Sunday, 16 August 2009

Gone to Wordpress

Hiya, you can still read all the following posts here if you like, but all my new ones are at my Wordpress blog, as I was having some technical difficulties with blogger.

Carmen x

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Beware The Spinal Trap

Hello, I’m at work, right now so I’ll have to keep this short (and update links etc when I get in late tonight) but if you didn’t already know, the BCA (British Chiropractic Association) are suing Dr Simon Singh over an unedited version of the article below. A cache copy of the original article can be found here [link to follow soon, when I get home!] along with my zingy analysis here [once again, link to follow]. You can also follow Sense About Science on Twitter here [sorry guys, I will do this]. All the cool people in the world are posting this article on their blogs. My mum is a massage therapist – luckily for her, she gets a small fee each time a chiropractor messes up her patient’s back, as she is the one who has to fix it. Despite this financial gain on her part, it annoys her when people have back problems. By default, that annoys me (because she is a very lovely lady and is very rarely in a bad mood, I should know: I test her patience often!) but all that aside, they are stifling free speech – the original article was in the “Comments” section of the Guardian newspaper.


I don’t want to receive any nasty emails from people who say chiropractic works. It might work for your lower back problem, but it does not cure asthma. Let me repeat that in capital letters to demonstrate the appropriate level of angst I feel when I read nasty emails from merchants of woo: CHIROPRACTIC DOES NOT CURE ASTHMA.


Anyway, here it is for your delight…:



Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Angry rant about stuff because it's wot "Teh Internets" are for, got it?

Urgh. I'm pretty angry about stuff right now. It's not really like me to get angry - generally I'm fairly easy-going (at least I like to think so) and I tend not to get riled up about petty stupidities.

Today, for some reason, is different.

Firstly, I met a very nice man yesterday, with whom I was flirting, but I had to leave quite sharpish to catch the last train home. Correspondence with a friend has revealed that he is in a relationship. Damn. That was a bit annoying.

I hadn't been drinking last night as I'd started to hear my liver weeping for the last few nights I'd been out. It might have all been in my head, but either way it's not good. So I replaced alcohol with diet coke, and then I couldn't get to sleep until about 2am. When my alarm went off at 6am, I was pretty miffed.

Then I was in the shower and someone - SOMEONE - decided that they needed to switch the dishwasher on. WHILE I WAS IN THE SHOWER.

I did my best to not be angry, but afterwards when I was getting dressed, I discovered a hole in my favourite new dress! I can mend it, no problem, but I was gonna be late for work so I put on something that didn't need ironing and headed straight to the train station.

About 10 minutes into my walk to the train station, I realised that I'd left my iPhone at home! For the love of all that is good and proper in the world, I was fuming, and it was only 7.30 in the a-m.

I eventually got to Vauxhall, stressed, angry, slightly sweaty. I made my way into Tesco's to get my lunch. I picked up one of those Innocent Veggie Pots, the sort of minty Moroccan one, it's pretty good, got lentils and peas and aubergine in it as well, I was really looking forward to it. Spent the morning working/reading the internet. Got to 12pm to find that I'd bought the wrong veggie pot! So I had to walk all the way back to Tesco's (a good 15 minutes) to get some microwave rice or bread or something, anything to go with it.

On the way back from Tesco's I saw, quite possibly, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. I doubt very much I will ever see something so incredible, so life affirming, so amazing again. Ever.

I witnessed someone slip on a banana skin.

This is no joke, it really happened. I couldn't laugh, I couldn't cry, all I could do was stand there in complete bewilderment at this most excellent spectacle. I was standing on the other side of the road outside my office, and I'd seen the banana skin on the floor on my way to Tesco's but didn't think much of it, other than "I'm fairly sure it's next to impossible to slip on a banana skin, no-one will ever do that unless it's got honey or maple syrup underneath it". How wrong could I be.

What happened was someone had (at some earlier point in time, before I'd gotten into work) opened a banana, eaten about half of it, and then dropped it on the floor. The way in which it fell made it look as though it had been finished. Today was a rather hot day in London, and the remainder of the banana had melted into the pavement. Some unsuspecting simpleton, clearly not paying attention to their surroundings, had discovered this unbelievable opportunity and inadvertently siezed it for my pleasure! I rushed for my phone, so that I could Tweet a photo of the aftermath, but alas, I had left it on the chair next to my bed. That squashed banana will be gone by tomorrow morning. Some diligent roadsweeper will have cleaned the evidence of this beautiful tragedy away. Lost forever in all but memory...

Blah blah blah, got to going home time, and there were CHILDREN and HAPPY COUPLES on my train SPEAKING LOUDLY. Bastards. As if the train isn't packed enough when the little darlings are at school. Christ, happy people annoy me. Especially today. Especially when I'm in a cantankerous mood. I was so annoyed that I rushed for a seat on the train, even though I was only going one stop. Take that commuting wankers. Sadly though, when I got off the train, I did feel sort of guilty about that. I was only going one stop. The tiny rush of superiority didn't last long at all, and it definitely wasn't worth it.

Being in a bad mood sucks. If I'd just had a few beers last night instead of all that diet coke, none of this would have happened.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Peter Joyce (a.k.a. Freaky Pete): Rest In Peace

Today, I was informed that a dear friend of mine has died of a suspected overdose. It’s the sort of news that doesn’t exactly sink in properly immediately.


