Tuesday, 8 December 2009
reflected on the high street by the loss of some old friends. My own local shopping area has said goodbye to Woolworths, Adams Clothes, Salisburys and others. What might spring up to fill these commercial voids? Something that reflects the needs of the community of Bearwood perhaps. Well, lets have a quick peek at the new shoots of revival in the area.
We have an ever expanding number of fast food outlets. Don't get me wrong, I am as partial to a kebab, burger or dodgy saveloy as the next drunken carnivore on my way home from the pub. Such a plethora of choice could be seen as a bonus I suppose, bit I can't help thinking that ten such places within a short high street might be a bit of overkill. Still onwards and upwards with our expanding waistlines and diminished nutrition.
Once out of the pub though there may be no need to stop drinking. I noticed an application for a 24 hour off licence on the High Street yesterday. Just the ticket when you've finished your last pack of Tennents Super and you need something to see you home after buying your Not Exactly Kentucky Fried Chicken.
But never fear! The alcohol imbibing, junk food eating residents of Bearwood are being offered a chance to buy their way back to health. We now have a Holland and Barratt providing at remarkabley reasonable rates all sorts of potions, pills and quackery for the less discerning consumer. Just what you need when you have a vague feeling of not quite rightness that modern medicine can't seem to help you with.
There is one other recent opening that I have been intending to blog about, and will possibly be the subject of future blogs. A naturopath has opened up virtually on my doorstep. For anybody unfamiliar with naturopathy it is a collection of unproven, worthless pseudo-medical mumbo jumbo. It incorporates everything from iridology, mad diets, homeopathy and herbal preparations. Your first consultation will cost you £60 for the hour and should it be deemed necessary subsequent half hourly visits will be £30 a go. Of course any herbs, homeopathic remedies or other placebos will cost extra.
I'm sure that the treatment will be good and fully medical as there is a picture of a stethoscope on the sign. Also the personalised registration plate on the very smart sports car parked out side has been styled to read "The Dr". Perhaps he' a science fiction fan? Have a look at what is on offer at:
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
I sometimes find myself thinking about my current interest in alternative medicines and therapies and wonder if I am getting a bit carried away. I have a number of friends who subscribe to various, what I would consider, sham remedies all of whom believe in the healing properties of needle pricks, positive thought and expensive tiny bottles of water. All these people are doing okay and it doesn't seem to be causing them any problems.
Then you read articles like this http://allbleedingstops.blogspot.com/2009/09/human-cost-of-woo.html. This is not a one-off case either. There are multiple accounts from bloggers, physicians and others of the preventable death, illness and suffering caused by and to those who prefer magic and hope over clinically tested remedies. A good source of such stories is http://whatstheharm.net/
Many people feel that they should never have aches and pains, that they should always be on top form and that general weariness is symptomatic of a health problem. Often this is a mistake for what is in reality the effects of lifestyle, aging and just being human. For those people, on the whole, exposure to crystals, aromas and the like is not going to do them harm. When you read about homeopaths exporting their practice to Aids stricken Africa and herbalists treating cancer you have to question any thought that this is essentially a harmless hobby.
Real illness needs real treatment. Science based medicine is by no means perfect but it is constantly reviewed and when something proves to be ineffective there are systems in place to check, improve or remove failing remedies. There is little or no evidence that this is the case in any of the alternative treatments proffered by the woo mongers.
When people are really ill they want hope and they want it fixed. They are scared and they are vulnerable. They don't need people to tell them that it will be alright if they believe hard enough, take sugar pills and avoid the use of anything that might make them feel better.
Saturday, 4 July 2009
2. Super Volcano
As soon as I started the research though I came across this book by Phil Plait. It does what I was going to do but much better and in more detail. All my main astronomical ones are there and a few more. Ah, a coincidence maybe. In a huge random world coincidences have to happen at some point and this is just one of those times in the continuum when one has occurred. I would agree with that except that I am a fan of Phil Plait and dip into his life and thoughts reasonably often. I listen to him on podcasts, read his blogs and follow him on Twitter. I'm not stalking him but I must have heard him talking about this book and about the ideas in it. Somehow though I buried this in my memory and then resurrected it as a blog idea.
Monday, 29 June 2009
It was a good book group meet excellently hosted by my Jan and Elsa. Most of the regulars were present and most everybody had finished the book which is always good for discussion. Several of us had read the book in our teens and it was interesting how different the impact, looking at it with a few more years tucked under our belts.
Lee uses the unclouded eyes of a child to pull apart the prejudice that swamps the characters of the story. Lee herself would have been that age at that time in the thirties and we can imagine that she was writing from experience. When very young, innocence can shield you from the truth as you don't know how to recognise the injustices that surround you. Once you lose that innocence though your choices are either to challenge or accept and ignore. One group of people lose their freedoms while the other set lose their humanity.
