Monthly Archives: July 2009

Good Environmental News

To prevent anyone from thinking that I focus only on things to be pissed off about, here’s a piece of good news from the journal Science. Some fisheries are beginning to recover from overfishing, due to more stringent regulation from governments and more public interest in fishing practices. I’ve been a big proponent of sustainable fishing for as long as I’ve known the term (thanks, MBARI), so it’s nice to see that there’s some good news out there. Of course, there’s a bit of bad news as well – Europe, for all its vaunted “better than America” rhetoric, is demonstrably worse in managing their fisheries. We’ve had Alaska as an example for decades, with their seemingly neurotic obsession with sustainability, and we’ve been expanding that down the coast now.  It looks like Europeans aren’t learning from the mistakes of the past, and they’re gonna kill off the bluefin tuna population if they aren’t careful.

Check out the map with the NPR article – all of the North American fisheries are either healthy or recovering; none are declining. We’ve got something to be proud of there. Regulations can be good.

Falsehoods a Child Can See Through

The other day, I was watching the news when a clip from Fred Thompson’s radio show was played. The person talking to Thompson was Betsy McCaughey, a constitutional scholar and former Lt. Governor for New York, claimed that the health care plan being promoted in the House would mandate that all elderly people get counseling on how to end their lives sooner. This meme has been promulgated far and wide, and a video was next on the news, with the President being asked by an audience member at a town hall meeting whether the rumors were true that his hoped-for health care public option would encourage the elderly to die.

My son, all of nine years old, was able to see how ridiculous this was, and said there’s no way that anyone in the government would try to kill off their own citizens. He didn’t have any sophisticated analysis of this, of course, but even he has enough of a BS detector at his age to wonder why anyone would believe such ridiculous statements.

It’s a sad state of affairs when seemindly sane adult human beings can actually believe that their government wants to kill them (hard to get votes that way) and that the President is a foreigner (Snopes, people!). Evidence be damned, we will continue to believe ludicrous things because they reinforce what we want to believe. And the pundits who encourage this behavior? Yay for the First Amendment, you can say and believe any fool thing you want, but this is just shameful behavior. Fanning flames of anger and fear (always fear – talk to any winger and you’ll hear the words afraid or scared frequently) just to get ratings or get political points…disgusting.

Run any statement any politician or pundit says past a nine year-old; if he says it’s ludicrous, assume it is.

Beware the Spinal Trap

(Note: this is an edited version of the infamous article on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines. Why edited? English libel laws make Singh at risk if the full article were published even in the USA.)

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.

Sheep Rustling in San Angelo

You may recall the decorated sheep that are now placed around San Angelo – the husky was scared of one a while back, and The Boy and I watched the Sheeptacular parade when they were first introduced to the community. Some idiot college students swiped one. They were planning to return it, they said, because who needs a five-foot fiberglass sheep in their living room?  Of course, they also let the police knock on their door for an hour before letting them in; did they think the cops might get tired and go away?

Surprisingly to many, this is considered a state felony, because the value of the stolen property was over $1500. I remember some folks in high school swiped the Bob’s Big Boy statue from down the road – would have sucked to get hit with a felony charge.

Remember, don’t rustle sheep – Jonny Law will get ya.

Clouds are Ephemeral

Google recently announced the Chrome OS, to meld their Chrome browser with their various online offerings into a cloud-based computer architecture. No need for large amounts of personal storage or even powerful computing hardware – it’s all in the cloud, and Google will take care of it for you.

Although Google appears to be a 900-pound gorilla that will stay on top and keep their sites going for as long as you need them, let’s take a look at the history of the cloud so far, shall we? Kodak has recently told users they need to spend money at the Kodak Gallery or their photos will be deleted. Sony Imagestation shut down in 2008. Yahoo shut down their photo site in 2007, mostly moving files to Flickr, if you asked them to. If you forgot, they’re gone. Personal site hosts Sampa and GeoCities are shutting down.

Youtube frequently shuts off videos or entire accounts, without notice or seemingly any recourse. Google Video is killing that separate service entirely. This follows iFilm, PutFile, ClipFish, MyTunes, and many other user-content-driven cloud sites into oblivion.

That doesn’t even touch on the for-pay sites that no longer work, even after charging similar prices for now-inaccessible content than that which you would actually own. Amazon remotely deleted files from Kindles, blah blah blah.

So, I have my own site rather than relying on the cloud. I mirror my public comments here onto Livejournal, Facebook, Myspace and even Twitter. But, those are just mirrors. My content resides on my site, which I control. I also back it up to my local machine, because even Dreamhost may go the way of Jennicam into digital dissolution.

I worry that an over-reliance on The Cloud will end with a great deal of individual personal histories disappearing over time. As it is, people of my generation and younger are disinclined to have photo albums that they can touch – why bother when there’s Flickr? I can imagine if we ever do move to a pure-digital society, some of us will be more paranoid about who we trust with our data. When in doubt, make a backup copy – clouds always seem to evaporate over time.

Jon Stewart – Most Trusted Newsman?