When I was about 18, I was participating in an open mic night at The Black Sheep Bar in Croydon. A scruffy young gentleman wielding a saxophone approached me about halfway into my set and asked if he could play the next song with me. I’d never done a duet in such a manner before but I hesitantly agreed. The song was called “When I Wish” and it is my mum’s favourite song that I’ve written. I’ve never recorded it as it always sounds best with Pete’s sax. In a selfish way, it saddens me greatly that I will never get to hear it in all its glory again.


After the gig, Pete and I were chatting, when Bob (another mate of ours, also playing at that same gig) introduced him as “Freaky Pete”, because he’s freaky on the sax. Pete and I subsequently did a fair few gigs together (there was even a brief spell when I was in a band with him and Bob, and Bob’s cousin Jon, playing Irish folk music!).


When I came back from uni, I’d heard the details of some of the problems he’d had with depression, but that he sought help for it and he had the support of all his friends and family, so I guess it never troubled me. I only ever knew Pete as a really wonderful guy, great to hang out with, very snappy sense of humour, and excellent musician.


My first thought, and the main thought that has been circling round my head all afternoon is “Pete, you fucking idiot”. I’m really angry that he chose to get a grip on his life by removing himself from it completely, and if I’m honest, part of that anger is directed at myself for not being there when he needed someone the most.


As clichéd as it sounds, I will only remember the good times, because between Pete and I there were only good times. I hope that wherever he is, they have a saxophone and spare reeds.


Pete, I’m really going to miss you.


Lots of love,


Carmen x x x

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Croydon is a shit hole. I have anecdotal evidence.


I've been posting a lot for the last couple of days as I've discovered I have about 15 readers of my little blog. It's very encouraging, and I thank you all for reading this.

I went out clubbing this evening in Croydon.

Before I continue, I'd like to say that not all of Croydon is a shit hole, just the bits that everyone tends to hang out in.

Anyway, went to the Loop Bar for a Drum and Bass night. I'm not usually into DnB but I thought I'd give it a go. I used to go raving a lot, how different could it be?

The difference was that this time I was in Croydon.

A rotund young gentleman in a white Ben Sherman shirt with spiky hair (no stereotype Danny Dyer wannabe *at all*) grabbed my posterior. I turned around as his hand was still on my behind for him to say:

"It wasn't me, I'd never touch your arse, you're a fat fucking paki"


Then his girlfriend turned up, who proceeded to ask me what happened. I retold the story, expecting her to be sympathetic, or laugh and say he does it all the time, I look like a friend of his or something, but she pushed me over and called me a liar!

A friend posted a tweet up just today saying he's sick of people saying how shite Croydon is. I've lived here my whole life and in that time I've been mugged, sexually assaulted (twice), and verbally abused too many times to recount.

Despite all this, I live here because there are great places to hang out, like the Black Sheep Bar, The Green Dragon, The Dog and Bull, The Brief, The Oval, and The Ship. I think from now on, as I usually do, I'll stick to these places...

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Rant on Homophobia

Morning all,

This rant has been partly inspired by a blog post by the wonderful PZ Myers, but also because it's something very important to me. I have a few gay friends, not to enhance my SATC credentials - they are just friends of mine who happen to be gay - and it pisses me off when I read shite like this.

I was raised a Catholic, in a deeply religious family. As a child, I used to vounteer to read at mass. When I was older I led the church choir and taught Sunday school. To me, Jesus always seemed like a really cool guy. He talked about loving and respecting people, regardless of their past misdemeanors or place of birth or status in society.

Somehow, I cannot imagine Jesus approaching an openly gay couple, telling them that god does not love them, or that they are going to hell. Sites like this just don't sit in with Jesus' general "Live and let live" ethos, surely?

Why is the sexuality of others so offensive? I am not a christian any more (because I was sick of the hypocrisy and inequality that the church talked about a lot, but did very little to help) but I reckon Jesus would rip the piss out of any one of these nutjobs preaching hatred towards other human beings. Let's not forget here, that it was in this Bronze Age manual (John 8:7?) where Jesus openly criticised the hypocrites? Correct me if I'm wrong.

Friday, 3 July 2009

A hint to nerdy boys
Are nerdy girls (like me) really this predictable? We must be, as I agree with pretty much everything she said.
I’d just like to add one more though –
If you don’t communicate at all, they will never know you care. It seems so obvious, and yet rarely happens.
It doesn’t matter if it’s on a train, in a pub, queuing for the loos at Victoria station at 1am on a Wednesday night (you know who you are). The worst she can do is tell you to fuck off, right? And then you can make her feel really guilty by saying something like
 “Oh… sorry, you’re just quite pretty, and you look like quite a cool person. I must have got the wrong impression of you.”

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Fringing is, like, SO July 2009

I love London Sceptics in the Pub - it’s like a collection of the greatest people in the world, but just in London . Some hairy, some pretty, some absolutely gorgeous, all wonderful.

