Posts Tagged “fraud”

Screen shot of preventable-disease map, by CFREven though the current anti-vax movement has been constructed upon a single demonstrably-fraudulent study (WebCite cached article) by Dr Andrew Wakefield — which he’d intended as the basis for a franchise selling “remedies” for something he called “austistic enterocolitis” (cached), it’s taken on a life of its own. It morphed originally from Wakefield’s (false) contention that the MMR vaccine causes autism, to the assumption that all vaccines, of any type, are toxic.

The mass media have done more than their share to perpetuate the lie that vaccines are dangerous, including this past December when Katie Couric spent an entire show parading sanctimonious mommies on her stage (cached) telling everyone that the HPV vaccine is lethal. Ms Couric later sort-of conceded she might have gone too far with that one (cached).

The truth of the anti-vax movement is much worse than just that it’s a big fat fucking lie with a fraudulent genesis; it’s actually hurting people in very real — and measurable — ways. The Council on Foreign Relations released a map showing the incidence of vaccine-preventable outbreaks around the world (cached). And the picture isn’t pretty:Screen shot of preventable-disease map, by CFROne expects to see such illnesses in developing countries, but as is evident in the map, even in highly industrialized nations, preventable childhood illnesses are also occurring in large numbers. Europe is plastered with measles, for instance, and the U.S. is spawning whooping cough from sea to sea.

I know I’ll be accused of having been paid by “Big Pharma” to point this out and condemn the anti-vax movement … but no matter how fervently the anti-vax crowd may believe otherwise, I haven’t. “Big Pharma” doesn’t even know who I am. I also don’t know anyone who works for, or who’s ever been paid any amount, by a “Big Pharma” firm. I’m just a guy who objects to irrationality and lies, and doesn’t think it’s a good idea for people to he harmed or killed by irrationality and lies. Call me crazy if you want — and many have! — but that’s just how I roll. <shrug>

Photo credit: CFR map screen-shot.

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you probably don't wanna knowNote: There’s some recent news in this case; see the update below.

I’ve long complained that Johnny Law tends to turn a blind eye to the machinations and lies of “psychics.” Criminal prosecutions are extremely rare. At worst, when caught, they pay off their victims (sometimes only partly) then lay low for a short time and move on to new targets. They almost never see the inside of a prison. No wonder it’s such a lucrative business!

But the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on the unusual example of one such trial, which got underway today (WebCite cached article):

When Fort Lauderdale fortune teller Rose Marks goes on trial Monday, accused of masterminding a $25 million fraud, the case will offer a rare peek inside the secretive world of those who say they have psychic powers.

The amount of money involved in what prosecutors say was a 20-year scam and the celebrity status of the main witness — best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux, who they say lost $17 million — have brought notoriety to the case.

Though it’s not the first time a “psychic” has been criminally charged with fleecing customers, trials in such cases are uncommon, records show. Most fortune tellers accused of fraud have reached plea agreements with prosecutors or agreed to pay back what their clients said they owed.

Among the schemes employed by Marks and her family (the rest of them have already pled guilty) is their own variation on the old “gypsy curse” scam:

Marks and her family convinced some of the walk-in clients that their problems were caused by curses that had dogged their families for generations and that the family could perform rituals and other services to remove those curses, prosecutors said.

While they acknowledge that fortune telling is not against the law, “any more than performing magic or card tricks is not unlawful, or telling lies is not, per se, unlawful,” prosecutors say that Marks and her family committed fraud by making false promises and not returning money they said they would give back.

Marks herself protests her innocence and claims to be the victim:

In an exclusive interview about the case, Marks told the Sun Sentinel in December that she did nothing wrong.

“I gave my life to these people. We’re talking about clients of 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. We’re not talking about someone I just met and took all their money and ran off,” Marks said.…

Marks told the Sun Sentinel that she earned the money Deveraux paid her during their 17-year friendship. She said she was a personal assistant to Deveraux and negotiated a fee of about $1 million a year when she agreed to give up her profitable business to work almost exclusively for the wealthy author, whose work includes more than 35 books on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Marks also said that she helped Deveraux write some of her novels.

“I was her inspiration and gave her insight on Romani mysticism and beliefs in the after life and religion and the psychic world and the spiritual world and romany theology and … it took a lot of time and effort,” Marks told the newspaper.

Oh, and, of course, this prosecution was triggered by anti-Romani prejudice:

Marks’ defense says she is the victim of bias against the Roma, also known as Gypsies, and that investigators drummed up the charges against her after some of her long-term clients experienced “buyer’s remorse.”

