Archive for November, 2007

There’s a great post across in four hour week – a precis of Kurt Vonnegut’s last interview – it’s worth a read in full but these two answers really grabbed me –

Tell me the reasons you’ve been attracted to a life of creation, whether as a writer or an artist.

I’ve been drawing all my life, just as a hobby, without really having shows or anything. It’s just an agreeable thing to do, and I recommend it to everybody. I always say to people, practice an art, no matter how well or badly [you do it], because then you have the experience of becoming, and it makes your soul grow. That includes singing, dancing, writing, drawing, playing a musical instrument. One thing I hate about school committees today is that they cut arts programs out of the curriculum because they say the arts aren’t a way to make a living. Well, there are lots of things worth doing that are no way to make a living. [Laughs.] They are agreeable ways to make a more agreeable life.

In the process of your becoming, you’ve given the world much warmth and humor. That matters, doesn’t it?

I asked my son Mark what he thought life was all about, and he said, “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” I think that says it best. You can do that as a comedian, a writer, a painter, a musician. He’s a pediatrician. There are all kinds of ways we can help each other get through today. There are some things that help. Musicians really do it for me. I wish I were one, because they help a lot. They help us get through a couple hours.

I agree with these sentiments so much –  we should all practice something creative – it makes our souls grow. And we are here to help each other get through this thing – a life spent without this motivation is a life lacking something in my opinion.

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder it’s said, but maybe it’s not just in the eye? This study asked people to rate the attractiveness of others from photos along with short personality descriptions. They found that

individuals – both men and women – who exhibit positive traits, such as honesty and helpfulness, are perceived as better looking. Those who exhibit negative traits, such as unfairness and rudeness, appear to be less physically attractive to observers.

This reminded me of a study I read ages ago which got students to guesstimate the height of a lecturer who was introduced as either “Mr”, “Dr”, or “Professor”. There was a consistent increase in the perceived height of the lecturer when introduced as “Dr” over “Mr” and “Professor” over “Dr”.

It also brought to mind the effect of pupil size on perceived attractiveness. A study done using actors and actresses with sets of photos before and after having their pupils dilated showed that observers consistently rate the photos where the pupils are larger as being the more attractive.

So I guess there are many influences on our perceptions of the physical – personality traits, status and state of arousal. Are there others you are aware of?

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Tv or not tv?

I like your tv, originally uploaded by bobsee.

Some people think TV is a bad thing. They ban it in their homes. I knew some families who had this approach and one day their kids didn’t appear back home from school at the usual time. When they set out to search for them they found them all standing outside a TV rentals shop watching programmes through the window!
This little boy reminded me of that.
I think it’s a good idea to teach your children how to handle the technologies that pervade their lives.

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As I walked into the Place de l’Hotel de Ville, in Aix-en-Provence, last night, I could hear somebody speaking very loudly. Well, these days, there are always people around you using mobile phones. Mobile phone users fall into one of two camps. There are those who try to speak very quietly, maybe even holding a hand over their mouth while they mumble and whisper into their phone, but there are others who are a bit like old-fashioned town criers yelling their opinions and news so that everyone in a 500 yard radius hears exactly what they have to say. These latter seem to outnumber the former. So when I heard the loud declamation I assumed it was somebody on their mobile phone and didn’t think any more about it till the square gradually cleared and the voice continued loudly. It seemed to be coming from near the great tree.

the voice

But it wasn’t someone on their phone and it wasn’t even one of the people strolling past the tree. In fact, pretty much everyone walked on and the loud voice from the tree continued. I noticed a bike resting against the trunk of the tree and up above I saw a man.

