Consequences, Vietnam edition

It often seems that rich people can break the law with no consequences, but once in a while, you come across a story where this isn’t the case.

Vietnam sentences real estate tycoon Truong My Lan to death in its largest-ever fraud case

Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Vietnam Net said.

I am against the Death penalty, and I think it cannot be defended in any case, least of all an economic case, but it is hard to overstate how large this case is

The 67-year-old chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 and allowed 2,500 loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion to the bank, reported state media VnExpress. The court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million.

Despite mitigating circumstances — this was a first-time offense and Lan participated in charity activities — the court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences with no possibility of the money being recovered, VnExpress said.

When your fraud can be measured as a percentage of the country’s GDP, you have done some serious fraud, and it will effect a lot of people, either directly or indirectly

Her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB (Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank) into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” VnExpress quoted the judgement as saying.

I don’t care for a second if someone’s action lead people to loose trust in the leadership of Party and State, but the fraud also led to a more serious type of lack of trust

Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been hit particularly hard. An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023, developers have been offering discounts and gold as gifts to attract buyers, and despite rents for mixed-use properties known in Southeast Asia as shophouses falling by a third in Ho Chi Minh City, many in the city center are still empty, according to state media.

I think few of us will cry for the rich factory owners and property tycoons who are loosing money, but underneath them, are a lot of everyday Vietnamese whose job opportunities disappeared because of the foreign investment staying away.

This is why supplements need to be regulated as well

It is a common problem around the world that supplements are not regulated as heavily as medicine and food in general, which causes some serious problems from time to time. Here is the latest example from Japan:

5 dead, 114 hospitalized from recalled Japanese health supplements

In the week since a line of Japanese health supplements began being recalled, five people have died and more than 100 people were hospitalized as of Friday.

Osaka-based Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co came under fire for not going public quickly with problems known internally as early as January. The first public announcement came March 22.

Company officials said 114 people were being treated in hospitals after taking products, including Benikoji Choleste Help meant to lower cholesterol, that contain an ingredient called benikoji, a red species of mold. Earlier in the week, the number of deaths stood at two people.

Some people developed kidney problems after taking the supplements, but the exact cause was still under investigation in cooperation with government laboratories, according to the manufacturer.

The company’s products have been recalled — as have dozens of other products that contain benikoji, including miso paste, crackers and a vinegar dressing. Japan’s health ministry put up a list on its official site of all the recalled products, including some that use benikoji for food coloring.

The ministry warned the deaths could keep growing. The supplements could be bought at drug stores without a prescription from a doctor, and some may have been purchased or exported before the recall, including by tourists who may not be aware of the health risks.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical had been selling benikoji products for years, with a million packages sold over the past three fiscal years, but a problem crept up with the supplements produced in 2023. Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said it produced 18.5 tons of benikoji last year.

Some analysts blame the recent deregulation initiatives, which simplified and sped up approval for health products to spur economic growth.

Note the last line – there has been deregulation initiatives for “health products”. I hope they are rolled back quickly, or this will not be the last time something like this happens in Japan.

The Brony fandom

I came across this interesting video about the My Little Pony fandom (the Bronys). It is by Jenny Nicholson, who has a great long-form YouTube channel, and who was an active part of the Brony fandom, so she is a great guide.

It is not a fandom I know much about, so this was a fascinating introduction to me. What I appreciated is that Jenny Nicholson is non-judgmental but is also not afraid of pointing out negative things about the fandom.

The 2023 Hugo debacle

Most people who don’t follow science fiction fandoms and literature are probably not aware of the latest blowup related to the Hugos – one of the premier awards in the science fiction genre.

The Hugo Awards are handed out at the Worldcon, and the 2023 Worldcon was held in January in Chengdu, China. Holding a convention like Worldcon in an undemocratic country is always a bit controversial, and this years Worldcon shows why this is the case, and why organisations should avoid making conferences and conventions such places. NY Times reports on the story.

Some Authors Were Left Out of Awards Held in China. Leaked Emails Show Why

The Hugo Awards, a major literary prize for science fiction, have been engulfed in controversy over revelations that some writers may have been excluded based on their perceived criticism of China or the Chinese government.

Suspicions in the science fiction community have been building for weeks that something was amiss with last year’s awards, which rotate to a different city each year, and in 2023 were hosted in Chengdu, China. Now, newly released emails show that the awards were likely manipulated because of political concerns.

What happened was that some works were marked as not edible for an award, including the critically acclaimed Babel by R.F. Kuang and the successful Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao. This obviously raised the concern that it “was a matter of undesirability rather than ineligibility” as Kuang put it on Instagram.

