hoax who swear that they actually saw the "UFO" in question on that day.

It's just too easy sometimes. But unlike Hopgood and his friends, not everyone is motivated by good intentions. Hopgood and co rode a wave of credulity and gullibility for a laugh.

It stands to reason that some will ride this wave for financial gain. And this is why, after all these years of nothing, woo merchants cannot be trusted.

Here's a wonderful hoax that was carried by some news services recently. Enjoy.

19 September 2007

So bad it might be good

We all love a good disaster flick.

Sometimes we just want to watch because even though we're grossed out by it, we're still fascinated and often, we just cannot turn away.

Some of you might know, or have guessed that I will simply run a mile in order to avoid watching Australian Idol. I simply despise most of it, and it's frightfully hard for me to watch.

If I'm not cringing in embarrassment for these talentless kids, I'm complaining about the two vacuous hosts, and a particular judge who has been disqualified by Ralph magazine from ever winning their prestigious (if dishonourable) "Wanker of the Year" award again, because he's won it too many times.

I can physically feel my brain shrinking whenever I watch this show.

But last Sunday night's show was apparently bad enough for me to describe it as a DISGRACE!!!™. I'm reliably informed that it was so bad that Channel Ten are looking at axing the show altogether. It's apparently one of those historical moments you will be able to say to your grandkids in years to come, "I saw that. It was terrible."

It was Rock night.

Yeah, OK. It's a no brainer to turn to me and say, "Dikkii. You know that teenyboppers do not rock. Der." I know this. However, I'm just curious as to exactly how bad it was. I will be patrolling YouTube this evening when I get home from work trying to find bits of this disaster to watch.

In the meantime, here's the show reviewed with extreme prejudice here at Bland Canyon, where our intrepid blogger concludes that:

"The best performance of the night comes from a singing germ on the Domestos

Yes, when a 3D germ that sings about vomit is the most entertaining part
of the evening, it's fair to say our final 11 is perhaps less talented than we
originally thought. But hey, we're stuck with them now so let's just sit back
and enjoy the bloodbath, shall we?"

I might also add that based on the selection of tunes here, today's young kids wouldn't know rock if it woke them up with capsicum spray.

This episode might join the rarified air currently holding Peter Jackson's first three movies, Vietnamese neon loungeroom Buddhist shrines and the infamous Hello Kitty "neck massager" as being examples of things that are so bad they're totally excellent.

18 September 2007

Happy blogiversary to me again!

Dear friendly blog readers,

At the start of the year, I celebrated one year since I rejoined the blogosphere.

I'm now going to celebrate an even bigger milestone, chronologically speaking, that is. This month marks ten years since Dikkii's Diatribe originally launched itself on to the net. Without repeating myself too much from my post in January, I began Dikkii's Diatribe out of my ground floor front bedroom in September 1997, not long after getting my first computer and internet access.

After a few days of feeling smug, I printed out a copy of this complaint and pasted it up in the bathroom of my house next to the toilet.

Thanks to the Wayback Machine, this is my first post, which I have reproduced here at the new, Blogger facilitated Dikkii's Diatribe.

Lots of stuff has changed since I first started blogging, but in the meantime, a lot of stuff has stayed the same.

And it's somewhat topical that some of my favourite bloggers have started questioning why they started blogging in the first place. One of my favourite bloggers is Bob the Austin Atheist Anonymous who writes an excellent blog called Hot Dogs, Pretzels and Perplexing Questions. He's just retired from the blogosphere.

This immediately prompted his brother Bronze Dog who writes The Bronze Blog (another excellent blog, by the way) to review why it is that he blogs again.

So I thought I'd do a little review myself, and guess what? I'm going to put the broom through here a little bit.

For a long period - in fact, going right back to this blog's inception, this was the spiel that explained my blog:

"This page is an outlet for my own hate-filled vitriol and spiteful opinions. Uneducated as I am in the ways of the world, it's still necessary to vent my spleen at the media, the music industry, the AFL and anyone else who could have offended my sensibilities. I plan for this to be updated occasionally, depending on my state of mind. So you can either look forward to, or avoid my one-sided, uninformed and dangerously unbalanced opinions on the state of the world and everyone in it."

