Tuesday 31 May 2016

The Mugumbo Files: Part I

The following email exchange occurred between your esteemed host and a dusky gentlemen of rather dubious provenance. The picture he attached is clearly a true likeness. The jaunty angle of his head is probably due to his rather extensive lever problem.

Mr Mugumbo needs to lever his head back into position
Dear Sirs,
Allow me to introduces myself and hope I am not imposing on your personal privacy. I am Colonel Iphone Mugumbo late attaché to the late Badluck Mumbojumbo former President to the central African country of Cesspitagogoland.
I proposes a confidential proposal of strict secrecy and confidentiality. I am party to the late Badluck’s estate comprising $38,567,000 monies (THIRTY EIGHT MILLION FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS). Having passed your details through certain confidential processes you have emerged with honour and spanking brand new. Due to an impending cancer of the lever I am contemplating an expedite conclusion of our businesses. My doctor has told me I will expire in 6 months because of my impending medical predicament. If you are interested to assist I will disperse 40% of the monies in your favor. My share of the dispersement will bequeath to my wife so she can move to the UK when I surely expire.  Do not worry all modalities have been covered and you have no risk to yourselves. As a fellow man of God and a good Christian who love the Lord with impeccable fortitude I await with awe your heartfelt positive responses. 

True with God
Colonel Iphone Mugumbo

Dear Iphone,
You have my deepest sympathies. Cancer of the lever is not to be taken lightly. Of course you can trust me implicitly as you would expect from a complete stranger with a tenuous grip on reality (wibble). I must say before we undertake any transaction that I am not a Christian but a follower of the elder gods. Having established my credentials and bona fides how are we to progresses the processes and when do I get my sticky mitts on all that ill-gotten monies? As for the 'spanking': I think we need to keep this under bubble wrap as my gimp suit is still in the laundry being scraped, cleaned and sanitised.

Yours with lube
Flaxen Saxon

My Dear Flaxen Saxon,
Your responses is well noted. I emphasies that you must keep our transaction secret and remain secure. I contacted a wise man and he is our village doctor and he cast your fortune and says you will become a very wealthy man. You must believe what I say as a dying man can only tell truths. My partner, Bar Lighthouse Umbongo will now send you instructions. You must follow and trust this man as you trust Gods right hand man. I hopes that you and your family are well and not suffer as I suffer.

Colonel Iphone Mugumbo

 Dear Iphone,
Just to let you know my gimp suit has come up squeaky clean and I'm ready to spank anew. I even managed to remove those unmentionable hard to get rid of stains. I've been thinking about your lever problem. Have you thought about obtaining a fulcrum? Fulcrums and levers go together like ferrets and whippets. Actually, I do suffer currently. I have a small but unsightly pimple on my ARSE and I'm a very vain fellow. Witch doctor do you allude to, perchance? What would he suggest for what ails my ARSEsoul; a quick casting of the bones; a light squeezing of the pustule or the application of a soothing unguent. Tell me what he recommendies?  

Yours with a whip
Flaxen Saxon
I think this workys
My Dear Flaxen Saxon,
Levity does not lie with serious businees. I am informed you are a serious man to whom I could conduct this transaction. Why waste my time with friviolous pictures? Do you not want riches beyond your wildest imagination? If not tell me candidly and I shall deal with a man who embraces wealth and who can look after his family.

Colonel Iphone

Dear Iphone
Please accept my serious apologies. I am presently suffering from a serious brain melody and subject to ejaculate selected verses from the musical 'Calaminity Jane': "Whip Doris Day, whip Doris Day". I seriously state I'm a serious man dedicated to progresses, modalities with aplomb and expeditaries. I entrities you to implores Mr Bar to contact me immediately, if not sooner, so we can share our intimate confidencies.

 "Oh the Deadwood Stage is a-rollin' on over the plains"

Flaxen Saxon     


Friday 27 May 2016

My Son's Graduation

Handsome bugger isn't he? Chippus blockus offus maximus
Tis a proud day in the Saxon household. Number one son and heir to the 'Flaxen Saxon estate', has just graduated with a degree in business studies. Wisely he took his father's advice not to take the 'Science Pathway'. I'll not go into detail why I counselled thusly, I'll just say that obtaining work in a competitive field has something to do with it. Many of my ex-students are still waiting to gain a toehold into the profession and in the meantime while away their hours flipping burgers. This can be soul destroying after spending four years studying for a vocational science degree. If given the chance to travel back in time I think I would have pursued a different career choice, although to be fair my career in science has been successful and has provided a good living. Perhaps I'm getting a little jaundiced in my old age (see previous post) and no longer look at the world of work with enthusiasm.

