The War Against Trees

Men (and it is mostly men) fight wars for many reasons, some more spurious than others. Usually the reasons given are a clash of interests, with both sides proclaiming noble values such as Home and Family and Morality and Our Children and Our Way of Life. We’ve become so used to wars that there are some of them that journalists hardly bother to report any more. Who knows and who cares what’s actually happening in the Congo? is the attitude (not enough to get the name right) or, internecine warfare between Jews and Arabs in the Near East is not worth reporting because nothing ever changes. The same can be said for The War on Terror – or rather between Whoever’s Got Oil (apart from Saudi Arabia) and the Western powers (apart from France and Germany). I marched in 1991 in San Francisco under a banner that said ‘NO BLOOD FOR OIL!’ and I hope whoever made it kept it because it would have come in useful in the decades ahead.

Then there are all the other wars. Like The War on Cancer. That seems to be an easy one: humanity on one side and cancer on the other, surely. A complicating factor its overlap with The War on Animals – a systematic global and multicultural campaign of torture and slaughter so kitsched by the infantile propaganda of Daisy the Happy Cow (forcibly impregnated, separated from her daughters, lowing for her slaughtered sons) and the Easter lambs (ditto) and chicks (mothers debeaked without anaesthetic or pecking their daughters to death in the same overcrowded cages, all awaiting electrocution while they never see the sun, the fluffy little sons picked out by human hands and pushed along a conveyor belt towards a sharp screw that grinds them into chicken nuggets) that most people’s reaction to the facts of the life and death of farmed animals is one of incredulity and anger against those who don’t support it. The daily industry is the meat industry. Egg production for human consumption relies on one cock, many hens, and all the other males chicks to slaughter.

A complication of both these Wars, to paraphrase Wendell Berry, is a food industry that ignores health and a health industry that ignores food. Then there’s the fact that even top editors of The BMJ , the NEMJ and The Lancet admit that the findings of most medical research are fabricated and published under pressure (follow the links). All those women wearing pink. All those charity shops. All those tortured animals. All those tenured professors. All those eager interns practising vivisection on their own hearts to cut out all traces of compassion. All advancing their careers. Because in vivo looks good on a CV (résume). Then there’s The War on AIDS, AKA The War on Gay Men; The War Against Transphobia, AKA The War Against Women (and Specifically Lesbians); and last but not least The War For Full Bodily Autonomy, AKA The War Against Female and Disabled Babies.

Having angered most of you now, consider this: who is the beneficiary in The War Against Trees? Why is it that so many men (mostly) are cutting down so many trees? This is a real question. Let’s try to think through the answer.

Everyone knows that men (more than women) are impressed by big hard things. I am. If there is a mountain, I want to climb it. I’m Scottish, my instinct is to walk up (probably because it gets very boggy, walking down). I’m also a man. But I don’t want to cut down trees.

I remember my father destroying a pear tree in the garden. It didn’t yield many pears, it’s true. But he pruned and cut it and sawed it up and yanked the roots out of the ground and sawed them up too. Then came back into the kitchen and cried for his brother that we had just buried. We watched him do it. I did nothing. He’d been a prisoner of war. Emotions didn’t come easy to my father.

In the past month, I got into the local paper in an article that was very well-meaning but almost entirely inaccurate apart from when it stated that I was questioning the right of an arrogant rich young man to chop down and burn trees along the banks of the beautiful Forth and Clyde Canal, right on top of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Antonine Wall (older than Hadrian’s) in the hottest weather Scotland has ever had in living memory, during a wildfire warning, when the children had just got off school and families in this working-class neighbourhood were enjoying sitting in the sun in their back gardens – suddenly beset by smoke and the continual noise of a chainsaw.

Why do men hate trees?

In Sheffield, the local council want to cut down thousands of street trees. They’ve already destroyed 5,500 of them and want to destroy 20,000 more. Here’s the protest group for your support.

I talked about this to a friend and his reaction was that mature trees are less efficient at CO2 capture than saplings (then I remembered that he’s an accountant). While that may be true (I’m no expert) the benefits of trees are not reducible solely to their function of chemical gaseous exchange – as this rather What’s in it For You account shows.

So why do men hate trees?

My embarrassed answer is that it’s #notallmen (as if that helps when you’re a tree cut down in your prime) and my guess is that it’s the same hatred and sense of inadequacy that drives men to torture and kill beautiful powerful animals such as bulls and elephants and lions and whales, and to generally rape Nature. In other words it’s all about domination.

