Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Short Thought On Breakfast Television

After the almost centrifugal effusions of the past few weeks - at times, I was almost sure my face was warping, like Roger Moore in 'Moonraker' - I suppose I should be grateful I can eat breakfast at all. After this, the bloody flux would be a walk in the park.

Despite it having been around for nearly 30 years, British breakfast television is a phenomenon that's largely passed me by until now. At that time of day, I have always been too busy either eating, washing or writing to pay much attention to the television. However, as I am now in a position where I really don't have any choice but to watch it, if only because it's the route by which one must reach 'Baby Looney Tunes' and 'Fireman Sam', it's not a wholly satisfactory experience.

I'll be blunt. The BBC's Breakfast show is one of the most annoying TV shows I've ever seen. The affairs of the nation are presented in a manner so lightweight I'm afraid the whole thing's just going to take off and start floating away. Its style is overly jokey, sometimes to the point of what seems like bad taste, given the very grave matters under discussion. The males seem to be ciphers, it seems awkwardly scripted, and Susanna Reed, one of the female presenters, has a presenting style which appears to be overtly, indeed sometimes even aggressively, conversational and which would thus, to my eyes and ears, would be more appropriate for when she is lunching with her friends. This may be the effect the producers are hoping for. If so, it doesn't work.

There, I've said it. I pay for it, and I hate it.


A Short Thought On The Defection Of Libya's Foreign Minister

I might be being culturally insensitive, but to my eyes the name Moussa Koussa sounds like a gaffe by Jar Jar Binks.

Is Koussa Libya's Rudolf Hess? Time will tell.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Budget

Listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer braying on about how we must tell the world that Britain is 'open for business' in that squeaky, nasally voice of his, I almost forgot that we're already one of the world's largest economies, and that most of our problems in recent years have been caused by us having been so far open both to and for business that we might as well have given the place away.
Never mind, we had a tax cut. This year's tax cut always results in next year's benefit cut, of course, perhaps that's even part of his plan; but as he announced it, one could almost imagine the Tory backbenches emitting the words 'Laffer Curve! Laffer Curve! Laffer Curve!' in a giant palilalic tic. These boys don't really have any new ideas, do they?

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I have no enthusiasm for Monday morning quarterbacking the apparently sterling efforts being made to minimise the damage suffered to the Fukushima nuclear facility. I grieve for those who have been bereaved by Japan's tragedy, and have every sympathy for those who have lost property.
However, and this just might be me being narky, I do also think there is a danger of lapsing into moral ambivalence when using phrases like 'the country's greatest disaster since World War Two'. As that one was wholly self-inflicted, let us give the recent tragedy its proper due, and refer to it as the country's greatest disaster instead.



My first thought upon hearing that a no fly zone was being proposed was that given the nature of the cuts being effected on the Royal Air Force, the only ones unlikely to be doing any flying would be us.
I'm foursquare with Martin Meenagh on this one. Stopping Gaddafi's planes flying, fine. Killing civilians on the ground, count me out. Killing Libyans is what Gaddafi does. Killing civilians from the air, as in, you know, Lockerbie, is what Gaddafi does. He is death. By doing what he does, we become death as well.


The Siege Of Ardenlea Street...

seems to be over. While one can't help but try to understand the logic behind Mrs. Jaconelli's eviction, the provisions in our laws on compulsory purchase allowing for the payment of compensation will never be able to take account of the fact that some people just don't want to move.
This is a classic example of a court case without winners.


Mary Gardner

Lord, please take your devoted daughter to your bosom. To have helped translate the Bible into Ife seems like a good life's work, if ever there was one.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Will hopefully be blogging again soon. Losing over a stone in weight in four days is not as much fun as it might sound; nor is having much energy, when, instead of trying to conserve it, your body wants to use what little you've got in order to tic.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whoever Said Scottish Lawyers Were Boring?

