Thursday, February 26, 2009


I wrote about fairness not long ago on these virtual pages and I wanted to point out that there is one area in which I'm particularly unreasonable on the topic: My children.

In an early experiment with one of the Boy Scout groups, The Boy entered a Pinewood Derby. Apart from shaping the wood with the power tools, which no one in his age group could do, I required him to do everything on his own. I was there to offer advice--not that I had much to give--but I wasn't going to be sanding, oiling, talcing or whatever tricks they do for those things.

Which, on the day of the race was evident, were extensive and well researched by all the fathers involved. The disinterest from the actual boys was obvious but the guys my age? They were into it. Not even the vaguest premise of having the troopers do their own work.

This is a minor unfairness, and it had its own value in showing The Boy the way of the world.

A more serious unfairness is that The Boy has been sick for the past three days from drinking water and the vegetable juice. His blood sugars have been great, fortunately, and this is precisely what the doctor said would happen, but I feel bad.

I'm an old man (at least relatively) and somehow this stuff isn't affecting me negatively at all. It's just unfair that a 13-year-old should have to put up with it. His whole life's been a lot harder than it should be. We do this on the hope that he'll come out the other side better.

Which brings me to the subject of de-toxification.

Detoxification is a hot topic because every quack pedlling snake oil talks about "detox". Like those foot guys on the television selling wasabi or kinoki or shinobi or whatever it is that, if I'm not mistaken, takes the dirty outer layer of skin off your feet and tells you you're being purified.

The drinking of distilled water at regular intervals is done to provide the body with a basic, necessary resource to let it do its thing. (The vegetable juice is for minerals; these guys are crazy about the minerals! Later we add calcium.) The symptoms of this detoxification process are runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, lots of phlegm in the lungs (with coughing), and even things like fever or some nausea. Even if you don't understand how it happens, you sort of have to respect the predictability of it, given that there's no conventional medical reason that slightly greater hydration should lead to it.

One of my main issues regarding "snake oil"--a term I use affectionately about a time period before the government locked up medicine--is that the theories behind them may be completely whack. That doesn't mean the medicine's no good.

My canonical reference is Ignaz Semmelweiss, who didn't know why washing your hands before surgery helped, he just knew that it did. Likewise, ancient astrologers (sorry, guys, they were astrologers at the time, not astronomers!) could map the motion of the planets in the sky, even though their understanding of said bodies was fanciful at best.

And so I take that approach with medicine. (Alternative or otherwise. You don't get a free pass from me just 'cause you can prescribe drugs.) I'm utterly unconvinced by the theories behind mood-altering drugs, and in every case I've seen them used, they've failed.

And then there are the enema guys.

You know the enema guys, right? They have a long, storied history going back to the Kellogg brothers of Battle Creek, Michigan. And, oh, my, they have pictures! Pictures of twisted intestines, all gnarled up by residual fecal matter and, heavens, it's quite awful.

But the enema guys have a problem, I think: We now have footage of the insides of people's colons, and they don't appear to be the messes that the enema guys predict. I haven't thoroughly researched this, mind you: I'm just going by the shots that I've seen which show the walls of the intestines to be pretty clear. (And by their own literature, the enema is necessary to clean said intestines out, the drink you get before a colonoscopy shouldn't be sufficient.)

I've not seen any benefits from enemas that couldn't be explained by the rapid infusion of caffeine into the blood stream. (Enemas are often done with coffee, and the lower intestines are way more absorptive than the digestive system from top-to-bottom.) And this absorption factor makes enemas potentially dangerous, too.

But now watch this sleight-of-hand: I'm totally willing to let the enema guys be, because, hey, I could be wrong. And people need to have the right to explore these things on their own. That's just how I roll. As it stands, right now conventional medicine is being hampered by government regulation. And, predictably, politics--more than science--seems to be the big factor in what gets made available.

An effort to make things fair always seems to make things even more unfair than ever.


  1. With you on the derby absurdity. It's supposed to be the boys' project! Still, you're right, there is a lesson there.

    Hoping The Boy feels much better soon. He's got a great dad.

  2. The cleansing thing is really big now. One of the girls who shops in the store runs a business where she does a colon cleanse on big time TV and movie stars. She swears up and down it works and she gets big money. We have started a new vitamin regime and let me tell you, my colon is really starting to get cleanse. So I think I will pass on the enema for a while.

  3. Yeah, people swear by 'em. But I don't think it's something you can logic out--it's what they call an "imponderable".

    You can't figure it out so the only way to know is to go look. And who wants to go looking?

  4. The sibling of the derby is the science fair. Of course we helped! But we didn't do it all and that was sometimes painfully obvious at exhibition.

    One of my greatest moments was when my youngest daughter, who had failed to prove that her hypothesis worked, exhibited it all anyway. She won a trip to the State Science Fair on that work!

    Keep in mind that one of the reasons "snake oil" medicine "worked" before the government got involved was the opium they contained.

    Ahh... for the good ole days!

  5. Ah, yes, The Boy did a science fair once, too. I was quite proud. He was just six, and he had done the whole thing himself, which was more science-fiction than science. (He had created a fictional ecosystem.)

    But it was so obvious that he had done it all himself and others had "help".

  6. Keep in mind that one of the reasons "snake oil" medicine "worked" before the government got involved was the opium they contained.

    ...which makes them the ancestors of the modern depression drugs!


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