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Friday, 14 October 2011

Talking Cure or Talking Remission?

Cancer patients are never cured. They go into remission. That is the limit of the relief doctors promise.

Psychoanlysis became known as "The Talking Cure", thanks to the insight of one of its early patients who coined the phrase. But the insight offers false hope. We are never cured of neurosis. With help, we may go into remission - perhaps for many years - but the possibility of relapse is always there.

If there is only ever remission, then different therapies can be evaluated on a simple metric. If a quick fix therapy which takes an hour lasts a year, then a long fix which takes fifty two sessions ought to last 52 years if it is to match the effectiveness of the quick fix.

This may sound shocking and if it does that is partly because there is a disputable view of life which may be shared by traditional psychoanalysis. This is the view that we have one life, which proceeds irreversibly so that it is worth spending a lot of time (and money) getting it on track early on.

An alternative view is that, like a cat, we have several lives and they are partly discontinuous with each other.

There is an incrementalist view that we learn from experience and that the more experience we have the more we learn. I think this is false for life, just as it is false as an account of children's learning - children's learning is massively discontinuous. Experience leads to discontinuous re-organisations of our minds and personalities, maybe seven times in a lifetime, maybe nine (to stay with the cat).

Other people help us hold together a sense of continuous identity through these re-organisations of self but, really, our past is a foreign country the details of whose geography we are always forgetting.

It is the normal state of things that a woman should look at a man and sigh, "He's not the man I married". It is only ideology of the kind embodied in church marriage vows that encourages the misconception that he could remain the man she married.

Nor - as the sigh indicates - is there any guarantee that men and women shed their skins and change into new selves in ways and at a rate which leaves them always compatible. The reconfiguration of selves which occurs in the normal course of living thus becomes a source of interpersonal and even social dislocation which ideologies struggle to contain.

The idea of the Talking Cure promises too much. The centre cannot hold for ever. Therapy which works for today will not work for tomorrow. The best we can hope for are therapies which give us some remission from the problems our latest selves have created for us.

Dr Liam Fox is Out: as Predicted on this Blog 31 December 2010

If you go to my Blog post for 31 December 2010 you will see that I made three predictions for 2011, the third of which hazarded that Dr Liam Fox would not be Secretary of State for Defence by the end of 2011

Well, unless he makes a quick comeback, then Prediction Fulfilled

For the other Predictions you will have to go to the original Post.

Oliver Letwin? You couldn't make it up

I thought putting Top Secret documents in a waste bin in a Park was called Making a Drop. Your controller (who would have been following you) can then do a Pick Up and hurry back to a Foreign Embassy to Microfilm them all ...

But to be fair to the chap [I've only met him once and he seemed pleasant enough], his eccentric habits reminded me of an incident which occurred forty years ago.

John Birtwhistle and I were walking up the Caledonian Road, as you do, when we noticed some waste bins outside the offices of the Movement for Colonial Freedom overflowing with interesting looking papers. Many were telegrams, from and to the African National Congress and such like. This was the era of apartheid and even though telegrams would have already been read by Our Agents and Theirs, it seemed rather careless to put them out on the streets. So we gathered them up and disposed of them properly - I forget how.

But I did not dispose of some other interesting things. Blank sheets of notepaper with the crest of the House of Lords. Oh, what delight!

"Dear Fiona, May I request the pleasure of your company for Tea ...."

I guess Adam Werritty would have found a quite different use for them.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Problems with Paranoids

A coalition between the Liberal Democrats and a Labour Party led by Gordon Brown would have already broken down. Brown is simply too much of a paranoid personality to co-operate with anyone who isn't a crony and a toady. He lives in a zero-sum world:

Your gain is my loss (and this provokes fury)
My gain is your loss (and this is a source of immense, if insecure, satisfaction)

Divorce courts may be made to favour paranoid politics; successfully functioning government becomes impossible under paranoid leadership.

Zero-sum gaming is not the only hallmark of paranoid personality. Brown failed because, like all paranoids, he had no (empathic) sense of the world around him. He could never sense how other people were feeling, guess what they were thinking, figure out which way the wind was blowing. Other people had to tell him,in the same way that paranoid dictators rely on their secret police. In this, he differed fundamentally from Tony Blair, who is without paranoia.

