Archive for December, 2009

Origin of symmetry

i got a book out of the (not so) secret Santa in work. Knowing my rants on science and belief I got the most appropriate What we believe but cannot prove– today’s leading thinkers on science in the age of certainty.

I love the idea of getting a bunch of really smart guys together to come up with the notions that they hold dear that they suspect scientific empiricism will not give them a clear answer on.

Unfortunately it’s by a self-selected bunch of modernists with a taste for Ditchkinisms.

It seemed fashionable to answer the most complex of human questions with scientific empiricism back in the 19th century and it seems many haven’t got over the fact that ancients in thought had been there for a long time before them and had no intention of shifting.

Though perhaps I’m being unfair. There are a few crackers in there.

My favorite so far was

scientific results cannot be proved. they can only be tested again and agin until only a fool would refuse to believe them. I cannot prove that electrons exist, but i fervently believe in their existence. And if you don’t believe in them I have a high voltage cattle prod I’m willing to apply as an argument on their behalf.

i am a big fan of evolution – maybe it gives me a survival advantage to like it… It seems a great way to explain how we made many of the steps from slime to primates to humans.

Though I feel that’s where it falls flat on it’s face. Human beings have been around for only a tiny fraction of the evolutionary fraction that got us to our beginning. Unfortunately I feel that natural selection went out the window the moment a recognisable human being appeared.

[Let me acknowledge that anything recognisable as a human did not appear overnight. Over a few million years might be more useful, but let me make my point first]

Let me define a recognisable human being in a simplistic way – groups of humans reproducing and hunting/gathering with vestiges of farming and drawing animals on caves in the south of France.

This was pretty damn recent.

The moment we let something more than our genes or reproductive desires influence how we lived we made a step backwards in terms of our evolution – in the Darwinian sense anyhow.

My favorite phrase is usually that when our brains outgrew our dicks we began our journey towards our own biological self-destruction.

The moment we nurtured the weak in the group was the moment we started going backwards. The moment we nurtured a kid with trisomy 21, the moment we helped the young kid with pneumonia , the moment we started carrying the toddler with DDH.

Our rapidly enlarging brains gave us the ability to be effective in our nurturing (what i really mean to say is loving but shhhh don’t tell anyone…) deeds.

In the book Judith Rich Harris says she believes in 3 not 2 selection processes in humnaity 1) natural selection 2) sexual selection and 3) “parental” selection.

Parental selection is a shit name. Acts of love I would call it but don’t tell her that. Plus it sounds a bit cringe worthy and i haven’t spent enough time on it to think of anything better.

She tells the story of a woman from a “primitive” tribe who talks about a parent initally deciding to abandon her as yet unborn child as she was still nursing her previous child. but when the child was born she decided to encourage and nurse it instead.

She bases this choice on aesthetics – something different about one child and not the other that causes the parent not to abandon the infant due to circumstance (which undoubtedly happened regualrly in both our history and pre-history)

She goes on to suggest that we are hairless for such reasons (and over a very short period of time) which i find a bit hard to swallow.

But the idea that something fundamentally changed in our human journey interests me immensely.

I believe we are much more interesting than genes and natural selection. Our refusal as a species to naturally select has thrown a spanner in the double helix.

Frozen Lake

I find myself in that slightly awkward but always pleasant bit between Christmas and New Year. In this odd society that puts these major holidays together and where no real work happens in between.

Christmas was good, cracker food and some interesting gifts, of which my (second) favourite was this.

There were also the obligatory and most practical and appreciated socks and deoderant. Well appreciated by some people anyhow.

Much more excitingly on boxing day we managed to get wee Liz out in the canoe and make an attempt on Coney island.

We were thwarted by ice. Yes ice, a big dirty great sheet of it that seemed to run all the way out to Coney Island.

The good ship Pudge is not designed as ice breaker, though we tried all the same. In the end we gave up when the crunching noises became all a bit disconcerting.

Instead we paddled up the Blackwater instead fearing dive bombings by swans. We were fine.

I must say I did like the ice for dragging the canoe back to the car.

[Note my new hat, another cracking pressie]

You still touch me

Every day I go behind a curtain and ask various different people to remove their clothes so I can touch them.

I’m just saying it’s all a bit weird when you think about it.

Make it up

BMJ this week

Why has this taken so long to come out. That, as suspected and lots of people have said oseltamavir (tamiflu) doesn’t work. Our government has spent 500 million so far on these drugs and a commitment to spend another 500 million.

