Saturday, May 30, 2009
Get a pizza base - preferably one that's got mushrooms already on it, as this will save you the effort of preparing them. Also buy three large blocks of strong cheddar - I chose Pilgrim's Choice; and some blue cheese, with parmesan as well. Add to your basket a bowl of pitted olives, a large jar of tomato pesto and some Lazy Garlic. (Note - it's not the garlic that's lazy, it's the cook. There's a theme coming through here.)
Spread the entire contents of the jar of tomato pesto over the pizza base. There are still people who say you can have too much pesto: they're dangerous and shouldn't be approached. They may go away if you throw peas at them, especially if they're still in the cans.
Don't bother grating the cheddar, it'll all end up a blob however you prepare it. Slice the first lot of cheddar and put it over the pesto, remembering to intercept liberal amounts as your reward for taking the bother to cook. Then add the olives - all of them - and the second lot of cheddar over this.
This is important: grate the parmesan, then judiciously forget to wash up the grater, so your other half will know how hard you've worked. Put the parmesan over the second layer of cheddar, the lazy garlic (again all of it) over the parmesan, the blue cheese over the garlic, then the last lot of cheddar over this. Spend some time in amazed contemplation of your creation - a thing of beauty is a joy indeed, and there's nothing more beautiful or indeed joyous than your first hypergarlic megapizza.
Turn the cooker on. Put the pizza in the oven. After closing it, turn the oven on. Go watch something important, like football, a heavy metal concert or Lord of the Rings, but don't have the volume too loud so that when the cheese starts to spit you'll remember you forgot the pizza.
Enjoy. For several days.
NB: this is a health-promotion blog. If you find all the cheese too salty, go have a kebab or a pot noodle instead.
Related post: Haute cuizine
Friday, May 29, 2009
When I started training as a psychiatric nurse in the late 1980s, we had a class on death in the initial module before we were let loose on unsupecting wards, and I was surprised by how many people had to take advantage of prior permission to step outside for a while should one feel the need.
Later on, we were introduced to psychiatric nursing proper, and we all did the training; those were the days when heads of nursing schools were more involved in working with hospitals than now, and it was realised that sometimes people with mental illnesses or learning difficulties need to come to hospital, or conversely staff in mental-health institutions might need general-nursing skills should one of their charges, say, become ill or have an accident.
In this module, we were introduced to suicide as a subject for clinical study, and everybody was expected to stay within the lecture hall: everybody did.
First came an anecdote of a man who said every day that he was going to kill himself, how, and where: and one day, after several years, as people paid less and less notice, he did. The moral: never take a threat or prediction of suicide anything other than seriously. On the other hand, there were also people who would be admitted having injured themselves in ways which self-evidently could not be life-threatening - but navigating around the large intersect between the two approaches the best definition of psychiatry I've ever heard: "a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn't there".
Over the years I lost several clients to suicide, which was quite hard at the time. But then I lost a friend, and experienced first-hand the raw nerves slicing across one's consciousness as emotional evisceration accompanies an endless round of "what-ifs". I still ask the girls to help me pray for "Dad's friend who died sad and alone", and I think Minora's guessed what that means.
So my antennae twitched upon reading a story on the matter in the Cambridge News.
In December 2006, 56-year-old David Woods was admitted to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge after a suicide attempt. His daughter and son were alerted. By the time they arrived in Cambridge, Mr Woods had been given a liver transplant as an urgent life-saving measure. Neither of his children had been consulted.
Mr Woods was in a coma for six weeks after the incident (it's not mentioned whether it was medically induced), and came to with, we are told, "the mental age of a child" who needs round the clock care. So, given that the attempt that landed Mr Woods in hospital came at the end of a rapid succession of tries that day, why was a liver transplanted; and why is this three-year-old incident hitting the news big-time now?
Looking at the first question yields clouds within clouds. Professor Roger Williams of University College's Institute of Hepatology in London was involved in Great Britain's first liver transplant in 1968, and was also involved in the care of George Best towards the end of his life, imploring every pub and off-licence in the country not to serve alcohol to the addicted footballer. He told the Telegraph's Celia Walden:
"What is surprising is that the family do not appear to have been consulted," he tells me. "When we first started conducting liver transplants in paracetamol overdose cases, most were young people without a history of psychiatric illness. Very few would be given a transplant within 24 hours without agreement from the family...I find it puzzling that these things weren't picked up on when the clinician reviewed David Woods' notes. It is very unusual for someone to be given a transplant when they have tried to commit suicide several times in the past.Williams was speaking about the effect this affair might have on potential liver-donors; but I do't think I would be straying from the pro-life fold by suggesting that a liver transplant, with the attendant risk of major damage to organs - including the brain - through buildup of toxins should not be undertaken until the family's view has been taken into account. I'm not saying for a minute that anybody who is critically ill following a suicide attempt shouldn't be treated, merely that in this particular instance a unilateral decision to insert a donor liver may have been something of an unreasonably heroic measure.
Professor Williams adds: "I would say that the psychiatric assessor is the person one might point a finger at"; it's not clear that the psychiatrist who examined David Woods while he was semi-conscious at best was employed by Addenbrooke's or the local mental health trust, but it would be instructive to look at the latter, who would have treated him for his manic-depression.
In November 2006, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust's board meeting minutes announced that "performance targets" for its annual health check by the Healthcare Commission (now the Care Quality Commission) included an "Audit of suicide prevention". This was a month before Woods' last attempt, but five months after an earler attempt, we are told, was assessed as a "cry for help". (The suicide prevention audit is first mentioned in board minutes of March 2006.) In March 2008's minutes we learn that the annual healthcheck has been passed except for a waste-management target, and "A re-audit of the National Suicide Strategy in 2007 identified clear improvements in clinical practice" and that "
the electronic system for investigating and completing serious untoward incidents (SUIs), was reviewed and further improved during the year and now incorporates the national standards for suicide prevention."
