Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City

April 16, 2014

April 16 marks the 67th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster.

It’s a day Texans, and all Americans should note.  It’s an event we need to remember, because every point of the disaster is something we forget at our very great peril.  Thinking such a disaster could not happen again, and failing to train for these same conditions, contributed to the disaster last year in West, Texas.

67 years ago, in the harbor at Texas City, a large cargo ship being loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, setting fire to other nearby ships, one of which exploded, devastating much of the town. In all, 576 people died in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947.

View of Texas City from across the bay, in Galveston, April 16, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259

The incident also produced one of the most famous tort cases in U.S. history, Dalehite vs. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953). (Here is the Findlaw version, subscription may be required.)

The entire Texas City fire department was wiped out, 28 firefighters in all. The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1259 has a website dedicated to the history of the disaster, with a collection of some powerful photographs.

More below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


Yet another blow against warming “skeptics”: Virginia judge quashed Cuccinelli’s witch hunt

September 2, 2010

Vivian Paige pulled together early reports and the actual court documents:  A judge in Virginia quashed the subpeona issued by Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia, in a rather blatant attempt to silence a famous scientist working on global warming, Michael Mann.

Rosalind Helderman explained in the Virginia Politics blog of the Washington Post:

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate. But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli’s underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli’s deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann’s fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case.

“The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann’s work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Peatross wrote.

Also, as suggested earlier here, the judge noted that Cuccinelli’s authority did not extend to four of the five grants questioned, because they were federal grants, not state grants.  (See here, too.)

Comments at Helderman’s article show the fault lines of division on global warming — purely political faultlines.

Since opponents of action against warming so frantically publicized stolen e-mails from researchers late last year, in official proceedings scientists have smacked down skeptics on almost every issue.

Which only means that scientists now sit in the position of Cassandra after Apollo’s curse.


Creationism crash covered

June 24, 2010

Judge Sam Sparks’ rebuke of the Institution for Creation Research (“Biblical.  Accurate.  Certain.”)  appeared in a number of venues, in addition to those I mentioned earlier (go see here); for the record, you ought to go see:

An ICR spokesperson sent the following statement via e-mail:

The Institute for Creation Research has received the ruling of Judge Sam Sparks from the U.S. District Court in Austin in the case ICR Graduate School v. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board et al. The attorneys and leadership of ICR associated with this case are currently reviewing Judge Sparks’ ruling and we are weighing our options regarding future action in this matter.  In addition to other options, ICRGS has 30 days in which to file an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. ICR has no further comment at this time.


Institute for Creation Research loses bid to give creationism degrees in Texas

June 22, 2010

Remember the Institute for Creation Research?

Institute for Creation Research offices in Texas

Institute for Creation Research offices in Texas

This hoary old fundamentalist institution moved from California to Texas, hoping to take advantage of the generally fundie-friendly environment, and continue a practice of granting masters and doctorate degrees in science education to people who would get jobs in schools and teach creationism instead.  They had achieved that goal in California with a lawsuit the state regulators rather botched, and by setting up a special accreditation association that would give a pass to the teaching of non-science.

But when they got to Texas, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) had a couple of alert people who blew the whistle on the process of getting a permit to grant degrees.  Real scientists and science educators were brought in to evaluate ICR’s programs.  They said the programs were not scientific and do not deserve to be accredited.

THECB stuck to the rulesICR threatened a lawsuit.  THECB stood fast.

ICR sued.

And then God intervened. At God’s instructions ICR filed legal papers so bizarre that they would, by themselves, expose ICR as a wacko group.  ICR’s loss came on the merits of their case, which were nil — it was summary judgment against ICR.  Summary judgment means that, even with all the evidence decided in favor of the losing party, that party loses on the basis of the law.

The court took note of just how bizarre were the papers ICR filed.  Frosting on the cake of embarrassment.

Judge Sam Sparks, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, stopped short of admonishing ICR for the briefs, and instead sifted the briefs to find judiciable claims — an act that will probably prevent ICR from getting a friendly hearing in any appeal.  Sparks wrote:

Having addressed this primary issue, the Court will proceed to address each of ICRGS’s causes of action in turn, to the extent it is able to understand them. It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.

