Saturday, July 31, 2010

Attrocities of God 3: Sodom and Gomorrah

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is really nothing much to do with homosexuality. To atheists it must have seemed like a natural disaster, but the context that we are given in Genesis clearly delineates it as a matter of judgement.

We have this insight because of Abraham. Abraham is a figure revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. He it was who, after the Flood, was first chosen by God to have a special relationship with him. It was to him that God made the promise that he would be the father of many nations. Just before the encounter which sealed the fate of Sodom, God had told Abraham that his wife, long past the menopause, was to have a miracle child.

The story begins with three men appearing at the entrance of Abraham's tent. We later learn that these three are Angels, but Abraham was unaware of that - they didn't have wings or halos - they just looked like ordinary blokes. Abraham's response was to offer them lavish hospitality. The New Testament refers to 'entertaining Angels unaware' specifically harking back to this incident.

It was as they are enjoying a meal together that the Angels refer to the fact that his barren wife will after all bear a child in her old age. To her embarrassment, Sarah scoffs at the idea and is caught out lying about scoffing. After the meal the Angels then reveal to Abraham why they are there. "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous" that they are going down to the cities to see if what they are hearing is true, and if it is then those cities will be destroyed.

Now Abraham has a history with Sodom. When God called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees and then on from Haran, he took his nephew, Lot, with him. Abraham prospered in the land of Canaan and so did Lot, but it soon became clear than there was not enough grazing to support both their herds and those of the Canaanites and Perezzites who were also living there. Rather than quarrel, Abraham gave Lot the choice of dwelling in the Jordon valley or in the hill country. Lot chose the easier option of the plains and pitched his tents near the city of Sodom, even though we are told that the men of Sodom were wicked. We are not told at this juncture just how they were wicked, but they were certainly warlike. There had been the battle of the four kings versus the five kings in which Lot had been kidnapped and had to be rescued by Abraham and his 318 trained men. The King of Sodom had tried to reward Abraham, but he had treated this offer with disdain and instead accepted a gift of bread and wine form the King of Salem (peace) and in return gave him a tenth of the spoils of the battle. This King was a strange character, Melchizedek, who was also a priest of God Most High. In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as a priest of the order of Melchizedek.

As for Lot, he does not come out of the story in Genesis very well. He chose the easy option of life on the plains rather than tending his flocks in the hill country. He soon finds himself seduced by city life, and later on, after the destruction of Sodom, allows his daughters to get him drunk and then sleeps with them. Yet we learn of him from the New Testament that he was a righteous man, that he was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard). (2 Peter 2:7-8)

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was not just an act of wanton violence, but deliberate punishment for wickedness. Even so, Abraham was looking for the best in people and begins to bargain with God. Two of the Angels had gone down into the valley to investigate Sodom, but the one remaining is now addressed by Abraham as Yahweh (in the English Bible this is represented by LORD (in capitals). Some theologians believe that this is because he was a theophany, in effect the second person of the Trinity, God in human form. "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" asks Abraham, "What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?"

So Yahweh relents - for the sake of 50 he will not destroy Sodom.

Abraham begins to bargain with him. What if there are only 45? He beats him down. 40?, 30?. 20? 10 even?

And that is as low as he dares go. I think he reckons that his nephew, Lot is there, and his wife and two daughters. That's four. He probably knows that the girls are both engaged to be married, and surely Lot wouldn't let them be married to just anybody. Two sons-in-law and their parents; that's another six. Six and four makes ten. But when it comes to it the sons-in-law think that Lot is making a joke and decline to follow him.

So this is what happens. The two angels go down to the city of Sodom and there waiting at the gate is Lot. True to his upbringing he offers them the same sort of hospitality as Abraham did. At first the angels are reluctant to go into his house, but he is persistent and they relent. Later that evening a howling mob, both young and old, surround Lot's house, and demand that he surrender the strangers. Their purpose is male rape.

Lot goes outside to reason with them. He calls them friends. Don't do this wicked thing, he pleads. Then, he makes them an offer which we would find equally offensive. He offers his virgin daughters as substitutes.

Lot's priority was his honor as a host. The Sodomites were dismissive. This fellow came here as an alien and now he wants to play the judge! Get out of the way! We'll treat you worse than them!

But Angels need no protection. They pulled Lot back inside the house and shut the door, then they struck the whole crowd down with blindness. They told Lot to gather up all that were his and flee to the hills. In the end he could only recruit his wife and two daughters, and even his wife looked back. Even now, Lot pleads with them to spare a little city for him to settle in and so they spare the small town of Zoar.

Then the LORD rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah.

There must have been thousands killed. An arbitrary act of spite? Another atrocity? The Bible makes it clear that it is an act of judgement.

How would you like to see the wicked rewarded for their wickedness? A case has recently hit the headlines in Britain. Ian Huntley is a pedophile who somehow got a job as a school caretaker in a small town near Cambridge. While he was there he abducted and murdered two little girls. He was caught, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Some may say that he deserved not life but death, but unfortunately we no longer have the death penalty in the UK. In prison he has three times attempted suicide, and more recently a fellow prisoner tried to murder him by cutting his throat. He is now suing the prison authorities (aka the taxpayer) for $150,000) for failing in their duty of care to him while in prison). Now given that the parents of the little girls received only $16,000 from the public purse in criminal injuries compensation, this claim has raised the public ire. A member of the Prison reform trust has supported Huntley. His punishment is to have his liberty removed, she said, he is entitled to a normal life within those limits.

The public probably thinks that his liberty is being curtailed to protect other little girls and that he deserves more punishment than that. Being locked up with a load of violent men is part of the punishment.

But the truth is that there is usually no justice in this life; that is reserved for God when we meet him after death. This is what the apostle Peter says of the destruction of Sodom: He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;... the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials (meaning Lot) and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings ... These men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, revelling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed - an accursed brood. These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. (2 Peter 2:6-17)

Is anybody denying God the right to judge his creation? On what grounds could anyone do so? What is apparent from this story is how patient God is; how long suffering. On being challenged by Abraham he is eager to ensure that what he does is just. He will agree that just a small leavening of righteous men in a wicked city will save the city from destruction, since those men just might influence the city towards righteousness. Read the story of Jonah and how the great and wicked city of Nineveh turned to God after Jonah's warning.

We can see how keen he is to rescue sinners. Lot may have been a righteous man in that he believed God, but he was a terrible sinner, nonetheless. The difficulty is in rescuing those who refuse to be rescued. The Sodomites were deaf to Lot's pleas and blind to his influence.

The destruction of Sodom was not an atrocity, but a warning to those who persist in their wickedness. You cannot hope to reform, but you can hope to be rescued.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Super Crunchers

I have been reading the book Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres. The bottom line is that statistics can do better than experts.

We have been living this reality in medicine for the best part of 20 years. Want advice on how to treat a rare disease? We used to go to an expert at one of the great teaching hospitals, but now we are more likely to use the Internet. On PubMed we can search for Randomized Controlled Trials in that disease and discover that treatment A is significantly better than treatment B.

