Monthly Archives: December 2013

Three Men in a Boat

One summer holiday from University saw D and M and I on holiday in Ireland.

We hired a cabin cruiser to sail (via the many locks  on the Grand Canal) from just south of Dublin to Athlone – just before the latter reaches the River Shannon.



We three inexperienced but intrepid sailors had a marvellous time until one evening when we docked en route in a small town and went to “the dancin'” – our first experience of hearing a “showband” and impressive they were too – and of the strange custom (to us) of clearing the floor after each dance.

We got back to our boat late and discovered that it had been broken into during our absence, although only one small thing had been taken (I can’t remember what – but it was inexpensive)

It was decided, however , to contact the Garda – so one of my pals went to find a phone box (no mobiles in those far off days).

Half an hour later, a “jolly” policeman appeared.  He had obviously worshipping at the altar of Bacchus that evening, as his gait was so unsteady that we had to help him cross over to our boat which was double moored.

Unsteadily, he staggered into the cabin and plonked his ample frame on the bench.

“It will be restorations” he began – enigmatically

We looked at each other and then at the perspiring stout police-officer.  “But nothing’s been restored; it’s been stolen!”

“Not ‘restorations’ – I mean ‘reparations'” he answered – even more mysteriously.

I thought of reparations in payment for past British actions in the Emerald Isle- but was our law enforcement friend an historian of sorts.

So I asked him, “What are you implying?”

Cryptically – “It’s because you’re from the North”

“No, we’re from the West (west of Scotland)”

“Derry way?”


“Aye, I’ve heard of the ‘Brig’ton Billies’ – that’s it, then – I’ve deducted (sic) it – it’s retribution ….. that’s the word I was looking for” said he, sleuthfully and triumphantly.

“Right,” said Sherlock, “I’ll be takin’ down yer details”, taking out his police notebook and a stub of a pencil.

Now this part is genuinely true – as the skipper of the ‘Vital Spark’ would have said, “If Dougie were here, he would tell you”:  he ran out of space on the page, so tore off a blank page from the back of his little book and sellotaped to the side of the page on which he had written, in order to continue his notes!

at one point he asked what my occupation was and when I replied that I was a theology student, he asked if I were studying for the priesthood.  When I replied that I was a Protestant, he muttered, “Aye, ’twill be retribution, for sure”

We offered him a drink – he knocked back a Jamiesons in one gulp, then we helped him off the boat and watched, as he staggered away into the night – never to be seen again…… and we heard no more of the matter.

btw we continued our journey to Athlone, and having tuned into Radio Athlone as a teenager, discovered a small building (it must have been a transmission post) with the Radio station’s logo on the door.

I knocked.  The door opened and a wee leprechaun of a man looked at us furtively and not without a degree of suspicion.

“May we have a look inside, please?”

“Are you from the North?”


“OK, in you come!”

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Religious people are thick!

Thicker brain sections tied to spirituality: study
NEW YORK Mon Dec 30, 2013 7:14pm GMT

(Reuters Health) – For people at high risk of depression because of a family history, spirituality may offer some protection for the brain, a new study hints.

Parts of the brain’s outer layer, the cortex, were thicker in high-risk study participants who said religion or spirituality was “important” to them versus those who cared less about religion.

“Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this,” Myrna Weissman told Reuters Health. “The brain is an extraordinary organ. It not only controls, but is controlled by our moods.”

Weissman, who worked on the new study, is a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University and chief of the Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology department at New York State Psychiatric institute.

While the new study suggests a link between brain thickness and religiosity or spirituality, it cannot say that thicker brain regions cause people to be religious or spiritual, Weissman and her colleagues note in JAMA Psychiatry.

It might hint, however, that religiosity can enhance the brain’s resilience against depression in a very physical way, they write.

Previously, the researchers had found that people who said they were religious or spiritual were at lower risk of depression. They also found that people at higher risk for depression had thinning cortices, compared to those with lower depression risk.

The cerebral cortex is the brain’s outermost layer made of gray matter that forms the organ’s characteristic folds. Certain areas of the cortex are important hubs of neural activity for processes such as sensory perception, language and emotion.

For the new study, the researchers twice asked 103 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 how important religion or spirituality was to them and how often they attended religious services over a five-year period.

In addition to being asked about spirituality, the participants’ brains were imaged once to see how thick their cortices were.

