WHY I WRITE

An online friend asked a question yesterday: why do writers write? Is it out of love for writing or necessity? The question made me think. Here’s my, thoughtful, answer:

I used to create cartoon strips, about our household, as a kid. I’d love to go back to this subversive activity but, as my freehand skills aren’t great, it would probably be by using some kind of computer programme. As the Benjamin of the family (perhaps as unfairly indulged as Joseph), my earliest literary creations reflected my counterfactual belief that it was me and the dog contra mundum. My elder brother, who still has all his Marvel and DC comics from the 70’s, loved them. Alas, my infant creations didn’t survive long. Neither, tragically, did our lovely foxhound and it was this early loss and the much later acquisition of my beloved tan terrier, Ben, that powered Angels With Hairy Faces – a plea for humanity in our relationships with dogs, who can inspire us so profoundly.

One afternoon in the 80’s, at St Andrews University, an American neighbour in the student residence pushed a short story under my door. I was so intrigued by this action, and by the creation of this elaborate lie on paper, that I don’t think I even commented on it to him. For this I am truly sorry. Affirmation is so important to writers. I can’t remember what it was about, I just recall my first understanding of the magical agency involved in literary creation. During these years I began to write poetry, St Andrews is an extremely poetic (and pretentious) place. I still do, although I find my own poems even harder to evaluate than my prose. But sometimes I feel a powerful emotion that just won’t be communicated any other way. I felt this, as a new(ish) vegan, watching The Levelling in 2017 and by happy accident I was working my way through Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, on poetry forms, at the time. The result was a villanelle.

Although I wrote some liberal student newspaper articles (which I thought radical) in a confessional and impassioned style which would now be called blogging, my first attempt at short story was inspired by dreams and memories and freewriting in the early 90’s at a college in California where I received the most excellent and author-empowering advice on asking for feedback:

  • Don’t say if you like or dislike it, if you think it’s good or bad, that doesn’t help
  • Don’t suggest changes, tell me what it does to you

A few years later, I revisited my infantile work with a caricatured melodrama in daily instalments starring my co-workers in a hotel on the Isle of Skye. To date, they have been my most appreciative readers. Never on a Sunday survives somewhere but is not for publication! Neither is my Mormon Christmas mystery, written for American flatmates, or the various (lively) extrapolations of dreams and desires I have since written as birthday presents for various gay men. People enjoy their dreams coming true but what they really appreciate is getting a mention. Mostly. (Do ask!)

Reading the Tales of the City series back in Scotland started my long preoccupation with the oddities associated with relationships between bisexual/gay and strait (sic) men. (We’re not bent, we’re broadminded.) That had various manifestations (on and off the page!) and culminated in the Bruno Benedetti Mysteries. Tricks of the Mind was an escape from caring for my Dad who had dementia but it was also an exploration of the puzzling power of clairsentience widely experienced by empathetic people and usually explained away. This started a pairing of an aspect of esoterica I found fascinating with an underlying emotional drive. So The Lovers is a meditation on the cycle of life portrayed in Tarot but also on the urgency of love (all in a plot about hospital closures). Shades of the Sun (still my favourite) is a Scooby-Doo type adventure complete with creepy manor and masqued villain combining a now obscure branch of astrology with grief and PTSD. Qismet was meant by me to showcase my amazing ideas on education but the characters (Bruno, Justin, Imogen and Clara, principally) would have none of it and instead it became a ghost story about the evils of trying to rewrite the past. Often the motivations of the characters will remain unclear to me until the end. Then I understand not only what I’ve written, but why I’ve written it. Most of the time they just don’t let me in on their secrets until they really have to. Imogen and that crypt being a prime example! Tir nam Ban was born from the waves of the North Atlantic as they strike mysterious Hebridean isles. Of course it was inspired by many lives on many islands and in many communities, some of them mine, but really I wanted to do justice (however obliquely) to both the Celtic faerie tradition and Christianity and also to use a juxtaposition of sex and socioeconomic slavery to illustrate the rottenness of social respectability.

My academic work benefitted from my growing literary confidence (at least I thought so, a dense critical theory lecturer found my style ‘journalistic’) and Dreaming Anarchy was in the ethnographic tradition of thick description. Now I think I chose to write it for my Master’s dissertation because I was so tired of all the words about words about words, ironic lives lived cynically at a half-remove, that I wanted to live and publicise a more embodied politics. And you don’t get much more embodied than living up the Pyrenees with no electricity or plumbing.

Alchemy at the Chalkface was my homage to Dr Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and my analysis and application of his work first bore fruit in Only Say The Word when I realised that ‘Jesus loves me so you have to accept my lifestyle’ wasn’t a good enough justification for homosexuality when conservative Christians’ main problem wasn’t theological but biological: they just didn’t think it was natural. So I explored the nature of ‘nature’. That also helped with Life-Choice when I realised that women on both sides of the man-made barricades (and those very few trying to dismantle them) had completely different views on the nature of life in a woman’s womb, which their ethics (about what could be done with this life) followed.

Trans/Substantiation started as a departmental paper putting forward the view that ecumenical understanding on the Eucharist was being hindered more by metaphysics than theology but expanded when it struck me that beliefs about gender were exactly that: non-empirical and passionately held. This I found, shockingly, also to be true for establishment views on AIDS (as well as the more outlandish conspiracy theories on the syndrome) but here there was a kind of doublethink going on that, to a Roman Catholic, was very familiar. Researchers know (and so do readers if they read carefully) that the HIV-AIDS hypothesis doesn’t stand up but views contrary to those that sell the products of the pharmaceutical industry (a modern embodiment of Phillip Pullman’s Magisterium if there ever was one) are effectively no-platformed. Meanwhile multitudes of gay men, and Black Africans, especially, die from the known toxilogical effects of pharmaceutical drugs pushed onto populations whose mortality is considered inconsequential in comparison to profit. So, having ignored the subject for decades (because it frightened me) I simply had to write Silence and Dissent.

On a lighter note, there are my plays, dealing with dementia as subversive remembrance, homosexuality in the ranks, shooting shell-shocked soldiers, carpet-bombing and cold-blooded anti-Semitic murder. At least those are the topics of the two I’ve published so far, Mrs Atkins remembers and Redemption (the others are a bit more intense). I wrote the first out of my experience working with UK schools at WW1 memorials, my memories of my grandfather, blinded by mustard gas, and reading Lyn MacDonald’s The Roses of No-Man’s Land; the second because of a remark my Theatre Studies tutor made. It caused me to reconsider Dostoyevski’s negative portrayal of the old Russian pawnbroker, Alyona, and to try to imagine her life story.

Lastly, and just this week, I received the news that my booklet on nutrition, which I wrote out of concern for so many young people starving themselves (and ending up obese) is now an audiobook! Body-Logic is my first successful attempt at reaching the required level of quality in recording and editing (it’s been a very steep learning curve) but now I hope that, gradually, my novels and other reflections may be able to reach a wider audience for whom reading is either inconvenient or impossible. My inspiration for this move has been my mother, who can read but also loves to listen to story tapes.

Have I answered the question? Why do I write? For all sorts of reasons. Mostly because I feel I must, even the stories just have to come out. I’ve never been pregnant but I imagine it must feel like that – only a lot more overwhelming an experience! Do I love writing? Sometimes. But that’s really not the point. It’s about vivid reflection on life.

writing-hand-1443450529gzn

Thanks (again) to Dawn Hudson who has released her illustration ‘Writing Hand’ into the Public Domain.

