Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Darwin on Tears

Darwin on Tears

Just been re-reading Darwin on emotions

which is very interesting. As ever, he looked at observing what is happening first, and is ingenuous in his use of existing technology to do this (photos are on the attached site).

Here I shall almost confine myself to weeping or crying, more especially in children. Infants, when suffering even slight pain, moderate hunger, or discomfort, utter violent and prolonged screams. Whilst thus screaming their eyes are firmly closed, so that the skin round them is wrinkled, and the forehead contracted into a frown. The mouth is widely opened with the lips retracted in a peculiar manner, which causes it to assume a squarish form; the gums or teeth being more or less exposed. The breath is inhaled almost spasmodically. It is easy to observe infants whilst screaming; but I have found photographs made by the instantaneous process the best means for observation, as allowing more deliberation. I have collected twelve, most of them made purposely for me; and they all exhibit the same general characteristics. I have, therefore, had six of them1 (Plate I.) reproduced by the heliotype process.

He also made the observation, which he then tested that very young infants in fact do not shed tears or weep; which he says is "well known", although I had not come across it in any modern baby books; but then Darwin is both observing, and looking at the evolutionary background. From this he deduces that weeping and crying is an acquired or learned technique; it is something done rather than something automatic (which is not, of course, to say that it cannot become automatic like other habits).

Infants whilst young do not shed tears or weep, as is well known to nurses and medical men. This circumstance is not exclusively due to the lacrymal glands being as yet incapable of secreting tears. I first noticed this fact from having accidentally brushed with the cuff of my coat the open eye of one of my infants, when seventy-seven days old, causing this eye to water freely; and though the child screamed violently, the other eye remained dry, or was only slightly suffused with tears. A similar slight effusion occurred ten days previously in both eyes during a screaming-fit. The tears did not run over the eyelids and roll down the cheeks of this child, whilst screaming badly, when 122 days old. This first happened 17 days later, at the age of 139 days. A few other children have been observed for me, and the period of free weeping appears to be very variable. In one case, the eyes became slightly suffused at the age of only 20 days; in another, at 62 days. With two other children, the tears did not run down the face at the ages of 84 and 110 days; but in a third child they did run down at the age of 104 days. In one instance, as I was positively assured, tears ran down at the unusually early age of 42 days. It would appear as if the lacrymal glands required some practice in the individual before they are easily excited into action, in somewhat the same manner as various inherited consensual movements and tastes require some exercise before they are fixed and perfected. This is all the more likely with a habit like weeping, which must have been acquired since the period when man branched off from the common progenitor of the genus Homo and of the non-weeping anthropomorphous apes.
The fact of tears not being shed at a very early age from pain or any mental emotion is remarkable, as, later in life, no expression is more general or more strongly marked than weeping. When the habit has once been acquired by an infant, it expresses in the clearest manner suffering of all kinds, both bodily pain and mental distress, even though accompanied by other emotions, such as fear or rage. The character of the crying, however, changes at a very early age, as I noticed in my own infants,—the passionate cry differing from that of grief. A lady informs me that her child, nine months old, when in a passion screams loudly, but does not weep; tears, however, are shed when she is punished by her chair being turned with its back to the table. This difference may perhaps be attributed to weeping being restrained, as we shall immediately see, at a more advanced age, under most circumstances excepting grief; and to the influence of such restraint being transmitted to an earlier period of life, than that at which it was first practised.

Next, he looks at adults, with a very broad outlook, i.e not restricting himself to Victorian London. Would that Freud had done the same when creating his ideas rather than just !

With adults, especially of the male sex, weeping soon ceases to be caused by, or to express, bodily pain. This may be accounted for by its being thought weak and unmanly by men, both of civilized and barbarous races, to exhibit bodily pain by any outward sign. With this exception, savages weep copiously from very slight causes, of which fact Sir J. Lubbock has collected instances. A New Zealand chief "cried like a child because the sailors spoilt his favourite cloak by powdering it with flour." I saw in Tierra del Fuego a native who had lately lost a brother, and who alternately cried with hysterical violence, and laughed heartily at anything which amused him. With the civilized nations of Europe there is also much difference in the frequency of weeping. Englishmen rarely cry, except under the pressure of the acutest grief; whereas in some parts of the Continent the men shed tears much more readily and freely.

After this, his examination looks at the pathological cases, to see what sort of crying is going on there. He notices that crying is far more common, and sometimes for almost no visible cause, or for the oddest causes (e.g. the case of the eyebrows). He is of course using the terminology of his day (insane etc), but also notes that certain physiological conditions can also cause or promote crying; in other words, it can be an involuntary effect.

The insane notoriously give way to all their emotions with little or no restraint; and I am informed by Dr. J. Crichton Browne, that nothing is more characteristic of simple melancholia, even in the male sex, than a tendency to weep on the slightest occasions, or from no cause. They also weep disproportionately on the occurrence of any real cause of grief. The length of time during which some patients weep is astonishing, as well as the amount of tears which they shed. One melancholic girl wept for a whole day, and afterwards confessed to Dr. Browne, that it was because she remembered that she had once shaved off her eyebrows to promote their growth. Many patients in the asylum sit for a long time rocking themselves backwards and forwards; "and if spoken to, they stop their movements, purse up their eyes, depress the corners of the mouth, and burst out crying." In some of these cases, the being spoken to or kindly greeted appears to suggest some fanciful and sorrowful notion; but in other cases an effort of any kind excites weeping, independently of any sorrowful idea. Patients suffering from acute mania likewise have paroxysms of violent crying or blubbering, in the midst of their incoherent ravings. We must not, however, lay too much stress on the copious shedding of tears by the insane, as being due to the lack of all restraint; for certain brain-diseases, as hemiplegia, brain-wasting, and senile decay, have a special tendency to induce weeping. Weeping is common in the insane, even after a complete state of fatuity has been reached and the power of speech lost.

Darwin then sums up what he perceives weeping to be the expression of, but also notes that the degree to which people weep can be altered by themselves, either with restraint, or by learning to increase tears; the weeping for the dead, is in fact, something which is not just seen in his case study; it was well known in past cultures where professional mourners could weep "on demand", but convincingly.

