The acupuncturists better get their acts together. Sure, they occupy a distinctive and respected niche in the panoply of alternative remedies, but, if they don’t watch their backs, they are going to get blown right out of the market.

The trouble with acupuncture is that it claims to actually cure you. You go for a treatment, or two, or five, and then the acupuncturist says, “are you better?”. If you are better, you’re done. You pay your bill and go back to your life. If you’re not better, they’ll suggest you try something else.

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Miraculous? From a chiropractic brochure.

If I were an acupuncturist, I would make a few changes immediately. First of all, I would help form a strong organization of acupuncturists to sponsor “research” (he he he) to show that almost everyone suffers regular blockages of “qi” along those crowded meridians that run up and down your body. Then I would set up a “study” (ha ha ha) to show that people who receive regular acupuncture are healthier, happier, and sexier than people who don’t. It’s not hard to do. Read the polls. Ask the right question of the right people and you get the results you want every time! Heck, I would even claim that people who receive regular acupuncture get cancer 40% less often than people who only see a chiropractor. You think it might be hard to fudge that kind of data? Come on! Use your imagination!

Next, I would have special little free seminars on health, with treats, entertainment, and a clever speaker, to promote the virtues of weekly acupuncture. The real objective, of course, is not to provide information, but to acquire a large number of new patients. It is not necessary to tell even a single person at these seminars that he or she might not need acupuncture. Why, everyone does!

To successfully promote a remedy, you must first, of course, promote the disease. For chiropractors, it’s “subluxation”, (even though Microsoft’s dictionary doesn’t recognize it as a word). For acupuncturists, I suggest “neuritis”. It sounds sufficiently familiar and medical to be convincing while possessing the all-important quality of nebulousness. All acupuncturists must use this phrase constantly, in reference to every pathological condition, in order to convince the public that everybody has always known that “neuritis” has always existed and needs to be treated constantly. Why, children get “neuritis” right at birth! They need to be treated within the first week or so, to head off cancer, and asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome.

One chiropractor on the web offers a free initial consult to anyone. That’s a great idea. He says that he will provide a careful assessment, and then let you know if you need treatment!

Ha ha.

Ever go to Speedy muffler for a “free” brake inspection? Did they ever tell you, “Well, everything’s shipshape. Can’t find a thing to fix.”? Never. They get your car up on a hoist and then tell you that they just “can’t” let you go without fixing those dangerously worn out or defective brakes or struts or shocks or whatever. That’s the idea. If you really want to generate some serious income, get your prospective client naked on the table under a sheet, and then tell him or her that you just can’t, in good professional conscience, let him walk out that door without a treatment for that terrible case of neuritis.

Do you think it will be hard to convince people that they have neuritis? Not at all. Simply ask the following questions slowly while staring sympathetically into the patient’s eyes:

Do you ever feel tired or irritable?
Any trouble sleeping?
Aches and pains that never seem to go away?
Ever feel sad or depressed? Or tired?
Do you sometimes feel a vague sense of unease or displeasure?
Do you get tired sometimes?
Ever sit down in a chair and not want to get up and jog two miles?

There you go. Just try answering “no” to all those questions? I’ll bet you can’t.

Finally, if you really have trouble convincing your patients to come in more often, follow this procedure: adopt a very serious, compassionate expression, look the patient in the eye, and tell him or her that you cannot, in good conscience, continue to compromise your professional principles. If the patient is not willing to come in at least once every two weeks, you will have to refer him or her to another quack…. Er… therapist.

Interesting stuff on chiropractors:

In 1973, the U.S. Congress authorized Medicare payments for chiropractic treatments if subluxation could be demonstrated from x-rays. This threw chiropractic into a tizzy, because even though chiropractors take x-rays all the time and point out the “subluxation” to their prospective clients… well, the truth is that nobody can really see subluxations. When 20/20 took a set of x-rays to three different chiropractors and asked them to point out the sub-luxated vertebrae, they each picked a different one.

Yet, they have to show one in order to get paid.

Two years ago, in an attempt to “unify” chiropractic terminology, the Association of Chiropractic Colleges issued the following definition: “A subluxation is a complex of functional and/or structural and or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system and general health.”

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So how about this: “neuritis is a complex of functional and/or structural and pathological changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system and general health”.

Yeah. That about covers everything.

Shania Twain

What I want to know about Shania Twain is, can she cook?

