Saturday, December 30, 2006

Warm weather

Thank God for the Gulf Stream Drift. Here we are at 51 degrees North and the temperature is 61 today (16 for the European Union).

In the garden Camelias, Cyclamen and Azalias are flowering.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Death penalty for Saddam

Saddam is about to be hanged. This is the time to consider my views on the death penalty.

The arguments for:

It is the ultimate sanction. Deliberately taking a life should result in your own life being taken.

It is the penalty demanded by Scripture.

It deters others from committing murder.

It concentrates the mind of the murderer so that if he wishes to repent he knows he has but a short time in which to do it.

It brings 'closure'.

The arguments against:

It turns the state into a 'murderer'.

The wrong person might be executed.

It does not really deter.

Life imprisonment is a just puniushment which removes the murderer from repeating his offence and gives him time to contemplate what he has done.

In the case of Saddam there are other arguments against:

It would turn him into a martyr.

The execution itself would be an occasion to foment a riot.

And arguments in favor:

While he is alive the possibility of freeing him remains alive.

Some time in the future a Sunni regime may decide to do exactly that.

The only argument against that counts with me is the possibility of executing the wrong man. Undoubtedly there have been miscarriages of justice in the past. But there seems no doubt that Saddam is guilty.

He deserves death.

Over the past 50 years there has been a movement to lessen the significance of evil. People make excuses for it. It was his upbringing or his genes to blame. There is a willful misinterpretation of Scripture. "Thou shall not kill" is not a blanket ban on killing. Even a cursory reading of the Bible demonstrates that God sanctioned both killing of the enemy in war and judicial killing of criminals. I know that people tend to say that that was the Old Testament and we have different standards in the New Testament, but that is also incorrect.

Luke reports the thief on the cross saying, "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve." and later relates the story of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck dead for witholding from God what they had promised to give. Again King Herod was struck dead by an Angel of the Lord in Acts Ch 12 v 23, for setting himself up as a god. In I Corinthians Ch 11 v 30 Paul clearly indicates that some have died because they abused the Lord's Supper. Undoubtedly, both Old and New Testaments take a severe view of sin, and certainly don't rule out the death penalty where appropriate. Those who believe that Christians ought to be against the death penalty are making up their own religion.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Archbishop's Christmas Message

From the Times today this comment on Iraq.

Christians in the Middle East are being put at unprecedented risk by the Government’s “shortsighted” and “ignorant” policy in Iraq, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, says today.

In an extraordinary attack, Dr Williams accuses Tony Blair and the US of endangering the lives and futures of many thousands of Christians in the Middle East, who are regarded by their countrymen as supporters of the “crusading West

How strange! I have seen no news items about US or British troops hunting out Christians and shooting them. Oh, I see! It's the fanatical Muslims who are terrorizing the Christian Iraqis. But aren't they also terrorizing thousands of moderate Muslims too? People are suffering in Iraq because armed gangs are rampaging in the streets without the control of law. Indeed these armed gangs have been recruited into the law-enforcing agencies and are murdering their political enemies by masquerading as policemen.

What does the Archbishop of Canterbury suggest? That British and American troops should leave and allow the opposing militias to slug it out until the land is bare of infesting humans? I suppose he can claim Biblical precedence. Jesus taught his disciples to 'shake the dust off their feet' and leave any village that did not receive them. But there is another precedent. Abraham negotiated with God, not to destroy Sodom if there were to be found ten righteous men in that city. As we know only Lot could be found as an example of righteousness and it was easier to remove Lot than preserve Sodom. Are there not ten righteous men in Baghdad?

What Rowan Williams is offering is appeasement of a particularly craven sort. If I keep my head below the parapet and don't make a fuss, perhaps they will leave me and mine alone.

Let us be clear: the evil doers in Iraq are not Tony Blair and George Bush. However unwise the invasion of Iraq has turned out to be, however, maladroit has been the handling of the occupation, their instincts in removing Saddam were correct.

Saddam was an evil dictator with no concern for his own people or his neighbors. In the film "Lords of War" the Ian Holm character was accused of selling arms to both sides in the Iran/Iraq war. "Has it ever occurred to you that I wanted both sides to lose?" he replies. That was the attitude of a lot of people at the time, but undoubtedly Saddam's regime was utterly vile.

The invasion of Kuwait gave the rest of the world sufficient cause for restraining him, but fear of unleashing chaos in Iraq held Bush 41 back from removing him. Instead he was hemmed in by sanctions.