It isn't only in medicine that the figures outperform the expert. Ayres begins by telling the story of Orley Ashenfelter who was sceptical about wine experts. Looking back over successful vintages and the weather at the time of their growth, he produced a regression formula based on high average summer temperature and low harvest-time rainfall that correlated with a good vintage. When he made predictions for the 1989 and 1990 vintages based on his formula, the experts scoffed. But he was proved correct, and today most wine investors follow his formula.

Bill James did the same for baseball. Baseball scouts claim to have an eye for a good player and watch hundreds of high school and college games to identify a future star. James derived a formula that he said would predict who would succeed in major league baseball. Once again statistics beat the experts.

What has changed is the availability of huge databases to guide decision making. The size of these databases is enormous. They are not measured in gigabytes but in terabytes or even petabytes (a million gigabytes). The entire Library of Congess consists of 20 terabytes of text. In contrast, Wal-Mart's data warehouse comprises 570 terabytes. Data mining is able to produce business decisions like the refusal rental car companies to offer a service to people with poor credit scores because they are more likely to have an accident. Airlines, when a fight is cancelled, no longer offer the next seat to frequent flyers as a reward for loyalty, but to the customer whose continued business is calculated to be at greatest risk. The "No Child Left Behind" Act requires schools to adopt teaching methods supported by rigorous data analysis. In some cases this means adopting lessons where every word is scripted and statistically vetted.

Apart from just analysing correlations, the super crunchers have introduced the randomized controlled trial into business. Without consent, you may be taking part in one right now. Say a manufacturer of cornflakes is concerned about packet design. He might produce the identical product save for "More Fiber" printed in red at the top left hand corner. Packets are sent out randomly to different stores and the manufacturer can compare how quickly each disappears from the shelf.

It gets more complicated, but the next thing is for consumers to game the system. Once we are aware of what is going on we should be able to turn the thing to our advantage.

Is there no place for the expert then? The wise expert will use this new technology and add value to it, by recognizing the flaws in clinical trials, just as I have in pointing out how the manufacturers cheat in their trials of supposedly new drugs against chlorambucil in CLL. You have to be aware of the tricks that are played in RCTs. However, gone are the days when we can just say, "Lies, damned lies and statistics." We need to understand statistics and make them work for us rather than the opposition.

More on the oil spill

I began to get suspicious when the BBC kept showing me the same heavily oiled pelican struggling in the waters off Louisiana. Is the oil spill in the gulf being exaggerated? Here is the sum of fatalities so far: 11 oil workers killed in the explosion; 1,296 birds, 17 sea turtles and three dolphins. The environmental damage seems to be far less than that caused by the Exxon Valdiz in Alaska, and the human casualties, awful though they are, are far fewer than caused by the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea where an American company was drilling in British waters.

One of the problems is that we are not very good at estimating scale. The size of the spillage compared to the size of the Gulf is the same as one drop of oil in an Olympic size swimming pool. Moreover, oil, being a natural product, is eliminated in natural ways. What people don't realise is that there are always small natural oil leaks in the Gulf and that consequently there are oil degrading bacteria in the sea. Given the ambient temperature, about 50% of the oil spill has already evaporated. There is talk of oil below the surface, but energy engineers are sceptical, since oil is less dense than water.

Journalists sent to the area are complaining that they can't find oil to photograph. Predictions are that the beaches will be normal before Christmas, fishing will be back in two months and the shellfish industry in two years.

So why the over-reaction? Opinion seems to be that the lawyers are driving it. With over a million families to feed in the US, lawyers must scramble for every morsel they can find.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Everything must go!

As empty-nesters, we are preparing to downsize. Today I attacked my bookshelves. Some of my medical books I can pass on to my daughter who is in the same line of business, but medicine advances at such a pace that much of what is on my shelf is useless and will have to be pulped. Some of my text books date from the 1980s.

I have a lot of books and journals that I kept because I published an article in them, but honestly, nobody is going to be interested in that and to retain them is pure vanity. Out with the lot of them!

Another shelf contains books on grammar, which has been one of my pedantic obsessions. I hope I might get something from the second hand bookshop for some of these. Many are in mint condition, and you only read them once.

Then I have shelves of books on religion. Some of these I will give to the library of the local Bible College, but if anybody wants a particular religious book that I might have, write and ask me and you can have it as a gift.

My poetry books I will keep.

Novels I have mostly already given away. I have a lot of biographies, but I think many of them are on loan from my children. If they are not, it's off to the second-hand shop.

I will still have many unread books. I must make a decision as to whether I intend to read them. If they are just decoration, they must go. Our new house will have yards fewer bookshelves.

I have already given away all my wine and spirits to charity. Since my illness I have become teetotal, and my wife always has been. Virtually every bottle was a kind gift from a patient, so it is right that they should go to raise money for cancer research.

I am unwilling to dispense with my CD collection. I have just about the whole repertoire of classical music (apart from the unlistenable stuff from the Twentieth Century). But my son can have all the vinyl records.

My DVD collection, I'm not sure about. I have promised my collection of war films to my grandson, but the rest of the collection I might just keep intact.

I am aiming to get rid of a huge amount of paper. Why I ever retained what I did, I can't imagine. I guess I was too busy to throw things away.

My wife tells me that one of the worst experiences of her life was to sort out her father's possessions after he died. Much of what there was had only sentimental value. We don't want to wish that process on our children. Rather we will ask them to take their pick of our possessions now. Anything that is unwanted can go to house-clearance.

When we look for our new house it will undoubtedly have smaller rooms, so much of our current furniture will be too large, and in any case we have had much of it for over 40 years and we could well buy something that looks good, rather than because it was all we could afford at the time. I hope that a lot of what we need will be fitted already so that we won't need wardrobes and the like.

I once read a book which suggested that each member of the family should have one small suitcase to contain personal mementos. Everything else must go.


A few days ago I commented on the fact that no white man had ever run the hundred meters in less than 10 seconds. It seems that my information was slightly out of date. Three weeks ago, the new European Champion, Christophe Lemaitre from France, became the first white athlete to do so, recording a national record 9.98 seconds at the French Championships.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bogus reports of danger to Bournemouth Mosque

Corfe Castle is a picturesque village a few miles from here named after the 1000-year old castle that was demolished during the English civil war. The ruins belong to the National Trust and are a popular tourist spot.

Armed police opened fire during an operation to arrest a member of the controversial English Defence League, who were feared to be masterminding an attack at a Bournemouth mosque. Marksmen shot the tyres out on a van belonging to John Broomfield, head of the Dorset EDL, as he drove alone through Corfe Castle.

He and six others were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause an explosion at a Bournemouth mosque. All seven, including at least six EDL members, have since been released without charge.

Armed officers pounced from an unmarked car close to the Norden roundabout as 27-year-old Mr Broomfield, from Swanage, drove home from work around 5pm. They used special rapid tyre deflation rounds, fired from a shotgun, to disable his vehicle.
Officers, including specialised forensic experts, then swooped on his Bell Street home, removing clothes, computer equipment, mobile phones and passports. The suspects were held at Poole police station and a police station in Southampton, following last Thursday’s arrests.