The book was written some twenty odd years after the time it was depicting, but the issues were just as current in the early 60's. Reading it now, in the next century it is still current. There may be laws set out to protect rights but society isn't balanced and possibly it never will be.
I had totally forgotten the part where Scout puzzles over how the teacher that deplores the actions of Hitler towards the Jews could dehumanise people just for being black. Scout never used the word dehumanise, though I am sure she could. She never uses the word racist either but then, as the saying goes, fish probably have no word for water.
The people of the book are just people and they are still with us. We are them in our own times. The Atticuses, Scouts, Miss Stephanies and even the Ewells. For me I think that is the point of the book. There will always be those who find what they consider to be reasonable justification for their prejudices. The question is do we challenge them or accept and ignore?
Friday, 19 June 2009
A few days ago I noticed wasps entering an airbrick that leads to the space beneath our dining room. Then I noticed some coming out, then in, then out and so on... you get the picture. I concluded that there was a nest and so headed straight to Google to see what I should do about it.
Opinion was, of course, divided. If the nest could be left and the wasps were causing no trouble then all we had to do was wait. In the autumn the queen lays the eggs for more queens and males. After insemination the newly fertilised queens fly off whilst all the poor labourers, males and old queen die. The nest is then left empty and never used again. Whilst not being the ideal model of a modern socialist society it at least offered some hope.
Unfortunately the location of the nest entrance couldn't have been worse. Right beneath the doors that are left open on sunny days where the children dash barefooted in and out of the garden. There would be inevitable wasps in the house and potential stingings. Furthermore, this is still quite early in the season and the frequent ingress and egress of these small wasps would only become more frequent and the wasps larger.
What's the problem then? On a philosophical level the bioegalitarians would argue that the wasps have as much right to flourish as do I and that they should be left. If I thought that it would have been safe I would have done. I love insects and find them fascinating, espicially social insects. Ants, bees, termites and wasps are wonderful. As individuals they are incredibly well adapted to their roles, but as a collective they are an intricate society of builders, hunters, feeders, nurses and more. For a little while beneath our feet was a growing colony of life. An expanding ball of complexity that unfortunately contained a potential for pain.
At about 9.30 the van pulled up outside of my house. Unable to do the deed myself I had called in Sandwell's finest. In came the council exterminater bereft of any protective clothing or scary looking materials. He was a rather droll man and I think his job must have given him a sardonic look on life. Whilst being no palace I think our house and situation was a little better than some of the rat, flea, cockroach, bed bug infested places that he usually has to attend.
He looked at the nest entrance and said that by August we would be having real trouble if we didn't sort it. He then put some magic powder into a device that looked like it had been stolen from Heath Robinson and squirted it into the hole. That was it, deed done. In a matter of minutes their sentence had been agreed and executed for the sum of £44.50. Entomological genocide at bargain prices.
Wasps returning to the nest would no longer enter as they could smell the poison. A few totally white powder covered wasps flew out. Although not yet dead they were like vespal ghosts banging against the window. He said that the wasps inside the hole would soon carry the powder into the nest. They would then take their contamination to the queen committing inadvertant regicide. The wasps left outside would then have a problem as their home would be gone. They could not start their own nest and if they enter another they would be killed as invaders. They would instead wander off with no purpose and die.
Wasps are sometimes mistakenly cited as evidence that there is no God. I don't mean mistaken in the sense that there is a God, but that the basis of the argument is wrong. Nature in itself is not anthropocentric and just because a bee produces honey that we can use makes it no more likey to be the product of a deity than an earwig underneath a rock. Wasps are a fine example of evolution but in this particular inter-species battle for survival, they didn't stand much of a chance.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
Its presented in a very informal yet informative manner with great guests who have relevant and interesting material. There is a sense of friendship and humour that pervades the show without detracting from its important message.
However, as with many things I take an interest in, I worry that I am immersing myself too deeply in it. When I walk the streets or travel on the bus I listen to it. I started in at about episode 170 and there are all the back episodes available to catch up on. I even go to sleep listening to it. I will listen to the same show a few times as I am normally interrupted or have fallen asleep part way through and miss bits.
What effect is this show having on me? Well I am definitely a lot less tolerant of namby pamby spirituality. I'm talking about the kind of view that says that it is better not to try and explain the world because that'll make it less magical. Bollocks. I am finding contempt for the people that when faced with that which they do not understand decide it has to be magic or God that was the cause and or solution.
I'm a governor at my daughter's school and we had a meeting to look policy documents of some of the curriculum areas. One of those being checked was the science policy. Point 2 said that children should be encouraged to look in wonder at the precision and diversity of creation. In the States this would have been a massive thing as the Creation vs Evolution debate in public (state) schools is huge. Over here it is not nearly such an issue and I am sure that it was put in without thinking.