Wednesday 1st July saw yet another gathering of these fine fastidious folk for a “Troublemakers Fringe” in the Penderel’s Oak, championed by the voracity-inducing Vaughan Bell, the delectable Dr Petra Boynton, and the bête noir of penis jokes, Ben Goldacre (follow him on Twitter if you don’t believe me).

I took the trouble of recording the event on my trusty dictaphone, but as luck would have it, you can find a synopsis by two of the legends themselves here and here. For Ben Goldacre’s talk, I strongly recommend you buy his book or borrow it off an uber-cool mate, or read it straight away if it’s gathering dust somewhere. If you’re about next Friday, you may even be able to get it signed.

Vaughan Bell’s talk was educational and informative, but in a good way. Did you know that when philosophers started using allegories as a teaching aid, some people thought it might corrupt the minds of the youth? He chuckled a bit when picturing schoolboys behind the bike sheds swapping dirty allegories, like we all did in school. As an adult, I’m still constantly sharing allegories with my mates, but on secret blogs that no-one will ever read… *cough*

Pretty much every single new form of media/communication has been met with derision by some. Eventually, of course, it becomes the norm (books, radio, and television to name a few) but the internet is somehow seen as different. For example, I take issue with the notion that social networking sites damage ones ability to interact with people face to face (Porn will find you lol). Through social networking, I am able to be popular not just because of my incredibly toned, feminely muscular body, but because of my vast intellect, and above average sense of humour. The internets might cause cancer, but then a lot of things cause cancer and some things are more proven to cause cancer than Facebook.

It’s a shame there wasn’t enough time for Q&As as I had a couple of questions:

1) How long do these cycles of technophobia usually last? Is it until a newer technology comes in? I, for one, cannot wait until the days of Quantum Facebook. I don’t even think my imagination can cope with the possibility of it without breaking out into song… where’s my ukulele when I need it?

2) Why are people so afraid of technology? I hope I didn’t miss the point here, but the gist I took home with me was “Argh! Writing! Evil!…. Oh noes! Allegory! Stories of Satannnn!…. Chutzpah! Radio! Decline of family values Grrr…..” et cetera, et cetera.

I, like most people, cried like a child at the end of Terminator 2, another very scary film. (I am young enough to have actually been a child when I saw it, and let me assure you it scared the hell out of me. I’ve never gotten over my fear of Caucasian policemen, to the point where I now make awkward jokes around them about doughnuts or if they’ve ever considered commissioning their own theme tune. I’m not socially inept or anything, just nervous around the fuzz.)

The point I’m trying to make is why aren’t there more psychologically damaged kids out there (who have probably all seen The Exorcist, let’s be realistic here) and why doesn’t your average reader of papers read these papers and think to themselves “I’m on Facebook and yet I’m not a knuckle dragging socially incompetent fucktard”, instead of buying into this idea that new=bad? One of my cousins was shocked when I told her I had a Facebook AND a Myspace, her reaction was “ohnothatisjustsoawfulsomeonecouldstealyouridentity!” Not bloody likely, my darling, no-one wants my crippling debt.

Perhaps I will pose these questions to him via the medium of Twitter, as it’s the 21st Century and it’s the thing to do. It’ll also come across less “TMI” (as my mother likes to say). Anyway...

The talk smoothly sauntered over to Petra Boynton, who is even better looking in the flesh than in the photo on her blog. I joke a lot about switching over to the lesbian end of the spectrum, but for her, I just might. She was fucking hilarious, and made some damn good points at the same time, all of which can be found here.

In the UK , we have one of the highest (if not the highest) rates of teen pregnancy. VDs are rife. 27 year olds don’t know even how to shag. These are serious problems (all except the last one, which isn’t true for all 27 year olds, just ones I have casual grudges against) and yet we’re a country that is rich enough to be able to educate young people on shagging and how to do it responsibly (and well, although that might be a bit progressive for school children in 2009). Sex education is a bit of a taboo, especially for parents worried about their kids being handed out condoms and dildos before they’ve learnt their 3x tables. Unfortunately for these children, our beloved media prints headlines like these which are really amusing if you have no invested interest in the welfare of the UK’s population, and don’t care about the wider consequences/implications of irresponsible journalism, but for the rest of us they’re quite annoying.

She made seven other really great points but this was the one that really got to me. I went to catholic schools whilst growing up, and we had one PSE lesson in eleven years. That’s not good enough. Please read her article, it’s spot on.

The ravishing Ben Goldacre’s talk was his usual charismatic fast-paced format. Buy his book and read it in a charmingly emphatic sort of way, wearing an afro wig. It’s pretty much the same experience. Failing that, attend one if his excellent talks, details of which can be found here. If you buy one of his t-shirts, he’ll probably stare at your boobs, or better yet, take a photo of them (sadly, after *literally* 25 minutes of searching through my re-tweets dating back to March 2009, I found the source of the photo, but it had expired. If anyone knows how I can recover this - please let me know! I also managed to embarrass myself by asking Ben Goldacre about his photos and then sort of implied that I was a stalker. Initially I assumed he’d see the funny side of it but pseudo self deprecating humour doesn’t transcribe so well through my iPhone. I’m sure there’s an App for that somewhere).

Peace out Sceptics x

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Inimitable Bruce Hood: Why we believe in the unbelievable

It's been a while since I posted as I've been busy getting around, as I do. For those that are interested, you can follow me on twitter.