All the participants were the children or grandchildren of people who participated in an earlier study about depression. Some had a family history of depression, so they were considered to be at high risk for the disorder. Others with no history served as a comparison group.

Overall, the researchers found that the importance of religion or spirituality to an individual – but not church attendance – was tied to having a thicker cortex. The link was strongest among those at high risk of depression.

“What we’re doing now is looking at the stability of it,” Weissman said.

Her team is taking more images of the participants’ brains to see whether the size of the cortex changes with their religiosity or spirituality.

“This is a way of replicating and validating the findings,” she said. “That work is in process now.”

Dr. Dan Blazer, the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, said the study is very interesting but is still exploratory.

“I think this tells us it’s an area to look at,” Blazer, who was not involved in the new study, said. “It’s an area of interest but we have to be careful.”

For example, he said there could be other areas of the brain linked to religion and spirituality. Also, spirituality may be a marker of something else, such as socioeconomic status.

Blazer added that it’s an exciting time, because researchers are actively looking at links between the brain, religion and risk of depression.

“We’ve seen this field move from a time when there were virtually no studies done at all,” he said.

Weissman said the mind and body are intimately connected.

“What this means therapeutically is hard to say,” she added.

SOURCE: JAMA Psychiatry, online December 25, 2013.

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December 31, 2013 · 09:58

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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A thought for the New Year

A thought for the New Year

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December 31, 2013 · 08:05


Claim: Pope Francis declared at the Third Vatican Council that “all religions are true.”


Is this article real?

Origins: On December 2013, the Diversity Chronicle blog published an article positing that at the Third Vatican Council, Pope Francis had condemned racism and declared that “all religions are true”:
For the last six months, Catholic cardinals, bishops and theologians have been deliberating in Vatican City, discussing the future of the church and redefining long-held Catholic doctrines and dogmas. The Third Vatican Council, is undoubtedly the largest and most important since the Second Vatican Council was concluded in 1962. Pope Francis convened the new council to “finally finish the work of the Second Vatican Council.” While some traditionalists and conservative reactionaries on the far right have decried these efforts, they have delighted progressives around the world.

To a chorus of thunderous applause, Pope Francis stated “because Muslims, Hindus and African Animists are also made in the very likeness and image of God, to hate them is to hate God! To reject them to is to reject God and the Gospel of Christ. Whether we worship at a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a mandir, it does not matter. Whether we call God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah or Krishna, we all worship the same God of love. This truth is self-evident to all who have love and humility in their hearts!”
Shortly afterwards links and excerpts referencing this article were being circulated via social media, with many of those who encountered the item mistaking it for a genuine news item. However, the article was just a spoof: No Third Vatican Council has been convened (the Second Vatican Council took place in the early 1960s), and the blog that published this item, the Diversity Chronicle includes a disclaimer noting that “The original content on this blog is largely satirical.”

Last updated: 22 December 2013


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Homeowners face huge bills for repair to churches under ancient laws – regardless of their religion

Letters sent to 12,000 homeowners informing them they are liable for upkeep
Could see them helping with average bill of £80,000 if urgent work required
Experts have warned that the legal responsibility could slash home values

PUBLISHED: 01:07, 30 December 2013
Thousands of homeowners face the threat of crippling bills to repair local churches under an ancient law which applies regardless of their religion, it has emerged.
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today.
The bombshell warning – which could see them helping to foot an average bill of £80,000 if urgent work is required – is the result of Government attempts to tidy up the law on what is known as ‘chancel repair liabilities’.
Thousands of homeowners face the threat of crippling bills to repair local churches under an ancient law which applies regardless of their religion, it has emerged

Even if repairs are not needed, experts have warned that the legal responsibility could slash home values and potentially cause house sales to fall through.
Currently, many property owners are unaware that they are responsible for contributing towards the upkeep of the chancel – the area around the altar – of their parish church because they are classed as ‘lay rectors’.
While home owners who are aware their property is liable can take out special insurance to cover an unexpected bill, most are oblivious as it is not mentioned in their deeds.
The rule – which dates back to the dissolution of the monasteries almost 500 years ago – was highlighted by the case of Andrew and Gail Wallbank who inherited a farm in Warwickshire.


