Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pavlov would be proud

Proof that behavioural conditioning works:

My dogs just charged the front door upon hearing a doorbell on TV (Garfield, if you're interested. Or even if you're not.)

Our own doorbell hasn't worked for months. Chalk up another victory for learned behaviour.

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Personally, I'd be very ashamed

There's a campaign starting up in the UK called Not Ashamed.

The Not Ashamed campaign provides an opportunity for Christians across the UK to stand together and speak up for the Christian foundation of our nation, motivated by the conviction that Jesus Christ is good news not just for individuals or for the church but for society as a whole. Indeed, He is the only true hope for our nation.
The Not Ashamed campaign is being organised by a group named Christian Concern. Here are some of their values, as quoted from their website.

Since the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967, there have been over 7 million abortions in the UK. This is a tragedy. As well as the loss of life it has led to a general disregard for the sanctity of life in society. In addition, there is accumulating evidence of the serious consequences of abortion on mothers including potential damage to their physical and mental health. At Christian Concern we resist abortion and aim to inform women of its dangers.
Choosing not to mention, of course, the millions of foetuses aborted naturally every year:
Between 10% and 50% of pregnancies end in clinically apparent miscarriage, depending upon the age and health of the pregnant woman.[7] Most miscarriages occur very early in pregnancy, in most cases, they occur so early in the pregnancy that the woman is not even aware that she was pregnant. One study testing hormones for ovulation and pregnancy found that 61.9% of conceptuses were lost prior to 12 weeks, and 91.7% of these losses occurred subclinically, without the knowledge of the once pregnant woman.
The influence of radical Islam is growing in the UK and as an ideology it seeks to shape our political and social landscape. From the introduction of Sharia law and Islamic finance to the implications on freedom of speech and women’s rights, the presence of Islamism in the UK has great repercussions for all of us.
Oh, and you're not seeking to "shape our political and social landscape" at all?

End of life
At Christian Concern we believe in life, not death. There is currently sustained pressure by a minority of vocal campaigners to weaken the law on assisted suicide and change public opinion on assisted suicide and euthanasia. This would be to the detriment of the whole of society, especially the disabled and terminally ill.
As Bill Hicks pointed out, why aren't these people out barricading the cemetaries? Exactly how are the lives of the terminally ill improved by having their suffering dragged out? And isn't it a good thing for them to die, so they can meet Jebus faster?

And, of course, countless examples of homophobia, pretending that their sky-god is somehow enraged by two, insignificant human beings doing something sexual without his express say-so.

This from their statement of faith:
4. Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, has been cut off from God spiritually and is subject to physical death and is under God's wrath and condemnation.
You speak for yourself. I'm guilty of nothing, and your concept of "sin" doesn't apply to me. Keep your hateful values to yourself - if I were you, I'd e very ashamed indeed.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

God? Nothing to do with it

The rescue of the trapped miners in Chile was reported around the world, and, never ones to miss an opportunity, the respective churches in Chile have all tried to claim credit for the successful rescue.

"God has spoken to me clearly and guided my hand each step of the rescue," said Carlos Parra Diaz, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor at the San Jose mine. "He wanted the miners to be rescued and I am His instrument."
Yards from where he spoke Caspar Quintana, the Catholic bishop of Copiapo, prepared an altar to celebrate an outdoor mass for a small congregation of miners' relatives and phalanx of TV cameras. "God has heard our prayers," said the bishop. "I have received comments of encouragement from all over the world. Let us give thanks."
A litte bit further up the hill of Camp Hope, the improvised settlement of miners' families, rescuers, government officials and media, an evengelical preacher, Javier Soto , wandered from family to family with a guitar and songs of praise. "He listens to the music," said the pastor, gesturing to the azure sky.
Sadly, mining is a highly dangerous occupation, and the 29 miners trapped in the Pike River mine in New Zealand are now believed to have died, following a second explosion in the mine.

I don't think there will be many churches rushing to claim credit for their god this time.

Peterborough 2 Leyton Orient 2

Another game, another recovery to draw 2-2. Didn't go to see this one, but from my memory of Peterborough I haven't missed much.

An unusual, Chorley- and McGleish-less team, came from behind twice. Tehoue started this time, but didn't have the impact of recent substitute appearances. More plaudits for Jason Brown in goal - yes, he let in two again, but he kept his nerve to save a penalty late on.

All in all, not a bad result against a team who have a reputation for goalscoring. We're now 19th - it's still tight down there, we need to push on before we get overtaken by those below, or left behind by those above.


  • 01 Lewis
  • 02 Little
  • 04 Langmead
  • 16 Bennett
  • 25 Williams
  • 07 Wesolowski
  • 21 Davies (Mendez-Laing 90)
  • 26 Clayton
  • 09 Mclean
  • 10 Boyd
  • 24 Tomlin
  • Mclean (pen) 18
  • Mclean 61
  • Leyton Orient

  • 32 Brown
  • 02 Omozusi (yellow card)
  • 03 Whing (M'Poku 46)
  • 05 Brown
  • 06 Forbes
  • 07 Cox
  • 13 Daniels
  • 16 Spring
  • 20 Smith (yellow card)
  • 11 Revell (Walker 90)
  • 18 Tehoue (McGleish 72)
  • Revell 43
  • Smith 86

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

This is a post in denial of the forthcoming Royal Wedding.

Woke up this morning, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and made my way downstairs, without for a second considering the grisly implications of Prince William's choice of his dead mother's engagement ring for his bride-to-be.

Made a cup of tea, and a bowl of porridge, and watched live coverage of the Pakistan/South Africa Test match, ignoring the blanket news coverage of the happy couple's impending nuptials.

Picked up my kids from school. I discussed their homework, how they were getting on in their various classes, and the structure of English league football, and the consequences for the structure of English league football of Leyton Orient's 2-2 draw with AFC Bournemouth at the weekend, without once mentioning the fact that our future king will next year celebrate his wedding at Westminster Abbey on April the 29th.