Sanctions seldom work. Those imposing them are accused of harming the poor and needy. Pictures of starving children and hospitals without medicines were used to justify the oil for food program, money from which was diverted from food to palaces. France, Russia and China all connived with Saddam to beat the sanctions. The UN, which employs some of the biggest crooks on the planet, turned a blind eye to corruption within and without.

The choices in 2003 were to give in to Saddam and allow him to resume his nuclear ambitions or to take him out by actually enforcing Resolution 1441. Some nations for very good pecuniary reasons wanted a UN fudge; other saw more clearly that the charade could not continue.

I see Bush 41’s error as similar to King Saul’s in 1 Samuel chapter 15. Saul failed to utterly destroy the Amalekites and George H Bush failed to utterly destroy Saddam. Bush 43 had an option in 2003. He might have crushed completely the Baathists and installed a puppet king; instead he trusted the Iraqis to sort out their own mess with a little aid and training. By committing too few troops he ended up with a worse mess than he started with. Nearly every savage Muslim in the world has descended on Baghdad looking for trouble, and worse, their partial success has been an efficient recruiting sergeant.

Parallels with Viet Nam are easily drawn. A military success is allowed to become a propaganda defeat. The fourth estate has become a fifth column. Potentially Bush had five years to win this war but he squandered the goodwill and by losing the mid-terms he has emasculated himself.

There was a time when Christians would stand up and oppose evil. Robert Raikes saw poor children unable to read and write and started Sunday Schools, the forerunners of public education. William Wilberforce saw the slave trade and campaigned for his whole life to abolish it. Lord Shaftsbury saw children in factories and fought to abolish the practice. William Booth saw drunkenness destroying families and founded the Salvation Army. John Howard and Elizabeth Fry and the prisons, Florence Nightingale and hospitals, Dr Barnardo and orphans; all Christians who saw evil and stood up against it. Rowan Williams sees the evil of murderous Muslims in Iraq and lies down before it. If we keep very quiet and very small they might pass us by and go and kill somebody else instead.

Children's Christmas

Christmas is really
for the children.
Especially for children
who like animals, stable,
stars and babies wrapped
in swaddling clothes.
Then there are wise men,
kings in fine robes,
humble shepherds and a
hint of rich perfume.

Steve Turner's poem tell it all. We Christians would like to strip off the commercialism, the adverts telling us about Christmas food, special because they're M&S nauseatingly-rich, atheroma-inducing, mince pies; or Noddy Holder repeating incessantly, "But here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun"; or Business Report inviting us to shop harder because the retailers are missing out on their bonuses; or cheeky young kids who ring your doorbell and sing one chorus of Jingle Bells and expect to be tipped as carol singers, and when asked to sing a proper carol, can just manage, "Away in a manger la, la, la, la, la." before drying up. We could all do without the drunken parties and the parade of broken Nissans, Toyotas and young men left in their wake.

For most of us it takes us back to childhood. Christmas trees and fairy lights, dads dressed up like Santa, carols by candlelight, boys who want to be Joseph and girls who want to be Mary but both settling for third shepherd, Little Donkey and Little Drummer Boy. And babies.

I'm all for the sentiment, but it can mask what it's all about just as much as the commercialism.

The second stanza of Steve Turner's poem explains.

Easter is not really
for the children
unless accompanied by a
cream filled egg.
It has whips, blood, nails,
a spear and allegations
of body snatching.
It involves politics, God
and the sins of the world.
It is not good for people
of a nervous disposition.
They would do better to
think on rabbits, chicken
and the first snowdrop
of spring.
Or they'd do better to
wait for a re-run of
Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there's any connection.

Everybody likes a baby, but let's not get mawkish. This baby came for a definite purpose; he came specifically to die. "But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law." (Galatians 4:4-5). Most of the Christmas hymns that we sing duck the issue except perhaps:

Who is he in yonder stall
At whose feet the shepherds fall?

Who is he to whom they bring
All their sick and sorrowing?

Who is he who stands and weeps
At the grave where Laz'rus sleeps?

Who is he on yonder tree
Dies in grief and agony?

Who is he who from the grave
Comes to rescue, help and save?

Who is he who from his throne
Comes to make the world his own?

'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the king of glory!
At his feet we humbly fall.
Crown him! Crown him Lord of all!

That's why this baby deserves such a welcome. That's why we give gifts at Christmas - to commemorate God's indescribable gift to us (2 Corinthians 10:15).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas is coming.

