Thursday, April 29, 2010

World Medical Association demonstrates complete lack of judgment


The World Medical Association (WMA), the international organisation representing the world's doctors, has a long-standing tradition of issuing guidelines on everything from conflict of interest, to dual loyalties, standards of care in clinical research and other such issues. Many of these documents are quite sensible actually, and by virtue of the WMA's claim to represent the world's doctors, carry some moral weight.

Recently though the organization completely shot itself in the foot. It elected Ketan Desai, the
president of the Medical Council of India as its President elect. Well, here's bits and piece from the British Medical Journal about this lovely medical professional that makes you wonder whether he's such a good choice... - you might want to keep in mind that the current allegation are just that, allegations. However, the incoming President of the WMA was found guilty by the High Court in Delhi of corruption charges and abuse of power in 2001. Obviously the good doc is a wily operator, how else would he have managed to sneak back into positions of power in the medical profession in India. You might want to check his CV that's kindly on display at the WMA website (note the breaks in appointments to regulatory medical bodies in India that he held in 2001, when he was found guilty of corruption and abuse of power by the Delhi High Court, only picking up a few years later and straight going back for power). Anyhow, that's for India to resolve.

Published 29 April 2010, doi:10.1136/bmj.c2355

Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2355

Top education regulator in India is arrested on bribery allegations

Ganapati Mudur

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation has arrested Ketan Desai, the president of the Medical Council of India, on allegations of bribery in a fresh case that threatens to sully the image of the country’s top agency involved in regulating medical education. Dr Desai is also president elect of the World Medical Association. (Emphasis as in BMJ)

Investigators said last week that Dr Desai had sought 20 million rupees (£296 000; €350 000; $450 000) as a bribe from a private medical college in the northern Indian town of Patiala for approving admissions of students in the college for the academic year 2010-11. The council has the responsibility of inspecting and approving colleges.

See also:
prior BMJ reporting:

BMJ VOLUME 323 15 DECEMBER 2001

Head of the Medical Council of India removed for corruption

Rohit Sharma Mumbai

The High Court in Delhi has ordered that Dr Ketan Desai, the president of the Medical Council of India, be removed from his post after it found him guilty of corrupt practices and abuse of power.

Besides heading the council, which regulates the medical profession in India, Dr Desai also heads the Indian Medical Association, which represents India’s doctors.

Minutes of the council meetings showed that all critical decisions were concentrated in Dr Desai’s hands. Dr Bhalla presented details from an income tax raid at Dr Desai’s house last year, which showed unexplained receipt of 6.5 million rupees (£95 000; $136 000) via bank drafts in the names of his wife, daughters, and himself from several people in Delhi.

Drill baby drill

Bad news for Mr Obama. Just after selling the American public out to private health insurance companies he's caved in to another demand from neocons. He issued licenses to drill at the US coasts for oil. Self-sufficiency is the magic word here, and you can't blame the US for trying. What boggles the mind, however, is that these oil drilling platforms do not even have safety mechanisms that seal the borehole in case there's a catastrophic accident. Incompetence on a grand scale! Or is it just another exercise in terms of environmental corner cutting that these oil companies are so well-known for.

The environmental disaster that is at the moment unfolding in the USA is painful to watch. How can it be that in the 12st century they drill in highly fragile marine environments without having most basic safety switch-off's in place? I am the first to admit that I am not an expert in these matters, but it seems obvious to me that you should not get a permission to drill for oil in such an environment unless you are able to ensure that there's no major spill in case something goes wrong.

Post scriptum May 03 2010: Turns out that the platform had a so-called blowout-preventer to prevent the disaster that happened. A German news agency has investigated these so-called blowout-preventers. There are at least 171 known cases where they failed to do their job. It's a bit of a misnomer then to call them blowout-preventers, isn't it? Makes you wonder why drill baby drill President Obama notices only now that there's a problem and he wants to investigate...

Britain does away with conscientious objection nonsense

A victory for sanity in Britain. A Christian counsellor (photo to the left), employed by the state, lost a court case that's essentially focused on conscientious objection. The guidance counsellor refused to provide services to gay couples, on religious reasons. The Guardian reports 'Lord Justice Laws said legislation to protect views held purely on religious grounds could not be justified. He said it was an irrational idea "but it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary". Laws is correct here. The truth of religious belief cannot be established, there's competing and importantly conflicting religious beliefs about. Surely the question of whether someone receives professional services without a great deal of fuzz must not depend on whatever private beliefs a professional services provider holds.