Checked my emails - some stuff from Ebay. Work related matters. Facebook updates. Nothing remotely connected to privileged heirs of the realm, and their betrothed.

Five months to go. I only hope I can keep the level of disinterest up.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Like dolphins can swim

Watched the X Factor last night.

I know, I know. I'm not proud. I've got kids, that's my excuse.

Anyway. "Heroes", by David Bowie, is the latest victim of the Simon Cowell juggernaut, in the name of the British Army charity, Help For Heroes.

I hate this. A great song, having the context and nuance wrung out of it by a bunch of talent school wannabes. "Hallelujah" was hard enough to deal with. Have they gone too far this time?

It's instructive that they missed out some of the lyrics. "Heroes" (and the quotation marks are part of the title, symbolising the ironic sense the song was meant to be taken in) to me is a song which celebrates a young couple embracing by the Berlin Wall, beneath that concrete monolith which served as a proxy for the crushing dominance of the Russian Army and the Cold War in general (actually, the couple in the song were producer Tony Visconti and his lover, which Bowie admitted a few years back).

The anthemic nature of the music stands in complete contrast to Bowie's howling, wailing, almost pathetic vocal. You know that the couple in the song are doomed, but they don't care - there's ultimately nothing heroic about their actions that will stand the test of time, but they can be heroes, to themselves, just for one day.

And you
You can be mean
And I
I'll drink all the time
'Cause we're lovers
And that is a fact
Yes we're lovers
And that is that

We're nothing
And nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying
Then you better not stay
But we could be safer
Just for one day
Doesn't really fit for a song about disfigured soldiers. Couldn't they have used "Hero" by Mariah Carey?

Here's the original, anyway.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Leyton Orient 2 Bournemouth 2

I find it interesting that a 2-2 draw can feel so different depending on how it came to you.

Bournemouth supporters will be kicking themselves after conceding two late goals, and losing a match they were winning comfortably. We, on the other hand, bounced up and down like demented kangaroos upon Jonathan "We Like" Tehoue's late equaliser. Much chanting of "Who Are Ya?" and "East, East, East London" did occur.

In fairness, it was a pretty even match, marred for us by two lapses of concentration at the start of each half which resulted in Bournemouth's two goals. I thought Jason Brown didn't do too badly in goal for his first game of the season - he made a few good stops and generally looked quite confident given his two misses, although blessing the posts before the start clearly didn't work.

He certainly did a lot better than Bournemouth's substitute keeper, who came on for the last 18 minutes following an injury to their number 1, and promptly conceded 2 goals. Cheers, lad.

Russell Slade's bizarre decision to stick Revell (6ft 3in), our top scorer, on the right wing, and Dean Cox (5ft 4in) in the middle, was obviously not working after 20 minutes, so why it took until halftime for him to change things around is beyond me. Mpoku threatened a lot on the left, skinning his man more often than not, but we need a bit more end product from him - his freekicks brought little in the way of chances, and one shot hit the North Stand roof rather than the crossbar.

Congrats to Jonathan Tehoue though - he always makes an impact as a sub, bustling and working like a good centre forward should, and his two goals were tucked away with precise finishing. All in all, a worthwhile point, although better tactics and greater concentration could have provided all three.

Leyton Orient

  • 32 Brown
  • 02 Omozusi
  • 04 Chorley (yellow card)
  • 06 Forbes
  • 07 Cox
  • 13 Daniels (Brown 67)
  • 16 Spring
  • 20 Smith
  • 27 M'Poku (Walker 90+4)
  • 09 McGleish (Tehoue 61) (yellow card)
  • 11 Revell
  • Tehoue 85
  • Tehoue 90+2

  • 01 Jalal (Stewart 78)
  • 05 Pearce
  • 15 Smith (yellow card
  • 16 Wiggins
  • 04 Cooper (yellow card) (Bartley 41)
  • 07 Pugh
  • 08 Robinson
  • 17 McQuoid
  • 18 Arter (yellow card) (Feeney 75)
  • 19 Hollands
  • 27 Bignall
  • Pugh 2
  • Pugh 48

More waffling in the name of religion

I read a debate in the Observer this morning.

Is religion a force for good... or would we be happier without God?

It's a fairly long and involved debate for a newspaper, which is what you'd generally expect from the Observer, a Sunday paper which digs a little more deeply than the dailies do.

Jon Cruddas (Labour MP) and Cristina Odone (Conservative commentator) take up the cudgels for Christianity, Samia Rahman (journalist) represents Islam, and Evan Harris (ex-Lib Dem MP and prominent atheist) and AC Grayling (philosopher) argue from the atheist perspective.

I thought it went fairly as expected. The Christians complained about religious discrimination, excised the awkward bits of their faith and accentuated the bits they like, and generally whined about a perceived lack of respect.

Harris and Grayling, on the other hand, pointed out that the only schools in Britain who are allowed to discriminate are religious schools, that religious apologists appropriate a morality that extends back to the time of the ancient Greeks, and project it onto their own special book.

Naturally, the "Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot was an atheist" argument got wheeled out, when Harris brought up the evils that have been done in the name of religion. How come no-one's picked up on this yet? Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and countless others have pointed out that none of those committed the atrocities they did in the name of atheism. Why do the religious continue to act as if it's their get-out clause from the Spanish Inquisition, and circumcision, and the Crusades?

Samia Rahman, the Muslim on the panel, did at least attempt to balance her views.

"I see religion and the practice of religion as often an extension of [an] individual's personality and their existing thoughts and beliefs and their characteristics. And so I see this oppositionality between belief and non-belief as almost a moot point. We have shared values. Religion offers many people a framework and a moral compass and they navigate through the framework and through the guidelines that their religion offers them and they come to their own conclusion and their own way of living.
 A point which often escapes religious apologists is that our morality is not passed down from a supposedly higher being - it's a product of gradual evolution over millions of years. You can see primitive versions of it in chimpanzee and gorilla societies today. Until these people realise that they're not the Special Ones they believe they are, we're never going to get anywhere.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Bristol Rovers 0 Leyton Orient 3

I was mostly occupied by the England-Australia rugby union match for the duration of this, so I didn't know the score until after the game had finished.

