Azara Blog: Cam Magazine, Lent Term

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Date published: 2005/04/17

Cam Magazine is an alumni magazine for Cambridge University. Like all such magazines the real intent is to convince alumni to support the university financially, but of course the British are much more subtle about this than the Americans, and there is no mention of money, and the articles are often quite interesting.

The current issue (Lent Term 2005, number 44) is fairly typical. One of the normal features is "Don's diary", when a "don" (a senior member of the university) writes about his or her life. The one in this issue is written by Simon Blackburn and he says (amongst other things):

Off to the House of Lords to give evidence to the committee chaired by Lord Mackay, looking into Lord Joffe's excellent bill to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill patients who expressly want to die. I am there at the invitation of the British Humanist Association. A posse of religious spokesmen (yes, men) precede us, all frothing that God's will must prevail, and the bill would mark the end of civilisation as we know it -- as they doubtless did when suicide itself was made legal, or probably anaesthetics or for that matter umbrellas, which after all impiously thwart God's plan to wet people. The religious posse are given three hours or so; we are given one, and that is interrupted by a loud bell, on which most of the Lords troop out to vote in a debate that they haven't attended.

One of our group is Philip Havers QC, who defended Diane Pretty. He lucidly describes the incoherent and unjust state of the law as it stands. Only a few of the Lords seem bothered. I talk about the fragility of any distinction between doing something to hasten dying (which can get you fourteen years in prison) as opposed to removing something that is lengthening life (which is currently legal). The Lords are polite, but when it comes to questions they ask about something quite different. I am told that the ethics committee of the BMA likes the acts/omissions distinction, no doubt since it provides a nice shelter and absolves doctors from involving themselves in these embarrassing things.

Isn't it nice to hear someone be rational on this subject. Unfortunately the religious control freaks have far too much influence in the world. And the BMA (British Medical Association) is not much better.

Another regular feature in Cam Magazine is "My Time at Cambridge", with a couple of famous alumni telling some (usually amusing) stories about their time as undergraduates. (People who come to Cambridge just as post-graduates are not really considered to be in the same class.) One of the alumni this month is Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records. He said he had wanted to do Maths and Physics from an early age but ended up doing English at Cambridge, so a bit of a loss that. He also says:

I got something wrong when I was nineteen: I gave Neil Young's Harvest album a bad review in Varsity and have regretted it ever since. Since then I've been obsessed with getting things right. As a 54-stroke-5-year-old worker in the music industry, I go two or three times a month to watch bands and stand in a dirty basement while four teenage kids thrash their guitars. Every time is like the unseen paper in tripos when I rubbished what I thought was a crappy nineteenth-century song, but which turned out to be one of those folksy songs that clever-dick Shakespeare throws into his plays from time to time. That really hurt bad. And so, if I ever thought a band was no good, and I was wrong and they turned out to be significant artists, I would have to slit my throat. As my late mother once complained, "This crazy life of yours is still just an extension of Cambridge".

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