Sham Acupuncture

Something I read today I thought was very interesting – western medicine doesn’t work as well as fake non-medicine, at least for lower back pain. A study found that fake acupuncture worked nearly as well as real acupuncture, and both of those were nearly twice as effective as western medicine.

In the largest experiment on acupuncture for back pain to date, more than 1,100 patients were randomly assigned to receive either acupuncture, sham acupuncture or conventional therapy. For the sham acupuncture, needles were inserted, but not as deeply as for the real thing. The sham acupuncture also did not insert needles in traditional acupuncture points on the body and the needles were not manually moved and rotated.

After six months, patients answered questions about pain and functional ability and their scores determined how well each of the therapies worked.

In the real acupuncture group, 47 percent of patients improved. In the sham acupuncture group, 44 percent did. In the usual care group, 27 percent got relief.

To me it seems obvious that much of the pain relief comes from just *thinking* you’re going to get relief. The next question I’d have is, if you know that going in, do you need treatment at all? Or just think about getting treatment?

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Kenya Mission, Day 7

January 2, 2006

Today’s Swahili phrase: hakuna matada, which means “Disney marketing phrase.” No wait, it means “no worries.”

I’ve received a lot of encouragement to continue this series – we’re about halfway through – but this next day was a very important day, full of eye-opening experiences, and frankly, just hard to get a grasp on everything that happened and put it into words. I probably started and stopped this post a half-dozen times in the last month, and I think you’ll see by the end why it took so long. While bathing the orphan children was a revealing experience 2 days ago, today really impressed upon us the great need and problems of the people of Kenya.

Sister FredaToday we went to visit Sister Freda and her hospital, and I met one of this planet’s finest women. Sister Freda runs a hospital near Kitale, Kenya, as well as an orphanage and a school. She told us that only 2 of every hundred patients can afford to pay, so she provides most of the care for free and operates entirely on faith. We had come to serve Sister Freda for the day, but she waited on us hand and foot and humbled us by showing us what a real servant was like. Here is Sister Freda; click the thumbnail to get a full size view.

Sister Freda's HospitalSister Freda first gave us a tour of the hospital. In the US we’re used to gleaming stainless steel so the concrete building didn’t appear exactly state-of-the art, but it was very clean and sterile. Plenty of care was taken to keep things clean and neat. We met some of the patients. A woman with AIDS and malaria who had had an allergic reaction to the drug combination and who’s skin appeared to be disappearing; in her case, the rich black skin of a Kenya had turned an off-white color. We stopped to pray with her. We met a pregnant woman; pre-natal care is almost non-existent here, but this woman had stopped in for a checkup and some vitamins. We met a little girl with sickle cell anemia. Another young child, perhaps 2 years old, was asleep; her mother lived in the nearby forest and had carried her baby in a backpack for so long her legs were folded under and misshapen from the lack of use, and Sister Freda was providing the physical therapy to help her walk. The baby was taken from the mother by other villagers when the mother drowned her eight year old daughter.

Breakfast at Sister Freda'sSister Freda serves breakfast to the orphans Next, we went outside to visit the orphanage and school. In Kenya, they don’t have public schools funded by taxes like the United States; instead, each parent has to provide money to pay for their children’s education. The result is that many children from the poorest families and all orphans remain uneducated. Sister Freda not only has 30+ children she feeds and educates, but she’s been doing this such a long time that some of the earliest orphans have grown up and now work in her medical clinic. Here we visited the children while they were having breakfast.

The children of Sister Freda in schoolThe children of Sister Freda in schoolWhen breakfast was over, the children returned to the classrooms. I think there were three rooms, each about 20’x20′ with a door, a window, and a blackboard, and not enough chairs for the children. That didn’t seem to be a problem for them, though, as the children happily sat on each other when necessary. The children sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in English and were genuinely surprised that we knew the words, too.