I'm sure my son will do well in the world. He is blessed with many natural attributes: tall, strong, blond, smart and endowed with his father's good looks. It all helps in a tough world. Modesty is for those who have something to be modest about. 

He returns to Western Australia on Monday and it is likely I wont see him until Christmastide. I'm going to miss him dearly, after all, he's like a son to me.

                                                                   Ode to Love
 There's motherly love and brotherly love and love of a son for his father,
But the sweetest of love, the most poignant of love, is one drunken sod for another.

Pass the liver salts

Just off to the pub for a pint

Whilst a student, many years ago, I remember my Microbiology Professor distinctly lecturing us students about the dangers of alcohol. Students, as I'm sure you know, have a reputation for enjoying the hedonist lifestyle and therefore his entreaties fell on deaf ears and young livers. What this had to do with microbes I can't recall, but Teachers from time immemorial have never been able to resist foisting 'wisdom' on their impressionable students which they feel is lacking in young minds and hearts. One particular Prof comment has stayed with me: "Men with hairy chests are less likely to contract cirrhosis of the liver than their brethren scant of chest hair". The class dutifully laughed and some quickly checked their attributes. At the time I didn't take the comment seriously and as the Prof offered no references to support his pronouncement I was inclined to treat it with mild jocular disdain. Now all this would be just a footnote in my timeline if it wasn't for something which occurred last week while trawling through the net.

Due to my training and natural inclination I am not someone who usually takes information, especially if obtained from the net, as dripping in verity. Tis always best to go back to the original study or hopefully studies which provide data and support for the assertion. The site I was browsing is not particularly renowned for imparting unimpeachable knowledge so I rarely take its contents too seriously. I usually go there for casual amusement and to find ideas for my writing. Anyway, what piqued my interest was the following unsupported comment: Men with hair on their chests are less likely to get cirrhosis of the liver than bare-chested men are. Perhaps my old teetotal Prof was on to something or could it be no more than a medical urban legend? As typical for this site no references were given. This would require a bit of digging.

It didn't take long to come up with a primary source. During the 1950s and 60s an American liver specialist, Dr Mitchell Spellberg, conducted research into the connection between hirsutism and liver disease. In May 1961 the good doctor attended the 62nd annual meeting of the American Gastroenterological association in Chicago. During the meeting he held a press conference to alert the public to the association between lack of a hairy chest and liver disease and to warn men less endowed to limit their alcohol consumption. To quote the good doctor: "The bushy chested individual is probably endowed with more protection against alcohol than his bare chested brother." I Couldn't help think that there was a good dollop of old fashioned morality preaching going on here- that doesn't mean the doc was wrong in his assertion though. 

Certainly by the 1960s there was 'evidence' for a link between liver disease and a lack of a hairy chest. But as all good scientists should know, correlation is not necessarily causation. Correlation is a very pesky fellow and should be treated with circumspection. For instance, could it be that liver disease results in hair loss? Mayhap the data is flawed in some way; was the study a good one adhering to sound scientific principles; was there any conscious or unconscious bias involved. The opposite is also true: If you treat everything with total scepticism, you learn nothing but how to sneer. Good science is, and should always be, bloody hard work.  

There have been studies conducted subsequent to Dr Spellberg's initial work of varying quality (see below). My tentative interpretation is that there might be something going on but I suspend final judgement pending new studies; not exactly clear cut but thought provoking nonetheless. If we are looking at a real phenomenon how could it be mediated? One possible suspect is the male hormone testosterone. Hormones can play an important role in disease, especially cancer. Testosterone levels have been shown to influence chest hair growth and alcohol processing in the liver. It has been suggested that men with less testosterone degrade alcohol less efficiently than men with higher testosterone levels. I must emphasise that there is no hard evidence for this and the idea, for now, remains a hypothesis. 

