Monday, April 25, 2016

The Master Copy

Simon looked with satisfaction at the machines that charted his remaining health and dreamed of all that he would achieve in the afterlife.

His body had long since announced it would fail him and he was a man defined by contempt for failure. As each limb had atrophied, each organ wasted he had devised alternatives. Some were better, some worse, he clung to existence more from defiance of decay than joy in life.

His obsession brought wealth. Each time he cheated death he found a market eager to emulate his success. Every new prosthetic found applications in industries ranging from gaming to private militaries.

"What separates us from the beasts? Is it our opposable thumbs? Our fragile lower backs? Our eyes that see but a fraction of the spectrum of light? The bonds we forge in family? No. It is our ability to transcend these weaknesses of our current form."

"Is the spear not superior to the fist? Can we not rely on the written word with a thousand times more certainty than our corruptible memory? My heart served me adequately for the better part of a century before it gave in to the vicissitudes of biology. Its replacement bears no such weaknesses. It will last a hundred years, we produce a thousand units a month, each is identical, replacement is facile. But why stop with something so trivial, so unimportant as a heart?"

The voice that filled his chamber was not his in the ordinary sense. Generated from samples of great orators past it had been an indulgence of Simon's, its crafting taking significantly more time and creativity than a utilitarian drive would warrant. He watched the reporter as his prepared speech continued. Young. Nervous. He would not have allowed otherwise.

"Yes. Simone. The diminutive. apt. Like Simon.  but less. Her work. Showed promise."

This voice was truly his. Clipped. Measured. Metered to the artificial rhythm of the ventilator that drove what remained of his lungs. He used it to buy time as his eyes flickered and jumped through the air, navigating lists of prepared speeches in search of one relevant to this digression. If his face still expressed emotion it would have registered boredom.

"Throughout history man has sought to escape the limitations of the human form. He has used tools to amplify his labour, built libraries of knowledge far exceeding the capacity of any one individual, and committed his ideas to future generations. In that time he has also learned to delegate his work so that the feeble capacities of his being can be expanded. We see this in the taming of the wolf for its enhanced abilities to hunt and track, the horse, for its strength as a beast of burden, and also in how those of greatness have been able to adapt others to serve as extensions of their will. It is by this distribution of effort and ambition that mankind has come to this precipice of this final stage of evolution -  freedom from the human form itself."

The reporter did not make notes. Everything Simon said was recorded, both his modes of speech transcribed and available for download from the room's exit. It had been made clear that deviation would have career limiting consequences. Questions rose, crashed against the intimidating room, and retreated without gaining voice. Simon's database of prepared speeches was not accessible outside his custom interface but it seemed clear that none spoke of the human warmth he had once expressed when first facing death.

That would be the final reporter to hear his breath form words. In keeping with his final wishes Simon did not have a funeral. The body that had failed him was burned and disposed of, unmarked, with the rest of the facility's waste. The few who wished to mourn him were denied the chance - more metal than flesh at his end, Simon viewed his organic death as a welcome change in state and did not entertain other opinions.

Simone closed the door on his new form,  steadying her hand for the final click.  His victory over death had only amplified his arrogance and further banished the vestiges of the heart they had once shared. She spent the next minute focused on three long breaths to will her heart rate down. From her phone she connected to a hidden server farm, access protected by her very DNA, capable only of sending images and sound.

It had been expensive but she needed speed unlike anything conceived before. And its reliability was a matter of many lives. Her investment, her life's savings, had secured a thousand and twenty four cells which formed humanity's first virtual prison. Inside each one an identical copy of Simon awoke, immortal, sentient, and utterly alone.

She smiled.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

On Voting Sinn Féin In #GE16

I am old. Not quite old enough to be offered seats on public transport, but old enough to have finished secondary school in the last millennium. At 35 it seems I'm at the opening stages of middle age. There is much to recommend it.

One part of growing up in the eighties and nineties is memories of what we euphemistically called 'the troubles'. Bombings. Punishment beatings. Attacks that killed children. Kangaroo courts convicting mothers of being informants and not even allowing their children the dignity of a burial. The protection of pederasts. This was the context in which I learned of Sinn Féin and it has left me with something of a bias.

But a bias is not a thing to celebrate. In the comfortable safety of Dublin I was never directly affected by terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, and I recognise that many who suffered greatly have chosen to prioritise their region's future and work with former enemies. I admire their strength.

