Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Alternative Murder

Here's one from the heart, folks. Hold on to your hats.

I'm going to lose two of my relatives to cancer. That is sad, of course, but what is really unfortunate is that they could have been cured at early stages of their disease. What happened? They became enmeshed in the folly of "alternative medicine", and they are going to die because of that.

I won't name names or give any identifying information. One relative had cancer of the tongue that could have been excised and eliminated when it was quite small. He refused conventional therapy proposed by one of the leading cancer centers of the world, and instead used diet and supplements to treat himself, on the advice of a "practitioner" with barely a high-school education. Three years later, the disease advanced to the point that he had to seek conventional therapy, and he underwent a glossectomy. That's a nice word for having your tongue cut out of your mouth. He "eats" through a tube in his stomach these days.

The other relative has breast cancer. She and her husband, very smart and well-educated people, decided that nutrition and other alternative methods were the only treatment for her. A year later, this formerly healthy woman is an orange, jaundiced skeleton. She just had a biliary stent placed, and she can't even consider chemotherapy until she builds up her strength. Which she can't because she had starved herself trying to follow various cancer diets. My wife and I made an emergency trip to see this relative over the weekend, and she still doesn't realize what has happened to her. She fears most that the cancer has spread to her brain, because the local practitioner of ElectroDermal Screening told her it had done so.

People, I don't know whether to cry, scream, or what. How did this happen?

In the short space of one post, I can't properly cover the entire topic of alternative medicine. I strongly refer you to http://www.quackwatch.org. Dr. Stephen Barrett has spent the last 30 years examining the phenomena, and his articles are mandatory reading on this sad subject.

There is no single reason for people to suspend reason and go for the alternative therapies. Victims include rich, poor, educated, illiterate, black, white, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. No one is immune. The only common thread is that most people will be vulnerable at some point in their lives to the ministrations of charlatains, and those with a chronic or recently diagnosed illness are right at the top of the list. Why go through painful and debilitating chemotherapy when nutrition and electrotherapy can cure you of your cancer?

The "practitioners" usually have no scientific background, and learned their trade by weekend seminar, or perhaps right here on the Internet. Their idols, the inventors of the wonderous therapies, assure them with false testimonials and bogus science that their therapy works. Why are these miracles not accepted by the mainstream medical community? My relative with the tongue cancer was quite convinced that there is a conspiracy amongst all physicians, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers to keep these "cures" away from the public, so we, the conspirators, can keep raking in the cash. Just take a look at this "infomercial" from Kevin Trudeau, who is revered among the alternative believers. He has since been banned from making such blatantly false statements. He was interviewed on TV recently, along with someone from mainstream medicine, and someone else from the alternative community. The mainstream doc lambasted him, and the alternative "doc" praised him. My relatives believed the latter.

In some cases, the victims of this deceit really do distrust the traditional medical community, and many are prone to believe conspiracy theories anyway. There is a very simple counter argument: Doctors and their families get cancer as often as any other group, and they live and die in the same percentages as everyone else. If there were some "secret" cancer cure, don't you think somebody would "break ranks" and reveal it to the public after all this time? Perhaps the greatest irony is that we are accused hiding and suppressing this stuff so we can make money. The quacks, however, are very quick to charge as much as much as they possibly can for unproven, untested, ineffective, and often harmful products.

Human beings are well known for believing what they want to believe, even when faced with heaps of evidence to the contrary. Throughout history, quacks, charlatains, witch-doctors, and all of their ilk have misled those who get caught up in their lies. It is no different in the 21st century, I am sorry to report.

Not being bound by the conventions of political correctness, I am going to call this what it is: MURDER. These criminals convince the naive to shirk medical treatments in favor of their patent medicine and snake oil. Many of the victims will die needlessly, and often horribly. That constitutes murder in my book.

