Category Archives: Health

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyers Club

Last night I saw Dallas Buyers Club at the Duke of York. I was looking for anything; a film that wasn’t a silly action thriller and this seems a good candidate. Grabbed a large glass of red and we took seats half way down.

Ron Woodroof is a gambling, drinking Texan who is told by a couple of doctors that he has HIV. His friends ostracise him and the only treatment the doctors can offer is to put him on an AZT double blind trial where he wont even know if he’s getting the drug or a placebo.

The film traces his attempts to obtain various medication which had not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. He teams up with a transgender woman (Rayon) and, to avoid prosecution for selling drugs, they set up a club to supply HIV sufferers with various pre-trial medication which will at least alleviate the symptoms of AIDS.

The one fault in the film is the way Woodruff suddenly morphs from alcoholic looser into an intelligent, organised and single minded powerhouse but this is easily overlooked and we gradually warm to this new character as his affection for Rayon grows through their shared struggle.

The major achievement of the Dallas Buyers Club is that we begin to understand how the United States medical establishment, though built to help patients was, in fact, an obstacle to alleviating their pain. The film brilliantly shows how the gay community came together to help themselves and how, eventually the establishment realised that its lengthy drug trial processes are a luxury that had to be streamlines for the emergency.

This is an intelligent film which avoids black and white characterisation of good guys and bad guys. As much as we cheer for Ron we also sympathise with the doctor as he rages that allowing patients to treat themselves makes it almost impossible for him to carry out legitimate (and it must be remembered, vital) drug trials.

Spilling out into the street we headed straight for the pub opposite, Circus Circus, which was quiet and where I learned that my friend had worked for an AIDS charity in the 80s. After a number of Kronies I found a £20 note in the Gents. A successful night I’d say.

st malo beach
St Malo Beach

The cost of efficiency 1 – Our food turns to crap

Nutrition: That's not ice cream... that's 'pink slime'
Nutrition: That's not ice cream... that's 'pink slime'

Efficiency savings. Every time a new government gets in they claim they will make efficiency savings. One of my first jobs was as a computer operator. In those days computer time was so expensive that work would be “batched up” and done in a big chunk. One guy said to me that we are the slowest things in the computer room and he meant that if a batch job stopped and needed another tape loaded then we needed to change it immediately.

I was young and I got into this efficiency stuff. I worked to maximise the time that the computer was doing work. Since then I have noticed efficiency is a driving force behind capitalism. The way it’s sold is that efficiency will mean we get quicker service, that our products and services will be cheaper and so overall our lives wil be better.

I have started to question this.

It seems to me that efficiency these days is a way to squeeze more profits from a process or organisation. Computers have been introduced everywhere and most organisations now provide a web interface for front ending their services. The idea is that we as “consumers” will be given a better service but often this is not the case.

Take the sale of car insurance for example. In the old days you would meet with some salesman in an office and he would ask you a few questions and get you to fill out a form and hand him a cheque. That would be it. The salesman would have done much of the work. In my case he would have realised that I was over 21 and so not asked me this idiotic question. He would have noticed my gender. He would see that I did not have a wooden leg. etc etc.

A corporate fashion of recent years has been outsourcing and this is usually taken to mean a company getting it’s non-core work done by a third party company. However, in the case of many interactions with consumers, companies are outsourcing work to you. In the case of car insurance we are forced to wade through endless pages of forms and tick boxes on the web. Am I over 18? Am I male? Have I  ever been involved in an accident? Did I claim? How much did I claim? Along with this outsourcing, computerisation has meant that is easy for the corporations to throw in extra questions. The risk department will be telling the software designers to ask more and more questions and as the  time wasted  is not their own they just throw them in.

What race am I? What is my previous address? What is my national insurance number? We are forced to answer hundreds of impertinent questions and then, when we’re done, we are forced to read their bloody agreement. Pages and pages of clauses and caveats that get the company out of paying claims.

We are doing their work for them.

The end result is that all this efficiencies has worked in favour of the organisation but not in the favour of the consumer. Service may be cheaper but they are also crapper.

More and more our society has been reduced to two actors: The global corporation and the individual and this relationship is decidedly unequal. When did you last play any part in creating the contract which you signed for a service? You probably never have. The corporation creates the contract and presents it to you. You either sign it or they refuse to do business with you.

Efficiency means squeezing more people onto aeroplanes so that many of the seats don’t tilt back. Efficiency means cramming more and more homes into smaller and smaller areas of land so that interior walls are now made of chipboard. Efficiency means there is never any slack in the system. Efficiency means that when you call the  bank they read from a menu and are incapable of dealing with non-standard requests. Efficiency means that when you go to buy petrol, the few seconds that you have to chat with the guy behind the counter is taken up by him asking if you would  like two fucking chocolate bars for the price of one and you drearily replying no. Efficiency means we drink out of paper cups and the food in Indian restaurants consists of microwaves meat covered in bulk order sauce.