The English Defence League is a contentious group that has been leading “anti-Muslim extremism” demonstrations around England since 2009. They represent one end of a spectrum of young tearaways who enjoy confrontational demonstrations. At a demonstration in Luton last year there were clashes between the EDL and members of the far-left Anti-Fascist League and Socialist Workers Party. Many of those attending were not EDL members but just skinheads looking for a brawl. As in all such events racist and Islamophobic chanting was in evidence. EDL has never been involved in anything of a terrorist nature.

EDL organisers insist it is not a racist organisation.

In a statement to the Bournemouth Daily Echo, Mr Broomfield said: “While travelling home from work I was stopped and arrested by armed police. I was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause an explosion at a Bournemouth mosque. Five other members of the EDL were also arrested and held for 24 hours for questioning while searches of their homes took place. Then all of us were released without charge.

“There has been no conspiracy. There has never been any conspiracy. The EDL is not a terrorist organisation.”

A spokesman for Dorset Police said: “Dorset Police can confirm that as part of an investigation surrounding threats to a Bournemouth mosque a total of seven people were arrested for conspiracy to cause an explosion. Following an investigation police can now confirm these people have been released without charge. We can also confirm that one of the people arrested was detained safely by armed officers in the Corfe Castle area. We’ve been working very closely with the Muslim community since last Thursday and our local safer neighbourhood teams have been providing advice and reassurance throughout. At this stage there is no indication whatsoever that any of the mosques in Dorset are under threat of attack.”

So there we have it. Armed police attack an innocent citizen because of faulty intelligence. This is not the first time and it shows why the coalition government is so keen to reign in the Big Brother tendency

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The power of the resurrection

So what, if God sent his son to suffer like us. Very nice of him, I'm sure, but how does that help me? Isn't there enough suffering in this world anyway? When I see those fine young men returning from Afghanistan minus three limbs, I weep. Yesterday less than twenty miles from here a young father slit the throats of his wife and two young children each aged under two and then hanged himself. Why?

A career criminal stole a woman's car and when she stood in front of the car to try and stop him, he mowed her down and killed her.

A group of teenagers out having 'fun' beat up a middle aged Asian man so that he hit is head and died a few days later in hospital.

A four year old boy playing hide and seek is found dead hiding in a tumble-dryer.

All these incidents appeared in the newspapers in the past couple of days. How does a man dying on a cross 2000 years ago change anything?

He didn't stay dead.

Had he just been another martyr it would have made no difference, but he didn't stay dead.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ, one of the most verified events in history, changed everything. For one thing that resurrection will be shared around. Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians, "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

How do you imagine it? Like zombies coming out of the grave? Some horror movie picture of rotting corpses? Or old people resuscitated?

By no means! We shall not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

I don't understand how, but Jesus talks about the renewal of all things. Not only will we have a new body, a new life, but everything will be put right. As Tolkien puts it in Lord of the Rings, everything sad will become untrue. Or from CS Lewis: They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What women want.

A friend of ours has told us of a wonderful trip she has recently taken. She and some friends took the car of a ferry to France to have a day's shopping.

Excuse me?

Was there an alternative?

Scourging? Waterboarding, perhaps? Anything but shopping!

The suffering of God

Compared to the suffering of the martyrs, the physical suffering of Jesus on the cross was not exceptional. The Romans crucified thousands and for many the death was much slower than was that of Jesus. The Maccabean martyrs who suffered under Antiochus Epiphanes had their limbs removed without anesthetic while they were alive. Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were burnt alive by Mary Tudor. All these and many others faced death bravely and defiantly.

What we know of Jesus' attitude to his impending death was that he prayed to his father asking if it could be avoided. "If it be your will take this cup from me". On the cross he cries out that God has forsaken him. If Jesus was just a martyr there are far more impressive ones.

What went on on the cross was far more significant than that. We learn at the beginning of John's gospel of the tri-personality of God. The Son-of-God was not a created being, but actually took part in creation and had lived through eternity in the bosom of the Father in community with the Holy Spirit. The concept of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension - One God in three persons - how can we understand it? I used poetry to describe it:

In the beginning was the Word

But Jesus was not Jesus then, no more
The Virgin Mary’s son; He was the Word,
With God, the three in one, in rapt rapport
Held fast by love. The Holy Three conferred
And made the sky, the earth, the sea; His hand
In each creative act. The Spirit soared
Above the seas before that great command,
“Let there be light!” He was the Light; adored
By angels. Darkness could not comprehend.
Then there was life, of countless, teeming kind.
In Him was life and His that life to lend;
The light of men; for Man he had designed
To hold His image and when thus constrained
To free from bondage those whom sin had stained.

But that doesn't half do it justice.

If we are spurned by even an acquaintance it is painful. If we are rejected by a spouse, it hurts more than we can bear; it may despoil our life thereafter. We cannot begin to imagine the Godhead wrenched apart, but that is what happened on the cross. Some people talk about Hell being the absence of God. When we talk about Jesus going through Hell for us, that is what we mean. Richard Dawkins snide remarks about God as a child molester simply reveals his lack of understanding of the nature of the Trinitarian God. While we see Jesus suffering - the crucifixion and scourging simply being a crude picture of the Spiritual pain being endured - we must remember that there is but one God and the pain of one of the persons of the Trinity is the pain of them all.

Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ has been criticized because of the gory nature of the scourging and the brutality of the crucifixion. It is certainly not a film that I would take my grandchildren to see. But for adults it gives a flavor of the horror involved. The enormity of the Creator put to death by his creatures and the utter wrongness of the deriliction of the Son of God while, as Graham Kendrick put it, "Evil crouches near" only hints at the terrible transaction taking place.

The wife of the Archbishop of Armargh put it like this:

We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains he had to bear.
We only know it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

In the death of Jesus, God suffers in love. The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for his creation. He had to pay for our sins so that some day he can put an end to evil and suffering without ending us.

If we ask the question, "Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?" we still don't know the answer, but we can be certain what the answer is not. It can't be because he doesn't love us.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lost and found

The story of the prodigal son is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. There always seem to be new nuances of meaning for those who study it. Today I listened to an exposition of the story by Steve Stanton, the leader of the Overseas Student work here in Bournemouth. For those who don't know, Bournemouth is the major center for learning English in England. Over 35,000 foreign students come here to learn English every year - the total population of Bournemouth is 165,000.

Stanton introduced me to some points in the story that I hadn't noticed before. For example, both sons wanted things from the father, but didn't want the father himself. How that so accurately portrays the relationship of most people to God. We are happy to receive God's gifts of life and all that creation affords, yet we spurn an invitation to be part of God's family in close relationship with him.

The second point is how easily we adopt the idea that we can work our passage. When the prodigal comes to his senses, his intention is not to fall on his father's mercy and be reintroduced into the family, but to think that he can work off his debt by becoming his father's slave.

The older son has the same attitude. Of course, he is meant to represent the Pharisees who had been criticizing Jesus for eating with sinners. But his complaint is "All these years I have been slaving for you." (Luke 15:29) in other words, 'working his passage'. He too wants what the father can give - a young goat - but not the father himself because he wants to 'celebrate with his friends'.