The cold weather has certainly come to Britain. I remember one Christmas, it must have been 1957, when we had a houseful of visitors at Christmas, so much so that I was sleeping with brother on a matress on the living room floor. On that room the curtains didn't reach the floor at the French windows. I woke in the middle of the night to see snowflakes falling, snow on snow, as the carol says. That was about 40 miles from the sea; here on the coast we seldom have a white Christmas. This year it will be white, but white with frost and white with fog, but I doubt it will snow

There has been chaos at the airports, with most domestic flights cancelled. Eventually one 747 gathered up those waiting at Gatwick and took them to Edinburgh. The roads have not been much better, with crashes and delays on most of the motorways.

I have been out walking into the shops, rather than take the car. Well wrapped up, I have managed to keep warm and bought lots of silly things to go in my grandchildren's stockings. This is an annual tradition. The big presents are under the tree, to be opened after church, but the smallest ones in the house have stockings full of nonsense on their beds . Last year the youngest was 25, but this year we have some children.

I have been watching Dekalog by Krzysztof Kieslowski. This is a series of Polish films, each one hour long, and each loosely based on one of the Ten Commandments. Made in 1987 they are all set around a dreary tower block in communist Poland. Being Catholic they omit the Commandment about graven images and split the coveting into two (your neighbors ass and his wife). I shall have something to say about them in a later blog.

I have also been building models for my grandson's model railway - so far a footbridge and a country church.

I am determined not to think about CLL this week. I have chalked it up as holiday.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Murder in Ipswich

They have arrested a man for killing, in the past 2 weeks, five prostitutes in Ipswich, the county town of Suffolk, and a miserable place - at least that's what it seemed like the only time I drove through it. Previously, its only claim to fame was its football team, which won the First Division some 40 years ago when managed by Sir Alf Ramsay, later to manage England in its only World Cup Victory. Another Ipswich manager, Sir Bobby Robson, also went on to manage England, though his best effort was to reach the semi-finals of Italia 90. A former Ipswich player, Paul Mariner, was once England's center forward.

All five prostitutes were heroin addicts, on the streets to feed their habits even though they new that someone was killing the working girls. The murders have led to calls for the legalization of both prostitution and of heroin. A similar libertarian demand might as well call for the legalization of murder.

Prostitution is not one business. At the lower end of the market, most of the girls working the streets are drug addicts, though a few are teenage runaways. Social security payments are enough to live on, but they are not available to the very young, who ought to be back with their parents, nor enough to support a drug habit.

Some street girls and some operating from brothels are controlled by a pimp, who may control them by supplying heroin or cocaine. Increasingly there are illegal immigrants who have been seduced by offers of a job, which turns out to be in prostitution, yet the girls dare not go to the police for fear of deportation.

At the top end of the market, the girls dress well, behave immaculately in public, and make a large amount of money. Their choice of prostitution as a livelihood is not out of necessity, but out of greed. For them it is a way of maximizing their income. Some even like the lifestyle.

In between are any number of variations on the theme.

The argument for legalizing prostitution is to remove the criminality. Just as prohibition brought the mafia into the sale of alcohol, so, the argument goes, the sale of sex is only infiltrated by criminals because it is illegal. The same argument is used in favor of legalizing hard drugs. It has been suggested that heroin be provided for free on the NHS.

The NHS is one of the reasons why neither prostitution nor hard drugs are likely to be legalized in the UK. The argument that I can do whatever I like to my body as long as it harms no-one else doesn't work if somebody else has to pick up the tab for the damage done. But even in America the cost of health care for the underclass on drugs and infected with sexually transmitted diseases is picked up by the taxpayer. The only arguments that wash with the taxpayer are economic ones, not moral ones. So if it could be shown that decriminalizing drugs would lead to fewer robberies and burglaries, less street violence and fewer infections from shared needles, then it might be a runner. Experience tells us, though, that the criminals will find something else to make their money from.

Prostitution is not illegal in the UK. The offences are soliciting, kerb-crawling, living off immoral earnings and running a brothel. Private arrangements between consenting adults are regarded as nobody's businee but their own.

A story, apochryphal I'm sure, is told of Henry Kissinger dancing, as was his wont, with a tall statuesque blonde, and whispering in her ear, "Will you sleep with me for $100,000?"

After receiving an answer in the affirmative and after a few more spin turns he asked again, "Will you sleep with me for $10?"

Affronted, she slapped his face, "What do you take me for, a common prostitute?"

"Madam," he replied, "we have already established that. Now we are negotiating as to price."

It is probably impossible to separate sex and money; however pure the majority someone will always find a way of connecting them.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Here's an unwelcome fact. At the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the first world war, Britain had 410,000 troops in Iraq to control a much smaller population. America has 140,000 troops there now, and is considering withdrawing them. The Saudis are considering seriously funding the Sunni insurgents if the Iranians continue to fund the Shiites.

