Saturday, 17 March 2018

RIP Stephen Hawking

Today we had the AGM of our local MND Association and remembered Professor Stephen Hawking, the most famous man with Motor Neurone Disease and patron of the MNDA, who died this week. He’s widely considered one of our greatest scientists, the author of A Brief History of Time and the subject of the Oscar-winning The Theory of Everything. His MND was unique – or highly untypical – in that it lasted for 55 years rather than the average 14 months from diagnosis. He had a great dry sense of humour and an inextinguishable zest for life, despite the disease leaving him without a voice and without use of his limbs as it progressed. He claimed to have become a more convinced atheist over the years. Only once did I dare to disagree with him. In an interview in 2011 an interview with him was headlined, “Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story.’”  Which gives a beautiful picture which has circulated on social media by Australian artist, Mitchell Toy, particular poignancy.

The interview provoked me to suggest an alternative rational view, which was published in The Guardian, and as I recall attracted a quantity of hostile comment on line. I would like to think that my view and the vision of Mitchell Toy is nearer what Professor Hawking will experience than the bleakness of his own expectations.

Here is my article:
Like Stephen Hawking, I have been living with Motor Neurone Disease.  Like him, I’m one of the lucky few not to have died within months of diagnosis.  I’m nine years younger than him and have had the symptoms of the disease for only ten years, compared to his 49.  However for those ten years I’ve “lived with the prospect of an early death” also.  Unlike Professor Hawking I am not a superstar scientist.  I’m simply a small-time writer, who used to be a teacher and a vicar. 

It seems to me that, while some things Stephen Hawking says in the interview as it’s reported are unarguably true, some are also admitted hypothesis, and some are merely tendentious.  One of the features of MND both for him as for me is that it affects your ability to speak and hence pares down what you say to the bare bones. (That’s not of course the case when you have time to type a script.)  Hence sometimes you are frustrated by your inability to nuance your ideas.  And so it may be that his very categorical answers are the nub of his opinion, but not the full expression.

For example, there’s something of ‘nothing-buttery’ about his comments about death: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”  It’s unarguably true that there’s no heaven for broken down computers, as I have found to my cost when I poured fruit juice over my laptop.  The brain may be nothing but a most remarkable computer, yet there’s something generically different from a computer in a brain which, when it starts to malfunction as happens in MND, can begin to love Wagner’s music and “enjoy life more”.  That, I would say, is irrational, but not uncommon.  Human beings, it would appear, are something more than machines.  Maybe science will one day describe what the difference is.

Hawking tells us that “The universe is governed by science.”  I think I understand what he means.  It is certainly discoverable by science.  Scientific theories which don’t fit with the evidence of the universe fail.  In simple terms science is governed by the universe, not the other way round.  What’s interesting is that this is in effect what Hawking says talking about the beauty of science.  It’s “beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations”, citing the double helix and fundamental equations in physics as examples. 

I find myself admiring and agreeing with much of what Professor Hawking says, but I find his ethical deduction and his quasi-religious observation sadly lacking.  “So here we are.  What should we do?” he’s asked.  The question sounds similar to ones posed to great religious teachers of the past.  His answer is disappointing: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”  It’s certainly thought-provoking (What exactly does that mean for this or that action?) and it is a principle which is reinforced by the experience of life-threatening illness.  One could say, “Don’t waste your life.”  Yet as a rule for life, it lacks both the impact and the practicality of the great Judaeo-Christian answer to that question, “Love God above yourself, and love your neighbour as yourself.”  Even those who are unwilling to subscribe to the first part can understand the second part and usually admit its validity.  It might conceivably be argued for on the Darwinian grounds, that those societies which have lived by altruistic principles have survived, but that very admission raises the question of the origin of that surprising pre-scientific insight.

Finally Stephen Hawking’s headlined observation about death, that an after-life “is a fairy-story for people afraid of the dark” is both sad and misinformed. His proposition that there is no heaven reminds one of Gagarin’s alleged dismissal of God because he did not see him in space.  Openness to the theoretical possibility of there being eleven dimensions and fundamental particles “as yet undiscovered” shows an intellectual humility strangely at odds with writing off the possibility of other dimensions of existence. 