Weeping seems to be the primary and natural expression, as we see in children, of suffering of any kind, whether bodily pain short of extreme agony, or mental distress. But the foregoing facts and common experience show us that a frequently repeated effort to restrain weeping, in association with certain states of the mind, does much in checking the habit. On the other hand, it appears that the power of weeping can be increased through habit; thus the Rev. R. Taylor, who long resided in New Zealand, asserts that the women can voluntarily shed tears in abundance; they meet for this purpose to mourn for the dead, and they take pride in crying "in the most affecting manner."

So - having examined a wide variety of different evidence (and I have only cited some) - now he comes to look at how to construct a theory for understanding weeping, and he starts from the physiological, seeing tears resulting from distress, or laughter (which he notes is also common to all human beings), or even a coughing fit:

Cause of the secretion of tears.—It is an important fact which must be considered in any theory of the secretion of tears from the mind being affected, that whenever the muscles round the eyes are strongly and involuntarily contracted in order to compress the blood-vessels and thus to protect the eyes, tears are secreted, often in sufficient abundance to roll down the cheeks. This occurs under the most opposite emotions, and under no emotion at all. The sole exception, and this is only a partial one, to the existence of a relation between the involuntary and strong contraction of these muscles and the secretion of tears, is that of young infants, who, whilst screaming violently with their eyelids firmly closed, do not commonly weep until they have attained the age of from two to three or four months. Their eyes, however, become suffused with tears at a much earlier age. It would appear, as already remarked, that the lacrymal glands do not, from the want of practice or some other cause, come to full functional activity at a very early period of life. With children at a somewhat later age, crying out or wailing from any distress is so regularly accompanied by the shedding of tears, that weeping and crying are synonymous terms.
Under the opposite emotion of great joy or amusement, as long as laughter is moderate there is hardly any contraction of the muscles round the eyes, so that there is no frowning; but when peals of loud laughter are uttered, with rapid and violent spasmodic expirations, tears stream down the face. I have more than once noticed the face of a person, after a paroxysm of violent laughter, and I could see that the orbicular muscles and those running to the upper lip were still partially contracted, which together with the tear-stained cheeks gave to the upper half of the face an expression not to be distinguished from that of a child still blubbering from grief. The fact of tears streaming down the face during violent laughter is common to all the races of mankind, as we shall see in a future chapter.
In violent coughing especially when a person is half-choked, the face becomes purple, the veins distended, the orbicular muscles strongly contracted, and tears run down the cheeks. Even after a fit of ordinary coughing, almost every one has to wipe his eyes. In violent vomiting or retching, as I have myself experienced and seen in others, the orbicular muscles are strongly contracted, and tears sometimes flow freely down the cheeks.

Now he broadens his scope further to look at other animals, but finds extremely few cases:

I was anxious to ascertain whether there existed in any of the lower animals a similar relation between the contraction of the orbicular muscles during violent expiration and the secretion of tears; but there are very few animals which contract these muscles in a prolonged manner, or which shed tears.

So now he comes to the evolutionary and biological background of tears. Why did crying and tears develop? What was their main function?

It is difficult to conjecture how many reflex actions have originated, but, in relation to the present case of the affection of the lacrymal glands through irritation of the surface of the eye, it may be worth remarking that, as soon as some primordial form became semi-terrestrial in its habits, and was liable to get particles of dust into its eyes, if these were not washed out they would cause much irritation; and on the principle of the radiation of nerve-force to adjoining nerve-cells, the lacrymal glands would be stimulated to secretion. As this would often recur, and as nerve-force readily passes along accustomed channels, a slight irritation would ultimately suffice to cause a free secretion of tears.

So Darwin sees tears and crying as a development which has evolved from the physiology of crying out (for a variety of reasons, e.g. suffering, calling parents, and relieving pain by bodily movements - which is part of the same evolutionary heritage which we share with other animals. Our biological makeup, however, causes the use of tears as an eye-cleaning mechanism to be incidentally triggered by these physiological changes, and this incidental use of tears (an exaption, in evolutionary biology) as a means of relieving suffering is not purely an involutantary act (although it remains that as well in addition to new uses, which we should not forget), but can also be controlled (either to stop tears, or to cry on demand).

To sum up this chapter, weeping is probably the result of some such chain of events as follows. Children, when wanting food or suffering in any way, cry out loudly, like the young of most other animals, partly as a call to their parents for aid, and partly from any great exertion serving relief. Prolonged screaming inevitably leads to the gorging of the blood-vessels of the eye; and this will have led, at first consciously and at last habitually, to the contraction of the muscles round the eyes in order to protect them. At the same time the spasmodic pressure on the surface of the eye, and the distension of the vessels within the eye, without necessarily entailing any conscious sensation, will have affected, through reflex action, the lacrymal glands. Finally, through the three principles of nerve-force readily passing along accustomed channels—of association, which is so widely extended in its power—and of certain actions, being more under the control of the will than others—it has come to pass that suffering readily causes the secretion of tears, without being necessarily accompanied by any other action.
Although in accordance with this view we must look at weeping as an incidental result, as purposeless as the secretion of tears from a blow outside the eye, or as a sneeze from the retina being affected by a bright light, yet this does not present any difficulty in our understanding how the secretion of tears serves as a relief to suffering. And by as much as the weeping is more violent or hysterical, by so much will the relief be greater,—on the same principle that the writhing of the whole body, the grinding of the teeth, and the uttering of piercing shrieks, all give relief under an agony of pain.

He also cautions about seeing the use of a means of expression as static. What derived from one circumstance can be deliberately used in another, so that what may seem as a pattern relating to distress can be used for other intent; an example would be children deliberately using a trantrum to elicit a desired response, because they are learning to play on the reaction of their parents, rather than being genuinely distressed:

Every true or inherited movement of expression seems to have had some natural and independent origin. But when once acquired, such movements may be voluntarily and consciously employed as a means of communication.

How about Ruby, after my gran?

Looking at the top baby names (it's that time of year, and the BBC has a report showing old names being revived, see below "
How about Ruby, after my gran?" ), I am pleased that John is far down the list (42), and Martin and Roy don't feature at all! Great! Well for anarchists like me who like to be different!

Interesting that James has moved down. Thomas is still there, but lower. I always call those the "Tank Engine Names", mainly because (a) that's how I think of them (b) it always used to produce a wonderfully annoyed expression on pushy mothers when Martin was younger!

