Sunday, July 15, 2018

Why China Will Never Rule The World

For a different take on China it is worth reading Troy Parfitt’s book - Why China Will Never Rule The World: Travels in the Two Chinas . This is not a book about facts and figures and neither is it a hymn to Chinese economic success. As the blurb tells us, the book is mostly travelogue told from an outsider's perspective, albeit an outsider who lived in Taiwan for ten years and who speaks Mandarin.

Three quotes may give a flavour of the writer’s standpoint. 

China is a nation of much fakery; there’s fake sushi, fake steak, fake gravy, fake music, fake goods, fake pharmaceuticals, fake news, fake weather reports, fake education, fake rights, fake laws, fake courts, fake judges, a fake congress, a fake constitution….

Unambiguous but not unconsidered. Parfitt thinks there are profound influences behind the fakery – a deep-rooted preference for appearances over reality. The second quote concerns a China Central Television (CCTV) show the writer watched from one of his hotel rooms.

That night on CCTV, a panel of Chinese scientists was explaining how the Americans had never landed on the moon. Not only were the lunar missions faked, they said, but the Apollo program itself was largely a matter of science fiction. The shadows were all wrong. Where were the craters? And just look at that ridiculous flag – not moving even with solar winds. Their tone was both mocking and disdainful, as if even having to explain why this was the biggest fraud of all time insulted their very intelligence.

CCTV is the main state broadcaster in China. The third quote is taken from a conversation with a taxi driver.

“Food in China is packed with shit – shit that will make you sick and kill you. I have a daughter, you know. I’m worried about what she eats. But what am I supposed to do? Complain? Yeah, right. The government would say, ‘Well, that’s very interesting, sir. Why don’t we take a walk and talk about it? Please, tell us whatever it is that’s on your mind.’ And then they’d shoot me in the back of the neck. Bang! And that would be the end of that.”

Obviously an entire country cannot be dismissed on the basis of a single taxi driver's complaints, however chilling they are. However there are many more examples highlighting what Parfitt sees as endemic weaknesses in Chinese culture. For example he sees Confucianism as a significant cultural problem with its emphasis on obedience and harmony.

The book is easy to read and although Parfitt can come across as someone who simply does not like China and the Chinese, he tells us quite clearly why that is. In so doing he provides an interesting and accessible cultural alternative to the usual facts, figures and technology.

Friday, July 13, 2018

FRIDAY THE 13TH MUSIC: Proms and Prokofiev (plus a swan), by JD

It's Friday the thirteenth! Unlucky for some, as the saying goes but it is also the First Night of the Proms. Everyone knows the Last Night of the Proms and everyone likes to sing along with the usual favourite tunes. However, the First Night is always more interesting and tonight it is an all British programme of music by Holst, Vaughan Williams and Anna Meredith.

Herewith a selection from those composers, plus an inquisitive swan who is lulled to sleep by a harp (video courtesy of Mr Sackerson who found it and sent it to me) and the final piece here is not British but is by Prokofiev by way of a consolation for the England team who didn't quite win their own 'battle on the ice' (yes, I know it is summer but suspend disbelief for the duration and for artistic licence!)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Postwar Europe - secret struggles

Fascinating. Lord Walsingham (92 last year) is in his anecdotage - and none the worse for that, in his case - but some startling things jump out of the flow.

He worked for a time in 1950 in the German Department of the Foreign Office, and explains how the French and German governments were still secretly Nazi but were being used to hold back the threat of Communism (both within Western European nations and also of course from the Soviet Union, which had started the Berlin blockade in 1949.)

And he tells how MI6 discovered there were secret parts of the 1951 Coal and Steel agreement relating to mutual support by France and Germany of each other's industries, designed to weaken Britain's capacity for self-defence.

The UK Labour Government's Attlee and Bevin spotted the threat to Anglo-style democratic self-government and kept out of this "community".

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Real life: does it really reflect dreams? - by Wiggia

I had one of those days when all seemed quite normal. I had an appointment at the optician's for a hearing test - that is not a mistake, as many do both now in this competitive world.

What was strange was the way the day panned out: a simple visit to town for a bog-standard test and the appointment ended up being a carbon copy of one of those dreams we have.

You know the ones, those where we can’t find the car, the station, the way home, all ending up in blind panic, what started out as a perfectly normal journey or day out ending in total chaos of the mind as every effort to find the car, the station, the way home, becomes ever more barred by having completely lost the plot.

Or the ones where you are trying to communicate with someone who can’t hear you and you are being pulled ever further away.

