Monday, 25 April 2016

Nature vs Nurture ....Never Really to Be Solved?

I was a bit perturbed to a state of almost irritation by the full broad side against physical, evidence based science which was unleashed by Professor Oliver James of the Nurture camp. I was rather happily living with the presumption that in the many years since I was actually a scientist, that fellow geneticists would have dropped the notion of genes determining the next Einstein or neurotic teenager, and likewise the nurturists would have dothed cap to hereditary molecule folk and accepted some predetermination tendencie. Alas, not on Prof' James' side.

As his full frontal attack developed I had the destinct assertion that the man had been got at by the American Republican Party's worse science denier PR types, who are doing so much to damage progress on climate change and are also allowing the backward Christian conservative movement to teach theology and worse, pseudo science side by side with equations, DNA, and paleantology. His main contention was that the human gene project had drawn a blank and that all other research on specific links to evern diseased states like schizophrenia, where unconclusive at best.

Well let us indeed criticise the Human Genome Project (HGP). The main finding from the HGP was that there were far fewer nominal genes in our chromosomal DNA than previously envisaged. Which was good news in fact for science, because had we discovered a closer relationship possible between one-gene/one-disease then the patenters would have been out in force, and the uber liberals would have been up in arms about a brave-new-world or GATTACA scenario laid on the plate of big pharma and medical corporations. Instead we found out that all those little threads of evidence in 'post translation', epigenetics, meta controls and so on were actually a bigger part of the picture than the gargantuine hammer laid down to crack the nut of human genetic encoding, the HGP.

Science can now flourish in the areas which were once seen as the 'ticklers' in the flow of genetic information, are now the extended software which creates the ghost in the machines. Higher organisms and even some rather simple bacteria, have evolved to pack down their blueprints and allow other mechanisms above this concentrated coding to unravel and write a larger programme which creates the species and helps it not only survive, but evolve over time. All this would be worthy of a blogg, a chapter, a book, an encyclopedia......

We might actually expect that the mamalian brain was something which requires the most intricate of drawing packages, the biggest instruction book, the longest syphonic sheet music of all creatures. The debate there after is about how much of the human brain is just a white page, or rather a machine programmed to learn - epiphenomenologists would agree- or if far more of the way the animal will behave is predetermined in tendency at least, by genetics and in particular genetic variation. And in that area we are still just beginning to look at genetic variation at the DNA base pair level, on particular locii and in genes which seem to have a correleation to mental disease. Let alone studying the epigenome and its potential effects on complex biological phenomnenon like the nervous system.

Back to Prof'James then. He would rather not concurr with the jolly consensus behavioural and social psychologists had made with geneticists- that the two sciences both have a contribution to make in unravelling both normal and abnormal behaviour, achievement and mediocrity in life.  A full frontal blunderbuss against this notion, the ground of behavioural scienc shall not be shared with the test tube crowd! The geneticist and ethologist I think they were, also taking part in the debate grew a little tired of James's badering, especially after thay had offered the usual well trusted olive branch that upbringing, experience, learning and free will play a large part in any psychological trait, and genetics may or indeed maynot be a contributing factor.

Furthermore, they defended science as not being a route to eurgenics in parents DNA testing each other, because of the amount of genetic recombination going on in our ahem, yep, Gonads. We are mixing new potential people every day of our fertile life span. In turn those mixes get blended together., one set from mum, one from dad, we are 'diploid' we mammals all. i studied one of those little side alleys of genetic control when I was a scientist way back quarter of a century ago- allellic exclusion, where one of the pair of genes we inherit is switched off in either all cells or some special cells like those in the generation of blood cells. It was seen as a fascinating aside, most important in immunology. Years later work keeps on showing that maternal or paternal copies of genes are switched off or turned down to the benefit of the other half's genes.

It turned out that Prof' James is actually on an UberLiberal Ticket - he is most worried about the GATTACA scenario, the eugenic society. Also I dare say like all departmental heads in the UK, he is worried about his streams of funding and this is perhaps then a less than subtle strategy for getting more wonga for non biological psychology.