I'm dumping this. Not because it's inaccurate, but because I do other stuff on this blog, now.

So what is Dikkii's Diatribe about?

1. Woo.

I have a particular fascination with anything that falls under the umbrella title of "woo", be it the paranormal, pseudoscience, quackery, religion, or anything else that can be so labelled. I tend to also place things like postmodernist/deconstructionist/post structuralist mumbo-jumbo, management doublespeak, legal flummery and quack economics/finance under this umbrella title too.


The ultimate aim of these is to obfuscate and deceive, and it's no different to the mischief of woo merchants such as your John Edwards, Sylvia Brownes and Allison DuBoises.

Fighting these is the least that the world's one and only militant agnostic can do.

2. Politics.

I regard myself as politically, the most average bloke out there. I strive for political mediocrity and normality. I consider myself the yardstick by which everyone else is measured, the social median, if you like.

My economics may be slightly on the right, but my social justice meter counter-balances this by being slightly on the left.

Consequently, I think that there is no better person than myself for pointing out the foibles of the politically conservative or politically progressive.

3. Economics.

I love economics and I have worked in finance for pretty much all my working life.

One of my key complaints about people these days is that they don't see the need to be fiscally literate. This leads people to be exploited financially, so it is my aim to see the balance redressed by providing the odd piece of commentary on economics and finance.

Hopefully in a simple and straightforward fashion.

4. Science.

Science is an area that I wish I knew more about. People appear to only know slightly more about science than what they do about economics, so I'm schooling myself to know more as well.

And along the way, a bit of scientific knowledge helps stave off all sorts of charlatans peddling woo.

5. Law.

The law is an ass.

6. Music.

I love music but hate the music industry. I might just quote TISM here from "Jesus pots the white ball" off their Beasts of Suburban compilation:

"Why play rock and roll? It's a question fundamental
Take Jimbo from The Doors, you'll find which ones incidental
Take the music from the industry, you're left with grasping bankers
Take the industry out of music, you're left with childish wankers"

It says it all.

7. Sport.

I am a spectator. I was routinely bad at sport, but I love to watch it. I also love to watch the sheer amateurism of sporting administrators in professional sport.

I also like to get in any chance I possibly can to poke fun at the Collingwood Football Club and their president, Eddie McGuire. If they win a flag this year, we should all reflect on what we all could have done to prevent this from happening.

So there you go. Over the next few weeks, I'll progressively change the look of my blog to reflect where I'm going with this.

But I'll leave you in the meantime with my blog's new motto, from Public Image Ltd's "Rise":

"Anger is an energy."

Hugs and kisses to all, Dikkii.

17 September 2007

Rock epic of the month: "Temple of Love (1992)" (The Sisters of Mercy) 1992

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

This month, I'm looking at one by arguably the silliest of all goth rock bands, The Sisters of Mercy. It clocks in at a fraction over 8 minutes long.

There appear to be three types of Sisters fans. Some think that the line-up of Andrew Eldritch, Gary Marx, Wayne Hussey, Craig Adams and Doktor Avalanche who put together the First and Last and Always long player were the classic line-up.

Others think that the Wagnerian, harpsichord-laden and Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf) produced Floodland is the greatest Sisters album ever - with the line-up of Eldritch, Patricia Morrison and Avalanche.

Lastly, there are some who think that the totally rock Vision Thing era line-up of Eldritch, Andreas Bruhn, Tim Bricheno, Tony James and Avalanche was where the Sisters really shone. James' involvement was particularly apt, given that the Sisters' mix of rock and technology owed large chunks to Sigue Sigue Sputnik's work in the early eighties.

Then there's me who dug pretty much all the Sisters' work.

It's interesting to note that apart from Eldritch and Avalanche, the Sisters' line-up changed for each album. And Avalanche itself was actually a number of different drum machines, leaving Eldritch (born Andrew William Harvey Taylor) as the sole Sister throughout.

