Revoke Article 50

 

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This petition will hit 5 million signatures today.  The March in London yesterday had 1 million participants.  How many British People have to ask before the Government give them an opportunity to have a say, now that the British people understand what it actually means to leave Europe?  What exactly is wrong with Theresa May and the Tory party?  Why is it a betrayal of the people to ask them “are you sure about this?”

Why are the Tory party driving forward to the worst possible outcome?  What is wrong with taking time over a decision that is going to have such a huge impact on Britain?  Who is profiting from this haste to leave?  Who is profiting from the chaos?

One thing I am certain of.  The ordinary British person on the street is not profiting from this, and will never profit from it in any way.

And I still blame David Cameron.  History will be very unkind to that man.

Brexit March

 

The Majestic General

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The Falklands War was caused by US foreign policy.

On April 2nd the last Argentinian military junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, invaded (or re-possessed) the Falkland islands (or Las Malvinas) depending on your perspective.

As a result of the invasion the Military Junta became “The Last” military junta.  Most of those surviving generals are still in jail for war crimes committed during “the Dirty war”.

Also as a result of the invasion a floundering Conservative party in the UK were able to turn their fortunes around, secure a strong majority in the next election and inflict the people of the United Kingdom with eight more years of rule by Margaret Thatcher and 15 years of Tory rule.

What is little known and rarely spoken of is why Galtieri felt he could do what he did.  The USA hated the Social-Democratic government of Juan Perón.  They were unable to shake the faith of the people in Juan, but when he died and his wife Isabel took over the CIA moved.  From 1974 CIA sponsored and trained “Death Squads” began to target Perónists, Union Leaders and Socialists.  In 1976 the CIA supported a military Coup which replaced democratic government with a brutal military Junta.

In 1981 Galtieri visited Washington where he was received as the darling of the Reagan administration, Richard Allen, the National Security Adviser dubbed him the “Majestic General”.  On the ground Galtieri signed off on a deal to support “Contras” or “Sandanista”  rebels in Nicaragua.  These were American funded and trained thugs who were paid to tear apart a socialist regime that had the audacity to teach peasants to read instead of picking fruit for US corporations.  They were not “rebels” in any way, shape or form.

As reward for his training and support of the Contras Galtieri was supported by the Reagan administration in staging a coup to take leadership of the regime from General Roberto Viola.  After four months in office Galtieri realised that the only thing falling faster than the Argentine economy was his popularity.  He needed a rallying cause to get the people behind him and his leadership.  So he decided to invade the Falkland Islands.

He did not take this action without the approval of the US government.  But the USA got this one wrong.  They mistakenly thought the British would let the islands go.  Once Margaret Thatcher made it clear that the Islands would be retaken the US government found itself in a pickle.  They could maintain their support for Galtieri and lose Britain or vice versa.

The CIA then carried out an assessment and believed that the British would lose the Falklands war.  They even had plans in place to airlift the surviving Falkland Islanders to Scotland.  So they stood aside and watched from the sidelines.  Britain won.

How many British people are aware that the responsibility for the death of British Soldiers lies at the feet of the Government of the USA?

Fact or Anecdote?

How the Religious Right use Anecdotes to undermine scientific argument.

When it comes to debating issues there are two broad strategies you can employ.

  1. Use facts to prove your case.
  2. Tell a good story.

An anecdote is simply a good story, usually one that is personalised to make it highly emotional.  In many cases those who use anecdotes present them as pseudo-facts and call them by scientific sounding terms such as “anecdotal evidence”.

The human brain is programmed to relate to stories.  Behavioural economists have demonstrated how humans default to “type 1” and struggle with the “type 2” thinking that is required to correctly assess complex quantitative data (Thinking, Fast & Slow.  Daniel Kahneman, 2011).

Anecdotes play to our Type 1 thinking.  We can place ourselves in the story and empathise with a situation far more easily than we can digest a plethora of bland numbers.  Politicians have long known this.  Former US Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, famously told us that “all politics is local”.

Many will remember how John McCain and Sarah Palin latched onto “Joe the Plumber” as the poster boy for Republican Party credentials to serve small business.  Tony Blair led the British Labour Party to power after years in the wilderness by targeting the middle ground swing voter that they called “Mondeo Man” after the Ford car so favoured by sales teams in the UK.

Many technical professionals argue with hard facts, detailed statistics, “boring” numbers.  They bog their audience (and interviewers) down in Type 2 diatribes.  If they are in an argument with an anecdotist they will lose.  One of my favourite lines in debate, delivered by an Anecdotist to a Statistician;

Ah sure you can prove anything with statistics, I want to talk about the facts.”

