Saturday, June 30, 2012

On Medjugorje

One of the true pleasures of being back online is being able to read Mark Shea again, and that great Catholic writer has added his voice to those expressing grave concerns over the validity of the Medjugorje apparitions

I'm sorry to bore readers by returning to the subject of neurology yet again and so quickly, but I'm afraid to say I think it may be of some relevance to Medjugorje. If I am wrong, I ask for God's forgiveness. 

In his book 'Migraines', his first major work, Oliver Sacks refers to the visions of Hildegard of Bingen as having been "indisputably migrainous". For what it's worth, I think I may have identified two other figures from history whose behaviours, and therefore also their experiences, might have been influenced by that condition; in his book 'The Classical Greeks', the late Professor Michael Grant referred to Socrates as having been inspired by an aura (clarification 01/07/12 - on p. 148 of that book, Professor Grant states that 'Socrates sometimes went into spellbound trances'), and in his monstrously big and thoroughly enjoyable 'The King's Reformation', G. W. Bernard makes a similar observation regarding The Nun of Kent (clarification 01/07/12 - on p. 88 of thst book, Professor Bernard wrote that '(s)he was certainly at times unwell (whether afflicted by epilepsy or hysteria)).

As Professor Sacks, a committed atheist, possessed the good grace not to discount the validity of Hildegard's visions on a purely neurological basis, it only befits me to follow suit regarding others. However, what is surprising about the Medjugorje events is the metronomic regularity with which some of the alleged visionaries claim to experience them, some of them at the same time of day every day of the year. This is eerily reminiscent of Sacks's observations regarding the extreme regularity of some of his post-encephalitic patients' neurological cycles as described in 'Awakenings'. Some would only speak at the same time of day, others would have crises at the same time every day or had had histories of doing so. One, I cannot remember whether it was Margaret or Martha, suffered what Sacks labels an 'Easter psychosis', going into a coma on Holy Thursday and coming out of it on Easter Sunday, year in, year out without fail. 

The chronology of the testing which the alleged visionaries has undergone does not immediately suggest that electroencephalograms have been performed on the alleged visionaries during those events that they continue to claim that they experience. If such tests have already been performed during any such event and no neurological irregularity has been determined then the chronology of testing which has been published should be amended as a matter of urgency in order to make this clear. One would imagine that nobody who is not under close medical care can be compelled to take an EEG; however, if this test has not been performed on the alleged visionaries and it is suggested to them that such a test might allay the concerns of the Church and the faithful and they refuse to consent to it, such a refusal might be considered relevant in helping to determine whether the histories the alleged visionaries have narrated should be considered trustworthy.

I for one am perfectly willing to believe that some kind of event takes place at 5.40 pm every day; however, from the available information the nature of such events does not appear to have been fully investigated, and as all other possible types of events have not therefore been excluded from consideration as causes of the events which the alleged visionaries claim to experience I remain disinclined to believe that they are supernatural in origin.

Migraines run in families; for all I know they might be subject to the operation of somatic compliance; and just because someone tells you they've seen an apparition doesn't mean you have to believe them, no matter how deeply you might want to.

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Barclays And Libor

What is astonishing about this situation is not that the criminal law will apply to similar events in the future. It is that it does not seem to apply to it now.

I would have to say I don't think the usual Chicken Little shtick that the bankers will all leave if such behaviour is criminalised is going to wash with the public this time.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Still Small Voices, Part I

One of the most fetching, actually quite touching, things I read in the wake of the Prime Minister and his wife having culkined their eight year old daughter when they went home from the pub was a comment along the lines of 'Where was the security detail?'

One might think that to be a not wholly unreasonable question, although one might also have thought that they would be busy looking after the Prime Minister, with the whereabouts of the Prime Minister's children remaining the responsibility of the Prime Minister. If we had good comedians in this country, they could have a field day with that.

Given that the Prime Minister was able to find time last week to try to damage the career of a comedian, it has been surprising that I have seen no comment from him, nor indeed from the Chancellor Of The Exchequer nor from any other Treasury Minister, about the nearly week-long fiasco in the Royal Bank of Scotland's payment system, a technical error which has inconvenienced tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of business customers and millions of domestic customers, to all intents and purposes bringing their economic lives to a halt. The Royal Bank of Scotland remains in majority public ownership - it was not nationalised, a piece of legal legerdemain presumably intended to exclude state-owned banks from the operation of both the Human Rights Act and Freedom of Information Act and an interesting example of a government, in that case New Labour, doing everything it could to circumvent its own laws - and as the Treasury has been its majority shareholder of last resort for some years now one might have thought its First Lord might have something to say about what goes on in bodies it does not supervise or fund but actually owns.

The only reason one can think of regarding why they haven't spoken out is because they are still afraid of doing or saying anythng that might drive bankers away, despite the fact that this outcome would in any event be very unlikely. They might not really give a monkey's for all of the people who have been inconvenienced by a computer system which the government ultimately owns. If they think that the economy will somehow get better as a result of having bankers here, they might hear a different message on commercial radio.

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Still Small Voices, Part II

One has the nagging feeling that the work of the Leveson Enquiry will somehow be incomplete if it does not take the evidence of a person whose life has been actively endangered by the actions of the British press, and who might live the rest of it in mortal fear of their photograph appearing in a newspaper.

That person is a gentleman once known as Jon Venables. Public revulsion at the crime he committed as a child resulted in him being made the beneficiary of a lifetime anonymity order. Several years ago, the British press attempted to run a coach and horses through this protection which the law had granted him. At that time, it seemed to be the case that with the very honourable exception of Sir Simon Jenkins, nobody in any position of authority or influence in the United Kingdom, not even Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil liberties organisation 'Liberty', spoke up in his defence of his rights, while the then 'Justice' Secretary  discussed his case with his victim's mother and attacked an anonymity order previously granted for the protection of one of the country's most vulnerable prisoners.

If he were willing to do so, I am sure that he could give his evidence from behind a curtain, or by videolink with both his face and voice disguised. Whether he would be prevented from doing so by whetever  judicial terms he currently lives under, or indeed the terms of the lifetime anonymity order itself, would be another matter. That would be a very British solution to a very embarrassing problem, but as a person who must live with the fact that the British press will present what could easily become a mortal threat to their life for however long they might live, I rather think Mr. Venables's opinions on how the press has conducted itself in relation to his case might be worth hearing.


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On The Queen's Handshake With Martin McGuinness

Two thoughts spring to mind about this

The first is that it's her hand, and she can stick it where she likes. 

The second is that given the actions perpetrated by some of the hands she has shaken over the course of her reign, she might consider that Mr. McGuinness is, always has been and always will be strictly small-time, an analysis with which one can only concur.


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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cash For Gold

As someone who doesn't have any choice but to listen to commercial radio throughout the working day - the quietus afforded by the snarling of Rottweilers on the bus comes as a welcome relief at its end -  it's been noticeable just how few 'cash for gold' companies seem to have been advertising recently. The adverts which the station tuned in most frequently at my workplace broadcasts now seem to be almost exclusively for payday loan companies - the jingle for Wonga.com adapted from 'Mr. Sandman' is particularly irritating - and for those companies which offer help in reclaiming mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance. 

While this type of advertising is, to me, concrete proof of the lack of any kind of actual new commercial activity taking place in the wider economy - litigation and disputes should always be the consequence of commercial activity, not its engine - the relative absence of 'cash for gold' adverts, even from TV, suggests either that the bottom has fallen out of that business or that all spare gold floating about in the economy has already been hoovered up without any apparent positive impact on our collective economic health.

In light of that, it is gratifying to see that the 'cash for gold' trade in Scotland has been more lightly regulated than in England. Let us hope that all of the Scottish trade's customers received the best of all possible deals at all times and under all circumstances; for the idea of one's neighbours perhaps having been ripped off in their desperation for no reason other than where they live would be enough to make one ashamed to be Scottish. 

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

On Immigration

Having written about immigration at great length in the past, and not having done so for some time, it's time to state my views on the subject now. 

Nothing clears the mind about immigration policy faster than seeing the lives of both your wife and your son being saved by an Indian surgeon. And while this might be indicative of my final descent into an ideology best described as 'anarchopapism', I find the intellectual demands of immigration restriction to be incompatible with my confessional obligation to shake the hands of my Indian and African brothers at the Sign of Peace. Our parish has a large number of Indian worshippers; no matter now unlovingly we natives and residents of the west of Scotland can behave towards each other, nor how civically retarded some of our neighbours can seem to be, we can all still thank God that we don't have to be Christians in Orissa and Kerala.

If I were to be granted one wish for Glasgow and all its residents, I would wish that they read Remzije Sherifi's memoir, 'Shadow Behind The Sun'. Ms. Sherifi, at one time a radio journalist of some distinction in her native Kosovo, arrived in Glasgow as an asylum seeker in 1999. She was suffering from her second bout of breast cancer at the time. Her book makes compelling, extremely thought-provoking and sometimes very uncomfortable reading. Oh wad some power the gift tae gie us...

That being the case, it was gratifying to see that Ed Miliband has returned to immigration, a subject upon which, after Blair, the Labour Party will always struggle for credibility. 

I once likened Miliband to an exotic ruminant, and both the content and tone of his immigration speech would seem to bear out that perhaps rather uncharitable analysis. He seems not to speak words, but grinds them slowly between three rows of teeth instead. Linguistically Blairite, he favours short sentences. Without verbs. Of ten words. Or less. Sometimes. But not often.

In fairness to him, it was at least an honest speech, if not exactly laugh-a-minute stuff. As a good party man it must have been quite difficult for him to deliver it, given that it involved a measure of self-flagellation rarely seen outside the works of Dan Brown; although suggesting that the Labour Party is developing Mosleyite tendencies would be going too far.