This year's AGM of the Law Society of Scotland looks like it might have the potential to turn into the First Battle of Geonosis - but which side is the Republic, and which the Trade Federation?
Is there a Sith Lord behind all this? How would we know? They're all wearing black gowns!
In all fairness, the 'rebels' (or the 'pitiful little band', if you prefer) may have cause to be aggrieved. When the chief executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, a 1986-era fossil of Thatcherite centralisation apparently staffed, in my experience, if not by banks of chimpanzees typing Shakespeare then certainly by a host of semi-literate teenage clerkesses from Wallyford, can feel free to verbally abuse the Scottish solicitors' profession in its entirety, then something has certainly broken down somewhere. The subject of the rant was solicitors' competence at submitting Legal Aid applications and filing accounts. My own experience of these matters long ago led me to believe that the Scottish Legal Aid Board is a nest of bureaucratic rent-seekers, poorly schooled in Scottish law (some of their rejections, in the field of personal injuries in particular, were beyond belief), itself a national scandal given that it has no real rationale other than to help determine access to justice, while the Legal Aid regulations themselves were so opaque and poorly framed that it is hardly surprising that a significant number of applications should present difficulties; I suspect that solicitors' difficulties in successfully submitting Legal Aid applications may lie more with the inability of SLAB's teenage clerkesses to understand their own remit, rather than any inability on the part of the solicitors to understand the Legal Aid regulations. Unless I'm greatly mistaken, LSS has recently lost the whole of its Access to Justice Committee, a loss worthy of an Oscar Wilde aphorism.
The business of lawyering developed and persisted in Scotland for centuries before the Law Society of Scotland was cooked up by Clement Attlee. The business will go on, in some way, shape or form. Whether the profession does is another matter. It would be better for the public if the practice of law was to be conducted by a regulated profession, and not by supermarkets. The whole concept of 'KwikLaw' never quite took off, I'll be the first to admit, but for what my opinion's worth the brethren could do worse than take them on at their own game. This division and dissension in the profession is probably just a natural consequence of widening social inequality; it's hard to see what those whom Bertrand Russell described as 'defenders of plutocracy' could feel they have in common with those who assist those on the margins of society. They might all have eyeballs and feet, but that's about it. It didn't used to be like that, of course, and it would be sad if that's the way it is now, with esprit de corps giving way to barratry; yet another reason not to feel too upset about not being a solicitor in Scotland any more.
The lazier, more pretentious type of plutocratic solicitor is fond of quoting The Pie in The Sky Fairy's dictum that "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." When they do that, of course, they exhibit nothing but their own patent failure to have read 'The Wealth of Nations', for Smith goes on "(b)ut though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary."
Which kind of encapsulates the Law Society of Scotland in a nutshell.
There are times when LSS behaves disgracefully. That weird conflict of interest woven into its nature by statute, making it both advocate for and prosecutor of solicitors in Scotland, means that those who work for it sometimes do some very silly, and very nasty, things - such as allowing the very good names of solicitors in difficulties to become suspected of being muddy. There may be a better alternative to that; fewer than might be imagined may mourn its passing.
However, it's important that the profession still be regulated. The whole TescoLaw thing is, in my opinion, nothing more than a vehicle to enable some solicitors to cash out, those who may think that 1,000 years of tradition has become their own property to do with as they please, and they seem quite prepared to destroy concepts developed over that timeframe to help themselves do it. TescoLaw is not about the public interest, or widening access to justice, but all about private gain. For all its faults, LSS does have a duty to act in the public interest. In the past, it has done that by terrifying and antagonising its own members by turns, perhaps often going too far in public interest's pursuit, but at least it has tried. That spirit of public interest needs to be kept alive within the profession, or lawyering becomes meaningless. If you drive a van for a living, then at least you're delivering food. You're helping people eat, while getting paid to do so. Who does an avaricious lawyer really help?
And to those preparing for battle, one need only say - it's never to early to call your solicitor.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Welfare State He's In

In my opinion, Heseltine should have been barred from public life for life after his appalling behaviour in the House of Commons on the evening of 27 May 1976, when he lifted the Mace, the symbol of that body's authority, and held it over his head. This was, in my opinion, an act of violence against the constitution which indicated Heseltine's attitude towards the House, and exposed his perhaps elevated perception of his place in it. However, he endured, through the good grace of others; and even although we required to suffer him as Deputy Prime Minister, that he never became Prime Minister, very possibly because of his own ill grace to Margaret Thatcher, was in itself a good and wholesome thing.
Heseltine's attitude to his subsidies is telling -
"This is the whole basis of the European agricultural system. Without the agricultural support system, you would drive farming out of existence in this country.

‘The fact that I am a wealthy man is quite irrelevant."
The arrogance of that statement, rooted in the dual curses of confidence arising from wealth and confidence arising from power, is, to my eyes, breathtaking.
If nothing else, it affirms my view that as a wealthy man, a businessman and landowner, there is no need for Heseltine to also be receiving a ministerial pension worth perhaps tens of thousands of puounds a year; and he wouldn't be the only recipient in that category. They should be payable to those who might require them for their own maintenance; but they should be means-tested.
For Lord Heseltine to have to prove his eligibility to receive his pension at his local Job Centre, having to deal with the bureaucracy which those British people who survive on low incomes must suffer every day of their lives, would greatly boost public morale in these trying times. It would be a remarkably public-spirited act, and would significantly strengthen confidence in his party's assertion that we're all in this together.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

'The Price Of Life'