An annual healthcheck is a byzantine proceedure looking at a trust's "performance indicators"; in the "frequently asked questions" document, on page 12 (of 15), we learn in the answers to questions 24 and 25 that "It is the responsibility of every healthcare organisation to ensure that they submit all necessary data for our assessment purposes by the deadline date for each data collection...It is the responsibility of the primary data collector to communicate these data quality checks and ensure that they are applied prior to submission to the Care Quality Commission."
So there we have it: two levels of deniability between the Care Quality Commission's examining whether boxes are ticked and conditions endured by patients (and staff) on the ground. It comes as no surprise that the Care Quality Commission is headed by Cynthia Bower, former chief executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority when it failed to pick up the egregious abuses visited upon patients in Stafford General Hospital. She wouldn't have been in place at the time we're talking about, but she has obviously been parachuted into a job where her talents will ensure the continuation of the prevailing ethos.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust's medical director, Dr Tom Denning, told the Cambridge News in the article linked to above that "you always have to give life the benefit of the doubt". The Trust has just published a statement on the "latest news" section of its website:
We are sorry to hear that the family have concerns about whether in retrospect it was the right thing to undertake a life saving liver transplant operation in 2006. We would like to hear from the family so that we can discuss their concerns in more detail.Personally, I think this bit of get-outery is of doubtful value, and I would suggest that David Woods was given a liver transplant - whatever the result - without reference to the family in order to improve Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust's appearance of compliance with suicide-prevention targets.
Decisions to undertake emergency life-saving liver transplantation are made by the transplant consultants with advice from other medical specialists, including psychiatrists, when appropriate.
You'll be glad to know that the answer to the question of why this is an item now is much simpler. But I should first note that I am not implying that David Woods' children have any sort of double agenda. To paraphrase a wise family doctor's counsel to my wife when I was first diagnosed with manic depression, they've been hit by the train, and it keeps on hitting.
On 27 May, the story broke in the Cambridge News and it was mentioned that Nadine Woods was "torn" about taking her father "to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland".
The next day (the same day that the Telegraph picked up the story), Lord Alderdice tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill, which is due to be debated in a House of Lords Committee on 9-10 June. The amendment reads:
Insert the following new Clause—Although SPUC director John Smeaton states the amendment is not likely to be added to the bill, it's important that it be opposed vigorously to show that people who value life are alert to the drip-drip-drip of bringing legalised euthanasia onto the statute books against the will of the British people - and the Members of the House of Lords might want to look in the direction of the Commons to see the effects of continually acting against the interests of the people one is supposed to serve.
"Exceptions to offence of assisting suicide"
Notwithstanding sections 49 to 51, no offence shall have been committed if assistance is given to a person to commit suicide who is suffering from a confirmed, incurable and disabling illness which prevents him from carrying through his own wish to bring his life to a close, if the person has received certification from a coroner who has investigated the circumstances, and satisfied himself that it is indeed the free and settled wish of the person that he brings his life to a close."
If you live in Great Britain, please read and act upon this alert from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. If you from elsewhere, please pray for us.
And for the Woods family, who find themselves buffeted by agendas more highly-powered than most express trains.
Depression's a queer thing to deal with - everybody has their own way to deal with the Black Dog, as Churchill called it. There's always the Samaritans, of course, or a doctor, friend, counsellor, or the local mental health helpline. Myself, if I'm too down to read a book, I turn on the radio, preferably a station with some MOR music and light banter. The mood-lifting effects of exercise have long been noted, but if I embark on some hard-training plan I end up beating up on myself when, inevitably, I fail: walking is good. REM has some good advice in their song Everybody Hurts - "take comfort in your friends". I find it incredibly difficult to tell people face-to-face when I'm down, but I hae to because I hide it when I am; and my friends give me time when I manage to tell them, whether that be time spent with me or time I need to take to reforge connections after a period not really saying much. And as a very wise man I knew once said, if the abyss looks into you when you look into it, look the other way.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I've come into the posession of a couple of science past-papers that caused me concern, both from the Foundation element of "Twenty-first Century Science". I've scanned in some exerpts and posted them - apologies if parts are slightly blurred, they're a bit creased.
In one, from January 15 2008, there was a complicated scenario about a family united to ensure that an infertile sister could have a baby:
Three things bothered me. The first was the phrase at the bottom of the above scenario, informing examinees that "Hannah...gave birth to a healthy son, Jake." Genetically, at least, the embryo's being "healthy" (if that means without detectable deformity) is a slam-dunk job, because under the terms of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA), it is illegal to choose a disabled embryo for implantation at the expense of an able-bodied one.
Secondly, teenagers sitting the exam are informed that "Rebecca had an operation to remove an egg". I grant that the search is on to identify a method whereby a single egg can be extracted for the purposes of in-vitro fertilisation and implantation, but at present the only means to do this is for a woman to take medication to cause hyperovulation so that a bumper crop of ova can be harvested. This might result in a baby without overt disabilities, but hyperovulation not only results in unborn human beings being discarded, but is by no means unsafe for mothers.
And lastly, look at the question at the bottom of this cartoon vignette:
So where has this politically-motivated exam questioning come from? It certainly didn't spring fully-formed from the board of OCR, the examinations syndicate which boasts that it works in "close consultation with...government to ensure [qualifications] are relevant for learners today".