Says Laws, "We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic....The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself."

Church people like the evangelical former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey suggested that rulings such as these could lead to 'public unrest' because special rules and special dispensation ain't provided to him and his fellow religious believers. Says Carey, "The comparison of a Christian, in effect, with a 'bigot' (ie, a person with an irrational dislike to homosexuals) begs further questions. It is further evidence of a disparaging attitude to the Christian faith and its values." Makes you wonder how else you'd described someone who irrationally discriminates against fellow citizens. 'Bigot' seems an appropriate description, adding 'God' as justification does precious little to change that situation.

Carey also claims, “It is, of course, but a short step from the dismissal of a sincere Christian from employment to a religious bar to any employment by Christians." This is utter nonsense, of course, a good teaching case for showing how unsubstantiated slippery slope claims are used for rhetorical gain. There is no short step of any kind here. All the court is saying is that Christians got to do their jobs like like everyone else, muslim or atheist, communist or liberal. If they don't feel like doing particular jobs they'd try to find other jobs. It's really a bit like a communist saying that she has conscientious objections to working for Deutsche Bank. We'd think that's funny, too, and suggest that perhaps she's in the wrong job.

The crux of it is, of course, that if you offer public services (particularly so if you're in the pay of taxpayers) you can't choose who you offer these services to, based on arbitrary criteria such as skin color, sex or sexual orientation. Nobody forced you to enter a profession that would require you to provide services to people whom your religious ideology tells you to discriminate again. Do something else, like for instance working in a church - if there is one not subsidized one way or another by the state - and enjoy the intellectual incest that goes with interacting with people like yourself. You certainly are not entitled to have your prejudiced life sponsored by tax monies.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gordon Brown and Britain's ordinary voters

Badly behind in the polls, the current UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is on the campaign trail meeting 'ordinary voters'. Reportedly one such voter, a woman, berated him about immigration and whatnot. Brown got back into his limo and bickers about the disaster this encounter had been and refers to the woman as a 'bigot'. What's played time and again on the UK news is that he called an 'ordinary voter' a bigot and Brown is criticized for doing that. Brown duly called the woman and apologized, eventually he went back to her town and apologized 'behind closed curtains' for about 45 min. She's still miffed and seemingly enjoying her minute of fame on the UK's national news front.

Well, frankly, while I'm not a Brown fan, without knowing what exactly the woman said it's difficult telling whether or not calling her a bigot is a reasonable response to what transpired during the encounter. Bits and piece of what is reported suggest that she's in fact a bigot. That's what ticks me off about the reports about this story. The British media, from left to right, gang up on Brown without restraint these days (he really has become a punching bag for all of Britain's woes). It ain't right.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is a funny thing, I think. During the last few weeks a couple of events made me wonder why we are so often so deeply dishonest and hypocritical. For instance, the Polish President Lech Kaczynski died in a plane crash. That guy was well and truly widely reviled in much of Europe, being the ardent nationalist that he was. He was opposed to the European federalist project, he was opposed to friendly relations with neighboring Germany, his claims to notoriety included prohibiting a gay rights march while he's mayor of Warsaw, and of course attacking the reproductive rights of women. The usual stuff of neanderthal nationalist Catholic Polish politics. He wasn't even greatly loved by very many Polish people. Yet suddenly, when his plane crashed, listening to the eulogies of European and other political leaders you'd have thought a great guy had died, while really a small-minded conservative nationalist departed for his Catholic heaven.

In South Africa, in order to maintain good race relations, Black political leaders had to pretend that they regretted that the militant Afrikkkaaner leader Eugene Terreblanche was clubbed to death by some of his staff. Seriously, this guy spent a life-time working toward preventing the South African majority population from participation in a multi-ethnic democracy. Terreblanche was an unreconstructed vile racist. Is it unfortunate that he was murdered? Of course it was. Is it a great loss that he's gone? Not really. Good riddance is probably the most appropriate response that one should muster in response to the murder. When you think about the larger number of black people that get killed in South Africa, and that are never mentioned in the mass media, why this pretense that it somehow matters more that a miscreant such as Terreblanche was killed? Unlike in the murders of most black people, the local police even quickly apprehended the people who killed him.

