The Burzynski Clinic

If you haven’t heard of it recently, this is a medical scam where the proprietors claim to have effective cancer treatments, for which claims, nevertheless, they are unable to marshal any real evidence. Desperate sick people and their loved ones shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for this bogus treatment.

Recently they’ve engaged a lawyer for the purposes of threatening everybody who’s ever said anything bad about the clinic, hoping to scare them into taking down articles, blog posts, and the like which expose their dishonesty.

After all, what is a lawyer for if not to bully the little guy on behalf of those with deep pockets? The Western legal system is essentially ritualized rhetorical combat, the goal being triumph and plunder; not justice, truth, or reconciliation.

Some more details, from the perspective of one of their (17-year-old) victims, is collected on his blog. Read the full story on the fraudulent Burzynski Clinic.


I brought two volumes of stories from famed Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, on this trip. A Costa Rican beach seemed as good a place as any to finally acquaint myself with the founder of Latin Magical Realism. When I started thumbing through, however, I realized I had ordered the wrong edition of Fictions. It wasn’t an English translation.

“Sure,” you’re saying, “that’s a bit of an inconvenience, but aren’t you supposed to be working on your Spanish? And if anything, it should sound even better in its original language.” Which is true, except I didn’t get the book in its original Spanish either, but a translation into French. So that’s no good to anybody.

(Honestly, a Spanish edition wouldn’t be much better. Borges is a complex writer, partly influenced by Kafka, for a start. My Spanish reading level is more appropriate to See Spot Run. Fortunately, I at least managed to order the correct edition of Labyrinths.)

At the Beach

V is with family in El Salvador, so I’m on my own for a week. I’ve been lax in my work lately, but put in a good six hours writing yesterday and am on par to match or beat that again today. I doubt I’ll take very good care of myself this next week. I’m thinking two meals a day: one smoothie and one package of ramen. Keeping things simple.

We spent this past Monday at the beach on Puntarenas, which was mostly deserted due to the slightly grey weather. Yet with December just around the corner, the water was warm. Much warmer than a Manitoba lake in the high heat of August.

(Photo by V.)

I said that day that this had been only my second time dipping a toe into the ocean, the first being some ankle-deep wading at South Padre Island, Texas, 14 years ago (it was probably early November). I was wrong, however. I remembered today that I’d spent a day at the beach (with, again, some ankle-wading) when I lived in Xiamen, China, almost exactly four years ago (it was December). It was a class trip, one of the fonder memories of my time there.

This was, however, the first time I actually swam, though I didn’t venture very deep. It took us a long time to get around to making the trip, considering how close it turns out to be. I’m eager to go back soon.

Going Nowhere

Social reformers are probably as old as society itself. I’ve been reading Thomas More, who wrote his social satire, Utopia, early in the 16th century, only a few decades after Columbus’ famous voyage, and a few years after Amerigo Vespucci published on his travels to the New World.

Spinning off of these real-life current events, More imagined yet more hitherto unknown countries, especially the nation of Utopia. He used this imagined idyllic society to critique the Tudor England of his time. Later in his life he would lose his head after going head-to-head with Henry VIII over the tyrant’s break with the church.

(Swift’s satirical work more than two centuries later, Gulliver’s Travels, did much the same for his own contemporary politics, but was a bit more light-hearted, and had more to do with parliament and less with the monarchy.)

Today utopia is used as a general term referring to any fictional perfect society, and there has been somewhat of a literary tradition in imagining such societies, perhaps as lost tribes, alien races, or our own future. But just as important has been the literary tradition of dystopias, which have exactly the same purpose at heart.

Just as a utopian work contrasts the flaws in the writer’s society (if only implicitly) with an envisioned better one, the dystopian novel exaggerates the flaws and dangers in our society by imagining how much worse they might get. The most famous example would be Orwell’s 1984, imagining a totalitarian future England (and, in fact, the rest of the world is implied to be much the same). But there are many more.

Post-acopalyptic works could be considered a major sub-genre of the dystopian novel, and there have been no shortage of them since knowledge of nuclear weapons become public in 1945, though not every imagined apocalypse is a nuclear one, and not every dystopian novel takes place after armageddon. In many, the world changes no slowly no one notices, and this can be just as scary.

More derived the name Utopia from a Greek root meaning “nowhere”. He may simply have been winking at the reader that his supposed real-life discussion of a little-known country is entirely imaginary, or he may have been suggesting that a truly perfect society could never exist.