Calling this to mind I'm trying to evaluate Sinn Féin on the commitments made in the flyer I received from their canvasser and his wider comments. I'm fortunate in that I need only look north to see how Sinn Féin perform in government. I'll be contrasting their pledges for the Republic with their performance in Stormont to decide what preference to give them.

Below I write their commitments in bold and follow with comparisons to outcomes in Northern Ireland.

Increase the minimum wage to €9.65 an hour. By contrast the minimum wage in Northern Ireland is £6.70, or €8.67 at time of writing. The minimum wage in the Republic is €9.15, noticeably higher than up north.
End zero hour contracts. They have not done so in Northern Ireland. They did try.
Move to cap childcare fees by increasing creche capitation rates. Here it's instructive to contrast how Sinn Féin in government compares to England, Scotland and Wales. There's a full survey folks will likely find interesting, but a key table is worth including here. You'll find it on page 22. All regions receive comparable funding but by any measure Northern Ireland is the worst performer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Rosanna Davison's Eat Yourself Beautiful: Hard To Swallow


I had not planned on buying "Eat Yourself Beautiful". Authors typically earn 10% of the cover price of hardbacks; at €20 my purchase would include a regrettable two Euro contribution to the coffers of an opponent of modern medical care. I've  resolved this conflict with a mitigating €20 donation to Arthritis Ireland in recognition of their strong response to Davison's piffle that gluten causes arthritis.

"... the drugs of modern medicine, they tend to  cover up any issues or symptoms rather than get to the source of the problem." - Page 2

We need venture no further than page two before finding the first assault upon reality. Do you recall that time you got Polio? No, you do not, for modern medicine has vanquished it in all areas that do not have armed vaccination opponents. When was a diagnosis of tetanus last accompanied by advice to get one's affairs in order? Not in living memory. Those of us fortunate enough to have access to modern medical care and smart enough to use it enjoy a quality of life unrivaled throughout history in both quality and length. Tuberculosis, smallpox, polio, diphtheria and pertussis - once sources of quite a considerable number of health problems - find themselves silent when called up on to support Davison's thesis. A cover up seems unlikely.

What sparks this antipathy towards medicine? Davison holds with unwarranted pride a degree of sorts in Nutrition from the College of Naturopathic Medicine. It runs conferences on the 'risks' of vaccination. The course is 'accredited' in Ireland by the Irish Association of Nutritional Therapy, a group founded by one of the college's lecturers and a PE teacher who graduated the course. This arrangement calls to mind a trip to the principal's office to explain why my signature so closely matched that of my mother's on a secondary school sick note.



The college itself is founded by Hermann Keppler, a man who believes that Himalayan rock salt contains crystals whose vibrations can cleanse the canny consumer of exposure to WiFi and other electromagnetic fields. His specialties include dispensing magical water under the label of homeopathy and diagnosing your inflamed organs by gazing into your iris, a folklore he refers to as iridology. Seeking medical advice from a graduate of his tutelage is akin to drawing up your maps with the help of the flat earth society. For those interested, I wrote more on the group here.


This background in mind we return to the book at section one.


"Enormous bodies of scientific research now show us that the power to live your whole life free from modern lifestyle diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes starts on your plate" - Page 10
Many citation styles are open to the budding author. Documentary note citations would work well in this book. Parenthetical references could be a mite formal but still welcome. There are of course offshoots. Faced with the diversity of approaches available to her, Davison opts to not bother, frequently making claims that will have your jaw drop low enough to accommodate a full bushel of quinoa. Note how smoothly cancer is branded a lifestyle disease, and imagine how such blaming might affect those impacted by it.

The 'enormous bodies of scientific research' seem too slight to warrant mention, but some light discussion follows in the following paragraphs that gives us a lead.
"In 1995, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn published his benchmark long-term nutrition study that showed that heart disease in severely ill patients could be halted and reversed by putting them on a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet. It demonstrated the self-healing power of the human body under ideal conditions. Since natural medicine is so effective at preventing disease rather than just suppressing symptoms, as modern medicine tends to do, I firmly believe that there is a great need for natural medicine to become more widespread than conventional medicine."
A source! A source! My kingdom for a source! When you've read through a few unevidenced assertions that beetroot cleanses blood (page 180) the presence of a name and a hint of an actual study quickens the heart. True, the study isn't named, but we have enough to go on.

Let us take a moment to examine Esselstyn's 'benchmark' work that we might learn how heart disease can be halted and reversed. Commencing in 1985 it consisted of 22 participants and no control group. They all took cholesterol lowering medication, a glaring omission from Davison's quest to paint real medicine as a mere masking of symptoms. Of the 22 only six continued the diet for the ten year duration; hardly a useful sample size. You may wish to read the abstract.

