Monday, March 31, 2008

Dispatches Tonight - Torture and Mobile Sterilisation Units in Tibet

More on the Chinese government's savage one-child policy, which Tibet is supposed to be exempt from. A few months after the Chinese government spun stories that it was considering ending the policy, Dispatches has uncovered evidence of enforced sterilisations on Tibetan women.

Tibetan women are also forcibly prevented from having children, despite supposedly being exempt from China's strict birth-control laws, the film's director Jezza Neumann discovered.
Measures include monitoring menstrual cycles, forced abortions and sterilisation if women cannot afford a fine for having a second child.
One woman, a married farmer, described her agony at a forced sterilisation operation without anaesthetic.
She could not afford the fine, equivalent to £70, and was one of six in her village who went through the ordeal.
"I was forcibly taken away against my will. I was feeling sick and giddy and couldn't look up," she said.

"Apparently they cut the fallopian tubes and stitched them up. It was agonisingly painful. They didn't use anaesthetic. They just smeared something on my stomach and carried out the sterilisation.
"Apart from aspirin for the pain, there were no other drugs. I was so frightened, I can't even remember how I felt. Some people were even physically damaged by the
operation. They have limps and have to drag their hips."
Unconfirmed reports also suggest mobile sterilisation units are inserting a new type of contraceptive coil into village women that cannot be removed by them.

More about the brutal reality of population control in Tibet here.
Dispatches, Tonight 8pm Channel 4.

More on the Embryology Bill

Back to the vexed subject of the Embryology Bill. As I have already pointed out, the ostensible reasoning for the creation of human-animal hybrids - the supposedly fabulous properties of embryonic stem cells - is shaky indeed. Human embryonic stem cell research has thus far stubbornly failed to produce anything like the results which were and continue to be so confidently forecast. Meanwhile a perfectly ethical alternative, adult stem cell research, which was so ignored that scientists and politicians spoke of a prejudice against them, quietly, unglamorously powered ahead, producing real results - some 72 of them to date. Small wonder, then, that nobel prize winner Martin Evans of Cardiff University admitted: “The writing is on the wall for destructive embryonic research”.

So why the bizarre insistance on continuing embryonic stem cell research and creation of human animal-hybrids? An Evening Standard article may provide some answers:

A tycoon arrested in the "cash-for-peerages" probe today hit out at police and the Labour Party.
Sir Christopher Evans, a multimillionaire investor in stem cell research, said he was "extremely shocked and dismayed" to be arrested and insisted he had nothing to hide.
He said Labour had assured him that £1 million in loans he gave the party were on terms that were above board. "Frankly, if I thought for one moment that I would be placed in this embarrassing and mind-boggling position, I would not have made the loan," he said.
He spoke out after his name emerged as the third Labour man to be quizzed by Scotland Yard's Specialist Crime Directorate over claims that Labour benefactors were rewarded with honours.
Sir Christopher, 48, the founder of Merlin Bioscience and the son of a Welsh steelworker, said: "I voluntarily attended the police interview and have always been happy to provide the police with any information they have requested.
"There was nothing raised that caused me or my solicitor any concern or to think that I have done something wrong. I have done nothing wrong and have absolutely nothing to hide."
Scotland Yard said the arrest was made in connection with alleged offences under the Honours (Preventionof Abuses) Act 1925. Like Lord Levy, the Prime Minister's fundraiser who was quizzed in July and again yesterday, Sir Christopher accused police of arresting him on a technicality. "My solicitors felt it was unnecessary," he said. He pointed out that he had received honours from both Tory and Labour governments for his work in bioscience technology.
But his arrest throws the spotlight on Tony Blair's support for the industry. As a leading investor, Sir Christopher stands to make fortunes if discoveries about stem cells - the body's building blocks with the potential to become anything from brain to bone, muscle or skin - take the lead in medical science. Sir Christopher today appeared to be as angry with Labour as he was with the police.
"I am extremely frustrated to be placed in this situation as a result of what I believed to be a straightforward commercial loan to the Labour Party to assist them with their cash flow for the last election campaign," he said."I never made a secret of the loan and if asked... would have confirmed the fact."
Labour has been accused of resorting to loans as they did not have to be declared under antisecrecy laws. Police are investigating whether they were "soft loans" rather than on commercial terms - and therefore declarable.
Sir Christopher loaned Labour £1million between January and May last year. At the same time, in March last year, he was appointed to the UK Stem Cell Initiative, a body set up by Mr Blair and Gordon Brown to advise the Government on new medical technologies.
Later Mr Brown and Mr Blair were named as backers of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, a charity set up by Sir Christopher to fund research into the area.
Sir Christopher has been a donor to Labour since the Nineties and was knighted in 2001. In 1995 he was awarded the OBE for services to bioscience. His company has recently been at the centre of a £2.5million fraud probe, though he denies any wrongdoing.
Last February he urged the Government to invest £100 million in stem cell research or risk losing Britain's position as a world leader in the field. Nine months later, the Chancellor announced in his pre-budget report that he was doubling support to £100 million.