If anyone has a stomach strong enough, they can review the film-maker Adam Wishart's documentary - surprisingly for a documentary, one in which the documentarist provided an insight into their own views; when Leni Riefenstahl did that, she was called a propagandist - on the desirability of providing care to children born at 23 weeks' gestation here. Make sure you're doing so with a packet of Alka-Seltzer to hand, and that the only things you throw at the screen are soft.
A few quick insights into this show, in no particular order.
Many of the neonatal medics interviewed indicated that 'if they were in that position', they wouldn't want their child to be resuscitated. None of them indicated that they ever had been in that position. The doctor parents of Molly, a 23-week survivor and now a happy 11-year old, described the medical withdrawal of care from viable children as euthanasia. I'm with Molly's mum and dad on this one.
Wishart travelled to the Netherlands, and interviewed the president of the neonatal medics' association. Now, I know that medics read this blog, so I am going to choose my words very carefully. However, I have spent a great deal of time attending doctors' appointments over the past 20 years, and have formed the view that any doctor who forms a view of a particular condition, or set of individual circumstances, is a megalomaniac. For that doctor, maintaining the view becomes more important than treating the patient; the patient must fit the view, rather than accepting the view having to adapt to the patient.
Unless I am greatly mistaken, the president of the Dutch neonatal medics' association was of the view that children born at 23 weeks' gestation should not be resuscitated, or indeed given any treatment of any kind, but given 'compassionate and loving care' during the course of the very short lives they were able to lead as a result of not being treated. I may be being unfair to the gentleman, and then again I may be being totally fair, but while expounding these views he had a smile on his face which could best be described as ghoulish; a not unsuitable adjective, given the nature of what he was saying.
Back to Blighty, and Wishart haunting the halls of the Birmingham Womens' Hospital neonatal intensive care unit. That particular unit seems to have one of the highest incidences of premature births in the country. There was a great big elephant in the room during the course of the documentary, which Wishart didn't see fit to address, perhaps because it's no relevance; but given the higher than usual rate of genetic illnesses generated by cousin marriages among ethnic South Asians, and what I understand is Birmingham's possession of an ethnic South Asian population higher than the national average, it would be interesting to know whether the practice of cousin marriage increases the likelihood of prematurity, as conception via IVF may or may not increase the likelihood of prematurity. The very title of Wishart's film was 'The Price of Life'. If it does not investigate all possible reasons why the UK's prematurity rate is so high, no matter how personally unpalatable he might find the conclusions, then his film runs the risk of being branded disingenuous.
However, several of the interviewees did mention that prematurity is linked to poverty. Not in our case, certainly, nor presumably in the case of the two police officers whose 23-week prem daughter Matilda was listed as the 1 in 100 survivor whose care Wishart rather tediously described as having cost over £100,000 for her five month stay (a large sum, for sure, but still less than the Birmingham Womens' Hospital paid H Gee, its Medical Director, in the 2007-2008 financial year (page 15)(.pdf), nor in that of Molly's two doctor parents. Certainly, from our proximity to neonatal care, there were other middle-class parents whose children were going through the same ordeal as our own, but there were probably more poor parents than middle-class. If prematurity is linked to poverty, then it isn't really linked to poverty but inequality - precisely the sort of conclusion that Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett might have reached in 'The Spirit Level'. Indeed they may have done so, but I don't think they did; if they had, I think I'd have remembered it.
So, the best way we can reduce the number of premature births is to reduce inequality. Of course, the guiding spirit of British economic policy is not the reduction of inequality, but its enhancement and entrenchment (Iain Duncan Smith's latest wheeze is to incentivise those on low wages to save for their retirement rather than depend on the state pension, an insulting suggestion which immediately makes one think that the easiest way for them to do so would be to receive higher wages). Consider this - in the UK, the majority of premature births at 23 weeks' gestation occur in families living in poverty. The government will not take any steps to alleviate their poverty by reducing inequality. A kite starts being flown, and a kite is all that this exercise is, saying that babies born at 23 weeks' gestation should not be resuscitated; in extremis, not even given treatment.
Now I might be too close to this, my brain too overheated by, you know, experience, but doesn't suggesting that the children of the poorest families be euthanised, or, as the Dutch translation goes, receive 'compassionate and loving care', sound very like the genocide of the poor? It sounds very much like it to me. Poor people in less equal societies are less healthy, and die more quickly, than poor people in more equal societies. Euthanising the children of the poor would seem to be a very efficient way of resolving the problem of having to fund future healthcare for the poor at source.
An admirable aspect of this documentary was that it focussed on how very premature children, many with multiple, lifelong health problems, are cut loose by the NHS when they're 18. Now, the redoubtable Dr. Daphne Austin, Consultant in Public Health, and of immortal memory, was very quick off the mark to say how she thought that 23-week births represented a lot of investment for very little marginal benefit. It would have been very interesting to see Wishart screw her to the wall, so to speak, and find out how much funding she had secured for adults in that position over the course of her tenure. That scraping sound you might be hearing could just be the shuffling of no doubt very sensible shoes.
However, where Wishart exposed his own mettle was in his expression of this view that decisions regarding the care of very premature children should be transferred from what he termed 'stricken parents' to their doctors - going Dutch, so to speak. My own experience, one that as far as I could see was shared by the parents he interviewed, was that neither my wife nor I considered ourselves to be stricken; we were too bothered about our son to be bothered about ourselves, a phenomenon that can be seen across society - although the poor have more premature babies, and thus cost the British state an inordinate amount of money, they also love their children. After hearing Wishart's opinion, I could only think of Nesta Webster's description of the view of family life held by the loathesome Louis St. Just -
"(A)ccording to St. Just, every department of life must be placed under State control—perhaps the most inexorable form of tyranny it is possible to conceive. For to an individual autocrat some appeal may be made, but against the doors of a system one may batter in vain. Thus in St. Just’s Republic every human relationship was to be regulated by the State. True, free love was to take the place of marriage, but the union thus contracted was to be dissolved at the end of seven years if no children were forthcoming, whether the contracting parties desired to separate or not. Parents were to be forbidden either to strike or to caress their children, and the children were to be dressed all alike in cotton, to live on “roots, vegetables, fruit, with bread and water,” and to sleep on mats upon the floor. Boys were to belong to their parents only till the age of five ; after that they were to become the property of the State until their death. Every one was to be forced by law to form friendships, and “ to declare publicly once a year in the Temple who were his friends.” Any infraction of these laws was to be punished by banishment."
Mr. Wishart might baulk, even hotly dispute, any comparison betwen himself and the man described as having 'a mind on fire and a heart of ice', but this is one of those times in life when you have to say it as you see it. Doctors should not have the power to determine the course of a premature child's treatment, or lack thereof, for the same reason that in our society we don't allow the generals to determine military policy. If they were allowed that privilege, it would breed firstly pride, then its bedfellow megalomania. If you don't think that would happen, I would be more than willing to debate my impressions of the president of the Dutch neonatal medics' association with you. It would be a sundering of a parent's responsibility for their child, almost an assumption of ownership by the state, beyond St. Just's wildest, and sickest, dreams. No doubt Mr. Wishart might dispute that analysis, but having been on the business end of parental involvement in neonatal care, I'm more than willing to go toe-to-toe to defend it.
Nothing I saw in this show shakes my view of my earlier analysis. Opening a debate on the care of very premature babies, as in whether they should be cared for at all, is a slippery slope. While official euthanasia would be unlikely ever to become law, the same policy could be introduced through the back door by unofficial, nod-and-a-wink euthanasia, not benign neglect but malign neglect. It would lead to the gradual upward defining of the concept of 'very premature babies' from babies born at the very edge of natural survivability to eventually include babies who really just need a hug, a warm cot, and a hell of a lot of calories. The purpose of this would be to ration the availability of healthcare to them at other points in their life, an exercise in cradle to grave triage in which the prem would always get the short end of the stick. Any such exercise in determining whether very premature babies should be cared for would not address all possible causes of this phenomenon, such as the UK's unacceptably high degree of inequality, medical factors such as any possible correlation between conception by IVF and prematurity, or cultural factors, such as cousin marriages. To address these issues would be politically unacceptable, but if they were not included within any such debate's terms of reference it would be incomplete, and thus of no value.
All in all, it conjured as many unpleasant spectres as unhappy memories. I do wish these guys would pick on people their own size.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Defending The Defenceless From The Indefensible