I see no Ann or Anne, and the only Tony is Anthony (36), which is certainly not mine. Fancy being called after a false Germanic etymology about a flower rather than a Roman clan name. Why do people do it?

Girl Names


Boy Names

How about Ruby, after my gran?
By Keely Paice

Cast an eye over the top 100 baby names of the year, and the trend for reviving grandparents' names is stronger than ever. With names, what goes around eventually comes around.

If you were born this year and your parents decided to call you Jane or Paul, chances are you'd never come across anyone in your entire school going by the same name. But if they picked Martha or Oscar, Lily or Alfie, it will always be coupled with your last name (or initial) in order to identify you.

Because of the fickle nature of what we call our kids, the names of babies born today have more in common with our grandparents than they do with us.

When it comes to the fashion of names, 1906 is looking cool again. The Henrys and Graces may have started this trend when they re-entered the top 100 back in the early 1990s, but now it is diminutives that are in vogue. Alfie (up from 100 in 1997 to 16 this year), Archie (88 in 2000 to 40), Freddie (178 in 2001 to 65 now), Evie (up from 93 in 2001 to 21 this year) and Millie (91 in 1997 to 20) are resurgent.

While Lily/Lilly dropped off the radar for decades, it resurfaced in the top 100 in 1994 and is now at nine and 72 respectively. It's a similar story with Edith/Edie and Frank/Frankie.

For those facing the challenge of naming their offspring any time soon, it's best to think carefully before plundering your forebears for options. Because everyone's looking back decades for inspiration, you can easily come unstuck.

All too often we think we've come up with the perfect name, one that ticks all the boxes. It's classy, quite cool and unusual - but without sounding contrived. Then you start mixing in baby circles and slowly it becomes clear that you're not the only one who had that particular brainwave. It's one thing to ride the zeitgeist, it's another to get swept along with it.

There is no such thing as a 'good' name or a 'bad' name
Widuran Bertram, UK
It's a bit like turning up at a party and finding someone else wearing the same outfit - you don't know whether to be flattered or horrified. Oscar is a great name; on the other it's just entered the top 50. There's two others in his baby room at nursery and he's got neckache from startling in recognition twice as often as he needs to.

How about Kevin?

I have a friend on a mission, albeit a slightly tongue-in-cheek one, to change her daughter's name from Martha to Tina. Surely there can't be any of those around these days? With three Marthas on her street under the age of five, you can kind of understand her predicament.

Meanwhile, other friends pregnant for the first time unwittingly declare their undying love for the top 20 names without realising that Ruby and Max and Charlie and Lola are some of the most popular names in the UK today, at numbers four, 29, 10 and 51 respectively. That these are characters in successful pre-school shows might seem like a big clue - but if you haven't got children you won't know.

Another friend took advantage of the versatility of Alfred, and made a last-minute diversion from Alfie to Freddie after the EastEnders scriptwriters dreamt up Alfie Moon. Because while some look to their ancestors, others avidly read TV and movie credits for inspiration

The celebrity influence on how we name our children is much in evidence. Take Keira - her career trajectory could be plotted on the same graph as the popularity of her first name. It was 300th back in 2001, and is now in the top 30 (and that's excluding variations such as Kiera).

But there's also such a thing as negative celebrity impact. After Big Brother, Jade bombed from its privileged position in the top 20 - where it had been for a decade - and now it isn't even in the top 100. Jordan has suffered a similar fate since Katie Price took ownership: top 100 for four years, then it nose-dived to 600 and now doesn't even make the top 1,000.

But what of ultra-trendy names that seem to come from nowhere, like Freya or Tyler, Madison or Zak? Perhaps these are bestowed by the same parents whose Ugg boots now languish unworn at the back of the wardrobe. Trends are all very well in fashion, when nothing is for keeps. A name, on the other hand, isn't just for birthdays.

Keely Paice is the inventor of the Namebrain, an online tool used to plot the popularity of names over the past 100 years.

The Secret Family of Jesus

This is a site I often frequent. Mark Goodacre has very interesting stuff. The documentary looks like being the usual stuff though that we get thrown at us - the trailers on C4 promise amazing revelations, rock foundations, secrets kept (usually by the Vatican). I very much fear more Da Vinci code type of nonsense.

I always think that if all the secrets that we are told were hidden in the Vatican archives, they'd need a a small country (or island the size of Jersey) to hold them!

I really doubt if it has anything new. I remember the guff about the Gospel of Judas, and Nat. Geographic did a documentary which took highly selective parts of the text and dramatised them (the Margaret Murray approach to history) . What I object to is not so much someone saying something controversial about Christianity, but the way in which texts are chopped to make them palatable to modern tastes, and presented as a kind of New Age theology (although that is not to say religious conservatives haven't been guilty of selective presentation too). One has only to read real historians, like Ronald Hutton ("Stations of the Sun") or Diarmaid MacCulloch ("The Reformation") to see how history should be done.

The cure (for people who thought there was something in it and had been deceived by the TV presentation) was a photocopy I had of the Gospel, with all the gnostic stuff about archons and emanations, and spheres. After reading that, they very rapidly came to the conclusion that it was not quite as it had been presented, and a lot less down to earth and realistic than the real gospels! Incidentally, Tom Wright has an excellent "Judas and the Gospel of Jesus" which looks at a lot of these matters.

I love the last sentence, in which Goodacre states his Christmas day preferences! For time travelling fiction, I think I'd prefer Tennant to Beckford too! Although I will video Beckford for later!