She is very pretty. She has a very nice voice. But there are lots of models out there and lots of girls can sing. Why is she so successful? Is it because she exposes her belly button every time she is in a video? What’s so great about belly buttons?

So all these men are out there watching Shania Twain sing and wiggle her hips and they are thinking, “boy, she’s pretty. I’d like to buy her records.” No. What they’re really thinking is, “I’ll bet that if Shania would just get to know me, she would fall in love with me and want to marry me and live in my house and clean and cook and sew, and look just great in a frilly apron.” Do these same men look at Courtney Love and say, “I’ll bet she can cook.”?

Shania’s married. She married her manager or something. Don’t they always? I think Celine Dion married her manager too. And didn’t Sarah McLachlan marry her drummer? What probably happens is that six zillion men send her deeply personal, anguished, explicit letters, and they all sound a bit scary to a young artistic woman. So she retreats to the safety of someone she thinks she can trust. This is never another famous musician: they always fool around, don’t they? So it’s a drummer or road manager or agent or someone like that.

Shania’s husband probably looks like Rodney Dangerfield. Bad career move. Still, most men probably think, “I’ll bet he’d leave him in a moment if she ever gave me a chance.” Then they buy her CD’s and look at her pretty face and dream.

She does have an appealing face. In this one video, she’s dancing around with all these other people, and they keep trying to take the microphone away from her. She’s laughing and having a good time. It’s a remarkable video. Whoever thought of it was a genius. It makes her appear accessible and good-natured and kind and funny. You start thinking that if you walked right up to her out of the blue, she’d smile and give you a hug.

I’ve never understood popular culture. On my 13th birthday, my mother bought me a copy of the Archies, featuring their classic “Sugar Sugar”. I went “vomit vomit”. I was into Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and the Beatles. Marie Osmond? Olivia Newton-John? I thought they were juvenile.

Today, it’s Shania Twain. Well, she’s better looking than Marie Osmond, but just as boring, as far as her music goes. She’s never going to do a really interesting song, like Sheryl Crowe or Ani DiFranco or Joan Osborne. She’s going to be the Danish Curling Team of women’s music: cheerful and sporting and far more successful than she ever expected to be.


Whistling Dixie

Does anyone care that the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court likes to lead singalongs of “Dixie” (“I wish I was in the land of cotton…”) at public conferences?

I suppose we shouldn’t be too, too shocked. This is the same guy who sometimes quotes Gilbert & Sullivan in memos to other Supreme Court justices, and who designed a robe for himself that looks like it belongs in Brigadoon.

The guy is a lunatic. And he is in charge of seeing that the Constitution of the United States of America is properly enforced. This is a man who regularly makes final decisions about matters of race and religion and civil rights in America.

You have to think hard to imagine that you are black lawyer, fighting a case that involves racial prejudice, the results of which may determine whether your client lives or dies. And the Chief Justice sits up there behind his ridiculous robes and smiles at you and you can almost hear him whistling Dixie.

It could be worse.

It could be Robert Bork up there instead.

The Senate: 100 Old White Men

They look oh-so-respectable.

Did you know that it is practically impossible to dethrone an incumbent Senator in the United States? That’s because the Senate is so good, so honest, and so hard-working, that nobody ever wants to change any of its members.

Well, yes, maybe. The truth is that once you have become a Senator, you can call yourself Senator Bigbottom and go around making speeches and public appearances and everybody pretty well assumes that anybody known as Senator anything is entitled to the position by virtue of the cool sounding title. Senator.

“Congressman”, on the other hand, sounds a bit ridiculous, even when applied to a woman. Anybody can be a Congressman. And President? Every two-bit Elvis Presley fan club has a president. What’s the big deal about the President. But Senator? Not many people ever get to be called Senator.

Now, take a wild guess as to how many black Senators there are? Come on. Go ahead. Give it your best shot. Don’t forget that about 18% of the U.S. population is black. So how many Senators, out of one hundred, are black? Ten? Five? Two?

The answer is 0.

That’s right. ZERO. And how many Senators are female? More than half the U.S. population is female, so how many representatives of this gender get to call themselves “Senator”? Fifty? Hoo haw! Twenty? You’re joking. Ten? Maybe.

Maybe two.

That’s all. That’s all you need to know about the Senate.

Sports Psychopathology

Let me make a few things clear before going into this particular rant.

