Monthly Archives: January 2011

One Year On & What Has Happened to Jim McCormick?

It has been one year since the BBC Newsnight broadcast and the arrest of Jim McCormick on the grounds of fraud. Tonight the BBC plans to broadcast a follow-up to this story. As I write, I am under embargo not to post this in advance of the broadcast as it is not clear whether the Government will step in to prevent the BBC revealing two explosive discoveries in tonight’s broadcast.

Mexican soldier using the ADE651 in the war against drugs

For those of you who don’t know, last year I assisted the BBC in their exposé of the woo bomb detectors that were nothing more than dowsing rods. They were being used at checkpoints in Iraq, and as a consequence, indirectly responsible for the wave of suicide bombings that claimed hundreds of lives. A police investigation was underway and the head of the British Company ATSC Ltd who I had been corresponding with through my blog was arrested on suspected fraud.

You might be asking why the case against Jim McCormick appears to have gone cold. It turns out that between 2001-2004, the UK Department for Trade and Industry not only knew all about ATSC Ltd and the ADE651, but had also assisted in the sale of these bogus devices to the Mexican Government. Oh dear, that’s pretty shameful. No wonder they don’t want this to come out in court.

The second alarming  discovery is that after the arrest of Jim McCormick, further sales of the ADE651 have continued. Apparently, the devices have even ended up in use in Afghanistan. The British Government’s attitude is that other countries are producing similar devices so it is not in their interest to prevent the sale to markets just so long as British civilians are not at risk. How cynical can you get? It’s a bloody disgrace in more ways than one.

You simply could not make this stuff up. The sheer audacity of these guys beggars belief. I must confess I have lost patience with the authorities. You can do as much jumping up and down, stamping your feet and screaming “It’s just a car ariel” and yet they do nothing to stop this outrageous business.

Here is press release put out by my contacts at the BBC

GOVERNMENT HELPED SELL BOMB DETECTORS WHICH HAVE BEEN BANNED BECAUSE THEY DON’T WORK

CAROLINE HAWLEY AND MEIRION JONES

The government has today admitted that the army and UK civil servants helped market so-called bomb detectors, which didn’t work, around the world.

The export of the “magic wand” detectors to Iraq and Afghanistan was banned on January 27 2010 because of the threat they posed to British and allied troops, after a BBC Newsnight investigation showed that they were incapable of detecting explosives or anything else.  Now Newsnight has learned that they are still being sold around the globe.

At least four rival manufacturers have sold their own versions of these devices and they are now the subject of a major fraud investigation by the City of London police.  One of the makers, ATSC, sold thousands of the so-called detectors, which essentially consist of a radio aerial on a hinge attached to a plastic handle, to Iraq for $85 million.

It has been alleged that hundreds of Iraqis died in explosions in Baghdad after their ADE651 detectors failed to detect suicide bombers at checkpoints. ATSC’s boss Jim McCormick is currently on bail after being arrested on suspicion of fraud in connection with the so-called detectors.

The profit margins are enormous.  The manufacturer of another of the devices, the Alpha 6,  has admitted to Newsnight that they make them for £11 and then they are sold for £15,000 each to the end user.

The Government today told BBC Newsnight that between 2001 and 2005 a Royal Engineers sales team went around the world demonstrating the GT200, another of the “magic wand” detectors which has been banned for export to Iraq and Afghanistan, at arms fairs around the world even though the British Army did not consider them suitable for its own use. The Department of Trade and Industry as it then was helped two of the manufacturers sell their products in Mexico and the Philippines.

Newsnight has also found that the manufacturers are still trying to market so-called bomb detectors which don’t work. Just three months after the ban on sales to Iraq and Afghanistan a product called the HEDD1, consisting of a radio aerial on a handle made in Bulgaria, was displayed at a security exhibition at Olympia in London.

The makers claimed that while all the other products which looked like it were a “massive scam” theirs was different.  The HEDD1 was marketed by a retired British Army colonel, John Wyatt, who told prospective buyers that it had “proved extremely successful in several foreign countries” including in “double blind” tests.

In reality the maker of HEDD1, Yuri Markov, had been charged in the USA in 2008 for fraudulently claiming that the previous version of his so-called bomb detector could detect explosives. The US Navy had subjected it to a double-blind test and found it “does not work”.

