Nose Balloon

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i-c5d91975afb304287843bf150748d2e2-otovent01.jpgWhen she has a cold, my 5-y-o daughter often suffers temporary hearing loss. Her ears don’t get infected, there’s no pain or fever — she just can’t hear very well, sometimes for weeks. The reason is that the lining of her eustachian tubes becomes swollen, obstructing them, and then fluid leaks out of the walls of the middle ear, flooding it and putting a damper on her audio. These days Swedish doctors try to avoid putting drainage pipes through kids’ ear drums. Instead the excellent Dr. Claes Wibom (who’s now treating the fourth generation of my family) recommended that I buy my daughter a nose balloon.

Nose balloon. It’s a balloon fitted with a spherical nozzle so you can inflate it with your nostrils. A beautifully simple treatment.

The balloon helps a kid put air pressure on their eustachian tubes from the pharynx, which opens them and helps keep the middle ear drained. Us grownups do the same thing easily by just closing our eyes, holding our noses and “pushing”, like on air trips or while driving in mountains or scuba diving. But try to explain that push to a little kid!

My daughter uses the balloon with great gusto mornings and nights, and often she comments on the wind she then hears blowing inside her ears. That’s when an obstructed tube opens and admits air into her middle ear.

(Now, don’t confuse this with ear candles. That’s just woo.)
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Take Your Flu Shot

I have just spent a week nursing my family through an onset of the flu. High fever. Bucketfuls of snotty bog roll. Headaches. Stomach aches. Rattling coughs. Shoving innumerable paracetamol suppositories where the sun don’t shine. But I was unscathed myself. Dear Reader, come autumn, do what I did and take your flu shot.

I have sometimes met with incredulity, even opposition, from the district nurse when I’ve popped down for my annual vaccination. “You’re a strong healthy young(ish) man, you don’t need a flu shot!” Indeed. I do not need a flu shot to survive. But it costs only $20, takes only a few minutes and is virtually painless. While the flu costs a week of lost work during which you feel like one of the restless dead. I’d count myself stupid if I didn’t take my shot. They aren’t always effective, as it’s hard to foresee which virus strain will make up a year’s epidemic, but that shot improves your chances of evading the scourge hugely. Don’t listen to the antivax kooks™. Vaccines are science-based medicine at its finest.

Why Am I Still Skinny?


I’m 36 and still as skinny as in my teens (BMI 20). Why is that, I have wondered. I have a desk job, I eat every three waking hours, I drink sweet tea and snack on cookies, I do no sports outside the marital bedroom, I scoff at gyms and jogging. Contributing factors to my skinny-assedness are skinny ancestors, no snacking between 3-hour meals and no alcohol. But I recently realised what’s probably the capping factor depriving me of the beginning paunch that my contemporaries sport.

I cycle to work.

From my home to my dad’s house where me and my books occupy one of the guest rooms, it’s 2.6 kilometers as the crow flies. I cycle that trip at least eight times a week, until recently often with a growing little girl on the kid seat. Including rides to the train and the kids’ friends, I clock about 25 kilometres a week as the crow flies. With the other parameters being as they are, apparently that’s all I need to counterbalance my sweet tooth and remain adequately palatable to the exacting tastes of my stunning wife.

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Jeff Had Some Good Last Days


Jeff Medkeff’s friend, co-blogging under the pen-name Iatros Polygenos (“mongrel doctor” if my Greek serves me), offers a detailed account of our friend’s last days. Turns out that Jeff died during a trip to England where he was having a blast, visiting Darwin’s home, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and other great sites! I’m very grateful to learn that Jeff died swiftly in the middle of having fun, not after weeks of wasting away in bed.

Hymen Reconstruction and Public Healthcare

Big Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet heads today’s edition with a two-page story about surgical hymen (re-)construction. The news is that a number of tax-funded Stockholm clinics offer the procedure for a fee of about $40 (SEK 260), and ample space is also devoted to an explanation of why the whole thing is controversial. (Patriarchy, honour-based society, control of female sexuality, I don’t need to explain it to you, Dear Reader.)

