Make your own free website on

Eye on Britain

Posted by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another faked "hate crime"

From Scotland:

"A Sikh schoolboy, who prompted an inter-faith vigil to promote peace, respect and tolerance after claiming his hair was chopped off by racist thugs, invented the story.

The 15-year-old, in tears, gave a graphic description of a vicious verbal and physical attack by four white males who struck as he walked near his home in Edinburgh. His story was widely reported because of its unusually aggressive nature. It is the Sikh tradition for males to keep their hair uncut and not to shave their beard or moustache.....

But it has emerged that he cut off his own hair, punched himself in the face and concocted the story. It is understood he was experiencing personal problems. Sources say that he felt torn between his Sikh values and more westernised ones. They said he had wanted to get his hair cut for some time, but was afraid of the reaction of some members of his family and the Sikh community...."


Interesting how the liars are always immediately believed. It is such a great excuse for an orgy of self-righteousness. Hat tip to Gerald Hartup, who also has previous reports of similar incidents.


More Leftist hypocrisy. They make laws that sound good then do their best to thwart them

Labour's flagship freedom of information laws are being blocked by ministers who are increasingly refusing to answer routine inquiries about government policy, new figures show. Seven government departments, including the department in charge of monitoring the new powers, are identified in a Whitehall report as refusing to give answers to more than half of all requests made by the public.

The Foreign Office has the worst record by claiming exemptions for 70 per cent of all requests it has received. In total, of the 62,852 requests made to central government since 1 January 2005, 26,083 have not been granted. And of those questions the Government considers properly resolved many have not been answered to the questioner's satisfaction.

The report also shows that public requests for information have fallen to the lowest number since the laws were implemented. The Department for Constitutional Affairs, which has responsibility for implementing the "right to know" laws, has the second worst record, by only providing full answers to 39 per cent of all requests.

Next month the Government is to go to court to try to prevent the public using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain even innocuous information about "the formulation" of policy after the Information Commissioner, the legislation's watchdog, ruled that ministers must reveal material that does not harm policy-making. Government lawyers are to appear before the Information Tribunal in an attempt to have the commissioner's decision overturned by arguing that all policy-related information must be withheld.

The legal challenge will be followed by the introduction of regulations designed to stop the media from making full use of the new powers. These regulations represent a direct attack on the spirit of the law, once heralded by Labour as the end of the culture of Whitehall secrecy. The media and other organisations will be restricted to a handful of requests a year, while the time taken by officials and ministers to consult and consider requests will now be counted when calculating whether people should be charged for any disclosure.

Figures released by the Department for Constitutional Affairs reveal requests to central government fell to a low of 7,641 between July and September, compared with 13,603 in the first three months after the law came into force. Freedom of information campaigners warn that this might be evidence that the public have become frustrated with their failure to get answers. Overall, the success rate for requests across all departments has fallen by 2 per cent to 60 per cent in the past six months.

While Labour has been happy to release documents embarrassing the previous Tory administration over its handling of "Black Wednesday" - Britain's forced withdrawal from the ERM - ministers have been less willing to let the public use the Act to shed light on Labour's own political controversies. For example, ministers are still refusing to release earlier drafts of the Attorney General's advice on the legality of the war with Iraq. At the heart of its strategy is the Orwellian-sounding Central Clearing House where all sensitive or difficult requests are sent. Set up by ministers before the introduction of the laws, the unit employs 12 staff to monitor the public's use of the legislation.

Maurice Frankel, the director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, says the Government's approach "strikes at the very heart" of the legislation. Michael Smyth, the head of public policy at the law firm Clifford Chance, said that while he acknowledged the Freedom of Information Act had opened up government, the regulations, due to come into force in April, will "emasculate" the media. "The Government dined out on the mantra that the FoI Act was to be motive-blind ... but these bizarre proposals will turn FoI requests into something where motive will become relevant," Mr Smyth said.


UK: 1,000 pound fine for failing to update ID card: "A draconian regime of fines, which would hit families at times of marriage and death, is being drawn up by ministers to enforce the Identity Card scheme. Millions of people, from struggling students to newly-wed women and bereaved relatives, will face a system of penalties, netting more than 40 million for the Treasury. People would be fined up to 1,000 pounds for failing to return a dead relative's ID card, while women who marry will have to pay at least 30 pounds for a new card if they want to use their married name, risking a 1,000 pound fine if they do not comply."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christmas Carols are "Torture"??

"Forcing store clerks to listen to the same holiday music over and over could be akin to torture and should change, a British noise pollution group said.


I wonder why none of them seem ever to have complained of being tortured? I guess the Queen gets tortured too. Everywhere she goes they keep playing that same old national anthem.

NHS takes cash meant for charity

They've got a lot of bureaucrats to support

A pioneering scheme to help mental patients may have to close because the Department of Health has pocketed money promised by the Treasury. Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the executive director of the charity Community Service Volunteers, said it was outrageous that £3.7 million had disappeared into the NHS and that all attempts to extract it had failed. Appeals to ministers have been ignored, and only recourse to lawyers and a threat to tell the press what had happened produced any response.

Yesterday the Department of Health said that the money would be with CSV by the end of January — ten months late — although Dame Elisabeth is not counting on it. The money is the final tranche of a £7.3 million grant made by the Treasury in 2004 under the “Invest to Save” programme, designed to show that by investing money to improve services, more can be saved.

CVS won the grant for Capital Volunteering, in which people in London who have suffered mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder are encouraged to get involved in voluntary activities. This can include acting as helpers for other sufferers of mental illness, or activities such as gardening, sports and music. Its results are promising, with 25 per cent saying that they are gaining skills and 17 per cent reporting improved confidence.

At the end of March the Treasury passed £3.7 million to the Department of Health. It should have filtered through to the project via London Strategic Health Authority, Camden and Islington Primary Care Trust, Islington Mental Health Trust and the London Development Centre — a procedure that Dame Elisabeth describes as “pure Yes Minister”.

Somewhere along the line the cash-strapped NHS decided it would hang on to the money. “What authority had it got to do this?” Dame Elisabeth asked. “It is an abuse of power.”

CVS’s efforts to extract the cash have also been worthy of Yes Minister. It approached the Treasury, who condemned what the Department of Health had done as unacceptable. But nothing happened. Dame Elisabeth then went to a higher level in the Treasury, who agreed that the situation could not continue. But it did. Next she went to Ed Miliband, Minister responsible for the Third Sector (voluntary organisations) who said that he was anxious to help.

Hilary Armstrong, the Cabinet Office Minister, then spoke to Ivan Lewis, Economic Secretary to the Treasury. Nothing happened. “On Monday we took the decision to ask lawyers to sort it out,” Dame Elisabeth said, “and we also said we would be talking to the press.

“Things began to happen. We were told it would be in the ‘next bundle’ at the end of January. That’s not acceptable. Even if we get the money, we have lost £90,000 in interest it would have earned us, and which we need.

“What is distressing for us is that the Government is all the time saying it wants partnerships with the voluntary sector, but our trustees are now asking if this is a risk we want to take. “We’re not alone. There are a number of other organisations who have been let down by the department.”

Dame Elisabeth — the author of Getting Money from Central Government — is not in a mood to compromise. She wants the money, plus interest, immediately, before some of the staff face redundancy.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “They will get the money in January.” She made no mention of interest.



This one is too much fun for me to question the research methods too deeply

Doing housework can cut substantially a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to researchers. A study comparing the beneficial effects of different types of exercise found that moderate housework had the biggest obvious effect.

More than 44,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year. Last year 12,400 women died from the disease, most in their postmenopausal years.

Previous research has examined the link between exercise and breast cancer in postmenopausal women, but this is one of the first studies to include a large number of pre-menopausal women. Experts recommend that women exercise for 30 to 45 minutes five times a week to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

The study, part-funded by the charity Cancer Research UK, looked at a range of activities — including work, leisure and household occupations and chores. The pre-menopausal group doing housework spent, on average, 17.7 hours a week doing it while the post-menopausal women spent 16.1 hours. Pre-menopausal women who did housework were found to be about 30 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer than pre-menopausal women who did none. Meanwhile, post-menopausal women who did housework were found to be about 20 per cent less likely to develop the disease than post-menopausal women who did none.

The researchers analysed data from 218,169 women from nine European countries, with an age range of 20 to 80 years. They followed the women for an average of 6.4 years, during which time there were 3,423 cases of breast cancer. The average age at which the disease developed in the participants was 47.6 years for pre-menopausal women and 65.6 years for post-menopausal. All forms of activity combined was found to reduce the risk in the post-menopausal women participants, but had no obvious effect in the pre-menopausal women. But the researchers found that all women, both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal, who undertook housework had a “significantly” reduced risk of getting the disease.

The research, published in the January edition of the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, concluded: “In this large cohort of women , . . increased non-occupational physical activity and, in particular, increased household activity, were significantly associated with reduced breast cancer risk, independent of other potential risk factors. “Our results . . . provide additional evidence that moderate forms of physical activity, such as household activity, may be more important than less frequent but more intense recreational physical activity in reducing breast cancer risk in European women.”

The authors noted that housework was one of the “main sources of activity” for women living in these countries. Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “We already know that women who keep a healthy weight are less likely to develop breast cancer [Rubbish! Fatties get least breast cancer]. “This study suggests that being physically active may also help reduce the risk and that something as simple and cheap as doing the housework can help. “Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk Campaign recommends that men and women take regular exercise and maintain a healthy body weight to help prevent cancer.”


Let's say farewell to the 'ethnic minorities'

Ten per cent of the British population come from “ethnic minorities”, a reporter on the BBC Today programme told us solemnly on Monday. He was discussing the Conservative Party’s drive to make the choice of candidates better reflect what Tories, too, call the “ethnic minority” population. The reporter added that this should be 10 per cent. By “ethnic minorities” he didn’t (and the Tories don’t) mean Albanians (Christian or Muslim) or the Irish, or Australians, Japanese or Jews.

Labour, meanwhile, has established an “ethnic minority taskforce” chaired by Keith Vaz, MP. His roadshow will not be visiting the Ukrainian community in Derby, or the Polish community in West London. It will not be talking to the substantial number of more recent immigrants from Eastern Europe who do not yet even speak English. Its remit includes third-generation black Christians whose only language is English. It does not include (white) Bosnian Muslims who speak no English at all. Mr Vaz is himself described as coming from the “ethnic minorities”. He (a Roman Catholic whose English is rather plummier than mine) is of Indian (Goanese) origin.

Oh, come on. Ethnic means “coloured” doesn’t it? If not, tell me in what respect not. The word is an adjective. The noun “minorities” is increasingly and unceremoniously dumped these days in favour of a new usage of “ethnic” as a noun in its own right — as though “ethnics” were members of a single tribe. Only one thing unites this wholly imaginary tribe: not their language, not their religion, not their background, not their culture — but the colour of their skin.

What hypocrisy this is. In Britain the word “coloured” is now more or less shunned in polite usage, and for a good reason: use of the term implicitly categorises people by the colour of their skin, which we shouldn’t do unless it tells us something useful and distinctive about the whole set.

What does a description of the colour of someone’s skin usefully convey in modern Britain? Their religion, language or culture? No; the Afro-Caribbean “community” (itself a conflation of two quite distinct groups) is mostly English-speaking and Christian: a culture closer to the British mainstream than that of a (white) Albanian. Indian Sikhs and Bengali Muslims are worlds apart. Those from the Indian sub-continent do not consider themselves to be black. Islam is much closer to Christianity than Buddhism or Hinduism.

Mr Vaz is no more or less representative of a black British voter in Brixton than I would be. A Bangladeshi Muslim in Tower Hamlets is unlikely to want Priti Patel (a new Tory candidate whose family origins are in India and Uganda) to speak for him on the dispute in Kashmir. Do British Indians consider themselves an oppressed minority any more? I doubt they would agree on this. Do prospering immigrants from Hong Kong feel common cause with refugees from Zimbabwe?

A growing diversity — of race, outlook, culture, gender — among our representatives in Parliament is an excellent thing and the Tories and Labour are right to push hard for it. But quotas for skin-colour are surreptitiously insulting, and plain wrong about the category they presume to identify. It’s time we recognised the whole concept of “the ethnic minorities” as the sloppy and ignorant anachronism it is: a category that simply does not exist.



Parents are tackling universities over poor grades and lack of teaching time as they seek better value for money from their children’s degrees. As students increasingly turn to their families to help with tuition fees, Baroness Deech, head of the student complaints watchdog, has given warning that parental disgruntlement will escalate.

Last year the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which was set up to handle student complaints against universities, upheld a third of the 350 cases it investigated. Of those, almost half (43 per cent) involved students challenging exam results. They felt they deserved better grades or were treated unfairly at appeal. Universities had to pay about 260,000 pounds in compensation.

This is known as the “my little Lucy syndrome” — when middle-class parents challenge their son or daughter’s disappointing degree result. While a 2:2 from a top university was acceptable a decade ago, a 2:1 is now a prerequisite for many high-paid jobs. So as parents prepare to pay off their children’s fees to spare them years of debt, they are beginning to question what they are getting for their money.

“Parents will fill in forms saying, ‘My little Lucy has a first-class brain and certainly should have been awarded more than a lower second degree’,” Lady Deech told The Times. “We then go to the university, which says, ‘Well, she had an average brain and a good time here, and did averagely well’. But the parents have invested in her so they want more.”

Although she has yet to receive complaints since the introduction of 3,000 pounds-a-year top-up fees in the autumn, Lady Deech predicts that the number will rise “because of the growth in higher education and the fact that the job market isn’t as exciting for graduates as it was 20 to 30 years ago unless they have a good degree. “So if they find that the degree that they have is lower than they believe their rightful grade to be, they will find ways to challenge that decision.” She suggests that universities employ independent mediators, as in America and Australia. The adjudicator operates an open-door policy, all advice is given and sought in confidence, there are no notes and he or she is either the first port of call, as in America, or the last, as in Australia.

Although her office has received few complaints arising from the recent strike by lecturers, students are already seeking better value for money. Last month, students at the University of Bristol complained after learning that they were to have two hours’ lecture time a week in their final year, instead of a promised six.

The complaints followed a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute, which exposed how older research-led universities often pass off teaching to postgraduate assistants. It found that more than 90 per cent of tutorials and seminars at new universities were taught by academics, compared with 70 per cent at older institutions, with the exception of Oxford and Cambridge.

Last year the OIA’s first annual report also revealed that students studying “subjects allied to medicine” were behind 60 per cent of all complaints. They were followed by students studying creative arts and design, business administration and law. Veterinary students and architects were least likely to complain. Postgraduate students were five times more likely to complain than undergraduates, and non-EU students were slightly more likely to lodge a complaint than EU students. Most complaints were made by white British students (38.5 per cent), followed by African students (19.3 per cent).



Of a sort

A groundbreaking voucher system is being introduced to schools in England for the first time next week in an attempt to meet the educational needs of the brightest pupils. Under the initiative the country's brightest 800,000 pupils will receive vouchers to spend on extra lessons, such as "master classes" at university-run summer schools, online evening classes or even web-based courses from Nasa, the US space agency.

Every primary and secondary school will be told to supply the names of 10 per cent of their pupils who best meet the new criteria for the "gifted and talented" programme when they complete the January schools census. Only 5 per cent of pupils achieving top marks in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds have been eligible for funding under the programme. The new project would ensure that the brightest 10 per cent in each school were selected, regardless of how many pupils met the present criteria. Each pupil will initially receive 151 credits that act as vouchers towards extra lessons.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, and delivered by the Centre for British Teachers (CfBT), a non-profit education company. CfBT will invite companies, independent schools, universities and other educational bodies to offer activities for an agreed fee. The move is an attempt to prove that Labour values gifted and talented pupils and that they can expect a high standard of education in the state, as well as private, sector.

However, the voucher initiative is likely to prove controversial among many Labour backbenchers who oppose the notion of pupils as "consumers" in an education market, and teachers who believe that the plan is divisive and elitist. The Conservatives recently ditched plans to give parents a flat-rate voucher of 5,000 pounds a year to spend at the school of their choice, state or private.

An initial 65 million pounds has been earmarked for the credit system, with extra money coming from the Government's existing 930 million "personalised learning" programme. Lord Adonis said: "The national register set up earlier this year will enable thousands more gifted and talented children to be identified, especially late developers and those underachieving because of social disadvantage. This register will ensure they are identified early and get the appropriate learning opportunities inside and outside school."

Tim Emmett, development director for CfBT, said: "The Government is seeing this as part of school improvement, rather than a lifeboat for a few bright children. If you can raise the metre for 10 per cent of children in a school, you can do it for the other 90 per cent as well."

The voucher scheme follows plans announced earlier this year to cherry-pick the brightest children in English state schools from the age of 11 for places at top universities. The controversial move was denounced by some Labour MPs as a new system of "super-selection" that effectively made the final tests at primary school a university entrance exam. Critics also pointed out that it left little room for late developers, and in particular boys, who do less well in all tests except mathematics at 11. However, it was welcomed by academics as a way of opening up university admissions without lowering standards.

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust has already identified 180,000 children aged 11 to 17 from their Key Stage 2 exams, taken by all pupils attending state primary schools. Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the trust, said he was determined that no child should be overlooked as a result of a poor secondary school education. In a letter sent to all schools, he asked head teachers to help pupils to realise their full potential and told them that he expected each child to achieve straight A grades at A level.


Bug counters to infest kitchens

British food frenzy

What do you look for in a restaurant to celebrate the new year? Good food, wine and atmosphere? No, the authorities are sure that what diners really want to know is how many bacteria are in the kitchen, and how much saturated fat is on the menu. Yummy.

The Times reported this week that the Food Standards Agency is to give every restaurant a cleanliness rating, with orders to post their “scores on the doors”. Eateries will then be graded on the “nutritional value” of their food. Perhaps we should also be told whether they kill vermin humanely, what their policy is on workplace bullying by chefs, and the immigration status of their washers-up.

Anybody would think we were in the middle of a food poisoning epidemic. In fact, Britain’s eateries are not only better but also cleaner and more inspected than ever before, and have mostly stopped putting strychnine or lead in food, like their Victorian forebears did.

It may make the grease police and droppings inspectors of the FSA choke on their low-fat diet, but most of us do not eat out in search of hygiene or “nutritional values”. If we did, we would never eat burgers or foie gras. If we wanted to dine in a clinical environment, we could eat straight from the fridge wearing latex gloves.

Even in these “transparent” times there are some things better done behind closed doors. As Fergus Henderson, chef at the immaculate St John restaurant in Smithfield, says “a scoring system on the doors suggests there is something tainted about eating out”, and risks bringing “magic” restaurants down to earth by “showing their dirty laundry on the door when it’s not dirty”.

It turns out that half of Britain’s remaining cases of food poisoning are not in restaurants at all, but in hospitals, schools and care homes where the food is often unsavoury in every sense. If the authorities want something for their prodnoses and peckstaffs to do, they might start by putting their own kitchens in order.



The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was designed to make U.S. company finance more transparent and company bosses more accountable. In practice it has placed huge bureaucratic burdens on companies domiciled in the USA. The solution? Move domicile! The post below says that the move is on

Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley... London loves you! The more I read about the flood of money coming into the City of London from the United States, the more I am convinced that in the spirit of Christmas and fraternal Anglosphere conviviality, the people of London should say a heartily thank you to Maryland Democrat Paul Sarbanes and Ohio Republican Michael Oxley.

In fact, in the new year I plan to launch a subscription appeal to put up a pair of gold plated statues somewhere in the square mile, depicting these two fine politicians throwing handfuls of dollar bills to a multitude of grateful City of London bankers, fund managers, stock brokers and other sundry worthy capitalists, as great numbers of companies decamp from New York and list in London instead.

And so Paul and Michael, on behalf of all those fine folks here in Merry old England whose Christmas bonus packages have gone through the roof, thank you. We could not have done it without you. God bless globalisation.

If England is less bureaucratic, it shows how exceedingly bureaucratic the alternative is. Prof. Bainbridge has more details about the idiocies of Sarbanes-Oxley


Climate-change panic is not new, nor is unusual weather

During the long, hot summer of 1976, when Britain faced its worst drought in 250 years, the Government considered a number of unusual solutions. An emergency Drought Act was passed on August 6 and, by August 20, the Government had gathered information on the sinking of bore holes, the use of oil tankers to bring water from Norway, and the seeding of rain clouds - a method of forcing clouds to rain by spraying chemicals into the air. But cloud-seeding was ruled out and ministers were told that building a barrage at Morecambe Bay would be a cheaper way access water than importing it from Norway.

A letter of August 23 from the Home Office to the Prime Minister reported on the challenge facing the fire service: "Everything is tinder dry and the particular difficulty this weekend has been caused by higher wind speeds. The fires in Hampshire and Dorset are under control at present but the situation could change dramatically if the wind increases."

Days later, over the Bank Holiday weekend, the heavens opened and the drought came to an end. But the Government had been shaken and said the population needed to have its complacency about water availability "shattered".


How Britain gets people out of those evil cars: "The chance of being assaulted at a mainline railway station has nearly doubled in the past five years, according to figures from the British Transport Police. There were 1,270 violent attacks against passengers at stations last year compared with 702 in 2001 - an increase of 80 per cent. By far the most dangerous station is Leeds Central, where there were 159 attacks. In 2001 there were 75. Next are listed the main London stations - including Victoria and Waterloo - Birmingham New Street and Cardiff Central. The amount of violence had increased or stayed level at all the 61 stations covered by the British Transport Police figures, with the sole exception of Liverpool Lime Street".

Friday, December 29, 2006

Obese may be denied priority NHS care: Patients with 'self-inflicted' illnesses face discrimination

No word yet, however, about fatties, smokers and drinkers being refunded their compulsory health insurance payments

Smokers, people with alcohol problems and the obese could be denied priority treatment on the NHS if they do not try to change their lifestyle. The Cabinet is discussing the controversial idea as part of a drive by Tony Blair to secure his domestic political legacy by pushing through a final round of public service reforms before he departs next year.

Ministers will confront a panel of 100 ordinary people with some of the "tough choices" facing the Government under a consultation exercise giving the public a direct say in the new policies. One question will be whether people whose lifestyle makes them ill should get the same priority as other patients. This would mean changing NHS guidelines saying that people should not be discriminated against "even if their illnesses are to some extent self-inflicted".

A Cabinet review group on public services was shocked by the scale of the burden caused by people's lifestyles. "Ministers were shocked by the fact that half of all years of healthy life are lost as a result of behavioural factors (e.g. smoking and diet)," a Government source said. Ministers want a "cultural change" in public services so the state can support and encourage people to change their behaviour to improve their life chances and well-being. They also want to extend the number of "contracts" between the citizen and the state, such as the 30 pounds -a-week education maintenance allowances paid to over-16s who remain in further education.

Experts warned this month that obesity, which costs the NHS 7 billion a year, could bankrupt it if left unchecked and predicted that the proportion of obese adults would rise from one in five to one in three by 2010. Smoking-related diseases cost an estimated 1.7bn a year, with the same amount spent on alcohol-related problems. The treatment of alcohol-related harm, such as violent crime and traffic accidents, costs an estimated 20bn.

Downing Street sources said no decisions had been taken on whether to change the guidelines and stressed that the public would be asked their views on the issue first. The suggestion is bound to provoke criticism. Forest, the pro-smoking group, has claimed that some smokers have already suffered discrimination. It argues that tobacco revenues, which bring in 7bn a year for the Government, dwarf the cost of smoking-related illness.

The cabinet group, one of six drawing up the Blair Government's last policies, will also look at how public satisfaction measures can improve state-run services. Ministers will try to learn lessons from retailers like Tesco, which has used the technology behind its Clubcard system to offer a more personalised service. The 100 people, a representative cross-section of the British public, will be recruited across the regions in the new year and organised lobby groups will be excluded. In February, they will see the papers discussed by the six cabinet groups and, in March, a public services summit will be held in Downing Street at which the "people's panel" will reach decisions. These will be presented to the Cabinet in mid-March.

Hazel Blears, the Labour Party chairman, is looking at other ways in which the public could influence government policy and the way that services are run. A Blair aide said: "This process of public engagement recognises that politics is changing. The public level of expectations is rising both in terms of the provision which they receive and the right which they have to influence those services. It will identify in more detail the areas which the public want us to focus on and develop a series of radical and progressive solutions."

The cabinet reviews have already provoked controversy. A paper for the security, crime and justice group, leaked at the weekend, suggested that crime could rise for the first time in more than a decade as economic growth slows, and that the prison population, already at a record 80,000, could rise to 100,000 over the next five years. The Government has promised an extra 8,000 prison places but it is not clear how they will be funded. The Treasury has frozen the Home Office budget in real terms from 2008-11 other than for spending on security and anti-terrorism work.

Yesterday David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, challenged the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to address the "chronic shortage" of prison places. He said: "All we have seen from Gordon Brown has been a miserly approach which, as well as putting the public at risk, is short-sighted. The cost of having a serious criminal free on the streets to commit crime far outweighs the cost of imprisoning and rehabilitating that individual."

Source. Tangled Web has some comments.


And yet more encouragement for people to lie to keep out of trouble

Businesses have been warned by a Government watchdog they must individually quiz every member of staff on gay rights - or risk being sued for discrimination. Industrial relations quango Acas has spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money drawing up a detailed 18-question test to establish whether workers are being unfair to any homosexual colleagues. Employers are advised to use the so-called 'audit tool' on all staff, then check their answers against a special score sheet to ensure staff do not have a bad attitude. A poor score earns a 'STOP' warning, which, according to Acas, means the company is at risk of being sued for discrimination.

Questions range from knowing how many gays live in the UK, to whether the business displays a 'rainbow flag' - a symbol of homosexual rights - on the premises. Poor scores are awarded for, for example, any 'jokes or banter' relating to gay or bisexual people. Acas said it was part of the 'Government's drive to promote good practice' on the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. Any firm which is alarmed by its results can ask for two free days consultancy, from Acas, paid for by the taxpayer. An expert will help the firm to develop an 'action plan'. The equivalent cost of the consultancy advice is an estimated 1,000 pounds.

Acas is the Government quango in charge of industrial relations in Britain, and provides advice and a reconciliation service to stop disputes reaching the tribunal stage. It has not sent the quiz to businesses, but they are all required to be up-to-date on Acas advice if they want to avoid being sued, and would be expected to download it from the website. In practice, most companies are so anxious about expensive tribunals in litigious modern-day Britain that they make sure they follow all Acas guidelines.

The test, however, was last night dismissed as a politically-correct waste of employers' time and public money. Business leaders said it was more likely to create rather than solve problems, by raising issues which had not previously caused any concern. Matt Hardman, of the Forum of Private Business, said: 'This is indicative of the state we have got ourselves into over discrimination laws. 'They seem determined to go to ridiculous lengths to flag up something which is unlikely to be an issue in most workplaces. 'In instances where it does arise, it will be dealt with informally in the first few weeks of employment and be dealt with quickly, and in an amiable away. It does not require something like this. 'We must be sensible, not take politically correct steps that are perhaps more likely to create problems than solve them.'

James Frayne, campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It's bizarre to think that people actually sat down and came up with this idea and thought it was great. 'This is just the latest in a long line of absurd schemes public sector bodies have come up with and which all add up to a small fortune for the taxpayer. Unfortunately, it's very unlikely 2007 will say anything different.'

The questions ask staff if nicknames are more likely to be given to gay members of staff than homosexual ones, or if there is an office equality policy or lesbian, gay and bisexual support group. Answers which Acas wants to see - such as ticking 'no' to the suggestion gay workers are more likely to be teased - receive a green rating, or 0 points. Saying yes would earn a red rating, or two points. A total of 31 points or more earns a 'STOP' rating. This carries the warning: 'Your organisation may well not be properly addressing issues relating to lesbian, gay or bisexual people in the workplace. 'Importantly this suggests that there is a lack of awareness relating to treating people fairly regardless of their sexual orientation, which may mean discrimination on the grounds of people's sexual preferences. 'Remember organisations that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation, whether perceived or not, leave themselves open to a potential legal challenge under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.' A total of 0-10 is a clean bill of health, while 11-30 means proceed with caution, according to Acas.

Earlier this month, Acas came under fire for warning firms they could be sued unless they ensured office Christmas parties were politically correct. In an extraordinary advice pamphlet, the quango told firms they had a 'duty of care' to drunken staff and could face crippling legal action if they do not get home safely. Managers were also told age discrimination laws could be breached if the music and entertainment caters only for younger staff, and holding a raffle or giving out alcoholic prizes could offend Muslims. It even added a 'proper risk assessment' must be carried out before any decorations were put up, particularly if they could be fire hazards. Businesses said it made holding a Christmas party barely worth their while.

Acas said: 'Promoting equality and diversity and ensuring employees feel valued and can give their best are key issues for today's workplaces. 'This audit tool is designed to give an indication of where (an) organisation is in regard to sexual orientation and gender reassignment.' The organisation added: 'It is definitely not a test; it's designed to bring a sensitive topic out into the open and gauge whether an organisation protects basic equal rights at work whatever the individual's beliefs and practices in their personal lives.'


Indigestion remedies linked to fractures?

Taking potent drugs to combat indigestion can increase the risk of breaking hip and other bones, researchers say. Drugs that restrict the production of acid in the stomach are among the most effective and best-selling treatments in the world, with sales worth more than £7 billion a year. But a study of nearly 150,000 British patients by American researchers found that they increased the risk of hip fracture by as much as 44 per cent.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may decrease cal-cium absorption or bone dens- ity in certain patients, leading to increased risk of fractures.

Many of the one in twenty people who visit doctors in Britain each year complaining of heartburn are prescribed acid-suppressive drugs — or PPIs — to alleviate their problems. Prescriptions for PPIs such as omeprazole — sold under the brand names Losec, Prilosec and Zegerid — rose by more than 5,000 per cent during the 1990s.

A team from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, analysed data from the UK General Practice Research Database, which contains information on millions of British patients.

Limiting the study to people aged over 50, the researchers examined 13,556 hip fracture cases and 135,386 control patients. After screening for other factors that might lead to a fall or brittle bones, they found that more than one year of PPI therapy was associated with a 44 per cent increased risk of hip fracture.

They suggest that elderly patients taking high doses of PPIs for long periods should boost their calcium intake.


Brits flocking to Australia

Amusing the reason given below: Sun and sand. No doubt that is a factor but might it not be that escaping high taxes and the high rate of black crime are important too?

Australia welcomed more than 130,000 immigrants in the last fiscal year, most of them swapping the cold of Britain for sun and sand down under. Figures released by the Department of Immigration show Australia welcomed about 8000 more immigrants than the previous year, with the majority choosing to settle in New South Wales.

While many of the new settlers arrived and stayed in Sydney, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said immigrants were finding it easier to settle outside the city. "A network of support services has now been established in regional NSW and throughout Australia and this has made it more attractive for migrants to live and work away from the big metropolitan centres of Sydney and Melbourne," she said.

The biggest increases in immigration were in South Australia and the ACT. South Australia welcomed 9099 new immigrants, an increase from 6364 in 2004-05, while the capital territory became home for 1372 new Australians, up from 1217. A building boom, low unemployment and the aesthetics of Canberra were all behind the ACT's attractiveness, Senator Vanstone said. "The Canberra community is to be congratulated for welcoming these people into their lives so readily and willingly." [Really! Poms are a universal feature of Australian life. Completely unremarkable]


Global cooling in Queensland

If an unusually hot summer in London proves global warming, surely an unusually cool summer in Brisbane proves global cooling!! Or don't the colonies count?

It still hasn't broken the drought, but more good soaking rain across much of the state yesterday seemed to wash away our concerns - at least for a moment or two. As a southerly air stream brought more record cold December temperatures and unseasonal drizzle, many swapped the traditional post-Christmas day at the beach for a rare stroll in the rain....

There were smiles too on the Darling Downs, where the light drizzle was just enough follow-up to storm rain a fortnight ago. Graingrower Frank Stenzel said the 8mm of light rain that had fallen since Christmas Day at his Greenmount property, 25km south of Toowoomba, was a welcome boost for his 120ha crop of sorghum. But Mr Stenzel said he would need a further 100mm in coming weeks to ensure a reasonable harvest. "The cool weather has allowed the rain to soak in and hopefully well get more by the weekend," he said.

The bureau has forecast cloudy skies and patchy rain for today in a band from the northwest to the southeast of the state, slowly clearing northwards. Tomorrow, rain is expected to ease and clear northwards, with temperatures climbing but still generally below average. The highest rainfall recorded yesterday was 29mm at Baralaba, 200km southwest of Gladstone.

Bureau senior forecaster Geoff Doueal said record low December maximums had been recorded at several places, including Brisbane Airport (19.1C), Toowoomba (13.9C), Ipswich (18.4C) and Oakey (15.5C). Emerald's maximum of 16.7C was the lowest December maximum for a century. The previous lowest December temperature was 18.3 in 1907.

More here

And it is indeed a remarkably cool summer here in Brisbane. There is a distinct nip in the air at night. Usually, at this time of the year, I am accustomed to having a warm shower by turning on the cold water only!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Compulsory halal meat in UK schools

Post lifted from Cranmer

Cranmer is indebted to his faithful communicant Ms Dexey for bringing his attention to the fact that Reading schools are serving halal meat to their students with neither their foreknowledge nor parental approval. It is not the option to which Cranmer objects, but the compulsion. The RSPCA condemns the practice of slitting an animal's throat while it is conscious, but issues of cruelty and inhumane treatment have been completely ignored as Berkshire schools bend over backwards to accommodate the sensitivities of Islam.

The reason given is that Reading `has a high proportion of Muslim students'. By the same reasoning, Bradford, Oldham, Leicester, Slough, and most of London should also be serving nothing but halal meat, and now the precedent has been set, it will not be too long before the demands are made.

But Cranmer finds a flaw in this multicultural manifestation. Of course the Christians may object, and without doubt their pleas will fall on deaf ears, but the Sikhs also have cause for complaint, and they have yet to raise their voice on this matter.

Unlike Hindus, some Sikhs eat meat, not least because one of their gurus is recorded as being a hunter. Yet within the Sikh faith are the `kurahit', or prohibitions, one of which is to not eat meat `killed in the Muslim way'. The origins, as ever, have more to do with the politics of identity, but it is a sustained article of belief for Sikhs all over the world - they are simply not permitted to eat halal meat at all. In Reading, they have been doing so without their knowledge.

Consider for one moment if these schools had been serving reconstituted pork disguised as some other meat, without the knowledge of Muslim students or parents. There would be uproar, with a high-powered delegation of `senior Muslims' to Downing Street demanding national repentance and a global apology, to which the Prime Minister would doubtless acquiesce.

In this instance, the sensitivities of other faith groups and the demands of the animal rights activists are subjugated to the demands of the Muslims.


Our small dog was in a bad way – vomiting, and with a dreadful case of the ‘scoots’ as we say in Scotland. We thought he had eaten something nasty, and it would soon pass. But by 6pm we realised that we needed a vet.

It was Sunday evening. Indeed, it was Christmas Eve. But the vet answered the phone straight away, and told us to come round to the surgery. Ten minutes later, he was examining the dog, and fifteen minutes after that, he had diagnosed the problem, given him three injections, bottled up a week’s dose of two different kinds of medicine, told us he would recover just fine, swiped 34 pounds off our credit card, and assured us that it was just fine to call him on Christmas day if we had any further problems. That’s what I call good service.

By contrast, as I say, a few weeks back I needed to see the doctor. It was a Friday evening, and a recorded message told me that the surgery was now closed until Monday. If I had a real emergency I could leave a message and someone – obviously not my regular doctor – would call me. It wasn’t an emergency, so I called back on Monday, and managed to get an appointment ten days later (though in honesty, I could have seen another doctor in a shorter time). The doctor wrote me a prescription, again for two medicines, but I had to walk half a mile up to the chemist to get them. They cost me around £14 (the standard NHS medicines charge), almost half what the vet charged me for his whole on-the-spot consultation and prescription.

Why do vets give such better service? I am sure that doctors are just as dedicated to their vocation. But with the vet, the link between serving your customers and getting paid by them is immediate. It concentrates the mind on giving good service. In the NHS, remuneration is negotiated and paid by government quangos. There is no clear link between getting paid and giving a good service to your customers.

Doctors should be remunerated like vets. And if some people cannot afford their fees, then those people should be subsidized through the welfare system. The rest of us should pay cash. We might grumble at that thought: but we would get such a better service that overall, we would probably grumble far less.

Until that happens, though, next time there is something wrong with me, I shall be consulting a vet.


A British drinker mocks British government alcohol correctness:

It is that time of year again, when the family of experts and authorities gather around to hand out shock-horror warnings that binge drinking at Christmas can be bad for us.

Here is the shocking news for them: we know. And we don’t care. For many of us, Christmas is supposed to be one big binge — a burst of spending, eating and drinking that is less festival of light than heavy session. That, after all, is what the B word means — “a bout, usually brief, of excessive indulgence” — not “a slippery slope into alcoholism”. Hopefully somebody bought the binge-whingers a decent dictionary for Christmas. Given the alternatives — not drinking at all, or not stopping — a binge has always seemed to me the best way to celebrate.

The official abuse of the meaning of “binge” is more than semantics. It blurs the distinction between the social drinking that millions happily indulge in, and the serious alcohol problems that afflict a few. The definition of “binge drinking” has been so watered down that a binge is defined as imbibing double the recommended daily limit at one sitting. So three glasses of wine, or two pints of strong lager, now qualify as a “binge” for women. Men may just be allowed a third pint before falling into the binger category. Less Ho, Ho, Ho than No, No, No.

What is all the fuss about? I grew up in suburban Surrey in the Seventies, and have blurred memories of Christmas as a ten-day bender sprinkled with violence and vomit. Somehow we survived to drink another day. By contrast, Christmas bingeing is viewed with horror today not because we drink more, but because officialdom thinks less of people — especially young people. The anxious authorities are mortified by the spectre of the public letting go, of the masses off the leash and on the lash for a few days.

But be of good cheer, there is life after a binge. Shane Warne is not only the greatest cricketer of his generation. His ability to drink himself stupid between repeated bouts of brilliance has made him a hero to binge drinkers everywhere. As he said when announcing his retirement last week: “I’ll have a few drinks and a few smokes afterwards, and take it from there.”

Some of us might not want to go so far as the binge drinker’s bible (aka the Bible), where it is written (Ecclesiastes 8:15) that “a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry”. But the occasional binge is one of life’s small joys for many. And, as even the Government’s own National Alcohol Harm Strategy admits reluctantly, most who drink more than the official guidelines “will not suffer harmful effects” — no more harmful than a hangover, anyway. The binge-whingers should remember that for millions of us this week, a binge is just for Christmas, not for life.


Australian Labor Party to get tough on welfare

Australia's new Leftist leader would be a "blue dog" Democrat in the USA. And the comparison with Britain is even more amusing. Not only is Rudd to the Right of the British Labour government but he is also to the Right of Britain''s nominally "Conservative" Opposition

Kevin Rudd is pledging to push welfare change harder than the Howard Government if elected next year by encouraging many of Australia's 700,000 "forgotten" people on disability pensions to find work. In a move expected to enrage welfare groups, federal Labor is planning to keep tough criteria for new disability pensioners introduced by the Government in July. Opposition workforce participation spokeswoman Penny Wong signalled Labor would go further than the Government, saying she wanted to create thousands of new training positions so people on disability pensions could find work.

Under the Government's tightening of eligibility for the disability support pension, people will no longer get the payment if they are judged able to work 15 hours a week - a halving of the previous 30-hour limit. The 700,000 people on the DSP before July are not affected by the revised work-hours test. The Government's welfare changes outraged welfare groups including the Catholic Church, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Uniting Care Australia because they considered the measures too harsh.

Labor wants to provide incentives to existing DSP recipients whom it believes would work if given a chance. According to Labor, these people have been neglected by the Government as too hard to handle politically, and because involving them in work programs could bring an unwelcome boost to unemployment figures. Senator Wong said Labor wanted to be known as a "work-first" party and not one of welfarism.

While the policy was formulated during Kim Beazley's period as Opposition leader, Senator Wong, a member of the party's Left, continues a trend adopted by Mr Rudd. Since being elected to the Labor leadership this month, Mr Rudd has moved to reposition the party on a raft of issues to cast it as economically responsible and avoid being wedged on contentious left-wing issues. Mr Rudd has signalled there will be no repeat of Mark Latham's disastrous Tasmanian forestry policy, and Labor's immigration policy will encourage learning English and getting a job, with integration into Australian society emphasised over cultural diversity. Campaigning on federal-state reform, Mr Rudd has called for an overhaul of responsibilities between the commonwealth and states to improve services in health and education.

Senator Wong said Labor supported moves to cut the DSP rate further, although she confirmed the party's approach would not force people off pensions. Rather it would lure them off benefits by offering training places. "We think those who can work should work," she said. "If we can further reduce welfare payments and get people into work, it'sbetter for everybody. We are and should be a party that understands the value of work. We want to reduce the numbers of people who are long-term welfare-dependent."

The number of people on DSP benefits rose by 21 per cent over the past five years to 700,000. But according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, their labour market participation rate is just 46.5 per cent, compared with 70 per cent in most OECD countries.

The Howard Government reneged on one of its core welfare reform promises, to provide a guaranteed 4000 places for disabled people in its Welfare to Work programs. Senator Wong said Labor would offer places to anyone on the pension who wanted them. Welfare recipients could study at TAFE or university courses instead of having to look for work. The changes would apply to people receiving the disability support pension or the sole parents' pension, and who are considered capable of working between 15 and 30 hours a week.

The only training they can now undertake as part of their mutual obligation requirement is short-term and must be run by a member of the JobNetwork or an organisation approved by the agency. Instead of work-for-the-dole projects, eligible welfare recipients could do training, vocational or tertiary courses, as long as they could prove this would increase their chances of work, Senator Wong said. Labor's concession to the welfare lobby will be to ensure that while the disabled and single mothers wait for jobs they receive higher rates of support through boosted welfare payments.


British Leftist antisemitism driving out Jews? "There is an ancient Jewish prayer that says: "Next year in Jerusalem." That, however, is not soon enough for 40 British Jews, who will board aircraft today taking them to Israel, leaving one country in the dying days of 2006 and beginning their new life in a new land and a new year: 5767 under the Jewish calendar. The migration of British Jews to Israel stands in marked contrast to the general decline in immigration to the Jewish state from elsewhere. While the number of immigrants to Israel dropped by 9 per cent worldwide in 2006, arrivals from Britain increased by 45 per cent, the largest rise of any nation."

A new Margaret Thatcher needed in Britain: ""Britons will have to pay ever higher proportions of tax for the rest of their working lives, the Government’s own figures revealed. Despite an unprecedented era of economic stability and growth, the burden of taxation is set to rise or stay constant in every decade for the coming 50 years, according to little-noticed forecasts published by the Treasury this month. The Government’s best estimate of the tax burden it will bequeath to future generations is printed in figures less than two millimetres in size and buried within an obscure document published alongside Gordon Brown’s Pre-Budget Report (PBR). Entitled Long-Term Public Finance Report: an Analysis of Fiscal Sustainability, it revealed that taxes as a proportion of national income will rise from 38.4 per cent this year to 40.5 per cent in 2026 and up to 41.6 per cent in 2056, if current policies are continued. Government spending is set to rise even faster, pushing the country’s finances deeper into the red with every successive decade from the 2030s onwards.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Egg on the Face of British Authorites over Attempted "Hate Speech" Prosecution

We read:

" An English couple who were the subject of a police hate probe after complaining about the town's pro-gay policies will be paid $20,000 to end a discrimination suit alleging their civil rights had been violated.

After the Wyre Borough Council launched a diversity program to train its staff about LGBT issues and started a Lancashire wide scheme to promote gay friendly businesses and organizations Joe and Helen Roberts sent a letter to the council calling homosexuality "immoral".... Council officials turned the letter over to police who began a probe to determine if it violated British hate laws.....

In June the Roberts filed suit against the council. The couple claimed that Wyre Council and Lancashire Constabulary interfered with their human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion under the Human Rights Act.

The case was to have gone to court in January but in an out of court settlement the couple agreed to drop the lawsuit in return for a public apology from the police and council and a cash settlement of $20,000 which Joe Roberts said would be given to a conservative Christian group that opposes homosexuality.


Nice to see that one of Britain's wacky laws can sometimes do something useful.


A recipe for blackouts

Nature seems to like her little ironies, like the cold weather that pursues Big Al round the world as he promotes his global warming scare. So she provided a stationary high, of the sort mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this page, at the very moment that the new gigantic monstrosity on the Thames Estuary was announced. If all those white elephants were in position now they would be providing no power at all, just when the country is immersed in freezing fog and needing it. This letter in the Telegraph almost says it all:

Sir - Once again the public are being misled by the wind industry. These windfarms, which are going to cover over 100 square miles of the approaches to the Thames Estuary, will never power one third of London homes.

If as suggested the installed capacity of the 400-plus turbines is 1.3 Gw (1300Mw) then even with a generous load factor of 30 per cent the average output will only be 390Mw. This would in fact be enough to provide 5Kw to 78,000 homes, about enough to power an electric kettle and a toaster. If, as there frequently is, a high pressure system is sitting over south-east England , then there will be zero output from these windfarms. The claims about carbon dioxide savings are equally dishonest. Using widely accepted data the annual, theoretical savings of CO2 for these turbines would be approximately 1.46 Mt and would reduce global levels by a farcical 0.005 per cent

What your readers really need to know is that these windfarms will receive approximately œ160 million per year in subsidies, paid for by them. This windfarm scandal has gone on long enough and needs to be exposed for what is. We are destroying our landscapes and now our seascapes for nothing more than green tokenism, and are being expected to pay for it as well.

Bob Graham, Chairman, Highlands Against Windfarms, Orton, Moray

Unfortunately it rather understates the case. Time averages are of no significance in this application. The point is that for about 80% of the time these machines would produce no power at all. Fossil fuel generators would have to provide the missing power and then be switched to warm standby while the wind is blowing. Even if CO2 were a significant factor in global warming, the fraction saved would be derisory.

It was a particularly irksome time to read this nonsense, as the announcement of the latest hike in electricity bills came through the letter box on the same day. Ordinary punters have no idea how much they are paying for these religious observances and they cannot see the connection with the front page headline on the same day.

Pity the poor grid controller when the wind drops suddenly: by the time his call for extra fossil power has been answered, the cascade of failures across the network will already have begun to propagate.

From Numberwatch - Post of Dec 22

Tony Blair versus Tony Blair: "On this page a few weeks ago, Tony Blair set out his case for the ID card scheme that his Government is preparing to foist upon the British people over the next eight years or so. This was, presumably, a different Tony Blair from the one whose thoughts I stumbled across at the weekend while digging out books for the local Christmas fair. New Britain: My Vision of a Young Country, published in 1996, was a collection of newspaper articles and speeches that encapsulated Mr Blair's Third Way political philosophy, the prospectus on which he would be elected to office the following year. On the cover, he said: "When we make a promise, we must be sure we can keep it. That is page one, line one of a new contract between the Government and the citizen." So what did he think of ID cards? The answer was on page 68: "Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local community." So much for Mr Blair's new contract."

Pathetic British Tories: "Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher are conspicuous by their absence in a list of 12 great Britons who created the institutions that shaped the country's history, compiled by the Conservatives and eminent historians. The ranking was prompted as part of the Tory party's review of the teaching of history in schools and comes after surveys showing that many children lack a basic knowledge of history."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

British Academics seek right to offend

A right that they theoretically have already -- but not of course in practice. See also here under the heading "Staff are silenced by fear of reprisals"

A group of academics is demanding the right to be controversial in a new campaign for freedom of speech. Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF) says that in today's political climate it is "harder than ever" for scholars to defend open debate. AFAF says they must be allowed to question received wisdom, and managers should not be able to discipline academics for voicing unpopular views. The group is calling on all university lecturers to sign its online petition.

