News Round-up

By Richard Hollis (aka Ritchie)

I just thought I’d do a quick whirl through some stories of note in the papers this week:

Firstly, and probably most obviously, the Rapture failed to materialise. The herald of doom for this event, Harold Camping announced his shock and surprise that a literal, physical Rapture did not arrive in exactly the way he prophesised. Instead, the Rapture was of a spiritual nature, and we are still on track for a 21st October Armageddon. To his credit, he did guardedly offer an apology to those who feel wronged by him (and much good may it do them). I confess I raised an eyebrow that he’d make another prediction dated for so soon. He might have fumbled his way through one failed prophecy with most devotees still loyal, but surely two in the space of five months will be a fatal blow to his credibility? Or am I crediting his followers too much?

Secondly, a doctor in Britain is being threatened with the sack for refusing a written warning for counselling patients with talk of Christian faith. Alone, the incident might be unremarkable, but what troubles me particularly is the way it has been portrayed in the British media. Many of Britain’s leading papers are none-too-subtly right wing, and though the church holds far less power and influence in Britain than in the USA, the right still equates Christian values with traditional British values to be conserved at all costs while society goes to Hell in a handbasket. Taken along with the Christian van driver who would not remove a crucifix from his work van, and a couple who owned a B&B and were sued for refusing double beds to non-married couples, citing their religious beliefs for justification, the pattern is hauntingly familiar: religious people feel entitled to special dispensation and feel discriminated against when they do not get it. The papers report it this way and a worrying number of their readers dance to their tune. Sensationalism still works, even on an audience semi-aware to look out for it.

Debate rages over whether the world’s last remaining samples of the smallpox virus should be destroyed. The lethal virus was officially eradicated in the wild in 1979, leaving only small samples in laboratories remaining. But fears that samples could be stolen and used for biological terrorism have prompted fresh pleas for their destruction. In truth, this issue has been smoldering at the World Health Organisation for the last 25 years, lost in a cycle of deferring verdicts and appeals.

Seven Italian scientists were indicted this week in Italy for not predicting the April 2009 earthquake which devastated L’Aquila. Weeks before the quake, locals were worried by tremors, but the seismologists described a big forthcoming quake as “improbable”. The following disaster killed over 300 people. On the 20th September, the scientists will face charges of manslaughter. Many scientists have rallied around and tried to defend their colleagues – there is still no reliable way to predict an earthquake. A devastating case, and once which raises extremely important questions about the faith we should place in science and the culpability we should lay at the door of the experts.

Finally, I’d like to indulge you all in a bit of British trash. Our papers have been rather preoccupied with a story about a top, well-respected footballer, married with children, who was found to have had a six-month affair with a model and ex-reality TV star. So far, so unsurprising. But the case is of note firstly because of its legal implications – the footballer took out an injunction against his former lover, while she was thrown to the wolves. This sparked, as much as anything, a rethink of the uses of injunctions for personal cases. In the end, the truth got out via Twitter, and the police could not prosecute several thousand people breaching the injunction. But it also makes me reflect on a particular essay by Richard Dawkins in which he decries sexual jealousy. Far from being the appropriate default response for a jilted lover (justifying, apparently, all manner of revenge), he argues, we humans should try to rise above such jealousy. I’ll leave it for you to savour in his own words here. It’s an old essay, and the particular affair which prompted it is unrelated, but still it is a very stimulating read.

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  • Katie M

    The Christian persecution complex tends to grow as their number decreases. It’s the same over here-the number of non-religious Americans is growing, while religious groups aren’t showing growth at all. The smaller they get, the louder they feel they have to be.

  • Rollingforest

    Sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree with Dawkins in his article. He rightly points out the evolutionary reason why men fear their wives cheating (because they might be fooled into believing the child of another man is their own and lose the chance to have their own children because they thought they already had some) but Dawkins, surprisingly, misses the evolutionary reason why women fear their husbands cheating (because the husband might become more attached to the other woman and leave the first wife to struggle to raise her children all on her own, increasing the chance that the child might not survive. This is why Schwarzenegger and Edwards are seen as worse for having kids with their mistresses rather than just sex. Having kids with another woman makes it more likely that you’ll leave the first).

    Dawkins then goes on to say that even if these evolutionary reasons exist, we are our own individuals and can raise above biology. But what he seems to forget is that you can not escape evolution so easily. Humans have evolved to feel jealous if a partner cheats because of the costs to your reproductive success that occur if you don’t stop the cheating. Maybe you feel that it doesn’t matter if your genes go extinct, but that doesn’t mean that it is so easy to escape the strong feelings of jealously if your partner cheats. The fact of the matter is that most people are very uncomfortable with the idea of their partner cheating and they are perfectly free to make loyalty a requirement to date them if they so choose.

    P.S. as a side note, though I do think it is disgusting to cheat on a spouse without their approval, I don’t feel that that is a legitimate political issue. If (in some alternate universe) there was a presidential race between John Edwards and Sarah Palin, I would go all out campaigning for Edwards. He may have cheated on his wife, but Sarah Palin would be the one to cheat on her country if she got into office.

  • Rollingforest

    Also, keep the Smallpox virus. We can never be absolutely sure that all of the virus has been destroyed so we are going to need the virus in order to make the vaccination.

  • TommyP

    Smallpox is scary stuff and we never can be sure something similar won’t evolve someday, or that somewhere it still abides. I say keep the virus safely locked away, and hope for the best.

  • Dark Jaguar

    My disgust about “cheating” lies entirely with how people react to charges of murder resulting in one’s anger to the other. I can’t stand the phrase “crime of passion”. I can’t relate, firstly, but I don’t WANT to relate if so many others who can “get” why someone could fly into rage and murder someone they catch in the act of cheating. It doesn’t count as a defense to me. Just LEAVE. If you can’t control your emotions to the extent you act like a damned psychopath, you don’t deserve to be walking around among society. The fact that people think the act of flying off the handle and reacting completely out of hand is somehow deserving of more consideration and “understanding” (that is, lesser penalties) than cold blooded murder just… sickens me. They’re both still cases of someone seeing someone else’s life as their’s to take for no other reason than a whim took them.

    Wanting someone sexually bound to you in a relationship? If they agree to it, feel free to be mad, be hurt, if that should be betrayed. To want to hurt them back so much you want to kill them? I don’t care if you are WATCHING them do it, I can’t understand how someone could ever get THAT mad about it. I had THOUGHT you loved them, but if something like that could make you want to do the very opposite of love, then maybe you didn’t. I don’t see how that’s a hard concept to grasp.

    By the way, I don’t want anyone to try to explain why it should be “understandable”. It should simply be unacceptable. Even mentally thinking about it sickens me.

  • kagerato

    I’m with you on that, Dark Jaguar. Responding to infidelity with violence is atrocious and shouldn’t be given any special considerations. That form of severe and binding possessiveness is dangerous and shouldn’t be encouraged in any way.

    The law makes a distinction between “degrees” of murder based on intent and circumstances that I’m not sure is even justified to begin with. The reasoning seems to be that people who carefully plan a murder are more dangerous than those who commit one suddenly arising from a certain context. I don’t know why that would be the case, all else being equal. It would be interesting to investigate whether there is really any difference in recidivism between first and second degree murder. I suspect that only serial murders and acts of terrorism would skew this, but those are obviously treatable in separate form than the consideration of intent.