Thursday, 26 February 2009

It's My Pension and Screw the Lot of You!

Dear Lord Myners,

You telephoned me yesterday and asked me to consider voluntarily taking a material reduction in my pension entitlement as a "gesture" to acknowledge the level of Government support being made to Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

You highlighted that the absence of such a gesture would give rise to significant adverse media comment.

I outlined to you my view of the matter, but as I had not been expecting your call and as you expressly requested me to do so, I undertook to reflect on the matter again.

You emphasised that I would need to provide you with an answer ahead of the publication of the Group's annual report and financial statements sometime next week.

It came therefore as something of a surprise to find that both details of forthcoming 2008 financial statement disclosures relating to my pension and the substance of our telephone conversation had been placed in the public domain a few hours after we spoke.

In the circumstances, I feel that an earlier response to your request is necessary, and the purpose of this letter is to provide that.

Whilst my pension is the current focus of attention, there were a number of other aspects of my departure from RBS which need to be considered at the same time, particularly in the context of "gestures" and appropriate behaviour.

My contract of employment provided for a 12 month notice period, which I voluntarily waived in October of last year.

This amounted to a loss of 1 years' (sic) salary, and I discussed this with you at the time, when you indicated that it was both an appropriate and sufficient recognition of the circumstances.

Subsequent to this, you approached the chairman of the group remuneration committee to suggest that I should waive certain share related awards which would otherwise have vested upon my leaving the group.

Whilst difficult to value with precision, these had a value equivalent to about 3 months' salary at that time.

During these discussions, I am told that the topic of my pension was specifically raised with you by both the chairman of the group remuneration committee, and the group chairman, and you indicated that you were aware of my entitlement, and that no further "gestures" would be required.

On this basis, I agreed to waive my entitlement to the share related awards and proceeded to subscribe for my full allocation of shares in the ensuing share issue.

Like you, I believed that these gestures were appropriate in the circumstances, and sufficient, and revisiting the position today, I believe that they remain so.

I accept responsibility for that which I was responsible for, and recognise that my actions must be consistent with this.

I believe that they have been, and to voluntarily accept a reduction in a pension entitlement which has been built up over many years and in other employments in addition to RBS, is not warranted.

It is important to recognise that my pension arrangements have not fundamentally altered since I joined the group in 1998.

Whilst the quantum of the "pension pot" figure has increased, this is principally as a result of the assumption used last year about retiring at age 60 no longer being appropriate. The amount which I am due to receive as a pension continues to be calculated in a manner consistent with prior years.

Whilst I suspect that you will not now agree with it, I hope you can understand my rationale for declining your request to voluntarily reduce my pension entitlement.

In conclusion, since our private conversation yesterday is now in the public domain, I have no objection to the complete content of this letter being made public.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Fred Goodwin

-------- Now Lord Myners' Reply --------

Dear Sir Fred,

I am replying to your letter of earlier today, in which you informed me of your decision not to volunteer a reduction in your pension. I consider this unfortunate and unacceptable.

As I made clear yesterday in our phone call, I think such an act would be an appropriate recognition of the failings of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) under your tenure and the subsequent support the government has provided.

As I have already made clear, it was only last week that the Government became aware that the decision of the previous Board of RBS may have been a discretionary choice.

Once we became aware of this issue, UK Financial Investments (UKFI) has, on behalf of the government, been vigorously pursuing with the new group chairman whether there is any scope for clawing back some or all of your pension and whether, at the point the Board made their decision, it was made clear to the then remuneration committee and board that the scale of the pension payment was discretionary, as it now proves to be.

On the other points you raise in your letter, it is true that I expressed concerns over your 12-month notice period and certain share-related awards.

I welcomed your decision then to waive both these amounts.

That did not amount to approval of your pension arrangements given that, as I have outlined, I was unaware of any scope for discretion.

I do not agree with your rationale for declining my request that you voluntarily reduce your pension.

And indeed I hope that on reflection you will now share my clear view that the losses reported today by the bank which you ran until October cannot justify such a huge award.

Yours Sincerely,

Lord Myners

Monday, 16 February 2009

Gert Wilder's Speech

Despicable as Geert Wilders might be, the truth is we need people like him to stop us falling asleep on the job. Jaqui Smith might have kept him out of the country, but like (or unlike) Geert, I believe in the right to free speech - and in so keeping, here is the speech he was due to make to the Lords.

London, Feb. 12, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.

Thank you for inviting me. Thank you Lord Pearson and Lady Cox for showing Fitna, and for your gracious invitation. While others look away, you, seem to understand the true tradition of your country, and a flag that still stands for freedom.

This is no ordinary place. This is not just one of England’s tourist attractions. This is a sacred place. This is the mother of all Parliaments, and I am deeply humbled to speak before you.
The Houses of Parliament is where Winston Churchill stood firm, and warned – all throughout the 1930’s – for the dangers looming. Most of the time he stood alone.

In 1982 President Reagan came to the House of Commons, where he did a speech very few people liked. Reagan called upon the West to reject communism and defend freedom. He introduced a phrase: ‘evil empire’. Reagan’s speech stands out as a clarion call to preserve our liberties. I quote: If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.

What Reagan meant is that you cannot run away from history, you cannot escape the dangers of ideologies that are out to destroy you. Denial is no option.

Communism was indeed left on the ash heap of history, just as Reagan predicted in his speech in the House of Commons. He lived to see the Berlin Wall coming down, just as Churchill witnessed the implosion of national-socialism.

Today, I come before you to warn of another great threat. It is called Islam. It poses as a religion, but its goals are very worldly: world domination, holy war, sharia law, the end of the separation of church and state, the end of democracy. It is not a religion, it is a political ideology. It demands your respect, but has no respect for you.

There might be moderate Muslims, but there is no moderate Islam. Islam will never change, because it is build on two rocks that are forever, two fundamental beliefs that will never change, and will never go away. First, there is Quran, Allah’s personal word, uncreated, forever, with orders that need to be fulfilled regardless of place or time. And second, there is al-insal al-kamil, the perfect man, Muhammad the role model, whose deeds are to be imitated by all Muslims. And since Muhammad was a warlord and a conqueror we know what to expect.

Islam means submission, so there cannot be any mistake about it’s goal. That’s a given. The question is whether the British people, with its glorious past, is longing for that submission.

We see Islam taking off in the West at an incredible speed. The United Kingdom has seen a rapid growth of the number of Muslims. Over the last ten years, the Muslim population has grown ten times as fast as the rest of society. This has put an enormous pressure on society. Thanks to British politicians who have forgotten about Winston Churchill, the English now have taken the path of least resistance. They give up. They give in.

Thank you very much for letting me into the country. I received a letter from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, kindly disinviting me. I would threaten community relations, and therefore public security in the UK, the letter stated. For a moment I feared that I would be refused entrance. But I was confident the British government would never sacrifice free speech because of fear of Islam. Britannia rules the waves, and Islam will never rule Britain, so I was confident the Border Agency would let me through. And after all, you have invited stranger creatures than me. Two years ago the House of Commons welcomed Mahmoud Suliman Ahmed Abu Rideh, linked to Al Qaeda. He was invited to Westminster by Lord Ahmed, who met him at Regent’s Park mosque three weeks before. Mr. Rideh, suspected of being a money man for terror groups, was given a SECURITY sticker for his Parliamentary visit.