So why do men hate trees?

What is it about trees that men find so threatening? Is it their longevity, many species mocking the brief span of man? Is it their height, superior? Is it their beauty and the way that women love them? Is it because children delight in them? Is it because tall and dignified and stoic and silent, sheltering and inspiring, trees embody all the qualities that men wish to possess?

Do men hate trees because they are jealous of them? Is this hatred so irrational, so deep-seated, so ingrained in every pissed-off possessor of a Y chromosome capable of tearing off twigs, breaking branches, or assaulting their age-ringed trunks with deadly steel that there is little hope now of natural shade or stability of soil or ever reversing climate change?

I heartily dislike the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’, it renders the agency of women null and void (see The Mermaid and the Minotaur) and takes us into the murky waters of gender stereotypes. But, in this case, it seems quite apt.

Why do men hate trees?

The next time you see one of us assaulting one of them, ask (if you feel safe doing so).

Maybe, just maybe, one of us will think about that question and, in the meantime, one of them may be saved.

buddhist-face-in-tree-stock

Thanks to Stephani Elizabeth who has released her photo “Buddhist Face in Tree Stock” (at Ayutthaya ruins in Thailand) into the public domain.

Advertisements

Taking Teddy Bears to Gaza

I take off my sandals, for this is holy ground.

Sitting in her sometimes sunny garden in a small town outside of Glasgow, my mother (with the same span of years as the Queen) looks at the twenty-two pictures I show her from the Twitter account of the Rev. Kate McDonald, ‘an Appalachian Scottish Episcopal priest serving in the Church of Scotland in Israel and Palestine’.

The first photo is of this year’s Pride parade in Tel Aviv. Rainbows and the Star of David. The Sabra are a handsome people but I don’t see any smiles in this picture. This parade is controversial inside and outside Israel. It is opposed by Orthodox Jews, by the Muslim majority states of the Near and Middle East (including the Palestinian West Bank where same sex relations are criminal and Gaza where they are punishable by death) and denounced as ‘pinkwashing’ by Western liberals.

On Saturday I plan to attend a small, new, Pride parade taking place on the Isle of Bute, a promontory a ferry ride over the Clyde Estuary. I usually attend both Edinburgh and Glasgow parades. I take my dog, who loves the attention. I can remember when homosexual ‘acts’ were criminalised here in Scotland. I remember when the age of consent was six, then two, years above that for heterosexual ‘acts’. My heart was moved when I attended a civil partnership in Cardonald and the gallus MC, wearing a pink fringed Stetson, said ‘right let’s have the grooms to lead us in The Slosh’. I cried when the people of my country decided ‘it’s time’ to legislate for equal marriage.

The next two photos are street scenes from Gaza. A man under the bonnet of his car, the typical webs of two-thirds-world electricity cables on the graffitied concrete walls and (looking closer) the holes in the concrete and in the beautiful patterns of ventilation tiles. A thin donkey harnessed to an empty cart waits patiently in the sun while two wee boys are in a shaded doorway, one winding something on a stick. Fairy lights above a closed shop.

Then, two blonde White women, both wearing a voluminous white blouse and a long black skirt, trundle smart suitcases and tote Lululemon bags (from the store in Glasgow?) bearing inspirational messages that are full of plastic-wrapped teddy bears from the congregation of Dunfermline Abbey, on the ‘long walk through no-man’s land between Israel and Gaza’.

Two photos: the rusted sign in English and Arabic over the steel plates and delicate tracery of the gate of the Ahli Arab Hospital; and Suheila Tarazi the Director, gesticulating with a pen as she says: ‘We are part of a mosaic picture – whether Christians, or Muslims, or Jews – and we have to keep this hospital as a witness of Christianity working in Gaza…we are small instruments to do God’s work.’

Then Fr Mario, in his Catholic black clericals and white collar, makes a point sitting on a worn brown sofa with a white phone behind him on the painted cream wall: ‘Our work is to preach about hope & pardon & forgiveness.’ Kate tells us that there are roughly 1,100 Christians in Gaza, 138 are Catholic (out of a pop. of 2 million).

