Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mouldy NHS hospital kills a baby

A hospital has closed its neonatal unit to new admissions after a baby died from a rare fungal infection and another was found to be suffering from it. A premature baby, described as having been very sick, died at Salford Royal Hospital in late December. It was discovered that the child had aspergillus, a common airborne fungal infection, which can attack the very young. The infection was also found on the skin of a second baby, who is now being treated. As a precautionary measure, the hospital has stopped admitting preterm babies while the cases are investigated.

Michael Robinson, the senior consultant neonatologist, said: “Preterm babies are more susceptible to developing infections because of their immaturity and we continue to do all that we can to reduce these. “When a second infection occurred within two months of the first, we took further advice and are embarking upon a range of investigations and precautionary measures to ascertain whether there are any common contributory factors. “As a temporary measure, we have closed the unit to admissions of preterm babies and are currently monitoring the situation closely.”

The disease is a common airborne fungus that is found in homes and buildings and favours damp or flood-damaged properties. It is usually harmless but can develop in people with asthma or weakened immune systems such as leukaemia patients or those undergoing chemotherapy.

The hospital remains open to women giving birth. There were 17 babies on the neonatal unit and they are still being cared for by specialist staff. The hospital is a regional centre for premature babies and has received the highest rating of the Healthcare Commission.



Netizens get the real story. The general public get led up a dry gulch

Yesterday provided one of the starkest contrasts I have ever witnessed between the standards of news broadcasting on BBC TV News and BBC News Online. Putting it in the crudest of terms, the so-called flagship, BBC Ten O'Clock News (BBC 1), provided little more than tabloid hysteria, while the BBC Online coverage was thoughtful, and genuinely worthy both of plaudits and of the BBC's long tradition of public service.

The story in question somehow inevitably related to 'global warming', and it was about the report from a panel of scientific experts commissioned by the Department of Health, and the Health Protection Agency (HPA), to examine the way in which the UK has responded to rising temperatures since the 1970s, and to assess how the risks are likely to change. The moment you glimpsed the BBC Health News Online headline, you knew that you were in for some balanced and nuanced reporting, well-worth the read: 'Global warming "may cut deaths"' [BBC Health News Online, February 12]:

"The risk of a fatal heatwave in the UK within ten years is high, but overall global warming may mean fewer deaths due to temperature, a report says. A seriously hot summer between now and 2017 could claim more than 6,000 lives, the Department of Health report warns. But it also stresses that milder winters mean deaths during this time of year - which far outstrip heat-related mortality - will continue to decline."

The coverage went on to point out: "While summers in the UK became warmer in the period 1971 - 2003, there was no change in heat-related deaths, but annual cold-related mortality fell by 3% as winters became milder - so overall fewer people died as a result of extreme temperatures.

Rather than physiological changes explaining our ability to adapt to rising temperatures, the report puts this down primarily to lifestyle alterations - our readiness to wear more informal clothes, for instance, and the shift away from manual labour."

All very interesting. The account then, quite fairly, discussed the impacts of potential heatwaves, but, even in this context, it entered sensible caveats: "However, even 6,000 deaths pales in comparison with the number of cold-related deaths, which in the UK currently average about 20,000 per year."

Throughout, the Online reportage read, and felt, like real science, well-presented and cautious. I congratulate the Online Editor and the reporters concerned.

In stark contrast - you will have to take my word for this - the report on the BBC Ten O'Clock News was a travesty, focusing entirely on the mayhem of heatwaves, with lurid graphics and the use of over-dramatic language. By the end, any careful science had been brutally violated (I nearly said 'raped') - there is no other word for it - in the worst traditions of tabloid journalism. The role of milder winters cutting deaths, of course, was just ignored.

What can one say? No wonder TV audiences are falling. That is the last occasion on which I shall bother to waste my time watching the BBC Ten O'Clock News. BBC Online and Radio will do fine for me, thanks. But what must the excellent reporters of the Online site think?

And, what would the doughty John Charles Walsham Reith, 1st Baron Reith, the BBC's first Director-General, think? We could well recall his weighty words: "Need we be ashamed of moral values, or of intellectual and ethical objectives? It is these that are here and now at stake."


An attempt by a British Muslim to wriggle out of what the Koran says

Followed by a mocking comment from a reader:

Some words are so loaded with emotion and historic content that it becomes almost impossible to use them in an objective way for initiating a debate or public discussion. These words trigger off gut reactions that not only drown sensible discussion but subsume all other voices. "Sharia", what is known as Islamic law, is such a word. In many western minds, it conjures up images of brutality and women's oppression. In certain Muslim quarters, it throws up visions of a Divine utopia. The two images clash and result is a great deal of heat but no enlightenment.