Buckle up. I'm not in a good mood.
Earlier today, I heard the most disgraceful comment I can recall hearing on a British television show. The occasion was a show called 'The Big Questions', the speaker an individual named Richard D. North. Mr. North was introduced as a writer and broadcaster, but he also has a blog. I had never heard of him before today, but having heard him I will be taking a very keen interest in his output in the future.
In the context of a debate entitled 'Is it right to save very premature babies?', Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, said that 'society has a right to open up a very tough discussion on what is frankly eugenics'. Although the whole debate is worth watching, if only for its car crash quality and to marvel at the ignorance of some of the participants, and I will come to the other participants shortly, his particularly ugly contribution to this discussion can be seen between 09.44 and 11.04.
Writing later, on his blog, Mr. North stated the following;
"I had an outing on BBC1′s “Big Questions” and said a fair proportion of what I ought to have done, but on the issue of extremely premature babies I thought I missed an important note or two…
A doctor with a huge amount of experience on the subject (and a film-maker who had included her in a documentary to be shown this Wednesday) gave us the salient facts. Extremely pre-matures
(sic) babies have dreadful life prospects, with perhaps 1 in a 100 (sic)beating the odds. The parents of a young child who was born very prematurely said she was doing much better than anyone expected.
Then the discussion got rather stuck on the issue of how inadequate was the funding of care for the disabled once they reach 18. This implied that there was a sum of money that might relieve the situation.
I have nothing to add as to fact or direct experience, but I did say (what is pretty obvious) that society has an interest in the issue because taxpayers pick up so much of the bill. I should have focussed at least as much on the idea that society has an interest because we (the law, etc) can’t stand aside if there is an issue of aggressive medical intervention in effect being and producing torture.
This is especially true if the parents of babies insist on their right to decide the babies’ fate.
What I should have said is that success stories (premature babies who do well) do not make the case for intervention. Society could not allow a hundred babies to suffer because statistics suggested that amongst them one or two would thrive."
My opinion on this proposition is informed by my experience of being both disabled and the parent of a very premature baby, unlike, and by his own admission, any on this subject which might be held by Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster. No matter what he might write on his blog afterwards, Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, appears to be a right-winger of such primitive views that he would prefer those he thinks might cost him money to be exterminated, for no other word appropriately describes the withdrawal of care from the very vulnerable; it might also be called neglecting someone to death. He seems to be a barbarian; a suitably modern, cost-conscious barbarian to be sure, but a barbarian nonetheless. Like all right-wing barbarians, he seems to be desperate to lash out at someone; so desperate that he seems willing to lower the British right's already low bar, and take a step down from trying to punish and hurt their neighbours' children by demanding they be birched and sent to juvenile detention, to demanding that they be killed in their cots.
You will see from his appearance that Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, is an old man. It is not unknown for the some of the old to hate the young for no reason other than what they have is what the old have already spent. Perhaps he has succumbed to one of old age's hazards, mere wickedness. If that is the case with Mr. North, it could be that his is of a type recognisable to anyone who has read 'The Everlasting Man'; that sheer wickedness that endeavours to destroy children, and celebrates its efforts. Then again, perhaps hours spent holding forth to himself on the PC, setting the world to rights and, in his head, making everyone in it bend to his will, have finally caught up with him, and he has at last succumbed to the bloggers' disease - megalomania.
Megalomania is a condition to which those who control information put out in front of the public can be prone. In his book 'Hidden Agendas', John Pilger recorded how Cecil King, of whom he seemed quite fond, succumbed to it by taking over the front page of the 'Daily Mirror' and publishing an article of his own demanding that Parliament be replaced by a government of businessmen. King was dismissed the following day. I have actually seen what megalomania can do to other bloggers with my own eyes. There was a blogger at Mick Fealty's 'Political Innovation Scotland' event last November with a roaring case - and it was neither David Farrer nor Shuggy, both of whom are old school gentlemen. The blogger in question sought to dominate every discussion in which they were involved, constantly tried to turn every discussion round to their own enthusiasms, at one point even saying they had switched party allegiances in order to ensure their own agenda gets advanced; in my opinion, their megalomania bordered on the comical. Their case was so extreme that they had even forgotten that you can't really speak to someone in the flesh the way you might want to speak about them on your blog, at one point referring to another participant as a 'totalitarian'. The correct riposte to such a remark would have been to remind them of the need for good manners, but it's doubtful whether even that simple call to common civility would have been heeded. It would probably have taken a detachment of French Foreign Legionnaires of at least battalion strength to keep that character under control. So perverse did they seem that they might even take that observation as a compliment.