Three photos titled ‘Morning beach walk in Gaza’ and the first just looks like flotsam and jetsam at the tideline until I notice the rods sticking up out of the sand. They might be seaweed. They might be barbed wire fence pickets to deter boats landing. The second has lovely smiles from girls in a peach, plum or black and white mosaic hijab, Kate’s in this selfie and smiles too. She’s not wearing a hijab. An attractive face, strong and honest, and determined, but there’s tension there. How could there not be? Then there are covered stalls on the beach and what I recognise as cabanas. A fishmarket? A marina beyond the harbour wall (is the harbour open at all?) and the city beyond. Grey cloud covers most of the blue sky.

Three photos from Rafah, near the border with Egypt, ‘glimpses of Gaza’. So this must be a neighbourhood or region. Concrete walls, bars on windows, washed underwear, shalwar kameez and a prayer mat hung out to dry in the sun. A white Subaru (is it a taxi?) driven by a bearded man with a smiling woman beside him and someone in the back, a big air conditioner outside a Wataniya mobile shop where three men look at plants on a horse-drawn cart. People wearing white herd sheep past buildings and white cars and carry what may be hay or wool on a cart.

Then thirteen little kids, with all the expressions that kids have everywhere, kneel around a multicoloured fabric circle (was it a balloon?) and play cat’s cradle with a smiling woman in a fawn hijab with white lace trim with coloured plastic bins and shelves full of toys and books. Beside two beach balls, surreal lines of poetry in beautiful handwriting on foolscap paper: ‘All of this gets in front/ All the world’s esophagus/ an[d the] Arabs/ […]’. A mystery, to me.

But Kate’s caption is clear: ‘Today the teddies were delivered to Lubna at the Near East Council of Churches to be distributed at their clinics which provide healthcare and psychosocial support to children throughout Gaza. Thank you @abbey_church @churchscotland!!’.  And a smiling young woman with a white cloth hairband carrying a more serious wee tot wearing a pink bolero top with puffed sleeves with a bow in her Champaign coloured dress and a Kirby grip in her hair. A slighty older woman with black hijab and glasses gesticulating in an office with a poster on a cork board behind her with Arabic and the red kangaroo of Australian Aid. And then the teddies. In a big transparent vacuum sealed clothes storage bag, with a sign from Dunfermline Abbey: ‘A Labour of Love’.

Four photos from Hilarion Monastery. Kate says it’s ‘a site dating back to the 4th century & an important part of Gaza’s rich cultural heritage.’ Red tulip roses (?) with flower and thorn, outside, and inside a beautifully preserved leafy floor mosaic with a baptismal font in the centre. A basket of grapes in the centre of a patio mosaic with a surrounding peacock, a horse, an ibis, a swan, doves, a dog – and is that a hippo? Beyond the patio is the city. How will such treasure, the patrimony of humankind, survive?

Kate says goodbye to Gaza with the interculturally comprehensible Wataniya Arabic ‘W’ inside a heart on the concrete roadsign that reads ‘I love Gaza’.

Twenty-two photos. One for every letter of the alphabet I learned, lazily, at university where I studied alongside candidates for the ministry of the Church of Scotland. Hebrew is a language that some ancestors of mine may have spoken. Although the matrilineal descent was broken, when my German great-grandfather came to London, if the patronymic was passed down faithfully, then one of them may have been Aaron, brother of Moses, liberator of the oppressed.

In my naïve youth, I spend four months washing dishes and picking mangoes on a kibbutz opposite Tiberias, where the Rev Kate is stationed. There was no wall then but there was always war. I learned a little as I sat with Scottish and German girls making anklets and friendship bracelets, eating baklava and drinking endless cups of Arabic coffee from a lovely porcelain demi-tasse all afternoon with a Bedouin called Ali in his shop just off the Via Dolorosa. Leaving, I looked out over Jerusalem and thought that the only conclusions I had come to were that the Holy Land is so beautiful, and the situation so complex.

Thirty years on, I haven’t learned anything more.

But this I know. If ever there was an image of priesthood, it’s this: a woman walking a careful line through no man’s land. Taking teddy bears to Gaza.

Teddy Bear

 

Cars

It must have seemed like a great idea at the time, the horseless carriage. Horses are beautiful creatures but the remnants of their passage (sorry) are not. Even today, when dog walkers are fined for not disposing of their pooch’s poop, police officers on their high horses strut off with impunity – leaving behind piles of the stuff for pedestrians and perambulators to negotiate. Suddenly, in that age of elite optimism that ignored mass oppression after the Franco-Prussian War and the American Civil War – the ‘Gilded Age’ of industrialisation in the USA, Birmarck’s German Empire and the French Belle Époque , the Victorian colonial Pax Britannica – there was a solution for all that shit.

