Barefoot in the wilderness
in search of understanding


The Herceptin fraud

Have you heard about Herceptin, the new wonder drug that cures breast cancer early? Well, it doesn’t exist. Oh, there’s a drug called Herceptin alright, and it is used to treat cancer. However, it’s only been shown to be effective at reducing the recurrence rate – after you’ve been cured by other methods, and the published data only cover a year of treatment so we’ve no idea how long the effect might last. Where, then, does this furore over the drug come from, and why is it so strong that women are going to court to demand the drug? The Guardian has a shrewd idea.

Lisa Jardine was at home recovering from chemotherapy one evening last May when the phone rang…
“Halfway through the following week, the phone goes at home,” says Jardine, professor of Renaissance studies at Queen Mary, University of London, writer and well-known television presenter. “It’s a really nice woman. She says to me, ‘I read about you in the paper and I gather you’d like access to Herceptin and you can’t get it.’”
By now, however, Jardine had decided that she did not want the drug. “I said, ‘No – that’s not the case with me. I have decided not to have Herceptin.’
“She said, ‘Even if you don’t want it yourself, would you come and talk to some of our seminars because we’re running a big campaign to promote Herceptin? Either we could find funding for Herceptin or, if you really don’t want it or decide against it, there would be fees for appearances.’
“I said, ‘Could you tell me where you are from?’ She said, ‘We work for Roche.’

That’s right – the manufacturer was offering to pay Jardine to fuel its advertising campaign. A campaign, be it noted, to encourage the use of a drug outside the areas in which it has been shown to work. Because Herceptin is available in the UK and is being prescribed. But it’s only being prescribed where it will be effective – not everywhere that Roche thinks that it can make money. Herceptin will work in only 20% of women, and its side effects include heart problems including heart failure.

Apparently, they’ve forgotten that the UK health market doesn’t work like the one in the USA (where you can buy any drug you like, more or less). Or perhaps they want to turn the UK into the USA. It’s rather worrying either way.

pax et bonum

Gloves off for ID cards?

Andy Burnham MP was on the Today programme this rmorning on BBC Radio 4, defending the UK Government’s policy on ID cards. And it’s gloves off time over the issue of compulsion – the issue on which the House of Lords is holding up the Bill. The Government has always been clear, apparently, that ID cards would be compulsory straight away, because of the link with the Passport. And the manifesto pledge about their being voluntary is irrelevant because the Bill started its progress before the last General Election.

Which could prove to be a huge own goal – the basis for the Government to over-ride the Lords has been trumpeted as the Salisbury Convention (an agreement from the 1950s under which the Lords agreed not to oppose any promises made by the Government in its election manifesto). And if there was no manifesto pledge about their voluntary status, there is no basis upon which to use the Salisbury Convention.

Burnham also made the claim that the majority of Britons are quite happy with the idea that we will be compelled under serious financial penalty to possess, keep up to date and present on demand their new ID card. And this flies in the face of much recent evidence (such as this Open University report) that support for the ID scheme drops dramatically once it become clear that it is compulsory and centralised.

pax et bonum

Fiddly bits

Now, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but I fiddle. That is to say, I play the fiddle. Not the violin, please note – the fiddle. Over the years, I had enough of playing instruments by written scores (piano, trumpet, even guitar) and I eventually gave up because it was too much like work and not enough like fun. A few years ago, though, I decided to take up the fiddle. Folk music isn’t all “stick your finger in your ear and wail” stuff – there’s some very good music out there. And, for me, it was ideal because the usual way to learn folk music is by ear: listen, then play, then listen some more, then play some more.

Having small children steals your time, though, and my fiddling lapsed somewhat. But I’m back into it again now, and I’ve got my eyes set on some lovely new kit. I’ve already got some new strings thanks to StringMail, who delivered within 2 days! I’ve also laid my hands on a new Incredibow (from Dance of Delight). These are odd things – instead of the usual concave shape of a violin bow, they are convex, almost like a Baroque bow. There’s no tension adjuster because you never need to loosen off the bow. Made of carbon fibre and with synthetic hair rather than horsehair, it nonetheless plays rather nicely. The bow only arrived today so I’ve not had much chance to test it yet, but first impressions are quite good. It’s more stable than my old wooden/horsehair bow and less prone to wolf notes, but does seem to bounce a trifle more. I might try out the featherweight Incredibow – the one I’ve got is their standard weight and it’s actually a little heavier than my wooden bow was! Fortunately, Dance of Delight has a generous 60-day return policy :-)

