Monday, January 08, 2007


I suspect that the police are actually satirizing do-gooder laws that they disagree with

Pictures of two murderers on the run from jail were released last night after the Lord Chancellor criticised a police force for suggesting that the Human Rights Act prevented their publication.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, QC, dismissed the suggestions by Derbyshire police as "absolute nonsense" and demanded an explanation of their refusal to release the pictures. "When you are dealing with two convicted murderers, both of whom have absconded, it is utterly obvious that there is no public interest arising out of the Human Rights Act which prevents publication," Lord Falconer said.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) also said yesterday that the photos should be published if the men were considered a danger to the public. It said that the Human Rights Act explicitly allowed police to print "wanted" pictures if it was in the public interest.

The row plunged the Government into controversy over its Human Rights Act. Lord Falconer intervened after Derbyshire Constabulary decided not to release pictures of Jason Croft and Michael Nixon, both 28, who absconded from Sudbury open prison in November. Croft, also known as Jason Fox, from Salford, and Nixon, of Blackley, Manchester, were near the end of life sentences for murder and had been given day release and allowed home visits. Croft was given a life sentence in 1996 after stabbing a youth in the chest as he lay unconscious in a street in Moston, Manchester. Nixon was also jailed for life in 1996 after he dropped a concrete block on a teenager's head in the Newton Heath area of the city.

Derbyshire police said that a number of factors had been considered in reaching the decision, including the possibility that publication breached the prisoners' human rights. The force also insists that the two men pose a minimal risk to the public as they had been assessed as low risk before the Prison Service transferred them from a closed to an open prison.

As the Derbyshire force continued its stance, the Greater Manchester force released the images last night. A spokesman for the DCA said: "Nothing in the Human Rights Act prevents publishing the photograph of an escaped criminal if he presents a danger to the public. On the contrary, the Act explicitly allows public authorities to limit an individual's right to privacy in the interests of public safety or for the prevention of crime. It is merely common sense, as well as the law, that the right to personal privacy can be restricted to facilitate the identification and capture of an escaped criminal, particularly in cases where there is a danger to the public."

The Information Commissioner's Office, the department responsible for access to, and the protection of, information, also said that data protection rules cannot be used as a reason not to release the images. Neither of the two escapers is thought to be still in Derbyshire.

A police spokesman said: "When making a decision to release any photograph, police forces must take into account numerous factors, including the public interest test, whether there is a strong local policing purpose and, of course, the Human Rights and Data Protection Acts. "Photographs of named people that are in police possession are classed as data and their release is restricted by law.

"Association of Chief Police Officers guidance states that releasing a `wanted' photograph of a named person should only happen in exceptional circumstances where officers believe that the named suspect may be a danger to the public." Acpo said that it did not have specific guidance in a case such as this. Croft has been missing since October 31 and Nixon since he failed to appear at roll call on November 2.



Smarter people tend to eat more "approved" food. But what does it mean? It turns out that it is not a raw IQ effect but is mediated via social class. Brighter people are more educated and more education means more indoctrination into conventional health wisdom. The findings do however extend yet again the evidence about the great raw predictive power of IQ tests in most aspects of life. Journal abstract follows:

Childhood Mental Ability in Relation to Food Intake and Physical Activity in Adulthood: The 1970 British Cohort Study

G. David Batty et al.

OBJECTIVE. The purpose of this work was to examine the relation of scores on tests of mental ability in childhood with food consumption and physical activity in adulthood.

METHODS. Based on a cohort of >17000 individuals born in Great Britain in 1970, 8282 had complete data for mental ability scores at 10 years of age and reported their food intake and physical activity patterns at 30 years of age.

RESULTS. Children with higher mental ability scores reported significantly more frequent consumption of fruit, vegetables (cooked and raw), wholemeal bread, poultry, fish, and foods fried in vegetable oil in adulthood. They were also more likely to have a lower intake of chips (French fries), nonwholemeal bread, and cakes and biscuits. There was some attenuation in these associations after adjustment for markers of socioeconomic position across the life course, which included educational attainment, with statistical significance lost in some analyses. Higher mental ability was positively associated with exercise habit, in particular, intense activity (defined by being out of breath/sweaty). The associations between mental ability and these behaviors were similar in both men and women, and they were somewhat stronger for verbal than nonverbal ability.

CONCLUSIONS. It is plausible that the skills captured by IQ tests, such as the ability to comprehend and reason, may be important in the successful management of a person's health behaviors.



"The Guardian" says so -- so it must be right

The environment minister is right to criticise airlines, but the truth is that the government and the aviation industry are on the same side. Environment minister Ian Pearson's comments about airlines confirm aviation's position as one of the touchstones of action on climate change. The industry has been squealing about the recent increase in air passenger duty and, as Ian Pearson rightly said, a huge battle is taking shape in Europe on whether and how aviation will be part of the European emissions trading scheme (ETS).

This is as it should be. The industry likes to say that aviation is a small part of the climate change problem, but it ignores two big issues. The first is the rate of growth in aviation: if the government's target of reducing carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 is to be met and aviation carries on growing at current rates, all other sectors of the economy will have to make much bigger cuts in emissions - up to 87% according to one recent report, using British Airways' own figures (and these assume some greening of aviation technology). The second is that aviation's contribution is greater than simple carbon figures suggest, because the impacts of emissions in the skies are greater. The exact level of "radiative forcing", as the effect of emissions at high altitude is known, is uncertain but the current estimate is that it worsens the impact by 2.7 times and it could be larger.

There are a lot of doubts about whether including aviation in the ETS will have any impact on this (much depends on the caps included and the terms of admission) but it is at least an attempt to do something about this. As Ian Pearson says, much of the industry is in denial about its effects. What he didn't say was that the industry, backed by the Americans and many other governments in the rest of the world are mobilising to attack the EU and to ensure that any restrictions on aviation of any sort whatever are outlawed through the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which meets next autumn.

But at another level, the minister is engaging in shadow-boxing. The truth is that the government and the aviation industry are on the same side. The industry asserts that the economic benefits outweigh any environmental costs of aviation, and the government believes it. The pre-budget report uncritically printed extracts from an industry-sponsored report which vastly exaggerates the economic contribution of aviation.

Ian Pearson did not think to mention the government's progress report on its aviation white paper, slipped out before Christmas, which reiterated and strengthened the government's support for large-scale expansion of airports - a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow, a second runway at Stansted, expansion at Manchester and several other airports. The growth in aviation that such airport expansion will allow will outrun any moves to cut emissions through the ETS or technology improvements. Ministers have bought the argument that such expansion is essential for competitiveness; the industry has successfully sold them the line that other countries are expanding their airports so the UK has to as well. The large and growing opposition to airport expansion in other countries finds their ministers using the same arguments about the UK.

If ministers were really determined to do something about aviation's contribution to climate change, they would tackle both demand and supply. Transit traffic - a large chunk of Heathrow passengers - contributes nothing to the UK economy. Video-meeting technology can substitute for some international flights. The growth in freight-only flights, increasing food miles, could be taxed. Most importantly, the large domestic and near-Europe flights - the main users for the projected third runway at Heathrow - could be replaced by trains.

But in a week where, because of government franchising policy, train fares were increased yet again above inflation and well above European levels, you can understand a government minister not mentioning this.

So Ian Pearson is right to criticise the airlines - but his own government is culpable in taking the industry view and promoting aviation expansion, rather than alternatives. If the government is serious about climate change, action on aviation is essential.


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