The Iraqi constitution was designed to allow the oil to be divided fairly between Sunni, Shiites and Kurds. If it comes to partition the Sunni will be the losers as there is little oil in the Sunni areas.

Although I doubt that the numbers of Iraqi dead are anything like the 600,000 estimated in the Lancet article, the numbers of Iraqis killing each other has grown and is growing.

Europe went through all this in the seventeenth century. Does no-one learn from other people's mistakes?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

My text is John 3:18

John 3:18

"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only son."

For those who don't read the 'Comments' section I draw your attention to this question from a reader:

Terry, do you really believe yourself that non-christians are all condemned automatically, that it is more important to have the right caling card than being a good person? That sounds rather arbitrary and un-just.

This is how I replied:

What is good?

When I was at school I remember being examined in woodwork. The project that session was to make a teapot stand. I don't think that mine was fantastic, and it was certainly not anything I would give houseroom to, but the angles were accurate and it fitted together without nails or glue.

The schoolmaster was marking the students' work but was getting bored with it. Eventually there were only a few teapot stands left in the box. He sneered at what was left. "All the rest can have 5%" he said.

5%! I only needed 50% to be top of the class. I protested. Taking my stand together with one of the others in the box I complained to the schoolmaster. "My teapot stand is much better than his," I insisted. "His has nails sticking out and it isn't square."

"You're right," answered the master, "you can have 6%."

There is another way to get to heaven. Can you get 100% in everything you do? If you are perfect you will be admitted to heaven. That's the standard. Unfortunately, the difference between the best of us and the worst of us is the difference between those teapot stands - the difference between 5% and 6%.

But trust in your own righteousness if you want to; I would rather trust in Jesus.

Getting to heaven isn't difficult. We don't have to climb Everest or swim the Atlantic. Just trusting Jesus is all; it involves a bit of pride swallowing which can be daunting.

It would be nice to think that everybody could go to heaven on their own merits. What a perfect world we would have if that were true! Were it so then the crucifixion would have been unnecessary.

As it is, Jesus said, "No man cometh to the Father but through me."

I want to expand on this.

It is not simply a matter of having the right label. A verbal assent to God and a life of dissolute behaviour will not do. "Faith without works is dead," wrote James. Nor should we think that we are repaying God for our salvation - as if we could! Paul wrote, "It is by grace (grace means an act of undeserved mercy) you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10.)

Does this mean that only Christians can do good things? Of course not! Christians believe in something called common grace. In his mercy God restrains evil and uses the good deeds of men, believers and unbelievers, to fulfill his will. And it is not his will that any should perish. Peter wrote, "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9).

Christians are sometimes accused of exclusivity. It is believed that they think of themselves as an exclusive club - extraordinary people with special merit - with special rights of entry to heaven. The truth is quite the opposite. Entry to heaven is a free gift available to anyone, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, black or white, clever or stupid, male or female, laborer or intellectual, child or old person, Democrat or Republican. It was available to Hitler and Stalin.

Of course, Heaven is not what everyone wants. If you revel in hatred, desire dominance, delight in the unkind put-down, enjoy cheating your boss, your wife or your neighbor, love a lie or think yourself a God, then Heaven may not be what you're looking for. If you were in heaven like that you would spoil it for everybody else. If Godly characteristics are not up your street there is a place from which God has withdrawn even his common grace.

Look around yourself. Do you see evil in the world? I do.

Look into yourself. Do you see evil there? I do.

Paul writes quoting the Hebrew Bible, "There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12) and he adds his own comment, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (v23)

If you say this doesn't include you, your standards are too low and what is more the Apostle John says you make God a liar.

Do you know anyone else who offers a remedy for your sin?

But Paul continues about all those who have sinned and fall short (the old English word 'sin' is an archery term that means your arrow falls short of the target), he continues, "they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (v23-26)

Christmas is celebrated all over the world because it marks the day that God intervened in the mess we had made for ourselves.

Friday, December 15, 2006


I suppose they are called test matches because they test the patience of the most loyal English supporter. It looks as though by tomorrow it will be all over bar the shouting and the Ashes will be back in Australia's hands. It is difficult to work out exactly what went wrong, although it has to be said that England's for since winning the Ashes has not been good.

