Sunday, November 29, 2009

top ten songs about xmas

The first time I ever did a "top ten", I was such a newbie to blogging that I didn't realise that you could post ten YouTube clips in one post, so my Christmas top ten had two clips on it, and even then I was anxious about whether it would post.

St Stephen's Guild - click to go to their websiteWith your indulgence, I'd like to post a Christmas top ten. I realise not everybody agrees with the spelling of Xmas in the title, but I'm happy to use it because X, or "Chi" in the Greek alphabet, is the first letter of Christ in that language and has always stood for Christ, as in the "Chi Rho" monogram that is, among many other things, the seal of St Stephen's Guild of Altar Servers.

10 - Lo he comes with clouds descending

Lichfield Cathedral's Western front: click to enter websiteA constant and justified complaint of Professor Calculus' is that we seem to move from Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November to Christmas in the commercial calendar, and Advent gets lost somewhere along the way. My only critique of his view is that Christmas starts just after the summer holidays in some major stores. But here's his favourite Advent hymn, sung by the choir of Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire:

9 - December Song

The title of this song is confusing as it's actually about Christmas. What I like about both song and video is that it uses searing cyber-Dickensian critique to accentuate the value of Christmas for a generation of kids cursed not only with familial breakdown but also the availability of 24/7 communications technology, much of it bearing anti-Christian messages at the traditional times of Christmas and Easter. Enjoy.

8 - The Power of Love

EJ Norman - I recommend you click to listen to her music on her MySpace pageThis was Frankie Goes to Hollywood's third single. It followed Relax and Two Tribes, so everybody I knew watched its debut with hands ready to cover eyes. But it was a pwerful retelling of the Nativity, and it worked. EJ Norman released it as a treat for her fans last year: click her pic to see her profile, and watch out for further releases.

7 - What child is this?

The question echoes down through the centuries, from supporters, detractors and the victims of acts He would not have sanctioned. As any parent can attest to, a baby changes everything. This is a collaboration between Andrea Bocelli and Mary J Blige.

6 - I believe in Father Christmas

A perfunctory hearing of this song might leave the listener with the impression that it's anti-Christian, but that's not my interpretation, having heard it for 30-odd festive seasons. It's not exactly pro-Christian, either. Greg Lake's setting of Troika, the fourth movement out of five in Prokeviev's Lieutenant Kijé suite, is an object lesson in getting folk to listen to your words by giving them quality music - hymn writers pay attention, please! Having said that, I can't disagree with Lake's conclusion - The Christmas we get we deserve.

5 - Christmas Song

Gilbert O' Sullivan's assertion that he was dreaming of a peaceful world instead of a white Christmas obviously hit a chord - he's performing here with a choir from a Jesuit girls' preparatory school. I imagine many members of the armed forces posted abroad for Christmas - and their families - agree with him.

4 - Wonderful Christmastime

Paul McCartney provides a masterclass in how to write and perform the classic Christmastime song.

3 - I'll be home for Christmas

Bing Crosby first made this song famous and a favourite in forces serving abroad - here it is performed by the Carpenters, and it has relevance for conflicts in Afghanistan. Please spare a thought and whisper a prayer for the troops out there.

2 - Mary's Boy Child

Harry Belafonte first recorded this song, but it became a worldwide hit with Boney M's calypso version, which is my favourite rendition of the piece. Enjoy.

1 - Silent Night

Josef Mohr - click to go to the website of the Silent Morning museumIt must have been fate that flummoxed the organ in Austria's Nikolaus-Kirche on Christmas Eve 1818: it forced Father Josef Mohr to bring a melody he'd composed on guitar to local headmaster Frances Xaver Gruber, desperately hoping that the latter could come up with lyrics. 170 years later, glamsters-turned-popsters Bros gave many of us a plesant surprise with their interpretation.

If you enjoyed this, click here for some more Top ten songs about...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy thanksgiving to Linda, Pam, Colin and all those in the US who come over and visit the Draughty Old Fen!
click and scroll down to readf George Washington's Address at the Queen of Apostles Catholic Church site

it's a dog's life...

We Brits are fond of our pets, but have mixed feelings about using them to characterise people. For example, we might say that a sprinter goes like a whippet, or apiculturists might even refer to Muhammad Ali's stinging like a bee. But to call somebody catty is generally seen as a semi-veiled insult (unless you're into camping it up, in which case it might be a compliment).