What a result, though! Our first away win of the season - just looking at the stats on BBC Sport, we had 60% possession, 7 shots on goal, while restricting Rovers to just one shot on target. Cox opened the scoring, and Alex Revell bagged two, taking him to seven for the season.

We're now heading into nosebleed territory in 17th position - admittedly, just one point separates 13th and 20th, but get a couple of wins and we're safely mid-table.

Bristol Rovers

  • 01 Andersen
  • 02 Regan (red card)
  • 03 Sawyer
  • 05 Coles
  • 15 Anthony (yellow card)
  • 04 Lines
  • 07 Campbell (Pell 74)
  • 11 Hughes
  • 14 Brown (Tunnicliffe 37) (yellow card)
  • 09 Akinde (Richard 58)
  • 17 Kuffour

Leyton Orient

  • 12 Butcher
  • 02 Omozusi
  • 04 Chorley (yellow card)
  • 06 Forbes
  • 07 Cox
  • 08 Dawson (Whing 40)
  • 13 Daniels
  • 16 Spring
  • 20 Smith
  • 27 M'Poku (Walker 67)
  • 11 Revell (McGleish 82)

  • Cox 20
  • Revell 27
  • Revell 51

Friday, 12 November 2010

Poor choice of career...

To say the least.
A nurse subjected frail pensioners to psychological abuse at a BUPA care home insisted she was a “very good professional” yesterday.

Tracey Fleming (47) called a sobbing frail female resident a “cry baby” and left her on a commode for more than an hour, The Nursing and Midwifery Council heard.

Fleming, of Allendale Drive, Royton, threatened to leave a third resident in a wet bed all night so he would develop gangrene and his legs “would have to be amputated,” the hearing was told.
What makes people like this apply for these jobs in the first place?

The power, I'd say, pure and simple. The sheer, pathetic joy of being able to wield power over a helpless fellow human. Oldham's answer to Abu Ghraib, anyone?

I can't get over the restrained language of the home manager.
Home manager Joan Walton told the panel that Fleming’s actions can be seen as being psychologically abusive.

Ms Walton added: “This was considered to be humiliating and intimidating the residents involved.”
Considered? Seen? That's mild. You didn't interview this woman, by any chance, did you, Ms Walton?
The misconduct panel must now decide whether Fleming’s failures mean she is impaired to work as a nurse.
Tough one, eh.

What have you got to lose?

Some people just can't understand why people refuse to believe in their god. Andrew Brown, in the Guardian, is effusive in his praise for William James, who he believes
simply annihilates the evidence daleks.
Daleks? Is this a reference to the gang of robotic atheists who go around, monotonously shouting "show-us-the-evidence"? Please. Give us some credit.

Anyway, he reprints some of James' essay The Will To Believe, in the assumption that it's some kind of debate-killer. Far from it.
A social organism of any sort whatever, large or small, is what it is because each member proceeds to his own duty with a trust that the other members will simultaneously do theirs. Wherever a desired result is achieved by the co-operation of many independent persons, its existence as a fact is a pure consequence of the precursive faith in one another of those immediately concerned. A government, an army, a commercial system, a ship, a college, an athletic team, all exist on this condition, without which not only is nothing achieved, but nothing is even attempted.
But trust, in the actions of another human being, or group, is not the same as a blind faith in an intangible god. I trust my work colleagues to carry out their tasks because we've all done it hundreds of times before. Evidence! It's nit faith, it's knowledge.
A whole train of passengers (individually brave enough) will be looted by a few highwaymen, simply because the latter can count on one another, while each passenger fears that if he makes a movement of resistance, he will be shot before any one else backs him up. If we believed that the whole car-full would rise at once with us, we should each severally rise, and train-robbing would never even be attempted.
There are, then, cases where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming. And where faith in a fact can help create the fact, that would be an insane logic which should say that faith running ahead of scientific evidence is the "lowest kind of immorality" into which a thinking being can fall. Yet such is the logic by which our scientific absolutists pretend to regulate our lives!
That's a bold assumption, that each individual would be brave enough alone to take on a gang of gunmen. But James' assertion that faith is required for a fact to come into being misses the point. Should these imaginary passengers believe that they would all rise as one against their attackers, then that also is a fact - and so a fact gives rise to a fact.

So proceeding, we see, first, that religion offers itself as a momentous option. We are supposed to gain, even now, by our belief, and to lose by our non-belief, a certain vital good. 
Secondly, religion is a forced option, so far as that good goes. We cannot escape the issue by remaining sceptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve.
This sounds remarkably like Pascal's Wager. James accepts the possibility that religion may be incorrect, but decides that it's more prudent to take the chance that it's right, just in case he loses "the good", as he describes it.

And what good does come of faith? Social mores like those expressed in the bible? Child murder, gang rape, ethnic cleansing? What exactly are we gaining? If the entire population of the world suppressed their disbelief and knuckled under to a religious dictatorship, then I suppose we'd have order, if nothing else.

But for religion to succeed in its aims, it has to stifle debate. You can be happy, just our version of happy, they say. Religion is the triumph of an ideology over all others.
It is as if a man should hesitate indefinitely to ask a certain woman to marry him because he was not perfectly sure that she would prove an angel after he brought her home. Would he not cut himself off from that particular angel-possibility as decisively as if he went and married some one else?
Here we go back in time to a land where people didn't cohabit before marriage, and your spouse truly was an unknown quantity. Nowadays, we take the time to get to know each other before we commit to a relationship. Isn't it all more sensible, that we work out whether we want to share our life with a partner, rather than marrying them on the off-chance that they might prove to be an angel?
Scepticism, then, is not avoidance of option; it is option of a certain particular kind of risk. Better risk loss of truth than chance of error,—that is your faith-vetoer's exact position. He is actively playing his stake as much as the believer is; he is backing the field against the religious hypothesis, just as the believer is backing the religious hypothesis against the field.
Risk - again Pascal's Wager. Yeah, sure, I risk eternal damnation and hellfire should I cop it, and end up at the pearly gates having to explain my disbelief in god, and my errant assumption that dinosaur bones were real. Yeah, sure, if I just bite the bullet and believe, then I insure myself against that possibility.

