Are you comfortably numb?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Cuban doctors have a reputation for dedication. With an average monthly salary of just $20 they cannot be accused of entering the profession for money. One neurosurgeon spoke of hitchhiking to work and operating on an empty stomach.

Well it made me chuckle, anyway...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Guardian article on Richard Dawkins

Go here for an article by Madeleine Bunting criticising Richard Dawkins - but on slightly different grounds than most of his critics would! It seems that her main argument is that Dawkins is wrong in slamming Christianity because he misinterprets it as belief as rational and intellectual, rather than 'faith' in strong and powerful myths.

In my view she's almost given Dawkins a helping hand although it is interesting that The Guardian published this. Needless to say the comments aren't particularly complimentary for the most part.

I don't have enough time to blog extensively on this right now - maybe Paul feels up to it?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

200 feared dead in Sao Paulo plane crash

See above article. Any one of us could have been on that plane - it was coming from Porto Alegre, and although I don't know this for certain, it could easily have stopped at Florianópolis on the way to Congonhas. It was probably the time of day we would have been flying as well, ready for a nightflight to the UK. If Mum and Dad had come over 10 days later who knows... I'm very thankful they didn't.

I still don't know if we know anyone in the crash so if you're Brazilian please leave a comment letting us know you're safe.

Typically, and tragically, the Brazilian airport authorities knew how dangerous this runway is. Bigger planes were banned from landing on it for a time earlier this year because it is so short. It is also notoriously slippery, especially under bad weather conditions such as those last night, with one smaller plane skidding dangerously on it on just Monday this week - the day before the crash.

Brazil, when will you learn to stop playing with people's lives like this? The cost of cancelling a flight has been far outweighed by the loss of likely 200 lives. Well might Lula call three days of national mourning for those whose souls have been claimed by others' recklessness - but how long will it take for a country to start taking human life seriously?

Friday, May 18, 2007

BBC to lose Neighbours

It's a sad day for us all. Still, at least it's running till next Spring, which is basically when I'll stop watching it anyway, seeing as I'll graduate n all.

Until then, we'll continue to enjoy the uninterrupted pleasure of watching Lou Carpenter's quality acting, Harold's jelly-like jowls and the fitness that is Carmella, Pepper and Elle - with no advert breaks.

Long live neighbours.

Oh dear Birmingham Uni

We were all waiting to go into our first exam today, and we looked at the sheets that were put up to tell us what seat number we were. At the bottom was a note telling us what to do if we couldn't see our name on the list.

It referred us to an 'invidulator'.

Yes, an invidulator.

When the people marking our exams can't even spell, there is a slight sense of desperation.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On the dangers of participant observation

I was just reading an article about participant observation for revision, and came across the following sentence:

It is a little known fact that outrage, indignation, and similar feelings are pleasurable. They confer a sense of self-worth and purposefulness.

I thought that was very interesting, coming from a secular paper. Reminds me of Galations 5...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

External Hard Drive

Yes, I have just purchased one of these ingenious inventions. Due to my laptop crumbling under the weight of a few MP3s and .jpegs like an old man under a grizzly bear, it was time to invest.

Already my computer is so much faster, almost as fast as a bronze-medallist paralympian.

At less than 60 quid for 250GB, yes that's GIGAbytes, you can't go wrong. Unless I forget to turn it off properly, that is.

If only it could solve the problem of our terrible internet connection. But that's up to Telewest, whose incompetency is paralleled only by that of the Birmingham History department.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What if this doesn't change?

Israel. Palestine. Gaza. The West Bank. Our generation has grown up with these words ringing in our ears, a constant drum-beat of bad news. The Middle East has dominated news bulletins almost daily since we were born, and most of us are weary of headlines that offer no sign of a resolution to a most bloody conflict.

Our campus is no stranger to this war. With large Jewish and Muslim contingents at Birmingham, the “Middle Eastern issue” has many of us in its grip, polarising attitudes across our red brick surroundings. Knowing this, it was with trepidation that I boarded a plane to Israel two months ago. I was scared. Not of bombs or bullets, but of the pain I would see. Having witnessed the anger and resentment present on both sides in Britain, I dreaded seeing even deeper bitterness and anguish I was sure would characterise the situation on the ground.