For what my opinion's worth now, access to the British job market should be unlimited, subject to one proviso. On their first day at work in any new job in the UK, every foreign worker should be given a card printed both in English and in their native language. That card should detail, with absolute accuracy, the full nature and extent of their employment rights, what British law directs that they are entitled to be paid, their rights to join trade unions and participate in industrial action and where they can obtain assistance in employment disputes from speakers of their own language. The responsibility for producing these cards should rest with employers, who should therefore also be liable to bear the costs of their production. These cards should be provided free of charge, and any attempt to charge workers for them, either up-front or through their wages, should be a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. The Home Office and DWP should be able to conduct unannounced spot inspections of every single workplace in the UK to ensure that every foreign worker on site has been provided with this card and is aware of their employment rights. 

Appraising foreign workers of their rights might perhaps go some way to equalising the British labour market with something of a win-win; the foreign workers would be more likely to recognise exploitation and thus be far less willing to tolerate it, while the native British worker would at least know that their foreign competition has been advised of its rights. That seems perfectly equitable all round, which in the immigration debate is just about as good as it gets.

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Sir Chris Hoy's Financial Arrangements

Having long ago taken his rightful place alongside Eric Liddell and Allan Wells in that illustrious line of fast men from Edinburgh, I am a great admirer of Sir Chris Hoy, and find the badgering he is receiving over his financial affairs to be utterly baffling.

Sir Chris is not a politician or commentator. I know nothing of his politics, and couldn't really care less. What he does is ride bikes, and he does it better and faster than anyone else. When he won four gold medals and a knighthood in Beijing, it's very doubtful whether anyone trying to bathe in his reflected glory then would have given a monkey's about his future dealings with his own company. He might not even have had to have one at that stage, a matter to which I'll return. That his financial affairs should be considered worthy of comment now is wholly indicative of the thoroughly mean-spirited nature of British public commentary. His financial dealings have been perfectly legal and proper, and it is heartening to see that he has mounted an aggressive defence of his actions - not that the average British citizen and taxpayer, which is what Sir Chris ultimately is, who has acted within both the letter and the spirit of the law, as he has, should ever have to do any such thing. 

The insolence of this imposition upon his privacy is staggering. Has The Guardian been perusing the returns of every company connected to every person in the public eye in the hope of digging up dirt? If that has been the case, then this attempt to hatchet Sir Chris is remarkably inept. Its rationale seems to have been that Sir Chris was supported by Lottery funding at some point in the past. This terminated in 2008, just after his success in Beijing. I have never been in the position of having had to seek Lottery funding, yet one does not imagine that the terms of its grant would include taking a vow of poverty. The idea that Sir Chris Hoy somehow 'owes' the Lottery is as absurd as suggesting that The Proclaimers owe the DWP because they were on YTS. An analogy which springs to mind, for some reason, for that absurd situation which Sir Chris found himself in 2008  is that of those employees of the White Star Line who were considered discharged from service, and their wages accordingly stopped, the moment the 'Titanic' slid below the water. You hit the big time, big fella, now you're on your own. However, the return which The Guardian has found so suspicious is that of 2011, a full three years after his Lottery funding ceased. They have not made any kind of case that Sir Chris has acted in an improper manner. What they have made is a thoroughly compelling case for the continuation of Sir Chris's Lottery funding; the absolute opposite of the case they set out to make. This might be a watershed moment in the history of British print journalism, the point at which the hot-metal trade finally turned what it thought was darkness into the brightest light.

Those who are mean-spirited enough to raise such non-questions should perhaps direct their energies towards probing why the father of one of the greatest Olympians the United Kingdom has ever produced has had difficulty obtaining tickets to watch his son compete at an  Olympics being held in the United Kingdom. And they might also care to remember that in a very few weeks' time Sir Chris Hoy will be taking to the track to race for his country at a competitive level his critics would find impossible. 

Sir Chris is probably too committed, if not bloody thrawn (you know what those Edinburgh folk are like) to let this sort of press treatment undermine his focus; yet if I were in his shoes I might be wondering just what sort of country I was competing for, that intrudes upon my affairs one day and cheers me on the next; a nation of hypocrites. It won't make him think of taking the next bend a hundredth of a second slower than he could, but it would a damn shame if it caused him to ride off into the sunset.

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The Politics Of Parkinsonism

This is  my very last post on the subject of dopamine illness. As I noted last week, all of the reading I have done on it is flushing slowly out of my system, but the thinking and theorising about it will take longer to disappear; such as whether the dopaminergic qualities of the coffee bean - at home I drink the contents of a 100g jar of coffee each week and need at least 10g to get me going in the morning, notwithstanding what I also consume at work -  can be aerosolised, possibly enabling Parkinsonians to carry around wee sprays that would enable them to titrate their medication themselves, as and when they require it and not when somebody else directs that they should take it. Or whether or not the role of the vowel sounds of the swearwords used by coprolalic Tourettists in their utterances has been investigated as thoroughly as it might have been. Or whether or not dopamine illness has a recognisable anatomy, represented by a tendency to spindling limbs in some cases (I've got some completely cracking and totally off the wall examples of that; they will never in a million years guess who I've got lined up to put in front of them, and it's likely that nobody would have found that funnier than the gentleman himself).  Or perhaps expanding on the range of activities to which the operation of 'kinetic melody' can apply, or of the range of emotions which can be invoked by 'somatic compliance', or discussion of the types of relationships to which sufferers of dopamine illness might best be suited. It is highly unlikely that I will ever get a chance to discuss any of these ideas with a neurologist on equal terms, which seems something of a pity.

Not that I am in the least bitter about this, you understand, not at all. You live with it for decades, try to find out about it, get diverted from your original purpose (securing your son's financial future for the day you won't be able to work any more), then become more affected by it until you have to stop. This particular no-win scenario is still sticking in the gullet somewhat. At the very least, I can put my hand over my heart and truthfully say, as every former pupil of the Jesuits should be able to say of all their endeavours, 'I did my best'. Perhaps this is The Lord's will; that my theory of dopamine illness should be investigated and will be investigated, but not by me. If that is the case then one must accept, it, regardless of how much joyous trauma it inflicts upon one's vanity and avarice. Your prayers that God grant me the grace to overcome this extreme irritation would be most welcome.

However, like all bad lovers I cannot say goodbye without having the last word; and my last word on this subject is 'shock'. 

Writing in 1964, Gilbert Onuaguluchi, to my mind the greatest of all students of Parkinsonism, noted how he was aware of one sufferer who had been propelled into the condition by the prospect of having to give evidence in the High Court (he did not elaborate on whether the High Court he was referring to was the English or Scottish version, two very separate beasts; as he conducted his work in Glasgow, I have assumed that he was referring to the High Court of Justiciary).

Of course, Onuaguluchi was writing in the days of capital punishment, when proceedings in that forum often carried very much more of an all-or-nothing flavour than they do nowadays; however even the most experienced lawyers find the prospect of having to give evidence very stressful, particularly in their own home courts - one solicitor who was on the other side of a case I was once involved in nearly had a nervous breakdown down the phone at me when he was advised that he might have to get into the box and take the oath. Whether or not stress induced by the prospect of having to give evidence in the High Court was a factor in the recent and very untimely passing of Paul McBride QC will never be known. If it was, it would be evidence that even the most accomplished examiners can be affected by the prospect of becoming the examined, even when their actions have been beyond reproach and they are classed by the law as complainers, victims of crime. 

Onuaguluchi's case studies refer to a woman whose first two children were born live and her latter two born dead, who became Parkinsonian in the same year as the first stillbirth. He did not make the connection between the two events, but one has a nagging query whether or not the two events were connected. As she became Parkinsonian in 1926 and Professor Onuaguluchi died in 2005, we will never know for sure. 

In 'Awakenings', Oliver Sacks writes at some length about the impact of shocks to the system in inducing Parkinsonism; indeed he saw it himself on his own ward, en masse. Having started his L-DOPA trials in New York in the spring of 1969, he returned home to London for the month of August that year. While he was away his hospital underwent a change of administration, going very quickly from a relaxed regime to a very much more rigourous one. Upon his return he found that much of his good work from prior to his departure had been undone, with many of his patients just as Parkinsonian, if not more so, than they had been before he had started them on L-DOPA.

Sacks seems to equate the increase in Parkinson's cases that occurred at the time of the Industrial Revolution with increased exposure to toxins. There may certainly be some truth in this, and I actually fear that the advent of toxic Parkinsonism on a large scale in Scotland might just be an unintended, very unwelcome and very destructive consequence of the recent Scottish law regulating the minimum price at which alcohol may be sold to the public. If anyone wishes suggestions on why that law should be reconsidered, that's one right there.

I quote from memory, and my memory may fail me; however I do not recall Sacks suggesting that shock might have been a factor in the increase in the number of Parkinson's cases seen in the early 19th Century. Another factor I do not recall him exploring was whether James Parkinson's publication of the 'Essay On The Shaking Palsy' might have caused his peers to look more closely for its symptoms; in 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat', Sacks records his own shock at seeing a Tourettes sufferer for the first time in 1971 (he was nearly 40 at the time, and had been qualified for many years), then seeing three others on the streets of New York the next day, then two more the day after that. I do not know whether the increase in Parkinson's cases 200 years ago described by Sacks could have been the consequence of the type of vogue for diagnoses which Arthur Shapiro roundly criticised in the context of Tourettes. It might have been, it might not. 

However, in my respectful view the possibility that the shock which their systems suffered as a consequence of their involvement with the Industrial Revolution was the cause of, or contributed towards, some of those extra 19th Century Parkinson's sufferers described by Sacks becoming Parkinsonian cannot be discounted (and my apologies for the unwieldy nature of that sentence; you only have to read it, I had to write it). The Industrial Revolution was a horrible environment in which to live, with 18 hour days being routine, slum living conditions, very few employment protections and with the spectre of the workhouse sometimes (often?)  being the only thing keeping you going back to work the next day. I have even come across one example, from Leeds in 1815, of corporal punishment being used in the workplace. For the majority of those who had to live through it, the Industrial Revolution was a thoroughly horrible experience, one of constant struggle and stress. If, however, those conditions and that stress resulted in an increase in the number of cases of either Parkinson's Disease or Parkinsonism, then that presents a high and severe moral for us in our time.