But I'd back the hare of evolution and atheism in a race against the tortoise of religion any day. And atheism is a position based on logic and reason, which can adjust itself to accept new realities, unlike religion, which sits perfectly still in its insistence that god exists, has always been there, and will always be there, regardless of new evidence. So it would make sense for the tortoise to be upside down.
Dupery for dupery, what proof is there that dupery through hope is so much worse than dupery through fear?
I think James sounds unsure of himself. Too many references to religion as dupery, and untrue. Better to just get it over with. We don't need god to be good. Come on, embrace atheism! What have you got to lose?

Clapham North's Thought for the Day

I couldn't find a great deal of references to Alan Ashley-Pitt on Google, apart from this quote, so I still have little idea who he is. I'll just give my opinion on the quote then.

When the first football international matches were played in the late 19th century, between England and Scotland, the accepted tactics in England were based on dribbling, and individual brilliance. A player would attempt to dribble upfield through the opposing defence, and when the ball was lost, one of the opposition would attempt the same feat, and this was generally how games progressed.

The Scots, on the other hand, had discovered the art of teamwork. Upon playing the English, once they had won the ball from an English player, they quickly moved the ball between each other, to bring an immediate threat to the English goal. Not to say that England had no success with their dribbling game, but the Scots were light years ahead, and the passing game grew to be favoured over the individualistic dribbling tactic.

We often like to think of ourselves as rugged individuals, ploughing our own furrow in the world. But our greatest triumphs come when we work together to achieve. In the way that a football team gets better results by working together than by toiling alone, cooperation is usually more productive than trying to do everything yourself.

Of course, history is full of visionaries, who had no need of help from others - Hannibal, Galileo, Maradona (just keeping the football analogy going!)

But these are the exception rather than the rule. Science could not function without the consensus derived from the replication of experiments, and the continuous testing of hypotheses. The wisdom of the crowd, with its combined knowledge and experience, will usually trump that of the individual.

There's the possibility that one person alone could be utterly wrong, but still stubbornly insists they're correct. Andrew Wakefield, for example, still contends that MMR causes autism, flying in the face of all scientific consensus. A man more alone you could hardly hope to find. His lonely journey may be taking him to places no-one has seen, but they're places no one should go.

So the man who follows the crowd may not have the satisfaction of the vindicated individual, but he benefits from the wisdom of others. The man who walks alone walks with no guide, into the forbidding darkness.

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Thursday, 11 November 2010

A motorway epiphany

Driving home from work early in the morning, I often get into a train of thought.

Last night, I was thinking about my relationship with my partner, and I realised that, despite any arguments or disagreements we may have, our relationship is very strong, especially considering we've been together now for over 10 years, and I now can't foresee a time when we will split up. What's more, I wouldn't want to foresee such a time.

I also realised that I may not have travelled the world. I may not have done anything like helping to feed people in poorer parts of the world, or teaching illiterate people how to read, or any other good works like that. But I have, at least, made one person happy in the course of my life. And, hopefully, my children will grow up and maybe do good works, but at least will make people happy in some small measure, and gain happiness thereby for themselves.

So when I die, I can reflect that my life's not been wasted. I've made a small difference for the good in the lives I've touched (I hope).

Admittedly, I did then pull off the slip road onto the A406 and nearly crashed into a Mercedes van. Ironic? Maybe I should try not to think such deep thoughts at 4 in the morning.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Simon Price, prince among journalists

Back in the days when I used to spend my evenings listening to the Evening Session with Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley, while rooting through my back copies of Melody Maker to read that 60 Foot Dolls interview for the thousandth time, Simon Price was like a blast of fresh, sarcastic, slightly perfumed air into my dull world.

Devoted Manic Street Preachers follower, espouser of New Romantic revivalists, and wearer of increasingly odd hairstyles and make-up, Pricey was always the most entertaining writer on the paper at the time (with Neil Kulkarni and Taylor Parkes not far behind).

And for you lucky, lucky people living today, he's still kicking out reviews for the Independent on Sunday.
If only there was something funny to say about Blunt. Like, I dunno, a play on the rhyming possibilities of his surname. Sadly my mind's gone blank in the face of the musical horrors, so let's play this straight: Some Kind of Trouble stinks and from now on, we need only concern ourselves with precisely how it stinks.
Priceless. (See what I did there?)

At last, some informed, reasoned critique of the coalition

Students have been doing what they do best - smashing windows in Tory HQ.

Yeah, yeah, I know, if I was caught up in it I wouldn't like it, and I doubt all the more violent protestors were actually students. But at least there's someone prepared to go out and physically express their anger at politicians.

God knows, the Lib Dems aren't going to do it.

Last month, the business secretary, Vince Cable – whose department includes universities – told the Commons the Lib Dems' pre-election pledge was "no longer feasible".
"The roads to Westminster are littered with the skidmarks of political parties changing direction," he said.

Yeah, thanks Vince, justify your immediate U-turn now you lot have sold your soul to the Tories. I think it's obvious that the Conservatives would have ramped up tuition fees if they'd been able to get into power alone, and it's just as clear that the Lib Dems would have been attacking them for it if they were still in opposition.

Brazen political whores, the lot of them.

And on top of that, I'll bet in 20 years time, those students who were smashing windows today will be cutting jobs in Whitehall. It's the natural order of things.

Human rights abuses vs economics? No contest

There's something pathetic about watching David Cameron attaching a little human rights fig leaf to his plea for Chinese cash.