Anyhow, there’s a little pic above of the new bow (top) in my fiddle case – also, on the left, there’s the little container of Tartini rosin that I got for the new bow. You can (obviously) also see my fiddle. It’s a 19th-century French one, allegedly, but was extensively rebuilt by the local luthier I bought it off after it got badly damaged – he buys broken violins and rebuilds them, then sells them on. Despite this instrument’s checkered past, it has a good tone and is very loud. But I still lust after a Bridge electric fiddle. One day, perhaps, I’ll get one, and couple it with a Black Box. Mmmmmm…

pax et bonum

Climate change

A Few Things Ill Considered has an excellent collection of answers to objections that we still sometimes see to the statement that human activity is leading to global climate change. These include such old chestnuts as “It’s just natural variation,” “a warmer climate is a good thing,” “natural emissions dwarf human activity,” and the old favorite, “global warming is a hoax!”

(Thanks to Mike at WorD for the tip.)

pax et bonum

ID Cards compulsory again

As The Register reports, the UK Identity Cards legislation has been bounced around for a third time, with the Commons reinstating the compulsory aspect of the scheme (compelling anyone who takes out a passport also to take an ID card and be entered on the national identity database). Sadly, it looks like this will be decided not on the actual merits and demerits of the scheme but on constitutional details – whether the Lords can continue to stymie the Commons.

If you haven’t written to your MP yet to make your opinions known, can I ask you please to do so? It’s very easy to do, thanks to TheyWorkForYou.

No2ID is also reporting that the ID card will no longer be tied to biometrics. Instead, companies will be able to “verify” an ID-card holder’s identity using a simple 4-digit PIN. The database storing all of our important, identifying information will be no more secure than its weakest link – and PINs are very vulnerable to stealing and hacking. Given the prizes available for forging ID cards, expect such a system to be broken into quickly, thoroughly and often.

pax et bonum

Women's rights

Heather at Driftwood comments on the recent announcement of a 500,000 advertising campaign to educate young men on the need for consent before sex.

Gender bias?

I Blame The Patriarchy makes some good points about how some people are trying to address poor performance at school.

Corporate power

This came from an anonymous post to GrokLaw – being published under the Creative Commons licence means that I’m free to reproduce it here.

It makes me sad to see people defend monopolies. It is as if we are returning to 100 years ago and the unbounded corporate power of those times. Corporations are not natural but deliberately created by government authority. They are quite the briliant invention aggregating large amounts of economic power by the simple device of making shares safe to own and trade. Bringing together so much capital enables valuable things which are by their nature big. Things like wiring the nation together for the telephone and the internet.
But it should be no great surprise that concentrating power also brings dangers.

This is an interesting thought, it seems to me. I often read, especially when debating certain legal cases floating around at the moment, that governments ought to leave business alone, that business shouldn’t be “shackled” by legislation. Instead, they say, the “free market” will sort everything out. And, of course, the trouble is that “big business” isn’t a natural thing. It exists only because governments created laws to allow it to be. And so governments ought surely to create laws that also restrict the power that such big businesses can wield. Especially in a democracy – whatever the faults of our Government, at least we get to vote for them. I never had a say in who runs IBM, Microsoft, Time-Warner, Exxon/Esso etc.

pax et bonum

Money and music

Ever wondered how much of the price you pay for your songs of iTunes (or wherever) goes to the person who actually made the music? Now you can find out.

Big and small

Here is a nice look at the wonders of the Universe – from a view of our whole galaxy to the particles within the nucleus of an atom.
(_Thanks to Alastair for the tip._)

Lib Dems have a leader

So, it’s Menzies Campbell now leading the UK Liberal Democrat party.

New online database for child workers

The UK Government is set to establish a new database containing the eligibility details of anyone wanting to work with children (or anyone barred from doing so). Might sound like a good idea – even apart from the logistical nightmare of actually creating it. But there are two problems that are immediately apparent.

First, by its nature, it requires that anyone can have access to the database to check potential employees (the Government is specifically talking about parents employing nannies or music teachers being able to check the database). The security implications of this are multiple – for example, someone can be barred from working with children for many reasons, including strictly temporary bans, but we know that there are idiots out there who can’t even tell the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile; what will such people make of this list?