Channel 4 and the BMJ questioned the veracity of the claims that oseltamavir would have efficacy in influenza – based on 10 drug company funded studies (only 2 published in peer review journals).

None of these studies actually dealt with the at risk groups (immunocompromised, pregnant, under 5s) who we have actually been giving oseltamavir.

The royal college of GPs went against Department of Health recommendations back at the beginning of the epidemic opting for a much more considered view, suggesting doctors use this old fashioned thing called clinical judgement instead of blanket prescribing. Other specialities (including my own) have followed suit.

I have prescribed it to one patient in the past 6 months. And they were critically ill. I don’ think it helped him but I figure if you’re sick enough to cost £1500 a day in ICU then you grasping at straws is perfectly justifiable.

So as usual the major shocking revelation is this:

Drug company buffs results from its own trials to make it look better than it is.

Oh wait, that’s not revelatory at all actually…

The view from my window

The only skiff of snow that was left. Still it’s a start

So this is frolicks 2009

Christmas is upon us. Like a runaway hippo in a downtown metropolis.

Which means I have lots of christmas dinners and nights out to prepare/look forward to.

Topping the list is Festive Fun and Frolicks. The now famous institution of bringing people together to eat and be silly while I publish all to the world.

This thing only works if you have an act. If it’s just the Tates boys and Edinburgh St fighting it out for the top spot it won’t work. I’m throwing down the gauntlet to see if anyone will be able to match the Garvaghy massive in our prolific talent and boyish good looks.

So given a few hours on a wednesday morning with this:

I present FFF 09…

Local boy in the photograph

Most people wouldn’t go to Waterford for a night. We’re not most people.

But it was very nice all the same.

Cheap hotel, good food and a pub that was more like someone’s front room than anything else.

Watched Hunger on the laptop in the hotel room. Stunningly shot. The single shot scene lasting almost 15 minutes is sheer class. Not exactly a laugh a minute but worth watching.

Let the morning pass from breakfast to lunch to the afternoon in the same wee coffee shop taking silly photos of the missus.

Drove to Kilkenny and took more cool photos and sat in a fancy hotel drinking coffee and sneakily using their wi-fi. Found this ad for wedding planning.

It kind of implies that someone has stolen my dreams and is now selling them back to me. No fair.

Jesus (don’t touch my baby)

Come and behold the first Nylie family purchase.

The Pepparami baby Jesus

Trains to Brazil

I really should watch more movies. But i’m always reluctant too. It seems like a whole two hours that i could spend reading books or making brownies instead.

But when I do manage to quell the restless hyperactivity I do tend to enjoy it.

Dosed with the cold I watched Cidade dos Hommens. A further feature film from a series of TV shows that began original in the film City of God.

I find Rio the most intriguing city in the world. I loved my time there (all 5 days of it) and the geography of the place blows me away. And where in the world are the worst poverty stricken residential areas the ones with the best views?

Movies are so full of purely western cultural ideas and contexts. Movies like this are a useful reminder that the rest of the world actually exists. Even if it only reminds us that it exists in poverty and violence.

On marriage

I got baptised and engaged to be married to the wonderful transfarmer all in the same day.

Surely there’s some kind of special prize for that.

In lieu of an engagement ring I decided just to scribble reserved on her left ring finger with a biro.

Unfortunately this means we have to plan a wedding. Part of that really excites me the other part wants to elope to Vegas and get married by a guy doubling as an Elvis impersonator. We’d even get $20 of free chips for the casino too.

Punch drunk love sick singalong

For the doctors out there – I am a little bit dubious about the use of thrombolytic agents in the treatment of acute ischaemic stroke. I am not alone in this, though I am in the minority. My particular beef lies with the evidence base behind that and the drug company involvement in its promotion.

This poster isn’t helpful in so many ways.

Firstly – I would suggest against calling an ambulance unquestioningly for anyone you see with trouble walking. It only takes an ounce of common sense to realise that most people by midnight on a saturday night are experiencing most of these symptoms.

The suggestion to call “911 immediately”is neither practical nor helpful

Secondly – the assertion that treatment within 60 minutes can prevent disability. The whole medical debate is about treatment within 180 minutes – the vast majority being closer to the 180 mark.

We have no real idea if treatment within 60 minutes is good or not – it is virtually impossible to start having your stroke, get to hospital, get seen, get a CT scan and then decide on treatment within 60 minutes.