Well, if you let in this man, than an elected politician from a fellow EU country surely is welcome here too. By letting me speak today you show that Mr Churchill’s spirit is still very much alive. And you prove that the European Union truly is working; the free movement of persons is still one of the pillars of the European project.

But there is still much work to be done. Britain seems to have become a country ruled by fear. A country where civil servants cancel Christmas celebrations to please Muslims. A country where Sharia Courts are part of the legal system. A country where Islamic organizations asked to stop the commemoration of the Holocaust. A country where a primary school cancels a Christmas nativity play because it interfered with an Islamic festival. A country where a school removes the words Christmas and Easter from their calendar so as not to offend Muslims. A country where a teacher punishes two students for refusing to pray to Allah as part of their religious education class. A country where elected members of a town council are told not to eat during daylight hours in town hall meetings during the Ramadan. A country that excels in its hatred of Israel, still the only democracy in the Middle-East. A country whose capitol is becoming ‘Londonistan’.

I would not qualify myself as a free man. Four and a half years ago I lost my freedom. I am under guard permanently, courtesy to those who prefer violence to debate. But for the leftist fan club of islam, that is not enough. They started a legal procedure against me. Three weeks ago the Amsterdam Court of Appeal ordered my criminal prosecution for making ‘Fitna’ and for my views on Islam. I committed what George Orwell called a ‘thought crime’.

You might have seen my name on Fitna’s credit role, but I am not really responsible for that movie. It was made for me. It was actually produced by Muslim extremists, the Quran and Islam itself. If Fitna is considered ‘hate speech’, then how would the Court qualify the Quran, with all it’s calls for violence, and hatred against women and Jews? Mr. Churchill himself compared the Quran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Well, I did exactly the same, and that is what they are prosecuting me for.

I wonder if the UK ever put Mr. Churchill on trial.

The Court’s decision and the letter I received form the Secretary of State for the Home Department are two major victories for all those who detest freedom of speech. They are doing Islam’s dirty work. Sharia by proxy. The differences between Saudi-Arabia and Jordan on one hand and Holland and Britain are blurring. Europe is now on the fast track of becoming Eurabia. That is apparently the price we have to pay for the project of mass immigration, and the multicultural project.

Ladies and gentlemen, the dearest of our many freedoms is under attack. In Europe, freedom of speech is no longer a given. What we once considered a natural component of our existence is now something we again have to fight for. That is what is at stake. Whether or not I end up in jail is not the most pressing issue. The question is: Will free speech be put behind bars?

We have to defend freedom of speech.

For the generation of my parents the word ‘London’ is synonymous with hope and freedom. When my country was occupied by the national-socialists the BBC offered a daily glimpse of hope, in the darkness of Nazi tyranny. Millions of my country men listened to it, illegally. The words ‘This Is London’ were a symbol for a better world coming soon. If only the British and Canadian and American soldiers were here.

What will be transmitted forty years from now? Will it still be ‘This Is London’? Or will it be ‘this is Londonistan’? Will it bring us hope, or will it signal the values of Mecca and Medina? Will Britain offer submission or perseverance? Freedom or slavery?

The choice is ours.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We will never apologize for being free. We will never give in. We will never surrender.

Freedom must prevail, and freedom will prevail.

Thank you very much.

Geert Wilders MP
Chairman, Party for Freedom (PVV)
The Netherlands

Chris Brown Got God (After Beating Up Girlfriend)

It's widely reported that R&B star, Chris Brown got into a fist fight with his (then?) girlfriend the singer, Rihanna. A week later, after much press speculation he's all contrite about it and hoping it will all blow over.
"Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired. I am seeking the counselling of my pastor, my mother and other loved ones and I am committed, with God's help, to emerging a better person."
Ah ha! So his invisible friend is going to make it all better. He goes on to say (in rather longer terms) how he's upset that the media is not on his side.
"Much of what has been speculated or reported on blogs and/or reported in the media is wrong.

"While I would like to be able to talk about this more, until the legal issues are resolved, this is all I can say except that I have not written any messages or made any posts to Facebook, on blogs or any place else.

"Those posts or writings under my name are frauds.”
Angel-faced Mr Brown isn't looking so smart now as it's been widely reported that Rhianna was so badly beaten that she has had to withdraw from the Grammys. For his part, Chris was being interviewed by the police in regards to the incident during the ceremony and apart from being reportedly remorseful, has declined to make a full statement.

His father, Clinton provided this wisdom:
"This is unfortunate, this stumble, this situation," he said. "Hopefully, he will get past it. We all have our shortcomings. We all trip."
Indeed we do, Mr Brown. Thankfully, most of us don't stumble so badly that we have to arrest our fall by repeatedly beating our girlfriends with our fists.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Fitna: Studio Cut

Fitna - edited, shortened, refined and sharpened from a bunt mallet to a surgical scalpel by Reza Moradi of the Council of Ex Muslims.

Better than Wilder's orginal, yet just as provocative. Not suitable for young viewers due to extremely violent content.

Hat-tip to

Friday, 13 February 2009


Creationist Idiocy posted this beautiful quote from Charles Darwin yesterday, although it could equally have come from any scientist or educated person.
"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
Blind, dogmatic ignorance delivers an air of confidence that is difficult to penetrate, particularly when the person speaking utters it with sincerity. Charles Darwin never claimed to have all the answers, yet people of faith who, by their nature, don't require proof for their claims, think they have all the answers.

It is with a heavy heart that I thumbed the electronic pages of a magazine which is, through no fault of its own, in danger of becoming an oxymoron*:
Scientific American
This is not to say that a lot of Americans are not scientifically minded, just that a fairly substantial majority are becoming so devoid of understanding the tenets of science the country is heading for disaster.

Christopher Marty writes in yesterday's issue under the headline:

Darwin on a Godless Creation: "It's like confessing to a murder"

and follows with:

"200 years after the birth of Charles Darwin, his theory of evolution still clashes with the creationist beliefs of some organized religions."

But glosses over the fact that the worst culprits in western society are his own countrymen - and lots of them too. I'm deeply ashamed to admit that recent surveys also seem to suggest that similar attitudes are taking foothold in secular "blighty" too.

I'm a marketeer these days. I used to be a computer specialist, but my job has moved on from there simply because there is too much competition from hungry young graduates. This is natural - we see it happen in nature as the young turks take on the old guard at their own game and beat them.

Learning marketing, something I've always been interested in or on the very fringes of due to the way my career has taken me, has taught me some interesting lessons. Not least that the louder you shout, the more people hear your message.

In practical terms, that means money.

The message isn't important insomuch as it doesn't matter what you're selling. Marketing guru, Seth Godin observed this point in remarking that even Darwin "marketed" evolution.

Most problems can be solved if you throw enough money at them: and the Americans have lots of it. Worse, the nature of faith means that people who make a living spreading pernicious bullshit about Darwinism have got an almost limitless stream of it.

