Friday, 28 August 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-08-28: Belle

Fluffy cat!

Now that we have said goodbye to Freddie, Belle is much less stressed and returning to her usual confident self.

Magic Sugar Pills

Jeremy Corbyn, frontrunner to become the next leader of the Labour party, claims to believe in the efficacy of magic sugar pills. This not only makes him a bad leader, it makes him a bad socialist.

It has emerged that Corbyn signed a House of Commons motion in 2010 approving the provision of homeopathy on the NHS, and later confirmed his support for it on Twitter.

Other MPs on the list include Tim Farron, now leader of the Liberal Democrats. (I have already expressed serious doubts about Farron's moral fibre.) The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has also stated his support for homeopathy. In their disregard for science they join the SNP, with its recent ban on all genetically modified crops in Scotland. With the possible exception of Plaid Cymru, not a single party in Parliament is unequivocally in favour of science. This is alarming and depressing in equal measure.

Medicine: More effective when it contains something other than sugar.

The scientific evidence is very clear: Homeopathy achieves nothing more than the placebo effect. It consists of "medicines" diluted so far that no trace of the supposed active ingredient can remain. It is an industry which sells these products to sick and vulnerable people, some of whom have died after substituting homeopathy for conventional medical care. It consumes resources which could instead be spent on real medicine.

A Prime Minister must decide on matters of life and death. With his support for homeopathy, Corbyn demonstrates a shameful lack of critical thinking, unfit for one who aspires to high office. He might as well believe the UK's energy grid can be replaced by a perpetual motion machine which runs on happy thoughts.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Hard Case of Fast Freddie

Rehoming Freddie in the style of film noir. What can I say, I was trying to avoid work.

It was another hard case today. My pal Fast Freddie got in trouble with a dame. It's always the dames. He had to skip town, so he kept his head down in the back seat, while I drove him through the rainy streets to a place where they ask no questions. He can stay there until the heat is off.

Next week he'll be back out in the world, with a new name, far away from the woman who brought him low. He should have known better than to mess with a classy lady like her.

Don't know if I'll ever understand this case, but at least a few beers will help it settle into perspective.

Farewell to Freddie

With the greatest reluctance, we have decided to rehome Freddie.

This is not a decision we took lightly, but it's time to face the facts. Freddie is aggressive towards Belle. His behaviour is not just youthful exuberance, boredom, or fearfulness from being in a new place. He's gotten loose a couple of times in the last week. On both occasions he went straight for Belle, and a fight ensued with fur torn out on both sides.

We've done everything advised to help cats acclimate to each other. We've had very carefully controlled contact between them. Belle is not at all confrontational, and happy to keep her distance. None of it makes any difference to Freddie's behaviour. Carrying on is not fair to Belle, us, our baby son, or even to Freddie himself.

He is a young, healthy cat, very friendly with humans, so I'm sure the Blue Cross will have little difficulty finding a new home for him. It is painful, but we have come to believe it is the responsible thing to do.

The sad and confusing thing is that Freddie is a cuddly, gentle fluffball with human beings. He doesn't even mind being grabbed by our baby son Z (not his real name), who is eight months old and has absolutely no idea of restraint. That is the saddest part for us; Freddie and Z got along so well, and we could see them becoming great friends as Z grew up, but it is not to be. At least Z is too young to really understand what is happening or miss Freddie when he is gone.

As I've written before, cats are not little furry humans. They do not see the world the way we do. You can't reason with them, you can only try to work with their instincts.

Right now, Belle needs some peace and quiet and stability, and in all honesty so do we. At this point we're going to wait at least until next spring before we consider adopting another cat.

We're going to miss Freddie; but we had two months with the most affectionate cat we ever met, and nothing will ever take that away from us. We hope he finds another family soon, and they have a long and happy life together.

If you are interested in adopting Freddie, please enquire with Blue Cross Cambridge (where he is known by the name Steve). He will appear on their website sometime in the next day or so.

Update: On a lighter note, I've retold this story in the style of a noir private eye.

Update 2015-08-27: Freddie is now listed for adoption on the Blue Cross website.

Update 2015-09-05: Freddie's listing has been removed from the website. We hope he has found the loving new home he deserves.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-08-21: Freddie

King of the cat castle.

Introductions to Belle continue. We think they're making progress but slow and steady is the order of the day.

On the plus side, Freddie is amazingly tolerant of our baby son, who is poking, grabbing, and drooling on him at any opportunity. I think they're going to be good friends.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Limits of Righteous Anger

The Labour leadership contest is proving much more interesting than anyone expected.

