Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Have you heard the one about the lawyer? 

Hey Folks,

Apologies for this burst of activity after lying dormant for a few days, but I've got some stuff that I need to get off my chest. I'm sure you all understand. Perhaps the best thing would be to start a campaign to get the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister excommunicated from the Christian faith for being an absolute git for starters and his cavalier attitude to the lives of Iraqis and Coalition soldiers alike for another. Moving off on a tangent, I'd really love to be there when Tony justifies himself and his life's actions to the Man.

But that's probably just me.

Take that Nick Griffin or F**ked again 

Hey Folks,

A man who doesn't have a leg to stand on. Sometimes I wonder about people, I really do. Call me reactionary if you like, but my profession needs to take swift and decisive action against this guy and anyone like him. I can't help but feel that Phil Edwards has made a glaring error of logical thinking:

"He is an exemplary teacher, he is clever, a graduate, a decent bloke and just like other people in the BNP he would not pick on anybody of another race just because of that."

Then why would he pick on another person of a different race?


If you have set yourself on fire, do not run 

Hey Folks,

Some time ago, a truly wondrous site came to my attention by way of my ex who was a big time reader of the Internet Infidels site. She may well still be a big time reader of said site, but she no longer updates her blog, nor does she check this one - not that I use my ability to determine ISPs maliciously, you understand - and if it wasn't for a mutual friend, I would seriously wonder if she were still among the living. I'm amazed that the total absence of communication doesn't hurt me, but I suppose that it's progress of sorts, and she knows where I am as much as I know where she is, so if she does not wish to remain in contact then I'll respect that. In other news, my friend R takes another step towards neurosurgery this week and I'm getting rather frightened for him. I'm coping well enough at the moment and I've a tight reign on those nasty insidious thoughts, but I really would prefer not to lose another friend. It could be that the Man is sending me a little challenge given that I take my last tablet on Saturday after which I'll be drug free and shall have to finally learn how to deal with such things as a normal human being. If you're that way inclined, I'd like you very much to pray for R - okay, I suppose it won't hurt to let you know that his name is Robert - and his family at this time. On the otherhand, if you're an atheist or an agnostic and don't believe in the whole prayer lark, if you happen to know a really good brain surgeon drop me an email...

But I digress. The already alluded to site was called the Fire Thread and it is most likely the most fun that you can ever have by yourself. Prepare for coffee to shoot from your nose, and your colleagues wishing to know where they can score whatever it is they think you are currently one. I've also added it to my Sites of Note column over in the sidebar. Click away!


Friday, April 23, 2004

At last 

Hey folks,

I've spent the last couple of weeks helping my friend J with work for her Sociology course. Her and a friend were surveying the effects of media coverage on the public's perception of refugees, and one of her sources was a document from the Scottish Executive that showed the sheer scale of media reporting of any immigration issues. The source proved that the media does indeed have an agenda of keeping refugee/asylum issues topical, and oes so quite cynically by presenting stories in such a manner that refugees are mentioned when it is quite unncecessary. The study also shows just how tiny the proportion of news items that portray refugees and other immigrants in a positive manner.

Now that I've set the scene, I shall move on to the point: The above sources confirmed my long-held view that refugees were being unduly victimised by the press, and in recent times Muslims have been in for much of the same treatment. When I was in teaching, I trained firstly as a religious studies teacher,* and I have been perfectly aware of the racist, bigoted trash that has been peddled by those in the media and their pandering to the more agressive and distasteful elements of our society. I've been saying for years now just how far reaching the consequences of government policies and media cruelty will be. Today, though, this man tells it like it is. We need to see more articles like this, and we need them in a hurry. There is still time to correct the damage that misguided policy and media coverage has wrought, but we must act soon if we are to do this.

If you honestly believe that Muslims are terrorists who would blow you up as soon as look at you, then I doubt very much that the linked article will change your views. If you are one undecided or unsure about Muslims then I hope that this article achieves its aim of erasing any misconceptions that you may have. For people like me, I hope that this gives you some hope for the future.

That is all.

*Note for Americans, French and anyone whose country operates a "no religion in schools policy:" Religious Education in schools is not a subversive or evil entity. It is not about teaching faith to children, but teaching them understanding of the religious customs of others so that they may better understand and communicate with their fellow humans.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Music with rocks in 

Typical: last night it took me an age to get to sleep, and this morning I wake up mightily early. I am not pleased. My anger has been mitigated somewhat by the discovery that ancient Indians made 'rock music.'

I've got a club with a nail in it, and it's still a club with a nail in it at night...

