Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Beware the Legal Spinal Trap

I'd post the unedited version of Simon Singh's article previously available on the Guardian web site. But people smarter than me, such as PZ Myers and Steve Novella, are posting the edited version. They wouldn't do that unless bad legal shit could maybe really happen.

Worry about what might befall the tufted titmouse if she were to post an article on her tiny blog which is read by all of four people --that's the thing that really pisses me off. That worry should not be there.

I do not have time for law suits. I have a sailboat what needs me.

(with minor edits to original version)

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dr. Vitaminista Hates the Rhinos and Tigers

Treehugger has a slide show depicting animals that will be extinct in our lifetime.

Notice that alternative medicine is killing a fair number of them.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." --Voltaire

Yes, it's a package deal. Corrupt the rules of evidence to allow something seemingly harmless like Reiki and homeopathy in the door, and you've no rational check against people using ground rhino horn for impotence.

If "in my clinical experience" is good enough, the tigers are toast.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Captain's Log, #3

Trip #6: Squeaky Shores

I was chatting with a co-worker about my after-work solo explorations of nearby lakes. She said, "Have you checked out Squeaky Shores? It's big, about a thousand acres, and it's great for fishing and swimming. Plus it's just down the road from here."

Yes, I did consider Squeaky Shores. But for some reason I'd ruled it out. Why was that? Hmm. Couldn't recall... Sure sounded worth a look.

The setting was like a postcard from summer camp: a wide and peaceful expanse of water with scattered reeds poking up from the shallows. Nearby were woods filled with chirping birds. In the distance I could hear the slow fluted ooooh-eeee! of the loons.

The boat launch wasn't great. Power lines right over it. WTF? What is it with all these motorboat dudes? Where are the sailors? On the endangered list now?

Happily I found a thin strip of sandy beach where I could launch and park without too much trouble. The wind was light and at my back so I set out wing on wing.

A few hundred yards from shore the breeze was better. The joy comes at a certain acceleration and I was starting to feel it. I turned toward the shoreline to catch the broad reach.

Suddenly, THUNK! and a dead stop.

"Oh!" I said, as I jumped to yank in the centerboard and uncleat the downhaul on my rudder. A dog began to bark. I was busy tying the main sheet to something when a woman appeared at a nearby dock. She asked if I needed help, then explained that "this entire area" had large rocks just below the surface.

"I take it the lake is pretty shallow."

"Well, in the middle out there it's a good thirteen feet."

Oh yeah, Squeaky Shores... I remembered why I'd decided to give it a miss. Thirteen feet is no problem. But if that's the lake's deepest point, much of it must be four to five feet and no doubt littered with rocks.

I pointed the boat onto a reverse reach and back to a safer depth. As I turned to tack my way toward the car I glanced up at the sky and caught the red sun snuffing out behind the mountains.

The light breeze vanished. I half-expected this to happen. Earlier I'd replaced the yellow-thing-that-sucks-ass aka "the paddle" with a longer telescoping oar that wasn't half bad. And I had my new rudder-swim trick to play with. Sure, paddling to shore might take an hour or so. No problemo. The night air was sweet and I was feeling good just being outdoors.

I rudder-swam for a few minutes then switched to paddling for comparison. Paddling on one side turns the boat requiring compensation with the rudder, wasting a little energy. Switching paddle sides keeps the boat moving forward, but wastes time as it means getting up and re-seating, unless you're right at the bow where you can reach the water on both sides of the boat. But sitting on the bow deck with no control over the sails or rudder while alone on a sailboat is just asking for some kinda freak accident. Oars and oar locks would be great. But my little racing boat hasn't a place for them.

After a few minutes of puttering I concluded that paddling moves the boat better than ruddering. But ruddering is easier and more fun.

Then something I didn't expect happened and my lazy meandering toward the beach came to a dead halt. And it occurred to me that I was now stuck in the middle of an unfamiliar lake with the darkness deepening. Oh crap. Crapity crap.

I checked my cell phone in case I wanted to call my husband for a rescue. That would have to be a last resort as home was over an hour's drive away. The display said, "Looking for service..."

Effin' Sprint! Piss on you and your patchy network!


Goddam mosquitos.


Fuckin' A!


Jesus, why are so many out here in the middle of the lake? Don't they want the shoreline?

I shook a dozen or so off each leg, then saw my arms.

Swat! Swat! Swat!

WTF?? What is this, some kinda horror flick?

The beasties set about my ears and eyelashes. Oh fuckety fuck! The attack was truly maddening.

Before launching I'd coated myself with DEET. When my daggerboard hit the rock I slipped in waist deep briefly to re-orient the boat. Some DEET likely washed away. Still, I stunk of it. Yet the mosquitoes didn't seem to care.