It will come as no surprise that I enjoy the odd tipple. Also I have very little chest hair, just a few wispy strands which I comb over to hide my unsightly third nipple. Am I therefore at significant risk of developing cirrhosis? I don't think so- my drinking is not that profound and any increase in risk is likely to be low. Cirrhosis is not a particularly common disease despite what your doctor might say. I'm much more likely to succumb to cancer or maybe heart disease as I have raised cholesterol. I'll be buggered if I'll change my lifestyle. I enjoy life and all the good things therein. I don't believe in an afterlife and intend to continue to live my life as if tomorrow will be my last sunrise. 

But don't take my word for it. Check out the primary sources yourself if you have the time or inclination. This list is not exhaustive and only contains the papers which I could be bothered to read. 

1. Gibbons, R (May 27, 1961). "Bare-Chested Males Advised: Don't Drink." Chicago Daily Tribune: 8.
2. Grace, WJ, et al. (1962). Chest Hair and Cirrhosis of the Liver. American Journal of Digestive Diseases, 7(10): 913-914.
3. Kumar, N & Anand, BS (May 1998). Premorbid Hair Growth over the Trunk and Severity of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 43(5): 1111-1115.
4. Selzer, R (1976). Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery. Harcourt.
5. Saxon, F & Mugumbo, I (June 2016). Alcohol consumption and the link with talking complete bollocks. Tipton Journal of Difficult Shit and Stuff, 23 (8): 126-129.



Wednesday 25 May 2016

Flaxen's thought of the day.........

Animals taste good

To be frank I'm inclined to move the line two fauna to the left. Most Orientals don't have a distinction. We in the soft West should take note. I suppose this advert is designed to concentrate our minds on the ethical issues involved in eating meat. I get it. Animals are sentient beasts and cute. Most folk are not concerned with the butchery and are therefore divorced from the killing. Everything comes in nice vacuum packs conveniently placed in the fridge in the local 'Val U Like'.
It has been a long time since I hunted rabbit with Gramps and his ferret, 'Shagger'. Wild rabbit added extra free protein to a poor family's diet. And guess what: I enjoyed the hunt and rabbits are easily dispatched and roasted.    

Friday 20 May 2016

Trumped at the Polls

Billions of dollars- so what's going on with the hair?
I rarely comment on politics directly. For the most part the whole charade bores me and leaves me cold. Occasionally I might offer up simple parody, but that is as far as it goes. Therefore, it will no doubt surprise my readers to learn that I’m about to plunge into the murky waters which drench American domestic politics. In truth, much of what I have to say should be classified under social rather than political commentary. Don’t worry folks, I’m only dipping in my big toe and then only to the first knuckle. The water is way too frigid for a simple Tipton lad, Brrrrrrrr. I usually leave informed political commentary to blog hosts such as my good mate, Dioclese et al who specialise in exposing the wretchedness of those who deign to serve. Barely without exception, politicians are a conniving bunch of self serving bastards.

First a general comment: From what I can see the only attribute absolutely required to put forth as an American presidential candidate is wealth. Poor folk need not apply. There is nothing intrinsically shocking about this. Western politicians who aspire to ‘rule their country’ are invariably wealthy, even self-confessed socialists. Hypocrisy has never been an impediment to a successful political career. It helps to be educated, experienced and smart as well though. I’ll go as far to state that Western democracies recruit potential leaders from the reservoir of seasoned, experienced politicians of some rank. Even the Americans have followed this model until now. Trump has proved the exception. Just like love, money conquers all.

Donald Trump’s foray into the political scene last summer elicited almost universal contempt from commentators left and right of the political spectrum. He was seen as a joke. Political pundits, and those who like to talk loud in restaurants, gave him scant regard. Trump’s political inexperience and his lack of coherent policy lent support to his ‘none-serious’ status. It seemed as though he would rank as no more than a footnote in American history and a lesson on how the American system, although not perfect, is not without a self righting mechanism to correct for idiosyncratic, and non-conformist candidates. But Trump did not go away and seemed to thrive on a wave of popular support. There are many in the American electorate, especially on the left who loathe Trump. However, Trump’s support derives from middle conservative America. The grass roots seem to warm to his no nonsense, no substance, style. Trump appears to speak as many Americans think, especially on grand issues such as immigration.