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Notes on AIDS

Notes by Dr Alan McManus on Prof Sir Andrew McMichael’s talk on 15th January 2012 to Glasgow Skeptics: Does HIV Cause AIDS? Available HERE (accessed 4th January 2018)

Disclaimer I am not a medical doctor, nor a scientist or statistician. No medical decisions should be taken on the basis of these notes, which are simply a layman’s response to the words of a competent authority in the field of HIV/AIDS made in the light of the words of other competent authorities in this field. I am working from an online video not a transcription, so please do not take the following as official quotes as they may be slightly paraphrased (as I can’t run back the clip). Some quotes are taken from bulletpoints on the PowerPoint used in the video clip. I do not comment on the illustrative graphs shown in the video clip which have no figures on the X-axis, nor references for their data, as no methodological information is given for any of them – including whether the years shown on the y-axis are based on extrapolated data (speculation). Therefore they have as much scientific credibility as doodles (this does not mean they are therefore wrong, but it does mean they cannot function as scientific supporting evidence).

“It’s fine to be skeptical, as long as you are prepared to change your mind. If you’re not prepared to change your mind, you’re really denying it.”

  • Questioning a controversial hypothesis is not being in denial. Especially as Dr Montagnier & Dr Gallo (official ‘co-discoverers of HIV’) take different hypothetical positions. SOURCE

“There are three prominent denialists.”

  • There are many prominent scientists who dispute the official hypothesis of HIV/AIDS. SOURCE

“This is Professor Peter Duesberg, who’s a Professor of Chemistry at Berkeley.”

  • Peter Duesberg is Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley. SOURCE

“He was first skeptical then became a denialist. So, bucking the trend, painting himself as a kind of Galileo.”

  • As far as I can tell, this has been said about Professor Duesberg, not by him. SOURCE

[Speaking also of Dr Kary Mullis, whom he describes as ‘a crackpot’] “These guys are chemists, and I don’t have anything against chemists but they don’t know much about medicine.”

  • Dr Mullis is a Biochemist and Nobel Prizewinner. SOURCE

[Speaking of the position of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa on AIDS] “He was surfing the internet one night and came across AIDS denialism […] He refused to believe that HIV was the root of it.”

  • President Mbeki has never stated this belief. He was concerned at the insistence of global pharmaceutical companies to push AZT monotherapy (now known to be toxic and withdrawn elsewhere) on the people of South Africa and set up a conference of international experts (most of the establishment opinion) to ask for advice. SOURCE

“AIDS is caused by, or is a myth created by, the CIA [etc.]”

  • Prof McMichael (who makes several, unsubstantiated and sarcastic ad hominem attacks during this talk) is here appearing to be speaking of these three ‘prominent denialists’ but, as far as I know, none of them have ever espoused such conspiracy theories. They are not to blame for those who have.

[Speaking of a report in a Ugandan newspaper] “Men were accused of sleeping with fish, as this disease wreaked havoc among Ugandans […] So there were some really wild notions out there.”

  • This report has nothing to do with the debate. Why chose an example of African AIDS hysteria when there are so many European ones? Conflating the reasoned concerns of top scientists and a caring president with such media hysteria is both nasty and illogical.

“They a see circular argument in that we define the disease as having HIV […] but the fact remains that every case has the virus.”

  • This is false. SOURCE
  • There is also the huge problem of different and changing classifications of AIDS. SOURCE

“The next slide shows the virus budding from the particles. So the virus exists and Duesberg doesn’t deny that the virus exists.”

  • This is true, but the Perth Group of scientists (whom Prof McMichael studiously ignore) have maintained for over 30 years that there has never been any convincing proof of the existence of the Virus and that electron micrographs supposedly showing the virus have various inconsistencies with the establishment theory of HIV/AIDS. SOURCE

[Speaking of Koch’s 4 Postulates] “There were two lab incidents in the USA, were people were accidentally infected with HIV and went on to develop the symptoms of AIDS and they were treated in time to save their lives. […] I guess the virus could be isolated from these people.”

  • Anecdotal evidence. No controls. This is not a double-blinded scientific study nor anywhere near it. Gossip doesn’t prove a point. There are many examples (e.g. of spouses staying HIV negative after decades of unprotected sex with an HIV positive partner) to the contrary. SOURCE

[Speaking of Koch’s 4 Postulates] “At least in one animal, AIDS has been caused, so it fulfils 3 and 4.”

  • On the screen, the bulletpoint refers to SIV (Simian [monkey] Immunodeficiency Virus) not AIDS. SOURCE (about 9:56 on the video clip)

“HIV positivity precedes development of AIDS”

  • This is only true if AIDS is defined as having at least one of a list of conditions plus HIV, and if the cases of AIDS in HIV- people are ignored. SOURCE
  • Also there is no control of anti-retroviral drugs as a causative factor for symptoms of AIDS, which they are officially admitted to cause. SOURCE

“HIV appears in population before deaths from AIDS.”

  • HIV doesn’t ‘appear’. Whatever the source of the phenomenon that HIV tests are recording, it does not follow the classic bell curve of a new epidemic. If this is an existing virus, it’s an old one. SOURCE (The author does not say this clearly, although Professor Duesberg does, SOURCE although it is admitted that the data support this conclusion. The author declares ‘no conflicting interests’ even though the research is sponsored by a foundation that is a spin-off of a large pharmaceutical company SOURCE and published by another)

[Referring to Neville Hodgkinson (writer) and Andrew Neal (editor)] “a pretty scurrilous series of articles that appeared in the Sunday Times”.

  • The writer apparently was persuaded by the reasonableness of the ‘dissident’ arguments and the published debate shut down by very unreasonable complaints. SOURCE
  • The writer appears quite reasonable in this interview: SOURCE

[Speaking of the strange absence of HIV in cells in the body] “only 1/10,000 to 1/1,000 cells affected” but “Recent evidence that 20% of gut CD4+ T cells infected in acute infection.”

  • The competing hypothesis of oxidative stress focuses on the rectum and can explain this apparent result without recourse to HIV. SOURCE (a very erudite article from the leading light of the Perth Group, see also the short article by Joan Shenton at the end)

“80% of CD4+ T cells in gut die in acute infection.”

  • This ‘virus like no other’ (Perth Group) is said to kill T cells yet it is grown in them! Researchers advise each other on the best T cell lines to use: SOURCE. Incidentally, this is why it makes no sense to use chemotherapy drugs (which targets the overgrowth of T cells) for HIV (which is supposed to kill T cells). SOURCE

[Speaking of AZT] “It does have side-effects. It was originally made as a cancer drug, to stop cancer cells growing.” “It can stop other cells growing.”

  • AZT was never approved as a cancer drug, because of the results in animal test there were no tests on humans. SOURCE

[Speaking of AZT] “It reduced the transmission from mother to baby by about half. […] So this has been one of the great success stories that can, has been applied in Africa. Not universally. […] Mbeki didn’t help that because he said you didn’t need it and he had a crazy health minister who said you should use extracts of beetroot instead of these drugs and of course they’re useless.”

  • In among the convoluted presentation of the data here is the fact that treatment with AZT is associated with swift increase in mortality. SOURCE So the health minister was not so crazy!
  • Although AZT kills off infection as it kills life (DNA synthesis) even the establishment admits its terrible toxicity. SOURCE

“Anti-HIV drugs have reduced death rate in western countries dramatically”

  • The illustrative graph (which does have numbers on the x-axis and a CDC logo) shows a dramatic decrease in mortality from AIDS mirrored [but not identical as the ‘with AIDS’ figure is far higher] by that of deaths ‘due to HIV’, from around 50/1,000 [‘with AIDS’] & 45/1,000 [‘due to HIV’] in 1995 to around 20/1,000 & 15/1,000 in 1997. This decline is preceded (in 1994) by a lessening of the steep rate of increase (from 1987).
  • What Prof McMichael fails to mention in what he calls this “single most conclusive piece of evidence” is that the toxic drug AZT was licensed in 1986 and replaced in 1996 by ‘combination therapy’ (HAART), which everyone admits is less lethal. SOURCE
  • This odd graph shows this dramatic decrease flattening out from 1997. So what was happening in the years 1994, 1995 and 1996? In April 1994 the results of the infamous Concorde Trial were published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. AZT monotherapy was over. SOURCE
  • The difference in the lines of deaths ‘with AIDS’ but not ‘due to HIV’ is that any disease (such as liver failure) caused by ART or HAART (anti-HIV treatment drug regimes) but not listed as ‘AIDS related’ would be included in the higher figure.