Second, the plans are set to make it a criminal offence to seek to work with children without being on this database, and a criminal offence to employ someone to work with children without checking the list (although that second provision will apparently not apply to parents in a private capacity – you may use the database but you don’t have to). But does this really mean that, if you want to get someone to babysit for you, they have to be on the list? And does that apply to the neighbours’ 16-year-old who does casual babysitting? And is it really sensible to criminalise someone just for applying for a job? Not everyone who’d be on the list is really a danger to children (the lists it would be compiled from cover various offences) and, as I’ve said, some are only on the list temporarily (as a caution).

Guarding the safety of children is laudable, but pandering to the panic of the mob is not. And entrusting our children’s care to yet another Government IT project seems like a bad idea. We need more carefully thought out legislation than this.

pax et bonum

MS iPod parody

How would it look if Microsoft redesigned the iPod packaging?
(_Thanks to Alastair for the tip._)


Liberty of choice

Alastair quotes David Bentley Hart’s discussion of what our worship of “freedom to choose” means for society. There was one sentence in particular that resonated particularly with me, although the whole thing is worth reading:

Liberty of choice was only the possibility of freedom, not its realization.

That is, freedom does not mean that we are free to choose – true freedom consists only in making the right choices. For without some standard by which to judge our choices (a standard that is necessarily external to our selves) our choices are meaningless. Our exercise of choice becomes simple self-pleasure rather than an exercise towards a goal.

pax et bonum

Setting the record straight

There have been many…odd…reports about Norman Kember and the other Christian Peacemaker Team members kidnapped four months ago and recently released by military action. Ekklesia has a rebuttal to these that is worth reading. Most particularly, it is not true that the CPT members and organisation were ungrateful – indeed, unqualified thanks were offered on the day of their release and thereafter, contrary to many media reports (including statements from senior military men). And it is not true that the CPT members endangered anyone else by requiring military assistance – they had specifically and publically said that they did not desire any military intervention if anything was to go wrong with their mission.

pax et bonum


Sven has some good thoughts and links on this.

Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained

Thanks, Maggi :-)

More on inerrancy

The P T Forsyth Files has an excellent analysis of what we really mean when we talk of the Scripture as being “inerrant”, “inspired” or whatever.
(_Thanks to Sven for the tip._)

Evangelism and Hell

Graham at Leaving Munster has some excellent thoughts on how our ideas of Hell shouldn’t affect our willingness to share the Good News.

Archbishop interviewed

The Guardian has an interview with Rowan Williams, of Canterbury. In it, we hear some very good things. First, Williams criticises the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design as alternatives to .

Guardian: Are you comfortable with teaching creationism?
Williams: Ahh, not very. Not very. I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories…for most of the history of Christianity…there’s been an awareness that a belief that everything depends on the creative act of God, is quite compatible with a degree of uncertainty or latitude about how precisely that unfolds in creative time…So if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories, I think there’s – there’s just been a jar of categories, it’s not what it’s about.
Guardian: So it shouldn’t be taught?
Williams: I don’t think it should, actually. No, no. And that’s different from saying – different from discussing, teaching about what creation means.

Thereafter, there are various other topics – Peter Akinola, division in the church, Islam. It’s all good stuff, and good to hear him speaking out on some of these issues.

(click for more)

BNP setting up a church

The BNP is helping to set up its own church. And the teaching of this church is based around the idea that “races” should be restricted to their own “homelands”. Are we worried yet?


Alastair has some interesting thoughts on regeneration and whether it should be seen primarily as something that is to do with our personal salvation or as a singular historical event.

Penal substitution again

Sven has another excellent summary of why this is an important issue.

How not to deal with division

Father Jake reports a recent letter from a in the Episcopal of the USA. ECUSA is the focus of much debate in the Anglican Communion worldwide because of its tolerant attitudes towards people – indeed, they appointed an openly gay bishop a few years ago. For some, this is intolerable and there is talk of expelling ECUSA from the Anglican Communion, or even setting up a new “orthodox” communion, occupied mostly by the churches of the “Global South” and led in a certain African archbishop. There was an official report a while back called the Windsor report that attempted to lay out some groundwork for continued fellowship while the issues were sorted out.

Although flawed, this report is the only official document available to work with. Among its recommendations were that ECUSA not appoint any more gay bishops (to which ECUSA agreed – by saying that they would thus appoint no bishops at all until matters were resolved) and that bishops should not interfere in the affairs of other bishops, particularly bishops in different churches. However, although the Global South call repeatedly for ECUSA and others to adhere to the recommendations of the Windsor Report when it talks about not appointing gay bishops, they do not feel themselves bound by its recommendations themselves, and there are many reports of African and South American bishops (among others) taking parishes in the USA under their wings, as it were, sanctioning their disagreements with their own bishops.