Many of these dreams are recurring in theme, the desperately lost being the most common, well for me anyway. And then this is usually compounded by finding that you have no money to pay for a train fare and the car is totally lost to you. Sometimes you cannot even get to the right area to find the car or station whatever as ever more obstructions are put in your way. Of course you rarely ever have a final ending to these dreams as you wake up before the finale, or that is how it seems.

One of those great changemaker films of cinema was based on those sorts of dreams: Federico Fellinis  8½. I include the great opening sequence and other snippets, partly as an excuse to see the wonderful Sandra Milo - she is briefly in the opening sequence; I lusted after her then and she always remains a symbol of the unattainable.

As with the dreams everything started well, with plenty of time to take into account the extra traffic in town, and as I came off the ring road I was grateful (though if I had known the future I would have taken it as a portent of things to come), as there was a traffic incident on ring road ahead of the turnoff and the vehicles were at a standstill. Lucky me, I thought.

On I went into the city center with no further hint of problems and as I arrived near to my destination I made the fatal mistake of changing my normal plan. The car park I use for the optician's is not a big one. Being the nearest to the city centre it is the most expensive and at the back of my mind that may have had an influence on what I did next.

As I approached the roundabout leading to the road with the car park I noticed one of those signs that inform of the spaces left. The number indicated for the one I wanted to use was very low so I thought rather than enter, not be able to park and end up having to exit and start again, with the chance I would be late for the appointment, I would instead go to the other car park that is a similar distance from my destination.

No problem getting in: a huge below-the-shopping-mall labyrinth of a place on several levels, all below ground. I parked the car got out and looked for the exit. 

It all started there at that moment. I have never used this car park so had no idea about the exits. After walking around a bit there appeared to be no direct way to the outside. In fact there wasn’t; the only way out was up by the lift or escalator into the mall itself. I had asked a couple of people if there was an alternative but needless to say they were new to the area and had no more idea than I did.

Once in the mall, which is huge, there still didn’t seem to be any signs for an exit, so I went to the inquiry desk, stated where I wanted to go and asked which was the best exit. Having been given what seemed like simple instructions I strode out in the direction given only to end up, well nowhere. Still no exits, and time was running against me as I had now lost all idea as to where I was in relation to my destination. I asked another person who gave me a similar simple route out, only to find myself then back where I started. So I nabbed a passing security guard, gave him the story again and he did indeed direct me to the exit, but it must have been getting to half a mile from that position.

At last the exit hove into view. By now time was running out and I had left my phone in the car so I could not call the opticians to let them know of my predicament. Once out of the exit I discovered I was in the main shopping road and a mile from my destination; it transpired later there are no exits at the other end, only the car park entrance - and that has no pedestrian exit.

Nothing else for it but to right turn up to the junction then right again back to the original roundabout, all this with sciatica setting in on a stinking hot day. I followed the small parallel road until I got to my starting point, the car park entrance, and then went on along a wide grass verge by the old Roman wall. 8½ again: all was going well until the path ran out and I had then to cross a dual carriageway. What next? I asked myself. Fortunately the road has traffic lights and gaps there to cross in safety, which I did and continued to the first roundabout, then on to my destination.

Arriving dripping with sweat and having still no inkling as to the time I went in and presented myself. "Oh dear," said the receptionist. "We had given up on you. I will go and see if they can fit you in." Luckily they did and I sat under the air con the very nice lady put on for me whilst she checked my ears. All done, I made to leave but asked the receptionist having explained my dilemma if there was an entrance nearer than the one I had left by at the mall. She said yes and came down the road with me to direct. "Follow that road and take the next right and it will take you to the entrance." The road I was to follow seemed endless and skirted a small park where a fun fair was being erected for the week end; the music that was emanating from the fair reminded me of the dream circus sequence from Fellini's 8½. On I pressed, on, tired, sweating and with sore toes from the new shoes I had on and the sciatica (though that had numbed to a background nuisance by now.)

The end of the road beckoned: still no entrance but I recognised I was back at the car park entrance. No way in there, cars only, dark and too dangerous to try. There was eventually another entrance but it was so near my original exit that I had almost retraced my steps. In I went, found a way down to the car park and I had remembered the area number where I had parked - but no car! Wrong floor. Down another one; and then I saw that the area numbers are repeated on each floor; found the car, got in, started it and put the air con  on full blast and coldest setting and went home.

The wife's first words were, “That didn’t take long but what’s happened to you? You look knackered.”

