Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

I love you all!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who Shot JR?

Very funny. Another episode from D.Hallas (geddit?). Via John's Labour Blog.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lockerbie, tragedy and anger

I should have posted this a week ago because that is when the 20th anniversary of the nightmare I am writing about took place: the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over a Scottish hamlet which is now synonymous with terror, Lockerbie.

On 21st December 1988 just after 7pm a semtex bomb hidden in a radio cassette recorder exploded in the forward cargo hold of Pan Am flight 103, punching a half metre hole in the left side of the fuselage. The fuselage reflected a shock wave back to the point where the explosion had happened, which collided with pulses from the explosion, resulting in mach stem shock waves 25% faster than and double the power of the original explosion. The aircraft rapidly disintegrated and passengers, luggage and fragments of the plane were thrown out into the freezing night sky. Some 270 people died that night, all 259 passengers aboard the flight and 11 Lockerbie residents.

One of those murdered was American Theo Cohen, pictured above, an achingly beautiful 20 year old who liked singing and Brideshead Revisited. The only daughter of left-leaning writers, Dan and Susan Cohen, she had been studying in London and was on her way back home for the holidays.

Her parents waged a selfless and ceaseless battle for justice, determined not to allow her murder to go ignored and unpunished and setting their faces against official indifference and cynical geopolitical manoeuvrings as they did so.

They wrote a book about their experiences entitled Pan Am 103: The Bombing, the Betrayals and a bereaved family's search for justice. It is a moving testament to their fierce loyalty to Theo and their refusal to be ground down by the brute insensitivity of people who fatuously lecture them on the spurious virtues of "forgetting," "getting over it" and "moving on".

One of the most stirring passages in the book is where Susan Cohen wrote about anger, why it is a healthy, cleansing emotion and how it is a potent force for progressive change. She explained how passivity is pushed by a media gripped by Disneyesque sentimentality and by clerics and counsellors unsettled by seething emotional turmoil. In a biting turn of phrase, Cohen described the fusion of therapists, clerics and drug companies, who acknowledge the force of anger even as they endeavour to suppress it, as "the grief industry".

But as Cohen argued, "anger is a saving emotion." She added: "It surges through you and makes you strong and energetic. When you're mad you do brave things. That makes anger dangerous. The powers that be never want anger. Never want resistance. How convenient for them that the grief industry and the media preach acceptance, forgiveness, resignation."

Cohen wrote with a wisdom gleaned from bitter suffering but her insights have a wider application beyond that of terrorist outrages. Righteous anger is a catalyst for social progress. It propels people to seek a better world than the one they are lumbered with and is what gives humans the courage to rise up from their oppression. A completely placid person is either tranquilised or enslaved by complacency. Anger is a necessary condition of human freedom.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On what the Pope said, didn't say and what people say that he said

I suppose I must. Hurl myself into the mêlée of infuriated condemnation and denunciation which followed Pope Benedict's end of year speech to the Curia that is. First thing's first, it's worth taking a look at what the Holy Father did actually say, as opposed to what he didn't.

What he did say

“[The church] must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to all. It must also defend the human person against its own destruction. What’s needed is something like a ‘human ecology,’ understood in the right sense. It’s not simply an outdated metaphysics if the church speaks of the nature of the human person as man and woman, and asks that this order of creation be respected.”

“Here it’s a question of faith in creation, in listening to the language of creation, disregard of which would mean self-destruction of the human person and hence destruction of the very work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ in the end amounts to the self-emancipation of the human person from creation and from the Creator. Human beings want to do everything by themselves, and to control exclusively everything that regards them. But in this way, the human person lives against the truth, against the Creator Spirit.

“Great Scholastic theologians defined marriage, meaning the lifetime bond between a man and a woman, as a sacrament of creation, which the Creator instituted and which Christ – without changing the message of creation – then welcomed into the story of his covenant with humanity. This witness in favor of the Creator Spirit, present in the nature of this bond and in a special way in the nature of the human person, is also part of the proclamation which the church must offer. Starting from this perspective, it’s important to re-read the encyclical Humanae Vitae : the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against treating sexuality as a kind of consumption, the future against the exclusive demands of the present, and the nature of the human being against manipulation."

