Sunday, January 21, 2007

Handbags a health risk?

How ridiculous! Women have been carrying stuff -- including some pretty heavy babies -- for millions of years. Women are not made of candyfloss. Or are they saying that women are too dumb to know when something is too heavy for them? Charming! And what about the common advice that "weight-bearing exercise" is needed to prevent osteoporosis? Damned if you do. Damned if you don't!

WOMEN are risking health problems by carrying fashionably huge handbags. Inspired by style gurus such as Lindsay Lohan, Sienna Miller and Mischa Barton, style-conscious women are toting oversize handbags. The Herald Sun weighed the handbags of Melbourne women and found them lugging almost 5kg apiece.

Australian Physiotherapy Association spokeswoman Cathy Nall said women risked serious neck and back strain with heavy bags. "Five kilos is heavy to be carrying around all day, particularly if it's not being carried properly," Ms Nall said. "The trend to larger handbags for women places the musculoskeletal system at risk, in particular the neck, shoulders and back. "As we know, most women, if they have large handbags, inevitably fill them up. "This results in carrying a heavy weight often for a long period asymmetrically, unless particular care is take to move the bag from side to side or spread the load evenly."

Melbourne handbag designer Catherine Manuell said women carried huge bags because it suited their busy lifestyles. "Our bigger styles are some of our best sellers," Ms Manuell said. "They are popular because we've just got so much to put in there: it's much easier carrying one bag than two or three." Demand for larger tote bags has become so great that Ms Manuell has introduced styles with detachable shoulder straps.

Christine Barro, managing director of Melbourne accessories haven Christine, said women did not factor in health risks when buying a bag. "People are happy using them," Ms Barro said. "It's a bigger and better statement of arm candy." After injuring her shoulder while carrying a hefty handbag, Ms Barro said she now used a tote bag for everyday use. "I wear a bag across my body most of the time," she said. "When I'm chic I wear a beautiful bag."


Addicted to myths about opiates

Almost everything you think you know about heroin addiction is wrong, writes Theodore Dalrymple

It is not only those who take heroin who are blinded by illusions, but almost the entire population, including - or especially - the experts. Every problem in contemporary society calls forth its equal and supposedly opposite bureaucracy. The ostensible purpose of this bureaucracy is to solve that problem.

But the bureaucracy quickly develops a survival instinct and so no more wishes the problem to disappear altogether than the lion wishes to kill all the gazelle in the bush and leave itself with no food for the future.

In short, the bureaucracy of drug addiction needs drug addicts far more than drug addicts need the bureaucracy of drug addiction. Thanks to propaganda assiduously spread for many years by everyone who has concerned himself with the subject, there is now a standard or received view of heroin addiction that is almost universally accepted by the general public, by the addicts and by the bureaucracy. This view serves the interests of the addicts who wish to continue their habit while placing the blame elsewhere, as well as the bureaucracy that wishes to continue in employment, preferably forever and at higher rates of pay.

This standard or received view conceives opiate addiction as an illness and therefore implies that there is a bona fide medical solution to it. When all the proposed "cures" fail to work, as they usually do, and when the extension of quasi-medical services to addicts is accompanied not by a decline in the prevalence of the problem but, on the contrary, by an increase, who can blame addicts if, in continuing their habit, they blame not themselves but the incompetence of those who have set themselves up as their medical saviours and offered them solutions that do not work?

But where bureaucracies are concerned, nothing succeeds like failure. For example, the budget of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse increased by 16.2 per cent between 2001 and 2002, which would be quite a creditable performance if it had been a purely commercial enterprise. In the period, $US126,394,000 was added to its budget, but it would be foolhardy to suggest that a single drug addict stopped, or will stop, taking drugs because of this extra funding.

The standard or orthodox view of heroin addiction is as follows, a view that has a different function in the case of addicts, doctors and the general public. According to this view, a man is somehow or other exposed to heroin, more or less by chance. It has a pleasurable effect on him and he takes some more, and then some more again. Before long, indeed very quickly, he is physiologically addicted, and in order to avoid the terrible suffering caused by withdrawal, he has to take more and more heroin. Unfortunately, in order to pay for this, he often has to resort to crime, unless he belongs to that small elite of addicts who come from the moneyed classes, for his addiction precludes normal paid work but requires a large income. His powers of self-control have by now been completely destroyed or subverted by heroin. Unless he takes a substitute drug, or possibly enters a lengthy and technically rigorous rehabilitation program, he cannot give up. He is hooked for life. He needs help.

There is only a very tiny grain of truth in all this. That physiological addiction exists is undoubted. But in practically all other respects, the standard view is wrong. It is a masterpiece of the old rhetorical tricks of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi. It overlooks the most obvious salient facts.

