Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why I am voting LABOUR...

It is a strange quirk of my political history that, despite years of lefty activism in various places, I have never voted on the winning side in a general election: never for the winning candidate in my own constituency, and never for the party that won overall. And it looks like this election will maintain that trend, because I have decided to give my vote to the warmongering Thatcherites once known as the Labour Party, who will surely lose tomorrow, both here in Ribble South and across the nation, wherever my cross is drawn. This has not been an easy decision for me, but, having made it, I feel obliged to try to encourage others to do likewise. So this is why I am voting Labour...

The Labour Party is more than its leadership

I have been a socialist all my adult life, but have never felt particularly close to the Labour leadership. I joined the party in Orpington in 1982, aged 17, inspired by Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone more than Kinnock, Foot et al, who were cravenly supporting Maggie's Falklands War at the time. We fought the 1983 election on an excellent manifesto, much of which (control of the banks, for example) has been subsequently vindicated by the recent financial collapse. We lost, largely because of the moronic patriotic fervour that followed the Falklands conflict and the disruptive influence of the new SDP, but also because senior Labour figures (including former PM Jim Callaghan) betrayed the party by speaking out against conference policy on disarmament. Subsequent leaders have been no better than Callaghan when it came to betraying the party's ideals, but the fact remains that the Labour Party was established by the unions to be the political voice of working people. It was the parliamentary wing of the labour movement, and, in theory at least, still is. It is a democratic socialist party with a massive membership of (mostly) very nice people who care about others. It still deserves our support.

I don't trust the Liberals

My first real experience with Liberals came during the Peter Tatchell by-election campaign in Bermondsey in 1983. Despicably, they fought a deeply personal and openly homophobic campaign: it was clear to me that they would do and say anything, no matter how hypocritical, to win. Over the years I have seen the same thing many times, in local and national campaigns. They are simply opportunists. They have no real ideology, and will support whichever party or policies will give them the best hope of power. They can be very effective in opposition but their performance in councils they control is less than impressive, and for all their progressive rhetoric, they will happily work with Tories if it helps keep them in office. If Clegg wakes up with a large number of seats on Friday, nobody knows what he will do with them. I suspect even he hasn't much of a clue. In other words, if you vote Liberal, you have no idea what kind of Government you might get. This is not democracy!

I don't like tactical voting

By 1987 I was living in Leeds NE. This was a safe-ish Tory seat where the Liberals thought they were in with a good shout of an upset. Labour's hopes were third at best, and many in the local party were in favour of a tactical campaign: send activists off to work in more winnable areas, and vote LibDem to keep the Tories out. I absolutely hated this kind of surrender. I always felt that Leeds NE was winnable in the long run, given the strength of the local Labour party, and sure enough we managed to get big swings to Labour in both 1987 and 1992, bucking the national trend and turning the seat into a Labour marginal which was duly won by the party in 1997.

Another reason to hate tactical voting is that it reinforces the cult of the leader. To my mind, it is a serious mistake to think you are voting for Brown, Cameron or Clegg, unless you actually live in one of their constituencies. You are voting for your local MP, a person to represent you, and should should do your damnedest to make sure you get the best representative you can.

Labour is the only option in Ribble South

In the run-up to the 1997 election, I was suspended and eventually expelled from the "New" Labour party, along with a number of good comrades, for reasons I won't go into now (though it is a cool story, and I am very proud of my part in it). I also moved to Preston. Since then I have voted green or socialist whenever there has been a suitable candidate, and spoilt my ballot papers when there were only the three main parties to choose from. What's different now, that I should return to the Labour fold? I think this is the first election since 1992 in which I am genuinely fearful of a Tory win. The idea of PM Cameron cutting public services and screwing the environment while giving tax breaks to the rich makes me feel as sick as I used to feel about Thatcher in the long, losing 80s. So I think it is time to swallow my pride.

Even if I wanted to vote tactically, in Ribble South I have no option. It is a two horse race: the bookies have the libs at 100-1 here, the same as the deranged Little Englanders (UKIP) and the nazis. My Labour candidate, David Borrow, seems a pleasant enough chap considering he strongly supported Blair's illegal war. So I will put on a metaphorical clothes peg and vote for him, and I would urge you to do likewise.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chopsticks At Dawn: Duelling With Napoleon

Here is a brief clip from the 2007 BBC3 show F*** Off I'm Small, in which Dominik Ritter and I ran an experiment called the Chopstick Game to see whether small men really have the so-called Napoleon Complex. Would the shorter guys turn out out to be more aggressive than average height controls?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Homeopathy Does NOT Work On Babies or Animals!

Homeopaths have today been on the end of a mightily rigorous shoeing, courtesy of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee here in the UK. Gimpy and DC have already posted excellent blow-by-blow accounts of the Committee's "Evidence Check" report, which dismisses homeopathy as pure placebo and denounces homeopaths for their slapdash and misleading attitude to the scientific evidence.