Bulldog on flag: detail from a Canadian postcard at Bow City Philatelics Ltd - click to go to websiteBut there are limits in civilised society, even for the master of bon môts Winston Churchill, who, after being accused of drunkenness by a lady, replied: "Madam, you are ugly: tomorrow I will be sober". Another apocryphal story has him confronted by a female politician who called him a "toothless bulldog on a tattered union jack"; he replied that, as much as he disagreed with the lady, he would hesitate to call her a dog.

Yesterday, the Telegraph's Tom Whitehead reported a Government press release stating the principle that "it is wrong to hit girls" would be included in schoolchildren's education as part of an initiative to combat violence againRihanna: click to read Anita Singh's story in the Telegraphst women. Very laudable, of course - witness the high-profile case in the US this year when singer Rihanna, used as a punchball by her boyfriend Chris Brown, briefly returned to him. But given that this comes in Labour's twelfth year of power, I wondered how women were faring against man's other best friend (or at least his equal in terms of dependence and intelligence).

Labour was elected on 2 May 1997, with a manifesto commitment for a Parliamentary vote on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation.

fox, from Jiri Bohdal at - click to go to websiteVulpes vulpes, the red fox, is a member of the Canidae family and is therefore a cousin of Rover, Rex and even Afterglow The Big Tease. Two years after Labour took power, then Home Secretary Jack Straw instigated a six month governmental enquiry into foxhunting, and after great deliberation and an Amazon of documents, hunting with hounds (ie traditional foxhunting) was made illegal in England and Wales in 2004.

It was, of course, a political move: Labour had identified its traditional base as subsisting in cities, and didn't see itself losing many votes in pandering to its those traditional prejudices of its members involving rural matters.

1997 Labour Party manifesto - click to read the manifestoJust so, the 1997 manifesto, while stating that "Labour has taken the lead in proposing action to tackle the problems of stalking and domestic violence" (17 words), also promised that "We will ensure greater protection for wildlife. We have advocated new measures to promote animal welfare, including a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation" (32 words, before a bizarre paragraph on angling).

The 2001 Labour Party manifesto has nothing to say on domestic violence, but continues to rattle the class-war sabre:
Labour Party manifesto 2001 - click to read the manifestoThe House of Commons elected in 1997 made clear its wish to ban fox-hunting. The House of Lords took a different view (and reform has been blocked). Such issues are rightly a matter for a free vote and we will give the new House of Commons an early opportunity to express its view. We will then enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue. If the issue continues to be blocked we will look at how the disagreement can be resolved. We have no intention whatsoever of placing restrictions on the sports of angling and shooting.
Labour Party slogan for 2005 - click to read the manifesto in .pdf formIn 2005, the pendulum started to swing back, with nothing on hunting, but the promise of "Expanding specialist courts to deal with domestic violence and specialist advocates to support the victims of such crime and of other serious crimes like murder and rape" (27 words).

But 27 words do not a safer country for women make. At a recent course I attended on domestic violence, a shocked hush fell over the room a the trainer, a powerful, passionate and energetic speaker, informed us that in Britain there were 300-odd womens' shelters, and over 3000 homes for stray or rescued dogs.

While the question of whether it's better for a fox to be killed by dogs or by snare is a vexed issue by itself, my blood runs cold at the thought of Labour politicians using the issue of violence against women as a vote-gathering stunt, and doing so by the classical Platonic top-down method; by casting every boy as a wife-beater. There are already educational means in place, and all those MPs, including Labour ones, who quietly work to keep them in place and improve upon them must be praised. For example, when I returned from the domestic violence course, the first thing I said to Minora was that if she meets a boy whose last girlfriend does not have a name but is constantly referred to as "bitch" and such epithets, she should walk. "Da-ad!" she replied. "That's what the teachers tell us!"

A friend told me recently she'd had her Chinese Horoscope done, resulting in her being a Dog of some composition. I refrained from commenting, but wondered if she should thank her lucky stars.

Related post: Women and children first

Sunday, November 22, 2009

top ten songs about times and seasons

10 - Turn, turn, turn

You know it's the 60s when you hear the screaming at the start of this clip from the US music show Shindig that sets the theme for this month's top ten. It's a setting of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 by Pete Seeger, the man of peace who had to be restrained from taking an axe to Bob Dylan when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, illustrating peaceniks' curious propensity for violence when things they care about get messed with. Seeger reportedly donates 45% of donations from the song to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, which opposes houses being built by Jews in the country's so-called "occupied" territories, and has been accused by NGO-Monitor of using "demonization rhetoric that is unrelated to housing issues,...participat[ing] in anti-Israel events" and promoting "a highly politicized narrative of the conflict, falsely accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing and state terrorism". Here's the song:

9 - A time to be born, a time to die

click to see Ian McKellen as The Seventh Seal's Death in Last Action HeroThe Seventh Seal is Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece based on Revelation 8:1, which speaks of a silence in Heaven when the seal of the title is opened by the Lamb of God. The film's influence on cinematography stretches from Arnold Schwarzenneger's soul-searching Last Action Hero to Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey and many points in-between (for example the epic chess game in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). I first heard Scott Walker's 1969 tribute to it quite recently on Stuart Maconie's BBC Radio 6 show The Freak Zone, in which he showcases progressive rock, psychedelia and the forgotten delights of music that doesn't make it onto more mainstream shows.