I can't believe that he's really all that bothered about Chinese human rights abuses. It's been going on long enough. No-one took a blind bit of notice when 300,000 people were removed from their homes in Beijing to make way for the 2008 Olympics. No, we cheered as much as anyone, louder in fact, when Britain came an unprecedented 4th in the medals table.

If we were really bothered about what goes on in China, we would have boycotted those games. We would be refusing to do any sort of business with China until it releases people like Liu Xiaobo.

Cameron said
"China is the world's second biggest importer of oil, and Sudan is one of your most important suppliers. So China has a direct national interest in working for stability in Sudan.
No, China has an interest in getting as much oil as it can, as cheaply as it can, from Sudan. They don't care one bit about the political situation in the country. And let's face it, when it comes down to the bottom line - money - Cameron couldn't care less about what China does within and without it's own borders, as long as it keeps investing in British business.

At least be honest about this much, man.

Rail firms to be prosecuted over Potters Bar crash

Just read that Network Rail and Jarvis are to be prosecuted for the Potters Bar rail crash in 2002. As a signalling professional, I guess I should stick my two penn'rth in...

At the time of the crash, I had been working on the railway for nearly a year. I remember making emergency checks on the points in my area, even though we knew there was no possibility of something like that happening to us. Knowing points as I now do, it's obvious that there was a failure of maintenance on the set of points in question - after proper maintenance, carried out every six weeks maximum, there should be no way that any nuts should come loose on a stretcher bar.

Faulting and maintenance in those days was carried out by private companies - Jarvis in the case of the Potters Bar section, Balfour Beatty in my area. There was no contact between maintenance companies, and only limited contact, I felt, with Network Rail above us. Network Rail had only recently come into existence, and the situation was such that there was little or no co-ordination across the industry.

I don't really want to comment on the rights and wrongs of the investigation - obviously the length of time that it's taken to get to this stage for the families of the deceased is unacceptable, and there is a need for private companies to be taken to task for accidents that happen on their watch, regardless of how much blame is to be apportioned.

What I consider most, though, is how the signalling and P-way staff who were responsible for 2182A's must feel, both at the time and now. According to Jarvis, the points were inspected the day before the accident. It must be a hell of a burden to bear, knowing that 7 people died, as a result of a failure of a set of points you inspected.

Rail professionals, like myself, take on a lot of responsibility for public safety, often with little public recognition. I don't know how I would be able to handle thinking that I had been to blame for someone's death.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Leyton Orient 3 Chelsea 2

Drogba and Lampard put Chelsea into the lead, but goals from Revell, Cox and McGleish secure Orient a stunning victory...?

Ha! In my dreams. But @barafundler posted a link to this video on Twitter, from 1972.

Chelsea weren't as strong then comparatively as they are now, but they weren't that far off - Bonetti, Hollins, Osgood, Webb and Hudson all played, the backbone of the team that had won the FA Cup in 1970.

Maybe the 3rd round of the FA Cup this season could bring about a similar result...?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Let's all meet up in the year 2011... doesn't quite have the same ring to it

The Republicans have made gains in the midterm elections. Britain is being run by public schoolboys. Fighting is still going on in Afghanistan, bombs are still going off in Iraq, and we're still running out of oil.

Fortunately, Pulp have decided to reform, which immediately cancels out the negative effects of all the above.

For those who weren't around during the Britpop years, Pulp were Officially The 3rd Best Britpop Band, after Blur and Oasis, although I always thought it was a little unfair to rank the three of them, as they were all so different. I prefer their 1995 album Different Class myself, but my mate Kenny reckons that His'n'Hers was a superior album, and this formed part of his hypothesis that 1994 was the greatest year for music ever, which I found fairly compelling.

But Jarvis Cocker, the lead singer, was an inspiration to millions of geeks everywhere. He was skinny, awkward, wore thick-rimmed NHS specs, and threw shapes like you wouldn't believe.

(Coincidentally, or maybe not, he was also a dead ringer for my A-level Sociology teacher. Phil, I still remember that the Badger is the only mammal with a bone in its penis. Your lessons were clearly worth the effort.)

Jarvis' greatest moment was the 1996 Brit Awards, when he heroically provided expert physical commentary on Michael Jackson's narcissistic performance of the execrable Earth Song. Check 0:22 and 0:34 for his erudite opinion on the King Of Pop.

That should be enough to send anyone who doesn't already know scurrying to iTunes or somewhere and start downloading Pulp's back catalogue. Jarvis Cocker, genius and Michael Jackson-botherer, I salute you.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Dagenham & Redbridge 1 Leyton Orient 1

In which Alex Revell appears to be turning into some kind of lanky goal machine. Funny, he never seems to be so likely to score when I see him play.

And we let a lead slip yet again, this time just minutes after scoring ourselves. This is getting to be a very tiresome habit.

In the 2nd round, we're away to Droylsden, but more excitingly, AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons will meet in the 2nd round if they get through their replays! At Wimbledon's ground! That's got to be on TV. Ebbsfleet, Stevenage, sorry guys, but for the sake of football, you've got to throw these games.

Dag & Red

  • 30 Lewington
  • 05 Antwi
  • 06 Arber
  • 20 Vindelot
  • 03 McCrory
  • 07 Green
  • 14 Palsson
  • 18 Taiwo
  • 19 Ogogo
  • 09 Nurse
  • 16 Savage
  • Green 45+2

Leyton Orient

  • 12 Butcher
  • 02 Omozusi
  • 04 Chorley
  • 06 Forbes
  • 07 Cox
  • 08 Dawson
  • 13 Daniels
  • 16 Spring
  • 20 Smith
  • 11 Revell
  • 18 Tehoue (McGleish 68)
  • Revell 45

Subtle differences

My last post was about the Sun's anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric, in which the paper printed statements like the following:
What changed? Well, like wannabe martyr Roshonara Choudhry, Shamsudeen was brainwashed by the perverted rantings of fascist madmen like Anwar al-Akwali.
Ooh, perverted rantings! Fascist madmen! Inflammatory, no? How terrible.