Rich men could whizz around – in their Benz or Ford – at a dizzying  3 miles an hour, dismaying and delighting suitably hatted ladies and together they could escape the smoggy city for the bucolic countryside without recourse to the sooty train. They could simultaneously escape her protective relatives and all the confines of the imperial politeness of courtship. They could also, in some shady nook, escape their clothes. It was an age of parking. For some of these ladies, the rapture of freedom came at a price.

Even today, being able to drive and having access to a car – especially one you own – is generally considered a prerequisite for adult masculine identity. In a very clever trick of marketing, it is now also considered a prerequisite for female autonomy. The recent ruling that allowed women to drive in Saudi Arabia is a case in point. There are some odd people, the kind that had beards before everyone else or wear all-natural fibres (but not wool, mohair or angora) and belong to at least one collective, who don’t drive. But they can – and will let you know that.

Cars are used for caring, for the school run, for visiting the elderly, for providing mobility for those for whom it is challenging. For getting people to hospital and pets to the vet. Quickly. They are convenient. Who wants to take box files on a bus? Who can keep hold of two toddlers and a terrier on a train? Cars are, at the moment, a necessary evil.

And evil they certainly are. Richard Casson, blogging for Greenpeace last year, lists 5 reasons why we need to rethink our romance with the automotive industry:

  1. climate change (20% of C02 emissions in many countries)
  2. air pollution (0.5 million dead each year in Europe, worse elsewhere)
  3. continuing production of petrol/ diesel engines when electric/ hybrids are available
  4. cheating on emissions tests on an industrial scale
  5. rising popularity of car-sharing and cycling and public transport

So what can we do, right now?

Stop idling your car engine. It’s now illegal in many countries (including the UK) and typically happens outside shops where the mouths of children in pushchairs and dogs chained to lampposts are at the exact height to inhale the maximum amount of carbon monoxide from your exhaust. While you’re off on your merry way, staff in these shops are exposed to a build-up of such fumes during their shifts. Because you’re lazy and thoughtless.

Ask people to stop idling their engines. Explain why. Point out the toddler in the pushchair or tell them about the dog, unseen, behind their car. I’ve done this. People apologise, take it nicely. People don’t want to be poisoners. Not of dogs and kids. (Well, generally.)

Lobby your local council to conduct air quality tests around your local shopping centre or row of local shops, especially where they form a corner with a car park just outside that has only one entrance/ exit. This design is common in suburban areas. Contact supermarket firms by email or on social media and ask them what they are doing to protect the health of their employees in this regard. They have a duty to care. Ask them to consider putting a polite notice up (one that doesn’t contain the words ‘polite notice’) outside their shops.

Join in with the British Lung Foundation #DropOffSwitchOff campaign asking parents and guardians to stop idling their engines outside schools – because:

‘children growing up around severe air pollution are 5 times more likely to have poor lung development’

‘Exhaust emissions from cars contain dangerous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.

On a day-to-day basis, high concentrations of air pollution can irritate your throat and lungs, leading to respiratory problems – even in otherwise healthy children.

Long-term exposure has been linked to worsening symptoms of conditions such as asthma, which is common in children. Diesel emissions have even been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer.

And research has also shown that pollution levels increase at lower heights, potentially exposing children to greater concentrations than adults.

Idling in cars, which means keeping the engine running while stationary when waiting to drop off or pick up your child from school, increases the amount of this toxic vehicle exhaust in the air.

Many parents believe that stopping a car engine, only to restart it a minute or two later, causes more pollution than idling. This is a myth.

What isn’t a myth is the damage air pollution from idling cars can do to our most vulnerable. That’s why it’s so important to switch off your car engine around schools.’

Brent Council (England) have a great schools pack PDF with lots of downloadable freebies.

Walk to the shops/ your kids to school – if you can.

If you can’t, consider car-sharing/ pooling with people you already know and trust. For the more adventurous, there are numerous car-sharing/ lift-sharing websites around giving advice on safety and insurance.