Chart at 25:04 shows falling then plummeting life expectancy in 1980s & ‘90s in 5 African countries (Zimbabwe, South-Africa, Botswana, Uganda & Zambia) with some recovery in 2 of them:

Zimbabwe (fall aprox. ’83, plummet aprox. ’87, plateau at new low aprox. ‘97)

South-Africa (fall aprox. ’92, plummet aprox. ’97)

Botswana (fall aprox. ’87, plummet aprox. ’92)

Uganda (fall aprox. ’83, slight recovery aprox. ’92, better recovery aprox. ’96)

Zambia (fall aprox. ’82, plummet aprox. ’87, slight recovery aprox. ’92)

Chart at 26:00 shows maps of Africa with changing percentages of HIV diagnosis (or assumption/ projection from test) for the years 1984, 1989, 1994, 1999, with no correlation given between these two charts other than “while this was happening, this was happening […] you have to go through some incredible metal acrobatics to say the two weren’t connected in any way”.

  • Prof McMichael appears to be relying here on a 2008 article by Chigwedere et al., ‘‘Estimating the lost benefits of antiretroviral drug use in South Africa”. A detailed rebuttal of this article, “HIV-AIDS hypothesis out of touch with South African AIDS – A new perspective”, demonstrates on epidemiological and immunological grounds that ‘mental acrobatics’ are intimately involved in the production of both charts and that the figures of both mortality and incidence of HIV in Africa published by global concerns linked with pharmaceutical companies differ considerably from those recorded by the government of these African countries – as well as differing from the anecdotal evidence of observation of the undertaking industry! SOURCE
  • President Mbeki complained officially about this kind of manipulation of statistics affecting South Africa. SOURCE

“The virus was isolated in 1983, in Paris and then in the USA.”

Not according to Dr Montagnier of the Institute Pasteur, Paris, credited as its co-discoverer. SOURCE

19:58 is all about clades and subtypes of HIV and the “phylogenetic tree” and coloured map of the world, both helpfully labelled with the letters A-J (as well as the word ‘consensus’ and 1959 – referring to the supposed origin found in frozen blood samples taken in Kinshasa, Tanzania).

  • As usual, no reference is provided but the tree diagram (if not manufactured by the advertised software) appears to have been altered from one on Wikipedia, which boasts varied (and varying) examples. SOURCE
  • All very convincing until we get to a now-familiar circular reasoning. HIV-clades are identified by testing with HIV test kits primed with local HIV-clade proteins (which are presumed to occur locally). SOURCE (see paragraph just before ‘Results’). So, as these proteins are non-specific, even to HIV, SOURCE they may react with the antibodies in the blood samples as would those of any other clades.
  • One can’t go wrong in identifying clades as any unfamiliar genotypes can be assumed to be mutations or ‘recombinant’ mash-ups (and more aggressive). SOURCE (also has an interesting twist to the story, ‘co-receptors’, as apparently CD4 sites aren’t the point of entry after all! Who knew?)

[Speaking of SIV, which is harmless to both monkeys and humans] “When you take it out of an African monkey and put it in an Asian monkey, they develop AIDS, exactly like AIDS.”

  • Not unless the poor monkeys are so weakened that they have very poor immune systems in the first place. SOURCE & SOURCE

“SIVsm [sooty mangabees] very close to HIV-2 in West Africa.”

  • Actually it’s genetically identical. SOURCE Which raises the question of why all of a sudden this millennia-old harmless monkey virus should jump to humans and “cause havoc”. SOURCE

35:22 another Wikipedia-type phylogenetic tree (unreferenced, again). This time of HIV-1.

  • What’s interesting is that of the 18 varieties of genotypes (clades or subtypes) the 7 varieties of SIV are no nearer to the root of the ‘tree’ (as one might expect of supposed ancestors). SOURCE (see for yourself among such trees on Wiki)

“It’s suspected that there’s some unlucky gene, in the virus, that enabled it to grow in humans, and that’s an extremely rare event that happened sometime in the 1950’s”

  • A rare event that appears to have occurred hundreds of times since then?
  • This SOURCE lists 63 varieties of HIV-2 and states there are even more for HIV-1. That’s a lot of bad luck!

38:13 [Speaking of another colourful world map but this time with a reference (UNIAIDS December 2001) and the prevalence of AIDS] “Which begs the question of why it is more prevalent in Africa.”

  • HIV testing in Africa is not only poorly done (this recent SOURCE is from the comparatively wealthy country of South Africa) but false positives abound – as even the WHO admit SOURCE in their damage control comment on the damning report of Médecins Sans Frontières. SOURCE

“It may be to do with social and cultural factors of how people interact.”

  • What on earth could the good Professor be referring to? Is he descending into racist European stereotypes of African sexuality?

[Speaking of the dissident claim that the immune system rids the body of HIV, after citing cold sores etc. as evidence of the opposite situation] “Every immune response the virus has thrown up, the virus escapes it.”

  • Yet it lies dormant for years, until the immune system is compromised.
  • This is an odd claim to make. “In other words, HIV is really just an opportunistic infection sometimes unleashed after the immune system has been suppressed.” (quote from SOURCE)

“Most patients in Africa, if they become infected, they actually present in the hospital with TB.”

  • So, given the non-specific nature of the HIV test and the fact that it’s badly administered in Africa, and that a known toxic drug was deployed on the population (and still is) why on earth do we need to be enquiring into the sex lives of the African people? There is a horrible sentence in this SOURCE that sums up the situation in Africa: “In Europe, when ARVs came along, the hospital wards emptied of people who were severely ill,” says Gilles van Cutsem, medical coordinator for MSF in South Africa. “When we started our HIV programme in Khayelitsha, the waiting room was full of sick people in wheelbarrows. There is less of that now, but people are still coming in very sick.”
  • Unfortunately, the toxicity of AZT also became quickly apparent in Europe & the USA. SOURCE

[Summing up] “The denialists seem to have closed minds. They may be religious extremists, they may be driven by fear or ignorance or want publicity or just be plain malignant […] it’s more to do with psychology which I don’t know anything about.”

  • The only response to this is to quote the good professor’s own words: “It’s fine to be skeptical, as long as you are prepared to change your mind. If you’re not prepared to change your mind, you’re really denying it.”
  • So, it seems that the true skeptics are those questioning the establishment hypothesis (which is not one but two and they disagree!) and the true ‘denialists’ are those that in the face of the multitude of obvious and concealed flaws in this hypothesis persist in their adherence to an unfounded belief rather than proven facts.

(Please see Disclaimer at the beginning of my post)

Silence and Dissent

More information from my book, Silence and Dissent: Expert Doubt in the AIDS Debate.