The very best technical experts know that they must convert their cold, hard, impersonal statistics into a warm, engaging, human story.  This is the realm of the “Insights” professional.  It is something I call #tainment such as teachers putting the fun in teaching and making it Edutainment!

 

What has all this to do with Religion?

One of the primary roles of the religious community is to take a long (very long) view of the impacts that changes have on society, societal mores, community health and general spiritual wellbeing.  This position serves a vital role in counterbalancing short term profit motivated interests.  The various churches will always drag their heels on rapid change.  Experience has shown that it takes many years to understand the full impact of a change, and their preference is to delay and postpone rather than move and regret.

HPV vaccination is a perfect illustration of this position, as it is an area fraught with ethical issues.  These are neatly summed up in this quote from Patrick Hayes MD, a Catholic Doctor.  It was originally published in Health magazine, and is also available online here:  http://www.catholic.org/news/health/story.php?id=51576

Dr. Hayes says “ …as HPV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), the success of a ‘medicine’ that appears to remove the consequences of sin, by preventing genital warts and cervical cancer in persons who have one or multiple sexual partners who have had multiple sexual partners, leaves persons of faith and chastity questioning the motives and wisdom of governments, pharmaceutical companies and doctors.”

He also says “The vaccination should not be mandated, because in the absence of sexual contact, unvaccinated students pose no threat to others. “

Overall Dr. Hayes writes a fair and balanced piece.  The latter statement is straight out of the Catholic playbook.  Let’s face it, in the absence of sexual contact girls will never get pregnant.  This is the Catholic position on the use of contraception!

The Irish Government introduced a vaccination programme for schoolgirls from age 12/13 (first year in secondary school) using Gardasil, the HPV vaccine developed by Merck.

We are now seeing the anecdotal machine getting into gear.  Ireland is a backwater, but an important one for religious issues.  If Ireland takes a backward step on HPV vaccination this sets a precedent for pressure groups in the USA who are opposed to vaccination.  They are prepared to invest money and resources into Ireland to see such an outcome.

Some of these groups are opposed on religious grounds, others are opposed to “big government” setting up mandatory healthcare.  They all prey on the concerns of parents for the health of their children.

Their key arguments are:

  1. Here is a girl (anecdotal evidence 1) who became ill or died after receiving the vaccine.  If you give the vaccine to your daughter she will become ill or die.
  2. Pharmaceutical companies know this is a dangerous poison, but they are making big profits on it, so they are covering up the facts (conspiracy theory 1)
  3. Doctors involved in the clinical trials were bribed by the Pharmaceutical company to falsify the results (conspiracy theory 2). Here is a case of such a doctor (anecdotal evidence 2)
  4. We have given the pharmaceutical company all the information and they have ignored it (anecdote 3: the cold hearted corporate machine)
  5. The FDA (local medical approvals board) were fed misinformation on this drug by the pharma company (ergo they are incompetent fools) and certain key officials were given payoffs in the form of money or business trips or jobs (ergo they are corrupt). The bottom line is that you can’t trust government.

Let’s address these arguments one at a time:

  1. Any government sponsored vaccine must pass through a rigorous testing and selection process.  It must go through extensive and detailed clinical trials.  Every drug or vaccine carries side effects and risks.  These are detailed and quantified as part of the trials process.

In statistical terms these negative outcomes represent a tiny fraction of the population.  The benefits of the vaccine far outweighs any negative outcomes.  However, if you are the parent of one of the girls who dies then the statistics are cold comfort.

When Gardasil was rolled out in Germany two girls in the first vaccinated cohort died as a result of the drug.  That is 2 in 1.5 million, which represents 0.0001%.  The incidence is miniscule in statistical terms and devastating in personal terms to the families involved.

Yes there are cases where girls became ill due to the vaccine.  They tend to fall within the limits established by the clinical trial.

There are also many cases where girls become ill shortly after they receive the vaccine.   The anecdotists seize on these cases to boost the fear factor in relation to the drug.  Just because condition B followed condition A does not prove causality.  Anti-vaxxers don’t care about such niceties.  They don’t need to prove their points.  They simply have to throw doubt upon the opposite position.  This is classic “fear marketing”.

I am not a fan of fear marketing techniques.  It is most effective with people who worry the most, and with those who don’t have the education or intelligence to carry out proper research.  Fear marketing preys on the weak and that is not nice.  It is not Christian.