Having to have things explained to you, just because on your own you simply don't get it, provokes its own insecurity: how come these people know things that I don't? Do they really know them? Are they trying to misinform me? Are they PLOTTING?

Hence the short life of secret police chiefs under Stalin.

Hence also the drive to create distrust among those around you, to make it impossible for other people to plot against you because you have sown mutual suspicion among them. The best way to stop people ganging up on you is to make them so suspicious of each other that they can't form a gang.

David Cameron seems without paranoia, as does Nick Clegg - for all that he is persecuted.

The paranoids among the political class can't believe that it might be possible to co-operate. They think the Coalition must be a Plot.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Free Bus Passes and Free Medication

I have never applied for my Free Bus Pass. It's not just that I can't think of a good reason why I should be thus subsidised and, indeed, am offended by the idea. I also have this suspicion that thus encouraged to hop on a (privately-owned) bus, I would end up walking less.

I walk quite a lot and as briskly as I can for at least Nanny's recommended 30 minutes. Mostly I walk into town, most often along the bus route. It helps keep me off medication for raised blood pressure, though I may have to give in one day.

I accept my over - 60 Free Prescriptions, but I know they can also do harm. According to the College of Pharmacists, people in their 60s start to accumulate these freebies and end up popping more pills than they need to and sometimes with unwanted side-effects.

When I read that, I recalled the day back in 1978 when I called out a GP to visit my 71 year old mother who had turned yellow. He asked her to produce her medication. Methodically, she lined up what I now imagine to be a dozen bottles and packets on the dining table. He looked through them and told her to stop taking all of them, immediately. True, it didn't help. She had cancer of the pancreas and was dead within weeks. But the image of those bottles and packets has been a caution to me.

It probably sounds a bit extreme to say that Free Bus Passes and Free Prescriptions are health hazards. And not everyone spends their Winter Fuel Allowance on booze. But the whole principle of these things is wrong.

It's not only that they kick in before people retire. More importantly, they feel good to those on low (and not so low) incomes - so good, that they often feel grateful to the government for its generosity. They are vote winners. Electoral bribes, if you will.

The serious alternative is to ensure that those who have retired from work have adequate pensions. This the UK has singularly failed to do, with pensions as a fraction of earnings much lower than in other European countries. The freebies are then a bit like MPs expenses, which Margaret Thatcher intended should compensate for low salaries.

An adequate pension would mean that older people would be free, like younger people, to choose how to travel and to pay for it. Maybe a daily bus ride to the shops but maybe a weekly taxi for one big shop. A fee for prescriptions might also discourage the kind of freebie pill-popping the College of Pharmacists describes.

There are two obstacles to be overcome. First, removing the idea that governments are there to give handouts. Second, and much harder, creating a fiscal and economic environment in which adequate pensions can be funded. Pensions don't drop from the skies. Someone has to save, someone has to invest. In the UK, it is going to be a huge challenge to get people to accept that if they are going to live in retirement for twenty years or more, then they had better start saving for it now - and adequately. With all the tax breaks and encouragement in the world, it is a massive demand to make. Some people, looking at the costs, might well decide that they will go on working until they can work no longer. From the point of view of cash-strapped governments, it would be sensible at least to encourage that option.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A Country with No Common System of Weights and Measures

Two hundred years or more ago, as countries entered the "Modern Era" so they unified, simplified and extended the reach of systems of weights and measures. Local and highly particular traditions disappeared, as did - in some cases (notably Germany) - local currencies. The metric system is the most obvious expression of this move to the Modern Era, and close behind, the decimal system

The UK managed to convert to a decimal currency but has never made it into the Metric system - though it is affected by the fact that most of its important trading partners use it. As a result, the UK is now pre-modern, with an incoherent jumble of systems in use.

Just visit any supermarket. Here you can find pints for some liquids, liters for others. Grams and kilos on one shelf, ounces and pounds on another. In Cornwall, maybe they still sell potatoes by the gallon.

Weigh yourself on the bathroom scales, and chances are you will use pounds and stones (whatever those are) rather than kilos. But your medications are normally measured in milligrams and grams.

Go to a fabric shop and you may find meters or you may find yards. Buy petrol and it's in liters, but distance measurement is in miles not kilometers. And, to rub it in, road signs show fractions of miles rather than decimal points of miles - as you approach the Channel Tunnel, you are counted down from two thirds of a mile to one third of a mile ...