Bruno in January

As January, at least in Scotland, starts and ends with festivity but is infamously dreich (gloomy) in between, I thought it would be fun to do a search through my inclusive mystery series set in Glasgow, using the word ‘January’, to see what the protagonist of the Bruno Benedetti books gets up to in this month of mixed feelings. First of all, I discovered that sometimes it’s getting up at all that’s his struggle:

Waking up at two in the afternoon, in January in Scotland, means that you have about an hour and a half of light left and that situation is just not conducive to having the will-power to do any of the popular January pastimes which the radio assured me everyone else was up and at: de-toxing, joining a gym and committing suicide. I couldn’t even do the other one of ‘pulling a sickie’ like one in four male Glaswegian employees – if the Metro was to be believed. I reburied myself under the quilt and then thought that Justin might be doing his exercises, so I got up. (Tricks of the Mind)

In fairness, Bruno was working night shift. The next book of the series, The Lovers, is set in the four months from June to September, so January doesn’t get a mention. But in the following book, the first month is reported as unseasonably warm, as Bruno takes a short cut through a graveyard that brings back recent memories:

It was as warm as February seemed to be getting – our halcyon days had been in January this year, much to the disgust of most Scots of the third age who seemed to feel it their duty to warn those ‘casting a cloot’ that we’d pay for it. I decided: I would walk to the station and catch the train. I would still have time to get back to my house. (Shades of the Sun)

January, in the fourth book, is when Bruno first realises that the house on Luggie Road is no ordinary residence:

I can’t remember when the noises started, but I remember the first mention of them. Christmas and New Year were quiet and while my family were remembering the sadness of last year, my friends were recalling the horror. I made an effort and celebrated Burns Night in the flat (which is technically a house but that word feels far too settled) and invited everyone associated with the school. And Simone. I was slightly miffed that she’d apparently dismissed any involvement in the project. So it was one of those funny coincidences, thinking these thoughts, that just when I was reaching for another veggie haggis off the supermarket shelf another hand shot out and grabbed it.  (Qismet)

My most recently-published novel skips over January in terms of events but speaks of Scottish sensibilities around Hogmanay  (New Year’s Eve) and prediction:

However there is a strong aversion in Scotland to presumption. Despite the widespread belief and practice of divination in its many forms, as well as the respect for prophecy, it’s considered extremely bad luck to presume that an expected event will actually happen. This might explain the rather laidback attitude towards formal arrangements that prevails in the Gàidhealtachd, and certainly my avoidance of all my North American friends just after Christmas who persist in wishing me ‘Happy New Year’s’ before the Bells. “When it comes”, is my perennial answer (which should always accompany well-wishing previous to an event) as there is the underlying awareness that the wished-for event may not occur at all. (Tir nam Bàn)

The book I’m working on now, tentatively named Transits of Terror, starts in March but I envisage it covering at least till the next May – and with two men and a baby all getting used to each other, January should be anything but uneventful!

Tricks of the Mind Smashwords Cover

Thanks to Petr Kratochvl for releasing the photo of “Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square”, a detail of which I have used for my cover photo, to the Public Domain.

Karma & Christmas

In Glasgow last week, visiting a friend who lives in the city centre, it struck me that the pre-Christmas bustle, that we are all supposed to find inevitable, exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, is fuelled by desire. Nowadays, fuelled principally perhaps for a personal desire to have ourselves a very Merry Christmas. The ingredients of this modern Merry Christmas are well known:

 

Necessary

1 lavishly decorated green or silver fir tree (preferably huge, dead or alive).

A large amount of objects (preferably new) colourfully wrapped in shiny paper, tagged with names of their new owners.

1 large warmed-over slaughtered animal (or equivalent) in the centre of a table (preferably large).

Several happy faces around the table (preferably laughing) wearing paper hats & pulling crackers.

At least 1 Significant Other, preferably cute.

An unnecessary amount of food, mostly fatty, starchy & sugary.

Copious amounts of alcohol.

Several hours of TV or equivalent (preferably nostalgic).

 

Optional

Carols (at the door/ fireside/ piano or in church).

Charades.

Brussels sprouts.

Woollen jumpers (sweaters in N. America) with large associated motifs.

 

Unnecessary (but expected) outcomes of this festive mix include:

Indigestion.

Family feuds.

Relationship break-ups.

Alcoholic poisoning.

Homelessness.

 

It is a central tenant of Buddhism that suffering is caused by desire. Even where this desire is not for personal enjoyment, there can still be such a stress nowadays on imposing this relentless and compulsory seasonal jollification on all persons falling within one’s sphere of influence.

Is it any wonder when it all goes horribly wrong?

A good friend whom I worked with on the Isle of Iona, is celebrating an unusual pastoral service this evening. At least, it’s unusual in the UK but not in the US and Canada where pastors felt they were failing people for whom Christmas was not at all merry.

The Longest Night/ Blue Christmas this evening is almost one of a kind in the UK and I’ve come down from Scotland to the lovely Shropshire village of Minsterly to visit Shalome and her husband, and to attend this service.

It’s been an interesting year. Actually it’s been exhausting. Looking after my elderly mother, rescuing my boyfriend from the clutches of the Home Office, writing a book on AIDS hypotheses, in rage and tears at the callous stupidity of governments and pharmaceutical companies.

Yes, when I return to Glasgow this weekend, I expect to have at least some of the ingredients of a merry Christmas. But I’m looking forward to the quiet honesty of this evening when Christmas can be allowed to be the deeply personal and very problematic time of the year that is not about distraction from the very human realities that challenge us throughout the year.

The Buddhist way is to let go, the Christian way is to let God. In both traditions we are each responsible, but not sufficient, for our own happiness – and in neither tradition is the pursuit of happiness the point.

Viktor Frankl reminds us that suffering can be transcended by finding its meaning but that this meaningfulness is different for each of us. This year for me has mostly been about saving lives. Perhaps, in the candlelight of the traditional Methodist chapel, another meaning may present itself to me. Something that may make it easier to accept and enjoy the merry bustle of these days and yet also be accommodating of the experience of those for whom Christmas is the dreaded low point of a bleak midwinter.

dark-branches-against-a-bleak-sky

Thanks to Lynn Greyling who has released her photo ‘dark branches against a grey sky’ into the public domain.

Santa or St Nicholas?

When my mother taught in a Scottish Primary School, she used to gather the children together, about this time of year, and ask them to put up their hands if they believed in Santa Claus. Of course, some (maybe the ones that were good at Maths) smiled (or maybe frowned) and kept their hands down – and were surprised to see my mother raising her hand.

Then she would teach them all the more human but still wonderfully kind saint of Smyrna, known today, in English, as St Nicholas and whose name and whose generosity gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus. My mother maybe didn’t spell out in detail how this generosity (of paying poor families’ dowries) enabled young women who were poor to escape prostitution, but the schoolchildren certainly understood that they too could believe in the good Santa Claus and that the magic of kindness exceeds that of being able to fly about the chimneypots.

The reaction of some children to this kind of revelation is one of impatience. Why tell lies in the first place? If a story is to tell a truth, why not just tell the truth, plain and simple? This is certainly the message of Richard Dawkins (who also values children with autism but not those with Down’s).

In that case, why get married? Why not just have sex for pleasure and procreation? In 2008 in Scotland there were a series of video clips entitled, “It’s Time”, as part of the equal marriage campaign. A lot of that campaign involved telling stories and anyone who has ever attended a wedding knows that story-telling is an integral part of such celebrations – they may occur in the readings of sacred scripture as well as in the Best Man’s Speech!

NY-based science journalist Matthew Hutson reported in May 2012 in Psychology Today that: “Scientists who study religion have come to agree that belief in God (or gods) relies on everyday social cognition: our ability—and propensity—to think about minds.” He goes on “Which means if you are autistic, and unable to “mentalize,” you would be an atheist. New research published today in PLoS ONE provides fresh evidence for this claim.”

Linked and controversial study of the ‘extreme male brain’ finds that the ability (or propensity) to mentalise and to empathise are gendered.

Why am I telling you all this?

It’s no secret to my followers on Twitter that I’m currently writing a book on AIDS hypotheses. It may be a surprise to some that there are more than one – and that both main hypotheses (drugs & HIV) were initially under serious consideration by the CDC. What has been a great surprise to me, as I’ve intensively read the wealth of evidence that the HIV hypothesis is on shaky ground, to say the least, is the vehemence of the denial of the multiple ways in which this hypothesis is problematic.

I don’t want to go into those here. For those interested, see my forthcoming book, Silence & Dissent: Expert Doubt in the AIDS Debate, read the 722-page detailed tome entitled Inventing the AIDS virus, or look up the extremely erudite work of the Perth Group who have opposed the prevailing view for decades.

The angry denial that the HIV hypothesis is extremely (or, at all) problematic takes many forms including vindictively rejoicing on the death of those who held an opposing view and who resisted taking antiretroviral (anti-HIV) drugs at least until overwhelmed by well-meaning friends and family. This denial fails to observe their comparatively longer survival than their former recreational drug-taking peers diagnosed at the same time who started on these ‘therapeutic’ drugs immediately.