8 - A time to kill, a time to heal

(Sir) Roger CasementLondoner Arnold Bax, who loved to holiday in the West of Ireland, composed Elegiac Trio in 1916 about the failed Easter rising, the elegy being for the chocolate-box Ireland of his imagination as much as the dead. What was arguably more tragic than what happened was what didn't - Roger Casement was picked up by British forces shortly after landing on Banna Strand in Kerry, having been taken there by U-Boat. Casement was trying to get the message to Irish rebels to abort the operation, as the German promise of help - on the basis of "my enemy's enemy" - was, like the French promise of help during the 1798 rising, composed of little more than words. PPeter Robinson, DUP leader - click to read moreerhaps the over-riding tragedy is that the relatively inclusive United Irishmen of 1798 were progressively sidelined by more sectarian organisations which spent as much energy on internal rifts as on anything else, but like the rest of the world I pray that Democratic Unionist Party leader Peter Robinson can manage to keep his party on-side with the power-sharing arrangement in the context of that arrangement having been set up by politicians who wanted Loyalists to give up more than they were perhaps ready to. Unfortunately not quite the whole piece is on this clip (I can't find it in one piece), but I hope you get the taste of the gentle Irish breeze.

7 - A time to plant, a time to reap

I was initially going to put this one under "a time to laugh, a time to weep", as we've all been to weddings that start with joyous reunions surrounding the joyous union before Auntie Betty gets maudlin over a sherry too many, then chose this heading because one of the many things weddings indicate is the maturing of the human harvest, an allegory that deepens my enjoyment of each year's Harvest Festival at St Gallicus. Harnick's lyrics say it all in perfect harmony with Bock's music on Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof.

6 - A time to build up, a time to break down

a burning coffin at the Death of Hippy ceremony in Haight Ashbury - click to read the original speechThis is archetypal psychedelia recorded in 1967, the year in which the "Death of Hippy" was proclaimed by, er, hippies. Three years afterwards, it appeared on the soundtrack of an atrocious piece of trash called Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which was about the section of the generation that thought it invented sexual liberation, but which was reaping the harvest sown by its parents who were fighting a war that some thought might end civilisation. A lot of good stuff happened in the 60s - you can't diss the decade that saw Gillian Anderson's conception - but a lot of people, often women who were being conditioned by fashionable feminists to become cannon-fodder for the exploitation rodeo, were broken; witness novelist Martin Amis' contention that "the sexual revolution killed my sister Sally". Click on the clip, and immerse yourself in the strangeness.

5 - A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

the Sun's recording of Let it BeNever somebody to let a song away with only one meaning, Paul McCartney combined the faith of his childhood with memories of his mother in Let it Be. The middle verse seems to be a meditation on a verse of a Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes, which I've only ever seen in French, which enjoins the Virgin priez pour ceux qui aiment et sont partis - "pray for those who love and are parted". There are many ways in which one can experience the heartbreak of being parted, so I thought that in was appropriate to post this video by Ferry Aid, produced by Hit Factory team Stock, Aitken and Waterman and starring Macca, which was released in 1987 in the aftermath of the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise near Zeebruge in Belgium. Parental advisory: contains shoulderpads and Big Hair.

4 - A time of war, a time of peace

Edith PiafThis was sung by Edith Piaf, "the sparrow", about les Grognards, an elite unit - essentially a special forces regiment - who were sent to Russia in the ill-fated campaign defeated by Generals January and February. In the song, the soldiers' shades march through Paris, a city they never had a chance to see during their brief lives and whose citizens' freedoms were won by their sacrifices. Its a song about our duty of remembrance towards the glorious fallen, summed up by Herodotus with Simonides' epitaph for the slain Spartans in his Histories -
Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, Martha Wainwright's Piaf album: click to read a review
that here, obedient to their law, we lie.
- and recited at the start and end of every Royal British Legion meeting: "at the going down of the sun, we will remember them". Here it's performed by Martha Wainwright, who's just released an album of Piaf songs.