This was confirmed when emails were leaked

The exclusion of popular authors of Chinese descent led to speculation that the awards’ administrators had weeded out those whose political views might prove controversial in China. Those suspicions were confirmed recently, when emails leaked by Diane Lacey, a member of last year’s Hugo administration team, were published in a report by Chris M. Barkley, a science fiction fan and journalist, and Jason Sanford, a journalist and science fiction writer.

The email correspondence published in the report showed that Dave McCarty, one of the Hugo administrators, had advised other members to vet the finalists and “highlight anything of a sensitive political nature” in China, including works that focused “on China, Taiwan, Tibet or other topics that may be an issue in China.” Such works, he added, might not be safe to put on the ballot.

“This really just cut to the core of the awards,” Sanford said. “For a genre that believes so deeply in free speech to willingly take part in doing research on political issues of awards finalists, knowing that it’s going to be used to eliminate some of those finalists, it’s outrageous.”

In an interview with The Times, Lacey confirmed that she had provided the emails, and said that she shared them publicly because she regretted her actions, and wanted to ensure that the Hugos would not be tainted again in the future. “I felt very guilty about what I did and wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror again,” she said.

It is hardly news that there is controversy around the Hugo awards – from right-winged attempts on trying to overcome “wokeness” to more or less direct accusations of writers trying to buy votes, but this is the first time where the Hugos have been affected by the wishes of a government. This is a new low for the Hugos, which by many is considered the most democratic of the science fiction awards.

Each Worldcon stands on its own, so the actions of this Worldcon should not reflect badly on the next one, which is taking place in Glasgow. Even so, the upcoming organizers of the Worldcon has apologized, and has promised that there will be transparency about the administration of the awards.

My hope is that people will continue supporting the Worldcons, but also that they won’t be in undemocratic countries in the future. Let this one dark spot be the catalyst to make sure that cons in the future happens in democracies.

Speaking of spices and science

Bharat B. Aggarwal was until recently the leading expert in the curative effects of curcumin.

Bharat B. Aggarwal is an Indian-American biochemist who worked at MD Anderson Cancer Center from 1989 to 2015. His research focused on potential anti-cancer effects and therapeutic applications of herbs and spices. Aggarwal was particularly drawn to curcumin, a non-toxic compound found in turmeric that has long been staple in Ayurvedic systems of medicine. He authored more than 120 articles about the compound from 1994 to 2020. These articles reported that curcumin had therapeutic potential for a variety of diseases, including various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and, more recently, COVID-19. In his 2011 book Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease, Aggarwal recommends “taking a daily 500 mg curcumin supplement for general health”.

The above quote is from The King of Curcumin: a case study in the consequences of large-scale research fraud

As the title says, it turned out that Aggarwal committed research fraud

MD Anderson Cancer Center initially appeared to be fully on board with Aggarwal’s work. At one point, their website’s FAQ page recommended visitors buy curcumin wholesale from a company for which Aggarwal was a paid speaker (see “Spice Healer”, Scientific American). However, in 2012 (following observations of image manipulation raised by pseudonymous sleuth Juuichi Jigen), MD Anderson Cancer Center launched a research fraud probe against Aggarwal which eventually led to 30 of Aggarwal’s articles being retracted. Only some of these studies were about curcumin specifically, but most concerned similar natural products.

Retractions rarely number this high for a single author; according to the Retraction Watch leaderboard, only 26 other people have authored this many retracted studies. Aggarwal’s retracted articles feature dozens of instances of spliced Western blots and duplicated images, as well as several instances where mice were implanted with tumors exceeding volumes considered ethical. PubPeer commenters have noted irregularities in many publications beyond the 30 that have already been retracted. Aggarwal retired from M.D. Anderson in 2015, but has continued to author articles and appear at conferences.

I predict that more articles will be retracted in the future – not only because of Aggarwal being the author, but also because the field of study seems to be a magnet for frauds

Despite curcumin’s apparent lack of therapeutic promise, the volume of research produced on curcumin grows each year.  More than 2,000 studies involving the compound are published annually. Many of these studies bear signs of fraud and involvement of paper mills. As of 2020, the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) has spent more than 150 million USD funding projects related to curcumin. Funding increased drastically in the 2007 fiscal year, shortly after Aggarwal began to publish in earnest about the compound and the same year he declared curcumin “the Indian solid gold”.

A obvious reason for this is the big money connected to this sort of fraudulent research

This proliferation of research on curcumin has fueled its popularity as a dietary supplement. Grand View Research estimated the global market for curcumin as a pharmaceutical to be around 30 million USD in 2020. Manufacturers are routinely scolded by the United States Food and Drug Administration for making false claims about the health effects of these supplements.

Spices don’t cure cancer

When you look at so-called alternative medicine, one of the remedies that is often pushed is using different spices against different disease, and quite frequently using spice as a cancer cure. Every time anyone have looked into any of these spices as a cure for something, they have of course turned out to be mostly worthless, though a few have turned out to have some effect.