I would answer that it is the endgame of a process of cultural colonialism by radical left-wing intellectualists, who see complex concrete problems as abstract diversions to be resolved by methods that are judged according to their propinquity to liberal-socialist praxis instead of relevance to real life. Case in point: Harriet Harman's loudly-trumpeted plan for employers to be given the power to choose a female applicant over an equally-qualified male one. A good plan, but the Minister for Equality forgot one thing: employers have always had this power.
As Townhall.com's Sandy Rios shows, key academic and political posts in civilised societies have been occupied by the ideologically beautiful, who are more interested in promoting propaganda to young people than resolving problems up to and including preserving life. They have jumped through the appropriate hoops (or, as Rios says, "gamed the system") until theirs is the dominant clamour to the exclusion of more reality-based voices.
Once in position, the ideologues need to spread their message - to reproduce their memes, if you want - by propaganda. The best way to do this is, as the Soviet Government found, by means of pictures. Although pictures are a great way to educate in general, hence the success of the "For Beginners" series, one group of people loves to learn through pictures: children.
Sophie Grillet is a cartoonist born in Cambridge who is now resident in the US. Her 1997 Feminism for Teenagers is available in libraries as far apart as Stornoway in Scotland's Western Isles (Outer Hebrides) and the Waimakariri District of New Zealand's South Island.
The book makes many complex points with the aid of cartoons, for example that gender-based wage parity is to the benefit of all in that men do not find themselves undercut in the labour market, and that "reproductive rights" campaigns in third-world countries serve interests which "want to prevent people in poor countries from 'breeding' too much".
On abortion, however, Grillet tows the establishment line:
We still don't have control of our own bodies, our own wombs. The Government, the Church and various extremists fight for control over my internal organs. As long as women can be forced to bear an unwanted child - we can never be equal.
With this, Grillet sidelines all the many women - like Don't Poke the Baby's Linda or Alison Davis (left)of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children's group for disabled people No Less Human - who are not "on-message" with her. Needless to say, there's a strong anti-religion element, as indicated by the cartoon below right. If she'd done her homework she'd have found that the pro-life movement is almost totally composed of people who follow a religion and are without doubt pro-family, but part of our job is to make it easier for women who are single because they are unmarried or have been abandoned to choose life for their children.
The book is ostensibly aimed at teenagers, but while even Letterbox Library ("celebrating equality and diversity in the best children's books...Our expert selection process means only books of the highest quality are chosen") says it is aimed at young people aged 12+, the London Borough of Waltham Forest advertises it on its libraries site as "feminism - children's literature".
Meanwhile, pictorial education goes on, even in the exams. In the Twenty-First Century Science past-paper from 14 June 2007, we are given the following reactions to genetic testing for genes for breast-cancer - with no clarification as to what post-screening advice to affected adults might consist of, eg have an abortion; or deny yourself children because, presumably, never to exist is preferable to have one's life terminated by that which cuts short every life:
OK, there are two voices against and two for, which is vastly better odds than we usually face, but context is everything: here is what the students have been exposed to on the previous page:
Last year Dr Jessica Ringrose (left), Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Gender and Education at the University of London's Institute of Education - who lists her interests as "postfeminist, neo-liberal educational discourses of gender equality and feminine 'success', feminist and critical pedagogical theories of power and privilege (i.e. race, 'whiteness', class)" - called for feminism to be taught in the classroom. She would like to see girls empowered against the pressure to define themselves with pejorative sexual epithets as objects of male desire.
All the best to her; but - as her interests indicate - she will know as well as any of us that when the parts of the different shcools of feminist thought that seek to empower and enable women clash with the destructive, hegemonic pro-abortion agenda of established power, the latter will win every time. So you won't see any indication in Sophie Grillet's book that when women have maternity leave or career-breaks to raise families, the biggest losers are anti-family money-worshippers to whose music feminists dance. Which is why you won't find the whole truth in Feminism for Teenagers any more than you will in modern educational policy abuses for which works like Grillet's provide the Sitz-im-Leben. As, to finish, Radagast explains:
When gifted writers...abandon the notion that moral truth is objective and that the development of the human person is deeply related to truth, they contribute to a culture that has also abandoned the idea that the child needs truth to flourish.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Baen Books, 1984
1984 is a little outside "my period" for science fiction - I remember having a conversation with the fellow at the till about it: as good as the Star Wars and Star Trek films were (and in the case of the latter, the series and original books), the tie-ins that started appearing, in Britain at least, flooded the market with fiction that wasn't as cerebral as one would like sci-fi to be. But when I looked at the list of chapters and saw titles like This is the Name of this Chapter, Godzilla meets the Toad Man and 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, I knew I had to read it. James Warhola's cover art, above, also intrigued me.
Rucker is a great-great-great grandson of the German philosopher GF Hegel. According to the author's online autobiography, his grandfather "could sense the gathering storm" in 1937, and sent Rucker's mother to America - "the land of the future" identified by the great philosopher in The Philosophy of History, "where, in the ages that lie before us, the burden of the World's History shall reveal itself".
Rucker is the originator of the literary art of transrealism, and has written a manifesto in which he sets out his stall, perhaps a trifle hubristically, but then the mathematician and computer scientist turned author displays his ability to dissect the makeup of a novel in his Writer's Toolkit. Here in his manifesto he explains the relation between SF and other forms of fiction:
The familiar tools of SF — time travel, antigravity, alternate worlds, telepathy, etc. — are in fact symbolic of archetypal modes of perception. Time travel is memory, flight is enlightenment, alternate worlds symbolize the great variety of individual world-views, and telepathy stands for the ability to communicate fully. This is the “Trans” aspect. The “realism” aspect has to do with the fact that a valid work of art should deal with the world the way it actually is. Transrealism tries to treat not only immediate reality, but also the higher reality in which life is embedded.Drs Harry Gerber and Joe Fletcher used to build fantastic machines together - for example, for the military, to make the enemy's water supply radioactive - but couldn't get patents for their inventions because they couldn't explain how they worked.
