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The Daily Rhino
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wrong sort of stars
TODAY is a truly sad day. I mean, seriously fucking sad. Here's why:

Madame Tussauds will stop showing the traditional exploration of the solar system at the distinctive green-domed building in Baker Street. Instead visitors will be invited to embark on a voyage "around the worlds of fame and celebrity" at the renamed Auditorium.

I mean, please. What the fuck? What the motherfuck shit cunt tit? This is the most depressing thing I've heard in a while. Yet another example of the public's growing disinterest in science. The London Planetarium is, and has been for years, a bastion of popular science. It has brought the amazing universe of astronomy and cosmology to the masses for years. Most kids loved their trip to the Planetarium. Some children gazed up at the stars and were inspired for life. Like me.

The legend that is Patrick Moore simply said, "it is the most extraordinary thing. I am completely appalled."

The body that runs the Planetarium, Tussauds, is a Dubai-owned entertainment company. They claim that the Greenwich Peter Harrison Planetarium will cater for those who still maintain an interest in the stars and planets, but Greenwich is way over in east London, the Tussauds Planetarium is bang in the middle of town.

In other news - I've been asked to jump on board the new desicritics.org blog, so I'll be updating my blogroll imminently, along with Anthony King and Ethno Techno. Hooray.


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Cheese & Onion Turns Legal
PERHAPS the most famous medical textbook since Gray's Anatomy turned 21 last week and it even had a birthday party. A birthday party for a book with cheap free plonk - this is about as showbiz as medicine gets. Only the cool people got an invite, of course.

OHCM cake

But what's with the inability to abbreviate the name properly? The cake says OCHM instead of OHCM (but it was tasty) and some chap called Tom Chao has wished hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy a happy birthday. Nice of him.

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The original authors, Tony Hope and Murray Longmore.

It's hard to begin when describing how great this little book is. The amount of spin-offs is a testament to its success. Its individuality in a marketplace of boring carbon copies sets it apart, with quotes from Milton, Colin Dexter, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Oscar Wilde it is instantly different to other medical books. Its simple, systematic layout and comprehensive content meant it was the only book I needed to pass most of finals, despite its pocket size. It is eccentric, opinionated, unrivalled and for someone who has gone through life buying as few textbooks as possible, I own three copies. With over a million copies sold, I hope it continues for at least another 21 years.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Wank muscles
THESE are my wrists. For years medics and laymen alike have pondered over what bizarre anatomical aberrations cause the labelled structures.


Owing to the fact I can tense and relax the structures in question at will, we concluded they were muscles. As they seem to serve to abduct my hand, we were able to ascertain a side-to-side hand movement is the intended purpose.

It was, of course, obvious. These are the muscles of masturbation. They seem to have no other use. Is this Intelligent Design telling us we MUST joust? Or is this a sad reflection on my teenage years? If that's the case, the weird thing is I don't remember ever using my left hand. I guess we'll never know.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Talent: Sofia Boutella
Finally, a dance post.


YOU are quite likely to recognise Sofia, but you may not know her name. I decided to investigate further when I started to see her everywhere.

If you've watched
Hung Up by Madonna, you've seen Sofia. Although that particular video makes a habit of wasting the talent of several of the performers featured therein, namely Sebastien Foucan, Lo Life and Sofia herself.

However, what launched Sofia into the Queen of Pop's line of sight was Nike's first ever television advert made solely to advertise their women's range, choreographed by Jamie King. Watch it.

For another fitting demonstration of this young lady's talent, take a look at Axwell's Feel the Vibe (or try here), which I think is a very cool video as it's so simple; the only set used is a summer's day in London last year and there are only two actors.

Sofia hails from Paris and is the daughter of an Algerian composer. She trained in rhythmic gymnastics and even made the French team, before moving onto hip hop and breaking. I first noticed her when I picked up Le Defi, a dreadfully-written and acted French movie with some seriously hot dancing from some pretty well-known French dancers (even a cameo by Junior), including perhaps the most beautifully-filmed sequence of slo-mo headspins and 'mills ever committed to celluloid.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

How's it Hanging?
WHAT does the way you wear your stethoscope say about you? The Daily Rhino examines the various stetho styles and finds that like most things in life, it's mostly about sex.