I’m not writing this to argue.

I simply wonder why on Earth anyone (especially anyone diagnosed as HIV+) would not want to have as much information from the most qualified minds freely available to them. It’s not. Or rather, it is but it is ignored. Like the advice that HIV is a clinical diagnosis and not one to be made from a test kit (which are extremely fallible but the numbers of false positives are hidden in the larger figure of those all tested rather than in the smaller figure of those found HIV+ and ‘confirmed’).

In the topsy-turvy world of big pharma-backed research, rather than demand proof for a hypothesis – so shaky that it was first announced at a press conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, that it depended on a virus proved to be stolen and that the researcher it was stolen from subsequently stated that is was not the sufficient cause of AIDS – proof is demanded for its rebuttal.

Proof there is, and in abundance, but why is it not being accepted?

Perhaps because this version is much more reassuring, especially for those who feel secure when everything is quantified and predictable:

‘HIV causes AIDS. Scientists can test your blood for HIV. Doctors can medicate you for HIV and provide you with numbers and even graphs that show your CD4 cell count going up (that’s a good thing) and your viral load going down (ditto). You can trust the medication. It may have some side effects but be positive and, hopefully, you’ll live long and prosper.’

This other version isn’t reassuring at all:

‘AIDS isn’t even a thing. It’s just whatever whoever wherever says it is. The test? Well, Western Blot is a fudge, ELISA is a soup and none of the proteins used is specific to HIV anyway. Anyway scientists can test your blood for HIV all they want but the most even they can claim to come up with is HIV antibodies (which could also just be antibodies to almost anything). Antibodies don’t kill you but whatever the doctors give you for HIV probably will as after some years (longer now, thankfully) of painful side-effects, you’ll probably die of liver failure and be written out of the statistics cos it’s not AIDS-related. The numbers and graphs they give you, about your CD4 cell count and your viral load are kinda just made up. Big pharma doesn’t give a rat’s arse about you or anyone, they just want money. Best thing you can do is stop taking the tablets. You may still have some side effects until they’re out of your system but be positive and, hopefully, you’ll live long and prosper.’

Life is all about choices. Thank God, this is not a choice I’ve had to make but I do know people who have. So, if you were told that you were ‘HIV positive’, what would you do? Would you choose the comfort of quantified information that (ignoring the persistent proofs of unreliability) the pharmaceutical industry offers?

Or would you want to learn as much as possible about this condition which that industry claims you have? Would you be angry that expert researchers have been no-platformed because they dare to doubt that industry? Would you be surprised at the level of vitriolic ad hominem attack these scientists have faced, and the damage to their reputation and careers that their principled stance has cost them?

The difference between the story of Santa Claus and that of St Nicholas is that the first is familiar, reassuring, schmaltzy and frankly unbelievable (if you think about it) and the second is complex, disturbing, historically and culturally value-laden and very, very human.

If you’re going to an AIDS memorial service tomorrow, follow the money. Find out who its sponsored by. Ask yourself why. Then keep asking questions until you, personally, are satisfied with the answers.

saint-nicholas-871289590212M42

Thanks to Vera Kratochvil who has released here photo “St Nicholas” into the Public Domain.

Sex, Lies and HIV

They seem like two open and shut cases. Two young strong gay men, one Black, one White, one American, one British, one a College wrestler, one a hairdresser, both (apparently) repellent in character and (evidently) attractive enough to persuade multiple other young men to have sex with them, ‘bareback’. In one case, the persuasion not to use condoms may have been aggressive. No, it wasn’t the Black guy. In the same case, condoms may have been sabotaged.

Why were they prosecuted? Because both tested positive for HIV antibodies, at least some of their sex partners also tested positive for HIV antibodies and at least one had recently tested negative. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Or was it?

Although the report on Darryl Rowe by the Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales today is fairly concise and factual, the reaction on UK media has ranged from an icky fascination with Rowe’s DIY cure for HIV to the inevitable I told you so’s about ‘gay plague’. On the other side of the Atlantic, there was, of course, the usual homophobic and racist reaction to a sexually active gay man with the compounding sin of being Black ramped up by plague panic but this was accompanied by a grave concern – absent in the UK media – about the ethics of HIV criminalization laws.

Michael Johnson was initially jailed (2015) for 30 years for the twin crimes of “recklessly infecting and recklessly exposing a sexual partner to HIV” but after appeal (September 2017) the sentence was reduced to ten years. Darryl Rowe has been charged with the twin crimes of causing grievous bodily harm and intent to commit grievous bodily harm. I’m no expert on Common Law (we have Civil Law in Scotland and I’m no expert on that either) but I doubt that Rowe will face 30 years, or even ten, for GBH. Ironically, whereas Rowe was accused of post-coital taunting of his passive sex partners (and cutting the ends off condoms) Johnson was only ever found guilty of reckless behaviour.

Is that it?

Not according to the author of Are You Positive? an informative novella written in 2008, updated in 2010, by Steven Davis, centred on a fictionalised version of one of the many trials in the USA of men accused of recklessly infecting another man or woman with HIV. Davis centres his story on the evidence of expert witnesses who testify that, among other quirks in the official version, the notion that antibodies equal active virus was unheard of before HIV.

There are many, many quirks in the officially accepted story that HIV causes AIDS. Among them is the fact that the original statement, made to the press by Margaret Heckler, then US Secretary of Health and Human Services, in April 1984, was: “HIV is the probable cause of AIDS” (italics mine). When Dr Kary B. Mullis, co-winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, now used to identify HIV proteins, sought a scientific reference for this statement, his search was in vain. Peter H. Duesberg, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berekely, points out that Karposi’s sarcoma, the once iconic disease of AIDS (watch Philadelphia) was so clearly linked to gay men’s use of poppers to facilitate passive anal sex that even the gung-ho virus hunters of the US Centres for Disease Control investigated it in 1981 and in 1991 (briefly) considered taking KS off the growing list of diseases associated with AIDS.

All of which is beside the point.

Jessica Matthews reports (originally on http://www.cnbc.com):

In six U.S. states, individuals living with HIV who are found guilty of knowingly exposing a partner are required to be registered as a sex offender. They can face felony charges, or felony-level punishments, in 32 states.

She goes on to give the establishment medical view of progress in antiretroviral therapy:

But as breakthrough HIV drug treatments and medical studies show there is essentially no risk of sexually exposing someone to HIV while taking antiretroviral drug therapy (ART), states are being forced to play catch-up to the science, and stigma, of the AIDS virus.

ART – or even HAART for those coinfected with Hepatitis C – is certainly better than AZT, the first HIV treatment which is now recognised as responsible for countless deaths (and now routinely prescribed to babies who have HIV antibodies). What Matthews omits to mention is that there is a great deal of risk – especially of sudden liver failure – to anyone on even the newest anti-HIV drugs.

My point is that judicial deliberation is based on the evaluation of evidence, not on maintaining a cosy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, not on performing a convenient public relations exercise intended to calm the general population as the government is seen to be doing something, and not, especially, on no-platforming unfashionable expert witnesses simply because they refuse to do all of the above.

Darryl Rowe is nobody’s hero and Michael Johnson does seem, at least, selfish. But the former should not be prosecuted for refusing drugs officially acknowledged to be harmful, the latter should not be prosecuted by a Bible Belt mentality that still sees all Black young men as rapists, and neither should be prosecuted for crimes of bodily harm when the only universally acknowledged bodily harm associated with HIV is that caused by antiretroviral ‘therapy’.

crossed-fingers

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his photo “Crossed Fingers” into the public domain.