For someone “facing the prospect of an early death”, with probably an unpleasant prelude, the idea of extinction holds no more fear than sleep.  It really is insulting to accuse me of believing there might be life after death because I’m afraid of the dark.  On the contrary, sad though I shall be to leave behind those I love, I suspect the end of life, whatever happens, will be a relief.  And, like Pascal making his wager, if it is dark, I really won’t mind, because, of course, there won’t be a me to mind.

Strangely enough, my theory that there is a form of life after we die is not some sort of wishful thinking.  It’s based on evidence.  If the brain is a computer, then, when I was studying where Stephen Hawking now teaches, I came on a mass of data of which the most convincing, the neatest, explanation was that death is not the end of life.  It wasn’t the most comfortable nor most obvious of conclusions, but the forensic case was forceful and beautiful, providing “simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations”.  The best exposition I found was by the then Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London, Professor Sir Norman Anderson, in The Evidence for the Resurrection (afterwards republished as part of Jesus Christ the witness of history (IVP 1985)).  My disturbing conclusion was that, if it happened once, as seemed beyond reasonable doubt, then I needed to revise my whole world view.  What you see is not all you get.

One may wish to dismiss Jesus Christ, or Julius Caesar, as fairy stories, even as bunk, but, until one has examined the evidence in Anderson’s forensic manner, that’s a premature judgement.  I suspect many do that.  As for the idea that belief in an afterlife is a consolation, it is not just about heaven.  Most faiths in fact have a notion of judgement, which is hardly comfortable for anyone, although it does focus the motivation not to waste one’s life.  Moreover in our situation Professor Hawking surely knows better than that some notion in your head, whatever that notion might be, makes the frustrations and pains of a terminal illness somehow more bearable.  That’s the nonsense of those who’ve not been there.  I can’t prove it of course, but on good grounds I’d stake my life on it, that beyond death will be another great adventure; but first I have to get finish this one.

RIP Stephen Hawking.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Right Honourable Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition

What exactly do MPs, of all parties, reckon the role of the Leader of the Opposition to be? Do they really want a supine yes-man who fails to submit government actions to critical scrutiny? Or do they want a leader who is not afraid to ask those in power the awkward questions which remain unanswered?

Whatever the truth of the Salisbury affair, we as the public certainly have been given no more proof that the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal was authorised by the Kremlin than circumstantial evidence, such as that Skripal was a Russian spy and a British double agent, that the fourth generation nerve agent used, generically known as Novichok, was developed in Russia and has a Russian nickname meaning "newcomer", and we think the Russian president is a nasty piece of work. It might be summed up in Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s profound observation that if something "swims like a duck and quacks like a duck" it's probably a duck. “Proof” seems to add up to “you have to take our word for it,” said loudly and repeatedly. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, was more circumspect in her Commons’ statement saying merely that it was “highly likely” that the Russian state was responsible. According to our former ambassador in Uzbekhistan, Craig Murray - who is far better informed than me - it is highly unlikely that this "proof" is true. Read It is eye-opening.

Jeremy Corbyn was unflinchingly direct in his condemnation of the poisoning of the Skripals, both of the use of chemical weapons in war and on the streets. He also condemned the Putin government and its supporters for “its human rights abuses both at home and abroad”. But, much to the dislike of the government benches, he also asked some pointed technical questions, including whether they had referred the incident to the International Office for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons. A former member of that office and weapons inspector interviewed on Tuesday’s Today Programme confirmed that following a whistleblower’s revelations any “advanced” state could manufacture a chemical agent of this type. So it was also a reasonable question to ask what particularly pointed its manufacture to Russia.

Whatever the details of the Salisbury affair turn out to be, if we’re ever allowed to know them (and official secrets are a well-used governmental fig leaf), far from playing tawdry political games that proved he wouldn’t defend us (Daily Mail), Jeremy Corbyn proved himself a serious opposition leader, unafraid to do his job – subjecting the government to critical scrutiny and awkward interrogation. This was evidenced in the hostile personal attack with which the Prime Minister answered him. It is a shame that he is not receiving the support he deserves from some members of his own Parliamentary Party.