The father's response is to eschew the requirement for works but to offer free grace to both the sons. He brushes aside the Prodigal's prepared speech and puts a ring on his finger and a cloak on his back and kills the fatted calf to celebrate his lost son being found. As for the elder son, his father sees him sulking, but rather than scold him for it, invites him to to join the party.

So here too, salvation is all of grace and none of works.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Health update

Progress is still fairly slow. I am still having problems with the passage of food through my bowel, with contractions that I can feel followed by ominous squelching. I still need to take regular painkillers as well as drugs to reduce the power of the contractions. My bowel actions are also unpredictable and my weight is not increasing.

I get very tired and can't yet drive or walk very far and I have lost a lot of muscle bulk. My diet is of small, low-residue meals.

Given that I still have a post-chemotherapy autonomic neuropathy. some residual cancer and an anastomosis to cope with, I shouldn't be despondent, but it is now a month from surgery and I could wish for quicker progress.

I learned today that the hospital at which I was treated is the Acute Hospital of the Year according to the Health Services Journal. That's reassuring.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What does it mean to be a Christian?

Many people are mistaken about what it means to be a Christian.

Here are some things that do not make you a Christian.

Obeying the 10 Commandments.

Going to church every Sunday.

Going to church more than once a week.

Wearing a tie in Church (or obeying any other dress code).

Undergoing Trinitarian Baptism.


Avoiding smoking, drinking, going to the cinema, dancing and pop-music.

Avoiding anything else.

Selling all that you have and giving to the poor.

Becoming a missionary.

Reading the Bible every day.


Speaking in tongues.

Healing people miraculously - even raising the dead.


Taking the Holy Sacraments.

Ensuring that your good deeds outbalance your sins.

Being kind to waifs and strays.

Loving your neighbor as yourself.

Reciting the Creed (any of them).

This is what it means to be a Christian:

You must recognize that you are not good enough for God, no matter how hard you try.
(Romans 3:23 All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.)

You must trust in the love and mercy and grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ, to save you from your well deserved disgrace and punishment (Romans 3:24 ... and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus)

In particular, you must trust that Jesus' death on the cross was a punishment that paid for all your shortcomings and made you righteous in God's sight (Romans 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.)

You must trust in the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead as a sign that you are right with God. (Romans 4:25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for out justification)

You don't have to put your life right first before you can take advantage of God's offer. (Romans 5:8 God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.)

Your belief and trust in Jesus is not just a 'paper transaction' like a lawyer's contract, but a transforming transaction that changes you by instilling new life. (Romans 5:18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was the condemnation for all men, so the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.)

As a consequence we have eternal life. (Romans 6:5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.)

This new, transformed life begins now, not because we want to add anything of our own to what Christ has done, but because of his transforming influence on our lives. (Romans 6:6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.)

This new transformed life is everlasting. (Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord)

On your own you could never sustain such a life, but God has sent his Holy Spirit to nourish and sustain you. (Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead is living within you, he will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Muttiah Muralitharan - best cricketer in the world?

In his last Test Match Muttiah Muralitharan has taken his 800th Test wicket. Playing for Sri Lanka against India he needed two more wickets when I woke up this morning but since then he has managed to pick up the last two batsmen in the Indian innings. When I was young the record number of Test dismissals stood to Alec Bedser with 237 wickets, so 800 is astonishing, although they do play more Test Matches now.

Muttiah Muralitharan was born in the village of Nattarampotha in Kundasale (near Kandy), the eldest of the four sons. He is the first and only Tamil of Indian origin to represent Sri Lanka in international cricket. When he was nine years old he was sent to St. Anthony’s College, Kandy, a private school run by Benedictine monks. He began his cricketing career as a medium pace bowler but on the advice of his school coach he took up off-spin when he was fourteen years old. He soon impressed and went on to play for four years in the school First XI.

After leaving school he joined Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club and was selected for the Sri Lanka A tour of England in 1991. He played in five games but failed to capture a single wicket. On his return to Sri Lanka he impressed against Allan Border's Australian team in a practice game and then went on to make his Test debut at R. Premadasa Stadium in the Second Test Match of the series.

Muralitharan is the first wrist-spinning off-spinner in the history of the game. He bowls marathon spells, yet he is usually on the attack. His unique bowling action begins with an open-chested short run-up, and culminates with an extremely wristy release which had him mistaken for a leg-spinner early in his career by Allan Border. Aside from his off-break, his main deliveries are a fast topspinner which goes straight on, and the doosra, a surprise delivery which turns from leg to off (the opposite direction of his stock delivery) with no easily discernible change of action. His newest variation is a version of Shane Warne's slider, which is flicked out the side of his hand and rushes onto batsmen like a flipper. His super-flexible wrist makes him especially potent and guarantees him turn on any surface.

During the second Test between Sri Lanka and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day 1995, Australian umpire Darrell Hair called Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing in front of a crowd of 55,000. The off-spinner, was no-balled seven times in three overs by Hair, who believed the then 23 year old was bending his arm and straightening it in the process of delivery; an illegal action in cricket.

The drama unfolded midway through the second session of play. Muralitharan had bowled two overs before lunch from umpire Steve Dunne's or the Members' End of the ground with umpire Hair at square leg and these passed without incident. At 2:34pm he took up the attack from umpire Hair's or the southern end. Muralitharan's third over was a maiden with all deliveries again passed as legitimate but in his fourth Hair no-balled him twice for throwing on the fourth and sixth balls. The umpire continued to call him three times in his fifth over on the second, fourth and sixth balls. While the bowler stood with his hands on his hips perplexed, the five calls provoked an immediate response by the Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga who left the field at 3:03pm in order to take advice from his team management. He returned at 3:08pm and continued with Muralitharan who was called two more times in his sixth over on the second and sixth balls. At 3:17pm Ranatunga removed the bowler from the attack, although he reintroduced him at 3:30pm at umpire Dunne's end. Although Hair reports in his book, "Decision Maker", that at the end of the tea break he stated that he would call Muralitharan no matter which end he bowled he did not do so. Muralitharan completed another twelve overs without further no-balls.

The controversy bubbled on during the two-day long Australian innings. After being no-balled Muralitharan bowled a further 32 overs from umpire Steve Dunne's end without protest from either Dunne or Hair, at square leg. The Sri Lankan camp was outraged after the incident, but the ICC leaped to Hair's defence, outlining a list of steps they had taken in the past to determine, without result, the legitimacy of Muralitharan's action. By calling Muralitharan from the bowlers' end Hair overrode what is normally regarded as the authority of the square leg umpire in adjudicating on throwing. Dunne would have had to break convention to support his partner.