Cycle. Do I really need to list the benefits? If you feel unsafe (and you may well have good reason) then lobby your local authority for better cycle paths – but DON’T support deadly shared space schemes!!!

Try public transport. Bus companies are moving towards contactless payment so the inconvenience (daylight robbery) of ‘exact fare please’ is being phased out. Trams (when the network eventually gets built) are fun and trains can be both child and dog friendly. Let’s face it, there are leashes of love for both.

Breathe. We have the same impulse as our optimistic (and rather short-sighted) ancestors. But now we know that we can’t escape the smog unless we ourselves stop it.

We can. Together. If you can’t do all of the above, do something!

tree-growing-out-of-abandoned-car-3

Thanks to Sheila Brown for releasing her photo ‘Tree Growing Out Of Abandoned Car 3’ into the Public Domain.

 

Fasting

The Bible says that when you fast you should put oil on your head and a smile on your face and not go around dour-faced and boasting about it. It doesn’t say you should blog about your fasting either. So why am I doing just that?

It started as a Lenten practice. St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral was holding Compline services on a Wednesday and a friend wanted to us to attend together. I’d been shocked to find out another friend undertakes 3 day ‘dry fasts’ (which I certainly wouldn’t recommend) and inspired by numerous Muslim friends who are a lot more sensible! In comparison, taking only liquids for about 20 hours (including some soya milk in Barleycup about 4ish) wasn’t very taxing at all. Especially when I could look forward to breaking my fast with a lovely hot vegan meal home-cooked for me after the service.

During these hours I also switched off the WiFi and didn’t use data on my phone so WhatsApp and iMessages didn’t come through until I turned it on again and I couldn’t check email and scroll through Twitter and Instagram. That was the biggest relief and also the most challenging part of the fast. That’s, principally, what I want to talk about.

First the food, or (voluntary and temporary) lack of it. Fasting is to dieting what celibacy is to being single: a completely different mentality. Dieting (which I never recommend) is all about losing weight and is a limited and strategic resistance to our grossly self-indulgent consumer culture which rarely works in the longterm and often plays straight into the hands of the sugar-pushers who created the problem of obesity in the first place. What fasting has in common with celibacy is that it takes an initial determined mental effort and then it becomes a habit. (People who say ‘I’m celibate’ when they are just not in a sexual relationship at the moment – and jump at the chance of one – have no idea what they are talking about.) Fasting also has nothing to do with involuntary starvation.

Fasting gives the digestive system a rest and, crudely, in terms of intake and output, for most people in post-industrialised nations, that’s a very good thing indeed. There are many health benefits to having a colon that isn’t continually stuffed with food – especially when it’s a long (human) one which specialises in gradually getting the nutrients out of fibrous vegetables rather than being rancid with all the toxic chemicals in factory-farmed meat.

For this reason, fasting may have a limited and very gradual effect on the waistline. Not because of a calorific deficit. The metabolism reacts in various ways to an alteration in intake, and fat-creating panic and eating large quantities after eating few or none are two of them. I find that my body doesn’t panic if my brain doesn’t. No, I’m not being New Age about this. My Muslim friends have often told me of the clarity and serenity they feel while fasting and it was only when I restarted this ascetic practice of my youth, after many decades, that I re-experienced that feeling.

DON’T accept an invitation to a meal and sit there saying “Oh I’m fasting but do go ahead don’t mind little me” in a saintly voice with your head to one side, gazing off into the middle distance. DON’T attempt to do anything that requires great physical or mental effort, especially if collaborating. Schedule both for another day. DO tell people if it comes up. It’s not a big deal. You’re not a hero. They may be interested. It’s not all about you. DO use the time in a productive way.

So, second, the thoughts and feelings. The biggest challenge to me while I’m disconnected from the internet is not so much Fear Of Missing Out but a great anxiety that, without me twirling it, the world won’t spin by. So I invent all sorts of reasons why I must just check (whatever) right now just in case (whoever) has tried to contact me about (whatever) and is in total despair that my sage advice is temporarily unavailable.

This hunger, for attention, is more insidious that that for food. I very rarely break my food fast once started (although the end point is somewhat variable) but have on occasion just checked that there’s no-one who desperately needs me on every single means of internet communication at my disposal. To combat this self-centred anxiety, I’ve started texting the couple of people who I feel may be in touch through one of these means during those hours to say when I should be back online. People react well. The world spins by.