The letter Father Jake quotes includes this phrase, which is very true, it seems to me.

It becomes increasingly difficult to ask one part of the Anglican Communion to observe the Windsor recommendations in their totality while another segment feels free to pick and choose which they will accept and which they will disobey. Such unilateral action only hardens the division now present.

pax et bonum

Literal translation

Ben Witherington looks at a few biblical texts for what a “literal” reading would actually mean.

What is the Bible?

Alastair has some interesting thoughts about the nature of the Bible.

BNP members form 'Christian' front

Ekklesia is reporting that the BNP has indeed formed a “Christian” wing, as recently suggested.

Pacifism or non-violence?

Graham of Leaving Munster makes some excellent points about the difference between pacifism and non-violence.

Pacifism…can simply be a way to avoid violence. Yet, nonviolent resistance – which is what Christ teaches us and is at the heart of our faith – looks Violence in the eye and squares up for battle…Some of the News reports in the last couple of days have verged on mockery as they related how the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq had not been employing appropriate security measures. (So, like, what did they expect?!) Yet, how do we seek to stand with a people, without dehumanising them as the enemy, whilst protecting oneself from them? The four men of the Christian Peacemaker Teams – Tom Fox, Norman Kember, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden – did not walk blindly into this situation. Yet, that should not evoke mockery from us, but admiration. No one greets a grieving war widow with,“What did you expect? It was a war after all!” Instead, we list as heroes those who would fight and risk their own lives to save the lives of others.
Violence continues to win because more people believe its lies.

pax et bonum

Supporting violence

Father Jake reminds us of the “Christian” violence in Nigeria. The sad cycle of violence begetting more violence, across religious/social lines, looks dangerously close to being repeated in Nigeria as it has been elsewhere.

The thing that is particularly sad about this is that the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, is not condemning the violence. Worse, he’s actually been threatening violence.

May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation. Nigeria belongs to all of us Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. No amount of intimidation can Change this time-honoured arrangement in this nation. C.A.N. may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue. (Source)

And let us remember that this is the man threatening to divide the Anglican Communion because some people disagree with him over whether gay people should be fully included in the Church (he’s against it; indeed, he’s supporting proposed laws in Nigeria that would make illegal to be gay, or to support gay rights, or to arrange meetings to advance gay rights). Personally, I don’t know how he can reconcile his claim to the moral high ground with all but sanctioning violence against his fellow countryfolk. I don’t see how he can claim that issues of personal sexuality are important enough to divide the Communion while publically advocating violence against his neighbours.

pax et bonum

Do you wear a cross?

A question posed by St. Casserole (thanks to Dr Moose and Kathryn for the tip).

Do you wear a cross?
Most of the time.

Is there a particular time or place that you consider wearing a cross?
See above – I usually wear it.

Where do you wear it?
Under my clothes, on a string round my neck.

What does the cross look like?
It’s a Tau cross carved from olive wood (about an inch high), strung on a brown cord bearing three knots. (A tau is the Greek letter ‘t’, and looks like a cross without the top sticky-out bit – rather like a T. It’s an ancient form of the cross that is popular in various strands of Christianity.)

Who gave the cross to you or did you choose it?
This particular one was given to me by Father Ed, a friend from the Franciscan presence at Greenbelt. It replaces one I bought when I became a Companion of the Society of St Francis, which I lost when on holiday a few years ago (it fell off when the cord wore through while at church, of all places!).

Is this your favorite cross, if so, why?
I like the plain-ness of it, the naturalness of the wood, the simplicity of the brown cord. For wearing, yes, it’s probably my favourite. It’s very much not a fashion cross.

What does wearing a cross mean to you?
It symbolises to me the presence of Christ alongside me each day, and (in particular) the promises I made when I became a Companion.

pax et bonum

The real split

I have often thought that the real split in the Worldwide Anglican Church is not between those who hold that same sex relationships are blessed by God and those that don’t, but between those who have a profoundly Anglican ecclesiology which allows for difference of opinion and even of doctrine and those who don’t.
(From Bigbulkyanglican)

pax et bonum

Jesus and torture

Sven has an excellent piece on a Christian response to torture. I would quote some, but it’s better to read the whole thing. (Or listen – he’s made a podcast. Ooh!)