What can we conclude from this? That cholesterol lowering medication and changes in diet can lower cholesterol, so therefore medication only hides symptoms? Davison's conclusion is further weakened when we see that Esselstyn allowed skimmed milk and yoghurt in his diet but forbade any oils or avocados. Davison does not explain why her plan disagrees with him in these areas.
"The powerful medicinal properties of a huge array of herbs have been used for centuries by Native American (35-40), Roman (20-30), Persian, Egyptian (40) and Hebrew (30-35) cultures." Page 38
To help the reader I have included in brackets the average life expectancy of each culture.
Is this among the systems Davison wishes to 'become more widespread than conventional medicine'?
"There are more natural therapies gaining respect in mainstream medicine now than ever before, as it is clear that scientific evidence of the efficiency [sic - efficacy? - Geoff] of natural medicine is solid." Page 10-11
This is untrue and I question how any editor could allow ink assault paper in such a depraved manner without leaping to its defence. At the very least, seeing such mortal wounds inflicted on the page they should have had the decency to put it out of its misery.

Meat, Wheat, And Other Things Not To Eat
 "Just imagine the heat in our intestines and what must happen to the meat a human eats as it slowly moves through that long digestive tract. It begins to putrefy and rot, allowing harmful toxins and acidic by-products to leak into the bloodstream." Page 12
There are well thought out ethical grounds for vegetarianism and veganism, but Davison's pseudoscientific reasons for eschewing meat will only hurt such a movement. Meat rotting in our intestines would be an interesting feat considering at this stage it has been dissolved in our stomach.
"...according to research [gluten] can lead to health conditions like arthritis, depression, eczema and psoriasis." - Page 28
Living through depression? Blame the pizza. Arthritis? Perhaps you shouldn't have had that pint. Davison has been asked by various doctors, researchers and experts to supply the research she promises but as with so many of the novel claims in this book it seems not to exist.

Few of us would wish to dissuade our fellow citizens from devoting a little more thought to the nutritional content of their meals. Some have told me that as long as the book forces someone to choke down an occasional apple it will do more good than harm. But is this the case? There's much one could say in favour of legumes, for example, but Davison asks us to eschew the convenience of tinned goods (she says - absent explanation - that tinned goods contain 'chemicals') in favour of hand soaking the little blighters the night before. I can barely make time to floss. I will not be planning my kidney beans days in advance.
"It's important to choose organic produce as much as possible, as the soil it has been grown in remains rich in the important minerals you need. Organic fruit and veggies have been enabled to grow and develop as nature intended rather than being ripened artificially before they're naturally ready. This means that they're chemical free...

While pesticides are intended to kill insects, many of them are actually absorbed into our air, soil, water or food supply...

It's essential to wash non-organic fruit and vegetables really well..."
I'm not sure from which angle to best tackle this Gordian knot of nonsense. Starting from the bottom up, you should wash all fruit and veg. Your organic tubers were likely grown in cow poop. Organic vegetables are not rendered immune from contamination with serious diseases. The implication that washing is less necessary is a dangerous one. Pesticides aren't intended to kill insects, they're intended to kill pests, including fungi, bacteria, insects and weeds. And organic farmers use them too, rotenone and pyrethrin being two examples. It's bordering on illiterate to suggest that fruits and vegetables of any sort don't contain chemicals. Organic farmers do artificially ripen crops. I find it hard to pluck a correct statement from this section designed to push folks to unnecessarily expensive fruit and vegetables, despite there being no evidence that organic branded food is more nutritious.

By this stage of the book we have seen dairy demonised, meat maligned, we have been warned off wheat, cautioned against cans and swayed to organic outlets. Far from encouraging a varied diet the advice in this book is profoundly limiting. The resulting message is that healthy eating is the preserve of those who live within walking distance of an organic market and have the sort of disposable time on their hands that allows much of the evenings to be spent bathing legumes. If you have a day job and enjoy the benefits of modern medicine this may not be the recipe book for you.

