Friday, 23 September 2011

James Barry: 'A gentleman every inch...'

Dr James Barry died on the 25 of July 1865 with a considerable reputation that he had built across his life and career.
An innovator in the field of medicine, his tireless efforts to improve the diet and hygiene of the patients he dealt with, sometimes among the poorest residents of some of the most distant corners of the world, caused him no end of conflict with his peers and superiors.
Barry developed a name as an excellent doctor and surgeon but one who refused to accept the limitations of the resources and accepted wisdom of his profession.
The year of his birth is uncertain, and the earliest years of his life shrouded in mystery, but James Barry began his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh in 1809.
Once qualified he was commissioned as a Hospital Assistant in the British Army beginning his career in Chelsea and later Plymouth before being posted overseas where he spent the majority of his life.
He served initially in India and then in Cape Town, South Africa where he made a name for himself by performing one of the first caesarean sections where both mother and baby survived the procedure. The grateful parents named their son James Barry Munnick and the tradition of the name was passed through the generations, counting among their number General James Barry Munnick Hertzog, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1924 to 1939.
The tradition has continued to this day and the current holder of the name is, fittingly, a doctor.
Barry's renown as a surgeon was only matched by his reputation as a firm advocate for improved hygiene and conditions in the hospitals he worked in.
His career took him from Mauritius to Canada with periods in Trinidad and Tobago, St Helena, Malta, Corfu, the Crimea and Jamaica.
All of these postings saw Barry argue with his superiors over the state of the hospitals and the standard of the staff working in them.
This eventually came to a head in St Helena where Barry, frustrated at the lack of response to his concerns by the Commissariat on the island, wrote a letter to the Secretary of War outlining his issues. He was immediately placed under house arrest and accused of 'behaviour unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman.'
Barry described it as:

'...probably the first instance of an officer being brought to trial for the performance of his duty...'

The charges were eventually dropped but the reputation as an agitator would follow Barry through his life.
It would be easy to imagine then that Barry would find a kindred spirit in Florence Nightingale, his contemporary and fellow advocate for improved conditions in medical institutions.
That would, however, ignore Barry's near-superhuman determination to clash with any prominent figure around him...
Rather than comparing notes and finding common ground Barry took the one encounter he had with Nightingale to berate her over a difference of medical opinion.
Nightingale remembered the incident vividly:

'I never had such a blackguard rating in my life- I who have had more than any woman- than from Barry sitting on his horse while I was crossing the hospital square with only my cap on in the sun. He kept me standing in the midst of a crowd of soldiers servants and camp followers, every one of whom behaved like a gentleman during the scolding I received, while he behaved like a brute.'

She later described Barry as:

'The most hardened creature I ever met throughout the army...'

Barry retired in 1864, against his wishes, and died in 1865.
Upon his death, with his body being prepared for burial, an incredible discovery was made.
Dr. James Barry was a woman.
Moreover, further examination determined that at some point she had given birth.
This revelation stunned most of the people who had known Barry but many spoke up now with their long-standing suspicions. Rumours of an affair with the Governor of Cape Town resurfaced and people saw a new set of motives in Barry's nomadic career with her needing to be constantly moving before rumours followed or she was too closely observed.
This makes Dr. James Barry the first Briton who was assigned female at birth to become a medical doctor.
But there is no formal recognition of this achievement.
Upon this revelation a series of newspaper editorials, rather than supporting the idea that a woman could become a doctor, and in this case an exceptional surgeon, played up the idea that the standards of medical training and examination had slipped to such a low standard that even a woman could slip through.
Although now believed to have been born Margaret Ann Bulkley at the time of her death the identity of this remarkable woman was unknown.
Her gravestone is made out in the name of 'James Barry' and, despite the petty gripes of many at the time of her death, contains a full listing of her qualifications and military rank...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Ali Dia (and other cousins of George Weah)

