Smoke Signals

February 18, 2010

It has been 6 months, 2 weeks and 5 days since I extinguished my last cigarette, and I feel great. I was waiting for a flight at the airport the other day and it was comical to see the smokers crowded into McGinty’s (the only place where smoking is permitted at the airport) sucking the life out of their cigarettes, knowing they would go through the pain of withdrawal before they would be able to light up again outside their destination airport several hours later. I am so happy not to be one of their number anymore. I think if you asked, and smokers gave honest answers, they would tell you that they would rather be non-smokers than smokers, especially in this social climate where smokers are treated like lepers. So how should they go about stopping?

I feel qualified to give advice on this matter having successfully stopped smoking on no fewer than three occasions (I define success as being smoke free for at least three months). The first time was when I was a university student and I became addicted to long-distance running, which is antithetical to smoking. That was very easy, but I started again a year later when I got drunk at a friend’s 21st birthday party and accepted an offered cigarette just to see what it would taste like after so long. I bought a packet on the way home, and carried on smoking for another twenty-two years.

Then the company I worked for seconded me to their Birmingham office in the yUK, and I gasped when I saw the price of smokes in that country. I’m not exactly sure where the line is, but R65 for twenty cigarettes is way over it (and this was in 2000, mind you, I shudder to think what they must be now after so many years of New Labour nannying), so when my duty frees were finished I stopped again, this time using the Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) method. Six months later my tour of duty in the cold and wet was over, I was back in the third world, and I started smoking again.

And now the Great Depression II. Our income started to fall as the squeeze began to take effect and we had to cut our budget somehow. An obvious candidate for savings was the R700 per month that I routinely set fire to and burned. This time I went “cold turkey” using the Allen Carr method. It’s quite tough but extremely effective, and I have resolved that this time I’ll make it permanent and never touch another cigarette again.

Scallywag has tried and failed to stop using hypnosis. I have an instinctive gut-feeling that hypnosis is not an altogether kosher technique and would not try it myself; Scallywag’s experience seems to bear that out. It must be said at this juncture that one of the things that endears Scallywag to me is her rebellious nature, possessors of which are notoriously difficult to hypnotise. “Your eyelids are getting heavy,” says the hypnotist. “Bollocks,” thinks Scallywag, “they’re no heavier than usual.” So nothing much happens. Even if it did work I wouldn’t want anyone rummaging about in my psyche, thank you very much. Here’s a quick overview of the various methods and their strengths and weaknesses.

Allen Carr’s Easyway. This worked for me. It is a “cold turkey” (although Allen Carr disapproves of the term) method with no crutches to ease you through the initial withdrawal phase. The method relies on the patient having a thorough insight into the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal, so that there are no surprises and he can deal with the expected discomforts. This comes at the cost of a cheap paperback; you don’t have to attend expensive classes (although they are available for those who cannot read).

Aversion therapy. This involves showing the patient pictures of smoky, cancerous lungs and videos of people breathing (just) through oxygen masks. Like the useless warnings printed on cigarette packets, this does not work at all because firstly you are telling the patient what he already knows, and secondly if x% of smokers get disease y, the patient will believe that he will be in the portion of the smoking population who will not get it.

Hypnosis. Some people swear blind that this works, but I don’t believe them.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). This is based upon the premise that there are two aspects to the smoking addiction: the physical addiction to nicotine, and the psychological habit and rituals of smoking. NRT allows the patient to deal with the psychological withdrawal by taking a nicotine substitute (gum or patches) to keep the physical withdrawal symptoms to a minimum, then when the smoking habit has been broken he can more easily conquer the addiction to nicotine. This worked for me personally, but obviously your mileage may vary. If you do go this route, use the gum not the patches—it is much easier to control the doseage you are taking, and the gum tastes really foul so you have to be in quite severe withdrawal to put it into your mouth and you are much less likely to become addicted to it. By the way, most Medical Aids are happy to pay for these on the grounds that it’s cheaper to do so now than pay for your heart-lung transplant later.

Support groups. Whether in person or on the internet these whining ninnies will drive you to drink, then you’ll have your liver to worry about too. Stay away.

Then there are a bunch of proprietary stop smoking classes like SmokeEnders which I suspect are scams, and I am certain are unnecessary. You should not need to part with enormous sums of money to beat this addiction. Rather rely on your own resources which are free.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

Witch Professor

February 17, 2010

witchcraft spells
cast a great spell that is gonna workout for you within seven days dont be fooled am here to help the power and the rich, black or white
Equality is the thing not colours and money.
call for your lover to back with you and wealthy problems.

