Sunday, March 18, 2007


As my colleague James Harding wrote in times2 this week, there's a vibrancy about London these days that easily eclipses New York or Paris or Tokyo. To many residents, perhaps, life in London may be a struggle against rising crime and a crowded Tube and overpriced housing, but from an international perspective, it is truly the world's preeminent urban locale. In fact, in anything other than the most literal, geographic expression of the term, London is really no longer an English city at all. Its great economic dynamo, the City, powers corporations from Shanghai to Seattle. Its labour force, drawn to it by the opportunities of its free markets, is much more polyglot and multinational than any other urban concentration in the world.

But there's salt to this strawberry. London's political culture has been uprooted from its English heritage. It is run - if you can call it that - by a sort of postmodern communist Mayor, whose political voice - minus the annoying nasal whine - would sound right at home in Paris, Bologna or San Francisco. It hosts a metropolitan elite that loftily gazes three ways: outward, at the supposed superiority of anything not British; inward, at its own ineffable genius; and down its elegantly pampered nose, at the provincial trivialities that consume the dreary lives of the rest of the population.

But worst of all; much more, much more baleful than any of these irritations, is the political, cultural and intellectual hegemony exercised by the ultimate self-serving metropolitan monopoly, the BBC. Much worse because, unlike mayors and snobs, its domination of the rest of the country is so complete and so permanent.

On a recent trip back to Britain, I happened to hear on the BBC an interview with Helen Mirren, shortly before her Oscars triumph. Amid the usual probing sort of questioning that is the currency of celebrity journalism ("How do you manage to look so young? Is there anyone since Shakespeare who has come close to matching your talent?") one particular gem caught my attention.

Dame Helen was asked how difficult it had been to play such an "unsympathetic character" as the Queen, the eponymous heroine of her recent film. She replied, quite tartly, that she didn't find the Queen unsympathetic at all and launched into her now familiar riff about how she thought Elizabeth II really, surprisingly, quite agreeable.

It was a little incident, a small crystal in the battering hailstorm of drivel that pours daily through the airwaves. And yet to my mind it signified something so large. It had nothing to do with politics or Iraq or America. It was so telling in its revelation of prejudices and presumptions precisely because it was on such a slight matter as the sensibilities of an actress.

It betrayed an absolutely rock-solid assumption that the Queen is fundamentally unsympathetic, and that anyone who might still harbour some respect for the monarch - or indeed for that matter, the military or the Church, or the countryside or the joint stock company or any of the great English bequests to the world - must be some reactionary old buffer out in the sticks who has not had the benefit of the London media's cultural enlightenment. More than that, the question - all fawning and fraternal and friendly - contained within it an assumption that, of course, every thoughtful person shares the same view.

You really do have to leave the country to appreciate fully how pernicious the BBC's grasp of the nation's cultural and political soul has become. The groupthink and assumptions implicit in almost everything broadcast by BBC News, and even less explicitly by much else of the corporation's output, lie like a suffocating blanket over the national consciousness.

This is the mindset that sees the effortless superiority, at every turn, of benign collectivism over selfish individualism, exploited worker over unscrupulous capitalist, enlightened European over brutish American, thoughtful atheist over dumb believer, persecuted Arab over callous Israeli; and that believes the West is the perpetrator of just about every ill that has ever befallen the world - from colonialism to global warming.

I'm often told, when I take on like this, that I'm ignoring the quality of BBC output. But I spent almost a decade in the employ of the BBC and I can say, without demeaning my gifted colleagues at The Times, that it has probably one of the highest concentrations of talent of any institution in the world. But that, of course, is the problem. It perpetuates its power by attracting and retaining an educated elite that is distinguished by its unstinting devotion to collectivist values. I've no doubt it does what it does very well. It is what it does I object to.

A necessary word here about our sponsor. Anything critical of the BBC written by an employee of Rupert Murdoch is instantly dismissed. It's not an unreasonable instinct. Outside Murdochland it is solemnly assumed that each morning the drones of News Corporation are given their marching orders on how to interpret every event so that it conforms precisely to the commercial and political instincts of the proprietor.

In the real world, not only does the Murdoch media have only a fraction of the reach of the BBC, but a casual glance at its output demonstrates it is far less monolithic in its outlook than is the BBC.

Fortunately, in the US this week, I was struck by an article on the oped pages of The New York Times, the very citadel of leftish political correctness. Written by an apparently completely sane professor at a prestigious US university and entitled "Biased Broadcasting Corporation", it assailed the BBC's Middle Eastern services for their consistently anti-Western tone and content.

