Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Out Today: Conan the Barbarian

The release of Conan the Barbarian in cinemas across the UK may inspire some to check out the original Conan novels, which have been brought together for the modern reader in The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Centenary Edition.

Conan was created by American author Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) and is viewed as a continuation of the revival of heroic Western literature that was seen in the mid Eighteeth Century (e.g. with William Morris's translation of Völsunga Saga: the story of the Volsungs [and] Niblungs, with certain songs from the Elder Edda;) and continued through to the creations of Tolkien and beyond.

Enjoy the film if you go an see it, and whether you do or not, you might want to check out the novels here:

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Pic from The Hobbit Set

Here is a pic from the set of The Hobbit, which is currently in production.

It will be fascinating to see how Martin Freeman - who most of us will know primarily as Tim from The Office - fits into the role of Bilbo Baggins. I suspect that he will perform well.

I would recommend that anyone planning on watching this movie when it is released reads the book first. It was the imminent release of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that first spurred me to read Tolkien's masterpiece, which I had been planning on doing for a while but had never got around to.

I'm told it is terribly endearing quality to be able to provide one's co-viewers with an endless supply of geekish background information about the plot and to advise them of any and all deviations from Tolkien's original work ('The elves never actually came to help out at the defence of Helm's Deep you know. Yes I'm sure. What do you mean you don't care?' etc.)

Buy it here:

Friday, 24 June 2011

Friday Photo

And now for a new feature of this blog, Friday Photo, in which I publish an image that has amazed or shocked or delighted me this week (disclaimer: in order to maintain plausible deniability, I reserve the right not to divulge which feeling the said picture has elicited in me.)

Im not sure if the Friday Photo idea will last more than one week, who knows, but in any case I hope you all enjoy this pic of a Commie monument in Sofia, Bulgaria, that was decorated with some superheroes at the weekend. (And Santa. And Ronald Macdonald.)

Click on the image for a closer look.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Review of 'The Political Brain' by Drew Westen

I was given this book as a gift recently and upon reading the first few pages I was hooked.

The author, Professor Drew Westen, is a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist at Emory University. His book should serve as a wake-up call to all those involved in politics who think they know how elections are won and lost.

The truth is somewhat depressing in many ways, which in no way diminishes its importance.

“The political brain is an emotional brain,” he tells us. “It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures and policies to make a reasoned decision.”

Political campaigns are won and lost according to the degree to which they affect the electorate on an emotional level.

Actual policies, it turns out, are well down the list of importance.

The book is replete with examples from US election campaigns spanning the past few decades.

As well as illustrating the psychological principles being discussed, these also provide a fascinating overview of American politics during this period.

This book answers questions that will be familiar to anyone who has run serious election campaigns.

Examples include;

Should smears be countered? (Answer: Yes, always).

Should a negative campaign against the other candidate(s) be pursued (yes again, but this must be done right.)

Should difficult issues on which the candidate is weak be avoided? (No, never.)

The list goes on, and much evidence is provided to support the author’s conclusions.

Whether we like to admit it or not, what we regard as the rational and enlightened part of the human brain is a relatively new addition to our neural circuitry. Our emotional brain, which evolution by natural selection has honed over millions of years, and which has, on the whole, served us well throughout that period, is the part that continues to dominate our thought processes in so much that we do.

It turns out that even conscious attempts to let reason and rationality guide us are often just ‘reasoning’ applied retrospectively to justify thoughts and actions that our emotional brain had long since decided upon.

Whilst we as humans may struggle to rise above such primal constraints, it is futile to wish away the facts of our inherited genetic makeup. And to do so when you are trying to win an election is likely to be politically fatal, as this book so amply demonstrates.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the psychology behind electoral politics. Anyone standing as a candidate in an election should read it, as should anyone who is involved in any sort of political campaigning.

This book will cause you to look at your political campaigns in a new light, and inspire you to use what you have learned to ensure that the next campaign you fight has the maximum possible impact on the emotional brains of your electorate. For it is there, and only there, that elections are won or lost.

Buy it here:

Friday, 10 June 2011

Save Our Surgery Campaign

I was at St James's Hospital in Leeds yesterday to attend the Annual Public Meeting of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

The meeting was preceeded by an NHS Health Fair.

I attended primarily because of the threatened closure of the Children's Hearth Surgery unit at Leeds General Infirmary.

The unit provides specialist surgery and care to children from all over Yorkshire and the Humber.

If the unit were to close, the hundreds of children who require life-saving surgery each year would have to travel long distances – possibly hundreds of miles – to another facility. This could put those children’s lives in even greater jeopardy.

To show your support for the campaign to save this unit please visit the Children's Heart Surgery Fund website here.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Lord of the Rings Cartoon

I bought the animated version of the Lord of the Rings recently. Having two young boys gives me the perfect excuse to buy DVDs that I would surely never buy just for myself (e.g. the original Transformers cartoons from the eighties that my generation grew up with and loved. These are all available from Amazon for a ridiculously low price.)