For many years now the imposition of shocks by the state, the use of shock as an instrument of  policy apparently in all aspects of policy, has been so widespread that a few years ago a very clever and thorough Canadian lady named Naomi Klein wrote a book about it called 'The Shock Doctrine'. 

I am not trying to be apocalyptic. I am not suggesting that we run to the hills. I am a Christian, and accordingly the forecasting of catastrophes is above my pay grade. However, we would perhaps do well to consider why our governments set such store in avoiding manifestations of pandemic flu; influenza is famously and exceptionally efficient at insulting the substantia nigra to such a degree that Parkinsonism can develop as a result. By the same token, we live in a society which seems to require anti-depressant drugs in order to function. The effects of some of these drugs can be controversial. There are undoubtedly many people out there whose lives are enhanced by them. However, given that anti-depressants are often used in the treatment of Parkinsonism, it is only fair to note that what I am truly and absolutely sure is an unintended consequence of their prescription could be the arrest of Parkinsonian symptoms in some users.

If what is known as shock therapy continues to be used by governments in the face of what would seem to be the overwhelming burden of evidence that its effects can be wholly detrimental to the governed, in my view even creating a risk that the governed might develop even Parkinson's Disease and Parkinsonism, this does not merely indicate massive bad faith on the part of government, it also makes the avoidance of mass Parkinsonism a political issue. I await the advent of any British politician with the necessary combination of guts and brains to pick up that standard. I feel I might still be waiting some years from now.
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As I say, I don't do secular eschatology. My Lord has given me my own burden, and I've spread it around quite enough. Encephalitis lethargica was so shocking to the general public, the presence amongst them of so many people with symptoms that could be mistaken for Tourettes so unsettling, that it was forgotten, as actually were most other expressions of dopamine illness, until Arthur Shapiro, Oliver Sacks and all their most dedicated and humane colleagues helped discover them again.  My own experience of researching dopamine illness has been such that I wish to forget it. Let us hope that those in power who adhere to the application of shock therapy do not forget it. If they do forget it, or have known nothing of it, or have chosen to ignore it, they might not be too pleased at having to deal with the consequences. Realising that you might have seen the future staring back at you from the shaving mirror is a most unattractive thought. 

The neoliberal doctrine which underpins shock therapy might be of the utmost purity; but the neurological trumps the neoliberal every time.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

'Rumor Has It'

My wife has been watching this movie on one of the ITV channels while I've been cyberpottering.

This ugly and unpleasant film is of the type that must have looked absolutely great on paper - its premise is that 'The Graduate' is based on a true story. That's fine if you like 'The Graduate'; personally I've never been able to sit through it, but it's obviously been someone's cup of tea. Such projects are fine if their subjects are likely to be accessible to a wider audience. In his book 'Which Lie Did I Tell?', William Goldman recounted his experiences of having worked on such a project, one of his own conception entitled 'The Year Of The Comet'. Anyone who was in the least concerned with that project was very enthusiastic about it and absolutely sure that it was going to be a runaway success. Needless to say it wasn't.

'Rumor Has It' ravenously consumes the enormous talents of Jennifer Aniston, Shirley MacLaine and Kevin Costner, playing a character who would have been in his mid-twenties when Mr. Costner himself would have been no older than 10 or 11.  It is, of course, only being fair to those responsible for 'Rumor Has It' to point out that Mr. Costner has put perhaps more than his own fair share of dreck in front of the movie-watching public in the past; however, it is difficult not to feel embarrassed not only with the character but for the actor as he and Ms. Aniston utter, like good pros, what is, to my mind, some of the most obscene dialogue I have ever heard in any mainstream movie. 

'Rumor Has It' is a bad film based on a stupid premise and filled with very unpleasant dialogue. Should you get the chance to view it, I would recommend something very much more engaging and wholesome, such as snail racing.

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A Crawl In The Right Direction

It is interesting to note the observations of John McManus

"It's the first time in British history that a corrupt policeman - in relation to a miscarriage of justice - has been convicted of a wrongdoing."

If Mr. Mc Manus is correct, this is a development which is long, long overdue. 

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

On Corroboration

I am indebted to The Big Lad for this rather discombobulating post.

Prior to devolution, the offices and roles of both the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General for Scotland were very clearly understood and defined. They were political roles, held by politicians, whereas their most recent holders seem to have been recruited from the civil service. If they are now to be considered civil service appointments, I am not in the least interested in any view on any matter of policy held by their occupiers, and much less in hearing any such view. In my humble opinion they should shut up, get on with their work, be grateful for the wages that go into the bank and ensure they don't draw too much attention to themselves.

If the requirement for corroboration were to be attacked in the same way that virtually every other protection from persecution enjoyed by the citizen in Scotland has been or is being attacked, then Scotland can be considered as being even further down the slide than it is already.

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Club 12

Iain Duncan Smith's Attack On Benefits Payable To Strikers


It could be a spastic, reflexive tossing of red meat to the psycho right, a necessary action when the pack's morale is low. However, what it also suggests to me is that the Coalition is desperately fearful of a breakdown in industrial relations, perhaps caused by its failure to provide any significant remedies to the current economic crisis, and is therefore seeking to lay the groundwork so that the boot can be stuck in at a later date in order to prevent London turning into Athens. 

They cannot directly attack the right to join a trade union, as that would contravene assorted treaties committing the UK to the advancement of human rights; so they do the next best thing, and attack the right to strike by making it difficult to strike. They're such nice people.

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Jimmy Carr's Tax Arrangements

I have always found the comedian Jimmy Carr's style to be smug and dislikeable, but I think he's been more than a little hard done by with the public savaging he's undergone over his tax arrangements; arrangements which seem to be perfectly legal, if a little circuitous. 

How did this information come into the public domain? Was it blabbed by a minister? Was it leaked by some envious little jobsworth at HMRC? However this happened, if it arose as a result of some breach of his confidentiality by either a politician or a civil servant Mr. Carr might care to consider suing Her Majesty's Government in The Mother And Father Of All Data Protection Litigations. If his confidentiality has been breached for no reason other than that he has subjected banker's tax arrangements to satire, if you could call it that, it would suggest that those who have control of our data, even data so sensitive as our tax arrangements, are more than willing to use it against us for their own aims, which might not necessarily coincide with ours.

The British right does not and has not ever played fair in any way, shape or form in respect of any matter whatsoever. In his essay 'On Coffee House Politicians', William Hazlitt referred to 'natural Tories, for whom might is right'. It was true then, and it's just as true now.

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Julian Assange's Glimpse Of The Future

Whether or not Julian Assange's actions in seeking asylum within the Ecuadorean Embassy were motivated by whether or not that country has an extradition treaty with the United States would be interesting to know, not that Dwight and Clayton Lee have viewed such niceties as obstacles to apprehension in the recent past. 

However, if that were the case then it might offer a glimpse of a future in which the United Kingdom is viewed as a country so oppressive that those who oppose its government's actions are at such risk that they must consider seeking asylum elsewhere. In a globalised world, even the traffic in regugees would seem to be two-way.

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Playing Catch-Up

My apologies if seem of these posts seem a bit out of date but I've been offline for four days.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Broadsword Calling Danny Boy

My apologies for the lack posts over the past few days - wireless broadband seems to be temperamental as well as being prohibitively expensive.  I lost service for 24 hours last week when the router went out like the radio signal at the final crushing of the Prague Spring, and on Sunday night the light on the adapter stopped blinking. I tend to find dealing wth malfunctioning equipment very, very stressful, but it's also a little humiliating when trying to treat with an insolent avatar, albeit one with the sinisterly appropriate neo-pagan name of 'wizard', that's telling to you to push a button on a very sophisticated and delicate box when you haven't been left any instruction manuals for it.

The engineers are coming out tomorrow to fix the whole thing, so hopefully the issue will be resolved then.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

On Impediments To Marriage

OK, legalise gay marriage on the basis that the current system of civil partnerships is unjust on the basis that it denies equality.

What is to be done about those who feel themselves unable to contract marriages as a result of the workings of the Child Support Agency? 

I may be mistaken, and am open to correction if that is the case, but it is my understanding  that if one party to a relationship, perhaps a genuinely loving one of many years duration with the potential to become  a stable and enduring marriage, is subject to the discipline of the CSA while their child from a previous relationship still requires to be maintained, their potential spouse's earnings fall to be included as income in any maintenance assessment made by the CSA. This renders their potential spouse liable to maintain a child with whom they have no biological relationship, will have neither grounds nor opportunity to adopt and might never even see, indeed might never even have met.

Thsi is not to say that such children should not be maintained by the biological parent of theirs who would be a party to the new marriage; but in practical terms is this not as great an impediment to the formation of a marriage as declaring that marriage should only be between a man and a woman? And if that is the case, where is the public outcry in favour of couples in this situation, of which there must be thousands if not tens of thousands around the country?

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The Rest Ethic

The ungrammatical and contextually void headline 'Truants miss 3.7m school days official figures show' makes one wonder whether some headline writers were playing truant when they should have been studying English.

If we have a concept of a work ethic - and the fact that we still demand that children attend school means that we do, for the installation of a work ethic is the de facto purpose of all schooling of whatever type and to whatever standard - perhaps we need an equal and opposite standard of a rest ethic, the formal acknowledgment that there are some people who just don't want to work, will always shirk work and even when they have work will do anything they can to avoid work. This would render redundant much of the official hand-wringing about unemployment, and would cut the legs from under those who claim that working is per se good for you; there are some people out there who just aren't cut out for working and for whom even attempting to work is detrimental to them, and that's that. 