This recalls the issue whether public health care should offer male circumcision. As I have argued before, all genital mutilation of minors should of course be illegal — but as long as male infant circumcision remains legal, it should be part of public healthcare to avoid a proliferation of amateur circumcisionists.

Hymen construction is a silly pointless procedure in demand among certain immigrant groups with traditional customs. It is far more controversial in Sweden than male circumcision, despite the facts that it a) is performed on sexually mature young women instead of small children, b) does not involve the removal of any tissue. The difference is of course that male-circumcising minorities have been part of Swedish society for centuries and have reached positions of the highest influence, while the groups that mess with female genitalia have only been arriving for a few decades and are still low on the ladder.

Contrary to widespread popular belief, the hymen is not like the cap of a bottle. The vaginal tract always has an opening from birth, or your menstrual discharge would have nowhere to go before you started having sex. The hymen, rather, is a ring-shaped swelling of the vaginal lining, and not always easily discernable at all. Women do not invariably bleed after their first penetration.

The newspaper story cites several cases where minority girls have sought hymen reconstruction after having been raped by men of their own ethnic group. Both the rapists and the victims have understood that it would be unthinkable to report the crime as this would damage the honour of the girl’s family. In the worst cases, this honour would only be repaired by the murder or suicide of the girl!

So, should public health care offer hymen reconstruction? In my opinion, yes, because hymen obsessives pay taxes too. But the procedure should only be available to people over the age of 18, who have the right to vote and must be assumed to make their own decisions about their fannies. The latter assumption is of course highly debatable in situations where a young woman runs the risk of being murdered by her uncles and cousins.

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Austrian Anthroposophy Waldorf School Hit by Measles Outbreak

i-bea4525e9444793db625e19fdd8ca7b1-200px-RSteiner.jpgThe Austrian city of Salzburg has been hit by a measles outbreak among private-school children. Measles are no laughing matter, and thankfully outbreaks like these are rare in the West these days thanks to vaccination. So it comes as no surprise that the school in question is the Rudolf-Steiner-Schule in Mayrwies, a Waldorf school run by anthroposophists. Anthroposophy is an old New Age movement based upon the supernatural visions of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Its current altie medical practices include a strong antivaccination ideology.

Said Steiner in the fifth lecture of his 1910 series Manifestations of Karma:

“Let us now assume that this personality before developing measles had succeeded in gaining such soul forces that he was no longer exposed to all kinds of self-deception, having completely corrected this failing. In this case the acquired soul force would render the attack of measles quite unnecessary, since the tendencies brought forth in this organism during its formation had been effaced through the stronger soul forces acquired by self-education. If we contemplate life as a whole and examine in detail our experiences, considering them always from this standpoint, we should invariably find that external knowledge will bear out in every detail what has here been stated. And what I have said about a case of measles can lead to an explanation why measles is one of the illnesses of child-hood. For the failings I have mentioned are present in a great many lives and especially in certain periods did they prevail in many lives.”

i-bdf59c13504576b1ff4c53be4f1d3f79-391px-RougeoleDP.jpgPoor kids. They should have corrected their failings and gained soul forces and this would never have happened. Strictly karma.

Via Blue Collar Scientist and Physorg. See also Zooey and WeiterGen.

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Tap Water is Not a Naturally Occurring Substance

i-abc6f53f2be9c8e0a8a8f5546405911f-water tap.jpg

A couple of recent Skepticality interviews (with environmental engineer Kelly Comstock and environmental toxicologist Shane Snyder) taught me something that may seem obvious, but which was radical news to me. Tap water is an industrial product. It occurs nowhere in nature. Water suppliers use natural water to make tap water according to current scientific understanding of what’s healthy for humans to drink.

To make tap water, you need to remove a lot of stuff, such as micro-organisms, industrial pollutants, organic residues and mineral particles, perhaps also salt and lime. Then you need to add chlorine to keep the microdaddies down, fluoride to improve people’s dental health, perhaps salt and lime to improve the taste of the product. We most definitely don’t want to drink pure H2O.