As I’m sure Stewart himself will find apalling, there’s a Time online poll (no scientific accuracy to speak of, self-selected population, blah blah blah) which shows more people think Jon Stewart is a trustworthy news source than Brian Williams or Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric.

For years now, Stewart has been defending himself from mainstream journalists and pundits, who say he’s not upholding the correct dignity or standards of a journalist. His response is always some variation of, “I’m on Comedy Central and you expect me to be the journalistic role model? We are screwed as a country.” Yet, academic studies have found that the Daily Show, although calling themselves a fake news show, has just as much or more substantive news coverage as the networks. How sad is that?

Hang up and drive

Way back in 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration looked at the available data regarding phone usage while driving. Their recommendations would have included a total ban on phones being used by drivers while in motion, whether with or without hands-free devices. I say “would have” because they never released the report. They were afraid of angering Congress. Get that? Public safety took a back seat to political expediency. The only reason we’re hearing about it now is because of Freedom of Information Act requests/lawsuits by two consumer advocacy groups.

Shouldn’t the NHTSA be a consumer advocacy group? Interestingly, cell phone usage has increased greatly since 2002, the year they gathered data. About half of Americans had cell phones then, and nearly 90% do today.

We’re Back!

Wow, that was a long outage.  My hosting service has had a rocky week – I spent two days with email being rejected (if you sent me something and it said I didn’t exist, I do now), and then the servers lost their network connectivity this morning for about six hours. For Dreamhost, that’s very unusual. When I was with CCLhosting, I expected random outages but DH has been very reliable for years now. I’m sure this was just a really bad coincidence of unlucky events.

Back to ripping my CDs – I’m up to nearly 39000 tracks now.

News Flash – Combat is Unhealthy

There’s a new report from Fort Carson that details some of the potential reasons that post has been home to a distressing cluster of homicide and suicide in recent years. Not surprising to veterans, it concludes that combat makes some people messed up in the head. And, also not a surprise, some (many?) soldiers and leaders belittle mental health issues, causing soldiers who are messed up to not seek treatment except through alcohol, drugs and the occasional act of gunplay.

Mainstream press is surprised.

Top 106 of 1988

Every few weeks, I update my MP3 player with a “new music” playlist. I used to draw this from the “New Release Rack” at a long-running Midland radio station that had a simulcast here in San Angelo. The simulcast ended (replaced by yet another hits of the blah blah I believe), and then the Midland station turned to Tejano music itself. What a firestorm of mediocrity. But media consolidation has no effect on variety and quality.

Moving on, I decided to use my old favorite from high school, KROQ, as inspiration to keep in touch with the cool new tracks from the music world. They kept a nice set of playlists online, to include their most-requested, most-played, and newest additions. I’d select a few from each list, and away I’d go with a new set of tunes. Last month, I noticed they’d added something even cooler, the Top 106.7 lists. Every year, the station compiles a list of the top 107 songs (they claim 106.7 because of their FM frequency, but 7 tenths of a song is odd). They had listed several of those annual lists on their site. I took a look at the 2008 list and added that to my Sansa. After a few weeks, I had heard all the tracks enough and went back to KROQ for a refresh. Their lists are all gone. Even using deep links from Google searches ends up at their newly-bare homepage. *sigh*

Thankfully, KNDD in Seattle is another great station and their playlist is still listed, so that takes care of my New Music Rack list. And, I found someone online who compiled all the KROQ annual lists from the 80s. Now I’ve got the 1988 list on my player, and I’m very amused. Some of the songs from the year I graduated high school stand up quite well, others not so much. Cocteau Twins are on the “not so much” list for sure. And, what happened to the band Camouflage? They sounded just like Depeche Mode, yet Martin Gore continues to play and Camouflage is gone. Listening to the Sugarcubes is an interesting flashback to a time before Bjork became such a spectacle. Sadly, I did not have nor could not find some of the tracks, so I have the top 93 of 1988.  Close enough, for 20 years later.

On a related note, combined with burning through the Amazon gift card The Boy gave me for Father’s Day, and ripping the several boxes of CDs hiding in the closet, I’m up to over 200 gigs of music on my computer. I’m not addicted.

Tours R Us

Anyone who has spent much time in a military training environment (or an operational one for that matter) is accustomed to the “tour of the week” coming through their work area. Somehow, my new job involves me being in the tour group instead of the one being inconvenienced. It’s quite odd, really.

TX BOE doomed

According to scuttlebutt, the leading candidate to replace crazy creationist dentist Don McLeroy on the Texas Board of Education is a woman who believes public education is unconstitutional, tyrannical and should be abolished.

This is why it’s so hard to understand conservatives. They insist on being in charge of organizations that they claim should not exist at all, then point to their own poor performance as proof that such organizations don’t work well.  Of course they don’t work when they’re run by people who hate them and want them abolished. Duh?

Would it be too much to ask that the state board of education include people who actually understand education and science and the arts? And if they happen to think that the board of education (or public schools) has a right to exist, that would be good too.