Sunday, January 31, 2010


When I was practising oncology about 20 years ago lymphomas were divided according what was known as the working formulation. The pathologists had already divided up the lymphomas into more than 20 different types, but to oncologists this was nonsense. They recognized only three types: high grade lymphoma - which was mostly acute lymphoblastic lymphoma and Burkitt's lymphoma, intermediate grade lymphoma - which was mainly what we now call diffuse large cells B-cell lymphoma, and low grade lymphoma - which was mostly follicular lymphoma. There were three treatments: vincristine and prednisone plus head radiotherapy followed by 6-MP and methotrexate maintenance for the high grades, CHOP for the intermediate grades and CVP for the low grades.

We've come a long way since then and there are now more than 40 types of lymphoma, all of which demand separate approach; but in segregating so many, the pathologists have actually lumped two together. Small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are regarded by pathologists as a single entity.

From a pathologist’s point of view they are the same disease. When CLL appears in the lymph nodes, the histological pattern is that of SLL, and when SLL eventually appears in the blood, as it does in 25% to 50% of cases, the picture is that of CLL. Diagnostic lymphocyte markers are the same: CD5+, CD19+, CD23+, weak surface Ig, weak CD79b, and FMC7 negative.

However, from the clinician’s viewpoint they are different. By definition, SLL does not appear in the blood. SLL requires enlarged lymph nodes with the same tissue morphology and immunophenotype as CLL with no cytopenias due to bone marrow infiltration and fewer than 5 x 109/L peripheral blood B cells. CLL on the other hand must have more than 5 x 109/L peripheral blood B cells and need not have any lymph node enlargement.

The WHO insists that CLL and SLL are a single disease at different stages. Thus by Ann Arbor staging, CLL is always stage 4, since by definition it is extra nodal. SLL may be stage 4, if there is bone marrow involvement (more than 30% small lymphocytes in the marrow), but may also be stage 1, 2 or 3 depending on how many groups of lymph nodes are involved and whether of not the disease is confined to one side of the diaphragm.

The difference this makes is that stage 1 or 2 lymphomas are potentially curable by involved field or extended field radiotherapy with 80% freedom from relapse in stage 1 and 62% freedom from relapse in stage 2 at 10 years.

For advanced stage SLL treatment recommendations are exactly the same as they are for CLL; the patients should be managed by watchful waiting until certain criteria apply. The only difference from the CLL criteria is the lymphocyte doubling time, which clearly does not apply. Just as with CLL, if the size of the abdominal glands is the criterion for beginning treatment then these need to be measured carefully, which unfortunately means a CT scan. Oftentimes this can be avoided by first attempting to detect them with abdominal ultrasound. Only when they look like having a longest diameter of 10cm need the final decision be made with CT scan measurements.

FCR is now thought to be the best treatment for CLL if the patient is robust enough to manage it. The same is true for SLL.

Is it known why SLL behaves differently to CLL? Not completely, but we do have some clues. Lymphocytes move in response to chemicals called chemokines. We know that CLL cells have more chemokine receptors than SLL cells.

It should not be assumed that all cases of CLL were once cases of SLL. We know that many cases develop from monoclonal B cell lymphocytosis, which is stage 4 from the outset. Probably no more than 10% of cases start in a single lymph node.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Iraq Enquiry

Those who could see him in person thought he looked frightened. Beads of sweat on his upper lip, which themselves looked bluish. His hands shook as he poured himself a glass of water. Outside the hall demonstrators from the Socialist Workers Party were calling him B-LIAR and accusing him of murdering hundreds of thousands. Inside and behind him sat the fathers and mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq.

His interlocutors were gentlemanly, well spoken and thoughtful and he was soon in his stride. We saw what we had been missing for the past three years. Tony Blair brought back his polite sincerity, his articulateness, his self-confidence, his ability to perform center-stage. What a contrast with Gordon Brown and even with BO.

Analyze what he said and you may pick holes in it, but his performance was masterly.

Here is my assessment of his arguments.

Did he conduct an illegal war?

Difficult to decide; what constitutes a legal war? The multilateral force that expelled Iraq from Kuwait was widely seen as a legal war; sovereign territory had been invaded by a dictator with an appalling human rights record. But the human rights record of the Kuwaitis was not exemplary and the very existence of the state of Kuwait was a consequence of artificial borders drawn up by a waning imperial state with oil on its mind. The restoration of the status quo ante perhaps owed more to the worry about letting even more oil fall into the hands of a more unpleasant regime.

But if that war was held to be legal then the peace that followed was only a conditional peace based on Saddam's agreement and compliance with many restrictions. These included no-fly zones in the north and south, a willingness to forgo weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, abandonment of the WMD programme and compliance with inspectors to verify this and sanctions to prevent the acquisition of material to rebuild MWD.

Saddam was never compliant with these sanctions, indeed an industry had developed in circumventing them, which was extremely profitable for certain industries in France, Germany and Russia. Nevertheless the United Nations passed yet another resolution, 1441, which gave him one last chance to comply immediately and completely.

Saddam did not comply. Everybody believed he still had weapons of mass destruction. Indeed even when the war discovered that he had no such weapons, the post war Iraq enquiry found that he had both the blueprints for and intention of building such weapons once the shackles were off.

Many people in this country thought that yet another UN resolution was necessary to take up arms again. I was not one of them. For me the correct procedure would have been to march to Baghdad at the end of the first Gulf War. I only reluctantly accepted the policy of containment then. I felt that had Mrs Thatcher not fallen then Bush 1 would have had his arm twisted to finish Saddam there and then. I think history has proved me right. In fact, another UN resolution was not forthcoming; it was opposed by those nations making money out of sanctions busting.

The legality of wars is decided by the victors, by and large. Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone could all be considered illegal by some criteria. Two of these were to defend Muslims against Christians.

The second question was why Iraq; why 2003?

There were plenty of other dictators to take down, and Saddam had been strutting his defiance for more than 10 years. Blair's reason was that 9/11 changed thinking. Suddenly there were terrorists with no demands; just a desire to kill as many 'infidels' as they could. 3000 in New York could be 300,000 if they could get hold of a nuclear device. Where could they get one? Iran, North Korea, Libya, Iraq - all countries with a weapons program and led by dangerous men. Containing Saddam seemed not to be an option to be comfortable with any more. Zimababwe might be just as evil, but not such a threat. Just imagine Iraq in 2010 with Saddam still in power and a Carter-like figure leading the Western World.

Was the whole story presented in a fair way to the British electorate?

Many say not. With the benefit of hindsight, there being no WMD, one might think so. Perhaps the document encouraging us to war had been 'sexed up'. I must say, that I did not find the 45 minute warning prominent when I read it, though the media seized on it. I presumed it referred to battlefield weapons and was concerned at the prospect of our soldiers having to where chemical protection suits in that heat. In fact it was unnecessary. Saddam's pomp was all show. But then, I was not one of those who needed convincing.

What about the aftermath? Surely the planning was deficient.

Blair's defence was that they never anticipated that AQ and Iran would exploit the war with infiltration afterwards. If that is so, someone was being extremely naive. The failure in my mind was not in going to war nor in the way the war was conducted, but in the preparation for the peace afterwards.

Most of the deaths occurred afterwards. Prime responsibility lies with the fundamentalist Muslims of AQ and mad Mullahs of Iran, but Bush and Blair cannot escape responsibility for poor planning of the post war circumstances.

The Chilcot enquiry did not lay a glove on Blair, but in my view he was not held sufficiently accountable for the aftermath of the war.

New tombs swept clean

So! People are beginning to notice that I have been silent for a week. Several reasons. I was away for a couple of days babysitting my grandchildren. My co-editor of Leukemia Research was unavailable for a while and I had more editing to do. I have been doing some reading. I felt a little unwell. I watched the Chilcot enquiry on the computer all day yesterday. I have been thinking. I have been answering e-mail questions. I have ... well there are lots of reasons. But first a story I heard:

Joe was expecting to get it in the neck from his wife. He's done something without telling her. Sure enough as soon as he stepped over the threshold his wife went for him.

"What's this I've been hearing down at the market place? Don't I get consulted on anything? I thought we'd been saving it for our old age. Money doesn't grow on trees. We spent goodness knows how much getting that new tomb cut. And now, I hear you've given it to a stranger to be buried in!"

"Don't worry. Don't worry," he replied, "he's only borrowing it for the weekend."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Aphorisms 9

By the time you are fifty... most people deserve each other and all the good ones, no matter what it is, are taken anyway.

The one who snores will always fall asleep first.

The length of a marriage is inversely proportional to the amount of money spent on the wedding.

The probability of meeting someone you know increases greatly when you are out with someone you do not want to be seen with.

It is important to keep an open mind – but not so open that your brains fall out

Only a foolish conservative would judge the present by the standards of the past, only a foolish liberal would judge the past by the standards of the present.

To make a long story short, Rhett and Scarlett split up in the end.

Nuggets spoken by small children: "Mum, I was born on my birthday." and in a thunder storm, "God just took a picture of me."

When you are feeling down, Look to the skies! … and step in something nasty.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

All hat and no cattle

I came across this amusing epithet used to describe President Obama. My son met him when he was junior Senator for Illinois. He told me that he was much more impressed by the Senior Senator.

I suppose one must look back over Obama's first year and give marks out of ten. Certainly no higher than 6. From the point of view of the Democrats he has not delivered on many of his promises. Guantanamo Bay is still a prison. There are more troops in Afghanistan. The Palestinian question is still an unsolved problem. From a Republican viewpoint he has been worse. He has attempted to railroad Healthcare legislation, at least partially in secret, against popular resistance. Iran looms as a bigger threat than before. Government has continued to grow. Pork has been high on the agenda.

I find it hard to understand why Europe was so in love with him. In part it was because of his color. There is no doubt that America has had a disgraceful reputation as far as racism is concerned. Late in freeing the slaves and even when a terrible war ended slavery, a sort of pseudo-slavery persisted, especially in the South. Although many European countries continue to exhibit racial prejudice, more is expected of America, so the election of a half-black President was seen as a triumph. Obviously the Nobel peace prize was awarded to America because it had accomplished this. We still await a German Chancellor of Turkish extraction or a French President from Algiers. And so far no Afro-Caribbean British Prime Minister, though we have managed a female one.