Perhaps bloggers risk megalomania in pursuit of their leisure the way those who play football for their leisure risk breaking their legs, or those who play rugby risk breaking their necks. Anyway, when it catches you it's an unpleasant sight for everyone else, almost as unpleasant as a very premature baby might seem to Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster.
A number of thoughts occurred to me during this debate, not the least of which was the need to hurl expletives at the television set; after all, I was listening to the case for the eugenic destruction of vulnerable life being advanced by a man who has since admitted he has no experience of the situation in which he wishes to see it done. However, in no particular order, the other thoughts were roughly as follows.
A kite worthy of Khalid Hosseini was being flown. In Scotland, the life of Margo MacDonald's End of Life (Scotland) Bill has ended, subjected to a mercy killing by the Scottish Parliament. Now that the public have been informed of the enthusiasm some in our Establishment seem to feel for getting rid of Grandma because she's perceived to be a burden, and have expressed their revulsion at that view, elements in the Establishment have now transferred their morbid affections to Junior, lying there in his incubator. The culture of death never stops seeking new victims. It is pitiless. It is remorseless. It is, however, the apogee of liberalism.
Others will have put this point better than me, but since the earliest days of the French Revolution it has been obvious that liberalism and Christianity are incompatible. The Montagnards knew this, which is why they pursued a policy of de-Christianising France. This is not to detract from some of the social achievements of liberals; nobody in their right mind wants to re-criminalise homosexuality, or to make legal bastards of the children of civil marriages, as Victor Emmanuel did in Sardinia in 1815. Such pitilessness, such lack of regard for others, is the hallmark of every de Maistreian 'throne and altar' mob that Europe's ever seen. However, liberalism is precisely the same. Just as the 'throne and altar' brigade won't leave you and yours in peace, liberalism won't leave you alone either. It demands that you make a choice between faith and reason, when, to my mind, the two are perfectly compatible with each other in their own context. However, the tyranny of the reasonable demands that you must take sides, the only reasonable view being the one they are prepared to accept, to the extent that we now hold debates on whether the best way to relieve suffering is to kill, which Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, would seek to broaden into killing to relieve possible future suffering, and maybe saving him a bob or two into the bargain. These are the economics of Moloch at their bloodiest.
Although this proposition is bound to fail, bound never to become law, the opening of debate on this matter would in itself be the start down the most slippery of slopes, for it would inevitably open up debate upon whether premature children should be able to receive treatment later on in life. My boy was born eight weeks early. He always breathed on his own, thank God, but needed to be tube-fed for three weeks, because babies feed themselves by sucking, they learn this of their own accord in the womb at thirty-five weeks, and he was born at thirty-two. Now, God forbid, what might happen should he need medical treatment for something else later in life? Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, will never be given the sanction to stick a needle in his arm; but will the terms of the debate he says we all must have (but in reality is one which only he and a very small group of others want to have) on the viability of premature babies, and the cost of caring for them, include their prioritisation for medical treatment later in life? My boy's going to be developmentally behind until he's four or five - is he going to be put to the back of the queue for anything else, penalised because a neo-natal nurse once had to put tubes into his stomach?
And who's going to be given the power to draw the line to determine just when a premature baby should be considered 'very premature', a line being on the wrong side of which could place you in mortal peril? It's never going to be three weeks, if only because Florence Rose Endellion Cameron was born three weeks early. Eight weeks is considerably earlier, and therefore, in my opinion, considerably riskier.
And what is a child to be penalised for? I am sure that Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, would abhor the cost to himself of providing spectacles for my son, should they ever be required, but precisely what medical conditions would he include in his hard-hitting, tough-talking debate on the viability of the premature? Whatever they might be, I'm sure they won't include extropia; the condition from which Lady Louise Windsor suffers. So what does he plan to penalise children for?
But enough of Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, pro loco et tempore. Dr. Daphne Austin, Consultant in Public Health, also spoke in support of the proposition. Two things were notable about her contributions. The first is that she is a consultant in Public Health, not a paediatrician. In the United Kingdom, a consultant in Public Health might be someone who lives their professional life with a constant feeling of failure; after all, the British adamantly refuse to stop smoking, to drink less alcohol, to have less promiscuous sex, and to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables of day. We are, after all, good liberals, and do what we want, when we want, where we want, and how we want. We know no better, for that is how our betters have told us we should behave. But if your game is public health, you can't really treat people when they don't want to play ball. Do I have the wrong end of the stick, or is that not public health in a nutshell?
