Monthly Archives: May 2018

Margot Kidder and Me

By Marvin Ross

Like so many of you, I was saddened by the passing of Canadian actress Margot Kidder. Aside from her acting, she was an advocate for those with serious mental illness and, as a celebrity, she was the recipient of unwanted publicity.

Regular readers of my material know that I have been writing and speaking about the vitamin “treatment” for mental illness called EM Power plus put out by the Southern Alberta company called Truehope. Early on in our investigation of this product and its claims, my colleagues and I came upon an article in the Calgary Sun dated September 19, 2001. The paper reported that Tony Stephan, one of the founders of the company, had been invited along with his partner, David Hardy, to an award ceremony in LA to honour Ms Kidder. The event was sponsored by a group called Safe Harbour.

The newspaper article stated that:

“Kidder who suffers from mental illness and has benefited from EM Power, made international headlines several years back when she was living in a cardboard box. For Kidder and thousands like her, Stephan has become her superman”.

I contacted her in Montana and this is her e-mail back to me:

In response to your questions, no I do not take Synergy or EMPower, whatever that is, and Tony Stephan is certainly not my superman as I have no idea who he is, nor do I know who David Hardy is. I have made a point of not endorsing any products at all. Where on earth did you read such a thing and how can I get hold of them to correct this misrepresentation? Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

best, Margot Kidder

See Pig Pills Inc, P 50

I’m not sure if Margot ever did contact the Calgary Sun but Tony Stephan’s son is in the news again now. David Stephan and his wife are the parents who fed their little boy various so called naturalistic remedies including EM Power. When he became far sicker, they called an ambulance but it was too late and he died of preventable meningitis.

The Stephans were convicted in a lengthy trial and they appealed that conviction all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In mid-May, the court found that the trial judge had made a number of errors in his charge to the jury and have ordered a new trial. While I am outraged at the court decision, in sober reflection the good judges were not commenting on what happened but on the actions of the trial judge. I have little doubt that the Stephans will be found guilty again.

Meanwhile, the Truehope saga gets even stranger. A few years ago, I received a call from someone in California wanting to disclose that there was a secret ingredient in EM Power + and it was that secret ingredient that made it so effective. This individual told me that law suits against the company were imminent. It turned out that he wanted my investigative colleagues and me to pay him for his information so that we could, in turn, make a lot of money selling this “expose” to papers and media around the world.

That was the last I heard until about a month ago when I received a friend request on Linkedin from a David Rowland of Guelph. I ignored that as I remember the guy from an article I did on alternative nonsense called “Also Good for Gout….” and reprinted here.

This is what I wrote about him:

Nutritionist David Rowland continued with that theme and claimed that 106,000 people are killed each year by drugs that are properly prescribed and taken.

U.S. psychiatrist and anti-quack advocate Dr. Stephen Barrett describes David Rowland on his website (www.quackwatch.org) as “one of Canada’s leading promoters of nutrition nonsense” and says “his writings and speeches advocate ‘freedom of choice’ and decreased government regulation of the health marketplace. His entrepreneurial activities have included practising as a ‘nutrition consultant,’ writing articles and booklets, publishing a magazine, operating a correspondence school, and issuing ‘credentials’ for ‘nutrition consultants’.”

David Rowland was referred to as a Ph.D, but this is what Dr. Barrett has to say about that: “His Ph.D. degree was obtained from Donsbach University, a non-accredited correspondence school operated by Kurt Donsbach, a chiropractor who has engaged in so many health schemes that nobody — including the man himself — can document all of them with certainty.”

David Rowland was also introduced to the audience as a member of the New York Academy of Sciences. The implication was that this membership gave greater credence to what he had to say. A call to the academy revealed that he is a member, but that members are not elected. Anyone can join. All that is required is payment of the membership fee. Membership does not mean that the work members do is endorsed by the academy, the public relations official stressed, although that is sometimes attempted. A recent example, he said, was the dictator of Turkmenistan, who joined and then claimed he was elected until the academy objected.

Needless to say, David Rowland was totally opposed to regulation of the industry — but not, he said, because of the issue of increased cost for compliance with good manufacturing practices his company and others will be required to follow under the new legislation. “The issue,” he stressed, “is your lives and safety” and the “censorship” being applied by Health Canada in its rules against the making of unproven claims for products.