Some of these people might develop the rest ethic early in life as shown by their truancy from school. Some truants might go on to become private equity billionaires, but it's unlikely that the majority of them will. There are those who might become well-adjusted members of society if their home lives were better structured, but that's a problem that forcing them to go to school isn't going to cure. Holistic thinking is not usually a strong point among either ideologues or zealots, and we must have no fault divorce, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.

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Getting One's Head On Right

The Julio-Claudians are slowly flushing their way out of my system, thank God - studying them for such a protracted period was not merely physically but also morally demanding. 

The nature of the behaviours they displayed was such that it seems beyond question that they suffered from some sort of dopamine illness, very possibly aggravated by the nature of the appalling society they led. I once read a critique of Plato's 'Republic' that suggested that the only society that has ever come close to replicating it was Stalin's Russia. If that was the case, then the Rome of the Juilo-Claudians was  a template of what a truly libertarian society might be like, and I think that the pressure of being at its top might have contributed to the appalling behaviours of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. You ran the constant risk of exile, assassination, or even lawful execution after denunciation by the people you love. Any marriages you formed could be ended for political reasons, causing you to be cautious in all your relationships. You couldn't trust anyone, even family; you must have felt totally alone. It must have been a hellishly stressful atmosphere in which to live, and thank God it's gone. There was nothing glamourous about it. Classical Rome was hell on Earth. The leaven of Christianity is a welcome blessing to lighten the load, and even then one runs the risk of becoming in some way sympathetic to them, although it's not without it's funny side - the exorbitance of Caligula in slaughtering flamingoes to golden images of himself puts the guilt one can feel at one's own outbursts of exorbitance, usually expressed in the occasional unbudgeted purchase of an Indian meal from Tesco, into a measure of perspective. 

Yet there is also no question that at least three out of the four of them knew right from wrong, and did wrong willingly, a standing rebuke to psychotherapists and others who say that we are merely creatures of our genes. Those familiar with dopamine illness's great diversity of symptoms can guess that Tiberius knew so clearly that he was doing wrong that it showed on his face. Illness, no matter how crushing, no matter how debilitating, no matter how invasive, is never any excuse for the doing of evil. I was getting too close to them, too close not merely to understanding them but sympathising with them, that I have ended what I was doing and hope never to see those four bloody names again.

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Thanks Be To God For Prayers Answered

In a manner nothing short of miraculous.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Neuromythology

In Greek mythology, when the common people, neither the overtly bad nor the overtly heroic, descended to the underworld they were deprived of the consolation of their memories of their previous lives by drinking the waters of the River Styx. 

This might be far-fetched, but one can't help but wonder whether this story represents some deep folk-remembering, some working of a collective unconscious trying to describe the effects of that most Stygian of neurological illnesses, 'Korsakov's Syndrome'.

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Simon Jenkins On Disestablishment Of the Church Of England

As a Roman Catholic one must tiptoe around such matters surefootedly, but to me it would seem to be the case that the old quangocrat should have kept his powder dry.

What one might charitably call the monarch's use of the title 'Defender Of The Faith' is the one very slender thread which binds the whole British sytem of government together, justifying as it does the enduring family fortunes founded upon either the grant or the acquisition of monastic properties seized by Henry VIII and his associates. That is why the letters 'FD' ('Fidei Defensor') continue to appear on every single British coin in circulation (an enduring example of what Robin Lane Fox described in 'Alexander the Great' as the tendency of societies to put their mythology on their coins, also neatly described by Matthew Dennison in 'The Twelve Caesars' as 'alloy based legerdemain') and why Prince Charles's stated aim of being named 'Defender of Faith' has in my view the potential not only to fatally weaken the established church's claims to any authority of any kind from within, but also to weaken the monarchy's claim to its position.

This would not be some sideshow like the Wilberforce-Huxley debate, an exercise very often touted by Darwinists as a triumph of reason over faith when its real import was the challenge mounted not merely to the spiritual but more importantly the intellectual authority of the Church of England. Such exercises do not present any kind of spiritual challenge at all, as the spiritual principle at stake, to proclaim disbelief in God using the disproof of Genesis as a fig-leaf, was a freedom allowed by God himself as a consequence of the gift of free will, and therefore not one requiring the endorsement of Bishop Wilberforce.

The abandonment of the title 'Defender Of The Faith' would instead be a direct challenge not to the Church of England per se but to the monarchy and the system of government it embodies as a result of the monarch requiring to be the head of that church, a consequence of monarchs having felt entitled to style themselves 'Defender Of The Faith' . One hopes that the Prince of Wales is not able to enact his plan for many years, but decades from now we just might be wondering what all the fuss was about.

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On Dual Contracts

While the news that Rangers Football Club might be going under could just have kickstarted a spate of deathbed rallies in Donegal, the manner in which the club seems effectively to have come to an end in its current form suggests that the apparent indispensability of an entity known as Rangers within Scottish society meant that securing its survival was an end which had to be achieved by any means necessary. 

Yet the whole business of 'dual contracts' remains to be investigated. When I read of the possibility of these mechanisms having been used, I was reminded of how treaties once contained secret protocols, binding states to courses of action they would prefer not to be publicly advertised before they were invoked. That's precisely what any use of dual contracts in this case would have been; a lapse into murky corner-lurking to defeat by the rules by which you have publicly bound yourself.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

He's Lost His Marbles

The rather obvious insult which presents itself as a response to this item

I've no problem at all with the course of action he's proposing, subject, of course, to two centuries' worth of storage and maintenance costs being refunded first. Oh...


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On The Possibility Of Mitt Romney's Election As President Of The United States

With the greatest of respect to American readers, I take much less interest in their country's affairs than I used to. I should, for sure; for all its problems it's still the wealthiest in the world and the financial tribulations we have endured for the past four years have shown that whatever affects it badly still affects the rest of us to a very much greater degree. However R.W. Emerson, one of that nation's most famous men of letters, hit the nail of the difficulties surrounding the ideological divisions in American politics on the head in the 1840's, and after reading his essay on the subject earlier this year I don't really feel I have anything else to add. 

For all of the visible policy differences between him and his likely competition, Mr. Romney might as well have been named Identikit Republican Rich Guy Number Four (and I realise that sounds like a brand of cologne; given the current state of American capitalism, I wouldn't be surprised if some thrusting College Republican entrepreneur concocts something like that to sell at the convention - it would give a whole new meaning to the term 'snake oil'). However, given that its holder might just be the next President would it be impolite to ask where on Earth the name 'Mitt' came from? Is is some kind of matronymic? It looks German in origin,  but what appears to be his policy platform will inevitably lead to the headline 'The Iron Mitt In The Velvet Glove'. The guy can't help the name he was given, but it seems unstatesmanlike; a bit like having a Prime Minister named Ed.


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Osborne At Leveson

It's perhaps un-Christian to think this, but I do hope that the the Chancellor of the Exchequer found the experience of testifying at the Leveson Inquiry to have been discomfiting, if only because his public manner smacks rather unfortunately of great arrogance, and of being accustomed to asking questions to which he expects answers, rather fielding questions to which answers are expected from him. 

These experiences are always good for the soul, if not necessarily the career.

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The Lost Integers Of Brazzaville

There aren't any, but I thought it would be cool to write a post with cool words like 'Brazzaville' and 'integers' in the title.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Assuming The Highest Office At The End Of Your Career

I'm currently reading 'The Twelve Caesars', Matthew Dennison's really rather good new book.

While he steers healthily clear of my own obsessions regarding the Julio-Claudians, it is interesting to note his recording of just how unsuccessful the very short-lived career of Galba really was, despite the fact that he was proclaimed emperor in his seventies. You'd have thought that by that time he'd have enough experience to make a good fist of the job, yet he managed to get himself assassinated in the Forum within months. 

Yet this should not permit one to engage in some kind of historic ageism; think, for example, of the sublime career of Blessed Pope John XIII, that archetypal 'pope in transition'.

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My Best Man

My best man The Big Lad has had his ticket clipped by the professional beaks for 10 years; a sore one, I'm sure, given the circumstances as reported by Scotland on Sunday, a piece in respect of which he has already felt it necessary to write a letter to the editor (and the nature and tone of some of the comments on the thread beneath the online version both suggest that that newspaper's website might wish to tighten its moderation policies). If readers of Scotland on Sunday are dismayed by the divergence between what its report on his case says and the reporting issues that Big Paul has felt it necessary to highlight, they should take comfort from the knowledge that there will always be two items in that newspaper which will always be correct. The Big Lad and his family should know that whatever the reasons for their tribulations - and the gears which power the meting out of professional discipline to Scottish solicitors have historically ground very slow, in my view often perhaps unnecessarily prolonging the agony - they have always been in our thoughts and prayers, and I hope that the future brings that gentlest of giants and his people all of the happiness and good fortune which, in my mere opinion, they thoroughly deserve. (Coda 11/06/12 - I omitted to mention this last night, but in his communications with 'Scotland on Sunday' Big Paul has included a public apology to his former clients. From the experence of what is now a quarter of a century spent studying, commenting upon and sometimes even practicing the law of Scotland, I cannot recall any other case in which a disciplined Scottish solicitor has done this in a forum other than the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal. Although it may have been done in other cases, I cannot recall either having seen or heard of it being done; it may be without precedent, and witnesses more eloquently to the true quality of  The Big Lad's character than any words of mine ever could).


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The Tragedy Of Nigeria


One can do little more than quote from the obituary of Professor Gilbert Obiafor Onuaguluchi (1927 - 2005), first Vice-Chancellor of the  University of Jos and author of that most humane and enlightening work 'Parkinsonism', written by his son

"Professor Onuaguluchi was a true Nigerian who believed that tribal and other differences should not dictate one's behavior and certainly not one's contribution to the world..." 