That she is not a paediatrician was notable. Perhaps some paediatricians hold the same views she does; on the other hand, working as they do with the health system's most vulnerable patients, perhaps they don't. Perhaps they find her views revolting. Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, might consider the revulsion which a paediatrician feels at the suggestion that some of their patients be eugenically eliminated to be rent-seeking. However, I imagine that they might feel genuinely revolted at the thought, if only because the ones I've met seem keenly aware of what they can and can't do to help their patients. This might be one of the reasons why they seem so keen on the simple but very effective treatment system called 'Kangaroo Care', the benefits of which were recently, and very publicly, demonstrated by a fearless, and dauntless, tigress of a mother named Kate Ogg; and may God bless her and her family. It would be interesting to know what Kate makes of the views of Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster. After all, she didn't give up on her boy when Richard D. North might think she should have. That maybe says more about Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, than Kate Ogg, The Queen of Kangaroo Care.
Of course, I've seen Kangaroo Care working on my own son, so I am not an unbiased spectator. No doubt that lack of impartiality would disqualify from me from participating in any debate on the care of premature babies held at the instance of Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster. That the weak and the sick must be considerate of the views of the powerful and the healthy is one of democracy's oddities.
However, at some point Dr. Daphne Austin, Consultant in Public Health, used the term 'spectrum of disabilities', if memory serves in the context of how much money premature babies might cost in the years to come. I have a story for her.
One Sunday afternoon while my boy was in hospital, a new baby was brought into his ward. Mum was shattered, and Dad, a nice big bloke, was dancing on coals. They mentioned that the wee one had been conceived through IVF.
Now, obviously, I wish that family well, and hope that the wee one's coming on; but is there a link between conception via IVF and prematurity? I might be being unreasonable, but I would have thought that that might be a more fruitful line of research for Dr. Daphne Austin, Consultant in Public Health, to engage in rather than suggesting doing anything that might put the lives of the patients in her paediatric brethrens' care at risk. Of course, the possibility that a link exists between IVF and prematurity would also be excluded from the terms of any debate on the care of premature babies held at the instance of Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, if only because he seems to be interested in finding an economic justification for infanticide. However, debate upon such a link would expose a Gordian Knot of competing rights to be untangled, the only reasonable conclusion to which would be that someone would be required to determine not only the degree of priority between a mother's right to have a child and a doctor's right to kill it, but also which of the costs attached to each right is the more reasonable to incur.
For example, if a parent has received IVF treatment on the NHS, at a cost of many thousands of pounds, it makes no sense for any premature child born as a result to be denied treatment - having helped create a life, one would think that the doctors would be obliged to save it (although Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, might disagree, on the basis that doing so would be throwing good money after bad). If IVF children are more likely to be premature, we would find ourselves in the position of the same children being conceived at greater than usual expense, and also requiring a level of neo-natal care only capable of being provided at greater than usual expense. Would that mean that a saving in the cost of caring for premature babies could be found in paring back the availability of IVF? Or, in my view the far more likely outcome, would it mean that naturally conceived premature babies would be prioritised behind IVF prems in the perpetual struggle for affordable neo-natal health care, if only because we must celebrate and be seen to celebrate the wonders of IVF, and that IVF must be seen to be a success at all times and under all circumstances?
I have another story for Dr. Daphne Austin, Consultant in Public Health. It's Day 27 - Discharge Day! My son is going to be spending his first night in his own home, a big deal for any parent of a prem, the pram's been delivered, the car seat's been bought. A Blue Badge parking space has even been secured.
They hand you the discharge papers. On the front page, it says that premature children run an elevated risk of cot death.
That sticks the wind right up you, to the extent that you can't sleep that night.
If anyone disbelieves that premature children run an elevated risk of cot death, they should read the tragic story of wee Kai Curran, God rest his soul, and weep for those bits of the NHS that didn't work as well for him as the bits that enabled him to go to his own home. If Dr. Daphne Austin, Consultant in Public Health, and Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, wish to hold a debate on the medical termination of very premature babies' lives, they should at least do so in the knowledge that they're talking about killing people with a higher than normal mortality rate. It seems to me that to seek the deaths of the particularly weak is a very strange way to express your humanity.
The third person seeking to advance the proposition was a film-maker named Adam Wishart, of whose views I didn't hear much, having zoned out after hearing the words 'film-maker'. Adam Wishart, film-maker, has a documentary of some kind on this subject being broadcast on BBC2 in the near future. How one misses the days when documentaries confined themselves to documenting Roman ruins and copulating frogs, and their makers didn't seem to wish to make a living from other people's suffering.
That's the opposition, folks. If this is the best that those who wish to terminate the lives of the most vulnerable have to say, if this is indicative of the depth and quality of their arguments, one can only say - Bring it on.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Attenborough And The Egg Of The Elephant Bird In The Living Room