This letting go of people, of my concern to be the one dealing with their concerns, of being in the limelight, is accompanied by a general quieting of input. I can’t see video clips of cute animals on social media, with the WiFi off, the TV series I’m watching are unavailable (I do sometimes put on a video or DVD and have the pleasure of focusing on a film uninterrupted by adverts). And if I suddenly come up with an interesting question, such as ‘why are there no East Asian actors in S1-7 Games of Thrones?’ (the author’s answer raises even more questions about representation, Orientalism and rationality – some of which I addressed in the essay I cheekily inserted in this novel) then I have to wait patiently until the fast is over. – resisting my inner urgent ‘I wanna know and I wanna know right now!

So I’m in a bit of a cocoon for about a day and I welcome it and look forward to it. It’s not all about me. Very, very little is. Meanwhile, I find I get on with things. Preparing for my tax return, making up menus for my elderly mother, writing my series of inclusive novels. Walking my dog. Thinking about an area of ethics I’d like to tackle next. I have so much time!

At the end of the day (I’ve not yet switched to the post-breakfast till pre-breakfast fast which is probably more ideal than missing out breakfast and lunch and having a late dinner) I am grateful to have a meal. Even bread tastes wonderful when you haven’t eaten for 20 hours. Yes I’m reminded of those who have no food, as our national bard famously prayed (even if he didn’t write the Selkirk Grace himself) but I’m also profoundly grateful that I do and I may also think of all the people who contributed to the production, transportation and marketing of my food. Burns would say, as we still do in Scotland, I mind them.

Pope Frances, of whom I confess myself a not uncritical fan, recommended fasting during Lent as a way to combat violence. There are links here that repay exploring. Thomas Merton, another man of peace, withdrew from the American Peace Movement when an anti-Vietnam war protestor burned himself to death (and was only just persuaded to throw the baby he was cradling to safety). Sadly, this kind of protest, and that kind of war, is not unknown today.

Fasting reminds me that it’s not up to just me to fix the world; that my anxiety may contribute to a general lack of serenity out of which arise bad decisions; and that our collective compulsive urge to consume is the basis for the violent conquest and acquisition of peoples and lands and animals – and of the mineral deposits that all our oil wars (with an ever-changing enemy) are really being fought over.

I don’t recommend fasting. It’s something you do if you feel drawn to it. It doesn’t work for everyone and it doesn’t have to. If it’s for you, you may wish to consult a medical professional and to start off very gradually. If you do start fasting from food, or even if you don’t, try disengaging from the internet even just for a few hours. Experience the joy of the world spinning by, without you twirling it.

zen-stones-and-butterfly

Thanks to George Hodan who has released his photograph ‘Zen Stones and Butterfly’ into the public domain.

This Is My Gender

Genderfuck and Maundy Thursday are two nouns not often encountered in the same sentence. The former is a gender-subversive strategy from the identity politics of the 1970’s with older roots – which some would argue stretch back at least as far as the Passover meal (not a Seder service) celebrated by Jesus and his disciples sometime around 30 AD and commemorated by the latter Christian festival.

Yesterday I got into a bit of a tiff on Twitter which I dislike especially when it’s with someone I respect. In this case someone I know personally who does the most admirable (and often least admired) job in theatre – so there is absolutely nothing I could teach him about performance. Of gender or of anything else.

Yet I realised that despite our mutual respect and many shared values, and despite my very amateur and academic acquaintance with his professional practice, I simply wasn’t communicating my theoretical and political problem with the very recently fashionable claims and demands made about transgender. This is my attempt to provide a clearer and fuller explanation for those disinclined to read all about it at length HERE.

Maundy Thursday marks the institution of the Eucharist. [If you’ve just fallen asleep, wake up! I’ll be talking about genderfuck next.] In the Gospels [no, seriously!] Jesus takes bread and says: This is my body. Christians argue about the many ways this presence and change should be understood and articulated (transubstantiation is only one of these ways). Semantically, these words are a speech act – they do something. Like saying I do and you’re married. Charms, curses, spells, blessings, judicial sentences, some traditions of divorce, coming out of the closet and self-declaration of gender are all also (usually) speech acts.