The other thing that commended Obama to Europe was that he wasn't Bush. Iraq really offended France and Germany and a good half of the UK. Obama is articulate (though he has a few catch-phrases like "Let me be clear" that suggest that he talks in cliches). Moreover, he verges toward the left in his attitudes (though still to the right of most Europeans). Almost to a man Europe has supported him on health care.

Of course, these are interesting times. The 'downturn' in the economy will take some time to right itself. Several 'wars' or near-wars need sorting out. 24-hour news sniffs out every miss-step and even every stumble over words. Performing well on the international stage requires superhuman acting skill. I'm not sure that even Obama has that. On the other hand you don't have to be perfect, just likable. Ronald Reagan had that; Obama doesn't.


Anemia simply means that you don't have enough blood. The main function of blood (but not the only one) is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues where it is used. It does this with the red stuff in blood, which is known as hemoglobin. On meeting oxygen the hemoglobin undergoes a subtle change to oxy-hemoglobin, and when it releases the oxygen it changes back. Oh, and by the way, the abbreviation for hemoglobin is Hb (not Hg. Hg is the chemical symbol for mercury).

The body has sensors for how much oxygen it is getting and it responds to a deficiency by sending a signal to make more blood. More about that later.

Everyone needs slightly different amounts of blood, which is why everybody has a different hemoglobin (Hb) level. Reasons why you might need more Hb than other people include living at altitude, your Hb molecule is slightly different so that it doesn't release oxygen to the tissues so well, having something wrong with your lungs so they can't transmit oxygen to the blood so well, and smoking, so that some of your Hb is constantly bound to carbon monoxide, rendering it unavailable to oxygen. A reason why your Hb might be set lower than other people's is that your Hb molecule is ultra-good at releasing oxygen to the tissues.

So what is a normal Hb? No-one knows what is normal for you, but we recognise that there is a wide distribution of values and we talk about a reference range. If your level falls below the reference range then you are anemic. But not everybody who has a level below the reference range is anemic for them. Very rare individuals have a low Hb normally (I'll tell you why later).

For man the reference range for Hb is 13.5-18.0 grams per deciliter (g/dl) for men and 11.5-16.0 g/dl for women. Many people are surprised at how wide the range is and some reference ranges for different laboratories have a tighter spread than this. In the past 20 years it has been customary to give Hb values in grams per liter in many laboratories so teh ranges would then be 135 to 180 and 115 to 160 g/L.

Why do women have so much lower Hbs than men? It's because of the testosterone which enhances other chemicals that stimulate the bone marrow.

As far as CLL patients are concerned I have always thought it strange that Rai stage 3 and Binet stage C patients are defined by the same reduced Hb level in both men and women, when plainly a man has to be much more anemic to reach these stages than a woman does. I wonder if this is why women seem to do better than men?

There are dozens of causes of anemia and many different ways of classifying them. I prefer to use the size of the red cell to do this. Red cells are by far the most numerous cell in the blood. In a teaspoonful of blood there are 25 trillion of them (or if you are English 25 billion; ie 25 million million). Red cells are round, flat discs with a dimple on each side, and red in color. Their diameter is about 7 microns and their average volume is between 80 and 96 fl. We call this the mean cell volume (MCV). Again different labs have their own reference range (I have seen 78-92 and 80-100). What does fl stand for? Femto-litres which means 10 to the power of minus 15 litres or 0.00000000000001 litres. That's pretty small!

We could call red cells an MCV lower than the reference range microcytic; those with an MCV greater than the reference range macrocytic; and those with MCVs within the reference range normocytic.

A red cell is 99% hemoglobin (the rest is membrane and a few enzymes); so a small red cell has a deficiency of hemoglobin. Here is a link to a good picture of Hb.

In my picture
the green, yellow, blue, and gray colors make up the four polypeptide subunits of hemoglobin. These polypeptides are collectively known as the globin chains and in common or garden hemoglobin (known as HbA) there are two alpha chains and two beta chains. Each subunit has its own heme group (shown in red.)
I have also reproduced a chemical structure for heme. I don't expect any but chemistry students to follow this. Take my word for it that it is made up of four porphyrin rings, but notice, right at the center the letters 'Fe'. Fe is the chemical formula of iron and it is here that the iron fits in.

The availability of iron controls the production of hemoglobin, and anemias with deficiencies of hemoglobin (microcytic anemias) are microcytic becuse they have too little iron or too little globin.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I haven't commented on what has been going on in Haiti. It seems too horrific to contemplate, but I came upon a quote from a French Minister that the Americans were not aiding but occupying Haiti.

Of course, I knew it was once a French colony and like much of the rest of the Caribbean, populated by the descendants of slaves. I also knew that it was the home of voodoo and that it had been ruled for a long time by Papa Doc Duvalier, but the attempt at a dynasty with Baby Doc had collapsed. I seem to remember a Catholic Priest winning an election a few years back. But really, I am very ignorant of the history of that part of the world, so I was interested to read this article in the Times today.<

Ben Macintyre writes: In the 18th century, Haiti was France’s imperial jewel, the Pearl of the Caribbean, the largest sugar exporter in the world. Even by colonial standards, the treatment of slaves working the Haitian plantations was truly vile. They died so fast that, at times, France was importing 50,000 slaves a year to keep up the numbers and the profits.

Inspired by the principles of the French Revolution, in 1791 the slaves rebelled under the leadership of the self-educated slave Toussaint L’Ouverture. After a vicious war, Napoleon’s forces were defeated. Haiti declared independence in 1804.

France did not forgive the impertinence and loss of earnings: 800 destroyed sugar plantations, 3,000 lost coffee estates. A brutal trade blockade was imposed. Former plantation owners demanded that Haiti be invaded, its population enslaved once more. Instead, the French State opted to bleed the new black republic white.

In 1825, in return for recognising Haitian independence, France demanded indemnity on a staggering scale: 150 million gold francs, five times the country’s annual export revenue. The Royal Ordinance was backed up by 12 French warships with 150 cannon. The terms were non-negotiable. The fledgling nation acceded, since it had little choice. Haiti must pay for its freedom, and pay it did, through the nose, for the next 122 years.

Historical accountancy is an inexact business, but the scale of French usury was astonishing. Even when the total indemnity was reduced to 90 million francs, Haiti remained crippled by debt. The country took out loans from US, German and French banks at extortionate rates. In 1900 some 80 per cent of the national budget was still being swallowed up by debt repayments. Money that might have been spent on building a stable economy went to foreign bankers. To keep workers on the land and extract maximum crop yields to pay the indemnity, Haiti brought in the Rural Code, instituting a division between town and country, between a light-skinned elite and the dark-skinned majority, that still persists.

The debt was not finally paid off until 1947. By then, Haiti’s economy was hopelessly distorted, its land deforested, mired in poverty, politically and economically unstable, prey equally to the caprice of nature and the depredations of autocrats. Seven year ago, the Haitian Government demanded restitution from Paris to the tune of nearly $22 billion (including interest) for the gunboat diplomacy that had helped to make it the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Cheese-eating surrender monkeys, indeed!

However, America cannot pat itself on the back.

The United States occupied the island from 1915 to 1934. This occupation was initially resisted by a peasant revolt termed the "cacos" insurrection which was led by Charlemagne Péralte. Accusations of "indiscriminate" killing by US Marines were formally investigated by US Brigadier General George Barnett who concluded that 3250 "natives" were killed. A later investigation noted that 98 Marines perished in the conflict as well. The Haitian administration dismantled the constitutional system, built roads, and established the National Guards that ran the country after the Marines left.

Scholars agree that Haiti was in much better shape after the occupation than before, but some accuse the US of establishing a "shaky" foundation that left the country with a doomed financial structure. This was due to a 1922 $40 million loan owed to the US as well as the country's national treasury and to the Banque Nationale owned by a New York bank. The result was a financial system that siphoned the country's wealth to offshore creditors instead of reinvesting it in the country's economy.

The US occupation forces established a boundary between Haiti and the Dominican Republic by taking disputed land from the latter. When the US left in 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo – in an event known as the Parsley Massacre – ordered his Army to kill Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border. In a "three-day genocidal spree", he murdered between 10,000 and 20,000 Haitians. He then developed a uniquely Dominican policy of racial discrimination, Antihaitianismo ("anti-Haitianism"), targeting the mostly-black inhabitants of his neighboring country.

Reference: Paul Farmer, Aids and accusation: Haiti and the geography of blame 2006 California University Press ISBN 9780520248397, pp. 180-181.

Haiti was perhaps the least prepared of any country to suffer such an earthquake. It is no surprise that relief has been so difficult to apply.

Conflicting loyalties

From today's Telegraph:

The National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP) claimed that ministers were wrong to blame Islam for being the “driver” behind recent terrorist attacks.

"Far-Right extremists are a more dangerous threat to national security," it said.

Funny, I missed that bit about the British National Party flying jets into tall buildings in New York and blowing up trains on the London Underground.

I suppose the guy who blew up that building in Oklahoma could be described as far-right and I seem to remember a nail bomber in London who had a down on homosexuals; but then Muslims are not noted for their tolerance of homosexuality.

We all tend to have a blind spot when it comes to crimes committed by our 'own'.

Arsene Wenger, the manager of Arsenal football club, is notorious for criticizing opposition players who commit fouls against his players, but when asked about fouls committed by his players the answer is always that he was unsighted for that particular incident.

I suppose that loyalty to a group is a commendable quality, but we all have conflicting loyalties. How often does a wife or mother protect her spouse or child from a police investigation. I saw yesterday in the newspaper a story of how a father turned in his sixteen-year-old son to the police because his clothes and demeanor suggested that he was the drunken rapist that they were looking for. The boy confessed when questioned. The maternal bond is so great that it is much harder for a mother to do this.

One of the issues that inflames Christians about Muslims is the reluctance of the latter to condemn the terrorist outrages committed by the followers of Bin Laden. Yes, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Muslims, (usually caused by other Muslims) but that does not justify mayhem on the streets of Western capitals. Yes, abortion is a terrible thing, but it does not justify the murder of doctors who perform them. Often murderers of abortionists proclaim themselves as evangelical Christians, but I have no difficulty in calling them wicked betrayers of their faith who deserve the highest penalties the Law affords. Why do so many Muslims hesitate to condemn the suicide bombers?

I have lots of friends and colleagues who are Muslims. I find that they are personally charming people who have adapted to the English culture and whose religious beliefs are a private matter. In them the epithet 'a religion of peace' holds true. On the other hand we see demonstrators on the streets of London like these and people wonder that Muslims receive special attention from the Authorities.

