I am sorry about this but I have been listening to all the news about “Article 50” and the so-called “Deal or No Deal” vote offered to Members of Parliament that I felt I have to get this off my chest!  All of this is obvious to me but honestly I haven’t heard anyone in politics or on the news media say it.

Firstly I want to clear up one thing.  I think that the political reality is that for good or ill, the future of the UK is outside the EU and we are therefore wasting our time with that particular argument; it’s a “done deal”.  No mainstream politician would dare suggest Parlement ignore the referendum result because like it or not, we had a democratic process and if we don’t respect the outcome then we are in real trouble.

I do however have a real problem with the “alt fact” that the only way to fulfil the will of the people is to give the (unelected) May government carte blanche to handle our exit from the EU in whatever way it sees fit.  May wants to govern by decree like Donald Trump and anything else is deemed anti-democtaric verging on treasonous.  I really don’t understand why journalists don’t challenge that particular un-truth.  The other fairly fundemental thing that we need to keep our eyes on is that given the above, our leaders must strive for the best possible outcome for our nation.  This however seems to be lost in all the lies and fear that some have that somehow it’s possible that their hard won Brexit might be lost.

My real gripe however, is with this Article 50 which has got to be the most rubbish piece of traty ever written; it was obviously intended never to be used!  The problem is, that as soon as you invoke it, you are “out on your ear” in two years, like it or not.  Effectively you will have given away most of the power you had in any negotiation before you even start.  No wonder other European governments are so keen to refuse any negotiations prior to the article being invoked, because they know that as soon as it is, they can pretty much dictate to the UK whatever they decide!  But we have to invoke Article 50 to leave the EU don’t we?  Well, not really.  if we had a Government with some backbone the conversation would be something like “We want out, but we really aren’t prepared to invoke Article 50, we want to negotiate a bespoke deal, a Brexit Treatey”.

And how would our friends react?  Probably quite badly at first but consider this:  We are still full members of the EU, with full rights.  (I cannot fathom why Mrs May allowed herself to be humiliated by being excluded from some EU meetings.  Surely the can’t legally do that, if I were the Government, I would take them to court on that!) After they have calmed down and ranted for the bit,  they will have to get the UK vote for a new trade deal, or a new regulation or other such and we would say “well what about our treaty?” How long could they really put up with an uncooperative UK member?  Remember, leaving the EU is a premenant step – a one-way decision so why rush things? Lets take the long view.

Now I know that the Leave campaigners, the “arch Brexiteers” like Nigel Farrage and his ilk would be dead set against this approach.  He and his like are terrified that somehow if things are delayed the decision might be reversed and their chance of a lifetime to get out of the EU would be gone!  Their fundamental axiom is that any kind of out is better than in so any sensible discussion with them is impossible.  You only have to look at the hysterical tabloid media reaction to “so-called judges” (a.k.a enemies of the people) daring to assert the rights of Parlament, to see that common sense has left the building.  Calm down! The referendum is over and the result has been accepted by mainstream politics but lets get it right, not quick!

My belief is that the type of deal that the UK government ought to be insisting on is in everyone’s interest but it will need a lot of leverage to get European leaders off their political high horses.  A deal that maintains feee trade and customs-less borders and importantly, resolves the “free movement” question by meeting the essential need for economic migration while addressing the legitimate economic and cultural concerns of people across Europe.  The problem the “establishment” politicians face is that if they don’t adresss this the far right will and the politics of hate will take over.  What European governments need to realise that sending the UK away with a flea in its ear will not solve that particular problem.  With a Le Pen government in France, Brexit will be the least of their worries!

I heard on the news today that someone has worked out how to hack a car!Seriously, it’s (apparently) possible to compromise a car’s audio system with a rogue DAB radio signal, embedding code which could the potentially operate the car break and other systems under the control of various on-board computers.
For crying out loud, why design-In vulnerability?

I often think that the entire IT security industry is predicated in protecting against abject stupidity.

Think of the “humble” word processor; how come it’s possible to compromise your whole PC simply by opening a document? In the good old days a document was just that; some text plus formatting information – it doesn’t need to contain a computer program!!

It seems to me that this kind of thinking, building in so much so-called flexibility and embedded programming, has led to a situation that even our CARS need a firewall!!