"Restrictive legislation, and the bureaucratic rules and regulations of government quangos and of universities themselves, have undermined academic freedom," the groups says. "Many academics are fearful of upsetting managers and politicians by expressing controversial opinions. "Afraid to challenge mainstream thought, many pursue self-censorship."

A Leeds University lecturer, Frank Ellis, took early retirement this year before a disciplinary hearing over his comments that there was evidence to suggest white people had higher IQ levels than black people.

Statement of freedom

The statement of academic freedom which lecturers are being asked to sign says two principles are the foundation of academic freedom: "That academics, both inside and outside the classroom, have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive. "That academic institutions have no right to curb the exercise of this freedom by members of their staff, or to use it as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal."

Writing on the AFAF website, Professor Roy Harris from the University of Oxford said: "Getting university authorities to agree to these principles is an essential step towards safeguarding academic freedom for the future." Professor Mary Evans from the University of Kent said: "Universities need to be able to maintain, and even extend their ability to think the unthinkable. "They should not accept a role as mere instruments of state agendas."

Simon Davies, co-director of the policy engagement research group at the London School of Economics, added: "I'm deeply worried about the number of academics who flee in terror at the slightest wisp of controversy. "Rather than engage the world in a spirit of challenge, too many academics have been sedated by an oppressive environment of political correctness and risk aversion."

Source. More detail here under the heading: "Scholars demand right to be offensive".

Cars not Allowed to be "Gay"

We read:

"The BBC has upheld a complaint against Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, after he described a car as a "bit gay". The ruling is a surprise since the corporation had defended Clarkson robustly when the remarks were broadcast in the summer.

He provoked the ire of the gay community when he asked a member of the show's audience if he would buy a two-seater Daihatsu Copen, retailing at o13,495. The man said, "No, it's a bit gay", to which Clarkson added: "A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer."


"Gay" is just a general derogatory word among young people but "Ginger beer" is Cockney rhyming slang for "queer" so Clarkson was evidently saying that the car was the sort homosexuals would like. Apparently that opinion may not be stated.

Monday, December 25, 2006


To all who come by here. And let us reflect thankfully on our Judeo-Christian heritage which mandated kindness and impartial justice (Exodus 23), among many other things.

David Irving, the Walking Controversy

I probably should not admit that David Irving does rather give me a laugh at times. I think that, like Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, he is to a significant degree an entertainer. His latest comment, describing a particular colour of brown as "n*gger brown", was obviously a big tease, and it got him the headlines he wanted. He is what Australians would call a "stirrer".

Like Chomsky, however, he lets off his verbal grenades among other sensible-sounding utterances and he has certainly got a point with this:

"You can't have a genuine consensus about histories about a subject like the Holocaust... if the proponents of one argument are given the knighthoods and the money and their opponents are locked up in prison."

The pity of it is that Irving is actually an extremely knowledgeable historian as well. I doubt that there is any other historian who has immersed himself in the Nazi period as fully as he has. His books show that and he was also the only historian who immediately fingered the Kujau "Hitler Diaries" as a fake. I say a little more about Irving here.

Bell-ringers are prime suspects

Heard the one about the Tory shadow minister who wanted to dress up as an elf in Santa’s grotto? (Well, they are all going green.) Sadly the punchline is not as funny as the Lib Dem MP lending a hand to the Cheeky Girl. Tim Loughton, the Shadow Minister for Children, was prevented from displaying his elfin charms at a charity children’s Christmas party, because he had not been vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). Welcome to the spirit of Christmas present, where Santas, party helpers, choir members and bell-ringers can all come under suspicion of being undercover perverts, and children must be protected from an honourable, but unvetted, elf.

A report entitled How the Child Protection Industry Stole Christmas, published by my friends at the Manifesto Club, lists seasonal horror stories from around the country. A fat old man offering children gifts if they sit on his lap in a cosy grotto — that’s “grooming”, isn’t it? So Santa often has to be vetted, and even then probably won’t be allowed to put children on his knee, ask for a kiss or do anything more than shake hands under bright lights and even CCTV cameras. All it needs now is for the Santas to claim that they cannot have chubby children on their knee anyway because of health and safety regulations.

Elsewhere, unvetted volunteers are barred from some Christmas parties, photographing Nativity plays is frowned upon, and some churches require all adults in mixed-age choirs to be vetted. Oh succumb, all ye faithful. As for those notorious church bell-ringers they not only need CRB-vetted supervisors, but also parents must be informed that an adult may touch their child’s hand, and young campanologists are given warning not to wear anything “overtly provocative”, presumably in case it rings somebody’s bell.

As Josie Appleton, the report’s author, says: “This isn’t about ‘PC gone mad’. Sadly, these procedures have become entirely normal in schools, churches and community centres across Britain.” Whatever the intentions, the effect can only be to spread bad will and mistrust towards all men. One mother selling letters from Santa on eBay even assures customers: “The magic of Christmas is here . . . I am CRB-checked.” Magic!


New drugs 'could halve treatment'

A new generation of antibiotics could halve the length of time people need to take medication, scientists say. London researchers are developing what they hope will be the first of these - a compound to treat the hospital superbug MRSA in the nose. It tackles bacteria currently "left behind" because they are resistant to standard antibiotics. The anti-MRSA drug will be tested in humans next year and may be available in five years.

It is hoped similar compounds being examined by the team will also prove effective against Staphylococcus bacteria, which cause sore throats and tuberculosis. Developing a way of tackling antibiotic resistance is important because it could mean the antibiotics which already exist could be given a longer life. At the moment, years of work can be put into developing a conventional antibiotic but it may be possible to use it for around only 18 months before resistance develops.

HT61 is being developed as a cream to tackle persistent MRSA bacteria in the nose, the most important part of the body where it is carried. Many hospitals already test people before they come in for operations to see if they are carriers of MRSA. But, like all bacterial infections, it is made up of two forms of bacteria - the fast-dividing sort targeted by existing antibiotics - and non-multiplying, or persistent, bacteria. It is this latter form that lurks in the body and causes repeat infection, and can lead to resistance if it is exposed to medication. HT61, which has been tested in the lab and in "very successful" animal trials, is effective against persistent MRSA bacteria. It will be tested on around 60 people next year.

The team may later seek to tackle MRSA once it has got inside the body. Sir Anthony Coates, professor of medical microbiology at St George's Medical School, who is leading the research, said research so far showed it was "potent against MRSA". Clive Page, professor of pharmacology at King's College London, who is also working on the study, said the work opened up the possibility of a whole family of drugs which could treat persistent bacteria in a range of conditions. He said: "It may lead to us providing a combination of drugs - one to target the dividing bacteria and one to target the persistent form. "If you take something like penicillin, and put this with it, you might be able to get a treatment course which lasts one or two days, rather than the current five to seven."


UK: Millions 'cannot read well enough for karaoke'

Millions of adults have such poor reading skills that they will struggle to keep up with karaoke lyrics at Christmas parties this year, government research has found.

Research for the Department for Education's Get On campaign found classic songs like Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" require the reading skills expected of an 11-year-old, lacked by more than 5.2 million adults. Other karaoke hits, such as "Angels" by Robbie Williams, pose a harder challenge, which nearly 18 million adults will fail.


There's more to childhood than counting calories

The obsession with expanding waistlines is narrowing horizons for children - and replacing adult guidance with health tips.

Last week, in Britain, Sainsbury’s announced that it was financing a £3million programme to help 5,000 obese children and their families. In addition, ‘nutrition nannies’ will be treading the aisles to advise families on healthy eating and staying active. This week, the Chicago mayor asked restaurants with over $10million in annual sales to post calorie counts on their menus, so that kids can moderate their intake. This comes a year after Democratic and Republican heavyweights joined forces to announce a 10-year programme combating childhood obesity.

Increasingly everything that children do is assessed with reference to body mass index (BMI). Indeed, the obesity issue seems to be one of the few areas where adults feel they can give some moral guidance. Adults today have a hard time telling kids what is right and wrong, how they should develop themselves, or why they should exercise self-control. Good now equals active, low fat, and smaller waistline; bad equals inactive, full-fat and bulging belly.

Childhood obesity has become the bottom line justification for children’s activity. A few weeks ago, the government proposed that kids should go on school trips to help combat childhood obesity (see Who killed the school trip?, by Josie Appleton). The same justification is given for why children should also play sport, play outside with their friends, and walk to school on their own. The need to combat obesity apparently also means that they should eat good food, and eat with their family at mealtimes.

Conversely, it is said that children shouldn’t play video games too much, sit at home not doing anything, or eat on their own whenever they like, because that will make them fat.

This signifies a profound narrowing of vision. Questions of self-development and self-restraint are posed in one-dimensional terms of weights and measures. Children’s activity is judged in terms of narrow goals and ends, the numbers of calories that it burns, rather than being seen as simply a normal party of everyday life, or as useful as an end in itself. So long as their arms and legs are moving, it seems, that is okay.

Increasingly children are encouraged to engage in ‘active lifestyle programmes’. The Department of Heath gave some children pedometers to measure the numbers of steps that they take in a day. Schoolchildren in Denver received similar pedometers back in 2002, and have been counting their steps ever since. Experts try to work out what is an acceptable pedometer reading: ‘How many steps per day do children need?’, asks one article, plumping for 12,000 steps for girls and 15,000 for boys.

In Minnesota, an obesity researcher designed a classroom that encouraged children to fidget. An article reports: ‘all of the desks have been replaced with adjustable podiums. Instead of chairs, children stand, kneel or sit on big exercise balls while they work and they are actively encouraged to move about the space.’ The children are adorned with sensors to measure their every movement. Another US company designed a toy known as ‘Fizzees’ (Physical Electronic Energisers), digital pets that children care for by moving around. Lots of jumping makes for a happy Fizzee.

Here, the authorities are trying to attach meaning to children’s everyday mundane activities; government targets are being pursued through activities such as children walking to school or running down to the park, or even just fidgeting. Video games are okay, apparently, so long as they involve activity. Groby Community College in Leicestershire introduced the game Dance Dance Revolution to encourage reluctant girls to exercise. The Nintendo game Wii received cheers from some quarters because it increased kids’ activity levels. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is considering replacing play areas in some of its US restaurants with kiddie gyms, to help them burn off the calories.

Even the question of obesity itself is seen in very flat moral terms. Gluttony was a sin because it meant gorging the self at the expense of higher spiritual goals, such as praying and doing good works. The problem was not so much the kind or quantity of food that sinners ingested, but their motivation for doing so. It was a question of character and inner life, not just of digestion.

Although obesity is now the number one sin with which to scare children, it’s seen in peculiarly pragmatic terms. There is an obsession with measurement. The UK Department of Health released cutting edge advice on how to measure child obesity levels, and called on headteachers to carry out these measurements in primary schools. The problem with obesity reduced to bald statistics: it causes X amount of damage to children’s health, and costs the NHS Y million pounds per year and the economy as a whole Z.

Researchers are busily working out all the various ‘factors’ that influence childhood obesity. One Bristol researcher found that it was influenced by lack of sleep, while another academic found that it was caused by watching more than eight hours of TV a week at the age of three. There are lots of complicated programmes to encourage families to create a new environment for children, with all the correct factors in place. The question is not just that Johnny is greedy and needs to eat less. Instead, there is expert advice on micromanaging families’ every lifestyle choice, from food to mealtimes to weekend routines.

MEND - the charity financed by Sainsbury’s - aims at ‘involving the entire family in healthy eating and an active lifestyle programme’, including everything from ‘changing family attitudes towards healthy eating and physical activity’, recommending ‘practical ways to remove unhealthy food triggers’, and ‘learning to be a healthy role model’. All this is apparently about ‘empowering them with the knowledge and skills to overcome obesity’. This interfering jargon almost makes you miss the Ten Commandments.

These policies are in danger of breeding a new nation of self-obsessed gym goers, who are forever counting their steps and calorie intake. Kids shouldn’t be thinking about their weight, even - or perhaps especially - if they are fat. They should be thinking about winning a game of football, improving their tennis serve, playing games with their friends. They should be having fun, chilling out.

There is more to childhood than not being fat. School trips broaden the mind, sport is fun, walking to school teaches you independence, eating good food with your family is more satisfying and sociable than eating alone. Adults need to work out how to give kids more substantial guidance - on what it means to be a good person, how to develop yourself and exercise self-control - beyond waving your arms and legs around to reduce your BMI.


Sunday, December 24, 2006


There is an interesting site here that uses publicly available data to calculate the cost of getting electricity from wind power rather than from King Coal etc. It turns out to be about as intelligent a policy as sacrificing your children to a false God. And the calculations do not even include the fact that every wind station built has to have a coal station built to back it up when the wind is not blowing -- thus roughly doubling the capital cost of delivering a given amount of electricity. It's about as rational as Devil worship.

An old-fashioned gal: "Liz Hurley turned down jewellery in favour of a pair of shotguns for her birthday. The actress-and-fashion designer rarely graces a red carpet unless she is dripping in expensive jewels, however, when she turned 41 in June she had an unusual present request. She told Ultra magazine: "For my last birthday I was offered jewellery or shotguns. I chose the guns." Liz was reportedly given a pair of Spanish 12 bores."

Saturday, December 23, 2006


The BBC is leading this morning with the ridiculous Chatham House paper on Blair's Foreign Policy record. Who are these people? The author of the document (all five-and-a-half pages of it) is Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas, who had a background in Latin American politics before taking over at the RIIA [Royal Institute of International Affairs or "Chatham House"]. It's an astonishingly thin, intellectually hazy, and lazy piece of work. He writes that:

"Tony Blair's successor(s) will not be able to offer unconditional support for US initiatives in foreign policy and a rebalancing of the UK's foreign policy between the US and Europe will have to take place."

And that's as detailed as the argument gets - basically an assertion of the random political preferences of Prof. Bulmer-Thomas. Margaret Beckett has hit the nail on the head with her response: "This paper is threadbare, insubstantial and just plain wrong. Chatham House has established a great reputation over the years, but this paper will do nothing to enhance it."

So why does this ludicrous piece of junk get on the top of the news? It coincides exactly with the BBC world-view: Blair's a poodle, Bush is an ape, we should bin the yanks and "get deeper into Europe" in some unspecified way. Quite apart from the headline message, the paper is a frustrating read. For example there is a throwaway line about how "The emphasis on aid and debt relief for Africa in return for an improvement in governance may come to look strangely old-fashioned." What does this mean? We are not told.

The sniffy tone doesn't help either: "Tony Blair has learnt the hard way that loyalty in international politics counts for very little." That sort of stuff obviously does it for the BBC in a big way, but it doesn't leave any of us any the wiser about how the RIIA think we should run our foreign policy. The only good thing about the report is that it's a good distillation of the intellectual incoherence / fantasy politics at the heart of the pro-euro movement.

More here


Some patients needing orthopaedic surgery are still waiting more than two years for treatment, according to new figures.

The latest official statistics on NHS performance with regard to the 18-week waiting times target showed that some specialities were performing particularly poorly.

In what is widely considered to be the most ambitious target for the health service, the Government has pledged that no patient should wait more than 18 weeks from GP referral to the start of treatment, whether they are an in-patient or an out-patient, by the end of 2008.

Figures released yesterday by Andy Burnham, Health Minister showed that most specialities - including gynaecology, dermatology and cardiology - treat between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of in-patients within 18 weeks. But that figure falls to below 20 per cent in trauma and orthopaedics - which includes hip replacements and broken bones - where the average patient waits an average of 39 weeks for treatment. The new figures show that an average of 70 per cent to 80 per cent of patients who do not require hospital admission are treated within 18 weeks.

When it comes to patients needing hospital admission, only 35 per cent are seen within the target.


Britain: Some political opinions are beyond the pale of polite society

It's getting as politically intolerant as Germany. The BNP is an anti-immigration party.

"The Sugar Plum Fairy in English National Ballet's production of The Nutcracker had to confront angry colleagues before yesterday's matinee performance after she was revealed to be a member of the British National Party.

Clarke said she believed that immigration had "really got out of hand". She added: "If everyone who thinks like I do joined, it would really make a difference."


Here's betting she loses her job soon.

U.K.: Leftist policies bad for employment: "More young people are out of work now than when Labour won power in 1997 by promising to cut youth unemployment, official figures obtained by The Times reveal. There are now 37,000 more unemployed people aged 16 to 24 than in May 1997, with the total rising from 665,000 to 702,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. The unemployment rate has risen to 14.5 per cent among young people, overtaking the 14.4 per cent rate Labour inherited from the Conservative Government. The figures are acutely embarrassing for the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who in 1997 described the youth unemployment he inherited as a "human tragedy", "sickening" and "an economic disaster". Tackling youth unemployment has been one of Labour's priorities, and the target of billions of pounds of public spending on schemes, including the New Deal for the young unemployed. The rise is particularly startling since it has occurred despite ten years of sustained economic growth and the creation of more than two million jobs."

British army recruitment solid too: "Recruitment to the Army has jumped 16 per cent over the past 12 months, indicating that the casualty tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan have not put off teenagers from considering a career on the front line. Defence sources said that the reasons for the rise were complex, but that it was clear that the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan had provided an incentive for many young men and women to join up because of the excitement involved."

Crime a career for young British blacks: "Young men in deprived urban communities see crime as a better career opportunity than the legitimate labour market, ministers have been warned. Dealing drugs and committing other crimes gives those with little education an opportunity to overcome deprivation and gain wealth and status in their neighbourhoods. A report on gun crime commissioned by the Home Office warns: "Dealing in illegal drugs appears to significantly underpin the criminal economy in many locations and seems to be instrumental in legitimising crime as a career option for some individuals. "There are many indications that drug-dealing and other criminality are `out-competing' the legitimate labour market. "For individuals whose employment prospects are limited by a lack of qualifications, and an existing criminal record, a criminal lifestyle can be seen as an attractive proposition."

Charming British illegals: "Three members of an armed teenage gang who killed a woman as she cradled a baby at a christening party were illegal immigrants with a string of convictions. Diamond Babamuboni, 17, and his brother Timy, 15, were under supervision orders when Zainab Kalokoh was shot in the head. Jude Odigie, 16, had been given a conditional discharge. They were convicted of manslaughter at the Old Bailey yesterday. A 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted of murder. All four face long prison sentences. The conviction of the Babamuboni brothers and Odigie, all from Nigeria, raises questions about the Home Office's immigration service and the criteria for deportation. The trio could be sent home after serving their sentences, but John Reid, the Home Secretary, is certain to be asked why this had not already happened."

Friday, December 22, 2006

How human rights always lead to human wrongs

A comment from Britain

Jeremy Bentham described the Declaration of the Rights of Man by French revolutionaries as “nonsense on stilts”. Nice rhetoric, but ultimately unsuccessful. Since 1789 the idea of human rights has thrived. It now even has its own day. This year’s Human Rights Day, was dedicated to the war on poverty. Bentham was right. The idea that we all enjoy certain rights, not because any legal system gives them to us, but simply because we are humans, is silly. But, in the 18th century at least, it was beneficial silliness.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are born equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that amongst these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These statements are not self-evident. They are not even true. They are gobbledygook. Yet they inspired the Constitution of the United States, one of mankind’s great achievements.

Alas, once nonsense is up and running, it is hard to rein in. Initially, our self-evident human rights were simply protections against the abuse of power. Today, entitlements to all manner of goods are making themselves evident to human rights oracles. Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, claims that we have human rights “to food, to work, to healthcare and housing”.

This inflation has changed the politics of human rights. Whereas human rights once supported limited government, they are now invoked in favour of the welfare state and the maximal government it requires. Which is why the human rights movement, although well intentioned, has become a malign force.

In an article to mark Human Rights Day this month, Ms Arbour claimed that poverty is caused by human rights violations. It is true, of course, that if people had food, healthcare and housing, they would not live in poverty. But it is absurd to say that lacking these things causes poverty. Lacking these things is poverty. Why do millions of people lack decent food, healthcare and housing? That is the question.

The human rights lobby sees poverty as an essentially legal problem. All humans are entitled to food, healthcare, housing and so on. But countries where poverty is common have failed to enshrine these entitlements in law. If they embraced human rights, poverty would be legislated out of existence.

If you are tempted to agree, perhaps you will also like this idea. The government should enrich us by passing a law that entitles all Brits to an annual income of at least one million pounds. The difficulty, of course, is that Britain’s GDP is considerably less than one million pounds per person. It is impossible to provide everyone with this income.

The same goes for the more modest entitlements that human rights enthusiasts claim to be universal. Providing every citizen with decent food, healthcare and housing exceeds the productive capacity of many poor countries. Mauritania’s annual GDP, for example, is only $400 per person. It would be nice if Mauritanians were richer, but declaring that they should be will not help. Entitlements to wealth do not create wealth. On the contrary, they hinder wealth creation.

To see why, consider a less absurd entitlement. Suppose Gordon Brown introduced a minimum household income guarantee of £40,000. This may appear possible, since British GDP is now £52,000 per household. In fact, the policy would soon defeat itself. Only dedicated Protestants would continue to work. Those whose efforts would earn them less than £40,000 would not bother, and nor would those who earn more, given the tax rates that would be required to fund this entitlement. With mass indolence, the average household income would soon fall well below £40,000, whatever the law said we were entitled to.

Poor countries are not exempt from the perverse incentives created by entitlements. In fact, they are more vulnerable to them. Where labour is less productive, even modest entitlements will undermine the incentive to work. In Britain we can guarantee all citizens food, healthcare and housing without destroying economic incentives. But this is because we are already rich. Such entitlements would devastate less developed economies.

The causes of poverty are debated by economists. Yet most agree that property rights are essential for wealth creation. Without them, wealth cannot be accrued. And if people cannot accrue wealth, they have little incentive to create it. Why invest capital and effort in a business if you cannot feel secure in your ownership of it, and of the profits that flow from it? Communism and anarchy create poverty in the same way: by undermining property rights.

Property rights are not universal entitlements. If I own some land then you do not own it. You lack entitlements that I enjoy, such as the profits made by farming that land. Such inequalities are inherent to property rights. Which may explain why human rights activists do not care for them. In an 800-word article on fighting poverty, Ms Arbour did not once mention property rights. Instead, she lamented “unequal access to resources” — something entailed by private ownership of them.

Tens of millions of Chinese have worked their way out of poverty in recent years. It was not achieved by extending human rights law in China. Nor is it an “economic miracle”. It is a predictable consequence of establishing property rights.


Official British paranoia about "hate crime"

Contrary to UK government expectations, Englishmen just don't behave like Muslims

After the bombings in London on 7 July 2005, the British state exerted at least as much energy keeping a watchful eye on the white hordes as it did trying to find out who detonated the bombs. Many predicted a swift and unforgiving `Islamophobic backlash'. Police officers were posted outside mosques. A National Community Tensions Team set about monitoring anti-Muslim incidents around the country and provided intelligence to the government and police. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, issued a plea for calm, warning against that `temptation in some' to make Muslims a `scapegoat'. Brian Paddick, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, called for everyone to keep their eyes peeled for hate on the streets.

Even doctors' surgeries were enlisted in the post-7/7 spying game. One primary care trust sent an email the day after the bombings asking staff to watch out for signs of hate: `At a time of raised tensions such as this, it is important that all staff challenge racism and prejudice in a positive way.' A union official called on progressives to take a stand against the `backlash' against `our Muslim brothers and sisters'.

Backlash? What backlash? We now know that the post-7/7 fantasies of an anti-Muslim pogrom were just that: fantasises, fuelled by an excitable and unfounded view of the white working classes as ignorant and given to violent outbursts. Figures published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) last week show that for the year 2005-2006 (which covers 1 April 2005 to 31 March 2006, thus including the aftermath of the bombings) there were prosecutions for 43 cases of religiously aggravated crime. That's right, 43. Far from being a backlash, this figure is socially insignificant, representing a minuscule minority of overall crime for 2005-2006. The `backlash' predicted by so many turned out to be a handful of mostly minor incidents carried out by drunks and losers.

As the Director of Public Prosecutions said as he presented the figures - sounding somewhat perplexed - `the fears of a large rise in offences appear to be unfounded'.

Some of the headline coverage of the stats has chosen to focus on the percentage rise in prosecutions for religiously aggravated offences. `The Crown Prosecution Service's Racist and Religious Incident Monitoring report for 2005-2006 shows an increase in prosecutions on the previous year for both types of offence', says the CPS press release. `Religiously aggravated cases rose by 26.5 per cent.' That seems to be true. But in this instance, 26.5 per cent represents a mere nine cases: there was a rise from 34 prosecutions in religiously aggravated cases in 2004-2005 to 43 in 2005-2006. Fewer than half of these religiously aggravated incidents in 2005-2006 can definitely be said to have targeted Muslims: of the 43 cases, Muslims were victims in 18 of them, Christians were victims in three, and a Sikh was a victim in one. In the remaining 21 cases, the actual or perceived religion of the victim was not known (more of which in a minute).

If you go you beyond the press release and dig into the CPS report, you'll see that this means there were fewer prosecutions for religiously aggravated cases involving Muslims as victims in 2005-2006 than there were in 2004-2005. In 2004-2005, there were prosecutions for 34 cases of religiously aggravated crime, in which the victim's actual or perceived religion was Islam in 23 cases; in 2005-2006, there were 43 cases of religiously aggravated crime, in which the victim's actual or perceived religion was Islam in 18 cases. This means that the number of prosecuted anti-Muslim crimes fell from 23 to 18 in a year in which we were warned of an ominous rise in anti-Muslim hate.

Of the 43 cases in 2005-2006, around one quarter involved assault or harassment against the person. The charges prosecuted included: 21 for religiously aggravated public disorder (shouting in the street, etc); 10 for religiously aggravated criminal damage (graffiti, smashing windows, damaging religious buildings, etc); nine for religiously aggravated assault; and three for religiously aggravated harassment. So, 72.1 per cent of the prosecutions involved public disorder or damage, and 27.9 per cent (or 12 cases in real terms) involved assault or harassment.

It is worth asking what constitutes a religiously aggravated crime. When does public disorder become `religiously aggravated public disorder'? The CPS says it uses a `similar definition' for religious incidents as the Macpherson report into the investigation of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence used to define a racist incident. So a religiously aggravated incident is an incident perceived to be religiously aggravated by the victim or any other person. With such a sweeping subjective definition of religiously aggravated crime - where it is the perception of the victim or any bystander that counts - the really shocking thing is that the police books aren't overflowing with religiously aggravated whispers, allegations and prosecutions.

So subjective is the definition of a religiously aggravated offence that in 21 of the 43 prosecutions in 2005-2006, the actual or perceived religion of the victim was unknown. What can this mean? Presumably that some of the crimes were victimless; maybe, for example, someone was prosecuted for shouting generally anti-religious remarks in a public place. It is also noteworthy that the CPS report refers to a victim's `actual or perceived religion'. This might mean that some of the `Muslim' victims of religiously aggravated crimes were not Muslims, but rather were only perceived as such. Perhaps some were Sikhs verbally assaulted as if they were Muslims. It seems you can be a victim of Islamophobia even if you are not a Muslim.

The police and other bodies positively trawled for evidence of anti-Muslim hate post-7/7. London's Metropolitan Police published a leaflet titled `Communities Together Can Help Fight the Effects of Terrorism in London' - and by `effects of terrorism' they didn't mean injuries or rubble, but that imagined anti-religious backlash. The Met promised to respond `quickly and robustly' to prejudice and hate, and provided phone numbers for different organisations for those who felt `vulnerable, confused and angry' or believed they may have been `a victim of prejudice'. The Islamic Human Rights Commission ran ads on an Islamic TV channel encouraging Muslims to report harassment, which can be `anything from verbal abuse, nasty looks to physical assault.' The Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism also encouraged more reporting of anti-Muslim incidents, and said Islamophobia can include anything from physical assault to not being shown `respect' in public life.

Taking into account the widespread predictions of an anti-Muslim backlash, the open-ended definition of a religiously aggravated crime, and the cynical hunt by the police and unelected, self-serving groups for any hint of harassment or danger post-7/7, it is fairly remarkable that the number of prosecutions of religiously aggravated offences in 2005-2006 was only 43, and 18 for cases where Muslims were known to be the victims. Post-7/7, while the government, police, church and various worthy self-defined community groups feverishly predicted a rise in hateful violence, the vast mass of the population seem to have remained peaceable and tolerant, simply getting on with their everyday lives.

Looking at the nature of some of the religiously aggravated crimes of 2005-2006, it is clear that anti-religious hatred is not a real social force but rather something indulged in by sad and often drunk individuals. Look at the cases highlighted in the CPS press release, presumably because they were seen as among the most dramatic. One incident of religiously aggravated common assault involved a defendant who refused to pay for his meal in an Indian restaurant and then subsequently submitted a waiter (who was Muslim) to verbal abuse and physical assault. In another, a Turkish Muslim woman and her teenage daughter were waiting at a bus-stop when a drunk shouted abuse at them and spat on the ground near where they were sitting; as the women boarded the bus the man spat in their direction and `his spittle [made] contact with their upper body clothing'.

These are nasty incidents, and it sounds as though both men need to be put firmly in their place. But they also sound like the kind of inebriated incidents that happen fairly frequently around the country. I've witnessed numerous arguments and scuffles in Indian restaurants on Saturday nights, often involving a bunch of drunks making ignorant racist remarks at waiters. And who hasn't had that uncomfortable feeling of being approached by a drunken loudmouth, often shouting and swinging his fists, while waiting at a bus-stop or sitting on a train? These two religiously aggravated incidents - flagged up in the CPS press release as examples for journalists to use - reveal nothing about society at large. Rather they show what most of us already know: there are some dickheads out there.

The two cases do, however, highlight dangers behind the authorities' religious hatred agenda. The man who refused to pay for his meal in an Indian restaurant and shouted at the waiter was sentenced to six months' imprisonment - six months. The judge admitted that `it would not have been custody if the offence [had] not been religiously aggravated'. The drunk at the bus-stop was sentenced to three months' imprisonment. Here, the authorities are explicitly punishing people not only for what they do, but also for what they think; not only for their actions, but also for their thoughts, for the fact that they `hated' someone. This takes us into the realm of thought crime, where a man who pushes an Indian waiter and calls him a `f*cking c*nt' is likely to be get a slap on the wrists, while the man who pushes the waiter and calls him a `Muslim c*nt' can be thrown in jail for six months. It may be a crime to push a waiter; but should it be a crime to hate a waiter or his religion?

Finally, as in most hate crime debates, the aim of this overzealous punishment of individuals who commit religiously aggravated crimes seems to be to `send a message' to the rest of us. The authorities are using these cases to tell us they are serious about stamping out religious hatred and `hate speech'. This degrades the law and any idea of natural justice. Individual cases are effectively turned into showtrials, as the law is used to correct what are seen as backward attitudes among the populace. Individuals are punished particularly harshly for something they said or thought while committing a crime, while the rest of us are patronised by police officials and judges who think we are backward and prejudiced. This is less about justice, and more about social engineering - and such a project is far more poisonous and divisive than anything a pissed-up buffoon could do on a Saturday night.



A school has had to apologise after a class of children aged 9 and 10 were told that Father Christmas does not exist. The shocking assertion was contained in a worksheet which asked the children to compose a Christmas letter. The worksheet handed to the Year 5 pupils said “many small children believe in Santa” but that his letters were actually handled by an official at the Post Office. To make matters worse, the pupils were then asked to compose a reply to one of the “small children” explaining why a request for presents was being turned down.

But the main explaining had to be done when the children went home. Their parents, some unbelievers themselves, had to explain why not everything that you are taught in school may be true.

Jackie Jackson, the head teacher of Ladysmith Junior School, Exeter, has written to parents to apologise. She said that the class teacher had downloaded the worksheet in error from an educational resources website. She said: “The choice of this worksheet was a genuine mistake by a teacher, which we are very sad about. Having three children myself, I understand how parents feel. “The last thing we wanted to do was take away the positive and magical side of Christmas and I have wished all the families a happy time. “I have apologised to the parents and this worksheet will never be used in the school again.”

The apology came after a complaint by the parents of one nine-year-old pupil. The child’s father said: “My wife and I make a special effort to keep the belief in Santa in our daughter’s mind as we believe it adds to the magic of Christmas for her and her four-year-old brother. “What gives the school the right to decide when children should know the truth about such a harmless matter when knowing the truth takes away that little bit of magic?” Other parents with children at the 490-pupil school agreed. Sam Horn, 28, whose children, Charlotte, 6, and Kieron, 8, believe in Father Christmas, said it was up to parents to discuss with a child whether he is real. “Kids grow up too quickly these days. Children should have the right to stay innocent for as long as possible. Teachers don’t have the right to decide these things.”

Another parent said that her child had brought the worksheet home with her. “When I saw it I instantly realised what it meant. It is not up to anyone apart from the parent. I have received no apology. The damage is done.” Some unbelieving parents were less concerned. Sally Jones, 32, said her children Cory, 10, James, 8, and Tasha, 6, knew “the truth” about Father Christmas. “I don’t think it will come as a shock to many children of that age,” she said. “I don’t think any harm has been done. “Children don’t care as long as they get what they want for Christmas. The only advantage of Santa for a parent is that you’ve got someone to blame if children don’t get what they want.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said that there was no official policy on Father Christmas and it was up to individual schools to decide what to tell pupils. Leaving a glimmer of hope for those of us still expecting a visit, he added that the DfES was not able to comment on the existence or otherwise of Father Christmas.



In an attempt to deflect blame for MRSA from where it really belongs -- dirty hospitals and negligent staff

Doctors have been banned from wearing ties in an effort to contain the spread of superbug MRSA. An NHS trust has told hospital staff, including senior consultants, that the wearing of ties and "other superfluous clothing" could result in disciplinary action. The rules have been introduced by the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in a bid to reduce its rate of MRSA infection, which is one of the highest in England. The new dress code policy also bans staff involved in direct clinical care from wearing jewellery, watches, scarves and wraps.

But doctors say the new rules stem from political correctness rather than scientific evidence and fear that patients will have less confidence in casually dressed medics. One consultant, who works for the trust but did not want to be named, told the Sunday Times: "If you come to see a consultant, you will be greeted by an open-neck-shirted doctor who will look as if he is the hospital DJ, but will in fact be the consultant." Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, which represents primary care trusts, and wears a bow-tie at his GP surgery, told the paper: "This is political correctness rather than science. Patients need to be able to respect and trust their doctors and going around without ties might damage that relationship."

Earlier this year the British Medical Association suggested that doing away with functionless items of clothing such as ties may help reduce rates of MRSA and other hospital acquired infections. Over 3,500 cases of MRSA blood-stream infection were reported in NHS hospitals between October 2005 and March 2006 and the number of deaths where the superbug is mentioned on death certificates has increased each year from 1993 to 2004. A spokeswoman for the trust said action was needed to improve infection control rates and that the new measures were introduced following consultation with staff.


Thursday, December 21, 2006


As I predicted on 19th, it was due to a failure of asepsis -- negligence about cleanliness, in other words

The husband of a nurse who became the first person in Britain to die from a new deadly strain of MRSA contracted in hospital described the heartbreak yesterday of bringing up their newborn baby alone. Maribel Espada died four days after undergoing an emergency Caesarean at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, where she had worked as a nurse for four years.

Health experts believe that Mrs Espada had previously picked up the Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL)-MRSA bug while working at the hospital. But it got into her bloodstream during the emergency operation last September.

Wen Espada, 30, told The Times that he was devastated at the thought of bringing up their son, Arwen, alone. "This was our first child and the only comfort I have is that Maribel got to see him and spent six days with him before her death. The doctors never mentioned MRSA and they had not mentioned to my wife that there had been an outbreak of MRSA even though she worked at the hospital."

Mr Espada, a warehouse worker, said that Maribel became ill four days after Arwen was delivered on September 20. Doctors told Mr Espada that his wife had died of an infection, and a postmortem examination confirmed PVL-MRSA.

One other patient at the hospital is known to have died there in March from the bacterium and an internal investigation carried out after Mrs Espada's death has identified a further nine cases at the hospital. Mr Espada said that he had instructed a firm of solicitors. "If the hospital has tried to cover this up, they should be made to pay for it," he said. The University Hospital of North Staffordshire refused to comment on Mrs Espada's death.



A wind farm in the Thames Estuary was approved by the Government yesterday despite a warning from the shipping industry that it would significantly increase the risk of massive pollution in the event of a collision. It will be located 12 miles off the coast between Margate in East Kent and Clacton in Essex and consist of 341 turbines spread over 90 square miles, making it the world's largest offshore wind farm.

The Chamber of Shipping said that the decision had been rushed through by the Department of Trade and Industry without proper consideration of the risks to mariners. More than 100 ships a day would pass close to the wind farm. The chamber said that the wind farm would be too close to shipping lanes, leaving little margin for error. It said the turbines would interfere with radar, preventing ships from spotting smaller boats. "With visual and radar detection of vessels impaired, the risk of collision is increased, and should such a collision involve a chemical or oil tanker, the repercussions would be immediate and far-reaching.

"The decision ignores expert advice on the safety of those using the estuary [and] disregards the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's guidance as to the minimum distance which should separate shipping lanes from wind farm sites. It is hard to understand why an environmentally minded project has been pushed forward with little consideration given to its potential to cause an irreversibly damaging environmental disaster."

A spokesman for the DTI said that the approval contained a condition that required more work to be done on navigational safety.


Stupid British "security" again: "The circumstances surrounding the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky would be disturbing at the best of times. She was shot by a gang whose members (foreign nationals) had extensive criminal records; they were considered for deportation but were allowed to stay in Britain because their homeland - Somalia - was determined to be too dangerous a place to which to send them back. If no other information about this killing had surfaced, questions would and should have been asked about the balance to be struck between law and order and deportation. Yet, as we report today, matters are worse than they appear. One of those who was wanted for this murder - Mustaf Jama - is believed to have fled Britain in the days after the shooting, disguising himself as a veiled woman. His brother was one of five other men left to be tried and convicted of murder or manslaughter. Jama was able to sneak on to an international flight at Heathrow dressed in a niqab despite extensive publicity about this murder. His photograph had been circulated to every police force, port and airport in the country. Had he been asked to reveal his face he would have been detected in a moment. He is instead now believed to be at liberty in a region of Somalia where his family wields much influence - the very same Somalia that had been too dangerous for these criminals. This shocking affair reveals fundamental lapses in what should surely be considered elementary security measures."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The hospital where two people, including a previously healthy nurse, died from a new strain of MRSA was named yesterday as it was revealed that three further cases had been identified. The University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust in Stoke-on-Trent confirmed that a healthcare worker and a patient had died after falling victim to a form of the toxin Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) earlier this year.

The pair fell ill in March and September after becoming infected by a bacterium that had not been seen previously at the hospital, the trust said. Six colleagues and housemates of the health worker were found to carry the bug, after staff who had direct contact with the nurse were screened after the outbreak.

There have also been three further cases, one of which was a former patient. The hospital said: "No current patients have been identified as affected. All those affected have been informed and there is no need for any other patient to be concerned. Where screening swabs from members of staff are positive for this, or any other strain of MRSA, they are being given decolonisation treatment and followed up by the occupational health department before returning to work. "With the exception of one infection, it is not clear at this stage whether transmission has occurred within the hospital or, as is more common, in the community which it serves." The hospital said that it was taking advice from the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Figures for the first seven months of the year show that up to 47 of the 55 patients treated for MRSA-related illness at the hospital contracted the bug within the 1,200-bed site. The eight other patients are thought to have been carrying the infection before admission. The commonly known "hospital-associated MRSA" strains, which do not produce PVL, typically affect elderly hospitalised patients. But PVL attacks white blood cells leaving the sufferer unable to fight infection and putting healthy people at risk. The HPA said that strains of MRSA that produced PVL had been seen in Britain, but usually in the community rather than in a hospital. It added: "This outbreak is the first time transmission and deaths due to this strain are known to have occurred in a healthcare setting in England and Wales." Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: "It is time for us to take on the threat of new and more dangerous bacteria."


Britain: PC ban on throwing sweets to children at Christmas pantomine

Throwing bonbons and boiled sweets into the audience has been a tradition of the festive pantomime for many decades. But bureaucrats are set to stamp out the tradition because they claim boiled sweets could injure a member of the audience. Instead organisers of one pantomime have been told they must go down into the crowd and hand out the sweets. It is just the latest example of health and safety fears and political correctness stamping out some of our oldest Christmas traditions. Since the early 20th century pantomime characters - usually the Dame - have thrown sweets to children in the audience as a Christmas treat.

The ruling was made by a committee for the Preston Drama Club in Lancashire which fears an injury could spark a compensation claim. The club, which attracts huge numbers of children and adults to its performances each year, is staging Sleeping Beauty at Preston Playhouse this season. But committee members believe it would be far too costly to insure against a member of the audience losing an eye or sustaining another injury. So rather than fork out for the costly insurance they have banned the tradition of throwing sweets to the children instead.

Some members of the group have branded the move as "ridiculous" and say health and safety restrictions are killing tradition in Britain. Don Stephenson, president of Preston Drama Club, said: "There are so many rules and regulations now we were not really surprised because this is just another one. "We have had so many of these things about what you can and can't do. They are only sweets, they wouldn't hurt anybody."

Another member said: "It was felt that insuring against an injury - say someone losing an eye - in a freak accident would cost too much money. "We're only a small outfit and while the chance of such an injury occurring is remote, to say the least, it is a risk we cannot take. I do lament the death of traditional practices but people are increasingly litigious and only to ready to turn to the courts and so that is the way it is." A final decision will be taken after January 6 by the club at the close of the Sleeping Beauty production on January 6.

The ruling is the latest in a long line of politically correct rulings that aim to wreck the experience of Christmas. One school which took turkey off the Christmas menu to replace it with halal chicken was met with fury from parents. But Oakwood Technology College in Rotherham has backed down after parents of non-Muslim pupils complained. The 1,000-pupil comprehensive planned to scrap the festive tradition even though only one in five students is Muslim.

A survey by the Daily Mail found Jesus in his manger with three wise men appeared in just one in every 100 cards. Hundreds of cards avoided any images linked to Christmas at all, including fir trees, baubles, snowmen or Santa Claus. Laura Midgley, co-founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, said: "No-one has ever been serious injured at a pantomime from something throwing a sweet to the audience. "Instead of carrying out these preposterous risk assessments maybe they should concentrate on polishing their performance."


Multiculturalism is dead?

Article below from Britain's Leftist "Guardian"

So farewell then, multiculturalism, dumped like prog rock and fondue sets in that dustbin for fads, the 1970s. Shall we kill it off? asked the man from the Times. "Yes, let's do that," replied Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality. "Multiculturalism suggests separateness. We are in a different world from the 70s."

Just four years ago Phillips served on the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain that produced a blueprint for multiculturalism. But now, in an instant, the inviolable wisdom of a generation of liberals is buried. Confirming the sudden passing of the idea, Polly Toynbee, writing yesterday in this paper, congratulated Phillips: "[He] breaks with unctuous, unthinking platitudes about the richness of all diversity in a multicultural society, as if any difference was a self-evident asset."

What must poor David Goodhart think of this abrupt volte-face? The recent author of a thoughtful and carefully reasoned 10,000-word essay on the limits of diversity, he was dismissed for his pains as a racist by many on the left, including Phillips, who compared him to Enoch Powell. "I have always suspected [Goodhart] is too brainy for his own good," noted Phillips.

In other words, why bother with a lengthy egghead argument when you can simply issue a diktat? But whether or not the liberal state apparatus will now throw its gears into reverse remains to be seen. The April Fool's Day leader in this newspaper pointed to the confusion over the path to greater social cohesion, suggesting that successive governments have been too slow in setting up Muslim schools. "The resources were inadequate to promote a vibrant Islam of which these British youngsters could be proud." I must confess, I have difficulty in understanding how dividing children along faith lines brings them together, or why it is the state's responsibility to promote religion, but perhaps it's one of those ideas that you just have to go with until someone in authority sometime in the future decides that it doesn't make sense after all.

The truth is, of course, the liberal elite can debate equality and diversity, liberty and responsibility until Abu Hamza turns up on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, but it is impossible to legislate for identity. Toynbee states: "Muslim teaching on women staying one step behind will not do: respect for religion cannot take precedence over respect for British law." Perhaps she's speaking figuratively, but there is no law that prevents Muslim women from walking one step behind men, which is the formation that I notice increasingly on the streets near where I live. Should there be a secular police, some grotesque parody of the Saudis' Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, to intervene and ensure that they reform in double file?

Nowadays I see noticeably more young British Muslim women adopting the full veil with only slits for the eyes. To remove themselves so completely from sight seems like an act of self-erasure, but if it is, then it's one they appear to perform willingly and, judging by the manner in which they parade, with no little pride. My guess is that many second-and third-generation Muslims choose this dress not out of religious beliefs, but because they think it's cool. By which I mean, they like the identity that the accoutrements of religious observance afford them, how it sets them apart, makes them visible, albeit by making them invisible. For that, after all, is what most young people want: a sense of their own identity.

In the 1970s, there was a craze for skinhead haircuts and clothes among young whites. The immediate response of liberal critics was to denounce them all as Nazis, but it soon became apparent that the majority of them were attracted to the image, the identity, and had no real interest in the ideas. The danger, of course, is when style becomes stance. And there is little doubt that among a significant minority of young Muslims in this country, a stance of violent anti-Americanism and, to a lesser degree, anti-westernism has become de rigueur. I would imagine that a fair portion of the 13% of British Muslims who said in a recent Guardian poll that they wanted to see further terrorist attacks on America did so because they thought it was the cool, angry, radical thing to say. Young people, alas, are like that.

Predictably, the knee-jerk liberal response is to shout "alienation", start looking for evidence of social deprivation and talk of the reaction to "American imperialism". However, the handful of British Muslims who have been arrested on terrorist charges appear to be from middle-class backgrounds and do not seem to have gone short of education or employment.

There is a country in which Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are treated little better than slaves, performing menial tasks with no rights and negligible protection. It's called Saudi Arabia and it is the home of the Wahabbism that informs the international spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Similarly, whatever your view of the war in Iraq, to say that it is a war on Islam raises the question of what the intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo was: presumably a war for Islam. Of course, if you're young, angry and striking a pose, you can't get bogged down in those kinds of complexities.

In the April 1 leader, it was suggested that "the perception everywhere is that the proud, expansionary faith of Islam is under attack". Back in the 70s again, some angry whites thought the proud, expansionary creed of Britishness (also known as colonial domination) was under attack and joined the National Front. They were correctly identified as fascists and a zero-tolerance policy was put in place by the liberal left, without much concern about the alienating effects on the fascists. The fear was that if they were not denied a platform, racial violence would increase, and so might support for them.

Yet there is much more trepidation about how to deal with Islamo-fascist groups such as al-Muhajiroun. The fear now is that if they are denied a platform, racial tension will increase, and so might support for them, as a generation of Muslims radicalise behind the veil and the beard. But just as al-Muhajiroun should not be excluded from debate, nor should anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, hesitate to call them reactionary zealots simply because they are non-white.

One of the shibboleths of multiculturalism was that different communities needed to be treated differently. Ultimately, though, the aim must be to be treated the same. In this respect, it's important to see that the difference between the posture of fashion and politics of fascism is the same in all communities, regardless of what they wear. One will pass, the other needs to be sent on its way.


British public dislike political correctness

Political correctness is overwhelmingly unpopular among the people it is supposed to be helping, according to a poll showing that four in five questioned are fed-up with it. The Yorkshire Post can reveal the results of an ICM poll commissioned by the Campaign Against Political Correctness (CAPC), which suggest that positive discrimination and action on the basis of race or gender are disliked irrespective of people's own background.