Whom God destroys, He first makes mad.

Sparks ruled ICR has no free exercise right to grant non-science degrees, no free speech right, and no due process claim to grant them, either.  ICR lost on every count of their complaint.

More:

_______________

Cartoon on ICR suit against Texas, Babble.com

From Babble.com (Do you know who is the cartoonist?)


Stupid math tricks: Judge’s innumeracy screws defendant

June 4, 2010

Had difficulty with fractions in third grade, did you?

 

Fractions, shown on a cake  - 1/4 and 1/2

Which is larger, 1/4, or 1/2?

Nothing like the judge in this story, I’m sure.  From the depths of Europe, Zeno details how a judge’s seeming infacility with numbers took an injustice against a petitioner in his court, and made it worse.

It’s the sort of error you’d expect of a third-grade kid who hasn’t watched enough “Sesame Street.”  Which of these fractions is larger?  1/5, or 1/6?

Is the judge really that dumb, or is this an elaborate, sarcastic hoax on the petitioner?

Math teachers, can you use this to show the importance of learning math well enough to do simple math functions mentally, without paper and calculator?

While you’re at Zeno’s place, Halfway There, look around. Zeno writes well, has good stories to tell, and you could learn a lot about a lot of things — you know, just by observing.


Climate change: We’ll see you in court

May 21, 2010

Contemplation of Justice, statue by James Earle Fraser at the U.S. Supreme Court (exterior) - photo by Steve Petteway

Contemplation of Justice, statue by James Earle Fraser at the U.S. Supreme Court (exterior) - photo by Steve Petteway

From a press release from Gardere and Wynn:

Gardere’s Faulk And Gray Tapped To Represent Business, Industry In Climate Change Amicus Briefs

Gardere Wynne Sewell attorneys Richard O. Faulk and John S. Gray have been retained to write amicus curiae briefs to federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to public nuisance lawsuits regarding global climate change.

(I-Newswire) May 13, 2010 – HOUSTON – Richard O. Faulk and John S. Gray, co-chairs of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP’s Climate Change Task Force, have been retained to write amicus curiae briefs to federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to public nuisance lawsuits regarding global climate change.

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray, partners in Gardere’s Houston office, will represent a group of organizations that include the American Chemistry Council, The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, The American Coatings Association, and the Public Nuisance Fairness Coalition.

The first brief was filed in the 5th Circuit on Friday, May 7, in the case of Comer v. Murphy Oil. In that case, a group of property owners sued utility, mining, oil and chemical companies claiming their CO2 emissions ultimately caused the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Comer had originally been dismissed at the trial level because the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue particular defendants for the effects of global warming, among other reasons.

A panel of the 5th Circuit reversed the dismissal, but on February 26 the court granted an en banc rehearing. The court is now weighing a number of procedural concerns caused by a number of judicial recusals, and has not set a final date for oral arguments.

“Despite the current procedural wrangling, the 5th circuit’s initial decision to reconsider the panel’s ruling remains a major blow to climate change and public nuisance litigation,” Faulk said. “Although the final decision, the panel’s original decision now has no value. Clearly, a significant number of the court’s judges believe the case deserves a closer look, and plaintiffs are surely not comforted by that development. Indeed, since no judge on the original panel dissented, the en banc court’s decision to reconsider suggests a serious interest in changing the result.”

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray also plan to file amicus briefs in Native Village of Kivalina, Alaska v. ExxonMobil Corp., et al., which is pending in the 9th Circuit, and Connecticut v. American Electric Power, a 2nd Circuit decision in which a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court is expected to be filed. Both of those cases also involve the propriety of using public nuisance litigation to redress global climate change.

