Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Illnesses R4 soft girls

I'm not very well.
   I can't even be bothered to post a self-aggrandising message to myself on my own blog. Why should I? Nobody's reading (hello btw - obviously got that bit wrong).
   It occurred to me, however, that this is a good opportunity to write one of those "Crikey but it's complicated being a spaz" posts. This can be a point of reference for any time in the future when I am ill. Hello. If you are reading this then I am most likely coughing/sweating/sneezing/vomiting/randomly and/or explosively evacuating myself. Poor Trev. Man flu probably (patronising git).
   Thing is, none of these symptoms are the problem I have to worry about. Or even being ill. Illness is not a problem for someone on insulin. Wellness is the problem. When one is ill, blood sugars go up. This is actually as true of non-diabetics as it is of me but the scale is different. Illnesses pushes a diabetic's blood sugar level (the level of sugar in the blood - does what it says on the tin there) to crazy high numbers. Unfortunately, in order for a diabetic's already compromised immune system to fight off illness they need to control their sugars. So here's the thing...

   I need to inject more insulin than normal to properly recover from the thing that's making me ill.

   While ill I am far more likely to fall ill with other illnesses - my already buggered immune system being even further compromised.

   Eventually I will recover.

   That last point sounds like a good thing - and it is - but I have no idea when wellness will arrive. When it does arrive I won't need all that extra insulin in my system. But it will still be in there. Because I will have put it there.
   So the weight I have thankfully lost in being "all unwell and that" will come back in an orgy of mars bars or biscuits when a massive, massive hypo hits (you remember hypos, yeah? First post. Low blood sugar - very dangerous).
   There we have it. "Guy on sickness benefits actually admits to being afraid of wellness". Call the Daily Mail. Tell George Osborne he isn't quite the tool he appears to be*. "Unwell bloke feels sorry for self on Blog!"
   Still. Come on. That's what they're for.

*Of course he is. Just look at him.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Movements R4 Sphincters (literally)

The Science Punk is wrong.
   In case you don’t know who I’m talking about “Science Punk” is not his real name. For one thing that would make him the unfortunately named “S.Punk” and for another any child with the first name “Science” would likely get beaten to death fairly early on in the British school system.
   His real name is Frank Swain and I should admit here that – even though I intend to disagree with him – he outranks me utterly in sceptical, critical, rational credentials. He’s a genuine science writer, involved in the past with government schemes to improve scientific knowledge. I’m a bit of a shut-in who likes to appear intelligent because he scraped together a Philosophy degree before his health went tits up. Nevertheless, I like a challenge so here goes...
   It seems that Swain sees Skepticism as unfailingly in open warfare with credulity and mysticism. He described things like the 10:23 campaign as misguided because it’s not going to change anybody’s mind. Anybody who subscribes to nonsense is already so invested in it, he argues, that you have to risk using a debating method other than bare facts if you’re going to compel them to change. And I agree with him so far. Thing is, he’s got the wrong target.
   10:23 was not there to make homeopaths slap their foreheads and realise the error of their ways, it was there to make the rest of the population realise something they hadn’t previously been exposed to. We live in a mostly secular country. The figures that religions produce for memberships include everybody who ever signed up. You have to ask for your name to be removed from a religion’s database for it to happen and as so many joined a church because it will look good in the wedding photos, for example, they might feel like a bit of a git for then so obviously withdrawing their support*. Similarly with faith schools (and their misleading monopoly on the selection of well-off children to get better results) you would feel even more dishonest to retract your support in so minor yet so obvious a way after junior gets his A-levels**. That is Britain today.
   Imagine a naked man (steady, it’s not that sort of blog). His left hand, Skepticism, is covered in thick red paint; the right, credulity and mysticism, is covered in blue. The only weapon we reds have is a pot of more diluted red paint (representing facts. Stick with me here, I’m going somewhere). If we keep slapping at the right hand with our diluted paint we may wash away our own sense of purpose. Swain argues that we need thicker paint – stories, anecdotes, parables – because these are the things that change minds.
   I don’t think we need to bother to change those minds. We don’t need to target nutters because they’ll always be selling their snake-oil. We should be showing the rest of the public that critical thinking works because they already agree with us – they just haven’t realised or declared it yet. Just take that red hand and smear it all over the rest of that body. The head, the face, the chest, the arms, legs and feet. Let the blue hand have the cock and balls (that area could do with a bit of magic and mystery, to be honest – and there will always be lies attached to it).
   The British public is already sceptical they are just a bit apathetic but I don’t even feel that we need to target anybody. Swain says that Facebook and Twitter trends are not campaigns, that Skeptics in the pub might be a wonderful social event but it’s also an echo chamber – preaching to the converted - and that blogs are only read by the same supportive crowd. So what?
   There have only been three Cardiff events of skepticsinthepub so far (all excellent) but there was a barman at the pub who, while still fairly baffled as to why we seem to give so much of a shit is clearly a rational person. I haven’t tried to “convert” him or change his mind because that’s patronising and creepy and, well, I’ve been a barman and there’s probably an element of “placate the mentals” to the questions he asks.
   A very good friend of mine is as much a devoted and mildly obsessed Tim Minchin fan as I am but he still enjoys ghost-hunting programmes and activities and why shouldn’t he?
   Another old friend (old as in longstanding - she is utterly youthful) asked on Facebook about a “traditional” and “alternative” therapy I hadn’t heard of. By using the word “Skeptic” in my search terms I found enough references to bullshit phrases to offer an opinion. Without that word, without those blogs to steer my search I would have encountered page after page of personal anecdotes.
   I’m not looking to convert anyone. I don’t think we need to. Just like millions vote for a party but there are only a few thousand actual members, we are the active members of a sceptical movement but there are millions of supporters out there who would vote along with us if they just get informed. Let people have their beliefs; we can’t prove it wrong and it helps them but equally they can’t prove that it’s right so it shouldn’t hurt us. As long as that balance is maintained we don’t need to attack anybody. 10:23 spoke out to raise debate because of diverted NHS funds and I think it was very good try.
   As for Swain’s attack on Skeptical terminology I completely agree with him. It is so tiresome to hear or read a coherent opinion derailed by childish name-calling. And everybody who does it is a nob-head (see what I did there?)
(In that spirit maybe I should add a glossary of sorts so that everybody who is sceptical but doesn’t yet appreciate the fact can follow the Skeptical scene without recoiling in confusion or disgust. In fact yes, I think I will. There, I’ve committed to it in front of a reading audience of literally several people. ... If I’m lucky) 
   So, yeah, go ahead and download Swain's talk from the Westminster Skeptics (available on iTunes and such. It's from August. I'm that topical, me). It's a great talk (almost) full of very good points. There. I've done a blog on that now. Point proved, job done (just listen to the talk).