Whatever motivates these characters, one hopes that they will never quench their fellow Nigerians' patriotism and commitment to maintaining the integrity of their nation.




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Saturday, June 09, 2012

'Angela Merkel Thinks We're At Work'

I don't think this is the most prudent football banner ever designed.

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On The Prospect Of Bailing Out The Spanish Banks

The news that Eurozone ministers are to have a pow-wow over the question of bailing out the Spanish banks brings to mind a book I read earlier this year, John  Hooper's 'The New Spaniards'.

First published in 1994, it was updated in 1998 and I believe it may have been again in 2006, although it was the 1998 version I had in my hands. This is a very interesting book, particularly given its date of publication, in that it fully records the history of Felipe Gonzalez's government; from the standpoint of 2012, the degree of apparent similarity between the policies of Gonzalez in Spain and the policies of New Labour is striking. It is almost as if Blair was following Gonzalez's blueprint.

It is a very dense and rewarding read. To regurgigate only a few items from it, it seems to be the case that unemployment in Spain has historically always been high, so while the current level of unemployment should be considered problematic it might not be a matter for us to become hysterical about it in the context of longer-term Spanish history.

Similarly, it very clearly records how the Spanish constitution of 1978 appointed the armed forces to be the guarantors of Spain's territorial integrity. That being the case, if that clause in that constitution is still in force it seems that the Scottish National Party has been grossly disingenuous in associating itself with Catalan politicians and in citing Catalonia as a model for Scotland to follow, as under the laws of Spain Catalonia will be kept in Spain by force.

However, the most striking aspect of all was Mr. Hooper's recounting of the various property bubbles which have blown up in recent Spanish history, and of how, after the restoration of democracy, improving home ownership was deemed to be a backdoor way of preventing strikes; if you have a mortage to pay, you need money to pay it.

It is impossible not to think that this was one of the motives behind the advent of British 'right to buy' legislation'; to 'give' something to someone that in the broad sense they could  already be said to own, which in turn causes them to voluntarily restrict their exercise of other rights you find less palatable.

A bit evil, that one, isn't it?

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On Criticism Of The BBC's Coverage Of The Queen's Diamond Jubilee

As one of the probably very many British people whose daily routine is blithely unimpaired by the fact that Elizabeth II has now reigned for sixty years, it's been fascinating to see the venom heaped on the BBC for its coverage of some of the Jubilee celebrations

Whiel I suspect that in some cases this may represent a form of payback for coverage of assorted appearances at the Leveson Enquiry which may, rather subjectively, have been perceived to have been unfavourable, the question 'What was the BBC supposed to do?' springs to mind. Did they organise any of the celebratory events, some of which appear to have been mind-numblingly fatuous? That whole business with the barge was strikingly late medieval, the sort of thing you'd expect to read of in a life of Elizabeth I, not see live on TV during the reign of Elizabeth II.

Did the BBC book Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole to sing in front of Buckingham Palace? I don't think so. They can only report what's put in front of them.

The question that kept running through my mind as I tried to avoid any coverage of the event from any source was that when the North Koreans organise celebrations centered around their head of state for life, it's somehow deemed to be a bad thing, but when we do it it's somehow supposed to be a good thing. For sure, although a few children might have been emitted screams of protest when dragged away from the XBox in order that they might stand in the street for hours waving small plastic flags, nobody celebrating the Jubilee was compelled to be there at gunpoint; although I am sure that the level of security around the events was such that they might have risked getting shot if they were perceived to be getting out of line just as surely as a pro-democracy demonstrator would do at a North Korean military parade. 

That being the case, does that mean that some North Koreans might turn out to support their head of state for life willingly?



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Friday, June 08, 2012

The New Blogger Format

It seems a lot less colourful than the old one.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

'Homeland"

A recent re-watching of 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest', or at least of those parts of it I can still stomach, produced two observations. 

The first is Josip Elic's pitch-perfect portrayal of the post-encephalitic Parkinsonian Bancini. In Ken Kesey's book, Bancini is meant to have been brain-damaged at birth; it would be very interesting to know what research Elic undertook to play Bancini, for his portrayal gives several indications of minutely observed sequelae to encephalitis lethargica

In the movie, the principal clue to the nature of Bancini's affliction is his one main line, which the character is made to repeat again and again: 'I'm so tired'. Elic produces perfect examples of plasticised dystonia in in his right wrist and flapping of his right arm, and in the shaking of his right leg when seated; but the clincher is the violence of the rage attack he suffers when he becomes involved in the fight Cheswick starts over Nurse Ratched's rationing of cigarettes. 

If memory serves, Oliver Sacks records in 'Awakenings' (aforesaid) that a number of post-encephalitics who had been warehoused in psychiatric hospitals eventually came under his, very proper, neurological care. 'Cuckoo's Nest' was set in 1963, and George Cotzias and his team did not publish their work on L-DOPA until 1967. In the context of PEP, it is saddening to think of how many lives were effectively postponed by the failure of medicine to recognise the true nature of their affliction and to provide them with the necessary types and degrees of support they required in order to lead relatively fulfilling lives.

The second thing about the movie that sticks in the mind is the scene immediately following Bancini's rage attack in which McMurphy, Bromden and Cheswick are waiting in the corridor before undergoing what we learn will be Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT). Immediately before this happens, the doctor who will perform that procedure comes into the corridor and the corridor immediately clears. I don't know whether Sir Peter Jackson is a fan of 'Cuckoo's Nest', but he used precisely the same image in 'The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring', when the orcs that the Fellowship encounter in The Great Hall of Dwarrowdelf, in The Mines of Moria, evacuate the room at the sight of the Balrog of Morgoth.

The recent TV drama serial 'Homeland' ended with a depiction of ECT being administered to a young woman (Claire Danes). The series was plotted in the rococo, curlicued manner beloved of television dramatists besotted with the idea that baffling your viewers is in some way as meritorious as intriguing them. Its protagonist was a young woman whose employment with the CIA caused her mental health to fracture, a personal tragedy depicted so coldly that to my mind it steered very close to becoming hard core pornography.

The final scene vitiated whatever merit the whole series might have had, the loving depiction of  a young blond woman being subjected to the indignity of having tens of thousands of volts shocked through her brain rendering the work meretricious. Yet it lacked the courage of its convictions; it did not show her losing either her bladder or her bowels, a titillatingly antiseptic and, in my opinion, brutally misogynistic depiction of an extremely unpleasant procedure. 

If this is the best that the makers of 'Homeland' can do, I wish them well in their future careers in the outer reaches of the schedule.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Peter Hitchens Throws The ADHD Gauntlet Down At His Own Feet

During the course of an attritional series of blog comments which is still not over and which has seen him entirely ignore observations on the operation of dopamine dysfunction being conveyed to him in real time, Peter Hitchens (or somebody pretending to be him) has declared that,

"I'd be glad to involve any qualified neurologist ( and I mean a real medically qualified neurologist, not some pseudoscientific 'neuroscientist' or 'neuropsychopharmacologist') in this specific question of objective proof."

Given that ADHD is a neurological illness the very fact of which he has been denying for many years, he would seem to be suggesting that he has not yet spoken to a qualified neurologist on the subject, never mind Dr. Martin Scurr, a colleague at his at Associated Newspapers of whose opinions he seems to be querulous (notice both the degradation in grammar and the increase in the number of typos in that comment- was it written when the writer was enraged?)

This is the ugliest and actually most debilitating blogfight I've been in for many years, and one that makes me wonder whether Chesterton had a point when he wrote that the madman cannot be said to have lost his reason but can be said to have lost everything but his reason. Mr. Hitchens cannot be expected to know this - after all, it cannot be provided objectively, which seems to me to be kind of a weird thing for a self-proclaimed man of faith like Peter Hitchens to insist on as vehemently as he does - but despite all appearances to the contrary I have come back to the Internet more frail than I was before I left. Bearing that in mind, answering his effusions on the subject of ADHD is a sapping exercise in intellectual entropy the capacity of which to debilitate is, I must admit, lessened only slightly by the barnacled experience of having had to deal with the same kind of attitude for half a lifetime. 

So if Peter Hitchens has no fears of consulting a neurologist on this matter, I call upon him to do so, and to have the guts to publish what they say to him when he goes in to their office and proclaims that ADHD does not exist. He might not do so in the conscious hope of selling advertising space in 'The Mail on Sunday', but absolutely no professional action Mr. Hitchens undertakes can reasonably be said not to have that aim in mind. 

Let us hear, then, the unvarnished truth from him concerning what the neurologists that he tries to tell the truth about ADHD to actually say to him when he tries that one on: and let us hope that the experience is not too traumatic for Mr. Hitchens. As an avid reader of his columns, I look forward to seeing what they have to say. 

And I will keep coming back to this subject again and again and again until he publishes some verifiable evidence that he has done so.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

'Beautiful Minds'

This recent BBC4 series on scientific innovators included a program on Richard Dawkins. 

It's easy to take a rise out of the old fella, but I finished watching it feeling a little sorry for him. Not only did he seem, in my view, to have been included in the series because he was Richard Dawkins, but he also shared his memory of what must have been an appalling trauma for him at the time, given the clarity with he recalled the event  60 years later; when he was seven, his grandfather made a scene because he didn't know the difference between a chaffinch and a bluetit. 

I'm quite sure the chaffinch and the bluetit didn't mind. 

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Painkillers In Football


It's not hard to draw an analogy between the situation being described by FIFA and Noel Gallagher's comment that

'I was trying to get off drugs, but I only swapped illegal drugs for prescription drugs. If you’re on private health care, they’re only too willing to dish them out. Ask Keith Richards.’(MK note - I don't have a clue what happened to the font there; this is like blogging in large print. Maybe Derek Jacobi might be available for the audiobook version).

