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]