Being optimised for human quaffing, tap water is far cleaner than it need be for the applications we put most of its volume to. You don’t need drinking-grade water to wash your car, run your dishwasher, flush your toilet, water your lawn or irrigate your plantation.

Recent news stories about the occurrence of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in tap water appear to have been overstated non-news. It’s actually been known for decades, and the question is really one of how “trace amounts” is defined. Recent improvements in testing methods allow researchers to observe much lower concentrations of many substances than before. What you really need is a defined limit as to how much of a substance you’re willing to accept, which is a toxicological question.

This of course ties in with other recent news coverage of fish and frogs showing signs of weird hormonal influence on their reproductive functioning. Something that came as news to me was that, yes, this is likely caused by hormones in human urine — but mainly by our naturally secreted estrogen, not contraceptives eaten or flushed directly down the bog. There’s simply too many randy primates peeing in certain bodies of water.

Spring water sounds pretty good, huh? All natural spring water. The difference between this stuff and your tap water is that nobody’s checked if there’s anything harmful in it, and nobody’s improved it by adding beneficial stuff. If you get your all-natural spring water in a PET bottle, then you can add a sizeable C02 footprint to the equation. Moving bottled water by truck and ship around the globe is far more energy-consuming per liter than moving it by pipe from your local aquifer.

Turning on the tap to make a cup of tea suddenly seems a whole lot more interesting to me than before.

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German Incest Case


Locksmith Patrick Stübing and Susan Karolewski are a German couple with four children. They are also full biological siblings. “Eeeeewww”, I hear you say. And I agree. Eeeeewww. But why do we feel that way?

The incest taboo is as close to a cultural universal as you can get, and is most likely genetically determined. It is counteradaptive to want to bonk your siblings, as this may lead to the accumulation of harmful recessive alleles in the offspring. But how is this implemented from a practical evolutionary perspective? Humans have no physical way of identifying their biological siblings, usually relying for this information on whatever mom & dad tell them. Instead, it appears that humans are built in such a way that they don’t generally want to bonk people of the same age with whom they have grown up in close contact (the “Westermarck effect“). Historically, this would have kept our ancestors from mating with siblings, cousins and younger aunts/uncles.

Stübing was placed in an orphanage at age four. Three years later, Karolewski was born. When he was 23 and she was 16 the two met for the first time. This means that their anti-incest biological programming never had any opportunity to do its thing. They became a couple, got a home of their own and had four children. So far, so good.

But three of those children have been taken into foster care. And Stübing has received several jail sentences due to a German law from 1871 prohibiting sex between siblings. (I don’t know why Karolewski hasn’t.) Says the federal Constitutional Court in a recent ruling, intercourse between grown-up siblings jeopardises “the family’s vital function in society”. The ruling also refers to the “health of the population”.

This ruling is bad and wrong in so many ways. To be able to discuss this in principle, let’s assume (as appears likely) that all sexual contact between the couple has been consensual and that their children were not taken into custody for any other reason than their parents’ close biological relationship.

  1. This is a victimless crime.
  2. The couple’s children have become the victims of unnecessary state intervention.
  3. People with genetic defects are free to procreate provided only that they are not close relatives, cf. Tay-Sachs and similar effects of religio-ethnic isolation.
  4. The idea that the state should monitor the genetic makeup of the population is a holdover of long-discredited eugenic pseudoscience, which Germany has particular historical reason to distance itself from.
  5. Even if the Stübing-Karolewski children do accumulate genetic defects, then this is a temporary problem lasting only one generation, as they are unlikely to repeat their parents’ procreative stunt.

The whole affair is deeply controversial in Germany, and I’m happy to note that the vice president of the Constitutional Court, Winfried Hassemer, has reserved himself against the ruling in very strong language.

All western countries have legislation to protect children from sexual abuse by teens and adults, all western countries outlaw rape, regardless of biological relationships. And for evolutionary and cultural reasons, the great majority of all people on Earth aren’t remotely interested in bonking their siblings. Adults around the planet are constantly engaging in all manner of consensual sexual intercourse that might make me go “eeeeewww”, but none of them has asked me what I think. It’s none of my business. Besides, looking at Stübing and Karolewski, I would never have guessed that they are related, thus obviating any queasy feelings. To tell the truth, I find all of my six female cousins pretty hot, though we’ve never been that friendly. And my kids are just about as far from inbred as it is possible to be.