I knelt on a float-pad, tucking my legs under me to protect them from the swarm while I tried to paddle. Pausing to swat the fuckers off my face halved my already pathetically slow progress. The beach didn't seem to be getting any closer.

I wondered, could I ignore a mosquito swarm for an hour to save my life? Yeah, sure, if utterly convinced that swatting the bastards off my skin might mean certain death. But I wasn't quite there yet.

A party-pontoon crossing the lake drew nearer. From the deepening gloom to starboard a voice shouted, "Need any help?"

"Perhaps..." I said. Which way you headed?"

"Same direction as you."

"Well then, I wouldn't mind a tow. The mosquitoes here are eating me alive."

"Yeah, they're bad tonight."

And so I was saved.

The driver took the end of the painter clipped to my bow and tied it to to a cleat at his stern. He hit the gas. I held my rudder and surfed the power wake thinking, "Get the bug spray. Get the bug spray. Get the bug spray. See it on the floor behind the passenger's seat."

Once landed I thanked the kindly strangers. (Does it worry me how often I've needed their assistance since this boat mania struck me last summer? Yes, a little.)

A few seconds later I had the car unlocked and the insect repellant in hand.


As I understand, DEET does not kill skeeters. It merely makes them go, "Ew, dat no smell gud..." and causes them to move a few inches away from you. However, if you spray the little buggers 'til they're dripping with it, they do seem somewhat disoriented.

Unforseen complication #2: As I was about to leave, I couldn't find my car key. In my urgent mission toward the bug spray I didn't note where I'd set it after opening the door. I should have stuck it in the ignition. Or perhaps back into my only pocket, the one on the PFD. Or maybe in the drink holder next to the driver's seat. Any other spot would be silly. Did it fall into the sand? What if it's lost? How will I get home?

Two hours later I finally found the key under some stuff near the hatch in the back. How did it get there? What was I thinking?

Better remind myself to pay special attention to the key after I unlock the door from this moment forward.

Yeah, right, that'll work.

Better get a Hide-a-Key for this car. Two of them. ASAP.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Captain's Log, #2

Trip #4: Mouse Nest Island
- Calm, meandering, woodsy lake enveloped by nice houses, each with a dock and small power boat.
- Good boat launch.
- Narrow going.
- Some rock-infested areas.
- No wind. Maybe too sheltered for a good blow.

Conclusion: meh

Heading back to the launch I discovered a trick: pop the rudder up so it's a little more horizontal, pull the tiller back and forth in a nice, easy motion, and you can make the boat swim forward slowly.

Trip #5: Main Street USA
- Sunny late afternoon at a posh bay.
- Brass band playing Stars and Stripes, etc., in a white gazebo bandstand.
- Two bussloads of frail elderly figures disembarking for the concert, effectively blocking access to the launch for half an hour. Patience required.
- Delicious ice cream.
- Lots of dock space for tying off boats, but parking for cars with trailers a few blocks away. Jogging shoes a good idea.
- Power lines kinda near the launch.
- No wind, but likely does get wind.

Conclusion: Has potential, but a bit of a hassle.

Wingsuits - Depends not included

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

Dark Matter Found

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Fan video of a happy little tune by UK band Morton Valence.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Finally, sailing!

Trip #1: Tidal river.
- Boat launch surrounded by hull-eating rocks.
- Narrow passable channel down the middle of the river surrounded by wide shallows of 1-2 feet.
- Invisible marker buoys.
- Why is the boat not moving? Oh, the daggerboard has decided to plant itself into the ground.
- Fast, tidal current in an inconvenient direction.
- Ocean going power boats with the words, "fuck you" painted on their transoms, though difficult to read over the four-foot wakes in their trail.
- Noobs need not apply for this job.

Conclusion: We won't be returning anytime soon.

Trip #2: A middling lake of a few hundred acres with a beach and sandy boat launch.

After our previous adventure, I insisted upon low expectations. "Let's call this a fire drill. Just getting there and checking our rigging will be a success. In fact, if we get in the water, let's keep it simple and not bother with the jib sail."

We put up the main and slowly tacked up wind. Emphasis on slowly. The narrow lake near the launch was well surrounded by tall trees and beautiful waterfront homes, effectively sheltering the water from the wind.

Things picked up as we entered a wider expanse. I've not yet mastered the art of smoothly passing the tiller and main sheet from hand to hand behind my back during a tack or gybe. Sometimes the tiller slips away from me, causing the boat to careen madly in a circle with the boom swinging like a major league player with an eye on our heads.

Sailors are reputed to be the acme of salty language --e.g., "swear like a sailor." Wonder no longer why this might be.