Post-referendum speech by President Puigdemont: translation of complete text

Unofficial rough translation from the Catalan by Alan McManus @gumptionology:

Document: The complete text of the speech by [President] Puigdemont

El Nacional

Institutional Declaration by the president of the Autonomous Region [Catalonia]

Palace of the Autonomous Region, 04.10.17 [3 day after the Referendum]

 

Welcome compatriots,

We come from some especially intense days, full of emotions and of experiences that will remain engraved on our memory. Once more, the people of Catalonia demonstrated yesterday that they are united, that they are one single people, that fight for the defence of the values of democracy, and do so as they always have and always will do things: with civility and in peace. There have been very symbolic images that help to understand this idea of fraternity and universality with which Catalonia faces its national challenges: persons with Spanish flags and starred [Catalonian] flags sharing fraternally the same cause [democracy]. The rejection of violence, the rejection of the unjustifiable repression by the police force [Spanish Civil Guard, not Catalan Mossos] against the civil population peacefully gathered in the defence of their civil rights that are basic to them.

In this way I would like to praise the courageous attitude of the hundreds of thousands of Catalans who yesterday mobilised in a [general] strike without precedent in our country. They did this without causing incidents, overcoming fears and menaces and, above all, being faithful to the peaceful attitude with which we wish to express ourselves always. Because of this we have to feel strong if we are united and maintain ourselves in this attitude. For all the violence that some wish to practice against us, deeds that are nowhere unacceptable and which have been rejected by many people and rejected with much concern in Europe, we have to maintain ourselves as one people. With differences, with discrepancies, with mistakes and, sometimes, because this also has to be said, with great uncertainty. This does not mean that we should mistreat those who, due to impotence, to fear or cowardice, want us [to act] in another manner. You do not know the admiration in which our people are held everywhere in the world for this attitude [which is] so civilised and so determined.

Disgracefully, not everyone wants things to go well. There are those who attempt to present the Catalan claim [to Independence] as something illegitimate, illegal and criminal. There are those who think that following ballot boxes, ballots and voting is an inexcusable requirement of the rule of law, and that all’s fair in impeding a people in being able to express themselves and being able to decide [for themselves]. We are all very tranquil and serene, and above all very comforted: what we have done, what we are doing and what we will do is what other peoples have already done and what other peoples will do in the future. We follow a path democratically marked by the will of the citizens, and so anywhere this is fought it should begin to be comprehended and respected. [The next 2, italicised, paragraphs are in Spanish not Catalan]

For this reason I want to address the Spanish citizens who in these days have expressed their commitment to the demands of the Catalans; citizens who have sent us their friendship and their solidarity, much valued in the moments in which we are living. Certainly the Spanish authorities should explain better what is happening in Catalonia, with more thoughtful views that help to understand a political problem that we know is complex.

Even so, I am grateful for the effort that we note directly from many people to accompany the Catalan people in our claims. We are one people, who love the languages we speak, who have no problem with identities, nationalities and cultures, who want to continue contributing to the development of the Spanish state and who will never ignore the enormous wealth that diversity represents.

We are, in effect, a society enormously cohered by diversity. Because of that, the message that the Head of State has decided to direct to a part of the population we cannot share nor accept. The King makes his own the discourse and the politics of the government Rajoy that have been catastrophic in relation with Catalonia, and deliberately ignores the millions of Catalans that do not think as they do. He deliberately ignores the Catalans that have been victims of police violence that has frozen the heart of half the world. The King yesterday lost an opportunity to address all the citizens to whom he owes his crown, and to whom he owes the respect incumbent upon him by the Constitution. A Constitution that grants him a role as moderator that in any case he has not had, and that yesterday he firmly declined. Neither has he taken any interest in getting to know the opinion and the view of the Government of the Autonomous Region in any moment of this crisis, and has accepted the assumption of an inadequate role that merely seeks to level the decisions that the Spanish Government makes while they plot to liquidate the aspirations of sovereignty of the Catalan people. Aspirations that he does not doubt [should be] treated as criminal and illegitimate, and against which he uses resources without limit.

I would like to address myself directly to His Majesty, in the language that I know he knows and speaks: like this, no. [The following is in very formal language as it is addressed to the King of Spain. Accordingly, I have translated vostè not as ‘you’ but as ‘Your Majesty’]

With Your Majesty’s decision yesterday Your Majesty disappointed many people in Catalonia, who appreciate Your Majesty and who have helped Your Majesty in difficult moments of the office [the Crown]. People that expected of Your Majesty another tone and a call to dialogue and to concord. As President of the Autonomous Region I believe it necessary to address myself to the whole of the citizenry, to everyone, whatever they think, to guarantee the dedication of the Government that I preside over to protect the whole of the citizenry, to keep watch over their rights to express themselves lucidly and to respect their decisions.

We [President & Catalan Government] do this with the dedication that we assumed at the beginning of the mandate. A dedication to do it with a door open always to dialogue and to respect for the other. We will not move from this, and I wish to guarantee to the citizens that listen to me that my Government has not deviated one millimetre from the dedication to peace and serenity, but now firmly, with which we wish to take action.

Because of this I repeat what I said on Monday: this moment demands mediation. We have refused various proposals in the last hours, and we will refuse more: you [formal: His Majesty and His Majesty’s Government] all know first hand my disposition to take on a process of mediation. I have repeated that this is necessary so many times. Peace, dialogue and accord form part of the political culture of our people. However, we have never rejected any positive response on the part of the State on any of the options of mediation that are already on the table, and I believe, with all sincerity, that it would be a grave irresponsibility not to attend the pleas sent from people from within and without Catalonia and the [Spanish] State that this conflict is managed by politics and not by the police.

Yesterday we neared [I’m uncertain of the sense] our historic desire. On Sunday we managed to hold a referendum despite a sea of difficulties and repression without precedent; yesterday we gave an example of the process of a general strike; and I am sure that these very days will become the best face of our country when the institutions of Catalonia apply the result of the referendum.

Meanwhile we maintain confidence and the exclusion of all provocation and all intention of violence. We do not want that at home nor anywhere else. We will make ourselves strong in dignity and we will be a people capable of making possible the dream that is proposed.

[translator’s note: glosses, added for sense, are mine; glosses in bold, added as explanations, are also mine]

row-of-john-deere-tractors

[Thanks to Linnaea Mallette who has released her photo ‘Row of John Deere Tractors’ into the Public Domain]

Document: El text íntegre del discurs de Puigdemont

El Nacional

Declaració institucional del president de la Generalitat

Palau de la Generalitat, 04.10.17

 

Benvolguts i benvolgudes compatriotes,

Venim d’uns dies especialment intensos, carregats d’emocions i de vivències que ens quedaran gravades a la memòria. Una vegada més, el poble de Catalunya va demostrar ahir que està unit, que és un sol poble, que fa pinya en la defensa dels valors de la democràcia, i ho va fer de la manera com sempre fem i volem fer les coses: amb civisme i en pau. Hi va haver imatges molt simbòliques que ajuden a entendre aquesta idea de fraternitat i transversalitat amb què Catalunya afronta els seus reptes nacionals: persones amb banderes d’Espanya i banderes estelades compartint agermanadament una mateixa causa. El rebuig a la violència, el rebuig a les càrregues injustificables de les forces policials contra població civil pacíficament concentrada i la defensa dels drets civils que ens són elementals.

En aquest sentit voldria posar en molt de valor l’actitud dels centenars de milers de catalans i catalanes que ahir us vau mobilitzar en una aturada sense precedents al nostre país. Ho vau fer sense incidents, superant pors i amenaces i, sobretot, essent fidels a l’actitud pacífica amb què ens volem expressar sempre. Per això ens hem de sentir forts si estem units i ens mantenim en aquesta actitud. Per més violència que hi vulguin posar alguns, fet que no és acceptable enlloc i que ha estat rebatut per molta gent i rebut amb molta preocupació a Europa, nosaltres ens hem de mantenir com un sol poble. Amb diferències, amb discrepàncies, amb errors i, a vegades, perquè també ens ho hem de dir, amb grans encerts. No deixeu que ens ho malbaratin els qui, per impotència, per por o per covardia, ens voldrien d’una altra manera. No sabeu l’admiració que com a poble estem recollint arreu del món per aquesta actitud tan cívica i tan compromesa.