The Secret Family of Jesus
25 December at 8pm
Did Jesus have a real human family? If so, why were they airbrushed from history and excised from the bible? Robert Beckford tells the story of the people who shared his bloodline.
Robert is a former colleague of mine at the University of Birmingham and his profile as a film-maker has risen hugely in the last few years. In fact, this is one of two documentaries he is involved with this Christmas. He discussed them both on today's Simon Mayo on FiveLive and was his usual, lively self. Listen again to the interview (streamed), or download it as a podcast -- it is today's Daily Mayo item. I'll be interested to see who is involved with The Secret Family of Jesus. Not me. I once enjoyed taking part in one of these experiences, Who Wrote the Bible?, on Christmas Day 2004, having filmed my section in Rome a couple of months earlier. This year, at least I won't have to inflict earnest religious content on my family on Christmas day, though I suppose we have the option of going for a smorgasbord of Some Like it Hot on Channel 4 at 4.35pm, followed by the new Doctor Who on BBC1 at 7pm, followed by Beckford at 8pm. Actually, we'll probably stick with Marilyn Monroe and David Tennant and video Dr Beckford. Sorry, Robert. by Mark Goodacre on 19/12/2006 16:50

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Election Apathy - Bring On the No Vote

Why don't elections have a box that you can tick which says "none of the above", which can be ticked by those people who want to vote, but who don't want the selection of politicians offered up to them? I think it would be a brilliant idea; much better than having to spoil a paper to make a comment like that, which always carries the implication (another thicko who can't fill in a form properly), and places the voter in the same camp as those loonies who do tick, cross, cross, cross etc

Now if there was a "no vote" box, just think how wonderful it would be if the results were:

Mr Slime 15% electorate
Mr Dozy 5%
Mr Drunk 1%
Mrs Doyle 7%
No Vote 30%

Note: they don't add up to 100% because there is still not a full turnout.

But how wonderful, that the No Vote is a decisive rejection of what is on offer. No politician can stand up and say "it is what the people voted for" or "its democratic" because, no, we did not like what we saw, and registered the strongest possible protest against it. No more would a politician be smugly congratulating themselves that a large number of people liked him (or her, but most are men) because an even larger number clearly did not.

The next step would be to make voting compulsory, and then they'd really get a hammering! The NO vote would rise!

Or am I too cynical? Well, there are some good politicians, some incompetent politicians, and some well-meaning politicians. But the culture of neglect of the electorate once they have got it is something very prevalent, especially among those who form the ministerial government and make decisions.

I remember one Jersey politician saying "we are representatives of the electorate, not delegates". Really? Is it possible to represent someone while looking for all the world as if you couldn't give a damm about their concerns and interests? Or is that a cheap excuse by a politician who knows he is not really bothered with the electorate now that he is in power? It is true that a politician cannot do as every person who voted for him intends, because there would be a mass of contradictions there. But like a painting of a view, even impressionistic like Ian Rolls, one expects to see something of what was there, and not an entirely different picture altogether: if I am given a picture of an idyllic sunny country scene, with farm labourers resting and quaffing cider, it does not entirely "represent" a caption which reads "the misery of the workhouse in winter". Representation must bear some resemblance to the thing represented, or we may as well give up the asylum to the lunatics.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Lady Diana

"Diana died at almost exactly the same time as Mother Teresa, and I found it very odd that someone who devouted her whole life to charitable service could be eclipsed in the world imagination by a party girl who also did charitable work off and on for a few short years, all the while mimicking her unfaithful husband by being likewise unfaithful, finally precipitating divorce outright."

Excellent comment by Ben Witherington on his blog. I remember only too well the extreme expressions of grief which poured out on the death of Diana, which I found strange then, and have come to see increasingly as a kind of pathological mass hysteria. The mood could be ugly to those who - like Queen Elizabeth of Britain - did not acquiesce in the mass grief. That, to my mind, makes it strange, bizarre - why are you not showing a proper expression of grief? It is like one of those alien movies of the 1950s where people are taken over, and woe betide anyone who does not "see the light". But the light had dimmed in Calcutta, thousands of miles away, and its passing was scarely noticed amidst the hype.

Recent Attac comments on Jersey on their website

There is a lot of good stuff on the employment law, the minimum wage, and the high cost of housing. However, I would make the following points:

Corrupt governments, companies and individuals in rich and poor countries stealing money from their own people and investing it for their own gain in tax havens like Jersey.

Details, details please. If there is information, it should be stated - in the same way that Private Eye does not hesitate to do, otherwise this is just so much mud-slinging. Private Eye always gets facts, which is why it is so widely read. Otherwise there is just rhetoric, which may or may not be true.

There are few outlets for public opinion in Jersey, but we see ourselves as an important voice for democracy and the rights of global citizens.

Indeed! I am surprised "false consciousness" or the idea that the masses are led by the nose has not surfaced. If people were so concerned about the States, they would readily attend any organisation, and it would generate its own newsletter, which would get wide distribution outside official circles; after all, that is what happened in the Occupation under much more extreme circumstances (and that was not a pseudo-dictatorship, it was the real thing when possession of news sent you to concentration camps!)! The early days of the JADA shows that there is certainly some concern there, but the evaporation of support at the Polls shows that just because an organisation claims to speak for the people, it doesn't mean the people want that voice!

The States of Jersey's political assembly consists of 53 independently elected members, of which 12 are Senators with an island wide mandate, 29 Deputies who are elected on a parochial mandate and 12 Constables who take their place in the assembly as a right of being elected leader of their respective parish. The assembly also has three ex-officio members appointed by the Queen of England who are the Attorney General, Solicitor General and the Dean of Jersey, who is the head of the Church of England in Jersey. They have the right to address the assembly, but not the right to vote. The assembly is lead by the Bailiff and Deputy
Bailiff, who are unelected to the assembly but can vote in favour of the status quo. The Queen also appoints a Lieutenant Governor to oversee her interests in the Island. In our opinion, the States of Jersey Assembly is nothing more than a pseudo-dictatorship, especially as any criticism is not tolerated and rubbished by the local partisan news media.

The jump from "elected" to "pseudo-dictatorship" takes my breath away. At least Chesterton knew how to put together a sensible argument about the deficiencies of "representation" in democracy, but then his excellent arguments apply equally to most so-called democratic governments. I would say the UK had even more of a pseudo-dictatorship than Jersey. As for the EU, with the EU Commissioners not directly elected in any fashion like MEPs, this is even less of a democracy.

Jersey had a gross national income for 2004 of just over £3 billion (€4.47 billion) giving Jersey a gross national income of £29,000 (€43,900) per capita, which is the second highest in the world after Luxembourg.

Interesting, especially as Luxembourg always features in lists of offshore centres too! And at the heart of the EU as well. That could have been mentioned!

Jersey's fiscal policy is going through a period of change. Over the next four years,it will maintain a 20% personal income tax for individuals, and combined employer/employee social security contributions at 12.5%, reduce corporate income tax to 0% and implement a goods and services tax at 3% with no exemptions. Attac&TJN believe that Jersey's fiscal policy impacts unfairly on
citizens from the lower socio-economic classes and is unsustainable in the long term. We have recommended increasing social security contributions to meet the demands of social protection and repealing the goods and services tax and implementing a textbook progressive income tax system.

