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The Daily Rhino
Saturday, October 29, 2005

Things you probably won't be showing your kids: Part II
#4 The Arctic Ice Shelf and the Polar Bear

MOST of the coastline along Russia and Canada's north is ice-free in summer, which is a distinct change from the recent past. Most people have heard a great deal about the ice caps melting - but a vicious cycle is often overlooked. The expanding Arctic Sea absorbs more heat than ice. Ice reflects a large amount of heat from the sun, but the liquid water absorbs it and slowly transfers it to the ice, actually accelerating the process. The more ice melts, the faster the remaining ice will follow suit. The melting Arctic Shelf also spells the end for the polar bear, which lives on the ice and hunt for seals whilst swimming between ice masses. Polar bears have already started to drown whilst looking for food as they have been unable to find ice to rest upon. Predictions see all the ice in the Arctic melting by the end of this century, but the polar bear could be extinct 50 years before that.

#5 The Three Gorges River Valley (China)

The massive, and I mean MASSIVE, hydro-electric power-generating dam on the Yangtze River is China's single largest feat of building since a certain wall and the biggest dam in the world. Having been started in 1997, it should be finished in five years. Behind the dam a new lake will be formed. Four hundred miles long - we're talking Great Lakes size. The gorgeous Three Gorges valley will be flooded, as will 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,300 villages. Some ancient archaeological sites, the river dolphins, sturgeon and over 6000 species of plant (57 are endangered) will also be sadly lost.



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Speculation in the wake of a dark day for India
WITH floods in the south east and a train crash killing over 200, the three bombs in Delhi this afternoon topped off a truly depressing day for India.

I have only ever called two cities home, Delhi and London. Only months apart, both have been hit by organised, synchronised bomb attacks. Both the London bombings and the Delhi bombings targetted innocents with cold precision. The London bombs took out commuters, today's three explosions killed unsuspecting shoppers, eagerly preparing for the festive season of Diwali and Eid in crowded shopping areas. The BBC and other agencies currently put the death toll at 50-55 and rising and Star News (an Indian channel) estimates over 200 are seriously injured.

It really is eerily similar to the events of 7/7 and indeed, had the Indian police not defused a fourth bomb, the two terrorist attacks would have been even more alike. The shell-shocked walking wounded roam the streets and the city's hospitals struggle to cope. Delhi, as so many times through its recent history (2001 parliament attack, the Red Fort attack and serial theatre blasts in May this year), once again feels
fear return to its streets.

I hesitate to say too much at this juncture, as it is mere speculation. Manmohan Singh has confirmed that the government are investigating some clues, but would not comment further at this stage. Unconfirmed reports in
The Hindu claim two Kashmiris have been detained, but other sources simply confirm that at least ten people have been detained by New Delhi police. However a few thoughts have come to mind with regard to the possible motives for this attack.

Of course the proximity to Eid and Diwali seems significant - most probably so that the group behind this could inflict the most amount of injuries and garner more publicity. They wished to strike whilst their target's guard was down.

The other seemingly obvious clue as to the timing of the bombs are the current unprecedented peace talks between India and Pakistan. We can only hope these aren't derailed by this unfortunate tragedy. One of the talks' main objectives was to discuss and agree upon a policy of opening up the Line of Control (LoC) to facilitate relief efforts in the aftermath of the Kashmir earthquake.

Yet another possible motive would be to coincide with the verdict of the Red Fort attack case, which was due on Saturday but has now been postponed to Monday. Two jawans and a civilian were killed by Lashkar militants on December 22nd, 2000. Mohammad Ashfaq, a Pakistani, along with his Indian conspirators Nazir Ahmed Qasid, Farooq Ahmad Qasid, Rehmana Yousuf Farooqi (Ashfaq's wife), Babar Mohsin Baghwala, Sadaqat Ali and Matloob Alam are standing trial, with some calling for Ashfaq to face the death sentence.

Chief suspects, at this stage, would seem to be the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiyaba group, responsible for not only the Red Fort attack, but also the 2001 Parliament attack and the Ram Temple assault in Ayodhya, when they used Delhi as a base. Indian officials are probing a Kashmir connection - yet another coincidence of note is the recent resignation of the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Large amounts of RDX have been found in Delhi in recent months, so it almost seems as though it was simply a matter of time before some was used - although the exact nature of the explosives has not been confirmed.

We should not lose sight of the fact that, at this stage, natural disasters have killed more than all three of these bombs, on both sides of the border. I not only hope this does not adversely affect the border discussions (I don't believe it will) and just as importantly, I hope that attention is not diverted from where it is needed most.

