23 March 2019

The Scope and Scale of the Climate Change Denial Problem

How do oil companies afford to spend $200 million on lobbying and PR for climate change denial since the Paris Accord on climate change? [influence maps]

Because it's just 0.01% of the $2 trillion that banks have invested in them since then. Or around half of the profit they make in 1 day. [clean technica]

And all this time, they've known about climate change as is clear from their internal memos. They even funded some of the science that made it clear that it was caused by human activity. And this was back in the 1970s. But their PR has been primarily aimed at confusing the issue and creating doubts about climate science. [Environmental Research Letters]

The big oil companies knew that burning fossil fuels would heat the atmosphere. They had a pretty good idea of the kind of damage this would do. And they set out to confuse the issue in the minds of the public and politicians.

Even worse, as lobbyists they have a seat at the table in making relevant policy in the EU. And there they have actively worked to dial down our response to climate change and our ability to respond to it. Big tobacco were responsible for millions of deaths. Big oil set out to kill us all. They have set out to kill all animal life on the planet. For profit. We have war crimes. Crimes against humanity. But what do we even call a crime on the scale endangering all animal life on the planet? Omnicide?

20 March 2019

MDMA assisted therapy for PTSD

A review of the history of MDMA assisted therapy for PTSD has just come out. It all looks very promising.
A Review of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)-Assisted Psychotherapy. Frontiers of Psychiatry, 20 March 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00138

One thing I did not know was that when MDMA led to a reduction in the amount of alcohol being consumed in the UK, the brewing industry fought back. "
During this decade [1990s] the UK brewing industry sponsored widely publicized anti-Ecstasy campaigns in response to their business being eroded by Ecstasy use (11).
Alcohol is far more dangerous than MDMA!

It makes you think. Today there is a story in the news about how cannabis raises the risk of psychosis. Who is this funded by? Why is this study in the news and not one of the many stories about the therapeutic effects of cannabis.

In fact you are far more at risk of harm from driving a car than you are of being harmed by either cannabis or MDMA. There are in fact only a handful of deaths that can be directly attributed to MDMA ever and no one has ever died from cannabis. Whereas vehicles kill 1500 people a year in the UK, every year, plus a few tens of thousands more via long term exposure to exhaust fumes.

19 March 2019

The Speaker's Statement

I keep seeing comments that John Bercow has made a ruling. He hasn't. He made a statement about a future ruling that he might have to make.

I ended up watching the whole statement he made at 15:33 yesterday on Parliament TV website. The media circulated an abbreviated version that omitted most of the preamble and much of the reasoning.

In his 10 minute statement he pointed out that by long standing, but current, convention the Govt cannot do what it was planning to do. In other words, this was not a decision that he, Mr Speaker was making, but a long standing convention.

If the convention were dispensed with, the Govt would be free to pursue a vexatious strategy which not only disrespects the strongly expressed will of the House (in a record-breaking defeat for the the Govt) but also attempts to bully them into submission to the will of the PM. This would be unconstitutional!

Any ruling would not come until the Govt sought leave from the Speaker to have the parliament vote on the bill. If it were the same bill that was soundly defeated, the Speaker would have little option but to deny them leave.

People complain that he has flouted convention in the past. Now they complain when he upholds convention.

Some are saying that he has precipitated a "constitutional crisis", but the UK has been in such a crisis for at least two years (arguably longer). It goes with all the other crises the Tories have precipitated by slashing funding for the fabric of society. Bercow is doing the job that he was appointed to do. The Govt is at fault here for ignoring convention and attempting to subvert the will of the House and to bully them.

Theresa May's complete inability to negotiate did not serve the UK well when she was Home Secretary, it has not served us in getting a leaving deal, and it is not serving us now as she fails to even get a majority let alone a consensus. Parliamentary conventions are often there precisely to protect parliament from leaders like her.

And as I watch events unfold in New Zealand with Prime Minister Ardern out there hugging people and helping bring New Zealand people together in the face of horrific tragedy, I can't help but wonder what has gone wrong over here that our leaders really don't seem to give a shit.

01 December 2018

The Buddhist Case Against Karma

Karma is a just world myth. Karma guarantees justice in every case. No one need do anything to achieve it. Justice just manifests without any need for intervention, let alone with the need to inflict suffering on anyone.

But of course no one believes in karma in this pure sense. Everyone backs themselves as "good" (fair, just, etc) and as an agent for good. We constantly intervene to address issues of fairness. And we feel fully justified in doing so.

In practice, belief in karma reflects the thought: "It's not fair and it ought to be!" Life is not fair. It never is. 
"The brightest ones of all, early in October fall..."
I do not believe in karma. I do not believe in guaranteed justice or deserved suffering. Rather, I believe that no one deserves to suffer, not even those who cause suffering; and that justice is manifest in how we treat each other or not at all.

This is the principle of ahiᚃsa or "do no harm". 

Of course the implications of this are complex. But morality always is, if you take it seriously. And, of course, I am far from perfect. Still, this is what I believe and why I don't believe in karma.