1. The impact of 20 means 20 will in fact work as a progressive system.

2. Increasing social security contribitions also impacts on the lowest people, and if it becomes two high, it becomes a tax twice, as the monies deducted from income for social security are also subject to taxation, which is surely an iniquitous sitation, and one which would have to be addressed. To use social security as a form of taxation, without limits, is simply to introduce a stealth tax.

3. Lastly, any critique of GST at 3% impacting on the lower income groups is also logically a critique of the entire system of VAT across the EU, because that is precisely what VAT does. Are Attac groups in the UK and France taking the same united stance? It would be nice to know!

Utilising the internationally recognised benchmark of assessing relative poverty at 60% of median income, Jersey currently has 46% of single pensioners, 64% of single mothers and their children living in relative poverty. In addition, 25% of all Jersey homes need support from the States to make ends meet.

I'd like to know where they get their median income figures from! My persistent gripe with the States Statistic unit is that they tend to only give arithmetic means, not medians.

As we have seen from the above narrative Jersey is being run by a pseudodictatorship who are totally committed to formulating and implementing social and economic policies that benefit the rich and cripple the poor from a local to global perspective. Jersey is following the neo-liberal models of the United States of America and the United Kingdom in reducing direct taxation on individuals and companies, whilst raising indirect taxation in the form of a goods and services tax, which will have a detrimental effect on the lower socio-economic classes. Several years ago, Jacques Harel of Attac Saint Malo warned us that the first casualties of tax havens were the indigenous people and especially the poor, and his advice has certainly proved correct.

Maybe I missed something important in this argument. I believe Jersey is looking at GST of 3%, the UK has 17.5%, and France has 19.6 %. Has Jacques Harel something to comment on that? Why is France missing from this list when its indirect taxation is greater than that of the UK? And on the subject of cripplying policies, has France does anything about the corruption endemic in the Common Agricultural Policy, which sucks EU funds into a black hole which the auditors refuse to sign off, so bad is the accounting.


The RTL media empire which developed out of Radio Luxembourg has made entertainment the second largest industry in this rather staid but extremely beautiful principality. Its other claim to fame is that statistically it is the richest country in the world. Although they have taxes, nobody seems to work too hard on collecting them. The largest industry, of course, is finance. Luxembourg's history as a tax haven goes back to its 1929 holding company legislation, but as a founder member of the European Union it is under great pressure on bank secrecy issues and is having to readjust its role to compete with the likes of London and Frankfurt rather than Nassau and Road Town. Nonetheless, for non-EU residents Luxembourg gets our highest recommendation. Everything is super efficient, less snobbish than Switzerland, and personal accounts with internet banking can be opened by ptCLUB through the mail for just $500. In this country banking secrecy is part of the national culture more than anywhere else we know. As a small, rich country it has avoided the socialist problems of Switzerland where some politicians want to abolish bank secrecy. And while the Swiss apply a 35% withholding tax, investments in Luxembourg are tax free for non residents. And where else but in our beloved Luxembourg can you find the biggest banks disguising their plastic cards as guides to global time zones, or providing paper shredders for client use in branches? We recommend you to order a Luxembourg account today by contacting ptCLUB.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Another Prayer by JV Taylor

Another Prayer by JV Taylor

If the time has come to make the break then help me not to cling, even though it feels like death. Give me the inward strength of my redeemer, Jesus Christ, to lay down this bit of life and let go, so that I and others may be free to take up whatever new and fuller life you have prepared for us, now and hereafter. Amen

A Christmas Gift

I've just finished scanning this from TF Powys marvellous book of short stories called "Fables". I can't say why I like it, but it is just such a perfect short story for Christmas, written by a brilliant writer living in Dorset who is sadly neglected. It is the Christmas story, but retold as a country fable, which was written in 1929, and is striking vivid in capturing the real story of Christmas.

A Christmas Gift

by TF Powys

It is a harmless wish to want a little notice to be taken of one's name, and a number of peoples besides Mr Balliboy, the Norbury carrier, like attention to be paid to their names when they are written down. Children will write their names upon a fair stretch of yellow sand, young men will carve their names upon an old oak in the forest, and even the most simple peasant will like to see his name printed in a newspaper.

For most of his life Mr Balliboy was satisfied with having his name written upon the side of his van, and he was always pleased and interested when anyone paused in the street to read his name. But Mr Balliboy's pride in his name made him do more than one foolish thing. Once he cut 'Mr Balliboy, Carrier,' with his market knife, upon one of the doors of Mr Told's old barn, and again upon the right-hand post of the village pound. But, on going to see how the names looked next Sunday—and perhaps hoping that a stranger might be regarding them with interest—he discovered, to his sorrow, that the rude village boys had changed the first letters of the name into an unpleasant and ill-sounding word.

Mr Balliboy was a lonely man, and a bachelor—for no young woman would ever look at his name twice, and none had ever wished to have his name written beside hers in a church register.

One Christmas Eve Mr Balliboy journeyed, as was his wont, to Weyminster. His van was full of country women, each one of whom thought herself to be of the highest quality, for each had put on the finest airs with her market clothes, and so dressed, could talk in a superior manner.

Mr Balliboy had certainly one reason for happiness— other than the ordinary joyfulness of the merry season — which was that his rival, John Hawkins, had passed by with his van empty of customers—yet Mr Balliboy was sad. His sadness came, strangely enough, only because he wished, for the first time in his life, to give a Christmas present.

It might have been only to give himself pleasure that he wished to do this, for whatever the present was that he should buy, he determined that a label should be tied on it, with his name written clearly upon it—'From Mr Balliboy.'

What the present would be, and to whom it should be given, Mr Balliboy did not know. He decided to buy some- thing that he fancied, and then allow destiny to decide to whom the gift should go.

When Mr Balliboy reached the town he walked about the streets in order to see what could be bought for money. Many a shop window did he look into, and many a time did he stand and scratch his head, wondering what he should buy.

There was one oddity that he fancied in a toy-shop—a demon holding a fork in his hand, upon which he was raising a naked young woman. Mr Balliboy thought the demon might do, but over the young woman he shook his head.