At the end of the match the Sri Lankans requested from the ICC permission to confer with Hair in order to find out exactly how to remedy the problem with their bowler. Despite the game's controlling body agreeing to it, the Australian Cricket Board vetoed it on the grounds that it might lead to umpires being quizzed by teams after every game and meant that the throwing controversy would continue into the World Series Cup during the coming week. The Sri Lankans were disappointed they didn't get an explanation and decided they would continue playing their bowler in matches not umpired by Hair and wanted to know whether other umpires would support or reject Hair's judgement.[40]

Muralitharan's action was cleared by the ICC after biomechanical analysis at the University of Western Australia and at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology in 1996. They concluded that his action created the 'optical illusion of throwing'. Doubts about Muralitharan's action persisted however, on the 1998–99 tour to Australia he was once again called for throwing by Ross Emerson during a One Day International against England at the Adelaide Oval in Australia. The Sri Lankan team almost abandoned the match, but after instructions from the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, the game resumed. The Sri Lankan captain at the time Arjuna Ranatunga, was later fined and given a suspended ban from the game as a result. It later emerged that at the time of this match Emerson was on sick leave from his non-cricket job due to a stress-related illness and he stood down for the rest of the series. Muralitharan was sent for further tests in Perth and England and was cleared again. At no stage was Muralitharan requested to change or remodel his action, by the ICC. Up to this point in his career (1999) Muralitharan primarily bowled two types of deliveries, namely the off-break and the topspinner. He had not yet mastered the doosra.

Muralitharan continued bowling, taking his 500th Test wicket in the second Test against Australia in Kandy on 16 March 2004. At the end of the series his doosra delivery was officially called into question by match referee Chris Broad. At the University of Western Australia (Department of Human Movement and Exercise Science), three-dimensional kinematic measurements of Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling arm were taken using an optical motion capture system while he bowled his doosra. Muralitharan’s mean elbow extension angle for the doosra delivery was 14°, which was subsequently reduced to a mean of 10.2° after remedial training at the University. The findings reported to ICC by the University of Western Australia's study was that Muralitharan's doosra contravened the established ICC elbow extension limit of 5° for spinners.

Under the original throwing Laws of Cricket, the umpires officiating were under an obligation to call "no-ball" to a delivery that they were not entirely happy was absolutely fair. This Law gave the umpires absolutely no discretion. In 2000, the Laws were changed to put an allowable figure of straightening of 5° for spinners, 7.5° for medium pacers and 10° for fast bowlers in an attempt to more clearly define what was legal. But these figures proved difficult to enforce due to umpires being unable to discern actual amounts of straightening and the differentiation between the three different allowable figures. Testing in Test Match conditions is not currently possible "when the identification of elbow and shoulder joint centres in on-field data collection, where a shirt is worn, also involves large errors. Due to the overwhelming scientific findings, researchers recommended that a flat rate of 15° tolerable elbow extension be used to define a preliminary demarcation point between bowling and throwing. A panel of former Test players consisting of Aravinda de Silva, Angus Fraser, Michael Holding, Tony Lewis, Tim May and the ICC's Dave Richardson, with the assistance of several biomechanical experts, stated that 99% of all bowlers in the history of cricket straighten their arms when bowling.

Despite the scientific investigations the controversy has continued to rumble on. Then in July 2004 Muralitharan was filmed in England, bowling with an arm brace on.
Initially, Muralitharan bowled three balls – the off-spinner, the top-spinner and the doosra – as he would in a match. Then he bowled the same three balls with a brace made from steel bars, which were set into strong resin. This brace was moulded to his right arm, was approximately 46 centimetres long and weighed just under 1 kilogram.

TV presenter Mark Nicholas who tried the brace himself, confirmed that "There is no way an arm can be bent, or flexed, when it is in this brace." All three balls reacted in the same way as when bowled without the brace. With the brace on, there still appeared to be a jerk in his action. When studying the film at varying speeds, it still appeared as if he straightened his arm, even though the brace made it impossible to do so. His unique shoulder rotation and amazing wrist action seem to create the illusion that he straightens his arm.

Bruce Elliott, the professor who is also the ICC biomechanist said that he had found that a lot of bowlers from the Indian subcontinent could bowl the doosra legally, but not Caucasian bowlers. Since there are now so many cricketers from the subcontinent playing for different sides, I doubt that this matters, but it is an interesting fact to lie alongside something else I read yesterday that no white athlete has ever broken 10 seconds for the 100 meter dash.

Why does God allow suffering?

This is something of an old chestnut sometimes stated this way: If a good and powerful God exists then he would not allow pointless evil; since there is much pointless evil in the world then either there is no god, or he is not good or he is not powerful enough to stop it.

Hidden in this statement, of course, is the assumption that if something appears to be a pointless evil to me then it must be a pointless evil. As if I were the final arbiter over good and evil!

There are many stories in the Bible which tell of what seems to be terrible tragedy turning out to be a greater blessing. The story of Joseph is an example. Sold into slavery by his brothers out of jealousy, imprisoned in Egypt out of venom and spite, but eventually he rose to prominence as Prime Minister of Egypt and there saved many thousands from famine, ironically including his own brothers.

Of course, for every story where the cloud has a silver lining there are hundreds where the cloud is dense and just gets denser. Because we cannot know the mind of God we cannot say that the suffering is without point even if it seems so. But even if such suffering does not disprove the existence of God it does not help the sufferer who may well feel very angry about his situation.

It has to be admitted that such suffering provides a problem for the believer, but it is just as difficult for the unbeliever.

CS Lewis put it this way:

My argument against God was that the Universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of 'just' and 'unjust'? ... What was I comparing the Universe with when I called it unjust? ... Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was just a private idea of my own. But if I did that then my argument against God collapsed too - for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies ... Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple.

To be true to his tenets the atheist must say that evolution depends on death destruction and violence of the strong against the weak. I watched one of those natural history programs that the BBC does so well. In it a Water Buffalo was bitten in the heel by a Komodo Dragon. The venom took days to work but the Buffalo gradually became weaker until it was too feeble to repel the attack of five or six dragons who began to eat it while it was still alive. The video was so repulsive that even the cameraman broke down. But why? This was only 'nature red in tooth and claw', what evolution demands; why should it upset us?

Similarly, plate tectonics insists that there will be earthquakes where plates abut. If humans build in such places the humans are going to be killed. Why should that upset us? As long as it isn't me or mine, why should I care? Haiti might say something about the stupidity of the town planners, but why should we be upset about the natural world, which is like it is. In a truly secular world there is no place for the concept of horrifying wickedness, and if we find some thing are horrifyingly wicked or pointlessly evil then this is an argument for the existence of God.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Murder in Pakistan

From the Barnabas Fund:

Two young Christian men accused of blasphemy were shot dead by masked attackers as they left court in Faisalabad, Pakistan, prompting an outbreak of violence.

Brothers Rashid Emmanuel, a pastor, and Sajid Emmanuel, a graduate student, were killed at 2pm on 19 July as police were transporting them to jail. A police inspector who was escorting the brothers, who were both in their 20s, was injured. The gunmen fled the scene.

Local Christians took to the streets in protest over the incident, prompting calls from mosques for Muslims to come out to “fight rampaging” Christians. Shops were looted, and vehicles and homes were vandalised in the Emmanuel brothers’ native Daud Nagar, with at least ten people reported injured.

A Barnabas Fund partner in Faisalabad said: “The Christian community is devastated by the shocking daylight murder of these two young Christian brothers. People are now living in fear about what further attacks believers may face in this latest wave of anti-Christian violence. There is no respect for the court and we feel powerless to defend ourselves. The Emmanuel brothers were dearly loved and respected for their faithful work for the Lord in Faisalabad.”

