147 beats of joy

Jo and I had a routine visit to our midwife this afternoon. We’re just about at the sixteen week point in the pregnancy so we’re past the worst of the worry, but still a little concerned that things might go wrong.

This is all natural, I’m sure, but neither of us have done this before and there’s some significant biology going on here that’s causing all sorts of worry points.

Still, Jo is over the worst of the nausea and tiredness and starting to need clothing with increasing quantities of elastication. Bless.

Anyway, we headed over to the midwife with a little pot of Jo’s wee and had the old girl checked out. Thankfully, everything seems fine and her earlier blood tests haven’t shown any problems at all.

The highlight of the visit was the baby’s heart. The midwife had a little gizmo that could listen in to Jo’s uterus and play the sound of our little baby’s heartbeat. It was pounding away rather solidly at a rapid 147 beats a minute. We both had big smiles on our faces when we heard that.

The midwife is lovely and she was very reassuring about the whole process. There’s still a long way to go until Jo can have a runny egg (and the baby is born – September 15th or so) but hearing the heartbeat of our little baby cheered us up no end. I had a pint of Grolsch to celebrate and Jo and a slice of cake and a cup of decaf tea, such is the joy of pregnancy.

Bring on September!

The Armed Man, Karl Jenkins

I’m glad that I’m not stuck with one genre of music taste. The eclectic mix of tunes on my iPhone chucks in tracks by Bjork and David Cloyd amongst rock monsters like Mastodon and Testament.

The fact that I play in a brass band also means that I’m exposed to music that, perhaps, people of my generation might not be. We played Pineapple Poll last night, a Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired piece that’s certainly not fashionable but far more interesting than the majority of crap in the charts.

We also played a rather wonderful arrangement of Benedictus by Karl Jenkins. It’s one part of a larger work called The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace. It was originally written for orchestra and choir but has had been arranged for brass band, chorus and organ. I’ve not heard the whole thing yet but if Benedictus is anything to go by then I really need to buy the CD, both the original version and brass band – it’s just incredible.

Here’s the inevitable Youtube video of the Orchestral version. It’s just beautiful:

Lovely eh? It doesn’t rock my socks in the same way as Anthrax did back in the day but it reaches parts of my musical appreciation that Heavy Metal can never reach. Stunning work.

Here’s another video of the same piece but this time played by the extremely talented David Childs with the Cory Band:

Gorgeous.

Links for March 30th

Women told: ‘You have dishonoured your family, please kill yourself’

When Elif’s father told her she had to kill herself in order to spare him from a prison sentence for her murder, she considered it long and hard. “I loved my father so much, I was ready to commit suicide for him even though I hadn’t done anything wrong,” the 18-year-old said. “But I just couldn’t go through with it. I love life too much.”

All Elif had done was simply decline the offer of an arranged marriage with an older man, telling her parents she wanted to continue her education. That act of disobedience was seen as bringing dishonour on her whole family – a crime punishable by death.

10 Admin Plugins for your site

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AC Grayling politely rebukes an attempt to reconcile religion and science

In our current issue, AC Grayling reviews Questions of Truth by John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, a collection of essays that claims to address 51 “Questions About God, Science and Belief”. Suffice to say, Grayling wasn’t a fan (one star was awarded in the print magazine).

Polkinghorne is a particle physicist-turned-theologian who won the Templeton Prize (which rewards attempts to reconcile religion and science) in 2002, while Nicholas Beale is a former student of Polkinghorne who, while he describes himself as a “social philosopher/management consultant” in real life, manages Polkinghorne’s website and blogs about religion and science in his spare time.

On top of dissecting the text itself, at the end of his review Grayling outlined his problem with the fact that the book was receiving a launch at the Royal Society

Common sense on pregnancy advice

[…]condom adverts will be able to be shown on all channels before the watershed, and pregnancy advisory services, including those who can help with abortion, will also be free to advertise on TV.

So teenagers, who are most in need of this kind of advice, will be more likely to see it advertised on TV. Common sense, don’t you think?

Major cyber spy network uncovered

An electronic spy network, based mainly in China, has infiltrated computers from government offices around the world, Canadian researchers say.

They said the network had infiltrated 1,295 computers in 103 countries.

They included computers belonging to foreign ministries and embassies and those linked with the Dalai Lama – Tibet’s spiritual leader.

There is no conclusive evidence China’s government was behind it, researchers say. Beijing also denied involvement.

Religious people aren’t necessarily stupid…and atheists aren’t necessarily smart

Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural; what scientists and atheists must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination. The difference isn’t their ability to reason, it is what they are reasoning about.