The picture at the top of this article is of a product known as Pink Slime. It’s seems that, in an effort to squeeze even more value out of the consumer , American food “manufacturers” have taken to collecting the offal that is normally thrown to animals after a cow has been slaughtered, mixing it up with a lot of chemicals (including Ammonia), sticking it in a spin dryer and then putting it into hamburgers and feeding it to Americans.

Bollocks to efficiency!

hove station
hove station

Sunday Fry Up and the scientific method


I was perusing the obesity statistics on, as one does after a large fry up on a Sunday morning, and clicked the word correlations  top right.

Some years ago, when thinking about Chaos Theory and the butterfly effect, I considered technological progress and speculated that, one day, it might be possible to collate lots and lots of data, on all sorts of subjects, and crunch it for correlations. It might be possible to show that diabetes in the UK was related to tin production in Chile.

The scientific method would be turned on it’s head. Conventionally boffins sit about ruminating all day. When they think of an idea, they yell Eureka, write down a theory and then spend years and years getting the data together  to prove the theory. I take liberties with my description but you get the general idea.

If, instead, it were possible to accumulate lots an of data and automatically look for correlations then the scientists might be able to retrospectively develop theories as to why the data correlated. The advantage, as I see it, would be that they would know where to look.

It seems that all this is now possible and the greatest correlation for obesity is Teenage Birth Rate though there are also correlations with “secure servers” and “pride in one’s nation”. Now I don’t know if these correlations are significant and I do understand that correlation is not cause but it seems to me that this is a very useful tool for scientific research.

The danger, of course, is that, like everything else, we will use this merely to make society more efficient. No scientists will sit and wonder just for the hell of it. The corporations will decide the agenda. The rat race will be further fine tuned to ensure that we all eat correctly and consider that eight different flavours of coffee amounts to democracy. But I digress……

Don’t Follow Leaders


I have long admired Shami Chakrabati. Mainly because of her determined, intelligent and reasoned support for human rights but also because she’s short, dark and gorgeous. So when I heard her speak on Any Questions on Friday I felt my opinions were being well represented. Even on the subject of the NHS, where she admitted was a layman, she made some good points.

Then Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, said that he thought that health services in the world which appeared to work best are those where the county council pays but delivery is handled by private companies and he highlighted Scandinavia as exponents of this style of health care. Ms. Chakrabati then had a hissy fit and derided the idea that “rare cancers” and “heart surgery” should be handed by “parish councils”. Amazing! Ms. Chakrabati, of whom I expect intelligent and honest debate, had drifted off into the tactics of New Labour and was deriding an argument that had not been made.

In a democracy it is right that there is debate over ownership of industry and public services but what I find objectionable about “the left” is their automatic assumption that they have the moral high ground. They don’t. It is perfectly moral to argue that private companies are, overall, more competent than large state run organisations. Any debate should be over technical aspects such as quality of delivery and costs.

I am old enough to remember the monolithic nationalised industries which were the norm in the 60s and 70s and I well recall their arrogant disregard for their customers. I dislike the hyper-commercialism of the 21st century but would not welcome a return to the days when public services were run for the benefit of their workers and British Leyland thought that innovation meant square steering wheels.

The lesson here is that, while Ms. Chakrabati is an absolute heroine on the topic of human rights, we should resist the urge to idealise her. Idealising leaders must be some kind of natural human drive as we tend to do it quite a lot. These days pop stars seem to gain most from this phenomena though why we should consider that singers are any more intelligent or moral than the rest of us I don’t know. I remember seeing Madonna in a documentary and was gob smacked by the shallow drivel which she spouted. (Telling her father she couldn’t tone down her act because it would be “….compromising my artistic integrity….” – Yeh, OK, just zip yourself up and sing your song ay love!.)

Like many people I was impressed by Barack Obama when he became president. His speeches seem moral and reasoned. However, one of his first acts, on gaining office, was to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and declare that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel handing the Israelis a victory and betraying the Palestinians without even understanding what he had done. One might also wonder why the President thought his first action should be to address AIPAC at all. To be fair to him I think this was probably an honest mistake on his part but it does show once again that our leaders have feet of clay.

Men are not Gods and should not be worshiped. Some opinions of some leaders will concur with our own, but many will not.

Bob Dylan said it best: “Don’t follow leaders”. What a guy, he’s my hero….D’oh!!!