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THE STETHOSCOPE was a godsend when it first appeared in 1991. Prior to this, doctors would routinely have to slice open their patients in order to better understand their ailments. This led to a schism between the physicians and the barbershop surgeons, who were a band of wandering lute-playing tramps that cut people open in barbershops. You know, after their short back & sides. This is why we now call physicians ‘Dr’ and surgeons ‘Mr’.

I’m rather a gifted stethoscopist myself, in fact I once diagnosed a double amputation with my stetho. I failed to hear a thoracic rebound echo from the legs and I said to the man “Sir! You have no legs!” It turned out he was dead as well, but hey you can’t diagnose EVERYTHING. After all, I’m learning.

Thanks to Holly Thompson for the photographs.

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The n00bie

This look enjoys wide popularity amongst first year clinical students. They’re new on the wards, full of excitement and spreading MRSA about enthusiastically. Sweaty laundry-issued white coats still cause a frisson of excitement in the newbie and he or she fills their pockets full of useless paraphernalia. James models a classic third year pose; head in a book, in preparation for a consultant rogering.

The stethoscope itself is buried, as the newbie feels out of place and does not wish to draw attention to a tool he has no idea how to use. He knows nothing about medicine and should not be polluting the wards with his presence. Doctors wear their stethos around their neck, not rookie scum. Nurses curse him for getting in their way. He will kill at least eight patients on his first firm. Whilst the newbie style is acceptable for a third year, it is deeply offensive if worn by someone who has been on the wards for over a year. They must be ritually beaten and outcast from medical school.

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The Classic II

A junior doctor favourite, the Classic II is at its sweetest when adopted using the Littman Classic II, the deputy-gangster of all auscultation apparatus.

Radhika shows off her assets by modelling the Classic II Royale - a variation on the symmetrical Classic II, carried off by only true experts. In the Royale, the chest piece rests lower down than the ear pieces - an immensely controversial move when first unveiled at the World Expo in 1992.

The other variation on the Classic II is the ‘St. George’s McDaddy Big Kahuna’, which positions the chest piece over the second intercostal space. This achieves a near-perfect weight equilibrium, but as it not recommended for women with a cup size over an ‘A’, it tends to be a male preserve.

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The Goofy

Skateboarding famously stole this term from the medical profession. Aarany suggestively models this style, which is more popular amongst girls. Goofies are more likely to be left-handed, mentally challenged or from GKT. A
NEJM study recently showed that those favouring the goofy tend to be more likely to be admitted to a psychiatric ward or become psychiatrists themselves. It can be tempting to ridicule those wearing the goofy, as they are usually slow and foolish. But don’t be nasty to goofies. They’re not different, they’re special.

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The Lasso

Beth demonstrates this unusual noose-like style for us. Those who wear the lasso are a strange bunch. Once again, this is more popular amongst girls. Most stethoscopologists believe this is a cynical attempt to draw attention to their breasts, by focussing the stethoscope’s energy upon their central cleavage chakra point. The girls themselves just giggle and say that’s silly.

Lassoists want to give the impression they are very busy. They want to people to think that their stethoscope NEEDS to be like that as they spend so much time running around. They want people to think they’re hard-working. They want people to admire them. They want people to look at their breasts.

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The Surgeon

Surgeons are chilled out cats. They bowl up late, wear chinos with no tie and leave as much as they can to their juniors. So it comes as no surprise that the surgeon often forgets his stetho. The firm’s FY1’s most important job is to lend his or her steth to the consultant on at least a daily basis.

Colorectal surgeons need to listen to bowel sounds, cardiothoracic surgeons need to listen for rubs and vascular surgeons need to hear bruits. Orthopaedic surgeons don’t need stethoscopes though - the mess TV usually has surround sound.

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The Consultant

Anish models this fascinating style, which stems from our primitive hunter-gatherer roots. When our simian ancestors used to dress up and play doctors and nurses, the biggest, most virile ape used to lead. He would have free reign to impregnate whichever female he wanted. Other apes would know who the leader was by a ceremonial mark made around his groin. Hence male consultants wear their stethoscope in such a manner as to highlight their two weapons - it points from their head straight to their penis, the source of all power.