On the other hand, a few days ago I posted:
She's now been jailed for life. Because she watched the videos of homicidal maniacs like Anwar al-Awlaki and Sheikh Abdullah Azzam
Homicidal maniacs! Indeed.

The overlap between my position and the Sun's troubled me a little. I've always, always considered the Sun to be the polar opposite of all my politics, all my ideals. Are we really that different?

One difference is... I'm not a huge tabloid newspaper, run by a global billionaire for his own business and ideological ends.

So there's a difference, right there.

The main difference, I realised, is that the Sun is criticising Islam from a distinctly pro-Christian perspective. Search the Sun's site for "Islam", and the top 5 headlines are:
  1. From Spider-Man to a web fanatic
  2. Silence Them (a leader demanding that al-Awlaki be kept quiet)
  3. Enemies of Britain
  4. Fanatics protest at MP stab trial
  5. Gunmen take Brit hostage
The headlines never tell the whole story of course, but the implication is clear. There's another story on the site about a Catholic school being taken over by a mosque in Manchester. Regardless of how the population may have changed to make this appropriate, it's presented as more evidence of "them" taking over "us".

Search for "Christianity", though, and you get this:
  1. Killer in dog collar (about a pastor who became Christian after being convicted of murder)
  2. Christmas is back on
  3. PM praises Pope's "moving" visit
  4. Papal power (another leader on how Christian festivals should remain at the heart of society)
  5. Pope: Don't let the PC Brigade wreck Christmas
Now we're getting down to it. You can criticise Islam from a Christian perspective, you can criticise Islam from an atheist perspective, but it's not the same thing. Ultimately, by attacking Islam but saying nothing about the evils of Roman Catholicism, it's a hollow critique.

In any case, the Sun's viewpoint is only informed by religion to the point that it's part of the dominant culture of this country, therefore it chimes with the inherent fears and prejudices of the population, therefore it's going to sell newspapers. There's an argument to be made about whether xenophobia is actually as widespread as some parts of the media would have you believe, or whether the media is what propels that anti-foreigner sentiment in the first place, but that's for another day.

So that's good, I don't have as much in common with Rupert Murdoch's bile-filled mouthpiece as I first thought. That much bile in my mouth would leave a nasty taste, anyway.

Friday, 5 November 2010

How to legally demonise immigration

The Sun, for those outside the UK who may not realise, is the most widely-read tabloid newspaper in the UK. Its politics are decidedly right of centre, as you might guess from the fact that it's owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Today it's reported on Phil Woolas, a Labour MP who's had his election victory in May overturned.
A COURT has ordered a re-run of a general election campaign after ruling that Labour's Phil Woolas stirred up racial tensions in a desperate bid to retain his constituency seat.
The specially convened court said Mr Woolas had knowingly made false statements about a Lib Dem rival in the Oldham East and Saddleworth elections.As a result the outspoken MP's election victory has been declared void. The former immigration chief's campaign team was said to have set out to "make white folk angry" by suggesting he was the victim of a Muslim campaign to kick him out.
It just won't do stirring up racial tensions by publishing inflammatory material about religious extremists.

Unless, of course, you're a national newspaper.
HE was a friendly, fun-loving London lad who worked at Boots and loved footie.
Now Mohammed Shamsudeen is an extremist zombie called Abu Saalihah, screeching hatred for Britain in support of a similarly deranged woman who tried to murder a democratically-elected MP.
What changed? Well, like wannabe martyr Roshonara Choudhry, Shamsudeen was brainwashed by the perverted rantings of fascist madmen like Anwar al-Akwali.
No brief for Muslim extremists here of course. But the Sun's agenda goes way beyond attacking the extremes, and goes for the jugular by demonising anyone who wants to move to Britain.
One in four new babies in Britain now has a mum who was born in a foreign country.
The ONS said "international migration" means there are now 200,000 more women in the key childbearing ages of 15 to 44-years-old than in 2001.
Immigrant women also have higher birth rates than Brits.
The usual language - "huge influx", "population is rocketing", "startling". I'm just surprised they didn't say "swamped".

The BBC reports that
Mr Woolas was accused of stirring up racial tensions in his campaign leaflets by suggesting Mr Watkins had pandered to Muslim militants, and had refused to condemn death threats Mr Woolas said he had received from such groups.
Mr Woolas ran a "risky" campaign, the court was told, designed to "galvanise the white Sun vote" because he feared he faced defeat on polling day.
The Sun omits this quote, oddly enough.

Things have moved on from the "Arab pigs" days, but the Sun's viciously right-wing propaganda is still there.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The ultimate form of punishment

I don't know why people are up in arms about UK prisoners being allowed to vote. I think it's a great idea.

Why not? Politicians can promise them the earth, and once the election's over, reveal their true colours and dash all those hopes on the rocks of "political reality".

I remember the crushing disappointment of voting for the Lib Dems, and then seeing Nick Clegg turn around and embrace everything I'd just voted against. Why should convicted criminals be denied that feeling of inadequacy and helplessness?

Roshanara Choudry - a life ruined by religion

Roshonara Choudry was studying to be a teacher. She was the top student in her university class. In a few years' time, who knows what she might have achieved? Maybe teaching in a primary school, educating young people, giving hope to others. Maybe carrying out her own research. The world would have been at her feet.

The achievements that she could have accomplished, the lives she could have changed, the benefits she could have brought to herself and society... all whisked away in the moment when she stabbed her local MP, Stephen Timms.

She's now been jailed for life. Because she watched the videos of homicidal maniacs like Anwar al-Awlaki and Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, from whom she gained the insight that
when a Muslim land is attacked it becomes obligatory on every man, woman and child and even slave to go out and fight and defend the land and the Muslims and if they can't handle like the forces they are facing, then it becomes obligatory on the people who live in ... closest to that country and if those people refuse to fulfil their duty then it, then it becomes to the next closest people and the next closest until it goes all the way round the whole world and it's obligatory on everyone to defend that land.
And so she went out, bought some knives from a hardware shop, and stabbed a man.