Bananas from Sister Freda's orchardSister Freda presents fruit from her orchardSister Freda also has a fruit orchard and we toured the bananas, papayas, and avocados growing there. Many of the medicines prescribed are supposed to be taken with food, and for many of the patients food can be difficult to come by. Sister Freda solves that problem by growing her own food and cooking in her own kitchen. We were blessed by lunch with her as she served a meat stew with ugali and some of the most wonderful bread I’ve ever had called chapati, made by rolling whole wheat flour and salt into a circle, browning in a pan, then held briefly over an open flame to puff up.

Sister Freda was a fabulous host, and we found out the reason our day of service in the town of Mbasagan was cancelled was because of a funeral being held that day. On a moonless night, dark black men are hard to see, and such a recent night saw the murder of six people in town. Possibly in retaliation for a tribal disagreement, the six were murdered in their homes. We were reminded that we were far away from home and not necessarily as safe as we felt. Sister Freda instead served us lunch and presented each of us with a rungu, an African fighting stick. (I’ve tried to look this up on a web search, but the rungus I found don’t look like the ones we received. Ours look more like a samburu war club.)

Kenya girl carrying brown waterAfter lunch, we went to Mbasagan town to visit. When Mzungus like us visit, we cause a stir, and all the children turn out. The children are incredibly friendly and have none of that “stranger danger” has ever been taught to them. They walked right up along side and took our hand – those that were brave enough to come so close to a mzungu, that is. They ask for nothing but their needs are great. Some of the children would hold our hands for a while as we walked… then would also help us hold our water bottles. One by one we relinquished all of our water to the children, for we knew we could just get fresh water bottles later. What were the children drinking? The children save their bottles and walk to the river daily to refill it. Take a good look at the color of the water in this water bottle this young girl was carrying. How could we refuse? We only had maybe 6 or 8 bottles among us and there were two dozen children and I didn’t know how to choose, but that was my western materialism at play again. It didn’t matter which child we gave the water to, all the bottles ended up in the hands of a single, older girl. We were told once they had collected all the water, she’d divide it among the children fairly so they could all have a taste of fresh water.

One of the women we met showed us some maize that was at the foot of her house. It didn’t look like much, and it wasn’t. She told us that it was all she had to eat until October, but she wasn’t going to eat it. She was saving it for the rainy season to plant. She was an educated woman with a university education, and then married a local Mbasagan man. There was no opportunity to use her education and said matter-of-factly that this was just her lot in life. Her husband provided the living, carrying fruit from the market to the highway for about 35 shillings a day, about 50 cents. With that, they bought food daily. It was her job to collect firewood and water every day.

She told us of the needs of the town; many of the adults and children were dying of dysentery, cholera and malaria. The town shared a latrine, dug by hand 30 feet down, then covered with a board with a hole in it. The only well in town was also dug 30 feet down, and waste seepage had long ago contaminated the well. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was no cemetery, so people buried their dead on their own land, about a 20′ x 20′ piece of land. They only buried them two or three feet deep, so heavy rains would wash remains into their neighbor’s yard where they cooked. They asked to get word to a group like Living Water who could drill water wells 200 feet, well below the contaminated layer of ground.

We walked back to Sister Freda’s in a somber thoughtful mood, but our day was just beginning. When we got there, a man on a bicycle had carried a woman to see Sister Freda. The woman was in obvious pain; her ankle was very swollen, she could not move her arm, and she was bleeding from one ear. She had been riding on a boda-boda, a bicycle, and had a bicycle accident. She had leaped off at the last moment. Sister Freda took her inside, cleaned her up, but said she needed x-rays, something Sister Freda could not provide. We had a van, so we split into two groups. One group went back home, picking up groceries for the night. The rest of us gave the injured woman – her name was Rosa – a ride to the Kitale hospital. Our experience here convinced us of two things. One, I would never complain about US hospitals, and two, if we became injured in Kenya, please ship us to England for emergency care.

