Spain, Andorra, Portugal: What a ride!

In all, we spent 21 days away from Phoenix, from Sept 20th to October 10th. Roughly 1,600 miles on a rented 2022 BMW 1250GS with Maggie navigating driver Kim Marin’s rental car, mostly following the seven 1250GS rental bikes with nine passengers across 3 countries. The weather was highly cooperative, the roads amazing and the scenery stunning. The lodging and food would bankrupt anyone’s bank of superlatives to describe.

My first trip to Barcelona was in February of 2010 to attend the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) conference with a company I’d helped found. CallSpark was selected as a finalist for GSM’s Mobile Innovation Grand Prix. The company would later change its name to PhoneTell. My memories of the conference are hazy, but the impressions made by Antonio Gaudi’s architecture never left me. I vowed to return and show Maggie this amazing place, knowing she would see and appreciate this artist far deeper than I ever could, and the primary motivation for arriving in Barcelona a few days before our fellow travelers.

Antoni Gaudi lived from 1852–1926, stamping his revolutionary design vision on Barcelona and becoming one of the most referenced architects in history. The world knows the Sagrada Familia as the largest unfinished Catholic Church in the world. Construction began in March of 1882 and continues to this day. The coronavirus pushed the targeted completion date of 2026 back several years, although the church was consecrated (in 2010), holds services, and is easily Barcelona’s top visited tourist attraction. It is the most intriguing, captivating, puzzling, and impressive building I’ve ever been in. But Gaudi’s genius and innovation can be seen in other areas of the city. First, in two huge homes near our hotel (The Mandarin Oriental) which we toured. The second, the Park Guell, where Gaudi’s experimentation with angled columns, principals realized on a much larger scale in the Sagrada Familia. The Gaudi-inspired jewelry pieces purchased for Maggie on my 2010 trip have been some of her favorites. It made showing off how much his ideas influenced all of modern art throughout Barcelona so very special.

Before picking up our motorcycles and heading north two incidents reinforced the legitimacy of Barcelona’s reputation for petty street crimes and theft. The first was having my beloved, highly-dependable, well-traveled Canon camera with my favorite zoom lens stolen. The second was at the bike rental place and our ride master Skip Mascorro’s backpack was stolen. Both thefts were incredibly well orchestrated, and we were unaware of neither until the thieves had plenty of time to be gone. The loss of Skip’s bag (passport, cash, and trip papers) caused the bigger issue, necessitating him to drive back to Barcelona in the middle of the night, go to the US Consulate to acquire a temporary passport, and then journey back to us. My loss was more emotional. As the trip progressed each time we came across an incredible photographic subject I reached for my non-existent “big camera” in a way I’ve heard amputees feel sensations of missing limbs. While absurd to compare my camera loss to losing a limb, I repeatedly went to my top case on the bike to grab my camera, only to open it, look down, and remember it was gone. I expected these momentary episodes of loss and anger to go away, but they didn’t stop until we returned the rental bikes in Portugal.

My original plan for this newsletter was to summarize our trip, focusing on the highlights with the idea of conveying the high points. My good friend and riding companion on this trip was Rich Marin. Rich’s daily blog for each of this trip’s fourteen days, I felt, with a bit of editing, would do a good job of chronicling our trip. You can find that report, edited with Rich’s permission, here: Spain Trip Report Marin-Larsen

As to photos of the trip, follow this link to see over 100 of the best shots, cut down from just under 3,000 photos, some with commentary.

The Church of Baseball

Halfway into Ron Shelton’s book “The Church of Baseball,” we were gifted tickets to the Diamondbacks/Phillies game at Chase Field on August 29.  As we drove downtown, I reflected on the book’s influence on how I may see the upcoming game. Shelton’s recounting of his minor league career revealed aspects of the game that had eluded me.  I resolved to sit back, soak it all in, and not get hung up on the score or who happened to be ahead. Given the Diamondback’s disappointing play in the first half of the season (they’ve lost more games than they’ve won) and their surging Philadelphia Phillies opponent, it seemed like a prudent approach.