3 - A time for every purpose under Heaven

It was a very good year is a fitting humanistic summary of the Ecclesiastes passage. It was made famous by Frank Sinatra, but here's Ervin Drake's song covered by Ray Charles duetting with Willie Nelson.

2 - Chanukah

(Or Hanukkah song, I'm not sure about the translitteration.) How can I write a post about times and seasons and not get seasonal for the last couple? Adam Sandler wrote this for kids who felt they were the only ones in their streets not to have a Christmas tree. The irony is that, here in East Anglia, a lot of people have plastic Chanukah candleabra in their windows thinking that they're Christmas decorations. Adam Sandler performs his original (and best, I think) Chanukah Song on Youtube, but in the only clips I can find he's so busy being Adam Sandler he doesn't give the song a chance. So here it is performed by Oy Capella, Syracuse University's mixed Jewish a capella outfit.

1 - O Come O Come Emmanuael

Enya performs this classic Advent hymn, mixing English with Irish, that voices a longing for reconciliation for God that Christians believe came in the person of Jesus Christ. More Christmas music coming soon.

If you enjoyed this, click here for some more Top ten songs about...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

counting the cost of creating our future

click to go to the Alzheimer's Society homepageOne phrase that has stuck in my head since training for my stint in geriatrics as a student nurse is that "when we create the care that older people receive, we define our own future".

Newsreader, broadcaster and dancer Angela Rippon has been appointed Alzheimer's Society Ambassador alongside businessman John Hughes, and both appeared on ITV1's This Morning to mark the launch of an AS report called Counting the Cost. This looks at the reasons why people with dementia tend to be kept in hospital longer than peAngela Rippon holding 'Counting the Cost' - click to read moreople who are not suffering from a dementing process, and at the costs to both individual and Health Service of this.

It's not uncommon for somebody to show first symptoms of dementia only when they spend some time in an unfamiliar environment - for example if away on holiday or visiting friends. Thereafter, the environment should change as little as possible: in other words, hospital stays should be as short as possible.

I'm not trying to make carers feel guilty for going off for a much-needed break and putting their loved-one in respite-care, as this would be a nursing home specialising in the care of older people, some with dementia. What the report's saying is that hospital stays should be as short as possible, so that the person with dementia can then recover from their hospital stay in familiar surroundings, whether that be the family home or a nursing home.

The report's findings are compelling: while 97% of nursing staff and nurse managers report that "they always or sometimes care for someone with dementia", "47% of carer respondents said that being in hospital had a significant negative effect on the general physical health of the person with dementia, which wasn’t a direct result of the medical condition" and "54% of carer respondents said that being in hospital had a significant negative effect on the symptoms of dementia, such as becoming more confused and less independent".

is it really necessary? Click to read moreThe best-known example of this is inappropriate prescription of medications, predominantly antipsychotics, but also others. On my second night as a patient in a psychiatric ward, I found I'd been prescribed a sleeping tablet because, I think, my tossing and turning on a clanky hospital bed had been quite loud: the prescription had no bearing on my condition. How much more would people with dementia, who might not be able to tell the difference between night and day, be vulnerable to inappropriate prescription? (I'm on an antipsychotic, appropriately prescribed for manic depression, that can knock me out - I wouldn't like to see its effect on a frail older person who wasn't alert to all the cues warning of danger of falls, etc.)

I've got a lot of time for the Alzheimer's Society, as when Baroness Warnock, former chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology, proclaimed that "dementia sufferers should consider ending their lives through euthanasia because of the strain they put on their families and public services", the Society's president, Neil Hunt, expressed his horror that someboNeil Hunt, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society - click to read moredy in a public position could "disregard the value of the lives of people with dementia so callously...that they should feel that they have some sort of duty to kill themselves is nothing short of barbaric".

The Society, in its paper, gives a powerful incentive for NHS trusts to consider giving dementia patients as short a stay as possible - the bottom line. The full report goes into detail what savings could be made in which circumstances, but the executive summary delivers the money-shot:

This report finds that supporting people with dementia to leave hospital one week sooner than they currently do could result in savings of at least £80 million a year...It would not be unreasonable to assume that there are savings to be made in care for peoplclick to read Angela Rippon's biography - thanks tp Z Design & Print for the pic.e with dementia running into hundreds of millions of pounds, which could be more effectively reinvested.
And, as Angela Rippon, proof (if it were needed) that one can be 65 and glamorous, said on This Morning of the art and science of caring for older people: "We're all going there".