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

"he said all this is all yours, you can have it all, you can take it all away" 

Hey Folks,

I can't sleep and I've been slightly jittery today. I should have been paid today - hell I should have been paid on Saturday - but a "payroll error" means that myself and other workers with the same type of contract didn't get their wages put through the central computer. Of course, all the people taking home a salary - like the Payroll Administrator - are unaffected, it's just us. Grr. They assure us that it's been fixed and money will be arriving in due course, but I'm still fairly vexed by it. So anyway, I can't sleep. One of the nice things about being awake overnight is that you get the news from other time zones or an early lead on the next day's big stories. One story that will be big here tomorrow - later today - will be the understanding of just how HIV/AIDS causes dementia. I was just a nipper when the AIDS stories first broke but I remember being quite scared by the advertising - UK residents may well remember the advert with a massive black gravestone with "AIDS" embossed in huge letters - and I've followed the progress of science against the disease most closely since then. I've always felt that in some way HIV/AIDS owes its survival to the fact that it has always been such an incredibly hard molecule to map; every small discovery brings its totality closer to the light and in doing so, closer to the day when we can defeat it and cure its victims

Of course, once we've done that, we'll need to make it cheap enough to save all the infected Africans and Asians...

In other news, Ivan Noble - point your eyes sidebarwards - has posted another update, and I ask you all to keep him and his family in your thoughts.

Monday, April 19, 2004

"This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. " 

Hey Folks,

Today marks the anniversaries of the ending of the Waco Siege and the Oklahoma City Bombing by Timothy McVeigh. Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. These terrible events will probably never be forgotten as they happened under the watchful gaze of the world's media. Yesterday the anniversary of another such day slipped by with hardly a murmur. On the 18th April 1996 the Israeli Army shelled a UN base, killing over 100 civilians, and there was little or any mention of this fact in the media. I'm an avid follower of news and current events, but I must admit that knowledge of this event, never mind its anniversary would have passed me by by had it not been for a documentary I saw last week about former hostage John McCarthy. I was quite taken aback that I could not remember this as my memory for news events goes back to when I was three years old; most of my early memories are news events rather than family ones. I was curious about this incident, so I did a little research, and what I discovered was most illuminating. The sources listed in Wikipedia accurately reflect the mass of information available online about the events in Qana that day and do so in a succinct manner. Of particular note is the report to the UN Security Council, which is of the opinion that these events were unlikely to have been an accident; a conclusion well-supported by the available evidence.

From the sources available, I do not believe the shelling to have been accidental - the volume of airbursting munitions that exploded over the UN compound being just one of the reasons - and it's obvious that most would prefer the killings to be forgotten if it was indeed a deliberate act. That is my opinion, however, and even if it was truly a tragic accident, I believe that it is still necessary to confront the painful past and the actions of all sides in the Israel versus the Middle East situation. Ignoring the acts of the State has grave consequences, especially at a time when the State demands much from its enemies. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa provides, I believe, a model for progress in the Middle East, but it will take people of courage on all sides to seize the initiative to allow matters to progress to a point where such a body could exist, let alone succeed.

The story of Qana in the Lebanon has a singular resonance for myself and many of my fellow Christians for modern day Qana is the Cana of John's gospel where Jesus performed his first miracle by turning water into wine. If we are brave enough to confront the sins of the past, if the Israelis are brave enough to confront their actions in the Lebanon and occupied territories, if the Palestinians are bold enough to confront the suicide bombers, if the international community is strong enough to support those who would do right then perhaps a new Miracle of Peace could flow from that town on the Galilee shore.

Why oh why BBC? 

Hey Folks,

Tomorrow marks the 40th Birthday of BBC2, and the BBC have released forty little-known facts about the channel. It's all fairly standard stuff until they throw in an absolute peach right at the end:

37) Alan Rickman and Alfred Molina were the original actors cast in the Red Dwarf lead roles - eventually filled by the successful cult duo of Craig Charles and Chris Barrie as Lister and Rimmer.

The mind boggles, it truly does...

Friday, April 16, 2004

Why I do what I do 

Hey Folks,

One of the few things that hasn't been stripped away these last few months is my passion for social justice. Sometimes I feel less hopeful, but I do believe that it is within my power to make a difference. A year or so ago, the young adults of my home church's congregation ran a service focusing on the importance of the Trade Justice movement and they asked me if I would do the sermon from the pulpit. As one of the group's leaders I would have preferred that they did it themselves, but after some reflection I decided to accept their offer and went to work on my spiel. I browsed around for some inspiration and eventually got in touch with one of my Christian Aid contacts, who sent me some preview material that they were going to be putting out on the continued deforestation of the rainforests of Brazil. I discovered then that a goodly proportion of the world's supply of grapes comes from Brazil. Of the £1.20-£2 that we would pay for those grapes in a British supermarket, the farmer receives less than one penny. For some reason this made me incredibly angry and the poverty of indigenous grape farmers of Brazil featured heavily in the sermon that I was preparing - never before or since has a Sunday service featured so much grapey goodness, ranging from bad puns to the fruit itself.