Chase Field

We made our way to our favorite parking spot and little did I know this far-from sold-out game would turn into a remarkable battle, loaded with twists and turns. I now consider it the best live baseball game I have ever watched.

Ron Shelton grew up in a conservative, religious family and spent a good deal of time in church. In the late 60s and early 70s, he played minor league baseball with the Bluefield Orioles, Stockton Ports, the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, and Rochester Red Wings and grew disillusioned and angry about the Vietnam War when friends of his returned in body bags. Through the early and mid-1980s, he struggled to find a way to make a living in film, but mostly failed. Then he wrote a screenplay for a movie that eventually became Bull Durham.  The book provides deep detail on how the movie got made, along with his path to becoming a screenwriter and film director.  The book is great, but I most reveled in his approach to storytelling.  For instance, he talks about how he came to write Annie Savoy’s (played by Susan Sarandon) voice-over at the beginning of the movie, dictating her soliloquy into a beat up tape recorder as he drove his old Mustang across upstate New York:

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. (sigh) But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology.

You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never borin’ (giggle) – which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Makin’ love is like hittin’ a baseball. You just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hittin’ under .250, unless he had a lot of RBIs or was a great glove man up the middle.

You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him. And the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. Of course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe – and pretty. Of course, what I give them lasts a lifetime. What they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade, but bad trades are part of baseball. I mean, who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have. And the only church that truly feeds the soul – day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

Arriving at Chase Field we found we had wonderful seats, maybe a dozen rows back, and overlooking first base. We also noticed we were not only behind the Phillies’ dugout but in a section filled with Phillies fans wearing Phillies hats, Phillies jerseys, and holding Phillies signs. We had little to worry about as after the first few innings, our section mates were in a great mood.  Each inning the Phillies were at the plate was a cheer fest for our section.  The Phillies pounded our pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, mercilessly and we trailed 7-0 after 3 ½ innings. The Phoenix radio announcers were glum, noting never in Diamondbacks history had they ever come back from a 7-point deficit – not once…ever.  They’d come back twice in the team’s 25-year history from being down by six points, but never seven. It wasn’t that the Phillies were just getting hits; they were hitting the ball hard — viciously so, and mean.  One ball hit by Phillies Bryce Harper left the bat at 113 mph, flying past our right fielder for an easy double.  Nine other hits were over 100 mph. I overheard the guy behind me say, “Wow, this is like batting practice.” What felt like the nail in the coffin came from Kyle Schwarber in the fourth inning, hitting his NL-leading 36th home run far into the right-field seats.

As the bottom of the fourth began, the stadium was mostly quiet, except for our Phillies section. But then things turned around. After Josh Rojas grounded out to first, Ketel Marte singled to left.  Then Christian Walker singled to left, moving Marte to second base.  Emmanuel Rivera whacked a double to deep right field, scoring Marte and moving Walker to third.  Stone Garrett singled to left, sending Walker home, and Rivera moved to third. We have 2 points, finally.  After Jake McCarthy struck out, rookie Corbin Carroll made it safely to first on a combination of a fielding error and blazing speed and, Rivera scores giving us 3 points.  Their pitcher walked Geraldo Perdomo, moving Carroll to second and Garrett to third.  Carson Kelly doubled to right, scoring Garrett, Perdomo, and Carroll and we had 6 points.  All of a sudden, in one inning, it’s a ball game!

When the inning ends (Rojas grounds out) we’re only behind by one point, 7-6.  Ten players have made it to the plate for the Diamondbacks.   In the top of the fifth, the Phillies batters were 3 up and 3 down and the Diamondbacks immediately went back to work.  Marte started things off with a double to left field.  Walker walked.  Then Rivera walked, moving Walker to second and Marte to third.  Garret struck out. Then, McCarthy is hit by a pitch, causing Marte to score, moving Rivera to second and Walker to third.  The score is now tied, 7-7.  Fans on all sides of us are mumbling. There are sounds of disgust. Then, in his major league debut, Corbin Carroll breaks the 7-7 tie with a double to left center, scoring Walker and Rivera and moving McCarthy to third.  The score is now 9 – 7, putting the Diamondbacks ahead. What a thrill for Carroll, but also for his family, friends, coaches, and former minor league players who’d made it a point to be in the stadium for this, his first major league game.  No one could have predicted this.  It was amazing!  But, would the Phillies rebound? Those around us certainly hoped they would.