Update: A previously unknown group calling itself Islami Inquilabi Mahaz (revolution) has claimed responsibility in calls to reporters in Srinagar, Kashmir.

"Such attacks will continue until India pulls out all its troops from the state [of Kashmir]"

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

An unholy trinity of segregation, suspicion and misplaced faith
TWO Independent columnists respectively made me smile and think today. Miles Kingston defined a selection of the latest buzzwords in his indefatigable style today (George Galloway has subliminally made me associate that word with ol' Saddam for ever more.) Some of particular note were:

Asian - A Person originating from India or Pakistan.
Blog - In the old days, when you kept a diary, the last thing you wanted was for anyone else to read it. A blog represents the complete reversal of the situation.
Feng Shui - The thing that came before Sudoku.
Karaoke - The thing that came before Feng Shui.
Multiculturalism - A refusal to integrate.
Multi-tasking - A refusal to delegate.
Sushi - The thing that came before Karaoke.

Johann Hari chose a rather more serious topic. I have, up till now, restricted my comments on the Birmingham 'race riots' to responses to Sunny's articles on Pickled Politics. But Hari happened upon a topic that I'm known to bleat on about, faith schools.
I'm sure that everyone I've ever met has probably been bored by me at some stage, subjected to my usual diatribe, full of vitriol and venom targetted at what I believe to be one of Blair's worst mistakes. His time as PM has been characterised by an overwhelming desire to create a lasting legacy. Having realised that the War in Iraq turned out to be an almighty balls-up instead of the Falklands Part II, Blair's latest legacy-creating strategy is by removing Local Education Authority's power over schools. However I believe he will leave a very different footprint in the mud of British society. We saw the first signs on the 7th of July. Johann Hari has made the same link that I made - perhaps the Birmingham riots are part of the same problem.

Multiculturalism - A refusal to integrate.

The aforementioned plans for Britain's schools contain something that filled me with dread. A massive expansion plan for Britain's FAITH SCHOOLS. Britain now has 7000 faith schools, many of which are state-run and state-funded. Hari says:

"Segregating children according to their parents' superstitions is a great way to create a volatile, violent town where ethnic groups glare at each other across a chasm of mutual incomprehension."

I'm pleased at his choice of words. Superstition. For the segregation is not caused by true religion, it's merely a strange tribalistic urge that lurks in several of the communities in the UK. The Catholics say "eugh, we don't want our kids getting corrupted by THEM", the Muslims say "eugh, we don't want our kids getting corrupted by THEM" and the sensible parent says "I'm sending my kid to the best school I can."

That's how I ended up at a Christian school. I had not been in the UK all that long, I had had an unhappy time at a primary school where religion was wholly absent, but when I arrived at Colet Court I started really enjoying school. I was cajoled into going to St. Paul's cathedral to listen to Latin, I sang Thine Be The Glory but as I looked around I was surrounded by Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists like me all happily repeating the Lord's Prayer. I think they all felt the way I did - no big deal. We were there to learn history, English, physics, maths and so on. We weren't there to be indoctrinated - the religion just washed over us. By the time I graduated to St. Paul's aged 13, religious activities became optional and I used morning assembly time to do my homework whilst the pious prayed. What's the point in this ramble? That we were all happy because we knew why we were at school. We were united by our brains, corny though it may sound. We had all passed the entrance exam, which had no box asking religious affiliation.

The reason I expound on my own background is to counter the reason always cited by Muslims keen to establish new all-Muslim schools. They say that why should they be denied Islamic schools when Christians have theirs. I am sure that I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the same integration at an Islamic school. Great Britain, secular though it is (thank God!), remains a Christian country. Hence I believe that Christian schools have some sort of right to exist - many of them are hundreds of years old.

Christian zealots starting new Christian schools with the same blustering fervour as Islamic zealots provoke the same reaction in me - a strong reluctance for their schools to exist. There is just NO reason to Balkanise Britain like this.

The main reason that I am so, so against faith schools is obvious. Think back to when you were a kid. Did you give a toss your best friend was black, Chinese, brown or white? No, all you cared about was that they were not an icky girl (or vice versa). If races and religions mix from a young age, instead of growing up surrounded by people of the same hue and beliefs (often far removed from mainstream Britain). For otherwise we will never be able to foster a true sense of Britishness. Oh gosh, I came over all BNP then. What I mean is that everyone should be like me. Oh gosh I came over all arrogant then. If I can be a fiercely proud Brit and be brown, then so can other non-white, non-British-born people. It doesn't have to mean a resounding endorsement of what the British government does, simply a pride in where you live and the country that you call home.