Mr Balliboy moved to another window. Here at once he saw what pleased him—a little cross, made of cardboard and covered with tinsel, that shone and glistened before Mr Balliboy's admiring eyes.

Mr Balliboy purchased the cross for a shilling, and attached a label to it with his name written large. . . .

Sometimes a change comes over a scene, now so happy and gay, but in one moment altered into a frown.

As soon as Mr Balliboy had buttoned the cross into his pocket the streets of Weyminster showed this changed look.

The shoppers' merriment and joyful surprise at what they saw in the windows gave place to a sad and tired gaze. The great church that so many hurried by in order to reach their favourite tavern appeared more dark and sombre than a winter's day should ever have made it.

Even the warm drinks served out by the black-haired Mabel at the 'Rod and Lion' could not make the drinkers forget that care and trouble could cut a Christmas cake and sing a Christmas carol as well as they.

The general gloom of the town touched Mr Balliboy, and, had he not had the present hid in his coat, he might have entered an inn too, in order to drown the troubled feelings that moved about him, in a deep mug.

But, having bought the Christmas present, he had now the amusement of seeking the right person to give it to. And so, instead of walking along the street with downcast eyes, he walked along smiling.

While he was yet some way off his van, he could see that a figure was standing beside it, who seemed to be reading his name. And whoever this was, Mr Balliboy determined, as he walked, that it should be the one to receive his Christmas gift.

As he drew nearer he saw that the figure was that of a young woman—wrapped in a thin cloak—who showed by her wan look and by her shape that she expected soon to be a mother.

At a little distance from his van Mr Balliboy waited, pretending to admire a row of bottles in a wine merchant's shop window, but, at the same time, keeping an eye upon the woman.

'Was she a thief—was she come there to steal?'

A passing policeman, with a fine military strut, evidently thought so.

'Don't stand about here,' he shouted. 'Go along home with you!'

The policeman seized her roughly.

'I am doing no harm,' the woman said, looking at the name again, I am only waiting for Mr Balliboy.'

'Go along, you lying drab,' grumbled the policeman.

He would have pushed her along, only Mr Balliboy, who had heard his name mentioned, came nearer.

'Bain't 'ee poor Mary,' he asked, 'who was to have married the carpenter at Shelton?'

The policeman winked twice at Mr Balliboy, smiled, and walked on.

'What was it,' asked Mr Balliboy kindly, as soon as the policeman was out of hearing, 'that made 'ee wish to study and remember the name of a poor carrier?'

'I wished to ask you,' said the young woman, 'whether you would take me as far as the "Norbury Arms". Here is my fare,' and she handed Mr Balliboy a shilling—the price of the cross.

Mr Balliboy put the shilling into his pocket.

'Get up into the van,' he said, 'and 'tis to be hoped they t'others won't mind 'ee.'

That day the most respectable of the people of the village had come to town in Mr Balliboy's van. There was even rich Mrs Told, clad in warm furs, whose own motor car had met with an accident the day before. There were others too, as comfortably off—Mrs Potten and Mrs Biggs—and none of these, or even his lesser customers, did Mr Balliboy wish to offend. He looked anxiously up the street and then into the van. The young woman's clothes were rags, her toes peeped from her shoes, and she sighed woefully.

Mr Balliboy gave her a rug to cover her. 'Keep tight hold of 'en,' he said, 'for t'other women be grabbers.'

The change in the town from joy to trouble had caused the women who had journeyed with Mr Balliboy that day to arrive at the van a little late and in no very good tempers.

And, when they did come, they were not best pleased to see a poor woman—worse clothed than a tramp—sitting in the best seat in the van, with her knees covered by Mr Balliboy's rug.

"Tis only Mary,' said Mr Balliboy, hoping to put them at their ease. "Tis only thik poor toad.'

'Mary, is it?' cried Mrs Biggs angrily, 'who did deceive Joseph with her wickedness. What lady would ride with her?

Turn her out at once, Mr Balliboy—the horrid wretch.'

'Out with her!' cried Mrs Told. 'Just look at her,' and she whispered unpleasant words to Mrs Potten.

Mr Balliboy hesitated. He hardly knew what to do. He had more than once borrowed a little straw from Mrs Told's stackyard, and now he did not want to offend her.

He had a mind to order Mary out, only—putting his, hand under his coat to look at his watch—he felt the Christmas present that he had purchased—the cardboard cross.

'Thee needn't sit beside her,' he said coaxingly to Mrs Told, 'though she's skin be as white and clean as any lamb's.'

'We won't have no lousy, breeding beggar with we,' shouted Mrs Biggs, who had taken a little too much to drink at the tavern.

'Let she alone,' said Mr Balliboy, scratching his head and wondering what he had better do.

'Thrust her out,' cried Mrs Potten, and, climbing into the van, she spat at the woman.

'Out with her,' screamed Mrs Told. 'Away with her! away with her!' cried all the women.

Now, had it not been that Mr Balliboy had taken Mary's shilling and so made her free of his van, with the right to be carried as far as the 'Norbury Arms', he might have performed the commands of the drunken women and thrown Mary into the street. But, as he had taken her shilling, Mr Balliboy bethought him of what was his own. The woman had read his name; he had taken her fare.

'Let she alone,' said Mr Balliboy gruffly to Mrs Biggs, who had laid hands upon the woman.

'We'll go to John Hawkins; he'll take us home,' said Mrs Told angrily.

Mr Balliboy winced. He knew how glad his rival would be to welcome all his company.

'Why, what evil has she done?' Mr Balliboy asked in a milder tone.

With one accord the women shouted out Mary's sorrow. 'Away with her! away with her!' they cried.

Mr Balliboy put his hand into his coat, but it was not his watch that he felt for this time—it was his Christmas gift.

'Away with your own selves,' he said stoutly. 'Thik maiden be going wi' I, for 'tis me own van.'

Mr Balliboy took his seat angrily and the women left him.

He knew that what had happened that afternoon was likely to have a lasting effect upon his future. Everyone in the village would side with the women with whom he had quarrelled, and the story of his mildness to Mary would not lose in the telling.

But before very long an accident happened that troubled Mr Balliboy even more than the loss of his customers—in the middle of a long and lonely road his van broke down.

Mr Balliboy tried to start the engine, but with no success.

Other carriers passed him by, amongst whom was John Hawkins, and many were the taunts and unseemly jests shouted at him by the Christmas revellers who sat therein.