Normally, this is precisely the kind of thing that would see the Left prick up its ears and asking difficult questions. But this time, it's been disastrously diverted off course by a clever strategy which has painted opposition to the HFE Bill as yet another episode in the long running religion v science saga. This means that the Bill is not getting the critical scrutiny it should be subjected to and that warning voices are going unnoticed.

These voices include the government's own chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson who said in evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on the Bill on human-animal hybrids: "there was no clear scientific argument as to why you would want to do it, and, secondly, a feeling that this would be a step too far as far as the public are concerned... the scientific arguments for wanting to do it are not particularly strong or convincing, or even existent’.

They include bio-ethicist Professor David Albert Jones, who wrote in a letter to The Tablet:

"The Bill will also allow the mixing of human and animal gametes to make half-half 'true hybrids'. True hybrids have no proposed benefit for medical research that anyone has been able to point to, but the bill explicitly allows them to be created under licence. It should also be noted that the government recently admitted that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has only ever turned down one research licence - and this was granted on appeal. Clearly a test that everyone passes is not a real safeguard."

And they include Dr David King of Human Genetics Alert who wrote in a letter to The Guardian:

"As secular supporters of abortion rights we are not in the least satisfied by Gordon Brown's concessions on a limited conscience vote on the human fertilisation and embryology bill (Report, March 26). The bill contains many clauses which raise huge ethical and social issues entirely unconnected with the status of the embryo, which the media has barely mentioned.
One of these is the government's plans to allow scientists to create genetically modified embryos, as the first step towards GM "designer babies" and consumer eugenics. In this case there is not even a medical argument for such research, since there are many other options for couples who wish to avoid having disabled children. This is a critical concern for all of us, not just pro-lifers, and it is a disaster for progressives that the issues in the bill are always framed by the media as science versus religion. We also have a conscience, and we would like our representatives in parliament to be able to exercise theirs, on this and other issues."

He's absolutely right, it is a disaster. Progressives must stop going off on tangents and apply their minds to the detail of the bill in the hand.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I am going to write a book ...

which will be entitled: "All Press Officers Are Bastards".
The introduction will be a ringing jeremiad, a hurling of thunderbolts and denunciation of this accursed, whiny-voiced, sneaky species which slithers through the undergrowth of the media, wreaking havoc and emitting noxious odours.
I will chronicle their origins, examine their rotten practices and I will name names, oh yes I will. So let them tremble for terrible is my wrath when it is aroused.
In the final chapter I will make proposals for reform. Enjoying a convivial chat over a fine vintage white wine (me) and a cup of rosehip tea (him) with the indefatigable Paddy Garcia some years ago, the subject arose. "One press officer, one bullet," Paddy declared between sips. He was sporting a balaclava and sunglasses, so I couldn't make out the expression on his face but I imagined it to be one of grim determination. A little doctrinaire, I thought at the time but I know where he's coming from. In the final chapter, all options will be be on the table, nothing will be ruled out, to use the ghastly, cliche-ridden language used by press officers. For they are verminous scum and we are at perpetual war with them.
Good. I feel better now that I have that off my chest.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fascist Watch - What is The Steadfast Trust?