When the editorial pages of The New York Times accuse the BBC of anti-Western bias it is worth taking notice. It is a little like Osama bin Laden accusing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of being a bit harsh on the Jews. It suggests that in other, even pretty unlikely, parts of the world, people are waking up to the menace to our values represented by the BBC. The British sadly, seem curiously content to remain in thrall to it.



The latest IPCC report which reduces expected sea-level rise from feet to inches has got the Greenies rattled. Wretchard comments below on the rather amazing retreat from reality by a prominent global warmer -- who says that Greenies must trade "normal" truth for influence. It is a pretty good admission that global warming is not true in any normal sense.

The "precautionary principle" he invokes is in any case a philosophically silly detour. What do we take precautions against? A new ice age? One of those is geologically overdue. So you get straight back to a need to evaluate the evidence. What we do would be the opposite if we thought that a new ice age were more probable -- which it is.

Melanie Phillips is scathing about the anti-scientific Prof. Hulme too and Lubos Motl also weighs in

Mike Hulme, the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, argues in the Guardian that while scientific evidence may cast doubt on Global Warming why believe science? When a larger truth must be expressed, then "post-normal" science must be employed. (Hat tip: Melanie Philips and a Belmont Club reader)

Hulme argues that Global Warming is so important that everyone must act to stop it, whether or not it is scientifically known to exist.

Philosophers and practitioners of science have identified this particular mode of scientific activity as one that occurs where the stakes are high, uncertainties large and decisions urgent, and where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken.

It has been labelled "post-normal" science. ... The danger of a "normal" reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow. ... If only climate change were such a phenomenon and if only science held such an ascendancy over our personal, social and political life and decisions. In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage. ...

What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy; it is whether we have sufficient foresight, supported by wisdom, to allow our perspective about the future, and our responsibility for it, to be altered. All of us alive today have a stake in the future, and so we should all play a role in generating sufficient, inclusive and imposing knowledge about the future. Climate change is too important to be left to scientists - least of all the normal ones.

It is an argument superficially similar in structure to Pascal's Wager, which is an expected value argument for the existence of God.

Pascal argued that it is a better "bet" to believe that God exists, because the expected value of believing that God exists is always greater than the expected value resulting from non-belief. Indeed, he claimed that the expected value is infinite. Pascal believed that it was inexcusable not to investigate this question: "Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly." Pascal's Wager is an argument for belief in God that he made and used because he hoped it would convert those to Christianity, who were ignorant, uninterested, or unconvinced by the arguments for the existence of God.

But any resemblance between Pascal and Hulme ends there. While Pascal's Wager describes an approach to problems which are in principle unknowable to science because they are unobservable, at least with present methods, Hulme on the other hand, exiles phenomena which are entirely observable and which ought to be primarily in the domain of science to the realm of political activism. While in Pascal's Wager a personal bet on the existence of God can never alter the fact of His actual existence or non-existence and is therefore entirely private, Hulme's exhortation to base a global program of social and climate engineering on "post-normal" political science amounts to a kind of self-appointed and potentially catastrophic tyranny.

In declaring himself free of the traditional scientific burden of proof Hulme finally abandons any pretense to authority. He has no rigorous way to tell us what is going to happen next. Nor is he willing to discuss it with those who do. There are two ways to predict the future. Statistics can help us predict the future based on trends which arise from the past, like driving a car with a blacked-out windshield by extrapolating from the scene in the rearview mirror. The stronger way is to possess an analytic model of the phenomenon such that we can "see" the future in the way that we can predict the future position of Mars by celestial mechanics in order to meet it with a space probe. Of the two ways Hulme has neither, nor did the Global Warming crowd ever even pretend to have the second; but now there is no requirement to even have the first. Presumably Hulme would object to being labeled a jackass using the "post-normal" methods he advocates. It might be a false accusation, but then we're not talking about proof, are we?


Here's a YouTube clip from a Harvard astrosphysicist on the subject of "precautionary principle" as applied to weather engineering and the punishment its critics faced half a millenium ago. She has another word from the "post-normal" method of thinking: superstition. Click here

Summary of skeptical film

As Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" becomes mandatory viewing for many U.S. school children and nears becoming the "official truth" about global warming, it comes as most welcome news that an absolutely gripping film rebuttal has made its international debut, much to the chagrin of true believers in man-made climate change.

Last week, the UK's Channel 4 premiered a 75-minute film entitled, "The Great Global Warming Swindle." Through interviews with prize-winning climate experts and others, this masterful documentary explains the origins of global warming alarmism; debunks claims of man-made global climate change; exposes the motivations of organizations, scientists and activists sounding the alarm; and explains why it's been extremely difficult, if not downright dangerous, for climate scientists to question global warming orthodoxy publicly.