The hospital had an admission room where they grudgingly admitted Rosa because of Sister Freda’s letter, and that’s where the hospital care ceases. There are no orderlies, no nurses, nobody that comes to help. Injured people must be accompanied by friends or relatives to move them around or… they just die. There’s a payment for admission, and all transactions are handled up front with cash. If you don’t have cash… well, I guess you die. We found a metal gurney and lifted Rosa onto it and she yelled in pain; it had been several hours since her accident and she had no painkillers. Then we waited for a doctor to arrive to take the x-rays. He was traveling among other hospitals at the moment, taking x-rays, and nobody was sure when he would arrive at this hospital.

After two or three hours, Rosa lying on the metal gurney in pain, we decided we had waited long enough. It was getting dark and Rosa was getting cold, so we went back into the ward. Beds were available back here, but there were three times as many patients as there were beds, so injured and ill people shared, 2 or 3 to a bed. When we brought in Rosa, one woman moved her injured child into another so three children shared a bed, making room voluntarily for Rosa to have a place. We wheeled her as close as we could, then lifted her to the bed, cringing because she yelled in pain. We felt hopeless, unable to compensate for her hurting.

And 2 minutes later, we found the doctor had arrived. And we lifted Rosa again in pain onto the gurney, bumped her across the concrete walkway back to the x-ray room. Then we lifted her for the 4th time that day onto the x-ray table. The doctor looked at us seriously and asked us some direct questions about whether we were missionaries. I don’t know if that would have been a problem, but we answered truthfully that we were visiting sister Freda. One of us was a pastor, the rest were engineers, accountants, miscellaneous. Not full time missionaries. The doctor looked at us for a while longer, then asked for payment. We paid the doctor and waited outside.

After a few moments, he told us her foot was merely sprained, but her clavicle, her shoulder was broken. The blood from the ears indicated some head injury, but his equipment could not x-ray a skull. There would be no way to tell if her head was damaged seriously, nor any way to treat it.

We lifted Rosa for the 5th time back onto the gurney, wheeled her along the bumpy path, then lifted her for the 6th time back into bed. We now had a prescription for a painkiller, so again we divided up, half walking down the street to get the medicine, the rest staying with Rosa for comfort. We could pray for her, but she spoke no English. Jason translated for us that we had been visiting a local church and would stay with her as long as we could. At a nearby store before they closed we bought a shawl for Rosa to stay warm, milk and fruit for when she became hungry, and made a quick trip home to grab some personal pillows we had brought from the US so she would have something to rest her head on.

In the meantime, the rest of our group, waiting in the van, had spent the afternoon witnessing to the security guard. I didn’t get the whole story, but he was Muslim and afraid of what would happen to him, but then gave his life to Christ. I hope one of our group gets the courage to post in the comments below what happened out there. 🙂

That was all we could do for Rosa that day, so we left, vowing to come back and check on her when we could. Her brother was with her so her needs could be met. The needs of the Kenyan people showed so greatly in even this hospital – no assistance, no food, no medicine, and you had to pay first or you didn’t receive care. The Lord had opened our eyes today on many things, things we would never forget.

Again, I apologize for the length of time it took to write about this day, but it was such a powerful day, and I haven’t had the time at lunch lately to write like I did earlier in the year. If you thought our day of bathing the orphan children was the most emotional experience, today was exponentially more powerful. And tomorrow? In Day 8 we will find that there’s even more needs than we could have possibly imagined. That’ll take a while to write as well, so I hope you’ll be patient. And those of you that went to Kenya with me, and especially those friends still in Kitale, please comment and correct anything I didn’t get quite write, I’ll be happy to fix it. Just comment below or email me.

Dogs and HyperActive Thyroids

Dang dogs. I’m pretty sure Patch jumped up on the furniture tonight and got my wife’s thyroid medicine off the end table. When I got home after exercise, it was Bella that was happily chewing on the child-proof (but not dog-proof) plastic bottle.

ASPCA poison control had a nearly incomprehensible technical paper on thyroid overdose. Basically, except for possible vomiting and diarrhea, the dogs should be fine. Dogs don’t absorb thyroid medicine well.

After I’m sure they’re ok, I’m going to kill them. Bad dogs.

Disgruntled Conservatives

When Bush pushed for Harriet Miers, I balked. The Republicans are not only not acting like the majority party, but the few battles they win seem like they’re for the other side. The size of government balloons. From the lack of social security reform to the nomonation of Harriet Miers, I’m done giving Bush the benefit of the doubt. The Republicans are winning elections because they talk conservative. Then they forget to act on it.

Another conservative blows his lid today for the same reason.

Okay, I have had it.

Not a damned thing distinguishes the Republicans from the Democrats anymore…not a damned thing. “No Child Left Behind” in essence, and unconstitutionally, federalized education. The GOP-engineered federal prescription drug subsidy program for seniors was another huge and costly step toward total socialized medicine. The Administration’s response to recent natural disasters — here and abroad — establishes the premise of federalizing all local emergencies globally, and reducing the U.S. military into becoming the logistics wing of the International Red Cross.

And so on, and so on.

During George W. Bush’s first term, you could argue (I did) that his tougher foreign policy against Islamofascist terrorists distinguished him from the Democrats. But even that is disintegrating now. Many top Republicans, succumbing to PC critics and sinking polls, are turning tail and running from the war against the perpetrators of 9/11.

Politically, their effort to ape the Democrats won’t work, of course. Me-tooism never does. Voters will ask themselves: Why get our liberal welfare statism on the rocks, when the Dems offer it straight up? As a result, the GOP is going to be badly, and deservedly, chastened at the polls next time. (It already started to happen during this past week’s elections.)

But this leaves the glaring problem of where people like me — the lonely advocates of rational, principled individualism — are supposed to turn, politically.

For now, nowhere. (No, the incoherent Libertarian Party is not an option.)

Excellent reading thanks to a tip from Right Voices.

Professional Snorer

Except for the part where I can’t figure out how to get paid for it, I could snore professionally.

I should have kept y’all up-to-date along the way, but I didn’t. C’est la vie.

I snore when I’m on my back… and my side. Even on my stomach. If I slept hanging from my ankles from the ceiling like a bat, I’d still snore. There’s no such thing as poking me to make me stop, or rolling me over, I’m just going to keep right on snoring.

The first thing I tried was the Breathe Right nasal strips and throat spray. The strips across my nose felt funny peeling off in the morning, the throat spray tasted like cough medicine. But still I snored.

I visited the doctor who prescribed steroids. Since the snoring is caused by soft skin in the nose and throat vibrating against each other, steroids will toughen up that skin so it’s less likely to vibrate. Ha, another feeble attempt to inhibit my snoring.

I saw an otolaryngologist – an ear, nose and throat specialist – who wanted to carve out all my mucus membranes with a carving knife. She said it would be painful, expensive, not covered by insurance, and I’d probably still snore afterwards. Yuck.

I went to the dentist and got a SilentNite mouthguard. I felt funny driving around with a model of my own teeth and mouth in the car. The mouthguard is supposed to keep my jaw forward in a position that inhibits snoring. Ha. I put the mouthpiece in and snored all night long. I’m going to head back to the dentist and see if any adjustments can be made.

Other than continued weight loss, which I’ve been doing, I’m running out of ideas. At least I don’t snore when I’m awake.

Lamentations of the Father

Lamentations of the Father
by Ian Frazier

Laws Pertaining to the Living Room

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room.

Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room.

Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room.

Of the cereal grains, of the corn and of the wheat and of the oats, and of all the cereals that are of bright color and unknown provenance you may eat, but not in the living room.

Of the quiescently frozen dessert and of all frozen after-meal treats you may eat, but absolutely not in the living room.

