Protect the Human Rights Act

There’s a petition at Change.org to get the parties to commit to protecting the Human Rights Act and Britain’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. The latter was drafted by British lawyers, remember, after the Second World War; and now some British politicians are suggesting we should abandon it, as we are seemingly committed to abandoning the EU.1

The former enshrines the convention in UK law.2

This one is definitely worth signing.


  1. Although I retain hope. []
  2. Thereby protecting it from faceless Brussels Eurocrats, I dare say. []
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Margaret Atwood’s Uncanny Ancestor

This is a horrific quote from The New Yorker‘s interview with Margaret Atwood:

Mary Webster, whose neighbors, in the Puritan town of Hadley, Massachusetts, had accused her of witchcraft. ‘The townspeople didn’t like her, so they strung her up,’ Atwood said recently. ‘But it was before the age of drop hanging, and she didn’t die. She dangled there all night, and in the morning, when they came to cut the body down, she was still alive.’ Webster became known as Half-Hanged Mary.

But I can’t help thinking, if there’s anything to the story, wouldn’t they have taken her survival as further evidence of her witchy nature, and made sure they killed her next time? As it is, it sounds like she lived on.

Also on:
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Stupid Fawning Lapdog Government Apes the US Again

Our glorious leaders have seen fit to copy Trump and his cronies with banning laptops and tablets on planes — from certain countries. The only possible reason for this madness is to punish people for coming from (or visiting) those countries.

Worse, though: such a ban is only going to:

  1. make things even more confusing and complex at airport security, and
  2. get extended until it covers all flights, everywhere. You wait and see.
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The Writing Process

In What Writers Really Do When They Write George Saunders gives a great insight into some parts of his working process.

What does an artist do, mostly? She tweaks that which she’s already done. There are those moments when we sit before a blank page, but mostly we’re adjusting that which is already there. The writer revises, the painter touches up, the director edits, the musician overdubs.

Or “Writing is rewriting,” as someone once put it.1

It’s a good piece, and well worth reading. Oddly, in the printed edition (Saturday’s Guardian Review section) it was entitled “Master of the Universe.”


  1. Hard to find who, but it seems to have been Hemingway. Whose writing I don’t like, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong. []
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Tory MP Claims Astrology Could Help the NHS

This should be enough to disbar someone from public life for good: Astrology could help take pressure off NHS doctors, claims Conservative MP — The Guardian. Though I notice the article is two years old. It just came to my attention via Facebook one of Twitter’s occasional emails.

David Tredinnick said astrology, along with complementary medicine, could take pressure off NHS doctors, but acknowledged that any attempt to spend taxpayers’ money on consulting the stars would cause “a huge row”.

Getting his defence in early, he goes on to say that his likely critics (he names Brian Cox specifically):

“… are also ignorant, because they never study the subject and just say that it is all to do with what appears in the newspapers, which it is not, and they are deeply prejudiced, and racially prejudiced, which is troubling.”

Nice tactic: he knows he’s talking bullshit, so accuses people of racism. Last time I checked, astrology wasn’t a race.

Nor was stupidity.

And in the unlikely event that anyone reading this thinks I’m just being reflexively mean and as bad as the critics he fears, here’s a considered scientific opinion. The only possible known way the positions of the planets and stars at our birth could affect us is by gravity. And while gravity does travel all through the universe, it is very, very weak — the weakest of the fundamental forces. Just look at how hard it was to measure gravitational waves. We were only able to do that in the last year, and it took colliding black holes to make enough of a splash for us to measure.

Is it possible that heavenly bodies affect us in some other, as yet unknown way? Yes. And here’s what science says about that: show us how, and we’ll study it. Demonstrate the mechanism by which this influence happens, and we’ll write down the equations that govern it and learn all about it. We’ll have to throw out all existing models of physics, but if you bring the evidence, that’s what we’ll do.

That’s science.

Link

Brain Explain

Interesting article on psychology wherein Robert Epstein tells us that “Your brain does not process information and it is not a computer.”

It is, as I say, interesting. But it’s also profoundly annoying in the way he asserts that the human brain is not an information processor, but then makes no attempt to explain what it is, instead. 

He asserts that the brain does not hold a copy of a song it has learned, for example, but instead “is changed in a way that allows the person to sing it” (I paraphrase).

But isn’t that just another way of saying that it has stored a copy? If that change does not in some sense denote making a cåopy, then what exactly does it mean? What is the brain doing when the singer recalls the song? Inventing it anew, exactly (or not) as the original composer intended?

I don’t doubt that what he calls “[t]he information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence” has its limitations; but he has completely failed to explain them or provide an alternative explanation.

The truth is we don’t understand much about how the brain does what it does; and this guy knows more than most of us. But he’s a psychologist. He no doubt has a deep understanding of the workings of the human mind. But I think if you want someone to explain what we understand of the workings of he human brain, then you want that person to be a neuroscientist.

Brain Explain