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray have authored many scholarly articles regarding public nuisance and climate change. One of their major papers, “Stormy Weather Ahead: The Legal Environment of Global Climate Change,” has been presented at conferences of the United States Chamber of Commerce, in media events at the Washington Legal Foundation, at various Professional Development seminars for lawyers, engineers, and businessmen. A complete collection of their articles is available at http://works.bepress.com/richard_faulk/subject_areas.html#Climate%20Change.

In addition, Mr. Faulk recently spoke on climate change lawsuits at the Judicial Symposium on The Expansion of Liability Under Public Nuisance on April 26 at the Searle Center on Law, Regulation, and Economic Growth, Northwestern University School of Law.

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, an AmLaw 200 firm founded in 1909 and one of the Southwest’s largest full-service law firms, has offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Mexico City. Gardere provides legal services to private and public companies and individuals in areas of energy, hospitality, litigation, corporate, tax, government affairs, environmental, labor and employment, intellectual property and financial services.

Familiar with any of those cases?

Were denialists to have the facts, some of those legal cases would be the places that the facts emerge in useful-to-stop-climate-change-legislation fashion.

Want to make bets on whether those who desperately want (and maybe need) climate change denialists to be right, actually use the climate denialists’ studies?

Watch those cases.


Cuccinelli Witch Project

May 3, 2010

So, you didn’t think the opposition to global warming was political?  You thought “skeptics” were just out to make a scientific case?

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - campaign photo

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - campaign photo

As the Hook explains, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has ordered the University of Virginia to turn over all records they have of research done by Michael Mann while he was at the UVA (he left five years ago for Penn State). (Civil Investigative Demand, here)

It’s a fishing expedition, the very definition of a witch hunt.  Also, as I read the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act upon which Cuccinelli bases his actions [see comments — better source here], it’s probably outside the statute of limitations.

Research that Cuccinelli has targeted to investigate  includes work Mann did with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Cuccinelli probably lacks jurisdiction for much of the stuff he wants, trumped by those federal agencies.

Mann is the guy who put together the chart of all the different threads of research that show warming climate, commonly known as the “hockey stick” after Al Gore’s years of presentations on the chart and the movie, “Inconvenient Truths.”  Mann also is among those scientists in U.S. and England whose private e-mails were exposed in the breach of the e-mail servers at England’s Hadley Climate Research Unit.

Three different investigations have put Mann in the clear so far (Penn State’s .pdf of investigation results; response to Texas U.S. Rep. Joe Barton’s assault) — odd that stolen e-mails would produce doubts about the victims of the theft, but ethical standards in science research are indeed that high.  Caesar’s wife couldn’t be considered for research grants.

Why do I think the statute of limitations may apply?  Look at the law, linked above, the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act:

§ 8.01-216.9. Procedure; statute of limitations.

A subpoena requiring the attendance of a witness at a trial or hearing conducted under this article may be served at any place in the Commonwealth.

A civil action under § 8.01-216.4 or 8.01-216.5 may not be brought (i) more than six years after the date on which the violation is committed or (ii) more than three years after the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the Commonwealth charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances, but in that event no more than ten years after the date on which the violation is committed, whichever occurs last.

In any action brought under § 8.01-216.5, the Commonwealth shall be required to prove all essential elements of the cause of action, including damages, by a preponderance of the evidence.

Research at a major research institution like a big, public university involves many layers of regulation and bureaucratic checking.  Generally the university’s research office will require adherence to the school’s ethical code and all state laws up front, and then the auditors check the money flow and research activities through the project.  There is a final sign off at most schools, which would qualify as “the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the Commonwealth charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances.”

Cuccinelli is sending a clear signal to researchers that they are unwelcome in Virginia if their research doesn’t square with his politics — and his politics are weird. Watch to see what the response of the University is, especially if their delivery of documents doesn’t put this witch hunt to bed.

[Update notice:  The text of the law noting the statute of limitations was updated on May 5, to show application to § 801-216.4 as well as § 801-216.5]

Other sources to check:

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Constitutional drama, under our noses, off the radar

May 2, 2010

What about that impeachment trial, eh?  Planning to watch it?

Your best bet might be C-SPAN, but I wouldn’t wager the mortgage were I you.

Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate, 1868; from Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868 - public domain

Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate, 1868; from Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868 - public domain

Federal Judge Thomas Porteous of New Orleans got four articles of impeachment approved against him by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 10.  The first article got a nearly unanimous vote — who says the House is divided? — 412 to 0.  Three other articles got similar margins, 410-0, 416-0, and 423-0.

Unless you live in New Orleans or have a strange fascination for that great newspaper, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, you probably heard nothing about this great Constitutional drama. If you get the Times-Picayune, you’ve had good coverage of the issue so far.

Under its own special rules of impeachment, the Senate appointed a committee led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, which will hold the actual trial and report results to the full Senate for action.  Sen. McCaskill said she expects the trial to begin in early August, and that the report to the full Senate could come as soon as September.

While news media and bloggers chase ghosts and hoaxes, real work continues in Washington, D.C.  You just don’t hear much about it.

You likely have not heard of Judge Proteous’s troubles, though they are long-standing, because the issue was a local, Louisiana and New Orleans affair.  Heaven knows New Orleans has had its share of other stories to knock off the front pages the ethical lapses of a sitting federal judge who was once a promising attorney.

Should you have heard?  How can we judge?  Should we not be concerned when a relatively important story is not only bumped to the back pages of newspapers, but bumped completely out of them, and off the radar of people who need to be informed about how well our government works?

My alert to this story came through a back-door route.  On the list-serv for AP Government, someone asked who presides at the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice — remember, the Constitution spells out that the Chief Justice is the presiding officer in the impeachment of the President or Vice President.  My memory is that the Senate rules on impeachments, and there is a committee that effectively presides, and that the impeachment of a Vice President or President merits special attention because the Vice President is the official, Constitutionally-mentioned presiding officer.  We can’t have the vice president presiding at the trial of himself or herself, nor of the president.  Looking up impeachment procedures, I stumbled across the pending impeachment of Judge Porteous.  I don’t think it has appeared in our local newspaper, The Dallas Morning News.

Other judges have been impeached.  Here in Texas, within the past three years, we had a federal judge impeached, Samuel Kent.  You’d think Texas media would be sensitive to such stories. (Kent resigned before the trial could begin.)

I perceive that media are ignoring several important areas of federal governing, not necessarily intentionally, but instead by being distracted by nonentity stories or stories that just don’t deserve the inflated coverage they get.  Among undercovered areas are the environment, energy research, higher education, foreign aid, management of public lands and justice, including indictments, trials and convictions.  A vast gray hole where should be the news of Judge Porteous’s pending impeachment is just one symptom.

Several news outlets carried stories:

More:


Stubborn Birthers soldier on

January 4, 2010

Birther “Dr. Kate” sez there’s a case coming to a hearing in Pennsylvania that will go to the Supreme Court no matter how this hearing turns out.

Here’s the table of contents to Kerchner v. Obama. Here’s the full complaint, according to Dr. Kate.

Probably the best thing going for the plaintiffs is that Orly Taitz only appears by name in a bizarre accounting of everything ever said on the issue (except for the lack of evidence and reasons this case will fail which, oddly, isn’t included in the complaint; everything else is included).

I predict the case will be dismissed, but it may be dismissed with prejudice.  That is, if it really does come to a hearing.  Is that really possible?

Warn others so they don’t get trampled:

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Sources: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and Trial

November 28, 2009

More than just as tribute to the victims, more than just a disaster story, the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire, and the following events including the trial of the company owners, lay out issues students can see clearly.  I think the event is extremely well documented and adapted for student projects.  In general classroom use, however, the event lays a foundation for student understanding.

A couple of good websites crossed my browser recently, and I hope you know of them.