They were ordered to pay over £100,000 towards repairs to Aston Cantlow church, and following a lengthy legal battle which ended in 2008 were left with no choice but to sell the property.
After parochial church councils (PCCs) were told their members risked being made legally responsible if they didn’t identify who was liable, churches were given ten years to inform everyone who could potentially be ordered to cough up.
Now, following a Freedom of Information application, it has emerged that 247 churches have so far registered 12,276 homes or plots of land as being liable.
Letters informing the owners have been sent out by the Land Registry, which manages the list, the Sunday Times reported yesterday.
However as many as 5,000 parish churches have yet to register their rights, meaning the final total could be significantly higher.
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today
Letters have been sent to more than 12,000 people informing them that they are liable to contribute towards the upkeep of a nearby Anglican church under rules which date back to the reign of Henry VIII but are rarely enforced today
In some cases, the paper reported, large numbers of properties have been registered – St Cuthbert’s Church in Lytham, Lancashire, has registered 5,725 addresses, while St Andrew’s Church in Gorleston-on-Sea, near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, has registered 854.
While the right could only be exercised if the chancel was in urgent need of repairs, recipients of the letters have suffered shock and upheaval.
Website designer Tim Acheson, a Catholic, said the liability towards repairs to grade I listed St Mary the Virgin in his home village of Braughing, Hertfordshire, hadn’t come up during conveyancing when he bought the property in 2009.
‘It means that the value of your home can be written off at any time and it is handing the church the power to make people bankrupt overnight,’ he told the paper.
Writer Miranda Seymour, whose biographies include a book on Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, was told her home, Thrumpton Hall in Nottinghamshire, had been registered by nearby All Saints Church.

‘I am vehemently opposing it,’ she said.

Experts warned that the cost of obtaining chancel liability insurance was likely to rise for those included on the list and that some property owners had paid their local PCC up to £500,000 to buy out their liability.
A spokesman for the Church of England said the Land Registry had advised that PCCs had a duty to consider who was responsible for the upkeep of their chancel.
‘A parochial church council can decide not to enforce chancel repair liability,’ he said.
‘It can take into account the possibility of excessive hardship that might be caused to those liable if the obligation were enforced or the damage that enforcing it could do to the mission of the church in the parish.
‘But the decision is one for the individual PCC.’

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December 29, 2013 · 12:43

The Milk of Human Kindness

via “Suspended Coffees:
One day, a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, found he had only one thin dime left, and he was hungry.
He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house.

However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young woman opened the door. Instead of a meal he asked for a drink of water.
She thought he looked hungry so brought him a large  glass of milk He drank it slowly, and then asked, “How much do I owe you?””You don’t owe me anything,” she replied “Mother has taught us never to accept payment for a kindness.”

He said… “Then I thank you from my heart.”

As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt; stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was strong also. He had been ready to give up and quit. Years later that young woman became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease. Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation.

When he heard the name of the town she came from, a strange light filled his eyes. Immediately he rose and went down the hall of the hospital to her room. Dressed in his doctor’s gown he went in to see her.

He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day he gave special attention to the case. After a long struggle, the battle was won. Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval.

He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally, she looked, and something caught her attention on the side as she read these

“Paid in full with one glass of milk.” (Signed) Dr. Howard Kelly.

Tears of joy flooded her eyes as her happy heart prayed: “Thank You,GOD, that Your love has spread abroad through human hearts and hands.”

Snopes:  Origins: The above-quoted account has been showing up in the inbox since 2000. It has appeared in any number of collections of inspirational tales and self-help books, including Ruth Fishel’s 2004 Living Light as a Feather: How to Find Joy in Every Day and a Purpose in Every Problem, Viola Walden’s 1994 Pardon the Mess: A Collection of Family-Building Thoughts, Benjamin Blech’s 2003 Taking Stock: A Spiritual Guide to Rising Above Life’s Financial Ups and Downs, and John Mark Templeton’s 2002 Wisdom From World Religions: Pathways Towards Heaven on Earth.

It is a well-traveled and much beloved tale. And yet, while at its heart it is a true story, it has been so greatly exaggerated that it is now only a caricature of itself, having been distorted in numerous ways to better tell the story of a doctor who wouldn’t accept a fee for his services from a girl who once gave him a glass of


Dr. Howard Kelly (1858-1943) was a distinguished physician who was one of the four founding doctors of Johns Hopkins, the first medical research university in the U.S. and arguably one of the finest hospitals anywhere. In 1895 he established the department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at that school. Over the course of his career, he advanced the sciences of gynecology and surgery, both as a teacher and as a practitioner.

