Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Weakest Link

To describe, as The Independent did today, the outcome of a recent piece of research into autism and genetics as discovering the 'first significant link' and a 'breakthrough' is a bit misleading.

The claim begins to suffer death by a thousand qualifications with the deployment of such phrases as: 'researchers believe', 'their findings could eventually lead to', 'their discovery is still preliminary'.

Far from being the paradigm shift that they claim, it appears that they have begun to convince themselves that they have found what they were looking for anyway, namely that there is a strong genetic component to autism. At the same time they admit that environmental influences are also thought to trigger autism but it is not clear how this works.

My own recent experience of caring for autistic children has confirmed my own judgement that their difficulties are to be accounted for largely by unusual experiences, indeed traumas, in infancy. The children I am acquainted with have come from exceptionally testing homes. Their condition owes more to what they have in common with parents and siblings than what separates and differentiates them

Double standard

Eve Garrard, writing on normblog, illustrates starkly the injustice to which Israel is uncritically subjected:

Fintan O'Toole thinks that Israel regards itself as 'exempt from the demands of common humanity'. Iain Banks thinks that 'simple human decency' means nothing to Israel.
Two well-known writers, very anxious to tell the world that Israel lacks humanity. Israel's not like the rest of us, the rest of the human family. Compared to other nations, it's inhuman. It doesn't recognize what everyone else knows about, the simple requirements of being decently human. It ought to recognize these things, it isn't hard to do so, since they're so simple; and most other people do, since they're part of common humanity.
Leave aside the sinister provenance of that claim, and let's just consider it on its own.
Turkey has killed between 30,000 and 40,000 Kurds in the last 30 years; it occupies North Cyprus; it blockades Armenia and denies its own historical genocide. But Israel lacks simple human decency.
Sri Lanka, at the same time that Israel was fighting in Gaza (around 1300 dead) killed about 25,000 of its own civilians in the course of repressing an insurgency. But Israel thinks it's exempt from the demands of common humanity.
Sudan has killed something in the order of 200,000 people in Darfur, with countless rapes and tortures alongside. But Israel lacks simple human decency.
Iran rapes and tortures and murders its own dissidents who ask for democracy; it hangs young gays, it oppresses women. But Israel thinks it's exempt from the demands of common humanity.
Yemen is blockading South Yemen, it lets no food, medicine or water through; unlike Israel, which lets around 15,000 tons of supplies into Gaza every week. But Israel lacks simple human decency.
Egypt is considering a law to strip their citizenship from any Egyptian who marries an Israeli; it persecutes Copts; it blockades Gaza. But Israel thinks it's exempt from the demands of common humanity.
Russia kills 25,000 to 50,000 Chechens, and almost completely razes the capital city of Grozny; its soldiers inflict hideous tortures on their prisoners before killing them; investigative journalists are murdered. But Israel lacks simple human decency.
China kills somewhere between half a million and one and a quarter million Tibetans in the course of quashing Tibet's independence. But Israel thinks it's exempt from the demands of common humanity.
In Pakistan, Christian churches are burned, hundreds of Ahmadiyyas are killed, violence towards women is endemic. But Israel lacks simple human decency.
In Saudi Arabia, no churches are allowed, no Israeli Jews may enter, women are subject to gender apartheid. But Israel thinks it's exempt from the demands of common humanity.
Congo: what can one say about Congo? More than that 5 million - 5 million - people have been killed in its wars, alongside innumerable rapes and hideous tortures? But Israel lacks simple human decency.
Now, here's one especially for Iain Banks: the USA and the UK initiate a war in Iraq in which more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians are killed. But Israel thinks it's exempt from the demands of common humanity.
France trained and armed the Hutu genocidaires who killed around 800,000 civilians in the Rwanda genocide, and continued to protect them even as they lost power to the incoming Tutsis. But Israel lacks simple human decency.

Reasons why

My father envied his younger brother Donald.

Donald was the apple of their mother's eye. When he was born my dad was ten, the eldest child. He had been conceived out of wedlock, a great shame in those days. There were five daughters but no more sons and Donald was doted on. Although they both volunteered for the armed services when war broke out in 1939, only the younger nineteen year old was accepted. My dad was turned down on medical grounds. He was stone deaf in one ear following a mastoidectomy as a boy. The military could not guarantee that the enemy would only attack him on his 'good' side. I know that being turned down by the army was a bitter pill for dad to swallow. My mother said that it was the only time she had seen him cry.

Years later Albert, my dad, picked a quarrel with Donald. The evidence of any offence by Donald was flimsy and probably existed only in my father's imagining, but it was sufficient to sustain a one-sided silent feud conducted by him for several years.

Albert fell out in similar fashion with his own father for reasons that Freudian analysts would find easy to explain. In business he faced the humiliation of bankruptcy when his creditors besieged him for unpaid debts. To cap it all my mother who would now be labelled manic-depressive was 'misappropriating' goods from my father's business to feed her addiction to cigarettes and prescription drugs.

Now my father never possessed a gun although he was I think trained in the use of a rifle in the Home Guard. Had he kept one at home it is not inconceivable that he would have been tempted to use it in an attack on any or all of his perceived rivals and adversaries. He didn't. He quarrelled with some. He refused to communicate with, avoided, possibly even hid from, others. But he neither acquired nor used a weapon on them.

If he had, especially in the 1950s the tabloid press would have bayed for his blood. Hanging would have been too good for him. No excuse for his crimes would have been sought or accepted. Attempts to explain the mental state that leads to acts of homicide would have been dismissed as the ramblings of do-gooders.

Which is why I find the coverage of the Derrick Bird murders and the columns and pages of personal biography to account for what happened and what he did so puzzling - and so nauseating. 

Monday, June 07, 2010

Weapons of Material Destruction

Press reports of the car bomb found las month in New York's Times Square and the guns used in the multiple killings last week in West Cumbria have referred to the lethal instruments as 'weapons of mass destruction'.

No wonder we couldn't find them in Iraq.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Man accustomed to shooting local inhabitants of one species - shoots local inhabitants of another.

He didn't have a horror of pointing a gun at birds (he was a Bird himself) and other animals in the prime of their lives and blasting them to death. If I did such a thing or, because I have neither the skill nor the stomach, it was done for me as a form of pest-control, I should still regret it it and, as much as I ever thought about it, be saddened by it.

For Mr Bird there was a certain coolness about it. As far as we know, he liked it. It was his hobby.

In today's papers there are many ingenious attempts to link this tragedy to Mr Bird's family strife, a big tax bill, and his fear of ending up in jail. The logic is at least tortuous. There are also those who point to the availability of guns, legally or otherwise, as a contributory hazard, overlooking the obvious fact that the kind of personal and domestic and financial problems that seem to have beset Mr Bird are much better addressed with professional, non-ballistic help.

There is however a marked reluctance to acknowledge  that what Mr Bird did on Wednesday to several human beings he had done many times before - for sport - to other animals.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A quiet man's massacre

Derrick Bird who left a trail of death, terror and injury in a corner of the English Lake District yesterday was by most accounts modest, unassuming and polite. He looked after his frail, elderly mother.

He turned into a killer.

Or did he. A close friend said he used to like to shoot animals in the woods and local farmers' fields.

I understand that killing animals might be a regrettable necessity, and something that someone has to do as quickly and clinically as possible. But to like it? Speaking as an animal myself, that makes me nervous.

And no, I don't think that tougher gun controls are the answer. Reverence for life will do me.