It was the brothers’ first court appearance after being detained earlier this month on blasphemy charges. They were accused of producing a handwritten pamphlet defiling Muhammad but the court heard from police that there was no evidence to support the charge. A report from a handwriting expert found that the writing on the pamphlet did not match that of either of the accused.

A mob of thousands of Muslim protesters in the majority-Christian Faisalabad area where the brothers lived had demanded the death sentence for them on 10 and 11 July, forcing many families to flee for their safety. But rumours spread on 18 July that the brothers would be found innocent and released.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Political Correctness

In the UK we are recovering from 13 years of a government dedicated to political correctness. Here are some of the lies that they told us in its name.

Cases of heterosexually transmitted AIDS exceeded cases caught homosexually. This was not because of the sloppy application of 'safe sex' by the young despite the expensive advertising campaign to tell us so, but because English girls were having sex with African immigrants.

Average pay for women is less than for men, not necessarily because of discrimination against women, but because women have long career breaks to have children, often take part-time posts, are likely to retire at 60 rather than 65, will often have less experience than men because of career breaks and may choose more socially rewarding or emotionally fulfilling jobs than men.

The rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe was not due to neo-Nazi skinheads but to bands of Muslim youths

Africa is not getting poorer because the West is stingy with its aid; It is mainly down to bad governance, corrupt leaders and socialism.

Contrary to the claims of socialism, big business has been responsible for the spread of prosperity throughout the western world, despite its occasional lamentable mistakes.

They tell us that Israel is a bully and the Palestinians are victims. For all its faults, Israel is a democracy where wrongdoers are held to account; in contrast Arafat ran a corrupt and self-aggrandizing regime and Hamas are murderous thugs intent of destroying all who do not obey.

You would never think so from the coverage in those far-left organs, the BBC, The Guardian and the Independent, but the murder of 55 people on the tube and a London bus was a greater crime than the mistaken gunning down of an innocent Brazilian (illegal) immigrant.

Labour encouraged immigration from the third world, but most people think Britain is full.

Labour ministers prated on about the values that other cultures brought to Britain, but most people hate and abhor multiculturalism.

They claim that most of the ills of the world are caused by America, in fact America is a force for good in the world.

Contrary to the propaganda, Soviet Russia killed more people than Nazi Germany.

Under political correctness victimhood was something sought after. It is a mistake to seek such a state. Benefits destroy you.

It is not true that 1 in 4 of the population is physically handicapped (unless you include all those who wear glasses). Nor is it true that 1 in 8 women has been beaten by her spouse/partner. And there are only half as many Muslims in the country as are claimed by the Muslim Council of Great Britain.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is religion a force for evil?

We cannot skip over the fact that there have been many injustices done by the church in the name of Christ. Dawkins and his ilk are correct in saying that religion has been one of the major threats to world peace, yet the contribution of societies that deny the existence of God to war and terror is also undeniable. Soviet Russia, Communist China and the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge are all examples of societies that tried to stamp out religion yet committed unbelievable atrocities. This tends to make me think that it is not religion, but something inherent in mankind that makes him behave so.

It is also true that individual Christians are more badly behaved than some non-Christians. A church is more like a hospital than a museum - it is there to rescue the morally lost rather than to preserve the saints. Many religions have as their aim to follow a set of rules; they always aspire to do better. True Christians are people who have realized that the rules cannot be kept and instead throw themselves on the mercy of the court. We are saved by grace (undeserved mercy) not by deeds.

Nevertheless, Christians have been responsible for many of the social improvements that the world has seen. In the highly stratified Graeco-Roman world, Christians mixed people from different races, classes and backgrounds, though in society the poor were despised, Christians gave generously to the poor of their own and of other faiths. Women had very low status in society; it was very different among Christians, not for them the high levels of female infanticide, forced marriages and poverty that were common among Roman women. During the urban plagues off the first two centuries it was the Christians who stayed and cared for the sick at great risk to themselves while the high and mighty fled the city. I need not say more about the evangelical revival of the nineteenth century, when great reform movements ended slavery, got children out of coal mines, improved conditions in factories and started orphanages. Let it be agreed that for all that the church has much to be ashamed of, when it was closest to its masters intentions it was a force for good.

Keep God out of it!

Alistair Campbell once famously said, when Tony Blair was asked a religious question, "We don't do God."

Although both Tony Blair and George W Bush were both clearly sorts of Christians, what Campbell meant was that religion should be kept as a private matter and not be allowed to enter the public discourse. This view has been endorsed by well-known secularists like Peter Singer, EO Wilson and Daniel Dennett.

But what is religion? Some say it is a form of belief in God, but that would exclude Buddhism which does believe in God at all. Some would say it is a belief in the supernatural, but that would exclude Hinduism which admits to no supernatural beyond the natural world. A better definition is 'a set of beliefs which explain what life is all about'. Perhaps the most popular set of beliefs in Western Europe today is that the material world is all there is; that we are here by accident and that when we die we rot. Therefore the most important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you. The point is that even secular pragmatists come to the table with deep commitments and narrative accounts of what it means to be human.

We all live according to a fundamental set of beliefs about what our existence means and we act according to those beliefs. To exclude 'religious' principles from public debate is to favor the secular point of view in a biased way, just as much as Islamic countries favor a view that Mohammed's name must not be sullied.

In fact secular grounds for moral positions are no less controversial than religious ones; all moral positions are at least implicitly religious and rely on 'givens' that are neither self-evident not logically provable.

Although many continue to insist on the exclusion of religious opinions from public debate, many thinkers, both religious and secular have come to recognize that such a call is itself religious.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

All faiths lead to God - Not.

Among those who criticise Christianity one of the biggest complaints is its exclusivity. How dare you say that you are right and everybody else is wrong? Sometimes the concept is phrased in a different way: All major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing.

But when we ask those who think that all religions lead to God, how they would define this God, they usually reply that he is an all-loving spirit in the universe or some such inoffensive definition. They will insist that individual doctrines do not matter. However, such a view of God is at odds with the five major faiths. Buddhism does not believe in a personal God at all, Hinduism believes in many gods while the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe in a God that holds people to account for their beliefs and practices - though each has a different view on which beliefs and practices are essential. All the sceptics are doing is trying to create a sixth religion, the major doctrine of which is that doctrine does not matter (except for this doctrine, of course).

Sometimes the illustration is used of the blind men and the elephant. Each describes God according to the part of the animal he can feel - the leg, the drunk, the flank, the tail - but none can 'see' the whole animal. What is wrong with this illustration is that it assumes that the critic can see the whole elephant. In other words the critic arrogantly assumes for himself a position of superiority.

Others will say that what we believe is culturally conditioned. I might be a Christian because I was born in England, but were I to have been born in Morocco I would have been a Muslim. Everything is relative, they say. This statement proves too much, for it means that even the sceptic is subject to such relativism. He only believes it to be true because of the way he has been brought up.

Post-modernists tell us that it is arrogant to insist our religion is right and to try and convert others to it. They say that all religious claims to have a better view of things are arrogant and wrong. Once again this proves too much, for on this basis, this very same claim is arrogant and wrong.