A man is somehow or other exposed to heroin. But how is a man exposed to heroin? The use of the passive voice is here very instructive. The heroin comes to the man, the man does not go to the heroin. It is as if the heroin had a will of its own, unlike the man. People who are genuinely exposed to strong opiates by chance, in medical circumstances, for example after an operation, very seldom become addicted to them. The vast majority of heroin addicts do not become addicted via the medical route. In fact, I do not recall one among the many hundreds whom I have met. When I ask heroin addicts why they started taking heroin, most of them reply with one of two answers. These are: "I fell in with the wrong crowd" and "heroin's everywhere".

When I reply that it is odd how I meet many people who fell in with the wrong crowd, but I never under any circumstances meet any member of the wrong crowd itself, who must therefore be lurking permanently out of my sight and hearing, the addict who has attributed his addiction to his fortuitous acquaintance with the wrong crowd smiles, or even laughs, knowingly.

Of course, it is perfectly possible, likely even, that people live in social micro-climates, in some of which heroin addiction is much more common than in others. But there is no micro-climate, other than the self-constituted one in which addicts live, in which heroin addiction is universal, literally inescapable, as it would have to be for its ubiquity to count as the explanation of any individual addict's addiction.

Distress from opiate withdrawal is overwhelmingly a social or psychological condition: it is not caused by observable physiological changes. This has extremely important implications for practice. It means that anyone who suggests withdrawal is a serious condition, worthy of and necessitating medical attention and treatment, other than treatment of the most trivial kind, is, wittingly or not, increasing the distress that withdrawal causes.

In other words, the whole apparatus of care, doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, counsellors, serves not to alleviate suffering but to create and exacerbate it. (I cannot resist quoting a law first enunciated by Colin Brewer about modern society: "Suffering increases to meet the means available for its alleviation.")

The idea of the most common method of "treatment" is substitution of heroin with a drug called methadone. This substance, which is most often taken in syrup form, but is also available as an injection and as pills, is a synthetic opiate first developed in Germany just before World War II. What we end up with (at best) is a methadone addict as well as a heroin addict, whereas we had only a heroin addict before. Neither the quadrupling of methadone prescriptions in Britain between 1982 and 1992, nor the doubling of them in the US between 1999 and 2001, had any effect on the scale of the problem. Substantial numbers of people are killed by methadone. Heroin was involved in 58 per cent of the 3961 fatal poisonings from opiates between 1993 and 1998 in England and Wales, while methadone was involved in 49 per cent.

The resort to intoxicants is a permanent and ineradicable temptation that arises from human nature. Not everyone gives in to it, however, or is equally susceptible, by virtue of their situation in life. The majority of people sometimes resort to intoxicants (or, like me with alcohol, resort to them every day), without letting them interfere with their ability to function in the world. Indeed, taken in moderation, they probably increase their ability to do so.

But there are some people for whom the desire for the consolation of illusion, and the illusion of consolation, is constant. In most Western societies, there is now a class in which tedium vitae is very common, almost normal. This is the class from which the vast majority of heroin addicts now comes. The young of this class are disaffected, and have good reason to be so. They are for the most part poor, though not of course in the absolute sense. They have no interests, intellectual or cultural. The consolations of religion are closed to them. As for their family life, loosely so-called, it is usually of an utterly chaotic nature, a quicksand of step-parents, step and half-siblings, and quite without an orderly succession of generations. Their sexual relationships are a kaleidoscope of ephemeral couplings, often with abandoned offspring as a result, motivated by an immediate need for sexual release and often complicated by primitive egotistical possessiveness leading to violence and conflict.

Their economic prospects are poor. They are unskilled in countries in which the demand for unskilled labour is limited. Any work that they do will be repetitive and dull; and while a man might once have derived satisfaction from performing a menial task well, from leading a life of modest usefulness to others, this is not an age in which such humility is very common.

In large part, this is because people live to a quite unprecedented degree in the virtual world of so-called popular culture. From the very earliest age, their lives are saturated with images of celebrities, whose attainments are often modest but who have been whisked by good fortune into a world of immense and glamorous luxury.

Crime ceases to be crime, but is rather restitution or justified revenge. The result is that, while profoundly dissatisfied with their present lot, they do not have ambitions towards which they might work in a constructive fashion, but daydreams in which everything is solved at once in a magical way, daydreams from which the emergence into reality is always painful. Any aid to the perpetuation of the state of daydreaming is therefore greatly appreciated.

The temptation to take opiates, and to continue to take them, arises from two main sources: first, man's eternal existential anxieties, to which there is no wholly satisfactory solution, at least for those who are not unself-consciously religious; and second, the particular predicament in which people find themselves.

The addict has a problem, but it is not a medical one: he does not know how to live. And on this subject the doctor has nothing, qua doctor, to offer. What he ought not do, however, is to mislead the addict, or allow the addict to mislead him, into thinking that the problem is medical and requires, or is susceptible to, a medical solution.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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