Although my book Trans/Substantiation (which I was quite rightly accused of plugging) also puts forward a new and more ecumenical interpretation of presence and change in the Eucharist, I am not concerned with that here. [Thank God! You say – or words to that effect.] I’m interested in the limits of a speech act which, although it has the magical quality of changing reality, is normally understood to take effect in the present and have a bearing on the future. Speech acts (usually) have no power over the past.

I mentioned performance because the diva of Queer Theory, Prof. Judith Butler FBA, stresses the performativity of gender. [No wake up, honestly!] In other words it’s all an act, being a man or a woman is just playing a role. I have no problems with that understanding of gender. I don’t believe it to be an adequate description of the phenomena (it’s very lazy ontology) but there is a coherent concept, however shallow.

Putting together these thoughts on speech acts and performativity, let me state that I have no problem with a self-declaration of gender which is understood as: I’ve been playing the role of a man and I now want to play the role of a woman and I undertake to do so for the rest of my life – while respecting the right of people with a vagina to be protected from forced invasion of their safe space by people with a penis (especially if they have been raped by one).

It’s not the only form of genderfuck [told you!] and some would argue that it’s one of the least subversive of the patriarchy because it leaves these binary gender roles intact. There is also the problem of gender nonconforming political strategies (such as gay drag and butch lesbianism) being hoovered up by transgender ideology – with people feeling the pressure to tidily transition to ‘the other’ gender rather than subvert their own or the whole binary system.

Let’s go back to the Eucharist [deal with it!]. The words of consecration/ institution are not: this is not bread and never has beenand anyone who thinks differently is anathema, believer or not.

We are now under immense social pressure to believe that not only can people change their gender, and retroactively, by speech act, assert a permanent underlying essence of masculinity or femininity irrespective of psychology, physiology, or even performance, an assertion for which Queer Theory provides no theoretical support; we are required to not blink an eye if a future assertion, or a series of such assertions, should permanently and retroactively reverse this gender; we are told that women who have suffered penile rape are being selfish and callous when they ask for safe space; and that parents who wish to prevent teen pregnancy are being reactionary and middle-class when they complain about the lack of prudence (let alone Duty to Care) which allows an adolescent with a penis and an adolescent with a vagina to use the same toilets unsupervised while at school.

I am fascinated by magic. Being a Roman Catholic with great sympathy for the Pagan roots of Celtic Christianity and other syncretic spiritualities, especially those of the various locations in the Americas where I’ve studied and worked, my novels are full of the uncanny. However every novelist knows that even when you create a fantastic world, you have to establish and keep to rules of internal narrative logic.

Speech acts are powerful assertions and they have limits. Identity is not something that depends solely on individual assertion. The suffering of marginalisation (especially when ignoring or attempting to trump that of others) is, of itself, neither sufficient nor necessary to establish either one’s identity or the ethics of one’s cause. There is a great deal of difference between an assertion and an imposition. Emotional blackmail and bullying, online or in person, by an individual, a group or an interested institution, do not prove the validity of an ideology – especially one which is presently encouraging many young people to consider life-changing and irrevocable decisions leading to their bodies ending up scarred and sterile for the rest of their lives.

Young people experiment with identities. Anyone who denies this has forgotten their own youth. Let them experiment. But let their youthful enthusiasm, angst, playfulness, posturing, politics, peer networks and constant surveillance of internet information not lead them to a form of genderfuck which subverts their fertility as well as their happiness.

One lesson from Maundy Thursday is that interested institutions (such as imperial dynasties and pharmaceutical companies) could not care less about the individuals whose bodies they consider expedient to maim and destroy in their lust for power.

Jesus subverted cultural notions of power. He questioned authority. He even reprimanded his own disciples, for the sake of a woman who was reverencing his body, even when they had a care for the marginalised.

Ethics isn’t simple, neither is gender. Think about that. Consider genderfuck. Especially on Maundy Thursday.

bread-in-hand-1493896293Yc7

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his photo Bread in Hand into the Public Domain.

