MP on tour, or not

Snofru’s Red and Bent Pyramids

Snofru* was a guy who liked to start a job. He built three pyramids, each of which had one problem or another which caused him to abandon them just before they were ready to use. Rumour’s that his third pyramid was called Gandalf are completely unfounded.

* Everything in Egypt has hundreds of different spellings. Snofru was also known as Snephru, Snefru and Sneferu. In deeply scientific fashion, I choose the spellings that appeal to me.

Read more

No comments

Taxi ride from Cairo Airport

This is my last will and testament. Not really but the cab I’m in has already hit two other cars and we’ve just left the airport.

Thankfully now the traffic has slowed down to the usual Cairo crawl. Of course this just inspires the driver to start playing with paperwork. Maybe he’s doing his taxes.

Anyway it’s onlyabout 32 degrees outside so much more comfortable than Dubai which was forty in the shade and Bangkok muggy. Still, I only have about 45 more minutes of this traffic and I’ll be at the Mayfair, another hour after that and I’ll have six cans of cheap eastern european lager and some roadside kebab and all will be good with the world.

Ok, off the airport access road and onto the main highway into town. If I remember correctly there are a few tunnels to go through before we get to Zemalek, the bohemian quarter of the city. I used my traveller’s secret sense to sniff it out last year. That and the fact it came high up in a search for ‘free wifi in Cairo’

The flight from Dubai was mostly uneventful but the fact that I laughed at an Adam Sandler movie may mean I need to spend less time on my own.

On our approach, we crossed the Nile and I was lucky enough to catch a view of the Dhahshur pyramids (Red and Bent) and then after we turned around caught the Giza complex. First time I’ve seen them from the air, spectacular.

Tonight I’ll be sorting out my Dahab time and then tomorrow will take a taxi down to the Dhahshur pyramids which I didn’t see last year when I was here last year.

That’s as much as I typed on my phone while trying to ignore the traffic around me. I had to stop in order to give the taxi driver directions. Some things are universal.

It turns out the off license had a special on Egyptian Stella so it’s that that I’m drinking. Crappy phone photo attched because I’m too lazy to walk back to my room to get camera cable.

That will do for this post, more later I’m sure.

No comments

Holiday has started, blog updates haven’t

I’m on holiday again, and have already had a week or so in Sydney and NZ. I’ve just landed in Dubai for the Middle East/Africa part of the holiday where I will hopefully have more to report.

Look back for more soon. Or not. Assume I’m having a great time and all will be well.


No comments

Collateral Murder and Confirmation Bias

Click on the photo to go to

What occurs in this video and the diversity of reactions to it are both examples of confirmation bias, the brain’s tendency to pick up information that fits in with preconceptions and to throw away information that does not fit.

The helicopter pilots are trained to spot weapons, so they spot weapons wherever they look. If you are told long enough that “Everything could be a threat”, pretty soon you will start behaving as if everything is a threat.

In 21st century Western civilian life, this might be termed paranoia. In situations with high threat density (such as Iraq or the African savannah of 200,000 years ago), it functions as a positive selection influence for survival.

Confirmation bias is extremely difficult to overcome, particularly when the biases are instilled early in life. Thus the Jesuits and “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. This is also why good medical science requires double-blind trials.

You can see your own visual confirmation bias in action here:

Coming back to our video, then our reaction will be based on our worldview going in.

If you see the war in Iraq as a just war, and the insurgents as murderous criminals, then you will likely see the incident as a justified reaction to the presence of a potential threat to friendly units. The “cowboy” nature of the pilot and gunner is part of a necessary de-sensitisation to the suffering of victims that is an essential part of functioning as a soldier who needs to kill as part of his or her duty.

If however, you see Iraq as an unnecessary opportunistic invasion of a sovereign nation, and the insurgents as justified in resisting a foreign occupation force allied with a local puppet government, your view will likely be different. You’ll see the helicopter crew as murderers itching for an excuse to shoot up innocent civilians video-game style.

My bias has elements of both. In my opinion, the war (in Iraq & Afghanistan) is illegal, immoral and pointless, and serves to put Australians in more danger than we would be in were it not being fought. The behaviour of the pilot and particularly the gunner sickens me. That said, it’s pointless to blame the military for acting like the military. Soldiers kill people. It’s what they’re trained to do, particularly in a situation where they perceive threats to themselves or their fellow soldiers.

