Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fury as crooner sings praises of Third Reich

We read:

"Ageing crooner Bryan Ferry has outraged Jewish groups after an astounding interview during which he spoke of his admiration for the Nazis.

In the interview with German journalists, Ferry described Nazi rallies as "just amazing" and admitted calling his recording studio the "Fuhrerbunker", a title associated with Adolf Hitler's headquarters.

"My dear gentlemen, the Nazis knew how to put themselves in the limelight and present themselves," Ferry, who is about to embark on a UK tour, told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

"Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful." ...

Ferry's manager Steven Howard defended the outburst, saying: "To suggest a certain appreciation of art and architecture that happens to be associated with the Nazi regime means condoning the action of that regime is illogical."

Overnight, Ferry apologised for his remarks. In a statement, the singer said he was "deeply upset" about the negative publicity the interview triggered, and added: "I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective.


There is an old Latin proverb: "De gustibus non disputandum est" -- "concerning taste there must be no dispute". But Hitler was an artist and there is no doubt that Nazi aesthetics appealed (and still appeal) to many. It seems to me "insensitive" for anybody not to realize that. Denying the appeal of Nazism runs the risk of facilitating its return, it seems to me.


Rising population isn't going to destroy the planet

The BBC's Reith Lectures are not known for their humorous content, but the opening words of the 2007 series had me rocking with laughter. Professor Jeffrey D Sachs [pic above] told his audience that "It is with profound humility that I speak to you". Jeffrey Sachs is a man with many positive attributes, but humility is certainly not one of them. This can be seen in his new book, The End of Poverty, which might well have been subtitled "My plan to save the world". It has an introduction by Bono, which, as one reviewer pointed out, is appropriate: the economist as rock star meets the rock star as economist. Such an alliance must surely have titillated the BBC.

I suppose it will also have been aware of MTV's series The Diary of Angelina Jolie and Dr Jeffrey Sachs in Africa. Alas, Angelina was not among Sachs' audience at the Royal Society, an audience he described (with all humility) as "a unique gathering of leaders of action and thought" - but Geri Halliwell showed up, which was nice. So Professor Sachs is cool.

This is a relatively new phenomenon for the man described by himself as "internationally renowned for his work as an economic advisor to governments in Latin America, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia and Africa". He is indeed renowned for all that, but not, it must be said, universally admired for it. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe he and a handful of other Harvard economists introduced so-called "shock therapy", characterised chiefly by instant and massive privatisation and the simultaneous removal of all price controls.

In Russia this was hardly a great success, and not just because of the traumatic consequences in the short term. Sachs insists that Yeltsin, rather than his American advisors, was responsible for the fact that the privatisation policy amounted in practice to the theft by a handful of favoured apparatchiks of the industries previously ran - in its own inimitably corrupt fashion - by the state. The former World Bank economist David Ellerman counters that it was the rapidity of the privatisation which made such an outcome inevitable, declaring that "Only the mixture of American triumphalism and academic arrogance could have produced such a lethal dose of gall."

Not surprisingly, those on the left with long memories are somewhat cynical about Sachs' new plans to solve poverty in Africa, although they warmly endorse his appeal to America to devote more money to international aid and less to international warfare: "I hope he gets what he wants, but that he doesn't get any credit for it", commented David Ellerman, in a somewhat sour jibe at Sachs' elemental ego.

In one respect there is a consistency between Sachs' Russian debacle and what he now demands for Africa. He wanted the US to provide much more in aid to the new Russia, and was openly critical when it failed to come up with the sums he thought necessary. It seems incredible to me that such an intelligent man couldn't see that the same corrupt elites who stole entire industries would appropriate aid dollars with exactly the same attention to detail.

His main academic critic in the US, Professor William Easterly of New York University, is similarly dismissive of Sachs' view that the solution to Africa's problems lies principally in an enormous expansion of aid budgets. Easterly, a former development economist at the World Bank, is the author of The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, cataloguing the corrupt practices which have ensured that almost two-and-a-half trillion dollars of aid have achieved nothing but economic stagnation in Africa.

Sachs' retort is that the aid had been spent in the wrong way - and, of course, he knows the right way. Even supposing that he does, there is still the matter of transmitting the money. Perhaps because Sachs is now a special advisor to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, he proposes that this task be allocated to various UN agencies. These, I take it, would be the same bureaucratic geniuses who managed the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme.

This is not an argument for ignoring the wretched of the world: Sachs is obviously right that we have a moral duty to do the best that we can, but that will involve learning from those countries which have transformed their prospects over the past quarter century. In Fighting the Diseases of Poverty (International PolicyPress) Indur Goklany points out that, while Sub-Saharan Africa has a higher food supply per capita than it did 25 years ago, its growth in that most basic measurement of individual well-being has been vastly outstripped by China. The world's most populous nation has achieved this by the same means which brought prosperity to the developed world: industrialisation. Aid had nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately, however, Professor Sachs seems to subscribe to the fashionable view that this is a bad thing because it is killing the planet. In his first Reith lecture, he denounced something called "The anthropocy, in Beijing, which soon will be the country (sic) that is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet". He linked this to the claim that we - the anthropocy, presumably - are "over-hunting, over-fishing and over-gathering just about anything that grows slowly or moves slowly".