Per desgràcia no tothom voldria que les coses ens anessin bé. Hi ha qui pretén presentar la reivindicació catalana com una cosa il·legítima, il·legal i criminal. Hi ha qui pensa que perseguir urnes, paperetes i votants és una exigència inexcusable de l’estat de dret, i que tot s’hi val per impedir que un poble es pugui expressar i pugui decidir. Estiguem tots molt tranquils i serens, i sobretot molt reconfortats: el que hem fet, el que estem fent i el que farem és el que d’altres pobles ja han fet i d’altres pobles faran en el futur. Seguim un camí democràticament marcat per la voluntat dels ciutadans, i això enlloc de ser combatut hauria de començar a ser comprès i a ser respectat.

Por eso quiero dirigirme a los ciudadanos españoles que en estos días han expresado su compromiso con las demandas de los catalanes; ciudadanos que nos han enviado su amistad y su solidaridad muy valiosa en los momentos que estamos viviendo. Seguramente las autoridades españolas deberían explicar mejor lo que ocurre en Catalunya, con visiones más ponderadas que ayudaran a entender un problema político que sabemos que es complejo.

Sin embargo, agradezco el esfuerzo que nos consta directamente de mucha gente para acompañar al pueblo catalán en sus reivindicaciones. Somos un solo pueblo, que ama las lenguas que habla, que no tiene ningún problema con las identidades, las nacionalidades y las culturas, que quiere continuar contribuyendo al desarrollo del Estado español y que jamás va a prescindir de la enorme riqueza que representa la pluralidad.

Som, en efecte, una societat enormement cohesionada en la diversitat. Per això el missatge que el cap de l’Estat va voler adreçar a una part de la població no el podem compartir ni acceptar. El rei fa seu el discurs i les polítiques del govern Rajoy que han estat catastròfiques en relació amb Catalunya, i ignora deliberadament els milions de catalans que no pensem com ells. Ignora deliberadament els catalans que han estat víctimes d’una violència policial que ha glaçat el cor a mig món. El rei va perdre ahir una oportunitat d’adreçar-se a tots els ciutadans a qui deu la corona, i als quals deu el respecte perquè així li encomana la Constitució. Una Constitució que li atorga un paper moderador que en cap cas no ha tingut, i que ahir va declinar amb duresa. Tampoc no ha tingut interès a conèixer l’opinió i la visió del Govern de la Generalitat en cap moment d’aquesta crisi, i ha acceptat assumir un rol inadequat que només busca aplanar les decisions que el Govern espanyol fa temps que estudia per tal de liquidar les aspiracions de sobirania del poble català. Unes aspiracions que no dubta a tractar com a criminals i il·legítimes, i contra les quals usa recursos sense límit.

Voldria adreçar-me directament a Sa Majestat, en la llengua que sé que coneix i parla: així no.

Amb la seva decisió d’ahir vostè va decebre molta gent a Catalunya, que l’aprecia i que l’ha ajudat en moments difícils de la institució. Gent que esperava de vostè un altre to i una apel·lació al diàleg i a la concòrdia. Com a president de la Generalitat crec necessari adreçar-me al conjunt de la ciutadania, a tothom, pensi com pensi, per garantir el compromís del govern que presideixo de protegir el conjunt dels ciutadans, de vetllar pels seus drets a expressar-se lliurement i de respectar les seves decisions.

Ho farem amb el compromís que vam assumir a l’inici del mandat. Un compromís de fer-ho amb una porta oberta sempre al diàleg i al respecte cap a l’altre. No ens mourem d’aquí, i vull garantir als ciutadans que m’esteu escoltant que el meu govern no es desviarà ni un mil·límetre del compromís de pau i serenor, però alhora de fermesa, amb què volem fer les coses.

Per això reitero el que ja vaig dir dilluns: aquest moment demana mediació. Hem rebut diverses propostes en les darreres hores, i en rebrem més: totes elles coneixen de primera mà la meva disposició a emprendre un procés de mediació. Ho reiterarem tantes vegades com faci falta. Pau, diàleg i acord formen part de la cultura política del nostre poble. Tanmateix no hem rebut mai cap resposta positiva per part de l’Estat a cap de les opcions de mèdiació que ja hi ha sobre la taula, i crec, amb tota sinceritat, que torna a ser una greu irresponsabilitat no atendre els precs que envien gent de dins i de fora de Catalunya i de l’Estat per tal que aquest conflicte s’encarrili des de la política i no des de la policia.

Avui tenim més a prop que ahir el nostre desig històric. Diumenge vam aconseguir fer un referèndum enmig d’un oceà de dificultats i d’una repressió sense precedents; ahir vam donar un exemple en el seguiment de l’aturada general; i estic segur que en els propers dies tornarem a ensenyar la millor cara del nostre país quan les institucions de Catalunya haguem d’aplicar el resultat del referèndum.

Mentrestant mantinguem la confiança i l’aïllament a tota provocació i a tota intenció de violència. Ni la volem a casa ni la volem enlloc. Fem-nos forts en la dignitat i serem un poble capaç de fer possible el somni que es proposi.

www.elnacional.cat/ca/politica/document-text-discurs-puigdemont_198696_102.html

A Murder Has Been Arranged

Hilary Lynas, as always, was hilarious as soon as she walked onstage as the nouveau-riche Mrs Arthur, picking up the pace of A Murder Has Been Arranged by Emlyn Williams, performed by the Kirkintilloch Players. We were glad of the slow start (ably introduced by Tamara Horsborough as the deceptively dedicated Miss Groze and by David Mitchell’s avuncular Cavendish and Sheila Todd’s crosspatch Mrs Wragg, in counterpoint) as the plot then got rather thick rather quick.
It takes skill to turn an audience against such a charming figure as Arran Summers’ Jimmy North – AKA Simon Richardson AKA Richard Simonson – and Mrs Arthur gave it her best shot but we all love young love (even when there’s an inconvenient older-but-rich husband) and the warmth of the lovely Lady Beatrice Jasper (Tierney McLeod) overcame the frost from Mater and maid alike. Sir Charles Jasper himself (Gordon Brown) was all urbane dignity and his serene acceptance of the risk of being fooled by his young wife was quite touching.
Enter the wickedly fun villian in the form of Maurice A. Mullins (Craig McEwan) and the eerie character, known only as ‘A Woman’, whose performance by Anne-Marie Connor had us on the edge of our seats. The stage was set and the eleventh hour approaching…
Special mention must go to Tamara Horsborough for the complexity of the role of Miss Groze in this very complex play but to explain that would give the game away! Also to the deft production by Ian Atherton and Bette MacKenzie, and the seamless stage management (if it wasn’t, we didn’t notice) by Iain Carmichael, the atmospheric lighting by Graham Carmichael and the moody music by Gordon Jahn. The attention to detail in the set, props & sumptuous costumes drew us deeper into the spell.
Another great night by the Kirky Players, enjoyed as much by my mother and neighbour as by myself, showing once again the joy of community theatre.
A Murder Has Been Arranged is on at the Turret Theatre, 7:30 pm each night till Saturday 14th Oct. Tickets from www.kirkintillochplayers.co.uk

murderarranged-17-180

Poster by Kenwil/ Ian Atherton www.kirkintillochplayers.co.uk

St Francis, AIDS & Bad Pharma

When I worked for the Iona Community, sitting in the cold Abbey in summer or in the freezing chapel of St Michael in winter, we would recite this prayer every Friday morning:

‘Take us outside, O Christ, outside holiness, to where soldiers curse and nations clash, at the crossroads of the world.’ (Iona Abbey Worship Book, p.20)

Theologically it doesn’t make a lot of sense and the alliteration covers an assumption widespread in the Community that while male aggression is the curse of the world, female empowerment is its salvation. Yet it is an arresting image. To step outside the cosy piety of churchiness. To risk misunderstanding of our motives, indeed vilification.