Death Opens Doors on Group

Members of One Mind Ministries drew little notice in the working-class Baltimore neighborhood where they lived in a nondescript brick rowhouse.

But inside, prosecutors say, horrors were unfolding: Answering to a leader called Queen Antoinette, they denied a 16-month-old boy food and water because he did not say “Amen” at mealtimes. After he died, they prayed over his body for days, expecting a resurrection, then packed it into a suitcase with mothballs. They left it in a shed in Philadelphia, where it remained for a year before detectives found it last spring.

‘Most religious leaders are fools’

The author and playwright Hanif Kureishi was born in London in 1954. He is the author of The Buddha of Suburbia, Intimacy and Something to Tell You. His first play, Soaking the Heat, was staged in 1976, and My Beautiful Laundrette , for which he wrote the screenplay, was released in 1985.

He was appointed CBE in 2007, for services to literature and drama. Here he briefly tells BBC News his thoughts about religion.

Archbishop voices concerns to BBC

The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged the BBC not to neglect Christians in its religious programming.

Dr Rowan Williams voiced his concern to the corporation’s director general Mark Thompson in a private meeting at Lambeth Palace.

The archbishop is said to be concerned at a decline in religious programming on the BBC World Service.

Evolution study focuses on snail

Members of the public across Europe are being asked to look in their gardens or local green spaces for banded snails as part of a UK-led evolutionary study.

The Open University says its Evolution MegaLab will be one of the largest evolutionary studies ever undertaken.

Scientists believe the research could show how the creatures have evolved in the past 40 years to reflect changes in temperature and their predators.

10 ways to get a really good sleep

One in five of the population has less than seven hours sleep a night, according to research from the Future Foundation for the health campaign Sleep Well Live Well. Many of these tired souls reported feeling stressed and unhappy.

But how about looking at the question from another direction? If insufficient or disrupted sleep is bad for our health – then what would be the ingredients of a really good night’s sleep? What makes a perfect sleep?

Dr Adrian Williams of the Sleep Disorders Centre at St Thomas’s Hospital in London sets out a few ground rules.

Hidden clue to composer’s passion

The French composer, Maurice Ravel may have left a hidden message – a woman’s name – inside his work.

A sequence of three notes occurring repeatedly through his work spell out the name of a famous Parisian socialite says Professor of Music, David Lamaze.

He argues that the notes, E, B, A in musical notation, or “Mi-Si-La” in the French doh-re-mi scale, refer to Misia Sert, a close friend of Ravel’s.

A heartless faith

Irving Feldkamp is the father of two and grandfather of five who were killed in that accident; he lost a shocking great swath of his family in that one sad afternoon. Irving Feldkamp is also the owner of Family Planning Associates — a chain of clinics that also does abortions.

You can guess what segment of the Christian community I’m about to highlight.

Choke back your gag reflex and read this hideous, evil article on Christian Newswire. Some moral cretin named Gingi Edmonds wrote a wretched story on this tragedy that makes it sound like divine retribution on Mr Feldkamp.

Pope ‘distorting condom science’

One of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, the Lancet, has accused Pope Benedict XVI of distorting science in his remarks on condom use.

It said the Pope’s recent comments that condoms exacerbated the problem of HIV/Aids were wildly inaccurate and could have devastating consequences.

The Pope had said the “cruel epidemic” should be tackled through abstinence and fidelity rather than condom use.

Links for March 26th

”Hello America, I’m a British Muslim’

When British businessman Imran Ahmad was made redundant in January, instead of hitting the Job Centre he decided to arrange a one-man speaking tour of the United States to spread his message of peace and Muslim moderateness.

God ‘will not give happy ending’

God will not intervene to prevent humanity from wreaking disastrous damage to the environment, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.

In a lecture, Dr Rowan Williams urged a “radical change of heart” to prevent runaway climate change.

At York Minster he said humanity should turn away from the selfishness and greed that leads it to ignore its interdependence with the natural world.

And God would not guarantee a “happy ending”, he warned.

Mythical beings can’t really intervene – considering their mythicalness (is that even a word?)

Call to scrap ‘illegal databases’

A quarter of all government databases are illegal and should be scrapped or redesigned, according to a report.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust says storing information leads to vulnerable people, such as young black men, single parents and children, being victimised.

It says the UK’s “database state” wastes billions from the public purse and often breaches human rights laws.

Big websites urged to avoid Phorm

Seven of the UK’s biggest web firms have been urged to opt out of a controversial ad-serving system.

Phorm – aka Webwise – profiles users’ browsing habits and serves up adverts based on which sites they visit.