Maybe it’s time to unpick some of our basic ICT functionality and go back to basics asking ourselves: do we NEED all this stuff that uses evermore processing power and storage, just to make ourselves ever more vulnerable!

I am writing this from a bed in one of the wards in the Cardiac Department of LGI following my ablation procedure earlier in the day. I feel great given what they’ve just done to me and they say I can go home today, fantastic!

Firstly I have to say how impressed I am with all the doctors and nurses here at the LGI, their professionalism and good humour has made this limited stay a really positive experience.

The original plan was for me to have this under general anaesthetic but due to the anaesthetist not being available it was done under local and a sedative (morphine). While this meant discomfort and for a very limited time, some pain, it really gave me an insight into what was going on!

I was wired up like a school electronics project and I had more stickers on than my grandson’s Gruffalo sticker activity book. Then, when the catheter was finally inserted through my groin up into my hear the felling was seriously weird (not actually unpleasant but very strange). It was good (and reassuring) to hear the conversations about what they were seeing and finding – positive problem areas to target. The actual ablation wasn’t very nice and this was when they had to drug me up with morphine. This seemed to work and at one stage I dropped off!

It was great to hear the chatter and jokes between the doctors and nurses, they talked about one colleague coming in with a cold and spreading their germs “probably ebola” and a few other things that caused me to laugh and beg them to stop!

What next? Well, as I said I feel really quite alright, even though I was I the theatre for about 9:00 am till 1:00 PM. I don’t have any weird heart rhythms despite all the extreme things which have been done to it! I thank the doctors, nurses and all the professionals at LGI and I also thank God for protecting me and making this difficult experience pass with so,little stress.

I thank my friends for their messages of support, thoughts and prayers.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a blog, but it occurred to me last night that I might have something worthwhile to blog about because on Friday I am to undergo a heart operation. Granted this isn’t major surgery and the medical profession tactfully describe it as a “procedure”, but it does involve the insertion of a catheter into my heart in order to do some damage to it!

You probably might think that I am the last person you would expect to have a heart problem. But, this isn’t coronary heart disease, the type associated with obesity, bad diet and smoking! No, my problem is an erratic heartbeat (technical name for my condition is paroxysmal atrial fibrillation); my heart’s tendency to beat out of control triggered by vigorous exercise and for it to beat irregularly from time to time. (Quite scary and disconcerting when you don’t know what’s going on.)

You can imagine, doing as much running as I do that this has a massive impact for me. Apparently this condition is not uncommon among elite athletes which is cold comfort and knowing it doesn’t really help. Drugs designed to slow and calm my heart worked initially but over time they have become less effective and since they have the outcome of limiting my heart rate, they severely impair my athletic performance (i.e. make me slower). The prospect is more and more drugs (or poison as my doctor calls them), hence the operation.

I have also agreed to take part in some research. They aren’t doing anything different with regards the treatment, but they are doing more tests before, during and afterwards. One thing I did this week was to undergo an MRI scan and this was fascinating. I wouldn’t say this was the most comfortable experience but the machine was fantastic. The MRI scanner really feels like something out of science-fiction and it uses exotic physics – technology that would be at home in the LHC at CERN! The magnetic coils are cooled by liquid helium to such an extent that they become superconductors. The person operating the machine told me that if you brought a ferrous metal object (say a pen) into room, it would be snatched out of your hand and shot like a missile toward the scanner, just like a giant magnet in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. All this, to take a 3D image of my heart: amazing. I was in the machine for about one hour and after a while it got a bit tedious so I was glad to get out but felt extremely privileged to have all this technology helping to make me well.

So how do I feel about the prospect of the operation (cardiac ablation)? Well obviously I’m a bit nervous. Having a catheter inserted into my heart so that radio energy can be directed to destroy electrical connections isn’t something I particularly relish. However I am really looking forward to the prospect of this journey being over, having not to take heart drugs anymore would be amazing. For the fast few months I have been taking Warfarin and anyone reading this who has ever taken it will understand. This drug reduces your blood clotting capability so you have to be really careful. It limits the amount of alcohol you can drink (no bad thing I guess) and interacts with loads of other drugs so you have to be really careful what you take. Oh, and you had better not bump your head because if you do, you are supposed to go straight to A and E! The beta-blockers that I have been taking for some time make it like you are running with lead boots on. All in all it makes me understand how precious good health is.

