Archive for January, 2009

Metaphysical medicine (e.g. homeopathy, chiropractic, etc.) is getting more attention these days, even though there is still no evidence it does what it claims to. Unfortunately, practitioners of various “alternative medicines” have been able to convince people that what they do “works,” and increasingly, even serious medicial practitioners — i.e. people who know better — are finding they have to adopt it, otherwise, patients will think they don’t “care” or something.

The latest medical corps to adopt metaphysical medicine, is the Air Force, which will train combat doctors in a specific form of acupuncture in the field, as the AP reports:

Now the Air Force, which runs the military’s only acupuncture clinic, is training doctors to take acupuncture to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. A pilot program starting in March will prepare 44 Air Force, Navy and Army doctors to use acupuncture as part of emergency care in combat and in frontline hospitals, not just on bases back home.

They will learn “battlefield acupuncture,” a method [physician Col. Richard] Niemtzow developed in 2001 that’s derived from traditional ear acupuncture but uses the short needles to better fit under combat helmets so soldiers can continue their missions with the needles inserted to relieve pain. The needles are applied to five points on the outer ear. Niemtzow says most of his patients say their pain decreases within minutes.

The idea that “acupuncture works”s is belied by the fact that it does not appear to work any better than placebo. The truth about acupuncture is that it is no more effective than doling out sugar pills:

What is not so clear to some people, but is easily ferreted out from the evidence, is that acupuncture most likely works by classical conditioning and other factors that are often lumped together and referred to as “the placebo effect.” Furthermore, in some cases sham acupuncture works better than other placebos.

The placebo effect is widely misunderstood and its power misinterpreted; I suggest reading more about it if you wish to know more. Basically it is not merely the power of “mind over body” (which many alternative-medicine practitioners talk about); it can also include things like spontaneous remission, the illness or injury running its course, and more.

Acupuncture is said to work by changing the flow of something known as “chi” (sometimes spelled qi) that is presumed to follow minuscule channels known as “meridians.” Its practitioners happily assert this repeatedly, as though it’s authoritatively true and verified — but the cold hard fact is that, despite the many different ways we now have to image the human body (X-rays, PET scans, MRIs, etc.), no one — and I do mean no one — has ever managed to show any qi flowing along any meridian, ever, anywhere inside of any human being. How anyone can spend money on a fraudulently-promoted practice, is simply unbelievable … and that the United States Air Force would train combat doctors in its use, is inexcusable.

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You may remember the disgraced Ted Haggard, who’d been the famous pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs until November 2006, when it was revealed that he’d been a customer of a male prostitute and a drug user. Just when we thought we wouldn’t hear from him again — well, he wasn’t having any part of that! He’s now the star of an upcoming HBO documentary/puff-piece (as the Washington Post reports):

Two years ago Ted Haggard vanished into the gap that separates righteous, evangelical America from righteous, liberal America. By chance this cultural divide was defined to a large extent by attitudes about gay sex even before a male prostitute announced he had been sleeping with the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and had sold him some methamphetamine.

Now Haggard, 52, is back in the public eye, his lanky frame leaning forward on an easy chair in a penthouse suite of the Universal City Hilton as he flogs “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” a documentary by Alexandra Pelosi that debuts on HBO Thursday. The striking woman on the couch to his right is his wife, Gayle, still with the pastor despite everything — the scandal, their exile to the desert, and the continuing mystery of her husband’s sexuality — because she found in the teachings of Jesus the grace to forgive, vs. the “downward spiral” of judgment and hate.

It’s kind of odd, don’t you think, that a fundamentalist Christian wife can’t manage to “judge” or “hate” her wayward husband … after all, fundies spend a great deal of their time judging everyone else, from gays to atheists to the ACLU and more. Seems to me Mrs Haggard should spread her newfound “gospel-of-not-judging” to the rest of her fundamentalist brothers and sisters.

Oh wait. Jesus already did that, himself. Sorry. Sometimes I forget there are things that Jesus taught, but that fundamentalists have decided not to follow.

At any rate, this documentary comes at a time when it’s been revealed that Haggard’s dalliances had been much worse than either he or New Life Church admitted to, back in November 2006 (as reported by the AP, via this Baltimore Sun article):

Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard’s former church disclosed Friday that the gay sex scandal that caused his downfall extends to a young male church volunteer who reported having a sexual relationship with Haggard — a revelation that comes as Haggard tries to repair his public image.

Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press that the man came forward to church officials in late 2006 shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard.

Boyd said an “overwhelming pool of evidence” pointed to an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time … it wasn’t a one-time act.” Boyd said the man was in his early 20s at the time. He said he was certain the man was of legal age when it began.

So it wasn’t just one gay prostitute who had “outed” the once-admired Pastor Ted — at least one other person had confirmed his wrongdoing.

One would expect that the AP had tried to get comment from Haggard on this, and they did, but with the following result:

Reached Friday night, Haggard declined to comment and said all interviews would have to be arranged through a publicist for HBO, which is airing a documentary about him this month. …

A spokeswoman for the documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” declined to comment Friday.