Several of the better players are missing including the captain, and it seems that giving the capataincy to Flintoff was as big a mistake as giving it to Botham in 1981. They are similar sorts of players. Their cricket is instinctive rather than thought out, and captaincy requires a thinker. No doubt having to run the match threatens one's own form for a while, but a good captain is worth his place even if he averages 25 with the bat as long as he induces the other batsmen to average over 40 and the bowlers to take wickets. Captains who are tyros with either bat or bowl tend not to bring out the best in the rest of the team.

This England team is young and inexperienced, with too many not used to Australian wickets. Nowadays the tours are so short and the games so few that there is little time to bed into the pace of the ball of the wicket and, especially in Perth, to the bounce.

My son flies to Melbourne on Christmas day. It looks as though it will be a dead rubber byefore he arrives.

Debunking Christmas

I brought my children up not believe what people told them without checking the facts themselves. I'm glad to see that my eldest son at least was listening. Over on his blog he does a pretty good job of debunking the impression that the secular world is out to destroy Christmas.

In my view just the opposite is occurring. Christmas has become a very secular holiday. The retail industry does a huge proportion of its business during the Christmas shopping period, and, whatever they say, it shows little sign of diminishing. Of course they won't get rid of Christmas. "Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays" represent a PC attempt to avoid giving offence by mentally challenged individuals who know next to nothing about any religion, but the number of people who really want to take religion out of Christmas is vanishingly small. They hit the headlines on slow news days.

Christmas in the West is full of recent accretions to a schmalzy version of the Nativity. The following played no part in the original Christmas story: Santa Claus, the Grinch, Jack Frost, Father Christmas, Rudolf, Jingling bells, 3 kings, camels, Kris Kringle, children, Bing Crosby, snow, sleighs, reindeer, Scrooge, pipers piping, Tiny Tim, 34th Street, Snowmen, fir trees, turkeys, mince pies, plum puddings, tinsel, pumpkins, Chestnut Stuffing, mulled wine or alcohol of any sort, colored glass balls, carols, holly, ivy, merry gentlemen, stable, December 25th, mistletoe, Slade, innkeepers, stockings, cards, nuts, chocolates, dates, cakes, three ships, figs, colored lights, oxen, donkeys, little drummer boys, scarlet ribbons, berries, Morcombe & Wise, robins, Frosty, Elves, The North Pole, Polar Express, Partridges, The Nutcracker, Mother Goose, Babes in the Wood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Alladin, Egg Nog, Hershey's Kisses, Yukon Cornelius, Home Alone, The Queen, Crackers, paper hats and Robin Goodfellow.

Angels were there and so were shepherds. Magi eventually turned up following a star. Nothing is said regarding the mode of transport of either the Magi or Mary. There were three gifts which makes people think there werte three Magi, but all we know is that they were plural. The inn is a mistranslation. Elsewhere the Greek is translated as 'the upper room'. In the house downstairs the animals lived, but we don't know what sort of animals they were. The manger (feeding trough) was probably made of stone not wood. Herod had all the babies younger than two slaughtered, so the magi finally arrived any time up to two years after the birth. Biblical scholars have calculated the birth date as 23rd September 4BC, but I doubt anybody could be that precise. Martin Luther was overegging it to say of the baby Jesus, "No crying he made." There were a lot of dreams.

The Puritans baned Christmas in England, though it didn't last for long. Later they banned it in America.

I like Christmas, despite the extras clinging to it like barnacles. They represent the artistic impressions of Christmas added by countless generations. Of course they are often fairly trivial, and individually we could do without this or that, but about this time of year when the tree is decorated and a CD of carols is playing on the Hi-Fi, and presents are being wrapped, and neigbors drop in, and children are excited, and the streets are festooned with lights, suddenly there is a moment of silence and we remember that God became Man at Bethlehem specifically to die in our place. Facing certain destruction we are suddenly rescued. No wonder we rejoice.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


ASH is over for another year. I arrived back on Tuesday morning and spent most of the day falling asleep at inappropriate times. Today I spent in London at the Gene Therapy Advisory Committee. One of the applicants sent his apologies as he had just returned from ASH. I saw him on the same plane as me, so if I could make the effort why couldn't he? I had the longer journey.

This year I decided to remain on European time to try an avoid the jet lag. Tuesday was still a write off. I really can't remember much about it. Apart from the 158 e-mails that I answered.

I will blog later about the impressions that ASH made upon me, but here are a few thoughts.

Over 150 CLL abstracts, but was there really a need to put on oral presentations on CLL at the same time so that it was impossible to go to everything?

Orlando has new entertainment attractions since the last time I went, but there was no time to visit any of them.