1. I like the U.S. women’s soccer team. They play hard, they have fun, and they play like a team.

2. They deserved to win the gold medal. They took on the world’s best and beat them fair and square.

3. The nauseating hype provided by the U.S. media, which worships everything rich, or sexy, or successful, is not their fault. They cooperated, but they aren’t responsible for flogging it all to death.

There. That’s out of the way. Rah rah for women’s soccer. I hope they start a professional league and I hope they draw lots of fans, and I hope the tax-payers take all the money they currently siphon into professional baseball and football and basketball and hockey and give it to welfare mothers instead.

Why did the U.S. win? Why do they always seem to win? Is the “American way of life”? Is it clean living and virtue? (Judging from some of the more colorful activities of this same women’s soccer team– posing semi-nude for a picture for David Letterman– I guess not.) Is it capitalism? Or is it just that the Americans have a terrific level of determination?

Well, think about some of the training “techniques” the U.S. team used. The entire team went out to a building on the Georgia Tech campus and took turns racing up the concrete steps while their team-mates hollered out the theme from “Rocky”. They also climbed to the top of a cliff in Portland, Oregon. Half of them put on blindfolds while the other team members led them around a narrow ledge.

These activities were devised by a sports psychologist Colleen Hacker. In fact, Hacker is the “team psychologist”. Some of the players credit her strategies with their success.

Sounds logical, right? I think most people read that and think, yes, those strategies probably helped them win.


Just because they did these exercises and then they won does not prove that there is a causal relationship between the two. In fact, most teams at high levels of competition have team psychologists… and most of them lose.

The U.S. women’s soccer team won because they were more skilled and more determined than the opposition. The truth is that “sports psychology” plays a very role in any competition anywhere.

I’m not a very good competitor myself, I guess. These exercises sound pretty stupid to me. What’s the point? What’s the big deal? These exercises can only make sense to a person who believes that winning is everything. And if you believe that winning is everything, you must believe that life is all about hierarchies, and whoever gets on top is best or happiest or richest or sexiest or whatever. I can’t picture one of these sports psychologists spending a lot of time helping poor people or spending time at an old age home, or teaching kindergarten, or doing any of the millions of things that make life good for people.

But this is the age of Nike, and the media openly proclaim their contempt for the idea that winning might not be the most important thing in life. Implicitly, of course, the exact thing they proclaim is that consuming is the most important thing in life. Your hero may be a lean and mean and physically beautiful 20-year-old athlete, but you are 30 pounds overweight and sitting on your couch drinking beer and eating chips and then rushing down to the mall to buy some Nike sneakers because Michael Jordan says losers like you suck, big time.

The real purpose of sports psychology is the same as the real purpose of management consulting: to convince you that you can be just as successful as anyone else if you follow certain prescribed practices and strategies. The truth is that successful people are successful because they were born with certain skills or blessings or blind luck, and you will never be as successful as they are no matter how hard you try…. but you can sure spend a lot of money trying.

Run. Run to the mall. Buy, buy, buy. When you get to the top of those steps leading into the Dunkin’ Donuts, raise your hands in the air and scream, “gonna fly now…..”.

2022-04-11 Addendum

[I neglected to point out one important germane fact: the officiating to this point always favored the Americans.  I’m not saying they actually gave them the games– no, no– that would be too obvious.  But it was also obvious that close-calls in close games always went the Americans’ way.  It’s not hard to believe : the institutions that controlled international soccer matches understood perfectly where the money was: big American corporations who were not about to put out if the Americans were not in the finals.]


I used to look through Sears and Eaton’s catalogues mainly because there were pictures of women in their underwear. Once in a while, I would accidentally look at some of the home furnishings. What I saw nearly sickened me.

Where did they get those homes from? Nobody I knew lived in one. They were immaculate, in a perverse sort of way. The furniture was new, polished, slick, plastic. There were no signs of life, no clothes, no magazines tossed aside, no half-eaten bagels or half-empty cups of coffee. There was never any chili or soup in any of the pots. There were never any towels hanging half-folded over the sink or bathroom counter.

What was the message here? You were supposed to look at this catalogue and think, “Wow! That’s so beautiful! That’s what our house should look like! That’s what will make our friends think we’re smart and rich!” And you would buy this furniture and put it into your house and for a few days your home would look like a Sear’s catalogue but soon everything would be ugly and messy again and you’d realize that you just don’t measure up to the ideal.