Originally published in Medical Student Newspaper and subsequently in Quack
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How the Whale Became a Londoner and Other Stories

The Book of Rhino 25:17 -

"And lo the gentle visitor came from far above us and he tried to unite us. But how he suffered, and died for our sins"

POOR guy. This seriously-lost whale from up north created an amazing spirit in London, the capital was truly united. Forgive my soppy corniness, but the few days this little fella spent in our filthy river (trust me, I've drunk my fair share of raw Thames) brought people together.

On both banks of the Thames, people rubbernecked to glimpse the whale.

They came, they chatted, they were friendly. All we wanted was for the to make it.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More Medics go on Strike
Sorry about the lack of posting as of late, no time.

BACK in India, yet more doctors and medical students have gone on strike...and just down the road from where this occured. Two days ago, a rumble broke out upon the
Allahabad bound Meerut-Nauchandi Express Train, passing near Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, northern India. Young police (provincial armed constabulary) recruits and junior doctors came to blows, allegedly over a dispute involving seat reservation. However the doctors have accused the rookie police of "misbehaving" with some girls on the train.

In a nutshell, it seems the two groups exchanged punches on board the train, but when arriving at Moradabad, the train pulled into the wrong platform, where more police were waiting with truncheons and hockey sticks.

Since the punch-up, the doctors have claimed that five of their party are missing. It is thought they may have been pushed from the train by the coppers. As a result, doctors and medical students have gone on strike across the state of UP, including parties sitting on railway tracks to prevent any trains running. King George Medical University once again came to a standstill just days after its students blocked all entrances in protest of alleged negligence leading to the death of a colleague.

At least nine doctors and eight jawans have been admitted to hospital with injuries, but some of the juniors state up to forty doctors were injured. One of the police recruits was found lying near the tracks somewhere along the route and was admitted in a critical condition.

The group of doctors was returning from sitting the state post-grad registration exam.

Four Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel have been suspended. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has ordered an inquiry into the incident, to be conducted by Moradabad District Collector K S Atoria. ‘‘Action will be taken against those found guilty after the probe is complete,’’ said Mulayam.

Famous buffoon, Laloo Prasad Yadav, no longer chief minister of Bihar gave a statement as the Union Railways Minister:

‘‘We have asked the UP Government to immediately dismiss the jawans involved in the outrageous incident. There appears to be no fault on the part of the doctors’’

The state government has suspended four Government of Railway Police constables.


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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Medical students go on rampage
MEDICAL students at Lucknow's King George Medical University have ransacked university and hospital property in protest over the death of a classmate.

Second year Deepak Agarwal was injured during a convocation-rehearsal in a building still under construction. He received a blow to the head after falling from a platform and later died in hospital. His colleagues have alleged negligence on the part of the doctors who treating Agarwal, claiming that he received inappropriate treatment.

"KGMU Vice-chancellor Mahendra Bhandari told UNI here today that the incident was unfortunate and the student was given the best available treatment.

"As we were still to install ultra modern medical facilties in our hospital, the injured student was shifted to a well-known private nursing home," he said.

Meanwhile, KGMU Junior Doctor's Association general secretary Devesh Shukla said that Deepak died due to delay in medical treatment provided to him. He demanded that the authorities should also clarify why he was shifted to a private nursing home."

As the news of his death spread, hundreds of students went on a rampage on campus. They torched vehicles, damaged medical equipment and college records dating back one hundred years - the university is celebrating its century this year.

Rapid Action Force officers had to be called in order to re-establish calm but all roads to the university remain blocked by students, who are demanding 50 lakh damages for Agarwal's family.


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Monday, January 09, 2006

Ten Million Missing Girls
ASIAN women have a long, long way to go in the fight for equality. What's more upsetting is that the perpetrators of crimes against females are often female themselves. Society has managed to convince men and women that females are inferior.

Just yesterday, a PP thread drifted onto the topic of female abortion in Asia. Today
The Lancet published an Indian-Canadian study into the horrific practice in India. The Lancet requires a paid subscription for full access to articles, so I thought I'd add to the BBC summary. The study and an accompanying article by Dr Shirish Sheth will go to print next week.

study, led by Dr Prabhat Jha and Dr Rajesh Kumar (Toronto and Chandigarh respectively), sought to ascertain the reasons for the unequal balance of females to males with specific reference to pre-natal sex determination and abortion. Across India the ratio stands at 933:1000, but is markedly more pronounced in certain areas such as Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu. The study estimates that 500,000 female babies are aborted every year, for no other reason than their gender. However the study discovered that gender screening was most likely to be utilised when the family already had a daughter.