Recommended dystopian works (novels, comics, film, gaming): 1984, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Road; V for Vendetta; Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, The Road Warrior, Gattaca; The Mirror’s Edge.

Getting Through Asimov

Isaac Asimov published nearly 500 books in his lifetime. An oft repeated (but incorrect) claim is that Asimov has published at least one book for every category of the Dewey Decimal system. In reality he missed one, the 100 category, philosophy and psychology. Still, it’s an impressive body of work.

I have no intention of devoting that much reading time to a single author, but I’ve been hitting his major works over the last several years. His Empire series, his Foundation series (the original trilogy, but not the later books of the ’80s), two of his most critically successful novels, The Gods Themselves and, just yesterday, I read The End of Eternity (pretty good, an epic tale of time travel).

The only real “must-read” left on my Asimov list is his Robots stories (on which the film I, Robot, starring Will Smith was based). This is a bit funny, because years before I’d actually read anything by him, back in high school, I did know the name Isaac Asimov, and the one thing I knew about him is that he had written some science fiction wherein he laid out the “Three Laws of Robotics”:

1) A robot may not harm a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm.

2) A robot must obey human beings, unless this would conflict with the first law.

3) A robot must protect itself, so long as this does not come in conflict with the first two laws.

That’s from memory. I’m sure just about everyone has heard of those before, even previous to the Will Smith movie. Part of the delay in reading the works in question that I’ve been trying to make sure I got the right collection. It’s not as easy as a book series; I don’t want a “best of” collection that randomly picks robot stories. I’m looking to get the complete set of stories in publication order, and it’s not always clear on product descriptions what collections include which stories. I did get the I, Robot collection to start, and will read it when I’m back in Canada.

That’s not to say I’ll be “done” with Asimov after that. But when it comes to the classics, including sci-fi classics, I try to hit the most important stuff first. I may eventually read everything Heinlein’s written, for example, but when I decided to check him out for the first time, I started with Stranger in a Strange Land, then Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I didn’t stop there, but if I hadn’t happened to like him, I would at least have wanted to see what the fuss was about with those particular novels.

Friend Reading Lists

As a rule, I’m willing to take at least one “you must read this” recommendation from each friend and acquaintance, more in the case of someone I’m closer to or have reason to think has similar tastes to my own. Sometimes they don’t even realize they’ve given me a recommendation. The advantage of this is a greater variety in reading material and education than I might come to on my own. Those lacking such recommendations can always look into literature classes via this course finding site.

An old friend that I’ve mostly lost touch with mentioned The Death and Life of Great American Cities years ago. At the time he was thinking about studying architecture, but he still has the book listed on his Facebook profile even today, so that seems as good an endorsement as any.

The book is 50 years old now, and its influence on the field is obvious even to me. I recognize her ideas from the little bit of previous reading I’ve done on city planning/urban development, and now I get to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

Tthere’s an obvious comparison tomake between healthy neighbourhoods and healthy ecosystems. The different aspects of a neighbourhood, different businesses, residences, and public areas all feed off of and depend on each other. Thus, mixed-use land that develops organically tends to beat out hierarchical, planned and zoned neighbourhoods. Just as biodiversity is required for a healthy ecosystem.

It makes sense when you think about it. No one wants to live in downtown Winnipeg because there’s very little parking, limited options for grocery stores or other amenities. There’s a giant arena, but that just means people who can afford to migrate in for an event and then leave when it’s over. They come downtown for a single event but don’t stick around; of course they live elsewhere.

The idea of publicly building a major designed cultural centre to renew an area is 50 years out of date. Jacobs explained in 1961 why this fails to work, time and again. Why don’t our own politicians know better?

Compare our downtown to a vibrant area like Osborne Village, where the sheer amount of diversity, and the combination of business and residential use keep the place busy all night. Everything feeds on everything else. It’s symbiosis. Downtown is most active during the day, when the nine-to-five crowd migrates in for work, but dies at night.

This might be oversimplifying, but isn’t it astounding how cities can spend massive amounts of public money on initiatives that do not reach their goals? Shouldn’t the people making the decisions have more training and education before being called on to make or approve such proposals?

Costa Rican Cuisine

We’ve only eaten out a few times, and one of those times was for (disappointing) Chinese while two other times were (mediocre to okay) pizza. But we have had actual Costa Rican food three other times and while it has its good points, I think there’s a reason it’s not as popular worldwide as other Latin fare, like Cuban, Mexican, or even Salvadorean.