The future is fat


The man on the radio today said that there is not a single country in the world which has reversed their obesity epidemic yet. He claimed to be some kind of medical expert and referred to the phenomena of “foetal imprinting” also known as “Genomic imprinting” which has been discovered in the last five years. This is a process whereby the genes of a foetus are switched on or off according to input from the mother’s body. The assertion was that an overweight mother had a propensity to switching on genes in the foetus which would lead the child susceptible to obesity.
The evolutionary context was that an animal which found food abundant would pass on traits to her offspring which assumed that food was abundant. An animal which found food to be scarce would pass on traits to her offspring which assumed that food was scarce.

The upshot being that because many of us are fat our children are more likely to be fat.

I find this interesting. I had a conversation years ago where I claimed that evolution had stopped because modern society allows everyone to live and breed no matter what their natural capabilities. Evolution depends on the least well adapted dying out. If none of us die out due to our physical or mental traits then evolution has stopped. QED.

However, if foetal imprinting is a true phenomena then evolution will continue but it seems that far from the clichéd version of the future where our bodies shrivel and our head become massive we are destined to become a race of fatties. He ho. If that is destiny then I shall have another pork pie.

Million year old baby

Babies are millions of years old
Babies are millions of years old

While in America a few weeks ago I listened to the talk radio stations. Without exception the shows I listened to were hosted by fanatics who condemned their opponents as not only wrong but intentionally evil. On one side the U.S. Government were conniving with BP to enrich themselves while deliberately destroying the environment. Another side blamed the liberals for deliberately lying about climate change in order to destroy the American way and allow other countries to impinge on America sovereignty. The abortion debate is one of the most acrimonious. Fiendish liberals murder babies while tyrannical misogynists seek to inflict back street abortions on young women.

Over the years British politics seems to be becoming similar to that of America. (All this dull witted talk of “progressive politics” is an American import). Listening to LBC radio this morning one guy was claiming that the Tories are a party obsessed with making the rich richer while Labour are portrayed as wanting to destroy industry.

When one tries to argue (as reasonably as one can) against one of the extreme views one is immediately cast as representing the opposite extreme view. When I blogged about the gross incompetence of the New Labour government I was branded as a racist an a fascist. If I complain about the corruption of the corporate world I am branded a communist.

Let me explain something to all extremists: You are all TALKING BOLLOCKS!

Most argument are not straight black and white and most people are capable of understanding that both sides in most debates have valid arguments and that decisions must be taken which attempt to ameliorate the downside of both arguments while accentuating the good. So why do the politicians insist on playing these idiotic games of simplifying arguments to a level that only an imbecile would agree with?

Take the abortion debate for example. One side believes that life begins at conception and that it is always wrong to take life. The other side believes that a woman’s body is her own to do with as she wishes so if she wants an abortion she should have one.

Both are Talking Bollocks!

Firstly it is ridiculous to say that life begins at conception. A sperm is alive and an egg is alive. Life is a continuum. One unappreciated fact about the human race is that we are all one continuous stream of life going back thousands, if not, millions of years. Its amazing! It fantastic! Its a far bigger idea than a man with a beard who did everything and it means that a new born baby is a million years old! – Cool!

Listen to Unbroken Chain by the Grateful Dead which, I’m told, is inspired by this idea.

Secondly yes, a woman’s body is her own to do with as she wishes but at some point one has to realise that she is carrying a child. What are you going to do, allow abortion up to 1 minute before delivery? At this point the accusation is usually this is unfair as I am a man and therefore will never be put in this position. Sorry, I know it’s unfair but it’s  still true.

As I said, these are the two extremes but anyone with any intelligence can see that there is validity in both arguments and this is what I find so annoying: That the bellicose  imbeciles who insist on inflicting their bigoted opinions upon us refuse to even acknowledge the obvious truth in their opponents arguments. Yes life should be treated as sacred but yes a woman should have control of her own body so the law should probably be something like that which we have at the moment: Not “abortion on demand” but limited according to strict criteria.

Immigration is another debate where our politicians behave like hooligans. Yes, the United Kingdom is crowded and our resources are over stretched but no, it’s not true that we should  judge people by their race or religion. (Whatever race is supposed to mean – I thought there was only one race, the human race – I thought that most of your also worshipped the same God so I don’t know why you bicker about minor implementation differences). So when one politicians argues against immigration he is not necessarily a fascists and another argues in favour of immigration they are not necessarily hell bent on destroying British culture. My personal view is that the racists debate has become so stylised and dangerous that prejudice is rampant on both sides of the debate.

One reason I support the current coalition government (so far) is that it is trying to run more heterogeneous politics. It is OK to have opposing views on some issues while agreeing and proceeding on others. In the end every member of the House of Commons is allowed to vote on a bill so if enough MPs (Tory, Liberal or Labour) oppose the bill it wont get through.

What we require from politicians is an end to the mindless demonising of their opponents and reasoned, intelligent debate culminating in a vote where the decision is accepted by all.

Democracy, I think it’s called.