Cartoon about 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York Evening Journal, March 31

Cartoon about 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York Evening Journal, March 31, 1911

Events around the fire illuminate so much of American history, and of government (which Texas students take in their senior year):

  • Labor issues are obvious to us; the incident provides a dramatic backdrop for the explanation of what unions sought, why workers joined unions, and a sterling example of a company’s clumsy and destructive resistance to resolving the workers’ issues.
  • How many Progressive Era principles were advanced as a result of the aftermath of the fire, and the trial?
  • Effective municipal government, responsive to voters and public opinion, can be discerned in the actions of the City of New York in new fire codes, and action of other governments is clear in the changes to labor laws that resulted.
  • The case provides a dramatic introduction to the workings and, sometimes, misfirings of the justice system.
  • With the writings from the Cornell site, students can climb into the events and put themselves on the site, in the courtroom, and in the minds of the people involved.
  • Newspaper clippings from the period demonstrate the lurid nature of stories, used to sell newspapers — a working example of yellow journalism.
  • Newspapers also provide a glimpse into the workings of the Muckrakers, in the editorial calls for reform.
  • Overall, the stories, the photos, the cartoons, demonstrate the workings of the mass culture mechanisms of the time.

Use the sites in good education, and good health.


Obama’s eligibility: California court tossed the challenge out

October 30, 2009

On the one hand it’s nice to see cool heads and wisdom prevail.

On the other hand, the Orly Taitz, Stumbling and Bumbling Bros., Barnyard Bailout Circus provided belly laughs for everyone who watched it.  How can such outstanding legal pratfall comedy possibly be replaced?  “Boston Legal” can’t hold a candle to Orly Taitz.

CNN and other sources report that Judge Carter booted the suit late Thursday, noting that the question is one for Congress, and Congress’s earlier decision sticks.

The lawsuit represented the claim by the so-called “birthers” movement that Obama was not born in Hawaii – despite a birth certificate to the contrary – or that if he was, his citizenship was invalidated by living overseas as a child.

In a 30-page ruling, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter of California said his court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on a case intended to unseat a sitting president.

Carter’s ruling said the plaintiffs were trying to persuade him to “disregard the constitutional procedures in place for the removal of a sitting president.”

“The process for removal of a sitting president – removal for any reason – is within the province of Congress, not the courts,” the ruling said.

Carter’s ruling also noted that the plaintiffs “have attacked the judiciary, including every prior court that has dismissed their claim, as unpatriotic and even treasonous for refusing to grant their requests and for adhering to the terms of the Constitution.”

“Respecting the constitutional role and jurisdiction of this court is not unpatriotic,” the ruling said. “Quite the contrary, this court considers commitment to that constitutional role to be the ultimate reflection of patriotism.”

Will Orly Taitz go quietly?  How can she replace the daily adrenaline rush of knowing she’s earned the official ire of judges from Chesapeake Bay to Long Beach Harbor?

It may be unrelated, but sketchy early reports say Orly Taitz has climbed aboard a mylar balloon shaped like a flying saucer . . .

More information:


The article the British Chiropractic Association hopes you will not read

July 31, 2009

Science-based Medicine carried this article yesterday, and several other blogs have joined in.  Below is the article Simon Singh wrote for which he is being sued for libel by the professional association for British chiropractors.  It’s a good cause, so I’ll stretch it another little while.

Science-based Medicine introduced the article with this:

Last year Simon Singh wrote a piece for the Guardian that was critical of the modern practice of chiropractic. The core of his complaint was that chiropractors provide services and make claims that are not adequately backed by evidence – they are not evidence-based practitioners. In response to his criticism the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued Simon personally for libel. They refused offers to publish a rebuttal to his criticism, or to provide the evidence Simon said was lacking. After they were further criticized for this, the BCA eventually produced an anemic list of studies purported to support the questionable treatments, but really just demonstrating the truth of Simon’s criticism (as I discuss at length here).

In England suing for libel is an effective strategy for silencing critics. The burden of proof is on the one accused (guilty until proven innnocent) and the costs are ruinous. Simon has persisted, however, at great personal expense.

This is an issue of vital importance to science-based medicine. A very necessary feature of science is public debate and criticism – absolute transparency.This is also not an isolated incident. Some in the alternative medicine community are attempting to assert that criticism is unprofessional, and they have used accusations of both unprofessionalism and libel as a method of silencing criticism of their claims and practices. This has happened to David Colquhoun and Ben Goldacre, and others less prominent but who have communicated to me directly attempts at silencing their criticism.