Google, for some reason known only to their algorithm writers, displayed an ad for this page on my gmail account, so I thought I’d mosey on over and take a look.

The first thing that struck me was the old-fashioned, amateurish and annoying red-on-black text that makes your eyes bleed if you look at it for too long. But you wouldn’t spend much time looking at this site, and you don’t have to because I’ve done it for you.

According to this Proff character, his mumbled incantations can help you achieve wealth, health, love and a longer, heftier penis (all the better to piss through, my dear). Well, this sounds almost too good to be true, so I decided to drop him a line:

From: Mark Widdicombe 17 February 2010 11:02
Hello Proff,

I came across your website whilst researching alternative medical modalities. On your page you state:

Spell casting is becoming more and more accepted by mainstream society. And for one simple reason: it works!

Could you point me to any objective studies that indicate that spell casting works, or is that based only on your own experience?


Quick as a flash his auto reply landed in my inbox:

i will help within seven days
From: proff ssanga 17 February 2010 11:02
To: Mark Widdicombe

thanks for your request but,remember to send me your photos and both names i will checck and see how to help you within seven days. Contact me on +27713032860. NB:send your detail andress. YOUR LOST LOVER WILL GET BACK TO YOU WITHIN SEVEN DAYS IF YOU PROVIDE ME WITH ALL YOUR DETAILS AND HER DETAILS TOO SO,FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME’I WILL GET BACK TO YOU WITHIN 10MINUTES.THANKS

Clearly the majority of his clients require their flat love relationships reinflated. Why would he need photos for that, anyway? Perhaps to see whether or not you would be pleased if your lost lover got back to you.

After a while I received an answer to my question:

From: 17 February 2010 11:56
To: Mark Widdicombe
[Quoted text hidden]

yes it does due to my experience as a professional native healer for the past 25years and i have helped many people like you and all of the have been asking the same question as you’re asking so,feel free to contact me i will explain.thanks 0713032860

Unfortunately my ‘wealthy problems’ preclude my being able to spend airtime on getting the good Proff’s explanation, but I must assume that the answer to my question regarding research is negative, otherwise surely he would have linked to it in his email. Which is a great pity, I could do with the intervention of metaphysical forces in my “Love, financial situations, Misfortunes, Court cases, Marriage and witches”, even though I’m perfectly content with the dimensions of my penis.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

Valentine’s Day

February 10, 2010

Someone sent this to me by email a few years ago.  It makes a lot of sense to me, so I thought I would share it with you.  I have tried to find contact details for Gary Hull on the internet to ask him whether or not this is copyrighted and if he would mind my posting it.  I can’t find contact details for him (there are about a million Gary Hulls), so I’m going to go ahead and if he objects I’ll buy him a beer and take it down.  Actually, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind—it’s a win for everyone: for him because his ideas are read by at least two more people, for you because you are exposed to his wisdom, and for me because I’ve got a blog post without having to come up with a thousand words of my own.  So here it is.  Enjoy.

The Meaning of Valentine’s Day: Love is Selfish
by Gary Hull (February 14, 2005)

Every Valentine’s Day a certain philosophic crime is perpetrated. Actually, it is committed year-round, but its destructiveness is magnified on this holiday. The crime is the propagation of a widely accepted falsehood: the idea that love is selfless.

Love, we are repeatedly taught, consists of self-sacrifice. Love based on self-interest, we are admonished, is cheap and sordid. True love, we are told, is altruistic. But is it?

Imagine a Valentine’s Day card which takes this premise seriously. Imagine receiving a card with the following message: “I get no pleasure from your existence. I obtain no personal enjoyment from the way you look, dress, move, act or think. Our relationship profits me not. You satisfy no sexual, emotional or intellectual needs of mine. You’re a charity case, and I’m with you only out of pity. Love, XXX.”

Needless to say, you would be indignant to learn that you are being “loved,” not for anything positive you offer your lover, but–like any recipient of alms–for what you lack. Yet that is the perverse view of love entailed in the belief that it is self-sacrificial.

Genuine love is the exact opposite. It is the most selfish experience possible, in the true sense of the term: it benefits your life in a way that involves no sacrifice of others to yourself or of yourself to others.