Quick change of subject. Idly surfing the blogosphere a few weeks ago I happened upon a genuinely hard-right religio-blog (the term gets flung about so indiscriminately these days that it's tempting to forget that that right-wing extremists do try to hijack religion for their own ends but indeed they do). Terribly affected Diary of an Edwardian Lady style, faux nostalgie, gazing moodily out across the ocean, with entries on religion, Euro-scepticism and daily whimsy, including musings on the characteristics of the different races (some are inherently martial, apparently). Anyway, among the links on the sidebar were the usual obvious ones (the BNP) and one I hadn't heard of, something called The Steadfast Trust. This is a charity, believe it or not, which has a very specific group of beneficiaries in mind - English whites only. The white-English community, it declares is discriminated against on the basis of ethnic origin, though it can't, or won't detail any hard evidence of this. It insists that it isn't a divisive or racist organisation (I think the BNP also officially denies that it's a racist organisation).

Now what with the recent Whites season on the Beeb and reportage focusing on, among other things, the chronic educational underperformance of working class white boys there's clearly something in the wind, a mood of disaffection among traditional Labour voters, a feeling of alienation and left-outedness which far right groups like the BNP capitalise on. Charities are increasingly being used as vehicles for exerting political influence, a trend this blog generally deplores and now it seems that the hard right has cottoned on to this wheeze too. Interested? I certainly was.

So I consulted ex-AFA man and expert on hard-right and fascist groupings, Dom Perignon, who told me that the Steadfast Trust's phone number is the same as that used by a commercial outfit flogging ethnic English tat, cross of St George beenie hats and such like. He pointed me towards this thread on a fascist website where the posters speculate as to The Steadfast Trust's links with the BNP but himself reckons that someone called Tony Linsell, who wrote the English Democrats' manifesto is connected to it all.

Either way, very interesting and excellent work by Dom Perignon, to whom I extend my grateful thanks. If anyone has any further information, do please let me know.

Hat Tip: Dom Perignon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How many diseases have been cured through Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

This isn't just a rhetorical question but with the PM's announcement that Labour MPs will have a free vote on three parts of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, it's also a relevant one.
Blogocrats and distinguished members of the Commentariat have hurled themselves at this issue with all the finesse of a drunk collapsing outside a pub at closing time. The Whore of Babylon comes in for a predictable bashing, Polly Toynbee demands the firm smack of authoritarian government and some staggeringly naive comments are made about miracle cures for a shopping list of diseases; Parkinsons, Alzheimers, Motor Neurone Disease and on and on. This is all too amusing for words since uh, it's not just the Roman Catholic Church which opposes contentious aspects of the Bill. (I've just had a press release from a coalition of Moslem groups, possibly feeling neglected in the denunciation stakes as left-footers cop all the flack, reiterating their opposition to the Bill). It's always funny seeing liberals lapse in their noisy beliefs in the virtues of evidence-based policy and independent-mindedness among MPs. And it's even funnier reading the suckers of the blogosphere who still haven't learned to check claims against results let loose all the excitable prose.
As grand old man of the paleo-left, David Lindsay puts it very aptly:
"If it’s progress you want, then you need to look at the record of adult stem-cell research, which Catholic universities in Italy were derided to the skies for pioneering at the height of the embryonic stem-cell research craze."
The answer to the question, by the way, is a big fat ZERO.
Embryonic Stem Cell research has not resulted in so much as one clinical application, still less any miracle cures.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Christos Voskrese! Voistinu Voskrese!

Christ is risen! indeed he is risen!

