10 June 2009

An angry thing, a nice thing, and a game.

A comment was made the other day that seemed to indicate I've been remiss in talking about things that disappoint me.

To remedy that, I shall be discussing (and by 'discussing' I mean 'ranting about') something which occurred at work recently and is still aggravating the almighty fuck out of me.

However, in order to restore the balance, I shall also be talking about a nice thing. Oh, and giving you a link to a game.


An angry thing.

Recently, my employer decided that it would be an excellent idea to run an event called 'Learning At Work week'. The idea was to present a variety of talks and events to encourage learning, all based around the theme 'Skilled For Success'.

Thus it was that a programme was set up for the week whereby people could nip out of the office for a bit, get in the lift, head up to the top floor and involve themselves in a session on management, or writing, or a number of other activities designed to improve their 'skill set' and 'knowledge base'. Sadly, I was unable to attend as I had some real work to do.

However, I did notice that one of the sessions on the final day was a demonstration of Reflexology. You can imagine that I was somewhat puzzled and aggravated by this.

Fortunately, we have an internet-based forum (members only) for our local union, the people who set this event up. Thus, I found myself making a simple post that said:

I fully support the planned Learning At Work week agenda and think it's a very good idea.

Reading through the programme, I see that there's a session on Reflexology.

Can I ask why this has been included? More importantly, is there a cost involved to the (union)?

I received this rather astonishing reply from somebody who was clearly very confused:

I would suggest that including a subject like reflexology and allowing people to find out more about it for themselves before coming to a decision is perfectly valid.

Asking for it to be removed from the Programme is actually encouraging ignorance.

My grandmother suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis which no medicine could alleviate the pain for longer than a few months. She turned to whisky as the only way of coping with the pain which caused its own problems.

Despite our initial scepticism, Reflexology was the final hope she turned to and it transformed her quality of life.

What right has anyone else got to stop people finding out more about it?

Can I politely ask what you contributed to the week?

Where does someone start with a response like that? Well, with this:

According to your post, asking for an unproven, potentially dangerous, non-scientific sham medical procedure to be removed from a programme of learning is 'encouraging ignorance'? I don't know quite where to begin with that.

It is claimed that reflexology works by manipulating pressure points in the feet, thus unblocking the energy lines of the body allowing the free movement of qi. To put it simply, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these wild claims.

When an area of complementary medicine makes a claim, that claim is scientifically tested for efficacy. If it is proven to work, then that complementary medicine becomes part of conventional medicine. If it doesn't work, it remains as a complementary medicine or, as some might prefer to call it, pseudo-scientific claptrap.

I find it very disappointing that (company) have, alongside the otherwise excellent events throughout this week, decided to give reflexology a platform. What can we expect next time? Hopi ear candling? Iridology? Homeopathy? How to psychically communicate with your dog?

The potential dangers of 'complementary medicine' are well documented. When one is drawn in by therapies which have no basis in fact and have been proven not to have any valid efficacy based on their claims, we open ourselves to ignoring conventional medicine or therapeutic techniques. This can have a fatal effect.

There will, of course, be certain cases where reflexology 'appears' to work. These will usually be as the result of 1) relaxation and 2) the placebo effect. All well and good, but what is the real cost to society of allowing these therapies to flourish when they simply don't do what they're meant to?

I direct you to the words of Stephen Barrett, MD, "Reflexology is based on an absurd theory and has not been demonstrated to influence the course of any illness. Done gently, reflexology is a form of foot massage that may help people relax temporarily. Claims that reflexology is effective for diagnosing or treating disease should be ignored. Such claims could lead to delay of necessary medical care or to unnecessary medical testing of people who are worried about reflexology findings."

And to address your last question, up until I wrote this post, I had contributed precisely nothing to the Learning At Work week. If you feel that makes me unable to contribute to this discussion, then that is entirely your opinion and you are fully entitled to it, but I will disagree with you.

If I manage to make someone pause and consider whether we as a Department should be helping people to peddle unproven, non-scientific, sham-therapies, then I will consider that to be a very important contribution indeed.

Of course, everybody on the forum agreed with me once they saw the sense in my post, decided that Reflexology was a poor choice of topic for a session on learning, and apologised for its inclusion, confirming that no alternative therapies will be represented in next years set of events.

Oh hang on, no, that's not right. Sorry, I was confused. What they actually said was:

I still make no apologies for including the Reflexology session. Will I book it next year? Quite possibly - it was a very popular session that drew in people who might not otherwise have come to the event, and (seeing as it was held in the same room as a stand and rep for (removed) Adult College, a number of those people went away with advice and college brochures.

There was, obviously, much more to the debate than the excerpts I've posted above. But, interestingly, although nobody was able to provide actual evidence of the efficacy of reflexology, nor to counteract the points I made, they've decided that it was a valid topic to include because, and I quote, "Surely if something makes you feel better, more relaxed etc then it is helpful, even if it is not a validated medical treatment?"

I'm afraid that I've now given up trying to argue the point with them. To steal a phrase, "You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into". Fuck-knuckles.


A nice thing.

I've just finished watching the first season of 'Lie To Me' and it really is rather spiffing.

At present, there are a number of cookie-cutter crime shows doing the rounds in the US. Each week, a robbery, murder, fire, terrorist attack or dog-bite occurs and the hero of the programme sets about solving it using their unique crime-fighting skills, reaching deep into what is usually a pretty shallow arsenal of tricks and techniques.

Examples of this genre include 'Monk' (a man with OCD), 'The Mentalist' (a fake-psychic who uses his Derren Brown-like powers for good), 'Numb3rs' (a mathematician uses various equations to help the FBI), 'Bones' (a forensic anthropologist, blah de blah de blah) and, of course, 'Psych' (er, a bit like The Mentalist actually).

Lie To Me is exactly the same as all these other programmes except that this time the hero is, effectively, a human lie detector. An expert in body language and micro-expressions, he's able to tell exactly when someone is lying, and calls them out on it quite frequently, right in their big, stupid faces.

On first sight, it doesn't seem like anything special and, indeed, it actually isn't. However, the show is elevated by the superb casting of Tim Roth as the hero, Cal Lightman.

Roth doesn't affect an American accent, preferring instead to speak in his normal Estuary-tones. This has created some controversy in America where certain viewers have had to watch the programme with subtitles because they're unable to recognise the English language unless it's being spoken in their own, slack-jawed drawl. For some strange sadistic reason, this pleases me greatly.

Also, there's a certain almost indefinable comfort about Roth when he's on screen. It's almost like he's saying, "Look, I know I shouldn't be here, you know I shouldn't here, but I am so tough luck. I'm being paid a substantial amount of money to play this part which we all know should probably have gone to some generic, cap-toothed Aryan actor from the L.A. School of Standard TV Acting. But, for reasons known only to myself, my agent and the Dark Lord Satan, I got the gig instead. Live with it."

So, as he wanders about quite literally throwing the lines away at some points, a small smirk never seems to be far from his lips. He's gatecrashed the party and now they're too afraid to ask him to leave.

If you get the opportunity to watch it, please do so. Like I said, the plots are pretty standard and you can usually guess 'whodunnit' in advance of the other characters, but it's well worth it just to watch Roth swagger about showing that sometimes, just sometimes, acting is all about 'less is more'. Fantastic.


A game.

Here's a little game that I found on the intarwebz. It starts off as a small amusement, then becomes very irritating. Eventually, you keep on coming back to it purely because you become utterly convinced that you must be able to get past 8 frames. You won't. Ever.


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