Don't even think about whether your plane is being navigated in feet and miles, or meters and kilometers. Confusion on this matter has caused accidents.

My guess is that teaching in schools reflects the incoherence of the society outside. Children learn how to use bits of different systems, and none of them very well. They have no idea of how powerful a tool a unified system can be.

The UK also, of course, has a pre-modern political system - a monarchy with the usual trappings of odd local rights and privileges (ownership of swans and such like); an unelected second chamber; a first chamber designed to remind its Members of 19th century public schools.

The UK is a basket case. Expect worsening growth figures and more Imperialist adventures, with some weapons calibrated metrically and some Imperially. That's one reason why the wars will be lost.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Why the Sun Shone At the Weekend: a note to Parliament

The real reason the sun shone in England over the weekend of 29 September - 2 October? It wasn't a public holiday. For public holidays, Parliament chooses dates when it is likely to be cold or wet.

Very soon, England will be plunged into afternoon darkness. School children and workers will have no light at the end of their day. The clocks will go back in order to achieve this. Why? There are three hill farmers in the north of Scotland who would object if they were put on European time. Faced with a [Tory] Private Member's Bill to align our clocks with mainland Europe, David Cameron made clear that it could not happen - the Scottish interest had to come first. Maybe we can try again when Scotland goes its own way (it would be crazy not to).

The odd thing about Euroscepticism is that English is the common working language of Europe. We simply don't take advantage of that fact, except as lazy tourists who never speak the local lingo. We put more effort into exclusionary language policies -encouraging people to bury their heads in the sands of Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, languages which will never butter any bread.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Brighton to Antwerp in four and a half hours

Up the A23/M23, along the M25, down the M20 to the Channel Tunnel. That's an hour and a half on a good day.

Onto the E40 heading towards Brussels, off at Gent onto the E17, onto the Antwerp Ring, through the Kennedy Tunnel, follow the signs to the Centrum and with any luck you will have parked up in another hour and a half.

It's hard to get the Tunnel down to the bare minimum of one hour and ten minutes, so with an hour and a half allowed for the crossing, you get to four and a half hours plus whatever stops you care to make. For me, it beats the train (up to London, across London, change at Brussels)

It also beats the train on price. I can do the return trip in my Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDI on a tank of diesel - about £55 at yesterday's prices - to which the Eurotunnel crossing added another £58 for a short stay trip.

Belgian roads are pretty awful: the carriage ways bumpy, the exit systems alarming, the signage demented. But it's only a short distance from the French border up to Antwerp, and Antwerp is a very pleasant city with good restaurants and strollable streets. It's very much a zoned city. The area around the Centraal Station is rough (though I chose the Radisson Blu there which is spacious and good value - 109 euros for one night and breakfast). The shopping area contains a lot of up-market boutiques - there is money here. The Jewish district on a Friday and Saturday is full of strikingly tall and well-built men in eighteenth century costumes, and women who seem small and stooped in comparison. Both manage the pushchairs.

This time I combined work with pleasure and visited the Rubens House. The paintings on display are mainly indifferent, though I liked the porttrait of the young van Dyck, but the garden (on a hot sunny day) was delightful.

Some years ago, I used to take Stands at the Antwerp stamp fair (Antwerpfila). Indoor smoking was still allowed and the hall used to fill up with a haze of cigar smoke. I always came away with a sore throat. Strangely, in a rich city it was a very down-market fair, and I never made any money and stopped going. I wanted to see if anything had changed, so this time I went as a visitor and would-be buyer. It hasn't changed and I was only able to buy a very little stock - not even enough to cover the very modest cost of the trip.

English is the second-language and I hesitate now to use my French. As everyone knows, Belgium is now pretty much a non-country, only recently emerged from a long period without a Government and with high levels of inter-communal dislike.

And then there is the language dilemma which confronts Flemish / Dutch speakers: you can learn English as your first foreign language (and it's an easy language to learn if you are coming from Flemish / Dutch), and English is a world language and allows you to deal with tourists and be a tourist yourself in other countries. Or you can learn French in order to communicate with your fellow countrymen. Imagine if schools in Kent offered a choice of French or Welsh. I know what I would choose.