It was the twenty-second day of June, 2009, I think, when I left my amazing customer services job to head to The Penderel's Oak in sunny Holborn for the monthly event we lovingly refer to as "Sceptics In The Pub" (although for some reason, it's spelt "skeptics"). On this fine evening, we were to be subjected to a talk by the sharply attired Professor Bruce Hood, who would make us laugh, wince, and spill Kopparberg down my pretty dress.

Before I continue, I'd just like to give a shout out to Sense About Science. If you don't know what it is or haven't signed up to it (or both) please do so here. To show off my creative prowess, I'd made a special fascinator to schmooze my way around the room in even more style than usual.

Back to the lecture: After some ritual technical difficulties (and insults thrown towards Sid) the talk began with the speaker's initial reaction to being invited to speak to us. He assumed it would be a bunch of middle aged men with beards, but Crispian and his ilk are fast becoming a minority as we young upstarts keep turning up :-) There were still some men with beards, but they were quite hip beards interspersed with the CAMRA beards.

Anyway, the main premises of the talk was how our preconceptions, our ideas, expectations and concepts shape how we perceive the world - and that the way we think about the world can explain the prevalence of supernatural beliefs.

We were shown this video of Kevin James smacking Sharon Osbourne in the gob (metaphorically). Most adults would assume it's a trick because we're fairly certain that you couldn't survive being chopped in half, and stapled back together. Apparently, around three-quarters of us endorse the supernatural - not just "healing energies" and "magick water", but so-called Secular Supernatural forces like telepathy or pre-cognition. According to Prof. Hood, nine out of ten people believe they know when they are being watched from behind. "Woo" is mainstream - look at horoscopes in pretty much all women's magazines, homeopathic "cures" in Boots, and Gloria Hunniford.

Despite the best efforts of prominent scientists like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins highlighting the debate on the supernatural to allow us normal folk to be more sceptical, many people still hold on to the spiritual. This may be due to science in general having a bad name, or it could be something to do with the way our brains are wired to the world:

How many times have we had a dream that comes true? I live in fear that a man with motorbikes for hands will try to eat me. Luckily, I've had this dream so many times that I've worked out he doesn't have opposeable thumbs so all he can do is bludgeon me to the point of near-death and rely on his girlfriend to cut me up for him to eat. Even luckier for me is that she is a closet lesbian and doesn't want to eat me (in that way, if you know what I mean) because I'm so damned beautiful. I haven't worked out how to tell her that I think she's a great person but I'm not actually gay. Hopefully she'll take it well.

Our brains have evolved to see structure and patterns in practically everything, from faces on the moon to penises in the clouds to Elvis shaped potatoes. Prof. Hood is able to peek into our brains, into our visual cortex, to find the cells that create these phenomenological experiences. These give us our intuitive theories from childhood, that are difficult to modify later in life. For example, children under five years old are already figuring out the world and the people in it. Another example: my eight year old cousin didn't believe me when I told her that some women are older than some men, because her dad's older than her mum and she has two older brothers. Even when I showed her my ID stating that I was (slightly) older than her brothers she thought it must be some elaborate hoax.

Other ideas like Natural Selection are not things that we are easily able to come to terms with, because as children, we are naturally inclined to believe that the world must have been created - we see obvious structure in everything - bumblebees, walnuts, Lego. It is much easier to accept that the world was just created, than it is to believe that it grew and evolved in the tiniest increments over billions of years, even though we have all this pesky evidence to suggest so!

Next, Professor Hood went on to the subject of Anthropomorphism - the ability to attach humanity to inanimate objects (like shouting at the DVD player, or congratulating your car on not breaking down). We attach sentimental value to inanimate objects, like jewellery owned by family members, or a cardigan owned by a serial killer.

This sentimentality can be taken even further. A few years ago, a book was released by a woman called Claire Sylvia, who had been the patient in a pioneering heart-lung transplant. You can read an article about it here. She's not the only one. There are more examples: Ian and Linda Gammons share the same dreams among other things, since she donated one of her kidneys to him. And lastly, Armin Meiwes, in a bizarre tale of mutually agreed cannibalism, was convinced that as he devoured Bernd-Jurgen Brandes he took on some of his abilities, like speaking English!

With the exception of Meiwes, these people are not mad, crazy lunatics. They are normal people who had life saving experiences, which made them alter their outlook on life. There could be any number of reasons as to why someone would be attracted to blondes later on in life. Perhaps a new lease of life has made them more adventurous? Perhaps after suffering for years without the joys of KFC, they suddenly want to throw caution to the wind and eat as much as they can get? We've all done it. What I find interesting is that we interpret these changes as supernatural because this seems to be the most logical, rational explanation at the time.

We are always interpreting the world. We do not sit there and passively receive information (unless we're watching Hollyoaks, of course, which has no real information to impart). There is a struggle between our intuitive theories and our rational ones. Supernatural beliefs could just be the products of our misconceptions, however we also seek out more plausible sacred values like football, or Michael Jackson, or even science.

The truth is out there, we're just interpreting it differently.

For more information, please visit Bruce Hood's excellent blog.