Is any religious claim to be better than any other bound to be untrue because of such reasons? Such a belief would be a religious belief and itself be bound to be untrue.

Sceptics (or Skeptics) seem very keen that Christians should not proselytize. Why should they care? Only because they are proselytizers themselves of what is in fact another religion (even if they don't recognize it as such).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why the economy is in trouble.

A haulage boss was left stunned after an unemployed driver rejected the offer of a job paying more than £500 ($750) a week so he could remain on benefits.

Graham Poole, the managing director of a 23-wagon fleet in Rochdale, offered the job to the man who had been out of work for 18 months, only to be told told it was not enough to have him come off government handouts.

The man turned the job down claiming he could get more money on benefits by 'sitting around at home'.

Lack of Candour

There have now been three reports to try and exonerate the CRU from scientific dishonesty. That they have failed to do so is apparent from today's New Scientist. Hitherto this has been a strong supporter of anthropogenic global warming, but their comment today "Without candour, we can't trust climate science" demonstrates just how much damage has been done to the AGW cause.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no-one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation.

CS Lewis - The Four Loves

The Pacific

I have one of those hard-drive TV recorders and during my convalescence I have been catching up on some of the programs that I missed. I have now finished watching HBO's The Pacific.

A Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg collaboration, it attemts to do for the war against the Japanese what Band of Brothers did for the war against the Germans.

The Pacific war was very different from the European war, and we in Europe don't know much about it. It was a dirtier and more brutal war against an enemy that would not surrender. In a way it was a religious war. Emperor worship was a religion of honor/shame. Christian America believed in sin/forgiveness. Honor/shame takes no prisoners.

In the end America won, not because its soldiers were braver or more virtuous, but because it had better technology.

At one point civilians were ushered forward by the retreating Japanese forces. One woman offered her baby to the American soldiers only to be revealed to be wearing a suicide bomb belt. This could only have been meant to be for us to draw a resemblance to Islamic terrorists who have a similar honor/shame life view. Perhaps the answer in Afghanistan is better technology.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Antigenic modulation

28 years ago I wrote this editorial for the Lancet. It stll has relevance today as you will see in a subsequent post.

Antigenic modulation

The passive serotherapy of cancer has had a long gestation and little success. However, the advent of monoclonal antibodies with their high specificity has awakened interest in the subject. Lately there have been several reports of attempts to treat lymphoid malignant disease with murine monoclonal antibodies, and antibodies to melanoma, neuroblastoma, leiomyosarcoma, teratoma, and colonic and breast carcinomas have been raised. It has also been proposed that monoclonal antibodies might be used to remove T cells before bone-marrow transplantation to prevent graft-versus-host disease, and to remove tumour cells from bone-marrow autografts after high-dose chemotherapy.

All these applications are threatened by the phenomenon of antigenic modulation. This effect was first described by Boyse et al. for the TL antigen of murine thymic leukaemia, and involves the temporary disappearance of the target antigen from the surface of the tumour cell in the presence of antibody. When antibody is removed from the system the cell re-expresses the antigen. The process begins with the complexing of antibody with antigen on the cell surface. One divalent molecule of antibody links with adjacent molecules of antigen, so that the antigen is rearranged into patches and caps before internalisation of the whole complex by pinocytosis.

The speed of the reaction is remarkable. Incubation of the target cell with antibody at 37 deg C for as little as two minutes can prevent complement-dependent cytolysis. Complete clearance of the antigen is not, apparently, necessary to render the antibody ineffective, and mere persistence of the antigen on the surface of the cell does not mean that that cell will be susceptible to antibody-induced killing or clearing. Simple rearrangement of antigen and antibody in the lipid bilayer seems to hinder the deposition of complement components sufficiently to protect the cell surface. In some systems antigenic modulation takes place so quickly that it appreciably protects the cell even against simultaneous attack by antibody and complement.

A further contribution to chronic antigenic modulation in vivo arises from the
metabolic response to the combination of antibody with cell surface antigen. A surge of intracellular cyclic AMP is succeeded by reduced delivery of antigen to the cell surface. Antibodies kill tumour cells by invoking various effector mechanisms such as complement dependent cytolysis, K cell killing, and binding to Fc or C3 receptors on macrophages. All these mechanisms depend on the antibody remaining on the cell surface in an accessible form for a finite period, and all are susceptible to antigenic modulation.

Most current attempts to bypass this mechanism involve giving the antibody a "warhead" so that these effector mechanisms need not be invoked. It has proved difficult to link cytotoxic drugs to antibody in such a way that the link remains stable in vivo. Labelling the antibody with radioactive isotopes 7 carries the risk of obliterating the antibody combining site. Some groups have tried coupling the biological toxins abrin and ricin to antibody but their safety in vivo remains in doubt.

A more attractive solution has been offered by Glennie and Stevenson. They have constructed a univalent antibody by papain cleavage of one Fab fragment from each immunoglobulin molecule. The resulting antibody cannot cross-link with adjacent antigen molecules and therefore does not cause antigenic modulation. However, it does retain the ability to fix complement. To show its efficacy they have treated the guinea pig prolymphocytic leukaemia L2C with a polyclonal, univalent rabbit antibody against the idiotypic determinants of the surface immunoglobulin. Univalent antibody was more effective in vitro at inducing complement-dependent cytolysis and in vivo it prolonged the life of the guinea pig. In this it was three times as effective as whole IgG. This particular biochemical manoeuvre is effective only for
rabbit IgG but other procedures are available to produce univalent antibody from the immunoglobulin of other species. When they are applied to murine monoclonal antibodies there are immense prospects for successful immunotherapy.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Miracles are unusual

While I was in hospital I was pleased to receive a visit from my friend, Dr W. Dr W's story is remarkable.

I first heard about him when he was a young doctor in Nigeria. One day a junior doctor in my own hospital came to see me at the end of my out-patients clinic. Would I be prepared to perform a bone marrow transplant of a friend of hers from Nigeria?

I explained to her that I would only be able to do so if he had the funds to pay for it. I expected to hear no more, but a few weeks later she came back and told me that there had been a coup in Nigeria and for a short period her husband, a civil servant, had become Minister of Health. During that period he had managed to find the money to pay for Dr W's transplant.

The next week he arrived in the UK and my secretary found him a room to stay in.

The first thing was to make a diagnosis. This turned out to be very unusual. He had multiple myeloma with a high paraprotein. He also had red cell aplasia, which meant that he needed transfusions every week. There were no cases in the literature with these two conditions, but it seemed to me that they had to be linked. Most likely the paraprotein had antibody activity against red cell precursors or erythropoietin. We could not demonstrate this to be true in the test tube, but we set about trying to reduce the paraprotein by chemotherapy and plasmapheresis. In fact neither this nor any of the subsequent treatments that we used did anything for his pure red cell aplasia. He eventually had an autograft which put his myeloma into long term remission, but nothing halted his need for weekly transfusions of red cells.