Shelton was a relatively new and inexperienced director when he finally twisted the arm of an unlikely film studio to put up $6M to make Bull Durham.  He never dreamed the movie would earn him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and certainly, no one at the studio did either, given the constant second-guessing and attempts to change the film in major ways, including reshooting it with different actors.  And yet now, Bull Durham is seen as containing some of the best lines ever written, delivered by actors at the top of their creative work. For instance, the following line is one delivered by Crash Davis, Kevin Costner’s character, to Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) when she asks him what he does believe in:

“Well, I believe in the soul… the cock…the pussy… the small of a woman’s back… the hangin’ curveball… high fiber… good scotch… that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent overrated crap… I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. Goodnight.”  Annie responds, “Oh, my!”

Back in the stadium, the innings would pass and the Diamondbacks would add another score or two.  Then, in the bottom of the 8th, with the score 12-7, Stone Garrett (our left fielder) came to the plate, hitting a huge home run (396 feet) into the right field bleachers.  It was an anti-climactic final inning for the Phillies and the game was over. It was the first time in history the Phillies allowed six or more runs in back-to-back innings since 1997 before the Diamondbacks even existed.  At the top of the 4th inning, the Win Probability was 97.9% that Philadelphia would win.  By the top of the fifth inning, the probability Philly would win was 65.7% and by the bottom of the fifth, the Diamondbacks were projected to have an 88.3% chance of winning.

Shelton’s book connects on many levels.  If you are a fan of film, you’ll delight at Shelton’s inside stories and cinematic details movie watchers mostly miss. As a business guy, I loved learning the various roles people played, and the different departments involved (costumes, casting, camera and filming, lighting, sound, editing, set selection, location and design, legal and finance).  I never knew that nearly all films are made with at least one additional “second unit,” a team with a director, camera crew, actors, lighting, and sound going on at the same time the main scenes are being shot.  The only difference is, that those important scenes are the ones without the starring actors. But what was most inspiring in the book was learning more about the lives of minor league players; how hard they work and the constant fear of being cut or having an injury scuttle their dreams.

Standing in line for coffee this morning at Press Coffee – The Roastery, I commented on counter barista Michael’s arm tattoo, reading “Blessed” draped all along his arm from elbow to wrist in the largest lettering I’ve ever seen. I told him it made me smile every time I saw it.  “Ah yes,” he replied.  “I played college ball on scholarships but then tore out my ACL.  Every doctor told me I’d never play again.  I went back for one final second opinion and this doctor said,No, you can play, it will take a lot of work, but it’s possible.’ I got this tattoo the next day as I felt truly blessed.”

Are we that different?

donkey and elephant having a stare-down

A recent exchange of emails with a good and thoughtful man on the opposite end of the political divide from me concluded with “We’re soooooo far apart….”   It’s been bothering me for days, mostly as I don’t think it is true.  Not for him and me, and not for most Americans.  On most of the big important stuff, the things that matter, I suspect we are closer than we know.

I rarely broach politics in my newsletters.  This will be the exception. There are huge financial incentives and deep political motivations to exaggerate the differences between us.  Those on the right and the left can raise massive amounts of money by emphasizing and fanning the flames of distrust and fear.  Couple this with a media bent on exploiting this schism for financial gain (we’re talking billions of dollars) and it becomes obvious that there is more money to be made from discord than from finding common ground.