This behavior is intolerable and is itself unprofessional, an assault on academic freedom and free speech, and anathema to science as science is dependent upon open and vigorous critical debate.

What those who will attempt to silence their critics through this type of bullying must understand is that such attempts will only result in the magnification of the criticism by several orders of magnitude. That is why we are reproducing Simon Singh’s original article (with a couple of minor alterations) on this site and many others. Enjoy.

Here it is:

Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Original version published Saturday April 19 2008
Edited version published July 29, 2009

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.


Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Other venues:

Related material:


Birthers: “We choose to wallow in the gutter”

July 25, 2009

It’s a stark contrast to the matter-of-fact, good-for-America views of John Kennedy.

One of the Birth-Certificate-Obsessed (BCO), blogging at I Took the Red Pill, lays out the hoax-induced hysteria in a comment at his blog; I’ll take a few minutes and explain the problems.  Maybe one or more of the BCOs will come to their senses.  [This guy at least allows contrary views on his blog; he’s a regular at Texas Darlin’, which means his views are certifiably nuts on issues he posts about at Texas Darlin’.  But I digress.]

Heh.  Maybe pigs will fly to the Moon.

I Took the Red Pill (Pill) said:

This issue will not go away.

Only because of defects in the actions of BCOs.  As Woody Allen’s script once noted, nothing wrong here that couldn’t be cured with Prozac and a polo mallet.

This issue is pathological in every regard.

Quite to the contrary, every day more and more people are realizing that the document produced at the Obama Camapaign Headquarters in Chicago is merely a hardcopy of the photoshopped forgery that first appeared on Daily KOS.

Wow.  Where to begin, when the force of denial is so strong in the BCOs?

You can view the document’s images here, and here.  It is a certified document from the State of Hawaii.  It bears the Seal of the State of Hawaii as authentic.  No one has produced any scintilla of evidence to suggest that the document is false. or not exactly what Hawaii swears it is with the attachment of the State Seal.

That’s a powerful attestation from the State of Hawaii — as the law sees it.  If a certified document under seal is not acceptable to the BCOs, one wonders what sort of documentation would be — there isn’t anything more trustworthy under the law.

Check the Federal Rules of Evidence, for example:

Rule 902. Self-authentication

Extrinsic evidence of authenticity as a condition precedent to admissibility is not required with respect to the following:

(1) Domestic public documents under seal. A document bearing a seal purporting to be that of the United States, or of any State, district, Commonwealth, territory, or insular possession thereof, or the Panama Canal Zone, or the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, or of a political subdivision, department, officer, or agency thereof, and a signature purporting to be an attestation or execution.

. . . (4) Certified copies of public records. A copy of an official record or report or entry therein, or of a document authorized by law to be recorded or filed and actually recorded or filed in a public office, including data compilations in any form, certified as correct by the custodian or other person authorized to make the certification, by certificate complying with paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of this rule or complying with any Act of Congress or rule prescribed by the Supreme Court pursuant to statutory authority.[courtesy of the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University’s Library]

Got that?  Under federal evidence rules, that document is self-proving, self-authenticating.  What evidence have the BCOs to contradict it?  Absolutely nothing.

The State of Hawaii has never verified that authenticity of that forgery.

The governor and the head of vital records said it’s NOT a forgery, if that’s what you mean.  In other words, they said the document is accurate in what it says:  Barack Obama, Jr., was born in Honolulu in 1961.

The State of Hawaii has never released any documentation of Obama’s birth.

Well, yeah, they did.  They sent to Barack Obama the certified document you claim is a forgery.

Moreover, in 1961, when Barack Obama was just a few days old and, we might assume, both physically and mentally unable to start a conspiracy to cover up the facts of his birth, the State of Hawaii released to the Hawaiian newspapers the records of births in Hawaii, including Obama’s — and those records were published in the newspaper.  Such documentation, contemporary with the events and extremely unlikely to be falsified, are valid in court.