Another thing that seems to have riled the Conservatives is Mr Corbyn’s pointing out on Monday how much the Tory party has received in donations from rich Russian oligarchs now domiciled in the UK with British nationality – over £3million since 2010, and just since Mrs May took office more than £820,000. Of course they want to hold on to it. One wonders why these fabulously wealthy exiles choose to buy favour with the British ruling party.

An irony of the affair in the House of Commons is that in Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, those we most admired were the dissidents, the brave people who dare to challenge accepted orthodoxy. And yet here the powers that be, political, media and plutocracy do all they can to shut his dissenting voice up. It’s perhaps no coincidence that his speech contained this comment about dissidents: “I join with many others in this house in paying tribute to the many campaigners in Russia for human rights and justice and democracy in that country.” One of those no doubt was Alexei Navalny, the hero of John Sweeney’s Panorama programme last night of which Vladimir Putin was the villain. 

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, we should welcome the fact that we have in Parliament an opposition leader who holds our government to account - however uncomfortable that may be.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Russian affair in Salisbury

Oh, here we go again! The now traditional English sport of demonising Russians has kicked off once more. A Russian poisoned on the law-abiding streets of Britain leads to lurid headlines within hours. Russia responsible for a spy’s poisoning… we’re told. Speculation is rife. Vladimir Putin is quoted as saying that spies will never go unpunished. The deduction is made that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are victims of Kremlin vengeance.
Salisbury Cathedral

The police and security services urge caution in attributing responsibility until investigations have led somewhere, and Russia experts do the same, but still Boris Johnson, our really quite bright Foreign Secretary, described Russia as “a malign and disruptive force”. The incident gave rise to a meeting of the national emergency committee, COBRA, although it’s not clear to me at least in what way it is a “national emergency”. However, one thing that’s clear is that it’s in the Government’s interest that this story should run and run, as it brings to our headlines a tale of espionage and intrigue which does a great job in covering the incompetence of our Brexit negotiations, the imposition of a young dictator as a royal lunch guest and the cardboard thin presentation of, for example, its house-building initiative. No doubt we are in for days of speculative journalism and counter-terror activity that will be useful in giving an appearance of governmental activity.

Russia is a very convenient cockshy. Russian sportsmen are the targets for doping scandals – for example, did you know there were four competitors disqualified for doping from the Winter Olympics, from Japan, Slovenia and Russia? The ones we heard about, of course, were the Russians. I’ve written before about the sophisticated use of TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions). I’ve no doubt that more than a few honoured athletes and coaches from wealthiest nations know how to play that system.

However there’s a more significant aspect to this convenient "malign" narrative. The more you demonise someone the harder it becomes to recognise your common humanity. The harder it becomes to remember that Russia is the country that paid the highest price in defeating both Napoleon and Hitler, and to remember that this is the nation that launched both Helen Sharman and Tim Peake into space and brought them safely back. This is the nation that gave us Tchaikovsky and sublime ballets, Rachmaninov and haunting orchestral music and Shostakovich and Stravinsky. It’s the homeland of Pushkin, Chekhov, of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, of Solzhenitsyn and Akhmatova, Kandinsky and Chagall. All right, it’s the land of borsch and frozen steppes. But perhaps most of all it’s the land of the gulags and the unparalleled history of courageous dissidence.

If you start with a demonic presuppositions, you will miss the human and see only the sinister, even in the good. You will engender fear and antipathy in the other side. And you will interpret the resulting defensiveness as aggression – and so begin a vicious cycle endangering them and yourself.
St Petersburg, Church of the Resurrection

From my limited experience of Russian people, they are very like me, albeit a bit braver. Shylock, the Jew demonised by the Christians in The Merchant of Venice, should surely have taught us what common humanity means?
“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”

I suggest that our Russian xenophobia is as unpleasant and unproductive as the Venetians' anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s play. It may be politically convenient, but it will not lead to a more just and peaceful world.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Infantilising Sport

On Saturday, I watched an excellent rugby international. No, not Scotland outplaying the “unbeatable” England. It was Ireland against Wales in Dublin. It was an exciting game, with flashes of brilliance. But what was particularly good about it was the refereeing. The man in question was Glen Jackson from New Zealand. He never once stopped the game to refer to the TMO (Television Match Official). How refreshing! And as a result the game flowed as it’s meant to.