Last night, I came into Sir David Attenborough's documentary on the demise of the elephant bird, entitled 'Attenborough and the Giant Egg', near the end, but still just in time to hear him utter the phrase, 'in their ever increasing numbers' in relation to how humans might have played a role in the extinction of that species.
In my opinion, this observation seemed completely out of place. It seemed to have little to do with zoology, making sense only in the context of Sir David's views on population control, and his patronage of the Optimum Population Trust. I immediately called the BBC to complain. I was told that my comments would be passed on to the programme makers. Unless I am greatly mistaken, I was told that no mechanism existed for me to lodge a complaint with them directly, and that their contact details could not be given out.
Acton was right.


The Old Firm

While listening to all the post-match bloviating and fulminating can make one fear the onset of deafness, it's depressing to think that the only knowledge some people in the world have of our town is that this stuff goes on in it, when both it and its people are so nice in so many other ways. I live not all that far away from Celtic Park, and the coaches arriving from Ulster, their windows bearing those dreary avatars of long dead Dutchmen and bastardised, graffitoed versions of the national flag, have become a regular sight. Of course, they're all coming for the football. Of course they are.
In the 21st Century, a major city in one of the world's richest nations lives in fear of a football match. Were the situation not so similar to the chariot-racing scene in Constantinople under Justinian, even down to the team colours, an historian would be hard pressed to believe it. And some, if not most, of the people love it, in all its pustulent glory, the way a dog loves its own vomit. What was seen last night was not 'shameful', or capable of being described by any of the other trite adjectives of the type that our politicians seem to have lodged on the tips of their tongues. It was uncivilised on every level. Primitives who go about naked, with bones through their noses, conduct themselves with greater common decency than that. The term 'tribalism' doesn't begin to describe it. Libya is a tribal society, but at least its tribal peoples can fight for a good cause. What was last night all about?
It was, of course, a story as old as time, that of the naked, unbidden hatred that Man can hold for his neighbour. It was an offence against humanity, even down to the foreign mercenaries, with some of the coaching staff seeming, in my opinion, to play the role of janissary officers. Let's take an entirely hypothetical example, If you're, say, Swedish, what could possibly be attractive about last night's display? Why would you want to be near it? The only reasons I can think of are that you're there for pay, or out of a sense of personal loyalty, perhaps misguided, or a combination of both. Your own heritage has nothing to do with the stew of hatreds, the ancient becoming the modern like a mould on a piece of stinking cheese, that animated last night's uncivilised farrago. Why do you associate yourself with it? Even Gaddafi's foreign mercenaries have been known to give up. These guys don't. They come from as far away as Senegal, and still get caught up in it, disgracing their sport and themselves.
They cannot bring shame to their employers, for neither has any shame. As depressing as it is to say, they might represent a model of warfare for the future, very sophisticated big businesses that both know they are nothing without the bitterness and hatred, and still manage to get people to pay for them because they are perversely loved, not wisely but too well. The scenes of aggression among the coaching staff were the most depressing aspect of everything that happened last night. One of the major accusations that can be levelled against neoconservatism is that because its adherents have only ever known peace and prosperity, they take history for granted and behave like thugs because they think that history will be as kind to those who come after them as it's been to them. It's taken a lot of deaths around the world to shake some neoconservatives' belief in their own superiority, and a number of them don't seem to be over it yet. What some members of the coaching staffs did last night would have been unimaginable forty years ago, a deregulated, post Big Bang, flexible labour market, utterly Thatcherite rammy; two in particular doing nothing but seeming to show how similar they are in their desire to fight with each other, two perfect examples of Thatcher's children with the big house, the big car, and the big money, and no idea of how to conduct themselves in public. It's all about the big money. That's all that the Old Firm's about.
Following either Celtic or Rangers seems to be as irrational as loving Ryanair for no reason other than it's not Easyjet. One might as well possess an irrational love for Bank of America as for the former Glasgow Celtic Football and Athletic Club Ltd. It's about as bananas as thinking that Bank of America conducts its business out of a biscuit tin, as Celtic was once believed to do; but nobody has ever been murdered because Ryanair might be cheaper than Easyjet. We haven't had one of those for a year or two, but I bet we came bloody close last night.
All the talk that both companies (I refuse to call them 'clubs', that word possessing a suggestion of sociability in that context which neither organisation possesses, although its alternative meaning might sometimes be appropriate) indulge in about tackling sectarianism is, in my opinion, just talk. They both know that without that hatred, they would cease to have any meaningful existence. Many years ago, I wandered round another sporting venue where you would go if you wanted to see a real blood and snotters contest, the Colosseum, where the gladiators used to say 'We who are about to die salute you', to the spectators, not the other way round. I learned that it had a capacity of 60,000. That is the same capacity as the rebuilt Celtic Park. It would bring us Glaswegians no disgrace, and every honour, if we could consign our thing to history, and allow Celtic Park and Ibrox to stand as abandoned monuments to that occasional viciousness of ours that we managed to overcome, as the ruins of the Colosseum now speak to the once less savoury aspects of Roman life. The fixture should be banned now, and banned forever; and if no more young men lose their lives because of a football match, then the coach tours from Ulster having to find their entertainment elsewhere would be a very, very small price to pay.