We stand rather at a point of bafflement from both sides. Psychologists have had since at least the time of Freud, if not the days of Socrates, to come up with solutions to the human condition and of course mental illness. It has longer than molecular biology to observe and then extrapolate ways of predicting and avoiding disease or criminal behaviour. Neuroscience has recently had some major break throughs, in Norway, the USA and UK in particular, and this is because they have decided to look at very simple systems in the brain at the very fewest number of neurones and thus been able to produce experiments and observations which have lead to some level of proof of how our cauliflower like cranial computers.  So we are baffled like the child who took a screwdriver to an iPhone to see the pretty pictures piled up inside. Confused by the compactness of our genetic material in relation to the number of proteins and variations on those we have in our cells and bodies. Left to muse again on how behaviours can arise in one individual yet not another exposed to the same set of social and familial environment.

One area Prof' James side stepped like Fred Astaire was the evidence from identical twin studies, especially those seperated at birth and adopted to disparate families. These can be quite damning in terms of the nurture camp. However there has been criticisms levelled at the methodology and if there is really statistical significance. The main issue here is that some individuals seperated at birth or very early childhood, show remarkably similar behavioural patterns and life choices when studied as adults. These are explained away as the anecdotal, the researcher showing bias in questioning and reporting on the similarities between the twins and ignoring blatant differences. However the anecdotes are pretty over powering in some cases beyond any face value doubt that could be denied in some kind of philosophical or judicial mechanism. Yes though, even perhaps fifty years of identical twin studies is not very conclusive but has some remarkable individal twin pair stories.

Going to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist with a set of purely verbally reported symptoms seems just as dangerous these days as would have been the case if we had found one-gene/one-disease from the HGP. There is a massive over diagnosis amongst teenagers of ADHD. People who are introverted and a little asocial get landed with teh stigma of Aspergers disease. Clinicians are maybe more likely to reach for the prescription pad now than ever given diagnosis 'disciplines' from patient histories and simple mental agility tests. They get a sure fire diagnosis for a chronic, high value debilitating disease,  and big pharma come along with the cure. a life on ritalin to be normal ...prozac for the neurotic house wives...only big pharma have been in there a long time influencing the diagnostic routine. Pure non molecular psyhological study and routes to describing the normal and differentiating the abnormal, have lead to an epidemic of teenage drug taking in order for angstful, energetic young people to fit into the NeoLiberal success-or-fail economy.

My own little bits of science which put me off being a scientist when it came to micropippetting and loading gels, were odd side shows then and glorious for it. Allellic exclusion. Familial porphyria, the alleged disease of vampires. In studying genetics and in esscence what the hell I wanted to or took my fancy down the library from the journals, I usually discovered that in considering the esoteric in genetics and mol'biol', you usually uncovered a new realisation about the grandoise. In the diversity, you found universality. The miniscule illustrated the bigger system. I remember too an old adage which was coined long before, but much used in the 1980s counter culture which science was in those days - "the more we understand, the less we realise we actually know". I hope prof' Oliver James realises that the benefit of the doubt is wisdom while riding in on your high horse and claiming an unsound higher ground, often leads to a fall.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Scots Whae Hae Wi Wallce Fled?

Scots whae hae wi Wallace- goan aff wur?

I get a bit irritated listening to BBC Scotland's satruday Outdoor magazine. Firstly it is based in Aberdeen, a long way from anything other than dog walks and golfing to do with the outdoors which really is otherwise the essence of so much of  Scotchlandshire- the great escape, the get away from it all. Secondly it is a pair of old duffers who now run the show, and are rather more keen on motorised transport than anything involved sweat and exposure. Thridly, as with their partner in crime Helen, there are rather a lot of English accents where ever they go and talk to people either running small enterprises or managing charitable activities or nature conservation.

