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Book Review: Trick or Treatment

In Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine, Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, M.D., set out to analyze the scientific literature on acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine, and a host of other modalities of so-called alternative and complementary medicine. The book begins with a long, fascinating chapter about the history of medicine and the emergence of the modern, evidence-based approach to medicine—i.e., conventional, Western, or allopathic medicine. Their stated purpose is to keep an open mind while applying the principles of evidence-based medicine to popular alternative modalities. Their backgrounds as medical outsiders and the careful, measured language of the introduction gave this skeptical reader confidence …more

When Critical Thinking is its Own Reward

Before I’d even finished yesterday’s blog entry, I did some googling on “happiest man Buddhist monk.” I’ll admit it: I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going too far out on a limb. I wanted to temper my language in case it turned out that there was compelling scientific evidence that scientists had identified the most joyful person alive. In other words, I wanted to cover my skeptical ass.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that the idea of “the happiest man in the world” hadn’t originated with Patty Gras. As near as I’ve been able to determine so far, that phrase originated in an article by Anthony Barnes in the January 21, 2007, issue of The Independent. The article talks about Matthieu Ricard, a French academic who left his job …more

Boot Camp Day 10: Can I Get a Witness?

I received an e-mail today from Patty Gras at KUHT (Houston PBS). She’s a producer and the host of a “health and lifestyle” show called Living Smart. The show features topics related to health, alternative medicine, diet, self-improvement, and so forth. Here’s what she has to say about an upcoming show:

“Did you know the happiest man on the planet is a Buddhist monk? Scientists checked his brain waves and found him to be the most joyful person on earth, so we decided to talk to another monk, Master Jian Xiao Shih, so he could share some of the secrets to happiness!

“Master Shih of the Chung Tai Zen center of Houston will share the art …more

Boot Camp Day 6: Things That Stood in the Way of My Writing 1,000 Words Today

The first thing I had to do this morning—after brewing a pot of coffee, of course—was to soak in the bathtub for a while. See, I overdid it yesterday in a couple of different departments. I walked 6-1/2 miles in the stifling heat and humidity of mid-day because I had received an invitation to a party that would conflict with the usual timing of my walk. Then I went to the party in question and drank four beers, which is about four more beers than my normal daily consumption of late. So when I rolled out of bed at the crack of 10:15 this morning, my first rudimentary (dehydrated, hungover) thought after “must have coffee” was “must soak in tub long time.”

Coffee mug in hand, I crawled into the tub with the latest issue of Granta, my favorite “literary magazine.” I had read most of the issue, so this morning’s soak was focused on finding every scrap of text …more

Boot Camp Day 2: A Different Kind of Faith

How open should an open mind be? What are the limits of tolerance and understanding, and what happens to those limits as our knowledge of the natural world grows?

Today I had lunch with an old friend—an intelligent woman in her late thirties, the executive director of a thriving arts organization. We met at a vegan Indian buffet. Since our last meeting had been at a vegetarian restaurant she’d picked, I asked her a few questions about her vegetarianism. She said she hadn’t eaten any meat or fish for 12 years. I admired her commitment. I told her that although I’m attracted to the environmental, social, and health benefits of vegetarianism, I enjoy eating a moderate amount of meat too much to make the complete change in eating habits.

Later, I asked what I thought was an innocent question: Is there anywhere in Houston where one can learn to practice meditation in an environment free of religious influences? …more

A few things in which I don’t believe

February 6, 2006

Silly human constructs in which I have either lost my faith or never believed at all:

  • Santa Claus
  • Divine authorship of the Bible
  • The Tooth Fairy
  • Free-market economics
  • Organized religion
  • All religion
  • Horoscopes
  • Nutritional supplements sold by my gym
  • The intelligence of George W. Bush
  • …more

What is an Incompleat Iconoclast, Anyway?

[Note: Sooner or later I figure that someone is going to ask me what “Incompleat Iconoclast” is supposed to mean, so I thought I should start working on an answer. This is a work in progress.]

I was brought up in two faith traditions: Roman Catholicism and the Scientific Method. My parents are devout—if liberal—Catholics who raised my siblings and me in the beliefs and rituals of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. They are also intelligent people—brilliant, I would even say—who taught me that reason is the most powerful tool I possess.

I tried to fit in as a Catholic for a lot of years. There was a lot I didn’t understand, but I tried to buy into the justification of “mystery.” I tried to accept that there were truths that couldn’t be apprehended by way of reason. …more