The machine at the centre of this novel is a "blunzer", a machine that works by altering the value of Planck's measurement in a flow of gluons (which hold quarks together in subatomic particles) which is then injected into the brain of the blunzee, giving him or her godlike powers for a limited period of time.
But time, as Einstein found, is the joker of the pack. Harry Gerber builds the machine first (before he forgets how he did it), but Fletcher sends him back the instructions upon being blunzed. Then...but that would be telling.
Herein lies one of the themes of the novel: as one reviewer stated, "Rucker is bewitched by the absurdities of the universe implied by quantum theory".
And boy, is the quantum universe absurd, as are its architects. Even as certain scientists fight tooth-and-nail to remove any trace of God from their universe, the "god-particle", the elusive Higgs boson, is sought by the Large Hadron Collider at Cern - the underground basilica of physics to which preposterous sums of money are sacrificed (although Austria has had enough of haemmorhaging shrinking resources, and may be the first of many). Even other scientists, including Cambridge's eminent Stephen Hawking, are sidelined: Hawking was publicly subjected to the astounding charge of his work being not good enough by Professor Stephen Higgs, who proposed the eponymous particle's existence in 1964, who had not read the paper in which Hawking stated that the universe would be "more exciting" if it were not found than if it were.
However, the novel transcends mere science, and is also a meditation on the traditional Hungarian folk-tale of "the peasant and the sausage" - a peasant catches a fish, which promises him three wishes in return for its release. Going home and telling his wife of his good fortune, he unthinkingly wishes for a sausage, and one appears; his wife, cursing his stupidity for wasting a wish, cries that the sausage should grow on his nose; and the third wish has to be used to remove the sausage. So, remembering that there are three sorts of gluons...anyway, the tale can be seen in only slightly altered form at the start of MGM's version of Tom Thumb - the pertinent part starts at 4:00 (sorry, Pam!):
Religion of a sort is present: the Church of Scientific Mysticism has "grown out of the mystical teachings of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel", and has a minister with the surname Bitter - Rucker's mother's maiden name (his father became an Episcopal minister). Fletcher's wife finds some comfort here, being worried about world hunger, but feeling angry and offended at Gerber's indication of an answer typical of those scientists who set the western agenda - that "there are too many people".
I don't think Rucker's being facetious here. Born in 1946, he would have been in his senior years at St Xavier's High School in Kentucky at a time when some theologians started to speak more and more like social workers, leaving scientists to pick up the discarded mantle and sew their own cloth thereon. For, as much as scientists try to obliterate God from the world they present for the consumption of the masses, all they succede in doing is effacing religious language. They are still left with some form of intentionality, or at the most basic level the question of the goldilocks universe, "why us?" Rucker deals with this question in a way that I found totally unexpected; his solution is far from an orthodox Judaeo-Christian one, but he nevertheless points, in his own way, towards "the higher reality in which life is embedded.
As both a modern take on the dangers of getting what you wish for and a fun read, I thoroughly recommend this cynical and witty working-out of quantum science in action as an antidote to theoreticians who take themselves a little too seriously.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I don't often to to hospital for non-medical purposes, but today Maxima and I went to Cambridge's Addenbrookes Hospital to see an Anne Frank exhibit in the Treatment Centre. The hospital's now so big that it provides a rather large car called a "courtesy bus", which took us round the huge campus to the centre, aka Institute of Metabolic Science.
The exhibition was in the form of two sets of photos on screens, starting with the dire econimic situation in post-Versailles Treaty Germany, which bred resentment against the Allies, which Adolf Hitler took advantage of in the years following his outburst at a meeting of Anton Drexler's German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)persuading him to prefix Nazionalsozialistische: the Nazis had been born.
The presentation stressed that the majority of Germans were unaware of the true agenda of the Nazis until after their election in 1933. After this point, the exhibition grew ever darker, and you would see groups of nurses, physiotherapists etc gathering round words and pictures in silence. It related that 80,000 handicapped people were killed in order to prevent "enfeeblement of the race"; another photo showed a Jewish man, Julius Wolff, being driven down the street by SS soldiers alongside his "Aryan" girlfriend Christine Reemann in Norden in 1935, each bearing signs that said "I am a defiler of the race".
Interspersed with the indications of mounting horrors were the lives of Anne and her family, who moved from Germany to the Netherlands in 1933. In 1940, their country of exile was occupied and they took to hiding in rooms behind the business where Anne's father had worked, which she called "the secret annexe" - which was the original title of the book. One of the families foremost helpers and concealers was Miep Gies, who said:
'It seemed perfectly natural to me. I could help these people. They were powerless, they didn't know where to turn. I always emphasize that we were not heroes. We did our duty as human beings: helping people in need.I stood looking at the quote underneath her picture for a couple of minutes, unable to speak. There were further details of how, even in the summer heat, Anne and her companions had to burn leftovers to destroy evidence of their clandestine existence. Another quote from the diary referred to the five books that Ms Gies, who recently achieved her century, brought them form the library every Saturday: "We long for Saturday because that means books". However, the quote that moved me most was underneath the world-famous picture of Anne gazing into a future that she would never see:
I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I'm free, and yet I can't let it show.The family was arrested in August 1944. Anne, her sister Margot, and her mother Edith were sent to Auschwitz, where their mother died, having starved herself to give her daughters extra rations. By the time she died, Anne and Margot had been sent to Bergen-Belsen, where they died in a Typhus epidemic less than a month before the camp was liberated by British soldiers in April 1945.