The stats break down like this:

If the first child is a boy, the ratio for the second and third child normalises, to about 1:1.

If the first child was a girl, the ratio of girls to boys rose sharply to 759:1000.

If the first two children were girls, the ratio fell further to 719:1000.

In households with a more educated mother, the chances of a girl following a female first-born were halved.

A correlation to religion was not found - it seems uniform across the main religious groups.

It is apparent that as long as a family has at least one son, they seem happy. This is somewhat surprising as one of the main proposed reasons for female foeticide is to avoid paying dowry. Dowry payments, made by a girl's family to the family of her husband upon marriage, are illegal in India but remain common practice. A poor family is unable to raise a sufficient dowry and a girl remains unmarried - and as far as society is concerned, worthless. It is, undoubtedly a cause of female abortion, but the reason it has not been identified as a major influence is because the abortion of female babies is not most prevalent amongst the poorest members of society.

On the contrary, those with no money are sometimes unable to access the ultrasound screening tests. The study showed that the practice is most common amongst more educated Indians. The study specifically identified the mothers as the variable factor. In a cruel twist of irony, the more educated a mother, the more likely she is to abort her female child - if she already has a daughter. However, I can only presume that the poorest of the poor still kill off female children - but instead of aborting them in utero, they kill newborns when they discover they are girls. I'm not basing this on fact, just speculation. Reliable figures for female infanticide in India are not available and it is thought that babies are often recorded as 'stillborn' when killed soon after birth.

Jha estimates half a million female children are lost every year and wanted to put pay to excuses that the ratio is due to natural disaster or disease:

"If this practice has been common for most of the past two decades since access to ultrasound became widespread, then a figure of 10m missing female births would not be unreasonable."

Jha himself attributed the main motivation as a legacy of when India was an agrarian society where boys were considered an extra pair of hands in the fields but a girl was a liability, a burden.

Sex selection and female feticide remains "rampant" in India, says Dr Shirish Sheth, of Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. The use of ultrasound to determine sex has been outlawed in India. However, illegal 'back-alley ultrasound clinics' operate widely, even in rural areas. Aborting a foetus based on its gender has been illegal since 1994 and is a crime punishable by a fine, imprisonment and suspension of the doctor's licence. However many operating the machines are not medically-trained doctors but people out to make a quick buck. I can only guess at their accuracy - it's not an easy thing to do.

"In a country bedeviled in many parts by cultural taboos, a boy is preferred because he will continue the family name and bloodline, earn money, look after the family and take care of parents in their old age,"

A woman might be considered a "culprit" for not giving birth to a boy, Dr Sheth says, even though it's the male's sperm that determines the sex of a child. What's more, the cost of a dowry for a daughter can be "phenomenal," forcing many families to borrow to pay for them."

Is anything being done? Thankfully, lots. But India's a big country and it's an uphill struggle to change views held by millions. Some states have offerred free education to families who have only female children. A soap opera has been made by Plan and the government. There are also many religious and charitable organisations working to eradicate a practice of which social activist Swami Agnivesh says:

"There's no other form of violence that's more painful, more abhorrent, more shameful"

China is also notorious for its skewed female:male ratio, although with quite different causality. China's one child policy has created a similar absence of girls across the country. The BBC recently showed a charming film entitled Looking for China Girl which presented the human angle to this shameful trend. The Chinese government estimates that within 15 years, 40 million Chinese men will be lifelong bachelors. The Chinese government has also tried to stem the flow of boys by offering free schooling to girls, but it has not stopped the abduction of girls to be sold as brides. In India abduction has not been widely reported, but paying poor families for their daughters as brides has become more common in Haryana. A perverse reverse-dowry.

The BBC has stacks on this issue. You can start with the
BBC Best Link or hit any of the links above.

The study:

A 1998 survey of fertility and mortality which used almost 7000 units selected to represent the vast country as a whole. The units, in total, comprised 1.1 million households and followed 133,738 births. Based on the natural sex ratio from other countries, the team estimated that around 13.6 to 13.8 million girls should have been born in 1997 in India. However, the actual number was 13.1 million - a deficit of 0.59 - 0.74 million female births.