  1. The conspiracy theory that the Pharma companies are knowingly selling poison for profit.  There have been cases where pharma companies have behaved dreadfully, so I won’t apologise for them.  The Tamiflu scandal by Roche pharma is a perfect example, where they withheld information.  The drug was not a poison, it was just useless.  Merck with Vioxx, Bristol Myers Squibb with Abilify and GSK with Avandia.  They may not be selling poison, but they are manipulating the data for profit.  That is despicable.
  1. Doctors manipulating data? Yes, the evidence is there.  It happens.  Doctors, it seems, are no more immune to corruption than any other group in society.  Some manipulate results because of poor research practice, where they screen out data that does not meet with their preconceptions.  Others do it for cash.

I think we need to look at how we recruit and train doctors.  At present, in Ireland, medical schools select medical students on academic excellence.  If we selected on empathy and care for others I suspect we might attract fewer high wealth seeking individuals.

  1. The cold hearted corporation anecdote also holds true. We have all seen Erin Brokovich!  Look at the Ford Pinto scandal, where the bean counters preferred to pay death and injury damages rather than recall and fix faulty cars.  Such a cavalier attitude to the lives of humans represents a real concern about the kind of people who lead large companies.  The corporate ladder appears to reward executives who are amoral and unempathic.
  1. Incompetence and/or corruption in medical approvals officials.  Given point 2, that pharma companies manipulate the clinical trials data, it is no surprise that government officials have been caught out.  They have been lied to, repeatedly.  Also, like the doctors, they are not immune from corruption.  There are enough smoking guns out there to fill an arsenal.

So when you look holistically at the arguments put out by anti-vaxxers there appears to be more than enough smoke to suggest a fire.  When you put all the pieces of disinformation together you come up with a pretty compelling conspiracy theory.

The only way to debunk the conspiracy theory is to tear it apart, step by step, using cold hard statistics.  No audience is going to hang around for that.

The upshot of all of this is that the medical and pharmaceutical industries are personally and collectively responsible for the mess they have made.  In modern Ireland we have outbreaks of Measles and Mumps in teenagers who were not vaccinated back when the MMR was blamed for Autism.  Study after study has disproved any link existed.  The doctor who originally made the link was found guilty of falsifying his results.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield  And still the story continues to spin and be believed.  Now we see exactly the same arguments being rolled out in relation to HPV vaccines.

Rainbow flag

rainbow-flag1

In 1981 on this day there was an entry in the Morbidity and Mortality report of the CDC of a rare form of Pneumonia in five people in Los Angeles.  This was the outbreak of AIDS.

Seen by many conservatives as a form of divine retribution for ungodly behaviour, there was a reluctance to devote resources to addressing the issue of AIDS for many years.

Last month same sex marriage was approved by popular vote in Ireland, a country which was intensely Catholic and Conservative in the 1980’s.  Back then homosexuality was a crime punishable by penal servitude.

You would have to say:  we have come a long way in 35 years.

Funeral Blues; by WH Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Political despair

Today David Cameron announced that the UK will be allowed to vote in a referendum on membership of the European Union, if, and here is the clincher, if the Conservatives win the next election.

It is 2 years to the next election.  The Conservatives are in power only because they are in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  The Lib Dems are pro Europe, and the Conservatives are afraid that this makes them look weak.

On the far right the lunatic fringe is gaining ground.  The UK Independence Party, who are basically a domesticated strain of the National Front, are making gains at the expense of the Conservatives.  Cameron is running scared from the UKIP.  He has to look strong.  He has to look British.  He is trying to personify the spirit of “St George and England” by adopting what LOOKS like an anti-Euro stance.

I have to say, as political gambits go, this looks like a good one.  It looks strong.  It looks determined.  It looks downright British.  In fact it is just about as British as St George, who was an Anatolian who joined the Eastern Roman Empire as a Soldier.  You could call him a Roman, you could call him a Greek.  He had more in common with Palestinians than with British.  Just like David Cameron, the British anti-European neo-splendid isolationist, St George is a phantasm.

Cameron is gambling.  He is gambling with stability, with business confidence, with the ability to plan long term.  If he wins the Tories gain power alone for a term.  Cameron could be the next Margaret Thatcher.  Now, if only he could kick off another war in the Falklands, and a decade of violence in Northern Ireland he could become the new Iron Lady.  God Forbid!

Politics; by William Butler Yeats

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!