*You shouldn't. They built that church by exploiting your ancestors. Take your place inside.
** Yeah, you shouldn't really feel bad about this either. Faith schools have achieved good results by neglecting to choose disadvantaged kids. They should be performing better.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Skeptics R4 Teapots

   There's a worrying new trend in today's skeptical blogging, podcasting and even in skeptical conversation. The skeptical movement is something I profoundly care about (I won't say "passionately" - people oversue that word far too much. I am committed to skepticism but I do not wish to lick its nipples) but it is being encouraged over a philosophical cliff; whether it is being led by the nose or pushed up the ass I cannot say - maybe you can help.
   The problem is exemplified by the Pod Delusion badge "Russell's Teapot".
   The Pod Delusion is a wonderful skeptical podcast edited and presented by James O'Malley - a man who, although his delivery in early episodes suggested mild autism, has grown into a confident wit and a guide through the emergent skeptical scene. The problem is not him. It's the badge. The badge with the damn teapot.
   I'm not going to stand on a chair at the next Skeptics In The Pub meeting yelling, "I actually studied Philosophy; I outrank you!" for two reasons. 1) there are people with far better and more profound qualifications than I in the room and 2) I am actually one of the dumbest people in that room and that includes a 16 year old boy in that list of cleverer buggers. What I will say is that a strict course of Philosophical study - examining the propositions of humanity's cleverest people and working out why they were wrong - gives you decent analytical skills.
   (not the bogus analytical skills asked for in job applications ..."If I were Freddie Kreuger and I developed anal fissures I would use my analytical skills and realise that taking my glove off before I wiped my arse would probably help" ... "Congratulations. Have a headset and a cubicle")
   As I was saying... I can't help noticing something that happens when people become skeptics. They escape the dogma and conditioning of religion and/or the Daily Mail. Hooray. One less moron in the world. I think ... did you feel that? I think the world actually got a little lighter. So Skeptic Joe reads a few Dawkins books, listens to some podcasts, reads a few blogs. He hears that "undisprovable hypotheses are scientifically worthless" and of Russell's teapot.
   From wikipedia...
   "If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense."
   Suddenly everything is a teapot. The self is a delusion. The mind is merely a bi-product of electrical impulses. Emotions are nothing but deterministic responses, devoid of meaning. Guilt, innocence or justice are abstract and pointless.
   "Look at me," shouts Joe, "I'm an electrical flesh machine racing to oblivion. That's right, I believe in materialism and nothing else. Aren't I brave? The void awaits me. I'm so grown up. Somebody should make a film about me now."
   - sigh
   I'm sure you're not like this but maybe you know somebody who is. Skeptics should not be so dismissive, surely. Here is where many immeasurable things differ from God or the teapot.
   They affect the world.
   There are things that unequivocally exist that affect our material universe without being material themselves. Mathematics or geometric principles, for example. Can you find a principle? Or some maths? Can you bring it to me on a bed of lettuce? No. No, you can't.
   What about things like subatomic particles? Are we actually looking at and measuring the particle itself? I'm pretty sure we're measuring only its effects in certain conditions (technically true of everything but that's a semantic debate for another time). Weirder still are purely theoretical things like solid objects with more than three dimensions or the square root of minus one. Both impossible things in out universe but both are (apparently) used in equations and formulae to practical effect.
   My point is that we shouldn't dismiss ideas of different "planes of existence" as just simplistic nonsense. To say a concept or a law or a mind may have existence doesn't mean it's hovering around nearby, only visible in infra-red, leaving ectoplasm behind it. I want to discuss ideas with skeptics precisely because so many bad ideas will have been automatically discarded but a couple of metaphorical babies may have been thrown with all that religious bathwater. I worry that most people wearing the badge of skepticism are also wearing that bloody teapot badge and not entirely getting Russell's point (or at least what I take his point to be). If Russell were a simple materialist his books would have been very different.
   Shorter. Much shorter.
   If I recall correctly he enjoyed raging debates about semantics and meaning and the entire history of Philosophy. That's a whole lot of immaterial, immeasurable ... stuff. The point about his teapot is that in the proposition he points out that he is prepared to redefine it to avoid being proved wrong. That is what makes it absurd and a waste of time.
   I am right and I know I am. Feel free to point out where you think I may have gone wrong (and I'll go back and edit the text. Ha ha! You'll never disprove my ... oh bugger).