This is what I think happened with Archbishop of Canterbury's lecture, Civil and Religious Law in England: a religious perspective. Rowan Williams was trying to raise the important issue of religious conscience in a secular state and exploring how it can play a positive role in public space. I think the Archbishop made a basic mistake by focussing on sharia, with all its multiple internal and external problems - he could have illustrated his notion of "interactive pluralism" quite easily with other examples.

By using sharia as the basis of his lecture, he allowed the demons of western perception of Islam out of the bottle and ended up being thoroughly demonised himself. My own reading is that the import of Archbishop's lecture lies elsewhere: with the debate within the Anglican church about gay clergy, female bishops, and the issues of human fertilisation and embryology. He used sharia as a distraction and thus failed to promote a proper public debate on issues that rally mattered to him and his church. As such, the reaction to the Archbishop's comments have little to do with what he said. They have largely been, with few exceptions, about attacking Muslims, creating a full-scale Islamophobic moral panic: just look at the headlines.

I will have something to say about the relationship between sharia and the Qur'an in a future blog. But here I would like to point out that the Qur'an itself often produces similar reactions in certain individuals and communities. Just as sharia conjures up ready-made images, so the Qur'an produces automatic gut reactions. This is not surprising as the Qur'an, like any text, is not totally self-explanatory and any understanding of the text and its meaning depends on the intellectual, religious and cultural horizon of the reader.

A number of correspondents have rebuked me for not expressing doubts constantly, for not throwing scorn at certain verses, for not berating some of the teachings of the Qur'an. In other words, I have not conjured up their favourite stereotypes, caricatures and latent images of the Qur'an. Peitha, for example, excuses me of not having any doubts about what I am reading - this despite endless discussion about doubt on this blog. Apparently, I am not "a genuine individual tussling with the real problems of the Koran". A "genuine individual", I suspect, will be one who satisfies all the prejudices of such critics. Sorry to disappoint you Peitha but I am not in the business of flaming your prejudices. But I am in the business of explaining - primarily to myself, what the Qur'an could and should mean to Muslims today. I do not have perpetual doubt - if I did it will lead to total paralysis.

But I am in the business of finding new ways to read the Qur'an. And Richard Kimber provides us with one new way: intertextuality. Intertexuality has its origins in literary and critical theory, and hermeneutics, and Kimber uses it skilfully to tease out additional meaning of 2:21-29. I, of course, brought out what I thought was significance; Kimber adds an additional layer. I could describes Kimber's explanation of how the Qur'an combines "defensiveness and defiance" and moves "seamlessly from denouncing nit-picking critics to the more serious offence of those who break God's covenant" as a discovery and a step forward in my spiritual journey. So there!

There is a problem with intertextuality that I think we need to be aware of: In critical theory, the text is regarded as a complete whole, a pure text to be viewed as itself, as Jacques Derrida tells us. Historical context, which is crucial in the interpretations of the Qur'an, thus becomes irrelevant. Now, Kimber, as is evident from his explanation of 2:21-29, does not take this course - but I do think we ought to be aware of the danger. However, the point that as a dense literary text - with different linguistic levels containing pure information as well as literary language - the Qur'an should be analysed with the tools of literary studies (hermeneutics, literary criticism, semantics, linguistics and linguistic science) is well made; and my thanks to Richard for that. In the end, all interpretations of the Qur'an are individual, relative, and time bound. They are limited by shortcomings of the reader. Mine included.


Comment on the above:

There can be few Muslims who dispute that (1) the Qur'an is the word of Allah; (2) Allah is all-knowing and all-powerful.

Given that Allah is all-knowing and all-powerful, we would expect him not to have any communication handicap. The one book that is the flawless word of Allah should be the most easily understood of all books.

And yet just about all "moderate Muslims" such as Ziauddin Sardar seemingly would have us believe that this all-knowing all-powerful Allah does indeed have a communication handicap. That to the extent that huge numbers of people have grossly misunderstood his clearly peaceful message and incorrectly engaged in wanton violent jihad as a result. And that only by some extraordinary interpretative process can I and others see in the Qur'an the tolerant peaceful message that Allah is telling us.

Please, Allah, given that you are so all-knowing and all-powerful, why don't you cut out the complex problematic process of Messenger and ancient Arabic and and just tell us all directly in our own languages??? Or could it be that all this scholarship(??) about interpretation is no more than the mother of all whitewashes???

And could it be that the Qu'ran was in reality the words of a very human author, the military leader whose military activities are repeatedly mentioned therein. That's very much what it looks like to me and many others. The Qur'an is unmistakeably nothing other than the authentic words of that famous man, with Allah nowhere on the scene. You couldn't fake it if you tried.

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