"David Ward, the Bradford council member responsible for education, explained that the Government's obsessive humming - "You gotta have faith/ faith/ faith" - made it impossible to build mixed schools. "You feel as if you are fighting with two hands tied behind your back," he said. "We are trying to desegregate in Bradford but we are powerless when we have schools dictating their own admissions policies.""

A report into the riots stated "There are signs that communities are fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines. Segregation in schools is one of the indicators of this trend. There is virtual apartheid in many secondary schools."

Hari highlights an interesting incident from one of Blair's wonderful faith schools:

"Of course, faith schools claim they promote "tolerance" - but the evidence hardly backs them up. For example, at a state-funded Muslim school on the outskirts of London, a student wrote in the school paper that "Jews and Christians" will "burn in furnaces", and another said non-Muslims are described as "doomed in this world".

But what of the mantra the government trots out every time - that faith schools do better in league tables? Unfortunately for them, this can be easily explained away by the fact that these schools use poorly-defined and easily twisted selection criteria to siphen off the students they feel are most motivated and bright. In fact Hari claims faith schools underperform.

There are yet more pitfalls to allowing religion to be the main pillar of an educational establishment. Catholic or Islamic kids may receive no sex education. Children may not learn about other faiths, or what they do learn may be hidesouly biased. Are you really free to make up your own mind if surrounded by a mono-religious environment the whole time? I came to the conclusion that God doesn't exist based on my interaction with people from many religions. If I had grown up as a Hindu surrounded by Hindus who knows what I would believe. Certainly most religions all have something to say about issues like abortion or homosexuality. These should be issues upon which neutral debate takes place. History may even be twisted, with no regulation, the Holocaust may be down-played and evolution will become the myth, replaced by abominations like Intelligent Design.

Despite widespread opposition, faith schools are going ahead at full steam. What sort of Britain will we have in a few decades' time, when the current glut of toddlers are of killing age? More riots - definitely. More hatred - without doubt. More mutual distrust - surely. More bombings and murders - probably. All I can do is pray to God that British schools lose their faith.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blog Quake Day

THE 26th of October is Blog Quake Day. Desipundit assures me that even the smallest and least popular of blogs (see: The Daily Rhino) can have an effect, so I thought it foolish for me not to at least write a paragraph.

I'm hardly an altruistic person. But if I look back on my last decade, the times I've gone out of my way to help others stand out as memories I'm not only attached to, but proud of. Helping someone you will never meet, with an action as simple as clicking a mouse or picking up the phone, makes you feel good about yourself, however briefly. Donate your time or money for your own wellbeing, as well as for that of the quake's victims.

No matter who we are, we can all do something. So do.

For those in the UK, take a look at Pickled Politics for ways to help.
Instapundit points to its brown cousin, Desipundit, which lists more channels for your much needed help.

Whilst the last 12 months have been more than tumultuous, now is not a time for relief-fatigue. The bleak and unforgiving winter of the Himalaya will ensure that the current death toll of around 70,000 will soar.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

London Bong Festival

JUST a quickie. The DR looks forward to the
London Film Festival, but this year not that many of the films leapt out screaming "watch me you bastard!" The DR has picked a few choice American, Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean films to watch.

However I did notice something rather cool. Take a look at the Indian offerings:

15 Park Avenue - Aparna Sen - an examination of the effect of schizophrenia on a young women and her family in Calcutta

After the Night... Dawn - Sandip Ray - apparently a Chekhovian drama, about the tangled relationships in a stranded group of friends

Antarmahal: Views of the Inner Chamber - Rituparno Ghosh - oppressed women in a rich 19th century Calcutta

The Journey - Ligy J Pullappally - a Keralite forbidden lowe

Journey to the Other Side (Uttarayan) - Bipin Nadkarni - love blossoming late in the day

Love - Balaji Sakthivel - a Tamil teenage love affair

50% are Bengali-directed, south Indians love love and there's no Bollywood in sight! Yeah mofo!

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Swingin' chicks
THE DR ain't that knowledgeable about golf, but he keeps up to date with it and watches a fair amount. He plays off a triple-figure handicap and can never get the crazy golf windmill hole in less than four. But whoever you are, you'd be hard-pressed to have missed the hype surrounding Michelle Wie. She's sport's hottest female property at the moment and may even surpass the equally tall and skinny Sharapova as sport's highest-paid woman. But whose heard of Kiran Matharu?

In the era of Sharapova, Woods, the Williams sisters and our own Andy Murray - sport is as much about the 'pushy parent' as the prodigy. Amarjit Matharu's family arrived in the UK one year before his birth and now he is driving his 16 year-old daughter to the big time. However, the difference between the media icon of Michelle Wie and the relatively unknown Matharu is stark. Both are 16. Both will have turned pro at the age of 16. Amarjit says "If Kiran was American, she'd be red hot news".

