Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to beat cancer with money

I contributed to an online focus group for Cancer Research last week. They wanted to know what we thought of the various ways they use to get their message across. Obviously, those of us who've had cancer, or who've known someone with cancer, are far more receptive to their appeals.

It reminded me of a Thought for the Day I did on BBC Radio Suffolk in October 1998. This is an edited version:
My life is divided into two — BC and AD — Before Cancer and After Diagnosis. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve conducted too many funerals for people who died from cancer, and every time I think that could have been me. I’ve lost friends and relatives, and so have my friends and relatives.

Breast and testicular cancer are two of the commonest cancers. Both involve wobbly bits of our bodies that help to generate and nurture new life, so it’s especially cruel that those same bits can kill us — or maybe not, if we catch the disease in time and take effective action.

Since cancer drew attention to my mortality life has changed. I’m less tolerant in some respects, more in others. It infuriates me to see people doing stupid things, like driving one-handed with a mobile phone clutched to their ear as they take a corner, risking their life and mine — the life I wanted to live for much longer. What sort of pathetic excuse would they offer my family for killing me with carelessness? I’m less inclined to sympathise with whingers who don’t know when they’re well off. I tolerate things that used to bother me, things that really don’t matter. I worry less. I value my family and my real friends, those who’ve seen me through the bad times. I’m more inclined to say what I think, but maybe that’s just my age?

If you value your life, take care of yourself. Feel your wobbly bits regularly in the privacy of your bathroom or bedroom, and if there’s anything there you’re not quite sure about, go and see your doctor. Stay well. Be happy.
There are several charities that cancer patients and their families donate to, often after they've lost someone, including MacMillan Nurses, Marie Curie Nurses, and their local hospice, but what about a donation to Cancer Research UK, who've helped to keep many more of us alive? Just click on the logo at the top of the page.

Oh, with reference to my previous post about reports that people have "beat cancer", or lost a "fight" with cancer, and how annoying they are, wouldn't it be good if, just sometimes, journalists would drop the tired old clichés and give credit where it's due, to the medical profession and the research scientists, when one of us survives?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Too much to tweet

On super-injunctions and Twitter

The Lord Chief Justice is quoted as saying "modern technology is totally out of control and everybody can put anything on it". The Iranian and Chinese governments (among others) would probably agree with him.

On the Rapture and the End of the World

The end of the world story has attracted a lot of attention because it's absurd and the jokes keep coming. Meanwhile, the consequences of climate change, which threaten everyone on the planet one way or another, are ignored. The sort of religious fundamentalists who issue dire warnings about salvation are often the same people who deny that there is such a thing.

On Monsieur Strauss-Khan and his embarrassing and inconvenient difficulties
Hugh Schofield of the BBC wrote:
I have always thought the British-French dichotomy to be hokum of the highest order. The basis of the idea is that while the British are prudish and repressed about sex, the French are triumphantly open about it.

Therefore it would be impossible to conceive of a French sex scandal, because no-one would find it shocking if prominent people were engaged in extra-marital affairs. It would just be perfectly normal behaviour. But I think this view of the French is wrong.

It is the same lazy stereotyping that perpetuates the notion that the French are extraordinary lovers. They have no hang-ups about sex, so they cut to the chase and perform the act with all the fiery passion of their frenetic Gallic genes.
One must presume innocence until proven guilty, but Dominique has a reputation for not keeping his trousers on in situations where it would be wiser to do so. "The great seducer" appears to be nothing more than a clumsily randy old man. The fallacy that French men are all "great seducers" and the convention that the sex lives of the rich and powerful should be protected by powerful privacy laws (unlike the UK) seems to allow no end of sexual shenanigans to be ignored. Not in New York, though.

Silvio Berlusconi also fancies himself as a great seducer. What is it with these ugly old men, that makes attractive young women prostitute themselves? Oh, silly me. Money.

Whenever she heard of male sexual misbehaviour, my mum would suggest that whoever had misbehaved should "tie a knot in it". If only.

On Netanyahu saying no to Obama

It would be political suicide for Netanyahu to agree to President Obama's suggestion that Israel should go back to its pre-1967 borders. He referred to "certain changes that have taken place" but the biggest change wasn't mentioned, which is that Israel has accepted thousands of immigrants since 1967, while thousands of Palestinians have been displaced by this influx. Le Monde says, "The 2.6 million immigrants who have arrived since 1948 have made Israel the only country whose population has multiplied by nine in the space of 50 years".

Immigrants from America appear to be some of the most ignorant and prejudiced Zionists, as recent TV programmes by Louis Theroux and Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou suggest. Dr Stavrakopoulou found Israeli tour guides giving very fanciful explanations for the archaeological evidence for Israel's claim to the "Promised Land". She said that her research led her to think that much of what's been taught about King David and the Jews right to the land is simply untrue. However, as long as a majority of Israelis believe the stories they've been fed since childhood, and as long as they keep building to house the next influx, no Israeli Premier can afford to agree with Obama.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Letter to my MP

Dear Mr Yeo,

I’ve relied on the NHS more than most people. I was born in 1944, so I’m just a few years older than the NHS. Soon after it was introduced, I had pneumonia. I remember very little about it except a frightening visit to hospital for an X-ray with my mother.

About 30 years later, my son was born in an NHS hospital after a procedure to prevent premature birth, because I’d previously miscarried.

I’ve had treatment or care for hepatitis, pyelitis (thanks to a kidney deformity), depression, cancer (twice), heart disease, asthma, arthritis, cellulitis and macular degeneration. I’ve had ME for 25 years, and I’ve had a hysterectomy, a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, an abdominal sacrocolpopexy, and surgery involving a plate for a broken ankle. Before it was computerised, my file at my GP’s surgery was enormous. My hospital file is similarly large.