The script intended by the party establishment is pretty clear. They were expecting a re-run of the 2010 vote: The token left-wing candidate is destroyed, and a more centrist former cabinet minister prevails. They thought Corbyn would crash and burn, and Burnham or Cooper (or maybe Kendall) would steer the party on a cautious, business-friendly path to the next election. But the electorate hasn't read their script, and the left-winger Jeremy Corbyn has become the favourite to win.

Left to right: Kendall, Burnham, Cooper, Corbyn.
(Although from Corbyn's point of view, he's on the far left.)

Friday, 14 August 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-08-14: Belle

Some well deserved relaxation on her sofa throne.

Cat introductions continue slowly. Freddie is making progress and definitely getting used to Belle, so we are cautiously optimistic.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Acts of Cowardice: SNP and GMOs

Last week, the SNP government in Edinburgh announced it would ban genetically modified crops in Scotland. The European Union already has strict rules for safety of genetically modified organisms; the SNP is seeking to opt out from these rules and ban GMOs altogether. The government's reasoning was expressed by Agriculture Secretary Richard Lochhead:
[Lochhead] said that Scotland was known around the world for its "beautiful natural environment" and banning the growing of genetically modified crops would protect and further enhance its "clean, green status". 
Mr Lochhead added: "There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14bn food and drink sector. 
"Scottish food and drink is valued at home and abroad for its natural, high quality which often attracts a premium price, and I have heard directly from food and drink producers in other countries that are ditching GM because of a consumer backlash."

This is a remarkable act of cowardice. Lochhead isn't even attempting to engage with the science behind GM crops. He is not saying he has any concerns about safety. If he did, at least there would be scope for rational debate about risks and benefits.

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." – Philip K. Dick

What exactly are the risks of growing GM crops? The scientific consensus is that they are minimal, and well covered by existing regulation.

Conversely, the anti-GM lobby is not very specific. Instead of evaluating each proposed intervention on its own merits, the likes of Greenpeace declare that all types of genetic modification are universally bad, and endanger our precious bodily fluids harmony with nature. Some anti-GM campaigners may be more responsible and nuanced, but Lochhead is not concerned with them. He is afraid of people who will shun Scotland and its produce, if so much as a single field is planted with GM crops.

The beautiful but artificial landscape of the Scottish Highlands. It was once covered
by primordial forest, but long ago cleared by humans for grazing sheep.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-08-07: Freddie

What's down there?

Freddie continues trying to pick fights with Belle, so we make sure to have her protected by a strong barrier if they meet. He does back down after she snarls at him enough, so we're hoping he will eventually get the message and consider a truce.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Bad Motivator: Star Wars Episode 1

The Star Wars prequel trilogy is generally acknowledged to be awful. There are occasional bright spots, helped along by charismatic actors like Ian McDiarmid, Liam Neeson or the late Christopher Lee, but for the most part they're painfully bad. Why is this?

"Uncle Owen? This R2 unit has a bad motivator, look!"
– Luke, Star Wars: Episode IV

Terrible acting and dialogue are nothing new for Star Wars. If you watch the original trilogy, the script is dreadful and Mark Hamill can't act his way out of a paper bag. I think the prequels really fall down on storytelling, and more specifically on motivation.

We put up with the flaws of the original trilogy because, among other reasons, Luke has compelling motives for his actions. He wants to get away from his uncle's farm and do something heroic; then he wants to become a Jedi, help his friends, and avenge his father; then he wants to defeat the Emperor, redeem his father and save the galaxy. The audience can understand these desires and identify with Luke. It is also pleasing that the stakes get bigger for Luke in each episode.

Leia's motivation? Restore the galactic Senate where she once held a seat, and avenge the destruction of her home planet. Obi-Wan? He feels responsible for the evil of his former apprentice Darth Vader, and wants to make up for old mistakes. Han Solo? At first he's in it for the money, but against his better judgement he comes to believe in the Rebel cause (and gets the hots for Leia). All these stories make sense to the audience.

The villains also have interesting motives. Darth Vader wants to "end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy," but there's more to him than that. He wants to settle old scores with Obi-Wan, and be respected by Tarkin and the other Imperial officers. Later, he wants to make Luke into his ally, or at least stop the Emperor from destroying him. Again, this makes sense.

In the prequels, it doesn't occur to George Lucas to give his characters sensible motivations. The sad thing is, he could have fixed a lot of this with very minor changes, such as a few lines of dialogue. The resulting films would have been vastly more entertaining.