My friend and I may not agree on how to best solve the problems we see, but we’re probably more aligned on problem identification than we think.  But, there’s only one way to find out, which is to outline what I think and see how left of center he thinks I am. Here are some of my political beliefs:

  1. Love of country, belief in democracy, freedom, and “the American way.” American FlagI’m all in.  I believe we live in the greatest country in the world.  While it has its flaws and areas in which we could improve, I’d prefer to live here than anywhere else.  This does not mean I believe we do everything perfectly. I have no problem taking a clear look at other countries and finding areas where they’re doing something better than we are.  When we see that, we should figure out how we can get better in that area.  Does wanting to take a clear look at areas where we could improve or pointing out where someone is beating us make me unpatriotic? Gee, I sure hope not. My business experience taught me it was critical to analyze and understand competitive offerings and to view our own with clear-eyed skepticism.  When you stop trying to beat your competitors with better offerings and rely on slogans, “drinking the cool-aid” so to speak, you’re on a downward trajectory.
  2. Religious Freedom: Worshipping as we please and to whom we please is a fundamental right imbedded in our constitution, including the right to not believe. We are free to think and believe what we want and no one is allowed to tell us what we can or can’t think. No other country maps out and articulates such strong support in our Bill of Rights.  John F Kennedy warned that “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
  3. Law Enforcement: police hatPolice play a critical role in keeping the peace and making us feel safe. For the vast majority of the time, they do a remarkably good job, even when work rules and restrictions make it difficult to impossible. They should be tasked and funded to do the tasks we need and want them to do.  When the system fails to fund systems and processes for keeping nut cases off the street, for instance, it shouldn’t fall only on the police to clean up the mess. Citizens of the US should expect the same treatment from police based on their behavior, and not because of what ethnicity they are.  No one should fear being pulled over 2-3 times a year when driving at night, just because they are black.  If that is happening, it is a problem and should be addressed.
  4. What Government is really all about: Most of what the government is involved in doing and must do well for a full-functioning society is not political in any way, shape, or form.  Earlier this year (2022), Netflix launched a television series with comedian Adam Conover called “The G Word,” showing the best and worst of government.  It covered things like meat inspectors, weather meteorologists, and a lot more.  It’s not a whitewash. It exposes the massive jobs we’ve tasked our government to do in areas most of us never think about and, points out efforts that work well along with those that could use improvement.  We should pick our leaders at least in part on their experience and expertise in making systems like the ones below work better for us as citizens, and not just for their stance on hot-button political issues that rarely make a dent in our daily lives.  If the most expert, knowledge and effective person to work on my vintage motorcycle is a Republican, why would I care? Same for many government duties.  Below are just a few of them:
    1. The Dept. of Agriculture has standards and makes sure all the meat we buy is safe to eat. Same for milk, fruit, veggies, and in fact, all of our food. Which of us has any idea how many inspectors this effort takes and the sort of training, scheduling, reporting, etc. which they need to guard against contamination and disease?
    2. Administer Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Note administrative costs in healthcare generally run about 31-32% of the total spending.  Medicare, on the other hand, has administrative costs of 3-4% of spending, depending on whether you include efforts to track down and eliminate fraud.
    3. Run the post office, and prevent mail fraud. Do it efficiently.
    4. Make sure the medications we are prescribed and purchases contain the ingredients that they are claimed to contain. And that they’ll work as promised.
    5. Create and enforce regulations, laws, and inspections which will assure that workers don’t have to work with toxic chemicals or in environments where they could get hurt or killed.
    6. Support everything the Department of the Interior does to protect national parks and wild areas so everyone can enjoy them. It’s always nice to hike a well-maintained trail.
    7. Copyright and patent laws protect creativity and innovation. It’s complex work and not easy, but this (like many) government agencies is understaffed so badly that patents now take years to process, a real detriment to protecting US innovation.
    8. Maintain and improve local streets, state highways, and interstates, and keep them safe. Our is a country of drivers – not public transport. We need good roads, bridges and tunnels.
    9. Public water systems not only ensure safe drinking water but work to figure out how to make sure we have water into the future, which isn’t easy, especially in Arizona.
    10. The FAA makes sure we have a good traffic control system which means we fly with reasonable expectation of safe arrivals in the US.
    11. We have a department committed to serving the needs of our veterans and they work hard to do the best job they can, treating millions of Americans each year.
    12. The government supports research in a whole set of medical areas which help diagnose and treat every disease you can imagine from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. They also to try to prevent charlatan and medical quacks from deceiving us.
  5. We’re a nation of laws. stack of law books I believe no one is above the law.  Yes, I know the wealthy can hire expensive lawyers and get away with things.  But ultimately, the law tends to catch up with you if the crime is significant.  When imperfect laws are passed or they go out of date with time, there is a well-known and prescribed process for updating, changing and, enacting new ones with the goal of fairness for all. Our democracy forces legislators to work with those they disagree and to fashion a compromise to get things done. When our elected officials fail to do their job and refresh and revise laws as circumstances change, such as what has happened on immigration with no updates since Ronald Reagan was president, people end up taking the law into their own hands or finding workarounds that defeat the purpose of the laws.  In the end, this undermines our entire system.
  6. Allowance for conflicting ideas: Not all ideals are laws. Americans are compassionate and take care of those who are suffering, having the highest rate of charitable giving in the world. Caring for the less fortunate does not contradict an equally strong belief in self-reliance and willingness to let people try and fail.  We emphasize competition and accept there will be losers along with winners. While these ideals and values sometimes run into one another, posing contradictions, it’s OK.  In fact, we often embrace such tensions among our ideals. It may be a key to American greatness and could help explain why Americans have always rejected appeals for ideological consistency.  Ideological rigidity doesn’t allow for contradictions. Ideology requires an embrace of a doctrine, whether it is a far-left doctrine about equality or shared property or a far-right doctrine that talks about absolute free-marketism and social Darwinism. It requires, above all else, a consistent world view that breaks the world down into simplistic categories. Americans don’t go for that and never have.
  7. Campaign Finance Reform: This may not be a big deal to everyone, but I feel we need to restrict the amount of money going into politics. In addition, any amount over a few hundred bucks should not be allowed to be anonymous. If George Soros or the Koch Brothers want to fund a candidate, fine, but they have to own up to it and citizens need to know who is supporting who and for how much. I also think elected officials should wait a while before becoming lobbyists.