What he didn't say

All gay people are destined for damnation.

Gay people should be exterminated/expelled from Christendom/forced to wear pink badges in public.

Gay people spread disease/poison public water supplies/are a blight on civilisation.

Gay people are paedophiles.

Transexuals should be burnt at the stake.

God-fearing heterosexuals should be protected from gay people.

He said none of that. As Damian Thompson and Andrew Brown who both know what they're talking about noted, he merely reiterated the Church's teaching on sexuality. Pope revealed to be Catholic, shock. He also did something more interesting than that. In rejecting the gender theories most associated with radical feminism, he implicitly argued that they pointed the way to the ancient but quintessentially modern heresy of Pelagianism.

But all that was unapparent to the swarm of angry commentators lining up to register their outrage at what they imagined the Pope had said in increasingly excitable terms. The Rev Sharon Ferguson of the LGCM described the Pope's remarks as "totally irresponsible and unacceptable in any shape or form." Sweetly oblivious to her own preposterousness she continued, "It is more the case that we need to be saved from his comments. It is comments like that that justify homophobic bullying that goes on in schools and it is comments like that that justify gay bashing". Rentagob revisionist Anglican cleric, Rev Giles Fraser wrote something or other not worth the trouble reading. Philip Hensher expostulated, Ruth Gledhill wrote one of her typically sexed up pieces. The normally unflappable Iain Dale wondered why the Pope didn't just join the BNP and have done with it. Brett Lock of Harry's Place took up the theme, declaring that the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics was a "hate mongering lunatic" and that "the Catholic Church is fast becoming to sexuality what the BNP is to race." David T who came as near as damn it to admitting that he didn't know what Benedict actually said opined, "What the Pope appears to have done - depending on the interpretation one gives to his words - is to put himself fully behind a political agenda that has successfully provoked the systematic persecution of gay people throughout the world. He has preached a gospel of hatred and denigration." And on and on.

You wouldn't guess from any of this that in two recently issued statements the Vatican argued that homosexuality should be legal and gay people protected from all forms of physical violence. Of course you wouldn't. Popes aren't judged on what they say but what people imagine that they say; reason has long since departed the place where faith and sexuality are discussed.

Update: My friend Austen Ivereigh has an interesting and very Jesuitical take on the story, entitled Gays, Gallileo and the Message of the Manger, which is well worth a read here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Aaaaction, sweet

The 90s classic by Terror Fabulous and Nadine Sutherland. Good times.

All junglists ...

R-r-r-ing the Alarm!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

From despair and death to life and hope

Tonight Sky TV screened the assisted suicide of Craig Ewert, 59, a motor neurone disease sufferer. Millions of viewers saw Ewart sitting in the blandly domestic surroundings of the Swiss Dignitas clinic and being handed a cocktail of lethal drugs. He gently guided the straw into his mouth and sucking purposefully on it, surrendered himself to the night. He chose to depart accompanied by the sombre strains of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Ewert may have considered the manner of his death tranquil and dignified but to this viewer it seemed, with all the cold certainty of its outcome, as terrifying as an execution.

Ewart's very public suicide was not just a personal choice. By agreeing to its being televised he wanted it to make it a public event, even after the fact, to accelerate the campaign to legalise assisted suicide in the UK. He may or may not have succeeded in that aim; many politicians, including Gordon Brown, it emerged today, remain profoundly uneasy with assisted suicide. But inevitably he succeeded in making his death the subject of the national conversation. It led front pages and news bulletins and commentators have proffered their opinions thoughout the day.

Easily the most impressive of them was disability rights activist and stand up comedian, Liz Carr, who appeared on Newsnight and cutting through all the emotional hooplah, fearlessly declared that, yes, assisted suicide is wrong, threatens the disabled and should be prosecuted.
Liz Carr is a tiny woman who looks physically fragile but she spoke with a passionate conviction which animated her diminutive frame. If terminally ill people want to commit suicide that tells her something's wrong with society, not their lives, she insisted.