up above the bike

Yep, there was a man, sitting in the branches of a tree and reading. Loudly. My first thought was that he was declaiming poetry. French is such a beautiful language to my ear that the assumption I’m hearing poetry is an easy one. But as I listened I realised it wasn’t poetry. He was reading the book out loud and it was a textbook. My French isn’t good enough to but he used the word “technic” a lot, and other words from economics and politics were scattered through the sentences. What was he doing? Studying? When I was at University, one year, a fellow student walked back and forth across the grass outside my window, textbook in hand, reading it out loud as he got it into his brain. By exam time that one student had created a deep trench! Not just a path, but a trench! Was that was this guy was doing? Getting the facts of the textbook into his head? Or was he trying to change the world with words? There’s a man walks around the streets of Carcassonne singing a song of his own making. He has sheaves of handwritten paper in his hands and walks round and round the streets of the old town singing his words at the top of his voice. You can hear his words about the ‘Carcassonais’ and ‘Cathars’ and several entirely private fantasies about places and people echoing down the narrow streets. I’m never sure what he’s doing either. Everyone just ignores him. As if he’s doing nothing unusual. And the man in the tree was the same. Nobody stopped to listen. Nobody called up ‘hey, what are you doing up there?’ (nope, I didn’t either!) Was he marking his territory with his words? Was he casting spells to change his world?
Isn’t reality strange? You couldn’t make it up!

once upon a tree

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Water colours

Aix en Provence is famous for its fountains, and at this time of year they add coloured lights to some of them. One of my favourites is this one where the colours are constantly changing.

blue water

purple water

red water

red spectrum water

blue spectrum water

blue water

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Aix snowflake, originally uploaded by bobsee.

I find something totally engaging about snowflakes. Not least because true snowflakes all have such different patterned structures despite being “only water”!
But mostly cos they’re just beautiful and endlessly varied

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Cours Mirabeau

Cours Mirabeau, originally uploaded by bobsee.

Christmas lights strung out over the Cours Mirabeau in Aix en Provence.
I love the perspective in this photo and the headlights emerging from the vanishing point.
Along the right hand side of the street you can see the row of little log cabins selling crafts and sweets and local produce.

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Evidence Based Medicine has three principles – consider the evidence for an intervention; consider the relevance of this evidence for this particular patient based on clinical experience and; thirdly, in consultation with the patient respecting their values and perspectives – to draw up a therapeutic plan. That first part about the evidence base is weakened if the evidence itself is distorted. There are a number of ways to distort it.

One is to spin the findings, as was highlighted in this research

Previous studies have shown that randomised controlled trials with financial ties to single drug companies are more likely to have results and conclusions that favour the sponsor’s products, and a recent study suggests that the same holds true for meta-analyses.

So researchers in the US set out to determine whether financial ties with single drug companies are associated with favourable results or conclusions in meta-analyses on blood pressure lowering (antihypertensive) therapies.

A total of 124 meta-analyses were included in the study, 49 (40%) of which had single drug company financial ties. Differences in study design and quality were measured.

Meta-analyses with single drug company financial ties were not associated with favourable results but were significantly more likely to have favourable conclusions, even when differences in study quality were taken into account.

In fact, the data show that studies funded by a single drug company have a 55% rate of favourable results that is transformed into a 92% rate for favourable conclusions, representing a 37% gap. The gap shrinks to 21% (57% to 79%) when two or more drug companies provide support. Yet the gap vanishes entirely for studies done by non-profit institutions alone or even in conjunction with drug companies.

These findings suggest a disconnect between the data that underlie the results and the interpretation or “spin” of these data that constitutes the conclusions, say the authors.

Another method is not to publish negative trial findings. Bayer, has just suspended one of its drugs because a trial showed it carried a higher risk of death.

The BART study was the latest in a series of worries about Trasylol’s safety in past years. In 2006 a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed increased risks of kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke (2006;354:353-65).

As a result, safety warnings for Trasylol were strengthened in 2006, and approval for use was limited to patients who were having heart bypass graft surgery and were at increased risk of blood loss and blood transfusion during the operation.

In October 2006 international drug regulators’ worries heightened when it became known that Bayer had failed to disclose to the agencies or their advisory panels the results of an unpublished study that had been sponsored by Bayer. Indeed, Bayer scientists had defended Trasylol at an FDA panel hearing but had not mentioned their own study.