Predictably, the homeopaths have quickly started squealing about how unfair all this is. The BBC quotes Robert Wilson, of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers, saying how "disappointed" he is:
He said the MPs had ignored evidence that homeopathy was effective. "There is good evidence that homeopathy works, for example in animals and babies, neither of which experience placebo effects."
I wish I had a pound for every time I have heard this pathetic argument. It is so obviously false that it immediately reveals that the speaker either has not thought for two seconds about what they are saying, or that they simply do not care that they are bullshitting. If you do not agree, pause for a moment before reading on, and see if you can think of any ways in which a placebo effect might work on a baby or animal.

Finished? OK, here is my list of possible mechanisms, in no particular order. If you have some different ones, or can explain why mine are wrong, let me know in the comments...

  1. The effect is psychological, and operates upon the owner/parent. Because they expect the treatment to work, they see improvement where there is nothing, or nothing more than normal time-limited or cyclical changes in the condition. This effect is greatly enhanced when the owner/parent is highly motivated to see improvement, either because they have a strong personal belief in the treatment, or have invested time, money and credibility in it. It will also reassure the "worried well" parent/owner whose baby/animal is not actually ill in the first place.
  2. The effect is real, but derives from changes in the parent/owner's behaviour and emotional state. Because they know their baby/animal is receiving treatment, they become less anxious. The babies/animals pick up on this mood change and so relax more themselves.
  3. The effect is real but derives from changes associated with the treatment, rather than the treatment itself. For example, if the baby/animal has received extra care and attention, a change of diet or sleep patterns, and a break from work or other activities, these could have caused the improvement. Similarly, if an alternative treatment has been given in conjunction with real medicine, parents/owners may attribute any success to the treatment rather than the medicine.
  4. The effect is real and arises as a conditioned response to the rituals of care. If the baby/animal has previously improved after taking real medicine, then the administration of a placebo in the same way can evoke the conditioned response.
  5. The effect is real and arises as part of the acute phase response to an injury. Pain or inflammation evolved to stimulate the suffering organism to immobilise the injury site and to seek help. Once this has been achieved, the pain/inflammation is less necessary and can dissipate.
In other words,virtually all of the many factors that can influence the placebo effect in adults, can also produce placebo effects in babies/animals. Placebos DO have an effect upon babies and animals. Homeopathy does not.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wolf Photo Is A Fake

Oh no, I am very disappointed to see that José Luis Rodriguez has been stripped of the prize he won for these fantastic wild wolf photos. They are wonderful shots alright, but I suppose with hindsight there are one or two clues that it might not have been a really wild woolluf...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Artist of the Week!

Wow, this is cool. My brother-in-law Jez is the artist of the week in the Guardian! Check out the story - and there's more on his own website if you're interested. I'm ashamed to say that modern art makes very little sense to me (it's like an in-joke I'm not in on) so I find a lot of what he writes incomprehensible, but he certainly makes some beautiful images and objects.

My favourite Jez story is about the Ballard interview mentioned briefly in the Grauniad piece. JG Ballard is famously reclusive so for Jez to get a long interview with him was quite a feat, and apparently it went incredibly well. Ballard talked at length about his life and work. It was solid gold! To safeguard this precious treasure he made a copy of the tape before sending it to be transcribed. But horrors, the transcriber told him the tape was blank! His copy turned out to be blank too. He had accidentally copied the blank one over the the interview rather than the other way around, wiping the interview forever. The two blanks eventually became an artwork themselves, his Erased Ballard Interview. Neat.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It's Cold!

Oh dear, no posts for six weeks? I really am not much of a blogger! I had planned a few updates over Xmas but ended up with no internet for more than a fortnight as a result of the big freeze. We were in Northern Ireland, in the glens of Antrim, which was stunning in the snow that fell on our first night and didn't go for the whole fortnight. I tried to get the car out after a couple of days, but ended up stuck and had to be pulled out of a snowdrift by a tractor. We were staying up a steep lane in Glenshesk that remained impassable (for our car at least) for more than a week. Made it to Cushendall on Xmas eve to collect a goose, but had to leave the car at the bottom of the hill and carry all the shopping home by hand. It was all quite an adventure.

We did manage to see a few sights in the second week - the giant's causeway, Dunluce Castle, a sheep with a pink mohawk. The usual tourist stuff! The causeway was ace. The road down to it was polished ice. We climbed down the grassy bank instead, watching people on the road sliding down on their arses. One woman slid for at least 50 yards on her back, spinning around and laughing hysterically. It was worth the effort though - a truly amazing spectacle. What a place! The sky was so clear you could see the paps of Jura.

Now we're back in Preston, and it's even colder. Preston rarely gets snow - it's too near the sea - but there's plenty out there today. So now I have to walk into work...