Tuesday, May 08, 2007

British bombers more Leftist than Islamic

`This grandson of a British Army Colonel loved Man Utd and fish'n'chips and dreamed of playing cricket for England. He could have picked any career.. HE CHOSE TERROR.' So says the British tabloid the Sun about Omar Khyam, the middle-class leader of the fertiliser bomb plotters from Crawley in Sussex, England who were found guilty this week of conspiring to bomb targets in the UK. Just as in the wake of 7/7, political commentators are struck by how British the plotters seem: one dreamt of overnight celebrity and becoming a male model; another loved greyhound racing. Many are now wondering out loud how these men, who seem `as British as Tizer, and queues, and Y-fronts and the Changing of the Guard', came to be warped by a killer foreign ideology.

The search for a foreign explanation for the plotters' antics misses the point about `homegrown terrorism'. Since 7/7, when three British-born Pakistanis from Leeds and their friend from Huddersfield killed themselves and 52 others on Tube trains and a bus, British society has woken up to the fact that terrorism is very often `homegrown'. But there's still too much emphasis on looking for a foreign catalyst for the twisting of Our Boys' minds. The finger of blame is pointed at wacky Islamic sects like al-Muhajiroun or Pakistani `Mr Bigs' who are said to have transformed chip-eating, cricket-playing young men from Leeds or Crawley into wannabe killers. In fact, homegrown terrorists often seem to have been shaped by trends and outlooks that are homegrown, too. Consider the Crawley plotters: they harboured prejudices that were very British indeed.

The plotters talked about attacking British civilians - and their choice of civilians is striking. They discussed blowing up nightclubs and the Bluewater shopping centre [a sort of British Wal-Mart] in Kent. They also floated the possibility of poisoning beer and burgers and selling them to unwitting football fans and setting up a bogus takeaway service which would sell poisoned food. One plotter, Jawad Akbar, suggested the gang should target the Ministry of Sound in London, one of Britain's biggest nightclubs, as `no one can turn round and say "oh they were innocent", those slags dancing around'. Another, Waheed Mahmood, preferred the idea of getting a job as a beer vendor at a football ground. `You just put poison in a syringe, injecting it in a can.[or] you could stand on street corners selling poison burgers and then just leave the area.'

The plotters would not have had to listen to a sermon by some bearded crank or travel to Pakistan to arrive at the conclusion that `slags' and football fans and big mall shoppers in Britain are somehow lesser people. It has become de rigueur recently, particularly among the chattering classes, to slate sections of the British working classes for their binge-drinking and generally bad behaviour. Officials fret over the sight of young girls in mini-skirts falling down drunk (that's `slags' to some people) while TV documentaries and newspaper articles expose the apparently seedy and violent life of `football hooligans'. For some, Bluewater has in recent years come to symbolise all that is vacant and violent about suburban Britain. When it opened a Bishop described it disparagingly as a `Temple of Consumerism'. In 2005, Bluewater became a testing ground for zero tolerance policies against anti-social behaviour when its managers, encouraged by MPs, banned the wearing of hooded tops and baseball caps and even swearing as part of a `crackdown on unacceptable behaviour'

For those who consider consumerism to be the great evil of our age - from those headline-hogging anti-Tesco campaigners to the green-leaning Buy Nothing brigade - Bluewater is pretty much the seventh circle of hell. An online publication that keeps track of `Chav Towns' describes Bluewater as being full of `Burberry-clad hordes', `the most chav-infested place on the face of the Earth': `It is not unlike the mall in the original Dawn of the Dead with chavs instead of zombies shuffling aimlessly around, making inhuman noises, looking for trainers and hoop earrings rather than human flesh.' (4) The image of shoppers as zombies is a common one these days. The Crawley plotters - one of whom was so keen to bomb Bluewater that on one occasion he said `let's do it tomorrow' - would not have had to look far for the idea that Bluewater and its inhabitants are deserving of punishment.

If you listen to radical Islamists - from those who deliver half-baked sermons in the backrooms of mosques to those who actually become, or try to become, terrorists - you'll notice that they often seem most outraged by hedonism and consumerism, those twin pillars of our apparently `decadent society' (5). In this, at least, they have much in common with mainstream thinkers and commentators. From radical Islamists to moderate Muslim groups to Tory commentators to New Labour ministers: there seems a curious consensus that sections of British society are greedy and badly behaved and in need of some sort of corrective education, or possibly even punishment.