Of the juices and other beverages, yes, even of those in sippy-cups, you may drink, but not in the living room, neither may you carry such therein. Indeed, when you reach the place where the living room carpet begins, of any food or beverage there you may not eat, neither may you drink.

But if you are sick, and are lying down and watching something, then may you eat in the living room.

Laws When at Table

And if you are seated in your high chair, or in a chair such as a greater person might use, keep your legs and feet below you as they were. Neither raise up your knees, nor place your feet upon the table, for that is an abomination to me. Yes, even when you have an interesting bandage to show, your feet upon the table are an abomination, and worthy of rebuke.

Drink your milk as it is given you, neither use on it any utensils, nor fork, nor knife, nor spoon, for that is not what they are for; if you will dip your blocks in the milk, and lick it off, you will be sent away. When you have drunk, let the empty cup then remain upon the table, and do not bite it upon its edge and by your teeth hold it to your face in order to make noises in it sounding like a duck; for you will be sent away.

When you chew your food, keep your mouth closed until you have swallowed, and do not open it to show your brother or your sister what is within; I say to you, do not so, even if your brother or your sister has done the same to you.

Eat your food only; do not eat that which is not food; neither seize the table between your jaws, nor use the raiment of the table to wipe your lips. I say again to you, do not touch it, but leave it as it is. And though your stick of carrot does indeed resemble a marker, draw not with it upon the table, even in pretend, for we do not do that, that is why. And though the pieces of broccoli are very like small trees, do not stand them upright to make a forest, because we do not do that, that is why.

Sit just as I have told you, and do not lean to one side or the other, nor slide down until you are nearly slid away. Heed me; for if you sit like that, your hair will go into the syrup. And now behold, even as I have said, it has come to pass.

Laws Pertaining to Dessert

For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert. But of the unclean plate, the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas with each bite consisting of not less than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have also eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert. But if you eat a lesser number of peas, and yet you eat the potatoes, still you shall not have dessert; and if you eat the peas, yet leave the potatoes uneaten, you shall not have dessert, no, not even a small portion thereof. And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes or peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.

On Screaming

Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault.

Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.

Concerning Face and Hands

Cast your countenance upward to the light, and lift your eyes to the hills, that I may more easily wash you off. For the stains are upon you; even to the very back of your head, there is rice thereon. And in the breast pocket of your garment, and upon the tie of your shoe, rice and other fragments are distributed in a manner wonderful to see. Only hold yourself still; hold still, I say.

Give each finger in its turn for my examination thereof, and also each thumb. Lo, how iniquitous they appear. What I do is as it must be; and you shall not go hence until I have done.

Various Other Laws, Statutes, and Ordinances

Bite not, lest you be cast into quiet time. Neither drink of your own bath water, nor of bath water of any kind; nor rub your feet on bread, even if it be in the package; nor rub yourself against cars, nor against any building; nor eat sand.

Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? And hum not that humming in your nose as I read, nor stand between the light and the book. Indeed, you will drive me to madness. Nor forget what I said about the tape.

Complaints and Lamentations

O my children, you are disobedient. For when I tell you what you must do, you argue and dispute hotly even to the littlest detail; and when I do not accede, you cry out, and hit and kick. Yes, and even sometimes do you spit, and shout “stupid-head” and other blasphemies, and hit and kick the wall and the molding thereof when you are sent to the corner. And though the law teaches that no one shall be sent to the corner for more minutes than he has years of age, yet I would leave you there all day, so mighty am I in anger. But upon being sent to the corner you ask straightaway, “Can I come out?” and I reply, “No, you may not come out.” And again you ask, and again I give the same reply. But when you ask again a third time, then you may come out.