If you ever needed proof that religion is a cause of harm, well, here it is. It's just destroyed the life of a young woman who had every reason to live, not to mention the lives of her family, not to mention the man she stabbed and his family.

And where's Anwar al-Awlaki? As well as apparently hiding out in Yemen, he's still on the internet in the form of his videos, inciting others to murder in the name of his barbaric ideology, like
Paul “Bilal” Rockwood and his wife Nadia in Alaska, and on the other side of the world in Singapore, Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid.
I can't help but feel sad that Roshanara Choudry is now going to spend the rest of her life in prison, in 21st-century Britain, all because of a few hate-filled words in a book written in the desert over 1,000 years ago.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

It's not a door when it's a jar

What's an open mind? Is it a good thing?

I've been pondering, beacuse a friend of mine posted a video from some wacky conspiracy nut on Facebook, with the comment "closed minded people, don't even bother.

Now I regard myself as someone with a pretty open mind. At the same time, I'm fairly secure in what I know and what I understand to be true - all life on the planet evolved from a single life form which existed billions of years ago, vaccines provide vital protection for children against disease, Leyton Orient's defence is far too leaky to even hope for a chance of making the League 1 playoffs, that sort of thing.

So I'll listen to arguments that make sense to me, or at least come from a rational perspective. I won't give the time of day, though, to people trying to tell me that the Earth was created by some omniscient being 6,000 years ago. It doesn't fit, it's unnecessary, I don't need to open my mind for it.

If I gave equal time to every argument that is thrown at me, I'd barely have time to think, let alone decide what to believe. There's got to be some kind of filter. For me that filter tends to be words like "God", or "pro-life". Mention those in your argument, and you've just invalidated yourself.

I keep my mind open, but not that open. Just ajar. So I know what to let in, and when to slam the door shut.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Keeping my spirits up

This version of a beautiful song just burrowed its way back into my mind. I think my brain's activating a self-defence mechanism, after the trauma caused by the post below.

Anyway, Terry Hall and Marijke singing this never fails to bring a smile to my face. Please enjoy.

Colchester United 3 Leyton Orient 2

And to think Russell Slade thought this was a candidate for our 1st away win of the season.

How do we expect to get anywhere near the middle of the table if we let a 2 goal lead slip? Away from home or not, we can't afford to do that. Our leaky defence is becoming more of a problem.

Nephrotic syndrome, or how my son was saved by science-based medicine

Most parents despair when their child wets the bed. I, on the other hand, am quietly relieved.

I'm not a specialist medical blogger like Orac, but I'll stick my oar in anyway. My son suffers from minimal change nephrotic syndrome, and has done since he was 2 (he's 8 now). It's a scary condition to have, especially if it's not caught early on. In his case, he was quite far gone when it was diagnosed, and we (my partner and I) stayed in hospital with him for two weeks while he was treated.

He swelled up, and this is probably the most accurate way to describe it, like a water balloon. Literally, his body was full of water which he could no longer pass. At one point his penis was grossly distended with water, the consequences of which could almost have been funny if it hadn't been so serious.

Nephrotic syndrome, as I understand it, is an immune reaction disorder. Pretty much every time in the last 6 years that my son's caught a cold, he's had a relapse of nephrotic syndrome. In layman's terms, his kidneys become inflamed, and can no longer effectively pass waste and water.

He stops urinating, and when he does it usually includes protein. The excess water stays in the body, leaking through the blood vessels, placing more of a strain on his body and exacerbating the condition. This is what I mean when I say his bedwetting is a relief - it means his kidneys are doing their job and flushing out the excess water.

When he first went into hospital, he was immediately put on a high dose of prednisolone, a steroid, which kickstarted his kidneys and, eventually, allowed him to start improving. He's had maybe a dozen relapses since, which have variously been treated with steroids to bring him into remission, and cyclophosphamide and cyclosporin to keep the illness under control.

Things are looking up though, as the last two relapses he's had, he's gone back into remission within a week, without having to go back onto a course of steroids. The doctors have always stressed that most children grow out of minimal change syndrome, but this is the first actual sign of that.

I hasten to add, he's still on cyclosporin, keeping the disease under control.

This is a personal reason why I believe science-based medicine is so important. My son would not be here were it not for the treatment he received, and continues to receive.

If we had ever taken the advice of homeopaths and the like, we would have been preparing to bury him years ago.
For minimal change disease, steroids are in order.
But if you’re into a safer and more natural approach, we recommend  Kidney Dr , a 100% herbal treatment for natural kidney support to help maintain healthy renal functioning.
Safer? Good luck with that one.

MY SON TUTU IS 6 YEARS NOW.WHILE HE WAS 14 MONTHS,he was affected by nephrotic syndrome.that disease is continueing now also.from that time onwards due to the advice of a nephrologist v r giving prednisolone.sometimes there will be swellings on his with this i started to give homeo medicine from 1 year onwards.if i continue with homeo,will it be cured ?
In a word, no. There's no known root cause for nephrotic, nor any cure. Don't let that put you off going to a homeopath, though.They'll still be happy to take your money.
Unfortunately, I don't think anyone can answer your question about a cure for nephrotic syndrome.  Homeopathic medicine can help people overcome many conditions, but there is no guarantee of cure.  The chances are greater if you consult with an experienced homeopathic practitioner and utilize any other methods of healing that are available, such as nutrition, supplements, or other methods.  Often, when cure is not possible, one still can minimize the effects of their disease and use as few medications as possible.
Thanks for your question and good luck to you and your son.
Dr Conner 
Even the followup posters have no idea what's going on.
My brother contracted Nephrotic syndrome when he was about 6 he is now 18.
He also drinks a cup of Georges Aloe Vera Juice every couple days. My parents learned of this from a doctor who had used it.
With this and astragalus root he has had to take prednisone for a less than a year total in the 12 years he has had this disease. He only takes prednisone when he has a relapse until he is healthy again.
The Aloe Vera juice is so good that is doesn't prevent him having relapses? And he still needs steroids (ie. scientific medicine) to bring him back into remission? Three cheers for the woo!