When I ignored his request, I got an e-mail from him with a sworn affidavit for a legal action he has commenced against Truehope. He is suing them because he claims that EM Power contains a secret ayurvedic ingredient called Shilajit and it is believed that shilajit in whole or in part is responsible for the remarkable recovery from mental illness claimed by the product. David Rowland states that he holds the patent for this product and that the Truehope people have violated his rights.

Shortly after I received this e-mail, mental health advocate Natasha Tracy got in touch with me because she received the same information. Natasha had written some very damning blogs about EM Power.

What can I say other than:

Pulling your Hair Out

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Turbans and Equality Before the Law

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Driving out of Hamilton this morning I observed a spectacular array of head coverings. Some had, I’m sure, religious significance; others were a celebration of a belated spring morning; some were to ward off the chill; one was a large colourful wrapping more at home in Kenya; some were statements of fashion, others were black flowing fabric extending to the ground, some were signs of teenage affiliation, a couple were those dark knobs of youthful sihkism, and some were that hallmark of anonymity and singularity, the hoodie.

This North America was once referred to as “the new world”, as opposed to the old world steeped in rules of deportment and dress, a hierarchy based on parentage, and years of bloody conflict.

We have done a fair to good job overcoming tribalism and fostering inclusion in Canada.

But that is only one of the significant advancements to which we aspire in this New World.

The others? Equality of opportunity, equality before the law, knowledge and science before superstition, limitations on if not full dissolution of privilege.

The priest sprinkles his (soon to be his or her) holy water on the head of my newest grandchild. But we all know it is just water, H2O, and I would not be allowed to carry a liter of it onto a plane in case it turns out to be flammable or toxic.

I also know I will have to remove my shoes and belt at airport security even though my pants will droop and reveal my SAXX underwear as I stumble through the scanner.

Which brings me to Navdeep Bains. My Google headline news this morning was all about Mr. Bains, a member of Trudeau’s cabinet, being asked to remove his turban before boarding an American plane. Bains reports that he felt “frustrated” and “awkward”. He complained. He also in his comments implied that a man of his position should not be treated this way. All this hit the headlines; the Americans apologized.

That Mr. Bains did not want to remove his turban, that he argued the point, is all well and good, and reasonable whether he won or lost the argument. The rest, the outrage, the apology, the fact it made news based on outrage, risks undermining those equally important aspirations of equality, sanity, and no one given special privilege.

If my SAXX underwear must be exposed so too should Mr. Bains’ hair.

At airport security I and my wife must remove our shoes because one sweaty suicidal young man managed to smuggle plastic explosives in his sneakers. I don’t like it. I am tempted to argue that no one in my demographic has ever been known to bring a bomb onto a plane. We comply and smile.

On the other hand, Mr. Bains, the worst terrorist act in Canadian history was perpetrated by people who wear the same tribal symbol as yourself. So get over it Mr. Bains. This inconvenience is a small price to pay for the privilege of living in a land of equality before the law.

Two Short Pieces – Trump Post Mother’s Day

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The United Banana Emirates

When Donald J. Trump brought his son-in-law and his daughter into the White House and gave young Jared something like 5 portfolios, 5 jobs to do, each requiring a full time employee with years of expertise and experience, pundits talked of despots, kingdoms, banana republics and nepotism.

Of course Jared could not do all those jobs, which may have been the point.

Then Mar a Lago became a “Southern White House”, which meant important meetings and government business was being conducted in the potentate’s country estate. There was surprisingly little outcry about this, but it struck me as an important step toward despotism. The president was no longer conducting business from the house of the people, but from his own castle. When the president of Japan visits it is not to the historic house of democracy, but to the wealth and splendour of the King’s castle.

And now two more revelations about the drift to banana status: The President’s personal lawyer, a Michael Cohen, has been selling access to the president for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the very agencies established to protect the citizens and the planet from the excesses, from the greed and corruption of various industries, are now firmly under the control of those industries. That’s Banana Republic 101.