The Muslim Council of Britain says many Muslims are concerned by a culture `which often seems to justify instant gratification, such as binge-drinking and promiscuity'. The New Labour government shares this concern. It has made tackling binge-drinking and promiscuity the main plank of its youth policy, bringing in tougher policing of town centres on Saturday nights and launching various propaganda poster campaigners warning teens of the dangers of sleeping around. In 2005, a group of six Tory MPs wrote a letter to the Spectator in which they said that Muslim clerics who describe Britain as decadent are `right': `Whether it is lawlessness, family breakdown, the menace of drugs, binge-drinking, teenage pregnancies or merely the coarse brutishness which has infested British culture.the results of years of woolly-minded liberal thinking are plain to see.' It seems there is a fine line these days between a ranting Muslim cleric and a Daily Mail-reading concerned Conservative.

The Crawley plotters may have learned bomb-making skills in Pakistan; but it was here in Britain that they would have been surrounded by messages about how uncaring and out-of-control British people have become. Should these plotters, and other homegrown terrorists who have expressed disdain for Britain's drug culture and its inhabitants' unhealthy lifestyles, be considered the extreme wing of today's obsession with anti-social behaviour? Where the government pursues the `politics of behaviour', seeking to change the way we live and think and even eat, perhaps the Crawley group's foiled plot could be considered the `terrorism of behaviour' - a planned scream of bloody rage against decadent, binge-drinking, slaggish British society, a kind of `Anti-Social Behaviour Outrage' designed to punish a feckless and stuff-obsessed population.

Many now ask how these men could have hated people so much that they planned to blow up nightclubs and shopping centres. It's a very good question. But let's not forget that many others hate those sorts of people, too.


More crap from the BMJ

From the comments below, one would never guess that sugar is a natural and valuable nutrient and that NO harm from the changes mentioned below has been shown. It's just modern-day Puritanism

Manufacturers have doubled the amount of sugar in some foods in the past 30 years. The increases were seen across dozens of food types. Even fruit was not immune, with companies selecting sweeter varieties to cater for the public's changing palate. The research comes amid increasing concern over the ill-effects of sugar. Rocketing sugar levels have contributed to tooth decay and an increase in the incidence of diabetes.

A recent article in the British Medical Journal said that sugar was as dangerous as tobacco and posed a greater threat to world health. "Sugar should be classified as a hard drug, for it is addictive and harmful," it said.

The latest study, of food composition since 1978, found some of the biggest increases were in breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread. Kellogg's Special K has nearly twice the amount of sugar it did in 1978. At 17g per 100g, it contains a similar amount to vanilla ice-cream. A typical loaf of wholemeal bread had a third more sugar in 2002 than it had 1978. Hovis wholemeal bread has even more sugar, with 3.7g per 100g. Sainsbury's wholemeal bread has 3.5g sugar per 100g. This means there is a teaspoon of sugar in every three slices.

In data from a 1978 industry handbook, cans of tomato soup had 2.6g of sugar per 100g. Many soups today contain double that. Waitrose tomato soup had almost three teaspoons of sugar (6.4g) per serving. Between 1978 and 2002, the average banana's sugar level rose from 16.2g per 100g to 20.9g. Sugar in pears increased from 7.6g per 100g to 10g. Sugar in carrots rose from 5.4g per 100g to 7.4g.

The consumer group Which? revealed last month that ready-meals contained up to 23.1g of sugar per 100g. After a campaign to reduce salt intakes, the Food Standard Agency now wants to reduce added sugar. A spokesman, Ian Tokelove, said: "We naturally have a sweet tooth and manufacturers have been quick to use that to increase sales in a crowded marketplace. It's been one of the first things to be added when companies want to make a product a bit different." Experts say that sugar levels could rise further as a byproduct of the campaign against salt.

Jack Winkler, professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University, said that European trade reforms were making sugar cheaper. "It's hard to think of a more irresponsible policy than cutting the price of sugar in the middle of an obesity epidemic," he told The Sunday Times.