The entire film, which is creating quite a stir among tens of thousands of web viewers, can be viewed online at

According to the film, the origins of global warming alarmism had its roots in the 1970s-era fears of global cooling and an impending ice age, resulting from the 1940-1970 global temperature decline. Swedish meteorologist Bert Bolin suggested at the time that man-made greenhouse gas emissions might offset the cooling by warming the atmosphere.

When Margaret Thatcher became UK Prime Minister in 1979, her mandate was to reduce Britain's economic decline. Thatcher wanted to make the UK energy-independent through nuclear power - she didn't like her country's reliance on coal, which politically empowered the coal miner unions, or oil, which empowered Middle Eastern states.

So Thatcher latched onto Bolin's notion that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide warmed the planet in a harmful way, thereby providing the perfect political cover for advancing her nuclear power agenda without having to fight the miners or Arab oil states.

She empowered the U.K. Meteorological Office to begin global climate change research, a move that eventually led to the 1988 creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations' group that has come to be the "official" international agency for global warming alarmism.

At about the same time, as Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore explains on-camera, environmentalism became more extreme. By the mid-1980s, environmental goals - e.g., clean air and clean water - had become so mainstream that activists had to adopt more extreme positions to remain anti-establishment.

Then when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, many "peace-niks" and political activists moved over to environmental activism, bringing their "neo-Marxist" political philosophy with them. As Moore puts it, environmentalism became the "new guise for anti-capitalism."

Global warming alarmism was thus borne from this combination of official British policy, environmentalism's rejection of its own success and political opportunism by "unemployed" left-wing political activists.

With such an inglorious heritage, it's no wonder the scientists in "The Great Global Warming Swindle" have little trouble dismantling climate myths. Perhaps the most important bit of scientific knowledge presented is the actual relationship between temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide. In "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore disingenuously describes the relationship as "complex" while implying that higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels cause higher global temperatures. But according to the geological record and data from ice cores, higher temperatures actually precede higher carbon dioxide levels by about 800 years. Twentieth century data support this idea in at least two ways. First, most of the 20th century's warming occurred before 1940, while most of the century's greenhouse gas emissions occurred after 1940. Next, when manmade greenhouse gas emissions soared in the post World War II industrial boom, global temperatures declined until the mid-1970s, leading to the aforementioned global cooling concerns.

The Channel 4 program notes that ongoing temperature measurements contradict global warming theory. According to the theory, lower atmosphere temperatures should be warming at a much faster rate than those at the Earth's surface. In reality, however, just the opposite is occurring.

Then there's the sun - the gigantic yellow ball in the sky that climate alarmists want all of us to ignore in favor of minute emissions of an invisible gas that makes up less than one-half of one percent of the Earth's atmosphere. As it turns out, solar activity - unlike atmospheric carbon dioxide levels - correlates quite well with historic temperature changes, including through its effects on cosmic rays and clouds, as the film demonstrates quite effectively.

So why does the world seem to be caught up in the vise-like grip of a controversy that is contradicted by available scientific data and its own dubious heritage According to the scientists in the movie, there is an intolerance of dissent on global warming. Official government sanction of global warming opened the floodgates of funding to climate researchers, who previously worked in obscurity.

NASA scientist Roy Spencer says in the program that climate scientists need for there to be problems to get more funding. IPCC contributor John Christy says of climate scientists, "We have a vested interest in creating panic because money with then flow to climate scientists." University of London biogeographer Philip Stott says that "If the global warming virago collapses, there will be an awful lot of people out of jobs."

The film also debunks the IPCC claim that the 2,500 scientists contributing to its reports also support its alarmist conclusions. One key IPCC contributor for example, the Pasteur Institute's Paul Reiter, threatened to sue the IPCC if the group didn't remove his name from a chapter with which he disagreed.

When I met Al Gore in January 2006 after a presentation of his climate slideshow, I asked him if he'd be interested in setting up a public debate between climate scientists. He declined - twice. At this point, I'd settle for a movie face-off - "An Inconvenient Truth" vs. "The Great Global Warming Swindle." Let the public see both sides of the story and then we'll see who's believable and who's not.



[TV show] "Tomorrow's World" is like our Government in its attitude to the NHS. Ministers stand, Raymond Baxter-like, with a futuristic blueprint of how life will be; and they know that if they make it sound sensational enough, and have a perpetual showcase of ideas, we will barely notice that, in essence, the gadgets from the last episode are kaput, nothing has changed and all we receive are updates of stuff that did not work particularly well in the first place.