In France, they have banned the bhurka, but I find this unfortunate. Muslims should have the same freedoms as anyone else in the country. We do not propose to strip nuns of their habits. However, there are occasions when it is inappropriate to cover one's face - withdrawing money from a bank, consulting one's doctor, interviewing for a job - when it is entirely justifiable to demand for the face to be shown. (In fact, although France has more than 5 million Muslims – the highest number of any European country – a recent police report said only about 400 women in the country dress in Muslim veils.)

A Christian believes that there is only one way of satisfying the requirements of his creator God. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," said Jesus (John Ch 14 verse 6). Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts Ch 4 verse 12).

This all sounds terribly exclusive. Some people believe that Christ's death on the cross was sufficient to save everybody and therefore everybody will be saved from God's wrath; but the Bible contradicts this: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John Ch 3 verse 36).

You might think, "OK, you believe that and it suits you. Fine. But it's not for me." However, if I see you in a dangerous position - say about to be mown down by a train or hit by a truck - you would think me a poor sort of friend if I didn't warn you. There is a compulsion on Christians to proselytise, not to accrue some sort of kudos, but out of concern and love for our friends. You may think that the train or the truck are just in my imagination. I am sorry if that is the case, but please humor me and listen.

I do not think that belief in God can be compelled by either argument or the sword, but God, the Holy Spirit has that ability and, indeed, that purpose; only He can convince. Christianity is a religion of revelation. No-one can find God unless God reveals himself and the witness of his followers is one of the ways he makes himself known. The Bible gives Christians that instruction - to be witnesses. The apostle, Paul, approved of the Roman law, not because he thought Caligula and Nero admirable, but because it gave free passage for the Gospel.

A book I once read described the basic virtue of civilization as good manners. There's something in that; without good manners, all other virtues are frustrated.

Monday, January 18, 2010

History looks at New Labour

Guardian readers are regarded as champagne socialists. Here is a comment from one of them on how the Labour governments of the past 13 years will be regarded by history:

"The Labour Governments of 1997 - 2010 will be remembered for devolution, Iraq, and the Great Crash of 2008. Devolution will be seen as a divisive and cynical and totally successful attempt to break up the union. Iraq will be seen as an outrageous and incompetent folly and one of worst foreign policies in British history. The Great Crash of 2008 will probably be the greatest crime committed by Labour, but this won't be appreciated until the full force of its impact hits the people, and this will become more apparent over the next ten years.

More widely, the Labour years will be recorded as years of unbridled and irresponsible behaviour couched in terms of liberation and free-expression, but paid for by bankrupting the future. It was a time when young fools borrowed 15 times their salaries to buy slaveboxes to live in, and took out massive HP agreements just to be seen in the latest German sports coupe. Status anxiety ran wild like a plague. It was about greed, drunkenness, drugs, vulgar behaviour, obnoxious music, crap films and absolutely the worst books ever published in our history.

It was about flippancy in politics and business, money money money while the gap between rich and poor got bigger, declining standards in schools, and a public transport sector reduced to a joke. It will be remembered as the era when British civil liberties, the liberties that were spread to half the planet, were stripped from the British in a brutal and dogmatic manner. Vile DNA databases of the innocent, imprisonment without being charged, satellite-tracking of innocent citizens, the destruction of the jury system, CCTV every twenty metres, and the militaristic enforcement of speech codes.

It was an era of stupid pointless initiatives, politically-correct distractions and absolutely nothing of any real value got done except a handful of items such as better paternity deals for new fathers and some other work-place related laws. Of course now the talk is Brown Brown Brown, but the history books will pin most of this on the man who was in charge for 77% of it: Blair Blair Blair."

I don't agree with all this; some of the charges are inaccurate. The comment was provoked by an article that suggested that there might be some hope for Labour in the forthcoming election if only it would unite under Harriet Harman (also known as Harridan Hateman or Harpie Harperson).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More Climate Propaganda

From today's Telegraph

UN report on glaciers melting is based on 'speculation'
An official prediction by the United Nations that the Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035 may be withdrawn after it was found to be based on speculation rather than scientific evidence.

Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made the claim which it said was based on detailed research into the impact of global warming.

But the IPCC have since admitted it was based on a report written in a science journal and even the scientist who was the subject of the original story admits it was not based on fact.

The article, in the New Scientist, was not even based on a research paper - it evolved from a short telephone interview with the academic.

Dr Syed Hasnain, an Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said that the claim was "speculation" and was not supported by any formal research.

Professor Murari Lal, who oversaw the chapter on glaciers in the IPCC report, said he would recommend that the claim about glaciers be dropped.

The IPCC's reliance on Hasnain's 1999 interview has been highlighted by Fred Pearce, the journalist who carried out the original interview.

Mr Pearce said he rang Hasnain in India in 1999 after spotting his claims in an Indian magazine.

He said that Dr Hasnain made the assertion about 2035 but admitted it was campaigning report rather than an academic paper that was reviewed by a panel of expert peers.

Despite this it rapidly became a key source for the IPCC when Prof Lal and his colleagues came to write the section on the Himalayas.

It looks more and more as though global warming is falling apart. Ever since the Climategate e-males, journalists are becoming less and less cowed by the 'scientists'.

Second cancers in CLL

I have been thinking about the question of second malignancies in patients with CLL. This will not be the definitive article but I want to set out the hazards in attempting such an analysis.

It has long been assumed that second malignancies were common in CLL. When I was first appointed in 1974, one of my colleagues, David Beresford pointed out that he had written an article in 1951 which detailed 100 patients with CLL who had also had a second malignancy.

Here are some of the reasons that a patient with CLL might also have another cancer.

1] It might be a coincidence of old age. One in three of us is going to develop cancer, usually in old age. If we live long enough with one cancer we still have a one in three chance of getting a different tumor. People with CLL often live long enough.

2] CLL impairs immunity. If cancers are caused by a virus then impaired immunity to that virus might make a cancer more likely.

3] There might be immune surveillance against mutations that lead to cancers. This immune surveillance might be impaired in CLL along with other immune functions.

4] Both radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be oncogenic and could conceivably induce second cancers.

5] Chemotherapy is immunosuppresive and this might reduce immune surveillance.

6] There might be an unknown oncogenic or genetic factor that induces both CLL and other cancers.

7] There might be something about CLL that causes it to transform into another type of cancer.

8] CLL is hard to diagnose accurately. Perhaps patients had lymphoma all along, but a spillover into the blood was misdiagnosed as CLL.

Epidemiological studies might be expected to solve some of these puzzles but there are hazards in interpreting genetic studies:

1] CLL is usually undiagnosed until the individual has a blood test. Cancer patients have frequent blood tests but random controls do not. Therefore one would expect that cancer patients would have their CLL diagnosed while controls would not.

2] CLL patients see doctors regularly so if a cancer is present it is likely to be found, whereas controls don't see doctors regularly and therefore they may die of something else with their cancer undiagnosed.

Therefore, as I look at the published studies over the next few weeks I must be careful that I am not being hoodwinked.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How should a Christian respond to tyranny?

As we move on in 1 Peter on the theme of how we relate to other members of society, I want to deal with Romans chapter 13 which is Paul’s take on the subject that Peter is dealing with.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

On first reading this appears to give the state carte blanche to do what it likes and gives Christians a duty of obedience. Indeed this passage was used to justify the divine right of kings and for hundreds of years it was used to decree that those who rebelled against the state also rebelled against God.

But it is necessary when interpreting Scripture to have regard to the whole Bible, and to see this passage in relation to other passages.

For example we have Peter in Acts 5:29 telling the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God, rather than men!” and Jesus himself telling his disciples, “Give to Caesar, what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

In the Old Testament, although Kings were anointed by God, they could not take his continued support for granted. The prime example was the first king of Israel, King Saul, who forfeited his kingdom to David because of his disobedience.

But, remember how King David reacted to the news of the death of King Saul. In II Samuel chapter 1 we are told that he tore his clothes and wept and fasted until evening. When he confronted the young Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul, he said to him, "Why were you not afraid to destroy the LORD's anointed?" and had him put to death for the crime of regicide. It is quite clear, therefore, that the Bible takes kingship seriously, but to what extent can the reverence for the LORD's anointed be extended to other leaders.

In Jeremiah 21:7, 10 and 27:5-7 we read of God's sovereign, purposes as he works through the Babylonian nation and King Nebuchadnezzar to bring judgment upon his people Israel. In turn, Babylon was brought to book by the Persian leader, Cyrus. Isaiah clearly says that God is the one who will raise up and appoint Cyrus to the task of serving him, in order that YHWH's purposes with Israel might be served—that Israel would realize that there is only one true God and He is YHWH.

Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze, and cut through the iron bars. And I will give you the treasures of darkness, And hidden wealth of secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob my servant, and Israel my chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides me. I am the Lord and there is no other, the one who forming light and creating darkness, causing well being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.

Even though Cyrus didn’t know the YHWH he was used as God’s instrument. No doubt the Israelites in captivity had prayed for release from their subjugation. They had been told by Jeremiah to settle in the land of their exile and to raise families there. It was a 70 year stretch, but no doubt they were itching for release. Their redemption had been promised even though they were powerless to make it happen themselves. So perhaps the rescue of Cyrus was an answer to payer.

Recently, I saw a television program in which Matthew Pinsent, winner of three Olympic gold medals for rowing, traced his ancestry to English Kings of the fourteenth century. He found a document which purported to show that the old English kings believed that they were descended from King David of the Old Testament. This may explain why Charles 1st believed in the divine right of kings and subsequently had his head removed. It is said that monarchs as recent as King George VI were British Israelites, tracing their ancestry to the ten lost tribes.

This belief was very popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and was propagated by such cult leaders as Herbert W Armstrong. However, it was all a bit of wishful thinking and it has largely disappeared with the British Empire.

The British National Anthem pleads, "God save our Gracious King! Long live our noble king!" yet atheists proclaim it as proof that prayer does not work since English monarchs are not noticeably long lived. Even though his spouse lived to be over 100, George VI died at the age of 56. The British monarchy, no more than any other ruling power has special protection by the Almighty.

However, my first reading of Romans 13 is that the prime purpose of a government is to ensure law and order. Anarchy is nowhere commended in Scripture; indeed it is condemned at the end of the book of Judges: In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.

For Paul, Roman law and order suited his purpose. It enabled the gospel to be spread wherever Rome held sway. Good roads and peace were prerequisites for the missionary journeys.