There's no real hiding place in sport.
You can handle the press conference like Ali in his prime but if you step out to perform with nothing to back it up you'll be lucky if it's just your ego that gets bruised.
That didn't deter Ali Dia though...
Graeme Souness has never had a great reputation as a manager for picking out and developing obscure but talented players.
His time at Glasgow Rangers is best defined by him bringing talent up to Scotland that allowed him to be successful in a relatively weak league but was never going to be a world class team,
at Liverpool he managed to dismantle a decent side and replace nearly all of the members of the team with inferior replacements while his success at Galatasary returned him to the comfort zone of helming a historically strong team in a generally poor league.
His judgement generally could be called into question after selling the story of his recovery from a heart attack to The Sun, a newspaper reviled in Liverpool after it's scandalous reporting of the Hillsborough disaster and his decision to plant a flag in the centre circle of the home pitch of their arch rivals Fenerbahce after a Turkish Cup win in 1996.
However all of this is overshadowed by the Ali Dia affair.
After receiving a phone call from Liberian international and former World Footballer of the Year recommending his cousin, who was at the time plying his trade at Blyth Spartans in the Northern Premier League, Souness agreed to give Ali Dia a one month contract.
He was impressed by Weah's enthusiasm and tales of Dia's 13 international appearances and time playing at Paris Saint-Germain.
Dia duly arrived and began training where he looked, frankly, quite ordinary.
He was due to make his Southampton debut against Arsenal in a reserve game but this was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
In the meantime Southampton were dogged by a series of injuries to members of the first team squad which saw a number of reserve players drafted in for a Premier League match against Leeds United.
Souness hoped not to have to call on his unproven bench but after 32 minutes Matthew Le Tissier pulled up injured and Ali Dia was sent into the fray.
It's possible that on another day, in another game Dia could have come on, kept his head down and cruised through the game unnoticed.
Instead he was replacing one of the most naturally gifted midfielders to ever grace the English game.
The contrast couldn't have been more obvious...

Le Tissier said afterwards:

'He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice. It was very embarrassing to watch...'

After 53 minutes Souness had seen enough. Ken Monkou was sent on to replace Dia and the young Liberian never played for Southampton again.
Further enquiries revealed that he was not George Weah's cousin and that the phone call had come from his agent rather than the Liberian legend.
The stories of Dia's shining career were just that.
His career in France had been based at teams such as Beauvais and La Rochelle rather than PSG and he had never come close to international football.
Souness resigned at the end of the season and, incredibly, went on to find further employment.
Dia later signed for Gateshead, played 8 times for the club and scored on his debut.
He never played for Liberia.
The next season Arsenal signed Christopher Wreh from Monaco.
He was a Liberian international and a cousin of George Weah.
While never good enough to displace Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright at Arsenal Wreh played for the Gunners 28 times, scoring 3 goals.
You'd imagine that Arsene Wenger made a couple of phone calls before drawing up the contract...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Obscene Dog: Hubbard and Scientology