While there’s no doubt that there’s anti-Romani prejudice in the world, that doesn’t mean there can’t still be some crooked Romani out there who genuinely deserve to be prosecuted.

At any rate, it’s heartening to see the criminal justice system actually take on these metaphysical swindlers. What a lot of these psychics do is fraud — plain and simple — and it ought to be prosecuted a lot more often.

Update: Putative “psychic” Rose Marks was given a 10-year federal sentence for her swindle (cached) after being convicted in September 2013.

Photo credit: Flood, via Flickr.

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Tony anthonyStories about vicious reprobates — the more villanous, the better — being “reformed” by their miraculous faith in the Almighty, is something that warms the cockles of Christians’ hearts. They just love hearing about how the worst sorts of people are magically transformed into devout, loving Christians, merely by virtue of their having “accepted Jesus Christ as their ‘Personal Lord and Savior’™.” It also happens to be an extremely profitable business. More than a few speakers and authors have amassed fortunes on this meme.

Given the massive accolades and profits involved, it’s not surprising that more than a few of these well-known and wealthy authors, have turned out to be liars and con-artists. Among the most famous of these was Mike Warnke, the “Christian comedian” who, during the 70s and 80s, was a wildly popular preacher with his own ministry. His fame had been built on his Christian-bookstore staple The Satan Seller, his autobiography of having been a Satanic high priest who miraculously turned to Jesus and changed his ways completely. But Warnke’s career crashed and burned when, in 1992, the Christian magazine Cornerstone exposed his book as a tissue of lies.

Others have followed similar tracks, including Ergun Caner, a theologian I’ve blogged about, who claimed to have been raised as an devout Islamist fundamentalist but magically converted to Christianity. He and his brother wrote their own book, Unveiling Islam, based on their supposed experience. Most of it, though, turns out to be untrue; after being exposed, Caner eventually lost his job as head of Liberty University’s theology school.

It turns out there’s yet another best-selling liar for Jesus out there. As the (UK) Guardian reports, a book by a claimed killer-turned-evangelical-Christian also turns out to be fraudulent (WebCite cached article):

It was the autobiography that gave hope to hundreds of thousands and warmed the hearts of Christians.

Chronicling how a convicted criminal and martial arts fighter found redemption through God, Taming the Tiger had more than 1.5m copies distributed around the world while its author, Tony Anthony, become a sought-after speaker in schools and churches.

In the book, which carries the strapline “From the Depths of Hell to the Heights of Glory”, Anthony explains how he was taken to China by his grandfather, a kung fu grand master, and trained to become a martial arts champion. He then moved to Cyprus, where he became a bodyguard to businessmen, gangsters and diplomats. “In the line of duty as a bodyguard, I killed people,” Anthony would tell church audiences. “I have broken more arms and legs than I care to remember.” Later he recounted how he found God while in prison in Nicosia after being convicted of theft.

The book was a phenomenon. It was translated into 25 languages and won the Christian Booksellers’ Convention Award in 2005.

But now, following a sustained internet campaign by a group of Christians who doubted Anthony’s claims almost from the start, it appears that little of the book is true.

Anthony was undone by one of his own: Mike Hancock, a director of his ministry, asked for verification of Anthony’s claims; after being rebuffed, he resigned. That triggered a review, which found a number of problems with the book, including the following:

Anthony claimed to be a three times world kung fu champion and tried to deflect suspicions that he had embellished his past by claiming that the competitions were so specialised they were not known to outsiders. But it emerged that some of the material was copied from a martial arts website. One passage was lifted from a book about Bruce Lee.

Anthony himself has said nothing. His ministry is closing down, but his publisher stands behind him:

In a statement, Anthony’s publisher, Authentic Media, said that it was withdrawing Taming the Tiger, a follow-up book, Cry of the Tiger, and a related DVD.

It said: “Tony strongly defends his story — though he acknowledges that the recent information that he has received about his early life requires him to update and clarify his story.”

There’s Christian morality for you. The publisher that’s made millions selling his book is not about to admit it contains demonstrable lies.

I have to give credit to the Christians who exposed Anthony as a fraud. They had the scruples to take on “one of their own” and wanted to set the record straight. Even so, there are too many other Christians who won’t even think twice about the lies of people like Anthony — or Caner or Warnke. They aren’t bothered by fraud, if it brings other people to God. They have an example of this in their own Bibles: Rahab the Harlot, a native of Jericho who was honored by the Hebrews and their god YHWH because she’d lied for them.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Roman Clock / Mikael Ganehag Brorsson, via Open Clip Art LibraryTonight at 2 am, most Americans will go through the inane, ridiculous exercise of advancing their clocks one hour. I’ve blogged several times about the twice-annual scam that is Daylight Saving Time. Once again, I’m taking this opportunity to point out that it’s fraudulent, in every possible way.