But there is more to say on this question, so watch this space.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Death of Dr Beetroot

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was also known as Dr Beetroot. She was South Africa's health minister from 1999 to 2008. She obstructed the delivery of anti-retroviral drugs to AIDS patients. It is believed that this policy hastened the deaths of a third of a million people.

She went into exile with future President Thabo Mbeki in 1962 and trained to be a doctor in what was then Leningrad. She was later convicted of stealing from patients while working in Botswana and struck off the medical register. Despite knowing about her background Mbeki appointed her health Secretary when he became President. She suggested that beetroot, garlic, olive oil, lemon and African potato were more efficient at treating AIDS than anti-retrovirals. She refused to offer nevirapine to HIV+ pregnant women even when it was offered for free by the drug company, despite an order from the Constitutional Court. She organised a trial of the lethal organic solvent, virodene from which the ANC hoped to make money, even after the South African regulator refused permission.

Her catalogue of crimes continued. She sacked the head of the Medicines Control Council who refused to support the government's campaign to get rid of AZT and even dismissed her own deputy in attempt to cover up her uselessness. Under her control, public hospitals, clinics and equipment fell into disrepair. Inefficiencies, incompetence and corruption led to many hospitals failing to provide or be provided with water, electricity, telephones and drugs. Nurses, underskilled and unwilling to work went undisciplined as did doctors who failed to turn up for work. During her period of 'control', South Africa was one of only 12 countries in the world that went backwards in such measures as maternal and infant mortality,and child health. Things were worse for the black population than in the days of apartheid.

Stephen Lewis, the United Nations Special Envoy on AIDS called her, "obtuse, dilatory and negligent." She was a drunk and a thief, according to the South African Sunday Times. Her first liver transplant failed and she was accused of jumping the queue for a second one. She died on 16th December 2009 from complications of her first transplant while still queueing.

I obtained this information from her obituary in the British Medical Journal. You couldn't make it up.

Should've gone to Specsavers

"Nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned." So said Mrs Thatcher in the sermon I published yesterday. Although that is certainly true, I wonder if there is not an instance when democracy was practised. I refer, of course, to the election of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot in Acts chapter 1.

They proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

It all depends on what you mean by "they cast lots". Does it mean that they voted? Or does it mean that they tossed a coin?

In the Old Testament, the Israelites sought God's will by consulting Urim and Thummim. Nobody is absolutely sure what Urim and Thummim were, but consensus thought is that they were two small engraved stones that gave an answer yes, no or maybe, depending on which surfaces were on top when they were thrown. Two whites was yes, two blacks no, and a black and a white meant maybe.

Of course, the Mormons have a different account of Urim and Thummim. Joseph Smith, Jr., founder and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said that he used interpreters in order to translate the Book of Mormon from the Golden Plates. The interpreters he described as a pair of stones, fastened to a breastplate joined in a form similar to that of a large pair of spectacles. Smith later referred to this object as the Urim and Thummim. Smith said that the angel Moroni, who had told him about the Golden Plates, also told him about the Urim and Thummim, "two stones in silver bows" fastened to a breastplate, and the angel intimated that they had been prepared by God to aid in the translation of the Golden Plates. Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, described these Urim and Thummim as being like "two smooth three-cornered diamonds.

Apparently, since Joseph Smith, the Mormon church has made over 3000 corrections to the Book of Mormon, suggesting that the spectacles weren't very accurate. Should have gone to Specsavers.

World's smallest policeman

There used to be a rule that all policemen must be over 5 feet 10 inches tall. This photograph illustrates that this no longer a rule. However, this was the rule when such TV detectives as Inspector Morse (John Thaw) and Inspector Frost (David Jason) joined the force. Both actors would have been disqualified from being policemen by the height rule.
Robin Port, the constable in the picture is just 5 feet. However, Sue Day from the Swindon Force is 2 inches shorter.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Preacher Thatcher

I have just come across this sermon preached by Margaret Thatcher to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1988.
Reading recently, I came across the starkly simple phrase:

"Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform".

Sometimes the debate on these matters has become too polarised and given the impression that the two are quite separate. But most Christians would regard it as their personal Christian duty to help their fellow men and women. They would regard the lives of children as a precious trust. These duties come not from any secular legislation passed by Parliament, but from being a Christian.

But there are a number of people who are not Christians who would also accept those responsibilities. What then are the distinctive marks of Christianity?

They stem not from the social but from the spiritual side of our lives, and personally, I would identify three beliefs in particular:

First, that from the beginning man has been endowed by God with the fundamental right to choose between good and evil. And second, that we were made in God's own image and, therefore, we are expected to use all our own power of thought and judgement in exercising that choice; and further, that if we open our hearts to God, He has promised to work within us. And third, that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven. I remember very well a sermon on an Armistice Sunday when our Preacher said, "No one took away the life of Jesus , He chose to lay it down".

I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither. And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots.

But we must not profess the Christian faith and go to Church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behaviour; but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ expressed so well in the hymn:

"When I survey the wondrous Cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride."

May I also say a few words about my personal belief in the relevance of Christianity to public policy—to the things that are Caesar's?

The Old Testament lays down in Exodus the Ten Commandments as given to Moses , the injunction in Leviticus to love our neighbour as ourselves and generally the importance of observing a strict code of law. The New Testament is a record of the Incarnation, the teachings of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Again we have the emphasis on loving our neighbour as ourselves and to "Do-as-you-would-be-done-by".

I believe that by taking together these key elements from the Old and New Testaments, we gain: a view of the universe, a proper attitude to work, and principles to shape economic and social life.

We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. "If a man will not work he shall not eat" wrote St. Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation.

Nevertheless, the Tenth Commandment — Thou shalt not covet—recognises that making money and owning things could become selfish activities. But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong but love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth. How could we respond to the many calls for help, or invest for the future, or support the wonderful artists and craftsmen whose work also glorifies God, unless we had first worked hard and used our talents to create the necessary wealth? And remember the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment.

I confess that I always had difficulty with interpreting the Biblical precept to love our neighbours "as ourselves" until I read some of the words of C.S. Lewis. He pointed out that we don't exactly love ourselves when we fall below the standards and beliefs we have accepted. Indeed we might even hate ourselves for some unworthy deed.

None of this, of course, tells us exactly what kind of political and social institutions we should have. On this point, Christians will very often genuinely disagree, though it is a mark of Christian manners that they will do so with courtesy and mutual respect. What is certain, however, is that any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm.

We are all responsible for our own actions. We can't blame society if we disobey the law. We simply can't delegate the exercise of mercy and generosity to others. The politicians and other secular powers should strive by their measures to bring out the good in people and to fight down the bad: but they can't create the one or abolish the other. They can only see that the laws encourage the best instincts and convictions of the people, instincts and convictions which I'm convinced are far more deeply rooted than is often supposed.

Nowhere is this more evident than the basic ties of the family which are at the heart of our society and are the very nursery of civic virtue. And it is on the family that we in government build our own policies for welfare, education and care.

You recall that Timothy was warned by St. Paul that anyone who neglects to provide for his own house (meaning his own family) has disowned the faith and is "worse than an infidel".

We must recognise that modern society is infinitely more complex than that of Biblical times and of course new occasions teach new duties. In our generation, the only way we can ensure that no-one is left without sustenence, help or opportunity, is to have laws to provide for health and education, pensions for the elderly, succour for the sick and disabled.

But intervention by the State must never become so great that it effectively removes personal responsibility. The same applies to taxation; for while you and I would work extremely hard whatever the circumstances, there are undoubtedly some who would not unless the incentive was there. And we need their efforts too.

Recently there have been great debates about religious education. I believe strongly that politicians must see that religious education has a proper place in the school curriculum.

In Scotland, as in England, there is an historic connection expressed in our laws between Church and State. The two connections are of a somewhat different kind, but the arrangements in both countries are designed to give symbolic expression to the same crucial truth: that the Christian religion — which, of course, embodies many of the great spiritual and moral truths of Judaism — is a fundamental part of our national heritage. And I believe it is the wish of the overwhelming majority of people that this heritage should be preserved and fostered. For centuries it has been our very life blood. And indeed we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.

Also, it is quite impossible to understand our history or literature without grasping this fact, and that's the strong practical case for ensuring that children at school are given adequate instruction in the part which the Judaic-Christian tradition has played in moulding our laws, manners and institutions. How can you make sense of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott, or of the constitutional conflicts of the 17th century in both Scotland and England, without some such fundamental knowledge?

But I go further than this. The truths of the Judaic-Christian tradition are infinitely precious, not only, as I believe, because they are true, but also because they provide the moral impulse which alone can lead to that peace, in the true meaning of the word, for which we all long.

To assert absolute moral values is not to claim perfection for ourselves. No true Christian could do that. What is more, one of the great principles of our Judaic-Christian inheritance is tolerance. People with other faiths and cultures have always been welcomed in our land, assured of equality under the law, of proper respect and of open friendship. There's absolutely nothing incompatible between this and our desire to maintain the essence of our own identity. There is no place for racial or religious intolerance in our creed.

When Abraham Lincoln spoke in his famous Gettysburg speech of 1863 of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people", he gave the world a neat definition of democracy which has since been widely and enthusiastically adopted. But what he enunciated as a form of government was not in itself especially Christian, for nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned. Ideally, when Christians meet, as Christians, to take counsel together their purpose is not (or should not be) to ascertain what is the mind of the majority but what is the mind of the Holy Spirit — something which may be quite different.

Nevertheless I am an enthusiast for democracy. And I take that position, not because I believe majority opinion is inevitably right or true—indeed no majority can take away God-given human rights — but because I believe it most effectively safeguards the value of the individual, and, more than any other system, restrains the abuse of power by the few. And that is a Christian concept.

But there is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves. Political structures, state institutions, collective ideals—these are not enough.

We Parliamentarians can legislate for the rule of law. You, the Church, can teach the life of faith.

But when all is said and done, the politician's role is a humble one. I always think that the whole debate about the Church and the State has never yielded anything comparable in insight to that beautiful hymn "I Vow to Thee my Country". It begins with a triumphant assertion of what might be described as secular patriotism, a noble thing indeed in a country like ours:

"I vow to thee my country all earthly things above; entire, whole and perfect the service of my love".

It goes on to speak of "another country I heard of long ago" whose King can't be seen and whose armies can't be counted, but "soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase". Not group by group, or party by party, or even church by church — but soul by soul — and each one counts.