Anne reaches out to us beyond her death. The Government has placed Diary of a Young Girl on the English National Curriculum; and in the UK, the Anne Frank foundation awards people who make a change in their community. For example, Uanu Seshmi, a teacher in the Peckham area of London, received an Anne Frank award for his amazing work in getting young black boys, who had been excluded from school, back into mainstream education. In Cambridgeshire, a self-confessed "boy racer" called Nick Bennett, whose hobby had landed him in a wheelchair was honoured for his work in going round schools informing teenagers of the dangers of his former occupation.
Anne's story is one, I believe, that makes the Holocaust comprehensible by providing an antidote to Stalin's dictum that "one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic" - although it was sobering to learn that before Hitler embarked on his dark project there were eleven million Jews in Europe - the Nazis got more than halfway in their obscene scramble towards the Final Solution. Many years ago I found another part of the story contextualised when, during my first placement as a student nurse - in a medical ward - I met one of the soldiers from the unit which had liberated Bergen-Belsen. Having been a member of the Church of Scotland, he described how he had looked around, and his faith had vanished like a snowflake in a furnace. When I met him in the late '80s, he was still an atheist.
The diary has been attacked as a fraud - notably by lawyer Edgar J Steele, who claimed in November 2003 that "It wasn’t Arabs who forged the Anne Frank “diary” - it was jews [sic]" in a bizarre rant which ends: "And, lest we forget:It wasn’t Arabs who had Jesus Christ crucified - it was jews."
Professor Calculus has told me that he remembers from his boyhood slurs about the Jews being "Christ-killers"; and it is a troubling thought that, had the Hitler/Schickelgrueber family moved to, say, France or Britain when the children were young, Adolf might not have had much trouble starting a movement that resembled the Nazi Party in its anti-Semitism; certainly Oswald Moseley found people flocking to his New Party.
So perhaps it's a good thing that the Anne Frank Foundation will be delivering diversity training to Addenbrooke's staff, even though the concept of diversity has become so loaded with so much ideological baggage pertaining to unilateral multiculturalism that it is increasingly becoming a bad word among followers of many political creeds. Hopefully, the Foundation will be able to inject some reality into a troubled subject, in this corner of East Anglia anyway, before a backlash is unleashed that may snowball towards disaster.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Minima was a bit upset today and told me, after I asked the reason, that another child had called her a "retard" at school. I sighed - some of us parents been expecting something like this to start.
The story is that an outcry has forced the British Association for Adoption and Fostering to remove a homosexist phrase from its latest book, The Pink Guide to Adoption for Lesbians and Gay Men:
"Children need good parents much more than retarded homophobes need an excuse to whinge, so don't let your worries about society's reaction hinder your desire and ability to give a child a loving caring home."To give you an idea of the pressure that children who want nothing more than education come under from politically-correct bullies, Minora was once excoriated by a supply teacher for calling a failing pen "gay" (semantic drift having carried the meaning of the word to "uncooperative") because, said the stand-in, chances were that a quarter of the pre-teens in the class were gay.
As Miss California Carrie Prejean found out, even to give an intelligent and thought-out response to a question concerning the rights of powerful interests can result in a prolonged period of bullying. Columnist and commentator Ann Coulter describes how Hedda Hopper wannabe Perez Hilton ordered the dogs on the beauty queen when she declined to give an unconditional endorsement of homosexual marriage in favour of a nuanced appreciation of homosexual and heterosexual union ending with her faith-based preference for the latter.
In Great Britain, we are seeing powerful interests defied as rarely before, with the MPs' expenses scandal compounded by the refusal of Michael Martin, Speaker of the House of Commons, to resign as the degree of his complicity in trying to keep expense abuse hidden is unmasked by the daily and Sunday Telegraph magazines.
This started in January 2005 when, three months after the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act (FoI), journalists Ben Leapman, Heather Brooke and Michael Thomas applied to see a number of MPs' expenses. Through a long process which was fiercely fought by MPs of all major parties and whose attritions are undoubtedly yet to be recounted, Parliament fought and over-ruled not just the journalists but the courts and tribunals finding in their favour. Although an Information Tribunal ruled that some documents were not to be passed to the public, Leapman was passed unedited bills, and the Telegraph newspapers have been publishing details pertaining to MPs of many parties for over a week now, in a devastating campaign which may yet change British politics to a previously unimaginable extent within three months. (It should be noted that the Telegraph is also publishing details of "saints".)
Just as the silent majority of British people are now expressing their anger, so MPs are unburdening themselves in regard of the Speaker, who has been accused by his former senior advisor John Stonborough of jealously guarding control over information in a "reign of terror". Labour MP David Winnick informed this most party-political of Speakers that "your early retirement sir, would help the reputation of the House", while Conservative Sir Patrick Cormack MP has referred to the 1940 Norway Debate, when, referring to the failure of Neville Chamberlain's Norway Campaign and the necessity for fresh hands at the rudder, Leo Amery quoted Oliver Cromwell's address to the Long Parliament when disbanding it in 1648: "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go." Conservative leader David Cameron has called for a general election. Rightly so: corrupt MPs have ridden roughshot over their decent, hard-working peers under the protection of chief bully Martin until Parliament itself is one big rotten borough.