Well, and that standard bearer of hypocrisy is at it again, too. This story is most amusing, I got to say. The Pope invited himself to a visit to Britain (paid for by UK taxpayers). Some cheeky UK foreign department staff suggested in a written document that 'the Pope should open an abortion clinic, bless a homosexual marriage and launch his own range of condoms while he is here.' Truth be told, if the Pope and his minions were not so pre-occupied with covering their own tracks in thousands and thousands of child abuse cases the world all over, they might have realized that it seems a tad bit hypocritical to demand that the culprits in the UK Foreign Office be penalized harshly for their practical joke, when the Pope at the same time has pro-actively colluded with senior church management over decades in protecting pedophiles in his organisation's ranks from any kind of punishment. What was it again, sitting in glasshouses and throwing stones??? The church truly never ceases to amaze me. Dr Ratzinger is reportedly considering canceling his trip. For some reason this is of concern to government ministers in the country as opposed to reason for celebration. A Catholic bishop said in an interview that these comments were a sign that Catholic teachings were not taken seriously. He missed probably that actually the junior officials in the UK foreign affairs department are aware of Catholic teachings, they do take them seriously, and they clearly reject them. They're right to do so. - I hope, if Dr Ratzinger decides to go ahead, someone will execute a citizen's arrest, seeing the great man's involvement in the church's pedophile sex scandals.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Check this site out - very funny

This really is a neat site. Check out some of the episodes! Truly hilarious stuff. Thanks to Raul Kumar for pointing this gem out to me!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Partners and things

There is something going on in the politically correct English speaking world that puzzles me. It's the deliberate hiding of one's loved one's sex. Say you're straight and you are married, or you got a girlfriend or boyfriend, or you're in a legally recognized relationship of some sort. Invariably your progressive friends will refer to their other halfs as 'partner'. The good intention behind it seems to be that nobody will know (or inquire) about the sex of the person you're with. So, in case you're gay or bi-sexual nobody will find out. How so? Well, whenever your conversation gets to your other half, you'd sneak in the 'partner', thereby leaving open whether or not your partner is of the same or other sex. From conversation with colleagues and friends, I do know that the ambivalent nature of the 'partner' leads to continuing gossip and speculation about whether he or she is gay or straight or something else altogether.

What troubles me about this matter is this: If you live in a country, like Canada, where homosexuality is decriminalized and where in fact gay relationships have more or less equal legal standing to folks in straight relationships, you're sending a troublesome message about the desirability of hiding your sexual orientation. As I see it, with the exceptions of those who are not in relationships (nothing at all wrong with that!), those who live in relationships will find themselves pretty much invariably with folks of the other or of the same sex. What's the point of pretending that we are in a relationship with a mysterious neutral (aka 'partner'), when REALLY we are not? Would we not be better off if people were encouraged not to hide their sexual orientation away by means of kind of neutralizing us for the purpose of our conversations? Why not say that I live with my wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, male/female significant other, name it?

Basically, I wonder, whether real progress lies in hiding away who we are by being 'partners' (in a sex neutral manner). Interestingly, this strategy won't work in may countries. Both in German and French speaking countries this wouldn't work for simple reasons of grammar. You might have a partner in Germany, but if the partner is female it's a 'Partnerin', and if the partner is male it's 'Partner'. So, no obfuscation there.

Anyhow, I'm not entirely sure that I got this one right. You got any views/arguments to share on this one?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Nice review of 50 Voices of Disbelief


Our book got a nice review at Metapsychology. Check it out. Roger Chao writes (in part):

Overall, this book is well suited for a mainstream audience, interested in questioning the power that religion holds over our lives. Being an item of non-fiction for a general audience, it has surprisingly good references at the end of some chapters (by academic writers that is), which will also serve to guide the reader if further information is wanted. Thus, I recommend this book to anyone (regardless of their views concerning religion) interested in understanding why different people hold certain views concerning religion.


I also noticed that we've got now some 13 or so customer reviews on amazon.com . Virtually all of them are very positive.

Addendum: April 14, 2010
Here's another review of the book, on the website of the Diocese of Brandon of the Anglican Church in Canada. As you'd expect of such a site, the review is somewhat mixed, but, considering where the reviewer is coming from it seems fair enough. Its praise for gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, one of the volume's contributors, took me well and truly by surprise.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Sunday, April 04, 2010

On Moral Authority - in lieu of an Easter sermon

Interesting, now we know that the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy all the way up to its CEO, the Pope, has been busy protecting child sexual abusers the world all over (the Irish government report on the abuse in the country mentions that child sexual abuse in Catholic outfits reached endemic proportions with confirmed cases now exceeding 15,000). We also know that the current Pope thought nothing was problematic about bringing into the fold of the church a known holocaust denying bishop. The list goes on and on and on. If this wasn't the 'church' but some Islamic outfit, no doubt they would be under security services' surveillance, but hey, it's the 'church', so it's kinda different I presume.