That, members of the Assembly, is the country which you chiefly serve. You fight your cause under the banner of an historic Church. Your success matters greatly — as much to the temporal as to the spiritual welfare of the nation. I leave you with that earnest hope that may we all come nearer to that other country whose "ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Persecuting Christians. The spirit of Herod lives on

I reprint this news item from the Barnabas Fund.

Anti-Christian persecution is often focused on Christian festivals, and the last few weeks have seen attacks in at least eight countries, both around the Western Christmas Day on 25 December and the Eastern Christmas Day on 7 January. Tension was particularly high this season in Shia contexts (e.g. Iran and parts of Iraq) because the main Shia festival of Ashura, which moves with the Islamic calendar each year, almost coincided with Christmas, falling around 27 December.

The Western New Year on 1 January is also a frequent focus of anti-Christian violence, as it is believed by many in other parts of the world to be a Christian festival.

The following overview includes only reported incidents that were apparently timed deliberately to coincide with Christmas or New Year events. At least six Christians were killed in Egypt and three in Iraq.

December 16 – Iraq: Two car bombs were detonated near churches in Mosul causing extensive damage, wounding nearby schoolchildren and killing at least three Christians. The minister of one of the churches said “Words cannot describe what has happened ... but we will pray in the streets, in homes, in shops. God is everywhere, not just in churches.”

December 17 – Iran: A meeting of 70 converts from Islam to celebrate Christmas and New Year was raided by 15 police officers, and two leaders were arrested.

December 18 – Indonesia: A new church building in Bekasi Regency, near the capital Jakarta, which was almost finished and scheduled to be ready by Christmas, was attacked by a mob of motorcyclists (men, women and children) who came armed with kerosene. Despite the damage, police and government authorities urged the church minister not to cancel the planned Christmas service.

December 23(?) – Iraq: On or before this date Christians in Basra were warned by Shia Muslims that they were not to celebrate Christmas in any way apart from attending church. This was owing to the main Shia celebration during the Islamic month of Muharram, which in 2009 began on 18 December, with the climax celebration around 27 December.

December 23 – Iraq: Two churches were damaged in separate bomb attacks in Mosul, killing at least three people. Iraqi Christians saw the December bombings as timed to coincide with the Christmas season. A senior church leader later said in his Christmas service, “My dear people, your attendance to the church is the best gift you provide to our new born Child at Christmas regarding the dangerous situation of our city Mosul.”

December 24-25 – Pakistan: A massive government security operation protected Christians attending Christmas services. In some areas, other Christmas celebrations were scaled down or cancelled on police advice because of security concerns. Intimidating text messages had been circulating threatening Christians with “a special gift at Christmas”, which led to the increased security precautions.

December 25 – Iraq: A mob of armed Shabaks (a Kurdish minority group) attacked the Christian-majority town of Bartilla, near Mosul in northern Iraq. They took over the entry check-point for more than five hours and tore down Christmas decorations in the shops. They also tried to enter a church in the middle of the market to perform the Ashura self-flagellation ritual inside the building. The church was successfully defended by its security guards, but four Christians including a policeman received gunshot wounds.

December 25 – Zimbabwe: A cathedral in Harare and three churches were raided by police. Police burst into a communion service in the cathedral, beat up worshippers and forced them out of the building.

December 25 – China: Police arrested several elderly Christians in Korla City, Xinjiang province, as they gathered to celebrate Christmas. A 71-year-old woman was thrown roughly against a police car. In another incident, police raided the home of an ailing Christian woman who is confined to her bed. They seized Bibles and other Christian literature and publicly burned them in a bonfire outside her home.

December 26 – Algeria: Christians arrived for a Christmas service in the city of Tizi-Ouzou to find the entrance to their church blocked by a group of approximately 20 Muslims. The group had congregated to protest against the new church building in their neighbourhood and shouted, “This land is the land of Islam! Go pray somewhere else."

January 2 – Algeria: A group of Muslims stormed a service at the same Tizi-Ouzou church that was the focus of protests on 26 December. They punched the pastor and knocked to the ground a church member who was trying to capture the events on camera. Later that evening the church was broken into. Contents were vandalised and set on fire.

January 6 – Egypt: Six Christian worshippers and a security guard were killed by three gunmen during a Christmas Eve service in the town of Nag Hamadi. This attack followed threats to the bishop who was leading the service, apparently because of his protests about the large-scale anti-Christian violence in the neighbouring town of Farshoot in November. The violence was triggered by a report that a Christian man had sexually abused a Muslim girl.

January 7 – Iran: Christian leader Keyvan Rajabi was arrested because he had led Christmas and New Year services at his church in Iran.

January 8 – Egypt: Further anti-Christian violence broke out in the town of Bahgoura, near to Nag Hamadi and Farshoot, where a Muslim mob armed with swords and gas cylinders looted and torched Christian-owned homes, shops and cars. One woman died after being overcome by fumes when her home was set alight. Residents from the village also report that water and electricity were disconnected during the fires, and when the fire brigade arrived, 90 minutes after being called, the vehicles that came had empty tanks.

In addition at least eight Christian churches and a Christian school in Malaysia have been attacked by firebombs during the period 8 January to 11 January. One church was partly gutted, but thankfully the remaining buildings suffered little damage. The anti-Christian violence was apparently a response to a controversial ruling on 31 December by a Malaysian judge, which determined that a Malaysian Christian newspaper had the right to use the word “Allah” when referring to God. “Allah” is the word for God in the Malaysian national language. The government will appeal against the ruling.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Scarecrow

I have just finished the Michael Connelly novel, "The Scarecrow", the second of my Christmas books. A smashing read. What I like about these stories is that there is a set of characters who appear in the novels, but not all of them are in all the books. Harry Bosch is not in this one, but he is in the next, 'Nine Dragons', which I will start tonight.

Following the example of Jesus. 1 Peter 3:8-12

When did you last wash your brother's feet? In Biblical days you wouldn't have been complaining that the Council hasn't gritted the roads or put enough salt down, you would have been more likely to complain about the mule droppings, excrement, urine, vomit, mud and other ordure that contaminated them. If you were a trainee slave you would be given the task of washing the feet of the guests, who were not well-booted against the muck, but used to walk about with open sandals (if they were not bare-footed).

You certainly would not have expected your host to take off his outer garments, wrap a towel around his waist and take a bowl of soapy water and wash your feet. Yet that is just what Jesus did at the Last Supper. It may have looked like humility then, but when you consider that this was the Maker of the Mountains, the Overseer of the Oceans, the Creator Himself; how much more does his humility seem?

Earlier in 1 Peter we had this command: "To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."

Being submissive is one of the lessons that we have to learn, and I more than most. My last intemperate post, for example, shows that I still have a long way to go. But living in constant rebellion, being against most things, being a critic, part of his infernal majesty's opposition, can be a wearing and destructive lifestyle. Listen to what Peter has to say about it:

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."

Do you remember the song from "White Christmas" sung by Rosmary Clooney, "Sisters, there were never such devoted sisters"? It contained the line, "Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister." This is how we must 'love as brothers'. It's not, 'my country right or wrong' but our love for other Christians must take precedence over other loves - love of country, love of local football team, even love on non-Christian members of our own family.

We have to be both sympathetic and compassionate. Although both these words come from the same root, they have slightly different meanings. Sympathy implies sharing in the sufferings, weeping with those who weep. Compassion is more that gut-wrenching ache when you see a brother suffering. The difference is not great and we are to do both. When we see our brother suffering we suffer with him and have pity on him - both should be a spur to action. Remember the Good Samaritan! Don't walk by on the other side.

Finally, be in harmony and show humility. There are many things to fall out about in churches - it is usually the flowers or the music. But prefer you brother's view to your own. Those who are truly humble don't fall out with anybody.

It is easy enough to be nice to like minded people. Here comes the difficult part. "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing".

Revenge is forbidden to Christians. Here's a heath tip. Giving up revenge does wonders for your blood pressure. Has someone cut you up at a roundabout? Don't honk your horn and make rude gestures. Just wish him a happy accident at his next encounter and let it pass. I remember remonstrating with a pedestrian who had just jumped out in front of me, nearly getting himself killed. He was high on drugs and was in no mood to listen. he just punched me on the nose and walked off.

This life is terribly unfair and if you spend your time chuntering after justice, you will find yourself in an early grave. Far better to leave vengeance to the Lord and regard this life as training for heaven. Develop that contrite and humble spirit. Blessed are the peacemakers, said Jesus, for they will be called the sons of God.

I have been challenged over my assertion that God will not listen to the prayers of husbands who treat their wives badly, but here it is again. 'The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'

I know that if once you are saved, you are always saved, and I know that our righteousness is as filthy rags and once we have been covered with the righteousness of Christ we can't improve on it, but once we have been converted, the Holy Spirit gets to work on us to train us in following the example of Christ. If we rebel and sin the more so that grace may more abound, then the Lord is telling us here that he won't listen to our prayers.

We were called so that we might inherit a blessing. What were we called to? Repentance and faith. Repentance means a change in our thinking. We no longer put ourselves first. It is not merely an assent to a particular doctrine, but a change in our way of life. We live by faith - content that the Lord is in control, ready to leave the consequences to him and to spend our lives as imitators of Christ.

Monday, January 11, 2010


The Maldives have been much in the news recently because of a perceived risk of rising sea levels drowing the islands as a result of 'climate change'. Western holidaymakers fear that their 'island paradise' may be swamped.

Far from being a paradise, the Maldives are Hell on earth. Did you know that no Christian may be a citizen there? By law all citizens must be Muslims. Legislation is now going through their parliament to ban the building of Christian churches there. There are a small number of Maldivian Christians. A severe crackdown in 1998 resulted in some being imprisoned and tortured. They continue to be carefully watched, as well as discriminated against and ostracized.

We heard of the outrage when the Swiss people voted to ban Minarets from Switzerland, but nothing has been heard in the world's media about this disgraceful persecution. I suggest that Christians no longer holiday there, do not contribute to charities that send aid money there and burn all the carbon they can to drown the place (although I don't think this will work).

Added after cooling down (13th Jan):

I apologise for my intemperate language. Hell? Well one definition is the complete absence of God. In seeking to have a pure Moslem state they seek to exclude God. Don't believe what you read about our all worshipping the same God. There is only one God and unless you accept him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who rose from the dead to save mankind, then you worship a different God; and since there is only one God, Moslems who do not accept Jesus as God worship a God who is not a God.