I don’t like Trump. He is an egotistic and arrogant caricature. Trump is a great clown of a man; a demagogue in the ancient Greek tradition. But it is his arrogance and ego that makes him a politician. However, this is where he leaves the fold. ‘Good’ politicians, and I don’t mean good in any moral objective sense, have a knack of couching their opinions and policies in coded rhetoric. A sort of standard ‘politic speak’ which obscures, deceives and places a positive spin on every word which drips from their posturing mouths. Tis quite a skill, usually honed through many years of wrangling and manoeuvring through the political minefield. And here comes Trump with his foot in the mouth, with his unpolished utterance and appeal to gut politics. Many gaffs make the man. His coarse approach, whilst inviting comic derision from the educated left, has struck a chord with a great swathe of Americans. I wonder when we will see imitators.

A note of panic in the leftist media is becoming apparent as it now appears likely that Trump will end up as the Republican nominee. Ivory tower polemicists, from both ends of the political spectrum, may agree amongst themselves but are completely out of touch with the viewing public who remain forever beyond their understanding. And let us not forget that the process has become a circus- a great arena for our entertainment but not edification. The electorate (this goes for all Western democracies) are sick and tired of politicians who promise all and deliver fuck all. The electorate have become weary and cynical. They want their politicians to dance for them and sweat. And what better way to do this than endorse the none-politician, politician. You could argue that they hold hands with the Devil and if not careful may end up with the man as President. Most won’t care. America will trundle on regardless of the incumbent, pushed by domestic and international forces beyond rational control. Perhaps as President, Trump will become circumspect and conform to the established political norm. No doubt promises will be made but never kept and the lot of the jaundiced majority will remain, more or less, unchanged.

Dat’s democracy folks……


Thursday 19 May 2016

Self indulgent bastard

There is a strain/stain in society which delights in coming up with convoluted and contrived names for their offspring. Kids are named after their parent’s favourite character from their much loved day-time soap: 'The fat and the feckless'. Names such as ‘Chardonnay’ and ‘Vegas’ come readily to mind.
I have a thing about children’s names and work in an environment which panders to my quirks and foibles. During the working period I’m exposed to numerous kiddy names and can attest to the rise of unconventional monikers. I ponder on the imponderable and consider the unimaginable. Given my target population: children with developmental issues- could it be possible or even probable that children with intellectual problems are prone to being lumbered with strange names? This of course begs the question of what constitutes a strange name. Formal definitions do not exist, but amongst the enlightened and comfortably smug, formality is not required; let us snigger amongst ourselves. I’ve dealt elsewhere with the anecdotal and jocular correlation of bizarre names with cognitive deficit. As an aside, cognitive deficit is the PC term for the blithely uttered, ‘mongers’. We are not supposed to use the word, ‘monger,’ these days as it is too descriptive of the problem. Of course, ‘bad names’ ultimately indict the parents. And if parents exhibit poor decisions concerning baby names how does this reflect on their wider life choices? Poor choices which impact on their already sorrowful, maladjusted lives. How much incomprehension and unpleasantness can be endured?
Am I starting to sound elitist? If I come across like that it is because I am. Elitist in a way that only someone separated from ‘poor white trash’ by a generation can be. It concentrates the contrast and contradiction wonderfully and imparts a degree of relief that the multi-generation middle-class can never fully comprehend. I am only an education away from being the proud owner of a mullet or bloater, depending on how you look at it. And if you think I’m labouring under a misguided sense of inferiority/insecurity, be assured, this is not the case. Arse.

C'mon, you gotta admit- I'd look sexy


Sunday 15 May 2016

Hair today, gone........

O you cunning Devil

Not everyone can be blessed with a generous mop of hair like your gracious blog host. Going bald to some degree is the lot for the majority of men as they age. Blame it on genetics and that pesky male hormone, testosterone. Most men embrace their baldness with dignity and either shave their head completely or endure a functional hairstyle in keeping with their follicularly challenged status. Not everyone goes graciously and a few will attempt to mask their bald spot with tricho-gymnastics. The dreaded comb over is often the result. Hair whipped up from the back and sides straddle a bald pate to form an unholy abomination. Sadly efforts to conceal baldness only serve to bring attention to the very thing which bald men would like to conceal. Daft buggers.