Obviously the major factor in such matters is the health and well-being of the players; however if the painkillers being abused in football are solely off the shelf medicines that the players have provided for themselves, then FIFA needs to beef up the doping laws. However if the players are being prescribed or given such medications by the doctors provided for them either by their clubs or by their associations, FIFA needs to get creative, and determine whether the provision of these medicines is providing teams with an unfair advantage. If you have too many players on painkillers, you are not fielding your strongest possible team but one which is even stronger than the strongest you could field were all players to be available for selection in their natural and immediate states of health.

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Monday, June 04, 2012

No Mean Spirits

Bearing my immediately previous post in mind, there has been one recent item of current affairs which has got me going recently. 

It's certainly not connected to the effective disintegration of Rangers Football Club, the nearest thing to a Wagnerian Gotterdammerung that the south side of Glasgow has ever seen. All that's missing from this saga, a study in folly which social historians of the future may cite as a textbook example of 'overshoot', are shrieking Valkyries swooping down over Copland Road. There might even be an evil dwarf in there somewhere. This spectacle holds no drama for the neutral observer, only pantomime. The only significant issue of interest for me has been learning of the existence of mechanisms such as 'Company Voluntary Arrangements', and of the pressing need for their abolition; given that the concept of the limited company was invented for the sole purpose of enabling those involved in their management to escape liability for debt, it seems bizarre to give company owners a further layer of protection through a mechanism which enables a company to continue trading even when they've run it into the ground, placing its creditors at a double disadvantage. It is disgenuous to argue that these mechanisms can only be deployed with the consent of creditors; when the choices are losing either 95% of your money in a CVA or 96% in a liquidation with legal fees on top, there doesn't seem to be much of a choice involved. It would seem that the airless heights of Scottish football is some sort of corporate doldrums where the perennial gales of creative destruction do not blow.

Nor is it the texting habits of Jeremy Hunt, whose apparent lack of any sense of the need to keep an official distance from officers of a company whose affairs he has been appointed to judge indicates that his true calling in life was to be a certain type of football journalist in Scotland, nor the insolence of Rebekah Brooks in making adverse public comment upon the event of her being charged by the police. When I read what she had said, for some reason the only thought that came into my head was 'Pride Comes Before A Fall'. Time will tell.

Megrahi's gone to the grave, still as absolutely culpable of the Lockerbie bombing as he was in life. If this event means to an end to public comment on the case by Dr. Jim Swire...I'll say no more, the man's been through a lot.  There seem to be goings on at the Vatican which merit a closer look. The economy's down the tubes and nobody knows what to do to fix it. No change on that score, it's as if I've never been away.

What has really got my back up has been the very mean-spirited passage of the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing)(Scotland) Bill. Scotland has never been a nation short of either laws or policemen, yet while my views might oppose the civic nationalist zeitgeist (we must all make sacrifices for our country: Strength and Honour), it seems to me to be my bounden duty to say that this particular piece of legislative aysmmetric cutting of glued left-over wallpaper is easily among the worst ever to emanate from the lawmaking limeworks at the bottom end of the Royal Mile. 

Yes, the doctors wanted it because of the savings that are projected to be made in the treatment of alcohol-related illnesses and injuries. That's fine, for sure, but any saving made on spending on current issues that has to be offset against future spending on the new illnesses that will appear when some Scots start making ther own alcohol can only be considered to be a false economy. A few doozy brain ones might be on that list; but as Rick Jones used to say the end of each episode of 'Fingerbobs', that's another story. You'll see their names soon.

Yes, the cops wanted it because of crime rates they perceived as having been fuelled by cheap alcohol. My own understanding of this matter, which to the best of my knowledge and belief is wholly reflective of the current law of Scotland, is that crime is caused by criminals, whether they be drunk or sober. I hope they get what they're looking for, because the social problems that might be caused by the springing up of shebeens, a curse I believe we have largely got rid of through the sensible licensing of alcohol vendors rather than by restricting the availability of alcohol itself, might make any current set of crime rate stats look favourable. 

This is a bad, nasty, silly, punitive, mean-spirited law; in other words, the sort of thing we have come to expect from the soi-disant, erstaz 'Scottish Government'.

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Being Back On The Beat

This whole wireless thing is fantastic, enabling one to engage in horizontal blogging for the first time in one's life.

The sheer degree of relief at being back online is really that of being back in the land of the living and among one's friends, wherever they might be. When combined with the ability to blog with my feet up and not, as my father once rather unkindly put it, 'hunched over the keyboard like a gorilla', the feeling is so good that one can't really imagine myself getting angry about anything I read online ever again. Blogging from the sofa  is the way to go, chaps; it's not the route to world peace, but it's pleasant nonetheless. 

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Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth

Yesterday morning, while my wife was out briefly -

Me - "Are you bored with Daddy yet, son?"

Son - "Yes".

He's two, bless him.

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On Electronic Reading Devices

Without wishing to sound even more Luddite than usual, I've realised I have an acute problem with electronic reading devices like the Kindle. 

I retain enough faith in the intelligence of the British public to assume that many, if not most, of us know that 'Tropic of Cancer' and 'Delta of Venus' are dirty books. People can read them if they like and it's nobody else's business what you read, but if you were to read those books in public somebody nearby would know that you were reading a dirty book. 

With Kindles or other such devices, each product manufactured with the same appearance and with the screen only accessible to the reader, any fear of social disapproval that might be felt should one feel the urge to read 'Tropic of Cancer' on the bus to work in the morning could easily be overcome. I'm sure that those who regulate and monitor the content which can be viewed through these devices apply extremely rigorous selection criteria; yet I can't help but think of one definition of Japanese society I once came across, that the Japanese salaryman will break into a cold sweat at the thought of not having the right type of coffee for a guest while having no compunction about reading hardcore pornography on the train. 

I really wouldn't like us to go down that route. The time may come when I might find one very useful, in which case I'll be at the head of the queue to get one; but not yet.

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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Reflections On Dopamine Illness, Part I : Recasting Neuropsychiatry

(For MCK and EMK)

Disclaimers - 

1. I am not a doctor, I am a retired solicitor. If you feel that either you or someone you are responsible for should see a doctor, go to the doctor.

2. I am not undertaking this exercise in order to help you sue your doctor. As previously stated I have no medical training, the theories contained in these posts are mine and mine alone, I accept no liability for any course of action anyone, anywhere, undertakes in response to them, and I will not assist anyone anywhere who seeks to use them in order to advance their cause in any litigation against any doctor.

OK. Now we all know where we stand.

At first I thought it referred merely to a spitting tic of a type not uncommon in Tourettes; but it still didn’t all add up.

The Latin verb ‘to spit’ is the First Conjugation sputo, -tare, -tavi, - tatum, and the phrase I needed to translate was ‘risus indecens, ira turpior spumante rictu’. ‘Sputo’ and ‘spumante’ are clearly of the same root, but ‘spumante’ indicates the performance of some action other than spitting.

In his translation of Chapter 5 Verse 30 of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus’s ‘The Twelve Caesars’ (Penguin Books 1957, republished 2000, p. 177), relating to the emperor Claudius, Robert Graves, the author of ‘I, Claudius’ and ‘Goodbye To All That’, translated this phrase as ‘...an uncontrolled laugh, a horrible habit, under the stress of anger of slobbering at the mouth...’.  But this still didn’t match up with any Tourettes tic I’d heard of; until the answer came to me completely out of the blue about six weeks later, in a thoroughly Tourettic manner.

I had been looking at the wrong word. 

The phrase is not merely ‘spumante’, but ‘spumante rictu’. ‘Rictu’, with its obvious relationship to the English ‘rictus’, suggests that the real meaning of the phrase ‘spumante rictu’ is ‘liquid emanated from his mouth while his face was fixed’. Anger may certainly have been displayed during the course of the facial movements thus described, but if Suetonius was correctly describing the actions of his mouth it was possible that the action that Graves had translated as ‘slobbering’ was in fact salivating.

And if he salivated, then it would suggest that Claudius not only displayed symptoms of Tourettes, which he certainly did, but also that he showed symptoms of Parkinsonism; not the degenerative affliction known as ‘Parkinson’s Disease’ (‘paralysis agitans’), but  ‘secondary’ or ‘atypical Parkinson's’. The excitement I felt at realising that this was a possible answer to the questions posed by Claudius’s baffling symptoms was intense. 

And it that was the case, it was equally possible that during these episodes he might have been suffering a symptom of Parkinsonism known as an 'oculogyric crisis'; as Dr. Gilbert Onuaguluchi noted on pps 53 and 54 of 'Parkinsonism' (Butterworths, 1964, aforesaid), 

"Emotional disturbances occur in all severe cases. Despite rigidity and immobility during the crisis, the patients are rarely silent: grunting, mumbling, howling or moaning are commonplace: and some emit sudden squeaking sounds like the plaintive cry of a seagull...A few patients sometimes have outbursts of uncontrollable laughter...Increased salivation is seen in less than 50 percent of patients and in these it is inconstant". 

In his 'The Deification Of Claudius The Clod', Seneca remarked that Claudius had a voice like a sea monster; and according to the relevant Wikipedia entry, oculogyric crises can also occur as reactions to neuroleptics, the class of drugs used to treat Tourette Syndrome.

I am indebted to Dr. George M. Burden for his wonderful paper 'The Imperial Gene', to my mind a work of genius, for the idea of revisiting the Julio-Claudians in this context. We'll be seeing more of them.

This might seem like little more than groping in the dark for convenient answers in the nether reaches of neurological history, the type of speculation which might make the speculator feel terribly clever while making an ass of themselves in the process but one of little useful application to modern medicine, but I would respectfully beg to differ. On the other hand, I am an interested party.