The day arrived and the kids - sorry, young adults - did extremely well and led the service very ably; I had a tough act to follow. Standing in the pulpit in front of the congregation, I felt very small and a little silly and that I wasn't getting The Point across to them - after all, most of the congregation survive on low incomes themselves and it can be difficult to have a surplus of compassion when you feel you need it for yourself. Nevertheless I spoke of my Dream and what I thought we could achieve if we put our minds to it; a couple of times I came close to welling up through the emotion of it all and my feeling that while this was dreadfully important, I wasn't explaining it well enough to make a difference. I gave it my best shot, but I was seriously worried that all I had succeededed in doing was making a tit out of myself. My part done, I handed back to the minister for the close of the service. Then the strangest thing started to happen: people started to approach me and they were telling me what a good job the kids had done and how good my sermon had been. Pretty soon the majority of the congregation had passed on their thanks and congratulations to us for our efforts, and how they'd found the whole experience rather moving. I was deeply touched by their praise, and I know that since that day we have collectively been making a difference.

Today I read on the BBC News website that 58 million Brazilians are living on one dollar a day or less and I realised that I've spent far too long just coping with my own problems and ignoring those of others. There's a line in Good Omens by Terry Pratchett about the "somebody should do something about this" brigade, and how they always seem to forget to add "and that someone is me." I've had my time out, and it's time to get right back in there.

That is all.

Just in from the front 

Hey Folks,

For weeks Lloyd Schumner Snr has been predicting my demise or amusingly occuring downfall. This week, however, I get to win as he's way off:

Pisces: (Feb. 19—March 20)
The happiness and positive energy heralded by Venus rising in your sign will be negated by the kinetic energy expended by Near Earth Asteroid B-2634628 falling on your house.

I don't have a house...

Diagnosis: Murder 

Hey Folks,

A few posts ago, I blogged about my friend R who was in hospital. He's still there, and Tuesday afternoon was the One Month Milestone for him. Needless to say, he and his family are royally pissed off about this state of affairs as am I. I spent quite some time visiting him when I was staying with my parents last weekend and I must say that I'm proud of his stoicism in the face of such a challenge. R and I and our families are used to navigating the by-ways of the NHS but it has been a particularly frustrating experience due to delays and ill-timed holidays. I have the greatest respect for all sectors of the medical profession, but even I have ground my molars when I've visited. In his first three weeks of confinement, all that has been achieved for him is chronic boredom and a pressure sore. Anybody would be upset when such things happen to someone you care about.

Things are marginally better than they were two weeks ago as he now has a diagnosis, but the news is hardly good. Rather than a fusion of the vertebrae pressuring a nerve, R has been diagnosed with Arnold Chiari Malformation. Simply described, this is similar to a hernia except that it occurs in the back of your skull. It would appear from my research that this is relatively common in those with Spina Bifida and R and his family are no strangers to the invasive surgery that will most likely be required as they've all been there several times before when R was a lot younger. He talks quite movingly and openly about his rather traumatic birth and how no one, not even his Mum and Dad, thought that he would survive that first night of life; he credits his survival to an act of God. If you're willing to listen, he'll recount several more stories of close brushes with the Grim Reaper and you'll gain some idea of how tough he's had to be all throughout his life to flourish as he has. One of his most extraordinary qualities is how open and unashamed of his deep faith he is; most people of his age feel insecure about admitting to such a thing and are invariably targets of derision among their peers. Curiously, R is one of those rare types who have never been troubled by such people and I think it is down to his quiet certainty that brooks no argument - his sincerity is apparent to even the cruelest of bullies and somehow that serves to shield him and silence the insults before they leave their lips.

I have no doubt that if surgery is necessary then R will once again make the grade, but I fear that no matter how successful the procedure he will be further impaired by it in some way. Regardless of what happens in the near future his main goal is celebrating his 21st Birthday in July, and I can say with certainty that no matter what setbacks may have occurred, he will greet that day with a smile on his face.