Bayer announced that it regretted the mistake and that according to an internal investigation the findings of the trial had been withheld by two Bayer employees and not been passed on as necessary.

Evidence Based Medicine only works well for patients if it is applied in full, and the issue of pharmaceutical company influence on what becomes known and how it is presented required constant vigilance. The more we can have non-drug company funded experts involved in careful peer review the better.

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I’m enjoying a series on BBC Scotland just now. It’s called Scotland’s Music with Phil Cunningham. Phil’s an amazing contemporary Scottish traditional musician and each part of this short series examines the relationship between some aspect of Scotland and Scottish music. This week’s episode (Part 4) was entitled ‘Heaven and Earth’ and explored what Phil called the soul of Scottish music. I loved this and understood with every fibre of my being. I liked the way he showed such diverse ‘spiritual’ inspirations for Scottish music, from superstitions and beliefs in magical creatures like selkies, to Christian traditions both Protestant and Catholic, to the ‘spiritual’ inspiration of the land itself. It’s this last that means most to Phil, and it’s this last that means most to me, but to range over such a diversity of sources for inspiration to produce music that connects the individual to something much greater, be it Life, or God, or the Natural World is quite unusual.

Take a look at the BBC site dedicated to this series. In particular take a look at episode 4, ‘Heaven and Earth’ and play the video entitled ‘Soraidh Leis An Ait’ which is played by all the musicians appearing in this part. If you’ve any Scottish blood in you, I swear this will touch your soul! And even if you’re not Scottish, Tommy Smith playing his sax in the Hamilton Mausoleum is enchantingly beautiful.

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A big part of the debate about homeopathy centres on the issue of ultra-high dilutions of medicines. One of the explanations wheeled out is something called ‘the memory of water’ – it’s a catchy phrase but very problematic. Does water have a memory and if so, how does that work? The anti-homeopathy campaigners say it can’t be explained. In short, they say it’s implausible. More than that, they say that the difference between a starting substance and a highly diluted remedy is the difference between ‘something and nothing’. But still, I think it’s more reasonable to say it’s the difference between something and something else. One of the commenters here, Andy, asked ‘does the water retain a memory of everything else it has had in solution since the dawn of time? Or just the things that the homeopath wants it to remember?’ I rather liked that question. It got me thinking…..and I’m still thinking! But amongst the things it got me thinking about were how memory isn’t physical but water is, about how human beings are meaning-seeking/meaning-creating creatures and how we enrich our physical world with meaning, how we use language, symbolism, memory and imagination, to create an incredibly powerful presence in the world, and how experience is more than physical, more than can be measured.

So here’s the non-science bit – first off, some photos of my own. I love water and water imagery and it amazes me how diverse and complex it is. Have a browse through this slide show. I wonder how these images of water will feel to you? I wonder what they’ll mean to you?

Here’s the slide show

And then, here are some of my favourite water songs. Let’s start with Rain

I can show you that when it starts to rain, everything’s still the same

When it rains and shines it’s just a state of mind

Patty Griffin next…..

Sometimes a hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you’re gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all this rain falling down

Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big dark clouds
When I’m holding on underneath this shroud

And, the fabulous Eurythmics –

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

It’s amazing how much the rain can change our emotions, our state of mind, and our mood, isn’t it?

Let’s spend a little time by the river! Rivers are so important to us. How many towns and cities grow up around rivers? Think how we use metaphors like “river of life”. Here’s Alison Krauss set to a lovely montage of BBC nature videos.

A complete change of musical genre, but keeping a religious theme, with Good Charlotte,

Baptized in the river,
I’ve seen a vision of my life,

My favourite river song about the importance of place – really, a song that gives us a real understanding of psychogeography! (the way place fashions a sense of self)

And, finally, with Christmas coming, here’s Sarah McLachlan’s version of Joni Mitchell’s The River

I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

Which paintings, photos, songs, films, poems or stories come to your mind on the theme of water, and what do they mean to you?

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