(note: this review is also posted on Amazon. Feel free to join the discussion.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rosanna Davison - Eat Yourself Wootiful

Ireland has something of a reputation for literature. The contributions of our playwrights, poets and dramatists far exceeds what one would expect from a nation of our size and it was likely with this cultural talking point in mind that the Independent chose to run an intolerably long advertisement for Rosanna Davison's foray into the world of pretend medicine: a book called Eat Yourself Beautiful.
"[Davison] cites research that shows gluten to be the bad guy responsible for a huge range of medical conditions from autism spectrum disorders to schizophrenia to arthritis."
 It seems this season that gluten is the new fluoride. Naturally, Arthritis Ireland have dismissed this tosh. Others greet this claim of research with a world weary sigh, confident that those in the field of pretend medicine use the term 'research' in a manner unrecognisable from the medical understanding. Twitter got quite upset.
"When I was earning my qualification in naturopathic nutrition and biochemistry at the College of Naturopathic Medicine Ireland..." - Rosanna Davison
I was unaware that Ireland possessed a College of Naturopathic Medicine. I certainly am unsure why we might desire such an institution. Some would see the place as humorous, offering courses in magic water and the belief you can diagnose illnesses by gazing into someone's eyes. The staff list is somewhat lacking but they do speak enthusiastically about Hermann Keppler, the principal and founder.

Have you had the pleasure of watching Saul Goodman? It's a spin-off and prequel of sorts to Breaking Bad. Do check it out. Without wishing to issue spoilers there is one character who believes that WiFi, mobile phones and certain other trappings of modern life emit a field which is hazardous to his health. He would find a welcoming ear in Davison's principal:
Himalayan rock salt. Magic, basically."Himalayan salt has been under high pressure for millions of years and formed crystals, like quartz. Those mineral crystals emanate frequencies which are specific to each mineral. In other words, each single mineral in Himalayan salt is a crystal with its own frequency and electromagnetic field. Himalayan salt can therefore strengthen weak frequencies in the body and balance out the strong frequencies... Environmental pollutions including electromagnetic and geopathic stress play an increasingly greater role in our society." Hermann Keppler
WiFi emits a magical field that will make you sick, it seems, but fear not - the magic of Himalayan salts is greater, and will sort you right out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Seven Reasons Not To Join CrossFit Ireland

A word cloud made from the Twitter biographies of followers of @CrossFitIreland
I've been spending too much of my disposable income on beer and cake of late. It's had a somewhat predictable effect on my centre of gravity so I've decided to look at alternative hobbies. CrossFit Ireland is walkable from work so I signed up - I now feel it important to assemble a half dozen reasons why you should not part with coin in this establishment.

Without further ado:

The Coaches
What can I say? Their taste in music is from the 80's, their humour from the 70's, and I'm pretty sure Colm's latest tshirt was originally fashioned in the 60's. There's two coaches per class of 10 - 15 participants so you get lots of individual attention. This makes it really hard to get away with sloppy technique and is completely ruining the sense of mystery and wonder I used to have about gymnastic movements.

The Enthusiasm
"How do you know if someone's doing CrossFit?
Don't worry, they'll tell you."
Listen, everyone knows that exercising isn't supposed to be fun. While proper exercisers approach the gym with a sense of drudgery and obligation, CrossFitters have the temerity to enjoy their supposed workouts. What manner of madness is this? Do you really want to risk trying a sport where the members are most famous for how much they enjoy working out? What would your life look like if exercise was more appealing than the couch? Wouldn't you rather spend your money on something that fills you with a nameless dread?

The Convenient Hours
Fancy a six am workout? Colm and Derek will be there. Seven to eight pm more your style? They'll still be there. Weekends? Yup. Want to turn up at 12:13pm and ask for a customised 27 minute workout that fits in your lunch break? They'll do that too. I'm fairly sure they don't leave.
This is awful. How's a man supposed to make up a convincing excuse for skipping a workout in these conditions?

The Criticisms
Many people who lift will give you a sustained, energy filled monologue on why CrossFit is not for them. Despite this, CrossFit wastes its time by focusing on building better athletes instead of criticising those who lift weights in a slightly different manner to them. What's really more important to you: getting in shape, or arguing with strangers on the internet? I think we both know the right call here.

The People
Regulars at CrossFit Ireland seem to be in the habit of introducing themselves to new people and making them feel welcome with polite smalltalk. They're a friendly bunch; everyone seems to genuinely want others to enjoy the sport. Unfortunately polite smalltalk is something of an impossibility halfway through your first workout so you'll be left responding to their pleasantries with sustained heavy breathing and eyes darting for escape routes. To be fair they tend not to take offence.

The New Skills
Who really needs to be able to do muscle ups anyway? When's the last time you needed to walk on your hands? People will be far more impressed when you show them your mastery of the ab roller.

The Male Ego
If you're intimidated by women who lift more than you you should definitely avoid CrossFit.
  
