European integration

WHEN you are climbing a steep hill, sometimes it is good to turn round and look at how far you have come. Saturday, May 1, will be such a day. That is the day when the iron curtain that drew over Europe half a century ago and that was pulled open with the collapse of the Soviet Union, will be torn down completely and consigned to the tip.

Against the closure of small Highland maternity units

Season’s greetings to the medical team assessing maternity services at Caithness General Hospital. If it is decided to close them, Mary’s stable could seem less a scene of primitive hardship and actually quite attractive to the women of Wick.

Women there are protesting against an outcome that could lead to them travelling 100 miles by ambulance down the A9 to Inverness while in labour. After all, at least Mary wasn’t
hurtling along at 60mph when she gave birth but relaxing in a warm and dry abode, comfortably furnished with hay. According to the journal Science in Society, roadside births have a mortality rate of 68 per 1000, eight times higher than hospital births and 16 times higher than home births.

Keys to Wisdom Keys

Keys. You may have some jingling in your pocket or handbag. Take them out. Look at them. Describe them. Collins dictionary remarks that they are metal instruments that, when rotated, open locks. But there is more to them than that.

In a recent survey, one group used the adjectives “little”, “lovely”,”magic”, and “intricate” to describe them while another chose “awkward”,”worn”, “jagged”, and “serrated”.

This cleverly designed study, reported in this week’s New Scientist, attempted to prove scientifically what poets have always known. Language matters. The first group of describers were Spaniards, who see keys as feminine; the second were Germans, for whom they are masculine. The words they used were identified by “gender-blind” English speakers as gender-linked.

A place at the table for old age

IN THE former Gold Rush town of Oroville in Northern California a week ago today, a 92-year-old man leapt from the green steel of Table Mountain Bridge into the deep green water of Feather River. Coval Russell died instantly landing on rocks. He ended his life on a brilliantly sunny morning for one main reason – he was kicked out of

The incandescent beauty of the scene before him could not make up for the fact that it was not Butte County Jail where Russell spent one of the happiest years of his life. ”Pops”, as the other inmates called him, was sentenced early last year for stabbing his 70-year-old landlord with a pocketknife. Once he got used to his surroundings, razor wire and
clanging doors, Russell found some things he did not have outside.

Heat is on as US drowns and browns

IN some parts of the US there is water, water everywhere, but in others there’s hardly a drop to drink. Last week in Texas eight people and thousands of cattle drowned when 30in of rain fell in just a few days, causing flooding along the San Antonio river, which crested 30ft above normal levels. Meanwhile, in prairie states such as Wyoming, less than a
quarter of the normal expected level of rain has fallen. Farmers are making special prayer appointments with ministers as they watch their land turn  dustier by the day.

Let’s knock MMR battle on the head

Well done, Dr Eileen Ruberry. Finally, an important medical personage has seen sense on the MMR and recommended that the government retreat from its intransigent approach and allow concerned parents to choose triple injections. This does not mean she is convinced by Dr Andrew Wakefield’s attempts to prove the combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine is linked to autism. She is not. It simply means that she recognises that allowing a minority of parents to choose the time-consuming option of separate jabs is the best way to deal with the situation.

Some thoughts on Iraq.

The situation in Iraq is complex and difficult and although I opposed it strongly before it started, my view now is that after the fact, secular society and those who are trying to build a new peace in Iraq ust be supported.

Here are some of the columns I wrote on this issue from the Herald.