Have you ever seen an Ikea catalogue? Here it is. Here is a picture of a place setting. The glass is half empty—someone’s been sipping. The silverware is scattered around as if someone just got home from work and didn’t have time to lay it out perfectly before the chili boiled over on the stove.

And here’s a picture of a pull-out pantry. By golly—there’s food in there, with the labels showing! And here’s a picture of a shoe cabinet. It’s full of papers and magazines that look as if someone just dumped them there. There’s a backpack beside it on the ground. What’s that doing there? And—can I bear the sight—here’s a bed…. and it’s unmade! Someone has actually slept in it!

Just gazing at the Sear’s ideal, you can sense the overwhelming sterility closing in on you. You get a sense that the customers of this store have no idea of what money is for, so they buy ostentatious, phony, bland, useless ornaments for their homes, and then sit around like manikins all day, admiring their silver-wear and doilies.

Ikea gives you a sense that people actually live in these furnishings. They enjoy them. They sleep on the bed, drink from the glasses, work under the beautiful halogen lights. They store things in the cabinets and eat off the tables. They have busy lives.

Ikea must be the only major furniture catalogue I have seen that shows a man with long hair tending a baby while preparing supper.

The Americans have some things right and some things wrong. They have furniture wrong.

Software Police

All over the civilized world, the software police– at taxpayer’s expense– are invading homes and the offices of Internet Service Providers, warrants in hand, to shut down those evil, pernicious, dangerous, malevolent software pirates.

That’s the way the world works. The lawyers for a big company like Microsoft or Lotus calls the police. They say, “arrest that man– he’s stealing our software!” The police say, “yes sir!” and throw on their flak jackets, arm themselves to the teeth, hop into their paddy wagons, and go racing out to courageously fight for justice and truth and all that.

It should tell you something about the nature of our economy and our politics that if you called the police and asked them to arrest Microsoft or Lotus or Compaq, for the same crime, they would laugh in your face. You just know, don’t you, that the police would assume that a lawyer for Microsoft represents the forces of justice and truth, while a mere consumer represents… well… the average person. And the law, my friend, has become a tool of the rich, by which they exploit you and me.

Case in point. Do you own a computer? What does it mean to own? If you own your couch, that means that no one can sit on it without your permission. If you own a house, in the U.S., that means you can pretty well kill anybody who tries to enter it without your permission.

You own this computer. So why is your hard drive loaded with parasite programs that suck the breath out of your CPU? Why is your e-mail flooded with SPAM? Why can’t you delete certain directories like “My Documents”? Why does Office 97 exterminate your copy of Office 95, without giving you a choice? And when Windows crashes for the umpteenth time, costing you hours and hours of precious work, why is nobody accountable for it? Why is Compaq allowed to sell laptops with fake modems? Why can a software company sell a check-writing program that doesn’t work and refuse to give the purchaser his money back?

This is theft, of your time and your property.  It is robbery.


Tail-Gunner Bill Buckley Jr.

William F. Buckley, the famous American conservative with a fake, snotty British accent, has recently published a novel. With an audaciousness rarely seen in the literary community, he has decided to undertake the rehabilitation of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Sure, the rest of the world has come to see McCarthyism as a synonym for bigotry, intolerance, and fanaticism, but Mr. Buckley has decided that he alone can correct that erroneous impression. McCarthy was a hero. He was right. He may well have saved America!

I always feel reassured when conservatives show their true colors. You see, many conservatives seem to have turned their backs on McCarthyism and appear to agree with most people that McCarthyism was a bad thing. In a roundabout way, I think this causes many people to get the warm fuzzies when they see George Bush Jr. on television, talking about compassion, even if they know that the U.S. Treasury can’t print dollars fast enough to keep up with the orgasmic flush being directed to Bush, and the Republican Party, by big corporations.

In case anyone needs a refresher, Senator McCarthy chaired a committee which investigated the penetration of U.S. government agencies, including the army, by communist agents. You really need to see one of the good dramatizations of McCarthy’s tactics (“Fear on Trial” is a good start) to appreciate the man. Not a man to waste his time with obtuse diversions like evidence or due process, he merely smeared people with innuendo or suspicion and bullied corporations, the government, the army, and Hollywood, into destroying the lives of anyone who would not appear before his committee, bow before him, and rat on his or her buddies. He was finally disgraced when even Eisenhower couldn’t stomach him anymore. He died a lonely, broken man, an alcoholic, and left, as his greatest legacy, his name as an adjective.

