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April 18, 2009

Where's he been? (18/4/2009)
The last time I updated this site I mentioned a problem with an organisation that I have something to do with. Things got much worse there over the last few weeks and as I hold a position on the group's executive and also have a long personal investment of time and effort in supporting the organisation it has become an urgent priority for me. Matters came to a head in the last week and there is a strong possibility that I might have to reorganise my life to take over formal management of the organisation, something that I am quite ready to do. To make matters worse, the day after the final explosion a very good and long-standing friend of both the organisation and its members died suddenly and without warning. Several of us were looking forward to having dinner with him next week (he lives in a different state to me) and his death not only shocked and saddened us but also made us see that our internecine squabbles over who does what and with whom could be put aside while what we have in common assumes top priority.

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Drug tales (18/4/2009)
I started writing this while under the influence of a drug. Now I know that many of my detractors will immediately declare that this usually appears to be the case, but who cares what they think? (One of them recently accused me of being a heroin user, the evidence being that I said that it is addictive and I could only have come by this knowledge through personal experience. Yes, there are people who are that stupid.) The drug in question is a treatment for migraine and it got me thinking about two things. (Unlike all those drugs that we hippies have forgotten about taking back in the 60s which caused the takers to think of a multitude of things at once. Sometimes even several multitudes.)

I have again become involved in a discussion about the reality of mental illness. One of the arguments put forward by anti-psychiatry and anti-medicine claimants is that mental illness cannot exist because there is no objective test for it. There is no objective test for migraine either. Apart from asymmetric head pain and a high reported rate of visual aura, migraine sufferers vary in the reports of the phenomena they experience. In my case I experience a heightened sensitivity to light and sound (often coming before any headache, as a warning sign) and, in really severe events, my eyes point in slightly different directions. This last symptom is not a sign of migraine but is instead a relic of untreated childhood amblyopia, or "lazy eye". (When I was very young nobody bothered with eye tests unless the child was obviously suffering from some vision defect. I had one perfect eye which masked the problem in the other one. My brother stumbled into the furniture from the time he started to walk; he has worn glasses since he was two years old and went through the whole "patch over one eye" phase.)

When the "no such thing as mental illness" people are asked if they believe that migraine is a real medical condition they do one of two things. They either ignore the question because they have detected the trap or they expose themselves to charges of inconsistency, or even hypocrisy, by accepting the existence of a condition which relies solely on patients saying that something is happening to them. Most choose to ignore the question or call it a diversion. None of them ever deny the existence of migraine.

The second thought occurred to me while in the pharmacy buying the medication. The pills I take do not require a prescription but the law requires that they must be physically handed to me by a licensed pharmacist, who has to warn me of any side effects or drug interactions. The sales assistant who served me placed the packet of tablets on the counter and left me to look at them for about ten minutes while the pharmacist attended to another customer. When she was free she asked me how could she help and I said something like "I need you to tell me how dangerous those tablets are". We then played out our respective parts of the ritual (much like the interaction between airline cabin staff and frequent fliers over the location of exit doors - I have been taking the same tablets for years), the pharmacist handed me the packet and I walked to the cash register where the original sales assistant took my money.

Walking from the dispensary to the front of the shop I passed a large display of the inevitable supplementary, complementary and alternative medicines that seem to infest every pharmacy these days. None of the SCAM medications required the intervention of a licensed pharmacist for the purchase. These products have no package inserts warning of side effects or possible interactions with other medications, but why would they need to when everyone knows that SCAM medications are either broad-spectrum placebos like homeopathy or very natural and therefore safe. Nobody ever had a problem because grapefruit enzymes altered the metabolism rate of chemotherapy drugs, or had their treatment for (non-existent) depression affected by topping up the Prozac with St John's Wort, or bled to death because the anti-coagulant gingko biloba helped them to remember to take their warfarin tablets. Such things are unimaginable, aren't they? Much safer than my headache tablets which might make me drowsy and shouldn't be mixed with alcohol.

What's he reading? (18/4/2009)
I filled an inexplicable hole in my book case recently with a copy of The Panda's Thumb by the late Stephen Jay Gould. It is one of those books which I had always assumed I owned and had read, but somehow it was missing from my collection. It is an excellent set of essays about biology and evolution, and is worth buying if only to read Gould's clear explanation of the competing evolutionary theories of gradualism and "punctuated equilibrium". This competition is exploited by creationists as if it indicates that scientists don't know what they are talking about (therefore proving the truth of instantaneous creation), but we thinking folk know that it is just an example of the tentative nature of all science. Gould even admits that he would discard his preferred hypothesis if presented with enough evidence.

The book was first published in 1980, and it is interesting to read the following sentence in the prologue: "At the basis of all this ferment lies nature's irreducible complexity". Conventional wisdom has the term "irreducible complexity" being invented by the IDiots, the proponents of the disguised creationism called "intelligent design". Creationists of all types are very fond of quoting Gould out of context, and it looks as if they were not too proud to adopt one of his catch phrases, again completely ignoring the surrounding words where he explains what he means.

This week's congratulatory email (18/4/2009)
Here's someone who likes this site. Why else would he say "Keep up the good work"?

Date: Sun, 12 Apr 2009 07:10:13 -0800
From: tony Tohnkah
Subject: project ho

Hello Peter, you're not a physician are you? Most Doctors aren't. Anyway, I'd love to attend a speaking engagement in person, do you have any planned? I'd like to hear more about your theories on the benefits of forced vaccination, genocide, and soft-kill weapons. Delicious! By the way, whats your favorite Kool-aid flavor? Oh yeah almost forgot...what are your thoughts on population reduction? Its a good thing we fall under the the banner of medicine 'else we'd all be war criminals, right! And thanks to the Pentium pimp we can all afford to get immuno-suppressive therapy...Atta boy Bill and Melinda! Hey mom, fcuk the Sunny D, more dead genetic material please! Keep up the good work Peter, you're a big shiny phallus-like beacon of light for schills everywhere.

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