Part of the church (any church's actually) rationale for interfering regularly with the democratic state's policy making has to do with its claim to possess special 'moral authority'. So the church has been ever since busy writing high-minded documents protecting the 'unborn' (aka taking away women's rights to control their own bodies for the duration of their pregnancy). The church also issues, in the age of AIDS no less, guidance prohibiting all means of modern birth control such as using the pill or condoms to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted illnesses. They tell dying people that these patients have no moral claim to determining how they end their lives, even though this obsession with earthly living should be non-existent, considering that eternal paradise that is supposedly awaiting the deceased. Then there's endless documents going on about homosexuality and how terrible this 'disorder' is, and last but by no means least the church issues guidance documents inventing ever more reasons for religious conscience based objections to the provision of particular professional services by its members (aka special societal treatment for its professional members). In retrospect it is surprising that the church has rarely, if ever, commented on that small matter of pedophilia. Presumably an oversight.

In any event, the Roman Catholic church went recently out of its way to recruit right-wing outliers of the Anglican church. These outliers are opposed to women priests as well as openly gay priests. The pope saw an opportunity to increase the reactionary contingent among his preaching staff by offering such Anglican outliers a job in his organisation. It should not surprise anyone that the CEO of the competing Anglican church saw an opportunity to get even. He said in an interview that the Irish Catholic church had lost 'all credibility' over its handling of the child abuse scandal. He is right, of course, the Irish Catholic church lost indeed all credibility, as has the rest of the worldwide church. Being the Archbishop of Canterbury he then quickly recanted a day later, saying that he regretted his comments (but not withdrawing them).

What puzzles me is the proposition that the Roman Catholic church (or any other church for that matter) has special moral authority at all. I can see that it would have some authority over folks subscribing to its ideology. After all, if you're Catholic and your church offers a baseline normative guidance that it considers binding for its members, that surely is fair game. It's a bit like being voluntarily a member of the Communist party and embracing capitalism. Doesn't really work. The thing is though, that routinely you see its colourfully dressed senior staff come out in public telling all of us what we must and must not do, regardless of whether we have chosen to join their ranks. In other words, it uses its claimed moral authority to influence how people who do not subscribe to its views should live (indeed, even how they should die). And, interestingly, it is reported in the mass media as if there was any moral competence that these preaching guys have. This truly reminds me of the naked emperor case, except this time they're wearing dresses. The nakedness that we ought to call to the public's attention is that they do not have any moral authority at all in secular, multi-cultural societies. So, if they think that the 'unborn' is of infinite value and that abortions are always wrong they got to argue their case beyond their ideological base (aka believers). Their senior management staff happily use words such as 'genocide' and 'holocaust' in the context of abortion, presumably to make clear how 'wrong' abortion really is. Of course, this ain't answer the question of what it is that is wrong, ethically, about abortion - if anything.

It is insufficient for them to come out and quote the pope or any of their church documents that are relying on their religious scripture when they try to influence public policy. This is so, because too many people just don't buy into the biblical fairy tales. Now, it's perfectly possible that there are other, non-biblical reasons for why abortion might be ethically problematic, but these need to be explicated and defended.

What this boils down to is this: Religious folks must engage in proper ethical analysis and argument just like everyone else who wishes to make an ethical argument in public discourse. No matter how much they would like us to believe that raising their arms to the sky, wearing dresses and saying 'God' is somehow sufficient to claim moral authority, it clearly won't do in lieu of a proper argument. The reason for this is obvious, by engaging in such activities you actually avoid public scrutiny. This is unacceptable in the context of public debate in a democracy. It's high time we called them on this each time they pop up in the public domain and decide it's time to tell us how we ought to live our lives. Reminding them of their own endemic historical moral failings is perhaps the perfect hook on which to hang doubts about their moral authority (just in case you prefer a historical as opposed to a straightforward normative argument). Which reminds me, why I should suffer as a result of their sectarian celebrations - I can't even buy food today, the gym is closed, etc etc. Why is it seen to be fair game that their celebrations may impact legitimately on my life and that of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and any number of others who are not Christian God people?

And here ends my Easter sermon.