Monthly Archives: August 2007

Barefoot Doctor: that Dawkins cat is so uncool, y’dig?

Stephen “Barefoot Doctor” Russell has done a piece for the Guardian today, dissing Richard Dawkins’ C4 documentary The Enemies of Reason.

It’s pretty thin fare. Basically, Dawkins is “so last century” and if alternative medicine can be put down the the Placebo effect, so what? It works, doesn’t it?

If this is the best the alternative medicine community can come up with, good luck to them. Of course, it turns out that Barefoot has a particular unique take on “Placebo effect“:

The ‘Barefoot Doctor’ – known to millions from his TV career, his range of products stocked by high-street chemists and a form of healing based on Tao philosophy – has been forced to issue an extraordinary statement admitting to having sex with ex-patients in the past.

But it’s okay, ‘cos he’s a celebrity, apparently. So long as you have sex with ex-patients “like a pop star” and not like a doctor, where’s the beef?

Where on Earth did Dawkins get the idea that these people somehow prey on vulnerable people?

The Guardian has validated my lifestyle choice!

An interesting article in the Guardian today about the revival of boardgames. There is however something a little amiss in this story, in that it seems to assume that the health of a hobby is based on how well Britain is doing at an international level, rather than how many people are simply playing.

It also has a preoccupation with ‘traditional’ boardgames. Although it recognises the Euro-game movement in general, and Settlers of Catan specifically, it seems to measure ‘success’ by the popularity of games that granny would have known.

Let’s be clear: a lot of ‘traditional’ games such as Monopoly or Cluedo are, compared to some of the new games that have been emerging, crap. They are largely luck-based and a few good throws of the dice at the start of the game can set you up for the remainder. In the case of Monopoly – at least in its original form the Landlord’s Game – that was the whole point. Diplomacy, very popular a generation ago, takes forever to play and has the added problem of working by excluding players, thereby limiting its appeal to people who are prepared to spend a weekend twiddling their thumbs. Classic games such as Chess and Go don’t have these flaws, but they are predominantly two-player games. By contrast, most Euro-games combine the skill element and ‘fairness’ of Chess with the accessibility of Monopoly. It’s no wonder that they are slowly increasing in popularity.

You also have to question if this indicates anything particularly new. Hobby games such as Warhammer or Bloodbowl had a big following in my youth and continued in popularity throughout the 90s, leading to stories in the financial pages about Games Workshop being a British success story (at least until a miscalculation about the continued success of Lords of the Rings brand caused them to take a tumble). They may not have had the respectability of Monopoly, and some of us might rather resent the business model works by effectively forcing you to buy expensive miniatures, but they encouraged awkward kids to socialise and combined it with the very British schoolboy pursuit of modeling (albeit painting orcs instead of spitfires). The collectable card game phenomenon continued throughout the 90s with Magic: The Gathering and later Pokemon being tremendous successes worldwide. These two combined traditional gameplay with mass-consumerism (there are 458 results when you Google ‘“kiddie crack” pokemon‘).

So it’s too simplistic to say that tabletop gameplay is making a comeback at the expense of computer games. What seems to be happening, rather, is that the nature of the boardgames industry itself is changing. Games Workshop, for example, have just announced the return of an old favourite Talisman and have already returned to roleplaying. The Euro-gaming boom has lead to a renewal in boardgaming across the Atlantic. Much of this success seems to be fueled by the internet, which is proving effective at both spreading the word about games themselves globally (BoardGameGeek being the exemplar of this) and putting players in touch with fellow gamers. Far from people eschewing technology in favour of ‘tradition’, technology itself appears to be fueling this revival. Indeed, technology was at least partly responsible for keeping Chess in the headlines 20-30 years ago as programmers worked to develop a computer that could beat the best Grand Masters.

Thus far, it has been a very behind the scenes revival in the UK (Germany, by all accounts, is a very different story), but I suspect that things like Catan are about to go very mainstream indeed. One of the biggest factors slowing down this trend is the failure of anyone to produce a Euro-game in the same price bracket as a standard set of Scrabble. Basic Catan is £10 more expensive in this country compared to Scrabble (£25 compared to £15), and you get a lot less in the box (this is particularly piss-taking when you consider the English language version is imported from the US which has a low exchange rate at the moment). There’s a killing to be made by a company willing to take a punt.

How society has failed Frances Lawrence

Frances Lawrence has been doing the rounds on TV and radio today, expressing her outrage at the fact that her husbands murderer will not now be deported when he finishes his sentence. For liberals, issues such as these place us in a tricky position. No-one wishes to cause Frances Lawrence or her family any further grief, but what if pretty much everything she says is utterly wrong?

First of all, the Human Rights Act is a sideshow here. The real issue is that we are members of the EU and as an EU citizen Learco Chindamo has freedom of movement within the community. There has to be a compelling reason to not only send him back to Italy – a place he left when he was six – and not allow him to come back. Now, if he was a threat to the Lawrence family, or indeed anyone, then that might be a reason for keeping him in prison. But how is that a reason for keeping him in Italy?