I am tired of the way so many sports have come to depend on video replays. I guess it started with photo-finishes in racing, and then Hawk-eye at Wimbledon – which seemed a good idea after John “You cannot be serious” McEnroe. And then it spread to cricket with its snickometer and hot-spot. And rugby with the TMO. And football with VAR. At the recent Winter Olympics, video replays were rife in Pyeongchang: speed skating, ice dancing, fancy snow boarding and trick skiing. 

A notable exception is curling. One of its refreshing aspects was the way that opponents always agreed the result of an end - no disputing. It was grown up behaviour. (A shame we didn't come away with a medal, but I did admire Eve Muirhead going for broke with her last stone!)

So what’s wrong with it? I don’t mind the use of photo-finishes when the human eye really isn’t fast enough to separate out bicycle wheels, horses' noses or skate tips crossing the finishing line – though if they’re that close, what’s wrong with equal first? However my real objection is the use of video replays in sports’ competitions of any sort. And it’s not because of the interruption of the flow of play, even if that is annoying enough. It’s because it infantilises sport. It demeans referees and umpires (depending on your sport). Instead of the man or woman on the spot being the final arbiter, technology is appealed to. Human beings are judged by machines.

We need to re-establish human trust into sport. Of course your referee may make mistakes, but that’s life. There used to be an adage, “The referee’s decision is final.” It wasn’t a bad one. There was another, “You win some, you lose some.” It was a healthy attitude, more healthy, I’d suggest, than the present custom of arguing the toss whenever the decision goes against you. There’s little more ugly than a grown man representing his country confronting the referee when he’s judged to have committed a foul. The “You cannot be serious!” merchants of the sports arena need to grow up themselves. Umpires and referees are selected for their impartiality. They deserve to be respected more, not placed at the mercy of machines. Sport would become a great deal more enjoyable were its participants (and their teams and supporters) to accept decisions made by those who in fact carry out a no-win job with extraordinary skill and integrity, without resort to wretched machines.

I'm told that the amount of money that is now tied up in professional sport is the driver behind the technological juggernaut. Maybe, but at least in the field let’s have less, not more, technology and more, not less, trust in people.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Plus ça change

Keir Hardie was a fascinating and impressive character, as I’ve discovered from his biography by Bob Holman. It’s little wonder that he is often referred to as a hero. A brief account of his life by Professor Holman,, begins, “Born illegitimate and in poverty in 1856 and working in the coal mines from the age of ten. Yet Keir Hardie was to become the main founder of the Labour Party. An active trade unionist, he was sacked by the pit owners and became a trade union official, living in Cumnock with his wife, Lillee, where he was active in a local church.” Near his conclusion he writes, “He should… be praised for the life he led. He put principles into individual practice. He lived modestly and never used politics to enrich himself. He wanted no honours. He spent little time with social elites and always kept in touch with ordinary people. We need his like today.”

Which perhaps goes some way to explaining why he was generally loathed by the press, controlled then as generally now by very rich press “barons”. He continually attacked vested interests. He considered the exploitation of workers as a flagrant violation of the Gospel imperative to love your neighbour as yourself and wasn’t afraid to say so. When he died, only his local newspaper in Scotland honoured his achievements. The Times  wrote: “It was Mr Hardie’s misfortune that he inherited more than an average share of Scottish dourness. The spirit of compromise played but a minor part in his activities. This negative much of his work for the party for which he worked, while his imagination led him astray on many vital points….`’  

Maybe the press proprietors’ antipathy to him was unsurprising. He had little time for them. He moved a private members’ bill in the Commons in 1901, which blamed poverty on private ownership and called for “a Socialist Commonwealth founded upon the common ownership of land and capital, production for use not for profit, and equality of opportunity for every citizen.” “This House and British nation,” he said, “know to their cost the danger which comes from allowing men to grow rich and permitting them to use their wealth to corrupt the press, to silence the pulpit, to degrade our national life, and to bring shame and reproach on a great people in order that a few unscrupulous scoundrels might be able to add to their ill-gotten gains.” That would be a powerful enough sentiment to express today. I imagine it was even more unpalatable then.