This is it, the heartbeat of the living Christian faith, the reason church bells peal and Christians have and will endure ridicule and persecution, even marching joyfully to martyrdom. It's the reason that Christianity is ultimately optimistic and rejoices in life. It's the reason St Paul could demand with his characteristic crash, bang of cymbols "Oh death, where is your sting?". It's why Jesus of Nazareth was more than a mere holy man but made history lurch on its axis: His triumph over death itself. Happy Easter.

Hristos a înviat! Adevărat a înviat!

Christos harjav i merelotz! Orhniale harutjun Christosi

Si Cristo ay nabuhay! Siya nga ay nabuhay!

Kristu qam! Huwa qam tassew!

Cristo è risorto! È veramente risorto!

Kristo Azukkide! Kweli Azukkide!

Cristo Berbistua! Benatan Berbistua!

Krestos a uprisin! Seen, him a uprisin fe tru!

Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!

Ua ala hou ´o kristo! Ua ala ´i ´o no ´oia!

Chrystus Zmartwychwstał! Zaprawdę Zmartwychwstał!

Kristus er opstanden! Sandelig Han er Opstanden!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Just another day at the Children Schools and Families Select Committee ...

Where the lovable old Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O'Donohue, Pod as he is known, flanked by Anglican bishop Stephen Venner and Peter Venner of the CES, was being grilled by members of the committee about Catholic schools and the admirable Fit For Mission document he issued about schools in his diocese. Committee chair, Barry Sheerman MP had infuriated Catholics with a spectacularly stupid statement about faith schools back in December, declaring "'It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith." But today he was all geniality and concerned to stress his own Christian credentials. He's the parliamentary churchwarden of St Margaret's apparently.
Fiona McTaggart MP expressed surprise that Catholic schools don't fundraise for Red Nose Day and Amnesty. No, Fiona, they don't fundraise for organisations whose activities are in contradiction with key church teachings, it shouldn't be that difficult for you to work out.
Then it was over to Paul Holmes MP, an honorary associate of the National Secular Society which describes him as "a committed and outspoken secularist". Sleeves rolled up and jaw jutting forward, his mouth pulled into a tight line of disapproval, Holmes was a picture of hostility as he snapped questions at the witnesses and argued them. Actually the man was so damn rude that I wondered how any believer in his constituency could have confidence in his ability to represent them. At one point, Venner made a joke and everyone laughed, everyone that is, apart from the charmless Holmes who just glared grimly ahead.
But Pod is sweet-natured man and he took it all in good temper, afterwards telling this aquatic creature that he'd enjoyed the whole experience. It had its moments. A whey-faced man in a dark raincoat demanded to know who I was writing for. "The Tablet," I replied. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew I'd said the wrong thing. "I'm not talking to you. I'll have nothing to do with The Tablet, The Tablet should be phased out," he barked. Oh well, you can't please everyone.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Radical Ideas

Teachers have called for homework to be abolished for primary school children. Splendid idea if a little lacking in ambition. Still, it's by such small, incremental steps that a bold new world will be forged. Forwards ever, backwards never!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

New Look Pope

He was never going to stop at Summorum Pontificum, y'know. Not content with overhauling the liturgy, we now learn, courtesy of legendary Catho-blogocrat, Father Zuhlsdorf, that on Palm Sunday Pope Benny will don vestments with the coat-of-arms of the Medici Pope, Leo X. Lip-smacking details follow:

"This will be a damask of red silk and gold thread, with brocade details recalling the heraldic motifs of the family that governed Florence for centuries, namely, the three rings with the diamond point, united in concentric circles and contained within a double-lobed leaf. In effect, Benedict XVI will be dressed like Giovanni de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, when he became Pope Leo X, 11 March 1513. This is an advance notice from Il Giornale della Toscana. After having carried out for Ash Wednesday, for the Office of the Master of Ceremonies of the Vatican, a lampasso [FR. Z: a fabric woven of both silk and gold thread] (a fabric of great value) brocade of violet which bore the heraldic emblems of Pope Paul V, Borgehese, the director of the company "Tridentinum" of Ferrara, Pietro Siffi, suggested some months ago a reproduction of fabric that was developed for the ascent of Giovanni de’ Medici to the pontifical throne. The proposal forms part of an initiative to reappraise certain practically forgotten Roman vestments. Benedict XVI on Palm Sunday will wear a chasuble, dalmatic, cope and varies other parts made precisely with this fabric and coat of arms. And with him the 7 deacons who will accompany him, for a total of 30 pieces. The original fabric, made for the ascent of Leo X to the pontifical throne, is held by the Frati Servi di Maria in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziate in Florence."

Needless to say, the anti-Tabletista-in-chief, Damian Thompson is giddy with delight at the news, commenting: "the 30-piece set, which includes chasubles, cope, and dalmatics, copies the fabric and designs worn by Leo in 1513. That’s pre-Tridentine, let alone pre-Vatican II. Liberals will be aghast: in most English cathedrals, it is de rigueur to wear minimalist robes that look like they were left over from a Jon Pertwee-era episode of Doctor Who."

Well this Tablet-reading aquatic creature adds her stamp of approval to His Holiness's triumphal new sartorial policy. Away with wholewheat hosts and prosaic, nylon Masses. Forget less is more, we want more! more! more! More insense, more gilding, more gorgeously-embroidered vestments and sung high Masses. Dolphinarium says all this mouthwatering spectacle is what we do best. Big boldly-coloured, self-confident Roman Catholicism will inspire the faithful and storm the heavens. Make no mistake, this blog is for a high-bling papacy.

Lee Jasper, more spinned against than sinning?

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now Jasper has had to throw in the towel following the publication of excrutiating emails he sent to Karen Chouchan of the 1990 Trust, an organisation, foes were quick to point out, received £100,000 of funding from City Hall. Cue plenty of self-satisfied crowing from predictable quarters. This aquatic creature won't be joining in with it.
Don't get me wrong, Jasper has a well-honed ability to infuriate and never more so than when he denounces his critics for racism, a charge he levels with dreary frequency and little justification (his list of "racists" including the meeja and er, anti-racist activists). He likes to throw his weight around without seeming to realise that the flip-side to such bossiness should be the willingness to take responsibility for one's misjudgements. And it must be emphasised that the Standard's steady stream of stories about cronyism are too serious, too well-founded and raise too many important questions to be dismissed.
But his very human weaknesses must be balanced by recognition of his redeeming strengths. Jasper's personal commitment to the cause of race-relations is undoubted and he seems to be endowed with the gift of loyalty to friends and allies. He grew up in 70s Oldham which can't have been the easiest place for a mixed-race male to spend his formative years and fathered his first child early on, going on to sire an impressive nine children. Good for him. But rather than losing himself in babyfathering and self-indulgence, Jasper is, I understand, a dedicated father. Even better for him.
Some have poured scorn on his rough-edged style of politics, for being old-fashioned and demagogic. To be sure he lacks the polish of younger, luckier Black Britons. But that, oddly, is part of his appeal. Jasper doesn't put on airs and graces but remains rooted in the working-class African Caribbean community from whence he hails. An unpretentious man, he harks back to an older, more ideological age, when politics was angrier and street-corner orators had fire in their bellies and demands for the world issuing insistently from their lips.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Meet Medvedev Correction

Apologies. This is Dmitry Anatolyevich. That, of course, was our man in the blue polyester suit, sometime habitué of The Gay Hussar and hope of the left, Mark Seddon. Still, it's an easy mistake to make ... have you ever seen the two of them in the same place at the same time?

Meet Medvedev

This is Dmitry Anatolyevich, The new Mister Prez of Rossiya. He's all of 5'4", apparently, married to childhood sweetheart Svetlana and a fan of Rossisky internet slang. He's variously described as an economic liberal and a moderate liberal, though he himself professes to dislike labels.