Liz Carr grasped the fundamental point about this debate; that there is no such thing as a life not worth living. She was urgent, compelling and in all her liberated vigour, the perfect counterpoint to poor, imprisoned Craig Ewart. Tonight British television deliberately screened a man's death but it also showcased a star. She's alive, radical and thrustingly optimistic. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the future. I give you Liz Carr.

Monday, December 08, 2008

"You would barely know adult stem cells exist"

Said Colin McGuckin, a British stem cell expert, who is leaving the UK to pursue his research in France and taking his research team of ten with him, having found insufficient support for his work here.

McGuckin, professor of regenerative medicine at Newcastle University, hit out at both his university and UK funding agencies, saying they were prioritising embryonic stem-cell research above work with adult stem cells, despite the more immediate clinical benefits offered by his work.

Speaking exclusively to Times Higher Education, he said he was leaving because he had to put his patients and staff first. "The bottom line is my vocation is to work with patients and help patients and unfortunately I can't do that in the UK." He said France offered a "much better environment" both to "cure and treat more people" and to "do good work".

He said that France had kept a "much more reasoned balance" between supporting adult and embryonic stem-cell research, unlike the UK, which had focused on embryonic research to the detriment of adult stem-cell research.

"(France) is very supportive of adult stem cells because they know that these are the things that are in the clinic right now and will be more likely in the clinic," he said. "A vast amount of money in the UK from the Government has gone into embryonic stem-cell research with not one patient having being treated, to the detriment of (research into) adult stem cells, which has been severely underfunded."

He also criticised the attention embryonic stem cells received over the past year from academics, the media, Parliament and his university. "You would barely know that adult stem cells exist at Newcastle," he said.

Other adult stem-cell researchers agreed with Professor McGuckin that there was a need for more balanced research support.

"We desperately need more funding for adult stem-cell research because with these cells we really can make a difference to patients' lives, and we can do it now, not in ten years' time as is promised for embryonic stem cells," said Anthony Hollander, a professor of rheumatology and tissue engineering at the University of Bristol.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Stem Cells Update

Adult stem cells have notched up yet another breakthrough, as Tim Worstall notes. Oli makes the same point here.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for the advances promised by embryonic stem cells actually to materialise.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Change we can believe in ...

... Hilla the Hun gets Secretary of State, Rahm Emanuel is his chief of staff, John Podesta chair of his transition team. So far, Team Obama looks a lot like the old Clinton gang.
It makes him a pragmatist, one commentator said. That makes sense, it goes with his professor of law, cautious, weighing-up-all-sides-of-the-argument intellectualism. We may now be getting a glimpse of what Barack Obama's really like. What with some acclaiming him very improbably as the Messiah and others denouncing him equally improbably as a Moslem revolutionary, the man himself was something of an enigma. He's fessed up to reverting to cigarette smoking in recent months. Good. At least that means he's as human as the rest of us.

Anti-Israel Carol Service Condemned

by religious leaders, apparently, including the offices of Dr Rowan Williams (curious) and Lord Carey (predictable). Plus the rector of St James's Church, Piccadilly, the Rev Charles Hedley, said he'd think twice before holding a similar service in future after he'd received dozens of complaints.
Mind you, it is a Ruth Gledhill story and she does sort of sex them up. I'll always remember that Anglican and Catholic churches back plans to unite under the Pope story. Phew! and after breakfast?

Anyway, time to enjoy another carol, I think. More tea, vicar?

O Come All Ye Faithful
O come all ye faithful
All who care for justice
O look ye, O look ye at Bethlehem
Come and behold it
Under occupation
O come, let's not ignore it
O come, let's not ignore it
O come, let's not ignore it
Tell the world

(With descant)
Sing, all ye people
Sing in indignation
Be with the citizens of Bethlehem
Sing out for justice
Freedom from oppression

Chorus (all)
O come, let's not ignore it
O come, let's not ignore it
O come, let's not ignore it
Tell the world.