This week we’ve had the strange case of The Sun newspaper (along with The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, which all ran the same story) falling silent after breaking a scoop story about Jeremy Corbyn having been a Czechoslovakian spy in the 1980s. It proved groundless, but gave Conservative politicians licence to attack the man they most fear. However the newspapers have dropped the story – for the time being at least.HH

Meanwhile the Deputy Labour leader, Tom Watson, in The Independent newspaper, “argued the new attacks on Mr Corbyn fit a pattern going back decades, which has also seen the same papers attack Ed Miliband’s father as ‘the man who hated Britain’ and vilified Neil Kinnock.
“Mr Watson’s attack comes as Mr Corbyn was forced to threaten legal action against Ben Bradley, an MP and a vice chair of the Conservatives, who, after reading the newspaper coverage, made claims on social media that the Labour leader had ‘sold British secrets’ to communist spies.
“In his article, Mr Watson writes: ‘Newspaper proprietors in this country abuse their power.
‘It’s a unique kind of self-harm for a newspaper to print a story they know is poorly sourced, decide to run it regardless because it suits their political agenda, and pass it off as news.’”

I suspect the same motivation lies behind this dislike of Mr Corbyn as lay behind the attacks on Keir Hardie over 100 years ago. He didn’t seek their favour or mince his words, unlike the majority of those in power in recent times. And in the last two election manifestoes Labour has committed to initiating Leveson Enquiry part 2, which they fear would place them under legal obligations rather than their own rather easy-going voluntary code. He is in their view a danger. What he certainly is not is a traitor, as some Tories were stupidly saying, as Andrew Neil ably demonstrated in his interview with Brexit minister, Steve Baker, on Wednesday – which is one of the best pieces of interviewing I have seen. “Surely the real scandal, Mr Baker, is not what Mr Corbyn has supposedly done, or not done; it’s the outright lies and disinformation which your fellow Tories are spreading. That’s the real scandal, isn’t it?” I urge you to watch the four minutes of eye-opening viewing. And where it started was with an under-researched malicious piece of journalism in one of our tabloid newspapers.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Charity concerns

Charities are suddenly under fire. Any misdemeanour (and there clearly have been a number, charity workers being as human as the rest of us with less altruistic occupations) is now leapt upon with the pharisaic zeal which seems to be the mark of this age. However I wonder whether charity workers are any more prone to sexual exploitation than, say, businessmen. Are the media up in indignant arms over people at a sales’ conference in the developing world using and abusing local women and minors? I suspect it happens.

I understand that there is a peculiar dissonance between the altruistic aims of an aid charity and such behaviour. Yet is there an element of foreign-aid bashing in the obsessive focus on a systemic failure in Oxfam? Is it a coincidence that it comes within weeks of the Oxfam report released at Davos, which pointed out “Eighty two percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth, according to a new Oxfam report released today”? Discrediting charities which speak uncomfortable truth to power would allow some very rich and powerful people to sleep more easily at night. It would also suit right-wing newspapers which campaign to reduce our country’s overseas aid budget of a mere 0.7% GDP. And of course politicians of an insular persuasion will use it as fuel to divert money from the ethical, and self-interested by the way, relief of our fellow human beings.

I trust that the overwhelming good performed by such charities will not be obscured by the fallibility of their human employees. We create enough misery throughout the world in one way or another. It would be an even bleaker place were charities such as Oxfam and Save the Children not to exist or were starved of support. It's tragic that 7000 donors have cancelled their subscriptions to Oxfam. Who will suffer? Not the donors.