I'm sure that paying £3000+ for business class is not worth it. It would be more sensible to fly via New York, sleep in an airport hotel and get the daytime flight across the Atlantic - total cost around £500. The seats that lie flat in business class are too narrow and very hard.

American food is vast and tasteless, but they do good sandwiches.

I suppose it must be time to prepare for Christmas.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

More Sword of Truth

I have just finished the ninth book in the Terry Goodkind "Sword of Truth" series. If you read the reviews on Amazon it seems that readers have got tired of the plot not moving on very much while being subjected to Goodkind's right-wing propaganda. I disagree. I think that in this book Goodkind tackles an important issue, that of pacifism.

I long ago decided that I was not a pacifist. As a teenager I flirted with the idea, declaring that although prepared to die for my country I was not prepared to kill for it. I grew to like my life too much for that. I am happy to live to benefit my country, and prepared to risk death if the cause is right, but rather than let an oppressor kill me in the hope that he would have it on his conscience, I would kill him first if I got the chance.

Goodkind propounds the view that the greatest danger to a community is the failure to recognize evil. To call evil misguidedness or lack of parental discipline or a deprived childhood or the consequence of poverty suggests that it is an illness that can be cured. Alas it is not so.

The Christian gospel offers redemption for sinners. Some liberal Christians believe that all will be saved and that Hell will be unpopulated (except perhaps for Hitler, Stalin and Menachem Begin). They believe that, even after death, unbelievers will be given a second chance. Some believe that good Jews or Moslems or Humanists are a sort of honorary Christians, and that the blood of Jesus was sufficient to redeem them even though they didn't know it and indeed had rejected the claims of Christ in their lifetimes. Some believe that there is always hope of a deathbed conversion and that no matter how wicked has a man been during his lifetime, we cannot know what interchange with God took place during the final moments of life.

From this premise they oppose the death penalty, they oppose war, and they oppose violence.

This view has elements of truth within it, but the end result is destructively wrong.

Jesus' blood is certainly sufficient to cover every sin, but it is not applied unless it is accepted. "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Presumably those who do not believe in him will perish. Of course, because a couple of verses later we read, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only son."

We have so few of the actual words of Jesus that people are apt to make up their own Christianity, but here we have the actual words of Christ, and not some obscurantist words with alternative interpretations; these are words quoted now, always and everywhere as being Christianity in a nutshell. They are from John's Gospel Ch 3 verses 16 and 18.

The chapter continues, "Light has come into the world, but men liked darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."

Jesus certainly recognized evil.

Would Jesus have opposed the death penalty?

He was himself subjected to the death penalty, and he confronted it when others were punished in the same way. It is interesting to view his response to the death penalty inflicted on two thieves who were crucified alongside him. Had he wished, he could have come down from the cross; he had that power. He could certainly have saved the two thieves. One of the thieves recognized this, "Aren't you the Christ? save yourself and us!" But when the second thief spoke to him like this, "Don't you fear God? (rebuking the first thief) We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve, But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into yours kingdom."

How did Jesus respond? "I forgive you, come down from the cross"? "This is the sort of injustice that you get with the death penalty"? "You have had a deathbed conversion, you don't need to be executed"? No. He says, "This day you will be with me in paradise."

Trying to make allowances for evil leads to appeasement rather than war. Appeasement is very popular at the time. Chamberlain was a popular man when he came home from Munich waving a piece of paper. True leadership requires toughing it out when life gets difficult. Churchill knew this. The foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, (he was the one who argued against bombing German munitions factories because they were private property) wanted an easy peace with Hitler. Churchill stood alone resisting the evil Hitler while everyone else had capitulated.

Margaret Thatcher knew this. After losing destroyers and her helicopters to the Exocet missiles sold to the Argentineans by the French and seeing soldiers burn to death on Sir Galahad, there were many advisors, not least the American Secretary of State, Al Haig, urging her to make peace with the evil oligarchy. She resisted the temptation and some rather tough soldiers marched, where they could not fly, across the frozen hills of the Falklands to take Port Stanley.

There is a lot of evil still out there.

In Goodkind's story the pacifists survived for many hundreds of years because of their remote location, but when finally invaded by brutal conquerors, they send for a hero to free them. But they view the hero as a savage; necessary to defeat the invader, but beneath their level of civilization, just someone to do the dirty work.

The hero refuses the task, recognizing that you can't defeat evil without the whole community steeling itself to resistance. It's like a viral infection in a CLL patient, get rid of this one and another will be along in a moment. Without stiffening the resistance there is no point to it.

An allegory for our time? You might think so, I could not possibly comment.