I am proud that he considers me his friend.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

To paraphrase Scary Duck: "I am not dead" 

Hey Folks,

They say that a watched pot never boils, and it seems that my humble site has generated a fair number of hits in my absence. I apologise greatly for those of you who seem to have been looking for updates, but I was mightily busy last week with work and then I was visiting my maniac parents until today. In the past week or so I have:

a) scribed several essays
b) been at a pretty good birthday party
c) weighed myself and discovered that I now weigh 11st 2lbs (152lbs or 70Kg for Americans and Europeans)
d) babysat
e) not made war on any Southeast Asian Nation

More later.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Funniest headline ever 

Hey Folks,

Angry druids hunt down vandals

That's certainly got to be high on the list...

"You can check out any time, but you can never leave" 

Hey Folks,

Ten years ago grunge rock anti-hero Kurt Cobain stuck a shotgun in his mouth and literally blew his own head off. Ever since, I've been seeing graffiti claiming that "Kurt L1ves," and my friend J swears that he saw him driving through his little village in the Home Counties. It's ironic given his sheer hatred of commercialism that his suicide was in effect one of the greatest marketing exercises of all time, and a decade later we're still feeling the effects. Kids who were hardly born in 1994 buy his records and feel his pain; Courtney Love is now so rich that she gets her breasts out because she wants to, not because she has to. Back in the day, I was a latecomer to the Nirvana phenomenon - as usual no one had thought to invite me to that party, I had to sneak in a window - and I must say that I was probably one of the first people who bought Nirvana stuff post shotgun. My defence is that I had planned these purchases some time before but had had some difficulty saving up for them on my ridiculously small wage from delivering papers.

I like to think that I look at Nirvana objectively: yes, some of their stuff was excellent, but they could be pretty crap with very little effort and it showed. I don't think that I ever identified with their lyrics or music in the ways that some people claim to today - I could be perfectly miserable all of my own doing, thank you very much - and I listened to what I liked, and switched off what I didn't. Some of their stuff was abject nonsense, if you actually stopped to listen to the lyrics, but there were some songs that had lyrical brilliance and didn't just rely on a cool-sounding guitar riff. They were a pretty good band, but Kurt went that extra mile in securing future financial security for his colleagues, his wife and his child. Nirvana's main influence on me was that I discovered some other very good bands, Sonic Youth and Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters being two of the best. I somehow managed to get into a Sonic Youth gig at the age of 14 - and I was a incredibly young looking 14 - and it was one of the best gigs that I've ever been to. A mosh pit at that age can only be described as child abuse, and I doubt that I'll risk another until I'm big enough to find that guy who kicked me in the head and give him the hiding that he deserves. Sonic Youth haven't been this way since then, I don't think, but I'm pretty sure that I'd go and see them again. I regrettably missed my chance to see Guns 'n' Roses when they were touring three years ago, but my ex's brother saw them at a festival and said that they played everybody else off the stage. Contrary to recent posts on Enjoy Every Sandwich, Axl Rose, album production difficulties aside, is living a reasonably happy life in a rather posh English town - a nugget that is possibly the only bit of privileged info I posses...

The first post-Cobain decade is now over, and it remains to be seen whether as many will be commemorating a silver anniversary in 15 years. I suspect that those youngsters who do will be in a sense the individuals that Cobain would have admired and they will be a fitting inheritors of his legacy.

Too little too late 

Hey Folks,

It seems like I acted just in time as they've gone and sorted their mistake, but the world shall know the truth!

Funniest typo ever 

Hey Folks,

Reading an article on the BBC about the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, I came across yet another reason for not relying on spellcheckers. In case they catch their mistake, I took the liberty of obtaining a screenshot...

Here is the original article

And I've zeroed in on the offending section here:

Compare and contrast and then, if you have any sense of history, you shall righteously wet yourself. When people said that they were worried that Michael Grade's taking the helm at the BBC was going to lead to a dumbing down of the service, I don't think that even those doomsayers had any idea it would be so soon...

Thursday, April 01, 2004

April Fools that aren't 

Hey Folks,

I've just seen this story on the BBC:

...Student chiefs at Hull University have reportedly threatened to ban a student Christian Union because it doesn't admit non-believers such as atheists. Opponents say the move is political correctness gone mad.