I am a huge Tolkien fan and I can't believe I watched this for the first time just this week.

It was made in 1978 on a low budget (apparently running out of money half-way through which resulted in this particular war for Middle-Earth ending at the battle of Helms Deep) so do not expect to be dazzled with the sort of effects that we are spoiled with in the 21st Century. But the film is faithful to Tolkien's masterpiece and at just £2.99 (inc. p&p) from Amazon it should be in every Tolkien fan's DVD collection.

Even if you don't care about Tolkien it is worth buying if you have young children. The Lord of the Rings is a truly inspirational tale which forms a major part of Tolkien's attempt to create a mythology for the English people.

All children should be given the opportunity to enjoy it in all its various forms.

Buy it here:

The Lord of the Rings (Animated Version) [DVD]

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Action to Tackle Speeding on Glen Estate

SPEED CHECKS: Local campaigners Tom Redmond, a member of the Glen committee, and Chris Beverley, joined two PCSOs during a recent exercise on Glen Road.

The following article appeared in this week's Morley paper.

Estate's speed crackdown

Speed checks have been carried out on Glen Road following work carried out by the Glen Tenants and Residents Association.

The subject of speeding traffic on the estate has been raised a number of times at the group's meetings and its secretary, Jean Redmond, contacted Morley's local policing team to request that checks be carried out using mobile units that display the speed of a vehicle on its approach.

The mobile speed-monitoring device displays a smiley face to vehicles that are driving within the speed limit, and an unhappy face to those that are speeding.

Vehicles that are caught travelling at above the 30mph speed limit also receive a warning letter from the police.

Local campaigner Tom Redmond said: "We are grateful to the police for their help with this issue and we as a group will continue to work with the police and local residents to do all we can to address the problems of speeding vehicles coming travelling through the Glen Estate."

Thursday, 10 February 2011

More on the Precept

Pictured: The Town Hall in healthier times.

This excellent letter was published in this week's Morley paper.

Value for money?

I had a wry and hearty chuckle at the spinning riposte from Steve Jones – a professional accountant and an amateur (unpaid) politician – regarding Morley Town Council's precept in January 26's paper.

This was in reply to a letter sent the previous week by one of his predecessors, former councillor Paul Jaimeson.

Noting that firstly, it is election year in 2011 and secondly, he didn't actually refute the analogy of the television and how it could be paid for, Coun Jones then proceeded to lecture everyone chapter and verse about how the annual precept (£175k) represented value for money for Morley residents.

Coming from a public body comprising 24 members, and only approximately 50 per cent of those members who actually pay that precept – Coun Jones himself doesn't – is pretty rich.

However, what should be of even more concern to readers and thrifty Morley residents is that now the legality of an industrial tribunal is over, how can he justify that just under 25 per cent of that £175k annual precept has been used in a pay-off for the former town clerk when her contract w
as terminated unlawfully by the council in a previous year?

Moreover, senior councillors have not denied that figure when that size of pay-off has been suggested to them either.

Could Coun Jones, who, remember, doesn't make a contribution to the precept and under whose watch this happened, call that value for money?

Finally, if there is a sizeable amount in reserves, why doesn't the council reduce the precept in these very difficult times?

Stewart McArdle

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Bit of Honesty Required Over Precept

The following letter was printed in this week’s Morley paper and I thought it was worth reproducing here.

The points made in the letter are correct of course.

The council tax precept is an additional tax that is levied on households within the Morley Town Council area. It is additional to the council tax paid by residents in Morley and throughout the whole of Leeds. Households that live within the boundaries of parish or town council therefore pay proportionally more council tax than household without parish or town councils. This fundamental truth is often forgotten, or, as is often the case, it is deliberately obscured by those with a vested interest in doing so.

With increasing numbers of local families struggling to get by and pay their bills every month, this precept will inevitable add to the debt of local households. As families become poorer, they spend less (and pay less VAT) and become more reliant on state benefits, so to try and portray the collection of a precept and its transfer to Leeds City Council as some kind of deficit-cutting measure is simply not credible.

Money is not ‘share’

IMAGINE the scenario.

You would like a new TV. You buy the TV and arrange to pay for it over 10 monthly instalments.

Then I come to you and say; “Listen, I will pay some money towards your TV.”
“Wonderful,” you think.

“Ah, but,” I say, “before I do, you will have to give me money on top of the cash you’re already paying.

“And I will use some of your extra payments to help pay for your telly and the rest I will spend on what I see fit.”

You would not think that I was helping you with your finances, I’m sure.

So the article last week entitled “Town council help for Leeds spending’ is, in gentle terms, inaccurate.

The £17,083 which Morley Town Council receives is not “their share of the city council tax revenue.”

It is a precept. A council tax for Morley which is extra to the council tax Morley folk already pay to Leeds.

This extra tax has been at approximately the same level for some years.

So the Town council is not helping to cut public spending. They have not ‘cut their cloth’ at all.

It is merely giving some of their income to Leeds for services the city council should already provide.

This is called double taxation.