The big turn-off for us is the mayo. Actually not just mayo but ketchup also seems to be a major ingredient. An enchilada, with meat, black beans, tomatoe, and yes, mayo and ketchup drizzled on top. French fries (everything seems to come with fries, which, to be honest, feels like an awkward fit — what happened to beans and rice on the side?) also come with both mayo and ketchup drizzled on top. A burrito with, instead of salsa inside, some kind of mayo-based special sauce.

It’s been a little frustrating, as we’ve constantly found ourselves disappointed by menus which feature burgers, fried chicken (oh, there’s so much fried chicken), and then a small selection of Latin fare. Then, even after we order Latin dishes, it comes with a burger-type “special sauce”.

The result is a sickly sweetness and creaminess to things that are supposed to be savoury and spicy. Of course I recognize there is a degree of cultural bias here. I can’t dictate what food is supposed to taste like. It’s all about what you’re used to. Obviously Costa Ricans like their food this way, and other countries, like Chile, have similar cultural traditions.

But it does make me suspect there has been a major US cultural invasion on the food. I wish we could go back in time to Costa Rica 25 years ago to figure out how much of what we’ve been eating is traditional and how much of it is part of a more recent trend to fast food.

Whatever the answer, we know what we like, so we’ll have to request no mayo next time we order.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Much Ado About Corn

I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma after literally having it on my reading list for three years (and in my physical book-pile for one). Another excellent example of scientifically-literate long-form journalism. I do recommend it, even if it also takes you three years to get around to reading it. (Those who want to delve deeper into topics like these sometimes look into classes from accredited online colleges.)

The first few chapters are all about corn, and how it’s behind everything we eat. Some Nixon-era agricultural reforms, WWI-era innovations in industrial chemistry (i.e., the Haber-Bosch process for making synthetic nitrates), and some clever Depression-era cross-breeding combined to create the perfect storm for the agricultural industry.

Long story short, the United States produces way more corn than it needs, therefore it gets used for everything, and the flooded market drives the price of corn down to maybe 60% of what it costs to produce. The government subsidizes the farmers to keep them afloat, but it’s still not a very profitable business for farmers.

Rather, it’s the secondary industries that get filthy rich from the massive availability of artificially cheap corn. The beef industry feeds their cows on corn rather than grass (which is free) because they can keep their pre-slaughtered meat in stalls rather than investing in grazing land. Recent studies suggest that the heart issues associated with red meat may be more due to the corn-fed diet of our red meat, rather than the red meat itself.

Meanwhile Coca-Cola and similar companies turn something that’s nutritious enough in its natural form to be a staple crop for some cultures, into diabetes in a can for North Americans who don’t need the extra calories (perhaps you thought it was sugar in your carbonated beverages, but in North America it’s not, it’s high-fructose corn syrup).

If you go further back, it’s not even corn at the base of our food chain, it’s oil. The Bosch-Haber process we depend on for our artificial fertilizers is energy intensive and requires more energy from fossil fuels put into it than the food energy we get out of it. But without artificial fertilizers, the ridiculous yields that cause corn to be practically worthless would not be possible. So we’re burning all the oil we can to create more corn than we need, which we then dispose of in any way possible, usually at the detriment of our own health.

It’s a great deal for certain industries and terrible for almost everyone else. But it’s an interesting example of how very different issues can be related: human health, environmental issues, industry, economics, government policy, consumer behaviour.

Some Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

While I was trying to track down a project from a former teacher (and colleague) of mine, I came across this interview I did a couple years ago. Or rather, a reprint of said interview.

1) What is your non-academic drudgery?
I’m a expensive inculcate information and math docent.
2) What is your information CV?
I monkeyshines a chaff on a B.Sc, majoring in physics, with a babies fellow in mathematics, followed away a B.Ed location, chief years advance (i.e., expensive school). Both of these degrees are from the University of Winnipeg, in Canada. The babies fellow is eminent, since being a expensive inculcate docent in my bailiwick requires a university CV in two teachable subjects.

And so forth.

Since it’s posted at, I think some weird Google translating has gone on. Translated first into French and then back into English by a program, presumably. Some words of wisdom from your humble author to end on:

I‘m careful there crossing a specialization and getting too factious, but I cogitate on some things in our companionship monkeyshines a chaff on pull undecided when they shouldn’t be.

Think about that.