Back in the 80s a good friend of mine was the recipient of typical male pattern baldness. He was also a very vain fellow and decided on the hair transplant solution. Off he went to a prestigious clinic in London and after handing over ridiculous amounts of cash he became the proud owner of two lines of hair plugs placed in regular array across his ill-favoured bonce. All this was reminiscent of a sapling plantation after a hurricane. If he thought he could hide the procedure from the viewing public he hadn't accounted for the swelling. The front of his head swelled mightily and bossed out like a 'bossing out' kind of thing.

Anyway, his close friends were totally unaware of the procedure, so when he turned up at the local pub sprouting half a melon atop his noodle he caused some consternation especially as he didn't explain the phenomenon and acted as if all was fine and dandy. Of course, his friends stared but said nowt. Inevitably our friend had to go for a pee and as he left my mate turned to me and whispered: "Dolphin head". Hence forth, and in polite circles, he was known as 'Flipper'. Eventually, after a few beers we managed to coax the story out of a very sheepish and very drunk mate. He hadn't fully appreciated the side effects from the procedure and had been told by the clinic receptionist (what, no doctor?) that there might be the possibility of some minor swelling. Understandably the esteemed clinic forgot to mention that he might turn into Frankenstein's monster after a heavy head banging session.

"What's that Flipper? Little Johnny has got his cock jammed in the spa pool's jets, again."

Our poor friend related how he had been walking the dog earlier in the day and had come across a woman on the forest path. Her reaction on confronting 'Flipper' was one of shock and awe. Luckily my quick-witted friend managed to blurt out: "It's okay, I've just had a brain operation." Her verbal response will be forever lost as everyone in ear-shot collapsed in paroxysms of merriment. There wasn't a dry eye, or seat, in the pub.

As for the transplant hiding his bald spot- sadly it did no such thing. The sprouting 'thingys' looked totally artificial and fooled no one. Eventually, our poor friend was reduced to combing his hair forward to hide the plugs of despair. Such is vanity!

                                                           Don't try this at home, folks

Thursday 12 May 2016

Pascal's Gambit

Idiot Savant

There have been a number of attempts to argue for the existence of god from the standpoint of reason. Many of these arguments have a long history and most would have been familiar, at least in principle, to the ancient Greek philosophers. As you might expect, there is a wide diversity in philosophical sophistication amongst the various attempts. Some are blatantly silly and some try to confuse with mind numbing, begoggling (is this a real word?) sophistry. There is much redundancy and arguments current two thousand years ago have been repackaged and labelled for the modern mind and audience.

Thoughtful Christians have seen through the sham that is 'faith'. To believe anything on faith is to believe in a concept in the absence of evidence. Often faith is considered a positive virtue of which the possessor should be proud. However, faith stands in opposition to reason and offers no rational basis for belief. Indeed, on the basis of faith, you can convince yourself of anything, no matter how implausible the notion. Theologians crave intellectual respectability and are driven to find coherent and logical explanations for the existence of god. Many theologians consider theology as a legitimate branch of philosophy. I disagree. Good philosophy should be about following logical reasoning to uncover the truth, no matter how unpalatable or counter-intuitive the conclusion; the destination should be unknown. Theology already knows the answer and therefore argues back from the dogmatic conclusion to find the strands of 'evidence' for its conclusion. This is not philosophy as I know it.

Often explanations are proposed as logical or appealing to the intellect when they do no such thing. A particularly good example of this approach is 'Pascal's Wager'. Blaise Pascal, the eminent 17th French philosopher, mathematician and scientist formulated a rather cynical appeal to self-interest. The wager masquerades as a petition to reason, but is actually a cunning appeal to psychology and to the psychology of intimidation, at that. But let us not be beguiled by the scientific credentials of the proposer. In this spirit let us consider a brief overview of Pascal's original argument. 

1. Pascal asserts that god's existence or non-existence cannot be determined by
2. Therefore, it follows that the wise thing to do is to live as though god exists.
3. If god exists you have everything to gain: entry to everlasting life.
4. If god does not exist you have lost nothing.
5. However, if god does exists and you do not believe you lose everything and enter
6. So, if we consider the two options, the rational choice is to believe. Perhaps living
as if in faith may actually lead to true belief, eventually.

Firstly the assertion that reason cannot distinguish between theism and atheism is plainly false. The onus of proof lies with the believer, not with the unbeliever. If god cannot be rationally demonstrated then atheism wins by default.