"Well no the examination was very quick but the rest….". and all I could hear was her laughter, no bloody sympathy at all; so life can match dreams!

Friday, July 06, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Jack White and the White Stripes, by JD

Currently popular among football supporters (and Jeremy Corbyn fans) is the 'hook' line from Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes

But there is more to Jack White than a fairly simple pop song. He is something of a musicologist with an interest in the roots and history of American music which is probably why he is a board member of the Library of Congress' National Recording Preservation Foundation. He also records a lot of that music as can be seen in some of the videos in this selection.

Friday, June 29, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Alice Coltrane, by JD

You might like this, you might not. Perhaps too 'far out' even for modern jazz, but there is something about Alice Coltrane's music which appeals to me. I don't know why but it does.

“…Sometimes people put themselves so deeply into sound - so deep into it that they give up everything. It’s like they renounce everything at that moment just to live those moments of music…” - Alice Coltrane (1937 - 2007)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Epilepsy and cannabis, by JD

The cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley and the use of cannabis oil to relieve symptoms of epilepsy has had a lot of coverage in the news this past week. Their cases seem to have been turned into a political football with a great deal of heat but very little light being generated by those who oppose illegal drugs and those who advocate legalising such drugs.

Trying to establish some clarity is not easy because journalists, as usual, don't bother to present the facts but concentrate instead on the 'sensational' aspects of the story.

And because of all the fuss the Government has decided to rush through a 'review' of the medicinal benefits, if any, of the use of cannabinoids.

Here is a summary of the various types of cannabis oil currently on the market -

I can offer my own experiences on this subject because I have epilepsy (since 2011) although I have no desire nor need to use cannabis. This is what I wrote in 2012 about my epilepsy.

My first question to the neurologist in the hospital was the obvious one: what is the cause of epilepsy? The answer is that nobody knows. Doctors can tell us what can trigger a seizure, the best known to most people is the strobe effect in lighting. "Contains flash photography" is a familiar phrase in news bulletins. But what they cannot establish is the cause of epilepsy.

My medication is Leviteracetam and when I asked how it worked, nobody knows how it works. All they know is that it works. A further question to the epilepsy specialist in the hospital was "What would the effect be of taking this medication if I no longer need to take it?" Not known or not ever thought about, was the reply. The dosage I take has been reduced and there is a possibility that I may be able to reduce it further.

So that looks like three 'unknowns' so far. A further unknown is that the effects of any drug will not be consistent among all patients. As an example, I had an adverse reaction to one particular brand of Leviteracetam and the pharmacist knows not to give me that brand. All others have been fine so far.

So the use of a cannabis oil to alleviate the symptoms of epilepsy may well be effective in some patients and not in others; it may well be effective for severe cases of epilepsy but not for other types of epilepsy and there are many different types as listed here-

There has been the usual knee-jerk reaction to that word cannabis from those who think it should remain illegal and those on the opposite side who think it should be legalised. The former believe that only scientifically researched and proven remedies should be used; the latter group are the libertarians who believe it should be available as a medication (but in reality they are thinking only of their own indulgences.)

Both camps are wrong of course. Because something is illegal, that does not make it wrong and conversely if something is legal, that does not make it right. The law is by and large a matter of opinion and the law, any law, is constantly amended and modified by judges. The law is whatever a Judge says it is; until there be a subseqent challenge to that law.

Ironically a lot of what are now 'dangerous' illegal drugs were once perfectly legal and were available with or without prescription in chemists or elsewhere. Often such things were prescribed by doctors: morphine, cocaine and cannabis were included in a medication known as the Brompton Cocktail as described here by Professor Bruce Charlton-

So, once upon a time 'illegal' drugs were deemed to be beneficial which is what Paracelsus said almost 500 years ago - "Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy." (Paracelsus (1493-1541) is generally regarded as the 'father of modern medicine')

It should be remembered that care of those who are ill is not a science. It is an art and is described as such in the Hippocratic Oath -"With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art."

And Paracelsus again in what is more or less a distillation of the Hippocratic Oath-
"Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided."

Note that phrase 'the very processes of life' - the body heals itself, all it needs is guidance from the physician.

Science plus the art of healing by a sympathetic physician with the old fashioned 'bedside manner' are the best medicine of all.

I suppose it is too much to hope for an outbreak of common sense to allow the use of the clearly effective cannabis oil which will let Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley  and others like them lead a normal life.

Image result for canada flag cannabis leaf
Uruguay, now Canada - who's next?     (Image)

... and for whose benefit? (Image)