Burning carbon to drown the place? It's not going to happen. Surely by now enough doubt has been thrown on the whole anthropogenic global warming myth for most people without a vested interest to reject it.

By the way you might be interested in this press report from China Daily:

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed and the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Tuesday pledged to work closely on climate change and other global issues. Nasheed said his country appreciated the important and active role played by China in the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference held last month.

He said the Maldives is looking forward to strengthening its cooperation with China in dealing with global issues including climate change.

Nasheed said his country respects China's sovereignty and core interests, adding that the Maldives will not do anything that might hurt China's core interests and the two countries' relationship.

Yang said China will continue to work closely with the Maldives on climate change and other issues, promoting the interests of developing countries including those of Small Island Developing States.

The two leaders said they were satisfied with the good relationship between the two countries and pledged to promote the cooperation in the areas of economy, trade, tourism and fishing.

Yang also held talks with Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed in the visit.

Yang arrived here Tuesday afternoon on his way of paying official visits to five African nations and Saudi Arabia. He is expected to leave Maldives Wednesday morning to continue his tour.

I believe China has a military base in the Maldives, established with the help of Pakistan, from which to confront India.

Do you still want to take your holidays there?

Vitamin D and cancer, particularly CLL

When I started my series on vitamins I intended to deal with the question of vitamin D and CLL, but I got sidetracked. I have seen a number of comments on various sites about using vitamin D3 to slow down CLL so I guess I should write about it now.

Vitamin D is a precursor to a hormone that controls calcium metabolism. There are two major forms: vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, and vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol. Vitamin D2 is made naturally by plants, and vitamin D3 is made in animals. In humans D3 is made in the skin when it is exposed to UVB irradiation. Both can also be synthesized.

The active form is 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, or calcitriol, which can be made in the body from either vitamin D2 or vitamin D3. the functions of vitamin D are:
To help improve muscle strength and immune function.
To reduce inflammation.
To promote the absorption of calcium from the small intestine.
To helps maintain adequate blood levels of the calcium and phosphate needed for bone formation, mineralization, growth and repair.

Most people get the vitamin D they need through sunlight exposure. It is also present in the diet. Foods containing Vitamin D include fatty fish, fish liver oil, and eggs, with smaller amounts in meat and cheese. Most dietary vitamin D comes from fortified foods, such as milk, juices, yogurt, bread, and breakfast cereals. A serum level of calcitriol lower than 15 ng/ml (37.5 nmol/L) is generally considered inadequate for a healthy person to maintain bone health and normal calcium metabolism, but some experts suggest that the optimal level may be as high as 80 nmol/L. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has developed the following recommended daily intakes of vitamin D: Birth to age 50 - 5 µg (200 iu); 51-70 - 10 µg (400 iu); 71+ 15 µg (600 iu). The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that older adults, people with dark skin, and people exposed to insufficient sunlight should consume extra vitamin D (25 µg, or 1,000 iu) from vitamin D-fortified foods and/or supplements.

The proven problems of insufficient vitamin D are rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Excessive vitamin D intake increases calcium levels which can lead to the deposit of calcium salts in soft tissues of the body, such as the kidneys, heart, and lungs and high blood levels of calcium. Patients with high calcium levels can get heart rhythm abnormalities, changes in mental status, pain, conjunctivitis, loss of appetite, fever, chills, thirst, vomiting, weight loss and if unchecked they can lead to coma and death.

Is there any evidence that vitamin D prevents cancer? Well yes, there is some, though it is far from conclusive. First, there are epidemiologic studies which show an inverse relationship between sunlight exposure and the rates of incidence and death for certain cancers. There may be many reasons for this, but one possibility is that more sunlight leads to more D3 being produced.

When cancer cells are cultured in the laboratory vitamin D promotes their differentiation and apoptosis and it slows their proliferation.

Randomized clinical trials designed to investigate the effects of vitamin D intake on bone health have also provided evidence that higher vitamin D intakes may reduce the risk of cancer. One study involved nearly 1,200 healthy postmenopausal women who took daily supplements of calcium and vitamin D (28 μg vitamin D, or 1,100 iu) or a placebo for 4 years. The women who took the supplements had a 60 percent lower overall incidence of cancer). This was an incidental finding since the principle end point was fracture incidence; it was not designed to measure cancer incidence. This limits the ability to draw conclusions about the effect of vitamin D intake on cancer incidence.

Observational studies to determine whether vitamin D reduces the risk of particular cancers, have been carried out but they have yielded inconsistent results. Information about dietary intakes was obtained from the participants through questionnaires, diet records, or interviews. Such information is not very reliable. Of course it is possible to measure blood levels of vitamin D to avoid reliance on individuals' memories but vitamin D levels in the blood can vary seasonally and with the laboratory technique used to measure them so if only a single measurement of vitamin D is made (as was the case in most studies) interpretation is difficult.

To fully understand the effect of vitamin D on cancer, new randomized trials will need to be carried out, but there is disagreement on what dose of vitamin D to use.

Let's look at individual cancers. Although the studies are inconsistent, epidemiologic studies of the association between vitamin D and the risk of colorectal cancer have provided some suggestion of protection.

In the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort, the diet, medical history, and lifestyle of more than 120,000 men and women were analyzed. Men with the highest intakes of vitamin D had a slightly lower risk of colorectal cancer than those with lowest intakes, but among women there was no difference. When this study was pooled with 9 other studies there was still a difference between men with the highest and lowest intakes, but it was no longer statistically significant.

In the Women's Health Initiative randomized trial, vitamin D supplementation did not reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer, though this study has been criticized by enthusiasts because of too low a dose and too short of duration.

Among the 16,818 participants in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, those with higher vitamin D blood levels (≥ 80 nmol/L) had a 72 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer death than those with lower vitamin D blood levels (< 50 nmol/L).

Since most colorectal cancers develop from pre-existing adenomas, any interventions that reduce the risk of adenoma development or recurrence are likely to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Several large studies have investigated the association of vitamin D intake or serum status with adenoma risk.

A cohort from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored Polyp Prevention Trial (PPT) was evaluated for the association of vitamin D intake with recurrence of colorectal adenomas in individuals who previously had one or more adenomas removed during a qualifying colonoscopy. PPT was a multicenter randomized clinical trial to determine the effects of a diet high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables and low in fat on adenoma recurrence. The detailed dietary information obtained during the trial allowed the researchers to investigate the association between additional dietary factors and adenoma recurrence. Total vitamin D intake (that is, from dietary sources and supplements combined) was not associated with a reduced risk of adenoma recurrence. However, individuals who used any amount of vitamin D supplements had a lower risk of adenoma recurrence.

In another study, the vitamin D intakes of 3,000 people from several Veterans Affairs medical centers were examined to determine whether there was an association between intake and advanced colorectal neoplasia (an outcome that included high-risk adenomas as well as colon cancer). Individuals with the highest vitamin D intakes (more than 16 μg, or 645 iu, per day) had a lower risk of developing advanced neoplasia than those with lower intakes.

A pooled analysis of data from these and a number of other observational studies found that higher circulating levels of vitamin D and higher vitamin D intakes were associated with lower risks of colorectal adenoma. Inverse associations were seen with both dietary and total vitamin D intake but not with supplemental vitamin D intake. However, the associations with dietary intake were not statistically significant.

Another large, NCI-sponsored randomized, placebo-controlled trial explored the effects of calcium supplementation and blood levels of vitamin D on adenoma recurrence. Calcium supplementation reduced the risk of adenoma recurrence only in individuals with vitamin D blood levels above 73 nmol/L. Among individuals with vitamin D levels at or below this level, calcium supplementation was not associated with a reduced risk.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Yesterday, it actually snowed in Bournemouth. Not only that, it settled. Today I had to shovel snow from the drive and put down salt to clear the ice. All sorts of records for cold spells are being broken. It's nice to have a warm house.

I remember 1947. It was a Labour government then as well. Churchill said something like "On an island built of coal and surrounded by fish, you have contrived to produce a shortage of both."

I remember 1979. It was a Labour government then as well. The dead went unburied in the frozen ground and rats were feasting on the rubbish piled up on the street.

Very unlucky with the weather, Labour.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Complaints

Just finished the new Ian Rankin that I had for Christmas. The Complaints concerns that branch of the police force that investigates complaints against police officers. The hero is Malcolm Fox who is not too unlike the Malcolm Fox that I know.

Rankin without Rebus remains a good read.

Husbands 1 Peter 3:7

A story is told of a couple returning from their honeymoon. She says to him, “If you put the toast on and make the tea we can have breakfast.” He says to her, “What’s for breakfast?” She replies, “Tea and toast.”

She may think that she has Scriptural warrant for such and attitude – after all isn’t there a book in the Bible called He-brews. Such a misuse of Scripture is usually the other way round. ‘Wives be submissive to your husbands’ is read by some husbands to mean that their wives are to be doormats. ‘Be submissive’ in the NIV is a mistranslation; it should be ‘Submit yourselves’ – active not passive. Husbands who stop there should read on to verse 7: Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

‘In the same way’ is not a reference back to wives, but a reference to the submission of Jesus Christ at the end of chapter 2. This whole passage is about submission – to rulers and masters and to husbands – all should have the mind of Christ. So how does ‘In the same way’ apply to husbands? What are they to submit to? To a standard of behaviour; loving their wives as Christ loves the church. And remember He laid down his life for her.

Peter gives us three instructions on how we are to treat our wives. The first is to be considerate as we live with her. Of course we should not be inconsiderate – just take her for granted and assume that by marrying her and paying the bills you have done her a favour. Considering has to do with thought. We are to treat her thoughtfully. Being a husband is a lifetime job that we need to give some thought to. It turns out that men and women are different. You can’t treat your wife like you treat your male friends. She is unlikely to be impressed by an opportunity to sit on the couch with your feet up watching a football match while downing a six pack however much Bob or Dave would enjoy the experience.

Someone has written that there are five ways of expressing love. The first is with words. You may be a published poet or a writer of messages in birthday cards, but I’m not talking about flowery language here. Sometimes it is just a matter of answering her questions or paying attention when she speaks to you. We have all experienced drifting off into a reverie about a 60 yard pass from the previous weekend while she goes on about a dress she saw and then suddenly you realise that she is expecting an answer. You won’t be able to get away with a generic “Hmm.” or “Well, what do you think?” Listen!