Edit: I originally put July instead of June. I'm getting way ahead of myself. Already spent July's wages here

Friday, 12 June 2009

Mile Hi Church

Today, I received an email from a lady wishing to use one of my songs as part of an inspirational video aimed at young adults. When I first read the email I was incredibly flattered - wow, someone wants to use my music to inspire young people! Then I saw what kind of organisation wanted to use it and I was less enthralled.

Below is my reply. I'm not one to offend, so I've worded it as carefully as possible, but this is the first time in my life I've encountered something like this!


My name is Lori and I work as a facilitator for adults and youth. I would like to use your song and video as part of an upcoming workshop. I will give you credit. It is my intention to use the video as you have placed it on the internet but would like permission to clip the first part of the video and start at the song.

I will only do this if you give permission.


Lori Morris, RDH Facilitator Healing Bridges Ministry
Mile Hi Church
Lakewood, CO 80226


Dear Lori,

I am extremely flattered that you identified with my song, and were inspired to write to me. Thank you for getting in touch with me first to obtain my permission, however, as a dedicated atheist, it would be against my personal principles for my material to be used in a way that conflicts with my own ethical practices.

With kind regards,

Carmen D'Cruz

I truly believe that it is our duty in life to seek the truth at all times, and this organisation charges people for the privelige of being lied to. It makes me feel incredibly uneasy to think that this kind of willing naivety can still exist in the 21st Century, and that others are happy to exploit that. To me, it demonstrates an abuse targeting the weakness of an individual to submit to an imaginary force. Inner strength comes from within. Get it? WITHIN.

Urgh. I've gone and put myself in a bad mood now. Please feel free to enjoy this fantastic video someone emailed to me the other day, it is truly uplifting.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

New Song - "It's Not Stalking, I'm Just Really Interested"

Click here to see a video of me playing with myself in my bedroom when my grandparents are at church!
Hello All!

Last night, I finally managed to get a decent accompaniment to a song I've been working on. It doesn't usually take me this long to write a song, but I recently discovered Tim Minchin, who's been doing the same sort of thing as me, but better, and on the piano. Initially I was dismayed, but now I've chosen to up my game, finish all my half-written songs, and get them online.

I need to tighten up the lyrics a bit, but here they are in their current(ish) form. As I'm used to singing live, I tend to mix the lyrics up a bit and giggle occasionally. Please forgive the lo-fi recording, it was done at 11pm last night, and I have a bit of a cold. Hopefully, you'll get the idea.

It's not stalking, it's not stalking
Yeah I'm just really interested
When you see me in the corner of your eye
Well I just happen to live nearby
Why would you think I'm trying to spy?
I am innocent, am I
But all evidence aside --
That'd be creepy

It's not stalking, it's not stalking
I just happen to be everywhere you go
Did you like my little painting
Showing u-us together?
In the painting you are singing "We'll be happy forever"
But that's not how I really think of you --
That'd be creepy

It's not stalking, it's not stalking
You just fascinate me in every single way
No, that wasn't me on ebay buying a lock of your hair
This is just a locket that I own that matches everything you wear
If I had access to a sample of your DNA --
That'd be creepy

That'd be creepy

Please let me know if you have any ideas for more verses!

Much love,
Carmen x

Monday, 1 June 2009

Chirporactic email

I'm feeling a little bit devil-may-care and have decided to ask if they can send me any evidence that they can treat migraines. I'm not expecting a serious response, but one can always hope.

Good afternoon,

I'm really interested in Chiropractic, as a sufferer of migraines, and was wondering if you could email me any studies to show its effectiveness in treating headaches and migraines?

It's quite an expensive practice here in the UK but I'm losing my patience with our health system.

Many thanks and kind regards,


I'll post their reply when I receive it.

Carmen x

Homeopathy Kills

I'm usually quite an amiable person. If someone comes up to me with an idea that sounds like bullshit, I'll usually smile politely and say something like "That's very interesting, it's great that it works for you" and then continue about my day, thinking nothing of it. Occasionally though, these ideas have an impact on my life, sometimes through the ones that I love.

Illnesses run in my family. Really annoying ones. I'm scared of breast cancer, bi-polar depression and IBS. When a dear aunt of mine went to see a "specialist" for the third one, we thought little of it, as we know how annoying it can be. She came back all excited, she had some special drops to take 3 times a day, it was all very thrilling. She'd get out a tiny handbag sized bottle, tilt her head all the way back and drip the potion down her throat, feeling better almost instantly. A few weeks later, however, she discontinued use of this "specialist" as it was costing her an arm and a leg, and actually wasn't doing much. "That's private healthcare" we all muttered.

Since finding out she'd gone to see a homeopath, the rest of the family have been rather bored of hearing anecdotal evidence of it working for other friends. "Yeah, great, works for you" is the uninterested response from them. More recently though, I've been hearing and reading things about it that are beginning to upset me, and piss me off a bit.

It's annoying for my aunt, with a frustrating but not life-threatening condition, living in London with a decent salary and all the trappings to be drawn in by homeopahthy and pseudo science - annoying because we have at our disposal a wide range of resources to check the facts. What gets my goat (and the farmyard animals of many others) is stuff like this, where quacks are either deliberately or naively recommending tripe to the vulnerable, whose illnesses are life threatening.