In an open letter, the Open Rights Group (ORG) has asked the firms to block Phorm’s attempts to profile their sites, to thwart the profiling system.

Last.fm to charge for streaming

Internet radio and social music site Last.fm is to start charging listeners outside the UK, US, and Germany.

Users outside those three countries will pay 3 euros per month to listen to Last.fm Radio, the site’s streaming music service.

The other content on the site, such as biographies, videos, charts, and “scrobbling” – the site’s musical profiling – will remain free for all.

Police to probe UK torture claims

Police are to investigate whether an MI5 officer was complicit in the torture of ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.

The Attorney General, Baroness Scotland QC, said the probe would be “the appropriate course of action”.

Mr Mohamed, 30, a UK resident, said MI5 had prolonged his detention and torture while he was being held in Morocco.

EU ready to screw up European Internet with Telcoms Package

Glyn sez, “The EU’s Telecoms Package is back for its second reading. The French are attempting to push through their ‘three strikes and you’re out’ approach again, the UK are attempting to get rid of net neutrality and get rid of peoples right to privacy. The ITRE/IMCO committee are meeting on the 31 March 2009 to dicuss these and other alarming amendments. The Open Rights Group have more details

A Conversation with John Scalzi

John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War took me by surprise. I picked up the book because I’d heard a lot of good things about him and decided I’d give it a one-page tryout. Either he’d grip me right away or I’d drop it. Twenty pages later I realized I hadn’t moved from the spot. OK, John. Grip achieved.

I loved Old Man’s War and I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the books set in that universe. John Scalzi is a clever, funny author and I recommend reading his books

Therapists offer gay ‘treatment’

Therapists are still offering treatments for homosexuality despite there being no evidence that such methods work, research suggests.

A significant minority of mental health professionals had agreed to help at least one patient “reduce” their gay or lesbian feelings when asked to do so.

Viking Skull – Blackened Sunrise

I’ve been listening to all sorts of random stuff on my iPhone and iTunes recently (I love to shuffle – fnarr!) and this track has been growing on me like a fungus: a hard rockin’ fungus.

I’ve not heard of Viking Skull before hearing this. I think the track was on one of those free CDs that come with Metal Hammer and it keeps cropping up when I tee-up my play-lists.

I love the Sabbath-esque riff especially. Great track.

Back in the UK

I have returned!

Did you even notice that I’d gone anywhere? Well, we have just been on a fabulous week-long holiday in that most beautiful of Mediterranean islands: Cyprus.

We have a friend who owns a villa near Coral Bay and so we availed ourselves of this rather lovely holiday home and spent a week relaxing and enjoying the (usually) nice weather. It wasn’t too hot (about 17, 18 degrees C or so) and it only rained for two days out of seven. An improvement over the UK weather I’m sure you’ll agree.

There were gorgeous blue/green seas, mountains, moufflon and a short trip into Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus.

We had a fantastic time over there and we can’t wait to go back.

I’m going to be blogging each day over the next day or so and I’ll retro-post them on the relevant day. There are going to be pictures. This will be probably less painful than if I came around to your house with a slide show.

The Shack: more of a Shambles

A Christian friend of mine lent me a copy of The Shack a few months ago and I figured that I’d read it. I might be a bit of a heathen but I have quite an interest in theological things.

This book has an enormous following around the world with well over a million copies of this 248 page book in circulation and glowing tributes printed all over the cover, front and back.

I have no idea why this is so. I thought it was a rather badly written book with dubious ideas.

Don’t get me wrong – I quite liked the idea behind it. A guy’s daughter is abducted and presumably murdered, he has a crisis of faith before God comes along and explains a few Truths about the purpose of life and the love that God has for His creation.

My main problems with the book arise from the fact that the author really isn’t a very good writer. His prose is adequate enough I suppose, but he’s more talented amateur than professional novelist. It’s all a bit preachy too, especially if you don’t think that we all descended from Adam.

I hear from another Christian friend that there’s some rather dodgy religion in here too. I can understand why. The book portrays the Holy Trinity is a rather unusual way. Nothing wrong with that but the author’s made some very strange choices with the characters that he’s picked. He’s also unable to portray his character’s voices in a convincing way – just about all the speech in the book in indistinguishable between characters (author’s voice rather than the character’s) and it really spoiled the whole read for me.

Clearly this book wasn’t aimed at me. It has no hope of changing my opinion about the creation of mankind especially as it uses a very literal Christian view of Creation. It isn’t written well enough to engage me as a novel as I really didn’t care about any of the characters.

So, why do so many people rave about it?

Not my cup of tea