It was simultaneously relieving and exasperating to discover I was wrong. Westerners who have not visited Israel but read the news could be forgiven for thinking that Arabs and Jews cannot even pass each other in the street without stones, AK-47s or suicide bombers getting involved. Funnily enough, this is not the case; conversations with representatives from both sides of the conflict repeatedly threw back the message: “We all want peace, we all want a two-state solution, and we all want to stop living in fear”; a sharp contrast to conversations on my own campus, where some expound the view that Israel does not have a right to exist, and others painstakingly whitewash her behaviour. The necessity of living in such a painful long-term crisis does not always breed the extremism that accompanies distance. Both sides, after all, have to live their daily lives amidst the debris of decades of violence, and both sides suffer for it.

This is not to say that the suffering has been allocated in equal quantities. Standing atop Jerusalem a few hours after landing in Tel Aviv, an emotive symbol of the ongoing conflict that has earned Israel the title “apartheid state” in some circles confronts us. The security wall, or “fence” as it is doggedly referred to by Israel’s representatives, is a powerful physical image of the ideological barrier that divides Palestinians and Israelis. It is 425 miles long, eight metres high and consists of a mixture of concrete slabs and razor-wire fences. A heated debate quickly brews between our group and the Israeli tour guide. “We had no choice,” he argues, citing the 85% drop in suicide bombings as evidence that the wall is justified. A representative from the Palestinian Authority later puts forward the obvious counter-argument: the wall is not even on the 1967 borders; it “divides Palestinian families and communities”, preventing them from living their lives. Frequent checkpoints, guarded by zealous IDF soldiers, make it almost impossible for Palestinian families to bridge the gap imposed on them by an Israeli government they see as having no right to dictate their living conditions, already vastly worse than those in a state whose economy is booming (Israel’s exports exceeded her imports for the first time in 2006).

The wall is a short-term solution, yes. Suicide bombings are a reality, one that stared us unblinkingly in the eye as we later heard the excruciating stories of three survivors of such attacks. Understandable that any government would want to protect its people from such vicious acts. Understandable, but constructive? Just as it seemed obvious to us that attacking Iraq would water a ground ripe for terrorism, so it seems this wall is just a band-Aid on a wound that will fester in bitterness, spawning increased attempts to infiltrate Israel and kill more civilians.

Yet if we’re going to stop the wall we must stop the terror. Issa Kasasiya, Assistant Chief of Staff in the Palestinian Authority, insists that the conflict is perpetuated by extremists on both sides. So what are Palestinian politicians doing to clamp down on extremism from their people? How are they stemming the development of suicide bombers? Despite Kasasiya’s earlier eloquence concerning Palestinian grievances and Israeli failings, his sidestepping of my question was embarrassingly obvious. Amidst his protesting answer that yet again highlighted the faults of the Israeli government, there was a deafening silence as to what responsibility his side was taking to deal with their own mistakes.

This seemed to be a recurrent theme on both sides: a dragging and obstinate reluctance to admit fault unequivocally. By the end of the trip our ears were worn by listening to people protest that the other side had done more wrong than they. The Camp David summit of 2000 was a prime example; each side was expert in explaining why the blame lay mostly with the opposition. Couple this with the gridlock that holds Jerusalem, with the city being sacred to both Muslims and Jews (not to mention Catholics), and I was left with the terrible but inevitable suspicion that there is never going to be a resolution to this conflict.

Both sides now lack leaders who have real leadership qualities, let alone leaders who can work together to regain each other’s trust. Trust between the two peoples has gradually been eroded for decades, leading to the paranoid stalemate that now holds them in an iron grip. I applaud those who are trying to work towards a peaceful two-state solution, and like many of the people we met pray for this to happen. But something has to give. And this is the great challenge. Apologies must come unqualified; mistakes must be admitted without justification. And this is not fair, because grace is not about fairness; it is about giving something that is not deserved.