He does fit snugly into the overbearing pushy parent though, he never allowed Kiran to play off ladies' tees and he put her in the highest levels of competition as soon as he could. He can recall her scores from a host of tournaments, but doesn't know how many GCSEs she passed.

India Today's latest issue carried a piece on India's hot young golfing stars, including a few girlies. Despite Kiran lamenting "I've tried converting my friends to it, but they all think it's boring", we can look forward to a bevvy of brown golfers as the women's game really tees off.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Things you probably won’t be showing your kids
THE first of a somewhat depressing list of what is soon to disappear from our world forever. Inspired by The Independent.

#1 The Javan Rhino

An obvious starting point, the one-horned Javan rhino is a beast desperately close to the DR’s heart. Rhinoceros sondaicus is now the rarest large mammal on the planet and most estimate its numbers at only 60. We’re so used to hearing about minute numbers of a species left on earth I think we’ve become numb to it. Sixty. One rhino for every second in a minute. And that’s all there is. One minute’s worth of Javan rhino.

Most of these 60 reside in the far west of Java, with a few in Vietnam. In what has become a familiar tale, the previously abundant Javan rhino will be extinct broadly due to one reason – Chinese traditional medicine. The DR fucking HATES this mumbo-jumbo bullshit and also asks that you pardon his French. Such a moronic system of quackery has systematically led to the needless deaths of millions of animals to conjur a placebo dose of rhino horn. The Javan rhino used to roam all over South-East Asia and China. The Sumatran rhino is a cousin from Java’s neighbouring island. It has twice as many horns and about twice as many living, in comparison to the Javan rhinoceros.

#2 Shonargaon-Panam, Bangladesh

The one-time capital of Bengal, Shonargaon (Sonargaon) is a Bengali history lesson. Architecture from the Sultans and the British can be seen side by side. 97% of Bangladesh is under threat from rising sea levels, but in the case of Shonargaon, the situation is worse still. A chronic lack of funding has thwarted all attempts to salvage its rich heritage, now frequently vandalised. Squatting is more than commonplace, as are illegal building, poor sewage and building maintenance and natural disasters such as flooding and earthquakes. Woodwork is ravaged by bugs and historic buildings succumb to rising damp.

#3 Buddhism’s Legacy in Afghanistan

Millions of hearts broke as the Taliban inflicted their primitive fundamentalist beliefs upon some of Buddhism’s greatest statues. The colossal Buddha statues at Bamiyan were blasted by dynamite, but in truth were already in a poor state of repair before the nutballs were helped into power by America. Decades of neglect had preceded the Taliban’s vitriolic onslaught. Hamid Karzai has vowed to restore the Buddhas, which is a noble but laughable objective. In a country which ranks amongst the poorest in the world, expenditure on alien archaeology could never be justified. Like all of Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage, the Buddhas of Bamiyan are unwanted and unloved. They will simply continue to decay.



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Hear the one about the Archbishop, the Muslim and the religious hatred bill?
LIKE most old men in their early 20s, I’m spending an increasing amount of time listening to Radio 4. Now I don’t really want to go over old ground about the religious hatred bill, as it has been covered in length elsewhereSunny has done an especially good job on Asians in the Media. To briefly state my position, I believe it to be a fig-leafed token gesture to appease the MCB after Blair pissed off a lot of Muslims. I simply want to bring a few fascinating comments from this evening’s Any Questions to your attention.

The Archbishop

The former Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that ‘redundant’ blasphemy laws should be scrapped. This statement coincided with a cross-party group announcing amendments to the controversial bill – which returns to the Lords on Tuesday.

In a nutshell, the current blasphemy laws can only be applied to Christianity but critics of the bill fear that its imposition will allow the government to extend this archaic law to other religions.

What I found most interesting about George Carey’s comments is that he said “It’s good for a religion to be knocked and challenged…we need that criticism.” I could not agree more and it makes me very happy to hear that. Carey said he enjoyed The Life of Brian and didn’t mind Jerry Springer the Opera.

The Muslim

Ziauddin Sardar was a panellist on the show and started by explaining how any extension to blasphemy laws would be bad news. He cited Pakistan, which had no blasphemy laws until about 15 years ago. “The emergence of blasphemy laws has actually led to an incredible number of injustices against minorities and women.”

But he was in favour of the bill with a rather interesting reason.

“In the Muslim community, anti-Semitism has run riot and it’s becoming a very major problem. So I would like the [bill to come in] so that we can lock all those anti-Semitic Muslims away.”