One additional area does not fit neatly into the above and that is how one thinks about “the moral decay of society.”  This is an area, I suspect, where we do see things differently. Many people do.

Everyone seems to feel the country’s values are deteriorating. They’re bad and getting worse.  Headlines scream it at us.  It’s in our nature to want things as they were in the “good old days”. This is a sentiment held by just about every generation.  Britain’s postwar population pined for the Victorians as beacons of moral fortitude. The Victorians?  Well, they looked back to before the days before “the Industrial Revolution screwed everything up.” Even the Romans moaned about changing family values, and the writings of Socrates and Hesiod complained about how lazy the youth were and how much better things were when they were kids.

Is this recently cited “fact” really true and if so, to what extent?  Well, it depends on how you define moral values.  How you think about mass shootings, drug use, racial hatred, homosexuality, abortion, legalizing weed, cohabitating, social injustice, incivility, fraud, or white supremacy, will have a big impact on whether you think things are getting better or worse.  Less controversial is what is causing it.  The most often cited examples include mass media and social media, peer pressure, and poor family involvement.  How can one NOT believe everything is going to hell if that is the only message one sees, over and over.  No amount of “facts, statistics or trends” can stand up to the onslaught of a narrative so consistently and constantly sold.

But what are these morals that are decaying? Morals are the prevailing standards of behavior that enable people to live cooperatively and provide guidelines for human interaction.  Morality often requires people to sacrifice their own short-term interests for the long-term benefit of society.  We’re supposed to direct our political behavior around service – “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Moral “good” behavior becomes hard to define as individuals and we often define what is moral and immoral for ourselves in our situations, and these could very well be different for someone else in the same situation. Agreement on standards of behavior is exceptionally difficult and I’m not even sure it’s possible.  But it is worth thinking and talking about at the very least.  The more people discuss these topics the greater insight they will gain.