This is not a qausi nationalist or racist chant about the English. Nor is it a nasty rant about 'white-settlers' taking jobs and decent housing from rural Scots....although that is worthy of a bit of an economic analysis with posion, this is a cry to Scots themselves!! Where are you all when it concerns our natural heritage, our extreme sports, our leisure opportunities, our hipster craft breweries with hand made sausage suppers?

But first the clearances....the clearances of the Highlands were not all a bad thing in some ways - the most optimistic of the folk took up their kilt hems and ran onto boats bound for the Americas, where they built themselves often farming or mining empires. In fact quite a few who were not evicted or not even crofters joined them on the passage to New Foundland in particular, because life was really a scraped existence in the soggy, wind swept western isles. in The late 18th early 19th C, it was just as easy to get to Halifax as it was to get to Glasgow from Stornoway, when a direct ship could offer you passage o'er the pond.

 Did those who chose to flee to Canada and the USA take with them all the optimism, the risk taking and the bravery? Did we the 'damp, deep fried wee' who were left then also get landed with all the negative genetics, trapped in a dour gene pool for generations to come? What of those  who said, "naw, it's Gleschu for me"- did they not  take a dourness, pessimism and cowardly streak to the fledgling city and central belt?

When I hear about the jobs and enterprises run in Scotland by sasenachs, it gets my hackles up a bit because there are so very many of them on the radio and TV compared to Scots. It seems the majority of Scottish National Heritage's field staff and contractors are from 'up north, down south' while those running quad bike bungee rafting and heather gin nano distilleries have a well recognisable soggy biscuit-school dipthong set or Londinium south bank drawl.

Where are youse, wi  Wallce bled?

Well I have to look at myself and my pals. We were instilled with the 1980s get the hell on in life and probably get out of Scotland or get your head above water with a proper career and education caus it isnae gettin ony better..... public service careers in things like conservation in the late 80s looked like a sure fire area for the Thatcherite axe to fall on. Also running a small, craft business just isn't something our dour, cautious paretns would fund by remortgaging their houses. Other businesses, like those damp hotels with a coal fire, flat old beer and home made scones could be snapped up for little or no money - if you were selling up your two-up-two-down in Surbiton or Mill Hill. That is to say we got a whole set of good lifers who made their capital gains in the 80s on their hooses doon sooth and wandered up to run hotels, cafes, restaurants and so on.

...and all the better the heelan's have been for it. Gone now is that suspicious, sniffy look from the plump barmaid and bald bar manager when you turned up in a goretex jacket rather than fishing tweeds at the local hotel bar. Gone is fish and chips you could play cricket with, and rump steak you could use for repair car tyres. In came venison hot pot, rod caught salmon, aberdeen angus burgers, langoustines.....

White settlers have probably done more for the highland economy in the last twenty years than the HIDB did in the preceeding two decades. They have seen the untapped market for decent grub, decent beer, full booking at reasonable room prices and a warm welcome despite the Surrey Set accent. Gone is that 'white russian' local who disapproved of hillwalking and mountain bikers because they once a month got a £20 tip from a rich huntin-fishin-shootin guest from up the lodge. Gone is having to drive half a day to get a decent meal, or cafes being shut most of the year and in the late afternoon.

However Edina (fowl pretender to the throne of 'capital' ) and the posher bits of Glesga have also had their massive cap-gains for in fact my generation and those a wee bit older who are in the prime of life and ready to go-it-alone, turn on, tune-in, drop-out, seek the a dilapitaded hotel in westerross and start organic tofu farming with yoga classes. But naw. By in large it is the spunked gingersnap slant you hear of the owner proprietor of said whale hugging tours Ltd or tartan themed vegan hotel.