It's not just homeopathy, there are other practices, like chiropractic and acupuncture, claiming to cure things without any substantial evidence. Evidence, that-thing-wot-doctors-need-to-make-people-feel-better. You know, EVIDENCE, so that when I'm in a lot of pain, I can be relatively assured that the thing that someone suggests as a way to be in less pain is going to work. EVIDENCE.

In the words of the great Mr. Minchin:

"What do you call alternative medicine that works...? Medicine!"

I'm bored of quacks furiously defending their chosen professions without backing it up with evidence. I'm not talking about the testimonies of the people it has worked for, I mean a serious double or triple blind trial, with no self-serving interests involved. I genuinely want to believe that some of these alternative medicinal practices work, so that they can be provided on the NHS - IF THEY WORK. I hate all this "Alternative versus Biomedical" assertions. If everyone's trying to help people, and that is their goal, why are the BCA so reluctant to make their evidence public in the Simon Singh case? (scroll down for the bit about the "plethora" of evidence - by "plethora" do they mean "absence"?)

Urgh! I'm annoyed now. Where's my Bach's Remedy and Relief? Oh wait. It's turned into a bottle of brandy. That'll do.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Musings on feminism

Am I a feminist?

If I earnt a lot of money, and I was in a relationship with someone whom I loved very dearly and they loved me and we agreed to be life partners in some kind of ritualised ceremony in which I'd wear an awesome big dress, would I be happy to support him if he wanted to quit his or her job to become a rock star? If I really loved him or her, and they already showed some promise, and if they agreed to do the washing up, then probably.

What if I was in a relationship with someone who earnt a lot of money and we loved each other and agreed to tie the knot and I'd get an even awesomer dress. Would I be happy to quit my job so that they can support me financially while I take over the world with my incredible music (providing I did the washing up, of course)? Definitely. Who wouldn't?

What if I was in a loving relationship with someone whose career was so important to him (or her) that they needed me to stay at home and keep things running? I'd have to bear children, hoover up, mend curtains, have dinner on the table by 7, organise his or her social life and all the other things that domestic goddesses do.

Surely the whole point of feminism is that it's our right to choose?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Part 2 - Edzard Ernst is a Professor of Complementary Medicine: And Sounds Like A Mysoginist (but isn't actually one)

At the start of the talk on the 20th May 2009, Professor Edzard Ernst gave us an anecdote about a homeopath he had encountered at a dinner party. As a side point, he added that homeopaths were "typically" women, but didn't really quantify this. As a woman, I was slightly taken aback, and I wondered if my chromosomes would make me susceptible to a bit of woo in the future.

"There was something that you mentioned quite early on in your talk and it was about a dinner party you had gone to, and a lady who had approached you... and you implied that most advocates of homeopathy are women. And I was just wondering if you had any theories as to why that might be?"

"Oh dear...I'd like to talk about science but that question you asked has swept under my feet [sic]! Well, why is it women? All the surveys, virtually all, not just in Britain, in America, Germany. All surveys show that the typical user of complementary medicine (more specifically homeopathy) but complementary medicine is... I call it “The Four F's” - Around forty, female, fertile... and I was going to say “fucking mad” "

He didn't really answer my question and it got me thinking. I waited until my hangover had subsided before doing a litle bit of research. Dishearteningly, Professor Edzard Ernst seems to be right. Am I destined to become an advocate of complementary medicine? I'm over halfway to “around forty”, I'm female. Luckily for me, I use contraception and I'm neither fucking or mad. With a little bit of luck, I should be safe.

Just a quick detour before I continue: I'm a bit new to this blogging business, and I wasn't sure how to present my findings. I'm a big fan of graphs, and I could definitely use a few of them here, but technical difficulties ensure that, once again, I rely on my clever and appropriate use of wit and charm to dazzle you blind.

Back to the issue at hand. I say this with much aplomb Professor Ernst, I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that. Essentially, he's right, but I don't think it's advisable to describe those you may be trying to convert as "fucking mad". In one study I looked at, patients were asked to tick boxes showing reasons for using complementary medicines.

45% cited "unpleasant side effects of conventional treatment"
43% had said they had "tried a conventional medical treatment and it didn't work"
33% reported that "a doctor had recommended a complementary or alternative medicine to them"

This study doesn't take into account the efficaciousness of different types of alternative therapies (it puts massage and chiropractic in the same band) and it also doesn't go into the details of the particular ailments treated.

A couple of months ago, I was the victim of a terrible toothache. It was fucking horrible. The left side of my face had swollen up, I couldn't eat or drink or smile or jape. I went to visit my lovely dentist, she prescribed me a three day course of antibiotics. The first day, my face still hurt, except I had a bit of a reaction to the pills. One of the side effects was that my lips swelled up. They swelled up so much that they burst open at the top and bottom. If you have seen my amazing youtube videos, you may notice that I am wearing very dark lipstick, this is to cover the scars two days later. I was in so much pain that day that if someone, anyone, in a perceived position of authority (like my Grandad, or my mum) had said to me "Swollen lips, eh? You should rub some stinging nettles on it" I can't honestly say that I wouldn't have given it a go. The point I'm trying to make is that when you're in a lot of pain, and someone recommends something to you, and it doesn't sound like it'll do you any permanent harm, perhaps you'd go for it.

