Decent People

March 8, 2008

In months where I have had few heart- warming thoughts there has been one: people are fundamentally decent.

I lie, there has been more than one heart warming thought but all the others are either pornographic or involve ideas for elaborate practical jokes- one in particular needing access to 1005 garden gnomes and a thermonuclear warhead.

But as far as sensible, heart-warming thoughts go (or sensible thoughts at all) it can be, pretty much, whittled down to just the one. In case you have already forgotten it is that people are fundamentally decent.

The proof is in Democracy. In order to get people in a democracy to support ideas that are not fundamentally decent you have to lie to them (or blackmail them, bribe them or offer them sex). The failings of modern democracies like the USA, the UK and some of the European countries comes down to information. The gathering of it, the access to it, the dissemination of it and how much it is valued by people. You and I are being lied to every day and most of the time we don’t realise it.

We are never taught, either by our parents or in school, how to value information. We are not shown how to look at and absorb information we find abhorrent and that conflicts with our world view. We are not shown how to look for jewels of information in sludge or great ideas from those we dislike or hate.

We are taught to reject ideas or thoughts based on the people who presented them to us rather than the merits of the ideas. It is possible that one day Paris Hilton will say something insightful- possibly off a cue card. It is possible that George Bush will be vindicated by history- possibly on mental grounds and it is possible that, one day, the world will look back on Donald Trump’s hair as the beginning of a fashion trend. Yet these are things I just cannot accept in my reality. It’s a bit too far beyond “The Matrix”. But I try to keep that mind open.

What school needs teach is a critical mind. Less regurgitation of the traditional national exports of Mongolia and more thought on whether what their tutor just said is utter bollocks.

People are basically decent. But we are also basically ignorant and the ignorant cannot choose a government because their “choice” isn’t theirs. It belongs to whoever fed them the information.

But, then again. Perhaps I am wrong.

Maybe there is someone out there willing to offer me money or sex to change my opinion… it’s worth a shot. I am a flexible guy.

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Sex and KFC

November 27, 2007

We can no longer trust our major media to report the news properly any more because of corporate interference trying to sell us hot pants and fast food which, you would think, are fairly mutually exclusive items*- if we’re lucky. The other area where it affects us heavily is medicine. It was pointed out long ago by concerned research scientists that if you put combating disease in the hands of profit-oriented companies alone without having government labs involved what you will get is only treatments- not cures. A cure, after all, is only for Christmas- a treatment is for life.

The first truly awful science of my generation was the way AIDS was handled in the 80’s. Cargo-cult science from a doctor of dubious repute connected a retrovirus to a syndrome and transmission to sex and we were told, with the usual enthusiasm of the tabloid media, of the bodies piled high on the streets come the year 2000. Sex sells. Sex kills. Those alive, paying attention and not out shopping for hot pants holding a bucket of KFC would have caught, at the time, the BBC Panorama documentary which questioned the science and pointed out that the odds on contracting the HIV retrovirus, should it exist, from sex was thousands to one**. The threat increased to one in hundreds only if both partners had an open wound on their genitalia. I personally lack the commitment to have sex hundreds of time with my penis bleeding profusely and even if I did I lack the charm, I feel, to talk another person into rigorous sex whilst suffering from severe blood loss.

Lunatic fringe thinker, I, joined only by Nicholas Regush of ABC News, Harpers, a few Nobel Prize winners for chemistry and around ten thousand scientists outside the USA whose income is not dependant on companies making billions from HIV treatments in thinking there is some less than robust thinking here are now re-joined by the BBC.

The method that has been proposed (but never proved) by which the retrovirus kills our T-cells has as much credibility as a trial lawyer representing OJ Simpson or Robert Downey Jnr. according to, for all my dissing Americans, a study led by Emory University in Atlanta. In reporting the story the Beeb, though, fearful of the American treatment of the English language, decided to get a quote from a trustworthy British scientist at Imperial College, Cambridge. Professor Jaroslav (very British) Stark said: “Scientists have never had a full understanding of the processes by which T helper cells are depleted in HIV, and therefore they’ve been unable to fully explain why HIV destroys the body’s supply of these cells at such a slow rate. Our new interdisciplinary research has thrown serious doubt on one popular theory of how HIV affects these cells, and means that further studies are required to understand the mechanism behind HIV’s distinctive slow process of cellular destruction.”