Minors' Lamps

If the British concept of time must be re-ordered for the benefit of bankers, not quite Fructidor, more like Auditor, it would seem to make sense for the nation's museums to be raided in order to provide Scottish schoolchildren with miners' lamps; just about the only piece of apparatus that will help them find their bearings when they're going to school at 06.00 on a December morning in Aberdeenshire.
There are obvious ideological difficulties with an Old Tory and New Tory coalition using the term 'miners' lamps'. They could be described as 'minors' lamps' instead.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Persecuted Christians

While Said Musa has been released (hopefully with a ticket to Australia in his pocket), Shahbaz Bhatti has been murdered.
One can only hope that his survivors draw consolation from the knowledge that he might now be in a better place than any he found on Earth.


The Prime Minister's Performance In The House Of Commons Today

Both of the references that the Prime Minister made to the Leader of The Opposition's blood family were cheap and unpleasant. Accordingly, it is difficult not to think that the Prime Minister is a rather cheap and unpleasant kind of character.
I have to say, however, that I did laugh when I heard him say that Libya is a rich country with a lot of poor people. Oh, how one mourns the absence of a good Labour heckler of the type who would shout out, without thinking, 'Enough about us, what about them?'


The Defence Secretary's Performance In The House Of Commons Today

BBC Parliament's subtitling of Dr. Liam Fox as 'Liam Fox, Defence Secretary' might indicate that someone, somewhere in the BBC recognises the incredible contradiction inherent in a person who has sworn the Hippocratic Oath being responsible for the conduct of military activity. However, that channel today broadcast what is, unless I am greatly mistaken, an outstanding example of a minister making policy not merely on the hoof, but, in Dr. Fox's case, while quite stationary; as in while on his feet, at the despatch box, after having been caught out by one of his own backbenchers.
Today, an emergency debate was held in Parliament on the question of military redundancies. Big Liam from East Kilbride started off by saying that three categories of military personnel would be exempt from compulsory redundancies; servicemen preparing for deployment, deployed servicemen, and servicemen on post-deployment leave.
Now, as I have said, I could be greatly mistaken, but I am almost sure that it was not until some Tory Amazon, some Atalanta from Aylesbury, or Hippolyte from Harpenden, interjected on behalf of servicemen injured while on operations that that sub-group suddenly became exempt from compulsory redundancies as well. The speed with which Dr. Fox break-danced away from his previous position was suggestive not so such much of him making a U-Turn as of him thinking that his political credibility was going down the U-Bend. My interpretation of this afternoon's exchanges in the Commons is that neither he nor his civil servants had actually thought of not making injured servicemen redundant.
Personally, I am quite sure that all the chaps in that category might have cause to be grateful to the Boudicca of Basingstoke tonight.


A Short Thought On The Practice of 'Kettling'

Who's going to kettle the demonstrations the police will hold against any proposed cuts in their pay?
The expansion of police powers and restriction of civil liberties are fundamental planks of the neoliberal agenda. The neoliberals believe that the market is supreme, and that in order to work at its highest degree of efficiency nobody should be able to oppose it. For many years, the British police services have quite happily ridden this ideological wave. Like Stalin's generals, they now find that it has turned round and wants to bite them where it hurts, and in the cops' case, it wants to bite where it's going to hurt most - in their wallets. I suspect I might not be alone in finding my sympathy for them to be, at best, muted.

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The Expression 'Beating Them At Their Own Game'...

has just acquired a whole new meaning.
Och, it's the World Cup. And what good is a World Cup without an upset?