If you have time, do check out this link to this study, it's fascinating. It is only concerned with female sufferers of depression, so it fits the "fucking mad" hypothesis fairly well. It also discusses loads of other interesting issues that I don't have space to write here. My favourite is that those who perceive themselves to be ill are more likely to take up the use of complemetary and alternative therapies. I can imagine going to my doctor because I've put on a bit of weight, and she says to me "You're not ill, you muppet. You need to stop eating Jelly Belly Jelly Beans at 3am" I might get a second opinion. Everyone eats Jelly Belly Jelly Beans at 3am, and not everyone is putting on weight. The logic is infallible.

I looked at several articles online (this one, this one, this one, and this one)and they all kind of say the same things regarding reasons for people in general to seek alternative treatments, and the kinds of people likely to be more vigorous in their acceptance of it.

To end this post, I'd like to finish with this study into why women wouldn't necessarily tell their doctors that they were seeking complementary or alternative therapies. One of the main reasons is that biomedical doctors are not that bothered about it, or in some cases actively derogatory, and they may have been intimidated by this. If Ben Goldacre was my GP, and I'd gone to see him because I was going through a pretty tough time and wanted some pills, I'd probably not bother mentioning that I'd paid £45 to reconnect with my angels, as I'd imagine he'd either laugh at me, or raise those damn sexy eyebrows in a patronising and scary way. Heaven forbid I may find them sexy no more.

On a serious note though, this is potentially dangerous, as they may be taking things that contradict the effectivenes of proper medicine, or they may actually be doing harm. How do we know that angels aren't right proper bastards?

My hoi-poloi opinion is that there needs to be an easy-access information services (why not call it "teh internets"?) for all people about complementary and alternative medicine as well as a more diplomatic approach to women who may be taken in by pseudoscience. Whilst there are excellent, useful, user-friendly websites one can visit, there is also a lot of bullshit, and sadly not everyone is able to differentiate the two.

If we go back to the original answer that Professor Ernst gave me, he's not wrong. Statistically, it is women in their forties who are more likely to get into CAM, they are often fertile, and in the small number of examples I looked at, they are fucking mad - not because they're weird and don't brush their hair, and wear hippyish clothing, but because they've reached a point where they want more options. Unfortunately, pseudoscience gives people false hope and one can only hope for a massive drive to weed out the really good alternative therapies (so that they can become a part of mainstream medicine) from the quacks.

Just in case I have depressed you a bit, please enjoy this video to lift your spirits :-)

In Praise of James Rampton

I was down't pub, as I so often am, getting merry, and chatting up old friends, when the lead singer of Ten Foot Nun walked past me. He's an amiable chap. He said hello, and then stopped for a chat.
"Hello, how are you? I'm Carmen by the way, James' friend"

"Yeah I remember, I'm sorry I couldn't make it to your gig... I'm Jon. We've actually met quite a few times"

"Oh that's alright, I actually totally forgot about the gig"

"In that case, I don't feel sorry at all!" (We laughed)

"How did you know about my gig?"

"James told me, he always lets us know when you're doing a gig... I've seen you play quite a lot... sorry I stole your bassist"

"You didn't steal him, he left" (We laughed a bit more)

How nice was that? Not only did the lead singer of (arguably) the best band band in Croydon know who I was (I so often assume lead singers of bands to be arses - Jon, you're a very nice man), but my ex-bassist has been singing my praises! I thought I'd write a blog to return the favour.

James Rampton is a man with a deliciously low self esteem. None of us can figure out why, as he is the most musically gifted and well dressed person I know. You can download his solo album for free here. It's really very good, I highly recommend it. He is also a very good friend of mine, a great ally when I'm feeling down, and cocks things up just as much as I do, much to the amusement of us all. He's been a fan of my music for a very long time - I actually met him mid-gig at the Black Sheep Bar when I was 18. He walked up to the stage with his bass and asked if he could play the next song with me, despite never hearing it. At the time I assumed I must have sounded so bad that he'd try and drown out my caterwauling with his bass, but it turns out he rather liked my music. Aww, bless.

Anyway, I have a terrible hangover and don't remember much of last night, but I do remember thinking "Oooh, I must write something nice about James when I'm a bit less drunk".

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Part 1 - Edzard Ernst is a Professor of Complementary Medicine: And quite a character

On Wednesday 20th May 2009, I attended another talk at the Penderel's Oak pub in Holborn, this time given by Professor Edzard Ernst. A fascinating man, not least because of his incredible moustache. I have always been envious of men with facial hair.

Professor Ernst was introduced by my favourite soft-handed physicist, award winning broadcaster, and proponent of an awesome haircut – Simon Singh. He spoke briefly about the libel case (for the benefit of those who were not present on Monday, you poor things missed out on some prime schmoozing!). Something happened when he passed the mic over though... for the first 10 minutes or so, the talk was continuously interrupted by technical problems. Could it be the work of homeopaths, dousing the speakers in ionised water? Who knows. The talk did eventually resume, but at a very soft level.