Even Microsoft, one of the world's richest corporations, doesn't have a bottomless pocket: deep, sure, but even Microsoft has a budget.

Imagine what you could do if you had unlimited resources to promote your idea. Now consider the possibility that your message was exactly what people wanted to hear. To a guy in marketing, that the sort of account we can only dream of: yet it's precisely what churches have; particularly in America where the most extreme form of protestantism is to be found in any significant size.

By way of irony, another oxymoron is a rich scientist.

Scientists rarely achieve fortune although a select few, such as Richard Dawkins, do achieve dubious fame or infamy depending on which side of the fence you're on. It's fair to say that Prof. Dawkins is personally wealthy, but that pales against the bankrolls of many American Evangelists and pales against the might of the Discovery Institute and others like it.

Scientists have to rely on superlative arguments to win backing and that's why they fail so often when face with the almighty ignorance afforded by self-delusion and stupidity.

More after the jump...

Still more...

and if you can stand any more of this bullshit...

Now, go give your grey matter a nice warm lavage before commenting. Clearly, we can't censor these people - that would be wrong - but we have to stand up to them. The future depends on people knowing the difference between sincere faith and delusion. Darwin left plenty of room for god (even though I see no purpose for one) because we still don't have a way to explain the spontaneous creation of DNA. Yet.

The trouble is (as these guys admirably demonstrate in their moronic ruminations) that if you just throw in some "technical" sounding phrases, most people will be bamboozled and others convinced. They won't let a few facts get in the way of their ideas - lies in fact. What bothers me most is that as Christians, they are required to be honest - yet they are not.

Evolution is a fact and has even been demonstrated in the lab - not that these morons would let you in on that.

*Oxymoron. A couplet or phrase in which two contradictory ideas or words are conjoined, often with humorous intent: military intelligence; honest politician; rich scientist.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

WASPish Ignorance

How stupid can American's be - not all of them, of course, but by way of celebrating the man who not only gave us evolution but the entire field of biology, a bunch of ignorant WASPs are going to have a lie about how science has proved his idea wrong.

Science hasn't proven Darwin's basic ideas wrong, but it has refined them.

Of course, this triumvirate of bullshit isn't going to take that sitting down. They all sit around looking smug and talking nonsense.

According to these bozos, "Darwin thought that a turtle could become a reptile." A turtle is a fucking reptile!

Later in this clip, Steve Myers (the anchor) says the Bible (yeah, THAT Bible) talks "scientifically" he's obviously clueless about science. Not one of the three speakers in this clip has any apparent qualification in science, yet:

Mario Seiglie continues, "Darwin got it wrong and the Bible got it right."

(Seriously, I can't take much more of this...)

But I did - and made it to the end of the video where some fuckwit, voicing over the image of a chimp, calls it a MONKEY.

Happy Darwin Day everyone, I'm off to find my towel.

Now fuck it. I'm outa here.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Somebody Please, Shoot Me

Hat tip to Luke O' Dell for unearthing this piece of thoughtless drivel in the Sydney Morning Herald. which features an extract from Tom Frame's* new book, Evolution in the Antipodes, in which he opines:
"The problem I face is weariness with science-based dialogue partners like Richard Dawkins. It surprises me he is not chided for his innate scientific conservatism and metaphysical complacency. He won't take his depiction of Darwinism to logical conclusions. A dedicated Darwinian would welcome imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilisations and infanticide. Publicly, he advocates none of them."
The problem with Tom's argument is that it's meaningless, emotive, irrelevant bullshit that has absolutely no place in intelligent discourse. You might also ask, as I did, what the hell a cleric is doing writing about evolution a subject he clearly and profoundly fails to understand?

I'm a dedicated Darwinian - and just like Luke and Professor Dawkins - I don't advocate, support or condone any of those things. He witters on in the same tone:
"Crudely naturalistic science leaves no room for poetic truth, refuses to honour any spiritual element in physical things and cannot accept the existence of a human soul."
Poppycock. I am both an atheist and a Darwinian; but I acheived both those things at separate points in my life; Darwin had nothing to do with me finally deciding that Yahweh of the Bible was a human construct which I had done long before I studied biology at that level.

Surely, this can't get any worse... can it?
"Evolution might account for the story of life's beginnings and progress, but it cannot explain its origin nor cast any light on its destiny"
Evolution (indeed Darwin) never attempted to explain abiogenesis - we still don't know how life actually started and there is room, for those who want to, to insert [god] here. As for life's direction and ultimate end, it doesn't try to explain that either. Astrophysics does that.
"All that Dawkins can offer is a revival of old-fashioned secular humanism, whose hopes and aspirations are summarised in John Lennon's insipid 1971 composition Imagine."
That's Professor Dawkins to you, fuckwit and besides, what the hell is so wrong with Imagine's lyrics?

Jeeeeeezus! I'm going to back bed, somebody wake me up when it's time to die.

*Professor of Theology at Charles Sturt University

Dubya Is Dead

At least, according to a three second telecast on South African television he was; it wouldn't matter a great deal either way now because his influence on the world stage is largely over. The point here is that small errors on major media can cause widespread disarray.

This particular error happened when an engineer pressed a switch that put the test broadcast "ticker" into live view. The fact that such otherwise banal news could reach even the BBC, shows how powerful broadcast media is.

To Err Is Human

As a young computer programmer, one of the very first things we were taught was the American phrase, GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out. Our peers also learned the immortal phrase, "To err is human, it takes a computer to really fuck things up."

In truth, these two phrases go hand in hand.

It's often said that computers don't make mistakes - when of course they do. Somewhere along the line, a human had a hand in it, so there's always the possibility for error down to really geeky bugs like the infamous Pentium FDIV bug.

The problem with computers is that when they make mistakes, they make them very, very quickly. Which brings me to the media: if it takes a computer to really fuck things up, it takes the media to spread the error at an alarming , and often unstoppable, rate.

From the ludicrous (if harmless) pronouncements about the Conisholme wind farm UFO collision to the deadly MMR debacle - our media is an unstoppable juggernaut of bullshit.

GIGO applies to our media in just the same way as it does to a computer. There was a time when journalists would check their facts. These days, things move to bloody quickly to make that a viable option so much of what is presented to us as fact is actually reported (or more often repeated verbatim) with the assumption that the source is reliable.

If it isn't ...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Hit Me With Your Stupid Stick

I'm all for new methods to help people conquer stress but when someone comes out with statement like this:
"There is strong evidence to suggest that drumming may actually be a healing activity " - Simon Lee, Musician.
My ears prick up a bit. It's words like "may" and "healing" that worry me particularly when they're connected with the phrase, strong evidence particularly when it's not cited and comes from someone who doesn't appear to have a science background!

Healing isn't word you hear uttered by real doctors unless they happen to alluding to fake faith healers. It's one of those wishy-washy verbs employed by people with no formal qualification who rely on people's fear to make a fortune.

As the BBC reports:

"Musician Simon Lee, from Kent, is called on to teach drumming to patients with problems ranging from addiction to autism, and learning difficulties to mental health issues.