Food for thought

I had my first Christmas dinner yesterday. This morning I topped the 200 pounds mark. This year has been a poor year for the Hamblin shape. Last year I was down below 190 having reached 210 in 2004. I even had 2 inches taken in from the waist of every pair of trousers.

I know the remedy. Eat less and exercise more. The problem is, I like eating and dislike exercise.

That's not entirely true. Exercise can be exhilarating. When I am fit, a brisk walk on the beach, a cycle through the forest or even a jog to the hospital sends the adrenaline zinging round the body and leaves me with a warm glow, but getting fit: there's the rub. I gave up my gym membership in 2005; my daily cycle trip was sufficient to keep me losing about half a pound a week while cutting out bread and limiting potatoes to one a day. Then came Christmas. I like nuts. Nobody else does. Someone had to eat them.

If you were brought up under post-war austerity you were taught to leave nothing behind on your plate. It is hard to drill yourself into tasting a bit of this and a bit of that and leaving the plate fairly full, especially at Christmas. But that's what must be done.

Today I am fasting. Tomorrow as I sit in the British Airways executive lounge waiting for my flight to Orlando I must avoid the smoked salmon sandwiches and the claret. I must eschew the free glass of champagne as I get on the plane. I must get up and walk around the cabin.

I must keep repeating this mantra: Let it go to waste or else it will go to waist.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

CLL mistakes

How much do general haematologists know about CLL? I have just been consulted about a patient who died of complications of treatment and I identified three mistakes that seem to be quite commonplace.

Mistake 1] Late diagnosis. Nowadays people are having more frequent blood tests. The usual reason is to look for anemia in someone who is 'tired all the time'. Almost always the hemaglobin comes back normal, but modern blood counters give a lot of extra information. What should a hematologist do if the lymphocyte count count comes back greater than 3.5? In our lab we look at a blood film, and unless the extra lymphocytes are large granular cells, we do some simple immunophenotyping. We pick up an extra one or two cases of early CLL every week like this.

Does it matter? Most cases of CLL are fairly indolent and immunophenotyping is relatively expensive. So what if the CLL is not diagnosed until the lymphocyte count reaches 10? In 99% of cases it doesn't matter, but in the remaining one in a hundred there is a p53 deletion and late diagnosis can seriously harm the patient's health. A lot of money to pay for one in a hundred? Sure, but it's a lot of money if you get sued.

Mistake 2] Missing hemolytic anemia. Hemolytic anemia occurs in about 15% of patients with CLL. It can be severe and even fatal. The features are a rapidly falling hemoglobin and a positive direct antiglobulin test (Coombs test). This demonstrates that an autoimmune process is going on and that pretty big doses of steroids are needed. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia in CLL differs from other types in one particular, normally one would expect to find a rush of young red cells coming into the blood to replace those that have been destroyed. These young cells are called reticulocytes. In CLL this may not happen because the bone marrow is so stuffed with leukemia cells that there is no room to make new red cells. This can be a problem because you can get a positive Coombs test in CLL without hemolysis, so if there are no reticulocytes teh diagnosis is difficult to confirm.

If the anemia is very severe, it would be unwise to assume this is not hemolytic anemia. There are other tests that will help confirm the diagnosis. Looking at the blood smear you can see red cells that are spherical instead of flat discs. A protein called haptoglobin disappears from the blood because it is used up clearing released hemoglobin from the circulation, but the test that everybody forgets - probably because it is a urine test, normally done by nurses is a dipstick test for urinary urobilinogen. This is quick and easy, and an increase tells you that red cells are being broken down more rapidly than normal.

Mistake 3] Failure to recognise when CLL is drug resistant. The commonest cause of drug resistance is an abnormality of the p53 pathway. This is most easily detected by a FISH test for chromosome 17p.

p53 is required by most drugs to kill CLL cells, including chlorambucil, fludarabine, pentostatin, cladribine, cyclophosphamide, adriamysin, vincristine, rituximab and low dose steroids. The only drigs that we know work in p53 deficient CLL cells are high dose steroids, Campath and flavaperidol.

But you don't need sophisticated tests to discover the CLL is drug resistant; just give a couple of courses ofchlorambucil or fludarabine. If the patient is not by then in a partial remission the CLL is probably drug resistant.

These are not very difficult concepts to grasp: common sense really. Even if a hematologist is more interested in acute leukemia there is no excuse for not getting this right.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas giving.

I doubt that it made many headlines in Europe or the USA but a couple of months ago a devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines south of Manilla.

For a while now we have been supporting a couple of Filippinos in this area in their work of reaching the lost for Christ.

Lourdes Manabat runs a Christian school on the mainland south of Manilla, the photograph shows some of her pupils. Her husband, Venancio, known as 'Boy', pastors a church on the island of Mindoro, which is a boat journey away. He also runs a free school for the Wawa people on the island. The church on Mindoro recently celebrated its first anniversary on the Island. the picture here shows the entrance. In addition he has undertaken the pastoring of another church on the island.

Recently, we received this e-mail from the Manabats.

"Two months ago, there’s a typhoon named “ Milenio “ a super typhoon strike Mindoro. Sad to say, that the church where our Brethren gathers, totally swept away. Now, they only gather in a four post with shade.

Here is an illustration.

The members in the church want to build it again, but they don’t have means to do it, for most of the members are farmers and selling charcoal that they get in the mountain. Now, as the steward of God in that place, we are burdened. We are praying and praying and think of means on how the church will be built again.

In San. Vicente, there is no Christian Church. Now, through the Grace of God, there will be a Christ Centered Christian Church in that place. Include us always in your prayers, that God will speed up the time in answering our prayers, to build a church building for the Glory of God. The estimated cost to build a simple church building is 3000,00 US dollars. It is not a concrete one, it will be made up of logs, woods and Galvanized Iron sheets. This Christmas, its our hope and faith that the church will be rebuilt again, so that they can worship God in a new sanctuary on Christmas eve.. And it will be a testimony to the community that our God is alive and can make a way, even there’s seems to be no way.

Since Ptr. Boy is pastoring two churches, 25km. Away from Wawa, we are praying for a motorcycle for him to use in taking care of the flock, transportation in going there is limited and there’s only a designated time for the tricycle to go there. We are praying for 1000,00 U$ to buy a motorcycle."

Today, we received another e-mail from Lourdes.

"Greetings in the Most Precious Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How are you? Its always our prayer that you are fine and always in good health and the whole family.

This week, the typhoon " Reming " strikes again the Philippines, specially the Province of Bicol Region, where hundrends of people died and buried alive by mud flows.

In Mindoro, our mission field was also strike by the typhoon. The mission House, where Pastor Boy leave was hit by a electric post and a tree. Praise God, for my husband transfer in the church before the post and tree fall down. In the church, he was not able to save the instruments used in Praise and Worship from water. The Church was being used now as an evacuation center,for the houses of the members were badly damage and needs repair.They are just made by nipa hut.

The church in Sn. Vicente... again...totally swept away for the second time. The members are so depressed. I dont know if where they held their worship service yesterday.

There are things that sometimes we dont understand. Christmas is coming, but before Christmas... disaster hit the Philippines, and most of our members were affected, not just their house, but even the Church. They really need prayers and to understand that all things work together for good....

Two days now, i dont have communication to my husband, i dont know now what is happening there, for theres a problem in electricity and communication.He mentioned to me last Friday that the tower of Globe telecoms fell down. But i trust God, that he is fine...

Remember us in your prayers, remember our brethren there in Mindoro. Their livelihood is fishing, but now...they cannot go out in the sea to catch fish to supply their needs.Help us in praying for a miracle blessings for them to survive and overcome all these things and become victorious in their christian life and with all these trials.

As their flock keeper, all we can do is to pray and ask for prayers, that miracles will happen. Some expect from us, but we expect God to move in a miraculous way.

Im so sorry for telling you every detailed of our ministry, you are also our prayer partner and this is also your ministry in the Philippines. You can share our situation and ask for prayers to our brethren, for we really need it... Through prayer, Gods hand move mightily.

God willing, the school permit will be released on the 6th of December. I already got the Mayors Permit.

Please,as Aaron's sponsor, dont be disappointed if Aaron stop in his schooling, we tried our best, but financially, we cant (Aaron is her son). We are disappointed also, specially Aaron, but we can do nothing but to accept it.the everyday expenses becomes our problem, not the entrance fees, because you provide it for them. Sir, i hope you understand. As parent, we want our children to finish their schooling..., but our present situation is our problem.... but i know...this is only TEMPORARY, for the Lord says..." for i know the plans i have for you, plan to prosper you and not to harm you, plan to give us hope..." As Christian, we need to pass this trials...and we will pass it, in Jesus Name.Amen."

We are obviously responding to her plea, but I have posted this message in the hope that others might like to share in this ministry. St Paul wrote this to the Church at Philippi, “ Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account…” (Phil ch 4 v 17)

If anybody reading this has the opportunity to visit the Philippines you would be very welcome to help in this ministry of church building.