Nevertheless, even before the Oxfam news, I had been thinking about the role of charities, maybe because I’d been reading Bob Holman’s biography of Keir Hardie ( He famously had a contretemps with Lord Overtoun, the Scottish industrialist whose much lauded philanthropy did not extend to his own employees.

I wrote to a theologian I know:
“Do you think churches setting up things like food-banks, homelessness shelters and street pastors is a good thing? 
“What I’m wondering is this. Were they not there, the true effects of government cuts in the name of financial responsibility would be acutely obvious and politically intolerable. As it is, the churches’ benevolence mitigates the effects of cuts in benefits and cuts to policing, and the vulnerable suffer, so that the well-off can remain comfortable. ‘Let them make do with sticking plasters.’
“It suddenly occurred to me.”

He sagely replied, “There is a danger in providing permanent sticking plasters instead of sorting the problem; but I don't see how Christians can pass by on the other side when the man is lying there mugged. But if it becomes an excuse for not pushing on the political structural fronts, eg working for proper policing on the Jerusalem-Jericho road or a health service that is meeting the needs, then we are at fault.... And that easily happens with conservatives.”

As far as I know, this theologian is not a socialist. Keir Hardie (1856-1915) who shared his Christian faith certainly was. He was, as Professor Holman suggests, possibly Labour’s greatest hero. Hardie rightly wrote, “Poverty can never be remedied by charity, but only by justice.” That was his political motivation. “The Labour Party stands for something which no other party does. Its aim is the abolition of poverty.” What a great aim! Oxfam's vision is "We won't live with poverty". Little wonder some people would like to undermine it.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Tweeting truth

I want to gripe again. My question is this. When do you ever hear what a politician really thinks?
Cartoon from Cartoon Stock
Maybe Donald Trump’s tweets are genuinely his thoughts. But if they are, then where do his more reasonable speeches come from? Are they really what he thinks and wants? Or are they what his speech-writers reckon will go down well with his audience at the time? Certainly his minders minded when in the early days he strayed off-script. And it’s probable that they now also try to vet his tweets, with limited success it must be said.

Meanwhile on our side of the pond it’s fairly obvious that our prime ministers don’t have the time to write the host of speeches they choose to deliver every week. One imagines that their party minders, the ones who pre-brief on coming speeches, suggest a promising topic as well as a crowd or party pleasing line; the PM chooses it and the speech writers produce it for her to deliver. And so we have the curious phenomenon of shifting policy arguments stated with all the conviction of a university debating chamber.

How I long for a politician whom one knows where they stand! And I don’t think I am alone. I suspect the perceived straightforwardness of Jeremy Corbyn accounted for the unexpected success of Labour at the last general election, and the beautifully articulate rigidity of the honourable member for the 18th century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, explains similarly his unaccountable and regrettable popularity among certain circles. Even the wily Father of the House, Ken Clarke, remains consistent  at the expense of his colleagues falling asleep.

There is, it seems, a struggle between politicians of convenience and politicians on conviction. Sadly often those with political aspirations start off with conviction but the pressures of expediency and the pursuit of power soon squeeze them into the mould of convenience.

It would be nice to believe that a good interviewer might elicit the truth from a politician. But of course the party machines have that awful possibility covered as well. Their representatives are intensively trained in interview technique, which we recognise all too well. It seems to boil down to, “Don’t answer the question asked. Have a sound bite and repeat it at every opportunity. Above all, stay on message.” In my view, the adversarial nature of the interviewing game has done nothing for honest politics. Belligerent interviewers such as John Humphrys simply produce defensive politicians.
E B Herbert, The Fox Hunt
Let me add one thing. I’m not blaming politicians more than anyone else. The rest of us have a mob mentality, like a pack of hounds led by journalists on their high horses, seeking out any weaknesses and hunting down our prey to their political extinction. We relish the chase. Perhaps if we respected our politicians more, who are entrusted with a huge responsibility on our behalf, we might receive the respect of their honesty in return.

So, meanwhile, are Donald Trump’s tweets the nearest we will get to knowing the honest views of a politician? If this is as good as it gets, how sad.