"He has even offered help to terminally ill patients needing palliative care.

"And he says the results are amazing."

Fucking genius - more snake oil attached to autism. It's not bad enough that we have to copy with the idiotic MMR scandal still rattling on, now we're going to cure it by drumming. To be far, Simon doesn't say that... in so many words, but people will read such things into it.

There some evidence that we all have a natural rhythm, although real science has been unable to prove it either way, so it's fair to assume that some people will be able to find some solace bashing the shit out of a piece of tautened skin, in Analyse This (or was it the sequel, Analyse That?) Robert DeNiro's character took out his frustrations on a pillow: with a pistol.

Personally, I find that a couple of miles on a bicycle clears out the cobwebs, we all deal with it differently. My wife throws crockery - usually at me.

We have to be extraordinarily careful to confuse the correlation (people feeling better) with the actual cause. It may be that rhythm has something to do with it, but it's equally likely the cathartic effect is purely derived from the physical exercise.

I don't know - but I rather doubt Simon does either.

The Fools Are Out There

Ah. The sweet smell of confirmation as a Daily Mail reporter notes regarding the Conisholme UFO debacle:
"An interim report from the firm, Enercon, has concluded bolts securing the blade to the hub of the turbine failed due to 'material fatigue'."
No fucking shit, Sherlock!

Which is what I said the moment this story broke to national news on this very blog entry!

Where is Nick Pope (a leading authority on UFOs and the unexplained*) now, I wonder? Hiding under a rock I hope.

I did write to one of the popular locals and a nice young lady there sighed, that yes, the UFO story was rather unlikely but it sells newspapers.

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No! It's a fucking newspaper editor trying to make a quick buck.

*According to his website.

I'm Deluded & I'll I Lie If I Want To

Marie Jon is as a depressing as she is undeniably beautiful and astonishingly deluded.

I catch her opinions on the right-wing websites I occasionally trawl for the marked stupidity, but Ms. Jon is the upcoming Ann Coulter of her generation; undeniably charismatic and dangerously crazed. I don't have a free picture of her, but she can be seen here (assuming that the smouldering looks peering back are really her - I have no reason to doubt it though!)

She is also a nurse.

Her latest piece is particularly depressing in it's cerebral stupidity.

In her opening salvo, Jon writes:

"For nearly a century, our public school textbooks have been more than suggesting that humans are related to specific members of the animal kingdom. In fact, Darwinism insists on such teaching.

"The untruthfulness of the man-made theory of evolution is astounding. It’s bewildering that well-educated people should believe so ardently in this unproven science. This godless teaching is foisted upon our society as though it were empirically-demonstrated fact. Because of Charles Robert Darwin’s belief, secularization and atheism have gained wide acceptance throughout the world."

Dear Ms. Jon. Go to the fucking zoo and look in the ape cages, will you?

It's not rocket science.

Sure, the intricacies of evolution might be lost on you but it doesn't take a bloody genius to realise those beautiful creatures peering back at us through glistening eyes are our relations.

LOOK AT THEM! But mind they don't throw a pooball at you.

The have opposable thumbs - like you; lack tails - like you; nurse their young just like you (could).

Is it really such a leap of faith to realise that you share over 95% of your DNA with these gentle creatures?

What you call Godless teaching is the study of observed reality - your God is neither denied nor confirmed by it; evolution just is. Darwin started out as a cleric-in-waiting and became the greatest scientist of his time: by operating with an open mind.

But it didn't end there, Marie.

A couple of dudes by the names of James Watson and Francis Crick that you can read about in this Time article cracked the code of life decades after Chuck Darwin first proposed evolution. Since that discovery, now over a century old, we can decode vast tracts of the code that make us what we are.

Thought Experiment Time

Let's assume for a moment (shudders) that we were the product of some supernatural designer. If we are, then the designer made our DNA (unless Jon and Co. want to deny that too).

DNA carries the information that transfers information from one generation to the next and it is the material that makes humans, human and small furry creatures from Alpha-Centauri real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri (sorry Douglas).

We can reverse engineer a creature's DNA just as a skilled computer hacker can unravel the code of a complex computer program and then get himself nicked for entering the US Dept. of Defense while claiming to look for evidence of UFOs.

The point is that computer programs look remarkably like DNA - accepting that, DNA is almost infinitely more complex. As computer programs have little chunks of reusable code (subroutines or procedures) and computer scientists have developed shared algorithms so DNA carries shared bits.

Related humans shared large bits with each other; all humans share less bits and all life shares even smaller bits. Counting the number of bits that we share allows us to determine how closely two creatures are related.

Crucially (and unlike Darwin who deduced his findings by observation - a study called Phenology) we can take two unknown samples of genetic material and by comparing the similarities deduce their origin.

I wonder how Marie Jon would feel if she was raped and the only evidence that could specifically identify her attacked was his DNA? What if a close family member of hers brutally murdered and the only evidence available was DNA?

I wouldn't wish this on her, no matter what, like that infamous bloody cat in quantum physics, this is purely a thought experiment.


DNA - even small samples of it can uniquely identify no just the race and sex of a person, it can even determine their likely traits too: eye colour, height and so on (although not always with pinpoint accuracy). If Marie's relative was attacked by an animal, we could determine which one by the same means. DNA makes us unique as individuals - no one precisely like us has ever live or ever will live again. Yet is also demonstrates how we are connected too - to all other life on Earth from the simplest virus to the most complex organism imaginable.

Marie denies this.
"Let’s be clear about this: It is not social interaction alone, or communication skills alone, that distinguishes humans from other living things. It’s the fact that God made us unique — putting us miles above the other living things and creatures in intelligence, language, and social abilities."

You're no more unique than any other highly evolved creature and in your denial of the very facts you rely on to live and enjoy your life says you're probably mentally ill: only it's an illness that we call faith and that somehow makes it acceptable.

I think I'll have to go wash my brains now.


That fine chap and all-round good egg, Luke O'Dell has a take on this too (and some other idiots) at this blog Creationist Idiocy. Luke clearly has a stronger stomach than I since he was able to dissect even more of Jon's ludicrous assumptions (plus two others) and still maintain his sanity.

I can't recommend this blog enough for those times when you just need reminding that some people really shouldn't be breeding and you need a hearty belly laugh.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Dying to be on Living

When most people are ill these days, they take time off work. This is natural because we don't want to give everyone else our germs - or in some cases, would prefer that our boss didn't find out that we'd been on the piss all night. Yes, you know who you are...

I'm ill (not sick*) right now - but I don't have the luxury of taking time off because I'm self-employed. In fact, I'm nearly drowning in my own mucus and coughing so hard that my eyeballs feel like they're going to end up in my tissue. I will recover.

Jade Goody has an aggressive metastatic cancer and will not.

She's a miserable wretch to be sure. A creation of our disgusting vice-fed media which its unquenchable thirst for celebrity scandal. I find it rather ironic that the same people who decry others for blood sports - not limited to bull baiting killing murdering fighting and fox hunting are the self same people who extol the virtues of Big Brother, Fame Academy and all the other "reality" TV. Even the BBC has stooped to this level, albeit under the guise of a social experiment, to get ordinary people to perform Naked while image consultant, Jonathan Phang, eggs them on.