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Diabetics R4 Logic

   It'a great thing to be a skeptic. A skeptic holds no belief that they are not prepared to defend in a logical argument. We tend to abandon beliefs that prove to be flawed and although we might react like a startled walrus if our own opinions re proved wrong we will ultimately be grateful for the truth. It's a wonderful thing to be able to gather together with like-minded people and although a church wouldn't really be suitable, a church would also serve fewer beers so I think Cardiff skeptics in the pub has it about right.
   But I've asked myself, "self, I wonder what would be the best way to create a skeptic."
   "Oh," I would reply, "Butt, thass norra question, is it, mun? Thassa statement," (my answering self obviously has a broader valleys twang than my asking self), "an' anyway, iss obvious, innit?"
   Clearly the best way to create a skeptic is to train someone to use critical thinking as though their life depended on it. Perhaps in some elaborate "Saw" movie-type-shenanegans we could force somebody to analyse every aspect of their life and kill them if they fail.
   Analyse what you do, what you eat and drink, what medication you take, what exercise you participate in, what rest you get and all the sensory input you receive in case it is deceiving you. And if you get it wrong you die.
   That would do it.
   But of course there already is something out there doing that for us - type one diabetes. We skeptics don't need to torture anybody (Hooray/Gutted - delete as applicable). Yes, I'm banging on about diabetes again. That's a hundred percent hit rate so far but bear with me. I have a theory that type one diabetes necessarily leads to intelligent analysis and I've invented a brilliant new compound word for it.
  The Dialysis theory (brilliantly combining the two essential elements of the theory and eerily foreshadowing the inevitable organ failure that a lifetime on insulin will eventually deliver).
   Having proposed this theory it makes me realise two things.One; I can no longer be quite so chuffed with myself that I saw through the fallacies of religion, pseudo-science and poor journalism unaided, and two; skeptics should really be targeting diabetic clinics for potential members.
   Type two diabetics wouldn't be so predisposed to analytical thinking and (as they are more likely to be elderly and clinging to comforting beliefs as their condition slides toward death) shouldn't really be targeted for debate. Do you think a munter would really appreciate your advice that an interesting hat might draw attention away from their face?
   In case you're unsure, the answer is no. No, they wouldn't. Stop being a bugger, you know they wouldn't.
   But type one diabetics? Surely there lies a massive untapped skeptical audience. Next time I'm at my diabetic clinic and I see a young(ish) person I might strike up a conversation with them. We already have one thing in common - I'm writing checks with my stomach my pancreas can't cash, same as them. They must have analytical skill to have survived to this stage and if not, well ... I guess they won't be there to remind me of my mistake next year.
   For all the (both the...? The one...?) "not-skeptic-yet-if-ever"s that read this: if Astrology winds you up; if Derek Acorah seems like a camp but polite thief of money from the deluded and joy from the informed; if the Pape (hey, if it's "Papal" then he's the bloody "Pape". Just because "Popal" sounds stupid is no reason to mess with grammar) seems like the world's best advert for contraception then please check out some skeptical web-sites, blogs or podcasts. Maybe I'll post some links.
   We're not a weird group of freaks, losers, nutters and... hold on.If you can get to the Promised Land in Cardiff on the third Monday of every month and you are even vaguely interested in science, logic, reason. evidence and such then come and hang out with the nicest weird group of freaks, losers, nutters...