When asked "Are you fed- up with political correctness?" 72 per cent of people living in Britain who do not describe themselves as "white British" - because of their race or nationality or both - answered "yes". This was only 10 points lower than the same answer among those who class themselves as "white British". Women are almost as opposed to political correctness as men, with 79 per cent agreeing with the question, alongside 82 per cent of men.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the most hostile towards political correctness were the middle aged. Among those aged 45 to 54, 85 per cent agreed with the question and it rose to 88 per cent among those aged 55 to 64. Of young adults, aged 18 to 24, 22 per cent were content with political correctness, but 72 per cent were still "fed-up" with it.

Shipley MP Philip Davies, a patron of the group, added: "The figures make it clear that everyone dislikes it, irrespective of race or gender. "Most of this political correctness seems to be carried out by white, male, middle class do-gooders with a guilt complex, who only serve to help build up resentment that wouldn't exist otherwise." Mr Davies last night put down a Commons motion highlighting the poll's findings and urging the Government to reverse positive discrimination policies.


'Dark chocolate eases ME symptoms'

I won't criticize this one!

Eating small amounts of dark chocolate every day can help combat a chronic illness, it emerged today. The specially-formulated chocolate helps reduce the symptoms of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a study by researchers at England's Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust found.

People who took part in the study reported feeling significantly less fatigue after eating 1.5oz (45g) of the chocolate every day for eight weeks. They also reported feeling more fatigue when they stopped eating the chocolate and were receiving a placebo instead, researchers said.

Symptoms of ME, which is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), include exhaustion, general pain and mental fogginess. But its causes are not fully understood and diagnosing the condition is difficult because many of the flu-like symptoms are similar to other illnesses.

Professor Steve Atkin, who conducted the study, said: "No one has examined the effects of chocolate on CFS before and so this is a very exciting and interesting result for us. "The participants in this study were taking 45g of specially formulated chocolate for eight weeks then having a two-week period of rest before then taking a simulated dark chocolate, low in polyphenols, for another eight weeks. "In the test period they reported feeling less fatigue and once they moved on to the placebo chocolate they began feeling more fatigue again. Interestingly they didn't experience any significant weight gain either, which is an extra positive."

The formulated chocolate contained 85% cocoa solids and was rich in polyphenol flavonoids, which have been reported to reduce the risk of death from coronary heart disease, cancer and strokes. Chocolate is also known to increase neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is associated with regulating mood and sleep.

There is currently no cure for ME and treatment concentrates mainly on managing symptoms, such as headaches, sore throats, sleep disorder and abnormal temperatures. Although the cause of the illness is not yet known, scientists are looking at the possibilities of viruses, environmental toxins and genetic predisposition.



Reading Shakespeare excites the brain in a way that keeps it “fit”, researchers say. A team from the University of Liverpool is investigating whether wrestling with the innovative use of language could help to prevent dementia. Monitoring participants with brain-imaging equipment, they found that certain lines from Shakespeare and other great writers such as Chaucer and Wordsworth caused the brain to spark with electrical activity because of the unusual words or sentence structure.

Referring to “functional shift” — such as when a noun is used as a verb — Philip Davis, of the university’s School of English, said that the brain reacts “in a similar way to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. By throwing odd words into seemingly normal sentences, Shakespeare surprises the brain and catches it off-guard in a manner that produces a burst of activity — a sense of drama created out of the simplest of things.”

Professor Neil Roberts, from the university’s Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre, said: “When the word changes the grammar of the sentence, brain readings suddenly peak. The brain is then forced to retrace its thinking process in order to understand what it is supposed to make of this unusual word.” The researchers are now investigating which areas of the brain are most affected and the implications for maintaining healthy brain activity. Professor Davis, whose book Shakespeare Thinking is published next month, believes that reading classic literature helps children in their wider studies.



Children will spend more time being taught through play rather than formal classes when they start primary school under a shake-up of the curriculum. An increasing number of children entering primary one from next August are to learn through techniques traditionally used in nursery school. Schools will still use traditional methods when necessary to teach pupils to read, write and count. But the Scottish Executive also wants teachers to use play-based techniques.

It means drama, music, art, sand and water will replace worksheets or teaching from the blackboard. The changes have already been introduced in some schools, including primaries in East Renfrewshire and Shetland, but the executive wants to see all local authorities backing the approach. The aim of the changes is to bring Scotland closer to the approach taken in Scandinavia, where children start school at the age of seven but still go on to achieve high academic standards.

Some experts feel the current system creates a gulf in a child's experience between nursery and primary as learning through play is immediately replaced by more formal techniques. Education Minister Hugh Henry said every local authority across Scotland must have reviewed, or be reviewing, their policies on P1 education by next summer. He added: "One of the things I am particularly concerned about is the tendency in Scotland to start the formal education process at too young an age. "I want to see more of a gradual transition from the nursery years into primary education. "We need to move away from the concept of teaching where pupils are given worksheets and are instructed, to a process where children can develop on their own through purposeful play."

However, Judith Gillespie, policy development officer with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, warned the executive to take a cautious approach. She said: "I think the difficulty with these kinds of ideas is that when they are introduced there is a tendency to go overboard in one direction. "Whilst play is an important part of learning, youngsters have to do the hard work and at the end of the day there is a reward for hard work. "Learning can't always be fun - there is hard work required and it is a mistake to think that the big incentive is to make everything fun."

SNP education spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop MSP said her party had been calling for the changes for some time. She added: "However, the Lib-Lab government must ensure that there is more time for teachers to implement these proposals and work with children in structured play".


Australian sun and lifestyle lures the Brits

With at least 1.3 million resident Britons, Australia is the leading destination for UK expats. And many of those who go say they won't be coming back. Australia is a lifestyle superpower. The stunning climate, the celebrated beaches, the foaming surf, the carefree joy of tossing a marinated shrimp onto a glowing barbeque. No wonder that so many Brits dream of making the fabled 'Lucky Country' their adopted home.

Australia certainly has it problems. There are water shortages, surprisingly high rates of depressive illnesses and a real gambling habit. But they do not appear to loom large in weighing the well-known pros of an Australian existence with the less-publicised cons.

Better still, the Australian government is being particularly welcoming right now to Brits with the right qualifications wanting to live the Aussie dream. With a population of just 20 million people, the economy faces a chronic skills shortage. To sustain its present levels of growth, the economy needs an influx of skilled workers - skilled workers who ideally speak fluent English. With Britain offering that pool of labour, it is a win-win for both parties. So Australia has been welcoming British skilled workers in record numbers over the past three years. In 2005, 21,780 UK nationals left Britain to settle in Australia, a 30% rise on the year before. The number has doubled over the past three years. Three out of every four migrants who arrive here from Europe are British, and for the past three years the United Kingdom has been the major source country for migrants coming to live in Australia.

Australia's point-style system of immigration, soon to be adopted by the UK itself, acts both as a bridge and a barrier. Workers with trades and skills, from electricians and plumbers to doctors and mechanical engineers, are given additional points and priority processing by the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Workers lacking the correct skills - like journalists, for instance - have to find others routes of entry, such as being sponsored by an Australian company or falling in love with an Australian partner or spouse. Immigration laws have also been relaxed to allow foreign students at Australian universities to settle in the country if they can arrange a job for themselves after graduating.

Shaun Quigley and his wife Rachel emigrated to Cairns, Queensland, almost five years ago, and have not regretted it for one moment. With a family of three, they are convinced Australia is the ideal place to bring up their children. Shaun works as an air charter broker for Independent Aviation, a position he describes as his dream job. Rachel is a physiotherapist.

"Rachel first came here when she was in her early twenties as a trained physio," says Shaun. "She got about the maximum score under the points system. She literally walked into a job and got residency in Australia." Rachel's hospital has been particularly active in recruiting Brits. This October, when a hospital in Stoke-on-Trent announced job cuts, it moved quickly to offer posts to laid-off staff. After placing advertisements in the local paper, which attracted a hundred applicants, 84 people were eventually offered posts.

"Cairns is hardly the big smoke but it's pretty idyllic," says Shaun. "There's no graffiti and you never hear about knifings and stabbings. We even made the mistake of leaving our front door open when we went home for five weeks to Britain. "When we got back things were just as we'd left them."

Dr Peter Logan moved to Australia in March last year. An accident and emergency consultant, he had grown increasingly disillusioned with the National Health Service back in Britain and decided on a new life in Queensland. His wife, Sarah, an intensive care nurse, is Australian, and they now plan to spend the rest of their lives in her homeland rather than his.

Thanks to his qualifications, getting a job in Australia was straightforward. Queensland welcomes British medical care staff with open arms. Only the other day, Peter was working in the Accident and Emergency Department of the Royal Brisbane Hospital alongside three other Brits. "There's definitely been a marked increase in UK doctors showing up in Queensland," says Peter. "I think my peer group is pretty disillusioned with the state of things at home [in the NHS]. "The pay is about 15-20% better and that buys you significantly more. Back home, all we could afford was a box on a housing estate. "Recently, we have just bought a big plot of land, 20 minutes from the centre of Brisbane, where we now plan to build a house with its own pool. We can even afford a private education for our two children."

He admits there are downsides to living in Australia. "Obviously, we are a long way from home, and even though I get to see more of the children now, the children don't get to see much of their grandparents. "The culture here is slightly homogeneous. You can't nip off to Paris for the weekend. And I really miss old architecture, walking past a medieval church."

Relaxing at his home overlooking the ocean just after completing a round of golf, Andy Griffiths described how his new life differed from his old. He worked as a youth and community manager in Derby, where he was the victim of assault in the workplace and a victim of crime at home. He is now an assistant manager at the National Geographic store in a Sydney suburb. "Compared to life back home, this is idyllic," he says. "We sometimes look at the website of the local paper back home and see all the assaults and all the vandalism. You don't get any of that here."

Andy's wife, Lesley, is a nurse, and interviewed for a job on a four-way conference call while sitting in her dressing gown on a cold night in Britain. Some 80% of the nurses that she works alongside at her hospital in Sydney are immigrants. And the most interesting thing to about all of the people we interviewed? None of them plan to return home.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Jim Flynn gets one thing right

It always seemed obvious that the 20th century rise in measured IQ was due to a reduction in environmental barriers (such as minor brain damage due to poor obstetric procedures) to the realization of full genetic potential. The interesting and unresolved question has always been which were the main environmental barriers. That IQ has now largely stopped rising (in statistical terms: "approached an asymptote") confirms the defining role of genetics. Jim Flynn has all sorts of his usual Leftist waffle about what the implications of the asymptote are but appears not to have mentioned the genetic elephant in the bedroom. Excerpts below from "The Times":

It is a common refrain, repeated in response to every new television reality show and every bumper crop of school exam results: society is dumbing down. Scientists have long argued the opposite, pointing to the now widely accepted "Flynn effect", which shows that over the past century average IQ scores have improved across the developed world, irrespective of class or creed. Now the man who first observed this effect, the psychologist James Flynn, has made another observation: intelligence test scores have stopped rising.

Far from indicating that now we really are getting dumber, this may suggest that certain of our cognitive functions have reached - or nearly reached - the upper limits of what they will ever achieve, Professor Flynn believes. In other words, we can't get much better at the mental tasks we are good at, no matter how hard we try....

In a lecture in Cambridge yesterday, he said that the study of intelligence has for too long been asking the wrong question: "The questions are not `Are we getting smarter?' and `Are our children really smarter than we are?' If the rise in IQ scores meant that we were smarter, that would mean our grandparents were dull and our great grandparents idiots, which is clearly not the case. The question should be, `Have certain cognitive skills risen?' And the answer to that is yes."

What accounts for our rise in intelligence test scores, Professor Flynn believes, is social and environmental changes that have given us the opportunity to exercise the kinds of skills that IQ tests measure. We increasingly fill leisure time with cognitively demanding pastimes, such as puzzles and computer games. We have also developed a more scientific way of viewing the world. "In 1900 if you'd asked a child what do a dog and a rabbit have in common, they might have replied with a concrete answer like, `Dogs are used to hunt rabbits'. Today a child would be more likely to say, `They're both mammals'. We classify things scientifically."...

Professor Flynn believes there is no reason to believe IQ gains will go on for ever. He points out that although gains are still robust in America, they have stopped in Scandinavia. "Perhaps their societies are more advanced than ours and their trends will become our trends," he told his audience at the Cambridge Assessment Psychometrics Centre.

More here

Britain: Must not Say that Homosexuals are Pedophiles

No free speech in Britain again:

"A Tory councillor who suggested gay people were paedophiles was given a conditional discharge today.

Peter Willows, who has been a councillor in the UK's self-styled gay capital Brighton and Hove for 12 years, made the comment at a mayor-making reception in May. The 75-year-old was asked by the editor of a gay magazine whether he thought a gay councillor was a paedophile, Brighton Magistrates' Court was told.

"James Ledward asked Willows, 'Do you think Paul's a paedophile?"' prosecutor David Packer said. "Willows replied to that with, 'I know you are not Paul, it's the other gays'." The barrister said the words "equated gay people with paedophiles".

Willows, who the court heard has "fixed, traditional views on marriage, church and families", was found guilty of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress after a day-long trial.


Contrary to some summaries of the matter, he clearly did NOT say that ALL homosexuals are pedophiles. That many are, however, is undoubted. I guess I would be breaking the law to say that in Britain.

And what's wrong with saying that ALL homosexuals are pedophiles, anyway? Lots of other silly things are said and believed. Some people even believe that Leftism is motivated by compassion!

There is a good letter to the editor about the case here. Excerpt: "Does this mean we are to assign a section of the police force as TAFSS (The anti-free speech stormtroopers)?". Letters do not stay up for long so I have also reproduced it on POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH.

British university union votes to gag Jewish society

The usual antisemitism of the British Leftist elite:

"The student union at a prominent British university has voted to gag the Jewish Society from complaining against an increasingly intense anti-Israel campaign by the university's Palestinian society.

The student union at the University of Leeds, home of a large Jewish student population, last Friday voted on a motion proposed by the Palestinian Solidarity Group to ignore complaints by the Jewish Society "as long as Judaism as a faith is not offended."

The Palestinian Solidarity Group, which has a history of hostile campaigning against Israel, using terms such as "apartheid" and "racist," claimed that the existing practice of considering every complaint received by the student union as a real complaint constituted "an arbitrary use of authority."

Students have voiced concern that the motion singles out the university's Jewish students and denies them basic rights enjoyed by other students and student societies.


Followed of course by lots of waffle saying that they are not doing what they are doing.

No Christmas play at British school

It is the time of year when parents and grandparents look forward to seeing their children dressed up as Mary and Joseph or the Three Wise Men. But the traditional Nativity play at Knowland Grove Community First School in Norwich has been axed in favour of a celebration of a range of different faiths.

Yesterday pupils' families branded the politically-correct move "disgusting", while leaders of other religious communities said they were just as disappointed by the continuing erosion of the Christmas festivities. Instead of a Nativity play, the school's 100 children aged four to eight are presenting pieces about the origins of Christmas, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah and the Hindu festival of Diwali. It is entitled the "Festival of Lights", a phrase commonly used for Diwali, held in October.

Housewife Beverley Browne, 49, whose four-year-old grandson is at the school, said: "The Nativity is a very important story and I think it's disgusting not to do it. "Christmas should be all about the little ones learning about Jesus - that's the story they should learn about. This school's idea is rubbish. I think this is political correctness gone crazy. "I just can't believe what's happening in this country. We're supposed to be a Christian country and all our little ones should learn all about Jesus and Christmas."

Another mother said: "I'm very angry and upset about this because the Nativity play's been a tradition at the school since I was a pupil there. "A lot of parents feel so strongly about this that they're threatening not to send their children to school on the day of the new show. "At Christmas we always have a nativity play and invite parents and grandparents along. This is what Christmas is all about - Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus being born."

Byron Simmonds, chairman of the Progressive Jewish Community of East Anglia, said the school's move was well-intentioned but misguided. "It's a good thing to study different religions, but it is Christmas after all, and we certainly don't have anything against schools organising Nativity plays. "I can see why parents would be upset - Norwich is hardly the most cosmopolitan place, and yet the play sounds as if it's been watered down until it won't really be about Christmas at all."

The move comes as Christmas traditions come under attack as never before. Last week the Daily Mail told how schools across the country were replacing Nativity plays with secular productions featuring such characters as reindeer, eskimos and even Elvis Presley, while only one in 100 High Street Christmas cards now has religious theme. And Chancellor Gordon Brown has attacked Government-funded playgroups for replacing Christmas parties with politically-correct "winter celebrations".

However Knowland Grove headteacher Trudi Sharred insisted that Christmas was "alive and well" at the school. "Our children have been singing carols and songs in the mall, our Christmas tree is up, and we will be sitting down to our Christmas meal this week," she said. "We decided this year to take a slightly different approach with our end of term production to include a look at some of the other great cultural festivals of the world while maintaining the traditional Christmas message."

The younger two age-groups will present pieces on Christmas and Christingles while Year Two will perform a poem about Hanukkah and Year Three will explain Diwali. "All the children I know are looking forward to taking part in our Festival of Lights," added Mrs Sharred.

Norwich has one of the least ethnically-diverse populations in England, with just 587 Jews and Hindus at the time of the 2001 census, and Ofsted said "virtually all" pupils at Knowland Grove are "white British".



An almost inevitable outcome of dirty hospitals and negligence about aseptic procedures

A healthy hospital worker died after contracting a deadly new strain of MRSA that had never before been reported as a cause of death in hospitals. Four other workers at the same hospital also contracted Panton-Valentine Leukocidin-positive (PVL) MRSA, with two of their friends, said the Health Protection Agency. An investigation subsequently found that the strain had killed a patient at the hospital earlier this year.

The strain, which is particularly virulent, attacks healthy young people and can cause symptoms ranging from minor infections in the skin and soft tissue to a form of pneumonia that can kill in 24 hours. The outbreak, which has only just been reported, was identified when a previously healthy female healthcare worker, named only as “Case One”, developed a severe MRSA infection and pneumonia and died after emergency surgery in September, the agency said. The bacterium that she had contracted, PVL-positive MRSA, had never been found to cause a death inside a hospital. It was contracted by at least three other workers in two wards in a West Midlands hospital, and two of their friends. It was also found to have caused the death of a patient at the hospital in March.

A statement from the agency said: “Eight cases of PVL- positive community-associated MRSA have been identified among individuals in a hospital and their close household contacts in the West Midlands. Four of these individuals developed an infection, two of whom subsequently died.” The agency declined to give further details but said that extensive contact tracing had not identified more cases at the hospital. However, the strain has been found in other hospitals, including the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, which is understood to have identified two non-fatal cases of the bug.

The discovery is significant as hospital-acquired MRSA has tended to affect elderly and infirm patients rather than younger people. PVL is a toxin that destroys white blood cells, which are the key to fighting infectious diseases. It occurs in about 2 per cent of strains of the common bacterium known as staphylococcus aureus, which is termed MRSA when it is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin.

Although it is rare, a small number of cases of PVL- positive MRSA have been reported across England and Wales — however, these have usually been in the community rather than a hospital. The strain is thought to have caused the death of a Royal Marine recruit, Richard Campbell-Smith, 18, in 2004. Forty-eight hours before the young recruit died, he scratched himself on a gorse bush during a training exercise and contracted an MRSA-related infection.

Infections caused by PVL-positive MRSA normally cause skin abscesses or boils and inflammations, but they can cause more severe invasive infections such as septic arthritis, blood poisoning, flesh necrosis and pneumonia. Screening of patients and staff on the ward where Case One worked revealed that one of her friends, a hospital employee who had previously reported skin abscesses caused by MRSA, was carrying the same strain.

Four housemates of the two workers had also contracted the strain. One of these, Case Five, worked in the hospital on a different ward and is thought to have infected another worker there, who detailed a four-month history of recurrent infection of the eyelids. One further case was identified in March 2006 through retrospective analysis of MRSA samples kept in the laboratory. The patient (Case Eight) developed a suspected hospital-acquired pneumonia while in the ward where Case One worked, and died within 24 hours of the positive blood sample being taken.

A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency said that PVL-MRSA was “more toxic than other strains of MRSA”, but it could still be treated with antibiotics. Angela Kearns, an MRSA expert, added: “When people contract PVL-producing strains of MRSA, they usually experience a skin infection such as a boil or abscess. Most infections can be treated successfully with everyday antibiotics, but occasionally a more severe infection may occur. “The Health Protection Agency is advising the hospital on outbreak-control measures, and will continue to monitor MRSA infection nationally.”

PVL-producing strains are more commonly contracted in the community and generally affect previously healthy young children and young adults. This contrasts with the hospital-associated MRSA strains, which do not produce PVL and are more commonly associated with causing wound infections and blood-poisoning in elderly hospital patients.


British energy survey reveals gap between attitudes and action

The Electricity Policy Research Group (EPRG) at the University of Cambridge commissioned YouGov to survey 1000 UK residents on issues ranging from the future of the electricity supply to their current purchasing decisions. While climate change concerns are voiced most strongly among the young, Liberal Democrat voters and Guardian/Independent readers, these attitudes are not translated into personal action. The poll showed, for example, that Guardian/Independent readers are no more likely to have taken any specific energy saving actions than tabloid readers, and are actually less likely to have insulated their homes.

Paradoxically, older people who are least concerned with climate change are also far more likely to have taken concrete action to save energy, including buying energy efficient light bulbs, insulating their homes and lowering their thermostats.

The survey also revealed that while half of the respondents had changed electric or gas suppliers in the past five years, 90% cited reasons of price and just 4% claimed greener energy as the reason they switched.

The EPRG report ranked environment and fuel prices among the top ten issues facing the UK and placed climate change as the top environmental concern. The poll discovered significant support for investing in renewable energy, with over two-thirds of respondents saying they would support wind farms even if situated in their own locality.

Roughly half of the people surveyed supported the building of new nuclear power stations, provided they were based on existing sites. Surprisingly, one-third supported the establishment of new sites around the country.

Coal-power was considered the least popular energy option, although opinions improved when those surveyed learnt more about developments in carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies.

Dr David Reiner, Course Director of the MPhil in Technology Policy at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge and author of the report, said: "There is a real engagement among the British public on questions of energy and environment, particularly over climate change. There is a willingness to support government policies, but even those groups that are the strongest supporters of policy action do not translate this support into their personal energy saving behaviour. They show a clear divergence between their views as citizens and their actions as consumers."


Monday, December 18, 2006

Comment from a senior American anesthesiologist about yesterday's post on the killer NHS

The scenario sounds to me like the sinus infection had spread beyond the eye socket, perhaps downward into the pharynx (behind the tongue), making inserting a breathing tube more difficult, perhaps stirring up bleeding or pus, which would make visualizing the airway more difficult or impossible. If Ms Bromiley was overweight, the large tongue might make intubation difficult. With repeated attempts at intubation, the airway may become swollen. Awakening the patient before this point may have saved her; we have done this on occasion; inconvenient, but life-saving. Careful preoperative examination of the airway may have alerted the anesthesiologist to the precarious conditions present.

Actually, a tracheostomy is NOT the preferred treatment - this takes several minutes. A "cricothyrotomy" - a needle through a membrane, takes seconds, and the patient can be ventilated for a while before a better airway is established. We practice doing cricothyrotomy on dummies.

Of course, if the infection extends all the way to the throat, a tracheostomy or cricothyrotomy may not be possible. For such cases, a flexible fiberoptic device may enable the anesthesiologist to see around corners, and place the breatihing tube. Again, careful preoperative discussion between anesthesiologist and surgeons may make for better planning.

Here in the USA, we have a "difficult airway algorithm". See here

We drill our trainees (and ourselves) many times about these guidelines, on paper, with test questions, and on an electronic simulator (PC verson, and life size rubber dummy connected to a computer). This is standard practice here. This pilot would be stunned if he could see the level of our training on this issue. We have airway workshops where we can practice fiberoptic intubation on dummies, and we do it on patients as well. See here

Having a TV screen is a giant step forward (our institution is too cheap) - it allows the instructor to see what the trainee sees, and speeds up the teaching process.

ASA has close claims data, the best source of complications. I believe there has not been a case (or, more likely, too few to count) of airway disasters where a difficult airway has been diagnosed preoperatively; such cases alert the anesthesiologists to use more care or special methods (like fiberoptic). The most litigation is in emergency C-sections in (usually morbidly obese) where the airway is lost. This is why regional (spinal, epidural) anesthesia is so popular (but there are times and conditions where regional anesthesia is not possible. Hopefully, if intubation is abandoned after multiple attempts, the "cannot intubate cannot ventilate" scenario will never occur; if it does, surgical airway is a no brainer.

Pulse oximeters are a standard of care. When the oxygen in the skin drops, we are alerted that something must be done - NOW. One recently developed device is the Laryngeal Mask airway (LMA). This device allows maintaining an airway in a patient where the larynx cannot be visualized; it has been a lifesaver.

I had a recent emergency C-section in a fat lady where I couldn't intubate her. I could have maintained ventilation, but that would not protect her from vomiting and aspiration. All contraindications are relative; I used a LMA because I believed the small risk of vomiting and aspiration was less than the risk of airway obstruction from further attempts at intubation.

The anesthesiologist is normally in charge of the airway. If we must, WE request the surgeon to establish a surgical airway. The senior anesthesiologist is "in charge". Unfortunately, nervous surgeons may confuse the issue at times. I believe the British pilot would be pleasantly surprised at the level American doctors do such things. There is ACLS (advanced cardiac life support, both for adults and children); ATLS (advanced trauma life support) courses, exams, computer drills, ethc.

I am amused at nurses who claim an exclusive as "patient advocates". I am very proud what anesthesiologists have done to improbe patient safety. We are "patient advocates" as well. It was anesthesiologists who raised hell with hospital administrations to buy equipment to make anesthesia safer. Much of our improvement in safety has been with the initiatives of anesthesiologists, not Government mandates. When the Government demands better safety, then we must begin to worry.

Christmas candles "unsafe" in the Unhinged Kingdom

They've only been doing it for 259 years without mishap but you never know!

Children at one of the biggest Christingle Services in Essex will not be allowed to put lighted candles in their oranges this year in the wake of new safety fears, it has emerged. Instead, youngsters at Chelmsford Cathedral's Christmas Eve celebration will be using non-flamable glowsticks similar to those waved around at rock festivals.

But yesterday, one of the family event's organisers, Richard Spilsbury, said that the move was not in response to political correctness but instead the genuine concerns of some parents at last year's event. "Last year the cathedral was jam packed with people, and it was very difficult to physically move around," he said. "I know it sounds a bit of a kill-joy, but we thought we would give this alternative a try. "What happens at the service is the children process to the altar where they hand over cardboard tubes containing money for the Children's Society. "They then go back to their seats where they are given a Christingle, which is an orange with four spikes on it - with sweets - and a candle in the middle. "The idea is they then form a circle with the candles lit, the lights go down and it really looks very magical. "Last year there were so many you couldn't do this and we had problems getting children back to their seats."

Mr Spilsbury said that last year it was so difficult to move around, supervisors could not light all of the Christingles themselves and instead had to rely on the congregation lighting them from one to the other. "Things were so crammed some parents were very worried about candles and childrens' hair," he said. "We're not talking about 10 or 20 here - there were well-over 300 Christingles given out." Mr Spilsbury said the idea of using glowsticks instead of candles had been proposed by the Childrens' Society itself as an alternative. "We thought we would give it a try. They glow quite brightly," he explained.

He added that the sticks were activated by being shaked or bent. "We haven't quite worked out when to do it - there is a lot of preparation. "But if it doesn't work, we will go back to candles. The thing is, we don't want to spoil things, but we also don't want to put anyone in danger." The Christmas Eve Christingle Service takes place at Chelmsford Cathedral at 3pm.


Do they know it’s Christmas?

By Frank Furedi

Forget 'Peace on Earth' - Christmas has become a battleground in the culture war over the status of religion

Never mind `Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Men' - Christmas has become a battleground in the confused clash of values over the status of religion in modern society.  It is difficult to know who or what to believe in the perplexing debate about the War on Christmas. On one side, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, is convinced that ‘illiberal atheists and aggressive secularists’ have launched a crusade against the Christian symbols of Christmas. On the other side, a Guardian writer claims that ‘The phoney war on Christmas’ is a fantasy dreamt up by religious bigots, while the president of the National Secular Society thinks that those raising the alarm about an attack on Christmas are trying to provoke ‘resentment against a perceived enemy’.

Depending on whom you believe there may or may not be a war on Christmas. And there may or may not be an underhand anti-secular campaign masquerading as a defence of traditional Christmas. The only thing that we can be certain about is that there definitely is a debate between at least two sides that deeply dislike each other. Whether or not there is a war against Christmas, there is certainly a war of words about it. And whatever the facts, Christmas has been turned into a symbolic battlefield in an undeclared culture war throughout the Anglo-American world.

The symbolic significance of Christmas has been recognised in the United States by both sides in the culture war. Liberal author Bill Press’s book, How The Republicans Stole Christmas: Why The Religious Right Is Wrong About Faith and Politics And What Can We Do To Make It Right is more than matched by Fox News anchorman John Gibson’s effort, The War on Christmas: How The Liberal Plot To Ban The Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. Both of these books are long on titles, short on ideas and betray a powerful sense of moral illiteracy. 

So what is going on? There may not be a concerted war against Christmas, but this symbolically charged holiday has become a target of critics who would like to marginalise its role in public life. Nibbling away at the status of Christmas is not without consequences. According to a new report, three out of four UK employers have banned Christmas decorations from their offices because they are concerned not to offend other faiths. Of course these headline-seeking surveys should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Christmas celebrations have not quite been abolished in the British workplace. My own quick survey of friends and acquaintances indicates that Christmas is still celebrated, but in a more restrained manner. One human resources director told me that she felt uneasy about the office Christmas party because it ‘raised equality issues’. ‘What if some employees insist on a Diwali Party’ she asked. This kind of attitude explains why in many workplaces the Christmas spirit has become conspicuous by its absence. Some company killjoys are motivated to abolish the Christmas office party to avoid the risk of health and safety and litigation. Others do not want to ‘offend’ non-Christians. They see Christmas becoming a hassle that they can well do without.

That the times are changing is demonstrated by the number of cards I get that self-consciously avoid wishing me ‘Happy Christmas’. The growing tendency towards sending a Christian-free card is definitely not a fantasy invented by religious bigots. Everyone knows that it is happening and that such cards are implicitly making a statement. That is why there has been so much media interest in this year’s seasonal cards sent out by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Just this morning I received a surprisingly humorous card from the Commission For Racial Equality. The front of this send-up card states that it is a ‘DRAFT Christmas Card Proposal’, and is covered in scrawled questions about whether the pictured reindeer are sufficiently diverse, whether a risk assessment has been done on the candles etc . Inside, where it states ‘Season’s greetings from the CRE’, the word ‘Season’s’ is circled and linked to a question ‘Christmas?’ The card highlights a world where the words you choose to greet people have symbolic significance. Like all good satire, this card points to something very real going on in society (view the card).

If Christmas is losing its monopoly in the seasonal cards market, its role has also diminished within UK schools. Many schools no longer stage a nativity play, and the Christmas concert is often transformed into a worthy multi-cultural and multi-faith celebration of ‘diversity’ or of nothing in particular. Elsewhere the Red Cross has reportedly banned its staff from putting up Advent calendars associated with Christmas, and there are various reports of the local council language police rebranding Christmas lights as Winterlights or renaming Christmas ‘Winterval’.

The attempt to deprive Christmas of any distinct religious or cultural significance is not confined to Britain. In Australia, the Lord Mayor of Sydney decided to ban the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ and turn Christmas cards into civic greetings cards. In the USA, too, there are many sad anti-Christmas crusaders who criticise the event for excluding or offending non-Christians. One state government banned employees from saying ‘Merry Christmas’ while at work. Many American schools have renamed the Christmas break as ‘Winter Break’ or ‘Winter Celebration’. These incidents do not quite add up to a war, but they do reflect a cultural mood that seems uncomfortable with the celebration of a traditional Christmas.

Predictably there is now also a counter-campaign to uphold traditional Christmas symbols and practices.  The Sun, Britain’s largest selling daily, has launched a campaign to ‘save’ Christmas from political correctness, denouncing officious bureaucrats for their petty attempts to spoil the Christmas celebrations. Both the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and the Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor have attacked the trend for downplaying the traditional image of Christmas; Williams took particular exception to the absence of any Christian themes in Christmas stamps issued by the Royal Mail.  Some Muslim leaders are also worried that those trying to marginalise Christmas could provoke popular hostility, and that Muslims will be blamed. Last month the Christian-Muslim Forum published a letter criticising the attempt to suppress Christmas.

Some supporters of the campaign to save Christmas appear to believe that the problem they confront is that of militant secularism. The missive issued by the Forum, in the name of a leading Islamic cleric and the Anglican Bishop of Bolton, states that ‘there seems to be a secularising agenda which fails to understand the concerns of religious communities’. The leaders of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church objected to what they see as an ‘ongoing secularist campaign to drive Christ out of Christmas’ (3). That same theme is expounded upon in a report by a new think-tank, Theos, entitled Doing God: A Future for Faith in the Public Square.  ‘Aggressive secularists’ are also the target of the Archbishop of York.

However, secularism as such should not be held responsible for the behaviour of simpletons who wish to rebrand Christmas into a meaningless exercise in diversity. It is worth noting that the institution of Christmas has coexisted with secularism for a very long time. More importantly, Christmas has been secularised for more than a century. Yes, the festivities have an important religious dimension, but most people experience the rituals associated with Christmas in a very secular manner. Of course, many of us decry the commercialisation, yet shopping represents a far more important dimension of our Christmas experience than going to Church. The amount of energy devoted to the purchase of Christmas presents far outweighs what is channelled into religious reflection.

Whatever church leaders say there is no need for a malevolent atheist campaign to drive Christ out of Christmas. For a very long time now Christ has had only a walk-on part in the proceedings. The gifts, the office party, the family meal, the boozing and all the hectic activity around the Xmas tree are profoundly secular events that nevertheless have major significance for people’s lives. That Christianity provides the story and also gives meaning to this experience points to the relatively harmonious interaction between the religious and the secular, at least at that time of year. That is why, through many decades, the secularisation of Christmas did not diminish the symbolic importance of the event.

By protesting about the alleged aggressive secularisation of Christmas, the Church evades confronting the difficult question: why is it now unable to give Christian meaning to Christmas? This month a vicar in Dorset banned a man from wearing a Santa Claus outfit in his carol service.  Apparently the good vicar wanted to put religion at the heart of the celebration, to counter the influence of secularism and materialism. However, it is more likely to be the Church itself, not the wearing of Santa hats, that is responsible for the feeble sense of religious meaning associated with the celebration of Christmas.

The attempt to restrict the public role of Christmas is encouraged not so much by a hatred of religion, but by a profound sense of moral malaise. It has become commonplace in contemporary Western society to assume that it is not possible for us to have a common language through which we make sense of the world. It is assumed that there are no durable values that can transcend differences in identity, culture and religion. Instead of attempting to uphold values to which all humans can subscribe, we are counselled to respect difference and celebrate diversity. From this perspective, it is offensive to wish ‘Happy Christmas’ to someone who is not a practising Christian. Such sentiments are now fairly widespread – at least among sections of the middle class and in public institutions. Which is why many of us play it safe and send out cards that refrain from wishing the recipient ‘Merry Christmas’.

The bewilderment that surrounds Christmas is symptomatic of the far wider problem of not knowing how to behave in circumstances where we lack a moral language for expressing right and wrong. We feel far more comfortable describing something as safe or risky than in making a value judgement using words like good or bad. That is why critics of Christmas often hide behind the language of health and safety. For example the Sun ripped into the management of a Castleford shopping centre for preventing a 30-strong choir from performing in their usual spot because it was deemed too risky for them to stand in front of the fire exit. In the same way, a major bank warned its employees not to place Christmas decorations near computers as they could be a fire hazard.

The Sun also rightly took exception to the child protection campaign Kidscape’s demand that youngsters should be banned from sitting on Santa’s knee. In this case the prevailing mistrust about the moral status of grown-up men makes it easy to question the role of Santa Claus. Of course although Santa is not a religious figure he serves as a recognised symbol of Christmas. Michelle Elliot, Kidscape’s director argued that ‘you can’t vet all the people dressed as Santa’. Which is why a shopping centre in Llanelli, South Wales has installed a webcam to spy on Santa. And if Santa needs to undergo a police check why not the church leader who is in charge of a choir of children practising their Christmas carols?

Fear of paedophiles masquerading as Santa Claus, an obsession with health and safety, a mood of risk aversion and anxiety about offending others are powerful motifs that influence everyday life and encourage doubts about the familiar. That is why there is so much pressure on Christmas to reform its image. There is also another influence at work. Western society finds it increasingly difficult to affirm its institutions and celebrate its achievements. A powerful mood of cynicism prevails that uncritically dismisses tradition and celebrates the most shallow and philistine reaction against it.

In this vein, Channel 4 television has decided to transmit an ‘Alternative Christmas Message’ by a Muslim woman in a veil, at the same time as the Queen’s traditionally Christian message. Lacking the moral resources to deliver a statement on its own account, Channel 4 has opted for hiding behind a mask. It is not so much a hatred of Christianity but a mood of moral disorientation that encourages the desire to devalue the meaning of Christmas. Nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that some church leaders should interpret this response as symptomatic of a bias against Christianity. ‘This country disbelieves in itself in an amazing way’ observed the Archbishop of York.

Much more here

How green is your organic lettuce?

Even an apparently obvious claim-that organic food is better for the environment than the conventionally farmed kind-turns out to be controversial. There are many different definitions of the term "organic", but it generally involves severe restrictions on the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers and a ban on genetically modified organisms. Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, Britain's leading organic lobby group, says that environmental concerns, rather than health benefits, are now cited by British consumers as their main justification for buying organic food. (There is no clear evidence that conventional food is harmful or that organic food is nutritionally superior.)

But not everyone agrees that organic farming is better for the environment. Perhaps the most eminent critic of organic farming is Norman Borlaug, the father of the "green revolution", winner of the Nobel peace prize and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilisers to increase crop yields. He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is "ridiculous" because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food. Thanks to synthetic fertilisers, Mr Borlaug points out, global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques such as crop rotation, compost and manure to supply the soil with nitrogen and other minerals would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation. The more intensively you farm, Mr Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest.

What of the claim that organic farming is more energy-efficient? Lord Melchett points out for example that the artificial fertiliser used in conventional farming is made using natural gas, which is "completely unsustainable". But Anthony Trewavas, a biochemist at the University of Edinburgh, counters that organic farming actually requires more energy per tonne of food produced, because yields are lower and weeds are kept at bay by ploughing. And Mr Pollan notes that only one-fifth of the energy associated with food production across the whole food chain is consumed on the farm: the rest goes on transport and processing.

The most environmentally benign form of agriculture appears to be "no till" farming, which involves little or no ploughing and relies on cover crops and carefully applied herbicides to control weeds. This makes it hard to combine with organic methods (though some researchers are trying). Too rigid an insistence on organic farming's somewhat arbitrary rules, then-copper, a heavy metal, can be used as an organic fungicide because it is traditional-can actually hinder the adoption of greener agricultural techniques. Alas, shoppers look in vain for "no till" labels on their food-at least so far.

What about Fairtrade? Its aim is to address "the injustice of low prices" by guaranteeing that producers receive a fair price "however unfair the conventional market is", according to FLO International's website. In essence, it means paying producers an above-market "Fairtrade" price for their produce, provided they meet particular labour and production standards. In the case of coffee, for example, Fairtrade farmers receive a minimum of $1.26 per pound for their coffee, or $0.05 above the market price if it exceeds that floor. This premium is passed back to the producers to spend on development programmes. The market for Fairtrade products is much smaller than that for organic products, but is growing much faster: it increased by 37% to reach _1.1 billion ($1.4 billion) in 2005. Who could object to that?

Economists, for a start. The standard economic argument against Fairtrade goes like this: the low price of commodities such as coffee is due to overproduction, and ought to be a signal to producers to switch to growing other crops. Paying a guaranteed Fairtrade premium-in effect, a subsidy-both prevents this signal from getting through and, by raising the average price paid for coffee, encourages more producers to enter the market. This then drives down the price of non-Fairtrade coffee even further, making non-Fairtrade farmers poorer. Fairtrade does not address the basic problem, argues Tim Harford, author of "The Undercover Economist" (2005), which is that too much coffee is being produced in the first place. Instead, it could even encourage more production.

Mr Bretman of FLO International disagrees. In practice, he says, farmers cannot afford to diversify out of coffee when the price falls. Fairtrade producers can use the premiums they receive to make the necessary investments to diversify into other crops. But surely the price guarantee actually reduces the incentive to diversify?

Another objection to Fairtrade is that certification is predicated on political assumptions about the best way to organise labour. In particular, for some commodities (including coffee) certification is available only to co-operatives of small producers, who are deemed to be most likely to give workers a fair deal when deciding how to spend the Fairtrade premium. Coffee plantations or large family firms cannot be certified. Mr Bretman says the rules vary from commodity to commodity, but are intended to ensure that the Fairtrade system helps those most in need. Yet limiting certification to co-ops means "missing out on helping the vast majority of farm workers, who work on plantations," says Mr Wille of the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies producers of all kinds.

Guaranteeing a minimum price also means there is no incentive to improve quality, grumble coffee-drinkers, who find that the quality of Fairtrade brews varies widely. Again, the Rainforest Alliance does things differently. It does not guarantee a minimum price or offer a premium but provides training, advice and better access to credit. That consumers are often willing to pay more for a product with the RA logo on it is an added bonus, not the result of a formal subsidy scheme; such products must still fend for themselves in the marketplace. "We want farmers to have control of their own destinies, to learn to market their products in these competitive globalised markets, so they are not dependent on some NGO," says Mr Wille.

But perhaps the most cogent objection to Fairtrade is that it is an inefficient way to get money to poor producers. Retailers add their own enormous mark-ups to Fairtrade products and mislead consumers into thinking that all of the premium they are paying is passed on. Mr Harford calculates that only 10% of the premium paid for Fairtrade coffee in a coffee bar trickles down to the producer. Fairtrade coffee, like the organic produce sold in supermarkets, is used by retailers as a means of identifying price-insensitive consumers who will pay more, he says.

As with organic food, the Fairtrade movement is under attack both from outsiders who think it is misguided and from insiders who think it has sold its soul. In particular, the launch by Nestle, a food giant, of Partners' Blend, a Fairtrade coffee, has convinced activists that the Fairtrade movement is caving in to big business. Nestle sells over 8,000 non-Fairtrade products and is accused of exploiting the Fairtrade brand to gain favourable publicity while continuing to do business as usual. Mr Bretman disagrees. "We felt it would not be responsible to turn down an opportunity to do something that would practically help hundreds or thousands of farmers," he says. "You are winning the battle if you get corporate acceptance that these ideas are important." He concedes that the Fairtrade movement's supporters are "a very broad church" which includes anti-globalisation and anti-corporate types. But they can simply avoid Nestle's Fairtrade coffee and buy from smaller Fairtrade producers instead, he suggests.

Besides, this is how change usually comes about, notes Mr Pollan. The mainstream co-opts the fringe and shifts its position in the process; "but then you need people to stake out the fringe again." That is what has happened with organic food in America, and is starting to happen with Fairtrade food too. "People are looking for the next frontier," says Mr Pollan, and it already seems clear what that is: local food.

"Local is the new organic" has become the unofficial slogan of the local-food movement in the past couple of years. The rise of "Big Organic", the large-scale production of organic food to meet growing demand, has produced a backlash and claims that the organic movement has sold its soul. Purists worry that the organic movement's original ideals have been forgotten as large companies that produce and sell organic food on an industrial scale have muscled in.

This partly explains why food bought from local producers either directly or at farmers' markets is growing in popularity, and why local-food advocates are now the keepers of the flame of the food-activism movement. Local food need not be organic, but buying direct from small farmers short-circuits industrial production and distribution systems in the same way that buying organic used to. As a result, local food appears to be immune to being industrialised or corporatised. Organic food used to offer people a way to make a "corporate protest", says Mr Pollan, and now "local offers an alternative to that."

Buying direct means producers get a fair price, with no middlemen adding big margins along the distribution chain. Nor has local food been shipped in from the other side of the country or the other side of the world, so the smaller number of "food miles" makes local food greener, too. Local food thus appeals in different ways to environmentalists, national farm lobbies and anti-corporate activists, as well as consumers who want to know more about where their food comes from.

Obviously it makes sense to choose a product that has been grown locally over an identical product shipped in from afar. But such direct comparisons are rare. And it turns out that the apparently straightforward approach of minimising the "food miles" associated with your weekly groceries does not, in fact, always result in the smallest possible environmental impact.

The term "food mile" is itself misleading, as a report published by DEFRA, Britain's environment and farming ministry, pointed out last year. A mile travelled by a large truck full of groceries is not the same as a mile travelled by a sport-utility vehicle carrying a bag of salad. Instead, says Paul Watkiss, one of the authors of the DEFRA report, it is more helpful to think about food-vehicle miles (ie, the number of miles travelled by vehicles carrying food) and food-tonne miles (which take the tonnage being carried into account).

The DEFRA report, which analysed the supply of food in Britain, contained several counterintuitive findings. It turns out to be better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter, for example, than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain. And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.

Research carried out at Lincoln University in New Zealand found that producing dairy products, lamb, apples and onions in that country and shipping them to Britain used less energy overall than producing them in Britain. (Farming and processing in New Zealand is much less energy intensive.) And even if flying food in from the developing world produces more emissions, that needs to be weighed against the boost to trade and development.

There is a strand of protectionism and anti-globalisation in much local-food advocacy, says Gareth Edwards-Jones of the University of Wales. Local food lets farming lobbies campaign against imports under the guise of environmentalism. A common argument is that local food is fresher, but that is not always true: green beans, for example, are picked and flown to Britain from Kenya overnight, he says. People clearly want to think that they are making environmentally or socially optimal food choices, he says, but "we don't have enough evidence" to do so.

What should a shopper do? All food choices involve trade-offs. Even if organic farming does consume a little less energy and produce a little less pollution, that must be offset against lower yields and greater land use. Fairtrade food may help some poor farmers, but may also harm others; and even if local food reduces transport emissions, it also reduces potential for economic development. Buying all three types of food can be seen as an anti-corporate protest, yet big companies already sell organic and Fairtrade food, and local sourcing coupled with supermarkets' efficient logistics may yet prove to be the greenest way to move food around.

Food is central to the debates on the environment, development, trade and globalisation-but the potential for food choices to change the world should not be overestimated. The idea of saving the world by shopping is appealing; but tackling climate change, boosting development and reforming the global trade system will require difficult political choices. "We have to vote with our votes as well as our food dollars," says Mr Pollan. Conventional political activity may not be as enjoyable as shopping, but it is far more likely to make a difference.


Sunday, December 17, 2006


Even if the means is abandonment of the historic rule of law in Britain. Comment below by Daniel Mandel. A more extended comment is available from from Oliver Kamm

In his book The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, David Pryce-Jones writes at length of the time-honoured "extension into the West of [Saudi] money-favouring" - a subject now in the British headlines for a startling instance of its power: the halt called in Britain to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into a 60 million pound slush fund for Saudi royals. The SFO was investigating payments to the Saudis in the form of lavish holidays, luxury cars and rented apartments which were apparently made to guarantee Saudi commitment to Britain's largest ever defence contract, the so-called Yamamah deal.