Don't think for a moment that I am cannonizing the medical community. As you have noted in the pieces on self-referral, I think we need to fix a few things ourselves. M.D.'s are not above trying to make an extra buck, and I don't excuse them for it. But the methods we use for diagnosis and treatment have evolved via the scientific method. We do not think we possess the Absolute Truth, and we are constantly testing and retesting our diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. I am not ashamed to charge for what we do; we know we are offering the best we have, not something mired in secrecy and obscurity, and "proven" by handwaving and innuendo.

Again, I keep creeping toward more governmental intervention. The government MUST step in and stop this madness. People that make bogus claims need to be prosecuted. Those that have led their victims to their deaths should be up for murder. Because that's what their lies and deceit accomplished, the death of innocents whose only crime was believing the sales pitch. Perhaps there is a greater punishment awaiting these false practitioners, but for the moment, I'd rather trust the government to take care of these murderers. That's what they are.

Fifteen Thousand And Counting!

Image courtesy of http://aes.iupui.edu/
I thought it might be better to note visitation milestones a bit less frequently, and so we're now on the Q5000 scale.
Visitor 15K comes from London, Ontario, Canada, via Huron Telecommunication Cooperative, Limited. I will tell you that he (or she) was perusing an AuntMinnie.com thread, but I won't tell you which one. Believe me, we leave really huge tracks behind us on the web.
Thanks to all my visitors! You've made me what I am today...whatever that is!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Da Vinci Code
...or Opus Dei and the Knights (Templar)

I finally got around to taking my son to see The Da Vinci Code. At 12, he is a voracious (dare I say precocious?) reader, and after reading the book, he was quite anxious to see the movie.

Now, I don't want to spoil it for anyone, so both of you out there who haven't seen the movie or read the book STOP READING NOW!

OK. To summarize, the story involves several threads revolving around the premise that Jesus was married to Mary Magdaline, and she bore Him a daughter after the crucifixion. This certainly interferes with the concept of Jesus' divinity, and so the Vatican has tried mightily over the years to suppress this, whilst the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar attempted to protect Jesus' descendants. Got all that? I'm really simplifying things here. The movie goes on to implicate a strict Catholic order, the Opus Dei, in several murders designed to quash the Priory once and for all.

There are probably a thousand web sites out there that dissect the arguments, and the "facts" of the movie in tremendous detail, and I won't even try it here. Suffice it to say that the movie is enjoyable in a plodding, mystery-story fashion, and it was fairly true to Dan Brown's book. I would recommend you read the book first to be able to follow the plot-twists.

The book and movie have caused great consternation, or at least a lot of discussion in the Christian community, and I can understand that. Coming from the Jewish viewpoint, I don't find the concepts particularly offensive. Judaism does not accept the divinity of Jesus in the first place; rather most of us consider Him to have been a great rabbi, perhaps the first Reform rabbi, and possibly a Prophet in His own right. You will notice very few bachelors among the Jewish characters of the Old Testament; it was tradition for the best and brightest to marry and have lots of children (be fruitful and multiply, as they say), and so it would not be surprising for a rabbi or great teacher to have done so. Think of this as the world's first eugenics program: you want to breed your best stock. I can only speculate as to why the Catholic Church took the exact opposite approach with their clergy.

I guess I can't comment with any great passion on how the "truth" as concocted in the Da Vinci Code would affect Christianity. Much evil has been done in the name of Christianity (the Inquisition, the Crusades, for example), but I would be so bold as to say that overall the good deeds over history outweigh the bad. Nobody is keeping score as far as I know. I realize that the divinity of Jesus is a fundamental tennant of modern Christianity, but even if it were not the case, His teachings would probably still be relevant. Basically, they were a softening of the fairly harsh version of Orthodox Judaism practiced in His day, and one could almost say that we Reform Jews are closer in spirit to what Jesus taught than anyone else. How about that?

I have tried and tried to tie this whole thing into PACS, and I'm coming up short. Maybe we could use the Cryptex to enter our passwords?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lessons from the Vasa, and Other Baltic Musings

The Vasa, courtesy of the Vasa Museum, http://www.vasamuseet.se
I'm back from Europe, and jet-lag is setting in to a significant extent. Before I drop, I wanted to post about some of the places we saw on our Baltic cruise.