BUT that not thinking is precisely the thing that I have a problem with. This is a document about science, not religion. I had the sentence changed so that it said a sense of wonder at the world around them. But the looks I got from the other people there were terrible. Maybe I was imagining it but there was definitely an air of "what the fuck is he making a fuss about this for?" It is however lazy thinking and wrong. Creation may just be a word to some the word but having it there allows teachers to interpret it and use it in the lessons providing avenue for passing on their own skewed view of the world.
I am sure that some teachers are doing this anyway. My five year old son told me that he knew who had created the universe and that it was God. I asked him how he knew this and who had told him? Detecting that I was not agreeing with him he denied being told it and said it was nothing. He then followed up and said "actually dad, God didn't make the world, he designed it." I find this even more disturbing.
Creationism is a busted balloon as far as many people are concerned. There are those that stay clutching the string but some Christians have accepted the overwhelming weight of the evidence of evolution. Where does this leave them in their view of God the creator though? They step God down to the role of designer and first initiator and sit smugly back as they know this, as with most religious claims cannot be disproved. The very fact that it cannot be disproved makes it a poor theory in itself but that is by the by.
That my five year old son is spouting Intelligent Design bullshit is a concern for me. Not so much that I am going to march into the school and slap the headmaster, but enough to make me think I need to step things up at home. I don't want to indoctrinate my kids in any kind of belief but I would rather it was me than anyone else. Hopefully my children will grow to develop the analytical tools to be able to make sound judgments about the validity of the different claims they come across in their lives. Making mistakes is fine and part of growing up but they certainly don't need to have their heads filled with other peoples badly thought out crap.
If all I did was make a couple of people think twice about that statement in the policy then that in itself is not a bad thing. Words have power and those written into policy should be thought about better. I am probably labelled a crank but so be it. Better that than let sloppy science sneak onto the curriculum.
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Sunday, 22 February 2009
However, because of the fact that it is Facebook there is little need to wonder what those people are like because I can sneak a peek at some of their profiles. Now who in the list of those that are going do I recognise? Well one name jumps out at me instantly. For legal reasons I will call him Tony Hay as I am about to disparage him to the max.
Good old Tony was in my history group for a while. His idea of fun was to lean forward and set fire to the hair of the person sitting at the desk ahead of him. What a hoot he was. That was, as I say, twenty odd years ago. Perhaps he has seen the light and changed his ways. Lets look at his profile. I find a good way of discerning aspects of personality, not perfect but okay, is to look at the groups a person has joined on Facebook. Tony has joined loads.
Some are to do with football and as a Stoke supporter they seem okay to me. Some are a bit random but possibly well intended giving tribute to children savaged by family dogs and encouraging you to remember the faces of paedophiles in case you happen to pass them in the street so you can give them a kicking. Some are supposed to be funny like "I don't need sex, the goverment fucks me every day!" Ah then we get "You're in England. Speak the fucking language!!!" Tony was in the remedial group for English as I remember. Oh and "No more immigrants England is full fuck of else where!!!" Did you note the use of three, not one, exclamation marks there?
I love the fact that I come from Stoke but am glad that I no longer live there. The people are great but there is a mindset in my home area that once you are away from it you realise how narrow it is. I would probably be decried as a liberal, gay loving xenophile by Tony and his mates who would wonder how I could bring myself to live in a city with as many black people as Birmingham has. I suspect that one would be too many.
Not all Stokies, or Potters as we call ourselves, are racist but its obvious that Tony is. Others on the list jump out as similarly dubious characters. None, as in zero, of my close friends of those days are there and this speaks volumes to me. I know that there are lots of socio-economic, demographic, historico-bullshit reasons why a social group can become antagonised. What do you do about it though? Stoke now has nine BNP councillors and their support doesn't seem to be waning.
Almost all of my friends from Stoke have left there. I think that I would however like to attend a reunion, not the one that is being planned though. There were and are some good people in Stoke and it would be good to get together again. Alas most of the pubs of my youth have either closed down or been demolished but there are still a couple going. I think that I will contact the four people I spent most of my latter teens with and see if they fancy getting together for a drink sometime. That would be a proper reunion.
Until next time....
Friday, 13 February 2009
You can imagine this discussion…
“What do they want us to sell for them?”
“That is a sensible and mundane subject, who shall we use?”
“Hmm, I’m not sure. Let’s treat this in an ironic and post-modern way, even though I’m not sure what post-modern means.”
“Okay, who would be the last person in the world that you would insure?”
And so we have Iggy Pop, bouncing his aging but taut torso across our screens with a hectic backdrop of less than subliminal selling. Don’t get me wrong I can see the joke. Here is a man who has taken enough drugs to sustain a Central American government whilst sprinting down the path of self destruction, selling me life insurance. I understand the humour and even appreciate it, but am still saddened. Another anti-hero has been tamed and chained. Perhaps he will blow the fee on a huge amount of heroin that he will inject directly into his skull, or more likely he will use it to pay his golf club fees so that he and Alice Cooper can stroll down the ninth whilst discussing the latest share rates.