Now, I heard a few people titter and of course you can’t read a person’s facial expression on the radio. He later confessed he was speaking with some degree of irony and expanded on what he meant. He explained how he thought that a problem in the Muslim community is that “they perpetually see themselves as victims” and this is perpetuated by much of the media and/or public thinking that they are “a soft group in need of protection”. He stated that the Muslim community is very resilient with strong and dynamic characters and one of the key problems is that the leadership of the community is ageing. The ‘community leaders’ have

“no understanding of the modern world, very little understanding of the problems of the young and they have a very archaic and obscurantist view and interpretation of Islam. But right underneath them we have a very dynamic group of young people who understand what modernity is all about and who have a very reformist outlook and what we need to do is promote, promote, promote this generation change. We don’t need a religious hatred bill, we need to go out there and change the leadership of the Muslim community.”

Whilst I’m not entirely sure if he’s in favour or not at this point, don’t you think his words sound very much like something else?

So what’s my point?
Pickled Politics rocks!

If you have some time, you can listen to this edition again

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tomorrow's Newspaper?
EDITORS Weblog announces that a new site has just been launched, which is nothing short of a media revolution. At least that’s what the chief exec of Inform.com would have us believe. So what is it?

It’s effectively a newsreader, in that it scours hundreds of newspapers, magazines and other major information outlets – including blogs – but goes further than Google or Yahoo newsreaders, which work on a simplistic keyword-based system, and RSS readers, which simply use a story’s first paragraph. Inform.com scans articles from major publications and creates an index of important elements in the article, providing related stories to those elements and making them far more searchable.

The Search Engine Journal (yes, it exists) claims that the new site’s USP is its comprehensive nature, incorporating an algorithm which determines key concepts such as topics, industries, people, places and companies in the story. It even utilises human selection of content, especially blogs. It also finds relationships between a specific search and related articles. For example, if you search for ‘terrorism’, some articles about it may not use the word. A search for ‘Ivory Coast’ also returns matches for ‘Cote d’Ivoire’, the French name.

The DR brings this interesting New York-based site to your attention for another out-saucy reason – over half of its 55 employees are based in India.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Well I DID tell you it was the best
THE NUS (National Union of Students UK) and Daily Mirror have announced the nominations for the prestigious annual National Student Journalism Awards 2005. And guess who made the cut? Yeah baby, the hottest medical newspaper in the land - if not the WORLD - has been shortlisted.

No muthafunkin studentBMJ, a publication so boring that nothing interesting can escape its gravitational field.

No Student BMA News, the most lame exercise in lameness since the invention of the word 'lame'.

In fact, we're the only medical publication on there. Many of the other nominations are run by journalism or English students, often with sabbatical editors who take a year off to run the paper, but Medical Student is run entirely by full-time medical students with no formal journalism training. And whilst I'm taking the piss out of the BMA's shitty publications, let me add that they have ZERO medical students on their staff - we beat paid professional journalists whose ENTIRE JOB is bringing out that tripe. Looking through the nominees, there isn't much London representation at all. But good to see our big sister London Student nominated too, well done Alexi and co.

Medical Student has already garnered a ULU Laurel, presented by the Princess Royal and I'm hoping we'll have some more silverware...but we've got stiff competition.

I'm sure none of you are interested in the above ramble. But I never miss an opportunity to show off.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

China comes to Town
IN just a few weeks, Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, will be arriving on our fair shores for a five day jaunt. Over the last few months, vast amounts of column yards have been dedicated to ‘Chindia’ in the press all over the world. China and India have been identified as massive emerging economies. But as the world becomes somewhat more knowledgeable about these two Asian giants, so too are the differences emerging, such as Shankar Acharya’s forceful assertion that these neighbours are far from equal. This weekend saw an unfortunate event which may have repercussions when the Chinese party comes to the UK in November.

One of China’s most dedicated and well-known pro-democracy campaigners has been imprisoned for life. Peng Ming is the founder of the China Federation Party and last year was captured in Myanmar, whose authoritarian regime is a close ally of Beijing’s. The sheer doggedness of his manhunt typifies China’s intolerance of public opinion. But should this attitude extend to Britain?

It is almost certain that when Hu comes to the UK, that opponents of China’s government will be prevented from voicing their opinions by prohibiting public demonstrations. Think back to 2001. Even though President Hu had a ‘Vice’ in front of his title then, supporters of Falun Gong and a Free Tibet were told, ever so politely, to piss off. The Metropolitan Police (bosom buddies of mine) did their bit by stopping the protestors going anywhere near Hu and his party.

Both Falun Gong and the Free Tibet movement are, unsurprisingly, banned in China. But why the hell do we have to pander to their dictatorial oppression of free speech by doing their bidding and stifling legitimate protestors?