Oslo seems clean, and modern in a timeless, Frank Lloyd Wright fashion, although the focal point of the city is the Akershaus Fortress, built in the 1300's. For some reason, I find the place very intriguing. Copenhagen had the feel of a much older city, with a feeling of age that we simply don't have in the much younger United States. Stockholm is somewhere between the two, and I found it my favorite of all the places we visited. Helsinki was rather stark, though it still has much of beauty, including a Lutheran church blasted from a stone hillock. Our time in St. Petersburg was rather surreal; a visit to Russia is still uncomfortable, even though the Russian Republic is now a democracy. Our guide spoke almost whistfully of the old Soviet era: it was hard, but the State took care of its people. I fear the old generation will have to pass on before freedom is totally accepted. The Russians are well on their way, however; there were many more Lexuses on their roads than I see here at home! Talinn, Estonia, was a surprise; there is a beautiful medieval city adjacent to a very modern metropolis. The Estonians recovered their freedom and statehood only 15 years ago, and they are fiercely proud of their new/old democracy. If only their weather was better! We ended our trip with a few days in London. We saw the major sites (Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Madamme Tussaud's, Harrod's), although we certainly didn't even begin to scratch the surface. London is horrendously expensive...at first glance, the prices are similar to ours here in the US, but those numbers are Pounds Sterling, not Dollars, and therefore everything is roughly double in price.

Oh, yes, before I forget...gasoline everywhere we went was going for about $7-8 per gallon. It was only about $2 or so in Russia, but our guide told us that salaries were commensurately low as well.

Our ship and the cruise line delivered us safely, and very well fed, but there were a few (but significant) glitches that I'll discuss in a later post directed at Royal Caribbean. Get out your bashing clubs, folks!

Delta flew on time, and they didn't lose any of our luggage.

Now, the story of the Vasa. The ship was built in 1628 on the order of King Gustavus Adolphus. On it's maiden voyage, it sailed into Stockholm harbor, listed over to one side, drew water in through open gunports, and promptly sank. The good news is that it was encased in clay at the bottom of the bay, and was nicely preserved for 333 years until it was rediscovered and raised from the depths. It is on display today in a huge museum built around it, a ghost ship returned from the dead. What happened? Here an analysis from the Vasa Museum's website:

In the 17th century there were no scientific methods of calculating a ship's stability. It was not uncommon that warships heeled over and sank. Their cargo - the guns - were placed relatively high up in theship, whereas merchant-vessels stored their cargo in the hold, ie inthe bottom of the ship. Instead of using calculations, the 17th century shipbuilders used so called reckonings, which recorded certain ship-measurements. However, the reckonings used in building the Vasa were intended for smaller ships with only one gundeck. The Vasa was built differently. She had two gundecks with heavy artillery (when the norm was to place lighter guns on the upper gundeck). The standard rules obviously did not apply here. Deep down in the Vasa several tons of stone were stored as ballast. They were meant to give the ship stability. However, the main reason for the Vasa capsizing was that the ballast was not enough as counterweight to the guns, the upper hull, masts and sails of the ship. In the inquiries after the Vasa disaster it was revealed that a stability test had been performed prior to the maiden voyage. Thirty men had run back and forth across the Vasa's deck when she was moored at the quay. The men had to stop after three runs, well before the test could be completed - otherwise, the ship would have capsized. Present was Admiral Klas Fleming, one of the most influential men in the Navy. His only comment to the failed stability test was "If only His Majesty were at home!" After that he let the Vasa make her maiden voyage.Who, then, were to blame for the disaster?

Admiral Fleming. Partly. He could have stopped the ship after the stability test. On the other hand, the ship was already complete and the king was waiting impatiently in Polish Prussia.

King Gustavus Adolphus. Partly. He was anxious to acquire a ship with as many heavy guns as possible. He had also approved the Vasa's dimensions and was keen to have her completed rapidly.

The shipbuilder Henrik Hybertsson. Partly. Although he built the hulltoo narrow, he was a skilled shipbuilder who had previously built manygood ships. His unexpected death the previous year just complicated matters.