The 'wager' is a thin disguised attempt at browbeating and frightening the participant: Believe in god, or else. This is morally repellent and indefensible.

Although not explicitly stated, Pascal is referring/deferring to the Christian god and specifically the Christian god of Catholicism. This follows from Pascal’s upbringing and cultural milieu. If he had been raised a Muslim he would have been referring to Allah. Humans, over their history and pre-history, have worshiped a bewildering showcase of gods. This neatly brings me to an important point. Assuming that a very large number of gods have been revered and if we are to accept the principle that they are mutually exclusive, then the possibility of choosing the ‘right god’ is going to be of utmost importance but virtually impossible (tis a matter of simple probability). Therefore, it is unlikely that we would adhere to the right deity thus securing the enmity of the one true god(s) whoever that might be.

An important attribute of many gods and especially the Abrahamic gods is their empowerment and the attribute of omniscience. In other words, they know everything about everything. Thus, it would be impossible to hide your true beliefs from such a god and your cynical sham attempt to fool an 'all knowing' god would be to no avail. Insincerity is no doubt a cardinal sin and therefore will earn you a one-way ticket to the 'hot place'. Granted, lesser gods such as Zeus and Woden may not be so talented. Choose your god wisely. Pick a lesser deity and you might get away with it, perhaps.

There are other objections to Pascal's Wager but I'll not belabour the point. It is a terrible argument and hardly worth the intellectual effort required to refute it. Educated Christians are aware of the proposal's obvious flaws and it is rarely trotted out as a serious proposition except in instances of extreme desperation or frank stupidity. But then Christians, especially of the fundamentalist variety, can be very, very, dim.

Sunday 8 May 2016

The Human Pin Cushion

Dat gotta hurt

Would you consider acupuncture an alternative medical therapy or would you lump it with mainstream medicine? I ask because 50% of British General Medical Practitioners are of the professional opinion that acupuncture is an effective treatment for a host of conditions and consequently are willing to refer patients to registered acupuncture practitioners, ultimately at the tax payer's expense. In fact, it is estimated that the British government spends £25 million a year on acupuncture treatments alone

Of all the alternative therapies acupuncture is endowed with the most credibility amongst health professionals and lay folk alike. Doctors who are happy to send patients to an acupuncturist would baulk doing the same if a crystal healer was involved. And yet when we examine the respective empirical evidence both 'therapies' are found wanting (see later discussion). So why does acupuncture deserve its status as the king of alternative medicine? There are several reasons for this spurious exalted status : Acupuncture has an ancient pedigree. Acupuncture has been practised by the Chinese for at least two millennia. Age imparts respectability on almost anything especially if you don't think too hard and allow intellectual laziness to feed complacency. There is a physical intervention: Sticking needles into flesh may have a mechanistic effect that meditating/medicating on crystals can never have. This is even true if the underlying so-called 'theory' underpinning acupuncture is complete bollocks. Just because the ancients were unaware of scientific principles and made up stuff based on primitive animistic principles doesn't necessarily make the practice invalid. Mayhap the medical elders discovered an effective therapy based solely on a long evolved trial and error process. Initially, Western medicine came about this way; science came limping after, but with distingused aplomb.

Acupuncture: Theatrical placebo with sharp objects

So here is the news: There have been more than 3,000 scientific studies conducted into acupuncture since the 1970s. Most were performed according to the 'double blind trial' methodology. This represents the gold-standard to determine the efficacy of a treatment or drug. In essence, the study group is divided into two. One group receives the treatment while the second group receives a sham treatment or placebo. Neither the patients or researchers conducting the trial are aware who is receiving the treatment or placebo. And herein lies the power of the technique. In this way subjective, often unconscious, bias is removed as a factor. Some of the better studies have involved 'meta-analysis'. The data from good and separate studies are combined thus allowing conclusions to made based on a large number of participants. In 2009, a meta-analysis combining 13 trials and involving over 3,000 patients was published in the British Medical Journal. The authors concluded: "A small analgesic effect of acupuncture was found, which seems to lack clinical relevance and cannot be clearly distinguished from bias. Whether needling at acupuncture points, or at any site, reduces pain independently of the psychological impact of the treatment ritual is unclear." At best acupuncture is about as useful as taking half an Aspirin, at worst it has no therapeutic benefit whatsoever. As for other claims made for acupuncture, that is a valid treatment for depression, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, epilepsy, insomnia, carpal tunnel syndrome, smoking cessation, stroke rehabilitation, Bell's palsy and any other medical condition which ails mankind, there is absolutely no evidence for its efficacy.