This song probably falls into the Vision Thing era. It happens to be a cover of an early single credited to the line-up of Eldritch, Adams, Marx, Avalanche and guitarist Ben Gunn, but when the Sisters released the compilation Some Girls Wander by Mistake in 1992, Eldritch decided that he'd re-record it with the late Israeli songstress Ofra Haza on backing vocals.

Much of what the Sisters recorded was epic material - hell, the Floodland album would be lucky to get a single song under the magical 6 minute mark - but anyway this, just like the original, was a hugely long song.

It opens with huge rifferama and just keeps going. In the middle, there is a breakdown just to Avalanche playing what could almost be a drum machine solo, possibly showing Eldritch's then fascination with hip-hop. Haza is reduced to the odd "Temple of Looooooooove" and "ooh" all the way through, but this seems to imbue the tune with the otherworldliness that Eldritch liked.

The choruses were extremely well done, with Eldritch spitting out the vocals as the guitars went up a notch and a synth part replicated screaming stabs. When goth rock is played correctly, it is meant to rock out in this fashion.

These days, "Temple of Love (1992)" is only available on The Sisters of Mercy's best of titled A Slight Case of Overbombing. Not sure what Eldritch is doing these days, but by all accounts, he's as mad as a hatter.

I've selected a video that is particularly inappropriate for a goth rock epic - it pays tribute to legendary skater Rodney Mullen, who is credited as being the inventor of (on flat ground, anyway) the Ollie. Enjoy.

13 September 2007

How much of a waste was the APEC summit?

The 2007 APEC summit has been and gone and the one thing that really amazed me is the monumental amount of hoo-ha that we embraced with the so-called "Sydney Declaration".

During the summit, we saw an unbelievably large police presence looking bored as protesters failed to materialise, excellent pranks played by The Chaser boys (with Chas Licciardello dressed as Osama Bin Laden) and the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard completely upstaged in an election year by the Australian Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd chatting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in fluent Mandarin.

The media has not bought the truly dazzling amounts of spin that APEC chose to issue with the declaration, and rightly so: the piece is staggeringly inept, and completely amateurish. Which is not what you expect when you have a room filled with eight heads of government, eleven heads of state (some of whom also double as heads of government) the chief executive of Hong Kong and a "special representative" from Taiwan, sorry, Chinese Taipei.

It was probably a good thing that we weren't expecting much - after all, with two "reformed" global warming denialists (George W Bush and Howard), one who couldn't give a rat's arse about global warming (Hu) and one who has indicated that his government will actually refuse to be bound by the rule of law with regards to his government's obligations (Stephen Harper), it was always going to be something very wrong.

But I don't think that we were ready for just how bad it actually was.

The document makes it clear that all participants are ready to discuss "aspirational" goals for reducing emissions by 2030.

Most nations of the world were "ready" for legally binding targets several years ago. The evidence for this is a series of meetings that commenced in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. This culminated in the Kyoto Protocol.

"Aspirational" goals are, quite simply, a waste of breath unless they're legally binding.

And 2030? This document is an INTERNATIONAL DISGRACE!!!

So in tribute to these masterminds, here is a presentation of what gets my vote as possibly the most sarcastic song ever written. There is truly a Devo song for every occasion.

It's titled, "Beautiful World" and it's off their fourth long-player, New Traditionalists. It is a particularly good music video. Enjoy.

10 September 2007

In case you were wondering

Yes, I've been away.

And after two weeks of serious Thai carnage, I'm back and hopefully will be blogging away again soon.

And I'd like to put this question to you all:

Why is China White heroin so called when it normally comes from the Golden Triangle, and would therefore be either Thai, Burmese or Laotian?

This has got me wondering. Shouldn't it be something like "Myanmar White"?

And why are drug runners on flights from Bangkok to Melbourne so easy to spot?

Is this why the police are winning the battle against "Haitch" but doing so poorly against Crystal Meth (i.e. what the media likes to call "Ice"), Speed and Coke?

This is just more of the inane bullshit that I'd like the answers to. I promise that my next post will be better thought out. You can probably guess what the target will probably be.