Oh, and remember those Federal Rules of Evidence?  Look at what they say about such newspaper records:

Rule 902. Self-authentication

Extrinsic evidence of authenticity as a condition precedent to admissibility is not required with respect to the following:

. . . (6) Newspapers and periodicals. Printed materials purporting to be newspapers or periodicals.

So we have two releases of documentation from the State of Hawaii, vouched for by the Republican governor. What gives you the right that every state of the union is denied, to claim this documentation doesn’t exist?  These are legal documents that make legal statements.  You can’t just handwave them away.  Pixie dust can’t cover them up, and the pixie dust of the BCOs isn’t all that powerful anyway.  The courts cannot wave away this sort of evidence, nor can the BCOs.

The mere existence of the newspaper account is legal evidence vouching for Obama’s claim. BCOs must produce extraordinary evidence of fraud or mistake in order to overcome the legal presumption that newspaper account provides.  BCOs have no extraordinary evidence to counter the documents.  BCOs have no evidence at all.

The State of Hawaii has never claimed that Obama was “born in Honolulu”, even though the Associated Press and Fact Check.org lied and claimed that Dr. Fukino had said that.

The State of Hawaii put its seal on such a statement, and it states Obama was born in Honolulu (see “place of birth”).  BCOs’ completely unevidenced and off-the-wall claim that the document was forged is evidence of BCO insanity, not Hawaii’s failure to act.

A newspaper announcement is circumstantial evidence that is not admissible as “proof” of his birth in Hawaii. Can you imagine a new employee trying to use a newspaper clipping as proof of their U.S. citizenship? It’s laughable. If that won’t work to get you a job at McDonalds, it’s certainly not acceptable for the highest office in this country.

It’s a business record, actually.  When you get to your law school class on evidence, you’ll learn that contemporary accounts from unbiased sources which are difficult to fake and easy to corroborate are, indeed, acceptable in a court of law.  In this case, the published account of the vital records entries corroborates exactly the information provided by the State of Hawaii under seal.

And, as I noted above, it’s a self-authenticating piece of evidence under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Pill is simply dead wrong on the acceptability of newspaper accounts.

So we have a document certified as authentic and accurate by the State of Hawaii, so solid that the state backs it with their seal, the most sacred authenticating device in a state’s arsenal of authenticating devices, supported by a valid contemporary business record published in a general circulation newspaper where the record cannot be tampered with and which U.S. courts and agencies accept as valid.

But BCOs dismiss all the official, legal evidence, and BCOs claim, without any evidence or corroboration, without ever having looked at the documents, that the official documents are forgeries.

Liar, pants, fire.

Every Member of Congress swore an Oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States”. The Constitution explicitly requires that a President be a Natural Born Citizen. It is the responsibility of Congress to honor their oath and verify the eligibility of the man who would be President.

I’ve sworn that oath myself, four times.  I regard it as a sacred trust.  One is never relieved of that oath, by the way.  That oath requires that we follow the law, the Constitutional law, the Constitution.  Barack Obama has presented clear  and convincing evidence of his eligibility by right of birth on U.S. soil.  The evidence is absolutely uncontradicted, plus it is corroborated by all legally-acceptable accounts.

Every member of Congress has a duty to stand up and tell the BCOs to take a chill pill and shut up. The courts have reviewed these bogus claims from BCOs more than a dozen times.  Not once has any BCO offered any evidence to contradict the legal records.  Not once.

Be careful what you wish for, Pill.  If Congress takes their oath seriously, BCOs are in for a lot of woe.

Every member of Congress failed to uphold their oath of office. They “outsourced” their Constitutional responsibility to an unaccountable, unelected, untrustworthy third party who demonstrably lied.

I’m convinced Pill wouldn’t know a lie if it bit him on the nose.  Here he’s peddling such a lie, instead of standing up for the truth.

Go to the link Pill provides, and you’ll see he claims that the certified, under seal document from the State of Hawaii should be disregarded because all it does is state what the official record is — he wants a hand-written document, as if hand-written provides some legal magic that the State Seal of the Great State of Hawaii cannot.