Heck, it’s not just old eager-to-please Tony; German officials prevented any Tibetan flags being unfurled at a recent Germany-China football match. Why? Because the Chinese asked.

One might dismiss the case of Peng Ming as an internal affair. I would not argue that we should be policing other country’s domestic politics. After all, the world’s been quite happy letting a Noble Peace Prize winner like Aung San Suu Kyi suffer, why bother about someone like Peng Ming? Peng had U.N. Refugee status. He was entitled to be protected from return to China from another nation. And yet he now faces life in a Chinese jail.
This has all happened before. Wang Binzhang was another prominent pro-democracy advocate and campaigner who was returned from Vietnam to China and sentenced to life. Of course the Chinese government said “not us guv!” (or words to that effect) and blamed it on an ‘unknown group’ who must’ve kidnapped him, brought him to China and accidentally handed him over to the CCP (Communist Party).

When loonie Narendra Modi was scheduled to visit the UK earlier this year, as part of the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ festival, groups here publicly announced their plans to protest. I don’t recall anyone telling them not to. Going a few years back, WWII veterans
turned their backs on the visiting Japanese Emperor in protest at his lack of apology for their treatment as PoWs. Blair agreed to meet with them. Yet Chinese dignitaries seem to be treated differently to visitors from the other two Asian powerhouses, even royalty. Those in power see only the mighty Chinese economy, blinded to the woeful human rights violations.

The Olympics is approaching. All eyes will be on China like never before and if there’s one thing the Chinese know how to do, it’s put on a show. I’m sure it will be a wonderful spectacle and I’d love to visit. Perhaps this could be seen as an opportunity to gently drop some hints that the CCP has to change its ways. Remember, many economists predict that China will soon be more powerful than America.

The Chinese government is used to getting what it wants. In this fascinating era of Asia’s emergence, the West must take steps to ensure that China’s ascendancy is not unchecked. I don’t mean grand gestures like sanctions (how about regime change?!), but is it so much to ask that British citizens are allowed to peacefully express their views? Or are we following China’s example and only listening to what we want to hear?

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

“Please use your liberty to promote ours.”

- Aung San Suu Kyi.

This is cross-post on Pickled Politics.


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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Grey's Anatomy is no House Party

"Dermatologists. If it's wet, keep it dry. If it's dry, keep it wet. If it's not supposed to be there, cut it off. Yeah I never could remember all that." - Dr Gregory House

I CONFESS. I’ve sold out. Years of fighting the good fight have amounted to nought, as I lay down my anti-Bush sentiments and shout U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! There is one overriding factor as to why I have been unable to cast America aside like the overgrown bastard son it is; television. No matter how much of a die-hard Blackadder and Red Dwarf fan I am, there is no doubt that in recent years American TV has pissed on the rest of the world from a great height. Kind of like everything else in life. However, amidst all the Yankee imports, there is one universal truth – the world loves doctors.

No doubt many of you have been glued to J.J. Abram’s latest offering, Lost. Who’s the main character? That’s right! It’s a doctor! Who da man? Hippocrates da man! Jack personifies a character who has cropped up in many a US show, the hunky doctor. I like to think I’m one of these in training. It’s something of a shame nobody else does. So seeing as we’ve established medicos are a special breed, we deserve our own programmes. With this is mind, The Daily Rhino performs unnecessary laparoscopic investigations on Uncle Sam’s latest medical offerings.

House (occasionally referred to as House, M.D. to shoo-away those strange people who like home makeover shows) and Grey’s Anatomy occupy opposite ends of televisual medicine. House markets itself as a “detective story, just set in a hospital. He solves medical conundrums in much the way a detective solves a crime.” ‘He’ refers to the fantastic character that Hugh Laurie has brought to life, the obnoxious, anti-social, irascible and brilliant Gregory House. In short, everything I want to be. Another detective story, which is “just set in a hospital” is of course the medical student favourite, Diagnosis Murder. So from the get-go, House seems to be headed in the right direction.

Grey’s Anatomy, on the other hand, is a different strain altogether. It is a sudsy, soppy, girlie soap of a drama (tagline: Operations. Relations. Complications.) The patients and stethoscopes are incidental props in between chats about dreamy surgeons and “oh-migod, being an intern is like, SO hard, you know?” But because I love you people, my reader(s), I put my Y-chromosome away, wondered which top I should wear to catch my consultant’s eye and watched it with some Haagen Dazs.