Under this deal, Saudi Arabia agreed in 1985 to buy from BAE Systems, Britain's biggest military contractor, 72 Tornados and 30 Hawk fighter aircraft, plus a further 48 Tornados in 1993. This year Saudi Arabia agreed to pay 10 billion pounds for 72 aircraft, part of a package that was expected to grow. The agreement has kept BAE in business for 20 years.

However, Saudi displeasure and British loss of nerve has resulted in a spectacular climb-down: following a Saudi threatened rupture of ties and loss of future contracts (worth 2.5 million pounds annually), the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, has announced the suspension of the SFO's investigation. The SFO says it called off its investigation after representations made "both to the Attorney General and the Director [of the SFO] concerning the need to safeguard national and international security … It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest."

That is a statement of forensic significance. The rule of law is the special achievement of democratic society and its purpose, among other things, has always been the protection of what the SFO calls "the wider public interest." How is it possible, then, that protection of the "wider public interest" is now deemed to lie in the suspension of the rule of law under foreign pressure?

More detail of this disquieting episode is available on Pryce-Jones' blog.

Christmas Carols now "Too Noisy"

The latest excuse for stopping Christmas celebrations:

"A children's Christmas choir was left in tears after shopping centre security guards told them to shut up. The 23 children - aged three to five - were ordered to stop singing carols because they were too noisy.

Nursery school teachers had taken the kids to entertain shoppers at Nottingham's Exchange Arcade, reports the Sun. Claire Ellis, 38, mother of three-year-old singer Harrison, said: "It's disgusting. Christmas is a time for hearing little ones sing. Naturally they get excited but this was a special day for them."

Sharon Hastings, supervisor at Jesters Child Care Nursery, in Gedling, Notts, said: "I couldn't believe it when we were asked to leave. We hadn't caused any disruption and we weren't being loud." And store manager Lorraine Harvey said: "None of our customers complained about the kids."


The fact that they were upsetting little kids did not matter of course. Any normal person would love to hear the little kiddies sing.


By Jeff Jacoby

From the land that produced "A Christmas Carol" and Handel's "Messiah," more evidence that Christianity is fading in Western Europe: Nearly 99 percent of Christmas cards sold in Great Britain contain no religious message or imagery. "Traditional pictures such as angels blowing trumpets over a stable, Jesus in his manger, the shepherds and three wise men following the star to Bethlehem are dying out," the Daily Mail reports. A review of some 5,500 Christmas cards turns up fewer than 70 that make any reference to the birth of Jesus. "Hundreds . . . avoided any image linked to Christmas at all" -- even those with no spiritual significance, such as Christmas trees or Santa Claus.

Presumably the greeting-card industry is only supplying what the market demands; if Christian belief and practice weren't vanishing from the British scene, Christian-themed cards wouldn't be, either. But some Britons, not all of them devout, are resisting the tide. Writing in the Telegraph, editor-at-large Jeff Randall -- who describes himself as "somewhere between an agnostic and a mild believer" -- announces that any Christmas card he receives that doesn't at least mention the word "Christmas" goes straight into the trash. "Jettisoning Christmas-less cards is my tiny, almost certainly futile, gesture against the dark forces of political correctness," he writes. "It's a swipe at those who would prefer to abolish Christmas altogether, in case it offends 'minorities.' Someone should tell them that, with only one in 15 Britons going to church on Sundays, Christians are a minority."

Meanwhile, the employment law firm Peninsula says that 75 percent of British companies have banned Christmas decorations for fear of being sued by someone who finds the holiday offensive. And it isn't only in December that this anti-Christian animus rears its head. British Airways triggered a furor when it ordered an employee to hide the tiny cross she wears around her neck. At the BBC, senior executives agreed that they would not air a program showing a Koran being thrown in the garbage -- but that the trashing of a Bible would be acceptable. "It's extraordinary," remarks Randall. "In an increasingly godless age, there is a rising tide of hatred against those who adhere to biblical values." A "tyrannical minority" of intolerant secularists is openly contemptuous of traditional moral norms. "The teachings and guidance of old-fashioned Christianity offend them, so they seek to remove all traces of it from public life."

You don't have to be especially pious to find this atheist zealotry alarming. Nor do you have to live in Europe. Though religion remains important in American life, antireligious passion is surging here, too. Examples abound: In two recent best sellers (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation), Sam Harris heaps scorn on religious believers, whose faith he derides as "a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement." A study in the Journal of Religion and Society claims that belief in God correlates with higher rates of homicide, sexual promiscuity, and other social ills, and that when compared with relatively secular democracies, the churchgoing United States "is almost always the most dysfunctional." Secular absolutists demand that schools and government venues be cleansed of any hint of religious expression -- be it a cross on the Los Angeles County seal, a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments, or the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

What is at stake in all this isn't just angels on Christmas cards. What society loses when it discards Judeo-Christian faith and belief in God is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong,but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord."

Obviously this doesn't mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in God alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values -- Judeo-Christian monotheism -- is society's best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones. The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy.


Britain: The "One size fits all" battle of the lunchbox

Parents are quite capable of feeding their children - despite what the government's School Food Trust would have us believe.

It’s bad enough having Jamie Oliver telling us how to feed our children without another celebrity chef joining in. But in January, Prue Leith, cookery writer and restaurateur, takes up her position as chair of the School Food Trust. ‘This is the most important job I have ever had,’ she said on her appointment. ‘I believe we can really change attitudes through the trust’s mission to help schools teach every pupil about food and nutrition and to give them cooking lessons.

The School Food Trust is yet another government-knows-best initiative set up to propagate myths about diet and intervene into areas where government should fear to tread. It’s website states as fact the horrors of the epidemic of obese children. In fact, the level of obesity is generally overstated (see Fattened statistics, by Peter Marsh) and the solutions are generally worse than the ‘problem’ (see Stop bullying fat kids, by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick).

The one thing we do know is that people are living longer and healthier than ever before. The mortality rate for five year olds fell by 98 per cent from 1901 to 2001. In 1901, the UK average life expectancy was 46 years for men, and 50 years for women. In 2001 this had risen to 76 years for men and 81 years for women. Hardly doomsday scenarios.

As a parent who is the intended recipient of such initiatives, what makes my blood boil is they reveal exactly what the government thinks of me. Here is what actually happens. Parents want their children to be happy and healthy. They want their children to eat food that will make them strong and grow. Parents are also pragmatic with their children. They would rather their children ate something rather than nothing (an admirable idea, I hope you’ll agree) and so work out what that means. This might mean a whole host of different things, from mini pizzas to sweet potatoes, because children all have their individual tastes and quirks.

The School Food Trust site however assumes that parents are complete idiots and then goes from there. For example, one of the factsheets for parents is on the sticky subject of the humble packed lunch. The factsheet tells us ignorant parents that ‘packing a lunch can be done in five minutes before school. Or, if you’re usually pushed for time, pack it the night before and put it in the fridge.’ Thanks for that because we’d obviously never be able to manage without such words of advice. With that sort of view of how impotent we are, it is amazing that the children in question have lived long enough to go to school to have a packed lunch. How did we know not to immerse our children in boiling hot water when bathing them as infants? However did we manage to heat up their baby food?

After assuming we have so little intelligence, the site then continues in a patronising vein to advise us not to put the same thing in our children’s lunchbox every day. ‘Try to have a different type of fruit every day - don’t always pick an orange and an apple, why not try kiwi, mango, grapes, pear, chunks of melon or small packets of dried fruit.’

So, we’re apparently so useless we can’t even work out when and how to make our kids’ lunches but somehow we have the time to wander around sourcing a variety of fruits. Nor does it stop at fruit. There are all sorts of interesting breads we should search for, too. Examples given to put in our children’s lunchboxes are pittas, bagels, baguettes, ciabatta, rice crackers, rolls, wraps - anything but the humble white loaf which somehow has assumed the moral status of heroin.

To be fair, the School Food Trust is not alone in deciding they know better than parents. That other great government-funded institution, the BBC, has decided that mother does not know best. The BBC’s ‘Big Challenge’ is to transform the state of the lunchbox as we know it. As with the School Food Trust, bog standard white sliced bread is the loaf that dare not speak its name. Any old pitta, bagel or wrap will do in place of Sunblest or Mothers Pride. Once again, parents are meant to be sourcing a whole range of products from pasta-based salads to small packs of nuts and seeds.

At one point, it occurs to the author of this advice, nutritionist Lyndel Costain, that children may not rejoice when being offered a bit of pasta and a few nuts to sustain them through the school day. But never fear! There is more sound advice to dole out to us stupid parents. ‘Involve them in lunchbox planning’ or ‘give them a star’ if they try a ‘new, healthier lunchbox food’. After five stars ‘give them a small reward, such as… [wait for it] ... a family walk’!

Please! My 4 year old and 7 year old are involved in lunchbox planning in that they are very sure of what they like and don’t like and a packet of seeds, however much planned, will not be eaten. And a family walk, for my kids at least, is not an incentive to look with delight on a vegetable stick with a dip but an onerous activity they are dragged on under great duress.

If it sounds like I have a personal axe to grind, I do. In my children’s primary school they have embraced the healthy eating agenda with a vengeance. This includes inspecting the children’s lunchboxes and giving awards to the child who brings the ‘healthiest’ lunch to school, while telling those who have biscuits in their box to bring an apple instead.

Perhaps I should think myself lucky compared to the parents of little Ryan Stupples, who was excluded from the school dining hall and made to eat in the headmaster’s office for having - shock, horror - two snack items in his lunchbox. The headmaster told the Daily Telegraph: ‘We take healthy eating very seriously and everyone is aware of our new policies.’ The thought of a 10 year old boy being told by their school that they’ve done something naughty because of what mum and dad put in their lunchbox sends shivers down the spine.

If the lunchbox inspections are bad, the battle for young hearts, minds and stomachs is even worse. When I went to see an assembly that my daughter’s class staged for parents, the tour de force was six year old girls reading their poems about healthy eating. I found myself feeling queasy as they told us about how you must not eat fatty things, because it is important to be thin! The following week there was yet another healthy eating day which involved trying ‘healthy’ foods. Discussing this with friends in the parents forum that I run, it was clear that everyone had their own little horror story to tell of their child’s school cracking down on contraband lunchbox items or brainwashing them about the dangers of their food.

Call me old fashioned but shouldn’t school be trying to develop knowledge and imagination, whether through fantastic literary tales or inspiring science? Why instead are we infecting such young children with an obsession with their bodies?

Parents will remain pragmatic and keep focused on doing what is best for their children, giving them what they will eat, and sometimes getting them to stretch the boundaries of what that means. But at the same time, parents shouldn’t be complacent about the patronising messages coming from something like the School Food Trust. These messages show that the government holds us in high contempt and doesn’t like it when we don’t bow before their codes and guidelines, that we can work out for ourselves what is best for our children. It has imbued food stuffs with moral characteristics - sliced white bread bad, ciabatta good - and it wants to ensure that morality is enforced.

Parents: you can expect plenty of arguments with schools over how to feed your children in the coming months. Stand by what is right for your child. Hold onto your children’s lunchboxes and let the battle commence!



Nice toys for the rich -- thanks to a Leftist government!

One minute the quirky electric cars are as rare as a bobby on the beat. Next minute they are as common as parking wardens - you'd swear there's one on every corner. And in a stroll through highly-fashionable and well-heeled Mayfair in London the Daily Mail spotted all these G-Wiz electric cars - and more.

The reason for the boom is simple - these 'plug and play' cars are exempt from the London Mayor Ken Livingstone's controversial congestion charge of o8 a day - which he wants to increase from 8 pounds a day to 10 - adding a whopping 25 pound levy for the most polluting 'gas-guzzlers.'

Costing from 6,999 pounds, these electric cars have a range of about 40 miles per charge - though you can knock-off 10 miles if you put on the heater in chilly weather. Top speed is a pedestrian 42mph - but fast enough in 30mph and 20mph zones. But fuel efficiency is immense - and equivalent to between 200mpg and 600 miles to the gallon, depending on conditions. Range is about 40 miles before the battery needs a re-charge. But there's another downside - they have all the excitement of a milk-float. Trendy or planet-conscious owners include TV presenter Jonathan Ross and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. It will also get you a free parking permit in Richmond on Thames where council chiefs are cracking down on 'Chelsea Tractor' 4X4s,

Charging your electric car overnight adds around 30p to your electricity bill, giving a fuel cost of under a penny a mile compared to around 15p for the average petrol car. But there are only two on-street chargers in Westminster. So you need off-street parking to juice it up. And there is a sting in the tail - electric cars need new batteries every three years or so, at a cost of around 1,200 pounds. And although they produce no pollutants themselves, electric cars aren't necessarily the greenest vehicles on the road. With normal power from the mains you'll create less carbon dioxide (CO2) the so-called 'greenhouse gas than with a regular car. But the emissions, though lower, are merely displaced to the power station.


Robust NHS patient killed by disorganized and poorly-trained doctors

Elaine Bromiley kissed her husband Martin and their children Victoria, then six, and Adam, five. "Bye-ee," she called to them, waving as she was wheeled down the corridor towards the operating theatre. The otherwise healthy 37-year-old had suffered for years from chronic sinusitis, an inflammation of the nasal passages. Then, early in 2005, one of her eye sockets became infected. The threat of permanent damage to the optic nerve led her surgeon to recommend a minor operation to straighten the inside of the nose - a possible contributory factor.

Once they'd said their goodbyes, Martin and the children went home to wait for word that Elaine was awake and ready to see them all again. It never came. Two hours after she'd gone into theatre, Martin received a call from the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon to say Elaine was having difficulty waking up. Even then, Martin wasn't unduly worried. But when he arrived at the hospital, he was told Elaine was in intensive care, and, because she'd been deprived of oxygen during the operation, there was a risk of significant brain damage. The next few days were a blur as, numb with shock, Martin, with the help of friends, did his best to care for his family. Desperately anxious about his wife, he tried to maintain as normal a life as possible for the children, who continued going to school.

Meanwhile, Elaine was put into a medically-induced coma for three days to give her swollen brain a chance to recover. "I spent every minute I could with Elaine, holding her hand and telling her how much I loved her," says Martin. "The day after the operation was the 21st anniversary of our first date. I was told that the eventual outcome could be a full recovery, or that my wife could be alive but in a vegetative state - or any point between the two extremes. "My head was spinning. I couldn't grasp how life could change so quickly and in such a devastating way. I really couldn't see past the next day and had no idea what the future held for us."

Five days after the operation, a brain scan indicated little if any activity and Martin was told Elaine had suffered brain death. "It was like a TV screen covered in static: no shape, no texture, no colour to show that anything was working," he recalls. "Years ago, Elaine had told me that she did not wish to live as a vegetable. I made the decision that life support should be withdrawn and I prepared myself for a life without Elaine that I could not begin to imagine." Mrs Bromiley was observed for three days and then taken off life support. She survived for another four days, dying in the middle of the night when Martin was at home with the children. "I'd decided that they were the priority now," he says.

He had kept the children informed of their mother's progress, telling them "first that Mummy was going to be ill, just like Granny was when she had a stroke, but that she will get better". Then he had to explain that "Mummy wasn't going to wake up, she was going to die". Martin recalls those desolate days. "I just couldn't imagine how life would go on," he says. What Martin hung on to, he says, was his professional work ethic as a pilot. He took it for granted that - as is routine in aviation - an investigation would automatically be carried out. His hope was that at the very least lessons would be learnt to protect other patients in the future. He felt, if anything, comradeship with the operating team responsible. "I was 99.9 per cent sure that what had happened to Elaine could not have been predicted and that when the emergency occurred, the team did what they believed to be right but things just didn't work out."

When he discovered that no inquiry would be carried out unless he sued or made a complaint, he walked into the hospital chief executive's office to insist there was one. The subsequent investigation was headed by Professor Michael Harmer, a former president of the Association of Anaesthetists. The inquiry revealed that Elaine's operation was a textbook example of how surgery, carried out by technically proficient professionals, can go horribly wrong. The cause: human error. So much is made of the latest medical advances that it comes as something of a shock to learn that human error still figures significantly in modern healthcare.

Yet last month, the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, warned that the odds of dying as a result of clinical error in hospital are 33,000 times higher than those of dying in an air crash. "In the airline industry, the risk of death is one in 10 million. If you go into a hospital, the risk of death from a medical error is one in 300," he said. And yet it seems little is being done to improve those odds. Five years after chairing the inquiry into the deaths of 29 babies during heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, Sir Ian Kennedy, now chairman of the Health Commission, drew attention to the lack of progress. "It is almost as though avoidable deaths and injuries are accepted as part of the risk of care and treatment," he told a meeting of clinicians in London in July.

And it gets worse: the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA), which was set up by the Government in response to the Bristol inquiry, with a brief to ensure that patient safety was a priority within the NHS, was recently described as "dysfunctional" by the National Audit Office. The agency has no idea how many people die each year as a result of medical error. It is currently under investigation, with a report on its future due out this week. The National Audit Office estimates that there may be up to 34,000 deaths annually as a result of patient safety incidents. But in reality the NHS simply does not know.

Contrast this with the approach taken by other high-risk industries. For years, businesses from motor racing to oil refining have recognised the dangers of human error, and the importance of communication and teamwork in dealing with emergencies. They have introduced what is known as Human Factors (HF) training, which teaches basic skills designed to promote safety. While much-prized technical skills are essential, they are not always enough in a fast-moving, high-risk situation. At critical moments, organisational and social skills are just as important. This means good communication and an ability to work together with each member of the team.

It appears that moments after being sedated, Elaine's airway collapsed, preventing adequate levels of oxygen from reaching her brain. Though potentially an emergency, the event is a recognised risk during an anaesthetic and, as such, should be manageable. Surgeons and anaesthetists are drilled to follow a series of steps at this point - beginning with a non-invasive attempt to get the patient breathing normally, and ending, as a last resort, with an emergency surgical procedure. This is usually a tracheotomy - where the surgeon cuts through the windpipe, inserting a tube directly into the airway through the throat.

At first the drill was followed impeccably. But then a problem arose: the surgical team tried to get a tube into the airway to help Elaine breathe, but encountered some kind of blockage. According to the drill, this was the time to consider doing a tracheotomy. Elaine, by this point, was turning blue in the face and one of the nurses fetched tracheotomy equipment. A second nurse phoned through to the intensive care unit to check there was a spare bed available.

But the three consultants appear to have made the sort of human error that is horribly common in crisis situations. They became fixated on what they were doing. The consultants also appear to have ignored the junior staff and remained intent on finding a way to insert a tube into the airway. The minutes ticked by. After 25 minutes, they were finally able to get a tube into her airway -but even then, the team failed to secure the tube and it was a full 35 minutes before adequate oxygen levels to the brain were restored.

At the inquest, held in October last year, the lead anaesthetist admitted that he had lost control and there was a dispute over exactly who was in charge of the procedure, making life-and-death decisions.

All of which could have been the end of the investigation. But Martin Bromiley had an unusual insight into the factors that led to his wife's death. He is both a pilot and a specialist in HF training, which has been mandatory for British pilots and crew since the mid-1990s. "Fixation is a normal reaction to stress. HF training teaches people that it's normal to carry on trying to take the usual action, even when it's clearly not working," he says. "But at some point, a decision has to be made to break out of that pattern of behaviour. The way to ensure that happens is for all members of the team to see it as their duty to speak out to keep the patient safe." There was no comfort in knowing that two of the nurses knew how to save his wife's life. "What they didn't know - and what HF would have taught them - is how to broach the subject with their bosses," he says.

"The same problem used to exist in aviation. It was common for the evidence from black boxes to show that junior members of staff had been aware that a mistake had been made and had either kept quiet or been ignored." Clinicians tended to view human error as a sign of weakness or the result of poor performance, says Martin. "Yet high-risk industries have shown that by accepting that it is normal to make mistakes, it becomes the team's responsibility to watch out for errors and catch them before they cause significant harm."

Martin began to ask questions and soon found that he was not the only person to be concerned about the risks of modern surgery. Indeed, for the past year the Royal College of Surgeons has been developing HF training courses in which surgeons have worked with experts from the aviation industry. Last month, it also organised a conference where leading doctors, nurses and managers heard speakers from the military, the oil industry and motor racing, among others, all described the dramatic impact on safety levels following the introduction of HF training. Martin himself also addressed the conference. "Patients want surgeons who can communicate well with them and effectively with members of the team,' says Tony Giddings, the Royal College of Surgeons council member responsible for patient safety issues and a former surgeon and trained pilot. "And there is a growing understanding of their importance within the profession. These skills are not unique to medicine; they are skills for life itself. They enable people to be confident and self-assured yet acknowledge they are not infallible. "Unless people have these skills intuitively, they need to be trained. Surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and other members of the team can be trained together to develop these essential skills."

However, unless such training is mandatory, the surgeons who need it most won't participate, says Mr Giddings. It also needs funding. HF training could save thousands of lives every year, yet he says there is a reluctance at government level to commit resources to a scheme which could cost millions of pounds every year. "But however expensive mandatory training is, there is considerable evidence that human error in medicine is far more costly, both in human and financial terms." For Roger Goss, co-director of campaign group Patient Concern, there is no question that HF training must be implemented. "If the aviation industry uses this type of training, then that's good enough for me: flying is the safest mode of transport," he says. "Patient safety must become a priority in health care. It's not at the moment. Chief executives are constantly being criticised for failing to make it a priority, and instead focusing on keeping within their budget. The NHS has a moral obligation to do anything humanly possible to minimise the risks of surgery."

This week, Martin is meeting the Deputy Chief Medical Officer to discuss a number of initiatives. As he approaches a second Christmas without his wife, he is determined that his family's terrible experience will have a positive impact on the culture of surgery. "There is no question in my mind that Elaine's death will bring enormous change to clinical practice," he says with quiet determination


Saturday, December 16, 2006


Severe flood warnings were the order of the day in Scotland yesterday as more than 40 days of gales and rain showed little sign of letting up. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency said that there was "serious danger to life and property" from the rivers Lyon and Tay in Perthshire, and the River Teith at Callander. There were also nine flood warnings and twenty-two flood watches in place elsewhere.

Scotland has suffered the wettest November on record, and there is more bad weather to come. Worst hit has been Glasgow, which has endured the highest levels of rainfall on record since the First World War. The city recorded 342mm of rain last month, double the expected average, while Scotland was drenched by 244mm of rain, significantly higher than the average 166mm November total.

Continuing torrential downpours have already delivered 141.5mm of rain this month, about 91 per cent of the total average for December. The outlook for this week continues to be poor for the West Coast and Central Belt, with up to 40mm of rain expected in some parts. The Highlands and the Northern Isles will be hit by 80mph gales. A Met Office spokesman said: "It has rained every day in Scotland for more than 40 days and so far every day in December has brought wet weather. It's not going to get any better."



The article below if from the deep-green "Independent" of London

It's a word that's been generating a steady, background hum in the scientific community for decades now. And the glow of hope emanating from the word "thorium" is now burning brighter than ever. Is this element really the nuclear fuel of the future? Is it really - as some are claiming - cleaner, greener and safer than its scarcer cousin uranium? One thing's for sure: there are massive reserves of thorium throughout the world, and if the power that represents could be harnessed, it could keep us in energy-saving light bulbs for thousands of years to come. So why aren't governments investing in the technology needed to make that potential a reality?

Over the past year, Professor Egil Lillestol of the Institute of Physics and Technology at the University of Bergen, has been attempting to convince the world that nuclear reactors fuelled by thorium could be the answer to the world's energy problems. If we accept that we need alternatives to the CO2-belching fossil fuels, then, Lillestol says: "We all have to do whatever we can to reduce the consumption of energy and to develop solar and wind energy. These are, currently, the only two sources that can give us substantial amounts of renewable energy, but unfortunately far from enough."

Lillestol believes that nuclear power is the only solution. But nuclear power has a bad reputation. The public remembers the disasters all too well, from the Sellafield fire of 1957 to Chernobyl's meltdown in 1986. We are frightened, too, by the prospect of waste from spent fuel rods that remain lethally radioactive for many thousands of years. If that's not nasty enough, some nuclear waste can also be reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium. The processing of plutonium for re-use as fuel for reactors is difficult and consequently much of the waste is left to build in weapons-grade stockpiles that could pose a serious security threat were some to fall into the wrong hands.

But according to some, including Lillestol, thorium - a silvery white metal discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder - could solve all these problems. As Lillestol points out, thorium is "three times more abundant than uranium in the earth's crust, and produces 250 times more energy per unit of weight than uranium in the present reactors". Unlike a uranium reactor, a thorium power station would produce no plutonium. Consequently, the waste produced from burning thorium in a reactor would not be such a security risk if it fell into the wrong hands, and the spent fuel rods are dramatically less radioactive than conventional nuclear waste. Dr Paul Norman of the University of Birmingham's Physics department talks in terms of "hundreds of years of radioactivity as opposed to thousands".

Furthermore, thorium requires an accelerator-driven system (or ADS) reactor, and these have significant differences from reactors commonly used for uranium. When a uranium-235 atom splits, it releases a wave of high-energy neutrons which can then collide with other U-235 atoms, releasing more neutrons. This is the chain reaction responsible for the explosive power of an atom bomb, and when out of control, it is also the force that can drive a disastrous meltown in a reactor's core.

But in an ADS reactor, that chain reaction cannot get out of control. "The technology for building such a reactor became ripe some 10 years ago. It uses an external beam of protons to kick-start the reactions," says Lillestol. The thorium does not then continue the reaction on its own - it needs the external beam of protons to keep it running. To stop the reaction, and close down a power station, all that would be needed to be done would be to pull the plug on that external beam of protons.

"In the first step, the protons enter into molten lead where a large number of neutrons are produced," continues Lillestol. "These neutrons enter into the thorium blanket. In fact the proton accelerator has to have a rather intense proton beam, and such accelerators could not be built 10 years ago. This is no longer considered to be a major obstacle."

Lillestol says that the problem is political will - and money. "Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia began work on the ADS while he was director-general at CERN [the European Organisation for Nuclear Research]. He and his group made so much progress that we all believed that a prototype would be built within a decade. However, when the EU turned down the application for $500m first in 1999 and then in 2000, Rubbia gave up pushing and concentrated on solar energy which he then was also heavily engaged in."

Lillestol - whom Rubbia appointed as deputy division leader of CERN's Physics Division back in 1989 - has continued to fight for the thorium cause. He estimates the cost of a prototype reactor at 550m euros and believes it will take around 15 years to develop: "Molten lead becomes highly corrosive - and the problem is, how do we contain that lead? But the greatest difficulty is getting the world's experts to work together in one place and on one prototype. This, I believe, can only be achieved if all the participating countries have equal rights to all the results." Of course, the supply network for uranium has already been established, and is an important issue for governments all over the world. Switching to thorium would move the goalposts and put new power in the hands of the countries that have the thorium. And on such massive issues, it seems that no one likes change.

India, which has about a quarter of the world's total reserves, has already planned its nuclear power program eventually to use thorium, phasing out uranium. But Greenpeace thinks this is a bad idea. The organisation's senior adviser on nuclear energy, Jean McSorley, says: "Operating thorium reactors would mean taking an enormous risk with untried and untested reactors. We shouldn't forget that we need to reduce energy demand, and fully embrace clean, safe and secure alternatives such as renewable energy systems."

But Dr Norman says that new nuclear technology, of some description, is the future. "If you want evidence that nuclear power is back on the agenda, then take a look at what's happening at universities. Our Masters course on the Physics and Technology of Nuclear Reactors was launched 50 years ago, and this year we've got 36 students - the most we've ever had, almost double the previous highest number which was 19 students back in 1957. Global warming is proving far more deadly than Chernobyl. We could try and keep running with the current reactors, which will run as long as uranium-235 lasts. Or we could try something new." He agrees the something new could well be thorium. Or nuclear fusion, which, he admits, "is technically harder to achieve". Perhaps a thorium reactor is not so far-fetched.


NHS spend 7 billion pounds of taxpayer's money on 'private consultants'

And it's not medical consultants we are talking about

More than 7 billion pounds [Yes. That's billions, not millions] of taxpayers' money was lavished on private consultants in the public services over the last three years - thanks to soaring costs in the NHS. Spending on consultants in the Health Service has increased 18 fold in just two years, from 31million in 2004 to a staggering 578m in the 12 months to April - partly thanks to the spiralling costs of the new NHS computer system. That raised the total bill for consultants in the public services to 2.8bn last year - a rise of a third over the last two years.

The National Audit Office warned there is no evidence at all that taxpapyers have got value for money because Whitehall departments keep such poor records. A hard hitting report by the government spending watchdog found that ministers could save more than 1billion over three years if they put in place even basic controls to cut the number of consultants and get better value from their contracts.

The company cashing in the most is computer firm IBM, with contracts worth 275m pounds last year, while Accenture - the management company who have worked for Labour since before the 1997 election - raked in 175m. PA Consulting, who are presiding over the controversial ID card scheme, pocketed 102million last year.

The report slams government departments for paying consultants millions on a daily 'time and materials' rate which encourages them to spin out contracts to milk money from the public purse, rather making payments dependent on delivering successful projects. The worst offender is the Department of Education and Skills, which receives four 'red lights' for its failure to get a grip on consultant spending. After the NHS, the biggest slice of the bill comes from local government, where consultants earned 386m last year. The Department for International Development, despite being a small ministry, ran up a gigantic bill of 255m. The Ministry of Defence spent 213m and the Environment department 160m.

Among the contracts singled out for criticism is the Home Office's ID cards project, where more than 2m a month was being funnelled to PA Consulting last year. The report complains that the department rather than the consultants 'bear the costs for increases in project duration', which have exceeded original estimates. The NAO concluded that most departments do not bother to 'make a proper assessment of whether internal resources could have been used instead of consultants' or 'collect adequate information on their use of consultants'. Crucially their report said that departments do not talk to each other about which consulting firms and partners at those firms do a good job, nor do they make sure consultants train up civil servants to do the job once they have left. It concludes: 'Fewer than half of central government organisations collect information on how the consultants have performed against what they were intended to do.'

Keith Davis, director of the NAO efficiency centre which compiled the report, said: 'The way that Government is managing consultants doesn't represent value for money. Part of the problem is there is no clear information.' Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: 'Today's report from the NAO confirms what many of us have long suspected: the external consultancy gravy train continues full steam ahead, courtesy if the public purse. 'In the past three years, 7.3bn of taxpayers' money has gone to big consultancy firms. Too often departments hand over a signed cheque to consultants without first looking to see what skills they have in-house. 'Perhaps the most damning finding is that, time and again, departments fail to keep an eye on how these companies perform or if they are delivering.'

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, branded progress in government 'disappointing'. He said: 'Departments need to think ahead about what skills they should have, so they don't have to rely on consultants year after year. Peter Hill, chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association said: 'The increase in the use of management consultants is against a background of unprecedented public sector reform which requires skills and competency not available in sufficient numbers in the public sector.' CBI director of public services Dr Neil Bentley said: 'Consultants offer expertise and experience often not found in the public sector, but government departments need to make a clear business case for using them if the taxpayer is to get value for money. 'As the NAO rightly suggests, this does not always happen.'


Vegetarians are more intelligent, says study

Another rubbishy finding that ignores social class

Frequently dismissed as cranks, their fussy eating habits tend to make them unpopular with dinner party hosts and guests alike. But now it seems they may have the last laugh, with research showing vegetarians are more intelligent than their meat-eating friends. A study of thousands of men and women revealed that those who stick to a vegetarian diet have IQs that are around five points higher than those who regularly eat meat. Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers say it isn't clear why veggies are brainier - but admit the fruit and veg-rich vegetarian diet could somehow boost brain power.

The researchers, from the University of Southampton, tracked the fortunes of more than 8,000 volunteers for 20 years. At the age of ten, the boys and girls sat a series of tests designed to determine their IQ. When they reached the age of 30, they were asked whether they were vegetarian and their answers compared to their childhood IQ score. Around four and a half per cent of the adults were vegetarian - a figure that is broadly in line with that found in the general population.

However, further analysis of the results showed those who were brainiest as children were more likely to have become vegetarian as adults, shunning both meat and fish. The typical adult veggie had a childhood IQ of around 105 - around five points higher than those who continued to eat meat as they grew up. The vegetarians were also more likely to have gained degrees and hold down high-powered jobs. There was no difference in IQ between strict vegetarians and those who classed themselves as veggie but still ate fish or chicken. However, vegans - vegetarians who also avoid dairy products - scored significantly lower, averaging an IQ score of 95 at the age of 10.

Researcher Dr Catharine Gale said there could be several explanations for the findings, including intelligent people being more likely to consider both animal welfare issues and the possible health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Previous work has shown that vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, cutting their risk of heart attacks. They are also less likely to be obese. Alternatively, a diet which is rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains may somehow boost brain power. Dr Gale said: 'Although our results suggest that children who are more intelligent may be more likely to become vegetarian as adolescents or young adults, it does not rule out the possibility that such a diet might have some beneficial effect on subsequent cognitive performance. 'Might the nature of the vegetarians' diet have enhanced their apparently superior brain power? Was this the mechanism that helped them achieve the disproportionate nature of degrees?'

High-profile vegetarians include singers Paul McCartney and Morrissey and actress Jenny Seagrove. Past exponents of a meat-free lifestyle include George Bernard Shaw and Benjamin Franklin. Promoting the cause, Shaw said, 'A mind of the calibre of mine cannot drive its nutriment from cows', while Franklin stated that a vegetarian diet resulted in 'greater clearness of head and quicker comprehension'. Liz O'Neill, of the Vegetarian Society, said: 'We've always known that vegetarianism is an intelligent, compassionate choice benefiting animals, people and the environment. Now, we've got the scientific evidence to prove it. 'Maybe that explains why many meat-reducers are keen to call themselves vegetarians when even they must know that vegetarians don't eat chicken, turkey or fish!'


Vegetarianism is almost solely a bourgeois preoccupation and, as Murray and Herrnstein showed long ago, the middle and upper classes have an IQ advantage. They also, however, tend to overestimate their own wisdom and go off chasing all sorts of rainbows -- in the belief that they can see truth and virtue where most people cannot


Clothes made in larger sizes should carry a tag with an obesity helpline number, health specialists have suggested. Sweets and snacks should not be permitted near checkouts, new roads should not be built unless they include cycle lanes and food likely to make people fat should be taxed, they say in a checklist of what we might "reasonably do" to deal with obesity.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the team says that "pull yourself together, eat less and exercise more" is an inadequate response to obesity, voiced only by "less perceptive health professionals" and the media. What fat people need is help, advice and sympathy to overcome their addiction to food, says the group of public health professionals, which includes Sir George Alberti, the Government's national director for emergency care. Their checklist of possible actions includes:

* Printing a helpline numbers for advice with all clothes sold with a waist of more than 40in for men and 37in for boys, women's garments with a waist of more than 35in or size 16 or above, and more than 31in for girls

* Banning the placement of sweets and fatty snacks at or near shop tills and at children's eye level

* Taxing processed foods that are high in sugar or saturated fat

* Introducing health checks for all school leavers, both primary and secondary

* Allowing new urban roads only if they have cycle lanes

* Establishing a dedicated central agency responsible for all aspects of obesity

The report was put together by Laurence Gruer, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, and Sir George, who is emeritus professor of medicine at Newcastle University. The Glasgow University professors Naveed Sattar and Mike Lean also contributed to the report, which calls for wider acceptance of drugs and surgery as ways of cutting the health risks that stem from obesity.

The report concludes: "Medical practice must adapt to the current epidemic of obesity and nutrition-related diseases. The profession must unite the forces of public health and acute services to generate sustainable changes in food and lifestyles: matters at the heart of our cultural identities. "Furthermore, training in public health medicine should urge all doctors to contribute towards bringing changes in the food industry and in the environment that will lead to a more physically active, healthier and happier population. "As the prevalence and costs of obesity escalate, the economic argument for giving high priority to obesity and weight management through a designated co-ordinating agency will ultimately become overwhelming. The only question is, will action be taken before it is too late?"


Friday, December 15, 2006


As always, "administration" (the bureaucracy) comes first in a call on funds

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is being spent on 'managing' the NHS logo despite the cash crisis gripping the Health Service. Official figures reveal that the bill for protecting and promoting the 'NHS identity' has more than doubled in the last four years - reaching almost 334,000 pounds last year. The money would have paid for 75 extra hip replacements - or the salaries of 15 nurses.

Instead, a special website has been set up setting out the 'core identity guidelines' on use of the NHS logo - three simple white letters set against a blue background. It advises hospitals and other NHS bodies to ensure it is printed in 'NHS Blue - Pantone 300' and 'always positioned in the top right corner' of stationery. The NHS 'official typeface' - called Frutiger - should always be used where possible, it insists, while a strict 'exclusion zone' should be observed around the edge of the logo. An NHS 'branding team' is on hand to offer advice, and an NHS 'identity helpline' has been set up.

Health Minister Ivan Lewis revealed in a written Parliamentary answer yesterday the total cost of the project since the NHS logo was developed and introduced in 1999. In 2001-02, it was 179,807, but by last year it had risen to 333,996, he revealed.

The Tories said the rising bill was extraordinary given the financial pressures facing NHS trusts across the country, which have let to job cuts and closures. Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, whose questions uncovered the figures, said: "While the NHS brand is important and has value the last thing it needs is over 300,000 to be spent on it. "The NHS needs every penny it has to spend on patient care. "I have asked the Government to explain why - like many things in the central administration of the NHS - spending has more than doubled.'

The NHS branding website insists the organisation's identity is 'important'. It adds: "It is largely formed by what we do - treating illness and promoting health. As the NHS is changing, it is vitally important to use our identity consistently and correctly. "We need to help the public and patients navigate a more diverse healthcare system, whilst maintaining their confidence that NHS values and quality will still be observed." The NHS logo has a '90 per cent spontaneous recognition rate' among the public, it adds - suggesting money has been spent on surveys to test reactions to the branding.

In the past, different NHS organisations had around 600 logos. The Health Department believes many patients were confused by some of the individual logos and could not tell if hospitals were part of the NHS. Only hospitals with a logo that pre-dated the foundation of the Health Service in 1948 were allowed to retain their brand. The department insists that 'millions of pounds' have been saved by the single branding system for letterheads, signs, uniforms and offices. A Health Department spokesman insisted: "This is not a waste of money. "The spending on the logo safeguards one of the world's most recognised and trusted brands, and stops people not allowed to use the NHS logo from using it, therefore protecting patients from organisations who may fraudulently purport to provide NHS care."



Will thin people soon be in trouble too?

It used to be said that inside every fat person was a thin person trying to get out. Now it seems it could be other way around. A scanning technique pioneered by British doctors has found that many slim people are storing up dangerous levels of fat in their bodies. Jimmy Bell, head of the molecular imaging group at the Medical Research Council's centre at Imperial College, London, said this hidden fat could trigger heart conditions and diabetes.

"The important message is people shouldn't be happy just because they look thin . You can look healthy but have a lot of fat internally, which can have a detrimental effect on your health."

Professor Bell and his team began using a magnetic resonance imaging scanner to seek internal fat while researching type 2 diabetes - the version of the disease that develops later in life and is normally associated with obesity. His suspicions arose when several slim people in the study were found to have the medical markers for type 2 diabetes.

The findings raise questions about the body mass index, the indicator of obesity used by most doctors and public health campaigners. The index is a relatively crude measure in which a person's weight in kilograms is divided by the square of their height in metres. Some doctors believe the index is flawed because it pays no attention to the nature of the weight. A rugby player, for instance, with heavier than usual muscles, will come out with a high score on the index and could be classified as overweight, even though he has low levels of internal fat.



Two elderly spinster sisters face the agony of selling the home they have shared for 40 years when one of them dies after judges ruled they are not entitled to the same rights as gay and lesbian couples. Joyce and Sybil Burden, who have lived together all their lives, argued they should be spared inheritance tax in the same way as married couples, or homosexuals who form a civil partnership. But yesterday the European Court of Human Rights threw out their case, by a 4-3 verdict, landing them with a 10,000 pound legal bill and facing certain future heartbreak.

The sister who lives the longest will now be forced to sell the family home when the other dies in order to raise the 61,000 pound inheritance tax bill owed to the Treasury. Joyce, 88, said the sisters had only wanted the same protection given to lesbians and gays - who pay nothing. They are spared any duty to allow their loved one to remain in their shared home. Joyce said last night: "I am terribly upset by this and I just don't know what we are going to do. "We have spent our lives looking after people and never once done anything wrong. And now we are being punished for doing the right thing. "This government is always going out of its way to give rights to people who have done nothing to deserve them. "If we were lesbians, we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters, and it seems we have no rights at all. It is disgusting that we are being treated like this. It is an insult."

Joyce and Sybil, 80, who have been asking the Government to look at their case for 30 years, decided to write to the European courts after Labour introduced the Civil Partnership Act in 2004. To their dismay, this granted the same right to gay and lesbian couples to avoid inheritance tax as married couples, but not to cohabiting family members. After writing a simple letter to the European Court of Human Rights, they were stunned when it responded saying it would hear their case. Their letter, written without any legal advice, read: "In desperation we write to you, for, as second-class citizens, we seek justice against the unfair laws we live with in the British Isles." The sisters, whose three-bedroom house on farmland near Marlborough, in Wiltshire, was built for 7,000 pounds in 1965 but is now worth at least 875,000 pounds, then hired a lawyer to put their claims to the Strasbourg court.

But, by the narrowest of verdicts, the court yesterday sided with the British Government - which effectively argued it was legally entitled to discriminate against siblings. Britain's representative in the court, Nicolas Bratza, was one of four judges who voted against the spinsters. Their judgement said they agreed with the Government there is no comparison between siblings and gays, so they are not entitled to the same rights. The case of Britain was that siblings had not chosen to enter into any legally-binding agreement, it was simply as a result of birth. This meant they are not entitled to the same protection.

One of the three judges who backed the spinsters said that while the ruling was legal, it was unfair. Family campaigners said the court's ruling gave the legal stamp of approval to discrimination in favour of gay couples. Jill Kirby, of the Centre for Policy Studies, said the ruling was also a blow to children who live with elderly parents, in order to care for them. They also face picking up a huge inheritance tax bill when the parent dies. She added: "In a case like this, where there lives have been intertwined for many years, it seems very unfair they are not afforded the same protection as a couple who have registered a civil partnership but whose lives have not been shared to anything like the same extent. "Once the decision was taken to extend rights beyond those who are married, it is only reasonable it should be offered to couples in situations like this". She added relatives who choose to live together were now "out in the cold", as all other sections of society had the opportunity to gain protection from inheritance tax. Co-habiting couples, who are currently unprotected, at least have the option of getting married.

Joyce and Sybil worked as land girls on the farm during the war but never married, caring for their parents and two aunts until they died. They moved to nearby Pangbourne in 1948, but moved back to the farm when their father Frank died in 1965. They then built their home on part of the land, where they have since lived. They live on the income from leasing out the farm. With their estate now valued at least 875,000, each sister has made a will leaving all her property to the other. If one sister dies, the inheritance tax payable would be worked out by taking the value of half the estate, subtracting the current tax-free threshold of 285,000, and calculating 40 per cent of the remainder in this case resulting in a bill of 61,000. They say the surviving sister would not be able to pay the bill, and would be forced to sell.

Author Patricia Morgan, an expert on the family, also criticised the verdict. She said: "I do not see any reason why one type of relationship should qualify, and another should not. It is direct discrimination. "Part of the reason is no doubt financial. The Government does not want to lose the money." Anastasia de Waal of the Civitas civic values study group said siblings may have missed out because they had not vocally demanded new rights. The gay lobby was vociferous in demanding equality with marriage, in order to give greater stability to its relationships. Under current laws, 40 per cent tax must be paid on inherited property above a 285,000 threshold. In the 2007-08 tax year, the threshold will rise to 300,000.


Banned for a George Bush T-shirt

Leftists don't like it when their "must not offend anybody" gospel is applied to them

An Australian was barred from a London-Melbourne flight unless he removed a T-shirt depicting George Bush as the world's number one terrorist. Allen Jasson was also prevented from catching a connecting flight within Australia later the same day unless he removed the offending T-shirt.

Mr Jasson says Qantas and Virgin Blue were engaging in censorship but the airlines say the T-shirt was a security issue and could affect the sensitivities of other passengers. "The woman at the security check-in (at Heathrow) just said to me, 'You are not wearing that'," Mr Jasson, 55, said yesterday.

Mr Jasson, who lives in London and was flying to Australia to visit family on December 2, said he was first told he would need to turn the T-shirt inside-out before he would be allowed to board the Qantas flight. "I told her I had the right to express my opinion," he said. "She called other security and other people got involved. Ultimately, they said it was a security issue . . . in light of the present situation." After a prolonged argument about freedom of speech and expression, Mr Jasson said a Qantas gate manager said he could not fly at all unless he wore another T-shirt. Mr Jasson said his clothing had already been checked in and he was forced to buy a new T-shirt - this time with London Underground written on it - coincidentally the site of a terrorist attack last year. "I felt I had made my point and caved in," Mr Jasson said.

But after arriving in Australia, Mr Jasson said he put his Bush T-shirt back on and was again banned from boarding a connecting flight - this time a Virgin Blue plane from Adelaide to Melbourne. "It was argued other passengers could be offended," Mr Jasson said. "I said it was most offensive that I would be prevented from expressing my political views." Mr Jasson said the T-shirt often sparked comment from people in the street.

A Virgin Blue spokeswoman said the airline had a policy to ban offensive clothing and bare feet. "Most people use common sense and don't go out of their way to offend people," she said



By Professor Mike Jackson

Not since wholesale calamity was predicted as a result of the so-called millennium bug has so much coverage been given to a topic. Miles' worth of column inches are now dedicated to global warming. The predictions by media commentators are becoming more numerous and more strident as each new piece of evidence appears to support their case. They have progressed from possibilities to probabilities and are now becoming certainties.

Global warming is a hypothesis, not fact. And even if temperatures are increasing, that does not necessarily mean it is a result of human activities, nor does it mean that the outcomes will necessarily be overwhelmingly detrimental.

That average temperatures have risen over recent decades - globally and here in the UK - is undeniable. The evidence from records is that the hottest years of the last millennium have probably occurred in the past two decades. However, the years from 1800 to 1900 were particularly cold, so the increase in average temperatures from 1800 to 2005 may not really be as significant as it first appears. Also, the temperatures in the upper parts of the atmosphere (the lower stratosphere) appear to have been falling at a faster rate than those at the earth's surface have been increasing, at least since 1960. In addition, the increase in average temperature over much of the land masses appears to be the result of higher night-time temperatures rather than higher day-time temperatures. This is possibly due to increased cloud cover over those land areas.

Although the actual temperature has been higher during the last two decades than at any time since 1800 (with the exception of a few isolated years during the 1940s) there have been periods when the rate of increase of temperature has been at least as great as now. The periods from about 1860 to 1880 and from about 1910 to 1940 show sharp and consistent increases; whereas the periods from about 1880 to 1910 and from about 1940 to 1955 show the opposite. So, over the last one and a half centuries, the average temperatures have fluctuated periodically.

The further back in time we look for records of atmospheric temperatures, the more uncertain the data become. Clues as to what the weather was like at particular times in history are provided by evidence from tree rings, from core samples of ice and from written material, but these must be read with caution. Accurate scientific records are a recent arrival, relative to the time that has elapsed since the last ice age. From such evidence, however, it would seem that, some two millennia ago, parts of the UK were at least as warm as now. There are reports of the Romans growing grapes and of malaria being present in parts of the south-east of England.

The evidence, which is much more comprehensive than that intimated above, needs to be judged with caution. Most scientists working in this field will liberally use such terms as "may", "perhaps" and "appears" rather than "will", "definitely" and "shows" when discussing the significance of their findings, particularly when this applies to predictions about the future. On the other hand, some politicians, some journalists and some who have a vested interest seem intent on talking up the possible occurrence and the worst consequences of an increase in global temperatures.

Many now believe global warming is already an environmental problem; many more believe that it is in the throes of becoming one. Nevertheless, there are still many who remain to be convinced. Nor is this surprising when the record of environmental catastrophe predictions is examined. Caution applies in all walks of life. The only thing we seem able to say about the future with any degree of confidence is that it is unpredictable.

In 1972, a group of scientists known collectively as the Club of Rome predicted the world was using resources at such a rate that most reserves would be exhausted by the end of the century. The data they used certainly supported their case; what was at fault was their ability to predict the future. Take oil as a prime example. The authors confidently predicted that there were only 550 billion barrels of oil reserves, which would be exhausted before the end of the twentieth century. Some six years into the 21st century, we have known reserves of 1200 billion barrels that could last until the end of this century.

Rather than just being wrong, predictions can cause serious problems. In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote her book Silent Spring, which became the foundation for the case against the use of DDT. The case against DDT went something like this: the evidence that DDT can be harmful was incontrovertible; surveys found residues of DDT in the tissues of animals across the globe; a reduction in some bird populations was detected; the eggs of these birds appear to have thinner than normal shells, leading to a failure in reproduction; this must be due to DDT; the use of DDT must stop.

It is now understood that the decision to ban the use of DDT was a mistake. None of the steps in the argument above is wrong; what was wrong was the prediction that the consequences of the continued use of DDT would be worse than those of discontinuing its use. The replacements were less effective and because the control of mosquitoes was less effective so too was the control of the spread of malaria. Malaria is now once again a major killer, particularly of children. The premature decision to ban the use of DDT led to the illness and deaths of perhaps millions of people in the developing world.

Because of serious air pollution, especially by particulates, there was a fear in the 1950s that (ironically as it now seems) we could be heading for a new ice age. This did not happen. By the 1980s, it was acid rain. The worst-scenario proposition was that we would soon have no life in inland waterways because of the acidification of the water by rain, and that forests would die because of the effect of the acid on the trees. This did occur to a limited extent but the term catastrophe is hardly appropriate.

Another fear at this time was the destruction of the ozone layer. It is difficult to say whether the danger here was overstated because action was swift and relatively painless. CFCs in aerosols were replaced by less damaging alternatives and the problem was superseded by the current problem, namely global warming. Those who castigate the USA for the role it plays - or fails to play - in the global warming debate should note that the USA (together with Canada and Scandinavia) was some two decades ahead of the rest of the world in tackling the problem.

The reason why some people are sceptical about the dangers of an environmental disaster from global warming is that in the past, almost without exception, predictions of such disasters have turned out to be wrong. But what about the argument that the potential for disaster is so great that we cannot afford to take the risk? Following that argument, we should take precautions against the worst possible scenario.

To predict how a small rise in temperature will affect the weather decades or even centuries from now presupposes weather-predicting capabilities that we do not at present possess. At the moment we can be reasonably sure of the weather forecast up to about 24 hours ahead. After that the predictions become much more imprecise and much less reliable. Yet the whole basis of the global warming debate on the "pro" side is that the weather is destined to change throughout the world.

The other aspect of these predictions is that such changes will inevitably be detrimental. Why? In the UK it has been suggested that we could expect a Mediterranean-type climate. It is then suggested that many people will die as a result of the stress of the raised temperatures. The people of the Mediterranean area seem to enjoy a long and happy life so why shouldn't we also? In any case, would not the people dying because of the raised temperatures, if any, be more than offset by the much larger numbers who currently die of the cold each winter?

The same arguments can be made about flooding and starvation. These problems might be manifested in areas that currently have no such problems. Are the people proposing these arguments unaware of the millions who are presently affected in this way in other parts of the world? Maybe those presently suffering people will be better placed in the future and who could say they did not deserve their lucky break?

So should we turn our backs, like Luddites, on so much of modern technology? We are being exhorted to cut out flights abroad. The effect on people doing the flying might be a short-term disappointment but the loss of tourism in those countries that would expect to receive the flyers could be devastating. We are also exhorted to stop buying goods that are transported around the world. Shop locally, we are told. Again, this could be devastating to the economies of many underdeveloped countries to which such income is essential.

We now have the intervention of the noted economist Sir Nicholas Stern. An impressive contribution to the debate, it nevertheless ends up by saying, among other things, that much more work is required from scientists and economists to resolve the uncertainties. In terms of predicting the future, economists probably have a poorer track record than almost any other group.

Should we do nothing for the environment? Certainly not. Conservation of the environment is essential if we are to leave a worthwhile planet for future generations. The halting of deforestation, for instance, is of the utmost importance. We should all economise on the use of resources and energy.

Sir Nicholas Stern advocates the spending of enormous amounts of money to mitigate the worst effects of global warming. But his premise is based on the effects of global warming being so disastrous that almost any price is worth paying to ensure it does not happen. This ignores the fact (not hypothesis) that life is currently awful for a large proportion of the world. Disease, starvation, drought and flooding are realities that many people already live with. If we would invest the sums proposed by Sir Nicholas into, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa, what an effect it would have. The provision of clean, safe water supplies, the elimination of malnutrition, the provision of medicines to prevent childhood death and disease and the provision of education to children who presently receive little or none. Over a few years we could save millions of lives and prevent terrible suffering to many millions more and make communities self-sufficient. Now that would change the world as we know it.

Mike Jackson is emeritus professor of environmental health at the University of Strathclyde and honorary fellow of the faculty of medicine of the University of Edinburgh


Plenty of money for Britain's ballooning bureaucracy: "Gordon Brown's claims to be getting to grips with the ballooning government workforce took a battering yesterday from official figures. Far from taming the public sector jobs juggernaut, the figures suggested there has been a resurgence in hiring of state workers this year. The Office for National Statistics reported that the number of public sector workers rose by 7,000 to 5.86 million in the six months since March this year. The rise is mainly down to hiring by local authorities. The figures clash with claims by the Chancellor earlier this month that he is successfully taking an axe to public payrolls. Mr Brown has promised to shed tens of thousands of posts by 2008 as he tries to cut back black hole in the public finances, and in his Pre-Budget Report he claimed to be well on the way. Official figures show that state hiring has accounted for a third of overall job creation since 1998, the year after Labour came to power"

Amazing. Competition between London's airports coming: "Gatwick Airport could be for sale within weeks with a price tag of up to 3 billion pounds after the break-up of BAA's London airport monopoly was signalled by the UK's competition authorities. With BAA's control of 90 per cent of the London market through its ownership of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted set for a probe by the Competition, industry insiders believe BAA's new Spanish owner Ferrovial could be set to hatch a Gatwick sale plan... In a stinging attack on the BAA monopoly - also seen as a rebuke to a Labour Government that has allowed the company to keep ownership of the UK's three busiest airports - the Office of Fair Trading said BAA should be subjected to a full-blown investigation by the Competition Commission. Citing poor passenger ratings for its London airports, OFT chief executive John Fingleton said: 'Greater competition [between airports] could bring significant benefits for passengers.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

England spends $2.5 Billion on Cars - Millions Starve

Post lifted from Gust of Hot Air

England will spend AU$2.5 Billion over the next four years replacing the governments 78,000 vehicles with cars that are much greener and slash carbon emissions by 15% according to TimesOnline.

What? a 15% decrease in carbon emissions and the are prepared to fork out $2.5 billion for this?

Ok, the average car produces about 6 tons of carbon dioxide a year. So 78,000 cars and we have 468,000 tons. A 15% decrease means that AU$2.5 billion will save the world from about 70,000 tons, which is of course a good effort.

In 2001, the world produced around 24,000,000,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This means that the 70,000 tons that the UK government is going to save will be about 1/300,000th of the carbon emissions saved. Basically, jack shit.

According to Wigley (1998), if we are to reduce our emissions by 43% this will result in a decrease in world temperature of 0.07 degrees C. Basically immeasurable by normal ground thermometers.

So lets do some more maths, and we find that England, in spending AU$2.5 billion in changing their cars over will reduce the world wide temperature of around 0.000000023 degrees Celsius.

Well done.

But wait there's more. According to World Vision Australia. For just AU$468, one can sponsor a child in Africa or Bangladesh. They will receive education, medicine against diseases, and fresh drinkable running water. What we all take for granted, but is a luxury in some of these parts of the world. Essentially, the British government could have spent their AU$2.5 million on this, and sponsored 5.3 million people, but they obviously have other vote grabbing agendas.

Tell me which you would rather do. Reduce the world wide temperature by 0.000000023 degrees Celsius or give over 5 million starving malnourished children shelter, water and medicine?

There is no need to answer that question.


Parents in a remote Scottish village are so infuriated by a decision to close their primary school that they have raised more than 1 million pounds to buy it. In an unprecedented initiative, parents in Roybridge, Inverness-shire, have been offered a bank loan and a five-figure private donation to ensure that the small school, which has served their community since Victorian times, remains open.

The crumbling schoolhouse and three leaking huts of Roybridge Primary School, nestling in a beautiful Highland glen with views of the Nevis mountain range, seem an unlikely battleground for the future of rural education. But if the parents are successful, they could set a new pattern for the provision of mainstream education in Britain's rural communities, where an increasing number of schools are being closed or amalgamated in an attempt to cut costs.

On Thursday the local council will decide whether to support the Roybridge parents, who have drawn up a detailed business plan in an attempt to save their school from closure and have raised 9,000 pounds to pay for surveyors' appraisals and architects' plans. After years of allowing the school to fall into disrepair, the Highland council has announced plans to close it and to amalgamate it with a neighbouring village. Although the school that the 30 children would be sent to is only three miles away, the Roybridge parents refuse to accept the plan and say that they are fighting on behalf of rural communities across Britain. They say that the small class sizes at Roybridge offer a uniquely intimate style of education and that without the school the village, which has fewer than 500 residents, would gradually die.

Under the parents' scheme they would pay to replace the school's dilapidated buildings and place it in a charitable trust. The council would then pay a yearly lease for the school, allowing it to remain in mainstream education and the loan to be paid off. The estimated 1.04 million building costs include 651,000 for new classrooms, 90,000 for an all-weather football pitch and 35,000 for car parking. A loan from Bank of Scotland, at 1.75 percentage points above base rate, would cover most of the costs, with the shortfall met by a 50,000 gift from a local landlord.

If the council approves the arrangement it would be the first time that parents have successfully intervened to buy out a primary school. Peter Rose, 56, who has two girls at the school and moved to Roybridge from Lancashire last year, is one of many outsiders who was attracted to the village because of the reputation of its school. He said: "We have to carry a torch here. If we are successful it could give hope to other communities. If we don't get young families to live in Roybridge, then it is going to become a stopping-off point for retired people and little else." His wife Hazel, 35, said that the intimacy of learning at Roybridge was found in few other schools in Britain. She said: "Our children love it. They go for river walks to collect pebbles for class projects or to the wildlife garden they've made in the middle of the village." Catherine MacKinnon, 40, who was a pupil at the school 30 years ago and is leading the project, said: "Politicians talk a lot about regenerating rural areas but a community needs a school at its heart."

Unlike many declining rural communities, Roybridge, a former crofting village, appears to have a bright future. The school is one of the reasons why the population has grown steadily over the past 15 years. Seven new children have joined the school in the past 18 months; a further three are expected next month.

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at Buckingham University, said that the scheme was similar to others that rely on private finance to build and maintain new schools, but that in this case the private contractor would be unable to interfere with the running of the school. He said: "I have heard of parents trying to buy independent schools before but nothing like this. There is clearly a lot to recommend this idea."


New hay-fever pill

More than a million hay fever sufferers could benefit from a new drug that will be available on prescription [in Britain] next month. Grazax, taken as a pill, provides immunity to the allergens contained in grass pollens and has had an 83 per cent success rate in tests. Allergy researchers believe it will provide relief for hay fever sufferers who find antihistamines and nasal sprays ineffective.

Professor Stephen Durham, of Imperial College London, who is investigating the long-term benefits of the drug, said: "It's been shown to be associated with a 30 per cent reduction of hay fever symptoms and a 40 per cent reduction in the need for other medications, like nasal sprays. "We know it's effective, we know it imparts improvements in the quality of life of patients and we know it reduces the need for treatment."

There are about 12 million hay fever sufferers in Britain, 95 per cent of whom react to grass pollen, with 13 to 14-year-olds particularly susceptible. Traditional anti-histamine treatments reduce hayfever symptoms by 10-20 per cent and steroid nasal sprays by 20-30 per cent. These have to be repeated frequently and do not work for all patients. The effects of a spray wear off in about a week whereas a course of the pills - one a day for eight weeks - should keep hay fever at bay for a season.

The drug is similar to the monthly desensitisation injections that provide immunity to hayfever. It works by exposing patients to a 15mg dose of timothy grass extract - one of the worst pollens for sufferers - which kick-starts the body's immunity response against pollen from temperate grasses. Tests suggest that unlike injections, which cause serious reactions in 1 in 500 cases, the tablet's side-effects are limited to localised itching.

Professor Durham, head of allergy and clinical immunology at Imperial College, said: "One in four people suffers from hay fever. It can have a severe effect on quality of life; it interferes with sleep, and interferes with work, and children with hay fever can drop a grade at school. I believe about 10 per cent of the hay fever population, potentially a million patients in the UK, could benefit from this treatment."

The cost of the tablets, which are made by the Swedish company ALK-Abello, has not been decided for Britain, but in Germany they cost about 2.45 pounds each. On this basis, an eight-week course could cost patients about 135 pounds , with the potential cost to the NHS 140 million. The NHS spends about 40 million a year on prescription medicines to treat nasal allergies, including hay fever, and the over-the-counter market is worth another 80 million. Grazax would potentially replace some of these. Grazax will be available from specialist hay fever clinics, with patients requiring the treatment on the NHS needing to be referred by their doctors.

Further studies are now being undertaken to find out if the pills will provide long-term immunity or if they will have to be taken every year. Hay fever occurs in varying degrees of severity and can be dangerous for patients with conditions such as asthma. The sneezing, runny noses and watery eyes can last for weeks at a time and affect every facet of a sufferer's life, awake or asleep. Of the 150 species of native grass in Britain, 12 are responsible for the vast majority of grass pollen.

Grazax has already been approved for use in 27 European countries. The pills will cost 67.50 pounds for 30 days, making the eight-week course 135 pounds. The drug will be initially aimed at the relatively small proportion of hayfever sufferers who either do not respond to conventional treatments or get little relief from antihistamines and nasal sprays.



The politically correct British police are great at oppressing law-abiding folk. It's only criminals they can't be bothered with. Post below lifted from Burning our Money

Yesterday afternoon I was formally detained by the Metropolitan Police. And I have the Stop and Search docket to prove it.

What was I doing? Drug dealing? Causing an affray perhaps? No. I was standing a hundred yards from New Scotland Yard, in Caxton Street SW1, making a video about police waste for the Taxpayers' Alliance.

My afternoon began when I set myself up with my camera in front of that famous revolving Scotland Yard sign, exactly where all those TV reporters stand. I began talking into the camera, which is mounted on a hand-held monopod (a bargain at 14.99 pounds from Jessops).

Within about 30 seconds I was approached by a PC who asked what I was doing. This turns out to be quite common while out filming, so I explained.

He responded by asking if I was with the media, and I said 'yes- 18 Doughty Street'. Amazingly, he'd never heard of it! He then said I was in a sensitive area, and asked how long I would be? I told him a few more minutes, and he said OK. But by remaining right beside me watching and listening, he put me off my stroke. So I thanked him civilly and moved off down the street, well away from the Yard.

A few more minutes passed and I carried on filming myself talking into the camera. I was then apprehended by two of Blair's Community Police Officers.

Again, they asked me what I was doing, again I explained, and again they told me I was in a sensitive area. They then said they'd observed me "behaving unusually with a metal pole". And even though I showed them exactly what I was doing- and showed them my "script" comprising pages printed from BOM- they very politely told me I was to receive a Stop And Search.

For those that don't know, Stop and Search is a multi-page form introduced after the Stephen Lawrence case, which the officer has to fill in with all kinds of box-ticking and other assorted guff, including the suspect's ethnic group ( which the suspect has to complete himself, in case a wrong guess by the officer "causes offence"). It took the officers- two of them remember- 20 minutes to complete, with doubtless further time required back at the station to process and record.

So while one of them was busy ticking and writing away, I asked the other if I could go on filming afterwards. Not there I was told. OK, where could I go? He couldn't say because, although not formally defined, the whole of Westminster- and other vast swathes of London- constitute a "sensitive area". So I'd probably get stopped again.

Well, why don't they stop the tourists queuing up to have their snaps taken in front of the Scotland Yard sign? Ah, well... that's because they're tourists. I wanted to ask about the big bearded Asian ones with the 500mm telephoto lenses, but I guessed that might land me inside on a race-hate wrap.

And how come they don't stop mainstream TV journos filming outside Scotland Yard? Ah,well, that's because they're TV broadcasters... they have big crews and that. Which clearly makes the whole thing a lot safer than some loopy white middle-aged bloke with grey hair and specs talking to a metal pole.

So after they'd taken ID and radio-namechecked me, I took myself off down to College Green outside Parliament. That's always full of loopy guys talking guff, and nobody batted an eyelid down there.

After I'd calmed down, I came up with the three questions I'd like answered:

1. WTF should I be recorded on a Police database for filming myself on a public street in central London?

2. WTF are the police wasting time on nonsense like this, when really bad stuff like this is happening?

3. WTF is the Met's terrorist profiling so pants that someone like me gets caught in it?

I am old enough to remember when law-abiding taxpaying middle-class types used to have respect for the police. But the more the cops harrass and criminalise us, the more we understand how fundamentally dysfunctional they have become.

Violent crime and anti-social behaviour rage on our streets, yet all our 16 billion pounds per annum cops can do is close police stations, and spend a man-hour infringing my civil liberty.

With the likes of Sir Ian Bonkers Blair at the controls, the current system is broken irrepairably.

Has Tony Blair seen the multi-culturalism light?

The full text of Blair's "about turn" speech is here

The Prime Minister has long hinted that he harbours doubts about the ideology of multi-culturalism that has done so much to divide one British person from another. Yesterday, he finally expressed those doubts - plainly enough to infuriate both professional multi-culturalists in the public sector and the Muslim Association of Britain, which described his remarks as "alarming".

The most important feature of Tony Blair's speech was an admission for which we have waited far too long: that there is a connection between Islamic extremism and political correctness. Muslims who hate this country are nourished by the constant assertions that our nation's history is a catalogue of shame; indeed, many of them will have been taught this since their first history lessons in a British primary school. (It is, sadly, a common experience now for state-educated children to be instructed, at some stage, to write essays based on the assumption that they are slaves on a British plantation.)

Multi-culturalism portrays itself as a means of celebration: in fact, it is an invitation to all minorities to complain, loudly and persistently, about their victimhood. And, when this self-pitying worldview comes into contact with religious fanaticism, the results can be - literally - explosive. That is presumably what Mr Blair means when he says that the events of July 7 last year threw the whole concept of multi-cultural Britain "into sharp relief".

The Prime Minister and his close colleagues are plainly fed up with the lumbering grievance-mongers of the race relations industry: in the fight between Ken Livingstone and Trevor Phillips, reforming head of the Commission for Racial Equality, they are cheering loudly for the latter. Good for them.

True, the ideology that Mr Blair now decries has been advanced chiefly by his own party. Given his readiness to apologise for ancient wrongs, it would perhaps have been appropriate to acknowledge this more recent mistake. Still, we are delighted that Mr Blair has come round to the view that this newspaper has always held, and that our countrymen have clung to through decades of official bullying and hectoring.

What, though, are these "British values" that Mr Blair wants everyone to accept? It will not do to cant about freedom, fairness and tolerance: admirable as they are, these virtues would serve equally well for Ecuador or Finland. British values, surely, are bound up in our institutions: common law, a sovereign parliament, habeas corpus, counties, army regiments: the very institutions that have often been traduced by this ministry. Perhaps Mr Blair might devote his final months to repairing some of this damage.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We Need a Muslim to Bring Back Christmas Celebrations?

It seems that allegedly "down-to-earth" Yorkshire does:

"A banner wishing people 'Merry Christmas' will adorn Dewsbury Town Hall for the first time in years.

Council chiefs have binned a five-year-old 'politically correct' ban on displaying such signs.

Tory Councillor Khizar Iqbal, cabinet member for community cohesion, said his group planned to adorn all town halls with banners wishing people a 'Merry Christmas'.


If Khizar Iqbal is not a Muslim I will be surprised. It is at least a Pakistani name. The move is certainly a credit to him but what does it say about the Anglo councillors of the past?

The British Green/Left want transport to be a privilege for the rich only

That from the alleged friends of the worker! I suspect that the Green/Left folks concerned have the spare cash to be among the privileged. No buses for them!

Here is the news for the weekend of 2 and 3 December: In London, `Red' Ken Livingstone, the mayor, held his first West End VIP Day - VIP standing for `Very Important Pedestrians'. The mayor banned cars, buses and taxis from Oxford Street and Regent Street between 10.30am and 5pm on Saturday, so that shoppers could shop without having to `dodge vehicles'. A report commissioned by the British government floated various ideas for relieving gridlock and congestion on British roads - no, not by building more roads, but by introducing a national road-pricing scheme where motorists will be charged for driving on motorways and A-roads. And finally, EU bigwigs in Brussels finalised plans to enforce `carbon quotas' on airlines, which could see the price of flights go up by 40 Euros as passengers are charged for the impact their journeys have on the climate.

Welcome to the stay-at-home society. It seems the only `innovation' in transport these days is to find new ways to punish us for using it: motorists will effectively be fined for driving their cars, and the cost of cheap flights - which allow people of all income levels (and even none) to jet around Europe - could be more than doubled. Modern forms of travel, which any progressive society should take for granted, are now seen as luxuries that we can ill-afford; selfish indulgences enjoyed by those hardnosed and uncaring sections of society. A new anti-movement movement wants to put the brakes on cars and planes and propel us back to a medieval state of affairs, where we only leave our local patch if we really, really must, and have to pay a big fat toll to a big fat sheriff for the privilege of doing so. Honk if you think this is out of order.

Today's narrow vision for transport and travel is clear in the Eddington Transport Study published last week by the UK Department for Transport (which really ought to be renamed the Department against Transport). Written by Sir Rod Eddington, former chief executive of British Airways, the study argues that Britain's road system is clogged up with cars. But instead of reaching the logical conclusion that more roads are required to accommodate these cars, it suggests making driving by car more expensive and thus less attractive. In short: ease congestion on the roads by forcing people off the roads.

After the launch of the study, the secretary of state for transport Douglas Alexander `ruled out more road-building as a solution', arguing that: `Most informed commentators realise we can't simply build our way out of the challenge of congestion.' This has become a mantra in government circles, always asserted but never explained. The Department for Transport's big 2004 report The Future of Transport declared no fewer than three times that `We cannot build our way out of the problems we face'; a similar sentiment is expressed in the Eddington Study. In fact, building more roads looks like a simple and obvious solution to the apparently terrible problem of congestion. Indeed, it would appear to be successive governments' reluctance to build more roads that caused today's congestion problems. In 2004, British motorists travelled a total of 306 billion miles, more than three times the number of miles travelled 40 years earlier in 1964 (95 billion miles); and there were around four times as many licensed private cars in 2004 as there were in 1964: 26 million compared with seven million back then. And yet over this 40-year period, as car ownership quadrupled and car journeys trebled, total road length in Britain increased by approximately 20 per cent, from 200,000 miles in 1964 to 245,000 miles in 2004.

I don't know if I'm one of those `informed commentators' referred to by Douglas Alexander (who apparently all recognise that we cannot build our way out of congestion), but I do know that if you don't build enough roads to accommodate the rising number of cars, then there will be traffic jams. It's simple maths, innit? And yet one of the reasons the Eddington Study proposes national road tolls is as a means of putting off, forever, the need to build more and better roads. It argues: `A national scheme [of road pricing] is estimated to reduce the case for inter-urban road build beyond 2015 by some 80 per cent.. Pricing also has the potential to have positive air quality benefits by providing for freer-flowing traffic [while] reducing the need for new infrastructure build.' For all the talk of road tolls as a short-term solution to the problem of congestion - as has been suggested by various commentators who support the road-pricing measures - in fact they are intended to be a long-term solution to the government's unwillingness to invest in `new infrastructure build'.

Indeed, the Eddington Study proposes shutting down the debate, for once and for all, about whether Britain needs more targeted solutions such as road-pricing or a grander vision of a new and improved road network. It says that, `[T]he UK needs to decide between: a very significant road build programme, or widespread pricing with much more moderate road build'. It then concludes, unsurprisingly, that `congestion-targeted road pricing is the most cost-effective and flexible way to deliver the benefits of reducing unreliability and to tackle congestion'. And finally it recommends (seriously, in Recommendation 3.3) to: `Stop the debate on whether to do this, and move on to debating how to do it.' So screw all of those who think Britain needs a `very significant road build programme': that debate is over, and now we must focus on the finer points of how to charge drivers a tenner every time they venture more than a few miles from their front doors.

Meanwhile, London mayor Ken Livingstone is doing his bit to keep car drivers in their place, announcing that he plans to extend his congestion charge outside of central London and charge bigger cars in Tax Band G 25 pounds a day for the luxury of driving in the capital. That could cost some motorists 6,000 a year. Yet the idea that congestion in London is caused by too many cars - by school-run mums, wideboy businessmen in BMWs, and the rest - doesn't stand up to scrutiny. In fact, again the problem seems to be too little road space. Writing on spiked when the congestion charge was introduced in 2003, Edmund King of the RAC Foundation pointed out there are fewer roads in London than in the past, due to a widening of pavement space, increased pedestrianisation, more bus lanes, and so on; he also pointed out that in 2001 there were 35,000 fewer cars entering London in the morning than there were in 1991, and `traffic levels have fallen by 18 per cent [between 2001 and 2003]'. As with the road pricing scheme, Livingstone's congestion charge punishes individual motorists for what are officialdom's own failures: its failure to build more and decent roads both in and around London.

If you're thinking of jetting off to sunnier or more relaxed climes to escape all this anti-movement miserabilism, think again - or at least be prepared to pay more than usual. Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner, is expected to announce new laws this week which will enforce annual emissions limits on airlines. It is presented as a clampdown on Big Airlines that carelessly damage the environment, but in fact, as The Times points out, it is `cheap flights that are under threat' - the costs are likely to be borne by passengers. This new measure seems to be motivated by a killjoy-ish suspicion of what is deemed `unnecessary travel'. A recent study by The Economist found that aviation's contribution `to total man-made emissions worldwide is around three per cent' - way below the contributions of industry, electricity generation, and other modes of transport. What the dull Dimas and other joyless suits in Brussels really dislike about air travel (especially the cheap variety) is that it seems frivolous and fun, and we can't have any of that.

So it is okay for Dimas and the rest to transport the whole European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg once every month - which involves transporting 732 MEPs, 2,000 parliamentary staff and hundreds of other EU officials hundreds of miles by coach, train and plane at a cost of 209 million Euros each time - but it is not okay for the rest of to take a cheap jaunt to Spain once a year. Double standards, or what?

One of the greatest advances of the past 200 years has been man's ability to travel beyond his garden gate - to move to cities, visit different continents, meet various peoples, and broaden his horizons. The horse and cart was replaced by the car, and the long-haul ship by the aeroplane, as we began to view the world outside our windows as something to be explored and enjoyed rather than as something strange and dangerous. Yet today, six years into the twenty-first century, our rulers look down their noses at free and easy travel and do all they can to clamp down on it. Maybe they want us to stay in our local towns, like our peasant forebears did, and only travel beyond what we know when it is strictly necessary to do so.

They should bear in mind the words of aviation innovator Wilbur Wright: `The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors, who in their gruelling travels in prehistoric times looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space.' Sir Rod, Ken and Stavros Dimas can partake in prehistoric `gruelling travels' if they like; most of the rest of us would rather soar freely like birds in aeroplanes, or like cheetahs in our cars.



The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, attacked "aggressive" secularists and "illiberal" atheists yesterday for "throwing out the crib at Christmas". In his strongest assault yet on attempts to purge Christianity from public life, Dr Sentamu said such people were undermining the country's cultural traditions. The Archbishop's comments reflect the growing fury of Church leaders at reports of companies banning Christmas decorations and schools leaving Jesus out of nativity plays.

They also signalled his intention to declare all-out war on secularists, who he claimed were unfairly blaming other faiths to advance their own anti-religious agenda. "Aggressive secularists are trying to pretend that it is possible to enter into the true meaning of Christmas by leaving out Jesus Christ," he said. "The person who is at the heart of the celebration is totally excluded. This really is a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water, or in this case throwing out the crib at Christmas."

The Archbishop continued: "This aggressive brand of secularism is trying to undermine the cultural traditions of this country by using flawed arguments about 'multi-faith, multi-culturalism' whilst at the same time trying to negate faith groups all together." Dr Sentamu, a Ugandan-born former judge, added: "The aggressive secularists pervert and abuse any notion of diversity for the sake of promoting a narrow agenda. Meanwhile those other faith communities, who have stated categorically they are not offended by Christmas, know that if Christmas falls, they will be next.

"Why don't the aggressive secularists and illiberal atheists listen to the great wisdom of Sir John Mortimer, playwright and atheist, who writing in The Daily Telegraph on April 28, 1999, said 'Our whole history and culture in Europe is based on Christianity, whether you believe in it or not. Our culture is Christian; Shakespeare, Mozart - all that makes life worth living is part of the Christian tradition' ."

Earlier yesterday Jack Straw, the Leader of the Commons, said suggestions that Christmas decorations in offices could offend staff of other faiths were "total nonsense". "The simple truth is that my Muslim constituents and Muslim friends also wish to see Christmas celebrated," he told MPs. "What is forgotten by people who come out with this nonsense is that those of the Muslim faith honour our prophets and those of the Jewish religion as much as they honour their own prophets." In October Mr Straw started a national debate when he revealed that he asked Muslim women to remove their full-face veils when they visited his constituency surgery.

A survey published on Tuesday claimed that three out of four employers had banned Christmas decorations for fear of offending other faiths. The study found that 74 per cent of managers were not allowing any decorations in their offices this year. Bosses also felt that Christmas trees and tinsel made offices unprofessional, said law firm Peninsula.



Shoppers are continuing to pile their trolleys and baskets with unhealthy food, despite the Government's focus on tackling Britain's obesity crisis. A survey of food-buying patterns of 12 million consumers has found that, in the past four years, 44 per cent of people have made no change to their eating habits. Only 8 per cent of shoppers have moved towards a healthier diet, while almost as many are deliberately shunning a good diet and eating more junk food. Even shoppers who normally try to eat healthily fall off the wagon if there is an upheaval in their lives such as the arrival of a new baby, divorce, a wedding, moving house, losing a job or being promoted at work.

The findings, from dunnhumby, the retail consultants, who have scrutinised the sales data of 10,000 everyday ingredients clocked up on Tesco loyalty cards as well as interviewed 2,000 customers, suggest that it will take more than a generation before Britain becomes a nation of healthy eaters. The findings will come as a blow to the efforts of Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, and the Food Standards Agency, who are attempting to encourage people to eat a more nutritious diet.

The study also appears to suggest that consumers need the help of the agency's traffic-light system of red, amber and green alerts on packs to help them to choose a healthier mix of food. The traffic lights are being strongly opposed by food manufacturers and Tesco, who claim that the system is simplistic and demonises food.

A surprising feature of the study is that there is little difference in the cost of a healthy shopping basket and an unhealthy one. A typical healthy basket costs an average 71.78 pounds compared with 71.18 pounds for an unhealthy one. Healthy shoppers were identified for buying organic and ecofriendly products and food with labels such as fresh, lite or low fat, or food from the healthy-living ranges. [The mugs who believe anything, in other words]

Unhealthy baskets typically contained value or extra lines, indicating that people were looking for the cheapest food that they could find. It suggests that many shoppers still think that healthy eating is expensive. But shoppers also enjoy a treat, and sales of chocolate and alcoholic drinks have shown no decline. They also like to "scrimp and splurge". Researchers identified people who chose cheaper products to pay for a treat, either a cream cake, gourmet food for a pet or a DVD.

Martin Hayward, director of consumer strategy for dunnhumby, said: "Most of us are neither totally healthy nor totally unhealthy eaters." He said that worry about the cost of food prevented many people from eating healthily and yet the analysis had shown that there was little difference in the price of a healthy versus unhealthy basket. Mr Hayward said: "We believe the distance between healthy and unhealthy eating is because people don't know how to cook and have a `can't cook, won't cook' approach, making them heavily reliant on processed foods and ready meals."

The findings are intended to explore new ways to help consumers to eat a healthy diet, he said. The analysis also bolsters policy statements from Tony Blair and David Cameron, the Conservative leader, who have promised to bring cookery classes back into schools.



Hospitals will face renewed pressure to save money, cut waiting times and tackle superbugs under new performance targets to be set today by the Government. In his first report as chief exective of the NHS, David Nicholson has compiled a list of priorities for the next financial year, including a target for a 250 million pound budget surplus by March 2008. He will also demand faster access to treatment and less of a “postcode lottery” of health inequalities. A new benchmark is to be set for the 18-week waiting times target — widely regarded as the most ambitious of all NHS targets — that almost all hospitals will treat patients within that time by March 2008. The Government has pledged to have all patients treated within 18 weeks of a doctor’s referral by the end of that year.

Mr Nicholson’s target for a 250 million surplus comes amid rising levels of debt in the NHS. Funding has more than doubled in ten years, but the total NHS deficit has also risen. Thousands of job losses and other cost-cutting measures have already been announced to make savings, but Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, said yesterday that hospitals that did not meet the 18-week target could be penalised with further financial sanctions. About half of all hospital patients are currently treated within 18 weeks, but further progress has been limited by bottlenecks of patients waiting weeks for scans or test results.

Meanwhile, nearly a third of hospitals and a quarter of all 570 NHS organisations failed to balance their books in 2005-06, leaving the NHS with a net deficit of 547 million pounds. The latest figures show that 120 of 548 NHS organisations are now predicting deficits for the current financial year, with 90 per cent of the estimated gross deficit originating from 71 trusts. Despite this, ministers are confident that the NHS will generate a profit by next year, but that will become even more difficult to achieve after 2008 when extra funding supplied by the Treasury is due to dry up.

John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, the health think-tank, said that the new surplus target was intended to provide a “buffer” to the anticipated drop in the rate of growth, from a 10 per cent year-on-year cash increase to between 2.5 to 3.5 per cent by 2008-09, he said. “There’s a paradox of lots of money going into the NHS but trusts still overspending and going into debt. It is possible that across the NHS the system can generate a surplus by 2008, but whether the system can meet that at the same time as meeting other performance targets is open to question.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Only by managing finances efficiently can NHS organisations develop and improve services. The majority of organisations are delivering on finance and patient care, but more need to generate surpluses to recover historic overspending.” Hospitals affected by the latest superbug, Clostridium difficile, will be able to bid for grants of up to 350,000 pounds each from a 50 million fund to combat infection rates. The grants could pay for measures such as extra basins for hand-washing in an attempt to stop the spread of C. difficile — which kills three times as many patients as the better-known MRSA, Ms Hewitt said.

“MRSA has been coming down, thanks in part to the target we set some years ago,” she told The Sunday Edition on ITV. “C. difficile, this new and very nasty bug, is bad in some hospitals but not in others. “So we want local hospitals to look at their own performance and, where they are not doing well enough, to set a local target agreed publicly with their local NHS. We are backing them up with more money — up to £350,000 for each hospital organisation.”


UN cuts estimate of sea level rise, human effect on climate

Post lifted from Rossputin

According to an article in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, [See below] the upcoming report from the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) will reduce its estimate of the human effect on climate change by 25% and cut in half their estimate of the maximum rise in sea levels which climate change could cause.

The changes are in part due to a re-thinking of the way the climate is working, i.e. the effect of aerosol sprays in keeping temperatures from rising, as well as using newer and better data since the last report was completed five years ago.

It would be amusing, were it not so dangerous for policy considerations, that articles like that linked above have headlines pointing toward at least a slight retreat in global warming alarmism but then fill the article itself with the most scare-mongering fact-free text one could imagine outside the National Enquirer. (I take that back…it’s an insult to the National Enquirer.)

Some quote snippets from the Telegraph article:

“People are very worried…”

“…paints a bleak picture…”

“…expect more storms of similar ferocity…”

“…we are storing up problems for ourselves in the future.”

It’s enough to make you put your head in the oven.

But at least we have one politican who has the sense and courage to stand up against so much hype based on junk science, and that is the often-derided Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe’s reaction to the story is summarized nicely by this quote (by him): “”We are all skeptics now. It appears that the UN is now acknowledging what an increasing number of scientists who study the climate have come to realize: Predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming are simply unsustainable.”

There is an ongoing battle for the “hearts and minds” of people in all industrialized countries, in which liberal anti-capitalists or else well-intentioned but poorly informed environmentalists suggest policy choices which would be devastating to the world’s economy and which would have benefits that are limited at best. However, their side is winning the rhetorical war, in large part due to Tony Blair and the so-called Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. When you hear people like them say “the debate is over”, don’t believe it for a minute, but hold on to your wallet because your taxes and cost of living are likely to increase when their fears translate into new laws.


From "The Telegraph", London:

Mankind has had less effect on global warming than previously supposed, a United Nations report on climate change will claim next year. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there can be little doubt that humans are responsible for warming the planet, but the organisation has reduced its overall estimate of this effect by 25 per cent. In a final draft of its fourth assessment report, to be published in February, the panel reports that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has accelerated in the past five years. It also predicts that temperatures will rise by up to 4.5 C during the next 100 years, bringing more frequent heat waves and storms. The panel, however, has lowered predictions of how much sea levels will rise in comparison with its last report in 2001.

Climate change sceptics are expected to seize on the revised figures as evidence that action to combat global warming is less urgent. Scientists insist that the lower estimates for sea levels and the human impact on global warming are simply a refinement due to better data on how climate works rather than a reduction in the risk posed by global warming. One leading UK climate scientist, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity surrounding the report before it is published, said: "The bottom line is that the climate is still warming while our greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated, so we are storing up problems for ourselves in the future."

The IPCC report, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, has been handed to the Government for review before publication. It warns that carbon dioxide emissions have risen during the past five years by three per cent, well above the 0.4 per cent a year average of the previous two decades. The authors also state that the climate is almost certain to warm by at least 1.5 C during the next 100 years.

Such a rise would be enough to take average summer temperatures in Britain to those seen during the 2003 heatwave, when August temperatures reached a record-breaking 38 C. Unseasonable warmth this year has left many Alpine resorts without snow by the time the ski season started. Britain can expect more storms of similar ferocity to those that wreaked havoc across the country last week, even bringing a tornado to north-west London.

The IPCC has been forced to halve its predictions for sea-level rise by 2100, one of the key threats from climate change. It says improved data have reduced the upper estimate from 34 in to 17 in. It also says that the overall human effect on global warming since the industrial revolution is less than had been thought, due to the unexpected levels of cooling caused by aerosol sprays, which reflect heat from the sun. Large amounts of heat have been absorbed by the oceans, masking the warming effect.

Prof Rick Battarbee, the director of the Environmental Change Research Centre at University College London, warned these masking effects had helped to delay global warming but would lead to larger changes in the future. He said: "The oceans have been acting like giant storage heaters by trapping heat and carbon dioxide. They might be bit of a time-bomb as they have been masking the real effects of the carbon dioxide we have been releasing into the atmosphere. "People are very worried about what will happen in 2030 to 2050, as we think that at that point the oceans will no longer be able to absorb the carbon dioxide being emitted. It will be a tipping point and that is why it is now critical to act to counter any acceleration that will occur when this happens."

The report paints a bleak picture for future generations unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. It predicts that the climate will warm by 0.2 C a decade for the next two decades if emissions continue at current levels. The report states that snow cover in mountainous regions will contract and permafrost in polar regions will decline.

However, Julian Morris, executive director of the International Policy Network, urged governments to be cautious. "There needs to be better data before billions of pounds are spent on policy measures that may have little impact," he said.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Storms, floods, tornadoes, heat waves. So, what's new?

There's nothing freaky about Britain's 'freak' weather

So, why all the fuss about the weather? The media were aghast that a tornado could rip through quiet residential streets of London last week, leaving 100 houses damaged and several people injured. “Freak” was the favourite description — after all, this is the sort of thing that happens in Oklahoma City, not London NW10. But tornados have been ripping through Britain for centuries. London was hit by an even worse one almost exactly to the day 52 years ago, which left a scene of devastation reminiscent of the Blitz and ended up in Willesden, next door to Kensal Rise. And the deadliest tornado in British history struck in October 1913, when six people were killed at Edwardsville, Glamorgan.

There is nothing freakish about tornados in this country, though they usually get the headlines only when big urban areas are hit. Only two weeks ago a village near Aberystwyth was badly hit when a tornado turned over caravans, sent chimneys crashing and left debris scattered up to 20 miles away. It was barely mentioned in the national media.

The trouble is that we seem to think British weather is a bit of a pussycat — soft and mild most of the time, with the occasional outburst when it gets temperamental. But in reality our “freak” weather is not so freakish after all. In some cases it can be truly monstrous. The floods of 1953 along the East Coast and Thames estuary killed more than 300 people, and came close to inundating London; it led to the Thames Barrier being built. The London smog of December 1952 killed an estimated 12,000 people, the worst air pollution episode in the world; the ensuing public outcry led a reluctant government to pass the Clean Air Act to rid urban areas of coal smoke.

The storm in October 1987 killed 19 people, felled 15 million trees and cost around £1.5 billion. Even more insidious were more than 2,000 deaths attributed to the effects of the blistering hot summer of August 2003. The Boscastle flash flood two years ago showed the horror of a sudden torrential downpour funnelled down narrow valleys.

Lightning strikes in some quite horrifying ways. This summer, in Kidderminster, a mother and her baby were hurled across a bedroom when their house was hit. A woman in Liverpool was electrocuted talking on a phone when lightning ripped down the cable. Lightning bolts have blown up some 20 or so houses, their electrics blasted apart and the buildings set ablaze. Lightning is reckoned to cause £24 million damage each year in the UK to electronic equipment, computers, fax machines, scanners, printers and telephones — even when the equipment is switched off but still plugged into wall sockets.

No, the British weather is a beast, not a pussycat, and demands respect. We live on the battlefront between warring air masses: bitterly cold Arctic air to the north, balmy, sub-tropical air to the south. It is the source of our current storms, downpours, winds and, of course, tornados. Britain has always been a dangerous place. It was no accident that the first Roman invasion 2,000 years ago got blown out by a storm in the Channel, as did the Spanish Armada and many other unwelcome visitors. The old town of Winchelsea on the South Coast was obliterated by a storm in 1287 — its remains lie buried under Pontins on Camber Sands. The greatest recorded natural disaster in British history was the storm of December 1703, which left a scene of apocalyptic proportions: 400 windmills burnt down when the sails spun round too fast, the lead rolled off church roofs, coastlines and rivers were strewn with the wreckage of ships, some 8,000 sailors were killed. A similar storm today is reckoned capable of causing damage reaching £15 billion and a death toll of perhaps thousands.

There was a great deal more respect for the weather when ships were driven by the winds and much of the population worked the land. Modern life is largely cossetted from the elements, but the violence of the weather is finally becoming clearer — in home buildings insurance. The insurance industry knows well that natural disasters are growing worse and more expensive as sea levels rise, storms turn more violent, torrential rains set off floods and heatwaves reach sub-tropical proportions.


Epidurals bad for breast-feeding

Women who give birth with the aid of pain-relieving epidurals find it harder to breast-feed than those who give birth naturally, a study has found. The research suggests that some of the drugs used in epidurals make their way into babies' bloodstreams, subtly affecting their brains and development for weeks afterwards - including making them less willing to breast-feed. If confirmed, such research could force a rethink over the use of the drugs.

Up to a third of British women giving birth are routinely given epidurals in which a catheter is inserted into the spine to allow the infusion of pain-killing drugs. These deaden the nerves that relay sensations of pain from the lower body and legs.

In a commentary on the research, published today, one expert suggests the impact of epidurals on breast-feeding should be officially classed as an "adverse drug reaction". Writing in International Breastfeeding Journal, Sue Jordan, senior lecturer in applied therapeutics at Swansea University, says women given the infusions should be offered extra support to stop their infants being "disadvantaged by this hidden, but far-reaching, adverse drug reaction".

Such a link could help explain why many British women fail to breast-feed, with 55% giving up within six weeks of birth. More than a third of women give up within a week, saying their babies simply refuse to breast-feed.

In the research, published in the same journal, Siranda Torvaldsen, from Sydney University, and colleagues from other institutions in Australia, studied 1,280 women who had given birth, of whom 416 had an epidural. The researchers found 93% of the women breast-fed their baby in the first week but those who received epidurals generally had more difficulty in the days immediately after birth.

By the time six months had passed, the women who had been given epidurals were twice as likely to have stopped breast-feeding, even after allowing for factors such as maternal age and education. The authors suggest the most likely cause of the problem was fentanyl, an opioid drug widely used as a component of epidurals. Such drugs pass quickly into the bloodstream and easily cross the placenta to reach the unborn baby.

Many women have a good experience with epidurals because the drugs allow them to relax. However, researchers have long known that there are also potential adverse side effects such as lowered blood pressure, a slowing of the birth process and a greater risk of having to pull the baby out with forceps. There has, however, been less research into the impact of such drugs on babies, although it is known that, because of their immature livers, the drugs can linger in the body.

Other researchers support Torvaldsen's findings. A study at Toronto University, Canada, of 177 women found they were less likely to be breast-feeding after six weeks if they had been given an epidural with fentanyl.


This report seems to have caused some uproar. Even though it was cautiously worded, the editorial by Ms Jordan ("Infant feeding and analgesia in labour: the evidence is accumulating") in International Breastfeeding Journal 2006; 1: 25 has now been taken down. See the cached table of contents here. It must have hit pretty close to the mark to get censored. Truth is the most usual victim of censorship. The abstract of the Torvaldsen study ("Intrapartum epidural analgesia and breastfeeding: a prospective cohort study") is however still available here. I reproduce the abstract of the censored editorial below:

The interesting and important paper by Torvaldsen and colleagues provides further circumstantial evidence of a positive association between intrapartum analgesia and feeding infant formula. Not all research supports this association. Before failure to breastfeed can be adjudged an adverse effect of intrapartum analgesia, the research evidence needs to be considered in detail. Examination of the existing evidence against the Bradford-Hill criteria indicates that the evidence is not yet conclusive. However, the difficulties of obtaining funding and undertaking large trials to explore putative adverse drug reactions in pregnant women may mean that we shall never have conclusive evidence of harm. Therefore, reports of large cohort studies with regression models, as in the paper published today, assume a greater importance than in other areas of investigation. Meanwhile, women and their clinicians may feel that sufficient evidence has accumulated to justify offering extra support to establish breastfeeding if women have received high doses of analgesics in labour.

Zero carbon home is little more than hot air

Britain's first and only community experiment in "zero-carbon" living raises serious questions about Gordon Brown's ambition that all new homes should be carbon-free. BedZed, an award-winning development of 99 apartments in south London, was supposed to be exactly that: zero-carbon and entirely sustainable. More than four years after opening its doors, however, the landmark eco-village is neither.

The revolutionary wood-burning technology that should have produced all the heat and power is not working and has been abandoned. A "green" water sewage system that used reed beds to mimic natural waste filter systems is also temporarily out of action because of management costs. Power is drawn from the national grid, backed up by gas boilers, and only a quarter of the 300 or so residents use organic food boxes. Each BedZed apartment - thickly insulated and hermetically sealed - also emits about half a ton of carbon dioxide each year. Modern homes built to standard building regulations produce about one ton.

Pooran Desai, who helped found the project with the charity BioRegional Development Group, admitted he is disappointed that the prototype has not quite worked. "This hasn't turned out to be a zero-carbon development, and we have learned as much about how not to do things as how to do them," he said yesterday. "It was designed to be a completely renewable energy site, powered by solar panels and a wood-chip powered heat and power plant (CHP). But while the solar panels produce about 10 per cent of our power, the CHP has not been successful, because the burning produced tar that clogged the filters. The maintenance was very expensive."

BedZed - Beddington Zero Energy Development, near Wallington, Surrey - was started in 1998. It has been thrust into the spotlight by the Chancellor's pre-Budget announcement this week that all new homes should be "zero-carbon" by 2016, and would be rewarded by escaping stamp duty. The project was pioneered by BioRegional Development Group, and funded by the Peabody Trust, one of London's largest social landlords. Designed by the architect Bill Dunster, it was to be a trailblazer for affordable, ecological living, with all but 44 apartments reserved for public sector workers, council tenants and first-time buyers.

Despite the power problems, much about the project has been a success. The walls are about 60cm thick and filled with four times as much insulation as the industry norm, and the windows are double or triple-glazed. As a result, there is no need for central heating and residents pay less than 400 pounds a year for power and water. The apartments are naturally ventilated using a roof funnel system, which draws in fresh air and expels stale air, and each has a garden and access to an allotment [garden]. Waste for recycling is collected, the taps and showers are fitted with flow restrictors, which save 19 litres of water per minute, and the lavatories are flushed with rainwater. The futuristic design means the development is now locally popular; a three-bed sold for more than 260,000 pounds recently. But they are currently nowhere near "zero-carbon", and would not qualify for the stamp duty exemption that Gordon Brown is proposing.

In this respect, they are like every other house in Britain, because there is currently no such thing as a "zero carbon" house existing on its own energy, according to the Energy Saving Trust. Mr Dunster said the wood-chip power-generator would be replaced in spring and insisted that it would make the project completely zero-carbon. "Technology has advanced hugely in the 10 years since we first chose the CHP system, and the new machine is working very successfully elsewhere," he said. "It is not right to say that BedZed cannot be zero-carbon. It will be when the system is replaced, and it is a viable route to go down." [Sounds a lot like Marxism -- it will work one day -- if only we wait long enough]



Brain-dead Leftism has the same solution to everything

Gordon Brown never likes leaving anything to chance. His shirts are always white and once he settles on a new favourite tie, he will stick with it for months on end. The chancellor, who has had more long-term plans than Joseph Stalin, planned his final pre-budget report last Wednesday just as meticulously. The morning papers had been briefed and the broadcasters squared. Brown, worried that the news later that day from Washington of the Iraq Study Group's report would wipe his statement off the front pages, had toured the TV and radio studios at breakfast time. Irritated by the fact that Tony Blair had already eaten into his week by timing the announcement of Britain's Trident replacement last Monday, he was determined to grab what he regarded as his rightful share of coverage.

The centrepiece of his lunchtime speech to MPs was, as everyone had been forewarned, education. Just as Blair had started his premiership with a commitment to the "three Es" (education, education, education), so Brown was following suit. Education, he said, "would be our number one priority; education first now and into the future". There would be special tuition for six-year-olds falling behind in their reading; a bag of books for every five and 11-year-old; and "year-by-year improvements in investment in our schools". Most of all, in Brown's drive to make Britain "the most educated country in the world", there would, it appeared, be lots of money.

By 2010, the government would be investing more than 10 billion pounds a year in England's 21,000 school buildings, together with university and college premises, compared with just 1.5 billion in 1997. By then, he said, state school pupils could look forward to facilities as good as those enjoyed by Eton, Winchester and other independent schools; a cumulative 36 billion would be spent over four years lifting spending on buildings and equipment to private sector levels. Instead of tax cuts, he goaded David Cameron, he was putting money where it mattered, into Britain's future. As a down payment, tens of thousands would be paid direct to each school - 50,000 pounds for primaries and 200,000 at secondary level.

Brown's flurry of announcements was enough to get Labour backbenchers cheering him to the rafters, which was the idea; he now has no serious rival as prime minister. But for everybody else there was a powerful sense of deja vu. Hadn't he said all this before? The Institute for Fiscal Studies, Britain's tax and spending think tank, soon confirmed that he had. In a detailed dismantling of Brown's figures, the IFS pointed out that for all the chancellor's talk, there was very little new money. The Tories tracked some of the announcements back to 2002. The only new money, said Luke Sibieta of the IFS, was the direct payment to schools, worth 20 pounds per pupil. Brown's goal, of lifting all spending per pupil to independent sector levels, was still a long way away. Before he stood up, the gap was 2,350 a year. After he sat down it was 2,330....

But despite the smoke, mirrors and tax grabs, the chancellor had clearly set out his stall. Even though cash will be tight from now on, education will be the "number one priority". For some, that was profoundly depressing. Blair, after nearly a decade in office, has finally got the message that money is not the answer to Britain's education shortcomings, says Andrew Haldenby, director of the think tank Reform. Only by changing the system will things improve. But Brown, he believes, still thinks cash is king. "Last week Tony Blair argued that better learning comes from reform, based on stronger parental choice and better teaching," said Haldenby. "Brown has ignored reform and spoken only of extra spending. The evidence is on the prime minister's side: school spending has already risen in this decade from 26 billion to 43 billion without any impact on the trend of exam standards."

So will smart new buildings and extra cash improve Britain's education standards? Or is it a case of throwing good money after bad? ... Will Brown be a reformer or just a spender? Will his relentless desire to keep things under tight control prevent him offering schools the freedoms they need to succeed? Anthony Seldon, Blair's biographer and master of Wellington College, an independent school in Berkshire, said: "Brown will not seek to row back on these changes. He will continue the policies including opening more academies."

Others are not so sure. "The idea that you pump in extra money and then standards improve has been tested to destruction and it doesn't work," said Haldenby. "Yet Brown seems to believe that if you lift state school spending to the level of independents you'll solve the problem of our substandard schools. It won't."



Talk about the pot calling the electric kettle Afro-American!

Scrooge hospital bosses have banned a troupe of carol singers from performing in the wards - in case they pass infections to patients. The Gospelaires male voice choir have spread festive cheer at hospital bedsides for the past 40 years with their renditions of Christmas carol favourites. But the 16-strong group of elderly men have been told they are a health hazard and will not be allowed to enter the wards of their local Torbay Hospital in Torquay, Devon. Under a new "visitor charter" drawn up by hospital chief executive Tony Parr all groups have been banned from visiting the sick during the festive season.

In a letter to the Gospelaires Tony Parr said: "Infections in hospital are of major concern to the public and to health staff. "There is clear evidence that the risk of infection, which is usually at its greatest over the winter period, can be reduced by restricting visiting times. "We have therefore standardised and in some cases reduced visitor times and introduced a visitors charter. "In light of these changes we have concluded that it is no longer possible to accept offers of Christmas visits by groups. "In reaching this decision we have been mindful of the need to balance the pleasure that such visits can bring to people in hospital with our responsibility to look after patients health."

The Torbay Gospelaires say they take care to rub their hands in antibacterial hand gel and have always followed medical precautions advised by the nurses and are stunned by the total ban. For the past 40 years the popular group, which has an average age of 65, has performed classics like Silent Night and Come All Ye Faithful in the hospital without incident and to enthusiastic applause.

Conductor Colin Reynolds, 75, said: "It is political correctness gone mad. "I find it all very sad, it is yet another example of pushing the traditional element out of Christmas. "You do wonder whether they would have been as quick to show us the door if our material had been less Christian. "All the choir men are very disappointed as this was always one of the highlights of our year and we enjoyed the visits very much. "So much so that two years ago, when one of our men was terminally ill with cancer, he came with us and we took him around in a wheelchair, he just didn't want to miss out. "The patients really love to hear us sing, and the nurses, too. We have always been very well received and have returned year after year for the past four decades. "Many people have thanked us and said that we helped them feel better at what can be a very distressing time - noon wants to be in hospital at Christmas and we just want to make a bad situation a little better.

"Last year was one of the best visits ever and after we had finished we got a call asking if we could sing just once more in Accident and Emergency, to cheer up the staff who had had a very busy night. "Surely 16 men would not present a health hazard and we would have taken all the hygiene precautions necessary. "Yet we have been told by one of the hospital chaplains that dogs are sometimes allowed into the wards because it is therapeutic for the patients - it is quite unbelievable. "Surely we would be less of a risk than a dog?"

The choir have been told by hospital management that they may perform in the public areas - such as the canteen and entrance hall - but they will not be allowed past the threshold of the wards. But Colin says the group, who have released eight LPs and CDs of gospel songs over the years, will not be taking up the offer. He said: "The point of the exercise is that we help to cheer up the people who really need it, the patients and the nurses, not the visitors hanging around getting a sandwich."

And the ban has caused outrage in Torquay where the Gospelaires have become a well-known and much-loved Christmas feature performing at numerous venues across the town. But Hospital management insist the ban is needed to prevent the spread of winter sicknesses. Spokesman for Torbay Hospital, Caroline Hill, said: "We have some very seriously ill patients here, they are acute cases and many are recovering from operations. "There are serious hygiene concerns with allowing groups of people into hospital in winter and we need to reduce the risk, can you imagine how awful it would be to have a vomiting bug on top of another illness? "As to hygiene concerns hand gel is important in the fight against incoming infection risk but does not fully protect poorly patients from norovirus the stomach bug known as winter vomiting which is very prevalent in the general community over the holiday period. "We have had overwhelming support from public and patients for restricting visiting times and numbers on the wards to lessen the risk of illnesses being brought in."


Monday, December 11, 2006


The chairman of the Labour party, Hazel Blears, has warned that immigration is set to explode as an issue before the next general election in a way "unseen before in UK politics". Blears suggests the government's argument that the current policy benefits the economy holds little sway with voters, and says Labour risks appearing "unconcerned and out of touch".

In an intervention which will surprise cabinet colleagues, she told The Sunday Times: "Labour must address people's concerns about immigration head on. "Simply making the `liberal' argument that immigration is good for the economy, or starting from the viewpoint of `human rights' does not give people the reassurance that politicians understand people's genuine concerns."

Blears has been alarmed by an internal analysis of campaigns by the Labour party in Keighley, West Yorkshire, where the British National party (BNP) is particularly active. The document, which has been seen by The Sunday Times, is being studied closely at Labour headquarters. It says the party's failure to address public concern about immigration is playing into the hands of both the Tories and the BNP and warns that Labour "will not be forgiven by the electorate" if it does not address the problem.

In a further warning to Labour, the report says the Asian community in Keighley is becoming "disengaged". The threat is being taken seriously by Blears, who believes there is a risk that support for Labour from Asians is diminishing elsewhere in the country. The document also questions the quality and performance of some Labour councillors in the area, describing some as "woefully inadequate". It says potential Labour voters are defecting to the BNP, not because they are racist, but because they believe their "genuine grievances" are being ignored by mainstream parties...

Blears's warning comes after Tony Blair, the prime minister, declared that immigrants who do not like British values should leave the country...

More here

UK: School or training plan for all under-18s

Imprisoning kids in useless schools for even longer -- what a lovely authoritarian dream

Moves to compel teenagers to stay on in school or training until 18 have been set in train by the government, the Guardian has learned. Alan Johnson, the education and skills secretary, a strong supporter of raising the minimum school leaving age from 16, is understood to have asked officials to begin work on a green paper examining ways to implement the change, for publication next year. The paper will not propose forcing pupils to stay in the classroom behind a desk after 16, but is likely to seek to ensure that if they leave school they move into training, study for a new diploma or take a job with training and a qualification attached.

Mr Johnson has been inspired by reforms in Ontario, Canada, where children now face a legal requirement to stay on full-time at school or college or enter formal training until 18. Introducing a similar law here could help tackle Britain's woeful record on dealing with the significant and persistent proportion of teenagers who slip through the net of work and study. Government figures released last week show 13% of 18-year-olds in England and Wales are in the so-called NEET category - not in education, employment or training. The proportion has remained fixed throughout Labour's nine years in office, and a report this week for the Rowntree Foundation said failure to deal with this group had damaged the government's drive to tackle poverty.

Moves by Mr Johnson to use legal change to try to crack the NEET problem comes as research shows that obliging teenagers to stay on even a short time longer at school boosts their chances of continuing in education or moving into employment, as well as increasing their earning power. A study for the institute for social and economic research at Essex University investigated the progress of individuals reaching school leaving age between 1962 and 1997. During this period, leaving-age pupils whose birthdays fell in the first half of the school year were allowed by law to leave school at the beginning of the Easter holiday (a right Tony Blair's government swiftly abolished), while their younger classmates had to stay on until the end of May.

Researchers compared the progress of students in both groups and found that forcing teenagers to stay on in school until the summer increased the likelihood they would stay on in full-time education by 12 percentage points. It also raised the probability that they would gain a qualification at age 16 by between 2.5% and 3.5%. In addition, there were workplace benefits, with those who had to stay in school showing about 1% higher employment rates and earning 2% more. But researchers Emilia Del Bono and Fernando Galindo-Rueda also found that this boost at work occurred only once the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16 in 1974, so that the extra term in school meant students took more O levels, CSEs or GCSEs. The lesson for the government, they conclude, is that spending more time at school only has a long-term effect if students use the time to gain a qualification that employers then reward. "In short, exam dates matter," the study says.



Sufferers from some conditions (such as histadelia) are told to avoid folic acid. Looks like no convenient bread purchases for them in future!

Britain will take the first step towards mass medication of the population this week with the publication of proposals to add the vitamin folic acid to bread. A report commissioned by ministers will recommend the compulsory fortification of flour and bread with folic acid to help prevent babies being born with birth defects. It will say the benefits seen in the United States and Canada, where the strategy has helped reduce birth defects such as spina bifida by as much as 50%, justify such state intervention.

It will, however, be controversial: critics claim it takes away individual choice and could have other health risks, including contributing to neurological damage in the elderly. In Australia, where a similar proposal is being advocated, there has been vocal opposition from the food industry, which claims it is backed by up to 90% of the public in polls.

In Britain, the move is being proposed by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which was commissioned by ministers to examine the case for adding folic acid to bread. Scientists believe compulsorily adding folic acid to flour could prevent more than 150 cases a year in which babies develop neural tube defects. Some of these are aborted. Babies can develop such defects - abnormalities of the brain and spine - if the mother is deficient in folic acid when she conceives. Women are encouraged to take folic acid supplements when they are planning to have a child but because almost half of all births in Britain are unplanned, many women are not taking the tablets when they become pregnant.

Andrew Russell, chief executive of the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, said: "Hundreds of abortions are carried out every year in the UK for spina bifida, and a lot of severely disabled babies are still being born. "It is the poorest and most educationally underprivileged who are most at risk of a spina bifida pregnancy. Unfortunately, relying on women to plan pregnancy and take a folic acid supplement in advance is unrealistic in many cases."

While most doctors agree that adding folic acid to bread could benefit pregnant women, some medical professionals say the proposal could be to the detriment of the elderly. Evidence has shown that folic acid can mask the deficiency of another vitamin, B12, a common medical complaint in the over-65s. This week the Food Standards Agency will launch a three-month-long public consultation on the proposal before ministers make a final decision on its introduction.

Meanwhile, parents are expected to be told by the government's health regulator this week to eat meals with their children, ration how much television they watch and replace the school run with a walk or cycle. In one of the biggest attempts to influence the way people live their daily lives, the watchdog responsible for the way the National Health Service spends its money will announce guidelines to help tackle the obesity epidemic. The advice from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) is expected to tell families to start their day by eating breakfast together, preferably including one of the five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The family should then embark on a more active journey to work or school, possibly cycling or walking part of the way. This could even involve some obese adults being given "personalised travel plans".

Despite growing concern over the sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles of many children, critics are likely to see the guidance as a further move towards an overbearing nanny state. For those who do need to slim down the guidance will set out the type of diets they should follow. Crash diets resulting in weight loss of more than 2lb a week will be ruled out, as will regimes based on restricted foods such as the so-called cabbage soup diet. As reported in The Sunday Times earlier this year, Nice will recommend stomach-stapling surgery for obese children on the NHS at an estimated cost of 10,000 pounds per operation. [So: Plenty of money for an essentially cosmetic procedure while everyone else waits!]



One month after Sir Nicholas Stern published his review of the economics of climate change, his peers have had time to say what they think of his work. And the answer, it seems, is: not a lot. Sir Nicholas, the head of the British government's economic service, concluded that the potential costs of climate change were so large, and the costs of shifting away from fossil fuels so relatively modest, that the world should take urgent action. Those who disagree with that analysis and prescription fall into three main camps.

The first group says that he lacks political realism?a charge made by Robert Samuelson, in the Washington Post, when he called the report "a masterpiece of misleading public relations." Policies that might curb greenhouse gases, Mr Samuelson said, would "require politicians and the public to act in exceptionally `enlightened' (read: `unrealistic') ways." They would have to impose and bear costs that would not deliver returns until after they were dead. This may be true, but it is unfair as a criticism of the Stern review, which took this problem as a starting point.

A second camp has accused the report of selection bias. One eminent climate-change economist, Richard Tol, complains that, "For water, agriculture, health and insurance, the Stern review consistently selects the most pessimistic study in the literature." There is something in this, though Sir Nicholas would claim that he chose his studies according to the robustness of their methodology.

A third line of criticism, made by William Nordhaus, a father of climate-change economics, has emerged as the most forceful. It turns on fairness, and how we place a value today on benefits in the future. When economists do a cost-benefit analysis, they try to place a present-day value on benefits assumed to be enjoyed in the future. To do this they discount the future value by an annual percentage rate, a discount rate, which is typically set at around 3-5%. But such calculations are typically done for benefits expected to come in 20, 30 or, at most, 50 years' time. Climate-change economics requires a time horizon of centuries. A typical discount rate would assign almost no current value to benefits accruing in, say, the 23rd century. So why spend money today on something with no apparent value today?

Sir Nicholas argues that, in this case, we are wrong to use a typical discount rate. How can we say that our great-great-great-grandchildren are worth less than we are worth ourselves? He argues for a discount rate of 0.1%. That places a much higher present-day value on benefits accruing centuries into the future, and thus makes a stronger case for spending money now.

Mr Nordhaus retorts that there are other ways to look at the ethics of inter-generational investment. One option would be to take into account the expected wealth of future generations. Global per capita consumption is increasing by 1.3% a year in real terms. At that rate today's average income per head, of $7,600, would rise to $94,000 by 2200. If climate change were to reduce global income by 13.8% over the same period (a figure derived from Stern), the average income per head would rise to $81,000 rather than $94,000. On that basis, says Mr Nordhaus, it would be fairer to constrain the income of future and richer generations, than to impose additional costs on a poorer generation today.

Mr Nordhaus does not contend that the world should do nothing about greenhouse-gas emissions. But he questions the confidence with which the Stern report concludes that lots of things should be done, and fast. The "central questions" about any policy response to global warming, says Mr Nordhaus, "how much, how fast, and how costly?remain open". As far as he and like-minded critics are concerned, the Stern report has informed the debate about climate change, but has not come anywhere near resolving it.


British Conservatives back return to Victorian values: "The Conservatives are to launch a crusade for personal morality to try to halt what they say is a breakdown in traditional family values. It comes in the wake of a Tory report that says unmarried parents are driving a generation of children into crime and drug dependency. Dominic Grieve, the shadow attorney-general, said last night that people who tackle teenage yobs should not be prosecuted for assault. He added that strict Victorian values on family life had in some ways been successful. The Tories claim the rise in cohabitation and single parenthood is unleashing a social and economic crisis. In an appeal to grassroots supporters, the party will this week put the promotion of marriage back at the heart of its agenda, warning of dire consequences if more couples are not encouraged to wed. A report commissioned by David Cameron, the Tory leader, claims the breakdown of the family is driving boys into the arms of street gangs at an annual cost to the country of more than £20 billion... It is the first heavyweight submission by the panels Cameron set up when he became leader to thrash out party policy. The interim report of the Social Justice Policy Group, headed by Iain Duncan Smith, gives an insight into the possible elements of the party’s next election manifesto. It warns that family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction, welfare dependency and educational failure have created an underclass mired in misery and “cut off from much of mainstream society”. The burgeoning underclass also “threatens the wellbeing of middle-class people living in once tranquil neighbourhoods”. The report suggests that without a radical reappraisal of government policy towards marriage and the family, social tensions will grow, fuelling violent crime.

Britain. Islamic martyrdom redefined: "A government-backed Islamic organisation is teaching young Muslims that dying while fighting for the British armed forces is an act of martyrdom. The British Muslim Forum (BMF) explains to young people that even if a Muslim soldier dies in combat while fighting in an Islamic country such as Afghanistan, he will still be regarded as a martyr and a hero for this country. The BMF is holding talks across Britain to persuade young people not to follow the teachings of Muslim extremists who instruct their followers that joining the British military is a "traitorous act". Its aim is to counter radicals' misuse of the term "martyr", which has become associated with terrorist suicide operations."

Sunday, December 10, 2006


They LOATHE air travel -- except for themselves of course

A big expansion of Heathrow, including a new runway, will be endorsed by the Government next week after a decision by ministers that the economic benefits vastly outweigh the environmental damage.

BAA, which owns Heathrow, is secretly developing a pollution charging scheme targeted at lorries to overcome the problem of poor air quality around the airport in West London. An internal BAA document states that the best way to resolve the problem of nitrogen dioxide pollution is to reduce the number of older, more polluting lorries passing the airport on the M4 and nearby roads. Lorries emit about 15 times more nitrogen dioxide than cars. BAA believes lorries could be deterred either by road tolls or by penalties for the most polluting trucks.

The new runway would allow an additional 500 flights a day to pass over London and create a new flight path over Acton, Chiswick and Fulham. Up to 700 homes, including eight Grade II listed buildings, would have to be demolished to make way for the runway and a terminal.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has accepted the argument put by Sir Rod Eddington in his report last week on the future of Britain’s transport system, that expansion of Heathrow is crucial to the economy and to maintaining London’s position as Europe’s financial centre. This week’s Pre-Budget Report said: “To avoid the economic consequences of constraining aviation growth, further expansion of UK airport capacity is needed. Heathrow plays a unique role in the UK as a hub airport and demand for capacity already significantly exceeds supply, leading to less competition, greater congestion, reduced choice and higher prices for passengers.”

The report made no mention of Stansted, which the Government had promised, in its aviation White Paper of December 2003, would receive a new runway before Heathrow. Next week’s progress report on the White Paper will continue to support a second runway at Stansted but the Government no longer believes Heathrow should have to wait for the Essex airport to be expanded. None of the leading airlines support BAA’s plans for a new runway at Stansted. Ferrovial, the Spanish company which recently bought BAA, agrees with British Airways that the priority should be expanding Heathrow because demand for flights is far greater there.

The Department for Transport has been monitoring air pollution levels around Heathrow and is confident they can be reduced to comply with European limits by the time a third runway opens. BAA hopes to submit a planning application for a third runway at Heathrow in 2008 and to open it by 2017. A BAA source said: “We are completely committed to expanding Heathrow.”

Ministers are also keen to allow more take-offs and landings on the existing two runways while the third runway goes through the planning process. A consultation paper will be published in the new year proposing the ending of runway alternation, which gives residents under the flight path respite from aircraft noise for half the day. The two runways could accommodate an extra 60,000 flights a year if each was used for take-offs and landings throughout the day.

John Stewart, chairman of ClearSkies, which opposes the expansion of Heathrow, said: “The Government is gearing up to allow a new runway at Heathrow before Stansted but they won’t be honest about it. “There will be the mother of all battles over Heathrow because the environmental movement sees it as a cause celebre. It will be the Newbury bypass of the skies.” In October 40 people living near Heathrow attended training sessions on direct action techniques. One idea is for a convoy of cars to stop inside the road tunnels under the northern runway, causing chaos for people trying to reach the terminals.


Saturday, December 09, 2006


From Prof. John Brignell -- replying to a claim that the current scientific orthodoxy is not biased

Dear Richard Black

I will take your piece at face value and assume that you are not being disingenuous. What on earth makes you believe that we sceptics think that science is against us? We know that science is for us. Science and its methods are essentially sceptical. From the Bacons, through the likes of Locke, Hume and Russell, to the magnificent climax of Popper's statement of the principle of falsifiability, the scientific method was painfully established, only to be abandoned in a few short decades. The method was essentially sceptical, as Thomas Huxley put it:

"The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin."

Scientists of the old school are not just sceptical about global warming, they are sceptical about everything. That is the way we were trained. Fortunately, even in this new era of blind faith, there are an admirable few among the new generation who also adhere to the principles of pure science.

It is not science that is against us, it is the Green establishment -- politics, media and, alas, the major scientific institutions and journals. Consensus had never had a legitimate place in science. As Einstein is reputed to have remarked, when the Nazis published a book in which one hundred German scientists pronounced him wrong, "It only needed one of them to be right." There was indeed a consensus in physics at the start of the twentieth century that "the science is settled", but that was blown apart by Einstein and his contemporaries.

As for the implication that there is no evidence of bias in publication and the award of research grants, that arises from one of the fallacies of the historical method. No one is going to write down the fact that they made a decision through pure bias. People do not leave behind an audit trial of their misdeeds for posterity. To see an example of how it works, you only have to look at the history of the editor of Nature jumping through hoops to prevent publication of valid criticism of the so-called hockey stick; or the authoritative Wegman Report. That theory was a ludicrous contradiction of the findings of history, art, archaeology, entomology and many other disciplines, yet it was strenuously maintained by voluntary censorship.

Take it from one who found it more honourable to take early retirement (and write independently about these and other matters) than conform to the diktats of the Green establishment; for the last decade there has been only one game in town as far as research is concerned. When your university is locked in a struggle for financial survival and is dependent on large chunks of taxpayers' money for politically approved programmes, you do not earn friends by rocking the boat. Thus, with a few notable exceptions, the sceptics (the true scientists) have been weeded out. Would-be researchers are told the fields in which funding is available. They are no longer physics, chemistry, engineering etc. They are new subjects, such as sustainability and pollution.

You create a Catch 22 situation by specifically excluding web sites as sources; for that is where the sceptics are now mainly obliged to operate, some of them very distinguished professors emeriti.

Your final paragraphs: "But if research is being skewed and distorted, we ought to know, because good climate science is the key to good climate policy. If it is not, then the most damaging accusation raised by the sceptical community will have been laid to rest" contain two misunderstandings. The first is one of hubris, that there can be a "climate policy". Human effects are orders of magnitude below natural ones and lost in the noise.

The second is in the way that science works (or, more accurately, used to work). If in any field there were a disagreement, a conference or colloquium would be called. The opponents would carry on a vigorous altercation to resolve the issue. Then they would retire amicably to the bar.

Now there have to be two conferences, one for the traditional scientists, which is largely ignored, the other a lavish media and political jamboree, which receives wide coverage. Furthermore, any sceptic who raises his head above the barricade can be assured of a campaign of calumny and ad hominem attacks from self-appointed guardians of political correctness.

British Labour Party government fails the lower classes it claims to help

The naturally bright and those from professional homes are doing well as always. It is the average kids who are being failed by politically correct educational policies that do not work

The gap between the most and least able primary school children is widening, official figures suggest. The Department for Education figures show that there was little improvement in England's state primaries this year, although more girls achieved the standard level 4 than boys. At the top end, however, the proportion reaching level 5 - that expected of 14-year-olds - rose faster in mathematics and in English.

Nine years after Labour came to power, analysis of the results also shows that four in ten children have still not mastered the expected levels of reading, writing and arithmetic when they leave primary school. Education secretaries have consistently maintained that level 4 is the minimum standard necessary for children to be able to cope with the rigours of the national curriculum at secondary school. Overall, national curriculum tests taken last summer showed that the improvement rate among England's primaries has slowed. While the numbers achieving level 4 in English rose 12 percentage points to 75 per cent between 1997 and 2000. Six years on it has risen to only 79 per cent, with more than a quarter of boys failing to meet that standard.

Figures also show that the proportion of boys able to read properly fell by three percentage points this year to 79 per cent. In maths, 76 per cent of pupils were able to count properly compared with 75 per cent in 2005. Of those, 76 per cent of boys achieved level 4 or above, ahead of girls by one percentage point.

Both levels are far below the Government's target of 85 per cent in English and maths. There was a rise of one percentage point in science pupils reaching level 4 - 87 per cent of 11-year-olds. At level 5, girls continue to outshine boys. In English, results rose by five percentage points to 32 per cent and in maths by two percentage points, to 33 per cent, although in science they fell by one percentage point to 46 per cent.

Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, said the results showed that Labour had come a "long way since 1997" when a third of 11-year-olds failed to reach the expected standard. But he admitted that more needed to be done for the bottom fifth of pupils, who were being left behind in English and maths. "We are determined to redouble our efforts to help the one in five 11-year-olds who are still not reaching the standard required of their age in literacy and mathematics," he said. "That is why we are renewing our literacy strategy with phonics at the heart of the teaching of reading and more demanding standards of mental arithmetic."

The Government said that from September all five-year-olds must be taught to read using a traditional "phonics" method.

With 118,000 pupils failing to meet the expected standards in English and 138,600 unable to add up properly, Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said league table figures showed that the National Literacy Strategy had been a "wasted opportunity". "More than a quarter of boys are leaving primary school not having mastered basic proficiency in reading and writing, despite six years of education," he said.


Friday, December 08, 2006


Post lifted from Bruce Bawer's blog -- dated October 29, 2006

I have before me two news items dated October 24th. One of them is from the Gay Community News, which reports that "The leading imam in Manchester...thinks the execution of sexually active gay men is justified."  The imam made his comments in a discussion with a Manchester psychotherapist, John Casson, who wanted the imam to clarify the Islamic position on the execution of gays in Iran.  Both Jihad Watch and Little Green Footballs linked to this story at GCN.  I've looked in vain for it in the major British newspapers.

The other item is a story from reporting that the BBC "has admitted to a marked bias against Christianity and a strong inclination to pro-Muslim reporting among the network's executives and key anchors."  It has also admitted that "the corporation is dominated by homosexuals."  These admissions came at a secret "impartiality summit" that the Daily Mail reported on last Sunday.  The Telegraph ran an opinion column about this summit, but otherwise I can't find any reference to it on the websites of other major UK papers.

So the question is this: did the gay-dominated but Muslim-friendly BBC report on the Manchester imam's comments?  I searched the BBC site and found a brief story dated Thursday, October 26 -- meaning that apparently the BBC took two days to get around to reporting this.  And look how they spun it.  The story is framed not as a report of a Muslim leader's affirmation of the legitimacy under Islam of executions of gay people, but as a report of an effort to smear Muslims. 

The headline: "Imam accused of 'gay death' slur."  The lead: "A gay rights campaigner has accused an Imam of saying the execution of gay Muslims to stop the spread of disease is 'for the common good of man.'"  The brief story that follows seems designed to raise doubts about the accuracy of Casson's account of his conversation with the imam.  And the piece concludes with comments from Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, who essentially dismisses the issue of Muslim executions of gay people -- "He said homosexuality was 'not compatible' with Islam, just as it was not compatible with other orthodox religions, such as Catholicism" -- and who complains that giving attention to this issue "is part of demonising Muslims."

That's right -- to draw attention to the fact that orthodox Muslim belief approves of the execution of homosexuals is to demonize Muslims. The BBC story ends there.  There's no indication of any effort to pin Shadjareh down on Muslim attitudes toward gays, no mention of the many previous occasions on which Muslim religious leaders have said essentially the same thing the Manchester imam did, no quote from a gay-rights activist, and (of course) no quote from a straight-talking Islam expert like Robert Spencer who might have explained that sharia law does indeed prescribe capital punishment for homosexuals

If the BBC is in fact dominated by gays, I as a gay man am ashamed of and disgusted by every last one of them.  What can they possibly think they're accomplishing by whitewashing Islam in this fashion?  It's as if a Jewish media organization in the 1930s kept itself busy propagandizing for the Nazis and covering up plans for the Holocaust.


It's a prescription that has the charm of not costing the NHS anything

The unfit, overweight and elderly will be told this week to take up the tango in the interests of their health. Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, is expected to publish a new report showing that prescribing exercise is a cost-effective way of improving health. She will recommend that street dancing, tango classes and trampolining should be encouraged. "Anything you enjoy that makes you more active is good thing," a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said yesterday. "People love dancing." But the actual cost of a visit to the local disco or th, dansant would not be paid by the NHS, she said. It would be more a case of GPs making clear to their patients that all forms of exercise, not just working out in a gym, have their value.

The report to be published this week is the final evaluation of pilot programmes backed by the department, Sport England and the Countryside Agency to try to encourage people with a sedentary lifestyle to take more exercise. For at least a decade the department has been promoting "exercise on prescription" in local areas and as pilot programmes. But funding has been sporadic and enthusiasm from GPs not always wholehearted. And there is little evidence that the programmes are cost-effective. The 2.5 million pound local exercise action pilots began in 2004 and have been evaluated by Leeds Metropolitan University. Its report is expected to say that GP referrals to exercise and walking classes have worked for the older adults, while swimming works better for younger people. "Different categories of intervention engage users with different demographic profiles and baseline levels of physical activity," it found.

The evidence suggests that this kind of intervention can reduce the number of inactive people by about a third. The data also indicate that all those involved increased their activity levels to some degree. Sedentary people exercised about an hour-and-a-half more each week.

Ms Flint will emphasise that activity can take many different forms. One primary care trust sent teachers into schools to encourage girls between 10 and 16 to spend time dancing. While Ms Flint will not suggest that dancing classes are the solution to Britain's obesity epidemic, they have a role.

In another programme, over-50s were encouraged to box, skip and take part in a "tango warm-down". Yet others were taken for walks in the woods where they built shelters out of sticks.

Twenty or 30 years ago, higher levels of activity would have been considered part of a normal life, but Britain has become increasingly sofa-bound. A plethora of small initiatives, such as the promise of "personal trainers" paid for by NHS, has given the impression of government activity, but the rise in obesity has not been halted. The report is expected to make a series of recommendations about how physical activity interventions should be planned and organised in future. It says that such schemes require a broad mix of skills not easily found, and that consultation with the target groups and with community groups is needed to ensure that people participate. Participants also need to know that the schemes will not last for ever, but are simply designed to give them a short-term boost. They will need then to continue without support. The report is expected to conclude that more investment would be justified, as persuading people to be more active saves money in the long run. Ms Flint will announce that GPs will be asked to discuss physical activity with their patients, and complete questionaires recording how active they are.



Property developers were given the go-ahead yesterday to build on the green belt with radical proposals to speed up the construction of homes and shops. Kate Barker, the economist commissioned by Gordon Brown to address planning delays, called for an urgent review of green-belt boundaries. She suggested that some of it could meet housing needs. Ms Barker also proposed giving the go-ahead for more supermarkets and shopping malls, both in town centres and on their outskirts. She made it clear that the market, rather than councils, should dictate development.

The Barker Review of Land Use Planning argues that economic and social benefit should take precedence in siting future developments, even if that meant encroaching on undeveloped land. Many of her proposals, including a new planning commission for national projects such as nuclear power stations, are expected to be contained in a White Paper next year.

The report, which enraged environment and rural groups such as Friends of the Earth, says that business developers and communities face high costs due to a slow and bureacratic planning system. Current restrictions had also stifled competition and choice while more houses were desperately needed.

Ms Barker, a member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, argued that green belt boundaries often led to increased emissions and pollution caused by commuters in cars, buses and trains. She recommends redrawing the green belt to include "green wedges" or "green corridors" with spaces for homes and other developments. Much of the green belt, which accounts for 12.9 per cent of all land in England, was "low value agricultural land with little landscape quality and limited public access", Ms Barker said. Much of the urban fringe was run down and could be used to develop homes or businesses, she argued, citing a poll suggesting that most people were unaware how little land was already developed. But Friends of the Earth said that her recommendations would give business and supermarket chains a much bigger say and have a "devastating impact on the environment and local democracy".

Hugh Ellis, Friends of the Earth's planning adviser, said: "Barker's vision of uncontrolled development will mean communities have little or no say in how their local area is developed." The Campaign to Protect Rural England said that her recommendations would speed up urban sprawl all over the countryside. "Green belts have never been entirely sacrosanct, nor should they be, but they are one of England's most effective, best known and most popular planning tools," Shaun Spiers, the CPRE's chief executive, said.

Caroline Spelman, the Shadow Communities Secretary, said: "The Conservatives will oppose the plans for a new, undemocratic government quango to impose development on local communities. I fear that Gordon Brown, the arch-centraliser, is consigning local democracy to the scrapheap."

Although Ms Barker has suggested that the current presumption in favour of building first in town centres should remain, her proposals will encourage building on outskirts. Property experts said that retailers would be given freer rein to develop out-of-town hypermarkets and warehouse-style stores if her recommendations are accepted.

Ms Barker has suggested the removal of the "needs test", under which local authorities can block retail, housing or commercial property development if a community is already well served with such facilities. "Investors who are risking their capital and whose business it is to assess likely customer demand are better placed than local authorities to determine the nature and scale of demand," she said.

However, Stuart Robinson, head of planning at CB Richard Ellis, the property company, said: "She might as well rip up the whole town-centre-first policy. There is no way local authorities could prevent a whole raft of different buildings going straight out to unsustainable locations."

Ms Barker argues that other guidelines, including a "sequential test", which determines that developments must opt for a town-centre location if at all possible, and an "impact assessment", which examines the economic and environmental impact of developments, would promote towncentre development. But her report indicates that more out-of-town development would be desirable in promoting competition among retailers. They gave a cautious welcome to Ms Barker's recommendations. Tesco said that the proposals would speed up planning decisions and reduce the complexity of the system.

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco's corporate and legal affairs director, said: "This should lead to smoother and faster development, wind turbines included, but it reiterates support for the town-centres-first policy." A spokesman for Asda said: "We believe these changes in the planning regime would be good for customers by increasing choice, while being consistent with sustainable development."


Can British Wine Grapes Resolve a Global Warming Question?

By Dennis T. Avery

British wine grapes are suddenly in the midst of the global warming controversy. Historic records tell us that Britain grew wine grapes 2000 years ago during the Roman Warming, and 1000 years ago during the Medieval Warming. Since 1300, however, Britain has been too cold for wine grapes. The debate: Is human-induced warming boosting British temperatures to "unnatural" levels, or is the gradual warming a repeat of previous cycles?

The website says there are more than 400 vineyards in Britain today, and ". . . the good news about English wine [is] how good, even superb, it can be." It certainly sounds like Britain has gotten warmer recently, but why? The same web site has a "History" section, which reveals: "In England [today], it is only in about 2 years in every 10 that grape production will be really good, 4 years will be average and 4 years poor or terrible-largely due to weather and/or disease exacerbated by weather." (Sounds as if we aren't quite to "wine country warmth yet, doesn't it?)

The same web site also says: "In the 1990s the increase in the number of vineyards and the acreage under cultivation has leveled off, maybe even declined a little. There are a number of reasons for this- many English vineyards have undoubtedly been established with little knowledge of, or even concern for, their financial viability. A saying has grown up that the best way to get a small fortune is to have a large fortune and buy an English vineyard. Whilst this is cruel, it is also pretty certain that it is true."

The web site RealClimate, though it believes fervently in man-made global warming, accurately laid out the last 1000 years of British wine-making on July 12, 2006: "The earliest documentation that is better than anecdotal is from the Domesday Book (1087 AD) . . . Selley quotes Unwin (J. Wine Research, 1990) who records 46 vineyards across Southern England [at that time] . . . production clearly declined after the 13th century, and had a modest resurgence in the 17th and 18th centuries, only to decline to historic lows in the 19th century when only 8 vineyards are recorded. . . . English and Welsh wine production started to have a renaissance in the 1950s. By 1977, there were 124 reasonable-sized vineyards in production-more than at any other time over the previous millennium."

So, British wine-making thrived during the Medieval Warming, failed during the Little Ice Age (1300 to 1850), and began to make a comeback in the 1950s, after major world temperature surges between 1850-70 and 1920-40. The uncertain quality of today's British wine grapes indicates that Britain still isn't as warm now as during the Roman and Medieval Warmings.

This argues that we're in a long, natural climate cycle. So does the fact that more than 70 percent of the planet's recent warming occurred before 1940, and thus before humans emitted much CO2. Ice cores and seabed sediments show the 1500-year cycle extending back 900,000 years, and carbon 14 isotopes say it's linked to variations in the sun's irradiance.

British wine-growers are likely to have several more moderately warmer centuries in which to prosper. And wine-lovers will have more-pleasant weather in which to enjoy the wines than they did during the cold, cloudy and stormy Little Ice Age. A reduction in fossil fuel use might be a good strategy for the future, but apparently would have little impact on earth's climate.


Mr Avery might also have mentioned that modern British winegrowing is materially assisted by modern agricultural techniques, including selective breeding of varieties suited to different climates and the use of hardy American rootstocks that were not available in Britain prior to a certain voyage by Christopher Columbus

Creativity by numbers

The UK Creative Partnerships scheme for deprived schools seems more interested in exercising children’s bodies rather than their minds.

‘School should be anything but uniform’, says Creative Partnerships (CP), a £140million scheme brought in by the UK government in 2002 to put the arts back into the timetable for schools in deprived areas. CP was conceived because many teachers were complaining about the straitjacket conformism produced by grade targets, literacy hours and league tables. As former arts minister Estelle Morris said in 2003: ‘It is often said that arts and creative work in schools have been squeezed out…. There is a need to build on that and to recognise the place of arts and culture in our curriculum.’

Schools play a vital role in bringing cultural experience to the next generation. But a closer inspection of CP raises serious questions about what ‘creativity’ has come to mean today, and how teachers are supposed to engage with young people’s minds.

CP’s stated aim is to widen pupils’ cultural experiences and ‘develop imaginative ways of thinking and learning’. Its focus has not been on strengthening traditional subjects, such as art and design, drama or music, but on the more vague concept of ‘creativity’. The scheme has worked with 2,500 schools, setting up partnerships with organisations so that pupils can have the experience of working alongside creative practitioners, such as writers, designers, entrepreneurs, artists and performers.

But a glance through a sample of projects shows that while there is much stress on creativity, risk-taking, innovation and imagination, there is very little attention given to the importance of cultural knowledge. This seems to lead to a preoccupation with how to develop students psychologically, rather than how to give them greater knowledge of the world in order to engage in it.

For instance, in one CP project, Reigate Primary School in Derby took 120 children from years four and five off timetable for a whole week to run an imaginary recycling plant, ‘taking on different roles and responding to events in a rapidly unfolding narrative, with the help of a theatre company’. Sounds like fun, but is this creative learning or play-acting? What are students learning except how they, as inexperienced children, might react to a slightly unreal situation?

CP also seems to be about telling students how to live their lives. CP Black Country sent pupils to a nightclub where they worked with a theatre company to ‘get students to talk about what a bad night out might be like’. After flashing lights and loud music, they were given talks by the police and community safety officers about the risks of carrying weapons, getting home safely, drink-spiking and teenage pregnancy. Usually young people will do anything to get out of the classroom for a day, but it is hard to believe their imaginations are really ignited by this stuff.

Although the original idea of CP was to return arts and culture back to the school timetable, the word ‘creativity’ has become more about a particular style of education, rather than an understanding of arts practice. One London-based filmmaker I spoke to was very positive about CP but stressed that her role was more about encouraging creative thinking and ‘school change’. She said it didn’t matter if the creative person was an artist or a doctor or a scientist – so long as they were ‘creative’. She valued CP because it showed that not all pupils learn by pen and paper; in other words, not all students can be expected to achieve good academic standards because they have different kinds of ‘intelligences’.

The fascination with creativity reflects the influence of modern educational theories since the 1970s, which privilege the psychological process and ‘student-centred’ education. The thrust of these theories was to suggest that each child has a different way of learning, which makes them more or less receptive to different kinds of knowledge. Probably the most influential in popularising this approach is Howard Gardner’s 1983 book Frames of Mind, which promoted the notion of numerous ‘intelligences’ (linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, intrapersonal, interpersonal). Implicit within this approach was a belief that some students were inherently unsuited to academic teaching.

The importance of personalised learning has been rapidly institutionalised under New Labour (see for instance the Department for Education and Skills’ policy document Every Child Matters), with dramatic effect. As Mark Taylor, a history teacher and commentator on educational trends has noted, ‘The re-orientated education system is increasingly interested in diagnosing the intelligences of the particular child rather than educating the general child to be intelligent’ (2). The particular mind of the child determines the teaching content, not the general body of knowledge judged to be worth imparting. Teachers are preoccupied with the process of engagement over what the child is actually learning.

With this in mind, creative education projects are now self-consciously designed to be the opposite of ‘conventional’ teaching methods – getting children out of the classroom, talking and moving around, using mixed media, relaxing with teachers, and even in some cases asking the children what they want to do. The assumption is that children are more engaged if they’re moving around and talking than if they are sitting quietly and learning from a book.

It is certainly difficult to get young people to sit down and read without distraction, but to give up on this as a form of education and act as if it is ‘second best’ is to fundamentally misunderstand the process of learning. Engagement is ultimately gauged by what goes on in the head, not the classroom.

Few teachers want to admit this to their students, but acquiring knowledge often requires self-discipline, working quietly, memorising information, and repeated practice. Without some of these elements, it is impossible to give young people the ability to grasp complex ideas, deal in abstract thought, and remember vast amounts of information. These capacities are not opposed to creative experiences; they are a necessary part of creative experiences. Indeed, it is this ability to master language that makes literature interesting, or listening to an orchestra a newly discovered pleasure.

In fact, scanning the CP projects, one has to wonder whether they are actually more interesting than normal lessons. Year threes at Accrington Peel Park Primary School are designing banners which will ‘illustrate the themes of aspiration, creativity, communication and play’, as well as providing an ‘experience of working in the creative industries’ and ‘developing their team work skills’. CP projects often seem more like training to become a New Labour citizen: decision-making, consultation, risk assessment, emotionally engaging with others, participating and developing dialogue. Yet while personal development is important in schooling, it is hard to see how this can be taught as an end in itself. As Oftsed’s report into CP noted, the students ‘were often unclear about how to apply these qualities independently to develop original ideas and outcomes’.

It would be wrong to dismiss CP altogether – many of the projects are impressive, ambitious and seem enjoyable for all involved. For example, schools in Manchester have teamed up with the prestigious Halle Orchestra to ‘adopt a player’ so that children can experience (often for the first time) a visit to a music concert. Schools in Plymouth have teamed up with the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra to give their A-level music students a chance to hear their digital compositions played on string instruments. These are no doubt valuable experiences pushed through by teachers and artists who are passionate about art. For many headteachers, CP can offer a much-needed pot of money that allows them to run imaginative schemes they could not otherwise afford. Yet at the same time, CP reinforces the notion that ‘creativity’ is something one does outside normal learning, as a wacky project in a different environment and not something that can be developed through teaching itself.

And while the CP machine rumbles on with praise, other areas of musical instrument training, technical drawing and art history are practically non-existent in schools in deprived areas. For instance, half of all students in the independent sector learn a musical instrument, while only eight per cent of students in the state sector do so. The government has made some positive moves to address this problem, but there is still a long way to go.

Everyone agrees that young people need access to varied cultural experiences and should be taught in a way that stretches their hearts and minds. The better projects of CP might allow some teachers to do this, but the overall philosophy of ‘creativity’ and personalised learning might make things worse.


Four big, fat food myths

A comprehensive debunking of the obesity crusade from Britain

The Government wants to set up a database to monitor every child in the country - including their diet. But are our children as obese and unhealthy as we are told? And what about us? Health researchers argue that being overweight is actually beneficial: it's dieting that kills

Big Brother has an ambition: to become Big Nanny. The Government wants to introduce a o224 million "Children's Index", a massive database of every child in the country, charting progress from birth to adulthood and flagging up "concerns" about each child's development. Two "flags" on a child's record would trigger an official investigation into his or her family.

Not surprisingly, Parliament's Information Commissioner, in a report last week, was highly critical of the scheme. "Government policy proposes treating all parents as if they cannot be trusted to bring up their children," the report said. Increasingly, this is just what the Government and health campaigners believe. One of the proposed danger signs on the Children's Index, after all, would be if the child were not eating the requisite, government-approved amount of fruit and vegetables each day.

These health campaigners tell us that British children - and their parents - must be slimmed down because we, like much of the developed world, are in the grip of an obesity epidemic that threatens a health catastrophe. Indeed, the US surgeon general has claimed that obesity is "a greater threat than weapons of mass destruction". The media has picked up on the scares and turned them into a kind of orthodoxy. For instance, the term "childhood obesity" occurred only twice in The Guardian in 1999. In 2004, it occurred 201 times, almost four times a week. The public have become convinced that the "epidemic" is a fact.

Yet the obesity epidemic is a myth manufactured by public health officials in concert with assorted academics and special-interest lobbyists. These crusaders preach a sermon consisting of four obesity myths: that we and our children are fat; that being fat is a certain recipe for early death; that our fatness stems from the manufacturing and marketing practices of the food industry (hence Ofcom's recently announced ban on junk food advertising to children); and that we will lengthen our lives if only we eat less and lose weight. The trouble is, there is no scientific evidence to support these myths.

Let's start with the myth of an epidemic of childhood obesity. The just-published Health Survey for England, 2004 does not show a significant increase in the weight of children in recent years. The Department of Health report found that from 1995 to 2003 there was only a one-pound increase in children's average weight.

Nor is there any evidence in claims that overweight and obese children are destined to become overweight and obese adults. The Thousand Families Study has researched 1,000 Newcastle families since 1954. Researchers have found little connection between overweight children and adult obesity. In the study, four out of five obese people became obese as adults, not as children.

There is not even any compelling scientific evidence to support the Government's claim that childhood obesity results in long-term health problems and lowers one's life expectancy. In fact, the opposite may be true: we could be in danger of creating a generation of children obsessed with their weight with the consequent risk of eating disorders that really do threaten their health. Statistics on the numbers of children with eating disorders are hard to come by, but in the US it is estimated that 10 per cent of high school pupils suffer from them. Recent studies show adults' attempts to control children's eating habits result in children eating more rather than less. Parental finger wagging increases the likelihood that children develop body-image problems as well as eating disorders.

One of the principal targets of the obesity crusaders has been the school vending machine. However, the banning of these machines and their stocks of snacks and sweets is very much at odds with the most recent science on children, junk food, and obesity. In 2004, a World Health Organisation study of 8,904 British pupils found that overweight children ate sweets less frequently than normal-weight children did. Children who ate larger amounts of junk food actually had less chance of being overweight.

One large-scale American study spent three years tracking almost 15,000 boys and girls aged between nine and 14 to investigate the links between body mass index and the consumption of fruit and vegetables. It found no correlation, and concluded that "the recommendation for consumption of fruit and vegetables may be well founded, but should not be based on a beneficial effect on weight regulation".

The parallel claim of an adult obesity epidemic is equally unsubstantiated. There has been significant weight gain among the very heaviest segment of the adult population. However, this has not been true of most of the individuals who are labelled overweight and obese, whose weights have only slightly increased. In America, it is true that there was a rapid increase in the number of overweight people in the early years of this decade: but only because the classification of what was "overweight" was reduced from those with a body mass index of 27 to those of 25. Overnight, previously normal weight people discovered they were overweight.

The science linking weight to early death is flimsy, at best. Neither being fat nor moderately obese is associated with increased mortality risks. Last year, a US Centres for Disease Control study found the lowest death rates among overweight people. Furthermore, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that normal- weight individuals did not outlive their mildly obese counterparts. These findings are replicated in many studies over the past 30 years that have found maximum longevity is associated with being above, rather than below, average weight.

Nor, as is often claimed, does the nature of our diet seem to have much impact on mortality. Comparative studies analysing fat and blood cholesterol levels across different cultures fail to sustain the claims of a cause-and-effect connection between life expectancies and diets. Crete, with its Mediterranean diet, has one of the lowest incidences of heart disease, yet has a fat intake of 40 per cent, similar to the British level.

It is now well established that a low-fat diet does little to reduce the risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women. The only certainty about the obesity-diet-mortality connection is that, as the late epidemiologist Petr Skrabanek observed: "People who eat, die."

There is not even evidence that the heavily-advertised, much-criticised foods such as sugary breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks make children obese. A 2004 Harvard University study examined 14,000 children and found that junk food did not lead to obesity.

Extensive econometric studies debunk the connection between food advertising and overall food consumption. Food advertising may influence the consumption of particular food brands. It does not, however, increase either total food consumption or the consumption of specific categories of food. All of which is consistent with the fact that caloric intake for British children has not changed significantly over recent decades. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that, since 1983, both boys' and girls' energy intake had actually declined.

Equally unsupported is the obesity crusaders' campaign for population-wide weight loss. While they try to convince us that we are desperately fat and that our fatness will kill us, the truth about the risks of thinness and the large numbers of thinness-related deaths is quietly ignored. Large numbers of women suffer from anorexia, with one in five hospital cases ending in death. A survey of 5,000 British women in 2000 found that four in 10 had suffered from an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. These numbers do not take into account the many men and women, neither anorexic nor bulimic, who place themselves at risk through their fixation with dieting.

Contemporary weight gain is not the result of higher food consumption; rather, it reflects a lack of exercise. For the first time in many years, membership of British gyms is in decline. A survey found that most overweight British women seeking to shed pounds choose a fashionable diet over cardiovascular exercise or lifting weights at a gym. Overweight women are more likely to turn to cosmetic surgery, slimming pills or starvation to solve their problems, than to exercise.

But the sad truth is that attempts at weight loss are largely unsuccessful, even in highly controlled situations. Of every 100 people who respond to the crusaders' sermon that they should lose weight, only four will be able to maintain their post-diet weight. Ninety-five per cent of dieters are fatter five years after their diet then when they started to trim.

Weight-loss campaigners also ignore evidence of an association between weight loss and increased mortality. Two American studies - the Iowa Women's Health Study and the American Cancer Society study - found that weight loss was associated with higher rates of mortality. Research following up the ACS study found that healthy obese women were, in fact, better off not losing weight. They were at less risk from cancer and cardiovascular disease than healthy women who dieted.

Obesity crusaders believe that the nanny state has the right to define and enforce a single vision of what constitutes healthy living a good life. The government's judgment is considered inherently superior to any individual's judgment that fatness is at least personally tolerable. The obesity crusade presumes a nursery nation comprised of docile infant-citizens too uncertain of their own values to be left to make their own way in a world in which an evil Ronald McDonald lurks under every archway. Obesity crusaders believe the individual has an obligation to order his life according to their judgment about health, and that the government may justifiably force him to conform if he demurs.

The lasting legacy of the obesity crusade will be both a much fatter government and a much thinner citizenry. The government will be fatter through its expanded power to shape inappropriately the lives of its citizens. Britons will be thinner in their capacity for choice, self-government, and personal responsibility.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Racist Rolf

Rolf Harris is an Australian-born artist and singer who is particularly popular as a children's entertainer in England. He has received the highest accolade possible for a portrait painter in that the Queen recently sat for him.

He has now apologised for using racist language in the song that launched his career, Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, written in 1957:

"The opening lines tell of a dying stockman giving his friends instructions on how they should treat his pet animals, such as "keep me cockatoo cool, Curl" and "take me koala back, Jack" before the fifth verse:

Let me Abos go loose, Lou,
Let me Abos go loose.
They're of no further use, Lou,
So let me Abos go loose.
Altogether now!

In an interview with Radio Scotland to be broadcast on Sunday, 76-year-old Harris admitted that those lines were racist and said he wished he had never written them.


At the time, it was common for Aborigines (often abbreviated as "Abos") to work in the Australian cattle industry as cowboys etc. They were however viewed as unreliable employees (principallly because of their custom of "going walkabout" (decamping) at unpredictable and inconvenient times) and were paid less than white employees. It was however one of the few employment avenues open to many of them because of their low levels of education etc.

Subsequently, empoyers were forced by law to pay Aborigines at the same rate as white employees -- thus bringing to an almost total end Aboriginal employment in the cattle industry. They are now heavily dependant on welfare payments from the Federal government.

Interestingly, the judges who brought down the equal pay ruling said at the time that they knew that the Aborigines were less valued employees and that the ruling would throw most of them out of work. The Harris song did then express the common view of Aborigines at the time -- as being of little use. Similar views are probably still widely held but can no longer be safely expressed, of course.

Some people of ill-will have apparently suggested that the line in the song, "Let me Abos go loose" implies that Aborigines were enslaved at the time. Only a Leftist would think so. The evident meaning of the line is to "Let them go" in modern parlance -- i.e. cease to employ them.


The closure of accident and emergency services at some hospitals is in the interests of patients, the Government said yesterday. Presenting them as part of a plan to create "super-A&Es" to deal with heart attacks, strokes, and aortic aneurysms, Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, sought to halt a tide of opposition to the closures. They were not about saving money but about saving lives, she asserted.

If that were true, Andrew Lansley, her Conservative opposite number retorted, it could have been done before, not after, financial deficits in the NHS had come to light.

The Department of Health published two reports to support the claims by Ms Hewitt. They called for "reconfiguration" of A&E services, to allow specialist centres for the most serious conditions to be created, and enable more people to be treated in their homes. According to Professor Roger Boyle, the national director for heart disease and strokes, local A&E units are not the best places for providing good care for patients suffering from either of these conditions. Specialist centres might mean a longer journey for many people, but they would produce better results, saving the the lives of 500 people suffering heart attacks every year, preventing 1,000 further heart attacks and saving 1,000 more stroke victims from death and disability, he said.

Sir George Alberti, the national director for emergency access, said: "We have to be up front and tell the public that, in terms of modern medicine, some of the A&E departments that they cherish are not able to provide this type of care and cannot and will not be able to provide the degree of specialisation and specialist cover that modern medicine dictates the public deserves." It would be better, he said, for many patients to bypass the local hospital and be taken by highly trained paramedics to specialist centres. " `But won't I die on the way?' many people ask," he said. "No, you won't. Long ambulance journeys do not lead to more deaths."

Ms Hewitt said: "Whenever the A&E starts to talk about reorganising, people think it's all about money and it isn't. It's about saving more people's lives, it's about making care more convenient, it's about getting the money into the right place so that people get the best care from the right person at the right time."

The Government fears that it is losing the argument over NHS reconfigurations, which involve A&E and maternity services, among others. The reports, published yesterday, are designed to present the issue more positively, by showing that change might not mean worse care. But the argument assumes that the money saved by closing some A&Es is devoted to building others into specialised centres. That is not guaranteed. Karen Jennings, the head of health at the public sector union Unison, said: "The climate of debt in the NHS puts the development of new policy under suspicion. We are extremely concerned that these policies may be being driven by deficits, not what is best for patient care. "If we move towards more specialist units we still need to ensure that patients have access to really good local A&E departments."

Geoff Martin, of the campaign group Health Emergency, said: "Claiming that closing local A&E departments, trauma units and intensive-care facilities will improve services turns all logic on its head. People are fighting these closures in their tens of thousands up and down the country because they know that closing local services and increasing journey times puts lives at risk."

Mr Lansley did not dissent from the idea of specialist units, which he has championed for some years. But he said that the patients who would be sent to them represented, at most, 5 per cent of all A&E attenders. "I accept the need for specialisation, but this should not be used to justify taking accessible A&E departments away from district general hospitals," he said.

Ms Hewitt said that casualty services in future would divide into three kinds, with "super- A&Es" for people with the most serious conditions, local A&Es for most treatment and the A&E that "will come to you" for less serious injuries. "Financial problems are forcing people to look at changes they ought to be doing anyway, and in a few cases financial problems are driving people to make changes they should have done years ago," she said.

The report by Sir George Alberti arrives at a similar conclusion. "Finances may have been the issue that drew the media's attention, but they are not the reason for reform," it said. "Reforming emergency care is about responding to medical advances and providing new and better services in ways that allow the NHS to save more lives."

Beverly Malone, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Any changes must be subject to full and proper consultation with staff, unions, patients and local communities - after all, it's our NHS and we all deserve a say in how it is run and reformed." The Government has not produced a list of trusts where A&E departments have closed or are threatened. But the Tories say they have identified hospitals in 29 NHS trusts


Cheating in British schools

Schools should consider using signal blocking devices to prevent pupils using mobile phone text messaging and two-way pagers to cheat in examinations, a leading expert on exam fraud said yesterday. Jean Underwood, a Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, also called for the introduction of photoidentity checks to prevent pupils getting someone else to sit their exams for them.

In a report published yesterday by the exams watchdog, the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA), Professor Underwood said that although most of the debate on the use of new technology and cheating had focused on universities, the problem was likely to be more widespread in schools. "The problems of academic dishonesty may be less well researched in the school system than in the tertiary education sector, but all the evidence points to the problem being both real and on a significant and growing scale," she said.

The report by Professor Underwood, Digital Technologies and Dishonesty in Examinations and Tests, lists a range of digital techniques that students routinely use to cheat. Some have been caught getting friends outside the examinations hall to text or page answers cribbed from the internet; others have used hand-held electronic personal organisers to store notes and to exchange answers with other exam takers in the same hall.

During coursework, students routinely cut and paste essays bought over the internet and present them as their own work. In one survey, three quarters admitted to cheating: 15 per cent had obtained a paper from the internet, while 52 per cent had copied a few sentences from a website without revealing the source.

Professor Underwood noted that while digital technology may have made cheating easier, it does not seem to be the sole cause. About 90 per cent of students who use the internet to plagiarise have also plagiarised from books. Younger students are more likely to use digital devices to cheat, possibly because their understanding of the technology is more sophisticated.

While the introduction of "honour codes" for students can reduce cheating, Professor Underwood also calls for a more practical approach. Most mobile phone jamming devices are illegal, because they may interfere with other equipment, but devices that detect signals are available and schools should investigate their use, she said. The banning of mobile phones in exam halls tends not to be effective. "There are now very inexpensive devices (about 100 pounds) which can silently detect mobile technology devices as they are switched on or off and when in use. These devices have a limited range so would need to be walked around an examination hall."

Her report also highlights more low-tech, traditional forms of cheating. Because teachers no longer routinely invigilate in examinations and the job is often carried out by external examiners who do not know pupils personally, the scope for impersonation was greater than before. Photo-identity checks and biometric identification methods could be used to combat this, she suggested.

Isabel Nisbet, director of regulation and standards at the QCA, said that last year 1,900 pupils were caught taking a mobile phone into an exam hall. "This is only a minute proportion of the numbers taking exams and these are just the cases we know about - we don't know what the actual position is, but we do need to be aware of it," she said. She said that the QCA would look into the recommendations. "We can use technology to foil technology, but that is not the whole answer. The real answer is to create an attitude and culture among young people that they should not cheat," she said.

More here


In the hands of Shane Warne [a champion Australian bowler (pitcher) who has just devastated the England cricket team presently touring Australia], a cricket ball is an offensive weapon. A total of 650 fallen wickets prove it. Police on a London Underground station thought it was an equally dangerous item in the hands of Chris Hurd, a 28-year-old City accountant who occasionally bowls leg spin for his local team in Belsize Park, North London.

Mr Hurd claimed that he had been merely holding the ball as he rode the escalator at Baker Street station in London when he was stopped by a female British Transport Police officer and subjected to a ten-minute inquisition and allegations that he was carrying "a very hard object", which he should not have done in public as it was a potentially lethal weapon. He had, he said, taken the ball to work because he planned to watch the opening Ashes Test between England and Australia in a pub with friends later in the evening. Earlier in the day he had been throwing it in the air to strengthen his spin-bowling muscles.

But by the time he got to the station, he said, he was holding it firmly in his hand. He accused the officer of ridiculous overreaction. "There was a policewoman on the step below me and she was staring at the ball all the way up. As we got to the top she tapped me on the shoulder and said she wanted a word."

Mr Hurd, who works for Ernst and Young, the accountants, said the officer asked him if he knew he was carring a very hard object and he replied: "Yes, it's a cricket ball." She confiscated the ball while she questioned Mr Hurd for ten minutes, gave him a verbal warning and filled out a stop-and-search report.

"I told her I was only carrying it because the Ashes were about to start and I was very excited. I was wearing a very boring suit and looked every inch the bean-counter I am. It is not as if I was unshaven and looked dangerous. But she was completely humourless and showed no understanding of my excitement," Mr Hurd said. "When she let me go and gave me my ball back, she said she was being extremely lenient with me. She failed to realise that I presented no threat whatsoever and I left feeling completely misunderstood."

Mr Hurd said the encounter had shaken his faith in the police, and had caused him to sympathise with members of ethnic minorities who were subjected to stop-and-searches. "How can a cricket ball be an offensive weapon? I don't think it would be anyone's weapon of choice, and all I was doing was holding it. It wasted ten minutes of time for both of us, and left her with paperwork."

A spokesman said that British Transport Police had no knowledge of the incident but added: "Though we recognise England need all the help they can get at the moment, we would advise that the escalator is not the place to practise. "What if the ball was dropped and hit an old lady further down the escalator? "We would advise passengers to be careful, both for themselves and other people at this busy time. To ensure that the Underground is free of crime and free of the fear of crime, our officers maintain a highly visible presence."



Thousands of young women desperate for a "size zero" figure are putting their lives at risk by taking laxatives in the mistaken belief that it speeds up weight loss. Mintel, the consumer goods analyst, has found that the British market for laxatives is now worth œ52 million, up 33 per cent from 2001. The company is is no doubt that desperate slimmers are behind the surge. "On the flipside of over-eating in Britain, we have seen a pre-occupation with undereating and perpetual dieting," said David Bird, senior market analyst at Mintel.

Experts on eating disorders say laxative abuse is now rife, with young people in particular totally unaware of the huge danger it poses to their health. Typically women take "lifestyle laxatives" after bingeing on high-energy, sugar-rich food, hoping that this strategy will prevent the calories from being absorbed. A smaller group of people suffering from bulimia nervosa use laxatives, as well as making themselves sick, to "purge" their systems after a binge.

Steve Bloomfield, a spokesman for the Eating Disorders Association, said that because laxatives are widely available at chemists and supermarkets, young women in particular think they are totally harmless. "Most people binge on sugary foods which are absorbed very quickly, so taking laxatives doesn't actually work if the intention is to lose weight. But they rob the body of vital vitamins and minerals, and, most significantly, potassium, which can result in heart failure."

Research commissioned by the Eating Disorders Association found that one in five women took laxatives to lose weight, with the figures far higher (11 per cent) among female students. The association said that cases it had studied showed a clear pattern of young women who started out just taking one or two laxatives a day but ended up taking dozens as their digestive system adjusted. In extreme cases it ceased to function without the aid of large doses of pills. Mr Bloomfield said that with laxatives cheap and now advertised on prime-time television, girls are learning about them from an earlier age. "A few years ago young people didn't really know about laxatives or where to get them. Now they are in no doubt."

Celia Badley, 42, now an anorexia counsellor, took 20 to 30 laxatives a day in her teens. "When I took them, they made me feel I was losing weight because my tummy was flat, but I didn't lose any weight longer-term. "The side effects were shocking - terrible stomach pain and the inevitable rushing to the loo at inappropriate moments. They were easy to get, even years ago. I would just go from chemist to chemist until I had enough. I now have a very sluggish digestive system and need to eat huge amounts of fibre to avoid constipation. "The key thing to stop people using laxatives is not really to campaign on the dangers, even though they are dangerous. The only thing that would have stopped me taking them at the time was if I had known they did not make me lose weight."

However, the risks of taking large numbers of laxatives are serious. Melissa Booth died of heart failure, aged just 17, as a result of her use of laxatives and diuretics. Speaking to The Times yesterday, Melissa's father Gary recalled how she promised not to take any more laxatives after having undergone hospital treatment for her bulimia. "The Saturday after she came home she begged us not to send her back and promised she wouldn't take them any more," he said. However, she had a heart attack during the night and was found dead the next morning. "She didn't die of bulimia. She died because of a lack of potassium in her system, which triggered a heart attack. "Nothing has changed since then," said Mr Booth. "In fact I think these tablets are even easier to get now."


Tough test of Britishness widened

Mainly applicable to white immigrants from Eastern Europe. Not applicable to hordes of illegal Muslim immigrants of course

Britain has almost doubled the number of new arrivals who must sit new tests on the English language and British way of life. The Blair Government announced yesterday that the tests would be extended to all people seeking to stay in the country indefinitely, after first imposing it last year on applicants for British citizenship. About 200,000 people applied for citizenship last year but another 180,000 would have been covered by the new requirement on people seeking indefinite leave to remain, a status one step short of citizenship.

The so-called Britishness test has also been widened to cover questions about the nation's welfare system, a move lampooned by critics as training new arrivals how to apply for welfare.... The Britishness test involves 24 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 45 minutes, with applicants needing to get at least 18 correct. Sitting the test will cost $34 but failed applicants can sit it as many times as they want, unlike the tougher policy in The Netherlands where there is a maximum of three attempts.

People over 65 will be exempt from the tests, and those with poor English can opt to take a "skills for life" and language course rather than doing the test.

More here

Britain: Adulterer wins the right to privacy: "A high-profile figure in the sports world who had an affair with another man’s wife has won a court order banning the betrayed husband from naming him in the media. In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, Mr Justice Eady granted a temporary injunction to the adulterer — who is in the “public eye” but can be identified only as CC — against the husband, AB. The judge ruled that even a public figure engaging in an adulterous affair had a “right to privacy” under the European Convention on Human Rights to protect his wife and children. The order, which stands until further order or the main trial on February 12, gags the husband from spilling the beans about the affair from “revenge” or “spite” or to make money from the story... The judge, who could find no legal precedent from the 19th or 20th centuries, said that he was faced with “the striking proposition that a spouse whose partner has committed adultery owes a duty of confidence to the third party adulterer to keep quiet about it”. ... He added that since English law did not offer an enforceable right to privacy, CC’s claim was that publication would be a breach of confidence"

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Private schools are 'no better for A levels' (?)

Read the article below and work out what is wrong with the headline that appeared on it (as above but without the question mark). 'A' levels are final High School exams in Britain and are widely relied on for university entry

Private schools often do little better than state schools at A level, according to research suggesting that the brightest pupils perform just as well whatever type of school they attend. The findings, from David Jesson, of York University, raise serious questions about whether parents who make immense financial sacrifices to pay private school fees of up to £20,000 a year are getting good value for money.

Professor Jesson said that he had been surprised by his own research, which showed very little difference between the state and independent sectors in the proportion of the most able students gaining three grade As at A level, now almost essential for gaining a place at Oxford or Cambridge. “This is the demolition of the myth that independent school education is of itself creating better results,” he said.

“State schools are doing an absolutely comparable job with helping the progression of pupils from GCSE to A level. There is very little difference in the outcomes of more able pupils between the two types of school.”

The findings, which contradict recent research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, showing that British independent schools achieve the best results in the world, have already provoked controversy. Alan Smithers, the director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, was sceptical about the findings, which he said went against common sense.

Professor Jesson’s results could also have far-reaching implications for fee-paying parents and for independent schools. Both rely on students at fee-paying schools making up 30 to 40 per cent of Oxbridge entrants.

The Government encourages universities to accept more students from the state sector and parents may start to question the value of keeping their children in the private sector after GCSE.

Professor Jesson’s research is based on the A-level results for the whole country between 2004 and this year and looks specifically at the brightest top 10 per cent of pupils, defined by their performance at GCSE. He compared results in independent schools, state schools, sixth-form colleges and further education colleges.

Among the brightest 5 per cent of children, 75 per cent of those at private school attained three grade As, compared with 74 per cent at sixth-form college and 71 per cent at state school. In the next brightest 5 per cent, 45 per cent of private school pupils gained three grade As, compared with 47 and 41 per cent at sixth-form college and state school students respectively.

“The public expectation is that because people pay a lot of money to go to independent schools, their results should be much better, but they do not appear to be,” said Professor Jesson, an education evaluator and economist, who presented his findings to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust’s annual conference last week.

He had not explored why independent schools seem to offer very little premium value to the brightest A-level students. But he noted a trend for pupils to leave the private sector after their GCSEs to study A levels at sixth-form college. Many state school A-level students could therefore have already benefited from five years in the private sector. He conceded that independent schools may still produce better results than the state sector in subjects most valued by the elite universities, such as science, maths and languages.

A study published by Professor Jesson last year found that the most able 5 per cent at age 11 were only half as likely as those educated privately to achieve three A grades at A level at state schools. His latest research suggests that, by the age of 16, either the most able students may be less affected by their learning environment than younger children, or any disadvantage in the state sector is already over.

Professor Smithers questioned whether using A levels as a comparator between different types of school was sufficiently discriminating, given that A grades were achieved in nearly a quarter of all A levels. “If I were a parent with a child in independent school, I would go with my instincts of what is a good school, rather than be unduly influenced by these figures,” he said.


What the headline should have said is: "Private schools are 'no better for A levels' -- if you are naturally very bright", or "If you are very bright, you will do well in any system" -- which has long been said and which is also what 100 years of IQ research have shown -- that problem-solving ability is highly generalizable from setting to setting. The article does not even purport to address what is true for average pupils or pupils in general. It is the average Joe that the education system makes a difference to. The only thing surprising about Professor Jesson's findings is Professor Jesson's surprise


The Department of Health provoked uproar among doctors yesterday by asking GPs in England to send in correspondence from objectors who do not want their confidential medical records placed on the Spine, a national NHS database. Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said letters from patients who want to keep their private medical details out of the government's reach should be sent to Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, for "full consideration". Campaigners who fear the national database will infringe patients' civil liberties said the exercise would give Ms Hewitt access to the names and addresses of patients most likely to be offended by government intrusion.

GPs wrote to the General Medical Council asking for a ruling on whether Sir Liam had broken the doctors' code of good practice by using his authority to encourage GPs to breach patient confidentiality without clinical justification. Sir Liam's letter complained about "misleading statements" in a Guardian article on November 1 that the police and other agencies might be able to access medical records once they had been loaded on to the national database. The article included a form of words patients could use to ask Ms Hewitt to refrain from uploading their records without their explicit consent. Sir Liam said patients were sending a similar request to GPs instead of the health secretary. He added: "If you do receive any such letters I would ask you to send them to the Department of Health so they may receive full consideration."

Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs' committee, said: "The chief medical officer's intervention is not helpful and GPs should not forward these letters. It is possible that some patients might think this is a breach of confidentiality in that a letter sent to their GP is forwarded to somebody else without their consent." Paul Cundy, the BMA's spokesman on IT, said: "For a GP to forward such letters without the explicit consent of the patient would be a gross breach of privacy. In effect it is asking GPs to spy on his behalf. He should retract immediately. "Since these patients are objecting to the Big Brother society, this is an astonishingly incompetent gaffe."

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, said: "It is not for the government to decide unilaterally to override the wishes of those patients who decide to write to their GP, but not to Ms Hewitt. For the chief medical officer to so recklessly put news management ahead of patient privacy is shocking." The government wants to start uploading a summary of patients' records in trial areas in the spring. Sir Liam reassured GPs: "There will be plenty of time to discuss patients' concerns with them before any data uploads ... in their areas."



Women who are underweight are more at risk of suffering a miscarriage than those who are overweight, research suggests. Women whose body mass index was low - below 18.5 - when they conceived were much more likely to have a miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy. But being overweight appeared to have [no] adverse consequences on a pregnancy.

A study commissioned by the Miscarriage Association suggests that taking vitamin supplements during the first weeks of pregnancy halved the odds of a miscarriage as did eating fresh fruit and vegetables. Even eating chocolate reduced the risk slightly. Other factors that increased the chance of a successful pregnancy included a planned conception and marriage, said the study, which is published online in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology today.

Every year an estimated 250,000 women miscarry, but while there are a number of well-established risk factors, including increased maternal age, high alcohol consumption or fertility problems, the exact cause of most miscarriages is unknown.

Noreen Maconochie and Pat Doyle, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, studied 603 women aged 18 to 55 who had suffered a miscarriage in the first trimester (less than 13 weeks' gestation) and compared their lifestyles with those of more than 6,000 women whose pregnancies progressed beyond 12 weeks. They found that women who had a BMI of less than 18.5 when they conceived were 72 per cent more likely to miscarry in the first trimester. Those with what is considered a normal BMI score of 18.5 to 25, and those above were not found to increase their risk of miscarriage.

Ms Maconochie, the lead author, said yesterday: "Our study confirms the findings of previous studies, which suggest that following a healthy diet, reducing stress and looking after your emotional wellbeing may all play a role in helping women in early pregnancy, or planning a pregnancy, to reduce their risk of miscarriage."

The findings suggested that if a woman was not married or living with a partner, her risk of miscarriage was higher. If she changed partner during pregnancy, her odds increased by 60 per cent. The odds of a miscarriage increased by 60 per cent for women who had a history of abortion and 41 per cent for those who had fertility problems. All types of assisted reproduction were associated with increased odds, but the ratios were highest among pregnancies that resulted from intrauterine insemination or artificial insemination.

The Miscarriage Association said: "These findings are really very interesting and surprising. When it comes to weight most of the anecdotal evidence had previously been around women who were overweight."


An excellent brief comment on the shambles that is the British Conservative Party here. It is such a straight-talking piece that even Britain's conservative "Sunday Telegraph" would not publish it, despite it being written by one of their regular columnists.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Organic chicken is less nutritious, contains more fat and tastes worse than free range or battery-farmed meat, scientists have discovered. Tests on supermarket chicken breasts found organic varieties contained fewer omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of antioxidants, giving the meat an inferior taste. Some were found to contain twice as much cholesterol.

The study, by food scientists at Strathclyde University, contradicts the common view that the premium paid for organic meat guarantees a healthier and tastier product. Despite costing twice as much, the organic products scored lower in all the nutritional tests in the study, "It is safe to say that you are not getting any nutritional benefit from buying organic chicken," said Alistair Paterson, co-author of the study, which is published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. "You could be better off buying conventional or free-range chicken. There is no guarantee that organic chicken gives you more omega-3, better taste or a lower cholesterol level."

Organic food, which is produced according to standards covering the use of pesticides, additives, animal welfare and sustainability, has become big business with sales in the UK doubling in six years. Last year, the market was worth 1.6 billion pounds, up from 800 million in 2000, according to Datamonitor, the market research firm, and is forecast to be worth 2.7 billion by 2010. However, there are growing concerns that the increasing industrialisation of organic farming to meet demand has led to a dilution of its green credentials and quality.

The Strathclyde team found that organic chicken was lower in antioxidants than conventional or free range chicken and, in blind tastings, scored lowest for succulence. According to Paterson, the differences in taste and nutritional composition are due to the feed the animals are given. Synthetic vitamin supplements are standard in conventional feed but are prohibited under organic farming rules.

The Soil Association, representing organic producers, insisted that organic standards were not being compromised. "This research contradicts the bulk of evidence which shows organic food is higher in omega-3, vitamins and minerals than conventional chicken," said Hugh Raven, director of Soil Association Scotland.



They are at last admitting that the "hockey stick" picture of temperature stability before the 20th century is wrong -- but only because they think they can find an explanation for one of the earlier cold periods that does not upset their theories too much. The most honest sentence in the article is however the last one -- which I have highlighted in red.

The Gulf Stream - the ocean current that helps to bring warm weather to much of the North Atlantic region - was significantly weakened during the period known to historians as the Little Ice Age, new research reveals. The discovery supports the notion that a slowing of ocean currents - as some fear might happen in our future - can have significant consequences for climate.

From around 1200 until 1850, during which average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere dipped by around 1 oC, the strength of the Gulf Stream also slackened by up to 10%, oceanographers report. The Gulf Stream, which is part of a vast pattern of currents nicknamed the ocean conveyor belt, carries warm surface waters from the tropical Atlantic northeastwards towards Europe. The reduced flow that occurred during medieval times would have transported less heat, contributing to the icy conditions that persisted until Victorian times.

"This gives us some sense of the natural range in strength. If the change is greater in the future then maybe that will mean something unusual is happening," says David Lund of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who led the research while based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Weakened waters

A weakening Gulf Stream has been predicted to have dire consequences for temperate climates in the Northern Hemisphere. But oceanographers say that it is very unlikely to shut down, as depicted in the Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow. "That's definitely an absurdity," Lund says.

But the new research by Lund's group shows what can happen if the Gulf Stream is weakened. He and his colleagues studied the remains of tiny animals called foraminifera in sediments off the coast of Florida, where currents feed into the Gulf Stream. Changes in the composition of oxygen isotopes in their shells reflect changes in water temperature and salinity, which in turn reveals the density of the water they were living in.

Mapping the water density between Florida and the Bahamas gives the researchers a picture of how fast the current was moving between them. Lund and his team report their results, which extend back some 1,000 years, in this week's Nature1.

Fresh or salty

Lund and his colleagues think that the Gulf Stream's weakening was caused by a southward shift of the zone of tropical rains that usually feed fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. This rain provides a less-dense top layer of water that bolsters the surface current flowing north. Their measurements show that, during times when the current was weakest, the waters were saltier, suggesting that they contained less fresh water from rain.

The slowing of the current this way can fix itself, however - the extra saltiness of the water should help the water to sink at the northern end of its cycle, Lund says, driving the bottom half of the ocean circulation and re-energizing the current.

This process is in contrast to current fears about the Gulf Stream. Climatologists are worried that continued melting of the Greenland ice sheet could dump too much fresh water into the northern end of the circulation system, where cold waters normally sink and drive the bottom half of the current - dense waters flowing south along the ocean floor. Too much fresh water in the north makes the water less dense and less likely to sink, slowing the current.

Some fear that this process would not fix itself, but rather lead to a runaway effect that slows the current even more severely. Researchers measuring the ocean currents today say that the Gulf Stream shows no clear signs of slowing. Last month, a scientific meeting on the issue resulted in media reports that the Gulf Stream had shut down completely for 10 days in 2004. But as Harry Bryden of the University of Southampton, who led that study, explains, the temporary shutdown actually occurred in deeper currents that form just part of the complex circulation system. The Gulf Stream, he says, was unaffected. "The Gulf Stream seems rather robust to us," he adds.

But big changes could lie in our future. "Now, with the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we're in a 'no analogue' situation," Lund says. With the world warming and the poles melting, it's impossible to say what might happen to the currents.

"We just don't know."


The relevant journal abstract follows:

Gulf Stream density structure and transport during the past millennium

By David C. Lund et al

The Gulf Stream transports approximately 31 Sv (1 Sv = 10^6 m^3 s^-1) of water 1, 2 and 1.3 10^15 W of heat 3 into the North Atlantic ocean. The possibility of abrupt changes in Gulf Stream heat transport is one of the key uncertainties in predictions of climate change for the coming centuries. Given the limited length of the instrumental record, our knowledge of Gulf Stream behaviour on long timescales must rely heavily on information from geologic archives. Here we use foraminifera from a suite of high-resolution sediment cores in the Florida Straits to show that the cross-current density gradient and vertical current shear of the Gulf Stream were systematically lower during the Little Ice Age (ad 1200 to 1850). We also estimate that Little Ice Age volume transport was ten per cent weaker than today's. The timing of reduced flow is consistent with temperature minima in several palaeoclimate records4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, implying that diminished oceanic heat transport may have contributed to Little Ice Age cooling in the North Atlantic. The interval of low flow also coincides with anomalously high Gulf Stream surface salinity10, suggesting a tight linkage between the Atlantic Ocean circulation and hydrologic cycle during the past millennium.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Who killed the school trip?

The UK government wants children to get out and about - but it was its own suspicious regulation of adults that cast a cloud over such adventures.

Today, the UK government will issue a call to bring back the school trip. It is launching a new independent council, because it wants to reassure teachers (who are apparently afraid of being sued) and parents (afraid that children could come to harm) that school trips are safe, and that they are good for kids, too.

Yet the government has just waved through legislation that makes organising a school trip very difficult, if not impossible. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill – against which I am coordinating a campaign - will make it compulsory for any adult who comes into contact with a child as part of his or her working day to undergo criminal records vetting.

For the average school trip, this will mean bus drivers who drive the kids, workers at the hotel where the children are staying, any parent or adult volunteers, and any foreign exchange families. (Foreign exchange families cannot presently be vetted, which is why one Scottish local authority decided to cancel all overseas trips for its local schoolchildren.)

Vetting is costly and time-consuming – and it is part of the growing official regulation of relationships between adults and children. These regulations call into question the open encounters that kids experience on school trips, whether it’s the cranky geologist telling you about rocks or French or German parents showing you around their town. To go anywhere near a child now, adults require a Criminal Records Bureau certificate and various other certificates showing that they have been on the requisite child protection courses.

Relating to children is becoming a specialised profession, rather than the job of any adult with a bit of common sense and some experience from which children might benefit. Official regulations treat anything that takes kids away from the classroom as a problem. Even university interviews now have special guidelines on how tutors should relate to 17-year-old interviewees (see Just 17? Then forget university, by Josie Appleton).

In the midst of this, how dare the government call for more adventurous school trips? It’s true that officials frequently launch big campaigns against trends that bear their fingerprints – the Health and Safety Commission launches initiatives against safety-first regulations, for example, while the Commission for Racial Equality takes on multicultural politics.

Yet these are all managerial reactions to a problem. Indeed, the government campaign to save the school trip is as dull as can be. There will be a new independent council, which will give teachers special training and provide them with special ‘out and about’ packs. These officials even manage to make the school trip sound boring, by calling it ‘learning outside the classroom’.

Worst of all, the government’s main justification for rescuing school trips is that they can help tackle childhood obesity. Aside from the fact that one of the defining features of school trips is that you eat a lot of unhealthy food (I remember many a happy hour with platefuls of German ‘Spaghetti ice’), this is an extraordinarily narrow-spirited logic.

The point about school trips is that they expand your mind, not that they limit your waistline. You are travelling to new places with your friends and without your parents, and with teachers who are a little less uptight than normal. You always come back a bit more independent, and a bit more inspired by geography or German now that you can see how such subjects might actually be useful. I recall one biology fieldtrip where we counted seaweed species by day and whisky species by night: a liberal education that has left all branches of the fucus family imprinted on my brain.

So three cheers for the school trip, and boo to the Better School Trip Commission! School trips thrive on the spirit of adventure, not on ‘out-and-about’ packs about how ‘learning outside the classroom’ can help meet obesity targets.


Anti-Christmas fanaticism attacked in Britain

A campaign to save the traditions of Christmas from the interference of politically correct town halls was launched by an influential coalition of Christian and Muslim leaders yesterday. Leaders of the two faiths warned that attempts to suppress Christmas bring a backlash and Muslims get the blame. And they said that while Christmas causes no offence to minority faiths, banning it offends almost everybody.

Notorious local authority attempts to stamp out Christmas include Birmingham's decision to name its seasonal celebrations 'Winterval' and Luton's attempt to change Christmas into a Harry Potter festival by renaming its festive lights 'Luminos'.

The angry rebuke came from the Christian Muslim Forum, a body set up earlier this year with the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Tony Blair. The body sent a letter to town halls in the name of Anglican Bishop of Bolton David Gillett and senior Islamic cleric and Government adviser Dr Ataullah Siddiqui. It pleaded for an end to the suppression of Christmas and the restoration of its Christian meaning. Council leaders were told: 'There seems to be a secularising agenda which fails to understand the concerns of religious communities. 'The approach of some is to exclude mention of any specific religious event or celebration in order to avoid offending anyone. The usual result of such a policy ends up offending most of the population.' The letter added: 'Any repetition of public bodies and local authorities renaming Christmas, so as not to offend other faith communities, will tend, as in the past, to backfire badly on the Muslim community in particular. 'Sadly we have seen it is they who get the blame - and for something they are not saying.'

The warning from the Council came as public organisations appeared to be redoubling efforts to obliterate Christmas from the calendar or at least remove any Christian element from the celebrations. The Royal Mail this year has removed any Christian references from its Christmas stamps. Notorious local authority attempts to stamp out Christmas include Birmingham's 1998 decision to name its seasonal celebrations 'Winterval' and Luton's 2001 attempt to change Christmas into a Harry Potter festival by renaming its festive lights 'Luminos'.

The letter from the Forum to town halls comes at a time of deepening anger over attempts by powerful organisations to ban any public reference to Christianity. Last week British Airways was forced to back down over a ban on employees wearing a Christian cross. Its order to check-in worker Nadia Eweida that she must wear a cross under her uniform met a furious reponse from the public and provoked an outcry from bishops, MPs and Government ministers.

Alarm over attempts by police and other public bodies to force Christians to accept gay rights rules have produced a major political row between churches and Government over the latest laws that, Anglicans fear, would compel priests to bless same-sex partnerships.

The letter to councils from the Forum said: 'We are conscious that all in public life wish to be similarly inclusive, but some seem to believe, for instance, that talk about Christmas is offensive to those of other faith communities. 'This is something which we have looked at together on the national Christian Muslim Forum and all of us, both Muslims and Christians, wish that people in public positions would take another look at how they deal with religious festivals.' The two leaders added: 'It is important for the 77 per cent who claim affiliation to one faith or another that these festivals should be seen and recognised, rather than banished from the public sphere.' They cited a series of festivals which were 'most commonly in evidence across much of the country' and which should not be suppressed: Christmas and Easter; the Muslim Eid, Hindu Diwali, and Jewish Hanukah.

Dr Siddiqui was appointed earlier this year as an adviser to the Government on providing better information on Islam to students. The appointment followed concern among ministers that Jihadist propaganda in universities was leading students into the hands of extremists. The Muslim cleric is head of the Islamic Foundation of Leicester and an Islamic higher education college, the Markfield Institute of Higher Education.


Come off it, folks: how many paedophiles can there be?

Boris Johnson manages to be jolly about a disgraceful situation

Really? I said, not quite able to believe my luck. There we were, waiting for take-off, and I had just been having a quick zizz. It was a long flight ahead, all the way to India, and I had two children on my left. Already they were toughing each other up and sticking their fingers up each other's nose, and now -- salvation! Hovering above me was a silk-clad British Airways stewardess with an angelic smile, and she seemed to want me to move. "Please come with me, sir" said the oriental vision.

At once, I got her drift. She desired to upgrade me. In my mind's eye, I saw the first-class cabin, the spiral staircase to the head massage, the Champagne, the hot towels. "You betcha!" I said, and began to unbuckle. At which point, the children set up a yammering. Oi, they said to me, where do you think you are going? I was explaining that the captain had probably spotted me come on board, don't you know. Doubtless he had decided that it was outrageous for me to fly steerage, sound chap that he was. I'd make sure to come back now and then, hmmm?

At which the stewardess gave a gentle cough. Actually, she said, she was proposing to move me to row 52, and that was because -- she lowered her voice -- "We have very strict rules". Eh? I said, by now baffled. "A man cannot sit with children," she said; and then I finally twigged. "But he's our FATHER", chimed the children. "Oh," said the stewardess, and then eyed me narrowly. "These are your children?" "Yes," I said, a bit testily. "Very sorry," she said, and wafted down the aisle -- and in that single lunatic exchange you will see just about everything you need to know about our dementedly phobic and risk-averse society. In the institutionalised prejudice of that BA stewardess against an adult male, you see one of the prime causes of this country's tragic under-achievement in schools.

I mention all this because the same absurd kerfuffle happened this week. Some child was put next to an ancient journalist and his wife on a flight, and the airline (BA again) went into spasm. As the hoo-ha raged, the press turned to the lobby groups, and someone called Pam Hibbert of Barnardo's obliged with the usual bossyboots quote. The ban on sitting children next to adults was "eminently sensible", said this eminently ridiculous figure.

I mean, come off it, folks. How many paedophiles can there be? Are we really saying that any time an adult male finds himself sitting next to someone under 16, he must expect to be hustled from his seat before the suspicious eyes of the entire cabin? What about adult females? Every week there is some new tale of what a saucy French mistress is deemed to have done with her adolescent charges behind the bicycle sheds; and, disgraceful though these episodes may be, I don't hear anyone saying that children should be shielded from adult women. Do you? Or maybe I'm wrong -- maybe all adults will have to carry personal cardboard partitions with them on every plane or train, just in case they find themselves sitting next to under-16s.

Even as I write, I can imagine the lip-pursing of some of my lovely high-minded readers. How would you like it, they will say, if some weird chap was plonked next to your kids? And they are right that I would worry about some strange adult sitting next to my children, chiefly because I wouldn't want the poor fellow to come to any harm.

To all those who worry about the paedophile plague, I would say that they not only have a very imperfect understanding of probability; but also that they fail to understand the terrible damage that is done by this system of presuming guilt in the entire male population just because of the tendencies of a tiny minority. There are all sorts of reasons why the numbers of male school teachers are down 50 per cent in the period 1981 to 2001, and why the ratio of female to male teachers in primary schools is now seven to one. There are problems of pay, and the catastrophic failure of the state to ensure that they are treated as figures of authority and respect; and what with 'elf 'n' safety and human rights it is very hard to enforce discipline.

But it is also, surely, a huge deterrent to any public-spirited man contemplating a career in education that society apparently regards all adult male contact with young people as being potentially a bit dodgy, a bit rum, a bit you know... It is a total disaster. It is not just that both boys and girls could do with more male role models in the classroom. Worse still, it often used to be men who taught physics, and maths, and chemistry, and it is the current shortage of such teachers that explains why 80 per cent of pupils studying physics are now taught by someone with a degree in biology; and that in turn helps explain why the numbers doing physics A-level have halved, and why physics departments are closing all over the shop, with all the consequent damage to our science base.

It has tended to be male teachers who take contact sports. Even if they can find a playing-field, these days, the poor male sports teachers have to cope with a terrifying six-inch thick manual explaining how they must on no account shout at their charges, and above all, on pain of prosecution, they must NOT BE LEFT ALONE with the kids. No wonder our children are apparently turning into big fat Augustus Gloops. It is insane, and the problem is the general collapse of trust. Almost every human relationship that was sensibly regulated by trust is now governed by law, with cripplingly expensive consequences.

I blame the media, I blame the judges, I blame the lobby groups, and in particular I blame the cowardly capitalist airline companies that give in to this sort of loony hysteria. If you happen to be reading this on a British Airways flight, and have quite rightly sustained a burst blood vessel, then I think you are entitled to an immediate upgrade.


Is it ethical to go Down Under for the Ashes?

Dear Ethan,

I have been a cricket fan for years. I even named my daughters Willow and Maiden. I would dearly love to follow our boys Down Under as they defend the Ashes (or fail to, if early evidence is anything to go by!). However, Australia is an awfully long way away and I'm concerned that my own Ashes tour might turn parts of the planet to ashes.. Is there an ethical way to follow the Tests?

Freddie Shaw-Toulouse

Dear Freddie,

I've never been a big fan of competitive sport. My own experience of cricket was to end up covered in bruises from that horrible, hard red ball they use. Sometimes, I think those bowlers were actually aiming it at me.