As I’ve said previously, everything we’ve been told about DST is a lie. It wasn’t invented by Benjamin Franklin (except as a joke); it had nothing to do with farmers, and does nothing for them; and it doesn’t save energy.

Back when I first blogged about the fraudulent nature of DST, mine was pretty much a “lone voice in the wilderness” calling for it to be ended. But over the last couple years I’ve noticed more folks realizing it’s a scam. Today, Gothamist took note of how DST is predicated on lies and foisted on Americans for no good reason.

I’ve had one correspondent call me “whiny” and told me to get over it; we’ve always done DST, so just deal with it. Unfortunately, we haven’t “always done DST,” it wasn’t consistently implemented until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966. (Which itself was a lie, since this Act did not, in fact, make time “uniform” through the country … some parts of the country were left out of it.) But even if we had “always” had DST, that’s not a valid reason to keep doing it. Instead, it’s an appeal to tradition, and is fallacious.

It’s time for everyone just to admit, we need to end the twice-annual fraud which is daylight saving time.

Photo credit: Mikael Ganehag Brorsson, via Open Clip Art Library.

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This ark, located an hour south of Amsterdam, is a replica of Noah's Biblical boat. Underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard is in Turkey, looking for evidence that the Great Flood happened. (ABC News)With Christmas approaching, the mass media are, as one would expect, catering to the country’s prevailing religiosity. That’s understandable, and normal. But this effort goes beyond annual re-showings of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even their journalists get into the act, manufacturing news stories that reinforce religious sentimentality. An example of this is ABC News, which is reporting that Noah’s Flood has been proven to have occurred (WebCite cached article):

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is one of the most famous from the Bible, and now an acclaimed underwater archaeologist thinks he has found proof that the biblical flood was actually based on real events.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour for ABC News, Robert Ballard, one of the world’s best-known underwater archaeologists, talked about his findings. His team is probing the depths of the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey in search of traces of an ancient civilization hidden underwater since the time of Noah.

Unfortunately for believers in the Abrahamic religious tradition, this is not really the “proof” that the article implies, or that ABC would like its readers/viewers to think it is. The ways in which they support the very-thin contention, are as varied as they are stupid:

Ballard’s track record for finding the impossible is well known. In 1985, using a robotic submersible equipped with remote-controlled cameras, Ballard and his crew hunted down the world’s most famous shipwreck, the Titanic.

Unfortunately for both ABC and Ballard, that Ballard had been able to locate the Titanic, does not mean he’s now found proof of Noah’s Flood. It’s a clever appeal to authority, I admit, but that’s all it is. Next comes this gem:

Now Ballard is using even more advanced robotic technology to travel farther back in time. He is on a marine archeological mission that might support the story of Noah. He said some 12,000 years ago, much of the world was covered in ice.

This is not actually news. Most of us learned of the Ice Age back when we were in school. The idea that the Noah’s Flood story might be a reflection of one or more flooding events spawned by the end of the Ice Age, is not new at all.

Curiously, after covering this ground in their effort to “prove” that Noah’s global Flood had occurred, ABC News veers off into something else:

According to a controversial theory proposed by two Columbia University scientists, there really was one in the Black Sea region. They believe that the now-salty Black Sea was once an isolated freshwater lake surrounded by farmland, until it was flooded by an enormous wall of water from the rising Mediterranean Sea. The force of the water was two hundred times that of Niagara Falls, sweeping away everything in its path. …

The theory goes on to suggest that the story of this traumatic event, seared into the collective memory of the survivors, was passed down from generation to generation and eventually inspired the biblical account of Noah.

The story goes on to discuss the fact that the Black Sea appears to have had a different coastline than it does now. Yet again, however, this is not news. It’s well-known. This also seems to be the linchpin of Ballard’s theory … which, by itself, is neither novel nor unreasonable — even though ABC News is reporting it as a “new” discovery.

But as I said, this means we’ve actually drifted away from the original Noah’s Flood story, and are in different territory. The Great Flood described in Genesis was a global flood that wiped out all of humanity and all the world’s fauna except the refugees aboard the Ark. An inundation from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea, as colossal as it may have been to those who were near it, was not the global event recorded in Genesis! It could not have wiped out any person or animal beyond the Black Sea basin.