Authors like Steven Pinker, Rafaela von Bredow, and Johann Grolle have written extensively about the dramatic human improvements since the 18th century in the areas of racism, slavery, imperialism, and genocide.  Pinker points to extensive data showing how things are getting better across a host of measurable areas.  For instance, one’s risk of dying a violent death at the hands of another has gone down precipitously. The number of people who die of malnutrition and disease has shrunk as well.    Pinker addressed critics of his book “Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on ‘Enlightenment Now,’ One Year Later,” in this rather long essay, although it’s much shorter than his book, which I also highly recommend.

One fun thought experiment Pinker suggests in his essay is to ask yourself this question: “If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be – what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into – you wouldn’t likely choose 100 years ago.  You wouldn’t choose the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies.  You’d choose right now.”  Or wouldn’t you?

So, what is the cause of our persistent feelings of moral decline, despite the lack of concrete evidence of the opposite? Every year the Gallup Poll interviewers ask people two questions: how are things now and, how will they be in the future? Every year, respondents insist we’re on a downward spiral, yet the proportion who say things are bad right now doesn’t increase, but instead, is remarkably stable, even going down in 2020, which some speculate may be due to an increasing faith in our fellow humans amid the pandemic.  What it says is there is a persistent belief that things are going to get worse, alongside evidence from the same people suggesting that, over time, it hasn’t.

Some pundits argue that the idea of a morally debased youth has been turned on its head with the rise of the “woke” generation who stand accused of being, if anything, too righteous. Call them naive, misguided, or sanctimonious, but morally weak? Maybe not so much.  School kids today report bullying and harassment from other kids more frequently than when we were kids.

While evidence of decline is sketchy in areas of murders, crime, health and safety, examples of changes in attitude in other areas are easy to find; same-sex marriage laws in dozens of countries; the first black president of the United States; removing the stigma from mental illness. Often, youth are raising moral concerns – even children sometimes, like the climate strikers who managed to push environmental issues to the top of the agenda at Davos.  It will be up to historians of the future to decide whether these changes in moral values point to decline or improvement. I am optimistic about the future.  My great-grandparents lived in a time when people were allowed to own other people. It was fully moral at the time, supported by laws, tradition and the church. But today, most people are glad that part of our history is closed.  My parents lived in a time when it was against the law for people of different races to marry, facing jail if they did.  I’ve lived most of my life in a time when people of the same sex were not allowed to get married and could lose their jobs and careers and be socially ostracized because of who they loved. Those laws and attitudes have changed and each year that passes, fewer and fewer people will be around saying “I want those policies and attitudes back.”

Hope signMorals evolve with the culture they serve.  History will judge us on the choices we make and how hard we tried to get things right and how much work we put into doing the right things.

Pseudoscience, Part 1

Johnny Carson famously mocked psychics, playing “Carnac the Magnificent.” He exposed psychic Uri Geller’s claims on his show.

For the past ten years my interest in diminishing the impact of psychics and pseudoscience has grown. I wrote a newsletter about scary psychics earlier this year.  Few groups stand up for reason and truth – there should be more. The good ones, like the one mentioned below, needs and deserves our support.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) recently launched the Office of Consumer Protection from Pseudoscience,and I love that they’re doing that.  Science and Pseudoscience are, of course, directly opposed to each other.  The LA chapter of CFI offers a $250,000 Paranormal Challenge. They promise $250,000 to anyone able to demonstrate a paranormal, supernatural, or occult ability.  They work with the applicant to design a test procedure, the conditions, and when the test will take place.  They even administer the actual test! This would seem to be easy money for anyone with “a gift.”  Most recently an applicant claimed he had telepathy skills and was able to plant the name of a specific playing card into a friend’s mind in a nearby room.  Probably not a surprise, but under controlled conditions, he couldn’t do it. There were 43 applications for the prize in the first quarter of 2022 and the money, so far, appears to be safe. That said, if you do have a friend with psychic capabilities who could use $250,000, the application can be downloaded here.  

Debunking psychics and discrediting this sort of fraud can be entertaining, fun, and satisfying on several levels. However, beyond tricking gullible people out of hard-earned dollars, it can sometimes get very serious – even deadly.  This is especially true when people are persuaded to trust claims of medical remedies that haven’t undergone rigorous scientific testing.

