Notes from sf author Stephen Palmer
Monica blog 2

1900: Blackbury, England. Advertisements

My Life As A Ten-Year-Old Boy by Nancy Cartwright

I came quite late to the Simpsons. In the early days – the first half of the ’90s – I thought to myself, “I don’t want to watch the antics of a bratty American boy.” How wrong I was back then. Soon, after watching a few episodes, I realised the series was about far more than just Bart. It was about America, and even, on occasion, about humanity itself.

Since then I’ve become a confirmed fan. The series, like no other American television I’ve seen, has British elements of humour – wit, irony, intelligent charm. In My Life As A Ten-Year-Old-Boy, the voice of Bart, Nancy Cartwright, lifts the lid on what it was like at the outset and how the series developed.

The book is written in an informal style, almost as if the author is speaking it. Some reviewers have held that against her, and on occasion the style can be a little wince-inducing. But overall I think it does add to the charm of the account. In any event, the story overall is a fascinating one, with much to recommend it. Certainly for any Simpsons fan this is a must-read.


Highly Sensitive Person on BBC Radio 2

Great to hear the Highly Sensitive Person trait getting some exposure on today’s Jeremy Vine programme on Radio 2. Check it out here on the iPlayer.



Perhaps CatSidhe didn’t like Edward! 🙂


The Girl With Two Souls

A Brief History Of Everyone Who Ever Lived

A Brief History Of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

I was hoping to like this book a lot, and I do like the content, but the writing style… ouch. Adam Rutherford, for all his undoubted skills as a radio presenter, has convinced himself that he’s the world’s most amusing writer of prose, which, for me, reduced the enjoyment of reading the science considerably. Because he’s not amusing.

That science is fascinating though – Rutherford deserves the adoring comments of his many famous fans inside the front jacket. But the text is not only cringingly unfunny in places where the author believes he is being hilarious, it is peppered with pointless footnotes – and Rutherford is no Jack Vance.

So for style I’m giving 2** and for content 4***, which averages out at a somewhat underwhelming 3***. A shame.


Council tax rises

What the hell is wrong with British people?

Talk today is all of council tax rises, which could be 3% for most councils, or 5.99% for the largest councils. I make that an extra £6.78 on my (average band) council tax for the larger rise. Yet all we’re hearing about today is how terrible it is that “so much” is being taken away in the form of council tax, and how councils should be making ever more stringent cuts in order to balance the books. Recycling collections every month, maybe?

Let’s look at this the other way round. The worst case scenario on my tax – an increase of 5.99% – is an increase of £6.78 per month. That is a ridiculously small amount of money to be making a fuss about. It equates to the loss of two Costa hot chocolate with cream and marshmallow drinks per month. Two. Just two. Even though I earn far below the nation average salary, I’m pretty sure I could manage that.

The reason this is an issue at all is that for cultural and political reasons this is an exceptionally selfish country full of people who have been taught to think that every penny possible should come to them for their own selfish use. Well, the truth is we live in communities, and communities need money.

In fact, communities need lots of money. Maybe the solution to the “problem” is that British people could stop being so selfish and think about the societies they live in.

Because Thatcher was wrong: there is such a thing as society. And we have to pay for it.

100 Years On




v f w

The Lives of Erich Fromm by Lawrence J. Friedman

I discovered Erich Fromm in the ‘80s, and immediately fell for his no-nonsense brand of humanism and liberalism (disguised as Marxism, as he was a follower of Marx). His work has inspired me ever since, not least The Sane Society, with its ground-breaking and daring declaration of the human condition. A few months ago I discovered by accident that there was a biography of the great man; buying it was a no-brainer.

The book is quite academic in tone, but not so much that the general reader can’t enjoy it. A great amount of work went into the writing of it, as the author observes in his introduction, but that work pays off as the contradictions and brilliance of the man come to light.

Fromm, for all his vision and wisdom, was no angel; something of a surprise to me, who knew nothing of his personal life. Letters written by Fromm and by his friends illuminate this part of the biography. Fromm also ignored a lot of health issues during various intensive spells of work, and this biography conveys those periods of his life very well.

I suppose the readership of the book is essentially going to be followers of Fromm, and perhaps those in the psychoanalysis world for whom the shadow of Freud still looms large. The political aspects of his life are particularly interesting, and often surprising, especially during the Cold War period, but I suspect those will fade in times to come. His work on the fundamentals of the human condition however will never fall into obscurity. He really was way ahead of his time, and this superb biography illustrates that very nicely.


Vegetarian Week, Day 5

This week I’m posting blogs about something close to my heart – vegetarianism.

I became a vegetarian by accident over 30 years ago. Having left university, but wanting to stay in the area where I had many friends, I ended up in 1985 sharing a house with some vegetarians. It was easy enough to fit in, so I did, but I soon became interested in the reasons people go vegetarian, and then I was converted to the cause.

This week’s posts will cover the various aspects which, for me, are the focus of the issue, under the general heading of: Why Am I A Vegetarian?


  1. Veganism, Freedom and Conclusions.

Would I go vegan? No.

There is one main reason that I give when I’m asked this question. In my opinion, changing from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian one creates far more benefit for self and planet than changing from a vegetarian diet to a vegan one. I eat free range eggs and drink milk if it happens to be in my tea (though I never buy milk). To my mind, going vegan just doesn’t add enough to make it worth considering. Many will disagree with me.