But leaving personal feelings aside, as we all must do when the planet is at stake - I'm afraid that flying to Australia simply isn't cricket. You might get to watch your favourite sport but you will also dent the planet's sporting chance for survival. It won't only be the little red ball that is knocked for six (and let's not forget that those balls are made of cork, which is stolen from the beautiful Cork Oak tree, and leather, which is stolen from the hides of peace-loving cows); all our futures will also be knocked for six by your moment of sporting selfishness. Remember the first rule of the ethical life: LBW - Let Biodiversity Win!

Flying to Australia is never acceptable, as I recently told a friend who was thinking of going to Sydney to visit his dying grandfather. (We eventually organised a video link-up powered by solar energy and wind.) So flying to Australia simply to watch 22 men hit a ball around, while 22,000 more men shout, drink and sweat, is nothing short of morally reprehensible. The flight will produce 3.75 tonnes of CO2 for each passenger, meaning you will have metaphorically chopped down 20 trees even before touching down Down Under.

The journey isn't the only problem. By travelling to see the cricket, and helping to sustain the cricketing industry, you are contributing to environmental genocide! Trees are felled to make bats and balls and ticket stubs; food and drink are transported hundreds of miles to keep the portly fans happily stuffed while they watch the game; and think of all the detergent required to get those red stains off Freddie and Co's whitey whites. In this case, cleanliness is not next to Godliness; instead, their bright white outfits help to leave a big dirty skidmark on the planet.

As we know, tourists suck up valuable resources - and sporting tourists are even worse, an environmental double-whammy. Travellers demand taxis, adding to congestion and pollution; hotels with clean beds and fresh towels and air-conditioning (don't get me started on air-conditioning); guide books, tourist offices and bus tours. That's right - buses that just go round in a circle and end up back where they started! And travellers consume large amounts of food and booze. How much of that will be local and seasonal? Will your hotdog in the stands be made from a soya-based meat replacement and locally sourced bread made in a traditional stove? Being Australia - land of men and meat - I very much doubt it.

Sporting tourists also don ridiculous fancy dress outfits and demand junk food and carbonated drinks. That's right - carbon-ated drinks. Think of how those fizzy drinks damage the planet every time you belch out the excess gas. It is not going too far to say that a beer-bellied thug burps in Australia and a flood kills hundreds in Bangladesh - never forget that we are all intimately bound together on this threatened mortal coil.

All the beer and beef consumed at a cricket match also produces pretty nasty smells. This can make the local environment a less pleasant, less breatheasy place - and worse, it might encourage people to spray air freshener, and I don't need to tell you that `air freshener' is a profound contradiction in terms (these noxious sprays actually damage air in the long run). Personally, I can't imagine why you would want to be couped up with so many other sweating men. I suppose you could offer them some homemade deodorant. I have a fabulous recipe for one based on lavender and beeswax; every time I wear it, intrigued people ask: `What is that smell?'

Sport is not only bad for the environment; it is bad for people too. Have you not read the research produced by reputable Abuse Studies departments in British universities, which shows that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence during a major sporting event? Men get so het up over the game that they end up taking it out on the missus. And how can we be sure that Third World women won't be trafficked to Australia to keep Ashes fans happy, in the same way they were trafficked to Germany during the World Cup? A feminist-environmentalist colleague of mine recently uncovered the shocking, disgusting truth of human trafficking: every woman driven in a truck across borders contributes five tonnes of CO2 to the beleaguered planet! Man, sex slavery sucks.

Freddie, you won't like what I'm about to say: you should even avoid watching the Ashes on TV. That uses electricity, and there's the whole domestic violence thing. Instead, we should deny sport the oxygen of publicity by banning it from TV screens, just as sport seeks literally to deny us actual oxygen with its great balls of carbon. Why not watch local sports instead? Get yourself down to the park and watch the kids working off their junk food. Some might say the cricket is not as `good'. But good is exactly how it will make you feel.


The above is satire, of course. But the England cricket team is in fact playing in Australia at the moment. "The Ashes" is the international cricket trophy. "Tests" are the highest form of cricket and are played between national sides only. A single match can continue for up to five days. Did you get the meaning of the enquirer's name? It encapsulates the usual experience of the English when playing Australia

Give cardiac troubles a rest

A nutty British campaign coaxing men to dial 999 if they feel a pain in the chest will make more 'worried well', and possibly delay treatment for the really ill.

Last week the British Heart Foundation (BHF) launched their ‘Doubt Kills’ campaign. Posters show a middle-aged man with a belt of pain around his chest, bearing the warning: ‘a chest pain is your body telling you to call 999’. Radio advertisements feature bereaved spouses, describing how their loved ones put off calling for an ambulance when experiencing chest pain.

The BHF explain in their campaign literature that every second counts when dealing with a heart attack, and that one of the reasons for delays in getting treatment is the time taken to get to hospital. This is true, and the aim of proving that heart attacks are a ‘treatable disease’ is laudable. Research funding from the BHF has contributed to recent leaps in understanding of heart disease and its treatment. Mortality from coronary heart disease (the disease underlying heart attacks) in those under 65 has dropped by over 40 per cent in the last 10 years. From this perspective it makes sense to target an area where results from treatment could be improved. Also of course raising awareness of heart disease keeps up the BHF’s steady stream of donations.

But the use of a middle-aged man in the poster campaign is interesting. Certainly men are more likely to die of heart attacks. However, the BHF cites research that suggests it is elderly people, particularly women, and those with pre-existing heart disease, who are most reluctant to call for help. So, why not have a female chest pain sufferer on the posters? Or why not target information at those with known heart disease, who are much more likely to suffer from a heart attack?

‘Doubt Kills’ should be seen in the context of an increasing number of health campaigns targeted specifically at men, and their attitudes to health. The BHF explicitly point out that ‘British reserve and stoicism is costing lives’. This pathologising of the traditional stiff upper lip is characteristic of such campaigns. I suspect a survey of accident and emergency (A&E) doctors would find the opinion that a little more stoicism among the British public might not go amiss.

In a YouGov poll commissioned by the BHF, 64 per cent of respondents stated they would first call their partner, friend, relative, GP or NHS Direct when experiencing chest pain - with 42 per cent preferring to ‘wait and see’ if their chest pain gets better.  No information is provided about the age of those polled, but the truth is, for many of us, this is a sensible course of action. After all, heartburn is much more common than a heart attack.

The Ambulance Service are nobly supporting the campaign, but it must have occurred to them that a possible result will be more calls from worried young people with indigestion, and consequentially, longer waits for those who are genuinely ill. As with other ‘worried well’ campaigns in recent years, this latest initiative could make the population at large unnecessarily concerned about their health, while overburdening the health system to the extent that it cannot speedily deal with those who are actually suffering ill-health. It may fill A&E with people who mistakenly believe they are having a heart attack, thus reducing the response time to those who really are having a heart attack.


Still not ‘ethical’ after all these years

A report saying our buying habits are increasingly driven by ethical concerns made some fairly unethical contortions to reach that conclusion.

It was widely reported this week that ethical consumerism has gone mainstream, following revelations that spending in Britain on ‘ethical’ products now outstrips retail sales of alcohol and cigarettes. The facts tell a different story. What is really striking is just how irrelevant ethical consumerism remains, despite ever-increasing media hype and the enthusiasm of retailers.

These days, every newspaper and TV show seems to have someone lecturing us about how to live an ethical lifestyle (including spiked‘s very own Ethan Greenhart). Major retailers have leapt on the bandwagon, too. No self-respecting supermarket can be seen without a wide range of organic foods. Marks and Spencer sell ethical clothing lines and fairtrade coffee in their cafés. Even the much-maligned McDonald’s now uses only organic milk and eggs.

So, it did not seem surprising when a report published by the Co-operative Bank and the Future Foundation revealed that ethical consumerism in Britain was worth £29.3billion in 2005, compared to the £28billion we spend on alcohol and cigarettes over-the-counter. This represents a rise in ethical consumerism of 11 per cent from last year. However, the media reporting of these figures left a lot to be desired. The implication is that we’re all rushing out to buy organic and fairtrade food, and that is simply not the case. The figures are actually an almighty conflation of different categories.

First, what on Earth does ‘ethical’ mean? The report (it’s actually a press release with some attached tables) defines ethical goods to include organic food, free-range eggs, fairtrade products, goods from farmers’ markets, sustainable food, vegetarian food, ‘dolphin-friendly’ tuna, energy-efficient appliances, micro-generation, and eco-friendly cleaning products. That’s not all. Also lumped in with the figures are such spuriously ‘ethical’ choices as buying second-hand goods, using public transport, shopping locally and using charity shops. So getting a bus to work is now lumped alongside buying ethical green tea.

A whole set of different motivations are mixed up. It’s true that many people see little distinction between these various categories, often assuming that fairtrade food is organic, or that organic food is fairtrade, and that both will probably be environmentally friendly. In fact, fairtrade is inevitably shipped in from countries far away – after all, that’s where the poor farmers live. The same goes for 70 per cent of Britain’s organic food. Is such long-distance shipping good for the environment? And there’s no reason why a poor farmer would grow organically except out of necessity; that is, he can’t actually afford to buy the fertilisers and pesticides to increase his yields. As has been argued on spiked before, fairtrade products might make consumers in the West feel good when they’re shopping, but they offer few real benefits to the Africa or Asian farmers who produce them (see Shop till global injustice drops, by Nathalie Rothschild).

Not only does one kind of ethical purchase often conflict with another, but the assumption that purchases of organic food or free-range eggs are always motivated by ethical concerns is misplaced. These days, consumers may find that their local supermarket only stocks organic or free-range (particularly in the evenings, when all the cheaper, non-ethical produce has already gone). Many people simply prefer the taste of free-range eggs to those from battery hens.

While ‘buying for re-use’ might practically be better for the environment than buying something new – at least in theory – the second-hand market has always been motivated by money: one owner trying to re-coup money on something he no longer needs, and a new owner trying to get something on the cheap. Even something as green as micro-generation and energy efficiency must be motivated in part by saving money – especially given the huge government handouts available for some of these projects.

More strikingly still, the Co-op and Future Foundation figures include not only spending but boycotts, too. So of the £4.5billion under the category ‘ethical food’, nearly £2billion was food boycotts; well over half the figure for ethical transport related to travel boycotts. So even not purchasing something can be added to an ethical consumerism breakdown…. What does this mean? Presumably, people were asked what they might have spent on a product if they’d been able to obtain an ethical version of it. But there is a huge difference between an opinion poll statement of intent, and the hard economic facts of handing cash over the counter.

The biggest item in this ethical consumerism basket is not a type of good at all. ‘Ethical finance’ accounted for £11.5billion of the figures. This may or may not be motivated by altruism. For example, it includes credit unions, which are usually an attempt by groups of less well-off people to get access to credit without paying punitive rates – in other words, understandable and mutual self-interest. But investments are clearly a very different thing from purchasing goods (it’s also not clear whether this was £11.5billion of new investment or the total amount invested as of 2005).

Going back to the figures, if we add up what was actually spent on ethical goods of all kinds and for all purposes in 2005, the figures are, roughly:

Ethical food:£2.6billion
Green home:£3.8billion
Ethical transport:£0.6billion
Personal products:£1.0billion
Local shopping:£2.1billion

Even setting aside the problematic nature of lumping together so many ethical concerns, and purchases that are probably not motivated by ethical concerns at all, the comparison with cigarette and alcohol sales doesn’t hold up.

A proper reading of the Co-op’s press release (which many journalists seemed not to have bothered doing) shows that even the Co-op knows that you cannot simply say that ethical consumerism is exploding: ‘[T]otal ethical spending is spread over a wide range of products and services, and in very few markets has it become the market norm.’ The Co-op wants increasing use of regulation, labelling and subsidy to promote ‘ethical’ products, particularly in relation to climate change. But should the government be doing more at the consumer level when there is so little spontaneous demand for these things?

And can you really change society for the better by changing people’s shopping habits? I was always unconvinced by the self-flattering notion among some Western liberals that their boycotts of South African goods toppled apartheid in South Africa (the role of the black masses in South Africa was somewhat more important than the decisions made by individuals at Waitrose in Hampstead on a Saturday afternoon). I remain unconvinced that shopping styles are an effective way to transform things in the real world outside of the supermarket.

The embracing of this new report seems to be about making the apparently unethical masses feel like they should play ball: ‘Look, loads of people are buying ethical – why aren’t you?’ But the statistical contortions required to compare ethical consumerism with real mainstream spending only distort reality. And that isn’t very ethical, is it?


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Religious Songs not Allowed

A far-Left local council at work in the Unhinged Kingdom:

"A mother and toddlers' group has been threatened with closure unless it stops singing traditional Christian songs, it has been revealed.

Childcare officials have attacked the weekly sessions which feature sing-alongs with youngsters, claiming they are too religious and need to be more 'inclusive'.

The drop-in group has been warned it will lose its 7,000 pounds-a-year government grant which is distributed by Labour's Haringey Council in North London, unless it agrees to remain 'non-religious' in future.

It has been told to stop teaching children songs about 'loving Jesus', to consider dropping the word 'Christian' from its title and instead be more welcoming to gay families.


So we should re-write Christmas songs so that they "welcome" homosexuals? Any suggestions? Let's see: Maybe "Rudolph the red-nosed homo, had a very shiny butt.... "??

A green bill of health?

Natural England's claim that 'contact with nature' can improve mental and physical wellbeing is both silly and sinister.

Natural England – a conservation umbrella group that includes English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service – has launched a health campaign that aims to ‘encourage’ doctors and other health professionals ‘to make more use of the natural environment as part of the total healthcare they give to their patients’ (1).

According to William Bird, a Berkshire GP and Natural England’s health adviser, ‘increasing evidence suggests that both physical and mental health are improved through contact with nature’. A campaign factsheet claims that ‘aggression and domestic violence is [sic] less likely in low-income families with views or access to natural green space’, and ‘crime rates are lower in tower blocks with more natural green space than identical tower blocks with no surrounding vegetation’ (no references provided). Dr Bird is worried that ‘people are having less contact with nature than at any other time in the past’ and insists that ‘this has to change!’.

Natural England’s campaign, which is endorsed by Britain’s deputy chief medical officer and the BBC and supported by a budget of £500million of taxpayers’ money, offers a curious combination of the silly and the sinister. On the one hand, the notion that a breath of fresh air and the sight of a few trees can cure the ills of both the individual and society has the aura of whacky green fundamentalism. On the other hand, Dr Bird’s schoolmasterish tone and his offer of a natural cure for a wide range of social problems clearly appeals to the authoritarian instincts behind New Labour’s public health policies.

While Natural England presents itself as the acme of fashionable environmentalism, its roots lie in the tradition of ‘nature therapy’ that flourished in Germany from the turn of the twentieth century and reached its peak in the Nazi Third Reich. Nature therapy combined hostility towards scientific medicine with enthusiasm for homeopathy and hydrotherapy and was closely linked with movements promoting eugenics and racial superiority. ‘Air, light, a healthy diet and exercise were recognised as the basis of good health.’ (2)

Though in its early days this movement drew support from across the political spectrum, in the 1930s it was incorporated by the Nazis, and the Reich Labour Service (Reicharbeitsdienst) became a means of mass conscription of the unemployed into conservationist – and health-enhancing – rural labour (3). Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal government in the USA followed the German example, with the Civilian Conservation Corps.

By the time that Brigadier Armstrong formed the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) in 1959, the movement had abandoned its coercive and eugenic features and had become a benign voluntary organisation devoted to practical conservation work (though in 1970 it acquired a deeply reactionary patron – the Duke of Edinburgh) (4). In the course of the 1990s, however, when Dr Bird became closely involved, BTCV moved back towards its nature therapy roots, promoting the countryside in terms of its supposed beneficial effects on contemporary health problems. With support from central and local government, and health authorities, BTCV has sponsored a network of ‘Green Gym’ projects, linking exercise to conservation (5).

The nature therapy revival has also attracted major corporate sponsorship. BTCV enjoys the support of Rio Tinto, formerly known as Rio Tinto Zinc, one of the world’s most rapacious – and environment-despoiling – mining corporations, and Barclays Bank PLC (from which a generation of students withdrew their accounts because of its involvement in imperialist exploitation in Africa). It seems that an association with environmentalism and health promotion provides a positive public relations front for capitalist enterprises with dubious reputations.

Natural England’s health campaign emphasises the healing power of nature, in particular in relation to children and those with mental illness. It claims that nature can tackle the obesity epidemic, prevent bullying, reduce ADHD and improve concentration, self-discipline and self-esteem (it is striking that modern nature therapy only deals with fashionable conditions). In common with current public health policies – such as the school meals crusade – Natural England focuses on the sections of society least capable of resisting the advance of intrusive and authoritarian health policies.

Let’s hope that the growing revolt against Jamie’s school dinners soon extends to the ‘back to the country’ fantasies of Natural England.


Dr Paul Irwing: 'There are twice as many men as women with an IQ of 120-plus'

Dr Paul Irwing is a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Manchester University. He claims that men are more intelligent than women

All the research I've done points to a gender difference in general cognitive ability. There is a mean difference of about five IQ points. The further you go up the distribution the more and more skewed it becomes. There are twice as many men with an IQ of 120-plus as there are women, there are 30 times the number of men with an IQ of 170-plus as there are women.

I don't know why this is, all I can say is that we have a huge amount of data. In my 2005 paper in the British Journal of Psychology we looked at 22 surveys sampling 20,000 university students. In 21 out of the 22 studies males always had an advantage. That's a lot. We ignored the survey from Mexico because the results were consistent with a university that was extremely selective with respect to females [i.e. You have to be a very bright female to get into a Mexican university in the first place]. Why did Steve Blinkhorn call our research "flawed and suspect"?

The results of both studies were a shock to me. I find prejudice abhorrent. I've always taught sex differences from a left-wing point of view, that women are every bit as good as men. My findings don't fit my view of the world at all. Girls often do better than boys at school. There has to be some female compensating factor, most importantly the ability to process speech sounds, which means women read faster and more accurately and have an advantage in basic writing tasks. And women work harder than men and are more conscientious so they do things technic-ally correctly. Men are often quite original but deficient in what is technically demanded.

Historically women have been discriminated against. They've made tremendous progress and some people feel findings like this are a kick in the teeth. I have sympathy for that, but only people who know virtually nothing about IQ tests claim they have a cultural bias. All IQ tests are thoroughly tested and adjusted for bias, so if anything IQ tests are biased in favour of women not men.

People should have equal opportunities but if you want a society where everyone feels satisfied you're not going to find men and women doing the same things in the same proportions. It would help if we recognised that.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

This SOUNDS Good in Principle

A surprising idea from one of the most reliable pulpits of the Left:

"The BBC triggered outrage yesterday by calling for the views of extremists and fundamentalists to be given the same weight as those of mainstream politicians.

The corporation's head of television news, Peter Horrocks, said groups such as the Taliban and the far-Right BNP need more airtime - at the expense of moderate opinion.

He said all views need to be treated with the same respect, describing his proposals as 'radical impartiality'.


Nasty old cynic that I am, however, I am betting that 99% of the "extreme" views they would broadcast would come from the Muslims and the Left.

Scotland Limits "Hate Crime"

Is a crime worse because it is directed against a minority member? "Yes" seems to be the universal claim of the Left. And that idea has been enshrined in law in various places -- notably in Canada. Scotland, however, is holding back a bit. Despite considering making it especially bad to commit crimes against certain privileged groups -- such as homosexuals -- they have decided that it is only crimes involving race and religion that will be especially penalized.

Why a crime against someone who happens to be regarded as part of a majority should be treated more lightly never seems to be answered. If someone bashes me, do I hurt less because I am white and heterosexual? Is crime against me less important? One is reminded of Shakespeare's powerful reply to antisemitism in "The Merchant of Venice":

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases. Heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?"

These days, one could substitute "white man" for "Jew" and "homosexual" for "Christian" in the above.

Details of the Scottish legislation here

Multiculturalism: there is no alternative (?)

A conference in London exposed the authoritarian bent to diversity policies.

In recent months there have been some high-profile debates about the excesses of multiculturalism (along the lines of ‘It’s multiculturalism gone mad!), yet the solution is usually to call for more diversity policies and recognition of ‘difference’. The Mosaic of Multiculturalism, a conference held last Friday at Goodenough College in London, exemplified this seemingly contradictory trend. The conference’s subheading, ‘Falling Pieces’, suggested a withering away of the multiculturalist vision. Every session, however, seemed to conclude with a resounding ‘There Is No Alternative’ to multiculturalism

Professor Paul Gilroy’s opening keynote speech was, to be frank, lazy and ill-informed. Much of his assessment, that Muslims are being systematically targeted by Bush and Blair, seemed to extrapolate a leftish framework from the 1970s to today. From this perspective, critics of multiculturalism are apparently peddling ‘authoritarian populism’ as a sop to the ‘tabloid readers’ who vote for the far-right British National Party. When I asked Gilroy what he thought of the authoritarian and conformist trajectory of multicultural policies, he claimed, rather bizarrely, that ‘official multiculturalism doesn’t exist’. From time to time, veteran academics lose sight of charting recent developments in society, and Gilroy seemed to be a case in hand. But I couldn’t help wondering whether he was in denial about the uncomfortable realities of the multicultural dream.

Prior to Gilroy’s speech, the director of Goodenough College, major-general Andrew Ritchie, introduced the day’s proceedings. In his clipped, officer-class voice, he told us about the importance of diversity with cheery anecdotes about Her Majesty the Queen’s liking for ‘diverse, multicultural colleges like this one’. Now, when you have high-ranking military officers and the Queen promoting diversity, it’s hard to see how anyone can say there is no official multiculturalism – or to equate multiculturalism with anti-imperialist radicalism, as some on the left do.

The panel discussion on Religion and Multiculturalism seemed to take its cue from the Gospel According to Jacques Derrida. ‘Multiculturalism is not an option because humans are intrinsically different’, said Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. What ever happened to the universalism that is central to Islamic teaching? Dr Bari also argued that wayward mosques and clerics were the fault of not having enough ‘outcomes and structures in Muslim organisations’. Clearly, this religious scholar has been spending too much time with Tony Blair. What next, a ‘best practice’ charter for prospective imams?

Still, Dr Bari made some sensible comments on how Western rather than Islamic sensibilities are influencing second- and third-generation Muslims. Simon Keyes, director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, confessed all of the church’s ‘sins’ as if he were running for a bus. ‘We’ve been bastions of patriarchy, we’ve been guilty of homophobia and even racism’, he spluttered breathlessly. Keyes’ faith, it seems, is in something other than the Christian church.

Religion dominated further discussions on ‘positive contacts between Muslims and Jews in Britain’, with Dr Richard Stone advocating a relentless round of national self-abasement and apologies for past crimes. Yet stoking up ancient grievances hardly seems the best route to producing inter-ethnic harmony. Far better was Dr Jennifer Jackson-Preece’s talk on ‘Multiculturalism and security after 9/11’. Her points on how ‘security has become the core value in life’, as well as downplaying the scale of the terrorist threat, provided a welcome bout of level-headed analysis.

Far too often, though, conference speakers and subsequent discussions merely explored different dimensions of multiculturalism, rather than questioning its very premise. After all, who could possibly be against the marvels of diversity other than ‘tabloid-reading’ trolls? This is why strident criticism of multiculturalism was met with bewildered silence rather than outraged heckles. In the discussion on perceptions of multiculturalism and minorities in the media, Dr Shakuntala Banaji agreed that the limitations of multiculturalism itself, rather than the editorial policy of TV producers, would be a better issue to explore, ‘except that’s for a different and longer discussion altogether’. Really? And there was me thinking that the aim of a conference like this should be precisely to dissect the pros and cons of multiculturalism.

Occasionally, though, critics did cut through the bemused, dismissive veneer. In the final ‘Citizenship and education’ discussion, Professor Tariq Ramadan talked about the need for a ‘plurality of memories’ in the teaching of history and creating a ‘sense of belonging’ for ethnic minorities through history becoming a branch of ‘citizenship studies’. Elsewhere, Dr Rob Berkeley from the Runnymede Trust said there was ‘no going back to a monoculture solution’, and that education must reflect Britain’s cultural diversity. Then, from the audience, writer and academic Munira Mirza attacked these notions that education should only be related to fixed identities. Rather than box students in with what they already know, she put the case for education enabling students to transcend narrow, particular experiences.

Any complacency on the part of panel speakers only reflected the pervasive ascendancy of multiculturalism. Far from a rigorous and open debate about multiculturalism, the boundaries of debate only allow discussion of issues within multiculturalism - with the predictable conclusion that more diversity is needed.

What’s particularly worrying is how undemocratic and unconnected much of the discussion and policy appears to be. Too often there’s a projection of what ‘diverse groups’ are supposedly interested in and how, therefore, they should be treated. Far from multiculturalism being a vibrant, cosmopolitan vision of society, it’s merely an instruction manual for micro-managing groups defined by tick-boxes, regardless of their wishes. Far from critics of multiculturalism pandering to ‘authoritarian populism’, this seems a fair description of multicultural practitioners themselves.



A-level examinations will be made tougher with a return to more stretching, open-ended questions and the introduction of a new A* grade for the most able pupils, the Government said yesterday. The move is part of a radical reform of the examinations system at 16-plus designed to help universities and employers to identify the brightest students. The sweeping changes also mean that more state schools will offer the highly academic [and politically correct] International Baccalaureate (IB) and new specialised vocational diplomas.

Tony Blair said that the measures were designed to provide more choice to ensure that students could choose the courses that best met their individual abilities and needs. The Prime Minister said that, at the same time, he wanted to double the number of academies [charter schools] from 200 to 400 so that, there would be more variety in the types of school available. Mr Blair used a speech to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust annual conference in Birmingham to highlight Labour’s reforms in education in the past ten years.

The reforms to A levels, to be introduced in 2008 for exams in 2010, have been prompted by widespread concerns that the exam has been devalued. A generation ago, one in ten entrants received an A-grade. Today, that is one in four. Many universities have introduced their own tests for popular subjects to identify the best applicants. Now questions will require greater thought and more detailed written answers.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said that the changes would give pupils “the opportunity to shine and show their skills”. The new A* grade for students gaining the top marks is designed to introduce an element of discrimination between students who scrape through with an A at 80 per cent and those who sail through with 99 per cent. Students will also be required to produce a dissertation of about 4,000 words requiring independent research and the number of A-level modules will be reduced from six to four.

The Government has decided to increase the number of state schools offering the IB, a two-year curriculum in which students study six subjects and have to write a 4,000-word essay and complete community service. It is available in 46 state schools and 30 independent schools in England.

Mr Blair said he hoped that up to 100 additional institutions would offer it by 2010. About 26,000 pounds will be made available to each school applying to offer the IB to cover staff training, accreditation and other start-up costs. The reforms drew a mixed response. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the IB was not appropriate for students of all abilities. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that too many different types of exam were being taken in different schools, causing confusion.



The British Government is planning to spend 1 billion pounds replacing 78,000 ministerial and civil service vehicles under a programme to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions from its fleet by 15 per cent. The Government has recruited 15 manufacturers from Europe, Asia and North America to supply cheaper, greener cars over the next four years, The Times has learnt. The cost will be shared by 38 government departments and agencies which have agreed to "green'' their fleets in exchange for large discounts on cars available under the partnership.

The programme, which is limited to light commercial cars and vans and does not cover heavy diesel vehicles, aims to slash carbon emissions from the public sector fleet by 15 per cent by 2010-2011 under targets set by the Government this year. The programme is expected to save departments œ100 million, and comprises some of the efficiency savings to be outlined in next week's Pre-Budget Report. The initiative, spearheaded by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), comes as Britain faces pressure to fall into line with EU moves to limit greenhouse emissions, the debate over green taxes and national efforts to combat climate change.

After a tender process of unprecedented size and scale earlier this year, Vauxhall, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda, Ford - including Volvo - and BMW won places in the programme. Ford, which already supplies Jaguar and Volvo cars as well as its "Blue Oval" models to Whitehall and the NHS, will now have access to a vast range of agencies and suppliers. Ford currently supplies Jaguars at close to half price to the Government Car and Dispatch Agency, which organises cars for Ministers.

The NHS, which keeps a fleet of 48,000 cars, and the Department for Work and Pensions, which has 2,500 vehicles, joined the programme to satisfy targets set by the Government. The NHS expects to spend 420 million replacing its fleet with the new range of cars, 19.7 million less than it would have cost the department to replace its fleet with the same vehicles again.

Departments wanting to join the programme must calculate the amount of pollution caused by their current fleet by entering engine size, carbon dioxide emission and "Euro 4'' engine rating into a model designed by the OGC. They can then access a database of cars available under the programme, and "shop" for their desired vehicles. They are expected to use the OGC model to monitor the desired fleet's carbon footprint. Annual reports outline the department's progress on environmental targets.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the Work and Pensions Minister, pledged to use the scheme to meet the Government's targets. "This will not only contribute to the Government's efficiency goals but will also help the public sector to hit its targets on vehicle emissions." The Department for Work and Pensions expects to save about 15 per cent with the discounts that are available under the scheme. Toyota, which currently supplies the popular Prius model being adopted by ministers, hopes that the programme will entice departments to its British-made Avensis model



We read:

"Traditionally-made wines from southwestern France and Sardinia boast the highest concentration of complex compounds, called polyphenols, that are linked to greater longevity, a study published on Thursday in the science journal Nature says. Previous studies have generally established that a glass or two of red wine every day helps combat heart and circulatory disease by dilating blood vessels. But the picture has been confused, because not all red wines have the same kinds of polyphenols or in the same concentrations.

In tests using endothelial cells -- the cells which line the arteries and where polyphenols are believed to have their positive affect -- British scientists identified the most active members of the polyphenol family, which are called procyanidins.

They then tested red wines from the Gers department, in the French Pyrenees, and from Nuoro province on the Italian island of Sardinia, where local men are famous for their longevity. Wines from these two regions had remarkably high levels of procyanidins -- often five to 10 times more than wines that were tested from Australia, South Africa and the United States. The secret to the Sardinian and Gers wines lies partly in the grape seeds and in time-honoured wine growing methods, the paper says. In Gers, a local variety of grape called Tannat, which is rarely grown elsewhere, also yields rich amounts of procyanidins.

"The traditional production methods used in Sardinia and southwestern France ensure that the beneficial compounds, procyanidins are efficiently extracted," said Robert Corder from Queen Mary's William Harvey Research Institute in London, co-author of the paper. "This may explain the strong association between consumption of traditional tannic wines with overall wellbeing, reflected in greater longevity."

Source. And the Journal abstract follows:

Oenology: Red wine procyanidins and vascular health

By R. Corder et al.

Regular, moderate consumption of red wine is linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and to lower overall mortality, but the relative contribution of wine's alcohol and polyphenol components to these effects is unclear. Here we identify procyanidins as the principal vasoactive polyphenols in red wine and show that they are present at higher concentrations in wines from areas of southwestern France and Sardinia, where traditional production methods ensure that these compounds are efficiently extracted during vinification. These regions also happen to be associated with increased longevity in the population.

Despite appearances, the study in fact offers NO data on the relationship between longevity and the wine chemicals. All that it found was that pro-cyanadins suppress production of endothelin-1, a protein that constricts blood vessels. That such chemicals are high in the wine of two mountainous regions noted for long life proves nothing. Why? Several reasons: 1) Mountainous regions all over the world are often found to go with longer lives and in many of them grape wine is not drunk at all. 2); A sample of 2 is ludicrously small and enables NO generalizations; 3). It is a basic axiom of statistics that correlation does not prove causation. You need before-and-after studies for that; 4). For all we know, suppressing production of endothelin-1 may have ill effects as well as good effects. The lifespan in wine-drinking countries is not greater than in many other countries (notably Japan) in which little wine is drunk. The "Mediterranean diet" may produce a different pattern of illness but it seems to have negligible effect on the overall lifespan, as I pointed out here on October 12th.; 5). Note the cynical comment following from the wine-writer for "The Times": "Since the early l990s there has been a stream of worthy medical reports confirming this or that wine-producing country and this or that grape variety as containing higher levels than their competitors of cardiovascular-protecting goodies. One minute research pinpoints New World producers like Chile as delivering healthier reds than any other country, the next the thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon grape is the one that doctors love the most".


On Britain's present trajectory, they will eventually just have bureaucrats and no medical staff at all

Hundreds of thousands of elderly people will no longer get home care services because of a funding shortfall and the widening impact of NHS cuts, the social care watchdog says. The Commission for Social Care Inspection reports today that nearly two thirds of the 150 councils that provide social services changed their criteria last year to provide social care only for the most dependent people. In more than 100 councils, elderly and disabled people who used to get regular help with cleaning, bathing, dressing and shopping will no longer be entitled to care unless they fall into the top two categories of "critical" or "substantial" risk. Only the very frail, immobile or those at risk of abuse will be entitled to these services, forcing other vulnerable people to rely on families or friends or to go without help.

The commission says that the situation is already getting worse in at least three authorities - North Yorkshire, Northumberland and West Berkshire - which are restricting home care to critical or life-threatening situations. It predicts that this situation will apply in many more authorities next year.

The number of households receiving home care has fallen by 174,000 since 1992 to 354,000 last year, a drop of 30 per cent. The commission says this is mainly because councils are concentrating scarce resources on the very needy. "People entitled to social care are getting better care," a commission official said. "But that leaves thousands of others with no care at all." Mervyn Kohler, of Help the Aged, said that withdrawing preventive services from less critical groups could affect their quality of life crucially. People who no longer had help with cleaning, shopping or dressing would stop inviting people round, lose their self esteem and stay in bed all day. "Councils will end up paying the price for restricting the criteria with more people becoming dependent. This is a foolish, short-term economy."

Councils are being forced to change their eligibility criteria because government grants for social services have failed to keep up with growing numbers of very elderly people, local authorities say. Many also complain that they are bearing the brunt of NHS cutbacks. In some cases they are treating people who would have been cared for in hospital, while in others primary care trusts are refusing to pay for services provided by local authorities where they would have done so in the past.

The commission's annual performance rating of adult social services for 2006 shows that three quarters of the 150 councils gained either two or three stars. Although no council was zero-rated, 33 got only one star; 24 of these had been given one star for the past three years. Ten councils went up to the highest three-star category, but nine dropped in the rankings to two stars. In total 25 councils improved their services, while 16 fell back.

Ivan Lewis, the Care Services Minister, said that a number of councils need to "up their game" as he announced plans to intervene in 21 councils which had failed to improve their ratings since 2002. "Adults and their carers who use services in this area deserve better, therefore I am asking (the commission) to work with these councils to develop improvement action plans by March next year," he said. Social care leaders broadly welcomed the latest league tables. John Coughlan, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said: "We cannot ignore the fact that these improvements have been made in the teeth of one of the most severe financial squeezes social care has experienced for a long while."


Friday, December 01, 2006

Must not Abbreviate "Pakistani"

We read:

"A race row has broken out after a councillor defended the use of the word 'Paki'. Councillor Ian Robinson, who is a school governor, asked: "Is Paki such a wrong word?" during a public meeting..... "We have used this word for donkey's years but apparently you can't say it any more.....

And Salim Mullah, secretary of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said he understood the word to be wrong, and advised friends, especially white people, against it. He said: "The word is not a respectful term. I would use a different phrase, like a member of the Pakistani community'. "A lot of people feel uncomfortable when someone uses 'Paki'."

But Councillor Robinson was supported by Pendle Council's Labour leader, Councillor Mohammad Iqbal, who said he had been called "a lot worse" and that he saw the term as an abbreviation, not an insult.


There is a similar "sensitivity" in Australia. To abbreviate "Aborigine" as "Abo" is sometimes claimed to be racist, though the actual derogatory term for Aborigines is "boong" (pronounced as in "book").


Frances Kemp booked an aisle seat on a recent British Airways (BA) flight because she had a bad leg that required extra space. Her 76-year-old husband Michael occupied the middle seat. A nine-year-old girl took the window position. When a stewardess asked Frances to switch seats with her husband, she declined. The stewardess explained that the seating arrangement breached the airline's child-welfare regulations and moved the child. Michael is a retired journalist with no criminal record; he made no contact-physical or verbal-with the girl; no complaint or request to move was received; the child's mother was elsewhere on the plane. The girl's welfare was deemed to be in peril solely because Michael was male.

BA has openly joined the ranks of airlines such as Air New Zealand and Qantas that view all men as a danger to children. It is difficult to know how many other airliners share this policy as it is rarely announced and can be enforced invisibly when seats are booked. Indeed, BA itself has been quietly instituting the policy since at least 2001 when another `seat rearrangement' drew attention. In answering a complaint from the humiliated man, BA explained, "We introduced the policy ... in response to customers asking us to make sure their children are not seated next to men. We were responding to a fear of sexual assaults."

It is not clear why parental worries cannot be resolved by carefully booking seats in advance or notifying attendants of a need to be extra watchful. But one thing is clear: some airlines are going to treat your father, husband and son as sex offenders simply because they are male. And the airlines show no sign of relenting. For example, in 2005, Mark Worsley had to change seats when a Qantas steward informed him that only women could next to unaccompanied children. When he registered a complaint, a Qantas spokesperson replied that the airline intended "to err on the side of caution" by continuing to act as though all men were dangerous. More recently and in the UK, Boris Johnson-a Member of Parliament-was asked to move from his seat by a BA stewardess. She retreated when he explained that the adjacent children were his own progeny. Johnson memorialized the experience in an article entitled "Come off it, folks: how many paedophiles can there be?"

If an airline restricted the seating of blacks because the 2004 Bureau of Justice data states "blacks [are] disproportionately represented among homicide victims and offenders", there would be a backlash of rage. It would make no difference that the parent or loved one of a white passenger had requested the `safety' measure. But, over the course of decades, Western culture has so thoroughly identified maleness itself with violence and abuse that major airlines feel free to openly treat them as predators. In response to the Qantas incident, Worsley stated, "Men are being demonized in the media for a long time now. I think probably this is just society's reaction-they think, `We'd better start tightening up on everything.' It's getting to the stage when all men are viewed with distrust."

The airlines' policy is rooted neither in fact nor common sense. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states "In 2004, 57.8 percent of child abuse and neglect perpetrators were females and 42.2 percent were males. "It is difficult to know how these figures apply to the specific concern of airlines; for one thing, the figures indicate that abusers are overwhelmingly parents or `caregivers' and the airlines target men who are unknown to the children. But the data highlights the absurdity of believing one gender has a monopoly on violence against children. (The specific issue of sexual violence against children is more difficult to break down according to the gender of the perpetrator. Statistics are usually based on the state-by-state confirmed cases investigated by child welfare agencies. A BBC documentary claimed that women committed 25% of all sexual child abuse. But the statistics are too inconsistent, politicized and poorly gathered to be reliable.)

Moving from factual to common sense objections, it is difficult to believe that in-flight child molestation is a real problem. A plane is not a secluded spot in the woods; it is an extremely public place where attendants and others constantly patrol the aisles. Nevertheless, if a problem does exist, if there is more to the policy than parents concerned about things that haven't occurred, then it would make sense to ban unattended children or to seat them in a separate section. As it stands, the policy seems rooted in little more than a dangerous tendency to paint men per se as predators.

Why is the tendency dangerous and not merely insulting? Because men are becoming increasingly reluctant to help a child in need, to act as teachers and caregivers, or to offer protection. A heartbreaking example of the consequences of their understandable reluctance occurred in England in late 2002. 2-year-old Abigail Rae died by drowning in a village pond; a man who saw her in the street earlier on had wanted to help but he had been afraid of being labeled "a pervert."

The policy harms children in a more subtle manner; they may no longer trust men per se enough to ask for help when they need it. They may hesitate to approach a policeman or fireman who are, after all, still men. That is the message airlines are sending to children. And how is that message being heard by the boys who will grow into men? Seating men as though they were sexual predators is a vicious and discriminatory practice that has no basis in fact or logic. Indeed, if the illogic of the policy were consistently spun out, it would mean `women and children only' flights and the restricted seating of men at theaters or concerts.



That an extraordinarily successful institution was in need of fundamental reform was always absurd

Oxford's reform plans were thrown into chaos last night when academics unexpectedly threw out proposals to hand strategic control of the university to outsiders. In what amounts to a crushing blow for John Hood, the Vice-Chancellor, the academics voted by a massive majority against his amended Governance White Paper.

The vote calls into question the future of Dr Hood, the first outsider Vice-Chancellor of the 900-year-old university, who had staked his name on pushing through the controversial reforms. Not since Congregation - the university's "parliament of dons" - voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed honorary degree for Margaret Thatcher in 1985 has the university been so divided.

The 17th-century Sheldonian Theatre was again the scene of rancorous debate last night, as 28 academics sought to persuade colleagues that plans to switch to a modern corporate style of governance would change the university for better or worse. In the end, the opponents, led by Nicholas Bamforth, a law lecturer and Fellow of Queen's College, won the day when 730 dons voted against the proposals and 456 voted in favour.

At times it sounded like a boardroom meeting, with references repeatedly made to the institution's 1.2 billion pounds value, and the vital role played by effective management structures. But the grand theatre was a far cry from any city conference room and the regal attire of the key participants bore little resemblance to the average business suit. Sitting on his gilded throne, flanked by purple-robed proctors and the silver staff-wielding bedels, Dr Hood sat passively, as fellow after fellow took up the attack.

Mr Bamforth called on Congregation to reject the proposals as they would not bring more sovereignty, but would "reduce the number of directly elected members on key decision-making bodies". He said: "There are plenty of things that are wrong with the university's present administrative processes. But these are best resolved by administrative reform, not by the wholesale ripping up of our present constitution," he said.

Dr Hood had recommended ending 900 years of self-rule by creating a board of directors with a majority of externally appointed members to approve the budget and oversee the running of the university. He had argued that his reforms would improve accountability and transparency and were crucial to Oxford retaining its international dominance. His opponents, however, feared that, ultimately, financial interests could outweigh Oxford's academic priorities, to the detriment of students, staff and the university. Facing an 8 million pound deficit this year, they believe the move could mean the end of one-to-one tutorials and pressurise them to take more wealthy overseas students.

Professor Iain McLean, Politics Fellow at Nuffield College, pointed out that Oxford had few supporters outside the university and as a regulated charity, it must have accountable trustees. However, after three hours of debate, Dr Hood and his reformers were defeated. Putting a brave face on the result, Dr Hood said it was part of "a lengthy and complex democratic process which has clearly reached an important stage". However, he hinted that the vote may be put again to all 3,700 members of Congregation in a postal vote next month, which would be decided by a majority and would be final. "That process permits a postal vote and a decision about that will have to be taken in the next few days," he said. "It is for council or 50 members of Congregation to take that decision, which is entirely in keeping with the university's democratic process." Privately, his supporters judged it unlikely that council would opt for a postal vote and risk another humiliation. Dr Hood had been backed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and by Lord Patten of Barnes, the Oxford Chancellor.



There are a few leaps in the reasoning below but it has given room for debate in an area not usually discussed scientifically

Your mother probably told you, as her mother told her: sit up straight. Whether at table, in class or at work we have always been told that sitting stiff-backed and upright is good for our bones, our posture, our digestion, our alertness and our general air of looking as if we are plugged into the world. Now research suggests that we would be far better off slouching and slumping. Today's advice is to let go and recline. Using a new form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a team of radiologists have found that sitting up straight puts unneccesary strain on the spine and could cause chronic back pain because of trapped nerves or slipped discs.

The ideal angle for office workers who sit for long periods is about 135 degrees. It might make working at a computer impractical but it will put less pressure on the spine than a hunched or upright position, the researchers say. The study at Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen involved 22 healthy volunteers who had no history of back pain or surgery. They adjusted their posture while being scanned by a movable MRI machine, assuming three sitting positions: a slouch, with the body hunched forward over a desk or video game console; an upright 90-degree sitting position; and a relaxed position where the patient reclined at 135 degrees but kept their feet on the floor. By measuring the spinal angles and the arrangement and height of spinal discs and movement across the positions, the radiologists found that the relaxed posture best preserved the spine's natural shape.

Waseem Amir Bashir, from Edinburgh, lead author of the study, said: "When pressure is put on the spine it becomes squashed and misaligned. A 135-degree body-thigh sitting posture was demonstrated to be the best biomechanical sitting position, as opposed to a 90-degree posture, which most people consider normal. "Sitting in a sound anatomic position is essential, since the strain put on the spine and its associated muscles and ligaments over time can lead to pain, deformity and chronic illness." Dr Bashir, who now works at the University of Alberta Hospital in Canada, presented the research yesterday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago. The study was the first of its kind because MRI scanning has previously required patients to lie flat.

Back pain is the cause of one in six days off work and about 80 per cent of Britons are expected to suffer from it at some point. Office workers and school children may stave off future back problems by correcting their sitting posture and finding a chair that allows them to recline, Dr Bashir said. He added: "We were not created to sit down for long hours, but somehow modern life requires the vast majority of the global population to work in a seated position, The best position for our backs is arguably lying down, but this is hardly practical."

However, Gordon Waddell, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Glasgow Nuffield Hospital, said that the link between biomechanics as shown in MRI scans and preventing back pain was still very theoretical. It was "human nature" to develop back pain, he said. "Like a headache or a cold, it seems we all get back pain and most of the evidence suggests that sitting position does not make a difference



So far only in dogs but child obesity cannot be far behind

Obesity has become such an issue of political incorrectness that two brothers appeared in court yesterday charged with allowing a dog to get too fat. Rusty, a nine-year-old labrador, may only have been doing what labradors do, which is to eat everything in sight. But he ballooned to more than 11r stone (161lb, 73kg), the ideal weight for a large-boned 6ft (1.82m) woman, but not a retriever, which should be chasing sticks and newly shot game. Rusty had trouble standing up, and after no more than five paces he had to sit down again, breathless. He looked, magistrates at Ely, Cambridgeshire, were told yesterday, more like a seal than a dog.

In what is thought to be the first case of its kind, Rusty's owners, David Benton and his brother Derek, have been charged with animal cruelty for allowing him to become grossly overweight. According to the Kennel Club, the ideal weight for a dog of Rusty's age and breed is between 65lb and 80lb. When found by an RSPCA inspector, Rusty was more than twice the upper limit. Unlike most labradors, he was quite incapable of leaping into a van. The Benton brothers, of Fordham, Cambridgeshire, deny causing the dog unncessary suffering. They claim that they fed Rusty a normal diet of dried pet food with only the odd bone as a treat.

When Jason Finch of the RSPCA first saw Rusty in February, he found the dog virtually unable to move, the court was told. He issued a notice advising the owners to take the dog to a vet as soon as possible. When he returned in March, they had not done so. The owners declined to sign the dog over to the RSPCA, but agreed to let Mr Finch take Rusty to the charity's own vet. But the dog could not even walk to Mr Finch's van.

Stephen Climie, for the prosecution, said that Rusty had been found to be morbidly obese at 74.2kg, double the weight of a normal labrador; the brothers had been told repeatedly by vets over five years to put the dog on a diet, but had not done so. Rusty suffers from arthritis, a common complaint in labradors, but his condition had been made worse by his being grossly overweight, Mr Climie said. Alex Wylie, a vet from Bury St Edmunds who treated Rusty, said that the dog suffered from painful joints and breathing problems. "He did literally look like a walrus. There were times when he couldn't get up from his back legs at all. It was horrible to see."

When interviewed by the RSPCA, David Benton insisted that Rusty ate only one meal of dried food each evening and a snack in the morning. "He has been plump ever since he was a puppy. He is a poor old thing but he is not in pain. We have tried to give him many foods, but it does not make any difference," he said. Derek Benton told the charity that Rusty's weight gain was old age catching up with him.

The court was told that Rusty had not seen a vet for 17 months before the RSPCA took him away. The brothers claimed that they used to get him treated under a pet insurance plan, but could no longer get cover because of his age. Since living with an RSPCA dog carer, the court was told, Rusty had lost 3.5 stone [49lb].