Waitrose said that it was reducing the sugar in its tomato soup. Jenny Walton, of Kellogg's, said that extra sugar was added to some cereals because other ingredients, such as salt, had been reduced. Hovis said: "Hovis Wholemeal does contain a small amount of brown sugar. The quantities do not affect the nutritional benefits of the bread." Sainsbury's said that it was reviewing products to decide whether sugar and salt levels could be reduced.


Weird British school

Another untested theory being imposed on kids

Britain's most expensive state school is being built without a playground because those running it believe that pupils should be treated like company employees and do not need unstructured play time. The authorities at the 46.4m pound Thomas Deacon city academy in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, due to open this autumn, also believe that the absence of a playground will avoid the risk of "uncontrollable" numbers of children running around in breaks at the 2,200-pupil school. "We are not intending to have any play time," said Alan McMurdo, the head teacher. "Pupils won't need to let off steam because they will not be bored."

The absence of play time has angered some parents whose children will attend the school, designed by Lord Foster, architect of the "gherkin" office tower in London. But staff insist that it will have the added benefit of avoiding pupils falling victim to playground bullies. Miles Delap, project manager at the academy, said: "For a school of this size, a playground would have had to be huge. That would have been almost uncontrollable. We have taken away an uncontrollable space to prevent bullying and truancy."

Anne Kerrison, who has three children, said her 14-year-old son Matthew was devastated when he discovered that he would not be able to kick a football around at lunchtime. "All children need fresh air and a chance to exercise during the school day. Break times are the only unstructured time they get," she said.

Another city academy, Unity in Middlesbrough, opened in 2002 without a playground, prompting criticism from government inspectors about poor design. The school later built a playground.

Thomas Deacon, nicknamed "the blancmange" because of its rounded shape, will be one of the biggest schools in Europe. Its features will include a "wetland eco-pool" designed "for rain-water collection" planted with wild flowers. It will replace three schools in Peterborough and is one of the showcases of Tony Blair's academies programme. Academy schools remain in the state sector but are independent of local councils. They are sponsored by private sector firms which have some say in the management.

The academy's timetable will be tightly structured and exercise for pupils will take place in PE classes and organised games on adjacent playing fields. There will be a 30-minute lunch period when pupils will be taken to the dining room by their teacher, ensuring they do not sneak away to run around. McMurdo said refreshments, often taken in break periods at other schools, could be drunk during the school day. "[Pupils] will be able to hydrate during the learning experience," he said.

Other head teachers questioned the wisdom of the playground ban. Ian Andain, head at a comprehensive in Liverpool, said: "There has to be bit of open space to play football. It is important that pupils can have a run around and expend energy." However, Delap, who has run the academy project on behalf of its sponsor, Perkins Engines, and the Deacon school trust, said that playgrounds did not fit into the concept.


The "People are pollution" brigade are back

The story of their incarnation of the '60s and '70s is here

HAVING large families should be frowned upon as an environmental misdemeanour in the same way as frequent long-haul flights, driving a 4x4 car and failing to reuse plastic bags, according to a report to be published tomorrow by a green think tank. The paper by the Optimum Population Trust (OPT) will say that if couples had two children instead of three they could cut their family's carbon dioxide output by the equivalent of 620 return flights a year between London and New York.

John Guillebaud, co-chairman of OPT and emeritus professor of family planning at University College London, said: "The effect on the planet of having one child less is an order of magnitude greater than all these other things we might do, such as switching off lights. An extra child is the equivalent of a lot of flights across the planet. "The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child."

In his latest comments the academic says that when couples are planning a family they should be encouraged to think about the environmental consequences. "The decision to have children should be seen as a very big one and one that should take the environment into account," he added. Guillebaud says that, as a general guideline, couples should produce no more than two offspring.

The world's population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. Almost all the population growth will take place in developing countries. The population of developed nations is expected to remain unchanged and would have declined but for migration. The British fertility rate is 1.7. The EU average is 1.5. In some countries, such as France, the government is so concerned it has introduced financial incentives for women to have more than two children.

Despite this, Guillebaud says rich countries should be the most concerned about family size as their children have higher per capita carbon dioxide emissions. The suggestion has been criticised by family rights campaigners. Eileen McCloy, a geography graduate from Glasgow with 10 children, said: "How dare they suggest how many children we should have. Who do they think are going to look after our elderly? "According to this I would have five couples' quota of children. I believe my children will be productive members of society."


