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A rose by any other name would smell as much

It’s been a bad week for the scam artists.

Sorawan Sirisuntarin, who markets under the name ‘Pa Cheng’, has been charged with violating the Pharmaceuticals Act. She had been peddling a panacea called Maha Bambad at 1000 baht a wee bottle and an eye lotion called Jiaranai Petch.

Supposedly the result of an 18-year fermentation process (so we assume she now has 17 years worth of unusable stock), her cure-all was found by lab tests to contain bacteria that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and gangrene. Her eye-drops were highly acidic and could cause irritation and blindness.

Although she insists that her products work (and help counter global warming in some unexplained way) and she has a number of convinced devotees, she has agreed to stop production.

Meanwhile a BBC Newsnight investigation into the ADE651 bomb detector and other similar ‘electro-statically powered’ devices has shown that the wand-wielding hand-set was nothing more than an empty plastic box and that their pre-programmed cards were unprogrammable retailers’ tags costing pennies.

Over 500 of these contraptions are currently being used by the army at close to a million baht a pop, and other government agencies have ordered more.

They have apparently given false negative readings in incidents that cost lives. They also give false positives, according to dozens of detainees in the south who have been locked up because a soldier’s rod waggled in their direction..

The reaction of the authorities responsible for their procurement and continued use has not quite been on the lines of Pa Cheng. Among the blanket denials, Thep Thaug and Khunying Pornthip have either been sadly misinformed or are telling whopping porkies, and Gen Anupong got himself into a very nasty snit that makes one wonder if a man of his temper should have his finger on the coup button.

But all good scam artists firmly, sincerely and ardently believe their own scams. Neither Pa Cheng nor the gimcrack gizmo makers are giving up.

Since she can’t sell her stuff as medicine and she does have a fair few tanks of stuff in various stages of decomposition, Pa Cheng has developed another bomb detector.

This consists of her magic fluid in what looks suspiciously like an old Yakult bottle with the labelling scraped off. The specially trained operator holds the bottle in his fist and slowly walks round the area to be checked. If the bottle starts to feel warm, then this is a sign that there are explosives nearby.

The heat is allegedly caused by malolactic maceration triggered by the micro-cloacaferic radiation emitted by all materials, though for ease of explanation, Pa Cheng just refers to the ‘fluence’. Pa Cheng’s liquid is ‘tuned’ to the frequency of explosives.

It is important that the operator not be tired, have a temperature, feel grumpy, have used a mobile phone in the previous 24 hours, suffer from constipation or have a name containing the letter ‘no nu’, since any of these conditions will disturb the effect.

Army tests succeeded in finding one of five hidden hand grenades a third of the time. This was calculated as a success rate of 20% times 33%, or an amazing 660%. Army specialists, however, were reluctant to go ahead with procurement.

‘It’s rather suspicious that she’s only asking a couple of thousand baht per bottle,’ said one officer who refused to be named. ‘If this was a genuine article, we’d expect to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would also look a bit more scientific if it had some flashing lights,’ he added.

The manufacturers of the GT200 have also come up with a new use for their product. New programmed cards have been developed which enable the detector to diagnose illnesses. So if a ‘malaria’ card is inserted into the black-box reader, and the device is held next to a patient, then the rod will twitch if the patient has malaria.

Cards have been developed for all major illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, etc. Although the new cards are expensive at around $5000 each, major savings can be made by avoiding expensive and time-consuming lab tests, according to the manufacturers.

A demonstration at Government House revealed that the Prime Minister was suffering from fatigue, in-growing toe-nails and a condition described as ‘coalitionitis’, or an adverse reaction to political alliances. The PM remarked that ‘two out of three isn’t bad’, but did not identify which conditions he is actually suffering from.

Medical experts fell about laughing when shown the device, a reaction the manufacturers attribute to their vested interest in old-fashioned diagnostic techniques. Only the Army Medical Corps seemed to show a genuine interest in the device.

‘We’re hopeful that it will help us to detect malingerers,’ said a doctor from Bhumibol Hospital. ‘You’d be surprised how many soldiers think they can fool us into giving them a medical discharge when there’s really nothing wrong with them. But it’s not that easy to fool the Thai military.’

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).