23 November 2018

The Lessons of History

On the one hand we have mercantilism, the 600 year old philosophy which says that to make people work hard you pay them as little as possible. Working hard being important because idle people have fun and rich people resent poor people having fun. This theory is resurgent right now as we see the share of profits going to labour (who do the actual value-adding) decreasing in favour of shareholders (who do nothing to add value, but risk their capital).

And on the other hand we have consumerism, which requires that everyone buy loads of shit things that they don't need. And this means that everyone needs excess income - i.e., income that is not required simply to survive.

When CEOs are paid 6 and 7 figure salaries plus bonuses every year (more than the average worker will earn in a lifetime) for extracting more work, from fewer workers, for less money, then consumerism is under serious threat.

People say that robots/AI will take all the jobs. But without consumers with excess income Capitalism is dead. So good luck with that.

So there is this worldwide war going on. Manufacturing is moved to the third-world because it achieves two things: goods are cheaper so that workers in the developed-world can be paid less; but also workers in the third-world now have excess income and become consumers themselves.

The trouble really starts when workers don't have excess income or live in poverty. Poverty is a huge problem in the UK right now - and we are the 5th richest country in the world. Mercantilists are happy because they still have third-world consumers and are making vast returns on their investment even while the UK economy stagnates.

However, unhappy citizens start to look for alternatives. Socialism worked OK for a while, but it lost out to a resurgent mercantilism. So now people are looking to the right for succour. Far-right (aka Fascist) political parties exist and are becoming increasingly popular across Europe. This is real. The French party Front Nationale are about as popular now as the National Socialist Workers Party were in 1933 - on the eve of taking power.

Many facile comparisons are made with Germany and that can blind us to the real comparison. In 1930s Germany, conditions imposed on them made German workers poor, or worse, unemployed. Hitler promised jobs for everyone and he delivered (by a massive build up of the military). He was genuinely popular, despite being obviously mostrous from the beginning. People were living insecure lives and they saw no end in sight with the status quo. They *voted* for Hitler, despite all the obvious reasons not to. Just as Americans *voted* for Trump.

My sense is that this is a crucial moment in history. The status quo is not going to shift without some major storm. And people want a change - they want secure employment, they want to be able to house and feed their families. While there is widespread poverty (i.e., the inability to do just this) we are in real and present danger. The flash point will be somewhere in Europe, I think. Probably somewhere unexpected.

And the lesson of history? Is that we never learn the lessons of history. If there is poverty, especially while the rich get richer, then there will be trouble. We've seen it all before, but our rich politicians are too busy looking after themselves and their class to do anything about it. Brexit is a step in the wrong direction, but people voted against the status quo, so here we go...

16 November 2018

HMS Brexit: Ship of Fools

The non-binding Brexit referendum was won by a 1% margin. 15 million registered voters (ca 28%) didn't vote. So only a minority actually support it. The consensus is that there is no good way to achieve it. We are blundering on regardless with everyone hating the result.

One extreme faction want to crash out with no deal and rely on WTO rules. But that adds 10% to the cost of all our exports overnight. The USA is poised to trash the WTO. And we get a hard border in Ireland which is likely to restart the war there.

The middle ground Brexiteers want to stay in the customs union which means following all the rules but having no say what they are. Which the hardliners hate with all their hearts.

The opposition have backed Brexit for some reason. Now they have to rationalise a position they all hate, while finding indirect ways to oppose - they will vote against the deal and cause a no-deal crash out. The worst outcome for them.

People who wanted to remain point out that the leave campaign was based on lies and many leavers have changed them minds now. But no one is seriously talking about backtracking.

In the absence of any plan and in the face of considerable illwill from Europe over the divorce, the govt have thrashed out a deal that no one likes, which the cabinet and EU leaders are likely to vote down on both sides of the channel.

And if this happens, the PM will be replaced by a hardliner. The hardliners will win and everyone else will lose. And they will win because they are rich and have bet against the UK by investing their wealth elsewhere, mostly in Europe!

The democratic process has completely broken down at this point. The establishment far-right will have wrested control of the government away without any vote. And committed the nation to a course that the majority do not want. 

Welcome to the future.

11 November 2018

Armistice Day.

The nascent German Empire and the Ottoman Empire were crushed by the British, (various) European, and Russian Empires with the pointless loss of millions of lives (mostly men). Germany, Britain, and Russia were all ruled by grandchildren of Queen Victoria (i.e., they were first cousins).

The generals on all sides were incompetent inbreds who saw working class men and "colonials" as canon fodder.

Chemical weapons were invented and deployed, causing mass casualties. Mechanised warfare also contributed to mass casualties. Even more men simply died of disease because of unsanitary conditions.

The French and British made a deal with the Arabs to remove the Ottomans and then welched on it, creating a lasting enmity and alienation between Europe and the Muslim world -- and also the conditions for ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Americans got a taste for war on foreign soil and the vast wealth to be made from supporting it.

Russians decided they'd had enough of the Tsars and revolted, but ended up with Stalin, who was considerably worse.

Finally, harsh reparations were imposed that sowed the seeds for the rise of Fascism in Europe and WWII.

On the plus side, the horrendous, dehumanising, exploitative society that had grown out of the industrial revolution began to break down, which was a good thing. Not sure about the replacement, yet, though.

We will remember them 
(but probably not learn anything from the exercise)