It's not real.

For sure, the people on Naked are (being bullied into) shedding their clothes for the camera - in a nasty variation of voyeurism that only a TV Exec could have dreamt up - but it pales into transparency against filming a dying woman's battle with this vicious disease.

Poor Jade claims she needs the money; I'm not sure that's true but it's not relevant either.

I have a sickening feeling in the very pit of my stomach that the poor child actually craves the glare of cameras that she's become so used to. Almost as if the presence of a TV film crew has become so central to her being that she has begun to believe the unreality of her reality.

Of course, Living TV is happy to oblige.

I wouldn't put it past them filming her dying moments; and even the intimate details of an autopsy if they thought they could make a buck out of it.

Perhaps Living would do the decent thing and give her the money but not actually show the footage. A better, less voyeuristic view would be to expose the reality of her situation and expose the futility behind it.

Jade's sickness began long before she achieved notoriety; the moment she started having unprotected sex with HPV (not HIV) positive partners, her fate was effectively sealed and that's the lesson we can all take from this.

Sexually transmitted diseases can kill you; not today, not tomorrow, but HPV, HIV and others will get you in the end.

And no amount of money will save you from that.

* Like gay (which originally meant happy or ebullient) sick has got all sorts of other connotations these days so I'd rather be poorly than sick, even if I am.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Ride a Horse? You're Safer Taking Ecstasy

Risk is a funny thing: how many of us are so frightened of flying, we'd rather take a private car.

Humans are ridiculously poor at assessing risk. Flying - commercially anyway - is the safest form of transport ever devised and it gets safer with each passing accident. In the most recent air accident, where an Airbus 320 ditched in the Hudson river after hitting geese, everyone on board survived without serious injury.

Although hailed as a miracle, it was purely down to some great flying and superb aircraft design. The most difficult part of a water landing is ditching the plane at a very steep angle - so the tail hits the water first meaning the pilots have to work on instrument readings only.

Writing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, government advisor, Professor David Nutt compared the risk of taking Ecstasy with the risk of horse riding - and landed in deep water himself. He says:
"Drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life. There is not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy."
Observing that 100 people are killed every year on horses (or more precisely, falling off them) he writes:
"This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others such as drug use."
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, of which Professor Nutt is chair, is in a fluster as the BBC reports, but David Raynes for the National Drug Prevention Alliance was rather more forthright in suggesting to the Daily Telegraph that either Professor Nutt resigns or is sacked.

Horse Riding 300% More Dangerous

Looking at the raw statistics - you're about 300% more likely to die falling from a horse than you are having your insides cooked by ecstasy. The problem with the drug is that there simply isn't a "safe" dose yet it is regularly used by clubbers to get the sort of high they need to keep going for hours.

This, of course, is not the full story. Since ecstasy is an illegal drug we just don't know how many people take it, in what dosage or how often. Whereas it's somewhat easier to estimate how many people ride.

Raw statistics tell us very little and Professor Nutt has, perhaps naively, picked a rather poor example. Left where it belonged - in a scholarly article, where it could be assessed as what it was worth - that would have been the end of it. But NO, some nosey bastard has to make a big fucking issue of it.

You're more likely to die in a car accident than you are taking ecstasy. The WHO has suggested (probably an estimate) that some 1,200,000 [that's 1.2 million] lives are lost worldwide each year in automotive incidents. You're more likely to die from smoking or alcohol related illness than ecstasy, in fact.

Another bizarre and improbably statistic comes from the world of sport; if we ignore the really, really silly extreme stuff such as base jumping and just consider traditional sports, the most dangerous hobby you can have is: fishing. It's not that people are regularly assaulted by ravenous rainbow trout or die from maggot poisoning, it's just that so many fall into the water and drown.

That's not to say I'm condoning ecstasy use: because it really is like playing Russian Roulette, it's just that sometimes we really do have to get things into proportion and be very careful how much trust we place in the stuff we're spoon fed by the media.

Spoon-fed. Umm.. I've got the munchies... Mushroom anyone? Ooooo the colours... My hands, they're sooooo big..... Later dudes.

Oh Goody! Someone Has To Say This

Tragic Jade Goody is dying.

Her prognosis is poor and life expectancy miserably short - even as I write this with a knot in my stomach, the metastatic cells devouring Ms. Goody's cervix have spread to her liver and will doubtless travel elsewhere before her systems are hopelessly overwhelmed.

I cannot describe her (as the media so often does) as a star or even a celebrity. For several years she was the poster child for everything that's wrong with "C" list celebrity and even went so far as to wear her avowed ignorance as if it were a badge of honour.

Teenagers of both sexes admired and even worshipped her: until she largely fell out of favour by making a (fairly mild) racist attack on Indian actress, Shilpa Shetty in Big Brother.

Poor Jade is a flickering, misty reflection of all that's bad in today's society.

Her story is tragic in more ways than most of us can imagine and I despise the way that Max Clifford is spinning whatever he can from it: even if Jade is driving him. The popular press have made all manner of nods of support: as empty as they are meaningless. Jade being Jade is old news; Jade bald from chemo and dying from cancer is a brilliant: like UFO bullshit and speculation, it sells newspapers.

By contrast, a genuine star, Patrick Swayze is also dying of a particularly nasty (and rarely survived) pancreatic cancer. I've never been a fan, but we should recognise that Swayze has earned his stardom - over many years - in ways that Jade couldn't even dream of. Their fate is assured, but I will only mourn one of them.

"Jade" - the commodity, not the person - is a product of a failed education system, moronic media and cheap television. Jade's cancer is the direct product of a poor upbringing.

According to a report in the Sun, Jade was first treated for cervical cell dysplasia at the tender age of 16 - which is frankly pretty young considering the primary cause of this condition is HPV - the human papilloma virus - not to be confused with HIV which causes AIDS.

Stephen Green almost (but not quite) made a sensible argument when he wrote:
"There is a Biblical principle that we reap what we sow. It applies to nations as well as to individuals. What politicians sow, the people reap. When politicians sow evil, the people reap misery, and the poorest reap it the worst.

"Now we have the disaster of teenage infertility. Every government initiative, including the HPV vaccine, will increase it, but as all the targets revolve around pregnancy, no-one in power knows how many young people they are making sterile and nobody cares."
In this case, Jade is reaping the seeds - viruses, actually - that others have sewn. Green would be so pleased; I feel a little sick.

I don't know at what age Jade began having sexual intercourse - or the history of those she did have, but it's fair bet, it was pretty early on and at least one of those partners was carrying one or more of the 46 strains of HPV - and one of the several that causes cervical cancer.

Virgins don't get cervical cancer and women who remain "pure" until their late teens or early 20s are less likely to get it than those who start early. Although human animals become sexually capable from as young as nine [Gary Glitter must be so proud] the cervix isn't fully developed until much later on - its cellular structure becomes more disease-resistant with age.

Draw your own conclusions, but Jade's history of PV bleeding and the late diagnosis of this fairly aggressive tumour speak volumes. Clifford and co are playing the blame game but the real culprit is the sub-culture that Jade lived among and, let's be honest, a pretty crap family.