And Miss Prejean? Donald Trump, Miss Universe mogul, supported her in a press conference, noting that her reply to Perez Hilton's question was almost identical to one given by Barack Obama shortly before his election, and gave her the opportunity to protest against the "hateful attacks, despicable rumours and false allegations" visited upon her by Hilton's minions. Trump is a businessman and recognises the bullying of Prejean as a distraction aimed at furthering the aggressive agenda of politically-correct ideologues.
I asked Minora how she reacted when called a "retard". When she replied she hit the girl, I patted her on the head - I have a relative with special needs and am tired of terms relating to people with learning difficulties being used as insults. And at the end of the day, the only sanction bullies recognise is retribution.
UPDATE: Michael Martin has announced his resignation on Sunday June 21,, so that a new Speaker can be elected on Monday June 22. Gordon Brown is said to have played a part in the reluctant decision. Coming from a working-class background in the East End of Glasgow, I'm glad he's gone to reinforce stereotypes about the city in pastures new and hopefully far away from anywhere. Keep an eye out for repercussions...
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Sunday, May 17, 2009
The Eurovision Song Contest finished an hour or so ago with a conclusion that we haven't seen for some years: the best song won. Alexander Rybak (right), an actor, singer-songwriter and classically-trained musician who was born in Belarus during the oucntry's last days as a member of the Soviet Union, won the prize competing for Norway where he's lived from the age of four, with a dramatic tale of obsession with a former lover from a stormy relationship called Fairytale.
The once-revered Song Contest changed its voting system from excusively professional juries to public voting by telephone in 1998 because of cynicism about countries voting not for songs but for other countries that they were allied to or even feared; and the Telegraph's Chris Hastings reported allegations that Spanish dictator General Franco bribed juries to vote for Spain in 1968, resulting in British superstar Cliff Richard coming second with Congratulations.
However, the voting change resulted in the situation whereby votes were allocated for almost every reason other than the song worsening. Terry Wogan, who had presented British TV coverage for the Contest from 1980 and is known Europe-wide as a song contest institution, decided he'd had enough in 2008 when Russia won through politically-skewed voting by countries that were, as he indicated, placating "the biggest boy in the playground". He moved after Eurovision boss Bjorn Erichsen labelled his famously acerbic commentary as the problem with Eurovision rather than the voting. (Erichsen is a Dane: when his country hosted the Contest in 2001, there were comlaints at a diplomatic level for his referring to hosts Soren Pilmark and Natasja Crone-Back as "Doctor Death and the tooth fairy".) But Wogan has a talent for puncturing egos which exist at rarefied levels where ordinary people are rarely given a voice, and his falling on his sword was undoubtedly a factor in the voting change.
Cirque de Soleil's surreal opening act upheld Eurovision's legendary reputation for strangeness, but once the music started, it was clear - with only a few exceptions, like Lithuania's Sasha Son, who dressed like Frank Sinatra but sang like Gareth Gates - that the song and its performance were the priorities.
When Sweden's Malena Erman came on I groaned something like "here comes rentablonde", but she sang like an angel whose high-notes threatened to crack the TV screen. I was hooked.
Israel had two vocalists, one Jewish and the other Arab, sing There Must be Another Way which, though worthy, expressed the sort of fuzzy sentiment that things will all work out well if we think nice thoughts that can sometimes infest Eurovision; Malta and Denmark sung on similar themes, although perhaps Israelis have more impetus to reflect on what they were singing.
A couple of stars who were well-known in Britain turned up: Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, of Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Cats fame played piano on the song he wrote for the UK's Jade Ewen, and on Gemany's entry, which could have been lifted from a 1930's Berlin nightclub and was performed by Alex Swings! Oscar Sings! (honest), Ditta von Teese did a short burlesque routine, characteristically blending the sensual with the cerebral in a way that showed up Ukraine's Svetlana Loboda as a tacky stag-night artiste, performing moves that I think should have been reviewed in the light of the fact that children (like ours) are traditionally allowed to stay up for Eurovision. (I refute claims that I brightened up when von Teese appeared on stage.)
Russia's entry was a well-written and intelligently-staged song about how a mother's advice to her daughter is found to be true after it's ignored. As Ken Bruce, commentating for BBC Radio ", observed, Anastasiya Prikhodko sin't a proponent of the "leave 'em laughing" school, but the ballad's huge in the host country, where artists can raise the recounting of misery to the level of high art. It was good to see some traditional outfits, for example in Moldova's entry, traditional-style folk music, as in Portugal's, and the odd bit of reassuring vintage Eurovision cheese - like the Blue Man dancing in Albania's entry. On the other hand, all that was missing from Romania's entry "The Balkan Girls like to party..." was Lembit Opik. Turkey produced belly-dancers, as usual, which was a salutory reminder that not all women living in Islamic countries have yet been stitched into burqas.
The voting was expemplary, something that wouldn't have happened without Terry Wogan's sacrifice. New presenter Graham Norton proved himself equal to the job, considering that he was running to stand still in the first place through merely not being Wogan. But I was nonplussed that, while Wogan felt no need to refer to his sexual orientation in 30 Eurovisions, Norton professed himself taken with Ukraine's backing dancers, sub-Chippendales headbanging in Roman helmets.
If certain elected British members had taken note of how wide disaffection with Eurovision had forced changes in voting at the highest levels, they might have considered the effects abuse of expenses would have on the electorate once the evidence inevitably appeared in the public domain. Perhaps the effect of dissatisfaction on this European institution indicates that public demands on their representatives will not be limited by British shores.
But, on the night, it was good to see several sets of laughing-gear in their natural state, unhomogenised orthodontically; and also what Maxima refers to as "real women", not the stick-people belched out by diet boot-camps. And another bonus - nobody got nul points.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Yesterday, as my faith in my ability to stand against politically correct fascism faltered, I little suspected that The Simpsons would come to my rescue.