So string up Bush/Blair/Howard (and Obama/Brown/Rudd if you like), and bring our boys and girls home.

And challenge your biases. This flawed monkey brain of ours is more powerful than you may think.


Wikipedia on Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises (PDF)

1 comment

Beware the Spinal Trap

The substance of the following article by Simon Singh was printed in the Guardian last year. The British Chiropractic Association decided to sue him for his trouble. The offending paragraphs can be found at Jack of Kent’s Blog

free debate

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

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.

No comments

My Hottest 100 Top Ten

Because everybody just has to know and there aren’t enough top ten lists on the internet. No order except for #1

  • 1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Mercy Seat
  • John Lennon – Imagine
  • 10cc – I’m not in love
  • U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust
  • Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers
  • Bob Marley – Redemption Song
  • Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah
  • Muse – Knights of Cydonia
  • XTC – Dear God
  • (last song reluctantly culled) The Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven

I’m sure they’ll all be different in a week. I just want the tickets to Reading. Some happy but fuzzy memories of Reading 2003 with the Darkness, Blur and Metallica, all of whom just missed out on being in the list above. I’m sure they’ll be gutted.

No comments

Off up/down the Nile

It depends on whether you’re considering compass direction or fow. But I’m off on the overnight train to Aswan in a couple of hours. From there I will be doing/seeing:

  • Abu Simbel/Lake Nasser
  • A 3 dy, 2 night Felucca trip north from Aswan towards Luxor
  • Seeing the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens on the West bank at Luxor
  • Seeing Karnak on the East Bank at Luxor

and then I’ll be getting another train up her to Cairo where I’ll be off to see some of the things I missed this week and to go back to the Museum. I don’t know what sort of internet access I’ll have while I’m away but I should be twittering away happily.

No comments

Pyramids Sound and Light Show

So after I came down from the roof it was time to head over to the sound and light show. I was pretty tired by now, but I’d had my expectations suitable lowered by my guide book and other travellers. But low enough for guys in Egyptian headdresses playing bagpipes badly? Tough call. But it happened, and it happened for nearly half an hour while they waited for it to get dark enough to begin the show. I’m afraid I was too overwhelmed by WTF to get any photos of that dismal performance.

The light show however when it started was a little more impressive.

Pyramid Light Show Crowd

Pyramid Light Show Crowd

Read more

No comments

Memphis: Elvis is not here

You know how I told you about the dodgy tour and driver. Well Memphis was one of the places he raved about. Turns out it was because he wanted to drag me to a dodgy kebab joint where I paid 60 quid for a bad kebab and 20 quid each for beers.

Before that ripoff, we went to Memphis, once the capital of the Egyptian Empire, now a tatty museum where all the pieces not good enough to be in the British or Egyptian Museum are. Except for a huge reclining statue of Ramses II. That was ok.

Ramses II from the feet

Ramses II Statue from the feet

Read more

No comments

North Saqqara: World’s first pyramid

South of Giza, just outside of Memphis is the vast necropolis of Saqqara, with many pyramids and mastabas and other ancient bits of rock. My driver was intent on just showing me the step pyramid but I was onto him by now and decided to have a good look around.

Having stayed outside at Giza, I was keen to crawl around inside the odd pyramid, and Saqqara offered a great chance to do this. I started off being accosted by an “Egyptologist” who wanted to show me around inside a couple of tombs. I took him up on his offer as he seemed quite knowledgable, unlike my horse guide at Giza who told me that the Great Pyramid was 500 metres tall.

So we wandered off and round a corner to this locked mastaba. A very desert looking guy shuffled up, produced a key and let us in. Turns out this was the tomb of twin noblemen, who’s high status was ensured because they were the King’s manicurists, as well as scribes and some other stuff, but the drawings and hieroglyphics on the wall were dominated by hands with neatly trimmed fingernails.

They must have gotten on ok as they were buried next to each other. You’re not meant to take photos but I grabbed a couple anyway since I knew I’d be paying for it in tips anyway.

Egyptian Nobles Tomb Painting

Egyptian Nobles Tomb Painting

Read more

No comments

« Previous PageNext Page »