Sunday, November 15, 2009

social enterprise and homeless needs: the autumn issue

Politicians of all parties are looking hopefully at the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship, and Spark provides some statistics that surprised me:

click to go to the Spark websiteThere are at least 55,000 social enterprises in the UK with a combined turnover of £27billion per year. They account for 5% of all businesses with employees and contribute £8.4billion per year to the UK economy - almost 1% of annual GDP.
The reason Spark attracted my attention is that they support social entrepreneurship in the field of homelessness, and a trailblazing Cambridge social enterprise which serves homeless people, their friends and the agencies who serve them in a unique way is trying to identify funds to keep going. In short, it's fighting for its existence.

In the Autumn edition of the Willow Walker magazine Gary Barrett, who has been rock-solid in overcoming his addiction and encouraging others to do the same, describes the difficulty in getting people together to plan a magazine when they're simultaneously struggling to recover:
Gary BarrettAfter the Relapse Prevention Course I came up with the idea of a magazine. We got together a few of us ex-addicts, some of them are on meth [methadone], some of them are off...We had a magazine meeting this morning and I was the only one who turned up because the others have floated off because it's just taken too long.
I can sympathise with Mr Barrett because, taking over as as acting editor of a village magazine, I've seen some things move at speeds that make paint drying look hurried. But the case he makes illustrates precisely the case for a means of communication to tie together the members of disparate communities of homeless and vulnerably-housed people in Cambridge that isn't going to evaporate because things go too slowly for people who have recently been involved in lifestyles wherein gratification, when obtained, is instant.

That means of communication is the Willow Walker itself, and its prominence in the homeless community and the agencies serving it is recognised in Cambridge City Council's Single Homeless and Rough Sleepers Strategy 2006-09, where, in the section on User Involvement, the Council sets as a "medium" priority (the highest in that strand)that "results must be fed back to users via the Willow Walker or alternative communication mediums".

The Willow Walker's funding has been cut off because, as Chris Havergal writes in the Cambridge News, the the Council "'have concluded we are not going to support Willow Walker. We support a range of projects, including a contract we have with WinterComfort, and we don’t want to duplicate'." It was only possible to bring out the Autumn edition of the Willow Walker because of a generous donation from Cambridge University Press and the gift of professional photographer Suzanne Middlemass's time and considerable talents.

Overstream House, where Wintercomfort is based: click to go to their websiteWintercomfort, based in the city's Overstream House, supports those who are homeless or at risk of losing their accomodation and provides valuable services: for example, it's developing a weaving business based on social enterprise lines and using, ironically enough, willow. But it doesn't duplicate the vital role as a communications hub that is filled solely by the Willow Walker whose editor, social entrepreneur and community artist Kirsten Lavers, stands at the centre to stop things evaporating.

One of the many interesting and commanding articles in the Autumn edition was written by Dr Christine Hugh-Jones, who is the doctor in charge of Cambridge's Access Surgery, which takes on homeless clients. She was writing about the pioneering Joint Strategic Needs Assessment for Homeless produced for Cambridgeshire NHS by Drs Jeremiah Ngondi and Fay Haffenden. Click on the link in the last sentence to view this important document as a PowerPoint file. Here's a whistlestop tour of it:

Analysing anonymised statistics from the Access Surgery, one of their many grim findings was that the average age at death of homeless people in Cambridge is 44, which the press managed to garble into "life expectancy of homeless people in Cambridge is half that of the rest of the population of Cambridgeshire". Through the Willow Walker, Dr Hugh-Jones was able to explain to its readers that the Access Surgery's clients had, on Ngondi and Haffenden's analysis, a 2-3% chance of dying in the next year - "This is still much too high but it does not mean that if you are forty you have only four years to live". (Although the four obituaries at the end of the magazine are a sobering reminder of mortality on the streets.)

click to go to the Homeless Truths websiteThe projects that have budded from the Willow Walker have taken the Big Issue slogan of "a hand up, not a handout" and put it to work. I've already written about the radio show Homeless Truth's getting the police's point of view into the heart of the homeless community: in the latest Willow Walker there's a brilliant picture of one of the show's broadcasters, Laila Antoun, interviewing Tony Benn.

Dr Hugh-Jones' comment about the misquoted survey could apply to a range of issues affecting hard-to-reach communities in Cambridge: "What a pity no-one except the Willow Walker has bothered to report this".

click to go to the Willow Walker website

Other posts related to the Willow Walker:

Homeless not hopeless

Catching Street Voices

Both Sides of the Tracks

Save the Willow Walker

The Willow Walker looks for a funder

Top Ten songs about Thomas

Friday, November 13, 2009

chlamydia, koalas and killer sex education

Yesterday's Telegraph carried a story by Kate Devlin, the paper's Medical Correspondent, about the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, which tests people for the undetectable sexually-transmitted disease in bars and nightclubs, among other settings (see below) wasting £17 million.