I think the central belt have two issues here. One, we are materialistic bastards so we seek better paid jobs at lower risk to our consumer cedit all the time, while wanting bigger hooses and mortgages all the time. Secondly we look upon the highlands as a nice place to visit for a day or maybe a dirty weekend at Inveraray or Tobermory. Holiday wise, midges rain and traffic queus behind caravans. Our parents may have taken us once or twice to Torrelominos, but often it was 'let's experience our own wonderful, beautiful country and its sour and dour landladies and barstaff".  We got eaten alive ande boiled in the bag of cheap oilskin jackets while our bare legs and faces were pummelled with ice cold, horizontal rain. Nah, heelan's for a jaunt when there is a good wether forecast, out of midge and english caravaner season thank you. Munro bagging and a pint and pie by an open log fire, then piss off back doon the A82 hame.

Heelan'ers are just as bad about their own front yard. Ever since I have been going to the western highlands, the yokals are usually the ruddest barstaff. The fact is that 'service jobs' are below many of their expectations. They want to be in fishun, offshore or self employed forrestry so they can drive round in a twin turbo WRX type shitty korean car with a 12 inch exhaust muzzle and fluffy dice they keep up to taunt the local polis, who keep tellin them to take them doon. Many locals in wester ross, oban and locahber used to hate tourism and didnae like the look o' me mutch. There was nae money in tourism, just the misery of winters on the dole livin in a caravan on at yer maws' hoose. Tourists, especially 'lallan' Scots, were interlopers, perpetuating the circle of shitty lives for chubby wee waitresses who bunked school all the ime.

Since the White Settlers began to untapp those guilders and marks all those years ago now,  by actually offering tourists a scottish experience beyond Birdseye, Bells,  Walkers Shortbread and Fray Bentos,  the whole thing took off with tourists spending more and more cash. Weekend domestic tourism became an all round phenomemnon, as mentioned above, and hillwalking overtook huntin-shootin-fishin as a source of income for the heelands by the late 1990s.

I just don't think that central belters, the vast majority of Scots, set a big enough price on the highlands as much more than a place for short visits. In fact it is often seen as a bit naff having anything to do with the Bens and the Lochs, when compared to clubbin', fitba or the best cappucino in Candleriggs. Renton and co said it all by wanting to get out into the heelan's to take in the breathtaking beauty only to conclude it is shite being scottish if you are scum - even though you have been to RADA ya big poof Ewan.

We just don't see the point in risking our necks in business ventures in somewhere even soggier and colder than Glesga or Edina. My generation are also about ten years behind our paretns at least in terms of size of property we own now, so we don't quite feel we have made it yet, and therefore are not bored enough to become good-lifers on said pine cone tofu farm. In terms of jobs too, Eagle minder, upland recreation officer or wetlands gaurdian type careers just seem silly to us. Not something that will pay the bills, and something likely to get cut back or privatised down to minimum wage.

Well the trick la'lan' Scots are missing is more than enthusiastically taken up by folk who come from really grim places, like Bolton, Basingstoke or Milton Keynes who do want to breath in bracing air and will not dissolve in all day rain. And for those with good equity release, fuck it, why try to run a pub in Croyden when you can sell up in Cranford and buy a hotel with a view of Cruachan?

Coming from the Central Belt of Scotland is a major handicap for optimism it seems. We are just too pessimisteic and cynical to give up graffiti, used needles and broken buckfast bottles for a life in the heelands. Also we maybe are a bit patronising about Teutchters and dont get a warm cosey feeling back from them either.

My own solution would have been Inverness, a town claiming to be a city, but wrapped or even smothered in beatiful highland scenery within easy reach and lots of activities, plus ok pubs last time I was there. I lived there a a summer, 1993 it was, and loved it. But what the Eff would I do there to progress my sidewaysly mobile urban proffessional career? Hee Haw,  without working in the public sector. HIDB was still on the go then, but I never did get to play ball in the Scottish Enterprise croquet team.

I have an old class mate who live there now, bought an old forrester's gaff oot in the woods somewhere between Dores and Nairn, he won't quite elaborate for fear I descend on him no doubt. Works in Ardersheir I think in a high tech siesmic analysis company, probably going bust as I write with these ooil prices.