But soon all was silence, and the road utterly deserted, for the hour was near midnight.

For some while Mr Balliboy busied himself, with the aid of the van lamps, trying to find the mischief. But all at once and without any warning the lamps went out.

Mr Balliboy shivered. The weather was changed, a sharp frost had set in, and the stars shone brightly. Someone groaned. Mary's pains had come upon her.

'I be going,' said Mr Balliboy, 'to get some help for 'ee.'

Mr Balliboy had noticed a little cottage across the moor, with a light in the window. He hurried there, but before he reached the cottage the light had vanished, and, knock as he would at the door, no one replied.

'What be I to do?' cried Mr Balliboy anxiously, and looked up at the sky. A large and brightly shining star appeared exactly above his van.

Mr Balliboy looked at his van and rubbed his eyes. The van was lit up, and beams of strange light seemed to emanate from it.

"Tain't on fire, I do hope,' said Mr Balliboy. He began to run and came quickly to the van.

Mary was now resting comfortably, while two shining creatures with white wings leaned over her. Upon her lap was her new-born babe, smiling happily.

Mr Balliboy fumbled in his coat for his Christmas gift.

He stepped into the van and held out the cross to the babe. Mary looked proudly at her infant, and the babe, delighted with the shining toy, took hold of the cross. The Angels wept.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

A Lost Chapter from Herodotus

A Lost Chapter from Herodotus

by C. S. Lewis

And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and the north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, and though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from other barbarians who occupy the north- western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas , and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card . But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs.

And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and the most miserable of citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk in the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think that some great calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush .

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.
Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas.

But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, It is not lawful, O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.

And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, It is, O Stranger, a racket ; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis ).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.

Tomorrow People Quotes

"How can any man be free while others wear chains. How can one rule wisely without first learning to obey. How can any man enjoy greatness while others are kept from fulfilment."

Elizabeth: A Rift in Time

John: I wonder if all those people who are desperate to see a close encounter of some kind have ever really thought about what it might mean.
Hsui Tai: What do you mean John?
John: Just think what happened to the African Negro and the American Indian when they came into contact with the Europeans who had more advanced technology. The Blacks were sold into slavery and the Indians almost wiped out.

and this one which is a marvellous "put down"!!
Jedikiah: "Stupid" is a word which is inadequate to describe my assessment of your intelligence!

Neanderthals have genome chunk sequenced

I find anything to do with Neanderthals intriguing, ever since I read HG Well's story (The Grizly Folk) about the cross-over period when human and neaderthal lived side by side. What happened is a mystery - was it a war-like struggle between two species, or was it rather that (like grey and red squirrels) that humans were simply better at foraging, and got to the food supply first?

Neanderthals have genome chunk sequenced

18:00 15 November 2006 news service
Dan Jones

What are the genetic changes that set us apart from our Neanderthal cousins? Although the ancient race is long extinct, we may soon know the answers.

More than one million base pairs of fossilised Neanderthal DNA have now been sequenced – the most of any extinct organism – thanks to a new high-throughput sequencing technique well-suited to handling old, degraded DNA.

Two research teams collaborated closely on the project – the first steps towards sequencing the Neanderthal genome – in a marked difference to the competitive race to for the human genome.

Both teams used the same 38,000-year-old Neanderthal specimen, discovered in Croatia, from which to extract DNA and report their findings on Wednesday in the journals Nature and Science, respectively.

Common ancestor

The sequence suggests that humans and Neanderthals probably began to diverge about 600,000 years ago, and that our common ancestor lived in a small population comprising just 3000 individuals.

One group, led by palaeogeologist Svante Paabo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, used the rapid new "direct sequencing approach" on DNA culled from the ancient hominid's thighbone. The technique was developed by research collaborators 45 Life Sciences, based in Branford, Connecticut, US.

The other team, led by geneticist Eddy Rubin at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Walnut Creek, California, US, used a more traditional sequencing method involving cloning DNA, and using bacteria to generate 630,000 base pairs of the Neanderthal sequence.

Time difference

The studies only explored a tiny fraction of the full genome, and so the insights they provide are limited, so far. But both teams were able to use their results to estimate how long ago humans and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor.

Paabo's group puts the date at around 516,000 years ago, while Rubin's team reaches a slightly older date of 706,000 years ago. Both estimates have large errors of margin that in fact overlap, so the dates are broadly compatible.

One of the major problems confronting efforts to sequence such ancient DNA is contamination, both from microbial DNA and, more significantly, from modern human DNA, which could be confused with Neanderthal sequences. Researchers in both teams used a number of tests to ensure that they were working with genuine Neanderthal DNA, however.

"This is proof of principle that we can recover nuclear genome sequences from Neanderthals," says Richard Green, one of Paabo's team. We should have the full genome sequenced within two years," he says.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Life on Mars?

Some Jottings on my reading!

Edgar Rice Burroughs had life on Mars, but basically an oriental Arabian nights setting transported across the distance of space, where John Carter fought exotic beasts and saved Princesses; the stuff of fairy tales with a science fiction coating. I remember being somewhat bored with the repetitive nature of the plot.

H.G. Wells was much better, where his Martians were the dying evolved creatures of "vast unsympathetic intellect" who looked at this young Earth "with envious eyes", and invaded. Their war machines defeated Victorian armies and navies, and they were set to blight the earth with their red weed, a survival of the fittest, but they were defeated by a lack of immunity to viruses, and the common cold - Wells cleverly playing the evolutionary game both ways.

John Wyndham's early depiction of Mars was a dying planet, where most of the population had been frozen in cryogenic capsules to await the result of the engineering of the canals; but this had failed, and they had been left by the few (elite) who had betrayed them. Very pulp written, under the name of John Beynon. His later work in "The Outward Urge", had a much more realistic Mars, an airless desert, in which an exhibition (because of lack of preparation) crash lands, and the crew die of madness and accident in the bleak inhospitable land.

C.S. Lewis' Mars had the canals, great feats of engineering to stave off a cosmic disaster which would eventually wipe out life on Malacandra (the natives name for Mars). Mars was by then almost known to be devoid of life, but Lewis mythology and creatures (with their own language) gave a picture of a very alien planet, of often very different values from our own, especially of the scientist who wants to seek the survival of humanity by colonising other worlds (at the expence of the natives).