Look, if he won’t take the word of a self-proving document issued under seal, he’s not going to believe any document at any time.

Hawaii didn’t claim they put the State Seal on the original autograph copy; the State of Hawaii looked at the autograph and swore that the information they provided, all that is required, is accurate, is the same information that is on the original autograph.

For all legal purposes possible for Obama, the document whose image he released is THE document.  The document itself, under seal, swears that the information it presents is accurate:  Obama was born in Honolulu.  That’s it.  The end.

Two things are required to put this to rest:

1) A Supreme Court ruling on the definition of “Natural Born Citizen”. Can someone who was born with citizenship of another country (as Obama admits that he was) be considered a “Natural Born Citizen” of the United States?

The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue.  A baby born on U.S. soil is a citizen with full rights of citizens, period.  A baby born on U.S. soil is a natural-born citizen of the U.S.  Plus, a baby born to a U.S. citizen (as was Obama’s mother), is a natural-born citizen regardless of place of birth.  Obama qualifies on two separate counts.  There is not an iota of evidence from the BCOs nor any other source to contradict either of those valid claims on eligibility.

But here we see the weasel ways of the BCOs:  ” . . . born with citizenship of another country (as Obama admits he was) . . .”

Obama didn’t say he was a citizen of another country.  He said his father was a citizen of the British Commonwealth, and under British law, he could have claimed dual-citizenship.  Under U.S. law, dual citizenship would not invalidate U.S. citizenship.

In order for this to have been a problem for Obama’s eligibility, Obama would have had to have claimed exclusive British citizenship at some point — which he never did.

So this is not a new question.  There is no new issue here that the courts and the Supreme Court have not looked at in the past.  There is no legal argument, no case in controversy on the issue of Obama’s citizenship.

There is nothing for any court to decide.  And that’s why the challenges to Obama’s eligibility have all failed.

2) If the Supreme Court finds that persons born with foreign citizenship can still be considered a “Natural Born Citizen” of the United States, then Congress needs to inspect an officially certified birth certificate for Barack Obama, delivered under seal from the State of Hawaii, just as they did with their inspection of the Certificate from the Hawaiian Secretary of State for the certification of the Electoral College vote.

That document, “delivered under seal form the State of Hawaii,” has been provided.  BCOs claim, without any documentation, it’s a forgery.  BCOs need to get their eyes examined.

And, if they are found to be not blind, they need to get their heads examined.

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Congratulations, Sen. Al Franken

June 30, 2009

Justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that Al Franken won the election for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Norm Coleman.

Senator-elect Al Franken and his wife, Franni, after the Minnesota Canvassing Board certified him the winner of the states November 2008 senatorial election, June 29, 2008 - Minneapolis Star-Tribune photo

Senator-elect Al Franken and his wife, Franni, after the Minnesota Canvassing Board certified him the winner of the state's November 2008 senatorial election, June 29, 2008 - Minneapolis Star-Tribune photo

Pat Doyle wrote for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that Democrat Al Franken won the U.S. Senate election and said he was entitled to an election certificate that would lead to him being seated in the Senate.

“Affirmed,” wrote the Supreme Court, unanimously rejecting Republican Norm Coleman’s claims that inconsistent practices by local elections officials and wrong decisions by a lower court had denied him victory.

“Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled [under Minnesota law] to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota,” the court wrote.

In upholding a lower court ruling in April, the justices said Coleman had “not shown that the trial court’s findings of fact are clearly erroneous or that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion.”

The justices also said that neither the trial court nor local elections officials violated constitutional rights to equal protection, a cornerstone of Coleman’s case and any possible federal appeal.

The ruling was a unanimous, 5-0 decision.

Congratulations, U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Update: Coleman conceded; NPR report hereNPR political blog here. Coleman was surprisingly gracious, considering he fought so hard for 238 days after the election.


Domestic terrorism in the U.S.

June 4, 2009

This is terrorism, isn’t it?  What definition of terrorism would leave this out?


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