House really is a one-man show. That is not to belittle Hugh Laurie’s supporting cast (Dr House does enough of that himself), they’re easy on the eye but bland. Neighbours stalwarts (i.e. all British students) will recognise Jesse Spencer (Billy Kennedy) who insists he is Australian despite House telling him “you put the Queen on your money. You’re British.” He makes up the team with Omar Epps and Jennifer Morrison. But House is the star. He’s a git and you love him for it, because for every foot he steps on, he saves a patient’s life. The fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital seems to attract the most weird and wonderful medical conundrums, which can only be solved by the man who played Bertie Wooster. Naphthalene poisoning, acute intermittent porphyria, EBV-phenytoin-epilepsy or tic-tac induced stroke (only 2 calories). Now I don’t know about you, but these things come into my hospital all the time. The team toss up the possibilities, write some stuff on a see-through markerboard, run some tests and House eventually gets it right. What makes it so eminently watchable are House’s glib one-liners. A bright orange patient comes in, but only complains of back pain.

“Unfortunately, you have a deeper problem. Your wife is having an affair.” “What?” replies the patient. “You're orange, you moron. It's one thing for you not to notice, but if your wife hasn't picked up on the fact that her husband has changed colours, she's just not paying attention.”

A pretty medical student is trying to present a history to House, who seems less than interested. “You’re reading a comic book.” House: “And you’re drawing attention to your bosom by wearing a low-cut top…oh I’m sorry, I thought we were having a state-the-obvious contest. I’m competitive by nature.”

House’s first season stayed fresh by introducing new cast members and not falling into the trend of diagnosis-of-the-month, but thankfully the total absence of House’s personal life has meant the relationship-tripe that mars many a British show is avoided, similar to the way Grissom’s geek has made CSI so fascinating.

Grey’s Anatomy has, like House, been doing extremely well across the Pond, consistently getting higher ratings than Lost. Much of its success can be attributed to savvy producers who recognised a gap in the market, women. Grey’s Anatomy revolves around Meredith Grey, a first year surgical intern played by Ellen Pompeo. In the opening episode, Meredith shags some sexy dude and like, he totally turns out to be her boss. I like horny hospitals and ridiculous romances but it is the dialogue that makes Grey’s Anatomy unbearable. The plotlines are mindless fun, interns are humiliated by tyrannical attendings, syphilis epidemics are caused by surgical interns, doctors do nurses, surgeons shag physicians and interns enjoy residents. Hell Meredith even snogs a patient. All this makes Grey’s Anatomy sound like the grown-up O.C., but try sitting through dialogue like this:

“8 of you will switch to an easier specialty. 5 of you will crack. 2 of you will be asked to leave. This is your arena. How well you play - that's up to you.”

“Your first shift starts now and lasts 48 hours. You're interns, grunts, nobodies, bottom of the surgical food chain. Run labs, write orders, work every second of your life until you drop and don't complain.”

“If I hadn't taken the Hippocratic Oath I'd Kevorkian her with my bare hands” (talking about a patient)

“I can’t think of any one reason why I want to be a surgeon. But I can think of a thousand reasons why I should quit. There are lives in our hands. I could quit. But here’s the thing. I love the playing field.” (so you just thought of one reason then, you silly moo)

“Did you let me scrub in for this operation because I slept with you?” (well all right, I did say the same thing to my consultant the other day)

“This is a good day to save lives.”

“We're women! We have vaginas! Get used to it!”

“You try eating after performing 17 rectal exams”

“The bad news is that we gave your penis to the cops.” (okay, that one’s funny)

But what medics really want to know is the answer to the ultimate question – can they be justified as studying? Strangely enough, I just sat written finals after having watched a helluva lotta medical TV and can honestly say one show has helped me more than any other. I ought to add that I’m probably not the best person to ask as in my head I justified watching the entire Ashes series before finals by the fact that they talked about Simon Jones’ injury. For about a minute.

Both shows have their howlers. A common theme in medical dramas is that one doctor does EVERYTHING. House’s team even visit dying patient’s houses to look for clues. Grey’s Anatomy spends so much time throwing clichés and romance around, there is little medicine to speak of. But House has some interesting, if very rare, medicine. One sometimes wonders how non-medics can fully enjoy the show, as it has long exchanges about therapy, investigations and diagnoses, with little explanation. The science is generally sound, but occasionally they stray from the bizarre to the inane, like tattoos erupting in MRI machines due to metal in the ink.

Both shows seem set to return for at least a few more seasons and whatever one’s thoughts about them, they are good stuff for one important reason – programmes about doctors make doctors look cool. We all want to look cool, right?

So what was that show I mentioned that helped me through finals more than any other? It’s not ER and not House. To dismiss it is as simply a comedy is to sell it short. As long as the writers don’t get too saccharine, it is an inspiring, thought-provoking, funny and thoroughly realistically-observed series. It is one of the best American TV shows to invade our fair shores and one you all know about already, the sublime Scrubs.