The ultimate in conversion from icon to advertising puppet though has to be the once great figure of Paddington Bear. This erstwhile purveyor of whimsical entertainment and devout consumer of marmalade has been harnessed by the mighty Marmite Empire to sell its less sweet wares. Possibly its part of a campaign on the Peruvian’s behalf to revive his career before they look too closely at his visa status, but it is still a sad day.
Until next time…
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Saturday, 7 February 2009
The burning topic of the day causing me angst are the remarks of Jeremy Clarkson. He called the Prime Minister Gordon Brown a "one eyed, Scottish idiot" in front of the camera for the whole world to see and hear. As he said it you could tell he realised that he had made a mistake, but it was too late. What was the mistake and does this matter?
The issue doesn't seem to be around the term idiot, as I think anyone in high office is fair target for that kind of comment. Scottish, was this a description or term of abuse? Would he have said black idiot or Jewish idiot? So perhaps this was racist. Was "one eyed" meant as an abuse, if so then was it disablist? Its a good job for Jeremy that Gordon isn't a woman as I think that would have been another insult box he'd have ticked.
Aaaargh! do I have an opinion on this? I think he was stupid and it was personally offensive to Mr Brown. I think that prejudice is bad, but I also think that there is a distinction between the throw away remark of a person who makes their living being controversial and the hate filled invective of the racist right. Yes its a bad example but I doubt whether anybody woke up this morning saying..."you know what, I used to like our Northern cousin but that Jeremy has turned me round. Scottish people are stupid and as for the ones that have only one eye..."
I refuse to draw a comparison between this and the Ross/Brand incident. Brand is a comedian who makes a living from walking the tightrope of decency and is bound to fall off at times. We need comedians who take risks or it all becomes a bit too safe. Clarkson isn't a comedian, just an opinionated tit with an audience and a TV presence. Possibly he will have learned something from this, but I don't think there are any lessons for the rest of us as its old, old ground. Jeremy is going to have to apologise to the PM, to visually impaired people, Scots and all those others who have been bothered by this and I think that should be the end of it.
Even as I hit the button to post this I find myself wanting to go back and water down the text to an even more middle of the road stance. I am going to have to fight the urge and do it though or there is no point to this exercise.
Until next time...
Friday, 6 February 2009
I did well as a Catholic student and reached the point of leading Bible study groups. So what happened? There was a point when I realised that no matter how much I wanted it to make sense and mean something, it just didn't. The only way to sustain belief is to ignore the overwhelming flaws that permeate not just Catholicism but any belief system that makes a virtue from suspending sense and rationality and replacing it with faith.
Billy Connolly once said that he went to Catholic school and got an A level in guilt. I know what he means. Even now I find myself whispering that I am an atheist instead of stating it boldly. The feeling is that I am somehow setting myself apart from that mass of semi-secular society who hold such strong views as, "I don't go to church but I believe there is a God type of thing and you have to go somewhere when you die don't you?" Why am I bothered by this?
I know from experience that Christians get strength from the fact that they are in groups, with clearly defined leaders and people to tell them what to do. Athiests, on the other hand, tend to be more solitary animals and the voice of reason can be isolated and easier to dismiss or attack. Its unlikely that you could get thousands of atheists to meet all over the world on a Sunday to celebrate the writings of Darwin and share a meal together.
There are now though more and more celebrities and everyday people unafraid of declaring their atheism, who don't tiptoe around the feelings of the religious bodies. The Internet is a meeting place of minds and whilst the Christian Church in all its guises is overwhelming there is a strong seed of rationality out there that is growing. I'm interested in how that comes to fruition and how hard line the fundamentalists will feel they have to become to counter it.
Until the next time...
Thursday, 5 February 2009
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Standing with the Leicester fans I was more than amused by the ironic banter and good humoured ribbing that they gave Walsall. Being so comfortably high in the table must add something to their mood but I particularly enjoyed the times when, because the Walsall fans were so silent, Leicester fans started cheering the opposition. This may be a common occurrence but nonetheless it made me smile.
The evening was completed for me by a clutch of goals, a sausage of doubtful meat content in a bun and a pint of beer on the way home. These blog entries are not going to be about football, largely as I have neither the time nor money to attend lots, but it was a good night well spent with a good friend.
On a final note, I'm not sure if admiration is the word to be used, but I did see a large man with a full tattoo but no shirt stand there for the whole game. Given the below freezing temperature of the night I have to salute his devotion. I didn't take a picture at the game but my friend assured me he was a bit of a legend and he would be on t'internet. Sure enough I have found his pic which I will copy in.
Until the next time....