I have Tourette Syndrome; or do I? While Peter Hitchens might consider the confession of dopamine imbalance such as Tourettes to be, what was it, ah, yes, "an assertion, miles outside the rules of objective, demonstrable, predictive, repeatable or experimental science," I can assure him that I was in fact diagnosed with that condition in 1992, at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, and have required regular treatment for it since; yet I'm not quite as sure of that diagnosis as I used to be. 

Given the apparent level of public interest in the illness, which is certainly far greater than that in halitosis or varicose veins, it might be thought that reminiscences of Tourette Syndrome would fill the shelves, but there are remarkably few of them; Meige and Feindel's 'Tics And Their Treatment', with the foreword 'Confessions of a Ticquer', is apparently not available in the University of Glasgow Library, pretty much leaving the researcher with James McConnel's 'Life, Interrupted', a very personal book but still of value. My original plan had been merely to share experiences of having lived with the illness for over thirty years. Contrary to what some seem to think, it is an illness; I am firmly of the belief that something that makes its sufferers feel as bad as Tourettes can does not deserve to be called a ‘syndrome’, or ‘condition’, or to bear some other codename, some arcane linguistic semaphore, which serves only to tell people that organised, professional medicine can’t cure it and so should be called anything other than what it is; an unpleasant, often deeply debilitating illness. This may spare some doctors’ blushes, but it often doesn’t help the sufferer feel any better.  

However, the background reading I have done on the illness, conducted from March to May of 2012, in preparation for writing what I thought would be my memoirs has led me to what some might consider to be a rather startling conclusion, and the scope and nature of the book have changed accordingly. The principal change is that no book will now be written. The subject matter is really too technical for a medically unqualified person to deal with, the process of recollecting those events which helped lead me to where I am has been too unpleasant and the discipline of writing a 100,000 word book is beyond me. I am a blogger, and the immediacy inherent in both the production and publication of blog posts makes the blog a form of literature which it is very easy for me to produce. I should never have taken myself offline for any reason, and I won't be making that mistake again: a textbook example of 'kinetic melody' in action.

However, the second conclusion I have reached is that there might in fact be no such phenomenon as Tourette Syndrome (hereinafter and in all subsequents posts 'T'), or indeed Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or any other picking from the biochemical grab-bag called the ‘neuropsychiatric’ family of disorders, that tombola of perverse pathologies, which anyone has so far cared to give a name to. They might all just be variations of Parkinsonism (hereinafter and in all subsequents posts 'P'), or even just something which can best be described as 'Dopamine Illness' (hereinafter and in all subsequents posts 'D')

The reason for this lies in what would seem to be a logical impossibility. P of the type that Claudius may have suffered from is caused by the failure of the brain to produce sufficient dopamine to enable ordinary function, while T is caused by a surfeit of dopamine which impairs ordinary function. How can symptoms suggesting both a surfeit of a substance and its lack appear in the same illness? For they certainly do. I am living proof. I suffer intermittent rigidity crises in all limbs, have a chorea (dancing movements) in my fingers and can swim, climb, and walk backward with ease but have difficulty in walking forward unassisted, all of which might suggest P. While researching what I thought would be my book, I discovered that I can achieve normal forward motion without any difficulty; it’s just that I have to keep my eyes closed to do it; not the sort of thing you expect to find out about yourself while walking up a hill in Lanarkshire.

It's with no sense of anger, really more a kind of mild irritation, that you learn that Jean-Martin Charcot first described the alleviation of rigidity upon suspension in water in the late 19th Century (Oliver Sacks, 'Awakenings', Picador, 4th edition,  1990, page 6, note 8), and that you might not therefore have had to wait until you went for a swim while on holiday on Tenerife in 2008 to find that out for yourself, or that Onuaguluchi had observed the lessening of rigidity affected by closing the eyes (Note 1., 04/06/12 07.00: after the original publication of this post in the early hours of 03/06/12, on the afternoon of that day I discovered that fluidity of movement is restored while engaged in another activity; of all things, it was trampolining, and I haven't seen that one mentioned anywhere else. Note 2, 04/06/12 20.43 I've been having another think about this, and there might be other activities which P sufferers can engage in that loosen rigidity and give them a chance to exercise. When swimming and trampolining, the feet are disconnected from the ground. It could perfectly well be the case that P motion difficulties require that the sufferer attempt to be moving forward in a normal horizontal manner in order to appear. This would explain why I, like some of Sacks's patients, can tackle stairs quite easily while suffering difficulty on the flat. Those of his patients who referred to 'maps' might be right on the money. I have come to conclude that my need for a mobility aid is not to enable my legs to support my weight, but to provide my brain with a reference point in relation to the ground; the eyes cannot do it (explaining why the ability to walk unimpaired is restored when the eyes are closed, as the brain does not then need to both interpret both visual images and provide a sense of direction at the same time), so both the sound and the vibration of the stick when it hits the gound serve the same function. Another example of this phenomenon might have been given by Sacks in Chapter 7 of 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat', entitled 'On The Level', in which the proprioception of his patient, a sufferer of ordinary Parkinson's Disease, had his corrected with a pair of custom-made spectacles. Given that both swimming and trampolining require that the feet be elevated from the ground, it would be interesting to see whether rigidity was loosened in P sufferers in other activities in which this is required, such as cycling or possibly even horse-riding. After posting the first note this morning, I remembered that I had no difficulty using an exercise bike when attending physiotherapy in January 2009. On-road cycling would possibly be far too dangerous for the P sufferer, given the need to both start and stop, but cycling on a purpose-built cycle track might be very useful; remember Sacks's comments upon how the patients in the 'Highland Hospital' thrived in a unit that was designed with curved surfaces, whereas those in 'Mount Carmel' struggled with the building's angular layout; the same principle could apply in this). However, in the recent past I have also suffered from involuntary swearing (coprolalia), and continue to suffer self-repetition (palilalia), obsessive-compulsive behaviours and intrusive thoughts, what the late Arthur Shapiro described as ‘mental coprolalia’, all of which suggest T. How can this be the case?

There can be only one logical answer to that question, which is that all these phenomena are expressions of the same thing; and if the extremes of T and P are the same thing, everything which is between them or classed as being related to them must be the same thing as well. T has been defined as a ‘spectrum disorder’. As the ‘waxing and waning’ of tics over periods of years is well-known, this would certainly seem to be true. Some sufferers will only ever have mild tics, others will have periods of respite from more aggravating happenings while the worst affected will be debilitated to the point of disability. However, what the apparent existence of both T and P in the same patient would seem to suggest is that all mere two-dimensional straight line models of a severity spectrum in D as a whole must be considered inadequate. While a spectrum certainly does exist, it must instead be turned on its axis and expanded outwards into three dimensions, and to a scale which Oliver Sacks has described, with blinding insight, as ‘infinite’  (‘Awakenings’, p.97). 

Sacks used the word in relation to P to express the idea that the existence of one part of P implies the possibility of all parts. When I read this, I shouted 'Yes! Yes! Yes!', not quite in the manner of Meg Ryan but with similar brio, for what he was suggesting was precisely in line with my own experience. I had gone from obsessive counting (arithromania) in 1978 (T) to involuntary movements in the head and arms in 1991(T?)  to a diagnosis of T in 1992 to requiring to use mobility aids in 2007 (P?) to being able to swim without difficulty in 2008 (P) to being able to walk with my eyes closed in 2012 (P) while also shouting 'Toilet Duck!' (T). Sacks believes that the presence of one aspect of P implies the possibility of all parts; my belief, based on mere experience, is that the existence of one part of either T or P implies the existence of all parts of T and P; and if that is the case then the current classifications of T and P are inadequate, and should be replaced with one term that covers both, indeed all, dopamine dysfunction phenomena; D.


I am, therefore, wholly at one with Mr. Peter Hitchens in our mutual belief that ADHD does not exist (I did tell him that some of my conclusions might surprise him). What we also share is our mutual lack of medical training. Where we differ, I think, is in our reasons for believing this state of affairs to be the case; and  my belief is that the difficulties involved in diagnosing any kind of D illness present doctors with enormous problems of perception, and solving this problem of perception may be the key to the recasting of neuropsychiatry as it is currently understood . Mr. Hitchens seems to believe that ADHD does not exist at all; I believe that its continued diagnosis may not be capable of being justified as it is presently defined. 

For it is clear with anyone with eyes to see that T, and ADD, and ADHD, and ODD, and all the other neuropsychiatric illnesses do exist. They tic, and they swear, and they fidget, so therefore they are. My view is that they just don’t exist in the way formal medicine seems to think they do, as separate illnesses. My wholly untrained belief is that while do they exist, they do not exist as illnesses but as symptoms, perhaps something that might best be called, as I’ve said, a D illness of the type that already makes Tourettes the illness in the books with more symptoms than any other (see, for example, ‘Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome’, by Arthur K. Shapiro and others, Raven Press, 2nd edn,. 1988, p. 452; "26 different simple and 54 complex motor tics, 77 sounds, 118 coprophilic symptoms, and nine echophilic symptoms. Seventy-seven percent of patients report from 11 to 60 different symptoms during the course of their illness")

If you take the time and trouble to read the aforementioned work ‘Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome’, for years the leading textbook on T, you will see that the phrase ‘the problem of heterogeneity’ recurs time and time again. The late Arthur Shapiro, may he rest in peace, was a giant in the field of T research. A most distinguished psychiatrist who held no illusions about his discipline’s limits, in 1965 he became the first doctor in the United States to prescribe haloperidol to a T patient, and was later instrumental in helping to establish the Tourette Syndrome Association. I come not to bury Shapiro; the rigour and devotion, indeed single-mindedness, he applied to his research and practice have helped improve the lives of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people.