The captain Söfring Hansson. According to a new theory the capsizing of the Vasa may be blamed on the captain. He sailed a brand new ship with open gunports. The Vasa sank when water gushed in through the lower gunports! It would have been wiser to test the new ship on her maiden voyage with closed gunports.However, the inquiries showed that no one could really be blamed for the disaster. The main reason being the insufficient theoretical knowhow of the period. The Vasa was something new - a military experiment. After the Vasa, many successful ships were built with two,three and even four gundecks. The shipbuilders learned from their mistakes with the Vasa and improved later designs.

Facinating stuff. In some ways, we can today be very thankful that the Vasa met its doom in this manner, because it otherwise would not have been preserved for us today.
So, what lessons do we learn, and how in the world does this apply to PACS? Well, the Vasa website was a little more conciliatory toward the king than our guide; apparently it is commonly felt in Sweden that the whole mess was the King's fault. Gustavus declared that the Vasa was to be built with too many gun-decks, which made it very top-heavy and unstable, and the Admirals and Captains, and everybody else had to go along. The King is the King, after all. So, this is what happens when someone bulldozes ahead, convinced that his (or her) way is the right way, and the experts and critics be damned. I'll grant you that it is unlikely that lives will be lost if one picks the wrong PACS system, but the point is that the building of a ship, or the assembly of a PACS system, should not hinge on the whims of one group that "knows what's best" for everyone else. Rather, such decisions need to be made by acquiring as much knowledge and expertise as possible. The ship, or the PACS, needs to perform its duties, but it cannot be weighed down by bells, whistles, or guns that would jeopardize its functions, even if the King, or the radiologist, or the IT folks demand it. Compromise, folks. And listen. Or somebody might be digging up the remnants of your PACS in 300 years.

Dr. Dalai Promises.....

A few months ago, I signed up to be a beta-tester for Intelerad's new IntelePacs InteleViewer, hoping they would consider me InteleGent enough to help them out. I guess I've been doing a little too much muckraking lately, as I received this letter from Rick Rubin, Intelerad's Executive VP for R&D:
I see you’ve signed up for our Beta program. I think that’s great, with one proviso (can you guess?). I wouldn’t be comfortable giving you an advanced copy of the InteleViewer if you’re going to write about all its flaws on your blog. Our goal for the Beta release is to get exposure and experience with different PACS systems and users out there but with limited exposure so that we can find out and resolve any major issues before releasing the product. So, it kind of defeats the point if you publicize those problems.

Once we’re in general release, you’re obviously free to do whatever you want, and hopefully we can live up to your scrutiny. But for the Beta program, do you agree not to publish information on the viewer?

OK, Rick, here it is in print (well, if you hit Ctrl-P, you'll have it in print): I promise to behave, and I will not reveal any details of your beta product. I have little more than my crediblity, since my rogueish good looks have long since left me, and no one has ever accused me of being the best radiologist in the world. So, yes, you can trust me.

Blogging is a little like being a real author, but I don't have to answer to anyone. Therefore, I have to be my own editor and publisher, but I get to say whatever I want to say. The major joy of this exercise is knowing that someone is actually reading my illustrious prose, but even so, my goal is to be more like the Today Show than the Jerry Springer Show. I would like to entertain and inform, but I'm not out to ruin anybody or any company. However, I am not going to sugar-coat a bad product. When I bash a product, it is out of frustration borne of using something that wasn't ready for primetime (or was poorly designed in the firstplace) but was released as a full production model anyway.

Don't worry, Rick, I realize that a beta test is a beta test, and I am gratified that YOU understand it as well. There are those who use paying customers to work the kinks out of their software (actually, Microsoft comes to mind on that one), and I don't have time for that when I'm trying to do my work. I cannot think of any other major PACS vendor that has taken this bold step of allowing a large number of interested users to help test and shape a new product, although Rick mentioned something to me about eFilm back in the good old days doing something like this.

I'm expecting great things out of Intelerad. I'll report on this product when Rick gives the OK.