To love a person is selfish because it means that you value that particular person, that he or she makes your life better, that he or she is an intense source of joy–to you. A “disinterested” love is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be neutral to that which one values. The time, effort and money you spend on behalf of someone you love are not sacrifices, but actions taken because his or her happiness is crucially important to your own. Such actions would constitute sacrifices only if they were done for a stranger–or for an enemy. Those who argue that love demands self-denial must hold the bizarre belief that it makes no personal difference whether your loved one is healthy or sick, feels pleasure or pain, is alive or dead.

It is regularly asserted that love should be unconditional, and that we should “love everyone as a brother.” We see this view advocated by the “non-judgmental” grade-school teacher who tells his class that whoever brings a Valentine’s Day card for one student must bring cards for everyone. We see it in the appalling dictum of “Hate the sin, but love the sinner”–which would have us condemn death camps but send Hitler a box of Godiva chocolates. Most people would agree that having sex with a person one despises is debased. Yet somehow, when the same underlying idea is applied to love, people consider it noble.

Love is far too precious to be offered indiscriminately. It is above all in the area of love that egalitarianism ought to be repudiated. Love represents an exalted exchange–a spiritual exchange–between two people, for the purpose of mutual benefit.

You love someone because he or she is a value–a selfish value to you, as determined by your standards–just as you are a value to him or her.

It is the view that you ought to be given love unconditionally–the view that you do not deserve it any more than some random bum, the view that it is not a response to anything particular in you, the view that it is causeless–which exemplifies the most ignoble conception of this sublime experience.

The nature of love places certain demands on those who wish to enjoy it. You must regard yourself as worthy of being loved. Those who expect to be loved, not because they offer some positive value, but because they don’t–i.e., those who demand love as altruistic duty–are parasites. Someone who says “Love me just because I need it” seeks an unearned spiritual value–in the same way that a thief seeks unearned wealth. To quote a famous line from The Fountainhead: “To say ‘I love you,’ one must know first how to say the ‘I ‘”

Valentine’s Day–with its colorful cards, mouth-watering chocolates and silky lingerie–gives material form to this spiritual value. It is a moment for you to pause, to ignore the trivialities of life–and to celebrate the selfish pleasure of being worthy of someone’s love and of having found someone worthy of yours.

Good News!

February 3, 2010

Good news!  The Lancet has retracted Dr Andrew Wakefield’s paper linking the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine with autism and bowel disorders.  This is not before time; the damage done by this particular paper in a journal as respected as The Lancet has been enourmous.  The journal has admitted that it should never have published the flawed research in the first place, which implies that in this case there was a failure of the peer-review process and that steps should be taken to avoid a repetition of that failure.

The retraction of the paper was not a spontaneous decision to do the right thing on the part of The Lancet, however.  It came in response to an editorial in the rival British Medical Journal that was to have been published today calling for its retraction.  One hopes that The Lancet will be more careful in future.

The vaccine-autism debate has raised a lot of issues that now need to be ingested, digested, mulled over and taken into the public conciousness.  As with all scientific subjects that become politicised, this one has raised questions about the quality of scientific journalism, the lack of science education and the inability of the public to understand, even in the most superficial way, the scientific process.

Firstly, there is a profound misunderstanding of the very nature of science.  The man in the street seems to be under the misapprehension that science consists of “proving”  things.  We only need one exception to disprove a rule, but in order to prove a rule we must prove it for every case, which is usually impossible to do.  So when a paper appears in a medical journal statistically linking autism with vaccines, newspapers immediately run headlines like “VACCINES CAUSE AUTISM, STUDY SHOWS”, even if the original paper made no such claim.  The fact is that science very rarely proves anything—that is the sphere of mathematics.  Science can only pile up evidence in the form of data that may or may not support a particular hypothesis.  In this case almost all the non-fabricated evidence did not support the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism.

So why the statistical link?  Well, there are other explanations than that vaccines cause autism.  The age at which the diagnosis of autism can be made is about the same age as the MMR vaccine is administered.  A parent who has his child vaccinated and then the child is diagnosed as autistic a few weeks or months later may be forgiven for thinking that the latter may be caused by the former.  But, as we all should know, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Why has the incidence of autism been increasing as vaccination has become more widespread?  Again, there are other factors that may be at work.  The diagnostic criteria for autism have changed: a child who may, a few decades ago, have been regarded as merely shy may today be diagnosed as autistic.  The anti-vaccination factions originally blamed Thimeresol (which was used a preservative in the vaccine) for causing autism.  Thimeresol was duly removed wihout having any affect on the incidence of autism, strong evidence that it was not a cause of autism.

