Tom e-journal

Tommyjournal archive    June 2008

Just as Richard has been in networking for too long, too much interest in graphic arts has left me with orthography on the brain. The two rocks above the ear in this pic look to me like an umlaut.

jackräbbit jackräbbit

A contrast to Saturday's serpentine elegance:

Lepus californicus black-tailed jackrabbit
(Lepus californicus)

We got a good amount of rain in early 2008.

There is no such thing as a typical year in this part of the desert. To me, that's part of the area's charm; each year is different. A wet year can have 5x the rainfall of a dry year.

Compared to last year, we have more foliage, more rodents, and more rodent predators. Handsome chaps like this are currently abundant:

Crotalus rattlesnake
(Crotalus sp.)

When I was a kid, I once saw a magician perform the changing-color-knife trick, a simple sleight-of-hand routine. I was impressed and described the trick to an adult, who asked me if I had seen both sides of the knife. I assured him that the performer had shown me both sides.

Of course, the performer had only made it look like he had shown me both sides. I was embarrassed when I found out how the trick worked; I remembered how emphatically I'd said that I had indeed seen both sides of the knife.

If there's more at stake--for example, if someone gets scammed as an adult and the potential embarrassment is greater--they may never admit, not even to themselves, that they've been had. A section of the Wikipedia article on Nigerian 419 scams describes the kinds of emotional harm that victims feel. Some remain in denial:
In other cases, the victim will continue to contact the scammer after being shown proof that they are being scammed or even being convicted of crimes relating to the scam, having been drawn so deeply into the web of deception that their trust in what the scammer tells them overrides everything else in their life. Such victims are easy prey for future scams, digging themselves even deeper into financial and legal trouble.
Stage magic and scams both often rely on people's desire to believe that something special is happening. A common pitfall associated with desires in general is their ability to bias one's judgment.

Some scams are not so clear-cut; that is, it's harder to demonstrate that they are scams. A few people I know have recently returned from seeing João Teixeira de Faria, a.k.a. John of God, a purported psychic surgeon in Brazil. Determining whether or not a healer like John is a phony is not simple, as some clients will get better no matter what. To my knowledge, there is no statistically sound, controlled study of John's practice. Anecdotes don't cut it. Lay people are prone to errors in judgment when evaluating therapies that claim to improve health.

The claims made for John of God are extravagant. It is no small matter to say that a man with no medical training can heal someone by channeling "entities". There is no theory for how this could work, no detail about what the entities are, how they communicate with John, how his acts effect the healing. With no explanation of how it works, the evidence as to whether it works would need to be rock-solid. That means more than anecdotes.

What's more, John of God's practice includes routines that are just the type that frauds use to impress people. For one, he does a forceps-up-the-nose stunt, much like an old-time carnival act in which a nail is inserted a few inches into a person's nostril. It's impressive because most people don't know how deep the cavity behind a human nostril is. There is nothing remarkable about it, but John can rely on people's bias in favor of believing things are special.

I can't make an airtight case, but you tell me what is more likely: that the reports of cures are explainable by spontaneous remission, placebo effect, and the like--or that a man who peforms carnival-style stunts also has powers that are beyond any understanding we have of medicine and physics, and also beyond anything ever demonstrated in a controlled setting.

Some people who see John do get better. You could ask, why quibble when <person X> is no longer in pain? That's a tough one, especially if nothing else had worked for <person X>. Telling someone who got relief that it's silly to see John is kind of like telling someone who won in Vegas that gambling is generally a losing proposition.

What's more, some illnesses are psychosomatic, and some people may relax or otherwise respond favorably in the environment at John's compound. In that sense he could be providing a kind of service, but it's being sold as something else.

I say fraud sucks, and it's an especially loathsome kind of fraud to prey on people who are desperate for a cure. Although John claims not to charge money, his operation sells herbs to visitors. Guides advertise their services to non-Portugese-speaking visitors who want to get the best John of God experience. Money is changing hands.

Fraud is a sad way to induce the placebo effect. People deserve better. Labor continues.

Grinding off a bolt that used to be inside a wall:
grind grind grind
Construction proceeds.
Hillary Clinton is one of the less gracious politicians around.

Her speech last night demonstrated--as she has over and over--that it's all about her. I'm not just commenting on superficial personality traits; this is about priorities. She has not put the party's or country's needs first.

I know that candidates have their eye on being elected, I know they look out for themselves. But enough is enough.

Ms. Clinton: your performance last night reassured me that I made a better choice by voting for Obama in the primary.

Mr. Obama: please, don't ask her to be your running mate. I now have more tools than I have workshop space for. This calls for annexing territory from the adjacent guest room. Just remove some wall, add wall somewhere else, and do some electrical work. "Just". This will have me (and, let us hope, a strapping assistant) occupied for a spell.

First verb on the list: "remove". Demolition began this morning.

Eight feet of wall partially gorn:
wall gorn

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