Remarkably, you don’t have to be clever or eloquent. “I like you in that dress.” or “You know; you cook that dish better than my mother ever did.” are perfect examples of how to use words to show that you love her. But it shouldn’t stop there. Remember she has a brain (it may well be better than yours). Ask her opinion and take her advice. Discuss a book that you have both read. Read the Bible together. If you watch a movie or a TV program together, discuss it afterwards.

The second way to show love is with gifts. Someone once told me that you got a Brownie point for each gift, no matter how much it cost; one point for a packet of handkerchiefs but only one for a gold watch. I’m not suggesting that you split up a bunch of flowers and give them to her one at a time. Don’t be a cheapskate! But it doesn’t just have to be Christmas, birthday and wedding anniversary that you reach into your pocket. How about, “I saw this in the shop today, Honey, and I thought it would suit you.” or “You haven’t had any chocolates for a couple of weeks; I thought I’d buy you some on the way home from work.”

The third way (and probably the most important way) is to give her your time. You may think that a couple of extra hours at the office will improve your promotion prospects and in the long run enable you to give her a better house in a better area, but she will think that you prefer being with your mates at work rather than being with her. I know that work is demanding, especially in these difficult financial times, but your relationship with your wife is more important. If you really are so busy, then map out areas in your diary when you will spend time with her. You have no difficulty blocking out a few days for that business trip to Florida for which the company has pencilled in an evening trip to Sea World. And don’t think that you can make it up to her by taking her with you. What is she going to do, cooped up in a hotel while you ‘work’? Time with her should be time just with her. Arrange for someone to have the kids. It need not be a slap up meal or a show, if money is tight. Time together is what matters.

The fourth way is with deeds. Scrub the kitchen floor. She may have thought it was her job, but I can guarantee she wasn’t looking forward to it. When the roads are icy, drive her to the shops (but don’t dare to suggest she is not a good driver). Say something like, “If an accident is inevitable, I’d rather we had it together.” Bring her a cup of coffee while she is still asleep in the morning. Cook the dinner when it isn’t your turn. Send flowers to her mother. Put gas in her car and check the tires. Take the garbage out.

The final way is by physical touch. Men have this idea that every touch leads to sex, but this should not be so. Put your arms round her and kiss the back or her neck. Rub the back of your finger against her cheek. Hold her hand. Give her a foot massage. Try rubbing between her shoulder blades at the end of the day; there will often be knots of muscle there.

In other words, think about her needs and not just your own.

Peter’s second instruction is to ‘treat them with respect as the weaker partner’. What does he mean by the ‘weaker partner’? It certainly doesn’t mean that she is weaker intellectually or emotionally, or of less value. Some people think that it means that at certain times in the month she is more friable, but I don’t think this can be so; people stay married in their fifties and sixties. No, I think this just means that on average men are bigger and stronger than women. I know it isn’t always so. I came across a patient who weighed 280 pounds while her husband was 4 inches shorter and weighed only 130 pounds, but such an arrangement is the exception. At the Olympics men and women don’t compete at running, throwing or swimming; it would not be fair. Peter is here thinking about the physical. Things should be shared between husband and wife, but not equally. If there are heavy bags to carry, the husband should take the larger share. If there are heavy jobs to do, they should be the husband’s responsibility. The days of sending your wife up the ladder to clean out the gutters are over.

The husband has to stand up and be a man. You sometimes see a marriage where the wife has to look after her three little boys – her two sons and her husband. Mothers do their sons no favors if they continue to make their beds, clear up after them, polish their shoes, iron their shirts and buy their clothes. No wonder some men live with their mothers in their thirties and look for wives who will mother them!

But being bigger and stronger there must be no fighting. Young ladies if you are starting to think seriously about a young man and he hits you, end it there and then. There is no excuse. Wives, if your husband hits you, go to the police. Tell the elders of the church. Ensure that your marriage will continue only if there is no more violence. Church elders, take a firm line on this. Wife beating is not the unforgivable sin, but it should never happen again.

In the Greek ‘she is the weaker vessel’. Compared to the earthenware jar, she is the alabaster pot, like the one that held fine perfume; much more precious for being more breakable.

The third instruction concerns her spiritual life, for she is ‘as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life’. Some religions make women second class citizens, but that is not so for Christians – we are heirs together. Consider Islam and how suicide bombers think that they are going to Paradise to be rewarded with 70 virgins – as if a woman were a plaything. Consider how Jesus encouraged Mary to sit at his feet when her sister summoned her to the kitchen. Husbands and wives should pray together, study the Bible together, have fellowship with Christian friends together. Husbands should encourage their wives to feed their own souls. If she is in a crèche for the morning service then he should stay behind and look after the children so that she can attend the evening service.

Why should husbands behave like this? So that nothing hinders their prayers. Strife between husbands and wives stops us from praying. It becomes all consuming so that we have no mood for prayer. But more than this; the Lord will refuse to listen to him who abuses his wife, whom he has given him.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Review of the Decade

Undoubtedly the most significant even of the decade was the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City by airplanes piloted by Islamic terrorists on September 11th 2001. It was horrific because it was an act of premeditated murder perpetrated before our eyes on the world’s television screens. It was significant because it was the model for similar attacks in Bali on October 2002 in the tourist district of Kuta which killed 202 people, 152 of whom were foreign nationals (including 88 Australians), and 38 Indonesian citizens; in Madrid on March 11th 2004 when 191 train commuters were killed in the morning rush hour; in London on July 7th 2005 when 52 commuters were killed on the underground and on a bus by suicide bombers and in Mumbai between November 26thand November 29th 2008 where gunmen killed up to 175 people. There were many other attempts at mayhem including those of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, the 2007 attempt to blow up London night clubs and Glasgow airport terminal with car bombs and the recent attempt to destroy an airliner in Detroit with an ‘underpants’ bomb.

These attempts have been foiled by increased security and by plain incompetence on behalf of the bombers. The security services, themselves are not without their incompetent qualities, witness the shooting of the innocent (though illegal immigrant) Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, at Stockwell Underground, the day after a failed bomb attack on the Tube.

Part of the terrorist’s raison d’être is to invoke such an oppressive reaction that Western civilization would grind to a halt. Although, this has not happened, the increased security at airports has been intrusive and is set to become more annoying.

The other response to the terrorist attacks has been the start of two major wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Winning such a war is not a problem; winning the peace is. As well as countless suicide bombers in both Iraq and Afghanistan there have been atrocities elsewhere in the Middle East including bombers in Turkey and Jordan. Asymmetrical warfare has entered our vocabulary. Relatively primitive technology, cunningly placed, is extremely effective, especially when the operatives are prepared to die for their cause. One notable fact about such wars is that they are fought mainly in the newspapers. The terrorist cannot hope to defeat the powerful armies of Western nations, but aims to inflict so many casualties that the Western country loses the will to fight. Even so single-minded a country as Israel found this to be true in its confrontations with Hezbollah in 2006 and with Hamas in 2008/9. Propaganda (much of it based on faked photographs) was the greatest weapon of the Islamists. This tactic began in Viet Nam and thus far an effective counter has not been produced.

Often forgotten among Islamist atrocities is the massacre at the Beslan school in North Ossetia in September 2004. Another important strand in World events has been the resurrection of Russian power since the fall of the Soviet Union. President and now Prime Minister (and perhaps to be President once more) Putin has rebuilt Russia sufficiently to throw its weight about again. Powered by vast natural gas reserves, it is able to blackmail Eastern European states like Ukraine into submission and overcome Georgia by the weight of its armed forces. It feels sufficiently confident to murder a Russian dissident, Alexander Litvinenko, with Polonium 210 on the streets of London. This is reflected in a simultaneous weakening of British power as exemplified by the capture of fifteen Royal Navy personnel by Iranian revolutionary guards when they strayed into disputed territorial waters and by the kidnapping of a yacht owned by British tourists from under the nose of the Royal Navy by Somali pirates. How one yearns for the days of Margaret Thatcher.

The other major story of the Noughties has been the collapse of financial institutions and the consequent worldwide recession. Beginning in the United States in 2007 it has been linked to reckless and unsustainable lending practices resulting from the deregulation and securitization of real estate mortgages. The US mortgage-backed securities, which had risks that were hard to assess, were marketed around the world. Credit was easy to get and this fed a global speculative bubble in real estate and equities, which served to reinforce the risky lending practices. The precarious financial situation was made more difficult by a sharp increase in oil and food prices. The emergence of Sub-prime loan losses in 2007 began the crisis and exposed other risky loans and over-inflated asset prices. On September 14th 2007 savers began to queue to withdraw a total of £1 billion from branches of the Northern Rock Building Society after hearing that the Bank of England has arranged an intervention package to rescue the bank, which ran into difficulties as a result of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Things seemed to stabilize a little but with loan losses mounting and the fall of Lehman Brothers, a major investment bank, on September 15th 2008, a panic broke out on the inter-bank loan market. As share and housing prices declined many large and well established investment and commercial banks in the United States and Europe suffered huge losses and even faced bankruptcy, resulting in massive public financial assistance. Iceland, home of three banks that had grown beyond their means of support, became the first Western democracy to become bankrupt.

One factor that economists seemed to have ignored was the growth of China. Within domestic economies in the West governments followed extremely inflationary policies with massively increased public spending and the creation of bureaucratic monstrosities as industrial jobs were exported to third world economies. Individuals felt rich because the paper price of their properties increased massively. They were able to borrow against these inflated prices and spend the money on foreign imports. China, meanwhile, expanded its industrial base and refused to revalue it currency. With the electronic goods, the West was importing deflation (in the form of cheaper manufactured goods) to counteract its domestic inflation.

As the recession has deepened, Western governments have adopted Keynesian economic practices and printed more money, thus devaluing their currencies while building up huge debts and hastening the day when they become vassal states of China and the commodity-rich states of the Middle East. Politicians have become distrusted. An expenses scandal in Britain has made politicians as hated as bankers.