In my work with the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), we often deal with innovative companies in the medical space. An important investment success hurdle for many of them is FDA approval or being on a path to FDA approval. Companies typically construct tests with ever-increasing levels of rigor, knowing the FDA takes its role in protecting public health seriously.  Getting the science right and proving the case for products isn’t simple and I admire business innovators who take up this challenge.

But there are some companies, thankfully never seen at the ACA, whose objectives are more nefarious.  Let me repeat a story Robyn Blumner, the President and CEO of CFI, related recently. After periodontal surgery, her periodontist sent her home with a StellaLife “intelligent healing” kit, including a product called “BEGA Oral Care Recovery Kit,” with an “antimicrobial” rinse to promote “oral health.” When she got it home she noticed the word “homeopathic” on the front and thought, “I’ve just been handed a box of placebos.”  On closer examination, she noticed that every single claim of efficacy had an asterisk.  After diligent searching, she finally found where the asterisk was defined, and it said, “Claims based on traditional homeopathic practice, not accepted medical evidence.  Not FDA evaluated.” For Robyn, not paying attention (and how many of us are super observant after oral surgery?) would have meant hours of pain and discomfort when proven medicines no doubt would have worked far better. I suspect traditional medicine would have included pain-relievers like Tylenol and a scientifically tested antimicrobial oral rinse.

To the credit of her periodontist, once informed of the issue, they cut their ties with StellaLife, although the company continues to pedal its wares to dental offices across the United States. Organizations like the Center for Inquiry counter this horse-pucky, along with all the nut cases recommending cow urine, bleach, and cocaine as COVID-19 cures.  As intelligent and caring human beings, we must work to end anything we see that legitimizes or tolerates health pseudoscience. It’s not a small issue. The vitamin and supplement market, another category recent science has called into question, generated $50B in sales last year (2021).  Fifty billion dollars for products science is telling us are largely unnecessary and useless.  Many readers of this newsletter have no problems calling “Bullshit!” when they see it.  So, be on guard and don’t be afraid to take a stance.

End note:  After writing and reviewing this draft, I feared I might be being too critical of homeopathy.  After all, my mother, a long-time nurse, was someone who avoided homeopathic remedies, but was a big believer in supplements, especially her glucosamine and chondroitin and urged me to try them, which I did, but they did nothing for me.  And Maggie frequently reaches for arnica gel for bruises and Sssstingstop for bug bites and itches.  As a result, I spent several hours researching Homeopathy.  I began with Wikipedia’s extensive section,  and used it as a jumping off point.  I learned a great deal, some of it rather scary.  For instance, Scientific American in 2017 documented hundreds of babies being harmed and some of them dying from homeopathic remedies.  I also found the Journal of Medical Ethic’s well-researched and documented paper titled “Homeopathy is where the harm is: five unethical effects of funding unscientific ‘remedies.’  There are many more sources, but if this interests you, these are a couple of good places to start. Of course, not everything in the universe can be explained and we’re surrounded by mysteries.  But the best way to uncover and understand those mysteries is conscientiously applied scientific effort.

Post Script:  My Minnesota daughter, as opposed to the NYC daughter, read this most recent blog post and wrote me asking if I was familiar with the JAMA Network.  I was not, but have since spent a few hours exploring it over the past two days.  It is a superb site for the latest medical information, covering dermatology, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery and more. The sites editors follow and report on recent medical research studies by area.  Each issue (48/year and online) contains a host of articles, each providing short abstracts about a particular medical study, when it was done, number of participants, where, etc. and then the entire text and often a downloadable PDF as well.

The breadth, level of detail, authenticity and timeliness is astonishing.  They’ve got all the most current studies.  Think of it as a searchable, easy-to-access medical journal of peer reviewed studies.  Any fears about its credibility were eliminated when I learned it was published by the American Medical Association and saw that, JAMA stands for Journal of the American Medical Association. Highly recommended.