Some children and young women will be spared now - provided they're not unlucky enough to attend a Catholic school where its banned - many will now receive a vaccination against the most common variants of HPV.

(Somehow, this is also going to turn them into raving sex maniacs, according to the wafer munchers.)

An friend of mine may one day be facing a similar nightmare - for the same reasons. Like Jade, she lost her virginity at a tender age, has had a poor diet and was a regular smoker - all risk factors. She had pre-cancerous cells lasered away a couple of years ago and I wonder now what her future holds.


As the Mail glowers at the Internet hate sites popping up celebrating Jade's doom, it also carries a poignant piece from the woman who is credited with inflicting her on us all, in which she writes of our hideous appetite for scandal:
"Readers made it clear that they would sooner read about Jade's on-off romances than a Hollywood star giving an innocuous account of their latest film." - Jane Ennis.
Of course the newspapers have to make a profit, that's what they exist for, but this also demonstrates that in reality few of us have moved on from the days when our ancestors fed slaves to bears and lions in the collesum. It's not that different.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Have Sh*t - Will Flush

Leeds University is in bother, reports the BBC, after an unnamed person clearing a lab, threw away a huge (35Kg) bag of poo belonging to grad student, Daniel Bennett. Lizard poo that is: I know students can be pretty disgusting creatures but that would be extreme even for them.

Mr Bennett had collected the faeces to study the butann lizard, a relative of the Komodo Dragon, thought to be extinct until quite recently. In an effort to understand how the creatures live, he collected and analysed the excrement and spent several years trudging around in the Philippines looking for it.

A spokesperson for the University told the BBC that protocols had been improved so that this sort of mistake would not be repeated. They didn't say if that meant that PhD students would be prevented from collecting doodoo in future or if the Uni was less likely to throw it away if they did.

Despite the overshite, Mr Bennett remains on course to finish his doctorate later this year and I wish him well.

Flush please.

MMR and The Left Side of ©

Copyright is a thorny issue in today's world - and today the blogosphere is alight with the story of Ben Goldacre, MD threatened with legal action for stealing a large audio excerpt from a radio broadcasts where presenter and one-time actress, Jeni Barnett laid into the MMR debate and got it, er, wrong.

Dr. Goldacre described it (here) as:
"...some of the most irresponsible, ill-informed, and ignorant anti-vaccination campaigning that I have ever heard on the public airwaves."
Which he is completely entitled to to - and you know what I agree with him - but he made a grave (if rather naive) error in posting the entire audio to his blog and that landed him in deeeeep, deep shit as he was shortly served with a take down notice from lawyers representing LBC.

Unfortunately, and in spite poor Ben's bleating and messages of support from many, including yours truly, LBC were entirely within their rights to order a take-down. Not that it's helped their cause much - the Internet is well-known as a den of disregarded copyright and it's now popping up all over the place: including Wikileaks.

There's a good piece on Fair Use laws here (although it's US-based and the laws vary from country to country and judge to judge).

Ben admits that:
"...I posted the relevant segment about MMR from her show, 44 minutes..."
Uh oh.

44 minutes from 180 amounts to 24% of the entire broadcast - and worse - 100% of the arguments that were being discussed and in both cases, Fair Use (from my experience) does not apply.

You can't take a huge chunk from something and then claim Fair Use - it's simply not allowed; you can't even take a small section, say even a fraction of percent if that section represents (can be shown to represent) the heart of the work.

You'll notice the elipses (...) in these quote to suggest one continuations. This is a way of pulling a small section from a piece of copyrighted material (Ben's writings are similarly copyright) while not falling foul of Fair Use laws.

Like Ben, I get enormously pissed when (even well-meaning) Celebs get involved in issues that they know less than fuck all about and then spread a liberal amount of bullshit: which people then believe.

Christine Maggiore was an AIDS denier. She is now dead. Killed by an HIV-related illness.

The ludicrous MMR story, originated by Dr Andrew Wakefield (and others now distanced from the case) has rattled on and on and on: yet there simply isn't any evidence for the assertion it causes autism or IBS.

Not, so says Barnett, "Injecting tiny babies with substances that may compromise their immune system needs to be looked at not shouted down."

This might amaze you Jeni, but we've been doing precisely that for decades! Of course, you're a radio presenter: not a scientist, not a doctor and not qualified to talk about medicine.

By way of coincidence, the BBC reports that measles cases are UP again - 27% increase from 2007 to 2008... this is directly related to the sort of bullshit that Jeni and her ilk in the media are so good at spreading.

I don't think that we need a change in the copyright law, but this does raise an issue with free speech laws - and the responsibility that is required from broadcasters.

Bizarrely, in a world where the BBC has bent over backwards to apologise for allowing the unedited version of Batman star, Christian Bale swearing more than I do on air; and the Pope is embarrassed because one of his Bishops is a Holocaust denier (a criminal offence in some countries), we allow dangerous ignorance of this type openly onto the airways.


It matters because measles blinds; measles deafens; measles kills children.

Jeni suggests we need an open debate: I'd agree that we need to discuss why she has not been sacked and this sort of dangerous advice is allowed on the air.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Pete...

What is it about bloody Rolf Harris songs that make them so catchy? I can still hear "Two little boys..." rattling around my synapse as I try to get over this shocker.

Peter Freeman of the Competition Commission (Christ, there's nominative determinacy again!) has decreed that Project Kangaroo is going to end up as dog food after all.

For those of you living under a rock these past few months, Kangaroo was the name given to the project for BBC to offer on-demand iPlayer content from other providers including ITV and Channel 4.

The BBC quotes Freeman's thinking thus:
"The three joint venture partners are the largest TV companies in this country and you would normally expect them to compete with each other on a thing like this"

Here's the thing, Mr Freeman - they decided it was better for the viewers (and we pay for this service after all) so what the fuck gives you the right to stick your snout in?

The Competition Commission? Oh so it does.

Fuck! Fuckity fuck!

It's My Baby (& I'll Smoke If I Want To)

I love abusing song lyrics... That one was originally "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to" and popularised in 1981 by Dave Stuart and Barbara Gaskin's number 1 cover.


Anyone who reads this blog regularly (or knows me personally) will tell you that I'm very, very, pro-choice (pro-abortion if you want to be inflammatory). It's not that I think we should use abortion as a primary means of contraception, but I strongly believe in a woman's right to make informed choices without legislation saying otherwise.

So what I'm about to say may now surprise you: foetuses deserve better than smoking mothers.

In the west, smoking is a personal choice as is pregnancy for the most part. We hear of "accidents" all the time but in reality you can, for the most part, replace accident with hubris, carelessness or downright bloody-mindedness.

A new survey reported at the BBC suggests that one quarter of pregnant smokers fear telling their GP, health visitor or midwife about their habit because of (I love this) "worries about being criticised."

Naw! You don't say! (Apparently, over 50% of those questioned in a separate poll were of the same view.)