I suspect acupuncture will remain popular with the public. There will always be folk who attest to its effectiveness. The power of suggestion and the placebo effect can work wonders if you let it. And let us not forget the phenomenon of 'regression to the mean' (post hoc ergo propter hoc), or in prosaic terms: illnesses have a way of getting better regardless of medical intervention. Our psychological makeup is such that we are happy to ascribe a cure to a preceding treatment, even though it may have played no part in the healing process.

You may ask what is the problem? If patients are happy to receive the treatment, especially if it is endorsed by their doctor, then at worst no harm will occur. However, it could be argued that the £25 million squandered every year would be better spent on proven and effective treatments. A cash-strapped NHS should take heed. Some see it as the thin end of the wedge and a gateway to the introduction of equally useless, 'alternative therapies'. Ultimately it is down to education. Information concerning the ineffectiveness of acupuncture and other alternative therapies should not only be disseminated to health professions it also needs to be impressed upon the general public. Tis all about data-driven evidence-based medicine. Conventional medicine is subject to immense scientific scrutiny and rightly so. Alternative therapies have a knack for circumventing rigorous process. Research into alternative therapies wastes valuable research time and money. After 3,000 studies, we shouldn't be saying: "Further research is required." We should be saying, "Enough is enough" and consequently moving diminishing research resources into more fruitful areas of medical endeavour.

Is it medically ethical to prescribe placebo?

My own doctor is an avid fan of acupuncture and suggested that my wife seek the services of an acupuncturist for her long-standing rheumatoid arthritis. I was present during the consultation and challenged the medical validity of the ‘therapy’. The doc had unwittingly strayed into an area in which I have some expertise. I expressed some concern that the so-called treatment could not be backed up with evidence-based data and that the numerous trials and investigations had not conclusively shown acupuncture's efficacy for treating anything. I think she was taken aback and was happy to fall on anecdotal evidence from her patient’s experience. I pointed out that this did not constitute objective evidence and did not take into account the subjective influence of the placebo effect and that is why it is crucial we engage in well-designed double blind trials to get to grips with the phenomenon if any. I learnt that day that doctors are not happy when their professional judgement is taken to task. Indeed, she became uncharacteristically flustered and could not articulate a valid response. My relationship with my doctor changed that day. Still, I see her seldom and she is still a good all-round competent generalist and a first class referrer to specialist care when required. And that is all you should ask from your GP.

Thursday 5 May 2016

Flaxen the Estate Agent: The wander years

Brain the size of a planet

Recapitulation: No doubt you will recall the adventures of Flaxen, erstwhile king of the Tipton Saxons and his Canine/Lupine companion, Loki/Bubbles. For those on the edge of sanity or bereft of the luxury of a long term memory I recommend you slake your thirst for knowledge, thusly and in this order: Arse 1Arse 2Arse 3; Arse 4 

"Please take a seat" droned Professor Hawking with metallic precision. Flaxen eyed the wretched Scraeling with his one good eye. Bubbles the Halfling wolf/Maltese terrier emitted a low growl and bared a pitiless maw of ragged, diamante encrusted, yellow teeth. A distinct 'parp' emitted from the good professor's posterior and a waft of fetid wind gushed into the room. Saxon ejaculated: ''By Woden's staff, has a festering rat crawled into your nether regions and died''? Bubbles staggered as if in a reverie. His protruding orbs rolled upward and he buckled on legs no longer under his volition. With legs akimbo the poor hound rolled mightily onto his back and lay still except for a slight, almost inaudible, whimper which barely passed his rime encrusted jaw. The professor's countenance remained unchanged although Flaxen did note that the scapegrace's breathing had become laboured.

"We are here to discuss the grand unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics, intoned the tetraplegic with the understandably hypotonic anal sphincter. Tis the culmination of my life's work as a theoretical physicist and I have chosen you to help me in this most difficult endeavour. When I achieve the Nobel prize you will be lauded as no other man and Brad Pitt will play your role in the inevitable movie follow-up. All proceeds from the subsequent merchandising will remain mine, however."

Flaxen pondered deeply and his brow cracked into a thousand furrows. What say this twitching wrecked shell of a man and had he fully comprehended all the commercial opportunities following from the intellectual property rights? And that Chris Hemsworth fellow would be a more suitable thespian to represent the ruggedly blond Flaxen. 

Just then, Bubbles stirred, shook his head and advanced upon the scientific prodigy.

The Professor expressed concern but you would never guess from his robotic response. "Why is your dog eating my toes?"

"Bubbles has not yet broken his fast and requires sustenance. It seems to me that you no longer have a use for said appendage. Worry not Skraeling he will eat no more than his fill."

"Nonetheless, it disturbs my equilibrium and is making an unholy stain on the expensive shag pile."

"Desist Bubbles, but not before excising those ragged tendons."

Bubbles reluctantly did his master's bidding and after tidying up the ragged edges of the wound retreated into a dank corner to savour his truncated repast.

"At last, we can pontificate on the grandeur of the cosmos according to me and concentrate on how brilliant and clever I am. Now student pander to my vanity by encapsulating my unified theories on yonder blackboard."

Flaxen came to his feet and lumbered unto the blackboard and began to sketch his conception of the cosmos as only a 9th-century rude barbarian could. First, he drew a flat disk supported on the shoulders of two frost giants. The sun chariot was driven across the firmament by the giant Sol who was eternally pursued by the wolves Hati and Skoll.

The good Professor would have expressed facial surprise but he could not and continued to grimace in a fixed rigor.

Flaxen was satisfied with his work as it was a fair representation of his world. He turned to the man with the broken body in the chair of iron and intoned: "Tis time to enter the realm of the dead, Skraeling." Flaxen began to gather books from the Prof's voluminous collection and bestrew them around the wheelchair until they formed a funeral pyre. A little judicious application of the Prof's finest Scotch provided the accelerant. A flaming brand carelessly fomented a conflagration. The Prof's monotone voice gave no clue to his incipient panic. "Why do you destroy the greatest mind since Einstein?" Flaxen replied: "What is sagacity without the ability to heft an axe; what is sapience when you can't hold a lusty wench in your arms and whence is wisdom without the capacity to drink a horn of mead in one quaff. I do you a service Scraeling." The flames licked about the Prof and no one could hear the silent scream, except the computer.

"C'mon Bubbles, tis time to break our fast. Let us tarry no longer but find the nearest fast food outlet for a sumptuous repast. The 'Big Kak' is on me." The Halfling wagged his tail furiously and barked with evident relish.

To be continued, if Woden allows.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Bali Belly

I’m sure it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the regulars that there has been a dearth of posts since my return from the island of Bali. This is due, in the most part, to my affliction of ‘Bali Belly’. I suppose it is inevitable that at some stage into your holiday in South-East Asia you will be cursed with 'intestinal rumbles' no matter how meticulous about food selection you have been. It started three days before the end of my holiday; nothing too sinister at first. The main symptom was frequent toilet visits. Basically, I was squatting and squitting about twenty times a day. The world literally fell out of my arse. Of course, this limited my activities and the last two days were spent in the hotel complex due to the need for rapid toilet access. Apart from that, I had the occasional abdominal cramp but no nausea although my appetite waned to zero and I started to shed weight. Many would welcome this side effect however, I am already lean and by the time I got home to New Zealand I was looking decidedly gaunt. Once home I still suffered from diarrhoea but not as bad as it been and nothing serious enough to prevent my return to work. The appetite was still a problem and I was eating very little. Then  about a week ago I felt fine, much to my relief. But if I thought the dreaded malady had relinquished its grip on my lower intestines I was in for a shock. Over the last two days, the symptoms have returned. I haven’t seen the doc, basically because I have to be on death’s door to relinquish the $60 fee to visit the GP: "First sign of death and I'm off to the doctor". I'm very reluctant to shed money as I'm as tight as a gnat's chuff.

Three of our party of four suffered a similar fate. Only my wife was spared due to her antibiotic medication for a septic toe. Not quite sure whether I've been infected with a frank pathogen or whether my gut was adapting to the local bacterial flora- only time will tell. My son, Flaxen Saxon Jnr, has promised to take over the blog in the event of my demise.

Arse, big sore, arse!