The clouds came in and with them a pleasant breeze. My crew lost his hat. "No big deal. Maybe we'll get it on the way back, LOL!"

Surprisingly, we did see the red cap bobbing just below the surface of the water about an hour later as we headed back to the launch. We came about and passed by it a few times. I meant to drift along side it so my crew could reach out and snatch it off the water. But the bow obscured my view as I got near and I tended to drive over it. Sadly, I think the daggerboard finally sent it down to Davey Jones' locker. Still, the flailing was kinda fun.

We stopped for subs and ice cream on the way home. My crew conceded that sailing might actually be fun, provided that the trips don't cut into his running schedule or weekly mileage. Marathon coming up in November.

Trip #3: Big lake of a few thousand acres.
- Perfect sunny New England afternoon.
- Picturesque boat launch in the narrows between the lake proper and an adjoining bay.
- Modest current from the lake and into the bay, leading to a downstream river system.
- Bumper-to-bumper motor boats in two single-file lanes travelling in and out of the busy marina.
- No fucking wind.

Me: "I don't see how we're going to do this."
Crew: "Well let's get going. There's a slight breeze, and we can use the paddle."

"The paddle" has a handle about three feet long and a blade about five inches wide. It can be broken apart and stored in the hold of a kayak, ostensibly for use in some emergency where the actual kayaking paddle gets lost. It's on our boat instead of a functional, effective paddle or set of oars, because we've no room for such things. In fact, we've no place for the "yellow thing that sucks ass," but we tolerate it at the aft end of the cockpit floor, where it's only occasionally in the way or trying to kill us.

I sat on the bow deck straddling the forestay, feet touching the water. The jib sail was at my right shoulder. I paddle-paddled to port, then paddle-paddled more awkwardly to starboard. The crew took the tiller and tried to do something useful with the mainsail. We were tacking upwind, which meant cutting into the lane of oncoming boats. That might have been a problem had we actually been moving. But all my hard work with the paddle merely kept us from drifting backward with the current.

Finally a couple of guys on a pontoon party barge offered to give us a tow, and we were saved. Once out of the narrows we caught a breeze and took off.

I relieved my crew at the tiller and he moved forward to man the jib sheets ("sheets" = lines that pull the sail in or out from the boat). It was then that I noted that our jib was not fully up. The jib luff - the leading edge of the sail - was too slack.

Capt: "Hey, see if you can tighten up the halyard for the jib."

Crew: "Why, what's wrong with it?"

Capt: "See how the forestay is tight and the jib at the front there is kinda slack? It's supposed to be the other way. The forestay's supposed to be slack and the jib's supposed to be tight."

Crew: "You're saying the forestay's too slack?"

Capt: "No, the forestay's too tight."

Crew: "Don't you want it tight?"

Capt: "No! The jib's s'posed to be tight. Remember, the jib actually holds up the mast. The forestay's just a temporary stabilizer, until you get the jib up."

Crew: "Oh, ok. Well, how do I do that?"

Capt: "See the jib halyard?"

Crew: "Uhh..."

Capt: "That green thing coming down the side of the mast. Untie it from the cleat and yank on it 'till it's as tight as you can get it, then re-cleat it."

Crew: "Oh, ok."

A little later:

Capt: "Hey, check the tension on the boom vang. I think we need a little more."

Crew: "Boom vang?"

Insert replay of jib dialog here, followed by...

Capt: "With the vang tighter, the outhall's looking weak. See if you can yank on that a little."

Crew: "Outhall?"

Capt: "That blue thing that pulls bottom of the sail out to the end of the boom."

Crew: "This here? But it's cleated. How do I pull it?

Capt: "You don't need to uncleat it. See how it passes through the cleat then goes around a block near the mast then back toward you? Just pull on the end coming from the block. The cleat will hold it."

A little later I saw that our cunningham was totally slack. Captain and crew had endured the "tighten X - what's X" chat a few too many times. Yet they endured it again, and with only a little huffing and puffing.

However, once the cunningham was cleated off and the luff was looking sharp, the vang and outhall needed to be re-tensioned. Not surprisingly, the call to check the vang provoked a "WTF?" from the crew, who now was convinced that the captain was merely trying to take the piss.

Capt: "No really, the tension makes a difference... Notice how flags on flagpoles don't go wandering around city streets? They merely sit in one place. That's because they're allowed to luff in the breeze loosely. But I guarantee, if you tightened down each edge of the flag and angled it toward the wind properly, they'd be yanking their poles behind them all over the place."

Crew: "Oh, ok... Hey, nice analogy."

Capt: "Why thank ye, matey. And remember: it's 'Aye aye, captain.'"

Crew: "LOL, in your dreams."