This is a cross post on Pickled Politics.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Seven Years Short

Heinrich Harrer, 1912 - 2006

AUSTRIAN mountaineer, former SS member, lifelong friend to the Dalai Lama and the man Brad Pitt played in Seven Years in Tibet. Heinrich Harrer died last night, seven years short of his century.

He became the first man to climb the north face of the Swiss Eiger mountain and despite the book
The White Spider becoming a core text amongst mountaineers, he achieved fame some years later. During a 1939 mission to Nanga Parbat (in modern-day Pakistan), Britain went to war with Germany. As Austria had been annexed into Germany, Harrer was arrested in British India as an enemy alien and interned for several years.

In 1944 he and Peter Aufschnaiter escaped to Tibet, then an unfamiliar mystery to the rest of the world. He met a ten year-old Dalai Lama and quickly became his mentor. Over the next seven years, the Dalai Lama claims Harrer educated him greatly about the Western world. In 1951, when the Chinese invaded Lhasa and Tibet, Harrer fled.

Years later he would be awarded the Golden Humboldt from Austria and the Light of Truth award from Tibet's government in exile, in India. His journals, books and photos taught the West a great deal about the inaccessible mountain country.

It is hard to reconcile the benign impact Harrer had on the young spiritual leader with his Nazi past. Indeed, about ten years ago Harrer confessed he was not only a Nazi member, but an SS officer. However he has never been accused nor linked with any mistreatment of others, perhaps because he left before the war began.

Irrespective, Harrer went on to become a human rights campaigner, celebrated author and he assisted in making many films. He remained friends with the small boy he taught fifty years ago and met with the reincarnation of the Buddha on several occasions as the decades past.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Farkin' brilliant
FARK'S Best of 2005 Photoshoppin' competition has gone online. Here are some of my picks. View the voting results here.


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The Rise Of Pseudoscience: If It Looks Like A Quack...
I'VE written quite a bit about quackery whilst wearing my medical journalism hat. A recent controversy surrounding India's best-known and most popular yoga master and the allegation he uses human remains in his Ayurvedic concoctions has brought quacks back into the mainstream news. But, as always in India, politics rears its ugly head. Religious political parties in India have leapt to his defence, attacking Western science and medicine. In a trend occurring all over the world, science has become the bad guy.

Religious right-wingers attacking science...Intelligent Design anyone?

The War on Science™

Like any other medical student, I've heard - and ignored - the phrase ‘evidence-based medicine’, but these three words are central to doctors everywhere. Proof is the cornerstone of science. Without proof, we would prescribe drugs to patients at random and we would perform surgery on people who don’t need it. With time, we have abandoned unfounded beliefs of the past, such as phrenology or using leeches to cure heartburn. Bizarrely, this trend is not universal. In fact what is really happening is that the peddlers of bogus science have merely become more adept at pulling the wool over our collective eyes.

NASA invested over a million dollars in a Russian anti-gravity machine and major power companies have wasted tens of millions on a scheme to produce energy by placing hydrogen atoms below ground state, which has been described as trying to go south of the South Pole. No matter how insane the claim, there will be scientists who will vouch for it and there will be gullible believers.

Irresponsible Medicine

Pseudoscience can come in different guises. Bad science at best can be sloppy, lazy experimentation or, at worst, a cynical attempt to deceive based on ulterior (read: Financial) motives. A high profile and potentially very damaging example of bad science is the nonsensical furore that erupted after the MMR jab was linked to autism in a deeply flawed paper. Quackery is a medicine-specific term. It may seem curious that medicine has its own word for pseudoscience, but one only has to visit Quackwatch to realise just how much detritus there is polluting the medical waters of the world. Why do we have a current state of affairs in which leeches and arsenic are quackery, but Chinese herbal medicine and homeopathy are treated as science?

The Lancet courted controversy last summer by rubbishing homeopathy, the practice of giving water to patients (a fact acknowledged by homeopathy associations). The Lancet’s article was based on a Swiss-British review of over 100 studies on the topic, which showed that homeopathy had the same efficacy as a placebo. So what? Nobody gets hurt by a little water. Not so. Homeopathy is available on the NHS, a government body that is hardly in a position to splash around cash. If we, as medical practitioners, give our patients the impression that homeopathy is a legitimate, effective therapy, we are guilty of failing to act in their best interests. They may neglect allopathic avenues in favour of something that will most likely be less therapeutic.