Hear me, O my children, for the bills they kill me. I pay and pay again, even to the twelfth time in a year, and yet again they mount higher than before. For our health, that we may be covered, I give six hundred and twenty talents twelve times in a year; but even this covers not the fifteen hundred deductible for each member of the family within a calendar year. And yet for ordinary visits we still are not covered, nor for many medicines, nor for the teeth within our mouths. Guess not at what rage is in my mind, for surely you cannot know. For I will come to you at the first of the month and at the fifteenth of the month with the bills and a great whining and moan. And when the month of taxes comes, I will decry the wrong and unfairness of it, and mourn with wine and ashtrays, and rend my receipts. And you shall remember that I am that I am: before, after, and until you are twenty-one. Hear me then, and avoid me in my wrath, O children of me.

Mechanical Investing for March 2005

All in all, a 6.1% gain for the month, happily beating the market. Would have done a lot better, too, except for ALOY.
True story – I’m at the movies, I stop at the restroom. I’m standing in front of the urinal that has an advertisement for Immodium AD diarrhea medicine. And on the frame at the bottom it says, “ALLOY MARKETING.” And I’m thinking, “OH NOOOOOOO! I BOUGHT STOCK IN THAT!!! AAAIIIIEEEEE!!!.

I’m a little heavy on homebuilders, 7 of the 12 holdings are in that industry.

Holding for another month:

Ticker Bought Now Months Return  
AAPL $26.345 $44.16 4 +67.6% Apple Computer, adjusted for the 2:1 split. I think I’ll buy an iPod Mini this month. 🙂
CMC $24.965 $35.05 2 +40.4% Commercial Metals Company. No complaints here. 🙂
NVR $630.50 $793.75 4 +25.9% NVR Inc. Sort of went flat this month, but a good return.
RYL $63.18 $69.00 1 +9.2% The Ryland Group, yet another homebuilder.
TOL $76.90 $87.85 1 +14.2% Toll Brothers, Inc., homebuilder.
.ADQGH $3.10 $0.30 2 -90.3% ADSK (July 05 40), will sell in April. Looking like a total loss on this one though.
.CQRFI $2.80 $0.10 0 -96.4% CREE (June 05 45), will sell in April. Unless the commission costs more than it’s worth. 😦

Selling these:

Ticker Bought Sold Months Return  
ALOY $7.71 $5.88 2 -23.7% Media and Marketing for Generation Y. Pffft.
BZH $146.19 $169.81 1 +16.2% Beazer Homes is yet again another winner. Odd that this is one homebuilder stock being sold this month.
DXYN $17.94 $18.35 1 +2.3% Dixie Group, Inc., carpet manufacturer.
LDG $25.58 $27.22 5 +6.4% Long Drug Stores Corp.
NAFC $28.34 $39.25 6 +38.5% Nash Finch Company. Very happy with this one.
PRXL $23.89 $22.35 1 -6.4% Parexel International, biopharmaceutical services company.
RDA $16.09 $16.93 1 +5.2% Reader’s Digest Association.
.CAIFN $4.10 $0.15 3 -96.3% CAI (June 05 70), essentially a total loss.
.TXUGN $2.85 $8.80 3 +208.8% TXU Energy (July 05 70). Tripled in 3 months.

New stocks for this month:

Ticker Bought Sold Months Return  
CMCO $12.74 $N/A 0 N/A% Columbus McKinnon Corp., cranes and hoists and stuff.
FDG $91.85 $N/A 0 N/A% Fording Canadian Coal Trust.
HOV $54.20 $N/A 0 N/A% Hovnanian Enterprises, homebuilder.
KBH $123.17 $N/A 0 N/A% KB Homes, another homebuilder.
KMG $76.20 $N/A 0 N/A% Kerr-McGee, oil & gas exploration.
SPF $79.24 $N/A 0 N/A% Standard Pacific, another homebuilder.
VLO $67.28 $N/A 0 N/A% Valero, oil & gas. Made a wee profit on this one last November.

New options for this month:

Ticker Bought Sold Weeks Return
No new options until October.

Next trade will be March 28 or April 4, I haven’t decided yet.