Dr. Miriam Stoppard (please tell me this was quoted out of context) says on the site:
"Pregnant women who smoke do not automatically find it easy to stop smoking as soon as they become pregnant."
No shit Sherlock! My question is what the fuck are they doing trying to conceive while the are still addicted to weed?

I've always felt something ambivalent over the smoking ban. On the one hand if people chose to slowly kill themselves, that's fine by me; on the other, I do like to go into a pub and not be assaulted by the odoriferous wafting of stale tobacco smoke.

An unborn child has no such choice.

Every single atom of oxygen it uses while attached to its mother's placenta has to come via the mother's lungs. It's blood is fed oxygen and nutrients from it's mother's bloodstream and (because we didn't evolve to smoke) many toxic chemicals can cross the placental barrier: CO and nicotine being just two of them.

As as pure drug, nicotine is thought to be more addictive than Heroin (tell that to your local crack-whore) and CO - that's the stuff in car exhausts that people use to commit suicide. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how much this effects the development of a tiny embyo.

Child abuse is a very emotive issue - yet every day, mums-to-be the world over are abusing their unborn children with a vast array of poisons entirely legally; just for the sake of a cigarette.

And then they have the bare-faced cheek to worry what we think about them!

By Golly! More PC BS @ BBC

Does anyone mind if I call myself a "cracker bastard?" Would I mind if Chris Rock, that excruciatingly awful comedian and sometime ham actor called me one?

Answer to both questions is no (at least it should be).

Rock isn't to everyone's taste - that's the nature of comedy - yet when he refers to white folk in his performances as "crackers" (a clear racist pejorative) no one seems to bat an eyelid.

That's OK even though it's a double-standard because in reality it's not the word that should be censored but the malice hiding behind it; a word is just a word whereas underlying sentiment is something else entirely.

Thanks to a culture of PC ignorance that seems intent on examining the minutiae of everything we say, think and do, the BBC has in a high-profile move, removed Carol Thatcher from a prime-time show for an apparently off-the-cuff reference made off-air in a private conversation.

What the fuck is wrong with these people?

It's entirely proper that Johnathon Ross was suspended over the Andrew Sachs affair [Sachsgate] (which was also blown completely out of proportion) but to effectively sack a contributor for a private comment smells worse than one of Stinky's* farts after a particularly juicy plate of over boiled sprouts.

The story goes [and there's been no official announcement as such] that Ms. Thatcher (daughter of the erstwhile British PM, Margaret, referred to an Australian tennis player as a "Golliwog" in jest.

She has (rightly in my view) refused to apologise.

I'm actually old enough to have not only owned a "golly" but to fondly remember the mascot adorning jars of marmalade in my mother's pantry (example above). As children we used to cut out and collect them - it was an early loyalty scheme!

Adrian Chiles, presenter of The One Show is reported to be one of those offended by the remark but he's not actually a lot younger than me. Perhaps his mother didn't buy Robertsons' jams?

Although Robertsons has long since caved into PC pressure to drop Golly, the fond memories we baby boomers have remain and I for one never confused the cheerful characture with anyone real.

It's almost as if some people take it upon themselves to be offended by proxy.

Taking offence? Here, have the fucking railings and gate too while you're at it.


BBC News now reports a counterstrike from Thatcher's camp - Ms. Thatcher's agent, Ali Gunn said on TalkSport that it "was absolutely outrageous" that her client's conversation had been leaked to the public and that, "They should be issuing us with an apology."

Too fucking right.

*Stinky is what my kids call "Atlas" my Great Dane - the poor old chap is getting rather late in life and has terrible flatulence which the vet tells me is entirely normal for one of his advancing years and harmless. Presumably, he also lacks a sense of smell.

This Is My Body....

Bleat and howl all you want, but overturning Roe v. Wade comes at a high price.

What's your choice?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

PI and The Baby Cudgel


Gary Graham, best known for his portrayal of a Vulcan in TV's Star Trek, is a man with a pricked conscience. Like an ex-smoker or someone who's suddenly got God, Mr Graham has suddenly decided that the most cathartic recovery from his past is to tell anyone who'll listen - loudly. Writing in a blog, he opines:
"No. I’m going to say it. I’m going to say what millions know in the front of their brains, and many, many more millions know in the depths of their hearts…but won’t allow themselves to think it, much less feel it. And believe me, I know I’ll be hated for saying it, I’ll be hated by people who don’t know me, have never worked with me, have never golfed with me, had a drink with me, shot the shit with me. They’ve never met me, don’t want to meet me…but they will hate me. I’m going to say it anyway: Abortion is murder."
I don't hate you Gary, I just think you're nerve-jarringly stupid and more than a little guilty of youthful hubris having paid for THREE abortions. Gary goes on:
"I have been on all sides of this issue for most of my life, and I can simply not escape the logic. That fetus a pregnant woman is carrying inside of her, regardless of the gestation stage, is a living, breathing human being. Yes, breathing – the amniotic sac forms 12 days after conception, and in the second trimester the baby is actually breathing the amniotic fluid. It’s not an ‘unviable tissue mass.’ Not a wart, a mole, a skin outcropping, a boil, or a bundle of uncoordinated cells. It’s not just a ‘fetus’."
Yes Gary, a foetus: not a baby. At 12 weeks (the end of the first trimester) the baby is no more capable of living outside the mother's uterus than (with apologies to Douglas Adams) a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster can survive being being bludgeoned by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick. It's not viable and therefore, not a fucking baby so stop using the word like a cudgel - it's a red herring. Get over it.

What you call a baby, more correctly a zygote, embryo or foetus depending on the stage of development does not once breath until it leaves the amniotic fluid. Certainly, it inhales - and even swallows - large amounts of the stuff, but its lungs do not exchange oxygen and CO2: that's breathing.

If abortion is murder (as you say) then you are also admitting to being accessory to that - on three occasions by your own admission. You may now go to jail, do not pass go and do not collect $200.

The truth sometimes hurts. You used your good looks to bed at least three girls, failed to take even basic precautions and then left them to suffer. I could almost understand one mistake - but three! Fuck me - don't ask for my forgiveness or understanding because you won't get it.

By like the argument over evolution, a personal favourite of mine, it's not really that simple.

Pro-choice advocates want every pregnancy to reach a natural conclusion - and if every pregnancy was healthy then maybe they have a point, but this isn't that simple.

Let's put aside the proactive birth control that you paid for (I guess rubbers were really expensive in your day) and consider just a couple of examples.

What about an ectopic pregnancy? Should we let that mature until the foetus gets so large that the mother's fallopian tube ruptures and she bleeds internally to death in agony?

What about Patau syndrome? Look at this!
Should we allow this pregnancy to continue until what you call a baby spontaneously aborts - or lives for a few hours and days in agony? That's a baby Gary! "A" is his "face" and "B" is a closeup on his eyes - if they can be called that.

A 37 2/7 week gestational age male infant with Patau syndrome demonstrating alobar holoprosencephaly with cyclopia. A) Facial features included sloping forehead with a proboscis superior to a single central palpebral fissure. B) Close-up of the fused eyelids and proboscis showing a single nostril. C) Polydactyly showing six digits. D) Posterior view of the brain showing indistinct gyri, fusion of the hemispheres, and occipital encephalocele.E) Transposition of the aorta (A), and hypoplastic pulmonary trunk (P). F) Trisomy 13 [47, XY, +13] (karyotype by Giemsa-banding).