In Sweden, I am sad to say, sex between siblings is also a crime, punishable by up to a year in jail. This kind of legislation is outdated and should be overturned. Stübing and Karolewski are trying to use their case to make that happen in Germany.

BBC News, Der Spiegel, Svenska Dagbladet.

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Guide Dog Activism and Allergies


An blind activist buddy of mine is on the war path. This time it’s about guide dogs on Swedish Rail:

“Three years ago I got a guide dog. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. Since then, my life has changed fundamentally. I exercise to an extent that I never thought possible. My physical condition has improved enormously and I feel much better to my soul. I used to avoid going out. Navigating a noisy city full of lamp posts and speeding cars was so demanding that I would avoid it completely for long periods. But since I got my dog, things have changed. It’s a pleasure to run around town with him at my side. A bit like regaining sight! In many ways I move as well and as freely as a seeing person. And of course it has done wonders for my self esteem.

But I’ve also come a cross a few frustrating problems. No law prohibits the discrimination of guide dog owners. Restaurant owners, shopkeepers and bath house staff can shut me out without risking legal repercussions. And I have met with discrimination, so many times that I’ve lost count. I’ve filed a few complaints with the Ombudsman for the Disabled, but that’s just a symbolic act as there is no anti-discrimination law for such cases.

Now the Guide Dog Owner’s Association has set up a petition to convince Swedish Rail that people with guide dogs should be allowed to sit in any one of a train’s carriages. For several years, we have only been allowed to sit in designated pet-owner seats, which equates a guide dog with a pet.”

I replied to my friend that I kind of support his cause, but that those pet-seats on the trains are intended to protect another disabled group which is much more numerous than the guide-dog owners, viz people with fur allergies. Explained my buddy: as pet-owners and horse-riders are extremely common and wear the same clothes regardless of whether they’re bringing their pets along or not, all public spaces in Sweden are already heavily contaminated with fur. There are only about 300 guide dogs in the country (pop. 9 million), and only about 1% of the adult population reports serious allergic reactions to dog hair. All in all, it would pose no measurably increased problem for allergics if guide dogs were allowed everywhere on Swedish Rail trains. Such dogs are specifically trained to sit calmly with their owners. And the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association agrees.

My buddy’s arguments (he asked to be anonymous, since the last time I blogged about him he got mailbombed by people who wanted him to take up their causes) convinced me, and I’ve signed the petition.

The man in the picture is not my activist buddy, though he’s pretty cool-looking too. I found it at the Guide Dogs for the Blind website.

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Scintillating Scotoma

i-9e69d772d6e415be3a209ba05381c102-ScintillatingScotoma3.jpgLast night I suffered a less than hour-long bout of scintillating scotoma. It’s a weird kind of snow crash in your visual cortex where part of your field of vision is replaced by sparkly geometric patterns. It happens to me once every few years and is sometimes associated with a headache, sort of migraine lite. The scotoma is quite disorientating, particularly when the affected bit is at the centre of whatever you’re looking at, like last night. I was probably a pitiful sight, squinting out of one corner of my eye at the laptop as I laboured half blindly to download the latest Escape Pod — I needed something to do when I retired to bed. After listening to the Neal Asher story, I got up and took some ibuprophene against the headache that followed the scotoma.

Inspired by Oliver Sachs’s essay “Stereo Sue”, I’ve recently taken up using a contact lens again after many years. Maybe the unfamiliar stereoscopic calculations have taken their toll on my brain. I have a good left eye and a near-sighted right one, so for most of my life my brain has just disregarded the blurry input from one eye and made do with the good signal. The minute I popped in a lens, everything came out in glorious 3D again. I’ve reached the point where objects extending toward me scare me when I’m not wearing a lens, since I can’t see exactly how far away they are the way I’ve recently learned to.

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