Retirement plans now loom for me, with only twenty odd years left in work. A meagre inheritance when the olds pop said cloggs. Perhaps I should look at the heelans for a good life in retirement with a wee business reelin it in? Or will I still see the place as nice to visit, but noh tae luv in?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

What Next for The Left ?

A lot of peooke say that the left have lost their way. They say that the resurgence of elder statesman liberals in opposition like Anthony Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Jonas Gahr-Støre, is just the last groans of a dinosaur religion.

However it ias not this Left that has lost its way. It goes back to the Blair and Clinton administrations who moved the Left to in effect the centre right, and in essence offered a neoconservative set of policies on many issues, trying in some areas to be as laisez faire and more than their far righ predecessors either side od the Atlantic.

In effect these soft right movements managed on the one hand to oversee a fairly amicable period of economic growth and an ongoing meritocratic change in society. However they also over saw the further shift of power to oligarchical, meta-democratic structures which serve the loose alliances of international capital more than governments and citizens.  Also on the other hand they failed to really appeal to on the one hand, aspirant skilled workers, youth and the economically marginal in the way the left had done so for more than half a century.

Why did the left lose so much of its traditional base? The main reason we propose is simply that people failed to see how the Left's politics could benefit their lives. Also it can be argues that ordinary citizens did not understand the implications of the power shifts happening in the meta-structures of international politics. The simple making-ends-meet and small business economy was that which was sold to the public in the 1980s by the Thatcherite movment and press. People understood more about econonics on that scale and about personal responsibility. These are by no means at odds with most left wing democratic thinking, and in fact we are beginning to come full circle in how making-ends-meet for many workers will require politicisation.

The Neoconservative "new right" had suceeded in creating a post-liberal, some say post-democratic era . They had blamed the dire circumstances of the late 1970s malaise on the outgoing democratic and Labour governments and could pin the labels of negativity on unions and heavy handed fiacal control. In fact many of the root causes of hyperinflation and "stagflation" can be traced back to the Nixon and Heath governments who were unfortunate to endure the oil crisis. 

So we have the 1980s concept of the self steering meritocracy which was a challenge to both old-school-tie /ivy league establishment and collective labour organisatuons. The Left have been painted as part of the old, the outdated, the spent force to which meritocracy is the solution - almost a mass existentialist revolution.

However the net result of 30 years of the far-right and the shift of the parliamentary lwft parties to right of centre, is that power and wealth have been inevitably accumulated in fewer in society. This is by the 'laws' both Adam Smith and Karl Marx described. We have returned, in the west, to a Rentier dominated economy- that is capital collects rent on living and consumption rather than production and value-adding activities.

Relative to the post war 25 years of growth in the Western economies, the neo-conaservative period has been typified by relatively low annual growth figures. This is coupled to fiscal policy which has kept inflation in most of the G7 to low single figures. These two macroeconomic factors are very much what capital needs in orser to accumulate wealth by rentier extraction rather than investing in production.

Manufacturing output in the west has only declined relative to cumulative growth in the economy. It is at a surpirsingly stable value in the UK and USA when adjusted from the end of the 'golden epoch' post war when it flattened. Investment has followed some primary production where economies of scale and often flat labour costs made them viable in the western deposits. Also it followed specific technologies and productivity automation. More than this though it not only followed defence and healthcare, capitalists constructed larger lobby organisations and deeper penetration into especially the Republican and Conservative parties each side of the Atlantic, but also the new, softer left.

It can be argued that growth in the western economies is still generated by primary and secondary elements of the economy, and that the tertiary service sector is not contributing because by nature it does not multiply value, it just moves value. The counter agrument is that industies like tourism change the balance of trade and import net value. Also that some areas considered service are actually a form of value adding on the global market- in particular stock and securities financial industries and service-engineering, be that soft-ware or mechanical servicing etc.