Chan et al. Diagnostic Pathology 2007 2:48 doi:10.1186/1746-1596-2-48

That's the choice - because like PI, it's not that simple.


Therese in the comments has chided me (as is her absolute right) for pulling a particularly nasty example of Patau's and I agree with her that no woman should be forced to terminate any pregnancy. (Google for some more images if you can stomach them.)

Her own child is one of the rare survivors - and that's great. But Trisomy 13 is not just identifiable by blood-screening it can be visualised better than ever before on advanced ultrasound.

Yet I this isn't about Trisomy 13 - it's about choice; informed choice.

I am sick of being battered about the head by these lame "abortion is murder" arguments which rely on deeply held emotion and are invariably driven by religious belief. This unfortunate is the other side of that coin - if this poor creature had been terminated, would that have been better for mother and child alike?

Could you decide? Should you?

We should never, ever legislate the choice away: no matter how hard a choice it is, it's not ours to make.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Down On Your Knees!

Am I described as an atheist marketing consultant? No - so why is it the BBC has taken to describing a biscuit-munching nurse as a Christian in the story leader, here.

The 45 year old - who got God early on - has been suspended without pay since mid-December pending an investigations since she offered to pray for a elderly coffin-dodger.

She told the BBC, "I saw my patients suffering and as I believe in the power of prayer, I began asking them if they wanted me to pray for them. They are absolutely delighted."

Or perhaps they're just polite, dear.

The problem with prayer is it doesn't work when subjected to scientific investigation, but Mrs Petrie is entitled to her belief no matter what.

Worse still she's gone to that den of religious rabble-rousing, the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) which is probably why this has made it onto the BBC and even the bastion of inaccuracy, The Daily Mail.

Why do we need a Christian Legal Centre? Don't Christians have the same rights as everyone else?

Not surprisingly, despite the naval-gazing and hand-wringing from interested parties - yes they do - and (remember, I am a seriously angry atheist) even I can't understand the trust's decision to suspend this woman for offering a prayer. Provided that's all she did and then let it drop, then there's really no substance here.


The Mail, which carries this story on the front page of its print edition has a little more depth adding that Mrs Petrie was already under caution for this behaviour.
Alison Withers, Mrs Petrie's boss at the time, wrote to her at the end of November saying: 'As a nurse you are required to uphold the reputation of your profession. Your NMC (Nursing Midwifery Council) code states that "you must demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity" and "you must not use your professional status to promote causes that are not related to health".
Now that does tend to shed a rather different light on it and I'm actually surprised at the Mail for balancing this up - albeit almost as an aside in a fairly long lead article. The Mail also notes:
Paul Diamond, a leading religious rights barrister, has been instructed to handle the case. Mr Diamond represented Miss Eweida and last year appeared for Relate counsellor Gary McFarlane, of Bristol, who was sacked for refusing to give sex counselling to homosexuals.
Yes, the awful Miss Ewedia who refused to follow the rules clearly set out by her employer but got her own way by petulantly claiming discrimination. The CLC got shafted back in December as my friend at Mediawatchwatch gleefully describes here in brilliant detail.

Melanie Phillips also writing in the Mail has this to say:
"I am a Jew; but when my mother was in the last stages of her terminal illness she was cared for by deeply devout Christian nurses who regularly prayed for her. Far from being offended by this, I was touched and comforted by this signal that they cared so much about her."
Which I found rather interesting - Ms. Philips doesn't note that Christians and Jews share the same god: where they differ around the "birth" Jesus who they don't recognise as a saviour or living God. I think they're all fucked in the head, personally, but that doesn't matter.

It's the interpretation that counts: I would have been surprised if Ms. Phillips had not taken some comfort that the people caring for her mother shared her belief in sky fairies. When my mother passed away recently after a long illness, the local bible-toting god botherers were at my father's door within hours. Luckily for them I wasn't there at the time.

Yes, prayer is harmless: in fact it does more for the person doing the praying than the person being prayed for. Mrs Petrie crossed the line when she raised the subject - because that's when she started marketing her idea. OK, it's the mildest form of prostelysing but it's prostelysing nevertheless.

Should she be sacked though?


But not because what she did was right - because it's already way out of hand and a PR nightmare that interested parties such as the CLC can't lose and the poor NHS can't win. Call me a cynic by all means, but why do you think this made it to the papers so late the day?

Anyway, Mrs Petrie's a Baptist so perhaps this will all come out in the wash: take a deep breath now dear.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Give A Dog A Bad Name

There's a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) theory called nominative determinacy that suggests at least some people's names are connected with their jobs: so Mr Baker may own a cake shop, Mr Pope studies biblical writings, Mr Payne is a dentist and so on. Historically, things were the other way around because until comparatively recent times, people didn't have surnames at all: largely because we just didn't need them in the tiny, disparate settlements that we inhabited. Even if two people in the same village shared the same Christian name, say, "Joe" they could be easily identified by their occupation (even the village idiot).

Many of these survive today - a Cooper for example, made barrels; a Smith would have worked in a forge; a Baker would be the village's, er, baker, etc.

But what of Christian names? It's a popular myth that native Americans name their children after the first thing the mother saw after giving birth - flying bird, hunting bear, two dogs shagging... but a more cogent explanation is that the tribal elder is actually the one to determine name. He will see a name in a vision or dream or perhaps from some specific feature special to the person or family.

So can your Christian name influence how you're likely to behave in future?

Researchers David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania think they have found a link, reported here. According to the limited report, boys with unpopular names such as Ernest and Ivan are more likely to engage in crime than are children with David or Michael.

On the surface this appears to be statistical confusion where the correlation (the match) is confused with the causation (the cause of the observed effect). Such confusion crops up all the time in statistics and it's often difficult to assess. This sort of statistical cluster is often cited to "prove" that power lines and mobile phone masts cause cancer; particularly in tabloid newspapers.

A deeper look at the results suggests that there may well be some causative link although it's as much to do with social class as it is with the name per se. Nontheless the authors also suggest that children with unusual names find it difficult to become accepted among their peers.

The knee-jerk reaction to this study is predictable: early comments on the story call it BS and demand to know what the statistical relevance and margins of error are. Yet in reality, we can see that there's a definite connection - analysing the figures just confirms what we already suspect.

Many names are common to social and ethnic groups. You won't meet many white boys called Leroy or Mohammed for instance; and girls with names such as Eugene or Beatrice are not likely to be standing on street corners plying their trade.

Crime - particularly juvenile delinquency - tends to run in certain social groups; and while it's not exclusive to them, it's certainly more prevalent there. Certain groups of Christian names are also common in specific societal groups - this is natural because, on the whole parents, even poor ones, want their children to fit in.

Therefore we have a direct link - the correlation. It's not the name - but the social group that uses that name.

Henceforth, I'm going to call myself Charles Nigel Draco in the hope that I can enter a better social class. Or not.