This of course, leads to the claim that spice consumption is an ancient remedy against cancer. Unfortunately, a study from last year has shown that this is not likely to be the case.

No evidence that spice consumption is a cancer prevention mechanism in human populations by Antoine M Dujon et al



Why humans historically began to incorporate spices into their diets is still a matter of unresolved debate. For example, a recent study (Bromham et al. There is little evidence that spicy food in hot countries is an adaptation to reducing infection risk. Nat Hum Behav 2021;5:878–91.) did not support the most popular hypothesis that spice consumption was a practice favoured by selection in certain environments to reduce food poisoning, parasitic infections, and foodborne diseases.


Because several spices are known to have anticancer effects, we explored the hypothesis that natural selection and/or cultural evolution may have favoured spice consumption as an adaptive prophylactic response to reduce the burden of cancer pathology. We used linear models to investigate the potential relationship between age-standardized gastrointestinal cancer rates and spice consumption in 36 countries.


Patterns of spice are not consistent with a cancer mitigation mechanism: the age-standardized rate of almost all gastrointestinal cancers was not related to spice consumption.


Direction other than foodborne pathogens and cancers should be explored to understand the health reasons, if any, why our ancestors developed a taste for spices.

I appropriate the effort to understand why spice was introduced into food in some parts of the world, and am looking forward to future research results

This is the type of person Tucker, Trump etc sucks up to

Putin is not a nice person. He is a despot and a warmonger.

Today we saw another piece of evidence for this, as yet another of his critics was killed

Putin critic Alexei Navalny, 47, dies in Arctic Circle jail

Russia’s most significant opposition leader for the past decade, Alexei Navalny, has died in an Arctic Circle jail, the prison service has said.

It is highly likely he was killed directly, but even if the death wasn’t caused by a direct murder, it was still caused indirectly by Putin by sending him to this harsh prison. I don’t, however, believe for a second that he wasn’t murdered – it is not like it was the first attempt to kill him after all

Most of the Russian president’s critics have fled Russia, but Alexei Navalny returned in January 2021, after months of medical treatment. In August 2020 he was poisoned at the end of a trip to Siberia with a Novichok nerve agent.

Yet despite this, and the invasion of Ukraine, you have powerful people in the US singing Putin’s praise. You have so-called journalists interviewing him and Trump praising him, even encouraging him to attack US allies.

For the best dissection of Tucker Carlson’s interview of Putin, I highly recommend Knowledge Fight’s podcast episode on it.

Short film Thirstygirl at Sundance

A few years ago I went to a conference, QCon, in London, where among the speakers, there was one who told her personal story of how she wasn’t taken serious in the tech field, until she cut her hair. That was my first encounter with Alexandra Qin.

Since hearing her talk, I’ve followed her work. She founded Emergent Works (as Code Cooperative) in 2016 and ran it until 2021. Emergent Works is a NYC based organization which does amazing work helping formerly incarcerated people, through training and mentorship. I highly recommend supporting them, if you have time and/or funds to spare.

From being the CEO of Emergent Works,  Alexandra Qin went on to write a short film, and raise money for it through Kickstarter. It was Thirstygirl, which was funded and made.

After it was produced, the short has been shown at a few film festivals. I went to a screening at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York, UK, where I also got the chance to say hi to Alexandra Qin.

Currently, the short film is being screened at the Sundance Festival, which obviously is fantastic. To read about how Alexandra Qin felt when she heard about the selection and to hear more about the background of the film, go read Unpacking sex addiction: Director Alexandra Qin talks about her deeply personal Sundance short film

Disclaimer: I have helped support Emergent Works financially, and I was one of the backers of Thirstygirl on Kickstarter.

Denmark has a new king

The Danish monarch changed earlier today – Queen Margrethe II abdicated and King Frederik X became the king. Unlike the English traditions around crowning a new monarch, the Danish procedure is a fairly low-key affair, in which the Danish Prime Minister declares that the former monarch has abdicated (or died, as is the usual case), long live the new monarch.

The official Instagram account about the Danish royal family (run by the staff connected to the royal family), posted a clip showing this happening.

I am firmly against anyone being born outside the law and into a privileged position, and I think the royal family should be abolished. Denmark claims to be a democracy, yet we still cling to these old remnants of the undemocratic past.

It is often argued that the royal Danish family is good for branding Denmark, and rather large valuations of that branding is thrown about, but these claims haven’t been proven (and indeed, cannot be proven). We don’t even know exactly how many money are used towards the royal family. The direct payouts are known, but not indirect costs, such as security, which is part of the military budget. But even if the branding value of the royal family is as high as claimed, then it doesn’t change the principle that a royal family has nothing to do in a modern democracy.

Edit note: I had written “have been proven” when I meant “haven’t been proven”. The text has been corrected.