The Malthusian myth is an unconscionable time a-dying. Sachs' first lecture was entitled "Bursting at the seams". Yet humanity has consistently demonstrated that there is no causal link between population growth and increasing poverty. Our numbers are higher than they have ever been - and the average member of our species has never been further from starvation. As Indur Goklany points out, "Since 1950 the global population has increased by 150 per cent, but at the same time the real price of food commodities has declined 75 per cent... average daily food supplies per person in developing countries increased by 38 per cent."

Yet on BBC's Newsnight the same day as Sachs' lecture, the Secretary of State for the Environment, David Miliband, declared that it was impossible for the rest of humanity to aspire to the level of consumption that we currently enjoy: "If the world were to have the same living standards as we have in the UK, then we'd need three planets to support us." In the studio the environment spokesmen of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats nodded sagely.

Possibly Jeffrey Sachs and David Miliband are right that the planet is doomed if we carry on as we are. Yet for 200 years since Thomas Malthus wrote his Essay on the Principle of Population, economists and politicians have continued to make fools of themselves by writing books and delivering lectures prophesying famines and planetary apocalypse, unless we take their advice. It's one way to make a living, I suppose.



Care for premature or seriously ill babies has fallen even farther below acceptable standards, the baby charity Bliss has found. In a report prepared for it by two researchers at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, it finds that units are understaffed, often have to close to new admissions, and that babies often need to be driven hundreds of miles to the nearest empty intensive care cot.

The report shows that, on average, baby units are understaffed by a third and suitably qualified nurses are in particularly short supply. Two thirds of units, not wishing to turn babies away, admitted more than they could care for properly. Many babies needing the highest levels of intensive care had to be treated in units capable of providing only lower levels. Ideally, said Bliss, there should be one nurse for every baby in intensive care, a staffing figure agreed by ministers. The research for its report shows that if this target were achieved infant deaths could be reduced by 48 per cent. At present less than 4 per cent of units achieve this staffing ratio.

Andy Cole, the chief executive of Bliss, said: "The first few days after birth are absolutely critical for babies born premature or sick, and the care they receive during this period shapes not only their chances of survival but also their future health. "Bliss is concerned that the Government gives less priority to intensive care for babies than for adults and children and that it is only thanks to the goodwill and commitment of doctors and nurses that babies are being cared for in some cases. "We are calling on the Government to make one-to-one nursing care mandatory for intensive care babies, and to commit the necessary resources to get this essential service back on track."

The new report, Special Delivery or Second Class, was based on data provided by almost 80 per cent of the 224 units in hospitals for the care of newborn babies. Demand for such services is increasing. Last year 80,000 babies were admitted to the units, which are classifed into three categories: intensive-care units, high-dependency units, and special-care units. The babies needing care were born prematurely (less than 37 weeks of gestation), of low birth weight (less than 5.5lb) or had other medical problems. The number of babies who survive such an unpromising start in life is increasing, so the demand for the units is increasing.

Between 60 and 70 per cent of units said that demand for cots exceeded capacity last year across all three levels of care. As a result, some babies were being given care in inappropriate units: 1,233 were given breathing support in special-care units, for example, which are equipped to deliver such care only in the short-term.

Some transfers of babies between units are inevitable and can be justified if, for example, they need surgery. Transfers simply because units are full (called inappropriate transfers) should not exceed 10 per cent. Last year the figure was 22.6 per cent. In one in four cases twins or triplets were separated and sent to units that may be hundreds of miles apart, a traumatic experience for mothers. "It is hard to imagine having the stress of one child in an intensive care unit," Mr Cole said. "Imagine having two, split by 150 miles."

Three years ago the Department of Health committed 70 million pounds to improving the service but the money has now almost run out, and Bliss believes that at least 20 million of it disappeared into other budgets because it was not ring-fenced. It calculates that to meet the full requirement of one-to-one nursing, the present numbers need to rise from 5,863 whole-time equivalents to 8,147, an increase of almost 2,300 nurses, which would cost 75 million a year.


Politically correct British police force hiring officers 'who can't do the job'

One of the country's most senior policemen has admitted his force is recruiting unsuitable officers in its drive to be politically correct. Dyslexics, the physically disabled and those with religious beliefs which affect their work are apparently being given jobs - even though they are unable to fulfil their role. Steve Roberts, a deputy assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, said there was a 'whole cohort' of inadequate officers coming into the London force because the force had 'shied away' from tackling the issue.