Asked by Caroline Hawley why he had promoted such a product Colonel Wyatt said “I would never put lives at risk on this at all – its intangible science – I wouldn’t use it in a life or death situation”.  Nevertheless in July 2010 he demonstrated the HEDD1 to the Royal Engineers at an army base in Surrey as a potential bomb detector to be used in Afghanistan to deal with IEDs.

The Royal Engineers showed the HEDD1 to explosives expert Sidney Alford of Alford Technologies who has previously helped Newsnight expose other so-called detectors. The HEDD1 totally failed to find any explosives during a double blind trial and Mr Alford’s report concluded by saying “this equipment does not detect explosives”.

Colonel Wyatt told Newsnight he would have made 3,000 euros profit on every HEDD1 he sold but that he had not sold any so far and would not do so without further testing.  Asked by Caroline Wyatt whether he had given the product’s makers an air of respectability by becoming their agent he said “If you perhaps feel that they’re gaining an edge by my involvement I’d say probably yes I’m guilty”

After the Moscow bombing on Monday there will be questions about why the ban on exports to Iraq and Afghanistan has not been extended to protect the citizens of other countries.  The Department of Business, Industry and Skills told Newsnight that there was little point: “the impact of any further UK action in preventing the supply of these devices from the UK would be limited if they are available elsewhere” NEWSNIGHT 22.30 TONIGHT BBC2

 

 

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Filed under In the News

Powerband Gives Little Wrist Action

A month or two back I received a package from Australia from Richard Saunders who wanted to send me something. Now if you know Richard, then you know there is always a little twinkle in his eye most of the time. Richard is from the the Skeptic Zone and is one of the powerhouses behind exposing the Power Balance Bands – a silicone band with a hologram, that the makers claim  can improve your balance, strength and flexibility all for about £38 (approx $50).It’s a bit of woo merchandizing that has gone both global and mega. Numerous superstars from the sporting world swear by them including that well-known bastion of rationality, David Beckham.

Expecting the unusual, I opened the package to discover two rubber wristbands that could easily have been mistaken for something out of the Ann Summers adult catalogue. These were mock Power Balance Bands produced by the Skeptic Zone to draw attention to the ludicrous claims.

But then earlier this month, the English Cricket Team won the Ashes in spectacular fashion and as you can see from the victory group photograph, the Power Balance Bands are clearly evident. 

However, through the efforts of our more sensible cousins down under, the bracelet’s distributors in Australia were made to apologise and change their marketing and advertising text after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took action.

The US distributors of the Power Balance had also claimed: “Power Balance is based on the idea of optimising the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.” Now if that doesn’t trigger your BS detectors then what will?

Anyway, this story has been developing in the past few months and I guess I have just been to busy to draw attention to it, but today the Telegraph in the UK reported that the creators of the Power Balance Bands admitted that there was no scientific evidence to back up the claims and that they were offering refunds. However, even when the game is up, some believers refuse to listen. Huw Davies, the head of strength and conditioning at Wasps rugby club, said that players were initially skeptical but had responded significantly well to wearing the wristbands.

If the Powerbands improve performance, then they are clearly working on the same principle as lucky charms – wishful thinking and placebo. Anyway, thank you Richard for sending me the fake Powerbands. Maybe I can take them to Ann Summers and see if they have an alternative use for them or where to wear them.

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Filed under In the News, supernatural

Bouncing, Trampling & Jumping Over Babies

Who wouldn’t want a healthy bouncy baby? Well this Muslim ritual in India makes sure that you get one. Those crazy Muslims…. Hold on. It turns out that Christians can be pretty loopy as well. Baby jumping (El Colacho) is a traditional Spanish practice dating back to 1620 that takes place annually to celebrate the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi in the village of Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos.

The belief is that by jumping over the babies, they are cleansing them of original sin. The Brotherhood of Santísimo Sacramento de Minerva, who organise the festivities chase people around the town throughout the day. I would not be too surprised if there was a bit of drinking involved as well. Imagine if one of these devils tripped?

So which is it  – dropped from 50 feet into a blanket or bring jumped over by a mad Spaniard?

UPDATE: It just gets even more shocking. Now we have grown religious men trampling babies!!!

Truly shocking video from India sent my way by @teobesta

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Scientology Silent Births

I get many requests to comment and interview so I was not surprised by an enquiry from Cord Jefferson who is culture editor on GOOD, a cool magazine produced out of Los Angeles. He asked me about whether there was any science to the Scientologists belief of “silent births.”

John Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston had appeared on Wednesday’s edition of the Today Show extolling the benefits of giving birth in total silence because L Ron Hubbard had claimed that the single source of human psychosomatic illnesses is all the hullabaloo that goes on during birth. According to his teaching, our reactive minds are forever tarnished by the cacophony of childbirth.

Cord asked me whether there was any science to this. My reply was short

Really? What a strange belief. Frankly, I doubt it makes much

difference. The intrauterine environment is surprisingly noisy.

Sorry not to be more helpful

Imagine my surprise to see my response printed verbatum under the heading, “There’s No Science to Support Scientology’s ‘Silent Birth.” Thank Hubbard, I didn’t say anything more libelous as the Scientologists are notoriously litigious.

Researchers have found that the intrauterine acoustic environment is dominated by maternal sounds–heartbeat, breathing, the mother’s voice, borborygmi and sounds caused by body movements. Background noise is never below 28 dB and can rise to 84 dB when the mother is singing. Below 28dB is very quiet but 84dB is approaching levels at which sustained exposure can lead to hearing loss! We know that the fetus can learn their own mother’s voice as well as the theme tunes to soap operas watched during pregnancy, so if anything, Scientologists should be more concerned about what is said during pregnancy, not just birth.

Still, it is not all entirely hokum. As my colleague Andy Meltzoff’s pointed out, it can’t do any harm. In fact, it has been known for ages that mothers given choices over their own childbirth have a much more positive experience. This is the old illusion of control finding that we can tolerate more stress and pain if we believe we can do something about it. So whether it is silent delivery suites, scented candles, or verbally abusing the man who made you pass something the size of a bowling ball down your pelvic cavity, then pretty much anything goes.

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Who is Banksy?

Bristol is a great city which in recent years has become somewhat of a cultural mecca for modern music and art. On my way back to my country retreat I pass this amusing Banksy mural which is across from the Bristol Children’s Hospital.

Banksy has become something of a cult hero though his cult status is somewhat behind him as his work has reached the heady heights of Sotheby’s/Christie’s prices for modern art. His murals are witty but not exactly technically demanding and yet, the queues for his Bristol exhibition in 2009 were unprecedented. Part of his appeal must be his “scarlet pimpernel” approach of maintaining anonymity. Who is Banksy?

Well if you have a spare $1,000,000 you can discover the true identity of Banksy which is currently being offered for sale on eBay. According to the seller,

If you win this auction I will mail you a piece of paper revealing the true identity of “Banksy”.


I have uncovered his identity by matching up the prices of his sold pieces to corresponding tax records. I will reveal no more details.

The winner of this auction is the only person I will ever share this information with. The piece of paper will say his name, nothing more.

I give you 100% assurance that it is most certainly the full name of the street artist known as “Banksy”.

Ebay previously ended this auction because I was selling something that was not “tangible”.
It is now tangible.

Currently there are 38 bids.

I wanted to blog this story because it raises so many interesting issues about authenticity and art. For many, possessing art is a status exercise – a public display of wealth signaling success to others. But there is also an essential element to art – the idea that there is some property that makes an original irreplaceable. Paul Bloom wrote about this in his book, “How Pleasure Works” and of course, I developed the idea in the context of sacred objects and repugnant items.

However, I have to accept that the essentialist stance towards Banksy art is somewhat of a stretch. His murals are spray-painted templates that could be easily produced and duplicated. That’s not to say that they are not clever and ingenious. It’s just that you don’t get the impression that his essence is in the work in the same way that seeing a Van Gogh in reality is an awe-inspiring experience. This is compounded by Banksy’s anonymity. Also, the fact that eBay insists that information is not enough and that a tangible piece of paper qualifies as a commodity for auction is also ironic.

I don’t know who Banksy is but I am reliably told that he has red hair. You can make your own GinGer jokes in the comments.

 

UPDATE: Just checked back to discover that eBay have removed the auction… oh well.

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Filed under General Thoughts

Atheist Bible

I just found out that the British philosopher, AC Grayling has written an alternative good book that is due to be published in April this year. According to the blurb on Amazon,”The Good Book” offers a thoughtful, non-religious alternative to the many people who do not follow one of the world’s great religions. This should be an interesting read, “drawing on the wisdom of 2,500 years of contemplative non-religious writing on all that it means to be human – from the origins of the universe to small matters of courtesy and kindness in everyday life.”

You may have noticed that my postings have been short recently. I hope to be back to longer musings in the future but at the moment, I have a ton of work and a chest infection that I got at the beginning of Dec.:(

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