I really hope that the procedure on Friday will do the job and cure my heart arrhythmia. I am actually looking forward to it because of the prospect of the freedom it could mean. My Christian faith in God helps me not to fear because I know that whatever happens He is in charge and is with me all the way. I know lots of people are praying for me and this gives me comfort and encouragement. I know that there are lots of people with much more serious health problems and I pray for them. Finally I have trust in the Cardiology team at Leeds General Infirmary because they have filled me with confidence and I think they are amazing.

I’m in LGI from Friday 9th January to Saturday morning – I will do an update.

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What lessons can we learn about God from a satnav?  This is how is happened:  I programmed my device to guide me to the Baptist Assembly at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool.  It correctly navigated to almost within sight of the hotel and then, I decided that I knew better and made off in the other direction (many men will know this routine).  After about ½ an hour of faffing about, we finally found the hotel.  After all, you cant miss it, its probably one of the largest buildings in Blackpool.

One of the overall themes for the Assembly was to challenge Baptists to “Shine like stars” (Philippians 2:15) but how can we do this?  Is it not arrogant for us to believe we are somehow better than other people?  Of course we can’t and it would be a huge mistake to take the challenge this way.  Jonathan Edwards (outgoing General Secretary) in his address to the Assembly re-iterated his belief in the fundamental importance of Prayer, he put it this way “If the Holy Spirit doesn’t show up, then there’s no point in doing it”.  Why do we think we can do things solely based on our own flawed expertise in life, better than we can with the help of the Creator of this world? (In the same way, why do I think I am a better navigator than my in-car satnav?)

In the world of the Christian Church or associated organisations, Prayer is a natural pre-requisite of any undertaking and is part of the everyday routine (according to Jonathan we ought to do it more), but in the secular occupations of many of us this just isn’t so and prayer is absent completely.  Maybe Churches ought to find out about the needs and challenges of the occupations of members and attenders, and pray systematically for them.  After all, these are things that affect people’s lives every day.   In this way, we really can shine like stars.  It’s kind of like making sure the satnav has up-to-date programming, the latest routes and updates and is able to lock on to those satellites in the sky, like stars.

I found this video last week and was really moved.  It is one of the most difficult question a religious person can possibly be asked: why does a loving and all-powerful God allow people to suffer?  You can answer glibly or maybe thoughtfully but speaking honestly, for me it isn’t easy.  I found the attitude of the wonderful Stef Reid in this video refreshing.  She has had to go through an experience most of us will never even come close to and yet her simple statement “Im going to give the creator of the world the benefit of the doubt” is such an inspiring vision of faith.  Her simple love of life has a lesson for us all when we feel hard done by.

Back in the heady days of the late 1990s and early Naughties, The Internet gave rise to a new breed of company. The likes of Google and Amazon.com were names unheard of before and they challenged established brands like latter day Davids vs Goliaths. The Internet had changed everything, this time it would be different, this time it would be better!

Now of course, these Internet companies (at least the ones who survived) are today’s global mega-corporations. But, are things really different now? This week, I was dismayed to hear that both Google and Amazon (companies that I use regularly) are among those accused of using various shenanigans to avoid paying the proper rate of UK tax (100% legal but of dubious morality).

Also recently, Google has controversially merged the personal data it holds on us gathered from various companies it has acquired over the years. Google’s unofficial motto is “Don’t be evil”. This is an obviously laudable objective but it seems to me if you make such a statement, it is a lot it live up to. The behaviour of these companies goes to highlight the human failings; “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It just goes to show how temptation and greed kick-in whenever we start to taste power and success.

Is the Church exempt from such temptations? Given the behaviour of powerful Church institutions over the centuries and even today, it appears not. Therefore, I suggest that anyone in power, who claims to know God, takes heed. Ask Him to lead them and help them avoid the pitfalls of abusing power and follow the one who is all-powerful yet made no attempt to enrich or gain comfort from himself, Jesus Christ.

“With great power comes great responsibility” is a quote ascribed to Spider Man’s Uncle Ben. It was derived originally from a speech by Franklin D Roosevelt. However, the true origin of the sentiment, if not the exact words, can be found in The Gospel of Luke chapter 12 verse 48:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” NIV

PS: The photo of St Peters in Rome was taken by me earlier this year.  A symbol of religious power, its kind of relevant but a nice photo in any case.