This was published as my column the October issue of the greatest medical newspaper in the world, Medical Student.


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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Why Bali will continue to be a target

TODAY the small Indonesian island of Bali was rocked by bomb attacks on two popular tourist areas, killing at least 22. BBC Coverage.

Bali is one of the most beautiful places I have visited. Nowadays, post-Jason Donovan and Ricky Martin, it’s known for its tourist trade as much as it is for its natural wonders. One can only hope that it doesn’t develop a new, darker claim to fame. However I fear that Bali may become one of the most popular targets for Islamist terrorists.

For those who believe in the supremacy of their warped Islamic beliefs, Bali represents a triple-whammy. Three reasons to target the jewel in Indonesia’s crown.

Indonesia is frequently referred to as the world’s most populous Islamic nation, people forget that it is just a truly immense country. Over 13,000 islands make up the vast archipelago, stretching more than 5000km across. The country has a tumultuous recent past and I honestly think that no country has seen quite so much change in the last 50 years. It lives in the shadow of its more successful neighbours, the Asian Tigers of Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, which sometimes overshadows the strides forward that Indonesia has taken, like free elections being introduced seven years ago.

However, Indonesia is afflicted by several serious diseases. A nasty Asian strain of corruption, armed separatists in Aceh and Irian Jaya and a chronic case of terrorism.

V.S. Naipaul’s excellent book, Beyond Belief, examines how Indonesia has been affected by the recent and widespread embrace of Islam. With this, unfortunately came a firebrand fundamentalist streak, such that Indonesia has been described as ‘Al Qaeda’s next natural home.’

So why has Bali been hit by a series of attacks?

Reason 1
Indonesia’s census states almost 90% of Indonesia is Muslim. However in a few areas, namely Bali, Papua, East Nusa Tenggara and some areas hit by the tsunami in northern Sumatra, Muslims form a minority. You may not have heard of any on that list – with the exception of Bali. Militant Muslims bent upon increasing that 90% up to 100 do not like any of those areas, but Bali stands out. Papua and Aceh have violent armed militia patrolling their territories and Eastern Nusa Tenggara is a massively under-developed backwater. Bali, in contrast, produces vast sums of money and is a peaceful place, with no armed guerrillas to offer resistance to terrorists. It’s an easy target.

Bali 2002

Reason 2
India and Indonesia have intertwined histories. Before Islam came to Indonesia via India, the country was Hindu and Buddhist, two Indian religions. The Arab-centric ideologies supported by Islamist terrorists despise India and it despise Hinduism. Osama bin Laden himself has identified India as an enemy of the caliphate and Al Qaeda. With the Arabisation of Indonesia, Indian influences have been purged from the vast majority of the country. The largest Buddhist monument in the world and a contender for 8th wonder of the world, Borobodur, is left woefully under-maintained and under-advertised, as it is a Buddhist stupa in the heart of an Islamic Java.

Despite all attempts to erase India from Indonesia, Bali remained unchanged. Over 90% of the 1.81% of Indonesians who are Hindu reside in Bali. The very culture that attracts tourists in droves is the culture that the rest of the country has rejected – such as traditional Balinese dancing, which is rooted in Hindu mythology. Bali is a slice of ancient Indonesia. Bali is a Hindu infidel of an island. Worse still, Balinese Hindus are leading what is called the
Hindu Revival. Read more about Hinduism in Bali and Indonesia.

Reason 3
The last reason Indonesian terrorists hate Bali is that it is a resounding success story. Jealousy is central to much of the moaning done by radical clerics and they hate the fact that Bali is thriving whilst much of Indonesia has criminal levels of poverty. And perhaps the main reason Bali is targeted at all is the cause of Bali’s wealth – Western tourists.

I say Western, but what I really mean is Australian. Australians have been enjoying the food, drink, sun and sand of Bali for decades. Now if you live on Bondi beach and still travel 1000s of miles for a holiday, it must be something special. Brits are also quite keen on Bali’s resorts. Australia and Britain – more enemies of fundamentalist Islam. Two coalition members, two aggressors against Islam, two friends of Zionist America and one more reason why a bomb in Bali makes headlines around the world, not just in the Indonesian press.

Balinese children

My heart is filled with sorrow when I think about the inevitable evil that will be unleashed on little Bali. Tourism is how it earns its keep and 3 years on from the 2002 attacks, the trade had just returned to normal, until today. It hasn’t invaded Iraq or given aid to Israel, yet as long as Bali is a peaceful island, populated by Hindus and enjoyed by white tourists, the diamond on Indonesia’s necklace is under constant threat from the new Islamist fascists.

This was first a post on Pickled Politics, take a look at the comments here.


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