Pseudoscience has some telltale traits, but it is getting harder and harder to differentiate fact from bollocks. Pseudoscience predominantly works on anecdotal evidence, it fails to provide experimental possibility of reproducible results, it asserts claims that fail falsifiability and almost always fails to submit results for peer review. Acupuncture is yet another example of an officially unproven modality of treatment, which is available on the NHS, paid for by your tax money. It is the exact equivalent of European Space Agency funding astrologers.

Pseudoscience likes OLD. Traditional Chinese and Indian medicine enjoy a mythical status, O the wisdom of the ancients! Pseudoscience likes COINCIDENCE. I have a headache, I stick a needle in my chakra point and my headache goes away. The needle must have cured me.

But what pseudoscience really likes is RELIGION. Which is why the Republicans rubbish evolution and the Hindu funadamentalists in India poo-poo allopathy. Sanjay Nirupam of the hardline Shiv Sena party has also gone on record to say "One always hears about AIDS and how it's this big problem. But I have personally never come across anyone with AIDS or seen anyone dying of the disease, I think it's just hype." The BJP, the main opposition party, ploughed hundreds of crores into a cow urine-based TB treatment. This bizarre trait is not just restricted to America and India. In Africa, Thabo Mbeki famously denied the link between AIDS and HIV. Villagers reject vaccines and visit the witchdoctor.

This revitalisation in bogus science has not occurred overnight. Whereas in the West, when someone has a sniffle they sip tiger bone tea from the Chinese pharmacy; get even more ill and then go to their GP, both options are not always available in the developing world. It has been a growing trend over the last few decades to regard science, most of which is studied in the West, as some sort of post-colonial imperialist weapon to enslave the poor. When Thabo Mbeki claimed HIV and AIDS were not related, he attacked the “hegemony of Western science” and asserted AIDS is a disease of gays.

Human Remains and India's Holy Man

The person to initially allege that Baba Ramdev was using animal and human remains in his medicines was Brinda Karat, the leader of India's Marxist Communist Party (CPI), so one could argue that politics was involved from the start. Baba Ramdev's daily television show attracts up to a million viewers across India. He is an immensely powerful television figure, as his followers, Hindu and Muslim alike, literally bend and twist to his every command. He claims his ayurvedic medicines cure everything, from baldness to brain damage.

Since then, India's religious right, namely the VHP and Shiv Sena, have rallied to Ramdev's support.

So why have politicians waded into defend someone against a very serious allegation? Allopathic medicine and ayurveda have co-existed in India for generations, both given full recognition by the government. Ayurveda, the longest-running system of medicine in the world - and one of the first ever recorded - has won worldwide respect with many of the traditional treatments standing up well in clinical trials. However this is not to say that it is uniformly trustworthy. Ayurveda can be as close to witchdoctoring as species-depleting traditional Chinese medicine, one of my pet hates.

In recent years, India has seen a marked shift in the political sphere, with the rise of a firebrand, pro-Hindu movement. They don't like allopathic medicine - it's phirangi Western nonsense. Ayurvedic practitioners, buoyed by support from Indian MPs, have launched tirades against allopathic medicine; apparently allopathic medicine is "reactive" in that it reacts once you've taken it, but ayurvedic medicine doesn't. Then how the fuck does it work?! [Link]

The similarities to the Republican War on Science are remarkable, both sad indicators of a worldwide trend of bad-mouthing science. Both the VHP and the Republicans have their army of 'scientists' to back up their claims and both pay no regard to evidence-based-science. If the leader of the free world has chosen to reject science, what hope for the developing world?

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Mile High Club Sandwich
ATTENTION Mumbaikars and Londoners! From tomorrow, Air India (who have been suffering with the recent boom in Indian airlines) have announced they will begin a food festival aboard Mumbai-London flights.

The 'Gourmet Flights' will run until the 31st of January and passengers will be presented with a choice:

"Two types of menus — comprising vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies — would be served to the passengers of the first class, executive and economy segments during the period.