His comments in the magazine Police Review follow a series of embarrassments for the Metropolitan Police in recent months. PC Alexander Omar Basha, a Muslim officer, provoked a political storm last year when he was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy on 'moral grounds' after he expressed concerns over the bombing of Lebanon. In another incident, a female Muslim officer refused to shake the hand of Commissioner Sir Ian Blair at her passing out ceremony. Other cases include a Seventh Day Adventist officer who wanted to take the Sabbath off, an orthodox Jewish officer who wanted Fridays off and a number of men or women with severe dyslexia.

Mr Roberts said the Met was 'letting its managers down' by failing to issue clear policy on recruitment. He said: "What is really comes down to is that it does not matter what it is that causes you to be incapable of fulfilling the full duties of an ordinary officer. "It does not matter if it is because you have a physical disability, dyslexia or a particular requirement which means you have to have every Sunday off - unless you are able to fulfil the duties of a constable, we should not be allowing you to think you can join in the first place. "And we should not, if that arises after joining, be saying you can make a good and efficient officer at the end of the probationary stage. "We have let our managers down in not making it as clear as we should do what our attitude to difference is and what we expect of them [in order to] give them the confidence to deal with people genuinely fairly."

Mr Roberts said that the force was still able to adapt to an officer's specialist requirements. He added: "For example, there was never actually a problem with the young female officer who did not want to shake the commissioner's hand. "She simply said, quite reasonably, 'Actually, I would prefer not to'. "Supposing it had been the case that normally the Commissioner kissed on the cheek every new recruit who came up to meet him and someone said 'I would rather he did not do that to me', we would not think that was a big deal. "We can adapt on those things that do fit in with being a constable and fulfilling the full range of duties but certain factors are not a condition of someone becoming a police officer, it is simply what a good employer does."

Mr Roberts, who is deputy head of human resources at the Met continued: "This is not moving away from diversity and saying it does not matter any more. "But it is about setting proper limits to make sure we do manage it properly, without ever losing sight of the main point of delivering the right service. "Getting a diverse workforce is not a nice, optional thing. It is what we have got to do in order to be properly representative of London."


Brit police tracking young Muslims

MI5 is adopting tactics used by the police to keep tabs on paedophiles and other sex offenders to monitor the activities of known or suspected Islamic extremists, The Times has learnt. The threat from radicalised young Muslims is growing at such a rate that MI5 has realised that it needs the help of police officers on the streets to help it keep a check on extremists in their areas.

The police keep track of known paedophiles by collating sightings of them and noting whom they meet and which areas they frequent - a tactic that MI5 sees as ideal for keeping track of the movements of Islamic extremists. Thousands of police officers on the beat in areas with large Pakistani communities - such as Birmingham, Leeds and London - will be expected to keep a lookout for young Muslims known to have become radicals.

The information gathered from day-to-day observations will be used to compile a comprehensive database of lower-level extremism. This register will help both MI5 and the police. However, there are thousands of other radicalised young Muslims from countries such as Pakistan, North Africa and Somalia about whom there is no intelligence linking them to terrorist groups. Because of limited resources, they are not regarded as a priority for MI5 when there are so many others who are known to be affiliated to terrorist networks in Britain and, in many cases, actually to be plotting attacks. The fear is that young Muslims who are being radicalised may be persuaded to support the cause of the terrorists.

MI5 has built up an extensive archive of extremist activities, according to security sources. But its surveillance officers have time to focus only on those posing a terrorist threat. Security sources say that monitoring extremists is only part of the drive to deal with the growing challenge of a younger generation of Muslims, most of them of Pakistani origin, being suborned into supporting terrorism.

The security and intelligence services are relying on the Government to come up with policies and funds that will help Muslim communities, providing jobs, decent homes and social welfare support to dissuade the young from becoming extremists. The threat from home-grown Islamic extremism and terrorism, largely emanating from British Pakistanis, is a relatively recent phenomenon. The terrorist threat in Britain before the 9/11 attacks in the US was principally viewed as coming from Algerians, Moroccans and other North Africans.

Since 2001, and particularly since the July 7 suicide bombings in 2005, MI5 has been collecting as much information as possible about Muslim radicalisation in this country. However, security sources emphasised that the new approach - contributing towards the police's existing "Rich Picture" project, which is aimed at uncovering young Muslims being groomed for terrorism - did not mean that MI5 was targeting the Muslim communities in Britain. This is a highly sensitive issue, especially as Muslim leaders have accused MI5 and the police of using all their resources to spy on their communities.

Both MI5 and the police insist they want clerics and other Muslim leaders to help them to stamp out extremism and actively seek their cooperation. The security sources said that it was a matter for individual police forces to decide how to prioritise their resources in keeping track of Islamic extremists. But the aim was to enable the police in their areas to know of the whereabouts of extremists. "This is a new approach and we hope that police officers will understand that the job of countering terrorism and extremism is not just for MI5 and the police special branch but can be carried out by traditional police methods," one security source said.

Sensitive intelligence about terrorist suspects is shared with Special Branch and with regional intelligence cells. This level of cooperation has improved in recent months, with the setting up of eight regional MI5 offices, sharing Special Branch premises, in Scotland, the North East, North West, the East and West Midlands, South West, Wales and South East


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