There is strong psychological need for people to aportion blame for any misfortune that may befall them, so parents grasped at the vaccine explanation as a drowning sailor would clutch upon a passing liferaft.  I sympathise with such parents, but their actions have consequences among the wider community.  Once a sufficient proportion of the population are vaccinated against a particular disease, the pathogen can no longer be propagated and the population as a whole develops “herd immunity”, even those who for other reasons (allergies, for example) cannot be vaccinated.  When parents decide not to vaccinate their children they put herd immunity in jeopardy, which places all unvaccinated children at risk, not just their own.

Will The Lancet’s decision have any effect on the anti-vaccination lobby?  Probably not for the die-hards—their minds are incapable of change.  It will have an effect on the medical fraternity, though, and those doctors who are advising their patients not to vaccinate their children may undergo a change of heart.  We can only hope that the anti-vaccination lobby becomes a part of the lunatic fringe like the moon-landing-hoax crowd: not taken seriously by anyone with any vestige of sanity.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

The Faking of Pelham 1-2-3

February 1, 2010

WARNING! If you intend seeing the Hollywood nonsense entitled “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” do not read further—this post contains spoilers and was produced in a household containing nuts.

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in order to be entertained, but the Hollywood producers, scriptwriters and directors have to make it at least possible, if not easy, to do. The so-called plot of this ridiculous movie fails utterly to do that. I can only assume that they think no one will notice the implausibility of their offering.

Stated baldly, it actually isn’t that bad: gang of crooks hijack subway train, take hostages, demand ransom, have bold getaway plan. It’s quite hard to mess that up, but the writer (Brian Helgeland) and the director (Tony Scott) have succeeded brilliantly in doing just that.

The crooks demand 10 million dollars for the safe release of the hostages. Now 10 million dollars is not an inconsiderable sum of money, but it obviously just didn’t sound like enough to the movie makers, so they concocted a far-fetched sub-plot in which the hijacking of the train was, by some unexplained mechanism, supposed to make the stock market collapse and the gold price go through the roof. The crooks would make a further fortune by exercising put options on the former and presumably selling the latter. One of the problems I have with this is that the movie was made long after the 11/9 (yes, I do insist on putting the day first) terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre which despite its horrifying ferocity did not do to the markets what the perpetrators of this awful movie would have us believe a mere train hijacking would do.

The chief crook is played by John Travolta. Apart from his membership of an absurd cult, he is in contention, along with cricketer Graeme Smith, for the most punchable face on screen. If I were to meet either of these people in the flesh I would probably end up either in prison or hospital because I would not be able to resist putting my fist through their fatuous features. However, my propensity for unprovoked violence is not apropos; the almost bovine stupidity with which Muffin Face (Travolta, I can’t remember his screen name) goes about screwing up his crime is.

Had he worn a striped jersey, Zorro mask and demanded the ransom money be delivered in a sack clearly labeled “SWAG” he would not have been caught any quicker. This pea-brain allowed all the hostages to see his nauseating face, he left his fingerprints all over the train, he yacked non-stop over the radio to the hero of the piece like a housewife with her tits balanced on her neighbour’s garden fence–in short he is possibly the most incompetent crook in cinematic history, but his getaway plan could have redeemed him had he carried it out properly.

The gang were to reach the basement of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel through a disused subway tunnel. This they did, but they hadn’t properly thought out what they should do after they had successfully arrived at the hotel, so they walked out the front door with, unbelievably, the money still in the cases the cops had provided. How dumb is that? What would you have done?

I would have booked two rooms in advance at the hotel, one in my own name and one not. I would have hired an oke to check in in my name with a couple of empty suitcases. He would leave the empty suitcases in the decoy room, then proceed to the other where he would order a room service meal while the hijacking was in progress, giving me a solid alibi. On arrival at the hotel, I would go up to the first room and transfer the money to the empty suitcases, then go to the second room with the money in the suitcases, leaving the original bags in the first room. The oke would then leave, and I would wait until the heat was off, then depart for the airport and a comfortable life somewhere warm. The end of the movie would go something like this:





Don’t shoot! I haven’t done anything!


What kinda weird talk is that?


I think he’s trying to say he aint done


That so, bud? Where you coming from?


I’ve been having a business breakfast
with a client. Room 1124.


Yeah, OK. We just spoke to that dude.
Sorry to have inconvenienced you. Have
a nice day.


That’s most kind of you, officer,
but I’ve already made other plans.





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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.