He finally began by giving us a bit of his background, most of which can be found here, and then launched into a proper introduction by giving us some really interesting things to think about, which, for the benefit of those who weren't there, I shall put into bullet points:

-Doctors coming out of medical school are generally impressed by everything they do. Shit scared, but impressed.
-Homeopaths tend not to kill their patients as much as conventional doctors, because usually, their patients aren't really ill.
-There is an assumption across complimentary and conventional medicine that recovery is a direct result of treatment, and no one really seems to question this.

That last point seems to be particularly important, as there are several reasons why someone would recover from an ailment:

-Natural history of the disease – sometimes, things just get better. As Brian Cox knows only too well.
-Regression to the mean (if ever you meet Ben Goldacre, ask him what this is and try and get someone to film his answer)
-Patients may be seeking treatment elsewhere or self medicating without the practitioner's knowledge. An example of this is my frequent use of quinine, ingested in a diluted solution with alcohol and a twist of lime, commonly known as a “Gin and Tonic”. I have found this to be an incredibly effective treatment for many symptoms including social ineptitude, singing off-key, and for the thinning of mascara.
-Placebo effect – more research needs to be done into this. I once gave my little cousin some apple juice in a whiskey glass and told her it was bad for her, don't tell your mum, and she spent that whole Christmas stumbling about the house like grandma.
-Social desirability (being friendly to your patients)

After a quick show-of-hands for what Professor Ernst should talk about for 10 minutes, he went with “My most fascinating trial” obviously, because he sort of hammed it up a bit. His findings were published in The Lancet (under the heading “Scrutinising the Alternatives”) and The New Scientist (under the heading “From Magic to Medicine”). He focussed on the main branches of complementary therapies at the time: homeopathy, herbal medicine, spiritual healing, and acupuncture. Chiropractic was not on his list, curiously.

I was very suprised to be told that at the time this trial was implemented, there were 14,000 spiritual healers in the UK, and 20,000 GPs. That's a bit scary to me.

The goal of the trial was to find out if spiritual healing was better than a placebo. They brought in 5 actors, who were taught how not to heal – it was simple and yet so genius. Instead of concentrating on healing thoughts, they had to count backwards from 1000 in steps of 7, which takes full concentration. I haven't even bothered to try it, because I'd much rather have this last glass of wine before bed.

My suprise at the number of healers was soon diminished, as it turns out that these “actors” were healers themselves! Everyone has healing powers. Isn't that handy? Who-da-thunk-it?

To cut a long story short, the actors and the control group (of an empty room with a cassette recording of someone breathing) were more successful than the spiritual healers.

One patient in a wheelchair at the start of the trial was walking about fit as a fiddle just a few weeks later, which ultimately led to the demise of Professor Ernst's reputation.

In the Q&A afterwards, Crispian asked how the test subjects reacted when they found out which groups they were in, and Profesor Ernst divulged that very few of them wanted to know.

What I want to know, is why are people so ready to believe these quacks? What is it that is so appealing to them? And why do many of them wear hippyish clothes?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Simon Singh Has Very Soft Hands

Yesterday evening I attended a talk given by some eminent speakers regarding this. Simon Singh is currently being sued by the British Chiropractic Association because he loves Bill and Ted just as much as the rest of us (please note that this is an internet-cache copy of the offending article. The original article has since been removed from the Guardian website*). The exact phrase, I believe, is "happily promotes bogus treatments", which Justice Eady seems to think is asserting that Singh meant they knowingly and evilly promote treatments that do not work. Even though he didn't mean that. Now he has to prove it, which is difficult as that wasn't what he meant when he said it. An equivalent would be saying to a friend:
"Wow, that dress looks great on you"
"How dare you tell me I look fat"
"Well... you do... but that's not what I said".

I'll be honest, he's a bit of an idol of mine. After seeing his programmes on TV and reading articles and books he has written, I am saving to do a BSc in Maths and Physics (just as soon as I finish my recording studio - photo's to come soon). I was more than chuffed when I got to meet him at a debate on alternative medicine at KCL a few weeks ago. Like a blushing schoolgirl, I shook his hand and told him how much of an inspiration he is to me. He seemed like such a friendly chap, although his parting words to me were "Good luck with your A-Levels"... Elisa had to put it all into perspective for me and now it has become a mildly amusing in-joke (to the point where I asked him to write it in my Physics For Dummies book, much to the amusement of Dave Gorman and Elisa, who was standing right behind me to remind me how embarrassing I was).

The thing that really sticks out to me, is that I am rather fond of free speech, and this case doesn't seek to defend the honour of a reputable cure (for if that were so, surely the BCA could have just knocked together a compendium of all the research into chiropractic efficacy. Maybe they could put it in some kind of receptacle, like a folder or a DVD, hand it in to Singh et al... and then blow a raspberry?), instead they seem to be attempting to stifle one of his (and our) basic human rights - the right to freedom of expresion.

Perhaps I am not looking hard enough, but there seems to be no literature commenting on this case from the other side of the argument. Why aren't there any blogs asserting definitive proof that chiropractic works, with a list of references, and a handy comments box, where I can write something like "Golly! Is that true? I had no idea. Yeah you're right, Simon Singh is an arse!" - please do let me know if you find one.

*I have neglected to obtain permission from Svetlana to link to this, but if any objections are raised, I will happily promote an alternative link.