As I said, my son's still here thanks to science-based medicine, for which I am grateful. I sincerely hope no-one ever tries to do the same thing with "alternative" medicine.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Children, evangelism, and a $50m private jet

Pentecostalism is a strange branch of Christianity. I once went to a Pentecostal service (OK, I'm not proud, my partner dragged me for company for her aunt), and I was bombarded with tales of miracle healing, lots of people speaking in tongues, and some very persistent people who were intent on converting me. It was like I had a flashing neon "UNBELIEVER" sign on my head. They didn't get very far.

It seems to be doing well in Brazil, though, according to the Guardian.
Brazil – and much of Latin America and the Caribbean — is in the midst of what believers proudly call an "evangelical revolution". According to the IBGE, Brazil's census board, the country's Catholic population fell from around 89% in 1980 to 74% in 2000, while its Pentecostal flock grew from 3% to 10%. Brazilian churches are opening branches from Buenos Aires to Port-au-Prince.
I'm not sure what to make of that. Surely it's a good thing that the old, bloodsucking, cannibalistic Catholic cult is losing ground?
The name Jesus is stamped behind the pulpit in thick blue lettering. But at the Pentecostal Church of the Miracle the headline act is not the Son of God but a six-year-old girl in a pink dress.
On the street outside, anxious followers quiz dapper evangelical doormen: "Is she here? Is she here?"
 "She" is Alani dos Santos, a "child healer" better known as the Missionarinha or Little Missionary, who is reputedly capable of healing the sickest of congregants with a touch of her hands. Twice a week, bandage-clad and cancer-ridden believers pack this cramped "temple" in search of a miracle.
OK then, maybe it's not much better in the preposterous claims stakes. Well then, isn't it good that the population is coming together in a time of global economic crisis?
While many question why Brazil's poorest citizens should pay a tenth of their meagre wages to churches, Jacob said the decision was often pragmatic.
"Some people come here in wheelchairs and leave running," one preacher boasted, shortly before the collection was announced and dozens of golden envelopes filled with bundles of R$20 notes (worth about £7).
Um. They won't have much left in that case. So are the church leaders setting a good example?

Bishop Edir Macedo, the leader of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and head of one of Brazil's largest TV networks, is widely considered to be the wealthiest bishop on Earth.
Brazilian newspapers estimate that Macedo's estate is worth about $2bn and includes a 35-bedroom mansion in São Paulo and a $50m private jet. Macedo, who claims about eight million followers worldwide, is thought to live in Westchester county, New York state, where the Clinton family were recently reported to be negotiating an $11m mansion.
Fantastic. I'm glad he's doing so well for himself. At least the political leaders in the country will bring some measure of sanity to proceedings.
The tendency is even likely to play a role in Sunday's presidential election run-off, with the two candidates, Dilma Rousseff and José Serra, openly courting the denomination on issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
Oh dear.

Feeling Kind Of Blue

In the spirit of finding something positive to blog about... last night I was waiting in the car to start work (it's a railway thing, you can't rush it), and catching up on some blogs, including Why Evolution Is True, where Jerry Coyne was trying to assert that "Layla" is the greatest rock song of all time.

Obviously I couldn't let that go unchallenged. Clearly Whole Lotta Love is the greatest - or is it Just? - or Sheena Is A Punk Rocker? Er,... well, I always feel the point of making bald statements like, '"Layla" is the greatest rock song of all time' is to invite alternative perspectives, and thereby expand your musical horizons. There's no definitive answer, the appreciation of music is gloriously subjective.

But it set my train of thought in motion, and I eventually arrived, as I often do, at Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue. So I put the iPod on the car stereo, pressed play, and lay back and let the dreamy rubato of "So What" wash over me. In my car, in the dead of night in Kilburn, watching Hallowe'en revellers wander down the road from club to pub to home to wherever else they were going, I was transported to another, more restful place.

Kind Of Blue sends me. I discovered it (or was it revealed to me?) about 7 years ago, at a time when I'd never even listened to jazz, and never even thought I'd ever be into any kind of jazz. I think I only bought it because it was on offer, and because I'd caught a quick glimpse of the title in a Beatles album review, or something.

And from the moment I heard it, it was like I'd never been without it. It speaks to me in a way that lyrics can't. It leaves me feeling... I don't know. Not sad. Maybe melancholy. I think it's best expressed in the title. Kind Of Blue. Just that wistful, sentimental, reflective mood, indefinable. It's always done that to me. It's the only album that speaks to me in any given situation, and that's because it explains everything by saying nothing.

Every time I listen, there's a new phrase or passage that I haven't noticed before, or had forgotten about, or that I hear in a different way. The production is so crisp, so clear, that it's like the band are there with you. I can't think of any other album that exists on such an intimate level with me. My most lasting memory of the album is when I listened to it sitting on the banks of a pond in Derby, reading "On Green Dolphin Street", a Sebastian Faulks novel which uses the release of Kind Of Blue, and other Miles Davis numbers, as a plot device. But I've listened to it in so many places, at so many different times in my life, that I can hardly begin to express the influence it's had on me.

Hard to pick stand-out moments, but here goes: Jimmy Cobb's hihat crash leading into Miles' solo on "So What"... Miles' solo on "Freddie Freeloader", which I prefer to his solo on "So What"... Bill Evans' extraordinary solo, again on "So What", and his tumbling, cascading, ever-evolving take on "Blue In Green"... Coltrane's unusually relaxed solo on the same track... Cannonball's exuberant, bluesy solo on "All Blues". Just listening to "Blue In Green" now, I can feel the space in the music, like it's the silences, and the things that are left unsaid, that mean the most.

I can't sum it up adequately. I'll just quote Jimmy Cobb, the drummer on the album:
It must have been made in heaven.