Coming soon from Tomorrow's NHS: an air-conditioning unit for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Marvel as the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, explains how it will work at a press conference today. Gasp as she neatly sidesteps the fact that if everybody with this incurable illness took up the offer of air-con installation, the cost would be in the region of o250 million. Gasp anyway when the next heatwave hits and you realise there is about as much chance of your GP springing for this as there is of your local Ford dealer contacting you about the flying four-door saloon you've had on order since 1973.

Do not be alarmed, though. There will be another glimpse of our brave new NHS world next month if Gordon pulls off his favourite trick by reinventing some old money as new in his budget. Maybe the paper-clip counters will lift their restrictions on drugs that stave off aggressive cancers or slow Alzheimer's disease. Doubt it. Most likely, there will just be the usual round of meetings, followed by a stalemate and the rearranging of figures to make it look as something has been done.

"Tomorrow's World" fizzled out because even in the computer age there are not that many new inventions. There are tweaks and refinements but it is not every week that a bloke marches into the television studio, consigns your 45s to the bin and hands you something called a compact disc. So it is with the NHS. We are led to believe that big, new ideas are happening all the time. Yet those who base their opinions on first-hand experience understand that little is different under Labour. We have various pronouncements and initiatives but, as ever, nobody gets out of casualty within four hours and waiting lists for big operations are still ticked off in years and months, not weeks.

When my father-in-law was dying of a brain tumour (called glioblastoma multiforme, the axe-wielding psychopath of the cancer family) and required round-the-clock care, three suits from the local health authority attempted to have the budgetary meeting about which department picked up his tab while drinking tea in his sitting-room, in front of his family. That was a decade ago. Now, his widow, my mother-in-law, waits for a hip replacement that was agreed to be essential the Christmas before last. The Health Secretary will tell you that care has changed and nobody waits more than six months for hip operations these days. If they do, the local trust has to pay to send the patient private. But that's another flying car. The actuality is that the six-month countdown only kicks in when a patient is on the waiting list, so if there is no availability the trick is to keep her off the register for as long as possible.

Say an elderly woman whose blood pressure is up, which it might be if she was on the highest daily dose of morphine for pain, and who is throwing up every morning as a side-effect, had hung about in a corridor for two hours and was then being seen in the NHS equivalent of a MASH unit with twin consultations taking place side-by-side in the same grubby room. Well, you cannot have the operation with raised blood pressure, so we have to get that under control before we can put you on the list. The same, next time, with that slightly high thyroid reading. We'll need to adjust your medication first, I'm afraid.

No doubt it is important. But a thyroid takes weeks to get under control, the waiting list is measured in months, but the two cannot run together because this is not about good health, but good housekeeping, the management of cost and resources, better to manipulate figures. All the patient can do is keep going back in the hope that, next time, the health service can find no reason to stall. Meanwhile, drink your morphine.

So when the Health Secretary stands up with the promise of a chilled climate for a million incurable wheezers this summer, please excuse my scepticism. She may see a vision of a healthy future, but from here it is just another holiday on Mars. Air-conditioning to be provided by people that can't find you a bed? Don't hold your breath.



They have been a common sight in Brisbane suburban gardens over the years, but now the humble pomegranate is reaching celebrity status in the UK. And it's all because of their supposed health benefits. Demand for the fruit has grown by 76 per cent across stores over the past year, figures from market analysts TNS show. Dubbed a "superfood", the pomegranate has overtaken blueberries as Britain's fastest growing seller, according to supermarket chain Tesco which sold 3.8 million pomegranates in the past year - an increase of two million on the previous year. Other products dubbed "superfoods" because of their health benefits include spinach, broccoli, avocados and fish rich in omega 3 oils.

The pomegranate is a native fruit of the Middle East which grows well in Queensland's tropical conditions. Just one pomegranate provides around 40 per cent of the daily recommended vitamin C intake. They also contain high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents and have been shown to help with the treatment of a range of illnesses including osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease.

Research from the US also has revealed that eating pomegranates slows down the progress of prostate cancer. Last year, a team at the University of California, Los Angeles found drinking just one glass of pomegranate juice a day could allow a man aged 65-70 years who already has prostate cancer to complete his normal lifespan without harsh medical treatments. More than 2500 men die from prostate cancer in Australia each year.

That US research team found pomegranate juice dramatically slowed prostate cancer in mice. "Our study, while early, adds to growing evidence that pomegranates contain very powerful agents against cancer, particularly prostate cancer," said Professor Hasan Mukhtar who led the study. "There is good reason now to test this fruit in humans, both for cancer prevention and treatment."