I've blogged about our university's CU before, and I think that the above quote really needs a context that the BBC doesn't provide. University clubs and societies are funded by the university's Student's Association and to be eligible for that funding, they have to meet certain criteria. Under our regulations, and I assume it's similar at other unis too, to qualify for funds a society must be open to all - that's it. What the CU does is that it forces would be members to sign cards testifying to the individual's faith and belief, which is wrong. Rather than acting as the Islamic and the independent-from-the-CU Catholic Societies (and other faith orgainisations) do which is to be a forum for discussion to which anyone can attend, and still offer religious services for those who wish to partake, the CU deliberately cut itself off by being elitist in this manner. Churches, for instance, allow visitors in their thousands who can go to those churches to learn and to meet the faithful and not be press-ganged into making a signed commitment to the faith. Our CU decided to be different, and they were possibly inspired by a martyr complex-like desire to "suffer", as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself did, but lacking handy Roman soldiers, nails and a supply of quality timber, they decided to martyr themselves on the cross of finance. I expect that the same thing has happened at Hull University and that their CU will have deliberately broken the rules and to put it in this position. They, and others like them, embarrass me and they do nothing to further their own cause and make the task of people like myself, the "love your neighbour as you love yourself" crowd who are constantly trying to undo the damage that idiots like that cause. For examples of where this type of behaviour can lead, see the cluster bomb references below.

Arabic has a great word for Christian Unions that fall into this category: Madrass

For other April Fools that aren't see here, where you'll learn that it will cost more to link London and Glasgow than it will to put man back on the moon.

"Just because I'm paranoid it doesn't mean that they're not out to get me" 

Hey Folks,

The above is about the only thing that Henry Kissinger and I agree on, although I must admit that I too have know the desire that is the urge to rain millions of tonnes of high explosives on backward Asian peoples. I'm glad to say that the medication has helped me with that, of which more later. I'd like to draw your attention to this rather interesting article from Chicago's Herald Tribune, by way of Global Security.org. It seems to me to be a competent and unbiased piece of journalism that actually contains the salient facts from the 9-11 Commission, which is refreshing in an age where it is impossible to comment, never mind offer constructive criticism without being variously labeled as "anti-American," "anti-Semitic," "liberal" - apparently to some this is a mortal insult, apparently - and, oh yeah, "terrorism supporter." The rest either don't apply to me or I can laugh them off, but when someone says that you support terrorists when you simply offer your opinion that perhaps cluster bombing crowds of demonstrators is not perhaps the best way to make friends and prove that we are the Good Guys - as actually happened on a discussion board I frequent - one frankly gets a little pissed of. Especially when the cluster bomb advocate is a lay preacher and fellow Christian. What would Jesus do, I wonder? But I digress.

The article demonstrates just how different the Bush White House's wordview was to that of Clinton's, and attributes the inaction in the first month of the Bush presidency to the sheer length of time that it took for them to analyse all of Clinton's strategy goals and rework them until they matched their own. All the while, Richard Clarke and others were warning them that they had to move swiftly to put a viable strategy into place to deal with terrorist networks. Unfortunately for Bush and Co, they were suffering somewhat from the "four legs good, two legs bad" mentality that meant that Clarke's strategy couldn't be sound as he was a stay behind from the Clinton era. Even if this strategy had been activated as soon as Bush took office, there may not have been enough time for it to prevent what happened nine months later, but if one cannot blame him entirely, it is equally impossible to blame Clinton for his responses to the threat from Al Quaeda - he acted in good faith, it seems, while attempting to stay within the boundaries of international law and his approach of dialogue coupled with clearly directed proportional force certainly could not have left the world in a state worse than it is today.

So anyway, back to me: As of today, I start the process of reducing the levels of psychoactive drugs in my system. My GP and my psychiatrist believe, based on their professional opinions and experience, that I am sufficiently well to phase out the drug side of my treatment and I'm on a half dosage for a month. So far I've had no side effects, but if the urge to make war on Cambodia returns, I'll let you know...

"You say goodbye, as I say hello" 

Hey Folks,

Well the inevitable has happened and Beverley Hughes has finally resigned. She has been replaced by Des Browne who happens to be the MP sitting in our constituency at home. I didn't vote for him, preferring to cast a postal vote for here where I thought my vote could do some good, but he's a good man all the same. I've met him on several occasions as several local churches in my area were heavily involved in Christian Aid's Trade For Life campaign where we collected thousands of signatures on petitions to send to the government by way of Mr Browne. Most MPs, in my experience, don't tend to appreciate 3000 cards promising to badger elected representatives until they act to remove unjust trade laws dropping through the letterbox at their office because it tends to force them to actually work. To his credit, though, he took up the cause with us, was very vocal and kept us informed of his progress - I've got a stack of letters at home to prove it. Whether it was just for the PR benefits, I don't know, but he had the good grace to appear like he gave a damn and I respect him for his efforts. Although I didn't vote for his party, he is a fine MP and ties his best for his constituents. He did a good job as Northern Ireland's Security Minister - quite a tough brief for your first ministerial position, I imagine - and perhaps he can restore some credibility to the Immigration department. Having witnessed his compassion for others during the TfL campaign, I hope that he will campaign for policies that are fair, just and humane.

Kilmarnock expects...