 

 

Of Dogs and Men

Imagine (because all the studies in this blogpost are fictitious) that, in 1986, Bowser and Blenkinstop, eminent biomedical researchers, published an article in a popular science magazine demonstrating a strong positive correlation between the human acquisition of a dog and a fall in human blood pressure, finding the hypothesis that owning a dog can lower high blood pressure to be probable. Imagine that, in 1984, in an odd reverse of usual procedure, the Secretary of State for Health had held a press conference to publicise exactly this carefully-worded finding. And that the next day all the newspapers had dropped the word ‘probable’ and led with DR BOFFINS SAY PATTING A DOG ADDS DECADES TO YOUR LIFE. Imagine that, in 1987, the world’s first Human-Canine Electromagnetic Skin Response Unit was patented by Blenkinstop (Bowser suing her over intellectual property theft being covered up by agreement at a top level meeting of the heads of their respective countries) and that HCESRUs then proliferated globally. Imagine that shelters were only able to cope with their sudden huge intake of abandoned long-haired dogs by dispensing entirely with home checks for all the short-haired dogs such as Staffies, Pitbulls and Pugs suddenly in such demand that fisticuffs broke out in Battersea Dog & Cat Home. On a Sunday. Imagine that a performance at the Sydney Opera House had to be cut short after a famous fat lady refused to sing the finale of Tosca over all the barking.

Imagine that experts, with Ph.D.s and charts and graphs in colour, suddenly appeared on daytime TV to reassure anxious housewives and the unemployed that while, yes, the HCESRUs did, in fact, show a higher response with short-haired mammals, even patting long-haired mammals had a proved beneficial effect on high blood pressure. Imagine that all the animals shelters everywhere (with a TV) were besieged with mobs of angry people dressed in leisurewear and pinstriped suits demanding their right to own a furry creature, that several hirsute ‘unmarried’ men were chased along streets in 4x4s and corralled in a wedding chapel by a gang of obese Sweet Potato Queens (of both sexes) in Tallahassee and that in New York people were domesticating sewer rats.

Imagine that everyone with the least political consciousness took to wearing bold red Rocket Man Ts when North Korea invaded its southern neighbour to put an end to the dog meat trade and set up an international conglomerate producing frozen canine embryos guaranteed to thaw into living shorthaired womb-puppies upon implantation in specially-designed high end Canine Embryonic Life Maintenance & Birthing Commodities.

Imagine that, always quoting Bowser & Blenkinstop (1986), studies funded by such conglomerates proliferated in the search to determine the best breed of short-haired dog to lower human blood pressure and that the surprising, puzzling, and contradictory data from these studies were either suppressed or interpreted in new and clever ways to provide endless epicycles way out of the orbit of the original hypothesis – that patting a dog could lower your blood pressure, probably – and that all of them called for more research.

Then imagine that, for over thirty years, two groups of biomedical researchers and their supporters in various fields, as well as some investigative journalists, had been patiently putting forward alternative views: that either owning a dog was only a statistical marker for the real cause of lowered blood pressure which was the combination of getting out into the fresh air for walks and light-hearted, non-intrusive, friendly social interaction (with other dog-owners) and that short-haired dogs such as Staffies were more likely to be owned by people lacking the income to hire a dog walker, and so miss out on these benefits, than by those who could afford, say, an Afghan hound – or that the original study was so methodologically flawed that no conclusion could be drawn until a large-scale, longterm, randomised, double-blinded study, with controlled variables and placebo arm, could be undertaken.

Imagine the fury from the merchandisers of Scooby-Doo, from the makers of the famous red heart-shaped D dogtags and from all the grieving friends and relatives of the beloved dead who had departed this life due to a tragic inability to accept this sure cure: fur allergy.

[Reader, all of the above is pure imagination. I have absolutely no knowledge of any study regarding dog owning and high blood pressure – which is a serious medical condition that I do not make light of. I heartily recommend having dogs as companions, especially if you’re the one who’s walking them.]

Now translate this coded metaphor: there are three distinct hypotheses for AIDS. HIV features in only two of them and the scientists credited with its co-discovery disagree on the best hypothesis. The scientists who hold the ‘alternative’ (original) hypotheses – that either AIDS is solely or partly caused by toxins, including anti-HIV drugs – continue to be denied a platform while the hypothesis favoured by the pharmaceutically-funded medical establishment gets more and more complicated with every study that produces contradictory data.

In 1984 the US Secretary of Health and Human Services announced to the press that ‘HIV is the probable cause of AIDS’. Rushing from probability to certainty, ignoring contradiction, is bad science. Meanwhile people are dying, now of liver-failure brought on by anti-HIV drugs.

Isn’t it time for us to reconsider the other two hypotheses?

honden-1451091222P9NThanks to ‘X posid’ for releasing the photo ‘Dogs in the park’ into the public domain.

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.

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.