What Ballard and his religionism-satisfying sycophants in the mass media have done, is to take a localized event for which there is some genuine evidence, and stretched it far beyond what’s actually there, in order to make it appear to support the Bible. Logicians know this as shoehorning, and ultimately, it’s a lie.

Look, I get that ABC News and the mass media feel as though they need to pander to religiosity. The majority of people in the US are Christians, and the majority of them like hearing their Bible has a basis in fact. But lying to them in order to curry their favor and make them feel more secure in their beliefs, is still lying, and it’s still wrong. Journalists like Christiane Amanpour have no excuse for lying to people just to make them happy. The cold fact here is that there is no evidence — zero, zip, zilch, nada, none, not a speck of it! — that the Great Flood tale in Genesis happened. Ballard ahs uncovered nothing that supports any such event. And ABC News had no business suggesting he did.

Photo credit: ABC News.

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Placebo BalanceI’ve blogged before about the worthless Power Balance bracelets, which supposedly enhance people’s athletic performance. It turns out — by their manufacturer’s own admission! — that they do nothing at all. Despite this concession, and the fact that the bracelets haven’t been shown to do anything but drain the checking accounts of idiots foolish enough to fall for their manufacturer’s laughable pseudoscience (WebCite cached article), Power Balance bracelets continue to sell. Celebrities of all types continue to be seen wearing them. And the NBA, among other entities, has decided to go along for the ride and cash in on the public’s gullibility, by shilling these useless pieces of plastic. This hasn’t stopped Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, from speaking out against the deal, as ESPN reports, and calling it what it is — a scam (cached):

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes that one of the NBA’s marketing deals is “a scam,” and he said Monday that he banned the product from the team’s locker room.

Cuban made his opinion clear in a video he posted to YouTube last week in which he criticized Power Balance bracelets before throwing the display case that was in the Mavericks’ locker room in the garbage.

“See this stuff?” Cuban said on the video, grabbing the display. “It was a scam when they were on ‘Shark Tank.’ It’s still a scam. I don’t care if the NBA was dumb enough to sign an agreement; this is going where it belongs.”

At that point, Cuban put the display case in a trash can.

His video on the subject is right here:

It’s nice to see at least one NBA team owner taking on his own league, against this scam. Would that more owners did so, and more celebrities spoke out against Power Balance and the fraud it’s perpetrating on the public, rather than embracing and fostering it.

Photo credit: Lonjho, via Flickr.

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TSA at Gate B9I’ve blogged a couple of times about the joke that is the TSA … you know, the people who make you take off your shoes and your belts, throw away your coffee, scan your innards — and in some cases pat you down thoroughly — before you go into the gate area of an airport. Interestingly, someone who once ran the TSA, from 2005 to 2009, agrees with this assessment. Kip Hawley wrote a book — and penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal — in which he makes this concession (WebCite cached article):

Airport security in America is broken. I should know. For 3½ years — from my confirmation in July 2005 to President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 — I served as the head of the Transportation Security Administration. …

More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect. Preventing terrorist attacks on air travel demands flexibility and the constant reassessment of threats. It also demands strong public support, which the current system has plainly failed to achieve.

The crux of the problem, as I learned in my years at the helm, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying, we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.

I applaud Hawley for finally admitting that the TSA does not actually serve its stated purpose and needs to change its ways. But even having given him that credit, I must point out that the man is a brazen hypocrite. Back in 2008, he was interviewed by Leslie Stahl in the course of a 60 Minutes piece on the broken nature of TSA security. In that interview, Hawley insisted to Ms Stahl that everything TSA was doing, was required in order to thwart al-Qaeda … and to skip any of it would be to let the terrorists through and risk another 9/11/2001. He was adamant that nothing TSA was doing amounted to “security theater.” You can read the article on the CBS News Web site (cached)*, or watch the 60 Minutes segment right here:

I invite Mr Hawley to supplement his welcome comments on the TSA’s ineffectiveness, with an apology for having himself been part of the fraud behind it. (I don’t use that word lightly … the TSA is a fraud, in every sense of that word, except for the fact that the people who created and run it will never be prosecuted for having rammed their scam down the throats of American travelers.) Few people have the courage to make such an apology, so I don’t expect Hawley will ever offer it. This, I fear, is the closest he will ever come to doing so.

Photo credit: steuben, via Flickr.

Hat tip: CT Watchdog.

* The CBS article is broken into 4 pages; here are links and cached versions of each: Page 1 (cached), page 2 (cached), page 3 (cached) & page 4 (cached).

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