By the time the trimvirate of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke tackled Mars, the picture was that of a barren land. Asimov (in his Lucky Star series) has a colony, growing special Martian plants for food, but living in bubble cities; the mostly hidden Martians are beings of thought, long since dispensed with bodies. Heinlein (in Red Plant, Podkayne of Mars) has a colony which is involved in an "atmosphere project" to restore Mars to habitation suitable for humans; he has exotic Martian creatures, fauna and flora, drawing on the pulp heritage, but the bulk of the story is to do with the colonists fight for independence from a distant earth company (shades of the Boston Tea Party and American Independence!). Clarke presents the most realistic picture in "The Sands of Mars", where Mars is given an artifical nuclear sun by igniting a moon, to give sun for plants to grow and the cycle of photosynthesis to produce oxygen for future colonists.

Water flows on Mars, before our very eyes

Liquid water has flowed on the surface of Mars within the past five years, leaving behind new deposits in gullies monitored by the now-lost Mars Global Surveyor, new images reveal. The results seem to boost the chances that Mars could harbour life.

Many scientists believe the gullies were carved by liquid water, although others have argued they may be due to avalanches of carbon dioxide gas or rivers of dust.

The Prisoner

Patrick McGoohan commented that 'The series was posing the question, "has one the right to tell a man what to think, how to behave, to coerce others? Has one the right to be an individual?"

A nameless man resigns from a highly confidential job, which subsequently leads to him being abducted and taken to a place know only as 'The Village'. He is a Prisoner. The chief administrators are known as Number 2s and our man is given the number 'six' which he refuses to accept. Everyone is known only by number, Number 6 is told that 'No names are used here'.

Every episode deals with an issue such as freedom of the individual, education and democracy. They also follow the efforts of Number 6 to escape and of the methods employed by his captors to extract the secret of why Number 6 resigned.

When told he is now "Number 6", he reacts against being placed in a pigeon hole:

"I will not be pushed, stamped, filed, indexed, briefed, de-briefed or numbered. My life is my own."


Observer: You're a wicked man.
Number 6: Wicked?
Observer: You have no values.
Number 6: Different values!
Observer: You won't be helped.
Number 6: Destroyed!
Observer: You want to spoil things.
Number 6: I won't be a goldfish in a bowl!

Hell's teeth: Notes on Hell

"Any group or individual that arouses guilt to an uncomfortable level should be carefully checked out and probably avoided

This is very reminiscent of something my mother (having been raised catholic) used to say about the catholic church!

I'd quite agree. It is interesting that I've come across fundamentalist evangelistic groups which use feelings of guilt to manipulate and cooerce people to "make a decision for Jesus" (strange, as the paradigm in the Old and New Testaments is that of "call" or "being called" - more akin to the idea of "vocation" - than the idea of "decision", which is very modern post-enlightenment individualism). Nigel Mullane (who is at St Brelade's) grew up in Catholicism, and he finds the notion of "Catholic guilt", along with hell-fire and fear mongering very prevalent there. I would say that post-Vatican II, this has largely gone from Catholicism, certainly in England, where the liberal Catholics definitely made major changes, but it is still present in some of the literature / For example, the Catholic Catechism says:
To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." ....The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
I wonder how many Catholics would believe that now. An article in the Tablet in 2001, shows how times have changed. For instance, on "mortal sin" in the sentence above, the writer notes:
Each week, they engaged in a sin cycle – confession, communion, sin, confession, communion, and so on. The Church no longer insists on such regular confession – though it is forbidden for anyone to receive Holy Communion who has committed a mortal sin and not confessed it. Most ordinary Mass-goers would be hard-pressed to define a mortal sin, and I, for one, have never heard the definition explained from the pulpit.
Modern theologians have moved away from that picture of hell, mainly because they do not see it substantiated by the New Testament. NT Wright comments critically that that:
"I think part of our difficulty here is that we are still firmly plugged in to a medieval picture of heaven and hell, such as you find in Michelangelo's painting of the Cistine Chapel, such as you find in Dante's Inferno in Paradiso. We Protestants miss out the middle bit, the purgatory bit, but you've still got a medieval picture which is not a New Testament picture of people after death going either to the one place or to the other."
And Marcus Borg says that:
"A vision of the Christian life that takes Jesus seriously would not be very much concerned with the afterlife. Jesus' message was not about how to get to heaven. The widespread impression that it was grew, to a large extent, out of a misunderstanding of two phrases in the gospels: the Jesus of Matthew's gospel regularly speaks about 'the kingdom of heaven,' and the Jesus of John's gospel often speaks of 'eternal life.'"
Personally, if I came across anyone using guilt or fear to manipulate people, I would be inclined to savage them intellectually, as I am normally mild, but think any kind of practice like that is wholly unethical.
Islam also has a burning fire hell, usually seen very literally, for all the infidels (that's you and me!) and I'd like to discuss how Seb. sees this when he and Kate are next over, especially since Sufi belief is more nuanced than the rest of Islam.
Curiously Hinduism also has a concept of hell, or to be more exact, many hells, but as strange physical worlds, stages in the cycles of rebirth: (; although all physical worlds are, for the Hindu, illusion.
"Hinduism believes in the existence of not one hell and one heaven but in the existence of many sun filled worlds and many dark and demonic worlds. Apart from these, each of the Trinity of gods has his own world, which is attained by their followers after their death. Vaikunth is the world of Vishnu, Kailash is the world of Siva and Brahmalok is the world of Brahman. Indralok is the standard heaven to which those who please the gods through their activities upon the earth go. The standard hell is Yamalok, which is also ruled by a god called Lord Yama, who is also the ruler of the southern quarter. He is assisted by an attendant who is know as Chitragupt, who is some kind of a chronicler, who keeps an account of the deeds of all human beings on earth and reads them out as the jivas stand infront of Yama in his court and await his verdict. The purpose of heavens and hell: In the ultimate sense, the purpose of these worlds is neither to punish or reward the souls, but to remind them of the true purpose of their existence. In finally analysis, the difference between heaven and hell is immaterial because both are a part of the great illusion that characterizes the whole creation. The difference is very much like the difference between a good dream and a bad dream. In the end it does not matter whether a soul has gone to the heaven or to some hell, because in both cases it learns important lessons and goes back to earth to continue its play. "