Huntingdon Connexions logoThe screening campaign is a textbook exercise in wasting money. For example, one strand of the initiative is to send testing kits to under-25's who requested them, and asking for them to be sent back. So, last year, Huntingdon Connexions sent out 360 testing kits. 3 were returned.

I'm not trying to minimise the threat chlamydia poses, nor the misery that can be caused by the infertility it can lead to if not treated. Indeed, its danger was underlined this week with the revelation that an outbreak of the disease is threatening Australia's Koala population with extinction.

What I'm saying is that the Government's chlamydia strategy goes beyond farce into a sinister study of the mindset of middle-aged men (predominantly) who wish to sexualise our children by stealth - witness "concerned council workers at Bournemouth Borough Council" setting up a mobile scheme where children as young as 13 could be tested for chlamydia. Actually, in recent months I had a conversation with a Cambridgeshire school nurse who was trying to work out how to get twelve-year-old children tested at the school disco. When I countered that this could be seen as conconing sexual activity on the part of people who could not consent to it (the minimum age at which consent for anything is legal in England and Wales is 13), her colleague hushed her up.

this is how the government tries to dissuade our children from early sexThe tragedy of all this is that the Government is packaging it with a campaign to delay early sex. You don't dissuade kids having sex by concomitantly giving them condoms, as in the C-Card scheme. You get there by starting from the position that some things are objectively right and others objectively wrong, but reinforcing compassion for individuals who for whatever reason fall short of the mark (as I betimes do in various ways). For instance, at the Roman Catholic secondary school I attended, the SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) Group's major activity was raising funds to present teenage mums with baby clothes and toys.

So what went wrong?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Lord Sacks, Britain's Chief Rabbi), makes a compelling case in The Dignity of Difference:
click to read a review of the bookOne of the most important ideas of Harvard political philosopher John Rawls is that of "public reason", the process by which people in political debate use a language and logic accessible to all so that we can - in the prophet Isaiah's phrase - "reason together". The idea of reasoning together was dealt a fateful blow in the twentieth century by the collapse of moral language, the disappearance of moral language, the disappearance of "I ought" and its replacement by "I want", "I choose", "I feel". Obligations can be debated. Wants, choices and feelings can only be satisfied or frustrated.
click to see the whole leaflet
Case in point: part of the campaign to delay early sex is a leaflet entitled "R U Ready?" which contains a self-assessment questionnaire for children to decide whether it is in their interests to start a sexual relationship, which can then be "scored" in the manner of a magazine quiz (click the pic on the left to view the whole leaflet) . On the back there's a section headed "Other help", the first entry in which is the Brook Helpline, attached to the abortion service, whose murderous wheels are oiled by the blood of children, whom abortion destroys as surely as chlamydia kills koalas.

will you still love me tomorrow? click to see the whole leaflet

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Tear down this wall!"

Kristallnacht: click to read more on Pamela Geller's Atlas Shrugged blogWith only 365 days in the year, a lot of history is competing for a limited number of anniversaries.

Take November 9. In 1923, there was the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, led by Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess, who would later decide that angels were telling him to negotiate a truce in the war to come and fly over to Scotland. Then in 1938, Kristallnacht began on the night of 9 November, seeing a stepping-up of the oppression of German Jews on the order of Hitler, ostensibly - says Tom Herschel GrynszpanSegev of Haaretz - as payback for the shooting of diplomat Ernst Vom Rath in Paris by young Polish Jew Herschel Grynszpan.

So I can appreciate why François Mitterand was jumpy about the Berlin Wall being taken apart bit by bit on the same day in 1989, starting when jetlagged German Communist Politburo member Günther Schabowski announced that border restrictions would be relaxed "as far as I know, effective immediately".

Mitterrand warned Thatcher that a united German might make even more ground than Hitler had. Mitterand was possibly being somewhat disingenuous, given that preventing Germany from uniting had been a French goal since the days of Cardinal Richelieu in the 17th century due to fear of its military and economic power - France wanted to be the biggest bully on the block. Madame Guillotine: liberty, equality and fraternity in practice

Thatcher was no fool and, on the feast of the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July of that year, had reminded a Mitterand who was getting overexcited over the effect of his country's revolutionary values of liberté, fraternité and egalité on Europe that the continent's foundations were, rather, Judaeo-Christian values.