So much for that. Can’t let a little thing like more wrongdoing exposed, get in the way of making a fortune on a documentary!

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People have been talking about how Chief Justice John Roberts and President Barack Obama fumbled the latter’s oath of office. The talk has ranged from merely snickering at the goof-up, to claims that Roberts screwed up on purpose to make Obama look bad, and included Chris Wallace of Fox News wondering aloud whether or not Obama was actually President because of the flub.

Roberts & Obama, re-oathing, as seen on Drudge ReportWell, not to worry … not only had Obama become President automatically at noon on January 20, just before the muddled ceremony (due to the 20th Amendment), the two of them re-did the oath yesterday evening. Hopefully this will put the Fox News-style paranoid thinking to rest.

But I’m not so sure.

You see, I noticed on Drudge Report this blurb about the do-over (pictured):


Oh, the scandal of it! No Bible??? Drudge linked to this article, which mentioned:

After a flawless recitation that included no Bible and took 25 seconds, Roberts smiled and said, “Congratulations, again.”

Omifreakingod! Obama had no Bible at his “real” swearing-in!

I find myself impressed a second time with our new President; first, he dared mention “non-believers” as being part of America; and now he was sworn in a second time, with no Bible to place his hand on.

Sorry, but Bibles are not necessary for any oath, anywhere; here in Connecticut, for instance, there are no Bibles in courtrooms on which people can swear to tell the truth. It’s been that way for decades, and God has never — so far as I know — struck any Nutmegger dead for not having sworn on a Bible.

I find Drudge’s outrage amusing, don’t you?

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For years, reporters and talking heads have referred to Social Security as “the third rail” of American politics … if you want to stay in office, the conventional wisdom goes, you never touch it. But truth be told, Social Security has been tampered with several times in its history, and various reforms have been trotted out, if not always acted upon. Social Security has not, in fact, remained “untouched,” as one would expect of a true “third rail.”

No, American politics has another, very different, “the third rail,” which until yesterday, no major politician had dared touch in any serious venue. But President Obama touched it, in his inauguration speech:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.

This is truly a first. A national-level politician overtly admitted the existence of non-believers in the US, during a noteworthy event. It’s startling enough that Steve Waldman, founder of Beliefnet, took note of it, and further remarked how much American politicians have avoided making any reference to non-believers:

Non-believers are one of the largest political constituencies that politiians rarely want to acknowledge. A recent Pew Center paper reports that while 16.1% of Americans say they’re religiously unaffiliated, not a single member of Congress identifies that way. Basically, Christians, Mormons and Jews are, statistically, over-represented and unaffiliateds, agnostics and atheists are underrepresented.

If Waldman is willing to admit that non-believers are underrepresented (or completely unrepresented!), then you know it’s well past time we non-believing Americans were acknowledged.

I have to give our new president credit for this. Still, it would have been better, if he’d summoned the courage not to be flanked by clergy and if he’d opted not to close his address with “God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.”

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The Religious Right loves to hold itself out as the sole arbiter of morality in a world full of increasing hedonism and selfishness, fostered (of course) by evil secularists trying to “push God out of the ‘public square’.” Unfortunately for them, however, it turns out that their own morality is a bit specious. Christianity Today offers an article about a book published last month about charity among Christians in the US. The picture is not a good one:

This could be the worst moment in our lifetimes to discover that American Christians give away relatively little of their money.

The economy is in the midst of the worst downturn in at least 17 years and the most serious U.S. banking crisis in at least 20. It has the potential to be as painful as the Great Depression. Banks are failing. Workers are losing their jobs. Homeowners are losing their homes. …

More than one out of four American Protestants give away no money at all—“not even a token $5 per year,” say sociologists Christian Smith, Michael Emerson, and Patricia Snell in a new study on Christian giving, Passing the Plate (Oxford University Press). …

American Christians’ lack of generosity might not be as shocking if it didn’t contrast so starkly with their astounding wealth. Passing the Plate’s researchers say committed American Christians—those who say their faith is very important to them and those who attend church at least twice a month—earn more than $2.5 trillion dollars every year. On their own, these Christians could be admitted to the G7, the group of the world’s seven largest economies. Smith and his coauthors estimate that if these Christians gave away 10 percent of their after-tax earnings, they would add another $46 billion to ministry around the world.

Wow. That’s a damned lot of uncharitability! More to the point, however, is that it’s the wealthiest of these American Christians who turn out to be the stingiest:

In addition, America’s biggest givers—as a percentage of their income—are its lowest income earners. The widow who gave out of her poverty rather than her wealth (Mark 12:42; Luke 21:1-4) has a lot of company, it seems. …

“Americans who earn less than $10,000 gave 2.3 percent of their income to religious organizations,” Smith, Emerson, and Snell write, “whereas those who earn $70,000 or more gave only 1.2 percent.” While the actual percentages are slightly higher for Christians who regularly attend church, the pattern is similar. Households of committed Christians making less than $12,500 per year give away roughly 7 percent of their income, a figure no other income bracket beats until incomes rise above $90,000 (they give away 8.8 percent).

