Out, Damned Spot

September 9, 2011

There’s a sucker born every minute.
–David Hannum


“Convergence” has been a buzzword in technology circles for a while now. Well, smartphones converged with pustular adolescent skins when two companies independently started to market smartphone apps that claimed to be able to cure acne. AcnePwner (“Kill ACNE with this simple, yet powerful tool!) attracted 3,300 downloads at 99c a pop, and AcneApp sold 11,600 at $1.99. Read the rest of this entry »

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Base Stations Again

September 2, 2011

Let me say at the outset that I am not a fan of cell phones. In my view these anti-social devices have done more to damage quality of life (and, when in the hands of moronic drivers, to actually end life) than any other modern invention. It is no longer possible for me to enjoy a day at the beach, or a romantic dinner without being irritated by the constant ring tones and inane, high-decibel chatter of those around me, or, much worse, by my pointy-haired boss who is so dim he thinks an after hours computer error is an emergency, despite the fact that no one will die or even feel vaguely queezy because of it. No one would be happier than I if the damn things were swept off the face of the planet once and for all, but I am reluctantly forced to take up a position in their defence against the plethora of hogwash currently being spouted about their effect on health. Read the rest of this entry »


If It Walks Like a Duck…

August 11, 2011

Remember Dr Jonathan V Wright of stomach acid fame? This should jog your memory:

When Theresa’s husband started leaving his socks in the fridge…

She was merely worried. But when he came back from a fishing trip minus the fish, his boat and his dog, they both decide to see Dr Wright. Vincent thought he was “losing it”, but it turned out he was actually missing the stomach acid he needed to break down his food. And without it, his brain cells weren’t being “fed” the nutrients they depend on. He’s sharp as a razor now!

Read the rest of this entry »


Holford’s Folly

June 21, 2011

We have recently been bombarded with advertisements from a person called Patrick Holford who makes his nefarious living flogging unnecessary vitamin supplements to the gullible. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he defends the taking of vitamins in large doses for every conceivable ailment that could possibly afflict the human race, and if one happens to be healthy, then he advocates taking them anyway as a prophylactic measure. The problem with Mr Holford’s campaigns is that he is frequently economical with the truth to the point of comedy.

Here are some examples from a diatribe against the UK National Health Service (NHS), in which he criticises the NHS’s stance on vitamin supplementation. He claims that

The essential message is supplements don’t really work. They are probably dangerous and simply not worth the money. If you are sick what you need is drugs.

Which, needless to say, doesn’t suit Mr Holford’s interests. So he goes on the attack.

There has not been a single death from taking high dose vitamin supplements anywhere in the world. In the 35 years I’ve been in this field I haven’t encountered one serious adverse reaction to a vitamin, mineral or essential fat supplement.

Well, this is simply untrue. It is a lie, a porky pie, a whopper and a brazen fib. According to the 2004 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposure Surveillance System there were 62, 562 instances of vitamin overdose in the USA in 2004, 53 of which were life-threatening and 2 deaths actually occured. I remember doing an arctic survival course many years ago in which we were exhorted not to eat polar bear liver lest we fall victim to vitamin A toxicity, never mind the injuries that might accrue in obtaining the polar bear’s liver in the first place, particularly if it was still in use by the bear. Vitamins can be harmful. Holford goes on

If a supplement has an ‘active’ ingredient (meaning it works) it’s referred to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority, and classified as a medicine, and banned for over the counter sale.

Well, exactly. The muck Holford flogs isn’t banned for sale over the counter. Draw your own conclusions.

But why is the NHS spending money persuading people not to take supplements?

Um, because they’re charged with protecting the nation’s health, perhaps?

I don’t know about you but I am getting pretty fed up with the money that’s being spent on propaganda to keep the pharmaceutical and medical industry in power while we, the public, get sicker and broker.

I wasn’t aware that the pharmaceutical and medical industries were “in power”, but I can quite understand why you don’t like the NHS’s stance on supplements. It makes Patrick Holford broker (well, slightly less stinking rich).

Holford was also responsible for advocating mega doses of vitamin C as a treatment for HIV infection instead of AZT. This should give you some idea of the extent of either his crackpothood or, depending on how generous you are feeling, his voracious appetite for profit.

Since he isn’t a doctor, I can’t call Holford a quack, but if he were he would be. Don’t waste your money on this flake’s rubbish.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License


Euthanasia

October 12, 2010

Put yourself in the shoes of Dr Sean Davison. His 85 year-old mother, Patricia, was dying in agony from cancer. She was so desperate to put an end to her suffering that she had attempted suicide by means of starvation. Her son allegedly gave her a solution of crushed morphine tablets, telling her that if she drank it it would end her life. She drank and died, and now Sean Davison faces a charge of attempted murder for doing what most loving sons would do in similar circumstances.