However, performing a grand gesture isn’t always laudable, no matter our motives. When I was a Franciscan novice, I was very attracted by the story of St Francis stripping off his fine clothes and throwing them at the feet of his father, in the Residence of the Bishop of Assisi. In this place (the ‘Room of Renunciation’) Pope Francis stated:

“The Christian cannot coexist with the spirit of the world, with the worldliness that leads us to vanity, to arrogance, to pride.” (OSV Newsweekly)

Nowadays I am ready to admit that Franco Zeffirelli’s filmic presentation of the beauty of Graham Faulkner may have had something to do with the attraction of this scene. I, now, also feel much more sympathy with the father – who surely only wanted to lavish his love on his only son and to set him up securely in turbulent times.

The other, earlier, scene which moved me was Francis getting off his high horse, giving his cloak to a leper and kissing him. Brother Sun, Sister Moon was filmed in 1972 and by 1984 (fateful year) the paperback edition of St Francis: A Model for Human Liberation was out in English. I’m not sure if it was the author, Fr Leonardo Boff, who first said that, ‘if St Francis was around today, he would kiss an AIDS victim’.

Following his example, many saintly people have done exactly that, St (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Francis among them. Liberation theologians from South America have taken St Francis out of the birdbath and shown his piety to be far more radical than the smug spirituality of ‘being kind to animals’ (while eating them and being complicit in their torture for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries). St Francis is a model of solidarity with the marginalised and oppressed.

In 1984 it became clear that there was a new category of marginalisation. Dr Robert Gallo patented ‘the AIDS virus’, ELISA and Western Blot test kits (which give different results for the presence of the sections of the proteins taken to be HIV antibodies) were hastily manufactured and people all over the world began to receive AZT, a chemotherapy drug that interferes with the most basic cellular functions. Within months many were dead.

Since then, antiretroviral drugs are not so lethal and people on them are living longer. Just stop and think about that sentence for a moment.

Dom Hélder Câmara, archbishop of Olinda & Recife in North East Brazil, famously said:

‘When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.’

Similarly, when you comfort those supposedly dying of AIDS, they call you a saint. When you ask why they are dying, they call you a ‘denialist’.

For over 30 years, the biomedical scientists who constitute the Perth Group (based in the research facility of the Royal Perth Hospital, Western Australia) have been asking two simple questions:

  • Where is the scientific proof of the existence of HIV?
  • Where is the scientific proof of the hypothetical link between HIV and AIDS?

These questions remain unanswered. Other biomedical scientists have raised dissident voices, most controversially Professor Peter Duesberg, member of the American national Academy of Sciences, and Dr Kary Mullis, Nobel Prize winner. More controversially still, in 2000, President Mbeki of South Africa sought advice and organised a conference of biomedical scientists, two-thirds of whom were of the establishment view on HIV/AIDS. These refused to debate the dissident view and vilified the President for daring to question the findings and remedies of the international pharmaceutical industry.

As Dr Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos of the Perth Group has said, the burden of proof is not on the dissidents but on the scientists who have made the claim that HIV exists and that it causes AIDS. This claim has never been substantiated (both scientists credited with the discovery of ‘the AIDS virus’, Gallo and Montagnier, have repudiated their original positions) and every other related biomedical establishment publication is based on it. Other eminent biomedical scientists, such as Professor Gordon Stewart of the University of Glasgow, have challenged this claim on epidemiological grounds.

The reaction of most good, fair-minded and compassionate people to the news that there are still eminent biomedical scientists who dispute this claim is one of disbelief – usually followed by ridicule and unflattering comparisons to Flat Earthers and other conspiracy theorists. Yet, as Professor Peter Duesberg painstakingly points out (in his book Inventing the AIDS Virus which has detailed references) this is not the first time that the well-funded ‘virus hunters’ of the pharmaceutical industry have brought about huge iatrogenic harm. Dr Ben Goldacre (who is not an ‘AIDS dissident’) shows comprehensively, in Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients, that:

‘Doctors around the world – except in Norway – are taught which drugs are best by the drug companies themselves. The content is biased, and that’s why companies pay for it. For decades people have stood up, shown that the content is biased, written reports against it, demonstrated that weak guidelines fail to police it; and still it continues.’ (Bad Pharma, 2012, p.320)

Inspired by the saint of the marginalised, is it possible for us to step outside of our drug-funded respectability, to risk being ridiculed and vilified, being considered lacking in compassion for the sick – to ask why it is that our unexamined piety is killing them?

Brother Sun 6-1

Photo source: Brother Son, Sister Moon via DarkUFOBlogspot

a love letter to vegetarians

Where you live

(where it gets you)

Where I live

(where I’m coming from)

Today

Dear Friends,

First I want to salute you and to thank you for all that you’re already doing for animals, for human health and for the planet. Whether you’ve been vegetarian for days, for weeks or for months, you have already saved the lives of many animals and meaningfully contributed to the fight against high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, land abuse, poverty, climate change and ecological disaster. If you’ve been vegetarian for years, then you remember when this was much, much, harder, when you weren’t only considered uncool but a socially awkward freak and when you had to not only put up with the severe limitation (or non-existence) of vegetarian options when dining out but the constant verbal harassment of omnivorous friends, acquaintances and total strangers who felt totally justified in listing the varieties of dead animals they would and wouldn’t eat, their inexpert opinions on nutritional health and their unethical take on the hypocrisy of vegetarians (as opposed to fruitarians).

No matter how long you’ve been vegetarian, you may also have had to put up with being criticised and lectured by vegans – and for that I sincerely apologise. (If you’ve been lectured by fruitarians please just put up with it. I’m not sure how long these good souls survive and, like Mayflies, we should appreciate them while they’re still here.)

I turned vegetarian when I was eight and for many years (even until I turned fifty) I would tell people this then exclaim, “my goodness, that’s twenty years!” and for one glorious moment be 28 again. But when I was 28, being vegetarian was really hard (and when I was 8 it was Hell!): soya mince was pretty tasteless but the only meat substitute, the usual ‘vegetarian’ option in restaurants was fish, salads were awful (I’m Scottish and people wonder why I lived for years in South American and Mediterranean countries) and the reaction of waiters and chefs to the question ‘is there ham stock in this?’ was often either astonishment or belligerence.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Waveringly. For some years I ate fish (so was, technically, an ovo-lacto-piscatarian) after spending time in a Mexican fishing village and justifying my choice with the thought that I was really against vivisection and factory farming. Three times I tried to turn vegan but, although it was fairly easy at home, I just couldn’t take the hassle outside. As I even bought my shoes and belts in charity shops (so I wouldn’t contribute to the leather industry) I felt fairly ethically consistent.

Fairly. Vegans got to me not only because they were often so self-righteous (especially the ones who’d been vegan for approximately 5 minutes!) but because their ethics had already convinced me. All I needed was a gentle (not aggressive) push. That came in the form of a short Youtube video made by vegan Jains. These lovely people, asking forgiveness for any harm that the making and showing of this video may have caused, speak simply and from the heart: the dairy industry depends on the killing of male calves and industrial egg production on the killing (often by mechanical grinding up) of male chicks only hours old.

Namaste. The divine light in me salutes the divine light in you. In the end, whatever the words we use to describe our ethics (or our spirituality) it’s all about compassion. You have already opened your heart so much and I love you for it. Open your heart still more. Don’t worry if you can’t be consistent. We’re all human. Don’t worry if some days it feels like a bit of a bind and you wish you were more organised (or that other people were more generous in their opinion of you and provision for you).

Nevertheless, you persist. The world needs you to turn around just a little more and by this conversion to educate, to liberate and to heal so many hearts. Try turning vegan. For greater goodness and for even more love.

Namaste, Alan

a-cow-peers-over-a-hedgerow

Thanks to David Bollard for releasing his photo, A Cow Peers Over A Hedgerow, into the public domain.