Without the NHS, I’d have been dead a long time ago.

So you can imagine that I feel very strongly about the NHS, and how it should be managed. I do not accept that increasing privatisation will benefit patients or reduce costs. PFI, used to build hospitals like the Norfolk & Norwich under Labour, has been enormously wasteful of public funds. I see no good reason for extending its use. I fully agree with all the points made by the BMA:

Please restrain Mr Lansley and urge your colleagues to think again about the changes being proposed to the NHS.

Margaret Nelson

Monday, May 16, 2011

The RE effect

If taught properly, RE can immunise young people against religion. The more they know about it, the less likely they are to be it. I don't agree with the National Secular Society about this. Their latest newsletter refers to a "Big push to get RE further into schools," with reference to the new English Baccalaureate, as though it will infect gullible young minds. Not true.

The NSS says:
From the moment the Baccalaureate was announced, the religious establishment started pushing for the inclusion of RE as one of the core subjects. Wildly exaggerated claims about the importance of RE have been repeatedly made by those with a vested interest in keeping it at the centre of the curriculum. Self-serving leaders of Sikh, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Muslim and Hindu organisations have also joined the campaign.

Each of them realises the importance for the continuation of their religions of gaining access to children at the earliest opportunity and continuing the indoctrination throughout school life.
I've written back:
With reference to your piece about a "Big push to get RE further into school", and the efforts of religious leaders; "Each of them realises the importance for the continuation of their religions of gaining access to children at the earliest opportunity and continuing the indoctrination throughout school life." If RE is included in the new English Baccalaureate, it will presumably have a national syllabus, to replace the current system of local syllabuses decided by SACREs (Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education). Parents can withdraw their children from RE under the current system. This right has been exercised by fundamentalist parents who don't want their children to know anything about alternative beliefs systems to theirs, religious or otherwise; to keep them in ignorance.

In my experience, as a former teacher and recently retired long-term SACRE member who visits schools to contribute to RE, when children learn about different religious beliefs in school, they're more likely to reject religion altogether by the time they reach secondary school, if they ever believed at all. They recognise the contradictions and inconsistencies, when comparing one with another. Young people have often told me that they think it's all nonsense, displaying healthy scepticism. In the US, where RE isn't taught, fundamentalism thrives, as does ignorance about religions other than Christianity. Nominally secular America is far more religious than we are.

Rather than campaigning against RE, it would be better to campaign for a national syllabus, properly taught by trained teachers (it's often taught by teaching assistants), to include history, freethinking and secularism (terms which are widely misunderstood). Proselytising should be prohibited.

Let the religious leaders lobby for RE; it will backfire on them. Ignorance isn't bliss; it's just ignorance. Not knowing about religion doesn't confer immunity; just the opposite.
Meanwhile, the British Humanist Association calls for the retention of RE, but with a national syllabus, saying:
The BHA campaigns for reform of RE, not for its abolition or for mass withdrawal, because we believe that all pupils in all types of school should have the opportunity to consider philosophical and fundamental questions, and that in a pluralist society we should learn about each other’s beliefs, including humanist ones. We campaign for a reformed RE called by a more inclusive name such as Belief and Values Education, which would be characterised by inclusiveness, impartiality, objectivity, fairness, balance and relevance. We believe that such a subject should take its place on the National Curriculum.
I don't agree with the BHA about all its campaigns and policies, but I mostly agree about this. However, if a national syllabus was introduced, it should include:
  • the historical development of religions;
  • cultural differences;
  • gender differences;
  • religion and politics.
This would involve much better training for RE teachers, so it's no longer a soft option.

I'm not so sure about learning about "humanist beliefs", as there's no real consensus about what they might be. It would be better to stress the importance of freethinking role models and a naturalistic world view. The older I get, the more I think that the term "humanism" is too often used to describe a belief system, which it isn't, and I don't care to be labelled any more.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Multiple choice answers

The Big Questions on BBC TV this morning was amusing. It was supposed to be about "The future of British Islam". Nicky Campbell lost control of a bunch of Muslims all shouting at one another, while Dame Anne Leslie kept chipping in with comments prefaced with "When I was in Pakistan/Iran/Afghanistan...", etc. When she referred to the burqa as a "bin bag", that really fanned the flames of indignation.

I had to Google Dr Taj Hargey, whose posture indicated his contempt for most of the opinions being expressed by sitting right back in his chair, while others leant forward as they tried to outshout one another. He's described as "the imam who took on the 'Muslim McCarthyists'".

While there are similarly diverse views about the correct version of Christianity among those who care about such things, a majority of nominal Christians neither know nor care about the theology of the religion they claim to follow, and rarely, if ever, read the Bible. You don't get the feeling that a majority of Muslims are equally casual about their religion. They all read the Qur'an, for a start.

There was no consensus about what the future of British Islam might be, though most of those who spoke were keen to distance themselves from extremists and terrorists. Judging from the diversity of opinions on the Big Questions, they're going to be so busy arguing with one another about who's right and who's wrong that their future will be fractious, which is why the Government should not consult any of their self-appointed "leaders" on matters of public policy. None of them represents anyone but themselves.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

All over for AV *sigh*

I was going to write a post about the response of the British electorate to the AV campaigns, and why FPTP is rubbish, but Jonathan already did. Thanks Jonathan. Click here to read his blog. Now all I can do is mutter "Arse!" to myself.

If you didn't vote, you don't deserve a political opinion, so shut up. If you voted no to AV, you need your empty head examining.