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.


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