My advice is – only have your stroke in hospital. And even then 60 minutes is pushing it.

Promises, promises

I have been surrounded and involved in Christianity since i was born. It was in many ways the air i breathed.

As much as being a middle class protestant in north armagh, with a good dose of  rationalism and the growing critique of modernism…

I am everything I am because of everything I am – to try and simplify faith into a simple indoctrinating process shoots away the ground you stand on.

I remain surrounded by and involved in Christianity. And lots of interesting and exciting and lovely and horrible things have happened along the way. I plan to live a life surrounded by and involved in the Christian faith.

I cannot put a definite time on the beginning of my faith. I remember feeling strongly about it and praying with my family shortly after one of my child hood friends was killed in an accident. That meant something. I’m not sure what.

I’m not sure a distinct point of salvation means anything. I imagine time looks different from the perspective of infinity.

I grew up in a Church of Ireland church but was never baptised. My parents were unclear about baptising babies and so they figured they’d let us grow up and decide on baptism ourselves.

And I suppose I did decide about baptism – about 14 years ago about. Yet I only just got round to it sunday past.

It was cool. Not that covers the theological aesthetics of it all. But it was.

Our place mainly baptised babies but has been known to baptise adults when the need arises.

I figured me and Simy would go for the baby option and he could scream through the service and I’d wet myself and vomit over the minister.

Standing at the front of the church with Simy was weird. Just the two of us and a minister. I felt we should be holding hands or I should be wearing a dress. Maybe next time…

We each got a minute or so to introduce ourselves and a bit of our story and why we were getting baptised.

Then we knelt and got slightly damp and I cried.

These are powerful things. The church – this disparate bunch of legalists, sinners, lovers, haters, bored and zealous – this church is the most powerful thing in the world. Broken and ugly GOD loves his bride. This makes me cry.

Da was not there. Understandably. And most people there knew it. And most people there felt it. They’re a good bunch to cry in front of. I’m grateful for them.

I love my car

For Simy

[via XKCD]

Hold tight London

So I went to London.

To see friends of Transfarmers. American people. But nice Americans

I’ve had to come to terms with my latent racism against Americans and the English, and I suppose even with those lovely people I’m trying my best to distance myself – the white anglo-saxon Protestants.

It turns out – yes I know you’ll be shocked – that there are lots of nice and wonderful Americans and English out there. Perhaps my scathing dislike and crass sarcasm if unfairly directed in their direction.

That’s what happens when you make sweeping generalisations. Life is going to become bloody difficult if I’m going to have to stop making sweeping generalisations about people. I’ll have to actually be gracious and kind and get to know them.


These were nice Americans. They all seem to have lived in Ireland till the country in its wisdom decided to kick them all out. So now they all live in London. Which is at least accessible on a short flight.

The main issue was not the short flight but the incredibly long journey from the car park to the airport. I’d have been better leaving the car at home and walking. So it goes.

I still love airports – the over priced, below average coffee, the mediocre book shops (i only bought two…), the uncomfortable seats. But they still appeal.

On the way through security my bag got x-rayed and then emptied looking for stupid things people put in their hand luggage like bombs and knives. The lady opened the bad and pulled out a nice shiny pen knife.

I told her I lost it about 6 months ago and hadn’t been able to find it – which was true. I bet everyone says that though. I didn’t feel bad about her confiscating it, as far as I was concerned I lost it 6 months ago.

And when I say we went to London, i really meant we went to Ealing. Which is about as far from central London as the car park was from the airport.

So there was no sight seeing, no shopping, no “minding of the gap”.

Instead there was food and drink and good chat and a comfy bed and a good kip. Quite the rock and roll lifestyle I know.

My only suggestion to the Americans is – screw London, come and live in Ulster, the last, best bastion of British imperialism in Eire. That way you could just sneak over the border and no one would ever know.

Though I suppose you thought of that already. I’ll lend you a passport if you want.

Love and peace or else

… the practice of love is nothing if not personal. You cannot simplify it into a function. What is dangerous is not ideas but the academic mind that abstracts  both things and people from particular relationships into concepts.

and what is dangerous is not programmes but the programmatic mind that routinely sets aside the personal in order to more efficiently achieve an impersonal cause.

these are not only dangerous but sacrilegious, for it is precisely relational particularities and personal intimacies that are at the centre of our GOD-given, SPIRIT formed identities as the beloved who are commanded to love.

Christ plays in 10000 places

Eugene Peterson


December 2009