Friends, I urge you not to look at the class schedule. When there, avoid choosing one of the many convenient times and definitely don't contact the coaches to arrange a free class.

You have been warned.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Identity Ireland Twitter Stats

I'm told - with much exuberance - that it's important to hold an opinion on Identity Ireland. To be honest they seem to small to bother with the requisite reading.

Below are some stats on their Twitter account, presented largely without comment.

Total number of followers: 363

Location of followers: Normally this can be a little more involved, but to cut to the chase: 169 of their followers have timezone information set. Of those 140 are in Irish timezones. Sixteen are based in the States.
Another method of checking where followers come from is looking at the self-described location of followers. Here's a word cloud of where their followers say they're from:

I know there's a suspicion that they're mainly followed by UKIP / BNP supporters, but the evidence doesn't support this.

Follower descriptions: Here I pulled the Twitter biographies of everyone who follows Identity Ireland's Twitter account and put them in a word cloud. The more frequently a word is used in a follower's self description, the larger it gets:

Quite a few journalists in the mix, and a general bias towards those interested in current affairs.

Finally, who do their followers also follow? I checked 302 accounts, pulled a list of which other accounts they follow, and used the information to find out which other accounts are also popular with followers of Identity Ireland.
They are, in order:
  1. TheJournal.ie (Hardly a bastion of anti immigration thought)
  2. RTE News
  3. David McWilliams
  4. Dara O'Briain (immigrant)
  5. Luke 'Ming' Flannagan (seasonal migrant worker)
  6. Independent.ie
  7. The Irish Times
  8. Lucinda Creighton
  9. Vincent Browne (not famed for his condemnation of lax immigration policy)
  10. Gerry Adams (immigrant, by unionist standards)
  11. Fintan "Immigrants out" O'Toole
  12. BBC Breaking News
  13. Pope Francis (immigrant)
  14. Shane Ross
  15. Mick Wallace
  16. GardaTraffic
  17. Matt Cooper
  18. Enda Kenny
  19. Catherine Murphy
  20. Nigel Farage
I can barely bother to force an opinion for such a tiny group. Their followers are genuine accounts and almost all based in Ireland. That said, are they supporters? The Journal is the account most popular with its followers and it has not lauded the party. Other accounts followed in the main indicate left wing, pro immigration views or a general interest in current events. But given their small size, should we really care?

Friday, May 15, 2015

On The Importance Of Gender Roles And Hysterical Silly Little Bitches

Kerr's Ladies Football Club in 1921I come late to the realisation that my marriage does not meet the standards promulgated by our friends in Mothers and Fathers Matter.

I could forgive their focus on child rearing as the sine qua non of marriage. True, it devalues my childless union. The respect afforded to my parents' marriage is also diminished; their days raising children are now complete. Mothers and Fathers Matter's slurs against marriages that start or continue outside the formative years of progeny are softened by an occasional pleasantry of inclusion, a nod towards my capacity to pass on my genetic code, a formalised affirmation that, although not of the same kind, a technicality allows us to claim to be of the same category as those marriages Mothers and Fathers Matter choose to affirm.

I can no longer even claim this consolation of second class marriage. It seems my wife and I have run afoul of another condition. Let's look at articles written by some of their founders:
"Importance of gender differences in marriage is a matter of common sense... [same sex marriage] is based on a proposition that gender does not matter. But if we take the time to look around, observe and listen, it clearly matters." Prof Ray Kinsella

"[same sex marriage] proponents ... insist that two men can do the job of a mum and a dad just as well, as can two women. This means they deny the importance of sexual complementarity." - David Quinn
"Mothers and fathers bring distinctive gifts to parenting. They tend to show their love, and to provide strength and comfort, in different ways.

Our instinct is to say that there are very real and important differences between men and women and it really does matter whether one is born male or female." Dr Rik Van Nieuwenhove et al 
Emphasis mine in all cases. There is a common thread in these articles - that, solely by virtue of their gender, men and women have unique, distinct traits that are important to a child's upbringing and it is in society's best interests to ensure only marriages which provide the entire gamut of these otherwise inaccessible traits earn state recognition.


It is here I learn that my marriage is not counted as such by Mothers And Fathers Matter. My wife taught me how to drive. I have abandoned teaching her how to iron and instead do her ironing for her. Despite my best efforts she's still better on the farm than I. None of these characteristics are based on our genders. The closest we have ever come to gender specific roles in our relationship is a brief yet binding discussion on the ideal placement of the toilet seat.