Having a day off after my foray into London, I got a call from Minora, who'd just completed a Foundation Exam, saying that one of the questions had asked her whether it was right to use human/animal embryos in the search for a cure for Alzheimer's disease. She hadn't answered the question. I commiserated with her, trying to reassure her that I would either have left the question myself, or answered it with the contempt it deserved.
Science doesn't happen in a moral void. It always happens in an ethical framework, the question merely being which one. For example, animal testing, although not perfect, has a definite part to play in maintaining human health, a vivid example of this being when Baxter International, which is working on a vaccine for swine flu, sent avian flu vaccine containing live bird flu virus to Czechoslovakia. On taking the routine step of administering vaccine to ferrets, a subcontractor noticed that the vaccine killed the animals, and a disaster was averted. But when animal liberation fanatics get so tied up with non-human rights that they would gladly unravel the hem of the cloak of creation to salve their fevered consciences, we see big-hearted adolescents served up leading questions by exam boards in an attempt to stunt their moral and intellectual growth, thereby to reduce the ranks of free-thinking individuals who might see through their snake-oil salesmanship.
Then, I read Stephen Exley's exclusive in the Cambridge News about Cambridge University's Newnham College dropping its traditional range of Latin graces referring to Jesum Christum dominum nostrum, and substituting pro cibo inter esurientes, pro comitate inter desolatos, pro pace inter bellantes, gratias agimus - "For food in a hungry world, for companionship in a world of loneliness, for peace in an age of violence, we give thanks". My first reaction was to hope their food isn't as bland, then I realised what they were saying. A suitable paraphrase would be: for being fed and not going without, for being popular and not lacking friends, for being priveleged enough to live without fear of mixing with the uncouth, we worship here at the altar of our own worthiness. It's a fitting epitaph for a society which tries to plug the God-shaped hole in our hearts with that which comes from ourselves.
Lastly, I came upon a report about Hilary Clinton's visit to Brazil over at Don't Poke the Baby, recounting how Hilary Clinton had claimed that a hospital she visited had been packed with a disproportionate amount of women recovering from botched abortions. It appears the poor women suffered from the same condition as the snipers who fired at Clinton when she landed in Tuzla, Boznia in 1996 - an acute lack of reality. However, Baby blogger Linda deftly teases out the pertinent point in the story of a Brazilian woman who had had an abortion as her relationship with an abusive husband ended: "My sympathy is for her living in a situation where she is raped...Where are the defenders of her freedom before the pregnancy? [my italics]"
So I was feeling somewhat beaten down by the time I settled down to watch The Simpsons with my family. I like this show, and it's been praised by many Christian publications - for example the Scottish Catholic Observer - for providing a view of a nuclear, churchgoing family. But you could have knocked me over with a feather when the episode on C4 (#8, 15th season) turned out to have a pro-life lesson.
The episode was entitled "Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays", and involves the blue-haired matron's fight against members of the above society when they sideline families with children as pariahs. Their ringleader, Lindsay Naegle, affirms her belief in abortion; and when Marge tries to get her daughter Lisa to win her heart over, Naegle replies, "I hope one of my eggs I sold turns out like you".
After refusing a (literally) Satanic temptation to give up the campaign, Marge founds her own society - "Proud Parents Against Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens and Gays". After a media campaign almost sunk by her husband's best-intentioned efforts, which are often his most destructive, the denouément occurs in the school playgound, as the anti-family activists prepare to tear the school down. In a charm offensive,the children hug the adults, who are stricken with hellish ailments because they have lost their immunity to the germs that kids harbour.
As Lisa says, the protestors have been defeated by "the humblest things that God in his wisdom has put upon the earth - children". It is, of course, a send up of HG Wells' The War of the Worlds, which was to be released in a modernised version by Stephen Spielberg later in 2005. But it touches on a truth which would be sobering, were not anti-lifers so intoxicated with their own rhetoric: a society lacking sufficient respect for children to suffer them to be born is its own Nemesis. Praise God for hiding these things from the wise and the learned and revealing them to children and Matt Groening.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The conference, hosted by the road charity Brake in the grand surroundings of the Royal College of Physicians, featured academics, police officers and advertising-campaign organisers from England, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand.
And Scotland. When Caroline Thomas, Senior Marketing Manager with the Scottish Government, started a presentation of a worked-out example of a road-safety campaign with an anti-drink-drive campaign, her Ayrshire accent was as clear as a bell; on the other hand, I'm told in my country of choice that my accent is really broad, and in my country of birth that I sound half-English.
She started with a history lesson: the first recorded death related to driving was that of Bridget Driscoll in London. A contemporary newspaper account reads:
On August 17, 1896, in London, Bridget Driscoll, age 45, became an early car accident fatality as crossed the grounds of the Crystal Palace (London), an automobile struck her at a speed witnesses described as "a reckless pace, in fact, like a fire engine."The coroner concluded that the car that hit her had been driving at 4mph (6.5kph) and added his hope that there would be no further deaths due to driving. We're currently averaging an estimated 1,000,000 deaths worldwide related to driving per year.
From newspapers we went to other media. While it took radio 38 years to reach an audience of 50 million and TV 13 years, by the time mobile phones were in the ascendancy they had reached this mark within 2 years. Caroline drew our attention to the famous Miracle on the Hudson picture of US Airways Flight 1549, which had just ditched in the New York river, posted from a mobile phone on Twitter by rescuer Janis Krums as he went out on the ferry as part of the rescue team, with the microblog "There's a plane on the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy." The city's own paper, the New York Times, had the story online in 10 minutes. But it had been well and truly scooped: Krums' picture had gone round the world at a speed that made swine fever look as lazy as a fed dog.