Donald and the ethics of a psychiatric diagnosis

As a physician I should not diagnose, or label, a set of personality traits unless I do it to benefit my patient, to help him or her in some way. But Donald, you do have a narcissistic personality disorder. And knowing this can help you in the following way: You want to be revered, liked, loved at all times, congratulated, fawned over. You love to take credit for all good things that happen. You must undercut all competition for  affection of others. Because of this disorder you can never be fully content. Your ego must be fed again and again.

And there are many who do express their love for you, who will applaud you, defend you, do your bidding without question, fawn over you. And you in turn will shower them with praise, affection, opportunity and money. But Donald, they don’t love you, not really. They are almost as narcissistic as you are. They are just men (and a few women) who will sell their souls for a little second hand limelight, celebrity status, money, and the illusion of power.

You’ve given Giuliani, like an old opera star, a second chance on the stage. You’ve given Pruitt an opportunity to hob nob with the hoi polloi and get rich in the process. For Bannon and Putin you have been a useful idiot. You have given Cohen a chance to smoke cigars, swagger, make deals and get rich without doing much work. And the list goes on.

The point is, Donald, they don’t really love you. Your narcissism renders you vulnerable to praise. And when your ship is sinking they will not be sharing their life vests with you.

Yonge St. and Ready-Made Delusions

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In the early seventies a friend and colleague commented upon a popular piece of literature of the day being almost a manual for psychosis. I don’t remember if he was speaking about Timothy Leary or Carlos Casteneda or any number of other subversive ideas of the day. And his comment may have been both premature and prescient.

Our brains are organizing machines. They seek explanations, schemata, to provide satisfying linkages between our feelings and our observations, our expectations and our situations. Not about trivial matters. About these we can accept the influence of chance, leaky memory, luck, coincidence, and magic. But about the degree to which we have power, control, worth, status with others, and the vectors of threat, support, intimacy and sexuality between us.

The tools we use to do this include all our perceptual apparatuses and social information processing abilities. And when these are impaired our brains and our rising anxiety continue to demand answers, explanations.

A young man developing a psychotic illness in the 1960’s might conclude that he is being controlled with Radio Waves, or that he should don robe and guitar and preach love as a messenger of God. Delusional means of being controlled or controlling evolved through the years from the invisible hand of God or Devil, to possession, hypnotism, Xrays, radar, magnetic fields, radio waves, television, particle fields, and on to implanted microchips.

When we don’t have the tools to formulate a reasonable and acceptable schemata (usually by life engagement, communication with others, real others, understanding both textual information and contextual information, being sufficiently flexible to adjust from being an egocentric child and entitled adolescent to a simple mortal adult of the species) – when we don’t have these tools the brain still demands a schemata, a cause and effect, a satisfying sense of self in a sometimes hostile environment.

We then search. It used to be through books, song lyrics, common knowledge of the day, and imagination. Now this includes the internet. And one can find on our internet ready-made delusions and truly fake news: whole schemata already worked out for the person seeking – schemata and explanations for why he (or she) is failing, feeling despair, unloved, unsuccessful, without power, struggling, confused – schemata and cause and effect that blame others for all of our troubles.

And these ready-made schemata come with communities. Virtual reality communities in effect.

When we communicate face to face in real time and real place the ideas we share are always governed by the impact we see we are having on the other. We feel responsible for what we say, how we say it, and how it might affect the other. (with a few sociopathic and narcissistic exceptions)

Not so on many internet sites and forums. Text is spewed without the instant feedback from the face of the receiver and thus without any sense of social responsibility.

Over the years I have spoken with hundreds of young men (and women) developing psychosis, working through fractured ideas of persecution and grandiosity, seeking an ultimate answer. I hope the pills and support I give them will allow them to be satisfied with a good cup of coffee and a community of family and friends.

But now I know they may be up all night engrossed in the community of lies, blame and false hope that the internet can provide. “Incel”, ISIS, “Alt-right”, “white supremacy”…..”Flat Earth”, “conspiracy theories”…

Some of these are harmless but others may provide a ready-made delusion and a call to action for the man (or woman) whose social ability to formulate a healthy sense of reality is impaired, and who is desperately seeking relief.