But Mr. Buckley wants to rehabilitate his image. Did we all miss something? Was Senator McCarthy misunderstood? Did he really save America? Can you believe Billy Buckley Jr.’s version of events?

Buckley describes, in his novel, an old black man who asks if it is true that the International Communist Conspiracy is seeking to undermine the U.S. government. Yes, of course. Then why, he asks, don’t we just run them out of town, like we used to? Buckley thinks this is the right attitude. Why don’t we just run them out of town? And that is Buckley’s real vision of “democracy”. If we don’t like someone, we just run him out of town. And why apply that solution only to communists?

If you like that philosophy, then save a soft spot in your heart for “Tail-gunner” Joe McCarthy. And keep your bags packed. There is always a witch hunt somewhere


Letter to Compaq Computers

Thursday, June 03, 1999

Dear Mr. Ciceri,

I’m a busy person, and I’m sure you’re very busy– so I will be very brief.

About two months ago, we were shopping for a laptop computer. I had not purchased a Compaq in some time, because I had been “burned” about seven or eight years ago by Compaq’s proprietary memory modules– we had to pay three times as much as other computer owners did for a simple memory upgrade. However, I thought it was time to give Compaq an opportunity to win more of our business. We bought three Compaq Armadas, and then I bought a Presario Notebook, model 1920, for myself—because I needed a large hard drive and lots of power.

I discovered, within a couple of weeks, that Compaq now installs “Winmodems” on its notebooks. I was shocked and extremely disappointed. I called your staff and asked to exchange this model for a Compaq that had a real modem. No dice—you don’t make any models with a real modem anymore. Fine, I will take a refund—it’s been less than 30 days. Then I’ll get a Sony or some other model that does have a real modem. Surely you don’t want a dissatisfied customer.

I won’t bore you with the details. I was on the phone for hours arguing with your staff. The bottom line was quite clear. Once Compaq has your money— they will never, ever give it back, no matter how dissatisfied you, the customer, may be..

I was a little stunned. Usually large companies that wish to do well over the long term realize that customer satisfaction is far more important than the profit margin on the sale of a single item. We are not a small company. I play an important—probably decisive – role in almost all computer purchases for this agency. You don’t even want to give me the benefit of the doubt?

Your staff argued vehemently with me that winmodems are great. I won’t repeat the discussion—ask any reputable, independent computer expert what he thinks of “winmodems”. They are the “mopeds” of the computer world. They only function with Windows. They create a larger profit margin for the modem vendors because, even though they cost less to the consumer, they also cost way less to manufacture. And they can sell you an “upgrade” without providing any new product at all. Just send the user a “patch” that shoves more of the work onto the CPU. And Winmodems increase Microsoft’s proprietary stranglehold on the desktop.

That’s not my only complaint about your notebook. I discovered that my 6.5 GIG hard drive is only a 5.0 Gig hard drive. Again, semantics aside, the Presario has stolen 1.6 GIG of MY disk space for something called “System Save”. I am warned that if I delete this, I will be in danger of losing data or worse.

Look, you had a reasonable customer who didn’t expect the world—only a decent, well-made notebook computer, with 6.5 GIG hard drive space, and a modem. Because this notebook has a “winmodem”, I cannot use it to run Linux, my favourite OS. Nothing in your advertising or webpages indicates that you can’t run Linux on the Presario 1920. And, well, you can run it, if you don’t need a modem. As if…

Anyway, the bottom line is this: Compaq had (has) a choice. Compaq could have said: we have an unhappy customer. We did fudge a bit about the modem. Maybe he’s got a point. Maybe not. But let’s make sure we don’t cost ourselves future sales: give him his money back.

Or… like any carnival huckster, Compaq can keep my money in their tight little fists and refuse to ever give it back, knowing full well that it would cost me more in legal fees to fight them than it would to swallow that unpleasant taste in my mouth and take my cruddy little notebook computer home and let it sit in a little corner somewhere.

Sir, you refused to make good on your promises. You made me feel ripped off. Your salesmen, beyond all comprehension, said, yes, we will write off any possible future sales to Christian Horizons for years and years and years, just so we can desperately hang on to the profit margin from a single laptop computer. I was amazed. If I had any money invested in Compaq stock and if I thought this was representative of how Compaq deals with its customers, I would sell my stock immediately.

Unless Compaq has a change of policy, you might as well send your brochures elsewhere.

Bill Van Dyk