Dr Sean Davison


I find it puzzling that the charge should be attempted murder rather than murder—his mother did, after all, die. But that isn’t really the point. The point is whether or not the state should intervene at all in cases such as this one.

There are two aspects that need to be considered: legal and moral. The state has a duty of protection towards its citizens, most especially the poor or the weak who are not able adequately to protect themselves, so the law cannot just shrug its shoulders and say, OK, then, your Mum’s got a tummy ache so feel free to blow her head off. But that isn’t what happened here. His mother took the morphine herself, voluntarily, after having had it pointed out to her explicitly that it would cause her death. (It should be stated at this juncture that Patricia Davison was herself a medical doctor.) A distinction is made between active and passive euthanasia; passive euthanasia being the withholding of treatment in the knowledge that that might result in death, and active euthanasia being a deliberate act, such as the administration of a poison, that results in death. In my view this case was neither because Sean Davison did not administer the morphine, he merely provided it.

I don’t think any sane person would argue that it is moral to force a person to endure suffering unnecessarily; there aren’t any rational reasons for taking that position. Before you cry that religious leaders take precisely that position, I urge you to reread the preceding sentence. I said sane and rational; priests, rabbis, imams and the other assorted riff-raff of the mystical realms are neither sane nor rational, and they know nothing of morality; they slavishly follow the dogma set out centuries ago by uneducated peasants even more ignorant than they are themselves. Indeed, if a pet animal contracts a dread disease we say it is “humane” to put an end to its suffering, but a human is supposed to linger for as long as possible and die in agony without any dignity whatsoever. The reason underlying the religious opposition to euthanasia is that they believe that people do not own their own lives; they are the property of some supernatural slave-master in the sky.

I take the opposite view, that we are each the ultimate arbiters of what is best for us, and we may do with our lives whatever we wish, and that includes choosing to end our lives if they become unbearable. The right to life is topmost in the hierarchy of rights enshrined in the constitutions of all enlightened states, which means the state should go to extraordinary lengths to prevent a person’s life being taken against their will (murder), but the other side of that coin is that a person’s right to take his own life should be as defended with equal vigour.

These events took place in New Zealand which is rumoured to be fairly civilized, the barbaric antics of its rugby players notwithstanding. (I don’t actually believe it exists, I’ve thought of it as a place like Lilliput: misty, charming, but wholly imagined.) The judge in this case should take into account the defendant’s motive in providing the poison to his mother. If he decides that it was to put an end to unbearable suffering, and was done in accordance with the wishes of the deceased, then he must acquit Davison because a moral act should not be punished even if it is against the law; instead the law should be amended to bring it into line with morality.

In that case Sean Davison should be released to return to his family as soon as possible.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License


Restless Nights

June 28, 2010

There has been a lot said and written about how to deal with a bedmate who snores, almost all of which is pure hornswaggle, hogwash, tosh, piffle and poppycock. “Sew a cotton reel into the back of his pyjamas,” say the grannies, to which everyone who isn’t a granny will reply, “What the hell are pyjamas?” Perhaps in some forgotten corner of the globe there is a sweatshop in which innocent polyesters are slaughtered and their remains converted into these useless garments, but I certainly haven’t seen any offered for sale for a long time. When I was a small boy at boarding school we had to wear these things, but as soon as the lights were out, I would remove mine and sleep naked as nature intended. “If he sleeps on his back, close off his nose and cover his mouth so he can’t breathe, then he’ll turn onto his side and stop snoring.” Or die of asphyxiation. Can you do all that and stay asleep, in any case? The whole point of a solution to this problem is that the non-snoring partner must be able to stay asleep while the solution is put into effect, thereby getting a refreshing night’s rest.

Scallywag, the light in my darkness and the balm of my soul, swam shnoz first into the side of a swimming pool when she was a little girl. A botched nose-straightening operation means that today she breathes through her mouth and the sounds she makes in the night closely resemble the sounds a C130 Hercules makes at full take-off power. I suffered many nights of tattered and torn sleep; nights spent in the spare room in a last-ditch attempt to stave off total exhaustion before I hit upon the solution.

I realised I had been looking at the problem from entirely the wrong angle. The snorer will snore regardless of what is done to her, short of murder. The solution lies in taking steps such that the non-snorer won’t care that the snorer snores, and there are two routes that may be chosen. The first is drugs—a narcotic of strength sufficient to render the taker insensible to the ambient uproar, or a mechanical barrier that will mute any sounds falling on the ear of the non-snorer. The first solution has obvious drawbacks in that it may cause permanent addiction, and may adversely effect performance on the following day. So I chose the second solution.