I think the truth is a sad and predictable one about the vegetarian issue. Most people, even if partially convinced, don’t want to go vegetarian because (i) they can’t be bothered, (ii) they don’t care anyway and (iii) they would have to give up something they like. This may seem harsh, but I think it is true in the majority of cases. However, the fact is that human beings are not free to eat whatever they like. As I wrote last year in my post The Freedom Delusion, we are limited by the fact that we live on a single, irreplaceable planet:

“There is no such thing as complete freedom… That is an delusion caused by cultural narcissism, a specific refusal to accept that human beings live in communities; in societies. In fact, we human beings enjoy quite limited freedom. We are restricted by the finite planet that we live on, but also by hundreds of smaller concerns, such as the communities we live in, to which we have many obligations. But to the narcissist such obligations don’t exist. All that matters is personal freedom, to the detriment of community, of culture, of the planet.”

The more the human population grows, the less freedom we shall have. Corporate bodies and vested interests will continue to promote “consumer choice” (an illusion) and Western values of freedom (also an illusion), but the time will come when things have to change. A big reduction is meat-eating is I suspect going to be one of the main changes of the twenty-first century.

I personally found going vegetarian pretty easy. I didn’t miss meat. I didn’t miss bacon. It didn’t seem like much of a change at all. Of course, my own experience is unlike that of many other people, but I do believe that a lot of the inertia around making the change to a vegetarian diet is reactionary hype, the lies of vested interests, and good ol’ capitalist exploitation.

You have the ability to choose to do the planet some good. Make use of that ability. Live local, think global. Go vegetarian and see the difference.


Vegetarian Week, Day 4

This week I’m posting blogs about something close to my heart – vegetarianism.

I became a vegetarian by accident over 30 years ago. Having left university, but wanting to stay in the area where I had many friends, I ended up in 1985 sharing a house with some vegetarians. It was easy enough to fit in, so I did, but I soon became interested in the reasons people go vegetarian, and then I was converted to the cause.

This week’s posts will cover the various aspects which, for me, are the focus of the issue, under the general heading of: Why Am I A Vegetarian?


  1. The Health Argument

Is vegetarianism really more healthy? I was sceptical for a long time, but the science tells a compelling story.

First of all there are the obvious points – meat and dairy products affect cardiovascular health, they are carcinogens in excess (although of course many things are carcinogens in excess), they affect cholesterol, and their lack of vitamins, antioxidants etc mean they are intrinsically unhealthy if eaten in a poor diet.

But there are more insidious effects. The unethical and cruel use of antibiotics in animal farming has led to newly evolved strains of bacteria which are resistant to known antibiotics. These ‘superbugs’ move from farms into the population by two routes – the meat itself, and the environment in which they exist. So the continued use of antibiotics on farms poses a considerable risk to human health. Antibiotic use promotes the evolution of superbugs, which contaminate meat and poultry, thereby causing disease in people. Superbugs can also leave the farm via workers, wind or liquid runoff, and via wildlife. But even if they don’t immediately cause illness, bacteria are able to exchange genetic immunity with other bacteria wherever they encounter them, via their plasmids (structures that can change independently of chromosomes).

Why then are antibiotics used? The majority of use is in healthy animals, to prevent infection or speed up their growth. This is particularly the case in intensive farming, where animals are kept in confined conditions. In other words, the intensive system itself demands this because it is unnatural and won’t work in any other way. More than half of global antibiotic use is administered to livestock, often to entire herds regardless of the number infected; and in some countries they are given out routinely to promote growth. This has led scientists to conclude that farm animals are a major cause of antibiotic resistance, and this finding has been confirmed by a 2018 Food Standards Agency study.

It’s not intrinsically more healthy to be a vegetarian if the only thing you do is stop eating meat. It’s just as easy to be an unhealthy vegetarian as it is to be an unhealthy omnivore. The benefits arrive when meat and dairy products are replaced with fruit, vegetables, beans, soy etc. Also, vegetarians lose their vitamin B12 intake when they forego meat, which is why products like marmite are vital. (Luckily, I love marmite!)

Another preconception is that meat-eaters are more susceptible to sickness due to tainted meat. In fact they are more susceptible, but not by much. Bacterial infections can easily be passed along by vegetables, eg the current Romaine lettuce problem (E. coli).

Nor is protein an issue. Human beings in fact don’t need much protein to live happily. Most healthy individuals need about 0.8 grams daily per kilogram of body weight. So for instance somebody at nine stones would need only 45 grams a day, all of which can be supplied by plants, whose protein is just as good as that from meat.

To summarise the health benefits of vegetarianism: vegetarians have much lower cholesterol levels than meat-eaters, in whom cardiovascular disease is more common; vegetarian food is typically low in saturated fat, and usually contains little or no cholesterol; vegetarians have lower blood pressure than omnivores, with some studies showing that adding meat to a vegetarian diet raises blood pressure levels rapidly and significantly; a vegetarian diet high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat is the best dietary prescription for controlling and preventing diabetes, because this diet can lower blood sugar levels and often reduce or even eliminate the need for medication; studies of vegetarians show that death rates from cancer are only about one-half to three-quarters of the general population’s death rates.

On this last point, why do vegetarian diets help protect against cancer? One main factor is that they are lower in fat and higher in fibre than meat-based diets. But also, plants contain cancer-fighting substances called phytochemicals; for example, vegetarians usually consume more of the plant pigments beta-carotene and lycopene, and therefore suffer less incidences of certain types of cancer.

The science is clear. Adopt a vegetarian diet, get some marmite, and enjoy the benefits.