So where was all this going? As Ms Thomas explained, the object for Safer Scotland was to reach the relatively small amount of young people who were responsible for a disproportionate amount of failed breath tests and indeed accidents. Not pathological drinkers, people who have a beer then, having been disinhibited a little by the first pint, make the decision to have a second before they get into their car. They would then be more vulnerable to distraction, which was the theme ofthe campaign, starting with a cinema advert where a driver is distracted for a moment on a rural road, and, swerving out to avoid the car in front of him, crahes head-on with the car in front. There followed a wave of mobile-phone picture messages, starting with a ic of a car windscreeen at night, then a "new text" message, culminated in a pic of a broken windscreen. There was also an online campaign orchestrated around the "morning after", which in the UK accounts for 80% of drink-drive convictions.
The last phase of the campaign was, I believe, a stroke of genius: a Facebook page, now taken off, called "The Loneliest Man in Scotland", which achieved 400 friends as videos were posted about how the man, having failed a breathalyser test and been convicted of drink-driving, progressively becomes isolated from the people around him. There was a degree of risk-taking here, as Facebookers are an independent lot, but what sponaneously happened was that abusive comments were taken care of by those many who wanted a serious debate on the matter. "Don't risk it" (the theme of the campaign) posters also appeared on X-box Live games.
The cinema ads were the workhorse of the campaign in reaching 17-19 year olds, which is perhaps a sad reflection of the cost to a family of going to the flicks. Surprisingly, use of new media like internet and mobile phones widened the age-range exposed to the advertising.
Scotland's safer driving pushes have to take into account that the country has a lot of rural roads that are often assumed to be quite empty, which is where I think Caroline's presentation was an important contribution to the conference. Should the Congestion Charge proposed for Cambridge be implemented, for example, then the Draughty Old Fen and other beads in the necklace of villages around the village will be exposed to even more rat-running than usual, as motorists whose destination is beyond Cambridge but who might usually run through it find ways to avoid the charge boundary. This, coupled with house-building schemes embarked upon to accomodate augmented populations, will fill up roads previously assumed to be emptier.
Another aspect I found impressive was that the campaign married embracing new media and technology with the age-old skill of identifying what a problem is, who is causing it, and how to reach them with which message. And all without the behinderment of ideological blinkers.
Lasly, the campaign demonstrates that, at a time when dismemberment and gore are daily bread for many younger cinema-goers and gamers, tactics have to be cerebral rather than visceral - more Psycho than Saw. As another speaker demonstrated, resolving tension halps people relax - "don't shock 'em and drop 'em, shake 'em and wake 'em". The latest Scottish advert on drink-driving demonstrates a firm grasp of this principle:
Related post: Booze-buses from Aotearoa - an idea for England?
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
When I met Maxima in XV, the Draughty Old Fen's charity shop, she and Vecta were looking worriedly at a load of boxes filled with fairly-traded produce which the chap delivering had dumped in front of the counter instead of taking them behind, as Vecta had asked. Maxima asked me to help her carry boxes over one-by-one, and this is where my qoundam training as a moving and handling facilitator came in.
I explained that, if possible, it's better for one person to carry a heavy box because when two people carry, either both are walking like crabs, with spines out of alignment all over the place, or one is walking ahead with a textbook posture, and the other is walking backwards. There ended the lesson. I didn't add that the last moving and handling training I was forced to attend involved sitting imagining how our backs would swivel were we on skateboards - the car-park hadn't been risk-assessed for us to stand in.
Much - indeed most - health and safety management today is "risk-led", ie possible risks are identified, with a view to devising strategies to prevent the putative hazards. I'm not saying these are totally divorced from reality: in a medium-sized office I know where people feed numbers into computers, at the back of the accident book there's a chart to help one calculate possible risk, which ranges from "low-risk" to "multiple deaths".
You could say, for example, that Britain is full of graveyards with municipally-desecrated headstones because of the risk of the latter, as Government figures cite seven deaths and 21 injuries due to falling headstones. So insurance companies are refusing to cover cemeteries with graves which have even the least risk of falling, even if no injuries (or indeed falls) have occurred for centuries. Likewise, some schools have banned conkers because of the possible risk, taking no account of what injuries have occurred and in what circumstances. (Although the Daily Mail article linked to recounts the story of a poor boy killed by a gravestone while collecting conkers, so I wonder if the number-crunchers got confused in a frenzy of probabilities.)
In the furore surrounding MPs' abuses of expenses allowances, former Conservative Party Chairman Norman (now Lord) Tebbit displayed a magisterial grasp of the anticipation and management of risk when he encouraged voters to vote for smaller parties in the forthcoming European elections, a move which Telegraph blogger Benedict Brogan states has led to the threat of his expulsion.
Tebbit would have learnt more about risk-management working as a military and civilian pilot than insurers and inspectors could grasp in a month of Sundays. And he's playing a risky but canny game here - just as he was part of the Tory Opposition team which forced the Labour Government to reduce tax prior to Margaret Thatcher's 1979 victory, he is now indicating to voters that the Conservative Party will stand or fall by its reaction to the scandal, while Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown dithers and his pet Speaker makes the sort of hollow threats (about police investigations) that the playground bully does when he meets somebody who doesn't run away.
I hope we don't lose any seats in Brussels - but should that happen, I predict that Conservative MPs' expenses will become very clean very soon. And Britain - and the world - will see that not everybody here has been so cowed by the threat of litigation and action by police who would rather do police-work that they keep their heads under the parapet.
And come the next election, we might see kids looking for conkers to play with at school again. Just not under gravestones.