So why was she so affected by Mitterrand's premonition? One possibility is that, having been born in 1925, she would have grown up with the travellers' tales of Great War Veterans, and turned 14 the month after the second round commenced in September 1939. But what the generation above her was too young to know much about was the 1871 liberté, egalité, fraternité: a pre-Euro French francTreaty of Versailles, whereby France was forced to recognise the existence of the German Empire in the palace's opulent Hall of Mirrors, which was reflected in a homonymous treaty signed in the same place 48 years later.

I make no bones about it: Communism formed exactly what Ronald Reagan called it in a 1983 speech: an evil empire. He was speaking to the (US) National Association of Evangelicals, and it would be another Christian, a great leader, who would join Reagan and Thatcher to form the triumvirate that would bring the fragile red tyrant crashing down like so many statues of Lenin. Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła), having lived under both Nazi and Communist regimes, addressed his fellow Poles in 1979, enjoining them repeatedly "Do not be afraid!" Lech Walesa and his colleagues at the head of Pope John Paul II: click to read more about his role in the collapse of communism by his biographer George Weigelthe then-illegal trade union Solidarity recognised their moment. (The Pope would, I think, have been horrified by East Germans too young to remember the global conflagration caused by the Franco-Teutonic double-act becoming Neo-Nazis because it was the only alternative to Communism - the sinister side of a phenomenon known as "Ostalgia". )

So how have we done since 1989? Judaeo-Christian values, for one thing, are ignored by the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty; East Germans who rushed through the crumbling Iron Curtain to experience the freedom of the West are now micromanaged to the level of what sort of lightbulbs they can buy, in the name of the new pantheism dressed up as a delusion that climate change is due to the actions of humankind; and, as the shadow of Mutually-Assured Destruction (MAD) recedes, destruction by fundamentalist suicidal maniacs is more likely than ever.

So it's fortuitous that this day of anniversaries falls in the no-man's land between Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day, as it exemplifies the law of unintended consequences writ on a scale that leads to war. And down the decades come echoing the great words of Ronald Reagan's that emboldened reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, speaking in 1987 near where JF Kennedy had declared himself a doughnut:

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
click to read more about Ronald Reagan's famous speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library website

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Remembrance Sunday 2009

November 11 is celebrated in many places over the world to remember those who have fallen in war and pray for peace, celebrated on the date when the First World War officially ended by signing an armistice in 1918. For example, it's known as Veterans' Day in the US, National Day in Poland and The Day of Peace in Belgium. In Great Britain and the 53 members of the Commonwealth, it's known as Remembrance Sunday. It's tied in with the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal, which was conceived of in the US by academic Moina Michael, who was inspired bu John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields

I was gutted at missing the Festival of Remembrance this year, I can't remember the last time I missed it.

This morning, Rector Pellegrina presented a wreath she'd made from evergreen branches from her garden, and invited the children of the parish - both ununiformed and members of the Scouts adn Girl Guides - to thread poppies into it.

Then, as we do every year, we processed from St Gallicus to the Draughty Old Fen War Memorial, where local clergy called out the names of everybody from the Fen and surrounding villages who had died in conflicts since the First World War - WWII, Korea, the two Gulf Wars, Northern Ireland and the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There'll be another, smaller ceremony at the War Memorial on Wednesday, when the Parish Council and members of the Royal British Legion will lay poppy wreaths at 11 o' clock on the 11th day of the 11th month. For the first time, children from the Draughty Old Fen will be present. And they'll recite the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen, as we did at the end of the service:

click to read more about Laurence Binyon at firstworldwar.comWith proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

click to go to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal

Friday, November 6, 2009

Baby RB and the misery of medics

click to read more at startrek.comBones stares at the grim scene lifted out of his memory by Spock's wayward brother Sybok: the young doctor reluctantly switches off his father's life support system at the latter's pleading. Now back in the present, he turns to his companions and informs them that a cure for his father's disease was discovered shortly afterwards.

Faith that the future will provide something we lack at present is a defining characteristic of our species. For example, this month's Reader's Digest tells the story of how Professor Graham Hughes, founder of the London Lupus Centre, noticed a biochemical similarity in patients suffering from an inexplicable paralysis in Kingston Hospital, Jamaica, and patiently tracked down the cause: an antibody that attacked phospholipids on an autoimmune basis, causing a coagulation disorder, which he called antiphospholipid syndrome but has been renamed Hughes' Syndrome by the medical profession.

click to read more about Prof Graham Hughes at the London Lupus Centre websiteWhen he first presented his findings, a surgeon sitting next to him, recognising the symptoms, whispered "my first wife died of this", then both listened to the testimony of a woman who, having been the first to be diagnosed with Hughes' Syndrome and treated, had given birth to her first child after nine miscarriages.