...the festival has been organised by Air India in collaboration with Taj Sats Air Catering Service and the unique feature of this service is the passengers’ preferences that would be prepared in front of them instantly by an on-board chef." [Link]

What's even cooler is that passengers will also be able to watch the dishes being prepared in the airplane's kitchen! Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering where they're going to find all the space?

Whether the experience will be more akin to eateries in London or Mumbai remains to be seen. It could be an authentic Indian feast suitable for the most discerning of Maharajahs. Or it could be "forty poppadoms, eighteen vindalooooz, ten kooreez, nine Cobras and twenty Kingfishers. Cheers luv!"

Ah a man can dream.

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Churchill: Let the fakir die
WINSTON Churchill. The man millions of Britons voted 'The Greatest Briton of All Time' at the turn of the millennium, ahead of Newton, Shakespeare, Darwin and Brunel. The man who advocating gassing "recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment".

The man who described Mahatma Gandhi as "a half-naked fakir" who "ought to be laid, bound hand and foot, at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back" [Link]. The man who is in the news again - although there isn't too much coverage.

Hitherto unseen government documents have been released, which detail Churchill's stance on several issues. The notes were recorded by deputy Cabinet secretary, Sir Norman Brook, and give the first detailed glimpse into what was discussed at the War Cabinet between 1942 and 1945. They're open to the public just down the road from me at the Public Records Office in Kew, so I took a look. The rather difficult to read shorthand revealed some fascinating facts.

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He wanted to send Nazis to the electric chair, without trial. He wanted Hitler executed "like a gangster". Hey, I'm not going to make a fuss about these two.

He thought Gen. Charles de Gaulle was a barrier to a "trustworthy" relationship with France. When de Gaulle fled to Britain, he subsequently asked if he was free to leave in order to visit French troops (de Gaulle remained a popular figure amongst the Resistance) and Churchill said "arrest him if he tries to leave."

Whilst the British Army prided itself on treating black and Asian soldiers with respect (at least in comparison to the Americans), Churchill insisted, "the views of the US must be considered." Black soldiers were told to show respect for the American army's segregation policies.

Churchill went on, expressing a desire to wipe out German villages as revenge for the Ludice massacre.

Perhaps least surprisingly, given Churchill's intense hatred of Gandhi (which is largely ignored by Western historians), is the fact that Churchill was willing to let Gandhi die. Whatever criticisms Gandhi has attracted, his devotion to pacifism stands out dramatically from the history of the world. It was this commitment to non-violence that inspired Martin Luther King to adopt the same approach.

Churchill said he was prepared to let him die if he went on hunger strike whilst imprisoned at the Aga Khan prison in Puné. Gandhi was interned during WWII as a result of the Quit India
movement. He denounced Indian soldiers fighting in the war and his called for civil disobedience. At this time his wife and his secretary and close friend, Mahadev Desai, both died. Churchill was also keen to make sure Gandhi was treated "like any other prisoner".

India's viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, had recently sent a telegram claiming he was "strongly in favour of letting Gandhi starve to death" but it has become clear that the British Cabinet were the ones who decided that allowing Gandhi to continue on a strike would simply cause too big a backlash in India, as former viceroy Lord Halifax (then ambassador to America) explained, "Whatever the disadvantages of letting him out, his death in detention would be worse."

But hey, things change. Current Tory leader Dave Cameron quoted Bapu in his new year message:

"As Gandhi said, ‘we must be the change we want to see in the world." [Link]

"A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back -- but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you."

- Marian Wright Edelman.

Cross post on Pickled Politics.

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Diagnosis: Alien Mind Control
JUST as archaic religious/superstitious beliefs are being usurped as science explains the world around us, modern myths like aliens can be rationally explained away. I knew there was a use for medical research and now I've found it.


America's deep South is clearly the home of the human race's finest specimens, for why else would aliens abduct grits-munching yokels more than anyone else? Irrespective of the validity of the abductees’ claims, one striking feature emerges; they all describe the same alien. Grey skin, lightbulb heads, no ears, big eyes, pointy chins and flat noses, a bit like the chap shown here. New evidence has now shed some light on the reality behind these other-wordly claims. A US Air Force Academy psychologist named Frederick Malmstrom has claimed that these people are not describing aliens, but are actually remembering their mommy.