In fact, in absolute terms, the poorest Christians give away more dollars than all but the wealthiest Christians.

Guess these folks are spending too much of their time complaining about “wealth redistribution” to worry about being charitable themselves.

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The disingenuous “Joe the Plumber” (who is not “Joe,” his real name is Samuel Wurzelbacher, and who is not a plumber), has for some reason made a name for himself in the Religious Right. The Christian Web site Pajamas Media has hired him as — get this! — their Middle East beat reporter!

You read that correctly. He’s going to report the Middle Eastern news, because the mass media aren’t telling the real story of the Middle East (as reported by Christianity Today):

I get to go over there and let their “Average Joes” share their story, what they think, how they feel, especially with world opinion, maybe get a real story out there,” Wurzelbacher told [a Toledo television] station.

Normally, people don’t willingly go into war zones, but Sam isn’t worried:

“Being a Christian I’m pretty well protected by God I believe,” Wurzelbacher said. “That’s not saying he’s going to stop a mortar for me, but you gotta take the chance.”

What’s bizarre is not just that Pajamas Media hired an unemployed non-plumber who goes by a name not his own, who has no reporting experience or training, to report from a very difficult venue … but that there are people who really think this totally-unqualified novice is going to be better at reporting the news, than what they get from the mass media. The distaste for educated, trained journalists out in the world of the Religious Right, is palpable and visceral. Have a look at some of the comments on the New York Times Lede blog (start about here and scroll down for some real gems). These people are real, and unfortunately, they vote!

Normally when people are not who they claim to be (in addition to not being a plumber, Wurzelbacher told then-candidate Barack Obama that he was planning to buy a business when in fact, he was not doing so, and even if he had, that business would not have fallen into the tax bracket in question), most people consider them “dishonest.” Dishonesty is not considered a moral trait … absolute morality, of course, being an obsession of the Religious Right. But when you are dishonest, in the cause of the Religious Right, oddly enough those absolute morals go out the window, so that dishonesty actually becomes moral!


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Over the last couple of years a lot of folks have turned against the idea of vaccinating their children against communicable diseases — you know, the ones kids used to get all the time, and which occasionally killed one of them, such as measles, rubella, mumps, chicken pox, etc. Perhaps the best-known of the anti-vaccine crusaders is Jenny McCarthy, who has an autistic son, and whose autism she blames on vaccines.

Although she’s able to make a compelling, emotional case, her crusade is mistargeted, since vaccines have not been shown to account for the apparent rise of the incidence of autism. The mercury-containing thimerosol — once a preservative used in vaccines — which she claims is the culprit, has not been used in vaccines for many years and likely was not in any of the vaccines her own son was given.

Logic such as this, however, means little, in the face of a Hollywood couple (McCarthy is married to Jim Carrey) with lots of celebrity connections, who has been on Oprah, and has had the megaphone of her celebrity to use to blare out her ill-founded assumptions. Conventional medicine has largely been silent on the matter, though, apparently assuming individual physicians can overcome the anti-vaccine crusade.

Until now, that is.

Dr Paul Offit, a pediatrician who has himself developed vaccines, penned a book which is the opening salvo against the anti-vaccine crusaders’ pseudomedicine (as reported by the New York Times):

A new book defending vaccines, written by a doctor infuriated at the claim that they cause autism, is galvanizing a backlash against the antivaccine movement in the United States.

But there will be no book tour for the doctor, Paul A. Offit, author of “Autism’s False Prophets.” He has had too many death threats.

“I’ll speak at a conference, say, to nurses,” he said. “But I wouldn’t go into a bookstore and sign books. It can get nasty. There are parents who really believe that vaccines hurt their children, and to them, I’m incredibly evil. They hate me.” …

“When Jonas Salk invented polio vaccine, he was a hero — and I’m a terrorist?” he jokes, referring to a placard denouncing him at a recent demonstration by antivaccine activists outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The Times article continues, explaining how the anti-vaccine movement has become largely an emotional one, which no scientific evidence can withstand:

As a result, “a few years ago this ceased to be a civil scientific discourse and became about crucifying individuals,” said Dr. Gregory A. Poland, chief of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic, who says he has had threats against his children. “Paul is a lightning rod, a figure who goes charging into the fray.”

How nice of the anti-vaccine crowd to threaten a man, due to their sanctimonious outrage. As it turns out, the New York Times itself played a role in this controversy:

Arthur Allen, the author of “Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver” (W. W. Norton, 2007), has publicly debated other journalists who argue that vaccines cause autism. Six years ago, he wrote a seminal article in The New York Times Magazine titled “The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory.” He later changed his mind and now “feels bad” about the article, he said, “because it helped get these people into the field who did a lot of damage.”

If only the rest of the crackpots could also grow up, rein in their sanctimony, and realize that vaccines save lives and do not cause autism.

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