Doctors admit: NHS treatments must be rationed

Fertility, multiple sclerosis and migraine therapies at risk

British doctors will take the historic step of admitting for the first time that many health treatments will be rationed in the future because the NHS cannot cope with spiralling demand from patients. In a major report that will embarrass the government, the British Medical Association will say fertility treatment, plastic surgery and operations for varicose veins and minor childhood ailments, such as glue ear, are among a long list of procedures in jeopardy.

James Johnson, the BMA chairman, will warn that patients face a bleak future because they will increasingly be denied treatments. He will urge the NHS to be much more explicit about what it can realistically afford to do and ask political leaders to engage in an open, honest debate about rationing. The BMA proposes the drawing up of a new patients' charter specifying those health services to which every citizen across England should be entitled, regardless of the local health authority's financial situation. They also want to see a second list of all the treatments which the sick will get only if their primary care trust has the money, and if doctors decide they are clinically worthwhile.

Senior BMA sources say their report recognises the reality that despite record investment in the NHS, 'postcode lotteries' are rife. Primary care trusts, the local NHS organisations that commission and pay for care from hospitals on behalf of patients, are increasingly rejecting requests to pay for procedures or drugs because they are not perceived to be the best use of funds.

Some PCTs have been bitterly criticised for refusing to pay for expensive new cancer drugs; treatment to prevent older people going blind through age-related eye degeneration and operations to help obese patients lose weight through stomach-stapling. Each trust already has a committee of medical experts that takes decisions on whether to fund medication for complaints which are not covered in their basic contract with the Department of Health. These include treatments such as growth hormone for adults, neuro-stimulation for migraines, breast reduction and enlargement, treatments for incontinence and even some care for multiple sclerosis.

Johnson will use the launch on Tuesday of a BMA discussion paper on the future of the NHS in England to spell out his belief that Britain's ageing population will put ever greater pressures on local NHS organisations to decide how best to use their resources, and that the public's reluctance to put significant extra funding into the NHS means rationing will become increasingly common.

Dr Michael Wilks, one of the BMA's senior office holders, revealed the organisation's radical thinking in a recent letter to its 139,000 members updating them on the progress of the BMA working group, headed by Johnson, which has drawn up the document. He told them the group had concluded that 'while the service should remain universal, the challenges raise questions about how comprehensive the service can continue to be. This will depend on whether politicians and the taxpayer are prepared to contemplate either increasing expenditure or explicit rationing. 'Rationing of health care in one form or another has always existed but has not been discussed. While agreeing that an open and honest debate on rationing is needed, the nature of that debate needs to be clarified. It might, for instance, address whether current inequities in care caused by pressures to balance the financial books are preferable to one alternative, which is to set a limit on the availability of some procedures.'

Health Minister Andy Burnham last night welcomed the report as a useful contribution to the debate about the NHS's future. He defended the NHS as 'the right model for Britain's future'. '[It is] a system which makes the most modern treatments and medicines available and that is envied by other governments around the world as a fair and cost-effective way of providing high-quality health care to a whole population based on need alone. 'I would resist any call to make the NHS a slimmed-down, emergency service, because that's what it would become if we started saying "you can have this" and "you can't have that". It should continue to be comprehensive and universal.'


Scotland a-kilter: "Last week, Britons gave the ruling Labour Party a dressing down in local elections. But the vote went further: An independence-minded nationalist party surged in the Scottish parliament, overtaking Labour. It was as if Texas voters had punished the GOP by voting for a secessionist party. The vote in Scotland was seen as largely a rebuke of Britain's three-term prime minister, Tony Blair, and his support of the Iraq war. Still, the Scottish nationalists did nearly double their seats, putting the Scottish National Party one seat ahead of traditional leader Labour ƒ_" though the vote count is being investigated. These nationalists have the goal of independence clearly before them. Three hundred years in a marriage with the United Kingdom is enough, they say. What's in it for Scots with the spoils of the British Empire long gone? Why not divorce and take their North Sea oil and gas riches with them? Look around the region, these Scots say: Scotland could mimic the success of an Ireland or Norway. If small nations such as Latvia can be members of the European Union, why not the same for Scotland? Last year, tiny Montenegro in the Balkans voted in a referendum to part from Serbia."

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