The net result of the value adding is gross domestic product (GDP) measured financially and often discussed in relation to balance of trade with other nations or between say the EU and R.o.W. When the net value of GDP no matter its volume, is financial and that is what constitutes  economic growth or recession. In the global economy we experience the effects of growth in different ways as a nation. We most likely experience lower unemployment due to more demand in the economy. We may experience more spending power on say electronic items made in the far east as our pound, euro, krone or dollar increases in value. We may get wage rises despite being outside any union negotiating power, or we may well find  it easier to move to a better paid job.

The meta-current, the stream above the seemingly low growth, low inflation in national economies and average hourly wage rates, is the Rentier economy. Here internatioinal capitalists can multiply their investments in housing and utilities based on another bottom up mechanism driving value of the basics of life - warmth, food, and a roof over your head- that mechanism being population growth. With only meagre growth in population and meagre growth in average take home pay there is a multiplying 'leverage' in both capital gains on real estate and investment in the flow of credit to consumers who need houses.

Coupled to the ongoing phenonmenon of metropolisation, more people moving to and being born in the big, financially successful cities, Rentier economics are a powerful attraction for capital, with far better return on investment than in manufacturing industry, and often at a lower percieved risk.....especially when the national governments bail out the flow of money to mortgages.

In 2006- 2008 Rentier capitalism became a victim of its own self belief and precipitated the worst global recession since the 1929 Wall Street crash. The crash and recession were bailed out not this time by a new deal to the population and the subsequent command economy of WWII but by huge funding to banks and large creditors. This was paid for by tax, government borrowing and diversion of public spending. Socialism was rolled out for the global elite creditors and best paid employees in the world.

Almost a decade post crash and the average weatern worker is no better off, with fairly stagant wages and even negative equity on their houses if they were unlucky on where and when they bought. Also we are taking far more time to buy, and in the metroplotan areas and high tech 'valleys' many skilled workers are simply priced out of the market. Many are left to live in hope that meritocratic principles will kick in and they will 'work hard and get on'. However the Rentier econony has not only the super global rich in its ranks, it also has the  investment property owners who were the skilled workers of the post war ers, and the successful yuppies and entrepreneurs of the 1980s. They are highly politicised on local and national levels via the Republican and Conservatice parties because they are keen that the Rentier economy is not threatened by legislation.

Here we come back to the humble average worker. The believe in the meritocracy yet is now diluted by low economic growth and export of skilled jobs even in profitable firms like Nabisco. Furthermore, those with higher income can afford to buy their offspring into more favourable economic situations - better education, internships, networking & nepotism and the outright corrupt means of gaining contract levered positions for their graduate children.

Then we have a whole raft of further 'deregulation' via goverment policy and internet facilitated services like Uber, which will reduce earnings per hour for much lower paid work as people compete with simple, available resources like a driving license and a car via another Rentier system. "Rather one percent of one hundred people's labour than 100% of my own" transits from the value added economy to transfering more wealth from the circular sevice economy as labour access is facilitated and devalued.

The cards get stacked against average people and this leads to increasing inequity and dissolusionment. Were before there was dissolusionment with socialist principles and unionisation, which were movements themselves created by dissolusionment with capitalism and the eatablishment. There will be several more years of pain before most of us who sell our labour decide once more than we can achiece gains in our quality of life via organisation and politics.

Monday, 18 April 2016

A Plague of Likes Descended Upon The Chosen of FB

FB and Other Peoples Likes..... Bothered by your newsfeed being full of random other folk's Likes ?

Well you can change it but NOT in settings any more. Simple though as follows......

......just click on the wee pull down top rhs and select "remove from newsfeed" for that post. Do this with three or four asap and FB "learns" you don't want to see other people's Likes,

just the usual shite we post once in a while, vid clips of activities which induce breast oscillations and who has stabbed who in Arendal..

Alternatively You can always delete the app if other people's lives, pets, kids and xenophobia just incessantly annoy you of course ;-)