Dr Malmstrom believes that the in-built mammilian 'mother' template is being accessed inappropriately. Wee babies take several weeks to develop the ability to differentiate between different people. They do, however, have the ability to recognise a face as ‘human’ from Day 1. All that you need are two eyes and a nose. This is why babies react to a mask or a cuddly toy the same way they do to a real face. But put three noses or one eye on the mask or toy and the baby isn’t interested. Colour vision also takes several weeks to develop, so babies under two months see things in greyscale.

With this in mind, Malmstrom created an image of a woman as seen by a two week old baby. The strange result, as published in
The Skeptic (fantastic mag), is distinctly alienesque. The eyes are over-sized and tilted up, the nose is flat and the skin is grey. It is believed that this template is accessed whilst in a state of neurological confusion, such as under hypnosis or when half asleep.

Alien Limb

Alien hand, alien limb, anarchic hand, Dr Strangelove Syndrome - all names for a bizarre neurological condition where arguments take place between one person's limbs, first noted in 1909.

Neurological insults that cause involuntary movements are legion; chorea-inducing conditions have been documented long into the past. However, the fascinating thing about anarchic hand is that the affected hand or limb seems to take on a personality of its own, much like Peter Sellers' hand used to, awfully embarrassingly, salute Hitler at rather awkward moments. It's a very rare affliction with a few dozen recorded cases, but
Surgical Neurology, has recently documented a new case of anarchic hand from Japan (subscription needed).

Central to the idea of anarchic hand is that the human body is thought to operate by a system of free won't, not free will. Thus conscious and subconscious signals are required to move - and NOT move - our limbs as we wish. Anarchic hand is not a psychiatric diagnosis; it's not a disorder of 'the mind', but purely a result of an injury to a specific part of the frontal lobe. This knowledge has only been gained recently, with the advent of more advanced imaging and diagnosis - coupled with specific history-taking. Hence, it is possible that patients suffering from anarchic limb in the past, perhaps post-stroke, would have been institutionalised as being possessed or just a loonie.

Cases include one hand 'fighting' with the other for control of a TV remote control, a patient who frequently has to stop one hand strangling him and a woman whose hand shoves fishbones into its owners mouth at a posh restaurant. In contrast to the far more common limb-neglect which can occur after a stroke, the patient is always fully aware their hand is their own, but they feel as though they have no control over it. They can hit the affected hand, sit on it, shout at it or shake it - but as you can imagine, it can be an incredibly distressing condition.

Like all incredibly rare neurological conditions, there's stacks on the Internet about anarchic hand. Try
here or here to begin with, if you want to learn more.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Nostalgia just ain't what it used to be
CLEANING out my room unearthed this corker of a postcard:

Also recovered was a 1996 issue of my school newspaper with an article I wrote aged 14 entitled 'Eastern Promise'. Titles like that were forgivable back then. Here's an extract:

"Only a few years ago, the modern second generation sub-continental music widespread in Britain was bhangra. Real bhangra is traditional Punjabi folk music, but the bhangra of Britain, pronounced in a broad Birmingham accent, was most probably invented in the black country along with balti - which actually means 'bucket' in Hindi. This cheesey blend of Punjabi lyrics, squeaky synthesisers and borrowed rhythms was an unfortunate episode.

Now the story is different. The Outcaste Collective plays the Notting Hill Arts Club every Thursday and Earthtribe run Sitar Funk monthly at The End club, both with similar break beat styles. But the most well known DJ/producer/collaborator as of now is Talvin Singh, who runs the grooviest night in what Newsweek called the world's grooviest city; an Asian Affair at the Blue Note. Monday night is Anokha, where DJs mix in Indian lyrics, sitars, veenas, santoors and tablas with drum & bass."

That was ten years ago. It's amazing how so little has changed; a lot of the same names are around and the Notting Hill Arts Club is still the venue for one of the hottest desi nights around.

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This piece has an interesting feature - it's called a dust jacket
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THIS just in, from the world's coolest girlfriend.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

my ties

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GREENWICH Mean Time baby, the only New Year that matters. The London Eye sees in 2006.

The last minute of 2005 was in fact 61 seconds long - a leap second was added on, which had built up over about 18 months.





NYE 13


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