Journal abstract follows. Note that the research showed effects only in the test tube and in specially prepared mice. It is a big leap from that to an effect on human lifespan

Pomegranate fruit juice for chemoprevention and chemotherapy of prostate cancer

Arshi Malik et al

Prostate cancer is the most common invasive malignancy and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among U.S. males, with a similar trend in many Western countries. One approach to control this malignancy is its prevention through the use of agents present in diet consumed by humans. Pomegranate from the tree Punica granatum possesses strong antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties. We recently showed that pomegranate fruit extract (PFE) possesses remarkable antitumor-promoting effects in mouse skin. In this study, employing human prostate cancer cells, we evaluated the antiproliferative and proapoptotic properties of PFE. PFE (10-100 æg/ml; 48 h) treatment of highly aggressive human prostate cancer PC3 cells resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of cell growth/cell viability and induction of apoptosis. Immunoblot analysis revealed that PFE treatment of PC3 cells resulted in (i) induction of Bax and Bak (proapoptotic); (ii) down-regulation of Bcl-XL and Bcl-2 (antiapoptotic); (iii) induction of WAF1/p21 and KIP1/p27; (iv) a decrease in cyclins D1, D2, and E; and (v) a decrease in cyclin-dependent kinase (cdk) 2, cdk4, and cdk6 expression. These data establish the involvement of the cyclin kinase inhibitor-cyclin-cdk network during the antiproliferative effects of PFE. Oral administration of PFE (0.1% and 0.2%, wt/vol) to athymic nude mice implanted with androgen-sensitive CWR22Rnu1 cells resulted in a significant inhibition in tumor growth concomitant with a significant decrease in serum prostate-specific antigen levels. We suggest that pomegranate juice may have cancer-chemopreventive as well as cancer-chemotherapeutic effects against prostate cancer in humans.

Britain: Gifted grade school children to be offered extra activities

A poor substitute for accelerated progession. The kids concerned will still be bored stiff in class

The most gifted 10 per cent of primary school children are to be offered extra classes under plans to track the brightest 400,000 through school and into university. Under the scheme, to be announced by Tony Blair on Monday, children as young as 4 will qualify for summer schools at universities, as well as online tuition, Saturday morning classes and joint activities with bright children from other schools. The scheme will extend the reach of the National Gifted and Talented Youth Agency, which is aimed at 150,000 pupils in state secondary schools. It was set up in 2002 after concerns that middle-class parents were abandoning the state sector for private schools because mixed-ability teaching failed to challenge the brightest pupils.

The initiative coincides with the release of figures from the Independent Schools Council suggesting that the growth in admissions to private schools is being driven by the primary sector. Pupil numbers in state primaries have fallen by almost 300,000, to 4.1 million, since 1997, and prep school numbers have increased by more than 14,000, to 159,000.

Downing Street emphasised, however, that the scheme aimed to ensure that more bright children were identified early on. A source said: "This is about helping each child to reach their full potential. That means identifying and developing the talents of children from an early age, and at the same time giving extra support to children who are struggling."

Under the scheme, each school will be required to appoint a teacher to select the 10 per cent most gifted and talented children. Assessments will be based on teacher assessments and the results of national Key Stage 1 tests that children sit at the age of 7. The term "gifted" is taken generally to apply to children of high intelligence, while "talented" refers to those with outstanding ability in a specific area, such as art, music or sport.

Bethan Marshall, a lecturer in education at King's College London, said: "Some children who are not labelled gifted and talented might feel like failures if they are not selected, particularly if they come from a competitive home. Children who are selected may feel it is an expectation that they have to live up to."

Peter Congdon, an educational psychologist and director of the Gifted Children's Information Centre, said that research had shown that teachers had insufficient training properly to identify gifted and talented pupils. "Teachers tend to choose children who produce good work on paper and who behave themselves. What are known as `gifted disabled' children, who may be very intelligent, but also dyslexic, may be missed, as may the ones who are very bright, but who are misfits," he said.

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham, said: "If it is intended to buy off the middle classes it won't work because what they want is a good all-round education," he said. Sir Cyril Taylor, the chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and the driving force behind the National Talent Register, the existing table of the 5 per cent of pupils with the best scores for maths and English, has not been consulted over the plan to extend the programme to primary children. Sir Cyril cautioned against diverting attention and funding from the gifted and talented programme for secondary schools and said that neither scheme would work unless those running it knew exactly what they were aiming to achieve. The announcement will coincide with the release of the names of the ten local authorities that are to pilot a scheme to measure pupil progress


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