It is not his skills as a healer or accomplishments as a medical pioneer that concern us in this tale, though, but rather the account of a years-previous kindness repaid.

According to the biography written by Audrey Davis from knowledge she gained of the doctor through her 20-year friendship with him and through the notebooks and journals he left her upon his death (Dr. Kelly began keeping a diary at the age of 17 while in his junior year of college), the story of the bill paid in full by the glass of milk is true:
On a walking trip up through Northern Pennsylvania one spring, Kelly stopped by a small farm house for a drink of cool spring water. A little girl answered his knock and instead of water brought him a glass of fresh milk. After a short friendly visit, he went on his way. Some years later, that same little girl came to him for an operation. Just before she left for home, her bill was brought into the room and across its face was written in a bold hand, “Paid in full with one glass of milk.”
However, it should be noted that while the gist of the story may be true, reality has been greatly embellished to create a more touching tale. Dr. Kelly was never an impoverished student who ruefully eyed his last dime as hunger set in, resolving to beg a meal at the next farm house. He was the scion of a relatively well-to-do family, and he did not have to work to put himself through school, let alone by peddling goods door to door. Over and above his education and living expenses, the young scholar received from his family a monthly allowance of $5 for pocket money, his biographer noting of his bank account in those days: “It is amazing how many items of necessity and pleasure those $5 deposits accounted for, and yet there was always an unexpended balance.” On his 21st birthday, the future doctor received “checks for $100 from his father and from several aunts,” which would have been considered astronomical sums in those days (1879).

The young man did not hold a job, in fact, until the age of 22. Upon being sent to Colorado Springs for his health (he stayed there for a year) and purchasing a horse for $40, he carried the mail for a week to relieve the regular mailman.

The future Dr. Kelly came to be tramping about the farmland and woods of Pennsylvania and ended up at that farm house door through his love of nature. His special joy was hiking great distances and studying animals in the wild, and indeed he had been headed for a career as a naturalist until his father insisted during his final year of college (1877) that he “divert his talents into a field that offered greater certainty of a livelihood and promised fair financial return.” Dr. Kelly did retain his interest in the natural world throughout his life, though, and so he continued to go on such walking trips.

On the day described in the “milk” anecdote, he hadn’t been “ready to give up and quit,” nor had he been experiencing a spiritual crisis that caused him to doubt the nature of man or God. Throughout his life Howard Kelly was a devout Christian whose faith was as natural to him as breathing. He was neither financially nor spiritually beaten down that day; he was merely a thirsty hiker who thought to ask for a glass of water at a farm he passed.

The Davis biography of Dr. Kelly contains no mention of the “glass of milk” girl’s being “critically ill,” of her local doctors being “baffled,” or of her being sent to Baltimore because she had fallen victim to a “rare disease,” as the much-embroidered version of the tale would have it. Indeed, nothing is said of her case to indicate that it was at all unusual, or that her life was in any way in jeopardy. Other than for Dr. Kelly’s writing off her bill for that long-ago glass of milk, her case was not remarkable in the least.

As regards his writing off that bill, while Dr. Kelly did charge very high fees for his work (and “suffered extreme criticism” for it, says his biographer), he did so only with patients who could afford it, their payments underwriting the medical care he provided free-of-charge to the less fortunate. By his conservative estimate, in 75% of his cases he neither sought nor received a fee. Moreover, for years he paid the salary of a nurse to visit and care for those of his patients who could not otherwise afford such treatment, thereby providing them with both doctor and nurse without charge.

So, to sum up:
Howard Kelly wasn’t a destitute young scholar peddling goods door to door in furtherance of his dream of someday becoming a doctor and so was rescued from overwhelming hunger by a fortuitous glass of milk. He was a thirsty hiker out on one of his many rambles about the countryside to study wildlife. He asked for water at a farm house and was instead given milk.
The girl who gave the milk to him later came to him as a patient, but likely not because she was dying or because her condition was unusual.
Dr. Kelly wrote off her bill, but he did so with three of every four patients he treated.


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Coventry Carol

The “Coventry Carol  ” is a Christmas Carol  dating from the 16th century. The carol was performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew. The carol refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants two years old and under inBethlehem to be killed. The lyrics of this haunting carol represent a mother’s lament for her doomed child. It is the only carol that has survived from this play. The author is unknown. The oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known printing of the melody dates from 1591. The carol is traditionally sung a cappella.

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December 29, 2013 · 10:05