What’s worrying is this: they decided HIV causes AIDS by killing T-cells without ever understanding or proving the process by which it happens. Then how do you know that HIV is doing it, exactly? There is a word for this kind of thing: it is called a guess. Guessing, as you may conclude, is not great science. Guessing is what loses you huge amounts of money at the track. Guessing is what you do when you try and win the lottery. Guessing is not something you want from, say, a person packing your parachute, deciding on the length of your bungee cord or sending you to a foreign country to find weapons of mass destruction. So filling yourself with toxic chemicals to kill a retrovirus which may be sitting around, chilling, and generally showing the activity and work ethic of a procrastinating grandma on a weeks break in Torremelinos based on a guess may be considered to be less than smart.

The problem is the way we demand answers from medicine. Other sciences get to dabble around and have fun trying to make the universe accidentally fold up or putting new elements together to see how big a bang we can get. We, as individuals, don’t really care so we place no pressure on them. But we want to be cured of every tiny ill. Since none of us really believe in heaven any more we are afraid of death, otherwise we would let ourselves be “taken” at the first opportunity. Lying there, measle-infected, “See God,” we could utter, “it’s not suicide- just your will. See you in a minute- put my sexy birds on ice and pour me a Martini.” So we believe in something new: we have faith in medicine. Which is dumb. Medicine is reason and evidence. And profit. When we substitute reason and evidence for faith we end up with faith and prophet. Possibly one called Mohamed, or Jesus, or Dave The Amazing Faith healer. Or GlaxoSmithKline.

It is really our fault. Our brain seeks conclusions to problems and it seeks them quickly. We are designed to suffer anxiety about the unknown because early humans who were not quick to decide the best option when faced with, say, a large and pretty kitty with sharp teeth and savage claws, never got to decide anything ever again… least of all who to accidentally get pregnant at the prom.

So we get betrayed, every day, by our Selves. Our Selves are not something to be trusted. They will fuck with us at every given opportunity making us think our hair looks bad, our hot-pants don’t suit us and make us buy another bucket of comfort-KFC. We tend to believe what will make us happy and accepted rather than what is inconvenient and, quite possibly, true.

One of those things is: you’re going to die. Get over it. Stop worrying about it. Get laid. And use a condom not because you think you’re going to die from some random infection but because you’re considerate, because you are careful, and because if you have kids they will want you to send them to school and college and will want to borrow your car- which will eat into your drinking money and destroy your social life. Who wants that? Honestly.

*- bridged by the diet supplement market.

**- “Male-to-female transmission was approximately eight times more efficient than female-to-male transmission …The constant per-contact infectivity for male-to-female transmission was estimated to be 0.0009 [Meaning that female-to-male would be 0.00001125 or about 1/10,000]…We observed no seroconversions after entry into the study…No transmission occurred among the 25% of couples who did not use their condoms consistently, nor among the 47 couples who intermittently practiced unsafe sex during the entire duration of follow-up. This evidence argues for low infectivity in the absence of either needle sharing and/or other cofactors” Padian NS et al. Heterosexual Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in Northern California: Results from a Ten-Year Study. Am J Epidemiol. 1997 Aug;146(4):350-7

http://www.aras.ab.ca/

On the high side of life

October 26, 2007

Just as the British government is considering reclassifying Cannabis a class 3 drug after decriminalising possession some years ago a report is released showing possession amongst 16-24yr olds is down 7% in the last decade. This is hardly a shock to anyone who remembers being young. If any enterprising innovators want to cut out recreational drug use altogether they should make it a compulsory lesson in school. I’m betting just before calculus would be best. Sure, it sounds like it would be fun at first but, in truth, by the time you turned 12 the novelty would have totally worn off.*

But governments aren’t famous for their clear, innovative, well- balanced decisions. Neither are musical artists but Radiohead have reportedly sold 1.2 million copies of their new album inrainbows in the first week by offering it to you for whatever you want to pay- even nothing. A western world sick of capitalism apparently, voluntarily gave an average of $5 for the downloadable album meaning the band did about 5 times better than if they had sold it through a record company.

This is what happens when you give people who take drugs power over their lives: they get all touchy- feely and believe people are just, like, “fundamentally good and generous and shit”. They go and annoy all of us by making millions proving it right. Piety and wealth! I say we burn them at the stake. The album’s quite good, though. I paid $5.

lizdean.jpg

For all those who think that artists taking drugs/ living it up/ driving too fast and dying young is a bad example for the youth I give you the comparison of Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Which do you think is a better role model, Mad Liz or the man who said “dream as if you will live forever, live as though you will die today.”? Imagine if Michael had died in a rollercoaster accident before he was accused for the 17th time of being a kiddie fiddler. If Paul McCartney had never joined “Wings”. How much better would our lives be?

Thank you Jimi, Kurt, Janis, John and, of course, James. From a time when artists were more considerate of their fans.

*- what the hell is an 11yr old doing calculus for- that is madness!