Of course he ran into transfusion problems. Despite the fact that he had received 76 pints of blood in Africa he had not contracted either hepatitis or AIDS - his donations had all come from members of his evangelical church, who clearly walked the walk as well as talking the talk. But this was no help against iron overload and as he developed cardiomyopathy from this we had to institute an aggressive iron chelation policy.

Dr W was a keen Christian and a fine singer and even though he was unable to practice medicine over here, he found a useful life in Christian ministry and song after I obtained for him permanent residence in the UK. Remarkably he remained in remission as far a his myeloma went, but he still needed a pint of blood a week to keep him alive. Then remarkably, a couple of years ago he stopped needing the transfusions. Even more remarkably he changed his blood group from A to O. Since then he has not needed blood and is living a normal life.

I don't expect to see miracles. But is was surely strange that his ticket to come to the UK was furnished by such a happy series of coincidences. Of all the places that he might have come, he was fortunate to hit upon one of only 10 Christian hematologists in the UK. His remsiion from myeloma of 19 years is the second longest I have seen, and spontaneous remission of pure red cell aplasia must be very rare, but I have never seen a person change their blood group.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Alan Sullivan RIP

Because of the wonders of the Internet, I lost a friend yesterday. Alan Sullivan was a poet and an editor of poets. His major works were a translation of Beowulf and a new translation of the Psalms of King David. We only met once. One year when I was attending ASH I had dinner with him and with Chaya and PC Venkat in Orlando. Alan lived in Fort Lauderdale and had driven up especially for the occasion. Alan had been diagnosed with CLL in 2005 and like PC he had the dreaded del 11q version.

Alan contacted me (or perhaps I contacted him) about his CLL. We were very different people. He was gay and I am straight, he was a sailor and I gave that up after spending an April afternoon with a wet bottom in the English Channel, and he ended up a Roman Catholic and I am a reformed and evangelical Baptist. Despite this we found that we had a lot in common. It began with the Aubrey/Maturin books of Patrick O’Brian and Tolkien science fiction (especially Dune) and extended into poetry. I was pleased to find a real expert who did not disdain rhyme and rhythm.

Alan wrote a blog under the name seablogger. It is called Fresh Bilge and will remain available through the good offices of what he called his rare readers, though they are not so few in number but rather rarefied in their abilities.

There were many things that he wrote about, like hurricanes and volcanoes that went over my head, but we shared similar political views and I appreciated small chinks of compassion in what might otherwise be thought of as a hard-nosed right-wing carpace. I remember a poem of his which looked at a dark-skinned denizen of the waterfront – was he a kindly school teacher or terrorist.

Alan was not a Christian when I first met him. I told him how I became a Christian. It was at a time when I was in despair because although I did everything right in treating my leukemia patients my reward for getting everything correct was that they died. Life seemed pointless when one of my patients invited me to his church. It took another six months until I went and when I got there I discovered that he had died the previous Thursday. The minister preached a sermon designed to comfort his widow on the raising of Lazarus. At a crucial point he read out these words, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Then he pointed directly at me and said, “Do you believe this?”

And when everything else had been stripped away I found that I did.

Alan found my testimony moving and indicated that it almost convinced him to become a Christian. I prefer to think of it as one of the links the Holy Spirit used to save him.

And now he is gone. I shall miss his waspish wit, his wide knowledge and his diligent searches of the web. He wrote a poem about CLL which I reproduce here.

Divide and Conquer

The cells divide. The cells that will not die
divide too well and so they multiply.
They kill the host to keep themselves alive.

The blood goes bad. In vain physicians try
to purge the veins with drugs the cells defy.
The cells divide. The cells that will not die

mutate anew. The hardy few survive.
The few recruit the many teeming by.
They kill the host to keep themselves alive.

They colonize the nodes from neck to thigh.
The tumors grow, and scanners never lie.
The cells divide. The cells that will not die

stifle the very organs where they thrive.
Blind, stupid things—their purpose gone awry—
they kill the host to keep themselves alive.

Exploding through the flesh, they multiply,
but immortality eludes them. Why?
The cells divide. The cells that will not die
kill the host to keep themselves alive.

Alan's CLL is also dead. Pray God we find a way to kill the cells before they kill the host.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Comings and goings

I had a bad night. On Wednesday after my fifth attack of watery diarrhea I took a couple of Imodium. This was a mistake. Everything shut down again. Yesterday night was spent in a series of colicky wakefulness punctuated by drowsy dreaming. I should have taken some more paracetamol (acetaminophen) but I was too dopey to think of it. Anyway, things have begun progressing again, but I have made my diet a bit more liquid. It is all two steps forward and one step back.

I see in the newspaper that the 'mastermind' who planned the capture of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics has finally gone to Hell. He escaped assassination attempts but there is no escaping the final judgment.

There will be an Englishman in the World Cup final. Howard Webb and his team will referee the final. I finally saw a clip of England's disallowed goal against Germany. The case for technology to help referees seems to have been made. Incidentally, so poorly did the the lauded stars of England do that it makes you appreciate David Beckham. They said he was a one-trick-pony. That is at least better than being a no-trick carthorse.

While I have been away two of my favorite blogs seem to have shut down. Cranmer has not posted since June 15th. Not the real Archbishop Cranmer, of course, but someone claiming to be him writing a blog from the conservative wing of the Church of England.

Sadder is the impending demise of Fresh Bilge . Alan Sullivan has been suffering from CLL for several years. He is unmutated with del 11q. I have been able to help him from time to time, but while I was away he was hospitalized with a burst appendix (or something nearby) and developed peritonitis. Surgery was futile and he is on supportive care alone, unlikely to be able to communicate again. His many friends are figuratively gathered around his bedside via the net. I consider myself to have been a friend too. I communicated my testimony to him some time ago and this was one of the links in his conversion.

I shall write some more about him when the time comes.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Another whitewash out today slapping the wrist of the East Anglian 'scientists' who had their e-mails leaked. Of course, no one questions their honesty or integrity, but they really should have been more open and complied with the FOI request.

Here is an e-mail that Phil Jones sent that wasn't leaked but sent directly to a global warming sceptic:

"We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?"

Because, Phil, that's how science works. Once you have formulated a theory you try as hard as you can to knock it down. Otherwise it's like saying that all swans are white and refusing to go to Australia to view the black ones.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Yes, I am still alive. I know people have been worried by my prolonged absence, but all in all the operation seems to have been successful and I am now home. As far as I can tell there was very little objective change in their operative findings, with the cancer restricted to an area surrounding the ileo-cecal valve. It is a fairly slow-growing cancer which is being restrained by my body's reaction against it. Part of that reaction is to lay down a network of fibrous tissue which enmeshes the cancer cells. This fibrous reaction and scarred down and caused an obstruction in the bowel. The surgeons by-passed this by joining ileum to transverse colon.

Unfortunately, just like last time I had a prolonged ileus (bowel paralysis) so that it took until the day before yesterday for even liquids to start passing through properly. It was very painful as parts of the bowel were contracting while others were silent, but eventually things began to pass and they were able to discharge me.

I am still very weak having lost a lot of weight when I wasn't eating. I need to build up my strength and muscle bulk and I doubt that I will be blogging much over the next few weeks.

Thanks for all the good wishes that have been sent me and especially for your prayers.