We have had our share of natural disasters during the past decade. Worst of all was the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 which killed nearly 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 meters (100 feet) high. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand were the hardest hit. It was caused by an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Several other earthquakes were hugely destructive including the October 8th 2005 Kashmir earthquake which killed over 80,000 people mainly in Pakistan, the May 12th 2008 in the Sichuan province of China and killed at least 68,000 people and the December 26th 2003 Bam earthquake in southeastern Iran which killed 26,271 people. Hundreds of thousands of people with a different skin hue dying a long way away, somehow did not have the impact in the news that the 1,836 killed along the U.S. Gulf Coast, as Hurricane Katrina struck. This was dwarfed in effect by cyclone Nargis which made landfall in Burma (which the ruling junta have renamed Myanmar) in 2008 causing catastrophic destruction and at least 146,000 fatalities. Every nation has its news priorities as this report shows: Sixty-seven British people lose their lives when four planes are hijacked by terrorists. It is the largest UK death toll in a single terrorist attack. This was how one website reported 9/11. As earthquakes go, we were more interested in what happened nearer to home on April 6 2009: A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck near L'Aquila, Italy, killed nearly 300 and injured more than 1,500.

Not all disasters have been natural or terrorist induced. In New York City, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Queens minutes after takeoff from JFK International Airport, killing all 260 on board and Space Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry to Earth, killing all seven occupants. Air France Flight 4590 Concorde crashed during takeoff from Paris after its fuel tank caught fire, killing 9 crew and 100 passengers as well as four on the ground; the entire Concorde fleet is grounded for one year, and is eventually retired.

There were 22 other air crashes during the decade in which more than 100 were killed, and countless others where fewer than that number were eliminated. Most recently, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330-200 flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, crashed in the Atlantic Ocean killing all 228 occupants.

Talking of deaths the decade has said goodbye to several well known names: actors Jason Robards, Julie London, Richard Farnsworth (Straight Story), Sir Alec Guinness, Walter Matthau, Sir John Gielgud, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Hedy Lamarr, Nigel Hawthorne, Joan Sims, Jack Lemmon, Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Richard Harris, Leo McKern (Rumpole), Rod Steiger, Dudley Moore, John Thaw (Morse), Alan Bates, David Hemmings, Donald O'Connor (Singing in the Rain), Charles Bronson, Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Robert Stack, Richard Crenna, Howard Keel, Christopher Reeve, Janet Leigh, Fay Wray (King Kong), Marlon Brando, Tony Randall, Peter Ustinov, James Doohan, Anne Bancroft, Eddie Albert, Sir John Mills, Sandra Dee, Dennis Weaver, Shelley Winters, Yvonne De Carlo, Ian Richardson, Gareth Hunt (New Avengers), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) , Jane Wyman, Moira Lister (Red Shoes), Deborah Kerr, Heath Ledger, Roy Scheider, Richard Widmark, Charlton Heston, Mel Ferrer, Cyd Charisse, Van Johnson, David Carradine, Farrah Fawcett, Karl Malden, Patrick Swayze, Natasha Richardson, Brittany Murphy, Jennifer Jones, Gene Barry, Richard Todd, Edward Woodward, Patrick McGoohan, Natasha Richardson, Norman Painting (Phil Archer for 51 years in the long running radio series), and Joseph Wiseman (Dr No); film makers, Roger Vadim, Stanley Kramer, John Frankenheimer, Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan, John Schlesinger, Ismail Merchant, Robert Wise, Carlo Ponti, Sydney Pollack, Ken Annakin, John Hughes and Anthony Minghella; writers Malcolm Bradbury, Barbara Cartland, Anthony Shaffer, Douglas Adams, Robert Ludlum, Leon Uris, Arthur Hailey, John Fowles, Susan Sontag, Muriel Spark, Evan Hunter (better known as Ed McBain), Saul Bellow, Arthur Miller, Mickey Spillane, Peter Benchley, Kurt Vonnegut, Madeleine L'Engle, Norman Mailer, George MacDonald Fraser, Philip Jose Farmer, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Crichton, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Harold Pinter, John Mortimer, John Updike, J.G. Ballard, David Eddings, Frank McCourt, Troy Kennedy Martin and Keith Waterhouse; comedians, Victor Borge, Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, Spike Milligan, Ned Sherrin, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Ronnie Barker, Red Buttons, Bernard Manning, Clement Freud and Danny La Rue; musicians, George Harrison, Isaac Stern, Chet Atkins, Perry Como, Ray Conniff, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Johnny Cash, Bo Didley, Maurice Jarre, Maurice Gibb, Elmer Bernstein, Artie Shaw, Howard Keel, Ray Charles, Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Long John Baldry, Freddie Garrity, Gene Pitney, Wilson Pickett Luther Vandross, Tony Meehan drummer with the Shadows, Mstislav Rostropovich, Ivor Emmanuel (Zulu), Frankie Laine, George Melly, Luciano Pavarotti, Oscar Peterson, Edmund Hockeridge, Humphrey Lyttelton, Eartha Kitt, Michael Jackson, Mary Travers (survived by Peter and Paul), Les Paul, Stephen Gately (Boyzone) and Dave Dee (of Dozy, Mick and Titch); politicians, Pierre Trudeau, Abba Eban, Idi Amin, Yasser Arafat, Ronald Reagan, Eugene McCarthy, Kim Il Sung, Mo Mowlam, Robin Cook, Edward Heath, John Kenneth Galbraith, Caspar Weinberger, Slobodan Milosevic, John Profumo, Boris Yeltsin, Raymond Barre, John Biffen, Ian Smith, Saddam Hussain, Benazir Bhutto, Robert McNamara, Edward Kennedy and Cory Aquino; journalists, Alistair Cooke, Johnny Carson, Art Buchwald, Bill Deedes, William F. Buckley Jr, Charles Wheeler, Walter Cronkite, Ludovic Kennedy and Brian Barron; scientists Sir Fred Hoyle, Sir Joseph Rotblat, Stephen Jay Gould, Edward Teller and Francis Crick; royalty, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Prince Rainier and King Saud; religious leaders, Pope John Paul II, Oral Roberts, Chad Varah and Ruth Graham; sportsmen, Sam Snead, Max Schmeling, George Best, Bob Woolmer, Alan Ball, Arthur Milton (the last player to play both football and cricket for England), Fred Truman, Brian Clough, Colin McRea, Ingemar Johansson and Bobby Robson; daredevils, Thor Heyerdahl, Paul 'Red' Adair, Neville Duke, Steve Fossett, Robert "Evel" Knievel and Sir Edmund Hillary; from the world of fashion, Estee Lauder, Anita Roddick, Lord Patrick Lichfield and Yves St Laurent; campaigners, Rosa Parks, Simon Wiesenthal and Andrea Dworkin; and a miscellaneous group that includes Lady Bird Johnson, Alex Comfort, Bobby Fisher, Magnús Magnússon, Marcel Marceau, Kerry Packer and Paula Yates.

The decade has been one of increasing technology. We all now have flat screen televisions and monitors, mobile phones have become hand-held computers that take pictures, film has almost disappeared as our cameras have gone digital, and even I have an MP3 player, though not a Blackberry nor Bluetooth and I don’t Text. Although some still cling to vinyl, music has now become ‘downloaded’ (though I don’t know how to do it). VHS has been replaced by DVD but now broadcasts are recorded straight to hard drive in order to ‘timeshift’. Fast-forwarding has made the TV advert extremely missable and companies have had to think up new ‘business models’. Broadband is ubiquitous and with it have come Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, Blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Everyone has a SatNav except me. People seldom play games on their computers now; instead they have dedicated games machines like the X-Box and the PS3 or even Nintendos. To counteract the couch-potato-ness of it all they have Wiis.

The two big science stories of the decade have been the completion of the Human Genome Project and the start of the Large Hadron Collider experiments. In Medicine we have seen a plethora of new anti-cancer drugs often too expensive to be used, and prospects for successful gene therapy. Stem cell therapy has been much talked about, but little has come of it so far. More important than any of these has been the reduction in smoking, often following legislation. Medics are now campaigning against excessive alcohol consumption. We have had epidemics of Swine Flu, Bird Flu, SARS, MRSA, foot and mouth and c. difficile, we have had scares about MMR and gene therapy; they have all been hyped by the press.

Climate change has been on everybody’s lips. In order to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ we have seen a re-emerging of nuclear power, wind turbines and ‘biofuels’. The ‘Climategate’ e-mails threaten what had been a consensus amongst climatologists. The newspapers have to have something to write about.
In August 2006 Pluto was demoted to a "dwarf planet" after being considered a real planet for 76 years. Other "dwarf planets" in our solar system now include Ceres and Eris, previously thought of as ‘asteroids’.

In the arts, the most popular books have been the Harry Potter series followed closely by the works of Dan Brown, but I have appreciated The Kite Runner as well as works by Ian McEwan, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly and John Le Carre. The movie event of the decade was The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but we must also mention Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind , Chicago , Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire.

In sport we have been astonished by Tiger Woods (who has suddenly fallen from grace), Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Christiano Ronaldo, the Williams sisters, Kauto Star, Michael Schumacher, Joe Calzaghe, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong and Shane Warne. Drug assisted performances remain a problem. remarkably, England twice won the Ashes and we were introduced to WAGs.

Television has been dominated by ‘reality’ and ‘talent’ shows. I have never watched one though we bought Susan Boyle’s record this Christmas. Of note otherwise were The Wire, The Sopranos and The Office. Dr Who returned to British television.

DNA continues to acquit people on death row, but not Harold Shipman who the GP who is reckoned to have murdered over 200 ‘heartsink’ patients. Pedophilia has horrified people throughout the world. Many have been caught with computer technology, but the murders of two little girls in Soham and the abduction of Madelaine McCann remind us that it is still a problem for us.

Illegal immigration is a problem in both the UK and USA. In 2004 Twenty-three Chinese illegal immigrants drowned, trapped by rising tides in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, as they harvested cockles. The 9/11 disaster precipitated a wariness of Muslims. The Danish cartoons controversy made people wonder why we should be especially sensitive to Islam vis-à-vis Christianity. Political correctness reigns.
The largest expansion to date of the European Union took place in 2004, extending the Union by 10 member-states: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus. Europe now has even more porous borders. The Euro has been adopted by 12 European countries and has been growing in importance. In 2009 the Lisbon Treaty was adopted, effectively a Constitution for a United States of Europe.

Although homosexual marriage is allowed in a few American States, the Civil Partnership Act, which came into force in Britain in 2005, gives same-sex couples the same rights as hetero-sexual married couples. The first civil partnership lasted a single day.

One longs for the day when the newscaster will start his bulletin with the words, “Today, nothing newsworthy happened. However, here are some names to conjure with, names that will be in the headlines tomorrow: David Beckham, Shami Chakrabarti, Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, Camilla Parker Bowles, Dmitry Medvedev, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Manmohan Singh, Nancy Pelosi, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul.