Friday, December 28, 2007

Doggie Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one of those things that people swear by. It is also one of those things for which it is virtually impossible to design a proper double blind study. People tend to know when they are getting stuck with needles, and the people who are sticking them know, too. Scientific studies have never shown acupuncture to be effective against any physical disease; it has only been shown that it may work for things like pain and nausea where the power of suggestion can affect people's perceptions. Sticking needles in people also probably does trigger the release of endorphins, although I can think of less intrusive ways to do that. Many acupuncture studies show that "sham" acupuncture, where the needles don't penetrate the skin do just as well as real acupuncture. The benefits are no better than the placebo effect. I'm not even going to go into the metaphysical Qi bullshit.

I got this information from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website: "The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used." Well, there's a relief. I was really worried about people using toxic needles. However, "when not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects, including infections and punctured organs." I think I'll opt for the sham procedure. May I be in the control group, please? I bet if a sham acupuncture clinic opened, it would have people who would swear by that, too. Maybe I'll open one. Unfortunately, I'm sure my skepticism would show, and of course it wouldn't work. I would have to believe! to properly convince others.

Archie McPhee sells a dog acupuncture model, and if Archie McPhee sells it, it must work! They are well known as a place to get air fresheners that smell like steak, gummy tapeworms, and devil rubber duckies. They also have acupuncture models for cows, cats, and pigs. What about rabbits, I wonder? And what if you have a pug instead of a German shepherd? The pug is just SOL, I guess. By the way, I also found this model being sold on real veterinary medical supply sites.

I know someone with a PhD who actually takes his elderly dog to a "holistic" vet to get acupuncture. He swears that the dog feels better afterward. Hmm. How about THIS scenario instead:

The dog is a little stiff getting up (he is 14 after all). The person says to the dog,"Oh, poor Bowser (not his real name). Do you feel bad?" Bowser, being a border collie, is not stupid and knows how to get sympathy. He looks sad, and in doggie body language says, "Oh, yes. I feel bad. :-(," and possibly starts limping or just walking stiffly. He probably really is somewhat stiff. So he gets more sympathy.

Side note: When my parents were first married, they had a border collie who cut his foot badly on a piece of glass. For YEARS afterward, all you had to say was,"Gammon, how's your poor paw?" and Gammon would look sad and start limping - just to get sympathy - because it was obvious that his paw didn't hurt at all anymore. I think he eventually even forgot which paw was supposed to be sore and limped on the wrong one occasionally.
When the person takes this dog to get acupuncture, Bowser is petted and made a fuss of, and when he comes out, the owner says (in an excited voice),"Bowser! Do you feel better??" and of course Bowser is going to get excited and his body language will say,"Yes! I feel so much better!" Wag, wag, wriggle. As would any dog who wants to please. He just got a trip in the car and a good pet.

Border collies are smart, but I'm sure most dogs can bamboozle their owners. And human charlatans are always more than willing to fleece people who love their pets.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Twister or Les?

This is Twister the One-eyed Wonder Horse relaxing in a patch of sun in his paddock. He has a huge cataract and is essentially blind in the one eye he has. Yes, that is a bandage on his hock. If you look carefully, you can see a matching purple and white one on his right hind leg. He usually has at least one bandage somewhere on his person (or horse). He's sort of like the Les Nessman of the horse world.

This most recent bandage is due to a wound that won't heal. It has been 5 months now, and it is very close, but not quite there. He somehow managed to grind gravel into a bedsore on his hock, probably during his second favourite activity - rolling (his favourite, of course, is eating). It got very nasty very quickly, so here we are months of bandaging, 6 weeks in a long-term care facility, and many many 100s of dollars later. The purple bandage is the real one. The white bandage is actually more of a preventative measure. I can't afford to do this again.

Supposedly he's an American Quarter Horse. He's about 16 hands at the whithers; luckily they don't measure at the lowest point on his back. He originally belonged to my son, but my son became more interested in girls than horses and officially "gave" Twister to me a couple of years ago. Twister is only 23, but is officially retired now due to numerous foot and behavioral problems. He's lucky he's so cute.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Landover Baptist Church

Months ago, I did a search for 'atheist' on the internet, and I found this site: How to Spot Atheists and Report them to the FBI.

The Landover Baptist website (where the worthwhile worship and the unsaved are unwelcome) is way more than a little over-the-top, but I have to check it out every month or two--sort of like a train wreck. My second favourite article so far was: In a surprise move, God snuffs out Jerry Falwell after a heart healthy breakfast!

What constantly amazes me is their mailbag. Even though when sending them an e-mail, it clearly states that it is the Landover Baptist Parody Website, people STILL take them seriously, and write some pretty scary letters.

Oh, and the way things are going in this country, that "spotting atheists" thing could come true in the not too distant future... No, I don't really believe that, but before they ship us all off to concentration camps, I'm moving back to England. After all, the first President Bush believes that atheists should not be regarded as citizens, anyway. I didn't know this when I got my citizenship, or I might have had second thoughts. Goodness knows what the current President Bush thinks. My husband, unfortunately had no choice. He was born in Texas. Shhh. Don't tell the FBI.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Random quizzes

I put this up, then took it down because I didn't feel it was really relevant to the blog, but I had TWO people ask me what happened to it. I didn't realize I actually HAD two back by popular demand:
Hmm. I don't know if 60% can be considered "a lot"

You Know a Lot About Christmas

You got 6/10 correct

You know tons about the history and traditions surrounding Christmas.
When you celebrate the holidays, you never forget their true meaning - or all the little fun details.

Random Christmas fact: 7% of mall Santas were found to have a criminal background.
How Much Do You Know About Christmas?

Wow! How did they know I'm a fishy person? It couldn't possibly have been that I skewed my answers.

You Are Fish

You have a well formed palate and a daring appetite. If it's served to you, you'll at least try it.
People are pretty scared of your exotic ways. But once they get a taste of you, they're addicted!

But I was glad to know I'll live to be 70. Because I'm pretty average.

You Will Die at Age 70

You're pretty average when it comes to how you live...
And how you'll die as well.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Geologic time scale

I'm not sure that a lot of people understand the incredible amount of time available for the process of natural selection (especially those that think that the Earth is only 6000 years old). The Earth is around 4.5 billion years old, and life began roughly 3.6 billion years ago. That is billion with a 'B.' Ten to the power of 9 (at least here in the US). One thousand million. The fact that the current US national debt is 9 trillion probably doesn't help the general comprehension level. Here is what one billion pennies would look like. I got this from the MegaPenny Project website:

It would take up the space of 5 school buses. Life has been around for at least 18 school buses.

This gives natural selection--the non-random selection of random mutations--an enormous amount of time to occur. If a mutation only has the extremely small one-in-a-million chance of happening in any one year, given a million years it is a virtual certainty. Alternately, if it has a one-in-a-million chance of occurring in any one individual, given a population of a million individuals it is bound to occur in at least one (thanks to Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson for those examples). Mutation rates can be much, much faster than that. Beneficial mutations tend to be passed on to offspring, and disadvantageous mutations tend to be weeded out.

Creationists insist that evolution is all chance, and that nothing as complex as X (where X=eye, hand, feather, etc.) could evolve by chance. Natural selection is the opposite of chance. The mutations are chance; the selection is not. The cumulative effects of the non-random selection over this huge amount of time allows the gradual (and sometimes not so gradual) increase in complexity eventually evolving such things as eyes.

As Linus Pauling said, "Science is the search for truth." Unfortunately, he then went on to write rubbish about the benefits of Vitamin C for preventing colds, but that's another blog entry. He was right about science being the search for truth, though.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ski Hypocrite

I went skiing today for the first time this season, and yes, again I'm a hypocrite. I love downhill skiing. I know that ski resorts clear-cut huge areas of forest for ski runs, buildings and parking areas, and negatively affect the watershed numerous ways. As a freshwater aquatic ecologist, I am very concerned about the state of the watershed, and I generally ski in an exceptionally fragile environment--the Lake Tahoe basin. These days ski resorts even use a lot of water making snow--is this really a beneficial use of water in states as arid as California and Nevada? When I'm skiing down a freshly groomed slope really early in the season I say YES! (so does the California Water Resources Control Board who gave the ski resorts water rights for this back in the 80s)

But then I get up on top of the mountain, and I have what is probably the closest thing to a religious experience I'll ever have. Looking out at the Sierra Nevada mountains and especially down at Lake Tahoe is so incredibly beautiful. Sometimes I'll be concentrating on skiing, and look up and just have to stop to look at the view. Here is a picture of me with my son taken a couple of years ago at Heavenly Resort in South Lake Tahoe. It looks like a backdrop behind us, but we are really at about 9500 feet near the top of Heavenly.

I started skiing at 36, so I'll never be very good, but when I put skis on, I felt as though I was born to ski. I just got tired of sitting in the lodge while my son and his friends were all out having a good time snowboarding. I had had a lot of experience on a slalom water ski when I was younger because I married into a water skiing family, and I had done some cross country skiing in Indiana, so I wasn't completely unfamiliar with large boards attached to my feet. My brother has since started to ski also.

I now at least am not a helmet hypocrite. I have made my son wear one all along (he is a snowboarder, after all), but I have my own now. I have been run over or had close calls, mainly with snowboarders, one too many times. My son is not one of the idiot snowboarders, of course.

If you are in South Lake Tahoe and feel like a really good hamburger, I highly recommend Izzy's Burger Spa. I had the Bonsai Burger (teriyaki and pineapple). If I don't watch it, I won't fit into my new snow pants for long.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Pope Benedict

Ok, my father sent me this link from the BBC that really "chaps my hide." It states that Pope Benedict has attacked atheism in his latest encyclical. The Pope says atheism is responsible for some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history. Apparently, he has decided to completely ignore the Crusades, the Inquisition, much conquering, enslavement and murder of new-world Indians, and the Roman Catholic Croatian massacre of Serbs (Orthodox Christians), Jews, gypsies, and Communists during WWII. Maybe he just means more recent history. Oh, wait. Apparently he doesn't consider the molestation of children by men they were taught to trust from infancy cruel OR a violation of justice. Maybe that explains why the Catholic church covered it up for as long as possible.

And those are only the Roman Catholic church. I won't even go into Catholics and Protestants killing each other or things that have been done in the name of other Christian denominations (of course many Christian fundamentalists don't consider Catholics to be Christians).

Alternately, I would like the Pope to name ANY cruelty or violation of justice caused by atheism.

Click here to view the actual encyclycal (in English).
Now I can't get Mel Brook's song, The Inquisition out of my head...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I'm a hypocrite

I'm a hypocrite. So sue me. I love Christmas. I love the lights, the colors, the festive decorations, the fact that I have an excuse to give presents to people (although I always feel a little uncomfortable receiving them), the colder temperatures (in the temperate regions of this hemisphere, anyway), the cheeriness of people; I even like that my birthday is just a few days before Christmas.

Christmas music is some of my favorite music. My band just had a "Holiday" concert, in which most of the repertoir had the word Christmas in the title (at least we worked in the Dradle Song last year). We always play a couple of my favourites including The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) by Mel Torme and my favourite seasonal song of all time--Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson. We don't do it quite as well as Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, but we do it pretty darn well for a community band.

I very much doubt that a man who may or may not have existed was born that day, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the season. I also like the fact that the winter solstice is very close to Christmas (coincidence? I think not), and the days start getting longer from then out.

Monday, December 3, 2007

I just don't understand

I just don't understand why people feel the need to believe in some sort of higher power when we've got such an amazing natural explanation for life on Earth.

Most people on Earth used to believe that the Sun, moon and stars revolved around the Earth. Now, most people don't seem to have a problem believing that the Earth is a tiny speck orbiting a relatively average sized star which is hurtling along on the inside edge of one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. There is strong evidence for these theories.

Up until very recently, most people believed that the continents were static and had always been where they are now. It was suggested in the late 1500's that they might have once been joined, but it was generally considered "just a coincidence" that they looked as though they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Since the mid 1900's, most people understand that the continents were once one, and have split and moved apart or crashed into each other over billions of years, and are in fact still moving. There is strong evidence for the theory of plate tectonics.

I understand that evolution is threatening to a lot of people's religious beliefs, but the evidence for it is overwhelming. This is a completely natural, elegant, and powerful process (yes, the Richard Dawkins influence is showing). This evidence includes the obvious fossil record, as well as genetics, comparative anatomy, and species geographic distribution among many other things. I don't understand why people will accept other scientific evidence, but not these.

I really can't understand why scientists, biologists in particular, can understand all this and still feel a need to believe in the supernatural. Maybe someone can tell me. I feel that the natural process is so much more incredibly awe-inspiring.