On the surface Scientology seems to be a fairly straightforward method of self-improvement.
Even using their own terminology it's not hard to see the appeal of a system that encourages the individual to 'Audit' themselves to find their weaknesses and shortcomings and undertake a series of exercises or 'Study Tech' to travel across the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and emerge on the other side as a 'Clear', happier and more complete person or an 'Operating Thetan'.
For many the ridiculous language employed by the Church of Scientology is enough to leave them open to mockery and their teachings to be rejected but there are enough people looking for answers about themselves and the world around them to see Scientology grow into the international belief system that operates today and count large numbers of people, including massive celebrity names, among its followers.
Founded by the author L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 the very origins of Scientology are clouded in controversy.
Hubbard had previously published a book called 'Dianetics' in 1950.
In 'Dianetics' he had proposed a pretty straightforward system of popular psychology where the mind stored negative memories in a 'reactive' area as 'engrams' which affected the 'analytical' area in an indirect manner. By simply substituting 'reactive' for 'subconscious', 'engrams' for 'trauma' and 'analytical' for 'conscious' you were left with a fairly obvious and simplified version of basic Freudian analysis that required the user to simply engage with and accept subconscious trauma as something that could affect their everyday life.
Most people saw through 'Dianetics' as a poor version of Freudian analysis with unqualified therapists leading people through a series of inadequate attempts to deal with traumatic memories.
Hubbard didn't see the failure of 'Dianetics' as an indictment on the system itself but rather that he had not gone far enough in moving his methods of treatment from those of conventional psychology.
He decided that he would leave the business of the mind alone to therapists.
His business would now be that of the soul...
This decision also tied in with another theory that Hubbard had developed during this period.
Friends at the time reported Hubbard often claiming that there was no money to be made in the Science Fiction novels and short stories he was producing and that the real money was in starting a religion.
Rumour has it that a wager in a bar with Robert Heinlein, another prominent Science Fiction writer, about who could found the more popular religion was also a prompt for Hubbard.
The actual existence of this wager is disputed but Heinlein went on to produce the novel 'Stranger in a Strange Land' (1961) which inspired the creation of 'The Church of All Worlds' by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart in 1968.
If there was a wager then Hubbard won...
While The Church of All Worlds enjoys worldwide membership it is still tied very firmly to neopagan subculture and its insistence on polyamory and instruction in the Martian language will probably see it remain a very small, but fervent, community.
By reframing Scientology as a religion rather than the self-help system that Dianetics was Hubbard immediately expanded the appeal of the movement.
The tax breaks that religions enjoy as institutions probably didn't hurt either...
Now established as a religion Hubbard used a very similar methodology to Dianetics for the mechanics of Scientology.
New followers are described as 'Preclear'. They are 'Audited' to determine the 'Incidents' that their 'Thetan' has endured and undertake 'Tech' to clear themselves of the memories of these traumas crossing the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and emerging on the other side as an 'Operating Thetan.'
The incidents that Hubbard described are bizarre. They are believed to have taken place at a time before our souls have taken any physical form and were endured by our spiritual selves but the trauma remains and affects our conscious mind.
Among them are the 'Body Builder' incident, where the Thetan was placed in a "special field and forced to fight his own 'attention units'and build a physical body from them", the 'Ice Cube' incident where Thetans were trapped in ice and thrown in the ocean and the 'Jack-in-the-Box' incident where the Thetan was tricked into gathering a series of identical images which then explode.
People who have suffered from this incident will apparently be obsessed by the pictures on cereal boxes...
These are the incidents studied at a very basic level in Scientology.
Those further along the 'Bridge' will be confronted by traumas featuring Bears, Gorillas and an Obscene Dog...
Before long the methods of Scientology came under scrutiny.
The policy of 'disconnection', where followers were encouraged to refuse to acknowledge non-Scientologists and leave friends and family behind lead to accusations that it was little more than a cult. Investigation from the media and law enforcement agencies followed which in turn lead to Hubbard developing some hardline policies with how the Church of Scientology should deal with its enemies.
He advocated policies such as 'Attack The Attacker', 'Fair Game' and 'Dead Agenting' which all involved refusing to assist with any enquiries from outsiders about the activities of the Church of Scientology and discrediting anyone who spoke ill of the organisation.
Surprisingly, given the origins of his methodology, Hubbard was particularly opposed to the practice of Psychiatry and encouraged his followers to attack and discredit it whenever they could.
Despite the murky origins and unconventional beliefs at its heart, the Church of Scientology has gone from strength to strength over the years.
The recruitment of celebrity followers such as John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and Tom Cruise has given Scientology a media profile that other organisations can only envy.
The revelations promised to followers who cross the 'Bridge to Total Freedom' and become 'Operating Thetans' was a secret for a long time.
Sustained investigation and the rise of the Internet has meant that in recent years this has become public knowledge and even featured on an episode of 'South Park'.
According to Hubbard the 'Thetans' that form our souls are from another planet and were dumped into volcanoes on Earth millions of years ago by a despotic intergalactic overlord.
The 'incidents' that traumatised these Thetans, including the volcanic immolation, have lead to us believing ourselves to be 'merely' human and unaware of our cosmic origins and destiny.
Through Scientology Hubbard promised to allow us to 'clear' ourselves of the traumas and lies that prevent us from embracing our intergalactic future and return to the stars as true Thetans.
It seems a shame that when it came down to the core of his religion Hubbard couldn't resist going back to the hackneyed Science Fiction stories he claimed to be moving beyond.
It's not even a good one...