Sometimes miracles happen: in June, six-week-old Grace Vincent continued breathing after her life-support system was switched off to let her "incurable" meningitis take its course, and she defied odds of survival that doctors had put at less than one percent.

So it's sad to see a court battle over the future of Baby RB, who was born with congenital myasthenic syndrome which, explains the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, is "a muscle weakness that limits the movement of his limbs and his ability to breathe on his own". His father wants his life-support to remain on, and his mother wants it to be switched off on the basis that she would rather cope with a mother’s grief of losing a child than to see her son’s "intolerable suffering".

Michael Mylonas, representing the NHS Hospital Trust representing Baby RB, stated "Clinicians at the hospital are against this because in their view even with a tracheostomy, the quality of Baby RB’s life will be such that in fact he has a miserable, sad and pitiful existence". He added the following astounding statement:
Michael Mylonas - click to read moreThe argument before you is the fact that he has normal cognitive function and normal brain would weigh in his favour.

But the Trust is concerned that his awareness will simply make his own plight all the more unbearable - not so much now, but as he gets older and catches glimpses of what others can do.
His reasoning puzzles me: is there anybody who hasn't looked jealously at others' abilities and compared them to their own? Failure, misery and pain are so bound in with the human condition that the above argument does not so much rationalise extinguishing a baby's life as provide grounds for genocide.

Baby RB is unable to move his limbs but can wiggle his body to indicate, his father asserts, pleasure, and has been filmed enjoying toys. The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign said in a statement,

"Baby RB's parents find themselves in and that unfortunately the resolution of this case will inevitably be devastating for all parties involved...The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign is here to provide support for all families affected by muscle disease through our freephone information support line and care team. We also continue to invest over £1million each year into pioneering research to find treatments and cures for muscle disease."
Martin BobrowIts rather ambivalent stance may be due to the chairmanship of Professor Martin Bobrow, non-executive director at Cambridge's Addenbrookes Hospital, Deputy Chairman of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and a member of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, who has declared himself in favour of pre-implantation genetic diagnoses. This would prevent such messy court cases by preventing the birth of babies with neuromuscular disorders, and would also render the many wonderful services provided by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign unnecessary.

I don't wish to demonise Baby RB's mother with all this, Heaven knows she must be under enough pressure as it is, for example with a marital split whose "amicable" nature may be the good cop to the trial's bad cop. But she's not being helped by doctors who predicate "a miserable, sad and pitiful existence" of a 13-month-old child. Doctors are there to perform medical and surgical interventions, not to use their eminence in order to misrepresent their opinions as facts. (I'm reminded of the case of Baby OT, whose life support was switched off this March, in spite of legal protests by both parents, by doctors who spoke of "empathy" and "distress" instead of doing medicine.)

John Smeaton, Director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, quotes the society's communications manager, Anthony Ozimic, on the matter:
Anthony Ozimic: click to read more
Whenever there is doubt about life-sustaining medical treatment, everyone should act with a presumption in favour of life. The value of a person's life, and the protection due to that life, should never be judged according to opinions about the person's quality of life. An ill or disabled person's life should never be regarded as not worth living. Doctors should not confuse the possible burdens of a medical intervention with the priceless worth of a person's life.
In fact, in a dramatic intervention, it's been announced that Baby RB's father has found a doctor willing to perform a tracheostomy on the child, but doctors have countered that this would necessitate "painful" surgery. If surgery's painful, fire the anaesthetist; I think I'd have more respect for them if they came out and honestly complained about "costly" surgery (in a research paper, Alison Davis of No Less Human refers to a British government publication that mentions that "caring for the handicapped can impose great burdens on our society").

It's not impossible that RB's condition may one day be treatable, perhaps even before the third birthday that doctors say he will struggle to reach, not stopping to think that for all of us there are times when it's a struggle to envisage getting up the following morning.

Thanks to the Monash Medical Centre for the pic of Baby Z: click to read moreTake Baby Z (above). The Telegraph's Bonnie Malkin reports that the newborn was cured of molybdenum cofactor deficiency, which usually kills in around three months, by a medicine Professor Günther Shwarz had been working on for 15 years. Contacted by the family, he sent his entire stock of the experimental compound.

Does something like this await Baby RB, should the medical establishment suffer him to live? I don't know, but we live in hope - it's what we do.

Related post - Sympathy and distress - bad medicine for Baby OT