Bizarrely, if the guy was a UK citizen, we wouldn’t even be having this debate. This isn’t, ultimately, about whether ‘criminals’ should have more rights than ‘victims’. This is a debate about whether ‘British criminals’ should have more rights than Italian ones. More than that, this is a debate about whether the perpetrators of media-friendly crimes should be treated more severely than the perpetrators of the majority of crimes that the media couldn’t give two hoots about. Chindamo would not be embroiled in this row if he’s murdered another black kid, as that is just black-on-black crime and therefore to be disregarded. If his victim had been Stephen rather than Phillip (I’ve seen at least one person get these 90s Lawrences confused), we’d have never heard of either the murderer or the victim.

He’s currently serving life imprisonment and having served 12 years is now entitled to parole. But that doesn’t mean he will automatically be released now. But more to the point, he’s spent his entire youth in confinement. This is not, as Frances Lawrence puts it, someone who is free “to pick and choose how he wants to live his life.” Iain Dale seems to think he’s had a light sentence. Call me a bleeding heart, but I most certainly don’t. His life has been thrown away – he isn’t going to just walk away. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it; just don’t tell me that 12 years of imprisonment at an impressionable age is something you can just shrug off. Is it so outrageous to suggest that someone like Chindamo – who clearly had a young chaotic life – having served his sentence, should be allowed to try to rehabilitate in the country he has spent 21 of his 27 years in? Are there really no grounds for even an inch of compassion for this pathetic creature? Are we really so keen to create another Hindley-esque monster to tell campfire stories about?

What should the alternative be? There are plenty of Tories – including if I recall their own Shadow Home Secretary – who believe that what should have happened is that Learco Chindamo should have been marched off to a gas chamber on his 16th birthday (because obviously you don’t murder children in cold blood – that would be inhumane), as they do in many US states. Short of that though, at some point the guy was going to be released. If he’d been given a minimum sentence of 30 years, I can guarantee that Iain would have been writing in 2025 “So a headmaster’s life is only worth thirty years. That is perhaps just as big a scandal as the abuse of the Human Rights Act.”

Meanwhile, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty claims that by committing a heinous crime, Chindamo has “forfeited his human rights.” This is now familiar New Labour rhetoric. To counter the Tories’ call for no-one to have any rights at all, Labour prefer to say that only the innocent should have rights. But how far should this go? If Chindamo has forfeited his rights, then presumably torturing him in prison would have been fair game? Indeed, how far does ‘heinous’ go? Speeding and killing a child is pretty heinous. Pinching from pension funds is pretty heinous. Where do you draw the line? Get a judge to decide? They’re supposed to be the problem in the first place!

Writing as an atheist, and a rationalist, whatever happened to those very Christian concepts of redemption and forgiveness? Whatever happened to hating the sin but loving the sinner? I find it hard to see how a society can function without these principles and stay sane (even Sharia law has a certain crude concept of rehabilitation). Yet a lot of the same people who are first in line to denounce how ‘family (Christian) values’ have been lost seem to have no truck with the idea that such values ought to apply to them as well.

How did society fail Frances Lawrence? Fundamentally, by not letting her get over it. The media have lapped her up as a cause celebre, endlessly reinforcing her quiet sense of outrage by having to rehearse it to camera ad nauseum. The Home Office clearly mislead her by confidently assuring her Chindamo would be deported when they surely had scant grounds for believing it. And the criminal justice system has failed her by not letting her confront directly the man who destroyed her family. I suspect that half an hour in a room together would do both Frances Lawrence and Learco Chindamo a lot of good. It would enable Mrs Lawrence show Chindamo the effects of his crime and force Chindamo to confront his evil act. She’s correct to say that Chindamo’s lawyers reassurances that they are unlikely to meet in the street is missing the point, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. All the evidence I’ve seen suggests that restorative justice is of huge benefit to the victim. The right however would prefer it if victims held onto their sense of injustice. It saddens me that she will now be used as their preferred political football of choice for the next 48 hours. Scrapping the Human Rights Act won’t bring her husband back and it won’t get her justice.

The Tip Top Top of the Top Blogs – half time scores

Now it can be revealed. Over the past few weeks I’ve been compiling a list of all the blogs listed on Lib Dem Voices’ Top of the Blogs. I’ve gone for the simple approach: if you get a mention as one of the top blogs according to the regulator, you get a point. No points for being mentioned as one of the 5 recommendations of either Stephen or Richard (which is a shame, cos, personally speaking, it would have probably upped my score! Thanks you two), and points are blog – not author – specific (which probably slightly disadvantages Stephen himself, but no-one else as far as I can see).

As we mark Week 26 of this series, I thought I’d publish the preliminary results. Half-time oranges all round, here are the scores on the doors:
1. Lib Dem Voice (24 mentions)
2. Liberal Burblings (19 mentions)
3= A Liberal Goes a Long Way (14 mentions)
3= Duncan Borrowman (14 mentions)
5= Norfolk Blogger (13 mentions)
5= Quaequam Blog! (13 mentions)
7. Liberal England (8 mentions)
8= Lindyloo’s Muze (5 mentions)
8= Love and Liberty (5 mentions)
8= Jonathan Wallace (5 mentions)

The full breakdown can be found here.

It’s clear that things are very close and it will be interesting to see how this league table progresses over the next 6 months. In particular, competition between positions 3, 4, 5 and 6 is fierce (I might also add that before I went on holiday last month, I was in second place. Sniff!).

Well done all.