However to this reader it is very clear that the enormous variety of symptoms that he was presented with gave Shapiro a severe problem. A good Linnaen intent in adhering to the highest clinical and academic standards, and always conscious of that most American impediment to the advance of scientific knowledge – the prospect of being sued - to the lay reader he seems at times to be lost in a taxonomical fog, unable to see the wood of illness for the trees of symptoms in a grail quest for verifiable conclusions. Branches were hacked away and raised as trophies while the trunk was ignored, his findings becoming more and more specialised and over-evolved, with the prospect of diagnostic clarity eventually diminishing into a downwardly spiralling haze of Transient Tic Disorders (TTD), Paroxysmal Myoclonic Dystonia, With Vocalisation (PMD), until the final descent into a catch-all ‘Tic Disorder not otherwise specified’. Learning of the existence of PMD was an epiphany for me; I seemed to possess all the symptoms, and, most tellingly, they had appeared at precisely the same age, 21, as the patients reported by Shapiro; but that couldn’t be right, because they all had ADD and I didn’t. What I had was like PMD, but Shapiro indicates it couldn’t be PMD. Back to the drawing board.

While academically admirable, and exercised with the very best of clinical and personal intentions, and at enormous and unacknowledged personal expense in terms of both time and money – their dogged and most scrupulously scientific endeavours to track down Tourettes must have cost the Shapiro family hundreds of thousands of dollars - Shapiro’s extreme rigour in the pursuit of verifiable certainty might in no small measure have been a consequence of having himself been obsessive, a status he freely admitted to in ‘Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome’ (p. 229), as well as admitting to having spent four years in analysis trying to get to the bottom of it.

Having read Shapiro’s book it is very easy to imagine how an obsessive nature in a great intellect driven to adhere to high standards could prevent a scholar seeing what to a layman, albeit a sophisticated one, seems absolutely clear, that the illness may be a great deal broader than researchers have thus far imagined. Arthur Shapiro perceived that the range of symptoms he was presented with was a problem, whereas the real problem might not have been that he saw too many symptoms but that he didn’t see enough; and as the yoke of Linnaeus is not easy nor his burden light, research into T seemed to descend into a frenzy of exhaustive analysis of what might be mere symptoms in the hope of discovering new illnesses; a process which if incorrect is as futile as examining your fingers while forgetting, or not realising, or, worst of all, completely ignoring, that they’re part of your hands. Even in 1988, Shapiro was complaining about the number of papers that were being published on T. The extraordinary volume of data on T may have acted as much of an impediment to its understanding as an aid. 

That D presents a vast variety and range of symptoms in all its forms has been well-known for years; indeed the presence of a phenomenon with an enormous range of symptoms might even be suggestive that the condition is affective of dopamine, or that the sufferers should be considered at risk of later dopamine illness. In 'Awakenings' (page 14 note 19), Oliver Sacks records that the phenomenon as exhibited amongst post-encephalitic Parkinsonians 'fascinated physiologists as well as physicians, and led, in the 1920's and 1930's to the founding of behavioural neurology as a science'. In his later book 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat' (Picador, 1985, p. 87), Sacks writes of Tourettes that "(i)n the years that immediately followed the publication of Tourette's original papers (in the 1880's) many hundreds of cases of this syndrome were described - no two cases being quite the same". It may be the case that volume and variety of symptoms, either as a reaction to an event or in an unspecified illness, could itself be considered as indicative of some sort of dopamine dysfunction, and that investigating that connection should be a high priority. 

If I am right, every study of T which does not come to the same conclusions as I have must be wrong, either in whole or in part. Their findings may have been correctly observed, but by mistaking symptoms for illnesses they have proceeded from the wrong starting point. For someone with no medical training to think in this way seems appallingly arrogant, even to the thinker. 
Yet in 'Awakenings', Sacks famously recorded how a number of his post-encephalitic Parkinsonian patients developed either T or Tourettic symptoms when administered L-DOPA. Similarly, Shapiro records how a small number of his T patients developed what he called an 'Extrapyramidal Parkinsonian Hand-Finger Movement' when administered neuroleptics ('Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome', page 432), and Sacks has recorded how 'Witty Ticcy Ray', the first T sufferer to whom he administered the neuroleptic haloperidol, initially 'presented a picture, even on (a) minute dose, of marked Parkinsonism' ('The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat', page 93: by the time of publication the issue had been resolved). When medication is administered for P, patients can exhibit something that looks like T, and vice versa. Logically, that suggests to me that the function which is being treated in both cases is the same; and if the same function is being treated in both cases, to my mind it makes little sense that the symptoms being displayed should be considered to be suggestive of different illnesses. 
These very eminent doctors, whose regard for their patients shines through everything they write, clearly believe that they are dealing with different conditions, and it's embarrassing to suggest that you disagree with them. Here I must take a leap of faith, and say why I think they're wrong; and I am indebted to a fellow Glaswegian for helping me find the answer. 
On pages 20 and 21 of his still in print pop-psychiatric classic from 1960 ‘The Divided Self’ (Tavistock Publications (1959) Ltd. 1960, Penguin 1990), the late R. D. Laing showed the now well-known image of a picture which can be viewed in one, other or both of two ways, either as two faces in black facing each other or as a vase (his word) between the two. He describes the image as follows –

“In this figure, there is one thing on the paper which can be seen as a vase or as two faces turned towards each other. There are not two things in the paper; there is one thing there, (MK’s italics) but, depending on how it strikes us, we see two different objects”.

And in a nutshell, that is precisely the problem which I believe both psychiatrists and neurologists have encountered when faced with dopamine illness and which, in my view, they have not resolved; not one of function or symptoms but of perception. Bob sweats and festinates, so he must be classically P, while Jim has eye tics and palilates, so he must have T. What this mentality cannot resolve is the situation of those people who do both; who are both palilalic and obsessive (T) yet who also suffer rigidity crises, and who can walk backwards but not forwards (P); people like me. The doctors cannot be blamed for this. These people are dedicated professionals who have trained for many years and who have made their diagnoses while exercising the highest degrees of care and skill, and who have their patients' best interests at the forefront of their minds in everything they do. However, they are trained to heal through science. 

Lest The Cult Of Richard Dawkins feel the urge to swarm down upon me like a flock of bungee-jumping harpies, I am not advocating any return to mysticism in medicine, nor to faith healing, nor to leeching patients, nor to examining the stool to determine the presence of dropsy or the bloody flux (although as anyone who’s actually read the leaflet contained in any packet of anti-inflammatory medication should agree, the examination of the stool certainly does still play a role in modern medicine; it’s just that instead of the doctor doing it, the patient now does it for them). However, we must recognise that modern science and therefore modern scientific thinking and thought processes have their limits. We map the stars without often having a blind clue about the processes taking place inside our own heads, five inches behind our eyebrows. This lack of knowledge concerning how our brains work presents a gross challenge to the scientific mindset, as the scrupulous scientist Arthur Shapiro found out again and again and again. In our routinely scientific, symptom–chopping world established according to principles determined by hyper-rational, post-Enlightenment thought processes, people like me should not exist, but we do. If anyone were ever to ask me to guess, I would hazard the opinion that a probable majority of dopamine illness sufferers exhibit both T and P symptoms in varying degrees at the same time; the difficulty they encounter in seeking the answer to their questions – What is the name of my illness? What do I have ?– is that the doctors they consult are only able to see the symptoms present at the time of consultation.  The symptoms of both T and P are notorious for waxing and waning. A diagnosis of T assumes that those symptoms which wax and wane within the patient will always be those of T. I would respectfully suggest that this urge towards therapeutic classification, unintentionally but effectively stamping the patient with a label like a tin of peaches in a cannery, impedes rather than enhances the understanding of dopamine illness, and that a more fruitful approach would be for patients exhibiting the qualifying symptoms of anything currently classified as a neuropsychiatric illness to be diagnosed with generic 'Dopamine Illness' instead.

To use a highly simplistic and probably unscientific analogy, the wheels of a car perform different functions depending upon whether the car is moving forward or in reverse; yet at all times they remain wheels. T is forward, P is reverse, but D is the wheel. That's what I think. 

This view of T and P may be controversial. I couldn’t really care less about that, but I am very concerned about the impact it might have on some people who have been diagnosed as suffering from T. I would never wish to push any T sufferer into an existential crisis. Too many people have spent too many years merely coming to terms with the facts that they have been told that they have that illness and that they then have to deal with it for them to be put off balance by someone without any formal training merely expressing an opinion. They will have heard enough of them already – ‘You’re a hypochondriac!’ ‘You don’t swear, how can you have Tourettes?’ While ADHD sufferers must endure the thundering public wrath of critics of Ritalin, T sufferers tend to be seasoned recipients of others’ private opinions on the validity of their illness, an indignity which is nothing less than an attack on their identity, and one which never seems to be visited upon cancer patients and heart attack survivors. Many might need my opinions like they need a new tic. This must be acknowledged; there is no reason why any member of a group which can already face great difficulty integrating into what is sometimes called ‘mainstream society’ should be pushed further away from it for any reason. 

Nor is it my intention to see anyone who receives a wage for supporting T sufferers, or the sufferers of any other declared illness which might be the same thing as T or P, lose their job. That they have been supporting people whose illness I happen to think has been wrongly defined does not mean that those people should not still be supported.

One of the consequences of the approach to D I am suggesting might be a revisiting of the processes by which some medications are prescribed for some D patients. If a patient has exhibited ADHD symptoms at some point but has developed into T, it might be the case that Ritalin, for example, might no longer be an appropriate medication for that patient; and if another medication is substituted in consequence that would be only be a good and wholesome thing, for it would deny the shrill and persistent critics of Ritalin the chance to undermine the probably already shaky confidence that worried parents have in the medication which a doctor has prescribed for their children in the utmost good faith; a medication which in many cases proves to be very successful, enhancing both well-being and quality of life. 

The broader issue of treatments will be addressed in several later pieces.

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