And here it is. Two small words that can save a marriage: ear plugs. These come in three types: mouldable wax, soft foam and flexible rubber. I tried the wax ones for a while, and although they have excellent sound-dampening properties, they aren’t very comfortable. Eventually I settled on the foam variety, which are so comfortable you don’t even know you’re wearing them until someone speaks to you and they look like a fish in an aquarium, mouth opening and closing, but no sound emerging therefrom. These can be quite expensive if you buy them in your local pharmacy or chemist or drugstore, but they can be ordered in bulk online for a very reasonable price. Two hundred pairs lasts me about three years because they can be used several times before they lose their elasticity and hence their effectiveness.

Scallywag is deaf, which is quite a major drawback because when we retire for the night she takes out her hearing aid and I put my ear plugs in, which means neither of us can hear very much. Robbers could break in and make off with all our treasured possessions without either of us hearing a thing. But that is a risk I am prepared to take if the alternative is a shattered relationship or being fired for sleeping at the office.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.


Tummy Ache

May 31, 2010

Spam is usually a nuisance, but sometimes it can be quite informative and even entertaining. Take this example received from one of my favourite spammers, Antoinette Pombo. She specializes in hawking dubious health products on behalf of an organization called Fleet Street Publications. It was Antoinette—by the way may I call you Toni? Antoinette is a fistful too far for my typing; in return you may call me Grumps—who provided me with first intelligence of the Q-link and the low-down on testicular cancer. Here is the start of her latest dithyramb, this time in praise of an individual called Jonathan V. Wright. I’ll try to preserve her HTML if possible to give you the taste and aroma of the sheer idiocy of her outpourings.

Shattering discovery



Your
body’s worst enemy is…




Your

STOMACH


Suffering from Asthma?


It’s your
stomach…




Are
you losing your memory?



It’s your
stomach…




Are your arteries
diseased?



It’s your
stomach…




Or maybe you have
macular degeneration? Osteoporosis? Chronic Hives? Gallbladder disease?
Angina? Arthritis? Cockrot? Ingrowing Toenails?


It’s
all your stomach…


Here’s one simple
trick to tame your stomach and live healthier than ever


It goes on in much the same vein for another 2,000 words, so I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, but will share with you some of the more amusing quotes. I must state at this point that I had hitherto not heard of the good (or perhaps not) Dr Wright. In the course of my researches I discovered that he is the hero and blue-eyed boy of the arch-crackpot Suzanne Somers, which is not the right foot on which to be starting off. I am not qualified to know whether or not Dr Wright is a quack; I’ll merely point out that he is listed on Quackwatch with a red asterisk, indicating that he may very well be.

Toni begins by offering a series of anecdotes in which the hero, who is at death’s door, goes to see Dr Wright and within a few short weeks is totally cured. Take Hernando, whose legs were so knackered his doctors wanted to amputate. After seeing Dr Wright he was leaping like a hart (whatever that may be). Or John who had angina, or Sam who had macular degeneration, or…

All these people were allegedly suffering from hypochlorydria—too little stomach acid, which Dr Wright apparently knows how to cure.

After the “case studies”, Toni gives a truly boot-licking, sycophantic resume of Dr Wright’s career and qualifications:

“No other doctor of our time has crusaded harder or sacrificed more to bring the healing power of nutrition to ordinary people like you and me than Dr Wright.”

This is one impressive guy: he was awarded “the highest medical honour ever” which I must assume is an honour higher even than the Nobel prize. Well, Toni says it is, so who am I to argue? She is referring to the Linus Pauling Lifetime Achievement Award (LPLAA), of which I have never heard. I have, however, heard of Linus Pauling who is one of only two scientists to win two Nobel prizes, one for physics and the other for chemistry. (There is some speculation that he was in line for the Peace prize as well, but he was passed over.) In the latter part of his life he descended into crackpothood, though, advocating the consumption of staggering quantities of vitamin C.

A search of the internet reveals that the LPLAA is perhaps not what it’s cracked up to be: a google search for “Linus Pauling Lifetime Achievement Award” yields only three results, all of which are about Dr Wright. It seems no one else has ever been the recipient of this mysterious award, or indeed knows anything about it.

Then we are treated to the usual rants against “mafia-style pharmaceutical companies” and “the capitalist institutions that have a death-grip on our health and quality of life”, which Toni always inserts into her pieces. I’m sure she even sticks this stuff into her christmas cards.

And, at last, we get to the punchline. We too can be cured of just about everything if we subscribe to Dr Wright’s publication Nutrition & Healing which will cost a mere R57 per month. As is customary for quack remedies, Dr Wright’s snake oil is marketed as a substitute for not supplemental to science-based treatments, which means people will inevitably be harmed by falling for Toni’s nonsense. It doesn’t really matter though; if you’re dumb enough to buy this tripe, then you deserve your fate.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.